Chun jie kuai le (Happy New Year!) How else to start the New Year than by going to a traditional Spring Festival temple fair? I had heard that the White Cloud Temple had a particularly spectacular fair, so me and Annelieke headed there (most people were too tired after the night before, but I just drank a lot of Diet Coke and that seemed to help). There were so many people there, all Chinese – we were the only foreigners! I imagine most of the people there were still tourists however; most people who actually live in Beijing leave for the New Year. It was so busy and buzzing inside the temple complex, which was nice because Beijing has been pretty empty so far (everyone’s gone home!). We walked in amongst hanging decorations of lanterns and flags, and there were so many police around – I guess because it is an important event. There was a long queue of people waiting to touch this stone decoration which was part of the entrance archway, I can only guess that it brings good luck. We couldn’t be bothered to stand in a long queue to touch the stone so I hope that doesn’t mean we get bad luck!
I think most of the activities going on in the fair were routines to ensure a good year for the individual. You could buy a big mound of bronze coins near the entrance, and everyone was throwing them underneath this bridge where there hung a big bell, trying to hit the bell. I would have liked a go but unfortunately there were no English translations on the signs so we couldn’t work out how to buy the coins.
The White Cloud Temple is a Taoist temple – I don’t know much about Taoism yet so I will have to read up about it, but from what I can gather it is about balance and opposites. It is the religion that has the yin-yang symbol and they also have a lot of deities who protect them in various ways. They had some pretty and ornate statues of these deities in the temple rooms and the usual people praying with incense sticks. There were also massive open fires that the incense sticks were being thrown into after they were used. I wish I knew the significance of some of these rituals, they are so interesting to watch!
It was really nice walking around and observing everyone going about their rituals throughout the temple. I could tell that this is not a temple that foreign tourists tend to visit, so I’m glad I managed to find out about it. All throughout the complex there were stone statues or wall carvings and people were slotting small change into the nooks and crannies, and touching the stone. We came across a lovely long carving of all the animals in the zodiac, and another long queue of people waiting to touch the stone. Nearby were more carvings which I think represented religious stories.
After all these warm days we’ve had, New Year has begun by reverting to ‘normal’ Beijing temperatures – freezing, and snowing! Oh well, it was good while it lasted.
The remaining free day we had, some of us went to see the old Summer Palace – the one that was bombed by the British and is now in ruins, in a massive park. This was a few hundred years ago I think and we took all the Chinese artefacts and put them in museums in the UK… apparently they’re still pretty annoyed about it (understandably). Awkward. The ruins were still charming to see, and I was very surprised that the Summer Palace had been European architecture. China is the last place I thought I would see European designs, but apparently they used to employ people from Europe to build in that particular style. I found that interesting when they seem to have such a ‘set’ style for most palaces/temples/buildings in China – those I’ve seen so far have all had very similar designs to each other.
The ruins were only in a small area of the park, so we explored all of those (we were able to climb around on them which I found odd, I tried to avoid climbing on them anyway!). There were also some small (and very creepy looking) statues of all the animals in the zodiac – I’ve found them to be quite common so far, and have seen statues or drawings of them in lots of public places – even massive statues of them (which were also creepy) on the top of a shopping mall! They are obviously very important for the Chinese, especially around this time.
The park was massive so we didn’t walk round the whole place, but just like the day before it was super busy with Chinese people, and again the atmosphere was buzzing. There were lanterns hanging everywhere, and music, and also a massive TV showing random things like people roller skating. It was a really pretty walk around the lake (unfortunately not frozen enough to skate on, it’s been too warm), with tall trees surrounding the path and weeping willows beside the lake.
Since Saturday we have all been busy lesson planning, since we have been teaching this week. I’ll talk about that more in my next post. Anyway, it’s been a week since the official Chinese New Year, and fireworks are still a daily occurrence… luckily I have my earplugs…