After returning from our Great Wall camping trip, our family still had two full days to explore Beijing. We stayed in an adorable hutong hotel called the Apricot Courtyard Inn. It’s a traditional courtyard building featuring just five rooms, all opening to an open-air common area. It was perfect for containing Simon while giving him some fresh air.
On the first day, we visited two temples. First up was the Beijing Temple of Confucius. This was high on Joel’s must-see list because the many temples we’ve visited so far have been Buddhist or Daoist. This was our first Confucian temple and the architecture was substantially different. The second largest Confucian temple in China, it was first built in 1302 but, like most everything in China, has been damaged – burned – eroded – rebuilt – enlarged – redesigned. If I’ve learned anything in China yet, man made structures just can’t resist change over the millennia. Adjacent to the temple was a school.
Later in the day, we visited the Lama Temple, just down the street from the Temple of Confucius. (A practical tour guide would tell you to visit these sites back-to-back, but a travel-wise parent decided to go back to our hotel for a nap in between.) Lama Temple is a huge complex; it’s the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet. It still functions as a monastery (technically a lamasery, thus the common name) and we saw robed monks walking the grounds. Like the other Buddhist temples we’ve visited, it is still a popular place of worship and in fact the temple distributed free incense (“joss sticks”) to anyone who wanted to burn them as an offering.
I had read that there was a really big Buddha statue in the temple. As we walked from hall to hall, Joel would marvel at the sequentially larger Buddhas statues and I’d say, “Nope, I think there’s a bigger one.” Finally, in the Wànfú Pavilion, we found him: the 60-foot-tall Maitreya Buddha. There is a lot of global competition for “biggest Buddha” and most come with caveats. This one is the tallest standing Buddha, and is reputedly carved out of a single block of sandalwood. It certainly was an impressive sight.
In front of most shrines, people will leave offerings; common items are fruit (especially oranges), water, incense, and money. In a little side hall, we found a statue of someone who clearly liked to have a good time. Someone had left him cookies and booze. Must be a fun guy!