Lama Temple

Lama Temple

My return to the Beijing hutongs was bittersweet. This summer, I spent most of my free time after my internship getting lost in the chaotic grey-brick mazes that enclave the Lama Temple and Confucius Temple. It was remarkable to see that in the span of a few months, the hutongs that I’d become so familiar with had completely changed. My favorite coffee shop on Yonghegong? Gone. Now just a brick wall with a tiny window that used to be the glass door entrance to this popular specialty coffee shop. That one cement table with four plastic chairs always occupied by 老北京人 (Old Beijingers) playing Mahjong? Gone. Now a state-of-the-art public bathroom with Western toilets.

I appreciate the preservation efforts of Xi and the mayor of Beijing to “carefully polish every historical cultural block.” Even though less than 1/3 of the hutongs remain, they still remain an integral part of Beijing’s OG identity– one step into the hutongs instantly transports you back to the old days. This summer, most of the hutongs around the Lama temple were barricaded by piles

of bricks and construction workers. This time round, there was much less construction happening, but it seems as if the more the government touches the hutongs, the less preserved it feels. According to a recent article by the New York Times, The government is hellbent on clearing out all unregistered settlements and private businesses.

Construction in Wudaoying Hutong

Installation of the public bathroom

Even though a lot of small businesses are being replaced by traditional grey-brick walls, the relentless preservation efforts seem to also be driving out the soul of hutongs. It saddens me to see the hutongs lose their exciting unpredictability. As long as Xi doesn’t knock down my favorite 炸酱面 (Beijing fermented bean noodles) or 面茶 (peanut porridge) place I can’t complain too much.

 

After spending a few nights reacclimatizing to the hutongs, I joined our group on a tour the Lama Temple. We lit up some incense and pretended to know what we were doing in front of the first shrine.

Visitor in prayer

After about the 5th buddha statue I decided to take a few pictures of the architecture and colorful artworks. The last shrine was home to an impressively large Maitreya Buddha (Buddha of the future). With a clear emphasis on the future, I hope the Lama Temple and its surrounding hutongs continue to be cultural strongholds of Old Beijing– despite the questionable renovations.

炸酱面 (Fermented bean noodles)

面茶 (Peanut Porridge)

 

Dali: A Marbleous City

After spending the previous night in Kunming, we caught a late-morning bullet train to Dali. The installation of this high-speed train last year cut the travel time between the two cities by a staggering 9 hours– it took a mere 2 hours to arrive. Our guide from the Linden Center in Xizhou, Jiajia, greeted us at the Dali station and led us by bus to the iconic gate of Dali Old Town.

Entrance to Dali Old Town

The sudden change of elevation and the food from the previous night launched a powerful attack on me, but it was nothing an Imodium couldn’t handle… for now. We then had our first culinary taste of Yunnan on the second floor of a restaurant that overlooked the plateau of single-story buildings with tiled roofs and white plastered walls.

Alex feeling the sudden wrath of an unwashed Rambutan

The roofs are laced with intricate patterns that feature mystical creatures that represent old tales that are almost believable because of how mystically beautiful the town is; it seemed as if some sort of sleepy curse was cast upon the grey buildings, the animals, the water, and even the trees. Or maybe I was just delirious from the high elevation (6,500ft.)  Dali is also renowned globally for its marble, with designs so abstract that even the Spanish Dali had nuthin’ on.

Jiajia gave a brief introduction on the Linden Center, run by an eccentric American named Brian, and its efforts to work in tandem with the Chinese government to preserve the local culture and architecture of the region, as well as the Erhai lake from the increased pollution that resulted from the recent increase in tourism.

Crowded streets of Dali

As we strolled down the rain-washed, slanted roads of Dali Old Town, oft-times I caught an unpleasant whiff and wondered if it came from nearby durian or from one of us with 拉肚子 (traveller’s diarrhea.)

Crowded Streets of Dali pt. 2

It was only day two in Yunnan province, and unfortunately I spent most of my time rushing in and out of the various McDonalds toilets of Dali, mastering the art of the squat. Jiajia guided us through the crowded streets lined with charming Yunnan snack and trinket shops.

We were given a few hours of free-time to explore the shops and to practice our Chinese with the locals by asking them about their thoughts on the Erhai lake preservation efforts. Turns out that the latter was a hard task for two reasons:
1. Because most people were also tourists

2. All the McDonald’s toilets only had one stall so I didn’t really have any chance to communicate with the locals…

Catholic Church

We stopped for pictures at a Dali-style Catholic Church, erected in the 1930’s by a French missionary. Jiajia explained that in recent decades, the Chinese government became more and more tolerant of Christianity. However, very recently it has started to re-associated Christianity with subversive Western values and has cracked down on Christian institutions.

Dog hit by the sleepy curse of Dali

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the end of the day, it felt as if that spell had also been cast upon all of us, as we were really looking forward to kickin’ it back at the Linden Center. It was truly a marbleous day.

 

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