Last post on Xining!  And I’m sorry if there’s any temple overload, but it’s kind of hard to travel into “ethnographic Tibet” without running into a few.  Sunday morning, before heading home, Signe and I headed to the Kumbum Monastery, an hour’s bus ride south of Xining.  It is one of the two most important Tibetan monasteries outside of Tibet proper (the other one being Labrang Monastery), and the birthplace of Tsongkappa, the founder of the “Yellow Hat” sect of Tibetan Buddhism that brings us the Dalai Lama (the original Dalai and Panchen Lamas (and I mean, technically, the current ones since they are reborn) were students of Tsongkappa).  He’s also the guy that you can see at the Lama Temple in Beijing.

This place was a real tourist site (and one of the few Tibetan related places that foreigners could go to, considering the previously mentioned anniversary of protests and people still regularly setting themselves on fire thing).  What I’m trying to say is that, not only were we not kicked out of here like at the Dalai Lama’s birthplace, but we were even provided with an English speaking tour guide!  He was Tibetan, and he lived close to the temple, considering that his grandfather had been a monk at the monastery and he had studied Tibetan and Buddhism at the monastery.  He was incredibly informative, and seemed to be pretty frank.  The main downside, however, was that photo opportunities were very limited.  This also means that the photos I took were fairly random, and so I’ll just tell you the most important part of the tour(and the part that I remember most clearly).  None of my usual photo play-by-plays.

Picture number three, which I like anyways, has a roof with golden tiles.  This building contains a giant gold stupa (the same thing as those eight little things in the first picture, just bigger (my safe estimate is 10 m) and golder).  This stupa was more recently constructed around a more simple stone stupa.  This stone stupa houses a Bodhi tree (the kind that the Buddha got enlightened under) which grew up on the place that Tsongkappa was born.  The original stone stupa was built by his mother after she had sent Tsongkappa a message asking him to come home and see the family (he had left home at… 22…ish (sorry) to go to Lhasa and continue his Buddhist studies).  He replied that he could not come home, as travel from Tibet to (now) Xining and back was actually a multi-year journey at the time (the late 15th century), considering the terrain and general unforgivingness of the Tibetan landscape, and he could not turn away from his studies for that long.  He suggested, however, that she put a stupa at his birthplace so she could think of him whenever she went by, and voila, now we have an important center of Tibetan buddhism.

As the Dalai and Panchen Lamas are all originally students of Tsongkappa, they find returning to this monastery to be extremely important, and every one of them has done so in their lifetime to properly pay respect to their teacher from their past life.  The current Dalai Lama visited as a young child and then again in the 50s, not too long before his exile (he has, needless to say, not been back since).  

This monastery is also known for its butter sculptures.  These are crafted by the monks out of yak butter, and involves a relatively arduous process of submerging your hands in ice water, working with the butter for a while, and then doing this again once your hands are too warm and make the butter too melty.  I do not have photos (how!?  I don’t even know) but Signe does and I will be sure to put them up once I get them from here. The detail is absolutely stunning (you can see one example in my Labrang post), and the murals (they make a new one each year, and keep the old one around until it melts away too much) are incredibly large and impressive.

Okay, well there you go!  Hope you enjoyed all of this stuff : ) and if I snap pictures of anything regular happening around me or travel again (I think Signe and I are going to go camping in Mongolia!), I’ll be sure to put them up!

On Saturday, we went to 佑尼寺, or Youni temple, before going to 达赖故居, the birthplace of the Dalai Lama!  We started the day off by hopping a bus to 平安, Ping’an, a small city (read: population of 120,000), and then 包车, baoche, chartering a cab to carry us around all day.  It was 60 bucks, although I think the cabbie was expecting us to argue down a little harder, but he was a cool guy and was fairly informative as he drove us about.  We went 23 km north to the temple, then back into Ping’an and 30 km south to the Dalai Lama’s birth place, before finally getting back into Ping’an by 3:30.  

Anyways, the temple was actually a 土族, Tu zu, or the Tu nationality (a type of Mongolian that go by the name “Monguor” in English and who believe in Tibetan Buddhism), temple.  It was pretty much the same as any Tibetan monastery I’ve been in (not that I know how to look for the differences, but I can tell a Tibetan monastery apart from other Buddhist ones), even if it was ran by Tu monks and catered to the surrounding Tu villages.

I will mostly let the pictures speak for themselves, as this trip was nearly entirely information free (there was no entry fee, no guides, and the monks said we could pretty much do anything we pleased, INCLUDING! taking photos).  We did speak to a few of the monks for a while though, and they were all extremely nice and helpful, and told us a *little* about what was going on.  I will say of the first photo, however, that we started at the temple with the gold roof off to the right, then went across (left in the photo) up the mountain to where the banners and streamers are (far left middle), straight across to the highest temple in the photo (smack dab in the middle of the photo) before going down to the one beneath it to the right and then largely slip-sliding our way the rest of the way back down.  The fourth photo was of the largest Buddha in the place (probably about 5 meters) and is Maitreya Buddha, the future Buddha for those of you that have actually been reading my lessons.  You can see our little green cab in the middle left of the fifth photo.  I!!!!! am in the 6th photo!  you’re surprised I got one of me in there, aren’t you!?


Once we got back into town (oh, don’t forget my trip to the Dalai Lama’s house in this post! if you haven’t read it already, that happened before we got back into town), we had some Tu Hotpot and then grabbed some cans of 青稞酒, Qingke Jiu, or barley wine.  It’s pretty much a weaker version of Baijiu, the more standard Chinese liquor (this stuff was about as strong as beer at 4%, but Baijiu usually hangs out around 120 proof).  The first sip is interesting but it pretty much goes downhill from there, it’s a pretty weird flavor.  Then we went home and crashed because we had done quite a bit of hiking at, if I may say so myself, a respectable altitude.  I’ve included a picture of the barley wine as well (last one) for your consideration.

Anyways, you guys should start asking me questions : p or commenting or something, it’s getting boring just throwing up mountains of photos.

I’m going to be breaking this up into……. several posts.  This is my trip to 西宁, Xining, the capital of 青海省, Qinghai province!  This province is squashed nicely between Tibet and Xinjiang (Xining is straight north of Lhasa a ways, more or less).  This post is just going to be some city photos, and then the first place we went 金塔寺, Jinta Si, or Golden Tower Temple.  It’s pretty much right smackdab in the middle of the city, making it kind of fun and interesting.  I won’t be throwing out a whole bunch of background/knowledge since I don’t know that much about the place specifically, and I’m going to have a few more Tibet heavy posts.

The first is the city, the next two are art/sculpture from inside, the fourth is a giant incense pot, the fifth is a buddha perched nicely on top of one of the roofs of the temple, and the last photo is prayer wheels (don’t worry, there will be more photos of these).

Hi errrrrbody!  This morning I went to 雍和宫, Yonghe Gong, or the Lama Temple.  This is a Tibetan monastery in the middle of Beijing, and this post is probably going to be one of those “educational” ones as there was some fun China-fied history floating about the place, and some fun things about what lets you know this monastery is in the government’s pocket (although, to be honest, that has been the purpose of the monastery since it was built 300 years ago, this is no new PRC thing).  I also went to the Earth Temple, but that will be another post : )  Also, I will throw out that I did appreciate this temple because you could take photos………………..

Anyways, FIRST! my pictures!  The first photo is a photo of Skanda, one of the guys busy protecting the building.  The recording that they provided (besides being fairly sillily pronounced English), was a little over the top in its descriptions of most things- Skanda’s serene face means that he is vanquishing desire and that it is possible for anyone to do this and the serenity means he’s not angry while also killing things (desire?) with the nasty little dagger he’s holding blah blah blah blah blah about the same thing for every single statue in the place.   Also the recording always said “mediating” instead of meditating, which was cute the first time but then it bugged me.  The second picture is mostly pretty- the top of the sculpture is heaven or at least somewhere nice, and then all the turbulent water beneath are the different hells.

Photos three and four are just a few of the buildings from the outside.  They’re pretty large and impressive, to say the least (walkways three stories up kind of surprised me).  The place was originally built for the Yongzheng Emperor, the 5th emperor of the Qing dynasty (he lived in the 18th century, the Qing dynasty is 16something-1911).  After he died, the Qianlong Emperor revamped it and made it into a Tibetan lamasery.  Why?  Because the Manchus were pretty much the expanding China masters (at least for a hundred years or two), going out and conquering places like Mongolia and Tibet where no Han emperor had really ever dared to try and maintain control over.  In the pursuit of this, he set up this temple to a) present as more or less a gift to the Tibetans, so they’d think Qing-dynasty China was a cool place to be a part of, and also to please the Mongolians, who were largely Tibetan Buddhists(ish) at the time, and b) to try to get some control over the religion (and therefore its Tibetan and Mongolian practitioners) by crafting an important ritual center right in the middle of Beijing.

Photos five and six dig into the Tibetan-ness of the place.  The fifth is a simple prayer wheel, with Tibetan on it (most inscriptions throughout the temple were written four times, in Chinese (for the Chinese folks), Manchurian (for the folks ruling China), Tibetan, (for the folks who were responsible for the religion being around in the first place) and Mongolian (for the guys the Manchus were trying super hard to be friends with)).  Spinning it is a good thing to do.  6 is a statue (and you can tell how big it is because of the monk standing in front of it) of Tsongkapa (I’d give you the Chinese but it’s just a crude transliteration of the Tibetan).  He is the founder of the “Yellow Hat” school of Tibetan Buddhism, one of the most popular sects and the one responsible for things like the Dalai and Panchen Lamas being important.  He travelled all around Tibet in the early 15th century, learning things and making new teachings, and when I go to Qinghai next weekend, on the Tibetan plateau, I’ll be visiting a lamasery where, as the story goes, Tsongkapa’s father buried his afterbirth, after which a great big nice tree grew, and then a while later they built the monastery.

The point that I’m trying to make though is that the Beijing-ness, and the Government-controlledness of the monastery comes out a little here.  First, all of the tour guides were not monks.  Closer to Tibet, where the government cannot so readily provide the government-trained tour guides, and where the lamaseries don’t bring in enough money to really pay extra people for this, the monks run the tours and most of the related stuff like that.  Even though none/few of the monks I saw here were Tibetan, they still weren’t the ones allowed to present the story of the lamasery.  Second, in the room with the big Tsongkapa statue, there were two places set up for the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, which traditionally feature photos (although other lamaseries tend to be COVERED in Dalai and Panchen Lama photos, including past Dalai Lamas).  The place for the Dalai Lama’s photo was, conveniently enough, empty, and the Panchen Lama’s had the photo of the fake Panchen Lama that the Chinese government chose.  Kind of a pretty clear signal as to what the party thinks about the whole affair, even if they keep this temple nice and pretty.

I will not talk forever!  Promises!  The next two photos are of a 50 ft + tall Buddha.  Now, I’ve seen my fair share of monstersized Buddha statues (no but seriously.  Like four. maybe five.), BUT THIS IS THE FIRST ONE I COULD TAKE A PHOT OF!  So I’m excited.  He’s big, as you can tell.  It is the Maitreya Buddha, or the future Buddha.  Buddhism works in cycles - a Buddha shows up, brings enlightenment and the way to end suffering, but as time goes on people forget/things get muddled/there’s more desire and pain and less enlightenment until! a new Buddha shows up.  This guy is next on the list.  (just in case you get a trivia question, the one before Sakyamuni/Siddharta Gautama/the historical Buddha who showed up in 600 b.c., is the Dipankara Buddha).

LAST PHOTO/PARAGRAPH.  This is the mountain of 500 Arhats.  It is cut out of some kind of wood or another, and it’s this big sculpture/mural of a mountain.  Featured inside are some 500 figures, Arhats, who are essentially really awesome Buddhists that have made it to that step you get to before Nirvana.  It’s pretty, and intricate.


New post!  Already, you say!?  Don’t worry, I actually have ONE MORE EVEN! coming today.  This weekend we were supposed to go on a trip (I was going to go to Dalian, a city that looks pretty fun and interesting, and is pretty much a Russian version of Qingdao, where I went last semester (did I ever even post photos of that!?  I should get that to you guys!  Ahh I don’t even have my great wall photos up!  What have I been doing!?!!!?).  HOWEVER!  I didn’t, taking the Friday off to relax and chill in Beijing.  So today I used my free time to see a few places in Beijing I hadn’t hung out at yet- most importantly, 牛街, Oxen Street, Beijing’s 回族 Hui (Chinese Muslim) district!  

I was mostly seeking out 牛街清真寺 (sometimes called 礼拜清真寺), the Oxen Street Mosque, but on my way there I stumbled upon a little Buddhist temple that was surprisingly quiet and secluded, so I went in and took a few photos.  All are attached!

It was the 法源寺, or Fayuan Temple, as you can see from the first photo. The second photo is of a giant incense pot, and you should keep this photo in mind as you look at the next photoset of the mosque.  The next photo is the inside of one of the temples, and I couldn’t get a closer/better lit photo, but the inside was a fairly impressive statue of three Buddhas (possibly Boddhisattvas) sitting atop a big brassish thing with tons and tons of smaller Buddhas inscribed into it, and then with one bigger Buddha on top of it all.  You might be able to see the outline a little in the photo.

The next photo is just the roof of one of the temples, but it was pretty, so I included it.  It’s also worth keeping in mind when going through the mosque photos as well.

Photo number five is a stele that (I think) describes the construction of the temple as well as some of the renovations.  I included it mostly because of the ancient characters on top, the first left is the ancient version of 禪,which has since been further simplified to 禅.  It’s Chan, or as the Japanese would say it, Zen.  I don’t know the other ones, but the last is now 福, or fortune.  It didn’t get simplified any further than that.  The next photo is just a giant pole with characters on it, that say things.  

The last photo is OF BIRDS!  There were so many, and they were pretty when they chirped, and for this being like, the middle of Beijing, there were very little outside noises and it was nice and quiet and serene, having these birds chirping and still breathing heavily polluted air at least without having to see the cars and the factories and the giant buildings making it that way.

Actually got two up in a row this time!  Respectable, isn’t it?  Not having to wait three days and whatnot.  Part EIGHT!

On our trip to 夏河, Xiahe, we crossed over onto the 西藏高原, Xizang Gaoyuan, the Tibetan Plateau.  Tibet proper is already a fairly big region in China, but the plateau or the “ethnic boundaries” of Tibet extend into Xinjiang, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan.  That just means that you can find pretty heavy concentrations of Tibetans in any of those areas that are close to Tibet (and until recently the Free Tibet crowd wanted to fight for all of this area, but now they’re just after Tibet proper, also the government is probably really upset that I said Free Tibet right there).  The first two photos are of the gate and accompanying stupa which indicates you’re entering the plateau. 

While in Xiahe, we visited 拉卜楞寺 (forgive me, I don’t know the Tibetan), the Labrong Monastery.  It’s a Tibetan Buddhist temple, and it was pretty cool/intense/all of the above.  Our guide, one of the monks who was about our age (and joined when he was… 10? 11?  I forgot), was incredibly shy/cute/giggly and made friends with Jimmy, a person on our trip, and pretty much just hid behind Jimmy and talked to Jimmy the entire time.  The English he spoke was also… well, he obviously learned it in a Tibetan Monastery.  So I can’t tell you THAT much about the monastery, considering the rudeness of picture taking in most places, and the fact that I had no clue what our guide was actually saying.  So just enjoy/take in the next four pictures (ask if you are dying for more), and then the last picture is, in my opinion, the greatest, funnest picture of our guide and Jimmy.

I also don’t know that much about Tibetans, so I can’t fill you in here : (  The monastery WAS really cool though, and the monastery pretty much had its entire community that was completely different from Xiahe itself.  But then when you were in the city you would also have these monks coming to sit down at the booth next to you at a restaurant or in line behind you at the supermarket, which was pretty sweet/pretty interesting.

Hi!  So it’s been a while…  I kind of had school work, and then other travels, and then things in general, also the internet is terrible here, and some more excuses, so I haven’t been able to upload photos!  But now I’m setting out on the project once again.  If you’ll remember, I was on my way through Northwestern China with my study abroad program, and I was actually just about at the halfway point when I abandoned you guys.  


I had JUST gotten to Fire Mountain, which means the next stop was……. Dunhuang! 敦煌, the place with tons of Buddhist stuff!  The history is pretty fun, as it was an incredibly important stop along the silk road.  This meant there was a lot of mixing, from Central Asians, Iranians, Indians, and even people further West, to Mongolians in the Northeastish direction, and then, of course, the Chinese.  The first place that we went to in Dunhuang was 莫高窟, the Mogao Grottoes.  These are a huge collection of caves filled with Buddhist art and sculptures (we saw two or three giaaaaant Buddhas), hardly any of which, of course, we could take pictures of.  But I have a few pictures of the area and what I could take nonetheless!  The first photo is a stupa, the second is one of the caves that housed a giant Buddha, the third shows a bunch of the caves and the way they now have doors for a) their own protection and b) to prevent me from just exploring and seeing what I wanted to see, the fourth is a painting on the outside that I could actually photograph, and the fifth is the best photo that I could get of the inside of one of the caves.

After that, we went to 月牙泉, the Crescent Spring.  It was mostly SO MUCH SAND with a little bit of pretty things thrown in.  The first photo is of the spring and the accompanying pagoda (which was destroyed in the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and recently entirely renovated, but just as a tourist site and not as a pagoda), the second is part of the pagoda up close, the third is of one of the sand dunes/sand mountains which sits next to the spring, and the last is of a reclining Buddha in one of the museums, which I took only because I was still upset that I could take a photo of the 10m long one over at the grottoes.

And so that was that!  If you have more questions comment/leave me a question in my question box.  These posts might be a little more pictures than information, and so don’t be afraid to force the information out of me if you want it.

Hey all!

These are from my trip to 八大处公园/Badachu Gongyuan/Badachu Park/”The 8 Great Sites.”  It’s about 12 miles out of Beijing from where I live, and the first two photos illustrate how, on the one hand, you don’t have to go far outside of Beijing to find something pretty, mountainy, and tree-y, but on the other hand, you have to go a lot further to escape the smog (at the US Embassy, while we were out today, the AQI was “hazardous”, and so I would say that as far out as we were it was probably somewhere between  ”unhealthy” and “very unhealthy”).  It was about an hour on the bus, but maybe a touch more.  

Upon arriving, we took a gondola ride (fifty kuai/not quite ten bucks) to the highest point in the park.  I’d have more fun photos of the cave we saw at the top, but there was a fairly general “no picture” policy and enough people here and there to be bothered by it, and I didn’t want to try very hard.  The next two photos are giant stones/boulders, the first one saying Buddhist things and allegedly written by the Qianlong Emperor, and the second one is the Chinese character for the Buddha, 佛, fo.

The next three photos are a photo I did manage to snap of a Buddha (most likely not the Buddha, and perhaps just a Bodhisattva), the footprint of the Buddha (he’s a tall guy, I guess), and a few Chinese spirit animals.  As my study of Buddhism has mostly been limited to its origins, and its expanse into China and Japan has mostly been philosophical, I don’t really know all of the extra Chinese symbolism and figures that they kind of sidled into the older Buddhist stories.  However, even though I don’t have photos, I did encounter the following: the “historical” Buddha (Sakyamuni, or Siddharta Gatama) , the one who actually started Buddhism and is credited with doing so, Avalokitesvera, the Bodhisattva of compassion and the person that the Dalai Lama is an reincarnation of, Amitaba, the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise and the one that Pure Land Buddhists (mostly in Japan) pay the most respect to (simply uttering a prayer for his help at the time of death will result in him whisking you off into the Eastern Paradise/Pure Land, where you can meditate to your heart’s content without the distractions of the world until you reach nirvana and free yourself from samsara), the Buddha of the Western Paradise (forgot his name), and at least a dozen others that I was completely unfamiliar with.  I don’t want to dig too deep into Buddhism, but if you’re fascinated by any of the terms or want to know more click on the question link and ask, and I’ll be sure to answer.

The last two photos are of the Buddha’s Tooth Pagoda, easily the most impressive building of the compound (the other seven, were, well, underwhelming, but the hike was great and the quiet was nice, and there was the smell of incense everywhere).  Pagodas, although they look nothing like the Indian Stupa, are designed for the exact same reason- to house a relic of the Buddha.  The original pagoda was 10 segments tall (note that the first floor of a pagoda is the only usable part, there are no floors or stairs or anything the rest of the way up) and housed a tooth of the Buddha (hence the name).  However, Britain and France (you’ll find that this is a common theme) came through China and had the courtesy of destroying the building, and the tooth was whisked away by the monks to another, safer place.  The (I’m pretty sure) Chinese government (or, someone) gathered the resources to rebuild it in the 80s/90s, and now it is a taller (13 segments), stonier (pagodas are all wood and are actually generally no anything else, relying on locking it all together like a puzzle and using various wooden pegs to hold it together) version of the original.  And really cool.  But it still doesn’t have the tooth anymore.

Then my friends and I grabbed lunch and headed back!  That’s that!

Part four!  The final part!  Up Jingshan!

The first photo is of ME!  And is the first photo of me so far!  This is looking down from Jingshan back at the forbidden city, and is probably not too far from where I took the picture of that model waaaaay back in part one of this series.  Also, note the smog, and that that’s still a pretty good day.  But then stop noting the smog and like the photo of me : )  And then look at just how big the forbidden city is.

The next photo is of the Vairocana Buddha (I think.  That’s what the sign said.), situated nicely in the building at the top of Jingshan.  Technically you aren’t allowed to take photos, but I didn’t notice the sign until afterwards, so that’s alright.  There were a few people praying but I don’t know how to do a Buddhist prayer so I didn’t join, although if I had had fruit with me I probably would have left it on the altar.  This is a celestial Buddha (i.e. another Buddha that is not the historical Buddha that actually started Buddhism, but a figure added into the pantheon later on.  Celestial Buddhas either became Buddhas in different ages in the past or on different worlds/different planes of existence/something like that, so they can still come in handy in a pinch) that, in Chinese/Japanese Buddhism embodies the concept of emptiness, which is pretty fundamental to a lot of Buddhism.  In Vajrayana Buddhism, that is, Tibetan Buddhism, he is one of the five wisdom Buddhas and is placed at the center in representations of them (thanks, Wikipedia!).

The third photo is looking out at a fairly important pagoda (which I’ll also visit sometime).  Pagodas are the Chinese version of the Indian Stupa, and they serve the same purpose- to mark spots that the remains or relics of the Buddha (or, in some cases, other important Buddhist figures) have been placed.  It’s the big white thing in the middle, but you can also see tons of the rest of Beijing.

The last photo is looking at Beijing in the opposite direction of the forbidden palace.  It’s a big city!