Day 15: Beijing
This morning we enjoyed the Peninsula’s fabulously elaborate breakfast buffet – everything was so delicious (and the best part – free!)
Last year, we didn’t have enough time to see the Temple of Heaven, so that was our plan for the day. The Temple of Heaven is one of the largest temple complexes in China, though there is no single temple building – the more literal translation of its name Tian Tan is Altar of Heaven and refers to the entire complex. Here is where the emperor would make sacrifices and pray to the gods for a good harvest each winter solstice, and it was off-limits to the common people during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The park surrounding the temple complex is a huge, sprawling area – we saw people riding bikes, playing badminton, and strolling the grounds. We watched three men flying their beautifully colorful kites, though we declined one man’s offer to try it ourselves after seeing the contraption he was using to fly it!
East of the temple complex was a long tree-shaded area filled with hundreds of people dancing to music piped in via a small speaker tucked against a tree. Slow songs, fast songs, singles, couples; it was a lovely thing to witness and my favorite place in the entire area.
Like in the Forbidden City, the buildings are ornate examples of Chinese architecture and symbolism. The circular, blue-roofed, wooden Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest – the temple’s hallmark structure – is 125 feet high, 100 feet in diameter, and was constructed without a single nail. Twenty-eight pillars inside are arranged to symbolize divisions of time – the central four represent the seasons, the next twelve the months of the year, and the outer twelve the traditional divisions of a single day.
The park is shaped like a semi-circle on the northern rim (to represent heaven) and a square on the south (to represent the earth), and the grounds were once believed to be the meeting point of the two. Double in size of the Forbidden City, the area is still laid out to divine rule: buildings and paths are positioned to represent the right directions for heaven and earth. Around the park are several gardens, but we were here too early to see any of them in bloom.
Across the street from the Temple of Heaven is the Hongqiao Market, a five-story indoor mall full of souvenirs, knockoff watches and handbags, and cheap electronics. What the market is best known for, however, is its three stories of pearls: freshwater, seawater, black, white, pink – the quantity is overwhelming. We browsed for a while amid the constant shouts of “Flash drive?”, “Rolex watches – very cheap!”, and “Lady, I have nice bags for you – please look” but didn’t buy anything. Somewhere in that market were good deals to be (aggressively) bartered for, I’m sure, but we didn’t find any today.
We walked back to the hotel, went swimming, and relaxed for a bit before dinner.
After our unsuccessful visit last night, we returned to Da Dong in hopes that they’d have a duck for us this time. They did, and we enjoyed a great meal of salad, garlicky broccoli, and half a roast duck with all the fixings. Our waiter asked us where we were from, and after mistakenly hearing “California” instead of “Chicago”, he asked us about (a) the TV show “The OC” and what Orange County was, and (b) the song “Hotel California”, and what exactly “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave” meant. How do you say “It’s a metaphor” in Chinese? 🙂 (Interesting side note – the Eagles were playing a concert in Beijing that night.)
Only one more day left in China!