I visited Beijing two years ago, but somehow never managed to work through all of the photos I took on the trip. Recently, I was digging through my photo catalog and stumbled across these pictures I took at the Fayuan temple, Beijing’s oldest Buddhist temple. It’s a remarkably serene place, offering an alternate universe to the chaos of the Beijing streets that surround it. The feeling in the temple is not unlike some of the great mosques I remember from my days in Cairo, with worshippers and monks praying and strolling its grounds in quiet contemplation. I was lucky to visit around the time when a worship ceremony was taking place so I could observe the neighborhood pour in and assemble on the temple grounds. The temple is situated inconspicuously in a residential hutong and if it weren’t for its colorful decorated roofs, it would be hard to locate. Fayuan street is also on the border between a historic hutong neighborhood and a re-developed one, giving a casual visitor a quick glimpse of Beijing’s transformation that has slowly swallowed up much of it historic core. Nevertheless, the authorities seem to have recognized the appeal of hutongs and several are now protected (including, I believe, the one surrounding Fayuan temple). Many hutongs are also host to boutique hotels and classy residences interspersed with family dwellings that have existed there for many generations.
Re-developed hutong around the corner from the temple: