|This weekend we took a two day group trip to Chengde, which is a town (well, city really) about 3 hours northeast of Beijing. We had a nice comfy bus (perfect for sleeping, which we all did like pros) going in both directions, everyone taking up about 4 seats because it was so big.
Although we were there a short time (two days, one night), we made the rounds to the different temples in the area. We visited the Little Potala Palace, Puning Temple, and Bangchui Hill that has what is called a huge "thumb" rock at the top (see the photos, you will know which they are when you see them).
The Puning Temple has the largest wooden Buddha in the world with 26 sets of arms, which is around 23 meters tall. It was really incredible to see, as it extended to the very top of the temple, in a very small and confined space (if I were the Buddha I would be extremely claustrophobic in that location). Outside there were multiple places to both buy and burn incense as an offering, and for such a calm day (at times it felt like we were the only ones there) you'd be surprised how much incense was being burned. It wasn't incense as I typically know it with a strong scent, but rather it had no scent at all even when burned.
We were going to hike up to the thumb/Bangchui Hill but once we got there our time schedule didn't allow us to make it there and back before they closed, so we "settled" for taking the tram/hanging chairs/I cant remember the actual name for them at the moment things. They took about 20 minutes each way with two to a seat, taking you over open valleys between the hills as you ascended to the top gradually. It is shocking the number of women who wear high heels while visiting tourist sites in China, yes, even at the top of a mountain. I cant say I saw any stilettos here, but even wandering around the large green areas surrounding the various temples we visited, at least every other woman is wearing some type of heeled shoe. My feet hurt just looking at them, and I'm pretty good in heels if I do say so myself. There is also no lack of yellling, it could be my hypersensitivity to my lack of Mandarin understanding as well as when Im tired, but it seems that every tour guide (of which there seem to be hundreds) is yelling at their group, every mother is yelling at her child, and every girlfriend is yelling at her boyfriend over something (the boyfriend who, 95% of the time, is given the task of carrying her (designer) purse as I have seen everywhere in China I have visited so far - Nico, I promise I wont make you carry mine).
After our panoramic experience we headed to a restaurant with a specialty in dumplings and ate a wonderful meal (I forgot how much I missed the China-style 15 different dishes in the middle free-for-all that we had the first few days during orientation, when the program pays for our food....). Chinese restaurants, the larger nicer ones that we go to when on group trips, usually have 2 floors with the second floor exclusively for private dinning rooms with large circular tables with a lazy Susan in the middle to facilitate sharing food. They also have waitresses specially assigned to them, and keep the door closed so you can make as much noise as you like (or talk about confidential business terms, I'm sure). The waitresses without fail will promptly come and open your chop sticks for you, poor you tea or water, and open your napkin. At times I want to tell them to leave it be and not to bother...then I remember I can't communicate in Chinese. Oops. Fail.
The hotel we stayed at was pretty nice. The bed was about 5 times better than the one in my door, comfort wise (mind you, that is still about 100x worse than any bed in the States, but what would this be without some challenges?). It was clean and nice by Chinese standards, American sanitation inspectors would have had a field day though, from a spot of mold (or more than a spot) on the shower curtain to the waitresses washing the spoons in a bowl of water while drying the spoons during breakfast on the table cloth. I've never been one to freak out about little things sanitation wise, which is probably a good thing given my love of travel.
Being the wacked business student that I am, I've noticed the most common gas station in China is Sinopec. They dont get any props for originality when it comes to their name, but it gets the point across. A quick google search lead to Wikipedia (what else?!) and then to the fact that it is the 6th largest company in the world by revenue. See, my quirky observations can teach me a thing or two!
This afternoon we visited the Summer Imperial Palace, where the emperors used to spend their summers (well, a small part of the summer to the best of my understanding). Compared to many of the other palaces and dwellings that we have visited over the weeks, this one seemed rather bland. That is not commenting on the history or the meaning of the palace, but rather on its appearance. There were hardly any ornate designs or colors that stood out, and although there were a good amount of trees (which were very much to my liking, I've been needing some good fresh air being in Beijing), the buildings and grounds themselves were less than inviting. However, the grounds of the palace as a whole extended much further than any of us has energy to walk, and we soon elected to take boats around the lake within the compound. The boat had three stops, with another temple on each of the islands. The view from the water was quite pleasant and picturesque at times.
We then jetted off to lunch to a hotpot restaurant. I hadn't had hot pot before and honestly didn't really know what it was: a boiling pot of seasoned water is placed in front of you (on the burner that is built into the table that keeps it boiling and cooking) and you periodically place different vegetables, meats, tofu, or any assortment of things into the water to cook (as you watch it in front of you), and when it is done you remove it and dip it in one of the plethora of sauces provided. It was really fun to in essence cook your own food right in front of you. I think its a wonderful concept, more interactive and engaging then just, well, eating. After lunch we headed back to Beijing. Back to classes tomorrow: two more weeks of classes then one last week of our two finals!