Pearl Market

Spent the afternoon at the pearl market – 4 stories of ‘rocks’ interspersed with electronics, watches, cosmetics, folk arts rolls of material (silk, cotton, linen, denim and clothing, from t-shirts to wedding gowns to suits to funky multi coloured fur coats).

Managed to purchase a number of beautiful hand painted silk kites from tiny insects a couple of inches across to eagles with a 2 meter wing span, and a goldfish, butterfly and 3 meter long dragon.

…and my favorite, a magic ’snow dome’ of the Great Wall of China for 10 Yuan

I also managed to find some, cotton, canvas and linen with traditional designs for the kids (Tom and Halzska)

Then the best spicy pork ribs cooked in masses of garlic and chilli – YUM

Sleepy now…

Beijing Zoo

What an adventure…hired a bike and rode out to the Beijing zoo this morning, freezing day, wearing three layers and a scarf.

All the best laid plans… worked out my route, up ‘my’ road cut across the top of the forbidden city, round the moat then on to Guanzhou park where, according to the NY Times in 2000 they have a fabulous pet; market on weekends, rode around for a hour or so until I finally got completely lost and ended up at the 3rd ring road to the north of Beijing, luckily I always enjoy the journey… after carrying my bike across a wide stretch of railway tracks, then clambering over a bridge, I rediscovered my way and found the Zoo.

90 Yuan to get in, bitterly cold, the pandas were asleep, the otters thought it was spring, the reptile pavilion was horrid (very depressing, I’m sure all of those poor creatures agree) and then it started to rain… that was fine for a while until it got heavier and all the animals decided to go ‘home’… i.e. I was the only animal silly enough to be wandering around in the rain!

It was at about this stage that I remembered I had my ‘Sydney Olympic Volunteer Raincoat’ in my bag, which I put over my sodden clothes and started to steam.

Finally found the front gate and hopped back on my bike to ride home – through the puddles and mud in the dark without bike lights or reflectors or a helmet, 1 large exotic Australian women dressed in red, swathed in a clear plastic bag, flapping in the wind as she trundled home…


Train Travel

I caught the train to Beijing last night, a soft sleeper… that means you can live/sleep with 3 complete strangers for 15 hours in an area of 3 square meters… it becomes particularly interesting if your three companions are middle aged men who like to sit up all night smoking and gambling…Actually I have not yet had that pleasure… my ‘travel companions’ (to Shanghai) have been a young couple with a hyperactive 7 year old – David, who proved to be an excellent Chinese tutor… and (Beijing) two students who sat up giggling and whispering shyly most of the night (the throes of a budding romance?)

I really enjoy the opportunity to ‘met the locals’ and learn a little Chinese… so I make my way straight to the dining car … this allows you to order some quite good food, drink a bottle of local beer (yes I have reacquired my taste for beer – the local beer ‘Tsingtao’ is made a brewery in the coastal town of Qingtao in Shandong province, using local spring water – so I’m pretending its like Cascade – only much cheaper; a long neck costs 2 Yuan (12 Yuan = 2 dollars)

Temples and Other Places of Worship

I went to the Jade Buddha Temple this afternoon … spent the morning at the International Post Office sending kilos of art books to myself and some interesting bits and pieces I picked up in the old Chinese quarter around the Yuyuan Gardens and Tea House, close to the Town Temple… tiny little Tibetan boots, paper cuts, chops (stamps/seals) and even the odd Mao t-shirt (during a moment of weakness)

As you may be aware, Buddhist temples face north; so the front gate is located in the south of the complex. The first shrine ‘Maittreya Buddha’ faces outwards – this ‘future’ Buddha is happy & chubby. (just like a couple of special people I know)

Next there is usually a ‘Wei Tuo Bodhisattva’ a fairly grim looking figure holding a ‘vajra’ (looks like a stylized thunder bolt) he faces the monastery and is the protector of the Buddha

Then the main shrine housing the ‘Buddha Sakyamuni’ resplendent with gold and red banners, knee stools covered with embroidered cushions (for praying) and offering of oranges, mandarins, pomegranates and other auspicious gifts…

To the side you will often find ’Guanyin Bodhisattva’ who represents compassion (a personal favourite of mine), I tend to spend more time here

At the Jade Buddha Temple I selected three sticks of red incense (for Frank, Liz and Timna) – which I lit from large ‘dings’ in the courtyard and then held as I bowed three times to the north, west, south and east…

It makes me smile every time…

I tied a red ribbon to the temple doors for my family (love you tom!) and thought of peace, compassion and generosity of spirit…

(The entire courtyard area is covered in red ribbons, fluttering from the trees adorning the stone lions and covering the lattice doors and gateways)

During my period of quiet contemplation I watched an elderly woman gathering pieces of fallen incense and placing them in two small brass bowls; she must have been over 80 years old because she had tiny feet which had been bound (this was banned in the 1920’s) and when she rose (unfolded) to her height of 4 foot she beamed the most beautiful smile at me and I couldn’t help wondering about the changes she had seen in this ‘great’ city of Shanghai…