Lama Temple

This weekend was pretty packed full of sightseeing (aren’t they all) so I’m going to split it into two different posts. On Saturday we took the subway to the Lama Temple. The subway here is so easy to get and very very cheap. It seems daunting at first but all the signs have English translations too, and journeys cost 2-5 RNB (about 20-50p) depending on how far you go. The one downside is that it does take quite a long time because Beijing is such a huge city so it’s ages between stops.

I think Saturday had to be one of the hottest days since I got here. No joke, I was actually sweating before I left the courtyard where I live, it was DISGUSTING. It’s not so bad when you just suck it up and accept that you’re going to be sweaty and gross all day, however we were meeting the CEO of the company I’m interning at for dinner in the evening. Safe to say by the time we arrived we were all pretty gross.

The Lama Temple is a working temple in the centre of Beijing. As you can see from the photos above, the colours and building style are the traditional ones which they also used in places like the forbidden city. It generally did have a very similar feel to the forbidden city, just on nowhere near the same scale so it was much more manageable.

As we walked in we were instantly greeted by clouds of fragrant smoke, pouring out of the huge incense pots in front of the first building. People were clustered round large candles to either side, lighting the incense. In the centre was a padded surface to kneel before the altar with several people praying with their incense sticks.

In my time in Asia I have been to many temples for many different religions in many different countries, but it still never fails to amaze me how beautiful they are and how devoted people are to their religion. I find it absolutely fascinating seeing people worshipping and the differences in customs. I must admit, I don’t really understand most of what’s going on, but I think as long as you stay being respectful and follow the examples set by others around you then it’s all okay. One of the things that amazes me the most is the statues. The gold contrasts the colours of all the fabrics that adorn them so vividly, and the way they dominate the room and gaze down at you from their heights is something that I still find incredible. The amount of work and dedication that goes into every little detail really is inspiring and mind-blowing to think about.

lama temple statue

The last building of the temple complex houses the most impressive statue of them all. The picture above really doesn’t do it justice, it was absolutely HUGE. The folds of gold just seemed to go on and on, and there was so much detail put into the crown and the surrounding room.

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Red Brick Art Gallery

This was somewhere I was quite excited because it is so close to where I’m staying and I’d heard it was great. At the minute the gallery is showing the work of the artist Olafur Eliasson. Eliasson was born in 1967 and grew up in Iceland and Denmark, before moving to Berlin and founding the Studio Olafur Eliasson. Eliassons work focuses on perception, movement and experience. From my own personal perspective, I felt that his work contained strong influences of nature and the physics of the world that we live in. He aims for his work to be relevant in society, so many of them have references to sustainability and climate change.

One of the initial things that caught my attention was the sheer size and scale of the work. Eliasson’s pieces span huge spaces within the gallery and often there is a singular piece that completely dominates the space. He is also very keen on playing with light and mirrors, and several of the pieces revolves around this theme.

In the second room was a piece called water pendulum, featuring a hose suspended from the ceiling and allowed to spin and twist erratically; contorting and sending out jets of water and perfect arches; whilst strobe lights flash and illuminate the patterns of the water. The whole effect is that of a intricate, uncontrolled dance.

In another room was a light source at the centre of a metal, bird-cage like structure that cast huge shadows over the wall. The way the piece and the light it produced envelopes the whole room was particularly atmospheric. And the shadows meant you could engage with the space and play with the light and shadows. It really challenges the role we play as people in the world, and how our simple presence can alter it dramatically.

The space in the gallery also extended to the outside with a beautiful garden. I thought the whole gallery space was fantastic for an exhibition like this as the indoor and outdoor space has been utilised so well.

Overall I was so glad as I went as it helped me to discover the work of an artist who I am truly inspired by. I love the scale of the works and the fact you can immerse yourself in them. I love the clever manipulation of light and shapes; and the way he has thought about the refraction and reflection alongside this. I would definitely recommend this exhibition. It just cemented for me that China has such an exciting and diverse art scene that is definitely worth exploring.

798 art district

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog insta then you have probably seen loads of pictures from a place called 798 art district. 798 is an area of decommissioned military factories that has now been transformed into an amazing artistic hub. And it is probably one of the coolest places I’ve been. EVER.

Before I came to China, I had heard that the art scene was thriving, but I don’t think I fully took in how much. I guess in a country of 1.5 billion people, there are going to be a lot of amazing artists!

I think one of the things that makes 798 so cool is the fact it has held onto its identity as a very industrial area. Many of the original factories still stand very similar to how they once were in appearance, and have just been redesigned to make the most of the interior space. As you can see in the picture above, there are vast areas of original chimneys and processing equipment still left in place for you to explore. Side by side with these unique features are loads of shops selling cool individual pieces of design; and art galleries showcasing the work of local and international artists.

As well as this, the streets are also packed with cool street art and sculptures. The streets are lined with individual, little cafes and restaurants selling fancy coffee and delicious looking food.

The total area is huge so I didn’t get chance to explore everything. This is an area that I absolutely cannot wait to get back to because it was amazing. I could so easily spend loads of money here and fill my room with amazing art pieces.

San li tun

Sorry I’m still trying to catch up on everything I’ve done since I’ve been here. I spend a lot of my time working (I know from the amount of pictures it may not look like that but I just have really packed weekends), so I have to try and squeeze stuff into the evenings. Today I am going to be talking about an area I’ve been to a couple of times now, San li tun.

I have spoken before in my last posts very briefly about how Beijing is laid out in the ring road system, San li tun is in between the 2nd and 3rd ring-roads on the east, and is the main sort of international area in Beijing with loads of embassies, shopping malls, bars and clubs.

Before coming to Beijing I remember looking at pictures and thinking it was all really flat, and didn’t really have the same awe-inspiring skyscrapers shooting into the clouds as cities like Shanghai. However now I realise that’s because it was just showing me pictures of right in the centre. It is crazy how quickly the city goes from being quite a low built, traditional area, packed full of Hutongs, to very modern, huge skyscrapers and tower blocks. I think San li tun is a good example of this.

One of my favourite things about Asia is how everywhere stays bustling, in fact if anything it comes more alive, at night. In England it very much feels like the day is the main time for people to be out and about, but I wish it was a bit more like other countries in that we took full advantage of the days. I guess it’s based on the heat and when it’s comfortable to be outside.

I know I’ve waffled on for ages about the general vibe and background so i’ll tell you about some bars and stuff I went to now.

Slow boat brewery

Slow boat brewery, as you may have guessed from the title is a brewery and restaurant just a short walk from the main shopping area, and based opposite the InterContinental hotel (the one in the picture above that is lit up pink). Home to the ‘fry burger’, voted one of Beijing’s best burger, the western food is a lot better than you find in many places. The fry burger is layers of patty, aioli, American cheese and shoestring fries in a bun. Very good but a little bit oily. The sweet potato chips are also very good, nice and crisp (not soggy as they often can be) and served with a perfectly piquant peri peri mayo type sauce. They also have a couple of vegetarian options, my friend got a tofu burger with an Asian slaw, I’m not sure how much of a huge fan she was though. Best bit is the burgers are 2 for 1 on Monday’s.

Martini bar

Now I’m always a sucker for a rooftop bar and this was definitely up there (if you’ll pardon the pun). The views are pretty incredible, the picture above was taken there. I got a piña colada for about £5 which isn’t cheap cheap but is definitely not expensive. It was also worth it for the location. Also, slightly weird, but the toilets were amazing too.

Heaven

I’m not going to lie, by the time we got to heaven I was starting to get pretty drunk so the facts may get a bit inaccurate. Basically, hold your hats for this amazing concept, it is a supermarket that is also a bar. So you walk in and there’s every type of alcohol you could want, wine, vodka, gin, alcopops, beer, cider, whisky, and loads of different brands. You basically just buy whatever alcohol you want (including mixers), plastic cups, ice, straws and all that jazz, and just find a table and sit down. I could honestly do with one of these everywhere.

The forbidden city

So my first main post is about the forbidden city. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a map of Beijing but basically it’s made up of ring roads and the forbidden city is located within the second ring road and is the ancient centre of the city. It has quite a cool name that deffo makes you want to look inside.

My initial impression upon arriving was ‘Jesus there’s a lot of people here’ but it probably didn’t help that we went there on a weekend in the summer holidays. Firstly we had to queue for about an hour to get through security to Tiananmen Square. Then we had to queue and go through security to get through the gate, and then subsequently had to queue about another 8 times. I don’t think I’ve actually ever been through so much security.

The city itself is amazing. It’s comprised of 9999.5 buildings (I’m not sure how you have .5 of a building but who am I to question it). The architecture is stunning, the buildings are painted red with impressive and intricate patterns in the ceiling in vivid hues of blue and green.

You get lead through gateway after gateway of courtyards surrounded by these buildings, until arriving in the centre, where you can choose which was to go in order to view all the different temples.

After about 3/4 of the way, we went inside some of the buildings (it was quite strange, you were hardly allowed in any) to go and look at some of the jewels in the palace collection.

They had some absolutely fantastic pieces. Headdresses weighed down with precious stones in many vibrant colours. Huge plates and ornaments made out of gold. It really reinforced how wealthy these dynasties must have been.

After we had made our way through the city, there is a small hill you can climb with another temple on the top that provides stunning views.

I have such a massive respect for the women that did all this in heels (there were a few), because my feet killed by the time I’d been round all that.

The bird flies the nest

Sorry it has been so long since my last post, I kinda got distracted with life. So after what felt like an eternity and every obstacle possible, I finally have a bank account. Woohoo! This means I can head out and explore.

So if I remember correctly, last time I had only been here for like five days. So I think I will try and break it down into a few posts because I have done A LOT! So keep your eyes peeled!

Getting settled

So I’ve been in China for about 5 days now and I feel like I’m starting to settle down and I think I’m picking some bits up. I have taught my first lesson (it didn’t go awfully woohoo) and had my first Chinese lesson, so I mean at least I can bust out a sentence or two. Everything kind of moves at a different pace here. When we first went out to go and try and get SIM cards and bank accounts, we waited for 45 minutes before being told that our phones didn’t support that network. We then went to try the bank only to be told that we needed a phone number to set up the bank account. By this point the bank was due to close in 20 minutes so we gave up and went home.

When foreigners first arrive, they are supposed to register at the police station so they know where you are staying. We tried to do this the next day, only to be told to come back tomorrow because the computer was broken. Apparently this is all quite normal for China.

I think I’m settling in to the whole difference in social media as well. So most of the apps I love and waste all my time on back home (insta, twitter, facebook, snapchat) are all blocked so if you want to use them you have to download a VPN. Actually not as complicated as I thought it would be tbh. However pretty much the whole of China has this app called WeChat. WeChat isn’t something I had ever heard of before I started applying for this internship, and honestly I don’t know how. It is used for EVERYTHING. It’s like instagram, facebook, twitter and snapchat all rolled into one. Friends use it, businesses use it, you can pay with it like apple pay (including scanning it on the subway), small vendors on the street take it as money. No one really bothers carrying round purses or wallets because everyone just has wechat. You can order food, bars have pages so you can see what’s coming up. China is so technologically advanced you can use your phone to get someone to come and deliver a new loo roll to you whilst you are on the toilet, god forbid you run out. Honestly feels China is living in 2100 and the rest of the world is stuck in 2018.

 

China

So I’m now onto the third part of my pretty crazy summer, my internship in China. I landed on the 2nd so I’ve had a couple of days to settle down now and find my bearings a bit.

I’m staying in an area quite far out of Beijing at the academy I’m teaching at. The building is a traditional Chinese courtyard style which is really cool. Luckily my room has air con or it would be pretty difficult to sleep. The weather isn’t too hot but by English standards it’s still pretty warm (about 27 degrees and muggy as hell).

I haven’t really done that much yet because I’ve been getting over jet lag, but from what we have attempted we haven’t been very successful. We started by getting the metro to Wangjing to go and get sim cards and a bank account. After waiting about 45 minutes in the phone shop, when we finally got served they told us that our phones didn’t support that network so we couldn’t get one. We tried to go and set up a bank account instead only to be told that we needed a phone number in order to set that up. This was about 20 minutes before the bank closed so we didn’t have time to go back and get a sim card so we just went home instead. In the evening I went with some of the other tutors to a local restaurant to avoid falling asleep at about 6pm. From what I’ve experienced so far everyone is pretty great and this is quite a chill place to work. I’m very glad about this because I’m not sure the whole rigid structure work life is for me. On the way home I stopped off in the local supermarket which is a bit wild. I absolutely love going to supermarkets in other countries because the selection of foods is fascinating. There were all sorts of weird things like cucumber flavoured crisps and preserved chickens feet, pig skin and other delights (all kept in vacuum packed packets at room temperature, DELIGHTFUL).

On the second day we got a bit adventurous and went to IKEA (very cultural I know). One of my favourite things here is that the people go to IKEA to have a little nap in the beds and on the sofa. People fully took off their shoes and got under the covers to sleep, someone brought their laptop to sit and do work, a mother had put her toddler down for a nap. No one even batted an eyelid, in fact I think it was more normal for a bed/sofa to be occupied than not. I mean you’ve gotta try before you buy right? We stocked up on extra pillows for our beds, mirrors (and in my case, cacti for my desk, even though I’m only here for 3 months). Another observation: Chinese mattresses are about as soft as a yoga mat on a hardwood floor, no exaggeration. And extra pillows and cushions aren’t really a thing. We tucked into our meatballs with a cool view of skyscrapers in the background.

In the evening we headed to the western supermarket closest to us. It was still packed with loads of brands we’d never seen before but it had quite cheap alcohol (wine for £4, smirnoff for £7), ben and jerry’s, huge pots of nutella and even boots own brand skincare (we were quite tickled by the fact toiletries were called ‘daily chemicals’).

So in essence I have probably done the least Chinese things in Beijing. I’m hoping were going to do a few more cultural things soon so stay tuned.

Morocco (part 3) MARRAKECH

quadbiking

I don’t really know where to start with Marrakech because it is so amazing. It feels a lot more touristy than the other places we went to and you can tell there is a bit more money in the city because of this. We stayed at the Kenzi Menara Palace which was one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in. Our rooms were stunning and we spent ages at the pool which was huge and beautiful. In the evening we headed to Buddha Bar which was absolutely fantastic. The decoration inside was absolutely superb with a massive gold Buddha statue centre stage and huge, ornate chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. After dinner we went out to ladies night at Theatro. Oh my god it was amazing. Ladies got in for free and got all theirs drinks for free which is never a bad start. At 3am loads of people dressed up in costumes and on stilts came out and there was lazers and it was just incredible.

Sadly we had to get up at 8am the next morning to head out quad-biking. We did a quad biking tour with Quad Lac et Désert and I would 100% recommend them. Staff were friendly and helpful and the route they took us on was absolutely amazing. I’m not totally sure where about we were but it was like the start of the Sahara Dessert and the bottom of the Atlas Mountains and it was absolutely stunning. The landscape was pretty barren with rolling hills and dirt tracks. It felt like there was no civilisation for miles but it was so so beautiful. Part way through we stopped at a house which some lovely people had opened up for us and had a drink of Moroccan mint tea. At the house there was a little of puppies which we all fell in love with.

After quadbiking we headed into the medina to have an explore. Markets in Morocco are definitely not my favourite place, and I’m very glad we had my friend with us. People were grabbing us and pulling us and trying to out snakes round our neck and I just generally wasn’t a fan. After that we headed to the Jardins Majorelle which I was absolutely blown away by. In the grounds in the Yves Saint Laurent museum, and all throughout the garden there’s YSL blue. The gardens are a mix of huge, amazing cacti and beautiful water features. I think it has to be one of my favourite places.

DSCN0635

In the evening as the sun was starting to go down a bit we headed off to go and do camel riding. This is something I have always wanted to try so I was so excited.

As it turns out camels are a lot bumpier than I expected. I know it sounds pretty stupid and I had been told that you have to hold on tight when they stand up/lie down, but they really do send you jumping out your seat quite a lot. Regardless, I thought they were absolutely amazing and would definitely do it again. It was one of those times that didn’t feel real, the scenery was so amazing. For dinner we went to Comptoir, which again, was incredible. During dinner there was a belly dance show which was fantastic to watch. I had a tagine d’agneau which I think has fast become my favourite thing. A lamb shank is the heart of the dish and the meat just flakes off. To compliment this, the dish features prunes, cooked to perfection, giving the dish a beautiful, sweet tang.

All in all, I absolutely loved Morocco. The quality you get for relatively little money is fantastic. I’m really glad I had my friend with me to negotiate down taxi prices and things but I think you get that anywhere. I can’t wait to go back.

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