Fast times call for life in the slow lane

I like walking along the moat that surrounds the Forbidden City because it gives me a feeling that’s hard to find elsewhere in Beijing: peace.

On a clear day the reflections of the trees and towers lining the palace’s outer wall stretch across the moat, their colors preserved in the water. Old men with wooden fishing poles cast their lines a few feet from each other and smoke cigarettes and make small talk as they wait for a bite. Continue reading

The heart of Ox Street

Many of China’s temples and churches were wrecked during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when communist leaders encouraged young students and workers to destroy symbols of “old China.”

Fortunately for preservationists, Beijing’s Niujie Mosque survived. The mosque was built in 996, during the Liao Dynasty (907-1125), and is the oldest temple in the capital. It’s even older than the Forbidden City imperial palace, which began construction in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Continue reading

Knowing when to say give

As tourists file into the Yonghe Lama Temple, a woman carrying a gray sack stops near the entrance and gets down on her knees.

She bows, lowering her head so close to the ground that her shoulder-length hair hangs inches from the concrete. Still hunched over, she extends her hands, palms up, toward a plastic bowl in front of her body. The bowl is filled with coins and a few yuan bills.

Most people walk past the woman without looking down, pausing only to snap a few pictures of a historic arch outside the temple – a Buddhist monastery that is one of Beijing’s most visited tourist attractions. Continue reading

A tale of two sides

Shanghai is a city best seen from above. I recently took in a view from a rooftop bar called Flair, on the 58th floor of the Ritz-Carlton.

The bar was full, but I was able to wedge into a spot overlooking the Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower. An array of neon lights from the skyscrapers in Shanghai’s Pudong district – an area that was mainly farmland until it was developed in the 1990s –  gave the clouds moving slowly overhead a yellowish tint.

View from the top of the Ritz-Carlton.

Shaped liked a rocket waiting to blast off into space, the Pearl Tower reminded me of one of the tacky electronic toys that vendors outside the Forbidden City in Beijing use to get your attention as you enter the palace. To the southeast, another behemoth of a building, the 101-story Shanghai World Financial Center – jutted into the sky. Not to be upstaged by the bizarre Pearl Tower, the top of the World Financial Center resembles a bottle opener, with a gap large enough for a modern day King Kong to perch. Continue reading