China, Day 11, Lama Temple, Pandas, Hutongs, Olympic Village

Worship at the Lama Temple. Convenient knee-rests provided

Wednesday June 13, Day 11

During my conversation with the 7th day adventist preacher the day before, I had asked him, which denomination was closest to theirs theologically, trying to place them on the religious map. I was surprised when he claimed they are closest to Judaism. I was therefore only slightly less shocked when unbidden and while visiting the Buddhist Lama Temple, a fellow tour group member claimed that Hinduism is closest to Judaism than the other religions (is it my imagination, or does everyone want to ride our theological coattails?).

It was educational to see what I deem pure idol worship service at the Lama Temple, which I found highly ironic as I believe Buddha and his initial disciples were going in the exactly opposite direction from the pantheon of false gods the Hindus worshiped but rather sought pure enlightenment without all the trappings, ritual and beliefs of the idol worshipers of their time. Instead, centuries later, temples are built with an endless variety of Buddha statues with people bowing down to them, burning incense for them and rubbing different parts of the idol for wisdom, luck, money, etc. The Temple grounds were very pretty, the statues were interesting and the incense made me sick. Was happy to head to the zoo.

Really big Buddha. They proudly display the Guinness Book of World Records plaque outside the building.

The typical discussion with tour guides and fellow tourists are: “Where are you from?” Israel. “How many children do you have?” Seven. At that point, most people look at Tamara in amazement, ask how old she is and revere her as if she were some modern-day goddess (which she of course is). The reaction by today’s tour guide was the strongest yet. She was stunned. She was silent for several seconds before her brain seemed to get back into gear. She asked the question two more times to make sure we understood her and she us. For people and cultures that have at most two children we must have seemed to be truly alien.

I love Pandas! We saw several and they were all sleeping. Apparently, they sleep most of the day and even eat laying down. I’m inspired by their inactivity. They did look cute and cuddly though their white fur was a bit dirty. There is something human about the way they slumber. One had his paw over his eyes as if trying to block the sun. One couldn’t help thinking about the movie Kung Fu Panda, though I don’t think I will get any new insights by watching it again.

Hutong is the name for the last neighborhood in Beijing that hasn’t been demolished yet to make way for modern buildings. It is now a preserved tourist location, complete with an army of Chinamen ready to bike you around on a rickshaw. The ring of tourists on rickshaw rides passing each other as we drove through the narrow alleys of Hutong was reminiscent of a Disney ride and I appropriately started singing the tune from “It’s a Small World After All”. Tamara thought it funny. Our driver wasn’t impressed.

Sleeping Panda. You can almost hear him snoring.

We merited three tourist traps today. The first was a Hutong dwelling remodeled as a classy hotel with a collection of replicas of ancient musical instruments. I was invited to play some pretty metallic xylophone. I dutifully played the theme song to Star Wars which seemed appropriate in such an ancient reconstruction.

The second trap was a ceramic gallery which I had totally predicted the day before seeing as we had already done jade, silk, pearls and herbs. The third trap was tea, which I hadn’t thought about as we had already been subjected to this in Shanghai. I stayed in the bus and relaxed for that particular outing, much to the tour guides consternation.

Rickshaw ride. Who needs Disney?

For our last stop we visited the main site of the 2008 Olympics and were amazed. The Chinese leveled the equivalent of a few neighborhoods and built a stunning new stadium (Bird’s Nest) and cool looking pool facility (Water Cube) and an enormous 5km long promenade with the coolest looking street lamp-posts I have ever seen in my life, along with many other buildings, facilities, etc. Once again, they demonstrate their ability to do things big and overwhelming. The Olympics have been a major milestone in their modern history, comparable to the achievements of their ancestors. I don’t know if it was poor communication or understanding but one of our tour guides (Lily – Monday, May – Tuesday, Yoyo – Wednesday) had said something like the “Ming period” (one of their imperial dynasties) and the “Olympic period”, making some sort of equivalence between a dynasty that reigned for hundreds of years, and the hosting of the Olympic games.

Did I mention they like to do things big?

Touring with us today and the day before was an Indian family from Chenai that has lived in Singapore for the last 11 years. It was a couple with two young daughters (7 and 4) and the husband’s parents. The grandmother was dressed in traditional Indian garb which caused a stir almost everywhere we went and probably drew more stares at times than some of the attractions we were visiting, though Tamara and I were stopped at one point by Asian tourists who asked to pose with us (I don’t know if it was my beard, Tamara’s blue eyes, or both).

Tamara bonded with the 7-year old, who requested that she hold her hand, take pictures with her and called her “Auntie.” This was a frum Hindu couple on a strict diet, so I was actually relieved when they asked the tour guide to skip lunch as we had both brought our own food. The previous two days we had eaten our cabanos quickly outside while everyone else ate in whatever local eatery had been arranged. For some reason I find the Chinese fashion of scooping chopsticks-worth of food and slurping it quickly into their mouths unappetizing and was happy to wait for them outside.

New friends

We were happy to return to our hotel earlier than usual and take it easy after ongoing whirlwind days.

Tomorrow we prepare for our return trip…

Day 1, Istanbul, Turkey

Day 2, Arrival in Shanghai

Day 3, Nanjing Road and Shanghai Jewish Museum

Day 4, Yu Gardens, Shanghai Museum, World Financial Center

Day 5, Suzhou, Venice of the East, Silk Factory and Lingering Gardens

Day 6, On our own in the Fake Market and Yu Garden Market

Day 7, Shabbat with Chabad and censored Men In Black 3

Day 8, Bullet Train to Beijing and Ruminations on Culture, One-Child Policy

Day 9, Ming Tombs, Great Wall

Day 10, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace and more on One-Child Policy

Day 11, Lama Temple, Pandas, Hutongs, Olympic Village

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