Day 48 - A little piece of heaven

Trip Start Sep 30, 2012
Trip End Jan 09, 2013

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Flag of China  , Beijing,
Saturday, November 17, 2012

On today's schedule was a visit to The Temple of Heaven and the Pearl Market. We headed to the subway and found our way to the right station. The subway is fantastic. Really such an easy and cheap way to get around. Sometimes it's so crowded you feel like a sardine but generally its quite pleasant. We arrived and started walking to the entrance. Not knowing exactly where it was we headed in one direction and then, doubting ourselves, we turned around and headed in the other direction. A passing moped with carriage driver saw his chance and convinced us the entrance was far and he would give us a cheap lift. While the ride was quite fun, we got to the entrance and all of a sudden the price was much more. Typical tourist trap. Anyway after a small argument we paid him and went into the Temple. The area surrounding the Temple is a beautiful park and it being Saturday there were many Chinese people enjoying the park. There was a ballroom dancing class going on, people busking, others playing hacky sack and then, our best, some opera singers with microphone in hand and speakers distorting behind them belting out an aria. Hilarious! There was even an impromptu choir.

The Temple is really an amazing set of buildings that was built as a place for the emperor to make offerings to heaven for a bumper crop. There was a whole procedure that had to be followed to ensure the sacrifice was done just right. It was amazing to learn about how things were done. The first building was the Hall of prayer for good harvest. It is an amazing three tiered circular building. The pillars are inside the halls and are beautiful painted. The adjacent halls have pictures and stations depicting the process that the emperor followed. They also contain a history of the hall and how it was redesigned and renovated several times. Really impressive.
Next we headed along a beautiful bridge called the Sacred Way. This lead to the Echo Wall which is quite fun. The idea is that one person stands at one side of the circular wall and the other person stands at the other side and if you speak you can hear each other clearly. With so many people screeching into the wall it was hard to tell if it really worked but we found that if we stood a few metres apart and spoke into the wall we could hear each other clearly. So who knows.
The path then leads to the Circular Mound. This is a multi-layered circular altar inside a massive square courtyard. It's another impressive structure and the top layer has an alter stone in the centre. Apparently if you stand on it and speak your voice resonates. Lots of people were trying it which was funny to watch.
We really loved the temple and the surrounding park. Lovely for a weekend stroll.
Our next stop was the Pearl market which was nearby. It's a four level building with market stalls and shops on each level. The top floors specialise in pearls and the lower floors sell everything from electronics to shoes, handbags, clothes, souvenirs and watches. All rip offs of course but interesting to see. While every store owner wants to sell you something they are not aggressive and the experience is quite pleasant. We bought some snow gloves and hiking boots and then headed up to see the pearls. So amazing. We walked into one fancy store and the lady explained the difference between sea and fresh pearls and how they are graded. It was very interesting and some of the pieces were exquisite. They also had pics of the many famous people who had been in the store including Nicholas Cage and Jessica Biel.
With our shopping done we caught the subway back to our part of town and headed back through the hutong area. It's a couple of small streets with the original houses and alleys still intact. A bit of a tourist part now but still quite authentic. We stopped at a famous steamy bun restaurant and tried a few different buns stuffed with delicious fillings. It was a great lunch supper and we both agreed that steamy buns should be available in SA.
So after our busy day we had a snooze before heading off to the theatre to see the production Chun Li: the story of Kung Fu. It was showing at the Red Theatre and was brilliant. It's the story of a young Shaolin monk boy who grows up learning Kung Fu and all that goes with it. You follow him on his journey to enlightenment. We were very impressed with the martial arts, the lighting, the costumes and just the amazing stunts. Such a worthwhile experience and highly recommended. We caught the subway back and relaxed a bit in the common area before heading to bed. It's been an adventure packed day and we feel like spoilt brats getting to enjoy these amazing things.
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