SEEKING ENLIGHTENMENT

Ticking off spiritual enlightenment from tourist bingo list and digging for treasures in the hutongs out back.

LAMA TEMPLE | CHINA 2015

The most amusing part about 雍和宮 (Yonghegong or The Lama Temple) was how every single visitor, presented with free incense sticks upon entry, seemed to have a different style of praying. Some knelt, unmoving, with their burning incense sticks held up in front of them, others turned to the North, East, South and West and bowed each time, others koutou'd with unlit sticks and other people - like my friend - just put their incense sticks down by the open pot of coals for other people to use.

Not being a Tibetan Buddhist, going to the Lama Temple was primarily a chance to appreciate the intricate decor, which combine Han Chinese and Tibetan designs. And as much as it feels distinctly uncomfortable to be adding any extra smoke to the air in Beijing, incense sticks honestly make for amazing photos. And, hey, these photos are proof that Beijing can have some pretty stunning blue-sky days.

WUDAOYING HUTONG

Equally fascinating as the temple itself is the Wudaoying hutong, which is located opposite the temple and marked by a KFC at its entrance. A much quieter hutong than Nanluoguxiang or Wangfujing, it contains your typical 'gentrified hutong' trappings: modern cafes, restaurants and boutiques within traditional buildings, which sold items ranging from fashion items to cat ceramics that you can paint. Cats roam the small street and sun in windows and there's always something to see as you walk along the road.

I'm kicking myself for forgetting the name of this particular jewellery shop because it was run by an incredibly hospitable shopkeeper, who cheerfully allowed me to take photos and even went to turn on the lamp so I could have better lighting. Her shop is towards the front of the hutong (near the KFC end) and I definitely recommend any visitors to go and check it out for some really beautiful and tasteful jewellery.

I also loved a little antique shop opposite Veggie Table (food review to come!) that contained a number of interesting second-hand items that actually looked like genuinely unique products - old typewriters, leather wallets and bags and vintage Chinese notebooks with soft plastic covers.

Among these items were these two bracelets, which - at about $100AUD each - were unfortunately out of my budget, considering I've really stopped wearing a lot of jewellery (and was running out of money. Oops). The beaded bracelet is apparently made of material known as 金发晶 (jin fa jing), literally 'blonde crystal', and sparkled subtly in the sunlight. Photos really don't do it justice.