Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Beijing - Day 6 (Dong Yue Miao / Drum Tower)

Bright and early, our friendly taxi driver picked us up from the hotel for another day of sightseeing. First stop is the Dong Yue Miao (东岳庙) in Chaoyang District. This Taoist temple was built in 1319 in honor of the god Dong Yue, who lives in Tai Shan Mountain. The original temple ground covers 60,000 sq. m. with seven interconnected courtyards and has around 72 one-story halls. Each hall is occupied by a diety in charge of a particular virtue or wish. If you're after wealth, you go to this particular hall and make offerings of incense and money. If you're wishing for babies, you visit another diety. There's a Department of Pity and Sympathy, a Department of Official Morality, etc. I was about to take a few pictures, when our guide stopped me saying this is a sacred place. Yeah, right.

After a tour of the temple, our driver brought us to the Bell Tower. Together with the Drum Tower, these two were used to announce the time to the Beijing residents during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties. Climbing up a steep flight of stairs, we get on to the second floor of the 48-metre tall brick and stone structure, where we find the bell. Said to be the largest and heaviest in China, this 63-ton bronze bell is more than 500 years old. Story goes that the craftsmen were unsuccessful in casting the bell after repeated tries. Not happy, the emperor gave them a deadline (literally). On the final day of the casting, Lady Hua Xian, daugther of coppersmith Master Hua Yan jumped into the boiling furnace, believing that there's a spiritual reason for the failures, and offering herself as sacrifice. Strangely enough, this time the copper bell was cast successfully. Moved by the young woman, the emperor named her the Goddess of the Golden Furnace. A temple was also built in her honour near the foundry, called Temple of the Golden Furnace Bell-Casting Goddess (a.k.a. Jinlu Shenmu Zhuzhong Niangniang Temple). Coming down the tower, we were guided to a souvenir shop, where one of the staff gave us a history of the place, and tried to sell us some sculpture of a mythical being - The horns of a deer. The head of a camel. A demon's eyes. The neck of a snake. A tortoise's viscera. A hawk's claws. The palms of a tiger. A cow's ears. No sale.

Out of the Bell Tower, we got into these rickshaws that took us around the nearby hutongs (衚衕). Coming from Manila, these narrow alleyways is nothing new to us. Foreigners who like the idea of hutongs should go to Tondo for a look-see. As part of the tour, our drivers dropped us off at a traditional house - four walls and central courtyard; main living and side bedrooms for the parents and the eldest son's family. Turns out this is actually the home/workshop of a famous inkstone maker who has been making inkstones for the emperors generations back. Again, no sale.

Back in the taxi, our driver brought us to the Olympic district, where we got up close and personal with the Bird's Nest. Mighty impressive. We also got to see the Water Cube from afar, and the 7-star Pangu Hotel with the dragon-shaped top and giant-sized LCD screens on the sides. For lunch, our guide suggested we try Zha Jiang Mien Da Wang, which is known for, what else, zha jiang mien (炸酱面) a.k.a "fried sauce noodles". Definitely something new for us, but not something I'd eat every day. It's basically thick noodles topped with minced meat stir-fried with soybean paste, plus a few other garnishing. The restaurant itself is a novelty - very much like the ones you see in kungfu movies. It's got wooden tables and benches, waiters who dress the part, and staff shouting greetings, menu orders, and goodbyes.

After lunch, we went for a boat cruise towards the Summer Palace (頤和園). It was a blazing hot summer day, and this is what the emperor and his concubines would've done after a meal of zha jiang mian. The dragon boat cruise took around an hour. When we disembarked from the boat near the entrance to the Summer Palace, a wave of heat hit us, and we decided to just spend the afternoon shopping. SIL was looking for a new laptop, so the cabbie took us to Zhongguancun (中关村) in Haidian, said to be China's Silicon Valley.

The guy dropped us off at one of these multi-level shopping centres. We walked in and all these salespeople swooped in on us and started harassing us to visit their shops. Kinda annoying. DIL was starting to get irritated, so we quickly moved away in case he goes into a full-blown range. Floor upon floor, all of the shops are selling just laptops. Got tired of laptops after a while, so we had dinner at Pizza Hut.

No comments: