The Great Wall of China, Temple of Heaven and Tianjin

      Travel Journal of Nget Hong, Bee Jee, Yu Sing and Yu Yong, 2002


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May 29th : Beijing Zoo -- the Giant Panda

This morning we decided to follow the tour group to visit Beijing Zoo and the Temple of Heaven—for half a day. Before our departure I have already decided not to join the group in touring Beijing. We have to join the group tour mainly because no air tickets were available for this period. Apparently the tour companies had blocked all tickets to Beijing during this school holiday season. As a result, we have to pay more—paying for the tour that we seldom join! But it is a lot more fun exploring Beijing yourself! However, for the last few days, the tour leader Mr. Lim kept pleading us to join them –perhaps he was worried that otherwise we would not give the tips to the employed tour guide!

So after breakfast off we went to visit the Beijing zoo –not the whole zoo but actually only the Giant Panda Pavilion! Traffic in the morning was very heavy and it took quite some time to reach the Giant Panda pavilion. There were not many tourists there yet, and we were allowed to spend 15 min there. We have seen Giant Panda earlier, once in the Washington DC Zoo, the other time in Hong Kong’s Ocean Park. It is just a novelty, nothing really exciting after you had seen once!

As per usual practice, waiting for everybody (there were some 30 members in this group) to come to the bus took much longer, 20 min or more! Finally, after much delay, we left for the Temple of Heaven. It was already nearly 11—brazing hot as we left the Zoo.


           The Giant Panda in Beijing Zoo
The Temple of Heaven               

           The Circular Altar

The Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) was first built in early 15th century. It is an enormous park south of Tiananmen Square. The emperor would come once a year to the altar here to perform rites and make sacrifices to the god of heaven on behalf of the people. In China, the emperor was also called the son of heaven, and only he had the authority to perform the rite.

The Tiantan Park is rounded like heaven on the north and squared like the Earth to the south, following traditional Chinese cosmology. The major halls and vaults all lay on a north-south axis.

We entered through the southern Zhaoheng gate. The first major structure is the Circular Altar-a huge, bare three-tiered terrace. In the Chinese imperial tradition, in winter the emperor would lead all the government officials to come here to pray and commune with the god of heaven. I was told that he would go to the Imperial Vault of Heaven to bring out the ceremonial tablet to the Circular Altar. And there he would say a prayer. Because of the special construction of the Circular Altar (triple-tiered surrounded by numerous symmetrically arranged small marble columns), when the emperor steps on the central platform to say the prayer, it would produce a loud echo. The officials would then attribute this phenomenon to the mystify power of the emperor. However, when we visited the Circular Altar, the hollow terrace was full of people –many people stepped on the platform and tried to produce the echo effect, but with so many people walking on the terrace the acoustic properties of the whole structure must have been greatly compromised –we heard no echoing at all!          

In the vast courtyard there were many locals enjoying a good time—if you just come in the park without visiting the vault, pavilions and halls, you only have to pay 1Y! There are many tall trees in the park and it was rather shady. We were drawn by a group of locals who gathered in the courtyard to sing Chinese folk songs, they sang pretty well and thoroughly enjoying the whole thing!

We then visited the Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huang Qiong Yu). This is a pavilion with beautiful blue-tiled roof, was built of wood and is the storehouse for the ceremonial stone tablet. Huge crowd gathered here but were only allowed to ‘peep’ inside! The building was built on top of a three-tiered marble terrace. At the ground level there are the famous three echo stones with unique acoustic design. If you step on the first stone and clap your hands sharply, a single echo will return, one clap while standing on the second stone, however, produces two echoes, and of course, clapping while standing on the third stone will produce three echoes! The builders must be masters of acoustic physics! In 1987 when I first visited here, there were few tourists and I did verify it! But for today, there were so many people walking around the courtyard producing all kinds of interferences with the sound waves –you just have to believe it by faith!

The Imperial Vault is surrounded by a high wall that also has  amazing acoustic properties and it is known as the Echo Wall. Yes, I tried it during the 1987 visit, but as for today, unfortunately, like many part of Beijing top tourist attractions, the place was so crowded and the wall is fenced off now, so... forget about trying it! Actually all these acoustic physics were exploited in the early day to mystify the power of the emperor. The people at that time really thought these were god’s power!       

                                The Imperial Vault

After that we walked along the Danbi Bridge (Bridge of Vermillion Stairs) to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (Qinian Dian). The Danbi Bridge is not really a bridge but a broad boulevard, which rises gradually towards the northern end, creating an effect of ‘going up the heaven!’ as you walk from the southern end to the northern end.  Even though this is a very hot day, with brazing sunshine, there were lots of tourists. The ‘bridge’ was flanked by garden and pavilions on both side but there was absolutely no shade on the bridge.


       The Danbi Bridge                        Aerial View of the Danbi Bridge and Hall of Prayer


The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a circular wooden hall with soaring blue-tiled roofs and is an emblem of China’s Imperial architecture. The edifice is richly decorated and apparently constructed without a single nail and supported by four massive central columns, each more than 100 feet tall. It was in this hall that the emperors of China performed the rites intended to bring good harvest and harmony to the nation. But again, here the interior is off limit to foot traffic.

After that we left through the Long Corridor to the East Gate. There were many activities along the Long Corridor here, and a lot of vendors selling various kinds of souvenirs. We also saw an old man practicing Chinese calligraphy using a long, brooms like stick, and he really ‘wrote’ well!



Above and right: The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests



After that we left through the Long Corridor to the East Gate. There were many activities along the Long Corridor here, and a lot of vendors selling various kinds of souvenirs. We also saw an old man practicing Chinese calligraphy using a long, brooms like stick, and he really ‘wrote’ well!

After that we left for the nearby, famous Silk Market, featuring clothes, silks, leather goods etc. We spent little time there, mainly also because we got a bit tired after visiting the Zoo and the Temple of Heaven. The vendors here were rather aggressive; and the crowd was mainly foreign tourists also. We did not find interesting things to buy here so decided to take a taxi back to hotel. We tried out a ordinary looking (air con though) restaurant not far away from our hotel – De-Te Restaurant. The food was surprisingly good and cheap! If you want to try good Beijing food, you have to go to these local restaurants! Food in big hotels and big restaurants not only are expensive but of mediocre quality.


Wanfujing and St Joseph’s Cathedral

In the evening, we took a taxi to Wanfujing –the main shopping district of Beijing. Wangfujing, literary means ‘the well of the Prince’s Mansion’, is situated just a few blocks east of the Forbidden City and was a favorite residential neighborhood for the royals during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Wangfujing is an ultramodern shopping district today, but there is a prominent old building here –the St Joseph’s Cathedral (Dong Tang—literary, Eastern Cathedral).  The church has a large, open courtyard that is a nice place to stroll and rest. This was first built in the 17th century—at that time, there were already substantial number of foreigners staying around here. The presence of a western church so ‘near’ the Forbidden city was a sign of western powerful influence in Beijing –the Chinese emperors would never allow the presence of a ‘foreign devil’s building so near the Forbidden City if were not for the might of western gunboats! This church was burned to the ground during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 because of its relative isolation from the Foreign Legation, and hence was not well protected by the western armed forces. The present structure was rebuilt right after that, paid by the Qing government. So to the Chinese at that time, the building was both a sign of humiliation of China and arrogance of the imperialist Western power. Today it is still a majestic building, but do the people worship here really knows the Lord, I wonder!  


 Above and right: St Joseph's Cathedral at Wanfujing




Donhuamen Night Market --Hawker Street

We took some time to locate the nearby Donghuamen Night Market—my tour guidebook highly recommends visiting this market. It is actually a local food market. There were almost 100 hawker stalls here, with all kinds of cheap, local foods. The hawker stalls look clean too. The favorite for the kids was fried ice cream –actually ice cream wrapped in flour and then fried briefly. There are many, many restaurants along the side hutongs (lanes) here. We chose to eat in a Hunan restaurant and the food was good and reasonably priced. It was interesting to note that the restaurant was at that moment also promoting ‘Indian pancake’—that’s, the roti canai back home in Malaysia! The chef was laboring to demonstrate how to make the pancake but his skill was nothing compare to any of our Malaysian chefs!  We did some shopping here but there was nothing special here –Wanfujing is so commercialized, westernized and tourist-oriented nowadays. The shops here are not very different from shops in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore.


In Beijing, a Chinese educated person would find himself surrounded and overwhelmed by the atmosphere of a rich and highly refined culture. The ‘air’ is so thick with Chinese culture that you can literary ‘feel’ it! After all, China has 5000 years of history behind her, and Beijing has been the cultural capital of China for the past 800 years or so. I found that I needed to constantly remind myself of who I am in Christ, and where I really belong, so as not to be overwhelmed by the refined Beijing culture.  


May 30th : A Short Trip to Tianjin

This morning we moved to Paragon Howard Johnson Hotel, an American style hotel. The hotel has better facilities, but little China content. Here you can watch BBC, CNN etc, but no more the 50 local, Chinese TV channels! The hotel is located right in the heart of Beijing, opposite to the massive Beijing Railway Station. The morning traffic of Beijing was very heavy and difficult to move around. After checking in, we joint the tour group to Tianjin.


Tianjin City: The three areas highlighted (from bottom to top) are: Food Street, Ancient Cultural Street and Wan-Hai Lou (Catholic Cathedral)



                       Tianjin City Center

Tianjin: the Port City

Tianjin was the port city of North China--the port is actually at least 20 km to the east. It is the 4th largest city of China. The bus ride took about 2 hour along good road. All the way both sides of the road are flat farming land. We had a rest stop, and were very impressed by the good toilet and rest facilities. China is fast catching up with the developed world, and really invested to attract foreign tourists, to make foreign tourists comfortable.  

We finally reached Tianjin –the tour bus sent us straight to the Chinese Food Street (so-called because there are a lot of restaurants and footstalls here, mainly for foreign tourists) and had our early lunch. The food was nothing to shout about, including the famous Tienjin food: the Gopulipau (literary dog-cares-not dumpling). The dumpling is just the smaller version of the meat pau in Malaysia. Perhaps we have not tried the authentic one –tour groups in China are known not to provide good and authentic local food! (A tip: if you want to try good local food, you have to explore yourself!)  

Wanhailou –the Catholic Cathedral and Early Christianity in Tianjin

After the early lunch we were left there to roam about –the tour bus would only come back to pick us up at 2 pm. There was nothing much to do here or nearby, so we took a taxi to visit the historical Catholic Cathedral in Tienjing. The church is called Wanhailou--literary means Sea-View Pavilion –the building was built at the bank of the Hai River leading to the Yellow Sea. This is the oldest cathedral in Tianjin, built in 1869 by French Catholics missionaries. The taxi driver knew the place and offered to take us to and forth for 10Y only—including waiting time! We found that it was actually not far away from the Food Street. I have read about this cathedral earlier and the historical events associated with it, and so was excited to visit the site myself.

The later part of the 19th century was the period when the Western Powers were trying all their means to open up the market in China, using their superior military power to overcome the obstacles put up by the isolationist Qing government. This was the period that Britain depended heavily on the opium trade to maintain the trade balance with China. When the Qing government decided to ban opium smoking in China and started to confiscate the opium, the conflict with the British traders resulted in the Opium War, and subsequently resulted in the invasion of Beijing—via Tianjin, by the Franco-British coalition forces. Wanhailou was built right after that invasion.


    Can ou see the Wanhailou Cathedral overlooking the Hai River?    


    Wanhailou Cathedral: looks like a fortress


Above: Outside the gate of the Catholic Cathedral

Right: Inside the compound of the Cathedral. The small house is the care taker's house



The local people considered the church as a symbol of western invaders and hated its presence. Soon opponents of the western invaders spread rumors about the church, claiming that the French nuns purchased newborn Chinese babies for blood sacrifices. Actually, what happened was that the nuns were running an orphanage in the church and they offered monetary gift for those who brought in orphans—a big mistake. The local hooligans exploited the opportunity and brought stolen babies to exchange for money. During that summer, because of epidemics quite a number of orphans in the church died and were buried in the church compound. The suspicious crowd gathered at the church and demanded an investigation. The subsequent conflict between the French Charge’ affair in Tianjin and the Qing government officials resulted in a riot. The French officer was killed, the church was burnt down. All the nuns and priests of the cathedral were merciless murdered, and even other totally innocent protestant missionaries in the Tianjin area were also massacred en bloc.

The Chinese historians named this incident the Tianjin religious conflict case. Eventually, the helpless Qing government was forced by the French to rebuild the cathedral. For the local people, this confirmed again that the cathedral was the bastion of imperialism, and demonstrated the powerlessness of the Qing government before the foreign powers.

In fact, religious conflict case like this was very common during the later part of the 19th century. In the early years, the Christian missionaries were only allowed to minister in the coastal cities, and it was through a series of treaties forced upon China by the western powers that made it possible for the missionaries to enter the hinterland of China. Very often they worked together with the foreign business and military interests—perhaps for protection—that to many Chinese the missionaries became the vanguard of western imperialism in China. Unfortunately, in certain area some of the Chinese Christians abused their privileges (being connected to the feared ‘foreign devils’) and became bullies. Conflicts between these Chinese Christians and local residents often gave rise to riots and these incidents in turn were frequently exploited by the foreign powers to wrest more economic concessions from the Qing government. It was not surprising therefore that during the 1900 Boxers rebellion the Wanhailou cathedral was again burnt down. In 1903, the French government once again rebuilt it, using fund provided by the Qing government.

Today, this grand, European style cathedral that overlooks the Hai river has been gazette as a historical heritage site—certainly not to commemorate the beginning of Christianity in Tienjin, but instead as evidence of the imperialists’ invasion of China! Unfortunately, to the nationalist Chinese, this building has become a symbol of the synergy between early Christian missionaries and imperialism!

When we arrived, we found that the gate was not locked, so we went into the courtyard. It was rather spacious inside but there was nobody there—no tourist, for sure! In the ‘notice board’, there was a hand written account of the history of the cathedral. The handwritings are of rather poor quality, looks like written by people with relatively low education background. There is also a copy of the poem about Christ written by one of the most famous emperor of the Qing dynasty – Emperor Kang Shee, an emperor who reigned during the 17th century. He was not a believer, but had the opportunity to talk to the Jesuits who came as missionaries to China, and apparently he had a good intellectual understanding of the work of the Cross. Perhaps the poem was reproduced here to show to the Chinese that Christianity was something acceptable to the Qing emperors?

This was a really quiet and ‘desolate’ place—all the time only four of us here. We then noticed an old couple in the cramp, rundown caretaker quarter at one corner of the courtyard. They did not bother us until I tried to enter the main building (perhaps the office block) then he shouted at me to stop me. So I did not proceed further—I actually wanted to take a look at the interior of the cathedral, but the caretaker was not friendly, he only shouted: ‘No mass today!’ and did not want to talk to us!


 A History of the Wanhailou Cathedral 


A close-up look of the entrance to the sanctuary


        Poems written by Emperor Kang Shee (17th century) about Jesus and the work of the cross. But he did not accepted Christ 

Before we left the cathedral, we spent a few minutes praying and gave thanks to the sacrifice of the early missionaries to China. Despite many shortcomings, there were many sincere Christians who loved the Lord so much that they gave their lives for China during the late 19 to early 20th century, as represented by the martyrs who died in Tienjin. Now that there are so many Christians in China, we prayed that the time may come for the Chinese Christians to give their lives for missionary works among the unreached peoples and to re-Christianise the western world. We prayed that the time would come when Chinese Christians publicly and collectively acknowledged their gratefulness to the Lord for these early missionaries who gave their precious lives to China.

Before we left, we visited the boutique shop next to the cathedral, BJ actually wanted to find out more about the cathedral but the shop owner knew little about the cathedral. She ended up buying a shirt. Things are cheaper here and price is reasonable, you do not have to negotiate like mad in Beijing.

Tianjin is a famous city of North China, and many famous personalities came from here, including the very popular Premier Chou En Lai during Mao’s era.. However, even though it was one of the earliest cities in China to have the presence of Christianity, today it is still considered as one of the least evangelized cities of China. We prayed for this city of more than 7 million population that the people would open their heart to the Lord!

After that we returned to the Chinese Food Street area and went to visit the ‘Chinese Food Street’—it is actually a massive commercial building where all the shops are selling various kinds of foods, including local food products, tit bits etc. We did not find interesting things to buy here, so we ended up in the MacDonald Restaurant here for a drink and resting –waiting for the tour bus to depart! Outside the building it was very hot now!  

         The Food Street at Tianjin               Inside the Food Street --it is actually a food court


Finally at 2 pm our bus came to pick us up and sent us to the Ancient Culture Street. It is not far away from the Food Street, and is a recently area developed tourists area. As soon as we stepped down from our bus we were ‘greeted’ by a number of beggars–never seen thing like this in Beijing!.

The ‘Cultural Street’ is actually several narrow lanes lined with hundreds of small shops selling all kinds of goods, some stalls specialize in Chinese arts and crafts, calligraphies etc. We bought an aluminum made warship model and numerous mementos, had a drink at the store for a rest, and watched the artists demonstrated their mastery of the art of Chinese calligraphy. But soon I had to help Yu Yong to find the restroom! It was not easy to find one here and we had to look high and low for the restroom, and Yu Yong was really desperate! Here in Tianjin you don’t take restroom for grant! Thanks God we finally managed to locate one after some enquiries--you have to pay a fee to go in, but it is relatively clean, although not up to the standard in Beijing!


  The Ancient Cultural Street in Tianjin



    Ancient Cultural Street Walkabout



We then went back to the bus that took us back to Beijing. It was almost 6 by the time we arrived at Beijing. The bus took us straight to the Chinese Thai national village restaurant. Many tourist buses were there and it was obviously a restaurant that caters specially for group tourists. The place was like a market place, crowded, people rushing in and out. The moment we sat down, the food came, all pre-ordered—and standardized. The quality was mediocre, but here they really gave you a lot of food. There was a ‘cultural’ show going on in the restaurant, it was Thai Cultural dance and singing—there is a Thai minority in southwestern China. The acoustic effect was quite bad here with loud echo and nobody really here cared for the show, for we could not hear clearly!  After this we returned to our hotel.

The hotel is part of the Henderson Center, built by the son of the famous Hong Kong billionaire Lee Kan Seng. Henderson Center is not well occupied at the moment and few shops were operating. We also visited the shops along the main road, many were still open even though it was almost 10 pm already, and there were lots of things on sale.


May 31st : What A Great Wall!

Beijing is the cultural capital of China, being the cultural center of China for perhaps up to 800 years. The city’s atmosphere is thick with Chinese refined culture—impressive, magnificent and is certainly attractive to culturally minded person. However, we need to remember that this is still only of the world, and that we as the children of God have a better city, Hallelujah!

This morning we left for the Great Wall at Badaling. I read from the guidebook that there are a number of places with sections of the Great Wall that are worth visiting, but we chose to visit the one at Badaling –the most famous one, but also the most crowded one.

The Great Wall is known as the ‘Long Wall of Ten-Thousand Miles’. It measures about 6000 miles from east to west, and the original walls dated back to 5th century B.C. Most of the remaining walls today are reconstructed during the Ming Dynasty (14th -17th century), those sections at the north were meant to protect Beijing from the northern invaders.

Around 9 am we went to the taxi stand near the hotel to hire a taxi, after some negotiations we managed to get one: Y300 for return trips, including waiting time but excluding the Y70 toll. The taxi driver was a very talkative and cheerful person. He was nostalgic about the Mao’s era; for to him, life was better then. He was a primary school pupil during the Cultural Revolution, and still remembered the ‘good old days’. To show off his memory, he started singing some of the cultural revolution era’s songs as he drove: ‘Sailing in the great sea you depend on the helmsman, for all things to grow you depend on the sun, to engage in revolutionary work you must depend on Mao Zedong’s thought!...”, but halfway he suddenly stopped –well, his memory failed him, and to his surprise, I joined in to help him continue the song, and we had a good laugh! I was no revolutionary, but like many Chinese at that time I was also familiar with some of those popular Cultural Revolution songs!

The taxi driver told us that he was formerly an electrician, working in a state own factory. Unfortunately, the factory had been closed down a few years ago. To earn a living, he started driving taxi about 1 year ago, and with a monthly income of Y1000, it is not easy to make end meet these days. No wonder he was nostalgic about Mao’s era and the days prior to the market reformation (read: turning to capitalist economy). In those days, as an electrician he earned little, but with all the subsidies he lived relatively well, and no worries!

One thing that really amazed us about the taxi in Beijing was the iron grille partition between the taxi driver and the front seat passenger –the only kind I came across throughout many cities of the world that I have ever traveled. It looks as if the driver himself was ‘locked’ in a prison! But my taxi driver friend said without this, many taxi drivers would have lost their lives to robbers! To drive a taxi in Beijing was a high-risk job (not so in the city of Tienjin). But he said, in a few years time, in preparation for the Beijing Olympic 2008, these unsightly iron grille partition would be removed, for by then all taxis in Beijing would be equipped with global satellite positioning device. With this device, it would be easy for the police to track down the location of the taxi in trouble!

My friend is rather business minded and he tried to recommend us to visit certain other places, hoping that we would continue hiring his service after the Badaling’s Great Wall trip! But we are not those easily persuaded –one has to be very careful in Beijing too so as not to be conned!

On the way we passed through the famous Ming’s Tombs (another tourist attraction, but we are not interested to visit place of the dead—this was the place where 16 emperors of the Ming’s dynasty [1368-1644] were buried). Some of the underground burial chambers are open for visit.  Soon we passed through the historically famous Juyong Pass, the historical gateway to Beijing. You can see part of the Great Wall here. This was the last defense barrier for Beijing, for from here to Beijing there is no more natural defensible position. Another short drive brought us to the Badaling Wall. With the modern highway, the trip from Beijing to here took only 1hr 15 min. It was by now very hot here with blazing sunshine, and you need a cap to protection your head! We bought the entrance tickets and then took a long, uphill walk to the main plaza- it was actually a small towns right next to the foot to the Great Wall. There were many visitors here today. As we ascended the Great Wall, Yu Yong chose to walk the right hand section of the wall – he did not believe what I told him, that the left hand section is much more challenging – the section that I walked in 1987 when I first visited Beijing. That’s typical teen’s choice—exactly opposite to the parent’s advice!

      This map of north China give you some idea of the location of the Great Wall: north of Beijing (follow the black line)
 Walking the Great Wall is quite an experience. The steepness of the Great Wall and the high rise of its stairs are really astonishing to visitors. The walk itself was exhaustive but the scenery is splendid. We saw many elderly folks climbing the steep steps also. There came all the way from different parts of China and were determine to walk some sections of the Great Wall. At the entrance there is a standing stone (a huge tablet) with Mao’s inscription: “You are not a man if you have never ascended the Great Wall.” Well, everyone wants to prove himself a man, and so even the elderly who needs a walking stick would still ascended the steep Wall courageously.  
You are not a man if you have never ascended the Great Wall                      What a Great Wall
When we walked back, the descent is so steep that at time we found it easier to walk back down, with the help of the modern handrails. The Wall is about 10 feet wide, wide enough for cavalry to ride through. But could the horses climb up such steep stairs? I wonder! One can imagine the tremendous cost (financial as well as sacrifices) invested in building this great structure –a few thousand miles stretching along the steep ridge of the hills.  

               What a Great Wall!


          It is really sunny out here!




This segment of the Great Wall is really steep, the hand rails are really helpful
After spending about one hour on the wall we decided to walk back. At the bottom of the Wall is a mall with many souvenir stands. On the way back to the car park we visited the Great Wall museum (the entrance ticket to Great Wall includes entrance fee for the museum too), there are some interesting exhibits here. We also saw the 360o Circular Vision show on the history of the Great Wall, a rather well done 15 min show. It was well past noon when we left.  Then we had to spend quite some time to locate our own taxi –the parking lot here is so vast but without landmark! We found that it is actually not easy to get a taxi here, all the taxis we saw here were chartered taxi.
       The Plaza beneath the Great Wall                                  Chinese calligraphy in the Great Wall museum   

Chongwenmen Protestant Church

In the afternoon, after some rest, we decided to visit the Chongwenmen Protestant Church, one of the few officially ‘recognized’ Evangelical churches in Beijing.  The church was built by the US Methodists in 1876. It was razed during the Boxer Rebellion (1900) because it was outside the Foreign Legation area. The church was of course closed during the Cultural Revolution era but reopened in 1982 and I was told that on Sunday the crowds here are overflowing, exceeding 2500 worshippers—not surprising, consider the fact that there are so few protestant churches in Beijing that can operate openly.  

This was once the Foreign Legation Street



We took subway from our hotel to Chongwenmen station, and after some enquiries we managed to locate the Jinlang Hotel. I read from guidebook that the Chongwenmen Protestant Church was right behind the Jinlang Hotel, and the address of the church is D2, Hougou Hutong.  But it took some effort to find the entrance to the hutong (narrow lane) where the church was located. You cannot see the church from the main road; it was completely blocked off by other taller buildings. There was of course, no sign either. When we reached the church, it door was locked, and there was no sign of any activity inside at all. Next to the church is a secondary school, so we went to ask the security staff (a middle aged lady) in the guardhouse of the school. She was not particularly friendly but did tell us that the church was closed for renovation. The people there knew nothing much about where the congregation meet now. We could only go into the school compound to take some pictures of the church from outside. It was a disappointing visit.

We were surprised that this ‘famous’ church is located in such an obscure place. It was not easy to find the church indeed. I was told that when President Clinton visited China, he came here to worship. This church has also been visited by the George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as Rev. Billy Graham.

Both this church and the Nan Tang (Southern Cathedral) nearby are located on the Tong Chiau Min lane. During the Qing Dynasty this was the exclusive Foreign Legation area. During the Boxer Rebellion this whole area was considered as the bastion of western imperialism in China. No wonder Christianity has always been associated with Western Imperialism in China.



Chongwenmen Protestant Church           A view from across the neighboring school 


After this visit we went to the Hongqiao market again. It is also called the Pearl Market and is not far away from the Temple of Heaven. This is supposedly Beijing’s best market for clothing and jewelries. But to us, there is nothing special, just hundreds of stores, ordinary goods and average price. It is highly recommended by tour book but not really worth coming! They closed around 7 pm and so after this we went to a nearby big local restaurant, the Old Beijing Noodle House. It interior deco is rather traditional and here you sit on long stools –not chairs! All the waiters were male, and they announced welcome loudly to every customers who came in! The food was good, unique, though some a bit oily, and the price was reasonably cheap. Yu Yong said the pork ribs here is the best in the world (but he has been to not that many places!) but we all agreed that to dine here is a rather unique experience!


The Old Beijing Noodle House: Very interesting restaurant!

June 1st 2002: Beijing Aquarium Experience

Our brief experience in trying to find a Protestant church in Beijing showed how difficult it is for a Christian to worship in Beijing. Many Chinese overseas students have come to know Christ when they studied overseas, but where could them go to worship when they come back to China? The Constitution of China guarantees freedom of worship, but it is almost impossible for foreigner Christians to start a church here, officially. We pray to the Lord to raise up bold Chinese Christians to start new churches in China – not an impossible task nowadays because we could see that China is moving toward liberation more and more rapidly, the entry into WTO (World Trade Organization) and the forthcoming Beijing Olympic 2008 would have great impact on the liberalization process. Also, the society is getting more prosperous. We pray that Christians who work among the Chinese students overseas would spend time helping them to build a strong foundation and equipping them to church planting, and that there would be a strong indigenous church movement in this ancient land in this 21st century.

This morning we went to visit the Beijing Aquarium. Something for the kids –they have had enough of Chinese history and culture, now something more ‘exciting’ to them. Beijing Aquarium was built recently, a rather famous tourist attraction for the locals and it was very expensive too –Y100 (approximately USD 25) each for adult, kids half price. So we were very surprised to see a huge crowd here. We realized that today is a BIG day in China – Children Day. Many couples brought their only child to the Aquarium for this ‘special occasion’ – I was told that China’s policy of 1 child per family makes the only child extremely precious in the parent’s eyes.

I have never seen such a big crowd in any aquarium I’ve been to –London, Baltimore, San Francisco, Langkawi, Singapore, Chicago—you can hardly move around in here! The parent would even put his or her little one ‘sitting’ in front of the exhibit to take picture, meanwhile blocking everybody’s view! Instead of seeing the fishes, you see babies in front of the exhibits! With the surging crowd, one can hardly view and enjoy any of the exhibits. We are not used to this type of crowd and soon my two kids lost interest. 


         The Modern Beijing Aquarium



  Can you imagine how crowded it was inside here?


Soon the broadcasting system announced that the marine show would begin shortly. So we followed the crowd and walked to the Marine Show Theatre. We reached there almost half an hour before show time, and soon the theatre was filled to the brim, even the walkway and steps –everywhere were full of people, sitting—and standing as well. 
The seal and dolphin shows were more or less the same as what you would see in any international standard aquarium. Unfortunately, people here were very inconsiderate. Our seats were behind a row of rail, and soon some latecomers who could not find any seat, came to stand behind the rail –in front of us! Many joined them, soon we could only see the ‘back’ of these people, and they couldn’t be bothered about the fact that by doing so they have blocked others’ view. We eventually decided to leave earlier; the RMB 300 we paid for the entrance fee was a waste!





     The Seals Show

Imperial Cuisine at Fangshan

Around 6 or I went with BJ for a special dinner --kids preferred to stay in the hotel to watch World Cup match. We asked the taxi driver to bring us to one of the Fangshan Restaurants, the one specializing in serving the imperial cuisine. It is well known that Fangshan serves dishes dating from the Qing Dynasty’s reign in the Forbidden City. I thought we must at least try the imperial cuisine once before leaving Beijing, to have a taste of Beijing’s past glories! But the taxi driver did not know about the existence of any Fangshan Restaurant branch nearby---though I had the address of one. Well, we found out again that in Beijing, giving the taxi driver the address of the place you want to go to does not necessary mean that he can bring you there. After all, this is an ancient imperial city and for many years was without the modern address system! It was also such a huge city experiencing explosive growth, and many taxi drivers are relatively new in the trade also. So after some discussion (including using his hand phone to make some enquiries) he said perhaps we could try the vicinity of Tiananman Square, at least there is another famous restaurant there—the Peyi Fang Duck Restaurant. The irony was, as we reached there, he could not locate the Peyi Fang Duck Restaurant that he recommended as a substitute, but instead we found that right at the corner where our taxi stopped is the Tiananman Fangshan Restaurant, precisely the one we are looking for!  

The Tienamen Fangshan branch is not a big restaurant but the interior deco is of imperial design. The waitresses all wore Qing Dynasty Forbidden City dress. The building is decorated in red, gold and yellow with Imperial motifs and wooden carvings. The dining room, however, is of relatively simple deco and upon the waitress advice we decided on just one set of Y 80 dinner for two of us. It was a 10-course dinner (!) and was surprisingly good (value for money—for Y80 only!). The quantity was also sufficient for two of us, and it was indeed a good experience. At least we had ‘experienced’ something imperial. Whether the food is really authentic Forbidden City style, we do not know. But we did enjoy the way the waitress introduced each dish she served, telling us stories of the dish and the late Dowager Empress Cixi. She spoke very beautiful Beijing mandarin and with a very sweet voice!  





Evening at Tiananmen Square

After evening we paid another visit to the Tiananmen Square, just in time to see the ceremony of lowering the National flag –there was a crowd gathering there to witness this daily ceremony. There were lots of people strolling in Tiananman in the evening. Indeed a nice place to walkabout in the cool of the evening! We decided to spend the last evening in Beijing to visit the Lao She Teahouse –one of the most famous teahouses in Beijing.

For many years, Beijing’s teahouses were the main gathering places for artists and mandarins, places of leisure where traditional culture and performing arts were appreciated. Beijing’s teahouses are actually the Chinese version of the Western dinner theatre –they do not offer dinner, but mainly snacks and tea. I know that the famous Lao She Teahouse is roughly west of the Front Gate in the vicinity of the Square, and so we walked in that general direction. On the way, I asked a young man for help and he and his friend enthusiastically led us right to Lao She Teahouse.  

Beijing's Tea House

The teahouse is not that big, and is located at the upper level of a shop house. From the pictures hanging in the gallery apparently many celebrities had visited here –including people like Henry Kessinger and the President of Singapore. By the time we arrived, the ‘show’ has just started, but only ticket of 100Y per person is available. It is a bit expensive but we wanted the ‘experience’.

                      Entrance to the Tea House



So after paying the 100Y we went in and found that it was very crowded inside, with some 50-60 people.  You don’t get a comfortable seat here even if you are paying 100Y. The seats for 100Y are nearer the stage (and hence classified as better seats), but you have to share a tiny square table with 5-6 others! We were given a pot of Chinese tea (nothing great in turn of taste) and some local tit-bits and pastries (nothing fancy!) etc. The show, however, was interesting. There were a bit of traditional Beijng Opera, Sze-Chuan Opera (‘Changing Mask’), traditional story-telling, Chinese acrobats, comedians, magic show (‘fishing from no where) etc, a sampling of the fine performance arts of China. The magician who performed fishing from no-where attracted quite some attention, but we suspected that he was using mechanical fishes hiding somewhere cleverly! We noted that some of the shows, however, contain elements of the occults. How would the Christian Chinese deal with issues like these?        

  Inside the Tea House: very crowded indeed


June 2nd Goodbye, Beijing!

Morning call was 5 am, and we left for airport around 6 am. Traffic was light and we reached the airport in less than half an hour time. The security check was not really tight. The airport was a modern one, but food and drinks are very expensive here! But we had little time left and soon we boarded the plane and had to say goodbye to Beijing!


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