Friday, November 12, 2010

The Lama Temple


NM

So. We walked out of the Temple of Heaven and were greeted with about three dozen cabbies, all offering to take us anywhere for the low, low price of 400 - 600 Yuan. Which translates to $60 - $100. Needless to say, we did not take them up on their offers. One guy even dropped his price down to 100 Yuan a piece. But Jimmy told us that a cab ride around town shouldn't cost more than 30 - 50 Yuan for the trip. It took us awhile, but eventually we got a cab that used the meter and took us to the Lama Temple. It cost us 40Y.

As we were walking towards the temple entrance, admiring the overwhelming amount of shops selling incense of every scent and size, we were approached by a woman who asked us if we wanted a guide for the temple. I'm not sure about the other two, but I was a little stunned at first. It didn't occur to me that we needed a guide, especially after navigating the Temple of Heaven pretty successfully. Dad asked her what it would cost and she told us 150Y, and she said we didn't have to pay until after the tour. This seemed pretty reasonable, and so we met Cindy, who would turn out to be much more than our Temple tour guide.


She took us through the temple and was a font of knowledge about the place. In truth, she taught us more stuff about the place than I could remember, all of it fascinating and interesting. The temple was an imperial palace before being converted to a temple for the Dalai Lama when he was in town. It is still a fully operational temple, and we often had to walk around supplicants praying and offering incense and money to the various statues. She explained the meaning of the three gateways that were everywhere on old buildings.

See them behind us there?


She explained the four languages on the signage. A blessing in Mongolian, Tibetan, Han, and Mandarin.


She showed us the statues and explained who they were and why they were. She had to explain this sculpture to me twice...


...as it apparently encompasses the entire meaning of Buddhism. I still don't get it very well. But it is a neat sculpture!

The temple is located in the middle of a bustling section of Beijing, and from traffic outside of the walls, it seemed a bit iffy that it would be a calm and serene place. But remarkably, it was just that!


It was really fun to have a guide to show us stuff that we otherwise would have walked right past. At the end of the tour, we got to see the gigantor 80 foot tall Buddha standing in the last hall. He is carved out of a single white cedar log that had an incredible three year journey of its own to get to Beijing.

NM

As we left the temple area and prepared to say goodbye to Cindy, she asked if we had ever been to a Chinese Tea Ceremony. Of course we had not, and she offered to take us to a tea house down the road. This seemed like a grand adventure since it was not one of the things included in the tour that began the next day. So we walked down a narrow park to this little street...


... and sat in a little room where a woman gave us a tea ceremony demonstration.


We got to try quite a few teas, like Oolong, Li chi with dried rose blossom, Jasmine, a dried fruit tea, and Chrysanthemum, which starts out as a little floating ball of tea like this...


and eventually the hot water makes it blossom, like this...


After drinking LOTS of tea and having a thoroughly good time with it, and buying some of our favorites to bring home, we left the little tea house. We were feeling a bit hungry after the adventures of the day, and having no clue where or what to eat, we offered to treat Cindy to dinner in exchange for translator skills. She accepted, but said there were no 'real' places to eat around the area we were in. Something nearby was smelling really good, but she said that it was just "an ordinary Szechuan place that the locals ate in". This appealed greatly to us, and we convinced her that 'where the locals eat' was just what we wanted to experience. So we went into the place and got quite a few stares from the employees and diners in the place. They gave us a huge round table with a big, glass lazy susan on it. The waiter and Cindy chatted a bit, and we perused the menu that was only in Chinese with some pictures. Cindy said there was a "family style" meal for 40Y each that had Sweet and Sour Pork, soup and rice. It was about 40Y less than anything else on the menu, so we agreed. Very quickly we had rice, soup and tea on the table. Then came the pork...


quickly followed, much to our delight and surprise, by the following...

Garlic Broccoli...


Kung Pao Chicken...


Mutton in brown sauce...


Mushrooms and Cabbage(Bok Choi)...


and a scrambled egg and tomato dish that tasted like it was made with maple syrup and could easily have been a breakfast delicacy. I didn't get a picture of that though.

And for the next couple hours, we shared a meal with Cindy and learned about her life in Beijing, Chinese culture, including the proper way to eat meals like this one...


Notice the little tiny plates that we have in front of us. Those were definitely too small to really satisfy a Shaffer man. But Cindy taught us that when friends and family share a meal, they turn the lazy susan to what they want to eat, take a few pieces for the plate, then eat right off the dish. Everyone sort of eats what is in front of them on this Wheel of Food until somebody wants something different. Then the Wheel spins again. It is impolite to spin the wheel while others are serving themselves. Dining in this way is considered bonding time for friends and family. It was really quite fun. The dinner was topped of by a huge plate of watermelon, which you can see in the above photo.

Cindy said that the food was nothing special, but we had to respectfully disagree. It was to be one of our favorite meals on the trip.

As we walked out to catch a cab night had fallen, but Cindy offered to flag a cab for us.


We were telling Cindy that we wanted to pick up some bottles of water because the bottles in the hotel room cost 60Y. She was appalled at that and said that the local stores sold half liters for 2Y. Then she told us to wait where we were and she disappeared for about ten minutes. When she came back, she was toting a grocery bag with nine half liters of water in it! She said there was no charge for it because we had paid her for the tour before dinner, and had thrown in a few hundred Yuan extra for taking us to the Tea Room and joining us for dinner. She said we had already paid too much, but that water was like gold to us, so we plied her with more Yuan. Besides, she had told us that usually her tours took an hour or so, and she had been hanging out with us for about six. As we parted with hugs and pictures, Cindy told us that she would miss us, and that she had really had fun being with us. We are charming men, of course. And we all felt like we had formed a genuine friendship.


Over dinner, Cindy told us that she was from a farming villiage way West of Xian, and that the name of her villiage meant town by the rapids. We were thrilled, as this connected us even farther. Jason and I were raised in, and Dad still lives, in Cedar Rapids, the town by the rapids!

On the way back we pondered what an amazing first day it had been, with the Temple of Heaven, the Lama Temple, meeting great people and having an excellent adventure. We hoped the official 'tour' could live up to this phenomenal first day.

Tomorrow though, the TOUR would begin!

More Later

1 comment:

Sharon said...

AWESOME! I am so glad you had Cindy to help make it such a wonderful first day... what a sweetie!