This is my third trip to Beijing, and it feels a little like coming home. The subway card that I’ve been carrying in my wallet since 2010 still works. My travel companion, Pablo, pointed out I was wearing the same shirt I had on when I met him in Beijing the last time when we were on our way to Mongolia. And the beer is still warm and skunky.
Our plan is to catch up in Beijing and then ride trains to the absolute northern most point in China, which is located in a little village north of the small city of Mohe (pronounced more like Moha).
The first couple of nights we stayed at the Fly By Knight in off the Dongsi Station. Lovely place, although I think overpriced for a hostel. It was nice to stay out of the Qianmen area for a bit, which has gotten so overtly touristy. Although, the locals have a bit of a different take on the overbuilt, brand name, “built new to look old” development. Towards the end of the trip we were traveling with a woman from QiQihaar who had never been to Beijing before, and she loved Qianmen stating that it is so “cultural”. After Dongsi, we did move to Qianmen to try to meet some fellow travelers, and stayed at Leo Courtyard Hostel. I definitely do not recommend it, although the courtyard of the old building is nice, the rooms are cheap, windowless Russian Army barracks.
We’ve both been to the Lama Temple before, but with that obsession with temples of mine, I wanted to go again.
This little lady is 26 meters high, and is carved from a single sandalwood tree.
Walking distance from the Lama Temple, is a less visited Confucian Temple. By definition, the art is less concerned with giant statues as it is with texts engraved in rock and the relics of things used in ritual.
The Summer Palace
The summer palace in the way northwest part of the city is another place I’ve visited before, but Pablo had never seen it. It’s definitely worth visiting, but not on a day like this where the pollution is so bad you can hardly see 20 feet in front of you. Compare these photos to the ones I took back in 2009 on clear day.
Bell and Drum Tower
This is a part of town I’d never visited before, and is a great area to find something to eat.
I don’t know if was a product of the pollution, or the fact that we sure as hell ain’t getting any younger, but we definitely did not have the stamina for walking endless distances and seeing all the sites. Besides Pablo is a Spaniard living in Scotland, he requires Siestas at regular intervals.
Beijing is a city that changes relentlessly, while somehow staying the same.
For five-hundred years the Forbidden City was a huge section of Beijing that was strictly off-limits to common folk. Occupied by emperors who rarely left it’s grounds, it used to be instant death to try and pass through it’s gates. Now it costs a mere 60 yuan, and several hours of your time. I honestly found it to be quite touristy and hoaky, although my view was tainted by the fact that it was our last, and exhausting day of walking, and that because of the 60th anniversary party of the country, it was obnoixsly crowded.
The “city” itself is a maze of walls that has been reconstructed into a two mile long walking museum. Each alcove is outfitted with artifacts behind glass, restored rooftops with fancy imagery, and some buildings that are actual museums specific to a subject. I particularly liked both the calligraphy and the ceramics museum.
Even though it seemed like an endless maze, only about half of the grounds are actually open to the public right now. It would take a very long day to see everything, especially if you wanted to include Tiannamen Square. (If you do both the Forbidden City and Tiannamen Square, they are three miles long as the bird flies, never mind how much walking around you do inside the City to see all the little sites and museums.) Luckily there were tons of public restrooms, and little “hot lunche” being sold inside the City walls. Little boxes full of rice with veggies and chicken on top. They kind of reminded me of airplane food, but they were fun to eat outside in the northern garden.
One mistake we made was starting at the north end of the Forbidden City and working our way south. Since we had spend the morning at the Lama Temple, geographically at first this seemed to make sense. But because of the massive crowed control they were doing because of the influx of Chinese tourists for the 60th anniversary, we were walking against the flow all day, and couldn’t get into Tianneman Square and had to take a tuk-tuk ride around to the south gate. Maybe I’m not a good haggler, but I thought that the tuk-tuks were far more expensive than taxis. Then again, they are pedaling your around as opposed to just driving, and they can do crazy things like go up over the curb and yell at other tourists to get out of the way.
Filed under: China, Travel | Tags: Beijing, Beijing Rain Machine, China, Lama Temple, Maitreya Buddha, Mongolia, Mongolian Music
I learn things from my kids everyday. One of the best things about the school that I work at is that we have each class twice a week for three hours at a wack. A lot of the English teachers in Korea see their kids once or twice a week for 45 minutes. If a kid misses a class, you don’t even have time to learn their name, never mind that they hate Harry Potter (contrary to popular convention), or what aspect of speaking they may need help with. I love really getting to know my kids, and I love that kids I had last semester come visit me in my classroom this semester.
This week I learned that people can induce rain. I was not aware of this. We were doing a project on the desertification of the Gobi Desert and how that creates dust storms that affect S. Korea and Japan with “yellow dust.” One group asked me what the name is for when we make rain. My eyebrows bunched up, while I was inwardly thinking, WTF? I had no idea.
It turns out that Beijing has the ability to make rain. Or, at least they think they do. They have a giant machine that shoots packets of silver iodide into cloudy skies that is supposed to induce rain. This article says they induced 4/10ths of an inch of rain, the heaviest rainfall at one time in that year.
Although I still couldn’t figure out what we would call that in English, so “rain machine” had to do.
We do a lot of geographically specific projects, so I’ve started loading my classroom computer with youtube videos and music that is relevant to the lesson. While working on the Gobi Desert, I found some great stuff to listen to, that at least some of the kids were enjoying as much as I was. I found these videos at a blog called Mongolian Music.
So last weekend, even more than the great wall, my favorite place that we visited was the Lama Temple. For someone who doesn’t study Buddhist philosophy, or who can’t pick out a few of the key figures, I imagine a visit to this park would be interesting for the architecture, but overall would end up being a tedious stroll through an endless number of offshoots, with each temple dedicated to a different group of unknown deities. To me, it was a wonderland of art and familiar images. Highly, highly influenced by Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism, I just loved it. The classic Tibetan mixture of magenta, cobalt, and gold was everywhere, a subtle, but noticeable difference to the colors of Korean spiritual architecture which don’t feature the gold tones.
Unfortunately, but typically, I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the temples. There were some spectacular statues ranging from the Taras, bodhisattvas, with a particular focus on the wrathful deities. Outside, people were lighting incense and praying. Although it is a tourist attraction, it was clearly a place the locals frequent as well.
It was originally built in 1694, and became a monastery in 1744, housing monks from Tibet and Mongolia. It was closed for 30 years during the cultural revolution, but somehow the grounds did not get destroyed.
Notice the woman on the right. Even though there were explicit signs in many languages saying not throw coins at the statue. People just couldn’t resist. The Buddhist version of a wishing well.
The highlight of the temple, which I couldn’t manage to sneak a picture of was the 60 foot (18 meters) tall Maitreya Buddha purported to be carved out of a single sandalwood tree. Although, this pinnacle of the statues was also a reminder of why I prefer to travel alone. Just as I was beginning to feel really inspired and debating whether I was going to risk looking like a fool as the only foreigner to do prostrations to this particular Buddha, my travel partner walked up behind me and said, “Well, what’s so special about him?”. Sigh.
Strangely enough, although it is 2,000 years older, the story of Maitreya Buddha is similar to that of the second coming of Jesus. “The Buddha” as most western people think of him, is believed to be just one of thousands of Buddhas (beings that have reached enlightenment) that exist. Maitreya is believed to be the next Buddha who will appear on earth, supposedly when humanity has destroyed itself to the point of no return, Maitreya will come bringing peace.
Now here is an instrument I could learn. Oh yes, I see myself in Mongolia very soon.
Filed under: South Korea Quarantine, Travel | Tags: China, H1N1, quarantine, swine flu
Why do they make headline news? We were quarantined first. Sniff, Sniff.
24 Americans quarantined in China
USA Today – a measly four Americans in Quarantine in China, they’ve got nothing on us.
Seriously though, I hope everyone is fine and gets to go on their merry ways soon.
Some Mexicans quarantined just for having a Mexican passport, regardless of where they had been staying previously.
Update for those of us in the South Korean quarantine.
We received this e-mail from the American Embassy today:
I’m certain that your biggest question is when you will be released, and the answer we received is probably the same that you have already heard: seven days after contact with a person who has contracted the virus. That means that some people could possibly be released as early as Monday, but if other cases arise, it could be several more days until you are released. The Ministry of Health says it uses international guidelines favored by most countries and followed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
I’m hoping this doesn’t change our exit date, although it makes it sound like we may be here seven days past when the last person was sent to the hospital, which was yesterday. That may not be the case, it’s just me making worse case speculations. I stick by my observation that people who are the healthiest are actually going to end up spending the longest time in quarantine.