Hong Kong (Beijing) Day 20 (January 13, 2006)

15 01 2006

Beijing – End of tour

We started the day knowing that it was to be our last in Beijing.  The weather had brightened up, the the sky was blue, and the sun was making it through the smog and dust.  It was like Beijing was trying to make sure that we remembered our trip in the best possible light.  It was still a cold day, but very nice.

Breakfast at the hotel for the last three days was a buffet mixing western and asian breakfast dishes.  I had become so used to using chopsticks, that when I started to eat my scrambled eggs, I naturally picked up the sticks.  I can see why Scrambled eggs isn’t a big breakfast item in China 🙂  I used a fork for the first time in a long time that breakfast.

First on the agenda was Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven, or more correctly named: The Altar of Heaven.  It was the location at which the emperor would offer sacrifices to the gods of heaven three times a year.  The one at the winter solstice happened at 0420!  This complex was larger than the Forbidden city, approximately 270 hectares, and included an beautiful park which had many locals playing games, and enjoying the birds, and sun this morning.

Apparently the reason it’s bigger than the Forbidden City is that Emperors considered themselves the “Sons of Heaven”, and as such dare not build a home for themselves, bigger than they have built for heaven.

One of the first things that strikes you when you enter the grounds is the blue, round roofs on the buildings you see.  They were meant to represent the heavens.   After going in the main gate, you arrive at the location of the sacrifice.  It is a large round altar platform. The Circular Altar has three layered terraces with white marble.

During the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 A.D. – 1911 A.D.), the emperors would offer sacrifice 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.  Interesting trivia:  If you are about 6 feet tall and stand on the middle of the altar disc, when you speak your voice will have an added resonance, and depth.  Cool acoustic effect.  I wonder if they planned it that way.  Near the altar were various offering cauldrons where they would burn sacrifices.  It was quite the set up.  We got to see diagrams (copied from ancient texts) of exactly where which musician would stand, and which dancer would be where.  It was a VERY choreographed event.

Further in, past the inner wall, we came up to the Imperial Vault of Heaven, where all the texts were stored which prescribed the various ceremonies.

Around it was the “Echo Wall”.  If you stood next to the wall behind the west annex, and talked softly, you could be heard by someone standing next to the wall behind the east annex, 30 metres, and two buildings away.  All kinds of interesting acoustic features to this place.

The actual Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest was closed for restoration (darned 2008 Olympics preparation)  But We got some distance photos of it:

The park on the west side of the complex is very large.  We walked through it to get to the Hall of Divine Music Administration.  Walking through the park, I finally got a picture of one of the many Azure Winged Magpies that I had been seeing flit around:

The Hall of Divine Music Administration had a musical museum, and an english speaking (thank God!) tour guide talked us through the various instruments used by the musicians during the offering ceremonies.  Quite elaborate.  They also had on display various clay musical instruments from neolithic times, and various Dynasties (Spring and Autumn, East Han, West Han….)  It was very interesting.

When we left the Temple grounds, we saw vendors selling caramelized fruit on a stick.  It made for a great picture:

The last stop on our tour of China was Tiananmen Square.  Made famous around the world by events of 1989, it was originally built back in 1417.

The square lies between two ancient, massive gates: the Tian’anmen to the north. 

Mrs D and I in front of the Tiananmen.

Bordering to the south is the Qianmen (literally “Front Gate”) to the south. Along the west side of the Square is the Great Hall of the People.

Along the east side is the National Museum of Chinese History. Chang’an Avenue, which is used for parades, lies between the Tian’anmen and the Square. Trees line the east and west edges of the Square, but the square itself is open, with neither trees nor benches.  There is a monument to the peoples’ heroes in the center, and many local and foreign tourists milling about. 

While at the square, one Chinese student asked to have his picture taken with me.  It was strange, but I happily obliged.  Later, as I was walking around the square, someone started talking to me, and it wasn’t one of the ever present vendors.  This young man started a conversation with me asking how long I will be in Beijing, and have I enjoyed the city.  It caught me off guard, but I talked with him for a bit, and then carried on with my photographing of the square.  I found out later that the students like to look for English speaking tourists to talk with, so that they can improve their English.  I hope I helped.  As we crossed the street away from the square, I asked our tour guide if this was the street that had the famous footage of a lone protester blocking a column of tanks.  He told me that they had never seen the footage.  I had forgotten about that little detail.  Ooops.

We had a nice lunch in what appears to have previously been a government building, and then we left Beijing to travel to the airport.  Even the tour guide commented that I appeared to be trying to drink in every single little feature before we left.  I wanted to be able to remember it, as it will continually change, and it will never be like it was in the early days of the revolution, or like it was today.  China is a rapidly growing economic powerhouse.  Once it gains more traction in the world markets…. Look out!

We said goodbye to Tom, and went into the departure area.  Every man and his dog was traveling in China in preparation for the lunar New Year, and it was just going to get worse.  We went to our gate, and waited for our plane.  The plane ride was via China Southern, and was on a 757-200.  It was full, and the air circulation was bad.  3.5 hours, and I was going to go crazy.  I did have a chance to write another day of the blog, but that was it.  It was just too hot and crowded to do anything else.

After arriving in Hong Kong we took the bus back to “home”, and I hauled our 30kg luggage up to the 4th floor apartment….Whew.

Then…. crash.  Time to sleep after uploading photos.  I still can’t get caught up!

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