Last Images of Beijing

Today was a day of wandering around Beijing, picking up a few more sights, and taking a few photos. They say it best:

The view of the hotel, and the street it is on. A nice area to explore.

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Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum, where he rests embalmed inside. Also in Tiananmen Square.

Then the truly massive National Museum of China. Inside it is a huge, huge place! In the bottom of the Museum is the Ancient China exhibit.

After the Museum, here’s a final shot of Tiananmen, from the actual Gate that looks out over the Square, with a side street en route back to the hotel.

And… a final noodles and rice.

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Tomorrow I’m off to Xi’an.

The Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace

Another day out with Mr. Wang, and this time we were off for two key sights in Beijing: the wonderful Temple of Heaven and the huge Summer Palace, which is maybe 30 minutes outside of town. Of these two, I thought the Temple of Heaven was the best. It is situated in a beautiful park, and is a place where a lot of locals spend time. Some were playing tennis, and, down one long walk, older people were having intense games of cards and chess.

The highlight of the Temple is the Good Prayers for the Harvest Hall, a huge central temple where the emperor would regularly come to give blessings both to the empire as a whole, and to the upcoming crops for the year. It is set on the top of 3 marble slaps, like at the Forbidden City. I am starting to realize that in China being set up on these slabs means something is very special and important. Inside the Hall itself a large number of birds were flying around. The park surrounding the main hall was also a great place to walk, full of ancient trees, tall grasses, and in general a lovely setting where you could easily spend most of the day.

After the Temple, we raced out to the edge of Beijing to take in the Summer Palace, which is exactly like Versailles in France. A retreat for royalty in a beautiful setting. The Palace itself is set around Lake Kunming, and has tons of different bridges, buildings, and temples surrounding it. The bridges especially were beautiful, mainly because they were unusual in appearance. The arches were tall and exaggerated, with one incredibly short, but really high up in the air.

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The other great part about the Palace was Longevity Hill, which dominates the Lake, and is topped with a grand temple that you can only reach by climbing a set of really steep stairs. It is a bit of a tough climb, but the views back out over the area are worth it.

After the Palace, I returned back to Beijing, and am enjoying another nice evening over some tea and dumplings. With the heat so intense, by around noon it’s best to have most of the sight-seeing done, and you can just relax in a nice cool spot and people watch.

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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