Sunday, November 3, 2013

Exploring Beijing

Beijing is a nice city and I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be much more spacious and green that what I had expected.  Even though it is a big city, it had a much smaller feel to it than Seoul.  The roads were wider and the tall buildings more spread out.  The tree lined streets made it feel welcoming.  We had heard that the parks provide a pretty good look at the culture of China.  The locals find rest from their cares as they practice their martial arts, dance, or play bad-mitten and hacky sac games.  The children skate or ride bikes and chase each other in games of tag.  After visiting the Forbidden City Friday, September 6), or Imperial Museum as they now call it, Bob and I walked north from the exit to Jingshan Park.  From the top of one of the hills in the park, you can look out over the entire grounds of the Forbidden City and catch a real feel for the immensity of the imperial palace.  I should mention that it is at this park that the last Ming Emperor committed suicide by hanging himself from the branches of the tree in the photo below.  As a young man, at the age of 17 he inherited a failing kingdom wrought with deceit.  The fractured leadership was unable to fend off the attacks of rebel armies, and in 1644, the Chongzhen Emperor took his life.  We had enjoyed a very clear sunny day our first day in Beijing, but today, it was shrouded in a thick haze - probably a more typical look at the air quality there.  Nonetheless, we enjoyed the views of Beijing before walking further north to explore more of the city.


Leaving the park we wondered north, taking note of some sights along the way, and happened upon a lively "bar district".  The neon lights along the river created a beautiful sight, and we found some very cute little shopping streets located nearby.  We found another szechuan restaurant and again enjoyed a delicious inexpensive dinner before hurrying "home" so that Bob could connect to an important conference call.

Saturday morning, Bob needed to stay at the apartment for another conference call in the morning, so I asked Mr. Ma to take me to the Panjiayuan Market, lovingly known as the "Dirt Market".  This market was typical of many we have seen in Korea, where vendors spread out their antiques and oddities and haggle with potential customers until they can agree upon a sale.  It seems the days of real bargaining are gone for the foreigner looking for a steal.  But I'm certain there are deals to be had for one with an eye for quality and the perseverance to make it their own.

We picked up Bob and went to "The Brown Door" for lunch.  This small Chinese restaurant was completely full of foreigners, and the yummy food explained why.  This was the first time we have enjoyed a tasty hard syrup candied fried banana Chinese for dessert.  Asian desserts usually consist of fruits such as Nashi pear (which really is delicious!) or a flavorless airy cake that is hardly worth the calories.  Following lunch we went to the Liulichang shopping area, which was full of Chinese artisan workshops and stores.  We found an old mask to add to Bob's recent collection, and I bought a nice quality calligraphy stand and set of brushes.

I have to add this section about transportation, because I am always intrigued by the many ways people move from place to place along the busy crowded roads of Asia.  Look at the creative ways you can modify a "bike" to fit your needs!  Following are some of the modes of transportation I saw in Beijing.

Craig Davis told us that his favorite temple in Beijing is the "Lama Temple", so we headed out to see it on Saturday afternoon.  Originally, this temple was the official residence of the Qing Dynasty court eunuchs.  But it 1722, much of it was converted into a lamasery - a monastery for monks of Tibetan Buddhism.  Probably because I don't understand the religion, my appreciation for this kind of place of worship is diminished.  I just see a bunch of golden idols which to me represent false Gods and unholy devotions.  Not only does reason speak of God as a true and living being, but with all my heart I know that He is the Father of us all.  We are created in His image and likeness and each of us will someday return to His presence.  Anyway, I do respect the desires of others to create a place of peace and tranquility in a confusing world, where one can meditate and pray as they see fit.  I will make mention of a huge Buddha statue housed within the Lama Temple, which stands 26 meters high and is carved from a single piece of white sandalwood.  It reminded me a bit of the sea goddess Calypso, from Disney's "Pirates of the Carribean" movies, who in a moment of rage morphed into a gigantic woman.

On our way to the Red Theater, where we were going to watch a "Kungfu" show, we drove past Tiananmen Square, which is the 3rd largest city square in the world and the site of several important historical moments in China.  "The Legend of Kungfu" tells the story of a young boy monk who studies Zen and Kungfu in order to gain enlightenment and become a Kungfu master.  It was really a beautiful and dynamic performance about repentance and forgiveness and a great message to end our vacation with.  Guess where we went for our final meal in China?  (Gotta love Pizza Hut, right?)

Sunday morning we were able to attend church in the Davis' ward before catching our flight back to Seoul.  We enjoyed the meetings and it was very interesting to learn more about how the church functions in that area.  The LDS church has a strong presence in China, but they have to be very careful not to proselyte in any way.  The international members cannot meet or associate with the Chinese members, but somehow, the stone cut of the mountain spoken of by Daniel rolls forth with strength throughout the world!  This gospel is truly a marvelous work and a wonder and we are very grateful to have it in our lives!

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