One of the pleasures of visiting ancient cities is seeing places that have endured the passage of time, remaining just as they were centuries ago. They give you the feeling that you’ve stepped back in time. But sometimes things happen that snap you right back to the present.
During a trip to Beijing in 2014, I visited the Lama Temple, a 300-year-old complex with a fascinating history. It had been a home for court eunuchs, and then the palace of a future emperor, before being converted into a place of worship for the city’s Tibetan Buddhists. It’s a very atmospheric place, with people lighting incense and rows of monks chanting before a giant statue of the Buddha.
After a half-hour in the Lama Temple complex, I had begun to feel as though I’d been transported to Shangri-La. And then the time warp occurred. As I turned a corner, I noticed two monks stopping to pay their respects at a temple building. At least, one of them was. If you look at the photo closely, while the monk on the right is raising his hands in prayer, the other one is raising his — to check his cellphone.
I couldn’t help but snap a picture, to preserve this classic clash of yesterday and today. To me, these little moments of incongruity are one of the delights of travel. While I’m stepping on foreign ground, sometimes I also manage to step back in time for a moment. But in a world where even monks have cellphones, it’s hard to stay there for long.
Hint: click on the photo to see it full size