Did you know Beijing had a rainy season between mid-July and mid-August? I didn’t and it was quite a surprise to me. I associate summers with high temperatures and sunny weather, not high temperatures and a constant down poor. This results in high humidity, and it makes any kind of outdoor activity a draining experience (quite literally) where you must make sure you stay well hydrated.
This season apparently started early this year and it is especially fierce with lots of rain. I got emails from the Beijing US embassy that bad weather was expected and that I should try to avoid it. In case you are wondering how the US embassy knows I’m in China, I registered with them on their web page. It’s a service they provide for US citizens in case you need help or need to be contacted by the home front. I’ve been told that the US embassies are the best in helping their citizens when they get stuck, much better than any other country. So, registering seemed like a prudent thing to do and hopefully I don’t have to take advantage of it.
It wasn’t the only notification I got. My China Mobile carrier also sent me a courtesy message that bad weather was expected and that I shouldn’t go camping in the mountains. China Mobile (and I assume other Chinese carriers) regularly send out these service messages. Anywhere from reminding folks not to set off fireworks in Beijing during certain festivals, to be on the lookout of computer fraud, and to bad weather messages. This is somewhat comparable to the US where you’ll get an occasional Amber alert or a flood warning (at least in Texas) although in China these warning messages seem to cover a broader range of topics.
Of course, I blissfully ignored all these warnings and a friend and myself went to visit the Ming tombs on Sunday, a trip I had planned weeks ago. Actually, we weren’t that stupid, the bad weather wasn’t supposed to hit until later that afternoon/evening, so we took our chances and decided to head back early and get dinner in Beijing to avoid getting stuck.
The Ming tombs are the 13 mausoleums built by the Ming dynasty emperors. The construction started around 1420 by emperor Yongle, that is the same emperor who started building the forbidden city. The tombs are located about 26 miles (42km) north of Beijing in a valley surrounded by mountains and forests. Of the 13 tomb sites, only 5 are open to the public and because of the inclement weather forecast we decided to visit only the two main ones. We started with the Ding Ling mausoleum and then visited the Chang Ling mausoleum. The later mausoleum was built by emperor Yongle.
There is no real convenient way to use public transportation to get to the Ming tombs. The subway doesn’t go that far, and busses are too inconvenient. In addition, the tombs are stretched out over a large area with lots of space between them. Instead of using public transport, I opted for renting a DiDi Premier for 10 hours. It was curious that I couldn’t order a multi-hour rental using the DiDi app (see my previous blog) while it was in the English language mode. When I changed it to the Chinese language setting a lot more options appeared, including renting a car for 10 hours. During the trip itself it was good that I had a Chinese speaking friend with me because even though I had booked the car for 10 hours, I still had to enter every stop into the app separately. Presumably for tracking purposes.
The Ding Ling tomb was by far the most impressive one. It was excavated in the 1950’s and you can enter the underground tombs as well as visit the mausoleum grounds. The tomb itself is surrounded by a circular stone wall that reminded me of the Great Wall. The mausoleum also has two exhibition halls where they show either the original or replicas of the artefacts that they found during the excavations. This includes wooden soldiers to protect the emperor (kinda like mini-terracotta soldiers), silks, golden crowns, peacock feather crowns, jewelry, etc.
The second tomb, Chang Ling, was a short car ride away from the previous tomb. It was not excavated (or not accessible for the public) but I found its grounds more impressive than the Ding Ling tomb. The site wasn’t very large, and it took us only 45 minutes, including the large central hall with artefacts, to visit the site.
I noticed that it was exceptionally quiet at the two sites. It isn’t clear to me whether these sites are less popular or whether it was because of all the bad weather warnings that there were so few visitors. Probably a combination of both. In any event, we got to visit a very tranquil and by Chinese standards almost empty tourist spot.
That evening the weather did set in but by that time I had dropped off my friend at her home and I was already at my own apartment. The next day I decided to work from home, after the US 2021 winter storm I pay a lot more attention to these warnings, but that wasn’t really necessary. It was raining consistently but not overwhelmingly. Around 2pm the rain had subsided, and I decided to visit the Ming era Beijing city walls that are just southeast of my apartment. I was fed up with being cooped up inside. Halfway through my walk the rain started again with a vengeance. By the time I got home late Monday afternoon I was soaked but I still managed to capture some gorgeous pictures of the restored walls.