Coco and I awoke to the sound of a squawking bird, he was owned by the hotel owner and caretaker. This hotel is actually a house, with 4 rooms to rent out. Every morning the owners tidy up, water the plants, clean out the bird cages, there are 3 bird cages, begin brewing tea for tourists, and cook breakfast for their guests. This hotel is a pretty busy tourists spot and sees close to 500 visitors a day. So it is not the place to lay around and work on your tan, actually due to its small size there is not much room to do much if tourist groups are their.
We were served a thick but soupy rice dish and some steamed buns with pumpkin inside them. I was quite amazed my legs were not hurting and Coco was feeling ok, just a little tired. We waited for the new friend we made to wake up and see if he still wanted to join up for sightseeing and such this morning. He did and after a quick finish to breakfast and a few cups of tea we were off. Coco had asked some locals which way was the best for going to the Lama Temple. We were soon off toward the subway station. Along the way our new friend was pretty amused by some local construction workers who were taking a break from Beijing’s notorious heat and asked to have his picture taken with them.
We made it to the subway station and the first thing that I noticed was the familiar smell of hydraulic fluid. Growing up on a farm and being a Gunner’s Mate in the Navy you get very familiar with the smell. The subway fares were very cheap compared with Shanghai and I also noticed the lack of automated turnstiles, or plastic tickets they have in Shanghai. When you are on the platform waiting for the subway and one arrives you instantly notice the constant hissing of the rail cars. The cars all utilize a pneumatic suspension system that is constantly hissing and the cars seems to constantly bounce back and forth.
The huge difference between Beijing and Shanghai’s subways is the age, Shanghai has a relatively new and modern subway system where Beijing’s is much older and worn. Of course that will be corrected prior to the Olympics opening ceremony in 2008! Next you will notice the lack of the hordes of swarming people everywhere. Of course this was a week day and Beijing residents were all in their offices but in Shanghai it does not matter the time of day or night or the destination, the subway is always packed, always full, and most of the time over capacity. We got underway and after a few stops we were at our destination. Exiting the subway station was a bit odd as the rail station is built in the same exterior style as so many monuments in Beijing, wide base gently narrowing as it goes up, deep crimson red in color, and the same style name plaques above the main entrance as I saw in the Forbidden City.
We walked down the narrow side walks and were soon in the midst of a religious icon bazaar selling any and all kinds of religious statues, necklaces, glass etchings, paintings, you name it, it was here. I even saw some Virgin Maries, Catholic Saints, and fancy crucifixes in some of the stores. There were also many places selling incense, which is used in prayers in 3 of the major religions, Buddhism, Taoism, and that of the Lama (from Tibet). The area is no different then what you find in ancient European areas around a famous cathedral, church, or holy site. I have seen the same style shops in Barcelona, Lisbon, Marseilles, Palma Miorca, and Rio de Janeiro… although all those shops were exclusively Catholic or at least Christian.
I am still amazed at how well Beijing has preserved the older buildings and how often people replicate the old style, even in new construction and renovation of centuries old structures. The gray walls opened up a bit allowing for more sidewalk and then we saw the gate to the Lama Temple. There were many tour busses and vans here which made getting into the gate harder then you may think, remember Chinese drivers are never known for being the best in the world.
Walking into the parking area the first thing you see is a series of three huge wooden gates painted red and blue and gilded in gold. It has three sections, the middle being the tallest and most decorated. By contrast there was a bright blue basketball goal near one of the three gates. There are huge and very old cedar trees, one of which covers one of the large stone lions guarding the main entrance. We got out tickets, along with some more of the nifty small CDs, which too are lost somewhere with the other things in our recent move. Going through the gate you have to walk down a long, but well shaded wide stone sidewalk. Along the ornate hedge and tree lines sidewalk are numerous trash cans so you will remember not to throw anything onto the ground. The hedges and trees are all very well placed and well taken care of, making you thing of being anyplace but a major temple.
At the end of the sidewalk is a familiar large stone gate, painted crimson and topped with a yellow roof, instantly identifying this as being property of the emperor. As with all official building here there is a huge plaque painted blue identifying the building, but unlike most in Beijing, this one is in 4 languages, Tibetan, Chinese, Tai, and Mongolian. Going through the gate you see two large wooden poles so tall they have to have a tripod base to keep them up. There are ancient trees in this courtyard and many small wooden buildings leading up to a long and open building, painted red with a yellow roof. There are two ancient stone carved lions out front which are very detailed and different they any other ones in Beijing in style and design.
From here the incense is very strong in the air and among the many park benches you will see two shung lu (iron rectangular troughs with the Chinese characters for Lama Temple on them. They are full of ash and burning incense as people are always placing more in and then praying. There is even a place to buy incense in case you forgot on the sidewalk area before you came in. More buildings appear among the trees and side walls. The atmosphere is very relaxing and care free. As I approached the building I looked up at the top, it has 7 figures on the top, not too far away from the maximum of 11. The roofs are very ornate and there are many detailed and well painted parts of each corner. I turn and notice many of the trees are propped up by large wooden poles painted green to blend easier into the background. Inside is a large model of a temple in Tibet and wooden figures of all the deities. Pictures are not allowed to be taken and I honor this, but many westerners do not and the monks are busy trying to keep them from taking pictures.
Walking toward the back and exit of the building you see a very fancy table with a very nice statue on it. The statue is of one of the many gods. The unique thing about this statue is what it is doing. The statue is gilded in gold and in one of its arms is a large broad sword. The sword is resting in the bend of the statue’s arm. This is important in that is tells visiting priests from outside the temple that they are not welcomed to stay and eat as this is the emperor’s temple. If the sword is straight up and down and resting on the statues shoulder then the visiting priests are welcome to stay and eat as long as they need to. Upon exiting the first thing you see is a huge metal work incense burner. It appears to be bronze and very ancient. We were under a time limit so I was instructed not to go crazy with the camera in here, and seeing many of the interiors of the temples are off limits to cameras… well I did not get as many photos as I liked. To the right there is a building with an elevated stone walk way. On this walk way are a series of prayer wheels. They are actually cylinders in wooden frames and rotate right to left as you face them (think about which direction you cross yourself if you are Catholic. There are two side by side and the faster you spin the wheel the faster your prayer goes, at least as it was explained to us.
To the left is a larger pagoda that has a single rather large stone slab in it, smooth and full of tiny ancient Chinese character carvings on all 4 sides. The inside of the pagoda’s roof is highly detailed and brightly painted. Looking around you there is nothing but building after building, each holding its own special carvings, purpose and reason for visiting. I will assume this is to help divide up the duties and prevent the crowding inside the temples as they were owned by the emperor and he could come by anytime he wished for worship! This and hundreds of chanting lamas and with all the incense burning in one place it would have been really bad for everyone.
There is a large stone and bronze fountain outside one temple, it is hot so all three of us stop for a breather and some water. One rule of sightseeing… bring your own water, and lots of it! As we take a break from the heat I am looking around the series of buildings and notice some really innovative designs. The building before us has a covered walkway, 3 stories high! Why it is there I do not know but it makes getting from one building to another in extreme cold, snow, rain, wind, or heat much easier. The two buildings are not that close together but not too far apart either. What is most amazing is that all the buildings are made of wood.
With the break over we go into the large building in front of us, the one with the covered walkway connecting it to the adjacent one. As we get close to the door Coco points out the brass plaque on the door frame. This temple holds the Maitreya Buddha, it is the largest statue carved from a single sandal wood trunk. It is 85 feet (26 meters) tall; 59 feet above ground and 26 below ground. This is a very awe inspiring and spectacular work of art. The details are so fine you can not tell it is wood at all. There are huge silk banners hanging off and draped off of the statue. The colors are bright and I can not even come close to describing it accurately, oh yea and it was carved between 1748 to 1750… before the US declared its independence! The statue was inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records in 1990. Worth checking out! I ran around quick taking pictures of the roofs and buildings and everything I found interesting.
All three of us left and headed toward the shopping strip in Beijing, Wang Fu Jin. We all were hungry and decided on eating, our new friend had had enough of Chinese food during his tour here so he opted for McDonald’s, something to be said for a good hamburger, we had dumplings at the restaurant across the street form the Peking Duck restaurant, the second most famous restaurant in Beijing! We saw the huge hung of gold behind a thick cube of glass on the sidewalk, well fool’s gold anyway. We met up with our Alaskan friend and hit the stores. We got saw all kinds of things, as the World Cup was going on and in full swing. Our friend needed new shoes and luck would have it there was a shoe sale going on. They did not have any 11 ½ shoes there, on sale anyway… seems I will have to come back to the US for many of my clothing needs. Being 6 foot tall, broad shoulders, big feet and hands, and long legs and really long arms makes getting clothing here almost impossible, just ask my wife.
We left the shopping thing behind and got a taxi, and yes… the cab driver tried to drive us around in circles, twice! So we bailed on that cab, caught the #5 bus and made it back in time to walk through the street market just at dusk. I got some good sunset pics of the Hou Hai Lake. We continued on and at the hotel Coco and I decided to go out to dinner while our friend went to a bar, when 22 in Beijing I can’t blame him.
We walked the lake front and found a very nice Italian place at one end, near a large statue of a man doing Tai Ji. The restaurant had kittens in it, which is why I think Coco picked it. She was not feeling well, combination of heat, pregnancy, and a day of walking around. The food took a long time to be prepared and was ok, but what was better, I got to see a soccer match, Portugal and Iran. The first ½ was really boring, that is why Americans never caught on to soccer. The second half was ho-hum until the final 5 minutes, then it got really exciting. I got a beer and rather enjoyed the experience. NFL, NHL, NBA, or MLB it wasn’t but it beats tennis or golf! After the match Coco was very tired so we headed back to the hotel. We stocked up on water for the following day and some ice cream for the walk through the ancient alley ways on the way back. It was very quiet and peaceful; looking up you could even see stars. A good way to end the day.