Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bell and drum towers in Beijing

The murder at the Drum Tower in Beijing reminded me of my visit there in October last year. It was a hazy day. Even though the two towers were no more than 100 meters from each other, this picture of the Drum Tower taken from the Bell Tower did not come out very well. The curved edge at the top of the photo was the lip of the bell.

Look at the size of the bell and the supporting beams. The bell is 23 feet tall and weights 63 tons. I think the Towers were built in the Yuan Dynasty and the bell in the Ming. Because the bell was made of copper, it has been preserved well. The drums were not so lucky.

I heard that the air quality in Beijing has improved a lot due to the preparation for the Olympics, but cannot verify it myself. There is no doubt much has been done to ensure the Olympics were run smoothly. I read in the newspapers that thousands of rockets were fired into the atmosphere to prevent the rains to fall on the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony. I did see lots of street side walls of houses being repaired, clean and modern toilets installed (at least they were clean last October), and tremendous amounts of construction - near tourist attractions. Hopefully the improvements are long term. But, as with many things in China, the appearance and the inside can be quite different.

Standing on top of the Drum Tower, there is a very good view of the Bell Tower and the houses in the neighbourhood. Many of them were originally built in the famous rectangular courtyard styles popular in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. But almost without exception, haphazard structures have sprung up to fill in every feet of open space in the beautiful courtyards. Such is the pressure of population and lack of sense of preservation.

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