Churches and Temples

Trip Start Feb 27, 2013
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  , Beijing,
Sunday, March 17, 2013

Church on Sunday was a very different experience for me. I always go with my family or friends, and for the first time in my life, I went alone.  I had slept in a little, so I had to take a taxi if I wanted to get there in time, but it was really hard to find a taxi in the morning.  I eventually managed to hail one down, and got there with five minutes before the service was due to start.  It was so crowded already, that the ushers had to ask people to wiggle down for me to squeeze in, and I was so squished, I could barely move my arms to take off my jacket.  This was with me coming 5 minutes early; usually I (unfortunately) arrive five minutes late to Church, and can easily find a seat.  The size of the congregation and the building to accommodate them all, still astounds me.  I watched the service mostly through a TV monitor, because although I was still in the same building as the preacher, I was in a corner which made it difficult to see.  Today was baptism day, and I was intrigued with how they would baptise here.  There were 21 Chinese people due to be baptised in the English service, where I was, and another 49 in the afternoon service.  I was stunned with the number of people, as the most I have seen baptised in the one session before was about 6.  The way they baptised each person was to have them kneel on the ground, and the pastor dabbed their foreheads with water.  I am used to seeing the person deliver their testimony, and then become completely submerged in the water, but I guess it is not very practical if you have to baptise around 70 people in a day.  I enjoyed the experience, especially the sermon, and it was a nice morning. 

I have also been collecting funny menu items and signs that have made me smile this past week.  A personal favourite is the mushrooms of burning flesh, there is something which is simultaneously horrific yet intriguing about the name --- don't even pretend like you haven't pictured what it looks like!  I also bought a notebook just because it said on the cover that it was "the most comfortable notebook" and that I will "feel like writing in it all the time."  If that doesn't inspire me to study, then, really, what will?

I also was lucky enough to wake up on Wednesday to snow! Beijing is a very dry city, yet snow is not completely unheard of.  I had thought that we were through the coldest period, so we were surprised when a winter wonderland replaced the dirty streets of BLCU.  I left for class early, and took pictures of every little thing--- I think it is a well-known rule that everything looks better with snow on it.  I was sorting through my pictures and realizing how overboard I went.  Oh well, in 20 years I'll never have to wonder what the gutter looked like with snow.  The snow was just a little tease-- by the time I finished class, this pristine cover had melted into a muddy sludge, but the cool air lingered for days.
This weekend was a bit of a Temple visit-athon.  On Saturday, I went with a classmate to the Lama Temple.  This is a Tibetan Buddhist temple, located in a really old area of Beijing. Lots of Hutongs (ancient/traditional houses) surrounded the Temple.  Some are still houses, some are shops. There is something so weird about such a beautiful, ancient house with something aggressively modern, like a 4WD parked out the front. The juxtaposition pretty much sums up Beijing--- a beautiful mix of tradition and modernity.
The Lama Temple is still very much in use, especially on a Saturday, and I felt a little awkward sometimes walking into the buildings and having a sticky beak, when people were praying.  The Lama Temple has gone through many transitions in its time; from a Temple to a Palace, to a Temple again. You could see why it was used as a palace, as it is so big, and reminds me of a little Forbidden City. Each doorway you step through leads to more mini buildings. They also have hugely impressive statues of Buddha, some 4 storeys high. All of them are so intricate, filled with colour and gold detailing.  I really enjoyed seeing the historic building, as well appreciating the art everywhere.

On Sunday, I visited the Temple of Heaven.  Unlike the Buddhist Lama Temple, this Temple was thought to be a Taoist, although there is evidence to suggest that Heaven worship existed long before Taoism in China. This Temple was used by Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties to pray for a Good Harvest.  On Sundays, the huge park that the Temple is located in is used by many people to play, exercise, dance and sing.  It was mostly people in groups, performing rehearsed dances, singers with their own microphones and speakers and generally people letting go and having fun.  It was really nice to see such unashamed joy of people (mostly in their twilight years) dancing and singing in public like there's no one watching.  None of them were buskers; they were just performing for the happiness it brought to them and their audience. I think it is also because most people in Beijing live in apartments, and public parks like this one provide enough space to be able to practice the things they want to
The Temple itself is beautiful.  Like the Lama Temple, it is colourful, and very detailed with the paintwork. After seeing so many beautiful Churches in Paris in January, it is really interesting to see Temples in China. The Churches were also breathtakingly beautiful, but in a different way. Their detailing was in the building structure, the ceilings, or the windows, rather than the art and painting. There was also far, far less colour in a Church than a Temple. 
The Temple of Heaven is no longer used as a spiritual place, so I was much more comfortable taking pictures and just acting generally touristy. It is located of huge grounds (approximately 2.73 square km) so it is exhausting walking around all day, but it is definitely worth it. I visited the Imperial Vault of Heaven, which is supposed to be able to carry sounds for a long distance when you yell at the echo wall. I'm not sure if it worked, I yelled at the wall, but just felt silly.  Maybe it's a trap for gullible tourists! I also walked around the impeccably named Palace of Abstinence, Divine Music Administration, Double Rings Longevity Pavilion and Imperial Walkway Bridge.
It has been a fun week, but very, very busy.  Looking back, I have no idea how I fit so much in.  I look forward to more sightseeing, studying and snow (wishful thinking) this week!
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Joan Jay on

It is good to collect the funny menu items as I can see a job potential in the future. They need someone like you to put them right! The snow looked beautiful - more in the nanna xx

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