Monday, February 28, 2011, (Beijing DAY 1):
I awake and take advantage of the breakfast buffet. I’m in the restaurant early, around 7 AM, and it is already full. I am the only westerner. The other guests appear to be some Chinese, Korean and Japanese. I eat my filling at the buffet and head back to the room to start my day.
In the room I am torn what to do first…Forbidden City? Tiananmen Square? The Great Wall? I have a list of suggested things to do, provided by a colleague at work. I also have some feedback provided by Yifang while in Shanghai. In the end, I decide to just get out of the room and do something! I choose to visit the Temple of Heaven.
The bellman flags a taxi and when I get in and ask to go to the Temple of Heaven, they ask me which gate. Apparently there are four of them. I flip to my guide book and just guess and point to the West Heavenly Gate. I figure one is as good as the other. I then
begin to re-read the guide book and realize, maybe not….The Temple of Heaven was completed in the Ming Dynasty, and it was here the emperor would make sacrifices and pray to heaven and his ancestors for a good harvest. Well, most of the good sites, are near the north and south gates.
I get dropped off, pay my entry fee and rent a set of audio guide headphones. The audio guide detects when you are near a specific location and gives you information about the history and cultural significance. As I enter the park, I observe a group of Chinese women to my right exercising to music. It’s not exactly aerobics, but it’s interesting to observe.
The ground is still covered with snow and ice in some patches. Though the sun is out, it is very cold and I have to wear gloves, a stocking cap and a scarf. I walk through a park area and see another group of women kicking a sack around. It’s like hacky-sack, but the bag has fins. I see other older people walking and stretching.
As I stroll next
to a wall with nothing of particular architectural interest in site, I think I picked the wrong entry. The entry is near the Hall of Abstinence. I have never been very good at that, so I should have taken that as a sign. Just then, I see a group of old men sitting and playing musical instruments, similar to a violin (with a bow) that produces what one would think of as traditional Chinese music. I observe for a while and as I resume my walk, an older gentleman walking the same direction is humming to the music.
I soon get to the area where the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is located. It is striking in the colors and design. The circular roof is blue, representing the color of heaven. The interior and exterior walls are red, which represent the emperor and empress. The ceiling is ornately adorned with dragon and phoenix. It is constructed entirely of wood, without use of a single nail.
There are other structures on the grounds. Marbles steps, stairs, columns, and beads on doors are number 9,
or factors thereof. Odd numbers represent yang, the preferred masculine element, and 9 is the ultimate odd number.
I notice more people are staring at me here in Beijing as compared to Shanghai. Westerners are present, but not as frequently. The opposite of staring is sometimes true, as well. In some cases, the people behave as if they do not see me, and cut in front of me in line. For crying out loud…I’m 6’2” and 180 pounds. Do they really think I believe they don’t see me???
I make a pit-stop in the restroom. I won’t talk about toilets this time. Rather, I notice that despite the no smoking signs, it is very common to be overwhelmed by the odor of cigarettes in public toilets. This was true even in public buildings like shopping malls, where smoking was not permitted. Though the largest producer and consumer of tobacco in the world, China is making an effort to reduce smoking.
They are also addressing another public nuisance, which is spitting. It is very common. In fact,
even in the bathroom, men will just spit on the floor, even if a sink, urinal or toilet is right there! Again, this is not true for all Chinese, but common enough.
I tour the rest of the grounds, including the structures near the South Gate. After I leave the grounds I turn East and walk a few blocks to a major thoroughfare. The area is down at the heels and I walk past older buildings, shabby apartments and small shops. I get to a more commercial area and stop for lunch at a fast food noodle restaurant. The meal is quite good. A big bowl of noodles with beef and vegetables, a small soda and some side garnish vegetables for 25 RMB (about $3).
I catch a taxi over to Wangfujing Street, an area recommended for shopping. The taxis in Shanghai has been almost exclusively Volkswagen Santanas, In Beijing, the vast majority of cabs are Hyundai Elantras. I do see a few VW Jettas, but no Santanas.
The shopping area includes shops on two sides of a broad walkway. There are cheap souvenir
stands and licensed shops selling over-priced goods from the 2010 Shanghai Expo. There are brand name stores, which I know will have items priced way above what they cost in the States, due to import tax.
I find the side street where they sell skewers, delicacies and a variety of foods. I’m still full from lunch so I pass these by. After looking for souvenirs and finding nothing of interest, I catch a cab back to the hotel. I take a quick nap, then go to the gym.
It turns out there has been a bit of a hubbub here Sunday, and again Tuesday when Chinese security agents roughed up some foreign journalists and smashed their camera equipment. Apparently this mall was the planned location for some protestors, though the protests never transpired. I think I’ll give the area a wide berth the rest of my stay…
I have dinner at the hotel in the buffet and overeat, canceling out the benefits of the gym. I tell myself I have walked a whole lot and could have those three pieces of dessert AND
the ice cream with no ill effect, but I’m not convinced. Maybe I’ll swim alter.