We went to the Great Bell Temple where we saw collections of temple bells and the main attraction, a 47 ton bell they had to bring on ice sleds back in 1743. The highlight was when a staff member played the set of bells for us, including the jade chimes. It felt like we were teleported back in time.
The Temple of Heaven was our next stop. The cylindrical Hall of Good Harvest was incredible to see, as well as the Circular Altar. On the way in we passed by locals who were exercising, dancing, playing dominoes and mahjong, embroidering, and just hanging out chatting in groups.
The Ancient Observatory was fascinating because they had huge bronze instruments dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Their elaborate details made them look more like artwork than scientific instruments.
We went to Duijichi, a renowned jiazos restaurant that had served emperors. We ordered sack-like dumplings, different from the usual crescent –shaped ones. It was fun taking the subway back on our own; all this time we had been driven around by Liu Pei. After 7 PM the stations and trains weren’t crowded at all.
A woman played these for us at the Great Bell Temple
The largest bell at the Great Bell Temple
The Great Bell Temple
On the rooftop at the Ancient Observatory
Temple of Heaven
The Hall of Good Harvest at the Temple of Heaven
The Ancient Observatory
We toured Soong Ching Ling’s home; she was known as the mother of the Communist Party. She was married to Sun Yat-sen while her sister was the wife of Chiang Kai-shek. The mansion was given to her by the party in appreciation of her loyalty, yet she lived quite simply and spent most of her life involved in education and writing. The grounds were beautiful, with cooing doves, a rockerie, weeping willows, and a small lake surrounded by a walking path.
We then enjoyed wandering around the Back Lakes on our own for a couple of hours. While eating lunch on the rooftop of a Thai restaurant, we saw the Dutch family below us. They were shocked to hear us call out their names; part of our conversation was about the coincidence of running into one another in a city with a population of millions.
We then toured Lama Temple’s beautiful grounds and five colorful Tibetan Buddhist halls, including the Tower of Thousand Happiness with a 59 foot tall statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha. Carved from one piece of sandlewood, it was a gift from the Seventh Dalai Lama delivered all the way from Tibet.
Prince Gong’s Mansion was next, an elaborate and meticulously kept imperial home built in the 1700’s by Heshen, a corrupt official who had accrued more wealth than the emperor. The mansion’s grounds contained rockeries, pavilions, and gardens. They also had an opera house in which traditional operas and tea ceremonies were performed for tourists.
The last stop was Baiyun Guan, a Daoist temple that is still in use for training monks. It was built on the 700’s, and contained several temples, including a huge hall with meditation cushions and tables for studying the Daoist texts. A monk was reciting prayers in one of the minor temples.
We set out for dinner in the neighborhood where we were staying, and soon found out that the translation app on our iPhone was lacking when it came to figuring out a menu without pictures. It became impossible to order at the first restaurant, a Mongolian barbecue restaurant where a crowd of 14 wait staff and cooks gathered to try and communicate with us. We gave up, thanked them for their efforts and tried another place, Spice Girls Hot Pot. We had 7 wait staff help us order (again, we encountered a pictureless menu), and soon discovered that they were absolutely correct when they advised us that the spicy broth was too hot. This advice had been communicated by a facial expression of puckering and vigorous nodding of the head side to side. After insisting that I liked spicy, they thankfully gave us two broths to cook our meat and vegetables. We ended up using the milder broth. If we had continued using the spicy broth we would have needed to be hospitalized.
The steps leading to a rockerie at Soong Ching Ling's mansion
Qian Hai, one of the Back Lakes
A gate of one of the homes in the Back Lakes hutong
Baiyun Guan carved mural
We took a tour of the hutong near the Drum Tower with a guide who was friends with Alex. She pedaled along next to us as we sat in a rickshaw cycle, our driver weaving along narrow alleys filled with vendors, dogs, and neighbors visiting in front of one another’s homes. We then saw a drum ceremony demonstration at the Drum Tower which was magnificent!
We stopped at the Confucius Temple (Kong Miao), China’s second largest Confucian temple, and Directorate of Education (Guo Zi Jian), where the imperial examinations were taken back in the 1300’s. I learned much about the history of national examinations in China and the role they played in determining critical government positions. The temple is the second largest temple complex in China, with over 400 rooms. Busloads of students were touring, many of them purchased red prayer cards and hung them from the railings to ask for blessings as they take their final exams.
We visited the White Stupa, the largest Tibetan pagoda in China, 167 feet tall. It was built in the 1200’s under order of Kublai Khan. Among the several halls, one contained thousands of small Buddhas encased in glass shelves.
In the evening we saw the Beijing Chaoyang Theater Acrobatics World perform unbelievable feats. They had contortionists, acrobatics that defied gravity, phenomenal balancing acts, and movements that required amazing physical strength. We loved the show!
Prayer cards at Kong Miao
Prayer cards in front of Confucius statue at Kong Miao
We set out for a relatively unknown site—Tian Yi Mu, a cemetery for eunuchs and exhibition hall located outside of Beijing in the countryside. We descended into two tombs (spooky but fun) and viewed beautifully carved tombstones, a mummy and historical artifacts. We experienced some intense traffic conditions at one point when Lui Pei drove the car down a narrow street lined with vendors and then encountered approaching traffic with nowhere to go. We had to back up for about half a mile or so while surrounded by shoppers, dogs, and bicyclists.
We then went to Wanchou Si, a temple which also houses the Beijing Art Museum. We saw some ancient Thangka paintings—sacred Buddhist art, as well as vases, jewelry, and other impressive historical items, some of them dated back to the years BCE.
Our last stop was one of the best places yet, Ri Tan Park, a gorgeous park of lily pad filled ponds, garden paths, pavilions, decorative benches, elaborate gates, and old trees. We had a meal at a Stone Boat Café, a small boat made of stone and wood, set at the edge of a pond lined with weeping willows. It was the perfect setting to conclude our trip.
Tian Yi Mu
Tian Yi Mu
Ri Tan Park gate
Water lillies at one of the ponds at Ri Tan Park
Frank left for Raleigh. I went shopping at the Pearl Market (Hongqiao), a multilevel maze of jewelry and knock-off merchandise and Yuan Hou Silk Store, a high-end silk store with beautiful silk fabrics and clothes. They showed the entire process of silk making—boiling the cocoons, the spinning of the thread, and the stretching of the silk to make bedding. It was fascinating. Later, I left for Taipei to visit Phoenix Haydon, one of our first graduates from the MAT program.