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Beijing, we'll miss you

Today was our 3rd full day in Beijing. As we had accomplished nearly every thing we had set out to do in our time here, we took Terry and Kate's recommendation to visit The Summer Palace. This favourite retreat for the Emperor - to escape the sweltering heat of the Beijing summer was located on the west side of the city. The large complex situated on a hilltop surrounding a lake is actually no longer on the outskirts of town, rather the town has grown up around it.

Once again there were plenty of tourists there to view the sites and once again we tried to find our way to some of the more secluded pathways and buildings that were not generally on the tourist path.

We are glad that today is our last full day in Beijing, because we are beginning to get desensitized to the cultural beauty around us. When you are paraded through a historical site such as the Summer Palace and you're thoughts are: "hey, there's a big gate... <take a picture> alright let's keep going...hey, there's a neat wall etc..."


Perhaps the reason we were feeling a little melancholy today was our old nemesis, the Beijing smog was still around. As you can see in the picture, the view across the lake at the Summer Palace (below - taken at 2:30 pm) was far from clear.

Despite the smog and lack of visibility, the Summer Palace was a really cool site, with plenty of unique architecture and forested pathways. Some of the colours on the restored buildings (left) were breathtaking. We also had a really nice time walking around.

After the Summer Palace we got cheated on a cab ride (paying triple the actual price) on our way to the Olympic Park. Since the Olympics are coming to Beijing next August, construction is heavily underway putting together the finishing touches on the Olympic park.

As both of us are Olympic (and architecture) lovers, we had to check out the 2 buildings that were considered the centerpieces to the Beijing Olympics. The first building was the Olympic Stadium (below), which will hold the opening ceremonies in 274 days, as the countdown boards around the city keep telling us. The Olympic Stadium is a groundbreaking and unique design that is unlike any other stadium in the world. The concept is that it look like a giant birds nest with large iron support beams creating the illusion of random lines much like a nest.

As we approached the Olympic Park we were amazed at the poor air quality due to the lethal combination of dust and smog. We could not get very close since everything was still very much under construction but it was neat to see this iconic structure and imagine the world focusing its eyes on this venue in less than 10 months.

After driving around the huge block to see some of the other buildings and the athlete's village we drove by the National Aquatic Center (right). The venue for all the swimming is being built to look like a giant cube of water. While our pictures driving by in the cab cannot do justice to this marvel of engineering, to the naked eye it was a stunning site to see the synthetic walls creating the illusion of bubbles.

After leaving the Olympic Park, our next destination was the Ho-hai area, where we met Terry and Kate for a delicious Chinese meal and then walked through some of the preserved traditional neighbourhoods or Hu-tongs looking in shops and other places of interest as we went.

On our last day in Beijing, we were invited to Terry and Kate's school - The Family Learning House. Rooted in the Montessori tradition, it was really nice to see a different form of education than we have been used to for the past 16 months. Montessori schools stress a "student centered" approach to learning with many values and skills for the children to learn in small groups and one-on-one sessions with the teacher. Jill and I were 'flies on the wall' in Kate's 3-5 year old class, and it was really nice to see her work with the children. Several of the kids were learning service and food preparation so we were offered freshly squeezed orange juice, and 'pop-overs' (sort of like Yorkshire Pudding). It was really cute to see 5 year olds independently puttering around in the kitchen (above), learning from each other and not under constant supervision.

We had lunch at the school and then it was time once again to hit the road. We took a cab to airport to close the Beijing leg of our trip and fly down to Shenzhen, where we would meet Ange and Nick. As we looked back on our 4 days here, we were really impressed with buildings and culture, depressed with the amount of smog and pollution; we were welcomed by Terry and Kate, who are wonderful, and knowledgeable hosts with experience and advice for how to get around, as well as great choices in restaurants and attractions.



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