Beijing is really big–everything about it is big. More than 16 million people live here, in an area that’s eight times larger than Los Angeles. The tall buildings are really tall. The interstate system has multiple lanes of traffic, filled to capacity at times. The Bird’s Nest at the Olympic site seats 77,000 people, and they’re building another that will be larger. The city has the largest train station in China, and they’re building another that will be larger.
Beijing has lovely places, including beautiful landscapes with blooming flowers and lush green grass, in parks, along streets, and along the interstate. Some of the new buildings have eye-catching architecture, like the headquarters of the television network that was built with angular lines and designed so the mythical dragon can fly through it. Another is a new performance arena, nicknamed The Egg, because of its oval shape, where those attending a performance must cross a lake to enter.
What we would call mythology plays a role in Chinese culture, past and present. We visited the Summer Palace today, which served as the summer home of the emperors for many years (hundreds? thousands? my sense of history is escaping me….) The many buildings, built around a large, shallow lake, have structures to prevent demons from entering them. The belief is that demons can only move in straight lines, so a large (and I mean really large) rock is placed several feet in front of the door to block the demon from entering. The belief is that demons can’t step up or down, so a raised threshold keeps the demons from entering. The belief is that demons can’t stand to look at themselves because they are ugly, so mirrors are placed in the entry hall to scare demons away if they do enter. According to our delightful guide Penn, it is not uncommon to have raised thresholds in households today….
The Chinese designers of museums know how to engage learners of all ages. The eleven of us spent more than an hour in a small exhibit room at the Confucius Institute, absolutely captured by interactive exhibits about the Chinese language characters, paper cutting, Chinese dress, Chinese food, and other aspects of Chinese culture. The exhibit on the language characters is the coolest thing I’ve seen; I could have stayed for hours.
A variety show is a variety show, regardless of nation, language, or culture. An evening at the Laoshe Tea House included a magician, string musicians, animal sounds mimicry, a skit about a battle with the gods to reclaim a spouse, and an emcee that kept things moving. Even with limited translation, we go the gist of the acts, and appreciated their talents.
Tea is a good thing, and we are served often.
Posted from Beijing, Beijing, China.