Day 2 in Hutong, Beijing: Confucius Temple, Imperial Academy, Tibetan Food and Yonghe Lama Temple

It’s so strange to suddenly wake up one morning and realise that you have no access to anything Google-related. A part of me feels relieved not to have to deal with the constant stream of emails and newsfeeds; another part of me is freaked out at how much I rely on Dr.Google to get the job done; and another part of me is not digging using Yahoo and Outlook. It’s a serious throwback to my teenage years. I don’t know whether to quietly giggle to myself or to shake my head in despair.

HOTMAIL?!?! Seriously?!?! What’s next – do I have to sing and dance to a Backstreet Boy song?!?

I woke up this morning and had the hotel breakfast. The breakfast was fine, I just didn’t like it – end of story. It’s not my thing. And then I made my way out. I was a little nervous about the whole thing. Unlike Taiwan and Hong Kong that both felt very familiar; Beijing feels foreign. I’m finding it hard to understand the Mandarin that’s spoken here. And it’s not just the accent – the lingo is different, too.

It’s also cold here. Everyone is wearing down feather jackets, hats, gloves, boots blah blah. Good thing I kept my gear from Canada – it has come in handy. I’m wearing my sturdy and reliable Timberland snow boots and my LL Bean jacket. Not the most fashionable of outfits – but at least I’m warm. 

I intended to go to the Yonghe Lama Temple, but I got seriously lost. No surprises there – my sense of direction is terrible. Imagine Dory from Finding Nemo. Yes. That’s how hopeless I am. I stopped to ask a police officer for help who told me I was walking in the opposite direction. No surprises there either. And whilst making my way back, I found Confucius Temple.

The Temple of Confucius in Beijing 

Initially, I thought it was going to be just another one of those picturesque places – but man was I mistaken. From back in the day – think Yuan Dynasty 1200s – people used to go to the Temple of Confucius in Beijing to pay homage to Confucius. Confucius is a teacher, philosopher, author (and he had a whole host of other titles, too) credited with having authored or edited many of the Chinese classic texts.

I’ve been to Confucius Temples before. So it wasn’t the temple itself that fascinated me. It was what’s next door – the Beijing Guozijian (Imperial Academy), which was once the best school in China. 

For a couple of months now, I’ve been thinking about opening my own school. It isn’t even my own idea – a student of mine suggested it to me a while back. Initially, I just took it as a big compliment, but the more I thought about it; the more I thought – why not? I love learning – always have. I never thought I’d end up becoming a teacher – but I love teaching, too. 

And now here I am – standing in the footsteps of the Imperial Academy – an institution that lasted thousands of years. I felt an incredible stillness as I walked the university and temple grounds. I tried to re-imagine what it must have been like to study here back in the day. It must have been magnificent. The beginning of institutionalised education. The beginning of exams and formal education. The museum has an abundance of historical artefacts so you won’t have to rely on your imagination to do all the work. 

In addition to the grounds itself, there are a few rooms detailing the history of the education system and the education style of the Imperial Academy. I was fascinated by the history of education in China – especially since it so greatly influenced its East Asian neighbours. ALSO – I learnt that the Imperial Academy used to have foreign students from many other countries. Pretty cool, eh?

And I thought my own exchange program was the greatest thing ever… Sigh… 

Entrance to the temple and the university grounds is 30 yuan US$5. 

Tibetan Food

After the Confucian Temple and University, I made my way to my original destination – the Yonghe Lama Temple. YAY! See – I’m not totally useless with directions… Ahem, ahem…The Yonghe Temple and Monastery is of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. I don’t know much about Tibet, Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism. 

If anyone would like to educate me, feel free. I’m all ears.

On the way to the temple, I found a Tibetan restaurant… I don’t know anything about Tibetan food either, so I decided to walk in. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I opened the picture menu and picked two items. 

First up, I had Tsampa – which is roasted barley flour mixed with salty butter Tibetan tea made into cute little shapes. In Nepal and Tibet, it is a staple convenience food. At first bite, the texture was interesting – the taste was nothing to write home about; but it wasn’t awful either. I’m not quite sure how to describe it… but it reminded me of gritty breakfast oatmeal.

I didn’t hate it, but didn’t love it either. Not sure how I feel about it…

But the crowning glory of the meal were the yak dumplings. Yep – you read right, I wrote yak. I wasn’t much impressed by the appearance of the dumplings, but a quick bite later, I was sold.

I can’t say I’ve had dumplings so flavoursome in my life. Firstly, the sauce that came with it was spicy…  Yep, even for me… YAY! The dumplings tasted handmade and with that first bite I was just WOAAAAAAH… Talk about a sensory experience. 

My nose was running. My mouth was happy and my belly was going mmm mmm mmm… I’ll probably go back for a second round of these at some point. I approve.

And then I made finally made it to the temple. 

Yonghe Temple

The temple itself was beautiful. Audio guides were available (I didn’t get one), and the explanations on the plaque are minimal, so I didn’t manage to learn as much as I would have liked. There’s a small museum somewhere inside a summary of the history of the temple – but I would have liked to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism. 

Entrance was 25 yuan US$4 and you get a box of incense on the way in. Worshippers are everywhere – so I kept my photo taking to a minimal. There’s a massive 18m statue of Buddha made of sandalwood in one of the complexes. 

I’m afraid to admit I’m very ignorant about this topic, so I’m going to have to sit down and do a little bit of reading this evening. If anyone of you is an expert on Tibetan history and Buddhism, feel free to educate me. 

Oh – and I also managed to crack the screen of my iPhone on the way into the temple. Bugger… To think there’s an old wives tale that says that breaking glass is good luck…

Concluding Remarks

So far – Beijing’s been surprising. I didn’t know what to expect before I came here. But now that I’m here – I must say it’s not what I expected. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I’m sure it’ll be great.

I’m heading out for dinner in a bit. Till next time, bon appetit 🙂


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