Thursday, February 17, 2005

Ah, Numsie! (Laughs Like Eddie Murphy)

After yesterday's post, it was off to the train station to purchase a ticket to Harbin. Since I'm a high-rolling meiguoren (American), and becuase the train ride is 13+ hours, I sprung for the VIP sleeper car. And by sprung, I mean paid $50 US, a third of what a plane ticket would have cost, and I dont have to worry about baggage issues.

The Beijing Train Station stands as a true monument to Chinese Socialism. The structure effortlessly combines the scale and monstrosity deserving of a good proletariat monument with the chaos of a open-air street market. I probably could have bought my ticket using my Chinese ability, but the train schedule made no sense to me whatsoever, and I didn't want to muck this up. So, after 3 misses, I finally hit upon a teller who spoke English.

Next up came a visit to the Lama Temple, which is the largest and most reknown Buddhist temple in Beijing. (If you want to learn more, check out this website: I didn't take many pictures, as you are not allowed to take pictures of the most interesting bits, that is to say, the shrines and statues and altars and so forth. The most spectacular of all of these was a giagantic sandalwood buddha, which according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the largest carving from a single piece of wood in the world.

I find Buddhist temples exceptionally interesting, always have, always will. Might have something to do with my affinity for Eddie Murphy's opus dei "The Golden Child," which was one of my favorite movies as a young dork. Sure enough, when I found some spinny dealies (I have no idea what they are or what they are for) I did what I could to mimick Axel.

What really gets me about Buddhism and their temples is the multifaceted simplicity of it all. There were hundreds of different Buddha statues in the Lama Temple, each representing a different Buddha, but all representing the same Buddha. Similar to the Christian Trinity, but I find it less confusing. Don't ask me why, since I was raised a Catholic.

From there I hiked through some hutong (more on that at a later date) to the Drum and Bell Towers, two towers that overlook Beijing. I was lucky enough to catch a drum performance, where 1/2 dozen robed percussionists beat out upon 6 foot drums. Each drum sent a prayer for a different boon (ie: rain), and each beat carried some other significance that I didnt understand. They are really into numbers here (again, more later), and music breaks down into math, like it or not, and so the beats carried meanings.


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