Sunday, January 01, 2006

And that's a wrap... almost

Well it's official, after 7 days of travelling, visiting dozens of places, I am officially touristed out. In fact, I think for the next few weeks I will stop using the words "tourist" and "attraction" together and replace the second word with "repulsion". This has been an amazing trip, but I am quite ready to go home now. Japan will be a welcome change, which is why I came out here in the first place after all. It was time to take a break from Japan, and now that I've spent a week in China, I'll appreciate what I've got in Japan (mainly a basic understanding of the language!) much more.

So I slept in this morning, didn't do anything last night, opting for a night of rest instead. Headed out around 10:00 in the direction of the Lama Temple, Beijing's largest buddhist temple. The Lama Temple was the home of Count Yin Zhen until 1723 when he became Emperor, changed his name to Yongzhen and moved to the Forbidden City. His former residence was then known as Yongzhen Palace until it was turned into a lamasery in 1744 and hordes of monks from Mongolia and Tibet moved in. Seeing as this, as New Year's Day, is a National Holiday here, the place was quite busy. And seing as it is a fully functioning buddhist temple, hundreds were heading in to make their first visit of 2006, it was the busiest of the sights I've seen so far this week.

Of course, seeing as I've already visited quite a few temples in Japan, this wasn't that spectacular of a sight for me, until I visited the last hall anyway. This is the lovely decorated Bell Tower, which is still used for certain ceremonies by the monks.

This is one of the two statues garding the first hall, quite striking.

As I mentioned, since this is a functioning temple, there were worshipers everywhere, most of whom were carrying burning sticks of incense... it's amazing nobody went up in flames, though I'm sure accidents do happen.

It certainly was a nice day out, with the sun warming things up quite nicely after yesterday's cold and snow. And the smell of incense burning everywhere was nice.

In front of each hall were these large fires where people could drop incense in as an offering or light their sticks of incense for prayers. The monks also use these fires to burn the other offerings which are brought to the temple by worshipers.

As I said, this place was kind of ho-hum until I reached the final courtyard and the Wangfu Hall which had some quite intricate decorations and was flanked by two towers with walkways connecting into the main hall.

The real shocker came when I entered the Hall though and came face to foot with an 18 meter high statue of Budha, clothed in yellow satin. Making this statue even more fascinating is the claim that it was carved out of one single piece of sandalwood, with the donor tree coming from Tibet. Quite the accomplishment.

Following my visit to the Lama Temple, I had pretty much completed all the major tourist repulsions in Beijing, save for the Summer Palace, which I will save for my next visit since it's best seen when the gardens are in bloom anyway. With plenty of time to spare, I ventured off again down the streets of Beijing, heading in the general direction of the Forbidden City. After a good hour or two of wandering I ended up on Wangfujing Dajie shopping street again and boy was it crowded! I quickly hopped a cab and headed back to the hotel. Instead of grabbing lunch at a restaurant, I thought I would check out a supermarket nearby and I'm quite glad I did. For 16 Yuan (about 3$), I made out with a bag of food and ate like a king. Unfortunately that means that I am still full and need to do some more walking to make some room for dinner. I refuse to leave Beijing without having had at least one good chinese meal! I've recently taken inventory and have found that I've skipped around half of my meals this week, which means I haven't really had a chance to sample any real good food. Most of the time I've been eating on the go, so tonight I'll have a seat at Berena's Bistro, which Lonely Planet promises serves up great Sichuan dishes. After that, it's back to the hotel to pack my bags and get ready for the trip home tomorrow. Flight leaves at 9:20, which means a 5:45 wakeup and a 6AM departure to avoid Beijing's Monday morning traffic jams.

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