After a long hiatus (where I reacquainted myself with the daily grind at work)–I’m back to continue my long-delayed Beijing chronicles! As an aside, Shanghai is the place to be next year as it is the venue of the Shanghai Expo 2010. The Bund was under construction for the event a few months back, and I imagine the place is going to be crowded come expo time. Never did figure out what the mascot was supposed to be though.
On to Part 2 of our Beijing weekend trip. Our Chinatour coach picked us up around 7am the next day, just in time for us to grab a quick breakfast at the small hotel buffet. First stop: the Temple of Heaven complex. The temple grounds actually host a variety of groups doing various activities: callisthenics, tai-chi, ribbon dancing, sword fighting–we even saw four grown women kicking what looked to be a rubber wheel (in my country we’d call it sipa but play the game with a smaller ball).
The Circular Mound Altar is more popularly known as the “Heaven-Worshipping Terrace,” with all its slabs and the flights of steps in 9 or multiples of 9. this symbolizes the 9 layers of heaven. You can’t enter the gate though.
However, because we were so early (at the insistence of the benevolent Nicola auntie) the gate to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests was still closed. A good argument with Nicola ensued, courtesy of my well-meaning but sometimes overly-enthusiastic friends. I just took pictures best I could, and had to make do with a back-view of the building. It is said that the building, though made totally of wood, is built with no nails.
After this, we drove to Tian’anmen Square, past the Great Hall of the People which is located at the western edge of the square. The coach dropped us off in front of the hall (which surprisingly had a LOT of people milling about in front of it) and we walked via an underpass to the Tian’anmen Square gate.
The Forbidden City is actually a series of halls spaced faaar apart from one another (read: a good deal of walking and cold bottled water required), with the marble walk once tread upon only by royalty.
One has to keep in mind that these were once royal courts, so the farther you go the higher in rank the person the hall was built for. For instance, one of the halls in the outer court, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, was usually used to announce successful candidates in official exams or install a new empress. Much further in however, the Hall of Heavenly Purity is where the emperor and empress actually slept. It’s amusing to see that there are also halls for the emperor’s many concubines.
Of course, no visit to Beijing would be complete without dropping by the 2008 Olympics Bird’s Nest Stadium. This was listed in our tour itinerary as an optional feature however, and Nicola auntie claimed that we could pass by the stadium but under no circumstances could we stop the van to have pictures taken with the nest.
As you may well imagine, this drew a lot of flak from my friends, who were already a bit peeved at having missed a portion of the Temple of Heaven complex. Another looong argument ensued. In the end though, I got my pictures. I even bought a fake Beijing 2008 olympic medal from an especially pushy lady in front of the stadium. I guess it pays to be extremely aggressive once in a while.
Final stop for the day is the Summer Palace, which seemed to me like an upsized version of the temple grounds we’ve visited before. The longest corridor amongst all Chinese gardens (Chang Lang or Long Corridor) is located here. On the beams are colorful paintings from Chinese literary classics, and on either side are dozing gents or schoolchildren playing/eating sweets or whatnot.
The corridor links all the structures surrounding Longevity Hill into a whole.
Longevity Hill is one of the more notable structures in the palace, with the Tower of Buddhist Incense sitting atop of it. It looked like a place that afforded a spectacular view of the whole palace and Kunming Lake, however Nicola auntie again insisted we had to choose between climbing the tower OR taking a cruise on the lake, for lack of time. Stubborn as we are, we decided to climb the tower and promised we’d be back in 30minutes tops. My friend begged off, insisting she’d had enough walking that day to last her a week.
We actually had our cake and ate it too: we got back in a record 25minutes, so we had time to take the lake cruise and enjoy the breeze.
Outside of the temple we spotted lots of yummy and fresh produce, one of the best things about China in general…
The trip was altogether too short. Looking forward to returning to Beijing sometime soon.