Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Badaling and the Ming Tombs

My partner's mom visited us for a whole month in China.  Since Beijing has so much to offer, and she wasn't really into being dragged for hours on end site after site, we took our sweet slow time to show her around little by little, bit by bit.

Obviously, no visit to China could be complete without a visit to the Great Wall, right? But it's not such a simple choice. After all, the wall itself is some 20,000 km long and made up of countless sections and branches! But we figured our best bet was to take her to the most restored part of the wall - Badaling. Yes, it's the most touristy, but it's also the most walkable and, thanks to its degree of preservation/restoration, it also gives you a pretty neat idea of how it looked like when it - this section - was built 500 years ago.

It's strange how I have visited this section of the wall a number of times, yet it's always intriguing to look at and see it serpent its way through the mountains in the distance. There couldn't be anything more typical to visit, but it would be such a sad mistake to miss it!

It's customary to also visit the Ming Tombs - a cluster of 13 mausoleums built during the Ming dynasty - after you go to Badaling. They're not too far from there, and it's a nice combination of Chinese culture. Unless the crowds at Badaling have really tired you and the heat is unbearable, in which case you might end up mostly dragging your feet through the Spirit Way - a road that leads to the mausoleums and that is flanked with statues of guardian animals and officials - to then have a just a quick peek at some of the mausoleums and their steles. Honestly, the tombs are really worth a visit, they're even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But I'd definitely advise not combining them with anything else, or you'll end up like we did, begging to get back home!

Fortunately, my partner's mom was pretty happy with her visit. Even if she preferred to stay in the car while my partner and me visited the tombs! Oh well...

Monday, October 17, 2005

rooftops, blue skies, Beijing

Blue autumn skies from Beijing's Southeast corner. Not your typical Beijing skies. Not your typical Beijing view. But this is home.

Friday, October 14, 2005

the Forbidden City, always

I've visited this place so many times. In summer, winter, fall, spring... It's one of those places you can keep coming back to time and time again and still discover new things or different ways to look at the same thing. It is almost a physical a cliché. Yet an essential one. The Forbidden City. Always.    

Thursday, October 13, 2005

the Yonghe Lamasery

The Yonghe Lamasery or, as most of us knew it, the Lama Temple. One of my favourites because, among other things, of its trilingual Tibetan-Manchurian-Chinese signs at the entrance of different areas (it's silly how much that bit excites geeky me, right?). Also, please note the yellow tiles on some of the roofs - they denote the imperial status the temple received.

Though one of the more important Tibetan Buddhism temples, it's rather "new" - late 17th century. It welcomed numerous monks from Tibet and Mongolia, and for those lucky of us living in Beijing offers the amazing chance to witness a number of Tibetan Buddhism rituals, like the making of mandalas with coloured sand and the giving of Laba porridge during the Laba festival (ok, I haven´t witnessed this one yet, I'll confess), which commemorates the enlightenment of the Buddha. 

So, yes. Tibetan Buddhism. With an important temple. In Beijing. With all the political complications that may or may not imply.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

the temple of the eastern peak

This must be by far one of the most peculiar temples I've seen in China - the Temple of the Eastern Peak (better known as the Dongyue Temple, or 东岳庙). 

But before I get into that, some info. This is a 14th century, Taoist temple. In fact, it's the largest temple of this branch of Taoism (Zhengyi) in Northern China. To give you an idea of the size, it has 3 courtyards, 376 rooms, and covers 4.7 hectares. That big.

So, one of the nice things about this temple is its stone steles, about 90 of them, in one of the courtyards. Sorry, reading Chinese stone steles is not my forte. Can't tell you what they tell. But it's still a very interesting sight nevertheless! "Chinese stele gardens"! And you've got to especially love the ones mounted on mythical creatures, right?

Something else and pretty noteworthy, but which I'm afraid was just part of some special event or festival, was this Chinese "zoetrope" (or layangpian, 拉洋片), a pre-film animation device with a storyteller telling you the story sound-effects and all! We loved it!

But finally, and I was saving the best for last, there were countless chambers with scenes from the different Taoist departments of death! I can't explain much about this part of Taoism, it was completely unknown to me until I visited this temple. But one thing is for sure - after a visit here, if have the tiniest Taoist vein in you, you'll definitely want to behave afterwards! There were departments for implementing violent death, for suppressing schemes, for punishment, for those on drugs... Some were so gruesome!

Quite the unique place, eh?