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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Saving a Small Fortune in BJ


It’s that time of year again when the sun is shining, every second Beijinger is out with his camera (or smartphone, more likely) snapping away at the blossoms; and the birds are all coughing on Beijing’s fumes with the PM2.5 level already in the upper 200s. (For those not in the know, the US Embassy in BJ measures the dirty atmosphere and posts the results online – much to the government’s chagrin. A reading of 50 or under is fine. 100 or below is deemed moderate; up to 200 is unhealthy; up to 300 is very unhealthy; and above that is hazardous.)
But nothing will keep your favourite blogger indoors today. And it’s off to discover yet another park in the city … or, as it turns out, two parks...
Jiandemen station is just along line 10 on the subway from where I live and in no time at all I am stepping out of the train and admiring the mural at the entrance to the station. I’m not sure what it is meant to represent, but it’s quite impressive in a very Chinese sort of way.
I’m actually heading off to discover Beijing’s one and only Japanese style park; and having studied the map and pored over copious web sites I head southwest where I discover that there is another small park I can make a short cut through to get to my destination.
In fairness, it is not the most stunning park I have ever been in, by a long way. Madian Park (马甸公园), however, is spotlessly clean and you can tell its guardians have made an effort with it. There are plenty of kids’ distractions in the way of swings and sand pits and slides and so on.
The Prunus Persica is still in full bloom here, and the contrasting colours around the park are very pleasing on the eye.
In common with many parks in Beijing there are notices everywhere advising where you can pitch a makeshift tent, find an emergency power source (for your mobile phone, I wonder?) or find an emergency toilet (surely in Beijing it would have to be an emergency to make you desperate enough to go into one of them!).
Luckily I am not yet desperate enough to visit the said emergency convenience, and I wander out the other side of the park taking a wrong turn, and finding myself in Deshengmenwaidajie heading south instead of west as I had intended.
But one of the advantages in getting “lost” is that one comes across the unexpected and today is no exception. On the left hand side is a lovely little garden whose gate has been left open, and I pop in to take a few snaps before hurrying out again unnoticed.
The pillars of the gates to this garden each have a cute PiXiu perched on top.
As I have veered off course from my original planned route, I find myself approaching the park I was actually looking for from its south side – a lucky move as I am to discover in a short while!
Shuangxiu Gongyuan – 双秀公园 – otherwise known as Double Elegant Park, was built jointly by China and Japan. It features two parks in one – Huifang Garden and Cuishi Garden; and its design is unlike that of traditional Chinese gardens. The park is quite small, covering an area of 64,000 square meters only, and it contains the only Japanese-style park in Beijing. (In fact, when I mentioned this to a Chinese friend, she said she would never ever set foot in it – such is the animosity toward Japan still felt by many Chinese, seven decades after the War of Japanese Aggression and the continuing controversy surrounding the Massacre of Nanjing.)
Shuangxiu Park was built to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the founding of modern China. It was opened in 1984, with some of the rocks and building materials donated by Japan in a gesture of friendship.
As I have approached the park from the south side, I find myself walking through the side of a housing estate, through a couple of iron gates that the Chinese love to erect at the ends of streets and at the entrance to housing estates (and in fact anywhere they can possibly erect a fence with gates in it). And the next thing I know I am in the middle of Huifang Garden, which is the Chinese side, and which has plenty of meandering paths zigzagging their way past colourful trees. An official blurb at the entrance proclaims “Chinese garden is noted for its elegrance.” Errr, quite!
But it appears its main purpose has been designed to keep kids amused, with an overgrown amusement park featuring many rides – including an overhead monorail …
and plenty of activity tables encouraging the kids to develop their ‘artistic’ skills. It obviously works as the kids are all as good as gold.
In the middle of the park is what at first glance looks as if it’s going to be a restaurant. It’s called Jackson Hole and it has an amusing entrance arch. But it looks totally deserted. Looking through the windows are old models of what look like a housing development – and it’s only later that I find that this was actually a real estate office dedicated to selling desirable lots in a themed resort area of Hebei, some two hours north of Beijing. Apparently the houses sold “like hot cakes”.
But I certainly didn’t come to Beijing to revel in Americana, so I wander in search of the Japanese style garden, passing a number of flowering trees and shrubs as I do…
Cuishi (Emerald Green) Garden is the Japanese end, which, it is said, was designed by Japanese artists; but I have to say I have never seen a garden like this in Japan. Maybe it has been given a Chinese feel to it to make the locals feel more at home? It has a small waterfall – which today has been switched off, along with the whole water system, making for a somewhat lacklustre display that looks somewhat forlorn.
It is said that the two islands in the dried up lake – named Turtle Island and Crane Island – symbolise good luck and happiness; but today they just look sad. However, the official guide posted at the entrance tells us that “Subtle scent is conveyed with highlight of years long rots and folwering plants compimented with open law as base colour” – so I guess that puts me in my place somewhat!
The lack-of-water features apart, the blossoms are still gorgeous and lift the spirit.
There’s another area called the Bamboo Rivulet. Perhaps the non-existent water is meant to flow here as well? Yes. It’s official: “Non-ending round spring and unquie zigzag bridges and fountain lead to concealed scenery”. But today it has an area of scruffiness that makes you wonder why they bothered…
No worries. I climb to the top of a small hillock and enjoy the varied colours of the shrubbery. Maybe they will switch the water on again once the blossoms have passed their best in a few days’ time?
Meanwhile, a little nearer the main entrance I come across the peony garden. It’s too early in the year right now, but it is obvious that this area will soon too be a riot of colour. But I’m not sure I will come all the way back here to see it.
I arrive at the main entrance on the southern side of the Northwest Third Ring Road, that I would have come through, had I not taken a wrong turning an hour ago. And it’s only now that I realise how generous the fickle finger of fate has been in guiding me through the southern entrance.
For here – as opposed to the other entrance I came through from the housing estate – one has to pay to get in. Yes! Today I have saved myself the grand total of 0.2 kuai for an entry ticket! OK, that 2 mao may only be worth 2 pence or 3 US cents, but you know what they say about looking after the pence while the pounds look after themselves…