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Published: February 6th 2008
Sam Yeung and I met at the lobby of my hotel at 11:00 AM this morning and then left together by taxi for Ditan Park, in the northern side of Beijing. Though Sam no longer works for my company, we remain good friends and wanted to have the opportunity for some needed catch up.
Ditan Park is a 40-acre wooded break in the otherwise heavily populated area just outside Beijing’s second ring road, north of the Lama Temple (See blog “Beijing Express (Or Opportunistic Tourism)
”). It was built in 1530, the ninth year of Emperor Jia Jing’s reign to contain one of five altars used by Ming (and later Qing) Dynasty emperors to offer sacrifices to the gods and secure prosperity for the country.
Structured in a similar way as is the Temple of Heaven to the south (though in a much smaller scale), the altar at Ditan Park (named “Fangze Tan”) represents the Earth and is therefore square in shape (instead of round as is the former). When Sam and I arrived, we found the park particularly colorful as many of the trees were already decorated with deng longs (red paper lanterns) in anticipation of the Spring Festival (or Chinese New Year)
Ready for Spring Festival!
celebrations that will start on February 6.
After much destruction during the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government has done a tremendous job restoring many cultural sites to their former glory and then documenting and promoting them among Chinese citizens and also foreign visitors. The Temple of Earth is no exception. When one of the caretakers of the ancient hall behind the altar noticed Sam’s proficiency in English, she volunteered him to help her with the proper pronunciation for the English translation of the site’s description and introduction. This text will probably be available and used during the forthcoming Beijing Olympics when the city will be overrun with foreign visitors. While Sam was busy with this unexpected assignment, I took advantage of the break to go around capturing images with my camera.
This hall behind the altar was the place where emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties worshiped the Earth God (and other gods) thus it was named “Huang Qi Shi” or Earth God Worship House. The hall was also used to contain items used during the emperor sacrificial ceremonies at the altar. The artifacts in this particular hall had strong connections with its earthly theme, including farm
animal statues and some period musical instruments.
Sam and I also strolled around the rest of the park in my quest for images. One of the highlights was watching an elder gentleman on a wheeled chair writing calligraphy with a large painter’s brush and using plain water instead of ink on the pavement blocks. His ephemeral works of art would only last a little longer than a few minutes on this day due to the high relative humidity and coldness in the air. Regardless, he appeared to be having a lot of fun with his creations.
Because Sam had another engagement at 1:00 PM after our meeting at Ditan Park, we only had enough time for him to show me the way to one of his favorite restaurants in Beijing for lunch. He already had taken me there once before, but I was so impressed with the place’s food and its atmosphere, that I wanted to go back. The restaurant’s name is “In and Out”. It specializes in cuisine from Northen Yun’nam Province, an area in China where many minorities live and is the place commonly known as Shangri-La. After Sam left, I enjoyed a great meal for
the price of a fast food serving in the United States.
Later in the afternoon, I made it to the southwestern section of Beijing, with the intention of visiting two famous sites there: Niujie Mosque and Fayuan Temple. Because of very heavy traffic getting there, I ended up not having enough time to visit the temple, so instead, I spent as much time as needed seeing (and photographing) every aspect of this famous mosque. Most commonly known as “Cow Street Mosque”, this impressive complex in the Hui district of Beijing was built during the 10th Century A.D. The Hui are a Muslim Chinese minority originally from the NingXia province but very numerous in this area of the city. It was unusual seeing both Chinese and Arabic scripts on some of the walls in the complex. The building’s architecture is mostly classic Chinese but Arab influences are also apparent.
This mosque has several items of great interest, but perhaps the most visual ones are the resplendent golden decorations and scripts on the pillars, arches, and ceilings inside the main prayer hall, which visitors are politely asked not to enter unless they are of the Muslim faith (via a large
sign posted in Chinese and English next to the doors). Though at least one other tourist with a camera sneaked inside this hall anyway in apparent violation of this request, I only peeked into an intermediate chamber from outside the door, which had been left open by the mosque staff.
I only became certain that the Chinese-looking tourist was not a Muslim later in the day. I cannot be too critical of her because I believe that I myself provoked a small incident when I briefly entered a courtyard (but only the courtyard; none of the buildings) in another section of the mosque. Though there was a mosque staff member close to this gate in the back of the complex, he did not do or say anything to prevent me from crossing it, he just smiled at me as I went in, but as soon as I came out, an elderly woman appeared from nowhere and seemed to be very upset at him about something (I presumed for allowing me to enter the area; I thought that she was upset at me too for being an insensitive infidel in the wrong place).
It was only after the fact
that I noticed the meaning of some Chinese characters on a carved-stone sign on one of the walls to the side of the gate. Then I suddenly remembered the separation of males and females in mosques in the Muslim faith and realized then that I had inadvertently entered the female area of the mosque. At the same time, I realized that the Chinese-looking tourist with the camera had entered the prayer hall reserved for men; not something that a Muslim woman would do.
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