Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Taste of Chengde

Chengde's Little Potala Palace

I had the chance to visit a friend of mine in Beijing recently. While I was there we chatted with a few locals, mostly taxi drivers—they are among the best people to practice speaking Chinese with—who were interested in why us foreigners were in China. I have my standard answer, that my husband is Chinese and from nearby Chengde.

inside the Summer Mountain Resort

Over 300 years ago, the Kangxi Emperor chose Chengde as his place for summer residence. Thanks to Chengde's cool summer temperatures (well, at least compared to Beijing) and beautiful scenery, it seemed like a good pick. Construction of The Summer Mountain Resort, which is 2.2 square miles (that's 5.6 square km for my metric friends), took about 90 years. It is filled with palaces, gardens, pagodas and lots of other good stuff. Locals, especially the elderly, congregate there every morning. In the summer, especially on the weekends, it is packed full of tourists, many of them from Beijing.
Chengde's Little Potala Palace
Upon hearing Chengde, they all inevitably exclaim, “The Summer Mountain Resort!” (避暑山庄bìshǔ shānzhuāng in Mandarin, literally meaning “avoiding the summer heat mountain villa” in English). Many Chinese people and probably just about every Beijinger know Chengde thanks to its biggest tourist attraction. The Summer Mountain Resort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Chengde's Eight Outer Temples. I must admit, I feel a tiny burst of pride that I get to live in a place that holds an important place in Chinese history.

downtown Chengde
The Summer Mountain Resort is nice, no doubt, although I don't think its 120 rmb (US $20) entrance fee is justified, especially since Beijing's similarly splendid Summer Palace only costs a fraction of that. Luckily, I can get an annual local pass for unlimited visits for the bargain price of 50 RMB. What I really like about Chengde is the surrounding temples, particularly the mini Potala Palace (also known as Putuo Zongcheng Temple in English and 普陀宗乘之庙pǔtuó zōngchéng zhī miào in Mandarin). It is modeled after the Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet and is one of the largest temples in China. If temples are your thing, this one is definitely worth visiting.

But the biggest benefit of living in Chengde is the small city atmosphere. I do love Beijing, but living there was often hard. As with any big city, life moves faster. People aren't always as personable. Commuting can be torturous. Pollution often paints blue skies gray. Life in Chengde is simpler and people are usually kind. Some people may find it boring here—there's no Starbucks, few bars, and hardly any other foreigners—but I've come to enjoy living in a small Chinese city surrounded by mostly Chinese things.
Chengde backstreet 

When people back home ask what it's like living here, it's hard to explain. In some ways, life isn't so different as life back home, but I guess the differences are in all the little details. The temples dotting the mountains, the fortune tellers that hang out on the sidewalks, the middle-aged ladies dancing outside in the evening, and the peddlers who come around every morning screaming their wares and services. Pictures can only begin to capture a place, but I thought I'd post some photos of Chengde for those interested in what this small Chinese city is like. Enjoy! 

the city square and mosque


Marta said...

I have been twice in Chengde! But a long time ago. I don’t think I saw the city center though...

rosieinbj said...

It's a nice trip from Beijing. I think there will be a bullet train connecting them one of these years which will make traveling very convenient.