We didn’t do much in the way of sight-seeing on the trip; there wasn’t time. Some of our meetings in Beijing were in the Great People’s Hall – a huge place, built in just ten months in 1959 by 30,000 workers, many of them volunteers – which is in Tianamen Square, so during a 45 minute break we walked past Mao’s Mausoleum (which was closed) and through the outskirts of the Forbidden City, but didn’t have time to go in. The cult of Mao is no longer much in evidence, except in the tourist-trap souvernir shops where you can buy pretty much anything with his face on it. There are one of two statues dotted around, but you’d have to search hard to find them.
On the one day we had to ourselves, to recover from flying through the night from London, I went wandering in Shanghai on my own. covering miles and miles, my usual hopeless sense of direction leading me down all sorts of backstreets, which meant I got to see the “real” side of the city too.
With great serendipity I arrived at the Jade Buddha temple just as the monks were in full flow, chanting and singing. It was an amazing experience, watching people praying and bowing with their big bunches of incense sticks, and inscribing prayers or messages on scrolls, or even on bags of charcoal, and throwing them into the braziers.
I overheard a little of an English-speaking tour guide explaining that the gold statues represented different gods, including “the God of All Sight” which is the second one pictured here, but mostly I was happy just to bask in the experience. I love the preposterous expressions on the faces of the male gods. The women, for some reason, always look quite serene.