Lama temples, disappointing drums and some observations about the Chinese
After the heroics of the day before we decided to tone things down and visit some temples and other buildings recommended by Lonely Planet.
The Lama Temple, so called because of the Buddhist title not the animal, was initially quite disappointing as it contained almost identical architecture to that found in both The Forbidden City and The Temple of Heaven. However, as we delved deeper into the complex we found that the idols situated within each of the temples became increasingly more grand and impressive. This evolution of idols culminated in one that was so large it was officially recognised by the Guiness Book of Records as being the biggest sculpture made from a single piece of bark. Not bad.
After the Lama Temple we headed for the nearby Bell and Drum Tower. Now, these do pretty much say what they do on the tin. But, considering they are often regarded as being amongst the top tourist spots in Beijing, we were pretty disappointed to find a single, average sized drum and bell at the top of each set of stairs. We spent about five minutes looking at them in an attempt to justify having spent money on the sight but there's only so long you can stare at a drum and a bell before you want to jump over the tower so we soon descended the stairs and looked for something to eat.
Eating in China was becoming something of a problem. For one, the menus were pretty much all in Chinese so you had to guess from either the pictures or the words and hope for the best. The stakes were pretty high as well because you were only ever one hand gesture away from asking for pig feet or duck tongue. I found this out to my cost the night before when I was handed a plate of chicken legs for my main course instead of the chicken breast on skewers I'd been hoping for.
A second problem was that the staff couldn't speak English so there was no way of asking for further clarity on the menu.
Thirdly, it should also be noted that I generally hate Chinese food in England anyway so even on a good day when we managed to order egg fried rice it was still pretty bad.
The noodles and pork that ended up on our table seemed to sum up our experience at the towers perfectly. Pretty bland and a lot of effort (try eating a chunk of pork with nothing but chopsticks to aid you) for not much reward. It was so unfulfilling I was forced to buy a packet of muffins to simply reintroduce taste back into my mouth.
Thankfully, there was light at the end of our dark, tasteless tunnel. On our way to a nearby park we stumbled upon a narrow road which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a really quaint and cool street full of small market stalls. We took our time to wander around and explore the wears on offer, content to be in amongst the bustling crowd of local and foreign shoppers. Eventually though, the market street opened up into a crossroads where a string of neon coloured bars and restaurants lined the emerging lake in every direction, with each one blasting out some live 90s sounding Chinese ballad to create a strangely peaceful atmosphere. Whilst it was very cheesy, unlike in Goa, this actually seemed to give Beijing the character it had so far been missing. We liked it a lot and after strolling around the side of the lake we bought a beer and sat on the terrace of a bar to do some people watching. It was here that I made the following observations :
1) Contrary to the commonly held stereotype, Chinese do not all look the same. Not in the slightest. In fact, watching a group of blonde haired, blue eyed, button nosed westerners congregate around the bridge below it struck me how difficult it must be for the Chinese to tell us apart from one another.
2) The Chinese have a really cool sense of style. Especially the girls. They just all seem to look good, period. And they love Adidas. My kind of women.
3) It seems to be a thing that boyfriends hold their girlfriends handbags, either in their hands or around their neck. Not too keen on the idea myself but if that's what it takes to win an Adidas bedecked Chinese lady then so be it.
After concluding these observations I started to feel hungry again so we were once again faced with the unappealing prospect of food. Despite the sophistication of some of the restaurants, their menus still looked strange and undesirable. And so in the end we settled for Thai. Close enough.