Monday, May 21, 2012

The Great Wall

Saturday, Chris and I set the alarm for 6:00am and got a ride out to the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu, about an hour and a half northeast of Beijing.  The early hour was tough, but, man, it was worth getting there early before the tour buses!  We were on the first cable car from Mutianyu up to the Wall, and there it was.  I'd heard about it for years, had seen pictures, but nothing prepared me for the real thing.  We hiked it for about an hour and a half, totally in awe, and taking way too many photographs - as I sit here typing this two days later, I can still feel it in my calves.

Tiananmen Square

My plane arrived in Beijing on a beautiful afternoon, so after settling in, and while Chris was flying in from Shanghai, I walked to Tiananmen Square to see the place in the waning light of day.  The initial impact was from Chairman Mao's oversize portrait on the large building serving as precursor to the Forbidden City.  The security around the building was significant, where visitors had to funnel through a narrow fence opening manned by half a dozen police.  This was just to go to the front of the building on the outside.  It really seemed like a pilgrimage for the folks, holding Chinese flags and posing for portraits with the Chairman's portrait behind them.  I then walked to the other side of Tiananmen Square, across Chang An Avenue, via an underpass.  All bags had to go through X-ray scanners before being admitted to the section made famous by the 1989 disturbance.  Visitors, mostly Chinese, were milling around, having picnics and waiting for an event around the flagpole holding the flag of China - I think it may have been for the changing of the guard.  What struck me were the families waiting together, sitting around statues, grandparents, toddlers, little ones on dads' shoulders so they could see better.  A circle of appreciative onlookers watched as an enchanting little girl performed a simple dance.  She was accompanied by traditional Chinese music played from a device on the belt of her grandfather, who was coaching her with a big smile on his face.  I assumed he was her grandfather by the body language, the age difference, the pride he exuded, and the affection exhibited after the little girl's performance.  A soldier stood close by at attention, and I'm thinking he had to have cracked a smile, if even for an instant.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lama Temple in Beijing

The Lama Temple in Beijing was, as one might imagine, an oasis of tranquility amidst a populous, frenetic cityscape.  A long walk bordered by big trees led up to several layers of extraordinary temples and buildings, serving as a "lamasery", which I assume is the Buddhist equivalent of a monastery.  As I passed from one building into the next, each successive structure was more impressive than the previous, and culminated in a building that housed a gilded Buddha that must have been 40 meters high.  Had I not intended to meet Chris back at the hotel at that time, I could easily have lingered another hour.  So, I walked out the main entrance to the busy street, clogged with taxis, buses, crowds, the sound of car horns,.....and in the background, a faint trace of Buddhist chanting music.  After 5 minutes or more, I was finally able to cross the street, and found a small Buddhist shop selling incense, prayer beads, temple supplies and CDs, one of which was creating the beautiful music.  I bought a copy, and as we were completing the transaction, a monk holding a bundle of incense sticks came into the shop.  He was chatting, laughing with the two young men running the place, and out of the corner of my eye, I swear, he was dancing a bit to the music.  My purchase was affirmed.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Forbidden City
We're spending the weekend in Beijing - at least Chris and I are.  Lucy gets to stay with her buddy, Elliot, this weekend, back in Singapore.  Chris is up here on business, so he worked today, while I pounded the pavement, scoping out the Tiananmen Square area, the old Peking area and the Lama Temple.  I am dazzled by the old imposing buildings, the unique style of the architecture and the history.  More later.....
Forbidden City

Lama Temple, Beijing
Forbidden City

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Jurong Bird Park

Our friends from Breckenridge, Jim and Dianne, are visiting, so we decided to do some touristy things that we haven't done yet here in Singapore.  We heard alot about the Jurong Bird Park, so since we had a car for the weekend, we all went on Saturday.  Quite a place and amazing birds!  As you can see from the pics, we were able to get fairly close to a few of them - and I don't have a long lens!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Monitor lizard in the 'hood!

Well, Lucy and I just saw our first monitor lizard, just a half hour ago, along our path to East Coast Park (and Starbucks). She inexplicably high-tailed it to that location when we were a few meters away.... (I was thinking, what the....?)... this meter-long slithery thing came out from behind a tree. Thought it was a snake at first, then I saw the raptor-like head...... Of course, I didn't have a camera, or even my iPhone, but thought I'd share a video taken of a couple in the Botanics. Apparently, they are very common here. Glad Lucy was on the leash - not sure what kind of melee would have ensued...