Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Oktoberfest and a creepy hotel


My friend, Rupali and I decided to spend Thanksgiving weekend at the Kitchener Oktoberfest. Kitchener is about an hour's drive away from my home at Mississauga. The idea was for us to drive out there on Sunday afternoon and then watch the parade on Monday before heading out.

The drive there was beautiful, the Niagara escarpment was hot with the colors of fall - reds, golds, rusts, and yellows. I didn't push the drive - keeping to the speed limit while Rupali clicked away madly. Hopefully she got some good shots.

Kitchener turned out to be a small town with lots of tall buildings, and nestling between them old, old buildings with red brick exteriors catching the late afternoon sun. Parts of the roads had been closed off, as street food vendors occupied them offering all kinds of German (?) goodies - overwhelming us with the smell of grilling bratwurst and hot cotton candy, throw in some pretzels and sauerkraut and there you have it.

We were booked at the Walper Hotel – a heritage hotel with a long list of celebrity guests. Since check in was not until 2 pm we figured we might as well get lunch first. Crabby Joe's caught our eye. A bar/restaurant that served up a medley of a menu - Asian, German, you name it! It was good, though! Lunch over, we headed back to the hotel. The hotel was across the street, on the street corner, and one of the beautiful red brick buildings that we had seen earlier.

Checked in and feeling rather hot, we decided to go to our room and catch some shut-eye. The hotel was old, very old, and undergoing renovations. The elevator was ornate and creaked up the three floors. We stepped off the elevator into a hallway obviously undergoing renovation. White washed walls contrasted with heavy, dark wooden doors. Dark, wooden, ornate and obviously old furniture decorated the hallways. A huge empty frame on one wall indicated where a painting would have been. Large chandeliers above our heads lighted the empty corridors. We found our room and used the heavy brass keys to enter. The door did not creak, thankfully. Two double beds occupied one side, and on the other were a table and a TV. I took the bed towards the window, which was shaded with dark brown blinds. A ledge ran along the base of the wall, and terminated in an air-conditioning unit behind the TV.

We decided to crash for a bit. I played around with my iPad taking a picture of Rupali as she snored away. I also decided to check on the history of the Walper Hotel. Wikipedia offered the information that this hotel is reputedly haunted in the basement by a man in a coat. Hmmmm… it also named all the famous people who had stayed there, including Queen Elizabeth, Madonna and Lady Gaga. Go figure!

In the evening we decided to go for a walk. It’s a peaceful town, but kind of deserted. We decided to head to the Rum Runner’s pub for dinner. The Rum Runner’s pub also has a bit of colorful history. It’s located in the basement. During the prohibition, the walls of the pub were used to store casks containing – you guessed it – rum. The hotel was part of a long underground supplying alcohol to the United States. Today, it’s a beautiful pub decorated much like any other pub. One of the walls is covered with newsprints from the prohibition days as well as the picture of a man who possibly participated in the nefarious rum running activity.

Rupali and I ordered cocktails. The bar was nearly empty, with a few other tables occupied. The bartender and server had time to chat with us, and chat we did. I was sitting with my back towards the wall, facing the bar. Rupali sat facing me. All of a sudden, I felt someone looking at me from where the entrance was. I looked over but I could not see anyone there. The room to the right of me was empty just like the corridor. I was getting goose pimples and rubbed my arm. Rupali asked me what the matter was. I told her what I had been feeling. She was surprised at my answer. There really was no-one at the door. We finished an otherwise uneventful dinner and decided to head back upstairs. We wanted to be up early to watch the parade.

I need time to fall asleep – my unwinding time, I call it. I need to read a book or watch TV till I am asleep. My ipad had my downloaded reading material, so I continued to read for a while, while Rupali slept. At some point I glanced at the time. It was getting late, but I was not in the least bit sleepy. Figuring that I should probably try to fall asleep, I shut down my iPad, turned off the lights, and closed my eyes, but sleep was far away. I tossed, turned, got up, closed the blinds, and tried to sleep again. The digital readout of the clock told me that time was passing oh! So slowly. I could hear dogs barking in the distance. Sometimes, I heard the faint sounds of revelers as they returned from their revelry. At one point I heard a loud thump in the room next to mine. Weird! Sometime around three in the morning I fell asleep. I had the strangest dream. Something bad. Very bad, and very weird. I woke up to the vibration of my cell’s alarm.

Rupali was already up. I was feeling groggy with so little sleep. I told her I hadn’t been able to sleep until about 3 am. She looked at me strangely and said, “well, I was having these horrible nightmares and woke up around 3. Then I fell asleep again, and I had more nightmares till I woke up. I don’t normally have nightmares. I was surprised”. I told her I’d been seeing strange dreams, too.

The two of us couldn’t believe that we’d both had marginally weird experiences.

It was time to get ready and watch the Oktoberfest parade. We showered, changed and went to the coffee shop below. Crowds had gathered on the pavements with chairs, and blankets – it was a little chilly – and coffee. There was a long line at the coffee shop. I told Rupali to get the coffee while I marshaled the seat by the window. But it wasn’t enough for us. We had to go out and see the parade for ourselves. For two hours, we were treated to some very good, some funny, some good and some strange Oktoberfest floats, and marching bands, including a Chinese troupe and a Filipino band (viva la Oktoberfest! Who doesn’t love beer?) And of course, there were the usual Molson floats, and cowboys and big balloons and … more marching bands.

With the parade over, we headed back to the hotel. In our room, we picked up our bags and were headed out. I saw a hotel employee come out of the room next door. Evidently, she had been in there. I wondered if anyone had been staying there the previous night. It didn’t look like it! What WAS that bump? With all those questions, we headed down, checked out and finally got on our way back home to Mississauga. 


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad




Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sir Paul McCartney – You disappointed me…





Now that that got everyone’s attention ----

That’s a lie.

Well just for a little bit – it was true. Yesterday (8th August, 2010) Rupali and I finally went to see the Paul McCartney Up and Coming Tour of 2010. The concert was at the Air Canada Center and was supposed to start at 7:30 pm. There were no opening acts announced. Knowing that the set would be about two-and-a-half hours long, it was only to be expected that we thought there would be an opening set. But there wasn’t. We were quite excited as we went into the Air Canada center and took our seats. The seats were filling up quickly. 7:30 came and went.. the crows waited patiently. Then 8:00 came and went. The crowed decided to amuse themselves. Mexican waves went round and round. Finally around 8:15 the two large screens to the side of the stage lit up. Music and video. Oh yay!! just what we needed. NOT!! Finally, at 8:30 pm, a full hour after the show was supposed to start THE MAN walked out onto the stage. And the crowd lost it!!

He is not very tall. Wears little heels. Slim. Still mop-topped. Still boyish looking. Dressed in a Sgt Pepper’s style jacket and black pants. And can still scream with the best of them. The set began with ‘Venus and Mars/Rockshow’. And then it went on – three hours of pure bliss.

He mixed them up. And sang almost every Beatles song that I like – except ‘Come Together’. Now that would have been the ultimate for me. That was one song that I listened to on a 45 rpm track over and over and over again, until it almost wore out the vinyl. The jacket came off by the time ‘The Long and Winding Road’ came around.

I was taking pictures and videos as much as I could. All my batteries had been charged before I left including a spare set. But strangely half an hour into the set, and both sets of batteries died. Not only that – my cell phone died too!! WEIRD is not the word. So I was only able to get a few snaps/videos. Watch it on youtube.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaQFy3ryiag

So what did he sing?

Remember, this is a man who has been rocking for 50 years almost.. YEP!! The Beatles came together in 1960 – remember? And he has this humungous catalogue over this long period of time. And his fans are now in their THIRD generation!! So everything he sang resonated with the crowd.

At one point, with just one spotlight on him, an acoustic guitar in hand – he sang ‘And I love her’. I cried. This song to me has always had a very strong memory attached to it. Years ago, sitting on a rooftop in Kolkata, with my cousins Shubro  and MoonMoon and my sister during load-shedding – or rolling black out. Shubro was strumming his guitar and singing ‘And I love her’. Did I mention he does an awesome John Lennon? At the words - ‘bright are the stars that shine/dark is the sky’ - we all looked up at the sky. It was a new moon night. And the stars shone brightly with no moonlight to dim them. We’d never have seen them had there been no load-shedding. And now here in front of me, was Paul McCartney – singing that sweet melody, those incredible simple, heart-felt lyrics. And I cried. One more memory created.

Oh yeah. 

So here’s the set list he played.

1. Venus and Mars / Rockshow
2. Jet
3. All My Loving
4. Letting Go
5. Drive My Car
6. Highway
7. Let Me Roll It
8. The Long And
Winding Road
9. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five
10. Let ‘Em In
11. My Love
12. I’ve Just Seen A Face
13. And I Love Her
14. Blackbird
15. Here Today
16. Dance Tonight
17. Mrs Vandebilt
18. Eleanor Rigby
19. Something
20. Sing The Changes
21. Band On The Run
22. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
23. Back In The
USSR
24. I’ve Got A Feeling
25. Paperback Writer
26. A Day In The Life / Give Peace A Chance
27. Let It Be
28. Live And Let Die
29. Hey Jude


Encore
30. Day Tripper
31. Lady Madonna
32. Get Back


Second Encore
33. Yesterday
34.
Mull Of Kintyre (with the Peel Regional Police Piper Band)
35. Helter Skelter
36. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band / The End 

Yes, there really were two encores. But there were those moments that made my day.

Like the time the lights were focused on our section only. I looked around and no one had their hands aised. So I raised my hands and waved. Next thing I know – he waves back!! I like to think he was waving at me.. ** tee hee!!**

And Rupali was in tears with ‘Hey Jude’.

And the pyrotechnics with ‘Live and Let Die’ were amazing. But funnier was Paul’s drama-baazi after the fireworks were done!

His tributes to Linda (‘My love’), John (‘Here Today’ – solo with acoustic guitar only) and George (‘Something’). So he switches to a ukulele and starts talking about how he and George liked to play the ukulele. And evidently, he told George that he’d learnt one of George’s songs on it, and he starts strumming the ukulele and then its ‘Something’ with a Hawaiian flair and then he switches to a bass guitar and completes the song with full band backup.

And the sing along to ‘Ob-la-dih’. Evidently this is the first time they played it on tour.

And ‘Hey Jude’? Well they brought the piano out – the multi colored almost psychedelic painted one. And of course, he made the crowd sing along to ‘na na na – na-na-na na – na-na-na na –Hey Jude’. That scream is still as good as it was forty something years ago.

And ‘Let it Be’ – what can I say… !!

And of course, ‘Yesterday’ – alone on stage. Guitar in hand and that incredible strumming…Brings tears to the eyes.

Followed by ‘Mull of Kintyre’  with a full Scottish band. He acknowledged that many of his relatives had actually moved to Canada from Scotland. Thank God he didn’t … Where would the Beatles be then?

And ‘Helter Skelter’ talk about a classic. It sounded better than most rock songs of today and completely modern.

The sheer genius of the man, his incredible energy, his presence, charisma.. call it what you like. For three hours, he kept us entertained and enchanted. Even from a distance you can’t take your eyes off him. He talked, laughed and joked with the audience. No gimmicks. No fancy dress changes and no backup dancers. Just brilliant music and an excellent time.

Was I disappointed??!! Heck No!! Well, just a little bit. Wish he’d sung ‘Come together’.

Paul used to be my favourite. He still is. He will always be.

And I Love him.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Concert at the Skydome

So why am I writing about a concert in my travelogue blog? Well, its not a 'food-for-thought' kind of thing in the first place. And this one qualifies as travelogue. I went to the Rogers Center for a concert for the first time (I'd been there before, just not for concerts). I was transported to a world that I wanted to be in for all of five hours. Transport .. travel... see? And finally, the Rogers Center is one of the gotta-see-it tourist spots in Toronto. So it qualifies. Besides, its my blog, and I decide what qualifies or not ... ;-p !!


The Rogers Center or the Skydome as it was initially known used to be a part of the Toronto Skyline. Multiple high rises along the waterfront have changed that skyline now, so its visible only as chunks between the buildings, and completely hidden from sight from the East.. So no more will we see the graceful lines of the CN tower supplemented by the curves of the Skydome. Needless to say, to rename it to the Roger's Center even makes the romance go out of one of the most innovative stadium designs in the world. Enough said. Let's get on with the concert.


So Rupali and I had tickets to the Eagles concert today. May I mention that this is my first concert in a long while? and the first in an arena, so .. it was a new experience.  Rupali got them last minutes - so of course, our tickets were way up in the rafters.Nothing like staring up at Darius Tucker from Hootie and the Blowfish from six feet away and singing every song along with him. No, this time we would have to look at the singers across the length of a football stadium and then some. But regardless.  We were here to see the Eagles. The warm up group was the Dixie Chicks. And the warm up group for the Dixie Chicks was a band called JD and the Straight Shots. They took the stage at six.


JD and the Straight Shot has a front man named JD (d-oh!!) the lead singer. His voice is best suited to the bluesy numbers rather than country rock. The fast numbers were not that good, and he sometimes got a little pitchy (as Randy Jackson would say) or as Anu Malik (Indian Idol judge) would say 'Sur se bahut hat gaye' which basically means - you were singing off-key! There is one number though that stood out - 'Slow motion in reverse' - I might even download it! That being said, JD comes across as folksy, humorous and down-to-earth. They finished their set and left.


Next to us were a couple, Paula and Allan from Hamilton, ON. She was a nurse and funny. Perhaps the beer they'd been drinking had something to do with it. But she was nice and, did I mention, funny?


And speaking of shots. There was this guy that was actually smoking a joint in the row in front of us. We all pounced on him like - Dude - Put it out!! it was making me cough. I did my best I'm allergic to smoke thing. So what IS it with drugs and rock concerts. Seriously? Paula tried to convince me that marijuana was probably more beneficial than alcohol. Her rationale - alcohol sometimes makes mean and obnoxious drunks. Mary Jane? Never. Nobody gets mean on pot. Hmmmm.... 


Fifteen minutes later the lights went down and the Dixie Chicks came on. Fabulous - just fabulous. Talk about true girl power. Natalie's very cropped brunette hair style definitely brings out her best features - she doesn't look as pudgy any more. She looks sexy! Martie and Emily looked awesome. The thing is - these girls didn't waste time chatting with the crowd, instead they wowed them with some of their best songs. One after another after another. Landslide, Ready to Run, Shut up and Sing, Wide open Spaces (which they opened with), and of course I'm not ready to Make Nice. At which point, the crowd went wild - the Canadians appreciate subtlety like that (sez me tongue-in-cheek). But I digress. The show was so entertaining, just watching them interact, my eyes were glued more to the stage than to the big TV screens, and lemme tell you this - they were tiny on that stage from where I was sitting. Yet I had to keep watching them . The power of a live show.


They finished their 45-minute set and left. 15 minutes later, the stage was set for the Eagles. They opened with a number that involved a lot of spots going straight up to the ceiling, and they sang something a Capella. I have no idea what it was. Why? Because the crowd was screaming and so was I and nobody was LISTENING! That's why. Needless to say from that point, it just got better and better. Songs I'd forgotten, and songs I'd known and loved. Of course they sang Hotel California. The beauty of it was - they move the instrumental arrangements around and they move the rhythm section around. But they did not move the main melody at all - so everybody gets to sing it - exactly as they've heard it  a few thousand times before. And they did not mess with one of the  most recognized guitar sections of all times, nor do they mess around with Don Henley's drums - everybody HAS to clap to that beat.. I didn't want or need to see anything any more... But I stayed for the rest of the set. And iI was glad I did. It was rock/country rock at its best from the masters. I think one of the things that I will never forget is this one small segment with Joe Walsh where he held the note on the guitar  string with his left hand, while he lowered the note by releasing the tension on the 6th string with his right hand! It was SICKKKKK! It was almost 11 pm then, and I decided that we needed to go. They were doing their encore set, now. Two songs were done (one of them brought back memories from a certain concert when we were in the 8th Std (grade)). And the spot came on Don Henley on a dark stage as he crooned 'Desperado' ... I sat down. I didn't leave. How could I ? I got goose bumps and nearly cried. It was just amazing. My heart was truly full and satisfied. To see these gurus live.. for an Indian from a little town in India? Un-f***ing-believable. Sorry I am  not listing the songs here, as that would be a spoiler for friends who have tickets to the show in their hometown.


But the Rogers Center - such a letdown. If you have seen the dome, you know that it opens like grapefruit or onion sections. Each section slides into the next - three on one side and one on the other - on giant rollers along the side. This is the only stadium in the world that is designed to open up that way. How do I know it? I've watched it open many times from the 16th or 17th floors of the RBC offices, which are right next to it. Unfortunately, that also means that there is a veritable network of metal in the rafters. The belly of the dome is fully covered by this 'lattice work' of metal. And in the lower decibels, the bass bounces off them. And in the higher decibels, they vibrate. Every time anyone went above a certain pitch- the audio started getting garbled - it was getting thrown at us from multiple points with no dampening. 


Long story short - the acoustics are TERRIBLE. 
Moral: NEVER GO FOR A CONCERT AT THE SKYDOME/ROGERS CENTER .... EVER!! 


Unless of course, its Tina Turner or Pink Floyd or .. oh who am I kidding? I will probably land up there the next time there is one performer coming that I know I may never have the chance to see live again.


Which reminds me - I'd better book those Paul MacCartney tickets now. 

Friday, March 19, 2010

Florenceville, NB - Mukmuk goes to the land of Mi’Kmaq

January 11th, 2010

The very first time I came to Florenceville, New Brunswick, was in December of 2008. I was asked to go there to babysit our database server, while two consultants from the Big Blue ran PoC's with their software. 


New Brunswick is to the East of Maine. A small state that is the only official Bi-lingual state in Canada. It boasts of a small population, amazing fishing and is the home of the Mi'Kmaq natives. The New Brunswick countryside is an extension of the Appalachian range - so even though the mountains are not very high - it is still a rolling vista. 


I only knew I had to fly to Fredericton - the provincial capital, on the banks of the St John river. From there, rent a car and drive for about 140 km to reach Florenceville - home of one of the biggest producers of processed food in North America. Ah! how difficult could it be - the route was straight - get out the airport, hit the Trans Canada Highway and then hop off onto the RR-130. The hotel should be right around there. Mapquest don't lie. (oh yes, did I mention that this was in my pre-GPS days?).

The flight was delayed out of Toronto due to snow. Two hours later the sun was slowing heading towards sundown, when the plane swooped over what seemed to be a vast snowy field, liberally covered with evergreens that stuck out almost like in a picture post card. The plane landed on what seemed to be a vast sea of snow, the wind blowing little swirling dervishes  of snow, red gold in the last light of the sun. It was cold! So very Cold!! I walked out of the airport, into a blowing wind. The rental car was liberally covered in snow, but not that I could not drive it. I jumped in - a Pontiac G6 - and then my adventure began. The first few miles were breathtaking! But slowly the sun went down and I was driving in pitch black darkness. Once in a while, a car drove by, or I came up behind a truck. It wasn't snowing, but the wind from the truck tires blew the snow around, making it hard to see. I drove on for what seemed like hours! At some point, the directions fell off my seat onto the floor. I wasn't going to stop to pick them up. I kept driving. Feeling a little desperate at this point, I finally hit the OnStar button. A very polite lady informed me that I should only use the OnStar service for emergencies. Well, I said, I think I am lost. I am going to Florenceville, New Brunswick and I don't know if I have missed my exit or not. To me that constitutes an emergency. She put me on hold as she tracked me. You're fine, I was informed. You just have to travel a little further. Whew! Finally I hit the exit - at least I thought it was the right exit. Ahead of me was a brightly lit barn - and nothing much. A sign proudly informed me that I was at the Potato Museum! A museum for Potatoes!! WOW!! Of course, at this point I had no idea that Potatoes from Eastern Canada are some of the best! Who woulda thought?! But I digress.

The directions did not seem to make sense. I moved on and then started to despair. I had to cross a river somewhere, I knew - yet I did not see one. Finally, desperate - I called the hotel. A very kindly lady talked me through. She told me where to go, and a few minutes later I was across the bridge. Turn left, follow the signs to the highway, turn right at the top of the hill, go for a couple of kilometers and then you will see a blinking yellow light. The motel is on that corner. 

I faithfully followed her directions - the top of the hill was dark - far away a few dim lights flickered - but a few minutes later I spotted it - a blinking yellow light and next to it - the most beautiful sign in the world. A big MOTEL sign. Sigh!! I was finally at my destination. It wasn't the best of introductions to Florenceville. But then I did not expect the Hyatt either! And it so isn't the Hyatt!
* * * * * 
The next time I flew in on an earlier flight. It was my birthday, and not surprisingly everything went extremely well. I reached the airport early. There were long lines for checkin-s and security - but being a priority club member has its rewards. Oh yes! I found the Starbucks coffee shop, grabbed a chocolate au pain and headed back to the gate. Two of my other colleagues were also traveling with me. I met them there. The plane was a small Regional Air jet. The sky was partially cloudy, the flight was completely uneventful. Picked up our bags and headed out of the airport. I wasn't going to be driving this trip. I ensconced myself in the back and put my feet up. Then I had my camera out. The road winds out of Fredericton for 6 kms before it hits the Trans Canada Highway. I clicked away... Check out the pics.. 


In honor of the fact that it was not only my birthday, but my colleague's anniversary, the managers decided to take us out to dinner at the only fine dining restaurant in Florenceville-Bristol area. 


Let me explain first that eating out in Florenceville, presents several interesting challenges. For example - can you find something on the menu that is not fried? Or is a vegetable - other than corn, potatoes or onions? Healthy choices on the menu are few and far between - and fast food is relegated to the obligatory Subway and Tim Horton's - not even a Wendy's, a couple of pizza places and the pub. So finding someone that does food fresh in a remote out of the way location like this is amazing!


The restaurant is called 'Fresh'. It is owned by Sara - a petite brunette who doubles as the serving staff too. The chef's name is Jeff. The two of them cook up a menu that changes every so often, and use fresh and seasonal ingredients. Their aim - I think - is to provide a dining experience unlike anything you would get in that neck of the woods. Typical New Brunswick food (at least what we saw of it) is junk - fried, pizza, etc. Yet here was this little restaurant that aimed to provide haute cuisine at an extremely (for us Torontonians) reasonable price. 


The restaurant is in a couple of railway carriages, the station is the washroom. The dining room is the first carriage and the kitchen is the second. Heavy wood work, and equally heavy metal furnishings provide a cosy intimate ambiance. The wine is good, the food is excellent. It starts with an amuse bouche (a complimentary dish - usually provided by the chef), followed by an appetizer, a palate cleanser (complimentary) and an entree. And if you still have space in your tummy go for the gold - the dessert. I did - luscious chocolate ganache topped with a ceremonial candle in honor of the day I came to this earth. What I did not know then was that the best dish to order is the chef's special. 


Since then, I have been to Fresh a few times. The last time was this week. I was with my two colleagues Edgar and Ming. Ming has just returned from an exciting two weeks at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and his souvenir is the mascot's sidekick - Mukmuk. He has now started to record his day or doings using Mukmuk as his mouthpiece. So of course, Mukmuk joined us for dinner. Edgar decided to go with the Chef's choice. Ming and I chose a la carte. Edgar's appetizer was amazingly good. And then his entree was even better - a cornucopia of seafood - mussels, scallops, shrimp and a halibut. I was jealous and told Sara that I wish I had ordered the chef's choice. To my amazement a few minutes later - the chef came out and placed a small dish of scallops for me. They were the most beautifully cooked melt-in-you-mouth scallops that I had ever tasted! 


And then there is Florenceville... with spring officially here, there is barely any snow left on the ground. The leaves have not yet blossomed on the trees. With longer daylight hours - I'm just happier now. And more than happy to be back home in the bright lights and sleep in my own bed! 


Its been a long week. Next week - off to Florenceville again. Wonder what it will bring for me, then!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Beijing - Times Three - Pt 2

A Day Trip to the Sausage Palace!
 Saturday, June 27, 2009

Monday dawned clear. However, it soon started turning foggy. Rain was forecast. Work was work. The day went by in the usual manner. I had dinner back in my room. I was getting to hate this hotel’s in-room dining menu. A salad is about all I could eat and a dessert. Gotta have dessert.

Tuesday dawned smoggier than the day before. I had an email from Kevin, his flight was delayed due to a volcanic eruption near Japan. They would be re-routing to San Francisco, and then on to Beijing. He didn’t think he would make it in that day. Later in the day, another email from him, sitting in the San Francisco airport. Poor chap. It would be a long day for him. I didn’t hear from him, but I was certain if anything untoward happened, or he didn’t make it out of Japan that night, I would hear from him.

The next morning, I saw him on IM – he was in Beijing, and funnily enough, right next door to me! Evidently, they had held up the Beijing flight so he could get on it! Nice service!! Jay was also here, and I would be meeting him for the first time at breakfast. And Siraj would be arriving late on Friday. It was worth all the heartburn to have the whole group there.

But the weather was getting ugly. The smog had gotten thicker and thicker. We could barely see the hotels across the park. The Pan Gu was invisible from my window. See the pics for yourself.

http://picasaweb.google.com/madhumita.routh/BeijingOutAndAboutInBeijing#

Once in the street you could smell the smoke in the air. It was very unpleasant. Wonder what they would have done if it had happened during the Olympics! I was starting to feel uneasy with the smog. It felt like I was in a c-grade horror movie and some guy or THING was going to jump out of the smog at me… some horribly mutated THING! By Friday the smog finally lifted.

We dined well that week – finally!

I had also brought with me two bottles of ice wine along with a box of maple cookies, which I was digging into along with my morning coffee. That first night with all of us there, we chilled a bottle of ice-wine and had it during our 10pm status call. Cheers! (gotta learn how to say Salud in Mandarin).

So let me talk about Jay. He is hilarious and so very American. While Eric is always trying to be culturally correct, and Kevin is somewhere in between, Jay makes no apologies for who he is. Not that he is rude or obnoxious – far from it. He is very careful that way. But otherwise, he loves his ‘concubines’ or the hostesses at the Palm Gardens bar in the hotel. They are all pretty girls and know these guys and their drinks pretty well.

So this one night, we are at the lounge (see pics), and the girls all have new outfits on. Their summer uniforms, as they explained to us. A sleeveless full-length maroon outfit, with a slit up the side – a very high slit, hair piled up high, and a broad silver armband on their right arm. Kevin and Jay and Bob were all excited. They wanted those armbands – for their wives or ….. So I played wingman. As one cute girl did her stir-once-stir-twice-pause-tap-tap routine with Jay’s drink, I complimented her on the armband. It’s so beautiful! I said, is it silver? Yes, she replied smiling prettily. And those are your name tags! I exclaimed – for each arm band is inscribed with the name of the girl wearing it! I looked over at the guys, who were doubling up with laughter by now. When she left, I just raised my eyebrows at them – did they still want those armbands? I could not stop laughing at their chagrined expressions. I don’t think their wives would appreciate it if they brought back name tags inscribed with ‘Una’ or ‘Helena’… oh no! I don’t think it would be appreciated at all!

In between, we met Bob’s latest girl friend. A Chinese woman in her 50s named Li, who had hair down to her knees, and dressed like a twelve-year-old American girl, extremely short skirts, see-through blouses, and tights! In 90 degrees heat! I guess the language constraints made it hard for her to converse with us beyond the ‘ni hao’ and ‘xie xie’. I did not know what to make of her.

We had decided to go to the Made in China on Friday. Peking duck is now officially a tradition for me. I have to have it in China. And the next time I do, I am hoping Sam will be there to join me. It will be fun to introduce her to it. I did have Peking duck at another restaurant the other night, but there’s something about a duck cooked specifically for you, that appeals way too much to me. Or maybe I am just a snob! Sitting in the intimate and not so inexpensive atmosphere of the restaurant appeals to my sense of … shall we say… well being? At least, it made up for a day that had gone horribly wrong from early in the morning, and which I don’t want to record here. After all, this blog is to remind me of the good times, not the bad ones!

Siraj arrived on Friday night, so Saturday morning we let him sleep in. Eric had left on Friday. So that left Jay, Kevin and I to go to the Summer Palace. I had already been here before, but knowing how vast the complex was, I was eager to explore some more. I knew where I wanted to go, across the 17-arch bridge to the South Lake Island, across the lake in a boat, and to the Temple, and finally the theatre. We left early, and were there by 8:15 – though crowds had already started coming in. The day was beautiful – sunny, bright, and no sign of the ugly smog though a slight haze lingered in the breeze. We bought tickets and maps and strolled through the gates.

Now Kevin forgot his camera, and Jay’s was out of battery. I had my two cameras with me – the little Cannon and my big-ass Sony alpha both loaded with 4GB memory cards, enough to go around. I handed one to each of them and said ‘run away and go play, boys!’ They were so happy with the toys, it was funny. I’d already done a whole bunch of pics here with Jane, but this was a different walk. Along the lake, by the paddle boats, and lotuses along the edge of the Kunming Lake, weeping willows swooping into the waters along the walk. We headed to the 17-arch bridge. A bronze statue of a Sitting Bull stands next to a pavilion. We took pictures beside the bull and then noticed that there was this woman, rubbing her back up and down the railings – was she doing a ‘cow’ thing – scratching her back? An old man sat on a bench nearby with his wife. His bearded face was a composition in serenity and Kevin captured it perfectly. I watched people playing with ribbons, and a big screen – a movie screen – in front of which men and women practices T’ai Chi with fans. We could hear the sound of music from the pavilion leading to the 17-arch bridge. We headed to the pavilion. There was an old man narrating the story, a man playing a flute. I could hear a singer. I walked around the pavilion and noticed this woman who was singing the songs, sitting on the railing around the pavilion, her back to her audience. I whipped out the Canon and started filming her, pretty rudely I might add, as I was right in her face. The flautist turned around and played for me as I filmed him. It was beautiful. Sitting the in shade of the pavilion, the breeze blowing through my hair, the lake in front of me, I could have sat their for a while. Kevin noticed a man filming us – Tourists!! How strange it is to be inside the cage instead of outside. I suggested we give him something to film. But Kevin and Jay wouldn’t play along, so that idea died. Scaredy cats!

We walked over to the bridge. People were flying kites. The clear skies above the lake are perfect for flying kites and there were dozens of them floating over our heads, in bright colors and shapes and sizes. Strolling across the bridge we came to the Temple of Extensive Rain. Not much to see there, so we headed around the island to where the boats went across the Lake to the other side. Kevin and I chose to sit on the inner row, while Jay chose to sit on the sunny outer side.

Suddenly, there was a tap on Kevin’s shoulder. Our trio had caught the attention of a family of tourists from inner China. The lady wanted to speak to Kevin. ‘Will you speak to me?’, ‘Of course,’ he replied; and soon there was a tap on my shoulder. Now I am used to the white folks getting the tourist treatment. With my short height, dark hair and skin, I blend in with a lot of Chinese people (especially with a baseball hat on), unless you look at my face. So I was surprised at the tap on my shoulder. It was the daughter. She asked me where I was from, and I said ‘Canada’, she looked puzzled and I said it slowly ‘ Ca-na-da’. And them? She wanted to know. ‘They are from America’ . A few more questions later, they asked us if we would take pictures with them. So Kevin and I posed with them. I looked at the pictures and said ‘hung how!’ (very good!) they were delighted that I could actually say two words in Mandarin - literally!! We ‘xie xie’-d and ‘Qai tzen’-ed our way off the boat. It was a surreal experience for me to be really treated like a tourist. Of course, Jay got a big laugh out of it. So I had to tell them about Jane’s fan club after that. (See my note on Girls’ Day Out).

We walked along the Long corridor, and I got a little disoriented. The boat had actually dropped us off a little further north than I thought it would. But it was all good. A kindly stranger with a map told us where we were. So we walked along till we came to the Temple of the Fragrance of the Buddha. The last time I had climbed those stairs I’d been on treadmills for a few days and was in a little better shape. This time though, I was back to my old level of non-fitness. So I was a little worried that I would not be able to make it all the way up. Kevin offered to carry my big camera bag, and I gladly gave it to him. We climbed to the top, stopping to take pictures along the way - lots and lots of pictures.

http://picasaweb.google.com/madhumita.routh/BeijingSummerPalaceDay2#

Around the back of the temple, I decided to sit for a while. Jay was busy playing with exposures and apertures. Kevin wanted to explore further, why were the people walking up the hill along THAT path? I told him it was the toilets. He was not convinced. So he had to go explore. From my vantage point on the railing, I could see him walking up the path. I waited for him to reach the top and then called him. He had reached the Hall of Supreme Feces, he said – it WAS the toilets. Jay had followed him up, and I went to join them. We walked along a winding path under the trees, heading downhill. A dirt path took us to a little turret with a magnificent view of the lake. Siraj called then, he was up and about! Down the path, exploring a little cave that had been used as an improvised bathroom, yuk! Finally we reached the Hall of Harmony and Longevity (I think that’s what its called). And sometime in between, Jay asked us where we were in the Sausage Palace (how does summer palace become SAUSAGE palace??). and then… were we in the Hall of Harmonious Incest? I will never look at those pictures again without think of Sausage Palaces and Incest… YIKES!!

Then we reached the Grand Theatre – I was determined to get some video footage of the inside of that hall. So I set the camera and walked around, providing a commentary along with it. Not the best video, but it will do.

We headed out, and lo and behold, none of the taxis would go on the meter. A lot of bargaining later, we finally found a cab that would take us back to the hotel for 40 RMB. We headed to the Palm Lounge, and Siraj joined us for lunch. The rest of the after noon we worked. That night we were going to a Chinese restaurant with Allan and Yaw.

Sunday morning, Siraj and I headed to the Silk Market. And now may I announce the king of bargaining, my friend Siraj! We had little time in which to shop and I had a list of things that I wanted to buy. So we ran around picking up silk robes, sunglasses - a pair of Prada and a pair of Oakley for 100 RMB or about 7USD each, - scarves. I was thrilled. Siraj was able to bargain very effectively with them. Plus the fact that we would speak to each other in Hindi and they could not understand what we were speaking about, gave us the edge. I was so pleased with my purchases. And we were back at the hotel by 12:30. Lunch and then we headed back to work.

That night we had decided to have dinner at the Tandoor, but first drinks at the Pan Gu – the 7-star hotel that looks like a dragon. I wanted to pay tribute to my Indian heritage, so I donned a sari – much to everybody’s amazement I might add, and I think it had the desired effect :-P Mostly shock and awe!! Big earrings, a slight touch of make up and my shit-kicker shoes completed the outfit. To our disappointment, the restaurant in the Dragon’s Tail was closed, so we had to make do with sitting in the Karma lounge and having drinks there. Then off we went to Tandoor. Chetan, Bob and Li would be joining us there. It was a wonderful evening. The food was good, the conversation was excellent, the company outstanding. I couldn’t have asked for a better outing. Later that night I had to pack, I knew, for now, I was just going to enjoy myself. And I did.

That was my last night in China for a while. The next day, I flew back to Canada. I’ve packed so many memories into these trips. I hope to have a few more. I know I am not going there this month. Who knows where my next trip will lead me?
The 17-Arch Brige at the Summer Palace
Drinks at the Karma Lounge in the Pan Gu Hotel

Beijing - Times Three - Pt 1

"And I shall call my snake, Harvey" - Eric Lindenberg - 6/14/2009
 Friday, June 26, 2009
And no... its not what you think.

This time Beijing is HOT!! I arrived on a Tuesday evening on an Air Canada flight direct from Toronto. What a difference being up in the air for only 12 hours makes. The time almost flies. It was an excellent flight, and very comfortable, and the food was actually quite good! It says a lot about me when I can call airline food good. However, the movies were still the same, and I decided to spend my time watching 'A Night at the Museum' - pretty funny movie.

It was a typical evening. I got to the hotel thankfully missing all the rush-hour traffic. Change, a quick shower, and I was ready to go have some food on the Club Lounge. I took my laptop up with me, and while munching on some food, and a cold glass of Bailey’s Eric appeared. He’d been on vacation, the lucky so-and-so and was all tanned and his hair even looked lighter!

The past few weeks had been a stressful one for me; unfortunately I decided to take it out on Eric. No, I did not yell at him, because Eric makes it very hard for anyone to yell at him. But I did get my point across and he understood my angst pretty well. The next two days went by in typical Beijing fashion.

However, on Saturday, after a late lunch, we decided to head to the Electronics Market. We’d passed the place quite often on our way to the office – never realizing that this was THE Electronics market. I was going to browse and pick up something for my nephew, so was Eric. We walked into the usual cacophony of vendors wanting to sell us everything from cameras, computers, flash drives, lenses, PS3s, you name it – if it’s electronic – you can find it there. But how much of it was real and how much... fake? We didn’t know. After going up and down the escalators to every floor, we decided that Eric needed a camera. A Chinese girl in broken English offered to show us some more stuff. Now this building is 17 stories high and we had only seen about 7 of them. The rest of the floors were not accessible by escalator. At the top floor we had noticed a restaurant and people coming out of it with packages in their arms. ‘There must be something there’ Eric said. I just dismissed it as people having lunch and heading down. But now this Chinese girl beckoned us into an elevator tucked into the back of the floor.

We followed her onto it and were whisked away to a higher floor. The floor plan was open with tables set around the floor. There were groups of people at some of the tables, and this we discovered, was the bargaining area. The serious bargaining area. We were looking for a DSLR camera for Eric. I thought he should get a Cannon Rebel EOS. A Chinese gentleman sat down across from us and the bargaining began. Now Eric quite fancies himself as the bargainer. The man quoted us 36,000 RMB for the camera body. I wanted a different one. We scribbled on paper to decide on the model. Then came the price. Eric wrote 250. The man looked at it and went – 250 Dollar? No, said Eric, RMB. He looked so affronted it was hilarious. Then he got up and pointed at the door. ‘You go, now! You are joking.’ And that was my first experience of getting thrown out of a store. We left in hysterics. This was too funny. We finally left the store after buying a small WII steering wheel.

That night I got a call I had been waiting for. My best friend, since sixth grade was married to Titu. Titu incidentally was in China, and was supposed to be in Beijing over that week. He called me on Saturday evening. We planned to meet up the next morning at 10 after breakfast.

The next day, I asked Eric and Allan – another of our colleagues - if they wanted to go to the Temple of Heaven with Titu and I. We met up at 10 in the lobby. Having Allan along was a huge plus. He is Chinese, from north of Beijing, though he lives in Canada now. But he speaks Mandarin. No more pointing to the menu and little cards for cabs. Allan told the driver where we wanted to go (though the night before I found out that the Temple of Heaven is called Tien Tan in Chinese – so I could have said ‘chyow tien tan’ to go there!)

I met Titu in the lobby and we hit it off really well. I hadn’t really conversed with him before. And I could see why Sam would have liked him so much. He is a complete hoot to be with. We set off for the Temple of Heaven, bought our tickets and started walking into the complex. It’s a huge park-like place. The emperor would come here to offer prayers. The whole complex would be closed off and the emperor would pray to the Gods for the rains or harvest or whatever. Sacrifices of animals would be offered and huge firewood burning stoves would be used to burn all wood and everything used in the sacrifices. Somehow I never thought of the Chinese of being pantheistic; or as having any other gods than Buddha. But it seems that they did pray to different gods! But there are no pictures or deities of the gods; just the intricately carved, richly painted interiors of the temples and the five vessels in front of each of the altars signifying the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space. The whole complex is surrounded by lush gardens, and we realized that this was a place that people often came for picnics. And the flowers – Beijing in summer is a city of flowers. There were flowerbeds completely covered in flowers of all colors. Just gorgeous. It was a gorgeous day, hot, clear skies with a hint of smog only. Lovely!

As we walked through the tree lined paths, the cupola of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest was visible between the two lines of trees. The North Celestial gate towered over us. A group of Chinese musicians were singing some song and playing some really strange instrument. I took a video of it, and I have not uploaded it yet. But the rest of the pictures are here


http://picasaweb.google.com/madhumita.routh/BeijingTempleOfHeavenMadhuSPics?feat=directlink

We walked through the gates and I realized that while the Forbidden City was all about squares, the temple of Heaven is all about circles. There were terraces that led up to each of the temples. All of them were built along a central meridian. Each of the temples are circular, the terraces are circular. All the roofs are a dark blue (religious significance?) and gold – signifying royal. Inside the temple all the pillars are painted rich red background with glittering gold paint. There is richness here, and a sense of pomp and grandeur. Maybe this place is just better maintained. We walked to the next temple – The Imperial Vault of Heaven. Surrounding this one is a wall. If you stand on the meridian facing the altar and clap – it echoes. The wall is quite appropriately called the Echo Wall. The strange thing is if you stand on the first stone – it echoes once, on the second stone, it echoes twice. I went up to three… because there were people all standing around trying to get on those stones and clap.

A woman caught my eye. She was dressed in the colourful traditional costume of her South East or west Province. I followed her around taking a few shots. She stopped and gave me a pose – quite without realizing it.

Following our nose Southward, we came to the Circular Mound Altar. This is a flat terraced circular mound! And in the center was a little mound. We all stood on it and took pics – but of course. We are such tourists!

Leaving the temples behind, we started walking towards the gardens hoping to reach the gates. The shady trees making walking easy, but I realized we’d probably walked a couple of miles easily if not more. We sat for a while in a little area to rest my back that was uneasily painful by now. Then we walked on and on, until we came to a gate and finally outside. We hailed a cab, and came back to the hotel.

Eric and Allan decided they wanted to go for full body massages. I wanted to download my pictures and just spend some time with Titu – actually getting to know him a little. So we went up to my room, and spent a pleasant few hours chatting. Around 6 we went up to the club floor. There over drinks, Eric proceeded to explain what body massage is in China. I will leave that explanation for my next note. I promise you its R-rated!

Dinner was going to be at the Hot pot restaurant that Eric and I had found. We walked over to the restaurant. Having Allan around is fun, because he can speak the language, and takes away the pain of pointing to items on restaurant menus when we want food. Eric and he consulted over the menu. Eric wanted snake. UGH!!! I wanted fried rice. Everything else was optional. When we ordered the snake, they said they would bring the snake out for us to see. And so they did. A big, fat snake coiled in a translucent bag. Ewwww… At which point Eric said, “And I shall name my snake, Harvey”. The double-meaning on that one cracked me up. Stupid snake jokes followed – like why Harvey? Why name your SNAKE Harvey? Does he feel like a HARVEY? And so on and so forth. So dinner came, and we tucked in. Hot, Hot Hunan cuisine. Lovely! The donkey’s meat was so spicy; we kept pulling tissues out of the little dispenser placed conveniently on the table. We’d finished eating all the other food before they brought the snake out. It was a big platter – on the edge of which were the chunks of meat pieces. In the center was a mound of dried red chillies. I could not even look at it. In my head I could see the split vertebrae of the snake’s skeleton. But the guys tucked in licking their chops and wiping their faces.

Dinner over, I had to call it a day. I needed to provide Eric some information, and so while he and Allan and Titu took off to the Olympic park, I went back to the hotel to work!

Thus it ended, an absolutely wonderful weekend with a little touch of home. Tomorrow was another day. Kevin was due back in town this week. It would be his last trip to China as he wrapped up on the project. We had some fun planned.


In the Temple of Heaven


Beijing - Second Time Around - Pt 4

Girls' Day Out
 Friday, May 29, 2009 
This is my last weekend on this trip. Can't believe I've been here three weekends.. Way too long for a person to be in another country. I am homesick already.


This week I have Bob and Jane with me. Bob and Jane are great people to work with - sharp, fun, witty and totally over the top. Eric and Kevin - my other two friends have gone back to the US. Kevin left with a bad case of bronchitis, Eric - well I think Eric got some ear-chewing from me. Haven't heard back from him, though I have talked to Kevin since. He's on antibiotics and in the loving arms of his family... he'll be alright!

Bob decided to go solo this Saturday, so Jane and I met for a leisurely breakfast. We decided to go to the Summer Palace. This was one place I'd been told was a must-see. I was holding it back for my next trip, but then, what was I supposed to do all day? I was waiting on some production runs to happen in the afternoon. Figured I could take the morning off.

So Jane and I headed out to the Palace. It lies to the West of the city of Beijing and covers over 290 hectares and surrounds the Kunming Lake. The word Palace is a misnomer. The whole thing is what in the US/Canada would have been called a state park. Acres of land, with walks, and palaces and theaters and pagodas. We took a taxi to the Summer palace. Now, if you want to go sightseeing in Beijing, plan on reaching there by 8:30 am. It’s a lot less crowded. As we came up to the palace, we saw hordes of people - tourists, like us - headed towards the gate. A full access ticket costs about 60 RMB or $9-and-change, because certain parts require special tickets to enter. We bought the full-access tickets and moving along through the hordes of clicking tourists, Jane and I entered the park. We'd bought a map at the ticket counter too. It was an artistic map that marked all the different palaces and temples and bridges, painted in the light, delicate brush strokes of Chinese artwork. All the names were poetic and a little 'fumbly' - they don’t flow fluently off the tongue. If you go to the numerous pictures of the summer palace on the web, you will see that the whole area is architected to blend in with the lush, rolling landscape. There are tree-covered hills, and long covered corridors, and pavilions and temples rising majestically over them all.

The first place we wanted to visit was the palace of Happiness and Longevity. As we entered the courtyard, Jane explained to me what those curious door stops meant - it was to stop the goblins from entering, because they couldn’t bend their knees! – I thought it was to stop anyone from rushing the emperor… hmmm…live and learn. The palace of Happiness and Longevity contains the Grand Theatre. The theatre is a central building surrounded by a courtyard, surrounding which were the “inner” apartments. The central building itself is three stories high. The theatre itself is dim and gloomy, even a little musty. Even with a high quality DSLR, I couldn’t get good pictures, until I turned on the flash, and had my back to the light. We wandered into the main apartments. A rich bed covered in a silk spread faced the stage. Behind it was a gorgeous yellow hand-painted silk screen. I took a picture of Jane as she entered, quite failing to see the “No Photo” sigh on the bed. This room was gorgeous, with intricately carved partitions, and mirrors. I took a picture, and then not quite satisfied with it, I deleted it. Big Mistake. As I aimed for the next shot, I heard a voice behind me go, “No photos” – blech.. Now I didn’t even have a half-satisfactory shot of it. The camera hung from my neck as we went around a highly carved wooden screen. Holding it at my waist, keeping the flash off, I clicked. And go one of the best pictures I could have. It was beautiful!

Check out the pictures from my trip to the Summer Palace at
http://picasaweb.google.com/madhumita.routh/BeijingSummerPalaceMadhuSPics#

Something struck me as we wandered around. There is a sameness to the architecture of these ancient palaces and forts and cities. They all tend to look the same after a while. While the intricate details hold meaning, it still ends up looking the same. We saw some fabulous pottery and some very tacky ones. But you know what? Despite the way these places are decorated - despite the use of lush fabrics like silk and satin; and the intricate detail of each artistic brush stroke or carving - there seems to be a distinct lack of sensuality to it all. There is almost an austerity and strictness to it, that is... cold! I don't know, maybe its just me. Its beautiful, but there is a frigidity, an iciness to this beauty. There is no sense of debauchery or over-indulgence that one would associate with royalty and nobility in most cultures. Compare it to the sculpture of Khajuraho and you will know what I mean.

And one more thing – while wandering around the Forbidden City both Eric and Kevin told me essentially the same thing – I would have gone mad if I had been living in that time and place. Those constrictions would have killed me. Jane and I both agreed, that if we had to live that life – yes, we would have gone mad for sure.

Wandering out, we followed the map to the Tempe of the Fragrance of the Buddha. We went through a doorway, and in front of us was the long corridor.

Okay, yes, it IS called the Long Corridor. An awning covered long walk to protect the people from the elements. Intricate wood carvings on the roofs, and two pagoda style gazebos marked this walk. To our left lay Lake Kunming. It was a leisurely stroll through the hot summer day. We decided to walk beside the corridor instead of inside it – just too many tourists with too many bullhorns! The lake was beautiful, and the tall trees afforded some welcome shade in the hot humid weather, as the day was horrendously smoggy. There were all kinds of boats on the lake. In the distance was the 17-arch bridge, and it connected the mainland to the South Island. I decided it was time to bring out the zoom lenses. So Jane and I sat down by the corridor, as so many people were doing, while I pulled the big lenses out. Switching lenses, I walked over to the parapet, and took a few snaps. A group of tourists were sitting on the corridor railings right above Jane. They were surprised to see a ‘foreigner’ with as big a camera as mine was. See, mostly it’s the Chinese and the Japanese that have these big-ass cameras (Eric… this one is for you). The tour guide asked Jane in broken English where we were from and so a small conversation started. We started to leave and someone said, ‘I love you!’ to Jane. It cracked us up. I took a photo of them for Jane and posterity.

We followed the crowds until we reached the entrance to the Temple of the Fragrance of the Buddha. It is said the Empress Cixi would offer prayers at this temple. Once again, we needed to present our tickets for access. Which would mean a lot fewer crowds. The Temple rises high into the hill-side and a veritable complex is around it. Stairs led up to the base of the temple – lots of stairs. I was worried that I would not make it. Jane of course, works out daily as a rule, so she is much better shape than I am. We started up the stairs. They are shorter than regular stairs and I found that I could easily walk up them. 2, 3, 4 stories high and we reached the base of the temple. There were still more stairs to climb, forming a pattern that is visible from afar – as we saw later. Taking a breather, we started up the next set of stairs. It was easier this time around. We climbed to the top, Jane encouraging me for the last few yards. Then before us was a vista that was Beijing to the left and mountains to the right. Gorgeous. We walked into the temple. Its octagonal shape invites you to walk around. Inside was a 12’ tall Buddha – called the Buddha with a 1000 arms. The head was almost like a Trimurti – except there were 12 heads, in four levels and 12 pairs of arms. Thought the hands do not hold any artifact – the Vishnu-like aspect of this Buddha was not lost on me. People walked in and prayed. It was almost like being in a Hindu temple! No pictures allowed here either, although we could take pics from the corridor outside. So we did.

Then we climbed back down taking the other set of stairs. Outside I was feeling de-hydrated, and we found some vendors selling water. A cold bottle of water, and we were on our way to our boat ride. We found one that went to South Island and back, and 15 minutes on the water cooled us down.

As we headed back out of the Summer Palace, we decided to go to Silk Market. I still needed to shop for gifts.

Silk Market was all I remembered it to be, the usual haggling for stuff, and asking for outrageously low prices was fun and soon loaded down with purchases, we stepped out for some food. We didn’t have margaritas this time. But we found a place that did some excellent burgers – an ‘Australian’ place! Then it was back to the hotel. I had needed a shower, and I was burned and tanned. Ah yes, we Indians DO tan – and I have the tan lines to prove it! Besides I had to pack. I had a plane to catch the next day. I was finally homeward bound. 



The temple of the Fragrance of the Buddha from Kunming Lake