Almira Skripchenko – Discovering China part three
After finally being declared the winner of the Chinese version of “Survivor” for foreign chess players, I had one day left in Beijing. It started at 11 in the morning with a knock on my door. AIGO representative WGM Xu Yuanyuan and a TV journalist were there, waiting to record the last day of my stay for Chinese TV and newspapers.
First destination: The Summer Palace
The East Palace Gate is the major entrance to the Summer Palace, with two side doors for royal family members and court officials, and three grand doors in the middle exclusively for the Emperor, Empress and queen mothers.
Me and Xu Yuanyuan at the entrance of the Summer Palace
On the gate hangs a plaque where Emperor Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) calligraphed “Yiheyuan” (Summer Palace) meaning “to maintain energy and mellow the soul.” The road for the emperors leading to the entrance is chiselled with two relief dragons playing with a ball, symbolizing royal dignity.
Entering the East Palace Gate means walking into the administrative area of the Emperors. The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity is the first architectural complex that visitors see. It was built in 1750, burned down in 1860 by the Anglo-French allied forces, and was reconstructed in 1888. Actually, the Emperors’ administrative hall was originally called “Qinzheng Hall” to inspire rulers to manage state affairs diligently. However, during Emperor Guangxu’s time (1875-1908), the hall's name was changed to “Renshoudian” (Hall of Benevolence and Longevity), from the famous Confucian saying: “the ruler who reigns benevolently will have a long life”.
The Summer Palace landscape, dominated by Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, covers an area of 2.9 square kilometres, three quarters of which is water surface. Its 70,000 square meters of building space features a variety of palaces, garden and other ancient-style architectural structures.
The Summer Palace is a monument to classical Chinese architecture, in terms of both garden design and construction. Incorporating scenes from surrounding landscapes, it radiates not only the grandeur of an imperial garden but also the beauty of nature in a seamless combination that best illustrates the guiding principle of traditional Chinese garden design: “The works of men should match the works of Heaven”.
In December 1998, UNESCO included the Summer Palace on its World Heritage List with the following comments: 1) The Summer Palace in Beijing is an outstanding expression of the creative art of Chinese landscape garden design, incorporating the works of humankind and nature in a harmonious whole; 2) The Summer Palace epitomizes the philosophy and practice of Chinese garden design, which played a key role in the development of this cultural form throughout the east; 3) The imperial Chinese garden, illustrated by the Summer Palace, is a potent symbol of one of the major world civilizations.
One of the numerous Chinese boats for tourists.
The Marble Boat, also known as “Qingyanfang” (Boat of Clearness and Comfort). is positioned at the west bank at the foot of Longevity Hill.
In front of Hall of Joyful Longevity you can find a megalith looking like a Lingzhi, a mushroom that has been used as a herbal medicine for more than 4,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine. Because of its numerous health benefits and absence of side-effects, Lingzhi has attained an unparalleled reputation in the East as the ultimate herbal substance. For thousands of years it was the most sought-after herb by mountain sages, and emperors and empresses of China and Japan.
I was quite astonished to find a life form on the Lingzhi “meteorite”.
To my surprise, some Chinese fans recognized me and asked to sign some autographs. I am still not sure they didn’t confuse me with Britney Spears!
Me and Xu Yuanyuan in the middle of the Long Gallery, which begins at the Yaoyue (Inviting-Moon) Gate and ends at the Shizhang Pavilion. It links Longevity Hill with Kunming Lake and is 728 meters (796.2 yards) in length. This makes it the longest gallery in Chinese gardens. In 1990 it was rated as the top long gallery of the world.
Taking a rest at one of the pavilions of the Long Gallery
One of the characteristic architectural structures in the Summer Palace
My interpreter, who spoke perfect French, was responsible for international marketing at AIGO. Everybody thought that he was my bodyguard.
Doing my photo-journalistic part for this story
One of the thousands of specimens of Chinese flowers of the garden.
The trees and flowers are quite overwhelming
Enjoying the philosophy of Chinese garden design.
A typical bicycle taxi, which you see all over Beijing
When the driver saw that they were filming he wanted me to take a ride in his taxi, so he could be on television for the first time. For me too it was a first – in a bicycle taxi.
Destination Two: AIGO
Established in 1993, Beijing Huaqi Information Digital Technology Co., Ltd. is a leading high-tech company headquartered in Zhongguancun, Beijing. It has 16 subsidiaries and 1,200 employees. AIGO is a trademark of Huaqi. AIGO serial products include mobile storage, digital products, monitors, MP3 players, computer cases and optical products.
Huaqi’s growth rate has been reaching 60% annually for the past eleven years; its revenue exceeded 300 million USD in 2004. Huaqi products are exported to North America, Europe, Southeast Asia and other regions.
The giant poster announcing our match was the first thing a visitor would see while entering AIGO headquarters.
The company had organised a special event, an AIGO Chess match between me and Xie Jun. AIGO Chess was created in 2004 by the president of the company. The idea consisted of introducing a piece from Chinese chess called “cannon” into a traditional chess game.
An AIGO chess set one can find at the company’s chess club.
The starting position of AIGO chess. Cannons move like rooks, but take or give check only on the condition that there is a piece interposing. In the endgame, when there are not so many pieces left on board, they are quite useless, as I discovered while I was trying to play some training games the day before.
All these diagrams represent mate in AIGO chess. In the first diagram it would not be mate if the white knight was on g5, since the cannon would not be attacking the king without an interspersing piece. In the second diagram if the white king was on g6 instead of h6 it would also not be mate, for the same reason.
AIGO is the main sponsor of the Chinese Women’s Olympic Team as well as of the Beijing Team which is taking part in the National Championship.
Concluding the opening ceremony by pouring Champagne into the glasses, like they do in the movies. On the left is Feng Jun, the AIGO president and the creator of AIGO chess.
Xie Jun with Qi Yan, the deputy chairperson of the company.
Our AIGO chess board. The first exhibition game of this kind took place in Beijing a year ago between Xie Jun and Maia Chiburdanidze, it ended in a draw.
The beginning of our game, which was quite an encounter. By some unusual tactical shots I managed to win a piece, but Xie Jun fought back and found a nice idea using the cannon and mated me elegantly. Here's a report on the event in China Daily.
The end of the friendly game but not the end of the day. Immediately after the closing ceremony all the members of our group, consisting of chess players, AIGO representatives and journalists, went to “Party World”, a giant building which looks like a hotel and is entirely dedicated to karaoke singing. Chinese love to sing!
Final destination: Karaoke
One of the best Chinese singers: “Ladies and gentlemen please welcome Xie Jun!”
Xie Jun singing in duo with Zhang Pengxiang, one of the strongest Chinese grandmasters and singers! Actually after their performance I started to enjoy Chinese pop and folk music very much!
Xu Yuanyuan giving it a try!
Xie Jun with her husband, GM Shaobin Wu
Hopefully I don’t have to sing Chinese pop to make a living!
Even with the generous help of Xu Yuanyuan it is very hard.
While in line for the check-in I was greeted by some oh so familiar faces on a giant AIGO advertisement billboard. The players in the picture are Ye Jiangchuan, Xu Yuxua, Zhao Xue, Huanq Qian, and Xie Jun – the golden winners of the last Olympic games.
This is Almira Skripchenko, live from Beijing. I will be back with more from Shanghai.