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Beijing Beginnings

Travel to Beijing, Lama temple, Chinese restaurant

overcast 85 °F

Here we are in China, and good news - our blog works! Only a few sites (Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, MSNBC.com) seem to be shut down.

Today started bright and early again (the only part of this vacation that I'm not upset to give up!) with a 5:15am wake up call to meet our Airport Limousine (bus) that would take us to Tokyo Narita Airport. The ride and flight were both without issue. We slept a little, did some very balanced reading (Us Weekly and Newsweek for me!), and ate this meal, which was a pretty neat concept of 6 mini appetizers in a box (and yes, I ate "Japanese Hamburger Steak" from a plane ... something I'd never thought I'd say!).
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By the time we got through customs, into a cab, and to our hotel, it was around 3pm. In that short time we had the chance to make several observations about Beijing: first, while the people certainly aren't rude, they do not have the constant bubbly happiness and genuine humility of the Japanese. Most store employees look straight ahead and don't make eye contact with you, there is very little bowing or smiling, and people definitely stare at Americans as if they are intruding (we knew this from some pre-reading before coming here). Much of this has to do with the Chinese concept of "saving face," which I read a bit about before coming, and which causes the Chinese to express very few emotions. Second, what we had heard about the pollution levels in Beijing unfortunately seems to be true. The sky seems to be in a constant state of heavy fog - even though you can't really feel it as you breathe, our eyes have been stinging just a bit and looking out at the horizon lets you know that it is definitely there. Finally, driving around here is a bit chaotic! We haven't had seat belts in any of the 3 cabs we've been in, and have had a few instances of grabbing onto our seats, but everyone seems to know what they're doing and understand "the rules," so I guess it works out!

After arriving at our hotel, we quickly hopped in a cab to get to the Lama Temple (or the "YongHeGong Lama Temple," or the "Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple") with enough time to explore before closing (last entrance at 4:30, closing at 5). I wasn't feeling great at this point and kind of wanted to skip it, but I'm really glad we ended up going. The Temple was built in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty and served as a residence for Emperor YongZheng when he was a prince. When he took the throne in 1722, half of the Temple was converted into a lamasery (a monastery of lamas). Since that time, the Lama Temple has undergone several restorations and has remained one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world.
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The visit was a great one - the Temple is composed of several buildings, each holding various Buddha statues and shrines. Buddhists present three sticks of incense to give thanks for the Buddhist teachings, and kneel and bow in front of the statues. We were very impressed by the first few Buddhas we saw, but as you go from building to building, they keep getting bigger, more elaborate, and more beautiful!
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By the time we got to the main building, the Buddha inside was unbelievable - it stands 18 meters tall, and was supposedly carved from a single sandalwood tree, which took several years to transport from Tibet. It is the Maitreya Buddha, who is believed to be a future Buddha that will appear on Earth to achieve enlightenment and teach the pure dharma. Behind the Maitreya sit 10,000 smaller Buddhas within the building, which is called the Ten Thousand Happiness Building. Because pictures were not allowed inside the buildings, I've borrowed some from a few websites to post here. You can't even imagine how enormous this was, though!
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After wandering around the Temple and struggling to find a cab driver who would take us back to our hotel, we hit the gym for a workout. We then headed to dinner - we intended to meander around the area until we found something that looked good, and we stumbled upon a restaurant whose menu had pictures and English words - jackpot! I think we missed the memo that this was a family-style restaurant, though, because we ordered enough to feed many more than ourselves! I ordered the "braised vegetables with mushrooms" and the "tofu and vegetable soup" ... and check out the size of that soup (relative to Kevin's body in the background). Seriously, it was as big as both of our heads combined. It was delicious, and so wonderful to have some vegetables, but I obviously couldn't finish it all. Kevin got the shrimp fried rice and dumplings (which I didn't get a picture of).
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After dinner, we wandered a bit more and headed to a mall/ department store to continue the quest for running shorts (no luck, but my men's shorts will survive another day!). We found a supermarket in the basement and picked up some water and goodies for tomorrow's breakfast. After a bit of Olympics watching, we are going to call it a day and get ready for a big day in Beijing tomorrow!
-Megan and Kevin

Posted by megandkev 06:56 Archived in China

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