TRIP TO CHINA 2005
by Maureen Halsall
My fourth trip to China promised to be very different from the
previous ones in 1984, 1991 and 1992, all of which were organized
tours. This was to be a family visit. For the first week I would be
staying in my niece's Beijing apartment. Following that, we would be
travelling together for a week in Shanxi Province. Then, in my final
week, my niece and her husband and I would be making an excursion
by car north of the capital to the Qing Dynasty emperors' Mountain Retreat for Escaping the Heat at Chengde.
On Thursday, September 29 at 5:30 a.m., Airways Transit picked
me up for transfer to Pearson International Airport. Whilst that trip
(which involved a second pick-up near Freelton!) was rather slow,
taking an hour and a quarter, once in Terminal 1 my machine-issued
boarding pass was quickly obtained and the lines at both the luggage desk and the security check proved to be short at such an early hour.
Also the transfer by shuttle bus to satellite gate 522 was prompt.
After that, however, my travel schedule deteriorated.
The 10:00 a.m. departure of Air Canada 031 was delayed for almost
two hours by high winds, which reduced the airport to only one active runway. Finally, our 343 was cleared to take off at 11:40 a.m. The subsequent 12 1/2-hour flight was uneventful except for a few brief sessions of turbulence; and my seat companion proved to be a small, quiet young Chinese immigrant from Toronto, returning to her
original home for the week-long national holiday beginning on
Saturday, the anniversary of the establishment of the People's
Republic of China on October 1, 1949.
On Friday, September 30, Air Canada 031 touched down 20 minutes
after noon at Beijing's Capital Airport, only one hour late (the pilot
having made up 40 minutes en route). My niece Rosemary had
obtained a pass at the Canadian Embassy, enabling her to come all
the way through and surprise me by meeting me at the gate. She
then shepherded me through Health, Immigration, Customs and
Baggage Control; and soon we were driving home to her apartment
in the Chaoyang District, an easy walk from the embassy, where her husband, Ken, is military attache. That night I went to bed very early
(by 8 p.m.), tired out after 29 hours without sleep.
On Saturday, October 1, I began to recuperate from the twelve-hour
change in time zones. In the morning we walked around the
neighbourhood, looking at various of the embassies: some guarded
gratis by green-uniformed Chinese soldiers; ours guarded at our
own expense by grey-uniformed security guards (as a penalty for Canada's stance on Taiwan). It was fun pretending to be a local
resident--stopping off for a programme schedule at the cinema
that shows English-subtitled movies and then at an East German delicatessen for snacks. That evening was spent at home, gossiping, watching T.V. and reading, before I headed off to bed at 10 p.m.
On Sunday, October 2 at 10 a.m., we set off by car through the truly
terrifying Beijing traffic for Dongyue Miao, a Daoist temple founded
in A.D. 1322, later burnt down and rebuilt, reaching its present size
in A.D. 1761.
The god Dongyue is supposed to reside on the sacred mountain of
Tai Shan in Shandong Province, the most revered of China's five
Daoist peaks. He is charged with supervising the 18 layers of Hell
and the 76 departments where his under-officers preside over
various aspects of life and the rewards and punishments humans reap
according to how well they succeed in ordering their lives to keep harmony with the dao (natural order of the universe). Ringing the
main courtyard of the temple are 72 open-fronted cells (a few departments are obliged to double up), where devotees offer
money, incense and fupai (red ribbon tokens inscribed with their
names). The large number of offerings before the departments
governing education, wealth, health and fertility affords a clear
indication of the importance of these in Chinese life; whereas such
values as justice, charity and "Freeing Captured Animals" trail far
behind in popularity. The first photo below shows many fupai before
the department governing education; the second shows rich offerings before the department governing fertility; the third shows a section
of the department of "Pity and Sympathy", which had no fupai.
Dongyue Temple also boasts Beijing's largest collection of stelae
(inscribed stone tablets). The fourth photo below shows a few of the
85 stelae still remaining out of an original total of 140.