Original Post: August 8, 2007
It was HOT HOT HOT in Beijing, so at the crack of dawn on our 6th day, we set out for the Chengde – in the mountains about 4 hours north of Beijing. The main reason for heading there was to see the Imperial Summer Resort, which is where the Imperial family would go to escape the insane summer heat of the city.
The Mountain Resort itself is gigantic, you could spend days just wandering around the whole site, which comes with its own little wall. We had limited time so instead of hiking the perimeter we took the tram which dropped you off at a bunch of key spots and let you wander about for a bit. There’s one section that has some Mongolian style yurts that you can stay in, which we might have considered doing had we known about it ahead of time.
We stayed in an awesome little hotel that is housed inside the grounds of the Puning Temple. The Puning Temple is a functioning (is that the right word? It’s still in use, not just a historic site!) temple with monks still living there. The hotel staff were incredibly nice and were all dressed up in costume. There was a theater in the basement and each night they put on a show about the history of the temple. It blew away the terrible Kung-Fu show from Beijing and had some beautiful dances, drumming and music. It was completely in Chinese…so we walked away with a fairly minimal understanding of the whole thing, but it was still great fun.
Chengde is a small town to begin with, the the hotel was pretty far off the beaten path so we stuck with the on-site restaurant for dinner. Unlike in Beijing, there were no English menus to be had, and I kid you not, there seemed to be not a single staff member that spoke a word of English. We were also the only Western people at the hotel. This made for an amusing attempt at trying to order food. The staff and other dining patrons were so accommodating that they took us around the restaurant to show us what other people had ordered, and we gestured and nodded and pointed a lot and they seemed to get the gist of what we were interested in. We ended up with a giant meal (Justin had to put his hand in there to show the scale) for only the three of us, and I have only a vague sense of what most of it was, but it was great!
The temple itself was beautiful and had many different spaces, as temples here generally do. In one spot as we were exploring we noticed there was a monk set up by a table with a line of people waiting to do something. You could pay him 10Y and he would tell you to pull a stick from a vase. The stick was long, narrow and smooth and had some writing on it and he would read it and tap the table next to him. The table held two crescent shaped stones and you needed to pick them up and throw them like dice onto the table. You might do this only once, or he would make you repeat the process up to three or four times. When he was satisfied with the way the sticks and stones fell he would choose a slip of paper from a box and send you on your way. Sometimes the stones would not fall favorably and he would send the person away with nothing. We decided to give this a shot and Justin and Jenny both got the paper on their first try. I got sent away with nothing :( We asked Mr. Shin what this meant and he said it either meant something very good or very bad but it would be difficult to say for sure. Helpful. As for Jenny and Justin’s fortunes, they were very cookie-like and said things like “Hard work is difficult at the beginning but will pay off in the end.”
This particular temple is my favorite from the whole trip. It had a very calm feeling to it and did not seem like just a huge tourist attraction. It also holds the worlds largest statue of Guanyin – the Buddhist Godess of Mercy. It is 22 meters high and has something like 42 arms. It was one of the most impressive religious statues I’ve ever seen, akin to the gigantic reclining Buddha in Bangkok. We were only there for 2 days to see the Mountain Resort and the Punin Temple, but you could easily spend more time there and in retrospect I wish we had.
Up next…Xian and the Terracotta Warriors!