Saturday, August 22, 2009

Beijing's Biggest........... Outdoor Swimming Pool

We had sauna-like weather in Beijing for several weeks recently so it was a great relief when I went to Liulang swimming pool. The complex consists of 3 large pools plus an area for serious swimmers to do laps. Tall trees enclose the whole area, and there is ample poolside paving to lie out on and relax. Can you recognise me among the sunbathers? Even on a hot sticky Saturday afternoon, the pool did not feel crowded (by Chinese standards).

Of course, the Chinese have their own way to enjoy the sun. Most of them don't like to get a tan - black is not beautiful here - so they sit in the shade or paddle by the pool holding an umbrella. You will see serious cardplayers as well as much more energetic volleyball players. Most people, though, young and old alike, enjoy themselves in the cool water, with water pistols, watermelons, inflatable ducks and the latest in swimwear fashion (nothing to get too excited about!).

It's an interesting place to see how local Beijingers 'chill out'. And if the water is not refreshing enough for you, there's always the cold-water-only showers afterwards for the real men. Is that you? If so, then let me guide you to this place, and/or to other parts of the 'real' Beijing. You have to hurry though since Autumn officially started early August according to the Chinese calendar.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Badachu Temple

Some of you may not be interested in temples, be they Buddhist or Taoist or even Islam. "You've seen one you've seen the lot" I can hear you say. Funny, that's what Chinese tourists going round Europe say about the churches, abbeys and cathedrals there.

Nevertheless, I want to tell you about my recent visit to see my friend who lives and works as a monk at Badachu, at the foot of the Western Hills. It is one of my favourite places since there is such quiet and coolness, away from the hustle and bustle and heat of the city. It was a long walk - mostly uphill to an altitude of 460m- to view all the 8 temples, but there is a cable car for those feeling lazy. There are so many ancient trees - pine, gingko, cypress, willow - which are particularly beautiful in autumn (late September/October).

It was not so peaceful at the lower temples. I wondered what the crowds of locals were praying for as they burnt their incense - perhaps for good luck, for their sons to get to university, for their only child to find a good spouse (even a foreigner would be OK?) and to have a baby son, or for themselves to get rich on the stock market?

In contrast to the some of the grand buildings, stone sculptures, gods, warriors, buddhas and wall murals, the place I enjoyed the most was the simple dining room where I had lunch with the monks. It was a unique experience, and with such an atmosphere of peace and calm as we all ate in silence. And what delicious food! Totally vegetarian and totally healthy! The monks looked so contented, and so youthful, without any cosmetics or facials. I really like their natural living environment - fresh food, fresh air, away from the pressures of the material world - but I'm not sure I envy their celibate lives. I mean, would you?

I hope I can take you to Badachu. And if not, then there are many other interesting temples in Beijing that we can explore together. Not just the famous Temple of Heaven, or Confucius Temple (see Ancient Streets blog), but how about off-the-beaten track Eunuch Temple or Fahai Temple (with rare Budhhist murals)?