Barely three hours after touchdown and happily sated with our first taste of Chinese food in China (more on the food in future posts), my friends and I headed for the Temple of Heaven. This temple complex, which is the largest in China, reflects the ancient Chinese belief that Heaven was an ominpresent god of nature that governed everything under the sky, hence it was the venue for many sacred rituals and ceremonies to ensure good harvests.
The most striking building in the complex is the circular Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (pictured above and below). It is built on the precise location where heaven and earth meet, as determined by feng shui masters. it is beautiful! Even more so up close. The glazed tiles under each eave glistened in the sun against a backdrop of azure sky, stunning in it's beauty and splendor. I must have stood there for a good five minutes just staring before I took my first photograph.
At the top of the steps you are treated to a 360 degree view of Beijing. Until recently, this was the tallest point in all of the country. No one was allowed to build higher. Visitors are only allowed a peek into the hall, but it is enough for one to be amazed at the level of craftsmanship. The detail is just exquisite! The vaulted ceiling is about 36 meters high and was slotted together without a single nail. The relationship of the Chinese lunar calendar and agriculture is shown in the pillars surrounding the hall. The central four pillars represent the four seasons, for example, the next 12 pillars around them represent the 12 months, while the outer 12 pillars denote the division of the 24-hour day into two-hour units or shichen.
Thousands of 100 year old cypress trees lend a serene atmosphere to the park that surrounds the temples. It is no wonder then that the park has become a favorite among the locals for recreational activities or simply to just daydream or ponder the sayings of Confucius. Now I am accustomed to seeing mostly fellow travellers when visiting popular tourist attractions, with tour guides and hawkers being the only locals around. So you can imagine my delight at finding a significantly large gathering of locals within these walls. I think they even outnumbered the tourists!
By the east gate there was a couple who was joyfully twirling their batons of rainbow ribbon and just beyond them was an old man in serious tai chi mode. Kites danced above the tree tops in the distance and children bundled-up tight in padded winter clothing waddled after each other in a game of tag.
But the best surprise of all was the long corridor. This 350 meter long covered walkway was once used to carry slaughtered sacrificial animals to the altar. Today, there are no slaughtered animals to be found. Instead, the entire length of the corridor is flanked by locals in groups or pairs and even solitary individuals engaged in typical Chinese past times. Many are gathered in rowdy card games which seem to require the slapping of cards on the bench. Young and old alike are bent over checker boards, their brows furrowed in intense concentration, contemplating their next move. Nearby, a lady shows off her knitting to admiring passersby.
In another section, a man practices the ancient art of calligraphy on the floor. Just a few feet away from him people are making music together; they are dancing and beckoning for us to join them. Further along I notice an old man, his face deeply lined with wisdom and inscribed by time, with silver medicine balls which he rolls around in his hand.
Yet another old man in a brown fedora plays the erhu, a two-stringed musical instrument. He gives me a warm smile after I sneak a picture of him and returns his gaze to the group playing with a jianzi or Chinese hackysack, a popular game using a shuttlecock. Before I knew it, my friend (that's her with the sunglasses) has jumped in, much to everyone's amusement. She's actually good at this!
That was how it was along that corridor. Everyone seemed happy, at peace. Basking in the simple joys of life and welcoming you to do the same. :)