The 2008 Olympic site, the largest Buddhist temple in China and the Houhai Lake
21.07.2011 - 21.07.2011 30 °C
Along with the benefit of an excellent electronic toilet seat that can both wash, dry and heat the seat all at the same time our suite also offers a 24-hour butler. Waking this morning to a strong cup of English breakfast the wet weather outside provided an ideal excuse to delay our departure from the hotel and spend a few hours relaxing.
In desperate need of a haircut I used the time to get a quick ‘bank and sides’. Throughout our trip hair cuts have been an interesting, periodic activity. Often with limited or mis-understood English there is always the potential for mishap and disaster. Possibly one of the best haircuts I have ever received was in the Philippines, where a relatively small amount of money, from a very effeminate barber, provided for a great styling. Today, I am faced with a grim Chinese barber who speaks very little English and judging from his own haircut likes hair short and ordered. Trying to explain the various nuisances I require we eventually limit the haircut to short until I say stop. Too concerned over my bouffant I end with a perfunctory haircut, a little longer than I might have liked, carried out in total silence. With discretion truly the better part of valor, on this occasion, I at least look presentable and have not been scalped!
With the promised showers now abated we are clear to once again enter the Subway system, which has now become perfunctory and acceptable, as long as we avoid the hellish Line 1, and head for the Olympic Park. At the Olympic Stadium Chinese tourists ask us in an intelligable mix of English and sign language if they can have their picture taken with Trey. This is fast becoming a 'normal' request in Beijing. Perhaps we should start charging!
With no real desire to enter any of the stadiums a brisk walk along Olympic Boulevard allows us to marvel at the ‘Birds Nest’ Stadium and the Water Park. Both are spectacular feats of design and engineering. Like us the volume of local tourists exploring the area, as we are, is also surprising. Vendors sell kites, food an tickets to the arenas whilst most families seem happy to run, play and picnic in the vast concrete area between the Stadiums. We enjoy the imagery but are soon back on the subway and heading to the largest Buddhist temple in China and the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet.
The Lama Temple was converted to a lamasery in 1744 after serving as the former residence of Emperor Yong Zheng. Through a variety of courtyards and temple buildings the final temple hall, Wanfu Pavilion contains a magnificent 55ft high statue of the Maitreya Buddha, clothed in yellow silk and reputedly sculptured from a single block of sandalwood.
With incense burning in each of the large bronze tubs outside the temples and offered to the many Buddha statues and images that we pass it is clear that the many shops piled high with all manner of Buddhist charms, keepsakes and amulets are kept well employed by the devote pilgrims visiting this temple.
Along a narrow Hútòng, now far from the Lama Temple we glance into the Confucius Temple and Imperial College but happily decline its invitation and find a local restaurant for a satisfying lunch of Peking Duck. Fulfilling our need for sustenance but also avoiding a brief but monsoon like shower that passed over whislt we are eating.
After a late start we are soon heading back to the hotel to rest before heading out for our last evening in Beijing. With a variety of subway line changes our evening is spent, like many other permanent and temporary residents of Beijing it would appear, at Houhai Lake.
Surrounded by boutique style shops and a variety of bars (none with pole dancing this time!) the lake area offers an intriguing mix of boutique and family style activities. Battery powered, pedal or luxury boats, replete with appealing red Chinese lanterns, can be hired for a ride on the lake. Families with food and drink cruise past as we walk along the shore of the lake enjoying a riot of neon signs and live Chinese vocals. Yet, having already enjoyed drinks and nibbles earlier in the evening a post-supper walk is all that we require. Enjoying the sights and sounds of the lake and surrounding areas we return late to our hotel we were must pack and prepare for are departure from this capital city that despite its sheer scale and number of people crammed into almost every public space has grown up in us the more we linger. At every corner we have found new experiences, surprised by the unexpected sights and sounds of this diverse and ever changing city.
Like many high density cities travelling about, whilst unchallenging, can be unpleasant due to sheer volume of people. Yet the transportation systems are cheap and efficient. The tourist attractions are easy to visit and around every corner a different style or culture offers both surprise and diversity. I suspect Beijing illicits a feeling a loathing and adoration in many travelers. For us it has been an interesting experience but we have no reservations in moving onto Xi’an tomorrow morning.