Sunday in the Temple of Heaven

We awoke Sunday to another glorious day. After breakfast, we boarded our buses and drove through Beijing to the Temple of Heaven. The Chinese have many beliefs about what is fortuitous and some of them have to do with placement of buildings. The Temple of Heaven, to which the emperor would travel, was in a direct line six kilometers south of the Forbidden City where he resided. He would go to the Temple of Heaven every winter solstice to worship heaven and to solemnly pray for a good harvest. Since his rule was legitimized by a mandate from heaven, a bad harvest could be interpreted as his fall from heaven’s favor and threaten the stability of his reign. So, the emperor fervently prayed for a very good crop. When the emperor traveled to the Temple of Heaven to offer his prayers, citizens were not permitted to watch. Were they unlucky enough to be caught along the path when he was making his way, they had to lie prone and avoid looking up for the entire duration of his journey.

We arrived expecting to see buildings, but in fact, the most interesting sights at the Temple of Heaven were the people we saw. Each day hundreds of Chinese people, mostly over the age of sixty, come to exercise. They were doing Tai Chi individually, or in groups with fans or swords. They were playing hacky-sack. They danced, sometimes ballroom-type dancing. But the most amazing sight was the area that was most like a children’s playground. Instead of equipment geared for children were all sorts of devices designed for adults to chin, to do sit-ups, to climb, and to stretch. There were paths with rounded stones embedded in them over which they walked in thin-soled slipper-type shoes. One older woman held a pole behind her neck that stretched over her shoulders. She gently raised both of her legs and placed them behind the pole, effectively bending herself in half. Ouch! It hurt me to watch, but not enough to keep me from taking pictures.

As we walked through the gardens and structures, we heard beautiful music, either being played on instruments live in the garden or from mechanical devices people had brought with them. The people seemed very happy and content. It seemed such a wonderful way to start a day, out in nature with friends, doing healthy exercise. I asked what they do in winter and our Chinese guide told me that they are there in winter as well.

At the edge of the park there was a store that sold fresh-water pearls. We saw a demonstration where a man took an oyster and opened it up to show us the pearls inside. He had a charming sales pitch, but not charming enough to convince me to buy something that I didn’t need.

Outside we met some Malaysian women and they were so attractively adorned that I asked to take their picture. They then took mine!

When we got back onto the bus and headed straight to the airport for a flight to Xian (Shi-Yan). Xian was the capital of thirteen Chinese dynasties and is its only walled city whose walls have survived until today.

There we saw the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower. We took a walk through the Muslim Quarter and saw a Muslim Temple that is said to resemble quite closely the synagogue that used to exist in Kaifeng. It was of traditional Chinese architecture in that it consisted to entrances and gardens one after the other. It was very tranquil and very beautiful.

We then visited the Big Wild Goose Pagoda which is a Buddhist temple. You can read about it at

Back at the hotel, we had dinner and when we left the dining room, we saw some very lovely young women in long purple taffeta gowns with nametags and little purses. We didn’t know if they were to be in a show or if they were at some sort of conference or what. One said something about dancing. I took a picture and one looked at me and motioned not to take pictures. Later I learned that these women dance with visiting gentlemen.

We then left the hotel and went to the Tang Dynasty Show which consisted of beautiful music and dancing. The costumes were exquisite. It was a feast for the senses. A tired crew, we returned to the hotel to catch a few hours of sleep before the next day’s adventures.

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