Seeing Things Slowly

Trip Start Jul 22, 2011
Trip End Aug 12, 2011

Flag of China  ,
Sunday, July 24, 2011


Beijing is a city that could fill years of exploration. With four full days here, we had to prioritize and choose where we would spend our time.  Early on in the planning, I created a list with the thought pattern that I have to see A, B and C because I might never visit Beijing again.  It became clear that the sites themselves are enormous and that the surest way to destroy all the pleasure of traveling here is to rush around trying to see everything on the list.  So, we prioritized again, allowing plenty of time and scheduling things slowly. 


The Lama Temple is a working Buddhist Temple visited by locals.  There are people praying and the smell of the burning incense and smoke fills the air.  Architectural details and the religious objects illustrate the fine quality of the materials and craftsmanship.  The Buddha at the 10,000 Blessings of Peace building is a towering figure.  A very special sandalwood tree was used for its carving and was brought from Nepal as a gift to the Emperor.  I would love to see a huge stand of sandalwood trees, although I don't know if there are such places anymore where they have been protected from logging.  We come upon a prayer wheel that turns to the left and spin it so that all worries are set aside.   What a great concept.

As we approach the Ancient Observatory, we see the original wall that was built around Beijing in the period of 1406-1420, in the same period as the Forbidden City.  The Observatory is actually in a section of that original wall.  Mao had this original wall taken down, but as we see there is a small section remaining.  This wall around Beijing was 10 meters wide.  The Great Wall is 6 meters wide.  And today another wall is being built, an internet firewall.  Modern invaders come in a more stealth manner.  We ascend to the top of the remaining observation tower of the old city wall and see many old astronomical instruments to view the stars.  These instruments are known for their craftsmanship and for being so well-preserved.   A long time ago the sky was clear and the night sky would reveal its wonders.  Today, we see dense smog, construction cranes and modern buildings in all directions.  This contrast of the old instruments with the modern buildings & cranes makes an interesting photo commentary of Beijing.  This Observatory seems to be off the tourist path and that is just fine with us.  We find only a mother and daughter at the top of the tower with us and Harvey strikes up a conversation in Mandarin.  With our guide’s assistance, we learn from the shy young girl that she is studying English.  Her mother encourages her to speak and we learn that this is the first time she has spoken English outside of class and to a westerner. Her mother is proud.  We try to encourage her.  She compliments Harvey on his Mandarin!  Lots of fun, lots of laughs.

We watch noodles being made at lunch.  They are made to order and placed in a soup with vegetables.  This bowl with a pancake of Peking Duck made a tasty lunch. 

At the Temple of Heaven we see locals enjoying their Sunday afternoon playing cards and board games, chatting and singing songs of the revolution.  You can get a sense of the energy in the video!   When I see someone taking a photo of their family, I move my hands in such a way to ask if she would like me to take the photo with their camera so she could be in the photo.  When our guide does the translation, the young girl is quite animated as you can see in the photo.  When the camera is ready to shoot, they assume the standard in-front-of-camera pose in China, a straight faced and rigid posture.  As we continue to walk, we come across Chinese tourists who have rented costumes of the era and are taking their photos.  What great people watching!  Umbrellas by the way are used in Beijing rain or shine.  On a sunny day, they protect the skin from the sun rather than using sun tan lotion.  On this day, we made it through most of the Temple of Heaven before the umbrellas were used for rain protection.  We had just made our way into a forested area where young men were practicing martial arts.  We had found a place to stand to watch when the heavens opened up.  That was appropriate enough at the Temple of Heaven.

I am so glad that Harvey studied Mandarin.   We have made an effort to chat with local people and everyone seems to be surprised that a westerner can speak their language.  Our guide has helped Harvey increase his vocabulary and assists with the conversations.   An alternative might have been a bi-lingual phrase book to help start a conversation.  All it takes is reaching out and trying to speak.  People are extraordinarily similar on an individual basis all over the world.

Our guide and driver stayed with us more than the eight hours they are obliged to making it effortless for us to take in the Kung Fu Show before dinner.  This was a spontaneous choice when we saw the time we had finished at the Temple of Heaven and we now had the time to make it happen.  Going with the flow.  I love days like this.  We enjoyed the show and were impressed with the incredible physical condition of the performers.

On the way back to our hotel, we cross the Everlasting Peace Road that is 12 lanes wide.  After all we have seen and the experiences of the last two days, this super wide high capacity modern road exemplifies how much there is take in and absorb about China.    We are now wiped out tired, absorbing all we can for the day!

We walk in the rain from our hotel and find what we think is the restaurant our guide has recommended, Xiu Lan Restaurant.  We have a light meal of green beans and vegetable fried rice with jasmine tea and enjoy the fresh food with friendly service.  We call it a night, turning off the lights around 9 PM.

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