Indonesia, 29.01.2019 – 09.02.2019
2018 has passed in a rush and the lunar new year provided us with a whole week of (extra) holidays yet again. Every year we contemplate to just stay in Beijing and boycott the exorbitantly high prices airlines and hotels charge for travels on these Chinese holidays, and every year we remember that first year we did stay in the city and had virtually nothing to do. Close to no one is originally from Beijing and people living and working here return to their hometowns or provinces to spend time with their families. It’s the equivalent to “Western” Christmas. During this time, even in a city as huge as Beijing it becomes hard to find an open convenient store to shop for food, and restaurants and delivery shops all over China close their doors and kitchens to participate in the world’s largest human migration. Over the last three years, we got very used to the conveniences of ordering breakfast, lunch, and diner online, and when these services come to a halt we struggle to feed ourselves. So staying in Beijing wasn’t our first choice.
Much like Christmas, the imminent arrival of Chinese new year surprises us every year and we have to hurry to find the last affordable travel destinations. This year, that turned out to be Indonesia. Ultimately, the goal was to spend at least some days at a beach enjoying the sun so as to escape the dreadfully cold Beijing winter. Direct flights were out of budget with prices spiked to three to four times the normal costs. Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city, offers domestic flights to their islands at acceptable rates, and since we have neither been to the big durian nor Bali, we mentally prepared ourselves for the long journey to our island escape.
Early into our research into Indonesia as a travel destination it became pretty clear that its capital is a buzzing melting pot of millions of people that promises almost everything except relaxation. Impossible numbers of scooters squeeze through its narrow one way streets, shopping malls dominate the surprisingly short list of sights and to do’s, and apart from some of the largest mosques in all of Indonesia, Jakarta seemed to have little cultural appeal.
Our preferred way to discover any new place is either by scooter or on foot, but neither seemed very feasible in Jakarta. Having bought an Indonesia SIM card we were able to install Grab instead, which is the Asian equivalent to ride-hailing services such as UBER in the US or DiDi in China. The difference with Grab is that you can also order a scooter to pick you up. I would guess that at least 25 percent of the scooters on Jakarta’s streets were available for hire in that way. You can identify them by their Grab branded jackets or helmets, which they offer their passengers to wear so everyone is constantly exposed to their advertisement. A scooter can only take one person at a time, though, and so we used the app to get a cab to the Northern districts of former Dutch occupation.
The side streets around our hotel were a little easier to navigate and we discovered a few very interesting food courts. On our second (and last) day there we came across a man selling Rambutan from a cart he pulled behind him, and when we took a coffee break later that morning we also had a sweet local snack to go with it.
Not long after settling down in the coffee shop we received an e-mail notifying us that our domestic flight to Bali will be delayed. We called the airline and they suggested that we might want to come to the airport earlier and try our chances to board an earlier flight. We weren’t convinced that would work, but lacking better alternatives we found a pastry store en route to the airport, packed our stuff, ordered a cab, and made our way through Jakarta’s stuffed streets. Why a pastry store? Apparently Indonesia has some of Asia’s best deserts, and after our coffee and Rambutan snack a perfect ending to this day would have been a Martabak Manis. Now get this: cars with certain license plates are only allowed to drive on designated streets and districts. Our cab had one that led him to take the most unlikely side-streets and detours forcing us to abandon our desert plans and get to the airport directly instead. The evening before we also took a car home and we were convinced that the driver has never navigated through the streets of Jakarta before. Both drivers completely ignored their navigation system and instead took any street that they were allowed to take. You wouldn’t believe the detours we made. A distance of four kilometers took us more than two hours (no kidding!). Every once in a while a person would stand in the middle of a random intersection and act as a sort of traffic police man, accepting small amounts of cash money from drivers he granted preferential crossing. That didn’t help to speed up our journey to the airport. We did arrive eventually and even managed to change flights to one that would depart earlier. Or so we thought. The new flight was already delayed an hour and initially we couldn’t believe our luck in having reached the gate in time to go to Bali earlier. Until we realized that all the passengers there were told that the plane will depart in the next thirty minutes – over and over again. Although we rushed to the boarding zone we spend the next three hours waiting until we eventually were able to depart. My guess is that this domestic budget line “collected” passengers from all the flights scheduled on that afternoon in order to save gasoline on four under-booked planes to fill just one.
All in all, it was still a good idea to go to Jakarta first and experience this quite unique metropolis for ourselves. As the second largest conurbation worldwide, visitors are acutely aware of the close to 30 million people who live in the area, which makes Beijing appear surprisingly structured. It’s an interesting stopover for one or maximum two days, but I wouldn’t make Jakarta my main destination of travel. With images of soft white sand beaches and spectacular sunsets already filling our minds, we were now on our way to Bali anyways!
Saturday, the 21th of January 2017
Today is another day of brilliant blue skies and sunshine in Beijing. Three weeks into the new year the weather is freezing cold, but due to the icy winds the air is clear again and you can see the mountains surrounding the city miles away. Naturally, we always want to make good use of bright days like this and decided to go visit the Temple of Ancient Monarchs, also called The Historical Emperial Temple of Beijing [Li Dai Di Wang Miao 历代帝王庙].
You can take the bus to Baitasi [白塔寺] and the temple will be only a few meters walk from the station.
Built in the 9th year of the Jiajing period of the Ming dynasty (1530) the palace is constructed with a thickeave roof, spun gold Nan Mu wood pillars and a Jin Zhuan paved floor, all of which are regarded as the perfection of imperial construction.
Personally I get the impression that many of the sights in Beijing look quite alike and I’m sure architects or historians see the many unique features in every one of them. Risking to appear ignorant I’d say I rather visit the temples that are a bit off the trail and attract less visitors but appear to be carved from the same wood than join the masses and squeeze through the entrance of the Forbidden City. First time visitors to Beijing will probably disagree and will gladly endure the crowds to enjoy the magnificence of the top rated tourist sites. And I have to admit that you probably cannot travel to Beijing and later tell your friends and family that you wouldn’t visit the Lama Temple in fear of too many people. I will still try to convice you that the Temple of Ancient Monarchs is very worthwhile even though it might not be the number one priority on your Beijing bucket list.
One week until Chinese New Year and the streets and tourist sites all over Beijing have a festive decoration.
Laterns are hung from tree branches all over the temple.
Lucky symbol decorate the temple grounds.
Since we only have one week left until Chinese New Year – a week of holidays with abundant fireworks and merry family get-togethers – red laterns and lucky symbol appeared all over the city virtually over night. Contrary to the jammed experience of tourist sights during the Spring Festival itself, today the Temple of Ancient Monarchs was almost completely deserted. On the one hand, that might be due to the fact that almost nobody is actually a “native” Beijing citizen and thus returned to their home provinces for the festival already. On the other hand minus 5 degrees C and a stiff wind probably convinced people to stay indoors despite the beautiful sunshine.
Inside the Temple of Anchient Monarchs.
Inside the Temple of Anchient Monarchs.
Inside the Temple of Anchient Monarchs.
6m high, the stele in 1764.
Composed of green coloured glaze, the furnace was used to burn the paper or silk prayers offered for sacrifices to the emperors whose tablets appear in the Imperial Temple. Rebuilt in 2004.
Built around 1530, this furnace was used to burn the paper or silk prayers offered vor sacrifices to the eminent ministers and generals whose tablets appear in the Imperial Temple. Rebuilt in 2004.
The Historical Imperial Temple of Beijing is easily seen in an hour’s time. There are three major halls, all of which contain religious artifacts. There are also two halls housing a large buddha, and two pavillons with traditional Chinese “turtles”. In the west annex hall leading off the main structure to the left you’ll find the small Guan Di Temple. Outside, a small steel oven is used to burn incense, while inside a regious entity may be adressed for prayers. In the east annex hall visitors may see the Well Pavilion, used to make sacrificial soup and to clean up after the animals were slaughtered for sacrifice.The well’s roof has a square hole in the center facing the mouth of the well, symbolizing that heaven and earth were linked together.
Incense oven in front of Guan Di Temple.
Guan Di Temple.
Details on the rood of the incense oven in front of Guan Di Temple.
Sticks of burned out incense on front of Guan Di Temple.
The Well Pavillon.
For an overview of the temple’s layout see the map below.
It’s our first week back after the Christmas holidays and I have to say the weather treated us very nicely. Over newyears our friends who didn’t return home as well as the German media repeatedly reported the devastating smog situation in Beijing, and I already expected the worst. Fortunately, we brought the clean air back with us and the last few days have seen brighter and brighter skies. Exploiting the opportunity to be outside without wearing a mask, we paid a visit to the Temple of Heaven, one of the few sights that I haven’t been to in the 16 month that we have been living here. It’s quite an amazing monument and is conveniently located at it’s own subway station (Tiantan Dongmen, Exit A). As it so happens the Pearl Market is directly across the street, so you could also get some (souvenir) shopping done since you’re already in the far south of the city. Tiantan one of the less expensive tourist attractions of Beijing and a regular “through ticket”, which grants you access to the main temple and some other importants parts of the area, costs 28 RMB (student price is 14 Kuai less). I recommend to buy the through ticket immediately and pay the extra 18 Kuai on top of a regular ticket, otherwise you can only get access to the front plaza and won’t be let through to the main temple. You’d have to buy a seperate ticket for 20 RMB if you haven’t gotten the through ticket right at the entrance.
Walking towards the main temple, you will see groups of elderly people playing cards and mahjongg. I’m always inspired by this routine, prefering to spend the sunny hours of the afternoon with old friends outside, rather than sitting isolated in your living room and counting the hours.
Chinese elderly passing time in Tiantan Park.
Chinese elderly passing time in Tiantan Park.
Many parents also took advantage of the clear and sunny day and visited the temple grounds today. A mother with her two kids positioned themselves in front of the main structure and captured the trip with their cell phone camera. She tried to convince her daughter to let her sister give her a smooch on the cheek, but as you can imagine she wasn’t too fond of the idea.