We feel that everything is changing ever faster, and that maybe it’s better that way, too – but there are also many things that seem hardly changed and all the more interesting for it.
The Buddhist temples in Beijing do all that and more.
They are, often and unexpectedly, still around.
Traditions and practices related to them are often still – or again – to be found.
Equally as often, though, they are not as they used to be and not even what they used to be.
Their very structures have been rebuilt, in some cases.
I’m still working on my book about The Buddhist Temples of Beijing, as research and writing also takes time (and is all too easy to procrastinate on).
So, for this summer’s trip to China, I had insisted on heading back via Beijing. I couldn’t convince my wife to spend much time there, but at least we managed some two-and-a-half days.
Not a lot of time at all, but enough to see about some temples I’d missed before, re-visit others, and find out what had happened with those Buddhist temples I had not been able to visit on my prior half-year stay because they had been closed for renovation.
It was particular fun because I had been reading Juliet Bredon’s “Peking. A Historical and Intimate Description of Its Chief Places of Interest” from 1922 (in the 2nd, revised and enlarged, edition).
In fact, I’m bibliophile enough I bought an original of that…
During the previous stay, I was also working on re-discovering some old views of Beijing and their blending with the corresponding modern situation.
That had already been a fun and visual way of delving into the changes that China had experienced and the historical connections of structures, such as the temples, that still exist.
With Bredon’s book, another avenue for such a dive into history was provided, and I used it in a few places. You’ll see, but for a teaser of a particularly telling bit, watch here:
Fascinating as it was, it was also exhausting. – And this blog being all about the reality of life, I sure don’t want to present things in the best light only.
Running through Beijing right after arrival from 2x 6-7 hours in planes and some other 7 hours in airports may have been a good use of time, it’s not an immediate trail run in heat, but it isn’t highly recommendable, either.
My wife promptly caught a cold that would accompany her through all our three weeks in China; the air was bad as usual (though not as bad as it had been before), and the air conditioning indoors did not improve things a bit.
At least we only had heat and humidity and a few drizzles, not the flooding that was happening even in the province around us…
Anyways, we managed to make it into the Forbidden City again to see whether the major Buddhist structure(s) in there would now be open to visitors or really not. Turns out, it’s a “not:” The guides and guards we asked for them didn’t even have a clue what we were talking about, even as the restoration (and re-opening) had been in the press.
We found the Songzhu and Zhizhu temples, where Temple Restaurant Beijing (and Temple Hotel) are now housed and which has something of a strange connection with recent politics…
We paid a quick visit to Tianning Si, pretty much just to the north of which we were actually staying.
I also went on to Baita Si and Wuta Si, the White Pagoda Temple and the Five Pagodas Temple, which had both been closed for repair/reconstruction when I had been working in Beijing before.
They are now opened again, and I was even able to still get a ticket (and then highly surprise all the guards at the entrance and inside with it) to the Baita Si when they had really stopped selling them already for the day. It was all the calmer for it, only I wasn’t, what with all the hustle and hassle.
(This is the temple you can also see in the photosphere at the top of this post.)
Next day, I came past there again and also went into the Former Emperor’s Temple, one of the “miao” rather than “si” since it is not a Buddhist temple but one for (rather Confucian) ancestor worship.
Guangji Si and Fayuan Si also somehow ended up on the temples I still managed to get to again – and all that happened even while we also spent quite some time at the railway station trying to exchange the tickets we had originally bought (for an overnight sleeper train) for ones for a high-speed train.
That way, we stayed one more night and arrived where the in-laws picked us up much faster, without having to sleep on a train…
With all the new impressions and the additional material produced with that, I’ll resume writing and give you a bit more to see on the section of this site dedicated to The Buddhist Temples of Beijing… by and by, as it takes its time.
You can also follow the progress on that by “liking” my Facebook page for Buddhist Temples of Beijing.