The China Journal---February 24, 2002


            The 24th is day 2 of the tourist travels.  We repeated our morning schedule of the two buses and meeting Cui Hua.  However this time Ding Bai joined us for the day at the train station.  He is Zhang Jie¹s friend who helped with my computer.

            This time we were seated on the other side of the train.  I noticed there were a few villages that looked as if they had grown up as villages.  However we saw quite a few that I feel certain were built complete in the time of the Cultural RevolutionŠall brick with no variation at all, at least not from the train view. Outside the villages were series of conical mounds maybe three to four feet high.  These are burial mounds.  Occasionally a large five to six foot high colorful wind wheel would be perched on one.  At one village the mounds were all in the same area and had upright tombstones.

            When we reached Beijing, this time we took the pedestrian overpass that is almost a cloverleaf.  There were so many people on it and so many heads in front of mine that I stopped for a photo.  The sheer numbers of people out and about is amazing.  We don¹t see that number of pedestrians on the move in the states.  We made our KFC stop and got on the bus for the Forbidden City.  We entered from the north, the opposite side from Tianamin Square, and worked our way back. 

            What a remarkable place that is.  We¹ve all seen the pictures, but they don¹t convey the extensiveness of the Imperial Palace grounds. It was truly a city, albeit a royal city, not just an isolated palace grounds.  There is a sense of balance, proportion, and peaceful quiet that pervades these classical Chinese structures and surroundings.  I had the sensation that for pure pleasure in living (not counting the status of women), I would choose the Chinese court over the massive stone cold palaces of Europe.  The ancient past of this culture was seen so clearly in the exhibit of the bronzes.  Arranged chronologically, the skill and design and finished quality go back to the examples from 2000 B.C.  Even at that early date, the work would not be considered primitive.

            Zhang Jie had been to the palace ³many times² but this was Cui Hua¹s second time. Ding Bai had been before but not often.  When we got to the final outer court (still inside the Forbidden City) where people buy tickets, there are different exhibits in the side rooms, not unlike the pitchmen¹s tents at a fair.  Cui Hua wanted to go into two of them.  The first one, all in Chinese, was about the only female empress, whose pictures we had seen at the Summer Palace because she enjoyed it.  She died in, I believe, 1905.  The other one was a pure ³side show².  They worked the crowd until they got you all in and seated.  Supposedly it was something about a human being who died hundreds of years agoŠI never quite got the message straight.  It really was a good optical illusion show.  The woman is in front in a black lined recess and dressed in traditional Chinese clothes.  She holds very still and her clothing changes.  She occasionally spreads an arm out like a model to show she is real.  At one point it changes to her skeleton.  It went on for quite awhile with many changes of clothesŠa pretty good show for 5 yuan ($0.62).

            From there the four of us took a taxi because the bus connections were too long to give us enough time.  We went to the Yong He Gong temple.  It is one of the famous temples of China and the largest lamasery in Beijing, built by the Tibetans in 1694.  Just as we were going in, I changed my film to put in my fourth roll of 36 since buying the camera on the plane.  The film wouldn¹t go inŠthe counter and automatic rewind had broken.  Bummer!  This was the first time visit for each of my three companions.

            This was a real highlight.  It was Sunday and the Chinese were out in full force.  The smoke from the incense punks was all around.  Inside the many separate temples, each holding several different Buddhist gods, it was fairly dark and the carvings had become smoky during the years, so no incense was allowed inside the temple.  People still wanted to give honor and bring the punks so there was a sign showing that you could offer three punks at each prayer station but no more.  People would kneel, hold the three unlighted punks up to their foreheads, bow three times, and put the three unlighted punks on the altar.  I said my own prayers as I walked along enjoying the worshipful spirit.

            The most remarkable feature was a huge carved Buddha that stood 18 feet above ground and had 8 feet under the ground.  It was carved from a single sandlewood trunk.

The girls asked a monk a question and he ended up showing us around one of the temples.  The girls are not very knowledgeable about the religions, from what I can tell.  They did not know about the Dalai Lama.  I think I picked up from what the monk said that the Dalai Lama was in America.  This interested me since I know the Chinese government has selected a new ³Dalai Lama².  This monk was old enough to know the history of that situation.

            We returned to the railway station via taxi.  They consider taxis to be expensive.  The twenty-minute ride cost $2.  (I find that some things are so cheap by our standards that I¹m having trouble doing the conversion, thinking I must be off.  For example, gas for the cars is 2.32 yuan which is about $.32 per liter.)

            This time when we arrived in Tianjin we took two buses, dropping Ding Bai after the first bus, and then a taxiŠand ended up at a restaurant where Zhang Jie¹s parents were already eating with a table of men.  Cui Hua¹s soldier boyfriend joined us.  This was the 13th day of the Chinese New Year when, after having so much rich food for the last few days, you should eat simple rice congee (soup) and greens to cleanse the system, according to the paper we received at the AAUW Chinese New Year lunch in Bakersfield.  Sure enough we had one plate of greens and one of fruit salad.  The two girls also had some heated up pork ribs, served with a plastic glove to handle them and a cocktail straw to suck out the marrow or juices.

            The fireworks are beginning to pick up.