Friday, July 30, 1999

Beijing

Hong Kong
I woke up at about 5 am, after having set my alarm there earlier in the week so as to not miss the bus today. I was at the bus stop at 5:20, and the bus finally came at 5:40. There were lots of people around this early in the morning, but I think it's because they commute down to Central. I arrived at the airport around 6:40, not bad. Checking in was easy, and I had McDonald's for breakfast (for fast food, the line was tediously slow). I changed some money into yuan and went to stand in line for Customs. While I was waiting, a new counter opened up. Thanks to my experiences crossing into Shenzhen for work, I was able to be the first in line! By 7:30, I was waiting to board. I ended up watching these two really cute kids, a little boy and his older sister, play some sort of game. Basically, she would say something to him and then go away while he stood absolutely still, not even looking around. She'd come back and say something else and his head would whip around to look at her and his whole face would light up from his smile.
We landed in Beijing around 10:40 am, no time change as we basically flew north. It appears to be 'rush hour' for the airport. The airport is foggy, or maybe that's pollution, but either way when I look down the taxiway, I see the silhouette of 747 tailfins disappearing into the grey. 
I was out of customs at noon. Right when I was next in line, they closed the counter and I had to merge behind a Chinese family and two Germans. I met up with the family friend of the Rens (the family with whom I was staying), and he drove me back to their flat. After lunch and planning the rest of my stay, I was taken to the Lama Temple around 1:45 in the afternoon.
The Yonghe Lamasery is the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple within China, outside of Tibet. The monks study the Tibetan language and the secrets of the Yellow Sect.
 One of the buildings housed the Maitreya Buddha-it's carved from a single trunk of white sandlewood and is 18 meters above ground, 8 meters below-which holds some sort of Guinness World Record. The emperor Yong Zheng lived here while he was still known as Count Yin Zhen. In 1744 it was converted into a lamasery.

From the temple, I decided to walk more into town. Using the shadows cast by the afternoon sun, I was able to head south to the China Art Gallery. Before I arrived at my destination, I headed down a nearby market alley. I haggled for a shirt I liked that in the end turned out to be too small for me. The shirt was marked size 54, and the size 48 shirt I had bought in HK was a little tight, but my arms couldn't even have circulation in this one. No more clothing purchases for me! I walked around that block and before I got to the steps of the Gallery, I decided to get my hair cut.

Big deal you say. I had seen people on the street getting their hair shorn, and decided to give it a go. Not speaking enough of the language to do more than agree on a price, I put my hair in the care of a street vendor. It cost me 20 yuan, about $2.50. I'd actually paid twice the agreed upon price because I'd feel cheap walking around with a dollar haircut. I needed one anyways, and it was cooler. And it looks good.

The Gallery (remember, that's where I was going in the first place?) had photos, paintings, and lots of text scrolls. It was worth the 60 cents I paid for admission.


 From there it was down Wangfujing, a shopping street with lots of construction. I think I got a rash on my leg where some waste water hit it. I hung a left on the road that would have taken me to Qianmen (Front Gate) and Tiananmen Square had I turned right instead. I walked down to Ritan Park, which was built in 1530, making it one of Beijing's older parks.
 The 'Temple of the the Sun" had a park, with about 40 people practicing Tai Chi with swords.
I took a cab back to the Ren's, and got stuck in a four-way traffic jam in a back alley (I had caught the cab after I got lost) as 1 car tried to go the wrong way down the alley. People were really helpful, pushing each other out of the way, but no one got mad. Kinda cool. Mr. Ren cooked up some dumplings, a traditional dish from his native Shanxi region. They were quite good, and I think I had about three dozen of them (they were small). I called Vanessa, my friend I met through Austin down in Hong Kong, to set up plans for tomorrow. I fell into bed around 10pm, so as to be rested for my next adventure.

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