Burning Incense in Beijing

Today was all about exploring north Beijing, or the north Dongcheng area. This started with the trusty Mr. Wang picking me up promptly at 8 and driving like a mad man through the Beijing traffic. We always make good time, though, and since it was a brutal, sweltering day, having AC in the car made it not really that bad at all.

Our first stop was the Lama Temple, which is one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist temples in China. What made this a truly unforgettable experience is that I arrived right when they opened, and rushed in with a horde of locals for an incense burning and chanting by the monks. This was a marvelous, surreal experience. Incense floating through the air, the smell of fire and smoke, people praying and bowing, while, off in the distance, deep chanting coming from a temple. Patient drums beat as well, and it was easy to get caught up in the feeling of it all. You never really understand a temple until you see it in use.

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Right across the street from the Lama Temple, over a street smelling of raw sewage, is the Confucius Temple and School. This is a wonderfully shaded, beautiful place that is I think most remarkable because of the giant rock steles, or pillars, with the names of the people who passed the official government examinations. This goes back for centuries, and it was cool to think how important it was to pass a test. A permanent honors list.

The rest of the day was spent at what in China is called a hutong, which is a traditional, winding street filled with all sorts of shops. It’s a refreshing break from the heat, and a great place to wander. I also dropped by the Drum and Bell Towers, which is just up from the Forbidden City, and actually the perfect line that cuts through the Palace is here as well. Remarkable, and it goes to show you how perfectly designed the imperial city is.

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I’m learning, though, that the best way to spend an afternoon and evening in hot Beijing is reading over a tea, and then eating a big bowl of noodles and some dumplings. It is a great, great thing, and I can now more fully appreciate why Anthony Bourdain would be happy to die after eating a big bowl of broth and noodles in Asia! Beijing has awesome food!

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