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.