Today I went exploring with Robbin, Hillary and Neil to the Lama Temple.
The Lama Temple is a series of vibrantly painted pavilions, primarily built in the 17th and 18th centuries, secured within a walled courtyard. It is a a quiet and tranquil space found in the bustling city of Beijing. It is located on Yongehegong street, which is filled with music and lined with stores selling Buddha statues and incense.
Each temple houses a separate Buddha, there seems to be a Buddha for everything that you would want in life, and the people come to pray, burn incense and make offerings. To make an offering, you kneel before the Buddha with 3 sticks of incense and bow three times while you pray, then you place the unburnt incense in a basket placed at the Buddha’s feet.
You can also burn the incense to honor the Buddha. For this, there are large coal stoves outside each temple. You burn your 3 sticks of incense and then kneel before the temple and bow three times holding your incense in front of you. Then you place the burning incense in the coal stove.
The most magnificent temple, is the one furthest back in the courtyard. It houses a monolithic Buddha statue carved from a single piece of Tibetan sandalwood, standing at 18 meters high (which is just under 60 feet!)! Unfortunately there were no pictures allowed in any of the temples, but kneeling before this Buddha, and peering up to see his face was truly inspiring!
We ate a hearty lunch at Let’s Seafood, and then walked through the indoor market near Sanlitun. We finished our day shopping and haggling with various shopkeepers.
The Chinese are a very superstitious when it comes to numbers. In my travels, I have noticed that many buildings will eliminate certain floor numbers and when I asked our Jieting (pronounced Jay-teon, at least according to me…) about this she informed me that certain numbers were very unlucky and it was not uncommon to find that floors 4,13 and 14 were “skipped”.
I did some quick research to find out what numbers are lucky or unlucky in Chinese Tradition (http://www.chinese-traditions-and-culture.com/chinese-lucky-numbers.html). I found that the numbers 1 (one love), 3 (life), 8 (money), and 9 (hapiness) are considered some of the luckiest numbers. The numbers 4 (death) and 13 are unlucky. It seams that the number 13 was adopted by the Chinese as an unlucky number from western influence, our very own “Friday the 13th” (although unlucky for most people, I know a few in particular who consider this day to be lucky, rather than unlucky).
Well regardeless of superstition, today was my unlucky day. All of the rich exotic food and travelling finally caught up with me, and I spent the day in the hotel resting and reading… Tomorrow I will go exploring!
Friday at the office was quiet, and passed by relatively quickly (probably because I had one of my favorite snacks at my desk!) as I worked on file systems, project information gathering, scheduling and diagramming for Jin Hai Lake.
The week had left the team exhausted and we planned to pass the evening quietly with a quick dinner, just the three of us at Sanlitun. This, however, did not happen. While I was in the lobby waiting for Robbin and Hillary to join me, I was approached by one of the designers from the Riverside Office, we will call him Magoo. Apparently he was meeting a bunch of his friends at the hotel (strange…) and invited me to join them for dinner. With Hillary and Robbin still not in the lobby, I assumed that perhaps they arranged dinner with him (they did not, it was just a coincidence)… We were all in a little shock and awe, but we embarked on our impromptu dinner party.
Magoo introduced us to his friend, a former employee of the Riverside Group, that was leaving for a new job in Shanghai and it was his “going away” party. So I guess we could officially be labeled as party crashers! We went to a restaurant/bar called Grinders that reminded me very much of a college pub (http://www.grindersbeijing.com/). R & H’s friend Neil also randomly showed up to join us, to avoid a “pick-up” shoot that was happening in his apartment. We had wine and sandwiches and enjoyed the evening laughing and sharing stories.
A little unexpected, but a lot of fun and exhausting!
In the morning, we arranged to meet up with the BLA designer at the Clubhouse for a project review over coffee and tea. The meeting went well, but ran long and we stayed to have our standard lunch.
On our walk back to the office, we went and toured Villa 15, which is actually a penthouse apartment that is being redesigned for the Chairman and his family. The penthouse occupies the top two floors of the apartment building and stands at the center of one of his developments in the city. The current design is quite formal, with polished marble floors, painted murals, crystal chandeliers, dark wood, crown molding, ornate wainscoting,etc. The apartment has 5 bedrooms, 7 full baths, 3 half baths, 2 offices, a family room, a game room, a formal dining room , a formal living room, an eat-in kitchen, a screening room and an indoor pool with views of the city and a wrap-around outdoor deck. Not to shabby!
On our walk-through, I was struck by the formality and opulence; I sensed a strong desire for an aristocratic setting (it reminded me of the formal homes and estates I visited in England). I was also struck by some glaring design/construction mistakes that I would never allow on my watch (perhaps this is why we were called out here to help with the Jin Hai Lake Development)!!
The reason we journeyed to Jin Hai Lake, for a second time, was to meet with a designer from a Newport Beach firm (California is coming to us!), BLA, to walk the site for the future Town Center.
After eating breakfast in the hotel bar (and doing a little computer work), we traveled by van to the site…unfortunately the van could not go all the way. The site is situated between two hills, I am not sure if you could call them mountains, and we had to hike up an existing trail to the summit. Visibility was low, the ground was snow covered and the trees were covered in ice crystals that stood on end, making them appear as if they were covered in white fur. The hillside is terraced, with low stone walls holding back the earth. The landscape is dotted with small mounds of earth, each representing a burial spot for the local fishing and farming village that surrounds the outskirts of the lake. The Town Center is situated near the top of the hills, and on a clear day would look out upon the lake below. Today, however, you could hardly see the peaks of the two hills on either side of the site. Once my fingers and toes were sufficiently frozen, we made our way back down the trail and headed back to Beijing for the design meeting.
The design meeting was held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on the top floor (this is not the typical site for design meetings, but was where the Chairman was during the day, so everybody had to travel to him!). Before the meeting I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow Syracuse Graduate, Nate, who is the Chairman’s assistant and translator. In the small conference room fifty people were packed around a 25 person table. The Chairman sat at the head, wearing a white baseball cap and holding a red laser pointer in his hand. The presentations lasted 3 hours and the projects varied from golf courses to villa designs. The meeting ran long, and we did not get a chance to present our work (just my luck!!). As soon as the meeting was over, the Chairman did a disappearing act… hardly saying hello or goodbye to anyone. The meeting was long, and an espresso was necessary!
The meeting ended around 6pm, so we went straight to dinner to meet Neil Strum and a designer friend of Jieting’s at Agua, a Spanish restaurant in the “village” (that’s what we call it), also know as Sanlitun. We ordered a variety of tapas, and I of course had a glass of red wine with my dinner.