After Tuesday’s visit into the Forbidden City, and knowing that I would go to the Great Wall the next day, I was expecting a down day. But The Temple of Heaven proved me wrong. The Temple of Heaven is a worthwhile visiting place in Beijing. It is much bigger than the Forbidden City and smaller than the Summer Palace (however, we never made it to the Summer Palace).
We had agreed to meet Tina at the North Gate of the Temple. She arrived there by whatever public transportation was available from her house in the ‘burbs to this central Beijing location. We taxied to the Temple and had arranged this easy and convenient meeting place. Tina had wanted us to meet there because our afternoon destination was directly across the street, “The Pearl Market.”
According to the website TravelChinaGuide.com, the Temple of Heaven was built in 1420 A.D. during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifices to Heaven. As Chinese emperors called themselves “The Son of Heaven,” they dared not to build their own dwelling, “Forbidden City,” bigger than a dwelling for Heaven.
The Temple of Heaven looks and feels more like a large municipal park. China has a lot of these types of parks in most of their major cities. The Temple of Heaven is enclosed with a high wall around it. The northern part within the wall is semicircular symbolizing the heavens and the southern part is square symbolizing the earth. The northern part is higher in elevation than the southern part. This design shows that the heaven is high and the earth is low and the design reflected an ancient Chinese thought of “The heaven is round and the earth is square.”
The main buildings of the Temple lie at the south and north ends of the park. The most magnificent buildings are The Circular Mound Altar (Yuanqiutan), the Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu) and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qiniandian). There are also some additional buildings like the Three Echo Stones and the Echo Wall. Almost all of the buildings are connected by a wide bridge called Vermilion Steps Bridge (Danbiqiao) or sometimes called the Sacred Way.
The emperors would offer sacrifices to Heaven on the day of the Winter Solstice every year. This ceremony was to thank Heaven and hope everything would be good in the future. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is a big palace with a round roof and three layers of arched eaves.
An important building in the Temple of Heaven is the Imperial Vault of Heaven. If you look at it from far away, you will find that the Vault is like a blue umbrella with gold head. The structure of it is like that of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, but smaller in size. The structure was made of bricks and timber. The Vault was used to place memorial tablets of the gods. White marble railings surround the vault.
The Vermilion Steps Bridge connects the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest and the Imperial Vault of Heaven. The south end of the bridge is lower than its north end. The emperors in the past believed that they could go to heaven through this Bridge, which is why this bridge is also called the Sacred Way.
Three Echo Stones is outside of the gate of the Imperial Vault of Heaven. If you speak facing the Vault while standing on the first stone, you will hear one echo; standing on the second and then the third stone, you will hear two and three echoes respectively. We were told that if you and your friend stand at the east and the west roots of the wall respectively and you whisper a word, then your friend will hear clearly what you say. We tried it several times but did not hear what we were supposed to hear. There may have been too many people making too much noise for this to work as advertised.
Perhaps more interesting than the buildings and the history of this location, at least to me, were the activities of the people that were visiting the Temple. Many of them were much more involved with their daily routines of singing, dancing, and exercise. Many people were working in tandem with one playing a Chinese two stringed violin called the Erhu, while the other practiced singing Chinese Opera songs.
I was first introduced to the Ehru when one of my Chinese students, Angel, performed playing this instrument at the 2009 Moon Festival on our campus back in Searcy. The Ehru is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument used as a solo instrument as well as in small ensembles and large orchestras. The Ehru is played in both traditional and contemporary Chinese musical scores. It has a very traditional Chinese sound.
Many children were dancing with the live music that was set up in the park and others were engaging in games of ring toss and hacky sacks. While watching the people sing and dance in the traditional style, together with the instruments being played, it sounded like a sound track of a movie in which we seemed to be a part.
Obviously I took lots of photos of the temple grounds, the buildings and the people. I tried to take a lot of candid photographs of people everywhere I went, but I am very sensitive that a lot of people do not want me to do that without their knowledge or permission. However, whenever I wanted to take photos of children, the parents seemed to welcome that openly, to the point of pushing their children out in front of me to take their picture. We stayed there until a little after the Noon hour and then went off to lunch and off the grounds to do so.
We looked around for a place to eat. By now we were across the street at the doors of the Pearl Market. The Pearl Market was high on Donna’s list of things to do, or places to shop while in Beijing. The eating-place we selected? DQ! DQ is big in China. We had been snacking on various foods and drinks all morning and we were not particularly hungry enough to sit down to order a full meal so DQ was a good choice. I had a Chili Dog along with what Donna had, ice cream and an O’Julius.
The Pearl Market was in the same building as the DQ. We simply left the DQ, walked over to an elevator and went up to the fourth floor. I noticed along the way that each floor had a market of its own. Pearls were on the third and fourth floors. The third floor market apparently was a little bit more economically priced pearls because you could buy them in bulk, and there were many store operators set up in booths much like that of an open market. The fourth floor, however, had self-contained stores with qualified attendants with professional sales and marketing people. I knew that Donna wanted to spend a lot of time here and she had given me strict instructions to “stay out of the way while she shopped for pearls!” After watching for a bit and trying hard to follow her directions, I went to sit down in the hallways of this mall-like facility. I walked around for a while and then finally went back to Tina and Donna to announce that I was going to go to another floor to shop for my own list of items and that we could meet back here soon. Tina and I both had cell phones and we were not concerned about getting separated.
Once again, Tina proved to be a perfect hostess for Donna. Tina was a shopper! And, she was quite the bargainer as well. You can bargain for most high tickets items in China by first making the sales person make the first offer and then immediately saying in Chinese – “Too-high!” They would come back with a better offer but the back and forth was on. Tina was great at this and fun to watch as well.
I went on down to the first floor where there was a department of digital products: cameras, cell phones, batteries, memory cards, flash drives and the like. The noise was loud and the action was furious. Like the Silk Market, the salespeople would not let you walk down the aisle without holding something up in front of your face or pulling you by the arm and asking you if you needed whatever they had in their hands. It was wild and crazy. It was almost obnoxious and dangerous. I found a number of things that I would have wanted to buy, but I did not want to do so without Tina bargaining for me! I did however buy a 120 GB Flash Drive for ¥70 which is equal to about $10 USD. The original asking price was ¥240 and I bought it for ¥70. I was rather proud of myself! Before I left for China I had purchased an extra 8 GB Flash drive for $40 USD, so the price was unbelievable! It made me think it was not going to work when I got it back to my computer, but it did.
Upon my return to the fourth floor to find Donna and Tina I found them in a store about to make a purchase of jewelry for one of the daughter-in-laws. I watched and was quite amused at the attention to detail and the entire transaction that was being displayed by both sides of this transaction. Donna eventually bought gifts of pearls and other fine jewelry for Jennifer, Kara and herself! I took lots of photos as I knew that this was going to be something she would talk about to her friends and colleagues as much as any activity she encountered while we were in China.
After shopping for as long as Donna wanted, we went to The Old Main Street of Beijing. This was a planned stop that Tina thought we would enjoy. Wow, she was certainly right about this location. This was an old street, in fact a couple of old streets, in what would have been the center of the old commerce of Beijing a number of years ago. The streets had many shops and restaurants. I’m sure it had now been developed for the tourist but it sure worked for us. We stopped at a Tea Shoppe where we were able to ask a lot of questions about the Tea and its significantly economic and cultural impact it has in this country. We purchased several varieties and small packets of tea as gifts for many of Donna’s work and office mates as well as for our family and us.
One of the stores in the Old Main Street of Beijing was a shoe store. But not just any shoe store. This store was a place where every pair of shoes was handmade and most of them made-to-order. They did have a full variety of already made shoes which you could purchase, but they too were handmade right there in the store. They even had a few workers in a display area where you could watch them make their shoes.
We walked about the old stores for a long time. The same road eventually leads out to a more modern outdoor mall where the streets had been closed off except for pedestrian shopping. This street even had a “Starbucks – Beijing” located there. We waited a few more minutes before Tina finally announced that we were now in front of the restaurant where we would meet her parents and dine for the evening. A few minutes later they walked up to greet and meet us. It was like she planned for us all to be there at just the right time – which she did!
Tina’s parents spoke no English but were absolutely delightful. I asked their names and was told something that I had a hard time repeating so Tina just told me to call them Mama and Papa as she did. They seemed really happy to meet us and really gave us a warm and genuine welcome. Her mom looked way too young to be Tina’s mom and her dad was a tall, good-looking man. Tina definitely favors her dad. Tina, like a lot of Chinese children of her age, was an only child. She had mentioned several times before we met them how much they had encouraged her to be independent and to strive to do the best she could for her own sake. Both Mr. and Mrs. Liu were well dressed in casual but very nice clothing. They, like the other Chinese parents I had met, were in awe that a teacher from America would take the time to meet them and their daughter. Tina’s parents together owned a shipping transportation business that operated out of Beijing. They had started the business years before from the ground up and were now very successful at what they had been doing for a living.
The restaurant that we were to eat at was one for Mr. Liu’s favorite places because, according to him, they served the best and the original Peking Roasted Duck in Beijing. But even before the duck was brought out to the table and carved before us by one of the chefs, all of the other traditional Chinese dishes were served to us. The food was as good as any we had eaten in China to date! We had Tina sit between us so that she could back and forth on our conversations as our translator. She was a busy young student and daughter this night, but she seemed to enjoy the linguistic challenge. She had a big smile on her face all evening. She seemed to really enjoy having us in her hometown and meeting her with her parents for dinner.
After dinner we strolled around the outdoor mall a few blocks back to their car and they drove us back to the hotel. I made sure that when we got out of the car that Tina was there to tell them exactly what I wanted them to hear from me. “Mr. & Mrs. Liu,” I said, “I want you to know that Tina is one of my finest students and that you have done a marvelous job raising her.” I wanted them to also know that I would do anything for her, on their behalf, while she was so far away from home in America. I went on to say, “If Tina needed anything at all, I would help her in any way that I could.” After Tina translated for them they both reached out to hug us! We thanked them again for the wonderful meal and evening and for making us feel so welcomed. I have the best students in the world!
Steve Shaner, also known as Xie Yeye, is a professional story teller that delights in traveling to meet new and old friends. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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