Sunday, August 28th 2005: an unsuccessful attempt to hold back my tears at the Hanover Airport.
A short flight, some dead time at another airport, then a long flight.
16 hours later I was there. The day when I first got to China:
I remember being in a state of shock, finding my body weighed down by a massive layer of sticky hot air that kept bringing weird smells to my nose. My two years of Mandarin class didn’t really seem to pay off either. I couldn’t read anything. I wasn’t able to understand what anyone was saying. So I climbed into a cab and paid the driver an enormous amount of money to get me to some mysterious “film university 电影大学” – which I later found out was actually called “Film Academy 电影学院”:
When I arrived there, I ran into Lilu, my classmate from Munich University who was later to become my good friend.
“Wanna go to the Yonghegong 雍和宫 Lama Temple?” she asked me, “the others are going too.”
The others were a bunch of fellow students from Munich who had also just arrived in China to brush up on their Mandarin.
I remember thinking: screw that, but what I actually heard myself saying was something more like: “whatever.”
So a few hours later we were there, our small group of Germans, geared up with backpacks and sunshades and travel guides, trying not to get too lost in the culture we had been studying for 4 semesters. I was the only one who had to buy a regular admission ticket to the temple because I didn’t have my Chinese student I.D. yet, and I suddenly felt that old familiar pain: everyone else knew everything better, again.
Today we went back to Yonghegong, and it was totally different.
I didn’t have to pack a survival kit to be able to go there. And besides, I was actually having a good time.
The place seemed to have undergone some changes too – the construction crews that I had marveled at three years ago were gone:
Instead, the whole place seemed very fresh and beautiful:
I kept taking pictures of nice little details that I had somehow failed to notice before:
Even the old phone booths seemed to have a more classy look about them than they used to:
So did the interiors…
…and the exteriors:
Something particularly interesting about this place often goes completely unnoticed though:
Doesn’t look very Tibetan, does it?
Well, initially during the late 17th century, the whole building complex was actually constructed as an imperial palace, not a temple.
The monks came after a few decades of imperial use, and Yonghegong was made into the main administration for Tibetan affairs of the Qing-dynasty.
Today it is a AAAA-rated tourist attraction and a functioning monastery:
But it is best in the early morning or late afternoon, when most of the tourists are gone and the air is still heavy with incense…
…when we can feel the time is probably right for some contemplation.
So my mind is taking me back to the months when I first got to China, a time when foreigners used to say things like: “go to KFC if you have to use the restroom – even though they only have squat toilets there, but they are very clean!!” or: “I just bought [whatever] for [some] RMB – isn’t that cheap?”
Basically it was all about shit and money.
Oh, and I almost forgot to introduce you to someone – this is Pete:
I would tell people that he was the first friend I made during the early weeks in the dormitory of the Film Academy.
Pete was also my roommate, but he didn’t stay with me for long – he got hooked on the bad stuff and it killed him later.
I moved out as quickly as I could after that.