Saturday, May 8, 2010

Goodbye Beijing

I have returned to Seattle - just in time for some beautiful springtime weather - but I'll never forget my time in Beijing!

My visit to China was an incredible learning experience and studying there helped me to improve my language skills considerably. I really believe that intensive and immersion teaching techniques are very effective for learning a language .

Living in Beijing also exposed me to many things and experiences that I've never encountered before. Aside from studying Mandarin, I discovered so much about the challenges and rewards of living in China's capital. I've certainly gained a better perspective on the lives of the people living in Beijing.

Now that I'm back home, I'm going to take some time to get settle in before my next adventure. I'll keep you updated!


Monday, May 3, 2010


Today, an Australian friend and I visited 北海公园 (Beihai Park) near the Forbidden City. The park is situated around the northern part of a lake in the middle of Beijing, and it's a good place to relax, stroll around or ride a boat. But the best part of the park are the 龙 (dragons) - specifically, the Nine Dragon Screen that I'm posing in front of. (They could have called it the 635 Dragon Screen - because that's the total number of dragons on it - but they went with nine because there are nine really big ones on each side.) The wall was built in 1756, but the dragons are in good shape - and they still look scary!

After inspecting the dragon screen, we hopped on a boat for a short ride across Beihai to Jade Island, where the White Dagoba is located atop a hill. (See photo.) It is another Lama temple, built for the Dalai Lama in 1651 - and rebuilt in 1741. We climbed up the hill and through some ancient caves to see the dagoba and to get a view of the surroundings. We could see the rest of the park, Jingshan Hill, the Forbidden City - and other areas of the city.

By this time we were getting hungry. I knew this because I considered eating food from a street vendor in the park. After several failed attempts to get a taxi to take us two 外国人 (foreigners) to a particular famous Peking duck place, we ended up walking along the sidewalk just outside the walls of Zhongnanhai (the Communist Party's leadership compound) and settling for some soup and noodles. (The waitress told me it was shredded pork in my noodles, but I wasn't so sure.)

From my vantage point in the noodle restaurant, I watched the people walking down the street. It's still a holiday weekend here, so there was a lot of activity. I saw one very old Chinese man walking alone past Zhongnanhai, dressed in a suit that probably fit him 30 years ago, but now he's swimming in it. He was wearing three rather large red medals, unevenly attached to the left side of his jacket. I really wanted to know what his story was. I couldn't help but think that he may have been a hero in the revolution (which is possible if he is in his 80s), and how it was kind of sad that he was all by himself on the holiday.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

雍和宫 (Yonghegong)

This is a big holiday weekend in the People's Republic: May Day. While the socialist workers of the world unite in protest in places like the Philippines and Thailand, China's citizens have gone on holiday. My school has a three-day weekend, but many Chinese workers will take up to a week off. It's a time when people travel to see their families, and many people seem to have traveled to Beijing to ride 地铁 (the subway).

Today I rode that crowded subway to see the Lama Temple at Yonghegong - the largest Lama Buddhist temple outside of Tibet. Yonghegong - which means 'harmony and peace' - was built in 1694 as a temporary palace for a prince, and it was turned into a Lama Temple in 1744. The official placard at the entrance points out that 'the temple has survived the ten turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976, thanks to Premier Zhou Enlai.'

The temple complex is as impressive as it is historic. Photography is not allowed inside any of the five halls, but exterior pictures are allowed. I've attached a few photos to show what the buildings look like. Inside the halls, there were extraordinary statues of the Buddha and centuries-old Lama relics.

The Lama temple still functions as a place of worship, which made the entire 'tourist experience' a little surreal for me. Throughout the temple complex, devout Buddhists performed religious rituals, prayed and lay prostrate in front of their holy shrines. All the while, tourists stepped over them, bumped them, and let their screaming children interfere with their prayers. It was quite a strange thing to witness. (I did take the opportunity to spin a few Dharma Wheels - only when there were no worshipers in sight!)


Friday, April 23, 2010

景山公园 -- Jingshan Park

Friday was 'Sports Day' at BLCU - an academic holiday - so an Aussie mate and I decided to go to Tiananmen Square to view Chairman Mao's body. We figured that since it wasn't a weekend or a holiday, the line might be shorter than the last time I tried to see Mao.

Something brought Beijing people out in droves - it must have been the nice weather. The line to get into Mao's mausoleum was actually longer than the last time I was there.  Unbelievably longer … so long that we couldn't even find the end of the line! So, we decided to head north to the Forbidden City and beyond.

It was good to go back to the Forbidden City because I was able to make some new observations and get some different pictures, including a couple of cool statues of dragons and a statue of a turtle.

The Forbidden City is very grand in scale and the artisan work on the buildings that have been restored is very impressive. I was surprised, however, that many of the most popular buildings haven't had the art work restored. There was also a bit of irony with the crowds at 'The Hall of Supreme Harmony' and 'The Hall of Preserving Harmony'. There was some serious pushing and shoving going on, so I couldn't even get close enough to get any pictures.

Just north of the Forbidden City is 景山公园 (Jingshan Park), which overlooks the Forbidden City as well as the rest of Beijing. It is a well-manicured park, built around a huge hill made out of the material excavated to create the moat around the Forbidden City. It is the most pleasant place I've been in Beijing. I've included a picture of me standing on the hill with a good view of the Forbidden City in the background.

After that, we wandered around some of the small alleys around the park and eventually made our way to 雍和宫 (Yonghegong) – the Tibetan area of town. We were there just long enough to eat some fantastic prawns made with spicy Tibetan sauce and some spicy Tibetan beef.

After all of this, we made our way back to the university. We were too tired to see the Buddhist temple at Yonghegong. But don't worry, a visit there is also on my agenda!