Sunday, January 13, 2013

Old Sky, Old Temple, Old Friends

After a long day climbing around on the great wall, I took it easy on
Thursday. A little too easy, probably; I didn't get out of the hostel
until nearly three in the afternoon. However, I woke up congested and
with a headache; I blamed it initially on the heater in the room (my
roommates like to keep it nice and toasty), but once I did step
outside I realized it was probably also the smog. The first few days
in Beijing had clear, brilliantly blue skies--but Beijing's famous
smog was descending now. The sky was still blue and the sun was still
shining, but both looked dusty, dirty. The sun seemed weaker through
the haze.

I spent the morning reading (I'm in the middle of an obsession with
Madeleine L'Engle) and catching up on email. I bought lunch from the
little bar in the hotel--some cheesy rice that tasted pretty good, but
probably wouldn't have been quite as good if I could actually taste
it.

Once I finally drug myself out, I headed for the Lama Temple, which
was the major thing on my list from last time in Beijing that I didn't
get to see. However, by the time I got there, it was 3:40, and it
closed at 4:00, so I didn't bother. Another day. However, the
neighborhood across the street from it is the old hutongs (narrow
alleys through mazes of single-story courtyard homes); these have
mostly been repurposed as cafes, little shops, and art galleries; the
street I wandered down seemed to focus on pottery.

About halfway down that road, I came across the Beijing Confucian
Temple, and it was open until five. The temple was begun in 1302, and
it is next door to an ancient college. There were only a few visitors
on this chilly late afternoon, so I had the grounds almost to myself.
The temple and most of the other halls are the typical red buildings
with gold tile roofs and elaborate blue and green painted decoration,
a bit faded and peeling. What interested me most in the courtyard
were the dozens of ancient cypress trees; twisted and gnarled, they
looked to be nearly as old as the temple itself. One of the largest
and most twisted had a sign that confirmed this--it is known to be
seven hundred years old.

In one of the side buildings, a very nice museum detailing the life of
Confucious has been installed. I had never really bothered to learn
any biographical information about him, so I found it quite
interesting; however, I had to skip about twenty years or so in the
middle, as I was running out of time. I just had time to duck over to
the ancient college grounds for a quick pictures of the arched entry
and the main building before scooting out before I got locked in.

I kept walking along the hutong road until I got to another major
street; it was getting dark and cold, so after wandering around a bit
I settled into a restaurant; I had some good tie ban niu rou (slices
of beef and onions on a sizzling skillet). While I was eating, I got
a text from Kelley--Rebecca, one of the people I worked in with in
Jingzhou two years ago, but hadn't seen since, and her husband, Jon,
had arrived in Beijing, so I went to meet up with them, but I'll tell
you about that in the next post.

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