We’ve reached the ‘weekend’!! (we have them on Thursdays and Fridays instead of Saturdays and Sundays). It’s been so awesome to finally have a chance to explore the city. I’m really falling in love with Beijing. Everything about it is BIG… the roads are the size of motorways, and it takes a whole minute to walk across them (also cars sometimes just don’t stop for red lights, which is scary). The population is big, but the city is so big too that it rarely feels crowded. Although, February is a quieter time for Beijing due to people who work here travelling to see family for New Year.
In class the other day, as a break from Mandarin we went outside and did some Tai Chi. It was different to the Tai Chi I’d done before – the lady teaching us said it was mainly for older people. Also, we had Bella (who works with the ImmerQi team, and is Chinese) come into a lesson and teach us Mandarin while speaking only in Mandarin. Basically what we will be doing when we teach, except with English obviously. It really struck me how difficult it was to understand what she was asking us to do, it was so bewildering! I’d never thought about that before, this is going to be a tough job, and we really need to make sure we use vocabulary that is suitable for the level we are teaching. Anyway, that was an exercise I definitely benefited from, I know how the children will feel now!
After finishing class yesterday a bit earlier than usual, I headed straight for a temple with a few others. The Lama Temple (Yonghegong) is a Tibetan Buddhist temple and people still worship there today. It was very beautiful, and also a really warm day – I was only in a long-sleeved top! Unheard of for Beijing in February. The sun was shining, the skies were clear, it was lovely. All the temples I’ve seen so far seem to have the same design and they are very intricate. They are all mainly red (which is the colour of prosperity in China), and the edges of the roof have a line of animals standing up which I really like. There are lots of painted decorations near the roof, often of snakes – I don’t know the significance of this yet. There were lots of different temples and rooms, inside they had different Buddhas for example one room had 3 Buddhas which were for the past, present and future. It is disrespectful to take pictures inside these holy places so I only have pictures of the outside of the temples. There were different styles; I liked the Tantric Buddhist statues, they were rather eerie. There was a statue of something with lots of arms, each arm was holding something different – e.g. a foot, and something that looked like a baby alien. Strange. Right at the end of the temple complex was a room with an absolutely huge Buddha – when I walked in I was stunned by the size of it! So so awesome. I loved all the decorations around these holy statues also – lots of carvings of different animals from dragons to horses, candles, lots of very detailed artwork on the walls and even the ceiling was beautifully designed. I can tell I’m going to like visiting temples, and I’m really excited to learn more about Buddhism.
There were lots of people worshipping, which gave the whole complex a peaceful air. It was interesting to watch how people worshipped. They stand in front of one of the statues with some incense in their hands, they clasp their hands together like in prayer, and bow twice. Then they move onto the next statue and do the same thing. A quick mark of respect. I wonder if they go round the whole place or just focus on a few buildings?
So after a hard week of training, there was only one thing to do that evening – go out for some beers! We got the bus to a pretty area with lights in the trees and a massive lit up sheep I can only imagine is for New Year. After wondering around we found an Irish bar, which was full of expats, and everything was English-speaking which was refreshing! Went to a few different bars, a nice and chilled out night.
Today was a big day – around 25 of us headed over to the Forbidden City, where the Emperor would live. Let’s just say I can see why it’s called a ‘city’… the place is massive! I’d heard from people that it was big but I didn’t know just how big they meant! It was beautiful, I spent a few hours wondering around on my own taking it all in. A lot of people just kept walking straight down the centre, where all the main buildings/rooms are, but if you veer off to the left or the right there are plenty more rooms and temples, plus an absolutely gorgeous Imperial Garden with very interesting-looking trees and rocks. There was a big hill of rocks with a temple at the top, and I think a path ran through the middle of the rocks to get up there – that was cool. Visitors can’t go up though.
What I loved while walking around was seeing the contrast between this old city and the skyscrapers of modern Beijing which surrounded. Once we’d left the Forbidden City (I did manage to get lost so it took me a while to leave), most people got the subway back, but me and two others headed to Jingshan Park opposite. It’s a pretty park, and it was quite warm again. So glad it’s not minus 20 as expected. The main attraction of the park is that it has an awesome view of the Forbidden City and of Beijing in general. There are a few small temples and apparently they were built there on purpose, because this is the place with the best view of the city. So we climbed up to the top… incredible views, it was just amazing. After being inside the Forbidden City, we then got to see it from an outside perspective and really understand just how huge it is. I sat there for a while just taking it all in – as well as the surroundings of modern Beijing. The view from the other side showed more of the city – tall buildings next to old temples, the contrast was stunning. There’s nothing I like more in a new place than getting as high as I can and looking from above… you get more of a feel for the size, position and character of the place.
So then we decided to have a little peek at Tiananmen Square – problem is, we were now on the north side of the Forbidden City and the square is on the south side, so we had a long walk ahead of us! We walked past the walls of the City and then down a long, long street with hutongs – this street went on for a half hour with no side turnings or anything! We eventually reached the square, which was huge (standard Beijing) – apparently it is one of the largest city squares in the world. We were too tired to go in any of the museums by this point, so after being asked to pose for a photo with a Chinese family (that happens all the time here, they love foreigners, it’s like being a celebrity), we headed back. Long day… awesome day.
I’m finding the fact that I have to study and do assignments, while being in an exciting new city and country, really difficult. There’s a clash between the part of me that wants to spend every day exploring and wandering, and the part of me that wants to study hard and do well. It’s tough trying to manage both!