Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is known as the people’s park in Beijing. It is a place in which visitors can glimpse real-life in Beijing – it is truly an authentic experience. Upon entering the park, visitors see a great deal of green space and the area is populated by many Cyprus trees which are quite common in China. It also means “plentiful”. The Emperor had the people plant many Cyrprus Trees outside and inside the Temple of Heaven compound to increase the chance of a good harvest for the farmers and for the nation.
During the Harvest, the Emperor would come to this great hall, called the Hall of Prayer for Great Harvest. The Emperor would come here to pray and fast. During his stay at the Temple of Heaven, the Emperor had to stay in the Fasting Palace (not pictured) for three days. During those three days, he had to eat a vegetarian diet and could not have the company of his concubines. He was to sacrifice his own comforts for the sake of the people.
The Temple was built around 1420 and is a true feat of engineering. The Hall of Prayer has three levels. The top is Heaven, the second level is Earth, and the third is the people – which represents Chinese religion at that time. The hall is constructed of 28 wooden columns as the support structure. Four of the columns represent the seasons, 12 are the months, and the other 12 are for the hours of the day (they calculated hours differently than we do).
The numbers 12 and 24 are very important, as most farmers were illiterate. The only literature in their homes was a calendar. The year is 12 months, but divided into 24 parts based on what happens through the year to inform the farmers what they should be doing during each part of the year.
Outside the Temple of Heaven compound is a massive green space with an adult playground. Many people come to the park at all hours of the day to exercise and meet with groups. Many of the people are elderly. They come together for music lessons, to dance together, exercise together, and socialize, while being healthy. It is totally wild and completely awesome.
Our guide explained that we should explore the area and join in with the folks exercising. He said they would welcome us and that we should ask them their ages. He said the people would not be mad because it is a point of pride for them that they are still so agile at later stages in their lives. In China elderly people are afforded a great deal of respect and honor – much different than in the US. It is really cool to see all of the groups together and exercising. There were many people of all ages together, enjoying this beautiful place.
We also had a short Tai Chi demonstration and lesson, followed by time on the playground. I wish that parks in the US would move toward this type of set-up. The equipment was fun and functional – you could hardly tell you were exercising – plus there were several pieces of equipment specifically used to massage tired muscles. I also loved how they had poles on which to place your belongings, such as bags and purses. Everyone hung their items up and didn’t worry about anyone taking them – refreshing
Biking on the Xi’an City Wall
After leaving the Temple of Heaven, we boarded a plane to Xi’an, which was the original capital of China. It is much older than Beijing and as its own city wall. Xi’an is bordered by a mountain, a natural barrier against enemies, which is why the Emperor chose it to be the capital city. The city wall of Xi’an marks the beginning of the Silk Road.
This city wall is one of the most well constructed city walls in the nation, which is why it still stands today and is in such good condition – of course the Chinese government takes great pride in maintaining their historical sites, so it is also well cared for. We had the pleasure of renting bicycles and taking a tour of the wall. It is truly immense, like many places in China. The sun beat down on us, but the breeze was nice on this 97 degree day. We spent an hour biking as far as our legs would pedal us. The bikes were a bit small for my 6-foot frame, but I managed. I even wore my bicycle dress for the occasion. For me, this was one of the highlights of our trip to China.
Chinese Foot Massage
We ended our 4th day of touring with a traditional Chinese foot massage. They start with a foot bath in warm water that smells a bit like cinnamon. I was glad, because my feet had been sweating in sandals all day and were a bit ripe – I felt I needed to apologize to Li Fung Mei, the massage therapist, for the smell. Good thing they were washed and smelled pretty before the massage started.
Li Fung Mei was so sweet and extremely strong. It was a powerful massage and didn’t just cover my feet. She massaged my shoulders, arms, legs, and back. The massage also included the placing of a very hot bag of rocks on my torso and then on various spots on my back. Li Fung Mei was quite fond of my hair. When a hair would fall out of place she would instruct me to fix it. She complimented me several times. By the end of the massage, I felt like I was walking on clouds. Not bad for a 60-minute massage for only $25. I could get used to this!