Friday, February 11, 2005

In China: Day 1 (New Years Day)

[For picture's from today's sights, go to: China Adoption Trip on]

Our first full day, Amy our guide takes us first to the Lama Temple, which was the Emperor's attempt to show his respect for the Tibetan Buddhists back in the day. On this day, New Years Day, it is the tradition to go to the temple to make wishes and prayers for the new year.

Normally this temple would have a few people worshiping and a few people sight seeing, but today it was totally packed with suplicants. It was a madhouse, with people lighting big bundles of incense and crowds pushing and smoke everywhere. There was a certain fire danger in that many people had big bundles of burning incense in this packed crowd. We saw at least one person having smoldering embers smacked out of their quilted jacket.

As we were leaving the temple we learned that they were closing it for the afternoon because there were too many people. So we were very lucky to get to see it.

From the temple we went on a tour of one area of Hutong, which are the ancient narrow alleys and homes of Beijing that surrounded the Forbidden City. The earliest of these houses were built in the 1400's. Most of these are being torn down and replaced with modern high-rise buildings, but one section is being preserved.

We took bicycle rickshaws through the narrow streets, to the house of "Mr. Cricket", who fed us a wonderful lunch. This was the "lunch with a local family" we had been promissed. It wasn't exactly just having lunch with a random family, but it was very friendly and the food was very good. Mr. Cricket clearly enjoyed having his small house filled with people. While we were there eating two other parties came in behind us.

He is called "Mr. Cricket" because he raises fighting crickets and keeps grasshoppers as pets.

By the way, did I mention that it was (and still is as of the time of writing), wicked cold?

The weather is very clear but cold, temperatures around -2 to -4 C, with a wind that sets in a pretty good wind chill. It's not too bad when you're walking around, but riding in the rickshaws was a bit of a trial. But having sunny weather is very nice.

From lunch we took the rickshaws to another area where we visited an imperial garden, learned that bats are a symbol of monetary fortune (because apparently the Chinese word for "bat" is a homonym with the word for "fortune"). From there we went to what was once a main opium street just to walk around. We found an ATM, where Julie and I loaded up on cash and then immediately spent some at a little shop down the street.

Then back into the rickshaws to go to the drum tower and bell tower, which are at the northen end of the north/south system of gates, templates, and palaces in Beijing. We climbed to the top of the bell tower, which was very cold but provided panoramic views of the city and the hutong. Then we had tea in a tea restaurant inside the bell tower, which was very welcome.

Finally, it was time to return to the hotel.

We had a nice, if somewhat spendy, Chinese meal in the hotel and called it a day.

We were very happy with Amy--she is an excellent guide, very friendly, very knowledgeable. All-in-all a very happy and auspicious start to the trip.

Next up: Day 2


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