A great welcome.

Yesterday’s rain is completely forgotten. Today the sun is shining, the sky is blue and the temperature is just good: warm but not hot. I don’t have a very detailed plan in mind but I know that I would like to spend most of time walking in the north-west area of town starting from the park and the lake close to the hutong where my hotel is located. I should say that, in spite of the good impression I’ve got yesterday I’m still a bit worried about the possible Chinese chaos I can face in Beijing so I’m very surprised when I don’t see crowd at all. Along the Dongbuyaqiao Hutong and its canal I just meet families with children and very few tourists. Since the day looks very promising, let’s plunge immediately into China’s Capital.

An amazing chant.

I’m heading toward Qianhai lake, I want to start strolling around it, but before getting there I’m attracted by Huode Zhenjun, a Taoist temple also known as Fire God temple. What catches my attention is not only the colourful lanterns e the bright decorations but also a chant coming from inside. I find it so nice and professional that when I see loudspeakers I immediately think that they’re just playing a record but instead, it is enough to take a look inside the building to see monks singing. There is some sort of religious ceremony in progress and I spy it from the door and the windows. If I still needed something to finally feel really in China this is definitely that something. In order to experience partially the same feeling I’m putting here below an excerpt of the several minutes of audio recording I did. Don’t you feel a bit in China too, listening to the music?
In the end I’ve spent about half an hour at the temple, going around while music was still in background, photographing all details I liked such as the lanterns and the red tags people hang on ‘blessing trees’ to make their wishes come true. I liked so much the temple that when I see on a public map that there are others near by I decided to visit them as well. They’re not comparable to Huode Zhenjun. They’re actually Buddhist temples, not Taoist. It would be that the reason? To be honest I don’t know yet. I need to read more on the topic. However in one of them called Guanghua Temple (广化寺) I see something weird: a fish shop within temple boundaries and, this not surprisingly, a lot of cats. But ok, now is time to revert to my original plan heading toward the lake.

A beautiful world is all around

I keep being amazed by what I’m seeing around. There are bike rickshaws, open kitchen restaurants where you can see cooks preparing dumplings, newlyweds taking pictures in the streets in poses that I would define very far eastern, people doing gym open-air and children, really a lot of children, such a perfect subject for my camera. I follow the shore of the lake and the walk offers always new interesting glimpses. I’ve read on the map that almost at the end there is “Lotus Market” and so I do expect to find a real trading market but maybe this is just an historical name and market is not held anymore or they still do it but on a different day. However, if there’s no market, surely there are a lot of lotus: a huge and fascinating expanse of lotus flowers. On the surface of the small lake there are many boats. There would be also the chance to rent a duck-shaped one. I have to admit that I’m tempted by that idea but in the end I prefer to go on with my tour. I’m sure the day has still a lot of things to offer.

Beihai park and circular city.

Located just at the end of Qianhai lake is Beihai park, the former Imperial garden. It is quite a huge park including another lake called as well “Beihai” that is bigger than Qianhai. Chanfu TempleTo enter there is a ticket to pay: 20 yuan (about 2,5€), really not too much for the beauties the park contains. Actually first thing impressing me is not a monument or any other sight but again a sound: the cicadas singing. It is incredibly loud. So loud I heard it only once. It was several years ago, in the northern Azerbaijan. And once again, in order to bring you in same atmosphere I lived I post here a short excerpt of the sound I’m talking about. Pump up the volume to experience what I did.First sight of the park is the Buddhist Chanfu Temple, a beautiful white and red building that really shines in the sun. All around the temple that is surrounded by squared walls, there are white lion statues. Bridge in Beihai ParkAtmosphere in the park is very pleasant. There are nice white marble bridges over every stream. Going further there is a wall depicting nine dragons. It is very famous in China because there are only three of this kind in the country. Near by I get another surprise. Leaning on the lake there are the five dragon pavilions that are actually very nice with its ceramic panel. In one of them there is a small amateur choir, mostly composed by women. Their facial features seem Chinese to me, or at least far eastern but the music is definitely not. Peaking the scores, I see that verses of the song are written in Cyrillic. Are they Russians? No idea. Music reminds me of Operetta. But you know, I’m doing my best to involve you in my trip’s experience so, here it comes the video of the choir. What do you think?

Park is huge and after the music break I start my stroll again. From the lakeshore I see a white big stupa on the top of the hill. White pagoda in Beihai parkThis is going to be my next destination. New Beijing in the backgroundIt is incredible how the town seems so distant from here. I saw a lot of big buildings while landing and also by the train that took from the airport to centre but here you can’t even imagine is the same city. What I call the “white stupa” is actually called the “white Pagoda” and it stands in the middle of the “circular city”. Before climbing the hill I decide that is the right time to eat. I walk a lot already, eating just a very small chicken skewer. At the foot of the hill there is a restaurant, very popular among locals, serving just few dishes. Luckily they have a menu in English. I choose dumplings with pork. Mom and daughter with same dressI was expected to get something similar to the ordinary Chinese dumpling I always ate in Chinese restaurants abroad and instead these are the so called Baozi, a kind of soft steamed bun. Good, I’ve already tried something new and I’m now ready to climb up the hill. Lotus flowersOn top there isn’t just the white Pagoda but also a shrine hosting a jade Buddha that unfortunately can’t be photographed. I can instead take some picture of the town that, at this height, it finally became visible. I’m not tired yet so I go down to move to my next place. Before I have the chance to see the huge amount of lotus flowers in this lake. Absolutely fantastic! Last image of the circular town is a nice mom with her daughter looking very happy in their identical dresses.

Toward Tiananmen square.

To complete my first day in Beijing I would like to see Tiananmen square. For me is one of those mythical places that you need to see at least once in your life. Red flags over Tiananmen towerI decide to walk to it and, looking at the map, I guess that the shortest way would be going next to the forbidden city, another great place I have in mind to visit tomorrow. The route is pleasant along canals that surround the Forbidden City but I was actually wrong. Tiananmen Square from high aboveThe square is separated from the Forbidden City by the so called Tiananmen tower better known as the “Gate of Heavenly Peace”. Since I’m here, I decide to visit it. To be honest I’m not very impressed by the gate itself, apart the red flags proudly fluttering in the wind, I thing that the best thing is the view of the square from high above. I leave the tower still with the idea of reaching Tiananmen square. I walk back and then along the Forbidden City’s walls for more than one kilometre but, for what it regards the visit to the square it doesn’t seem to be my lucky day. There is some business running. It looks like they’re working to some future event and therefore all the accesses to the square I test are closed. I try from West, I try from East and in the end I say to me that this is sign. The first day in Beijing is done and it was really a full day. Now I’m finally tired so I take the metro to reach the hotel.

Back to the hotel and dinner.

It is nice, after such a long day (you can see the path in the small picture on the right), to fight with Internet but in China is like that. Eventually I go out for dinner. This time I try to move farther from the hutong area that tonight is very busy. It is Friday. Just out of the square made of the grid of hutongs there is a large street with many restaurants. None of them has english signs outside so I enter in the first one where I see other people eating to try. I guess in China this is going to be my standard approach. I couldn’t know that in advance but this is a “hot pot” restaurant. In this kind of places you choose from a menu the kind of meat you want and a set of vegetables, then the waiter brings all the sliced raw ingredients and he also turns on the little fire that is embedded at the centre of the table with a pot with water. When water is boiling it is up to you to put all the stuff in the pot and eating it when is done. I guess that I was too “shy” in choosing the variety of ingredients (mushrooms and lettuce) and as a result the meat (lamb) wasn’t that tasty but at least I learned something new about Chinese cuisine. Now I can really say that the day is really over. Goodnight!
No. Wait! I forgot something… As usual there is the photo gallery but this time, in addition, I also decided to prepare a small video with some of the nicest photo using as musical background a different excerpt of the chant recorded in the Huode Zhenjun temple. Here is the video…

…and here’s the gallery that will grow up including all the pictures from days spent in Beijing.