Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Temple of Heaven

Another easy day. J let me sleep in and after a leisurely breakfast, we took the subway to the Temple of Heaven. It's located in the middle of a huge park, hidden among groves of cypress trees. It was a nice change from the bustle of the city. The temple itself is beautiful and held together without any nails. Each part of it is symbolic: it has 4 pillars for the seasons, 12 columns for the months, and other stuff too but most of the explanations were in Chinese.

We found out that it was at the Temple that they would pray for good harvests. They did this by sacrificing a calf. We saw the sacrificial oven and various dining areas. There was also an echo wall - supposedly if one person was at the East Annex and another at the West, they could talk to each other. We weren't able to try it out because there were so many people there that it would have been impossible to hear each other. There was also a 3 claps stone, where you could clap once and 3 echoes would respond. Unfortunately we couldn't try that out either because so many people were clapping we'd never be able to tell whether the clapping we were hearing was an echo or just someone else clapping.

After we were done there, we went back to the hostel for quick break (and nap). When we awoke it was nearing sunset, so we thought we'd try to catch the lowering of the flag at Tiananmen Square. We got there just in time and could just make out the flag and soldiers as they left the square under Mao's infamous portrait.

J and I resolved to do some souvenir shopping. We went back to the hip hutong, where I got some fantastic kicks and J got some souvenirs for his friends and family. We also got the best damn mojitos I've ever had. While we were backing to the hostel, we passed a large parking lot in which dozens of couples were swing dancing. It was pretty fantastic to observe and a different side of Beijing than we'd seen. This was carefree, fun, a sort of rhythmic chaos. I tried taking pictures but it was dark and they didn't come out well. Something about seeing those dancers made me realize how small the world was and how similar we all are. I wanted to join then but my potential dancer refused.

Before the evening was done, J signed us up for a Great Wall tour. There were a few options, from the easy tourist-friendly one with a cable car ride, the intermediate one, and then the most rugged one. We'd decided to go with the one that had the smallest crowds and therefore picked the most rugged. The poster suggested bringing good shoes and a backpack to hold water and snacks for the 6km "climb." I was sufficiently intimidated. The van would leave at 8:40AM from our hostel, so we called it an early night.

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