I went to the Summer Palace, the lakeside vacation residence of the imperial family for many years, on a hazy hot Sunday afternoon the last time I was in Beijing; I figured I wouldn't do it again. Tuesday morning, I planned to go out to an art district that all the guidebooks and all keep going on about, but once I actually got out I just wasn't in the mood for modern art. I was in the mood to be outdoors, to see trees.
So, I made my way out to the Summer Palace. The huge lake was frozen over this time, and many people were out walking on the lake or sliding around on it on sleds. There were several people walking along the lake, although it was by no means crowded, and I had the paths through the wooded part of the park almost to my self. It felt peaceful after several days on city streets. I walked along the frozen lake, down to the seventeen arches bridge, and watched everyone playing on the ice.
Something just a bit odd happened as I heading back towards the exit to leave; I wanted to leave by the north exit, since that one is most convenient for the subway. To get there, I needed to back through the woods over the hill from the lake. It's a bit of a maze, but I have a good sense of direction. As I was going over the hill, I came across a Chinese girl who looked about college age. She met my eye as I passed, so I said ni hao (hello), which she returned. She then started following me. She had looked a little confused when I passed, so I assumed she didn't know how to get back to the gate. She and I walked along as if we were together all the way back through the winding paths to the gate, never saying a word. I thought when we got to the gate, we would part ways, but she continued following me down the street and around the corner to the subway station. I lost her momentarily in the crush of people getting on and off the train, but once I found a seat I glanced up and saw she'd found a seat one section over. She saw me, her eyes lit up, and she moved to sit by me. I was a bit bemused by this point; I tried to start a conversation with her, but it was obvious that she didn't really understand anything I said; she managed, with obvious effort, to come out with "I go to my friends!" She didn't make any other effort to speak, so we rode along in companionable silence. Finally, we both got off at the same stop; I turned to change to another subway line, and I never saw her again.