March 19, 2014
We said good bye to our group of shipmates last night. For the first time in two weeks we are without our guide and babysitter, Peter. We are also without the company of Bon travelers like Bill, Christi, Irene and Jim from a cold part of Canada. We kind of bonded with Bill and Christi early after Peggy noticed Christi’s Camino scallop ear rings. Old Pelegrino’s never run out of stories.
The 36 members of Peter’s Viking group were all pretty experienced travelers. They rarely whined and tried to be on time and not keep the bus waiting. We accommodated our physical differences. It seemed to work just fine. Today we are on our own.
Took a cab ride through Beijing traffic to our hotel for less than five bucks. Checked into the Double Happiness Courtyard Hotel’s Honeymoon Suite. See the pictures. The staff was bilingual and quite helpful. Without Peter, we had convinced ourselves to use a taxi to get around. The front desk people assured us that the subway would be easier a taxi. We were still skeptical.
Peggy took pictures all the way to the subway entrance which was located next to a McDonalds. These pictures would be our visual bread crumbs if we got lost. We also took the hotel business card, phone number and map cards. The lady washing McD windows pointed to the subway entrance and we were off.
The Chinese are very friendly and despite the language barrier go out of the way to help. This includes the police and security people of whom there are many. The subways themselves are very clean and easy to navigate. It helps that the second language in China is English and the stops and directions are in English. The subway got crowded even though we were traveling mid-day. Despite packed conditions, everyone was polite and we experienced no problems. People got up so Peggy could sit. Peter said they would do that for pretty people.
Our first visit was the Temple of Heaven which is more of an altar than temple. The Emperors would make offerings to assure plentiful harvests. The place is an exercise in cosmic number theory. Not sure what that means other than all the staircases have nine steps and odd numbers are used everywhere. The crowds were non-existent. It was refreshing to walk around and take pictures without jostling. There were a few tour groups but nothing like yesterday.
The walk to the temple was a education. Pensioners are doing dance exercises, knitting crafts for sale, playing cards and checkers all along the way to the temple. It was actually quite calming after yesterday. We took the subway the opposite direction to the Llama Temple. The temple is actually a school for Buddhist monks. The place can be summed up in two words. – incense and gold.
There are literal bonfires of incense and gleaming gold covers the many, many statues of Buddha in a variety of configurations. People were carrying bundles of incense into the various temples. Many folks were prostrating, bowing and doing other spiritual activities. I focused on the magnificent craftsmanship and artistry. We took took no pictures inside the temples themselves. They gave us a small CD which I assume contains pictures of the temple insides and statues.
Christianity has its share of saints and things that are difficult for us Protestants to appreciate. Buddhism is in its own category for trying to explain the unexplainable through visual representations. Peggy got a little uncomfortable. At least they were light on relics except for one drinking skull. The 25 foot tall Buddha carved from one piece of sandalwood was impressive. We found our way out through the clouds of incense.
Time for lunch at KFC. The Chinese love the place. Tasted good to me. Since we are staying the Hutongs where English is rare and picture menus are scarce, this seemed like a good idea. Still somewhat unusual was the gal beating on a gourd with a stick while reading her prayers. Most of the Chinese patrons of KFC kept their distance. Peggy sat right next to her. We ate in a hurry.
Got the third subway ride of the day back to the hotel. Total cost for three rides for the two of us was under two dollars. The low price is to encourage Beijingers to keep their cars at home. They still need some convincing.
We have our flight confirmed and transport to the airport arranged. Dinner somewhere in the Hutong and enjoyment of our special suite. Next post should be from near Osaka, Japan. All in all, we did all right being on our own. I do believe the Chinese are friendly and helpful to us visitors. Being careful did not hurt either.