Temple of Heaven

Even though we got to sleep in today, most of us were awake by 5 or 6. Some unfortunate souls were still feeling the effects of jet lag and hardly slept!

Brad and I watched from our window as they put up a celebratory balloon arch over the entrance to the kindergarten across the street from our room. There must have been some special event for the little ones that day.

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After breakfast we braved the Beijing streets and crossed over to see what was going on at the school. Lots of little chairs were lined up in the yard, and lots of excited little kids were pulling their parents toward the area. I hope the fun they had matched their early morning enthusiasm. While we were doing that, Barb and Carol were off in the little park beside the hotel doing morning exercises with the neighbourhood women. Many of the men, apparently not into the exercises, brought along their caged birds and gathered for some morning conversation.

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We boarded the bus at 8:45 and headed to the Temple of Heaven where the ancient Chinese emperors used to pray for a good harvest.

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We entered through the south gate and headed toward the Circular Mound Altar where ancient emperors held sacrificial ceremonies to the Heavens during the winter solstice. Surrounded by three levels of open-air terraces representing hell, earth, and the heavens, the alter itself sits at the centre of the top tier and is called the Heavenly Centre Stone. It is said that if you whisper something while standing on this stone, only you will hear a response. A lot of people, thinking it was a sacred energy (or maybe just a photo-op) spot, stood and/or prayed on it.

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From there we headed north up through another gate and along the marble path at the centre of the huge concourse leading toward the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. The concourse itself was bustling with tourists and school groups.

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It was nice to see the locals using the temple grounds as their neighbourhood park. We spotted games of hackey-sack and chess, tai chi, and even a few low flying kites.

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Before we visited the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest we headed off to the garden area on the west side of the grounds. We watched a group of woman enjoying a dance class in the shade beside the walkway. A few passers-by (big and small) stopped to join in before continuing on their way.

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We visited a small art gallery in the Hall of Abstinence (Fasting Palace) with works by the students and professors from the Ancient Chinese Art Academy. We thought at first it might be a high pressure place like the Turkish rug showrooms where we were ushered in, told to sit down, offered some tea, and “strongly encouraged” to buy one of many very expensive rugs. Quite the opposite. One of the profs explained the symbolism of the ancient art forms … two cranes for an everlasting relationship, bamboo for a strong but good-hearted man, and plum blossoms for a woman who is beautiful but internally strong (since plum trees blossom in the winter). It was definitely worth the time to hear about the meaning of the traditional artwork. All of the works were available for sale, and a few people couldn’t resist taking home some silk paintings for their homes.

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After a bit of a sit-down, we headed back to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. One of the few buildings in China that has a blue roof (for the heavens). Its three top sections are beautifully tiled with blue, yellow, and green glazed tiles, representing the heaven, earth, and all creation. It is said that the temple itself is a feat in engineering with only 28 pillars supporting the whole structure.

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Its internal architecture, which we were only allowed to view from behind a barricade, represents all things to do with a good harvest … the four seasons, the twelve months of the year, the 12 hours of the day, and the constellations that guided the ancients. The altar in the middle holds the Tablet of the God of Heaven to which an offerings like jade, silk, cows, and wine were made by the emperor during the sacrificial ceremonies.

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There were lots of wedding pictures being taken while we were there. It seems the tradition in China is to take the pictures before the wedding so that they are ready on the big day. It is also customary to take pictures in both the traditional red dress, and a white dress.

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We headed out to the bus along the Long Corridor which seems to have become a prime area for “street vendors”. Karen, who was our best haggler, managed to get 20 “silk” scarves for a really good price!

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As we reached the East Gate we came across another group of dancers dressed everything from traditional dress to cowboy hats obviously having a great time twirling each other around.

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One little guy took a real shine to Barb. Here he’s talking to his Mom. We think maybe she was encouraging him to hang onto Barb’s leg for a photo-op.

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Next stop, lunch!

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