Entrance to the outer temple
After sleeping in and multiple attempts at asking the front desk attendant if there is wi-fi available, we got dressed and ready to hit the city for another action-packed day. There was no wi-fi but there was an ethernet cable hanging out of the wall that we managed to overlook. It’s nice to feel connected to the outside world. Even if I am on vacation.
One of Alicia’s co-workers went to college in Beijing so she knows the area very well. She was kind enough to make us up an itinerary for our trip. It even includes the best ways of getting from place to place (i.e. subway, taxi, city bus, or walking).
Today’s adventures includes the Temple of Heaven as our first stop. It is not very far from the hotel but once we set out on foot, reality began to set in. When looking at the map, it only appears to be 2 or 3 city blocks away but what each “block” on the map doesn’t show are the nearly 6 or 7 blocks between each of THOSE. Also, though the closest distance would let us enter the temple grounds at the North Gate, we walked all the way
Map of the Temple of Heaven grounds
South so that we could pass through the inner AND outer temples. The walk took us about an hour but with it being cold out (as many of you know, I LOVE the cold!) I enjoyed it. There was snow still on the ground and I attacked Alicia a few times with a snowball. :-D
The Temple of Heaven is where the Emperors of both the Ming and Qing dynasties would gather every year to worship the Heavens and pray for their crops. I think it’s interesting that even the architecture and shape of the perimeter walls were built with that purpose in mind. (I posted a picture for you to see) the base perimeter wall is square and represents the earth (from when it was believed to be flat) while the upper perimeter wall is semi-circular to represent the round Heavens. We passed through two different sections (Mound Alter & the Imperial Vault) before we finally reached the Hall of Prayers. Surrounding the Imperial Vault, is a circular brick wall that is about 8 feet tall; they call it the Echo Wall. I’m not sure what the significance of it is—maybe it was so that their prayers would echo
and be amplified into the Heavens? All I know is that lots of people stood there clapping, whistling, and shouting to see if it really echoes. *drum roll please* It does, in fact, echo. I know many of you would have been very disappointed if it didn’t so I’m glad I could keep you in high spirits.
Outside the Hall of Prayer is the Seventy-year-old door that passes the large brick wall (exiting the main temple area). When I saw this, I immediately questioned, “What is so special about a door that is 70 years old; it’s in a wall that was built nearly six centuries ago!” Upon, further investigation I learned the interesting history behind it. When Emperor Qianlong started suffering from health problems in 1779, his officials had the door built so that he could walk to the ceremonies area with greater ease. He was worried that his successors might abuse the convenience he issued a decree that stated “From now on only he among my offspring could enter and exit by this door who has reached the age of 70 years old.” He still remains the only person in history to have ever used it.
my favorite things about seeing the Temple was getting a peek at the inside of the buildings. The exterior architect already amazes me but the interior offers so much more. They have intricately painted ceilings, exposed beams, intricately painted exposed beams. They’re beautiful!
I also enjoyed watching a group of Chinese teenagers play a form of rock paper scissors outside one of the temples. You might be wondering why they would be doing that...or why I would be telling you about it. Well, what Alicia and I soon found out was that the loser of the game had to approach the only two American around and ask to take a photo with them (us). I posted the picture for you all to enjoy!
In the alleyway on the way to our hotel, there is a small restaurant that we walk by each day. The owner/cook is a woman who we always see sitting at one of the 3 tables in the dining area—there never seems to be any patrons there. We decided to go in and eat lunch on our way back from the Temple of Heaven. It is a 1-room restaurant with a small doorway that leads to a
Circular Mound Alter
kitchen (we could hear her cooking our food behind the heavy sheet that served as a partition between the two spaces) and only enough room for about 6 people to sit comfortably. I always enjoy eating at places like this because it feels so much more authentic. While waiting on our food, Alicia and I admired what we dubbed “the wall of post-its”. The entire wall is covered with different type of post-it notes. Many from what I assumed to be travelers who stayed in one of the many hostels in our district. There was an array of options for us, ranging from different colored hearts and a birthday cake to a cat and a child’s face. I chose Spongebob Squarepants! (see picture below). The food was alright but gave me my first experience in traveler’s gastro since entering China. With no plans on returning, the owner had to settle with a simple wave from me for the rest of my stay there. All part of the experience, right?
Later that night, Alicia and I set out to explore the “Old Beijing” district just South of Tian’anmen Square. It is similar to the night market in that it is a
bunch of shops selling an array of souvenirs, clothes, home goods, etc. The major difference is that they are selling them in a store, not in an open-air bazaar. Oh, and they don’t grab your arm and pull you back in when you decide not to buy something. Most of them will bargain but some refuse to. I guess you could say Old Beijing is the “night market lite”, meant for those not quite ready for the full experience.
On our way out of the shopping area we spotted it. The establishment I have been searching for since I got to China. The place I can find a REAL cup of coffee. Starbucks! You see, coffee still isn’t a perfected treat in China. For a nice cup of coffee, one typically has to go to a nice dine-in restaurant and pay nearly $4 or 5 dollars for a single cup (they don’t do free refills). McDonald’s and other fast food chains serve instant. I tried McDonald’s coffee once and it was disappointing. Needless to say, I was THRILLED to see the green Siren welcoming me into the comfy and cozy little shop I am so used to. I enjoyed several
shots of espresso and the comforting memories of home that came with it. This nostalgic moment was abruptly brought to an end when I picked up a magazine and couldn’t read a single word in it! And there I was, back in China. :-)
Shortly after, Alicia and I decided to head back to the hotel and enjoy our java while taking in more of Beijing. One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to just walk around. Forget the tourist attractions, the history, the people, I LOVE to just walk around and absorb the city. The architecture of the buildings. The dress and demeanor of the locals. The sounds of traffic and passersby. The smell of the foods. The feel of the uneven sidewalks under my feet. That is China and that is what I enjoy. It’s such an incredible experience when all of my senses are being used at once to capture everything around me. This is my idea of vacation.
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