Thursday, January 31, 2008

white dagoba

After Tian Tan, we hopped in a taxi with hopes to see Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. However, our taxi driver insisted that the area was closed off for a diplomat and offered to take us to a "very old" temple instead. With many a misgivings, we agreed and were then subjected to the mandatory Chinese taxi rip-off(where they drive you around and around). While it was slightly annoying, I mainly chalked it up to experience and realized it was pretty amazing that it hadn't happened before.

So, our unscrupulous taxi driver dropped us off at what I think was the Miaoying Temple White Dagoba. Of course, we didn't know this at the time, but I deduced as much from my guidebook later. We were given a complimentary tour guide with the price of admission, but he didn't speak and English so Jen worked as translator with amusing results.

For example, when the tour guide spoke at great length at each of these locations, Jen's version was as follows:

"This is a gold Buddha..."

"in a very old building. This building is old. Very old."

"This path and archway is old, too."

"I think he said this Buddha is not so old."

"But that white thing? That's what this place is famous for. And this is the end of the tour. Thank you. Goodbye."

Needless to say, I think some things were lost in translation.

Tian Tan

It was on Thursday morning that we realized after the day was done, we would only have ONE more day left in China. There was still so much to see! We rushed out in the morning to go see Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven; and we wanted to get there early because we were told that, every morning, big gatherings of locals did tai chi there. With the sky above and the temple above, we were told it was a sight not to miss.

But we had not counted on transportation difficulties. It was our 12th day in China and we had managed the streets, subways and taxis without too much difficulty, so perhaps we were a bit overconfident. Because after our subway ride we got confusingly lost. So confused that I began to hallucinate math equations on bridges. Or was that real?
Anyway, by the time we got to Tian Tan, instead of crowds of people doing tai chi there were only two.

But Tian Tan was still a sight to see. Instead of the city, the temple stood against the backdrop of the blue sky--giving it a majesty and dignity I hadn't quite felt before.
And this, of course, was the intended impression. Built as the place where the emperor would make sacrifices and pray to heaven, it was meant to convey spiritual stateliness. For example, while most building have yellow or green tiled roofs, the tiles at Tian Tan are blue--the color of heaven.
The most common misnomer of Tian Tan is that there is an actual Temple of Heaven. There isn't. What I thought was the Temple of Heaven (the building above) is really Hall of Prayer. The Temple of Heaven refers to the whole complex: the Heavenly Gates--
the Hall of Prayer--
the Vault of Heaven--
and the Round Altar--
And connecting all these is the Red Step Bridge--the raised marble axis walkway which did not look very red to me...
so I was happy to add that bit of color myself.

foot massage

All of us had "must-see/ must-do" lists that we made before going to China. Mine included the Chaundixia village, and the Marco Polo Bridge. Alvina's list,of course, was topped with the Great Wall and Ki-Ki wanted to see the art district. Jen's list, however, was starred with a foot massage.

So a day where we all had lost feeling in our feet seemed like a good day to accomplish this. Our tour guide directed our bus driver to a place she knew and within moments our feet were soaking in warm tea water. Ahh!

We had to tell the masseuses that we wanted "gentle" massages--Chinese usually get foot massages as part of a reflexology health regiment, and they can be quite painful. But since we were there for relaxation, we had the gentle ones.

Which weren't really that gentle. The masseueses hit and rubbed our feet in rhythmn and in unison, like a musical chorus, with a fairly good amount of strength. But for feet that had lost a great deal of sensation, it was rather invigorating. And luxurious.

And very Jen-satisfying.

bridge of lions

After visiting the village, the next place on the agenda was the Marco Polo Bridge, or Lúgōu Qiáo. This was one of the sites that I had longed to see before I came to China (I had put it on my "must-see list")--a bridge described by Marco Polo as having "few equals in the world", with over 400 stone lions--each one unique. For some reason, I was sure it would inspire many picturebook ideas in me.

Unfortunately, the ideas were slow in coming as it was almost as cold at the bridge as it was in the village. My frozen brain couldn't process any thoughts other than trying to feel my feet. To our embarassment, the most we could do was cross the bridge, each pick our own favorite lion,

and run back. See us shiver? Cold is not conducive for creative thinking, at least not for me.

But all was not lost. As we scurried back over the bridge to the warmth of the bus, three children began playing with balloons on the bridge. Somehow, I had the sense to photograph them and when I look at them, they seem to be straight out of a picturebook. Perhaps, I have the inspiration right here...

I just needed to wait for my brain to thaw out, first.

cold village

On Wednesday, we took an out-of-Beijing expedition to Chaundixia, a tiny mountain village dating from Ming dynasty. It is incredibly well preserved, a "living museum" of architecture from that time period. It is such a good example of an old village, that a major portion of the village's income comes from movie studios--it was the setting for a recent Jet Li movie.

And I must take full responsibility for this excursion. My new novel has some passages that take place in an Asian rural village, and I felt that this was too good of an opportunity to pass up to see one and take good photo reference. I mean, when would be the next time I could see this, right?

But one step out of the bus, and I was frozen with guilt. Oh, maybe that was the VERY VERY COLD air. Yes, I know I've complained about the cold before, but I take it back. This was definitely the worst--biting, freezing, and mind-numbing. Though my mind was able to process one thing: being in the mountains is colder than being by a lake.
So when our tour guide told us that one interpretation of Chaundixia was "oven", as it was to symbolize how the village was a warm haven from the cold, I was a bit skeptical. It probably was balmy back in the days, after traveling through the cold on foot or horse...but getting out of a toasty bus into the extreme freeze of the village seemed to make the name a bit ironic.

But, lucky for me the camera lens did not frost over(and I did worry about that) and we were able to stand the temperature long enough for me to take some photos. There were many interesting tidbits the shivering guide told us about (I have a feeling she gave us the condensed version) but my ice-cube brain could only focus on photographing.

We finished up by eating at a villager's house. Yes, people still live here. There are about 70 villagers all together and if you want something to eat, you simply knock on someone's door and ask if they want food customers. Many of them offer overnight hospitality as well.

And the rural cuisine was quite tasty. We spent more time eating then we had touring the entire village. But by the end of the meal, everyone agreed that the village was an interesting experience that we were glad to have seen.
See how that last picture is blurry? That is because the guide who was taking the picture was shivering from the cold.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

moon over beijing

And just like that, it was out last night in Beijing. Even after seeing so many things, it felt like there was still so much to discover. But had been incredible, a trip that I'll always remember and a place that I hope to come back to.

beijing duck

Our days in China were quickly coming to an end, so we decided we HAD to have Beijing (Peking) Duck in Beijing! Friends too us to one of the best Beijing Duck places in the city. Duck, however, was not all they served. The menu was like a picture dictionary, everything looked amazing in the photos.

But, they looked (and tasted) even better in real life:

The chef came with the duck:

And could be eaten in three ways:
Which the hostess demonstrated:

The hostess also demonstrated the proper way of eating the yummy dessert, which we all only barely had room for.

It was a great dinner.