Day 24 - China Art Gallery
We visited the art gallery today with one of Lea's friends; there was an exhibition of the Dunhuang Buddhist cave art on. The outside of the gallery was made to look like the cliffs at Dunhuang, and they even replicated some of the caves in the rooms inside. The art was pretty interesting, but I think I'd like to see the real thing rather than the reproductions here. Overall, the part I most enjoyed was the separate exhibition of kites on the top floor. Day 25 - Jingshan and Beihai parks
This day was all about walking through a couple of the parks in the central city. Jingshan is the hill north of the Forbidden City, and it is covered in trees and winding paths, so it's a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the streets (we got some great views of the city from the temple at the top). Beihai Park is not far from Jingshan and has an island inside a lake, with some other parkland around the edges.
The island was nice to explore as it has a couple of old temples on the hill (with more good views) and lots of little walkways and old buildings to wander around in. After the island, we walked around to the northern side of the lake where more old buildings and gardens were - including the Nine Dragon Screen.
There seemed to be more life in the parks - you can see different birds than in the streets (I saw my first woodpeckers!), and it's a nice break from the city scene (shame you have to pay to get into most of these parks though).
It was Lea's birthday today, so at night we had a special dinner with a birthday cake at the end - a very interesting cake that was more than half cream! (but it still tasted nice :) ). I think there is an opportunity in China for some better bakeries, because the breads, rolls and cakes I've seen so far are quite limited in style ... they are mostly quite light and/or fluffy ... but enough about baked goods! Day 26 - Tanzhe Temple
This temple is out past the western edge of Beijing, in a valley amongst the hills. The setting is very nice, which I think helps separate it out from many other temples, which all start to seem the same after you've been to a few! It would be worth a visit on a nice day (which we had). We took the No.1 subway line right to the end, then the whole route of Bus 931 (it took us about 2 hours overall), passing through a couple of little towns on the way.
Once we escaped the clutches of the incense sellers where the bus stops, it became very peaceful and was a nice day out. Lea had a debate with a friendly young monk on the nature of emptiness (which I couldn't follow because it was in Mandarin) and we saw more old buildings complete with souvenir shops. We had a wander through the Pagoda Forest towards the end, where the past monks and leaders of the temple had their ashes buried and it was all very serene. Day 27 - Lama Temple in Beijing
This temple is one of the more recommended to visit according to many sources and did seem to have a lot of visitors. To me it was quite similar to many we'd been to already (but maybe I'm jaded after Forbidden City, Summer Palace, etc) with mostly similar styles of buildings and statues, but at least it smelled nice thanks to incense burning everywhere. The stand out parts were the exhibition of little bronze (I think) statues of various buddhas and bodhisattvas etc in one of the halls and the main attraction, a huge 18m (plus 8m below ground) wooden statue of a Maitreya Buddha in the second to last hall - I have to admit it was pretty impressive. Unfortunately photos aren't allowed, so you'll just have to see it for yourself one day! Day 28 - Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan park)
We had another nice sunny day at the end of the week, so we took the bus to northwest Beijing and had a stroll through another park. This was the site of the old summer palace, where the emperors had gardens until the British and French knocked them down back in 1860 - some of the ruins are still preserved. Most of it is walks among trees, small lakes and ruins of the old buildings that used to be here. Once again you need to pay, but we decided to miss some attractions and not get the through ticket ... so we missed out on the maze I found out about later on :( . Anyway, it was nice to walk around in trees again, but it would be a much prettier place in spring.
In winter most of the trees are bare and the lotus in the water is just brown stalks. The northwest section (there are 3 sections) was the best at this time of year, with a pretty lake behind which you can see the hills in the distance. It's great that Beijing has parks like these though, otherwise all the buildings, dusty streets and apartment blocks would become a bit too much - it's good to have places to escape the streets.
So that was the end of a busy week - it made up for the week before when we were both stuck at home with a cold. We saw the first signs of spring towards the end too; some little flowers buds appearing on some of the trees, and most of the ice on the canals and lakes has melted.