China, day one: Beijing’s lamasery and the Temple of Heaven

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We are back after almost three weeks in China, tired but happy. It was an amazing trip. Blogging during the trip proved to be problematic because of Chinese restrictions on the Internet and because we were so busy that we had little time left for blogging. Over the next few days, we will try to recount the trip as it happened and post as many photos as we can.

Tuesday, April 14

Worshippers at the Lama Temple

Buddhist devotees at the Lama Temple

We reached our hotel at about 4 a.m. Beijing time after about 30 hours of traveling.

Today was supposed to be a day of resting up and getting over jet lag but we were both awake by 8:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep, so we got up. We caught the tail end of breakfast, a buffet that offered everything from scrambled eggs to stir-fried snow peas. From this buffet you could have a Chinese breakfast, an American breakfast, an English breakfast, a Dutch breakfast, or if you wanted to restrain yourself, a French breakfast.

We decided to sign up for an extra tour that was being made available that afternoon for early arrivals. So at noon we climbed aboard a bus with other Americans and Matthew, our Chinese tour guide.

Robin and friend, at the Lama Temple

Robin and friend, at the Lama Temple

Our first stop was the Lama Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Beijing, also called the Yonghe or Yonghegong Temple. It was built in 1694 as a palace for a Moghul prince. When he became emperor, it was converted to a lamasery. During the Cultural Revolution 60s and 70s, many Buddhist temples were destroyed, but the one in Beijing survived because it was reportedly under the protection of Zhou Enlai, the Chinese premier.

The temple comprises a series of courtyards along a central axis, each with a main building facing you as you enter the courtyard and other buildings on the sides. The buildings contained numerous Buddhas of varying sizes and countenances, from smiling to stern. We saw quite a few monks and many people who were burning incense and paying homage to the Buddhas.

One building contained a history of the temple, which seemed to have been edited by someone in the government. At one point, for example, it said that the lamasery was continuing to work for peace, harmony, and socialism.

The number of figures, from five to nine, on the roof corners indicate the importance of the building.

The number of figures, from five to nine, on the roof corners indicate the importance of the building.

The buildings in the Lama Temple are colorfully decorated.

The buildings in the Lama Temple are colorfully decorated.

Our second stop was the Temple of Heaven, a large complex where emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties used to come to to offer prayers for a good harvest. The temple and its surrounding park cover about one square mile. It has three main structures: the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the Imperial Vault of Heaven, and the Circular Mound Altar, which you proceed through in that order.

The Imperial Vault of Heaven

The Imperial Vault of Heaven

The Imperial Vault of Heaven is surrounded by the a circular wall called the Echo Wall. You are supposed to be able to stand by the wall and hear someone talking many feet away. We tried it, but it didn’t work too well, perhaps because there were so many people there.

The Circular Mound Altar at the Temple of Heaven

The Circular Mound Altar, with tourists where emperors once stood

Then it was back to the hotel. We took it easy for a while and ate in the restaurant, where we dined on curried soft-shelled crab, sweet and sour Mandarin fish, Fujian fried rice, and bok choy stir fried with garlic. It was all delicious.

We hit the sack early so we could would be rested for the real tour, beginning at 8 the next morning.

 

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