Sunday, January 27, 2008

Emperor’s daughter residence

A hidden treasure in Beijing! The former residence of princess Hejing, the third daughter of a Qing Emperor. A place you won’t find in the guide books! Oh well, let me rephrase that: a place you won’t find in the main pages on Beijing but somewhere in the list of hotels of some guide books. Our own adventure all started because of two small lines in our DK tourist book on China. The Hejing Fu Binguan hotel was listed there. “A courtyard hotel, the result of extensive and meticulous renovations, with intricate carvings, luxurious suites and traditional trappings that reflect the house’s Imperial pedigree” the guide said. Sounds great, right? Now, I had to go. You know me, anything that says “history” and I am “in” for the adventure. We had already stayed in a royal palace in Paro, Bhutan, so I was fascinated by the perspective of an imperial room in Beijing. Further internet search confirmed that the place was going to be exceptional. The Frommer’s guide was discussing the fascinating story of the place. It had been the home of the third daughter of Qianlong’s emperor (another guide says Yongzheng emperor, but in any case they are both from the 18th century). It had exquisite stone statues of camels, lions and mythical beasts, ornate wooden carvings… and well-sprung mattresses! These were “some of Beijing’s most spectacular courtyard buildings” and they had been spared during the Cultural Revolution because the Chinese “CIA” (Central Records and Investigation Committee) had their offices there at the time. Quite a story indeed. This was definitely going to be an adventure. And it was! When we got there, we drove by the ornate buildings to a modern, square and plain 4-storey building in the back, where the reception was. To our surprise, our room was on the 4th floor of that building. It had unattractive black leather seats, one of these really hard beds, typical of pure Chinese hotels (far from the promised well-sprung mattresses!) and very strange pillow cases. They were filled with round little grains, nothing really soft and comfy there! (The next day during our visit at the silk factory, our guide proudly explained that everything coming from the silkworm is used, even the dry silkworm pooh which is used as pillow stuffing. Ah, that’s what it was. I am so glad to know that I probably slept on dry silkworm pooh!) We were definitely in the most Chinese hotel we ever stayed at. No other westerner there. Nothing familiar on the breakfast menu, not even coffee… No English spoken. However, you can visit the courtyards even if you are not a hotel guest. There are accessible by anyone coming from the street. And they are amazing. It is almost like a miniature Forbidden City, with a series of courtyards, stone statues like we have not seen anywhere else and delicate paintings on the roof lines. Sadly they seem all abandoned, but it is definitely worth the visit and the little detour when you are near Tian’an Men Square.
Hejing Fu Binguan Hotel, Beijing
7, Zhangzizhong Road, Dongcheng District

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