Friday, April 08, 2005


Thursday was about as amazing a day as one could hope for. The day kept giving answers to the question, why travel?

After a light breakfast and a couple of hours of work, I set off for the great Beijing Lamasery. This walled complex is a nexus of spiritualism and is no relic.

It is a working Tibetan Buddhist monastery and temple complex. It was built in 1694 as a palace for a Yonghe prince and in 1724 the Emperor Qianlong had it converted into a Lamasery.

It soon became the most important Buddhist temple in Beijing and was visited and used by 6 Dalai Lamas over the years.

The buildings, which are all aligned on a North-South axis and arranged in perfect symmetry, are richly decorated and ornate. The walls, ceilings and exteriors are painted in brilliant greens, yellows, reds and blues. The smell of incense permates the air, prayer flags billow in the wind, chimes ring in the trees and the whir of spinning prayer wheels provide a steady backbeat to the peacful sights, sounds and smells.

Before each temple building there is an area for the burning of incense and prayer, and within each building are statues of the Buddha, Bodhisattvas and other important Buddhist figures.

The crowning achievements are a 25 foot tall Buddha carved from a single piece of sandalwood (it’s pictured above) and a 6o ft tall carved gold Buddha in the last temple building, which is one of the largest in the world.

What makes this place so special to me is that it is an active place of worship and spiritual life within what is still supposed to be an Atheistic society. Monks in yellow robes live and work here, ordinary Chinese come here to pray and worship and tourists and pilgrims come from all over the world to see its magnificence and participate in its spiritual energy.

I spent a number of hours admiring the statues and art, the artifacts and architecture, meditating, praying and burning incense. It is a place that brings me great peace and joy whenever I go there.


Beijing has taken on a new life for me because I have made many friends here, both Chinese and expatriate foreigners. These friendships have given me access and insight to the life of the city that would not be available to the average tourist or business person.

Last night was a great example of the fruits of these relationships.

I was taken to a place called “The Bookworm” by a group of Chinese and expat friends. The Bookworm is a combination bookstore, lecture hall and restaurant located off of the trendy Sanlitun bar street (more on Sanlitun after Saturday night).

This evening’s feature was a lecture and book reading by a 47 year old Chinese radio host and author, a woman named Xinran (pronounced Shin-Ran).
She has written two hugely successful books that have been printed in 33 languages. “Women of China” which details the lives and thoughts of a wide cross-section of Chinese women and her latest, “Sky Burial” about a northern Tibetan woman and her life in the mountains.

While we ate a mix of Chinese and Western food Xinran talked about her books, her life, the lessons she has learned about herself, China and the women of the world through her experiences in researching and writing her books.

After her lecture she took questions from the audience. It was at this point that the real impact of the evening hit me. Audience members asked her questions about the role of women in China, about her life under the Cultural Revolution, about Tibet and its traditions and relationships with China.

The questions and answers were so deep, so sincere, and so heartfelt (and in another time would be so controversial) that I was dumbfounded by the openness of thought being displayed in the room.

The physical, material and monetary changes taking place in China are obvious to even a neophyte in the country, but this was a rare glimpse into the changes in mind, attitude and variety of free thinking developing in the country.

It was an exhilarating and exciting two hours fraught with numerous societal implications and human spirit.

Xinran’s message of dialogue between people, countries, friends and family was inspiring and her stated desire for everyone in the audience who was Chinese, a foreigner living in China or someone who has visited to talk about the China of today with all they know to promote better relations and understanding were truly inspiring.