China 2007: 11. Beijing (Day 2)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

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Today was a light day for activities....Carol's cold is slightly better.

IMG_1543My cousin knocked on the door this morning and said that we would be on our own until Shanghai. He was ill and decided to truck on back to Shanghai to recover. His wife has been working here in Shanghai with clients and returned with him this afternoon. Her brother and his wife picked us up and our first stop was the Temple of Heaven. It lays on the southern north/south axis from Tian'an Men Square. The main temple was built in 1420. Over time other buildings and temples were added for various types of worship, all related to heaven. It was developed to be a place of peace and tranquility for the emperors.

For us, it was again witnessing the activities of the Chinese people that impressed and moved us. Immediately after entering the complex you see people taking part in group activities such as movements with umbrellas, paddles and balls, streamers, Chinese dancing, Western dancing, hacky-sack with shuttlecocks. It was an incredible sight to see. (See Video).


Soon after that we walked along the Long Corridor which is a long covered walkway. Along this walkway gathered groups of people mostly older or middle-aged, playing cards or games, playing Chinese stringed instruments, groups of people (20-30) singing, being instructed in singing. Everyone is having a great time together. I pulled out my digital recorder and got a few snips here and there. We then entered the main courtyard containing the Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest. This is the largest of the many temples and the primary point of interest. At the other end of the path is the Circular Mound Altar where the emperor came to worship the heavens at the Winter Solstice. This circular mound is made of marble slabs in nine circles, the number of slabs in each circle a multiple of nine, reached by three sets of nine stairs. (I did not get the significance of nine, sorry). Our English speaking automated guide got drowned out by the crowd.

In the middle of this path was another temple surrounded by the Echo Wall where if you stand on one side and speak, even softly, you can be heard all the way on the other side, 180+ feet in diameter. From time to time we would see groups of people enjoying themselves in activities such as singing or games. It is a very pleasant and calming atmosphere. At one point we passed a 500 year old juniper tree called the Nine Dragon Juniper. Dragons are represented all over in the Chinese culture even in the appearances of a juniper tree. Legend has it that the emperor gave permission for these dragons to leave and when they failed to leave the grounds, hid in the juniper tree out of fear of the emperor and have been there ever since.

After leaving the Temple of Heaven we crossed the boulevard to the Pearl Market. There we bargained for a pair of black pearl earrings for Carol. They started at a high price and I got them down to under 50%. Yes they are real, they demonstrated the difference between plastic and real and then I showed off and demonstrated how I check....rub the pearl on your teeth, if they are fake it will slide off your teeth, it they are real they feel rough against the teeth. They relented to my price with much moaning and groaning but everyone was smiling when we left. We then went to the first floor to look at silk and wool goods. I bargained again. The young woman started at really high price for a piece I started at 20% and I went up to 30%. I then got greedy and said 2 for less and there was much shouting and gnashing of teeth so I went for just one piece. When you walk by these stalls everyone talks at you, trying to get you to buy their goods, funny and irritating at the same time. As a result you don't spend any time at the stalls browsing.

We then had lunch at an English ex-pat's bar in a hutong. We had margarite pizza, salad and drinks. We then went to our escort's place of business, two coffee shops on the main street through this hutong. We met some of his nephews who work as sales/wait persons for him. We then returned to the hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon taking a well earned nap followed by late afternoon refreshments in the hotel club room on our floor.

Tonight we went to a variety show in a famous Tea House. The teahouse has had such famous visitors as President Bush (the first) and Henry Kissinger. The show was made up of Chinese entertainment including opera excerpts and acrobatics, comedians, magician, kung fu. (See Video).

I had about 20 refills of green tea, so now I have an acid stomach, the hiccups and probably won't sleep all night. Our hosts are most gracious and generous. During the show the brother went out and bought Carol a nice fan and several packets of post cards. On the way back to the hotel we drove by Ti'an Men Square and snapped a couple of picture of it all lit up. I don't think the traffic ever lets up here!

Have a nice day! ... [Day 11 Slide Show]


Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan Gongyuan) The Temple of Heaven is the grandest cult architecture complex in the world and a masterpiece of the Chinese people created in ancient times. It covers 2,700,000 square meters (667 acres), which is nearly four times the area of the Forbidden City. The temple was constructed in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and was enlarged during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Emperors of the two dynasties used to worship the heaven and pray for rich harvests, as the feudal emperors thought they were the son of the heaven.

This complex has two parts: the inner temple and the outer temple and is surrounded by two high walls. The two walls are elaborately constructed: the north section of walls is semicircular while the south section is square. This layout of walls reflects the ancient Chinese concept of the cosmogony: the sky is round and the earth is square. The primary buildings in the temple are the Altar of Prayer for Good Harvests in the north and Circular Mound Altar in the south. They are lined in the central axis of the whole temple and connected by a 36-meter-long bridge. Subsidiary buildings include Imperial Vault of Heaven, the Hall of Abstinence, a Bell Tower and relatively small halls.

Altar of Prayer for Good Harvest

The Altar of Prayer for Good Harvest was where the emperors prayed for favorable weather and ample harvest. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, the principle building of the altar, is thirty-eight meters (125 feet) high. It was built on a three-tiered circular terrace which measures six meters (twenty feet). The roof of the hall is covered with dark blue glazed tiles which represent the color of the sky. With three circular balusters on the terrace, the grand hall seems much loftier.

The structure of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is a wonder. The pavilion-style hall was built entirely of wood, but it has no crossbeam or purlin inside. Twenty-eight pillars support the three-tier building, with the four in the centers symbolizing four seasons of a year. Twelve pillars on each side to present twelve months and twelve Shichens of a day (a unit of time used by the ancient Chinese, one Shichen is equal to two hours).

Circular Mound Altar

The Circular Mound Altar was where the sacrificial rite was held on the winter solstice. It was constructed in 1530, younger than the Altar of Prayer for Good Harvest. The Circular Mound is a three-tier round platform which was built with bluestone. Each terrace is edged by white marble balusters. The number of both flagstones in a circle and baluster posts is multiple of nine, as nine represents infinity which is the characteristic of the heaven. If you stand on the flagstone in the center and speak in a quite low voice, you will hear the echo in 0.07 seconds.

To the north of the Circular Mound is the Imperial Vault of Heaven in which the tablet of God of Heaven is placed. The main hall is built to be a round pavilion with dark blue roof symbolizing heaven. The East Assistant Hall worships the gods of stars including the sun, the dipper, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars and Saturn. In the West Assistant Hall, enshrined are the gods of natural phenomenon including wind, rain, thunder and lightning. This courtyard is encircled by a round wall with a length of 193 meters (633 feet). The wall is the famous 'Echo Wall'. If one whispers into the hall, another person who is standing at the wall with a distance 100 to 200 meters (328-656 feet) can hear the speaker clearly.

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