Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Beijing - The Heavenly Temple and locals at play

One of the things I love most about travel is learning about and experiencing another culture.  I enjoy seeing locals go about their normal lives and, if possible, joining in, which is why dancing with the locals at an exercise class in Xi'an was such a thrill.  In Beijing we were making a visit to The Temple of Heaven and our approach through the Long Corridor located in  the 267 hectare (660acre) park which surrounds the Temple gave us the perfect opportunity to mix and mingle with the locals and see them enjoying some leisure time. 
The Long Corridor
The long corridor, originally built as a passageway for the delivery of offerings to the gods, is now a favourite hang out for elderly Chinese as a place for them to play cards, listen to the radio, play instruments, sing or show off their pet birds.  It is my kind of place.  Our guide told us that since the retirement age for women is 55 and for men 60 and most Chinese, despite the abolition of the 'one child' rule, have one child only, older Chinese find they have a lot of time on their hands so enjoy the camaraderie of joining together in the park to share their hobbies. They seemed like happy souls and we were greeted warmly by everyone we passed.  Some of our group admired pet birds and their proud owners were only too keen to allow the birds to perch on my fellow travellers arms. 

There were clearly some very serious card games going on but since gambling is illegal in China players were simply playing for pride and satisfaction.  The large park also contains a Marriage Market where people can advertise for a spouse and a marriage broker will then try to find them a suitable partner. Some of the singles in our group joked that there might be an opportunity there!

But onto the point of our visit, the stunning Temple of Heaven.  Originally built between 1406 and 1420 during the reign of the Ming emperor, Yongle, who was also responsible for the building of the Forbidden City,  The Temple of Heaven consists of three main buildings with the stunning  Hall of Good Harvests as the centre piece. The Hall of Good Harvests, built entirely of wood and without any nails, was struck by lightening in 1889 and burnt to the ground. It was rebuilt to the original plan soon after. It is here the emperors came to pray each year for good harvests, good weather and prosperity. The Hall is 36 metres (118 feet) round and 38 metres (125 feet) high with three tiers and boasts absolutely beautiful, brightly coloured, painted decorations. 

Part of the complex of The Temple of Heaven, the Hall of Good Harvests in the centre
(Photo by Maros, edited by Thegreenj)
In Chinese tradition earth is square and heaven is round and the hall reflects this being built on a large square. Ornate marble terraces lead up to the hall which is a high point of the surrounding area, so it does give the impression of climbing up to heaven.  The large courtyard below houses two large oblong halls and there are many other ceremonial buildings within the complex which covers a greater area than The Forbidden City, because in Chinese tradition no man could have a greater estate than that dedicated to the gods. The Hall of Good Harvests is certainly a show stopper and with its view out over the city, countryside and out to the mountains it has a position befitting its status.

Above: The Hall of Good Harvests

Right: A Glimpse inside

We had had a full and amazing day sight seeing around Beijing so were looking forward to free time in the late afternoon and evening.  A few of us decided to find a shopping centre near our hotel and set out to walk there.  Although furnished with instructions, albeit sketchy, in the end we couldn't find it, however we did see some interesting street life along the way, like the roadside hairdressers who set up chairs on the footpath, add mirrors to the street fence and seem to have a busy time with clients judging by the amount of hair at their feet.
Roadside hairdresser, Beijing
(Photo by Dan Hartley)

 A few of us walked back in the opposite direction to a big, glamorous shopping mall, not what we were after but it proved to be another insight into modern China. The multi level mall was glossy, modern and crammed with expensive shops.  I was astonished at the prices, pretty much everything was far more expensive than they are in my home town. The shops were not the high end lines that you would expect to see at an airport, these were the same type of shops you would see in any modern mall, obviously catering to the wealthy middle classes who were shopping there in numbers and clearly indulging their only children.  China has certainly changed over the last few years.  The mall was an eye opener and an entirely different world from that of the road side hairdressers.
Modern China - congested traffic and glamorous shopping malls
Later we spent a sociable evening enjoying the company of our fellow travellers and full of anticipation for our next great adventure and one of my 'bucket list' items - climbing the Great Wall.

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