China Vacation: Day 5: Beijing On My Own – Lama Temple, Beijing Zoo, Wangfujing Street, Temple of Heaven
November 29, 2013
During the trek to the Great Wall, I had a chance to catch up with one of the other travelers in our tour group, Pawel. He had ventured out on the first day and made crazy progress for one day. He also had used the local subway which was about 1.5 miles from our hotel. Since we had similar personal itineraries in the morning, he offered for me to join him, which helped me get a feel for the local metro.
After an early breakfast, we ventured off to hit the Lama Temple first. Rush hour on the Beijing subway was no joke, but we arrived at the temple early and I opted for a quick visit of the Confucius Temple two blocks away while he did some early morning shopping. The streets around both temples featured vendors selling sticks of incense which worshippers purchased to then light with their prayers while leaving unlit sticks before the Buddha statues at the Lama Temple.
We caught the opening of the temple, which was amazing. Each hall progressed with golden statues and diligent monks maintaining the facilities. The final pavilion featured a 55 foot tall sandalwood single-block carved statue of Buddha. The experience was genuine and that which I will hold my entire life. The sights of the temple and the worshippers, the scent and taste of the incense on the air, combined with the sound of the people and walking these old steps was beyond memorable and truly worth the stop.
After the Lama temple, we continued to the Beijing Zoo. The real goal was to see panda bears, but I was skeptical as to both their treatment and that of the other animals in the zoo's collection. We found the pandas and took pictures and video of four bears; one of whom looked very old or sick. After a quick look at a few other habitats, we considered the aquarium but for me the price tag wasn't worth it, especially since all the habitats in the aquarium are also available at SeaWorld. After a short walk and purchasing a few souvenir stuffed panda bears, Pawel and I separated to continue each of our own afternoon journeys. I took the metro one direction, he the other.
My next stop was the shopping street of Wangfujing Dajie. I meandered my way through the city and found the start of the street where a very large mall with seven levels. I was starving and thought the food court might be a good place to check out. I found this noodle restaurant that is located in both Beijing and San Francisco. The noodles, pork dumplings, and broth in a single bowl was filling and delicious. Certainly warmed me up and hit the spot.
Leaving the mall, I continued south down the street. I located the tea shop a colleague of work had requested to bring back two types of tea. I also discovered the old street silk market that while it was daytime, the food vendors were serving all the exotic foods on a stick, including scorpions, silk worms, crickets and star fish. I didn't purchase any food, but admired the vendors and the tourists who were brave enough to sample. Because of the crowds and congestion, I opted to stay safe with my camera stowed.
After walking to the end of the shopping street, I grabbed the metro and headed for the Temple of Heaven which was near the subway stop for our hotel. Another hike through the streets of Beijing and I was at the temple entrance. While it was late in the afternoon, locals were still around, most notably practicing the art of calligraphy on the stone pavers.
The temple complex was lager than I had envisioned, but not near as impressive in architecture as the Forbidden City as it was more of a temple wrapped around by a park as a complete complex. The sun was good, though, and the lighting on the temple made for some beautiful pictures. The highlight for me was the largest circular structure, the Qinian Dian, or Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests itself as fulfilled another one of my travel destination dreams.
After about an hour at the temple complex, I trekked back to the hotel, this time using a different street from the subway which afforded me the opportunity to pass by the Chinese National Sports offices which houses the Olympic functions for the country.
It was back to the hotel for another early night from exhaustion and accomplishment.