Tuesday, June 3, 2008

China Day 04: Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend

We arrived at the Temple of Heaven, one of the "Must See" sights of Beijing. This temple was used by the Ming and Qing emperors to offer sacrifices for the harvest, and it is set in a huge garden that is now a public park.

We entered the park by the East Gate, and were greeted by the sight of a number of Chinese people
waltzing to music from a large boom box just inside the gate. I got the impression that there is normally a larger crowd, but the weather wasn't too good.

This is typical of modern China: people are strongly encouraged to indulge in public exercise of one type or another. Every morning, public places are occupied by citizens - often throngs - doing tai chi, dancing, or other kinds of exercise. By 9 or so when we got there the dancers were mostly retirees, but earlier the working-age people got their blood moving.

Shortly after we arrived, though, the rain kicked in and we (and most of the dancers) sought shelter in the "72 Long Corridor". This is a long corridor (duh!) which has 72 sections as it travels between the parking lot and the "temple proper" aka the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. They used to bring the sacrificial animals from where they were sacrificed to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in this corridor to keep it from being rained on.

Nowadays, this building that once was fraught with imperial significance and redolent of history is a meeting place for the common people to pursue various hobbies. As we walked down the corridor we passed the following:

A chorus of people singing old Revolutionary songs
a plethora of poker players
a contact juggler
two sets of hacky-sackers (one of which wanted more room and actually went out in the rain)
another choir, singing Tibetan folk songs
a lady doing karaoke
four dudes playing dominoes
and a brass band!
I could not believe how much fun these people were having, and how lively this place was!

In addition to watching all the activity, we also admired the corridor itself. In typical Imperial fashion, it was gorgeously decorated with intricate paintwork as you can see in all the photos.

As we neared the end of the corridor, the last bit sloped up so we couldn't see our destination, presumably to add a little mystery:
Who knows what lies beyond the red-lacquered Imperial doors?

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