Exploring Beijing Temples

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.

Apricot Courtyard Inn (image courtesy of TripAdvisor).


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.

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Archway into the school.
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Simon took an interest in the koi in the pond.
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Students come to the temple and write their wishes for good luck on these tablets, which are then hung by the statue to Confucius.


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.

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At first, I thought the younger monk was waving “no pictures!” and then I realized he was smiling and inviting me to take his picture, so I obliged.
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Prayer wheel, with directions.
"It's getting really smoky; please be reasonable with the incense."
“It’s getting really smoky; please be reasonable with the incense.”
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Playing on the temple wall.

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.

Big Buddha.
Big Buddha.

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!

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Cookies and booze. Let the party start!

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