There are times when I despair of my iPhone. Yes, I know, it’s wonderful and incredible and everything you could possibly want from a phone; but apart from its appalling battery consumption, there are times when I also take issue with its Maps app.
Now don’t get me wrong. My life was transformed in Beijing when I discovered that simply by clicking on your destination it came up with all kinds of useful advice like which buses or trains to take, which way to walk, likely travelling times and so on. In fact it’s so good I have come to rely on it.
And that’s not so great when it gets things wrong, as it does every so often.
Take this week as an example. I decided I wanted to visit Cishou Temple, to see its pagoda – similar to the one I visited a week before at Tianning Temple.
Wikipedia assures me that “The Pagoda of Cishou Temple (Chinese: 慈寿寺塔; pinyin: Císhòu Sì Tǎ), originally known as Yong'anwanshou Pagoda (Chinese: 永安万寿塔; pinyin: Yǒng'ān Wànshòu Tǎ), is a 16th-century stone and brick Chinese pagoda located in the Buddhist Cishou Temple of Balizhuang, a suburb of Beijing, China.”
I look up Cishou Temple on my iPhone and am told all I have to do is to take Line 6/10 to Cishousi station and it is a mere 25 metres away from the exit. What could be simpler?
Sure enough, when I leave the train, I am met with the relief mural on the wall of the ticket hall:
(Looking up web images has already let me know that the pagoda I am after is the one on the right in the light brown colour!)
Alas, when I actually leave the station itself, I discover that there are hoardings as far as the eye can see in both directions. There is certainly no way I can walk the 25 metres that my iPhone insists is all I need to do.
So I decide that as there is a road going northbound, a mere 50 metres away, I will try to circumvent the hoardings and find a rear entrance to the pagoda site. I walk, and I walk, and I walk, past a bus station... until eventually what do I see in the distance from whence I have come, but… a pagoda!
I am eventually to discover, when I finally do get to the pagoda, that the map has a mere nine minutes walking error from where it says I should go.
Anyway, eventually I find the park where the pagoda is actually situated. (I note that the powers that be have their priorities in order. The first signpost tells you where the nearest loo is; whereas the pagoda, that I had assumed is what everyone has come to see, is actually the last in the list.)
Welcome to Linglong Park.
Or is it?
According to this notice in the park itself, it is actually called Lengong Park…
But there again, it also has the pagoda listed as Lenggong Tower…
Although another notice, right beside it, has it written as Linglong (just as on the iMap).
Confused? Well, I’m an avid fan of notices put up in Chinese public parks. And on this occasion I am not to be disappointed.
Reading the small print, I see that I am restrained (restrained?) from “spitting, urinating defecating and littering casually”. I’m not sure if that means I should spit, urinate, defecate and litter carefully (it doesn’t say) but I don’t feel the inclination to do any of those, though I will certainly keep this instruction in mind the next time I come here.
Regardless of what Wikipedia has just told me (that the “pagoda [is] located in the Buddhist Cishou Temple of Balizhuang”) it quite clearly is not, as the map at the entrance to Linglong / Lengong / Lenggong Park makes quite clear.
But it’s such a beautiful day, with the autumnal leaves already turning, so who am I to be a pedant?
I make my way in the direction of the pagoda. Straight ahead of me on the far side of a pool, that is being used by kids to sail their model powerboats round and round in circles, stands the magnificent spectacle that I have come to see.
My iPhone reminds me that Balizhuang, where I am now standing means Eight Li Village (Li being a measurement of distance); and the former name of Yong'anwanshou Pagoda means Pagoda of Lasting Peace and Longevity. Its newer name of Cishou Pagoda means Pagoda of Benevolence and Longevity. But then, what’s in a name, as Shakespeare reminded us?
Cishou Temple was built in 1576 during the Ming Dynasty on the orders of the mother of Emperor Zhuyi. It was allegedly an imitation of the pagoda at Tianning Temple, though it was built on a larger scale. The temple buildings were destroyed during the Qing Dynasty, and the pagoda is all that remains. (Huh! So much for Wiki!)
There’s a model of what the original temple looked like, sat under a glass pyramid to protect it from the weather.
There’s even a map of the complex etched into a metal notice board beside the ‘pyramidised’ model.
Just like the one at Tianning, it is octagonal, solid, and over fifty metres tall with thirteen tiers of eaves.
(Did you know that pagodas traditionally have an odd number of levels, a notable exception being the eighteenth century pagoda ‘folly’ designed by Sir William Chambers at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, in southwest London.)
Just like at Tianning, the base is in the form of a Sumeru pedestal and is decorated with relief sculptures of Buddha, flying apsarases, vajra guardians, archways, lotus petals and the Eight Treasures. The most impressive ornamental sculptures on the upper part of the pedestal are musical instruments, and if you look carefully you can make out sheng, xiao, qin, se, yunban, gongs, drums and flutes – at least that’s what all the copy-and-paste web sites would have us believe.
Fake archways decorate the four sides facing north, south, east and west; the other four sides have false windows. Carved on the headpiece of the arches are cloud and dragon patterns. The windows are decorated with little statues of seated Buddhas and cloud patterns. Relief sculptures of bodhisattvas flank the windows.
Having now crossed off this pagoda from my list of things to see, it’s time to head towards the ‘flowers zone’; but we are already late in the year and there’s precious little in the way of flowers to be seen.
But it doesn’t matter as now the autumnal colours are truly magnificent. So I stroll around the no-flowers-left zone’.
In the northern reaches of the park is a small lake, beautifully reflecting the turning trees in its still water.
And rounding another corner is a clear view of the top of the TV tower, which can’t be more than a couple of kilometres away.
Apart from the public loos that the signboards keep trying to entice me with, there’s only one thing left to see, and that’s Locomotive Square.
When I get there, there’s an old steam train parked on a set of old rails going nowhere. Trying to use my Google image translator in the strong sunlight proves to be a match for my little iPhone, but from what I can make out, this train is a Liberation Class loco.
Once home I search the web and discover the following: The China Railways JF1 (解放1, Jiěfàng, "liberation") class steam locomotive was a class of 2-8-2 steam locomotives for freight trains operated by the China Railway. They were originally built in the United States, Japan and Manchukuo between 1918 and 1945 for the South Manchuria Railway.
This one was built in 1937. The JF1 class became the mainstay for freight operations, lasting in mainline service until 1996, whilst some in industrial service actually remained operational into this century. The JF1 remained in production until 1960, with a total of 455 being built post-war. At least nine have been preserved, including five in Beijing.
Why this JF1 ended up here is anyone’s guess; but I suppose it had to go somewhere, and here is as good a place as any, I reckon.