Saturday, June 30, 2012


We visited the Yonghe Gong Tibetan Temple in Beijing, the only Tibetan Temple not destroyed by the Red Guard during the 1960′s cultural revolution.  It houses a very famous statue of Buddha made from a single, gigantic sandalwood tree and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. (My camera couldn’t get this picture. I got it on-line from  What I did get is the many worshipers around the temple grounds who do not mind if you take their pictures during what is a rather personal,  private event. And, the beauty of the temple itself.

Like most Chinese heritage sites, there are multiple buildings and plazas. The complex is huge and mobbed. Ten percent of Chinese identify as Buddhist, but many more really are. The tradition is deeply rooted and the Chinese people want to do good deeds and enjoy a better life in the hereafter. They feared retribution during the Cultural Revolution and have only recently returned to their temples.

A detail of the roof of the main building.

The worshipers mob fire pots to light their incense bouquets, some quite large.

They touch their forehead, mouth and then bow.

During the ritual, they recite the mantra:  Mind, Word, Deeds.   The street on both sides was filled with incense stands, and we wondered about them.

Then we saw the huge bouquets of incense they use.

A pot for dousing the flames is ignored and used for offerings instead. They allow the incense to burn down to the nub.

There are many stations like this one where people contemplate their lives and pray to be better citizens and to ask for wellness and hope.

Some worshipers pass through the building behind them that houses multiple Buddha’s, some black, some gold. From Buddha’s position, just a small change in an arm or leg, comes different meanings. Some are painted black, others are bronze.Tibetan Buddha’s all face north.

This man is thankful for his son in a one child family. He comes to thank Buddha for answering his prayers for a son.

This device is something like a prayer wheel.  It has an inscription on it and people  touch it quite reverently.

In one open building sat this huge tortoise-like creature.

Its mouth was filled with offerings for the monks, and maintenance of the buildings.

The monks don’t mingle much with the people. They are somewhat reclusive. This one wears a tan robe.

Another wore a saffron robe.  The color of the robe dictates different functions.

And, you are never far from the protective spirit of the lions.

Friday, June 29, 2012


From the bus, the dependence on bicycles in Beijing is visible wherever you go. Street lights of old were yellow lanterns. Now, the yellow lanterns are lit with electricity. On this street, the clustered lanterns are white.  We are taken to the inner city area of Beijing called the Hutongs, a neighborhood of closely built, attached houses with narrow alleyways, and tricky warrens, with no house numbers, typical of old Beijing. Most of the Hutong neighborhood has been bulldozed and people living there forced to move to high-rise, ugly,  cement,  apartment buildings.

We walked to a modern, bicycle powered rickshaw parking lot.

Michal, my travel partner, and I shared a rickshaw. Our driver’s name is “Joe”.  He speaks some English and told us he has two kids. He lives in the country and spends  one month per year with his family. In the city, he bunks in with other drivers and sends a required amount of his licensed earnings home to his family.

Hutong families may have a garage for bikes, and storage. Most are two rooms, with a small courtyard where they can grow herbs and a few radishes or lettuces for something fresh, or maybe flowers in a pot.
Some places are too narrow for a rickshaw and after a few minutes ride, we walk to meet our host family.

The Hutongs are handed down from generation to generation. Families here didn’t have deeds to their houses, but now everything is tracked and recorded. The neighboring family to our host has a fancy ceramic table and stools. This is an upper middle-class area.

This family is very proud of their spacious living/dining room.  Because they are affluent, they have decorations on the wall, family pictures, beautiful coverings for their furnishings and a television set.

The dining area of the main room with long ago acquired furnishings handed down, are now possibly valuable “antiques.”

In their private bedroom, the bed takes up most of the room, but it is fancy and many room decorations are visible with a modern lamp beside the bed. This type of residence is rare in China and very much desired. The neighborhood is safe and friendly. No one locks their bike or doors. None of them have bathrooms, they share community toilets and washing areas.

A very modern kitchen with running water, and the ability to cook inside. The Hutong houses of old had tramped dirt floors covered by bamboo mats, since replaced with tiles.  Cooking was done outside in a communal courtyard, if they were lucky to have that much room. Some just had a charcoal brazier on the roof, or in front of the door. The host family is paid by the tour company to open up their house to a mob of tourists.

As we walk out of the neighborhood, Vicki points out areas where the Hutong houses have been removed, cemented over and expanded to allow automobiles in.

One place had a bonsai obviously hundreds of years old.  In Japan, that bonsai would be surrounded by items of beauty and serenity to enhance the bonsai instead of a rolled up hose and a fire hydrant.  Gave me a chuckle.

Our group moved on to Prince Gong Imperial Gardens, a city park.

It was a beautiful spot in the middle of the city, but so packed with humanity, we hurried away.
We stopped to visit a rug factory. It carried excellent quality merchandise but the workers conditions were upsetting.

This young girl, still wearing her jacket, sits for long hours, in a cold unheated building and a hard seat. The rug she is working on will take a year to complete. She is a skilled worker and is grateful to have a job.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


The Summer Palace sits majestically over a lake. It is still used by the Empress Dowager and we didn’t go into the buildings but it was the favorite place of  Empress Cixi Putz, pronounced sissy-putz, who died in the late 1800′s.

We were ferried over the man-made lake by dragon boat to a landing where we waited in line to cross the seventeen arches bridge.

I am guessing that later construction in China did not obey the multiples of nine as in older buildings. The Summer Palace,  while still used officially, is a huge tourist attraction with boat rides of all types on the lake, beautiful gardens and in short, a lovely way to spend a day and picnic.

You enter through this beautiful gate.

As always, I had to take a picture of the ornate roof of the gate.

Our group stopped for a picture in front of this beautiful gate. The site is now designated a UNESCO site for its unique beauty and features.

The side of the gate is lined with the stone lion guards. Peeling paint is being scraped; the site repainted in preparation for the Olympics to be held in China for the first time in 2008.

Two  interesting  features of the Summer Palace are the Marble Boat, seen only in the background behind these people and the Long Hall which is not a hall, but a long covered walk way for the Empress to use.  On the Marble Boat, the Empress entertained guests  with a banquet as though they were actually traveling to some exotic place.

The Long Hall is also beautifully decorated. You can see the roof trusses beneath the picture.  The hall has many pictures depicting Chinese History, or famous storied fables to entertain her and her guests. It is lined with benches to rest often since the Empress, (and all women then,) had bound feet. The royal Empresses of old were confined to their Peaceful Garden and Long Hall since it was difficult for them to move about. But, wealth has its privileges. They could view the koi ponds with musicians hovering nearby to play for them. A servant would fetch them a pot of tea or a treat whenever they desired.

It would be fun to hear some of the stories these pictures represent. We were free to wander around the gardens and lake.

There are many bridges of great beauty. Chinese tourists love boating here.

Every bridge is guarded by those marvelous stone lions.

When we first arrived on the Island, we saw workers disembarking from a boat. This woman carries her own big metal “dust” pan and straw broom. The thermos we expect is her lunch. The dust pan can obviously hold discarded paper cups, napkins and other large debris dropped on the walkways and gardens.

These two little girls were well dressed and obviously having a good time. The one child per family edict resulted in more surviving males, by design. Women would line up to have sonograms and abort girl babies. Men grew up and couldn’t find a wife and had to go to Korea, Viet Nam, Indonesia,  or elsewhere to import brides. The sonogram “factories” have been closed and now, through education, people revere and prefer girls, especially in the big modern cities.  Farm families are allowed two children.

Since we couldn’t read Chinese script, we have no idea what significance this beautiful sculpture of a cow had.

At lunch, Viki explained to us that her own grandmother had bound feet, the cruel tortuous practice instigated by the Emperor’s favorite concubine who had tiny, tiny feet and danced for him on a drum. He considered them so beautiful and dainty, that aristocratic women made their own daughters emulate that beauty by binding their feet.  Vicki called it five hundred years of cruelty and crippling of women. Her grandparents were political, meaning outspoken, and were banished to the high country of China near Tibet. She remembers as her grandmother aged how painful her feet were and her inability to walk properly or very far.
All restaurant meals  are served on this giant turntable that takes up the complete center of the table.  We had delicious meals in China  that typically  included sea weed, cabbage, always bok choy, chicken, beef, cucumbers, soup, little meaty hors’ dueovres. Meat is in small quantities with many vegetables none of us recognized; always fish, normally cooked whole with head, eyes and fins attached. Everything came in a tasty sauce. Rice in good restaurants and affluent Chinese homes, is served last. It is only to fill you up if you didn’t get enough primary foods. We all wanted rice WITH our meals and of course, we were accommodated.
For more information about the summer palace, click the following link: