Get It On, Yong He Gong, Get It On!

For our last day in Beijing, Stephanie had researched the Yong He Lama Temple, a Tibetan Buddhist Temple, saying she wanted to see something peaceful. I thought that after having to deal with non-existent restaurants, Beijing taxi drivers, and never-ending tours, something peaceful sounded great.

And it was largely peaceful, despite the number of tourists and Buddhist followers. The latter more peace-inducing than the former.

The tickets came with a mini-CD.

Sadly, I have misplaced mine. It’s in a pile of ticket stubs, maps, guides, and whatnot somewhere here in the house. Unpacking from a month-and-a-half-long trip is messy. I want to see what’s on the tiny CD. Though I’m not sure my MacBook can read it.

Back to the Lama Temple. You’re not supposed to take pictures of the insides of the temples where the buddhas are located. That didn’t stop people from doing it. I refrained, even though I’m not a Buddhist or a spiritual person, simply out of respect for the rules.

Here’s Meredith spinning one of the many prayer wheels.

Here’s Henry posing silly for the picture.

The main feature of the Lama Temple is a colorful, 18 meter tall Buddha carved out of a single trunk of sandalwood. It even has a sign from the Guinness Book of World of Records, testifying to this unique feature.

The giant buddha was carved from 1748-1750. It was something to see that no picture I could take would be able to do justice. We all stood in the temple marveling at it for several minutes.

At noon we decided to leave, so that we would have enough time to get back to the hotel, grab a snack and our luggage, and get a taxi to the train station for our 2pm train to Shanghai.

Outside the temple we hailed a taxi. The driver stopped. We got in. I showed him the address to our hotel and pulled out some Yuan bills. He got out his microscope to look at the address, again like he’d never seen the address to a hotel near the Forbidden City, or he’d never heard of the Forbidden City and did not know the way.

Then he said no and kicked us out of the taxi. Our crime? Apparently, we were on the wrong side of the road to catch a taxi to go in the direction we needed to go.

Henry was so upset, he started crying, worried we wouldn’t make it to our hotel and that we would miss our train.

We jaywalked to the other side of the street. (I will say this: jaywalking on most streets in Beijing is actually easier than crossing in crosswalks in Shanghai.) Then we began again the process of hailing a taxi.

Second time was the charm. A driver took us back to our hotel, where we gathered our luggage and the hotel bellhop attempted to hail us a taxi to Beijing South Railway Station. It took many tries. No taxi would stop. Then one did after awhile. The bellhop loaded our luggage into the taxi and gave the driver directions.

We arrived with plenty of time to find our platform and get in line to board the train. It was a little after one-thirty.

One problem: the kids were very hungry. Thanks to the usual Beijing Taxi Drama, we hadn’t had time to get anything to eat. Then we saw a Burger King! In the station! Not far from our boarding area!

So Stephanie took the kids to Burger King to get the kids some French fries and us adults some burgers. While they went for food, I waited with the luggage. And waited. And waited. I looked at the time on my phone ticking away. When it reached 1:50pm, I could tell the attendants at the platform entrance were calling out for any last riders to to Shanghai.

When it got to 1:55pm I was in Full Panic Mode, standing on my tiptoes to look over the crowd for a sign of my wife and kids. I was worried we were going to miss our train and not be able to get on another one. The day before all the high-speed trains in and out of Shanghai had been canceled (along with flights out of Pudong Airport) because of the typhoon. My thinking was that because of all of those canceled trips, today’s trains would be booked full, leaving us with few options one of which being to stay another day in Beijing.

At 1:56pm I spotted my wife and waved. But her head was down, looking like she was trying to make space in the thick crowd. I called out, “Steph!” which turned a lot of Chinese heads in my direction. I moved a little closer, ticket in hand. She finally pushed her way through to me, kids  in a chain of hands behind her, her other hand holding the Burger King bag.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “But it turns out the Burger King isn’t even on this level. You have to go upstairs! And the line…”

We turned and rushed to the platform entrance and held out our tickets to the attendants. They didn’t make us put our tickets through the gates. They simply examined our four tickets, saw that we needed to get on the train NOW, and let us through.

We went through and down the escalator to the platform where the attendants just told us in Chinese and through hand gestures to get on the train and then find our car. Our seats were on car 12. We boarded on car number 9 and walked down the center aisle of the cars to get to our seats. Some poor bastard thought he was about to get a window seat. Then we came along at the last minute to claim our seats, bumping the guy back to his aisle seat in another row.

We sat, breathing heavily, Stephanie handing out food to all of us. We were leaving Beijing just as we’d left Shanghai; in a daze of adrenalin, sweat, and relief.

Here’s our obligatory picture of the speed readout on the screen at the front of the high-speed train car.

The train ride was uneventful other than the discovery that you can buy popcorn in the dining car. It’s microwave popcorn, kettle style. (There is no buttered popcorn, dear Westerner. Butter is a dairy product.) You buy a package and they put it in the microwave for you. Kind of neat actually. It made the kids happy.

I still hate Beijing, though it was worth visiting for the Summer Palace, my wife and I having a good inner with a colleague of hers from USC, the Lama Temple, and the thrill of the seeing the Great Wall.

When the train pulled into Shanghai Hongqiao, we were glad to be back in Shanghai. And I do know this: I am never going back to Beijing.


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