Trip 9: Beijing and Tianjin
(July 8-16, 2011)

This is a record of my ninth trip to visit the 142 Key Temples of China. Links lead to articles on the temple (or other site) named.

In a strange twist on my usual style of hurried, budget trips, I was treated this time to a five-star (literally!) experience by my student Walter Zhang, CEO of a large medical technology company. I stayed every night but the last in the Grand Hyatt Beijing near Tiananmen Square, and had a driver at my disposal most of the time. Walter even paid for meals when he was free to join me. It was quite a trip.

Friday, July 8:
Walter's driver picked me up at home, and then we went to get him at his office (between my place and the airport). We flew mid-morning, and it was my first experience of a first-class lounge and check-in. Nice! A driver, Mr. Che, met us in Beijing and dropped Walter at a meeting. I checked in at the Grand Hyatt with Mr. Che's help, and went out to find a nearby veg restaurant ("Fuhui Ciyuan Vegetarian Cultural Restaurant") near Wangfujing that Walter's secretary Yolanda had located for us.
  • Stayed every night but the last in the Grand Hyatt Beijing

Saturday, July 9:
Lingguang Temple
I rose fairly early and met Walter for breakfast in the hotel. Then Mr. Che took us to Badachu Park; we were at the entry area at 9:00, and went immediately to the first temple inside the gate--and my only goal there, Lingguang Si--which is the site of the Foya Shilita (9:05-10:20; my #48). We then wandered up the hillside to Sanshan An (10:20-10:30). After an hour or so we located the cable car that took us up to the top of the mountain and Baozhu Cave (11:40-11:50). Before I went to the cave, Walter had to leave for a meeting, and took a ride down a cool "chute." The ride up had been 18 minutes or so; he told me later the chute took only seven! So I visited the cave alone, and began walking down the hill, where I stopped at Xiangjie Si (12:05-12:45); Longquan An (1:00-1:45) where I had a snack; Dabei Si (1:45-2:40) and its tayuan (cemetery/pagoda area); then back to Lingguang Si. Exploring outside the gates and looking for another temple, I finally discovered that Changan Si (3:40-3:45) is closed to the public, for the purpose of enhancing the residents' practice. Mr. Che picked me up and returned me to the hotel; Walter and I returned to the veg restaurant for dinner that night.

Sunday, July 10:
Tongjiao Temple
Walter was busy so I was on my own today. Mr. Che dropped me at Tongjiao Si (9:50-10:15; my #49), which I discovered was only open on the 1st and 15th of the lunar month. I was allowed to sit in the courtyard, though, and said my devotions. I resolved to come back this Friday for the "open day." Then a taxi to Xihuang Si (10:45-10:50; my #50), which, oddly, the driver didn't seem to know. (He dropped me blocks away, and I ended up walking quite a way to find it). It turns out this one is also closed, perhaps because it's closely connected to the Panchen Lama. I was stopped just before I caught sight of the exquisite pagoda. Arg! Another cab dropped me in the hutongs (alleys) near Guanghua Si (12:30-1:45; my #51), a pleasant place and seat of the Beijing Buddhist Association. A further walk in the hutongs brought me to a small lake ("Houhai") and a distant view of Beijing's famous Drum Tower. Finally, another cab took me to Guangji Si (2:30-3:25; my #52), home of the China Buddhist Association. I foolishly (it was Sunday afternoon) decided to take the subway back to the hotel (Walter was appalled at the very idea). That night we dined at the Beijing Bookworm in Sanlitun Village. Getting home involved a ride in a three-wheel bicycle to a place where we could get a taxi.

Monday, July 11:
Fayuan Temple
I set out a little late, and due to another taxi fiasco (he dropped me, again, blocks from my destination), it was surprisingly late when I reached my destination. First I had a wander by a sizable mosque (The Chinese Institute of Islamic Theology) and a peek inside the seemingly-abandoned Sheng'an Si (1:40) before reaching Fayuan Si (2:25-4:50; my #53). The Chinese Buddhist Institute is located here, and I was able to see my old boss from Yangzhou, Ven. Yong Xing, now vice-dean of the CBI. We had tea and watermelon in his room next to the Heavenly Kings' Hall, and he showed me around the grounds. A cab back home, and dining alone at the Subway shop in the mall under the hotel that night (source of most of my meals in Beijing).

Tuesday, July 12:
Yonghe Gong
Breakfast with Walter (who was leaving that day) and back to my room for research. Out with Mr. Che when he returned from dropping Walter at the airport, and to Yonghe Gong (1:05-2:45; my #54), the largest Tibetan temple I had seen to date. It inspired me to take another crack at Xihuang Si (3:30-4:05), this time guiding the again-clueless cabbie more directly. I failed again to get in; a local man explained to me that it was ALWAYS closed. But this time found an angle on the pinnacle of the pagoda over a wall. The best I could do! By taxi back to the hotel and a dinner at the local veg place with my Shenzhen friend Mr. Deep.

Wednesday, July 13:
Dabei Temple, Tianjin
Yesterday I had told Walter I was planning to take a train to Tianjin; he insisted Mr. Che drive me, and so I rode the two-plus hours to Tianjin's Dabei Si (11:25-1:20; my #55) in air-conditioned comfort, with sandwiches, drinks and snacks on board. A fine day; the temple had a funny little old section inside, surrounded by more showy stuff.

Thursday, July 14:
Temple of Heaven
Today as I passed Tiananmen Square for the umpteenth time, I decided to shoot it through the taxi windows. I was on my way for a quick revisit to Fayuan Si (2:10-2:20) to shoot some things I'd missed Tuesday, then got stuck in terrible traffic on my way to the enormous Temple of Heaven (2:50-4:15), which Walter had pointedly suggested I see. From there I taxied to a Pizza Hut, and walked from there back to the hotel, arriving around 5:45.

Friday, July 15:
Zhihua Temple
I was meant to leave Beijing today, and so made plans with Mr. Che for a couple of quick stops before lunch and the trek to the airport. "The best-laid plans…" First, a dilapidated temple in the hutongs recommended by Lonely Planet, the pleasing Zhihua Si (9:30-10:05) (minus some of its ravaged ceilings, now in American museums). Then a return to Tongjiao Si (10:20-10:35) for its open day. As it turns out, the little that I saw Sunday was pretty much all there was, though the place was livelier, with many volunteers working today. Then on to The Bookworm again for lunch. Mr. Che had someone call to explain that my original 15:30-18:35 flight to Shenzhen had been greatly delayed, so I was able to dawdle a bit; as it turned out, after he had picked me up and dropped me at the airport, the flight was CANCELLED. Walter's secretary Yolanda helped me book another for the next day; Mr. Che returned and dropped me at a hotel not far from the airport; and I spent an unexpected extra night in (or near) Beijing.
  • Stayed probably Best Western Grandsky Hotel Beijing (not sure; I was dazed!)

Saturday, July 16:
After sleeping in and more delays, I finally caught my supposed 16:30-19:35 flight to Shenzhen. Walter's regular driver Mr. Mao picked me up and took me home just before the clock turned over to my 56th birthday. At last! Yolanda, his secretary, called while I was at the airport to say Happy Birthday, and incidentally, my flight had nearly been re-routed to Guiyang due to weather!

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