Wednesday, July 23, 2008

China Part Six: Beijing

Our final stop in China was the site of this year's Olympics. Beijing definitely had a lot of things to see, and definitely felt the most communistic (is that a word?). The first place we wanted to go was the Temple of Heaven, but we got sidetracked and wandered into the Dazhalan/Liulichang area. It was a bunch of brick paved roads that had an assortment of book shops and souvenir shops. Since it was at the end of the "tourist season" we got plenty of attention from the vendors.
It took us a little longer than we thought to finally reach the temple complex, but it was well worth it (so was the taxi ride back). This 267 acre complex was built for the Son of Heaven to pray for good harvests and sought divine clearance for the sins of the people. All the architecture has some symbolism right down to how many steps each temple has.
After we walked around for a couple of hours we made our way to Tienanmen Square. There are definitely no protests going on here anymore with the throngs of uniformed and plain clothes police patrolling the square. The next morning we came back through on our way to the Forbidden City. This guard was kind enough to pose for us in front of Chairman Mao. You can go see his embalmed body in the gate, but we didn't want to waste our time.
The Forbidden City is the largest collection of preserved buildings in China. It was definitely an impressive collection of architecture...I would even say it was fit for a king...or emperor. The only bad thing was that the biggest building had scaffolding all around it...it seems having it spruced up for the Olympics was more important than us.
After strolling through the complex for about four hours (complete with English audio guide) we were ready for some food. While we were in China, there was no way we were going to leave without some good ol' Peking duck. We found the best one and went to town.

They actually give you a certificate authenticating the duck that you eat. Ours was the 285,231st duck the restaurant had served since 1864...who was I to argue. The way you eat it is pretty interesting. You pretty much make a Chinese duck soft taco. You put the duck, sauce and veggies onto a soft rice "tortilla" and have at it.
In nearly all of Asia, the "squatty potty" is your only option many times. So, when you find a western style toilet you take advantage. However, Asians will obviously think of you as an old man.
One of the most memorable things of China was the traffic. I guess since the automobile has burst on the scene, the regulation of driver's training hasn't kept up. Traffic rules seem to be suggestions rather than the law. In our short while there we witnessed several wrecks. On the way to one of the definite highlights of the trip, we too were almost in a wreck. A car ran a stop sign in front of our bus, realized it was about to get broadsided, gunned the accelerator, and ran into a tree on the other side of the road. Our bus driver rolled down the window (we assume to ask if the two stumbling older gentlemen were alright) then took off. No police, no insurance, no problem.
The wall itself was very cool. Half the beauty of it was the surrounding mountains. Much of the wall is still in ruins, but we went to a restored section (you're actually not allowed to the unrestored sections). We spent a few hours climbing up and down the narrow walkways...it was a pretty tough hike. I can't imagine the manpower it took to build this thing in the ridge of the mountain.

Since we had to travel about 2 hours out of the city to get to this section of the wall, we didn't do much else that day except do some souvenir shopping.
The next morning we made our way to the Imperial Summer Palace (I'm tellin' you, these emperors had it made). It was built to get away from the hot and humid summers at the Forbidden City...even though it's only a 20 minute bus ride away.
This place, too, had a number of cool buildings, temples, and gardens. It is built on a man made lake (man made in the 1500's) and even has a marble double decker boat that doesn't go anywhere.
After strolling through here, I've decided I need to get into the emperor business.
Our last stop on our trip was to the Lama Temple, Beijing's most magnificent Buddhist temple. The temple's most prized possession is its 17 m-high sandalwood statue of the Maitreya Buddha. Although photography and video aren't allowed inside the temple, I went ninja and snagged some of both the statue and a monk sing-a-long going on.
video video

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