Sunday, January 9, 2011

One World, One Dream

Tuesday, December 7th. A day where I remember sleeping in until ten o'clock before having breakfast and then heading out to see more of Beijing. First up on the agenda was to see the Yonghegong Temple (also know as the Lama Temple) located in the northeastern corridor of the metropolis. We got on the train and made our way to one of the most important and largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world. Once reaching this landmark, we headed in to the complex to see the many statues, shrines, and sanctuaries for prayer. Like when I visited the Shwedagon Pagoda in Burma, there were a plethora of individuals who came to the temple not for sightseeing purposes but to come and pay respects to Buddha. Similar to the monastery in Hong Kong, the method by which people would pray is taking incense, kneeling before a temple (there were many at Yonghegong), and bowing three times before putting the incense in a decent sized open container. This ritual made the air smell really good with the different incenses mixing from each temple. Besides the nasal pleasing odor in the atmosphere, it was nice to walk around, read about the sanctuary from various description plates, and watch people in prayer from a distance.

After spending a couple hours at this fairly large complex, it was time to move on to what would be the most exciting part of the day, visiting the Olympic complex from the 2008 games. My Chinese national friend used to live very close to these famous sporting arenas but had never gotten up close to these structures the way we did on this clear afternoon in northern Beijing.

Coming up the staircase from the train station, Beijing National Stadium, more commonly known as "The Bird's Nest," immediately popped up into our line of sight. What an incredible experience to finally stand before an architectural marvel while reminiscing about 29th (XXIX) Olympiad. It wasn't just me, by the way; my friend who has lived in Beijing his whole life was also pretty amazed by National Stadium having never gotten such an up close and personal look at the structure that has stood for over two years. We walked around, really sized up how big of a venue it is, and got lost trying to find the ticket booth to get in. My friend even pointed out to me the seven star hotel adjacent to the Olympic complex in the shape of a dragon (Note: I have never heard of a seven-star hotel, but apparently they have them in Beijing).Once we did track down the entrance, we stormed up the uniquely jagged staircase to the top of the once 91,000 seat now 80,000 strong stadium. As if I had been to this stadium many times before, I instantly navigated us towards the tunnel of the upper deck seats. The out of this world experience continued as we sat down and took in the sites. I was just imagining the opening ceremonies from three summers prior and watching it at a friend's house being blown away by the spectacular dances, light show, and fireworks (even if some of it was digitally edited in). All of that took place right in front of where I sat--that and many events with international competitors. In addition, it was a nice change of pace to see a modern structure as opposed to more historical buildings that had made up the bulk of my travels up to that point.

As the sun was setting, we figured it would only make sense to head right across the walkway to another famous sporting venue from the 2008 Olympics, the Beijing National Aquatic Center, also known as "The Water Cube." I have many fond memories of this arena, as well, namely a one Mr. Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals in the XXIX Olympiad. I just re-watched the 4 x 100 relay with the amazing comeback by Jason Lezak; it still is amazing how he was able to catch up to France in that final length. Considering the motto of these Olympics was "One World, One Dream," it is fair to say Lezak helped Phelps carry out his dream of eight gold medals and China's aspirations of holding an exciting and mind-blowing Olympiad. Not only that, but I was once watching a swimming event that took place in the Water Cube with a bunch of friends when a girl who graduated from high school with us just happened to be sitting front row. On top of sitting in the first row of the stands, she was near the famous and retired swimmer Ian Thorpe who was being shown on the screen, thus the friend of mine appeared on the television 7,000 miles away. It became one of those "Wait, was that such and such? Did that just happen?" moments. Otherwise, it was cool to be at the site where many famous and talented swimmers & divers put their skills on display for millions if not billions of people around the world.

What really caught me off guard was on the way into the facility it said you could pay to go swimming in the Aquatic Center, so I figured maybe they let you swim in the Olympic competition pool. How wrong I was. There is a fairly big and very legitimate water park also in the Water Cube that looked like a lot of fun. If I had known better, I would have been very much up for it, but who would have known about that little detail? Nonetheless, we left the Water Cube and walked around the Olympic Green for only a little bit more as it was very cold out (as mentioned previously, December in Beijing from a weather perspective is similar to in New York City.)

Tuesday was a great day of seeing Lama Temple and the Olympic complex; a great blend of the ancient and modern aspects of China. Wednesday, as you will soon find out, had a blend of relaxing at the Summer Palace with clubbing in one of Beijing's premiere night clubs.

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