Sunday, August 24, 2008

Beijing Day 9 — Temple of Heaven

Our plan for the day was pretty loose. We wanted to try and get as close to the Olympic Green as we could to see the fireworks from the Closing Ceremony. We were both pretty beat and didn't really want to go out. Angie is coming down with something and we've both just about had it with the crowds and heat. But, we've only got a couple days to go — we can rest when we get home.

We started out kind of late, mostly because we were unsure of what to go do. We settled on starting with the Drum and Bell Towers, the ancient Beijing versions of Big Ben — used to communicate the time and/or public messages before the advent of speaker towers. When we got there, both were "Closed long time" — according to the sign. Okay, plan B.

Beijing Day 9 — Wandering — 1

We weren't too far away from one of the lakes that stretch down towards the Forbidden City, so we decided to walk down there and stroll around. Touristville, big time. We actually rode through part of this area on our bike tour, but I don't think we got a very good look at it. There were "Visa, the official card of the Beijing Olympics" signs every 10 feet. Seriously. I have a picture to prove it.

Beijing Day 9 — Wandering — 5

We did have several opportunities to buy Rolexs. One woman in particular really tempted me as she whispered, "Lolex" and started to unzip her fanny pack. If anyone really wants a Rolex, which I'm sure is real, I can hook you up with her.

We decided to ditch the Rolex crowd — we were asked 4 times about Rolexs — and head over to the Temple of Heaven, one of the major historical sites in Beijing. Originally, we were scheduled to see the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace, the Emperor's palace away from the palace, tomorrow as part of another formal tour with Shall. Neither of us have been looking forward to it since we were confident that A/ more forced shopping would be involved and B/ she'd fly us through both locations so that we could have more time for A. She ran us through the Forbidden City in a half hour. When we went back through on our own, we were there for 4 hours and still only did about half of it. Knowing that both the Temple and Palace were as big or bigger than the Forbidden City, we knew Shall would shortchange us again. Before we left the hotel, Angie called and canceled the tour.

The Temple of Heaven really is a massive place. Like Jingshan park, the spot we visited on our first full day here, this was exactly what we needed at this stage of our trip. There were a lot of people here, but they were all so spread out that it felt like we had space and could meander as we pleased. Even inside the areas where the main buildings were, until you got up to the primary focus of a particular place like the spots you could see into the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the crowds were manageable.

Beijing Day 9 — Temple of Heaven — 3

The whole complex was built so that the Emperor could do ritualize sacrifices to Heaven. The sacrifice process was long and involved, took several days and each step had it's own building. Even the warehouse that they used to store everything was sacred and given the same high status architecture as the more important buildings. One of the funnier spots is the 70-year old gate. The staff of one elderly Empreror had a hole cut into the wall surrounding the main Hall so that their 70-year old Emperor wouldn't have to walk so far during the normal ritual. He thought the door was a cheat, but still used it. To keep anyone else from taking advantage of the shortcut, he decreed that no one under 70 could use the gate, so it became to 70-year old gate.

I think that the Chinese still hold this place in higher reverence than some of the other spots we've been. There were fewer vendors and the ones that were there were concentrated in a couple spots. There were fewer people performing like we saw in Jingshan park. It was much quieter and peaceful. It was a welcome break from normal life in Beijing.

Beijing Day 9 — Temple of Heaven — 17

As we left the park, we tried to get a taxi to the Night Market once again, figuring that it was about the cheapest place to eat and neither of us got the squirts after eating there. One guy wanted to charge us 100 RMB to get into the cab. Since that is easily 3 times what any other cab ride has cost us, we walked away. The next two cabs we tried to get flat out said no to us and said something about "Olympics." Feeling like we were missing something big, like the city was being locked down due to the Closing Ceremonies, we decided to hoof it over to the nearest subway. It was a bit of a hike, but we found it and rode up to the stop we thought was closest to the Market.

We missed it by one stop, we discovered, after walking for about a half hour or so. We finally found our way to the street where the Market is and found that it was closed. Angie thinks that the cabbies were refusing to drive us because they knew the Market was closed. Since there were tons of cabs up there, I think they were being dicks. Either way, we decided to head back up towards the Olympic Green and try to find a good spot for the fireworks.

We got off the subway at a spot that we thought would be closest to the east side of the Bird's Nest. It was, but we were still a couple miles away. The maps we have are horrible on scale and it's been very difficult to estimate distances. So we walked, and walked, and walked. We got turned around and had to walk back a bit. By the time we got close-ish to the stadium, we found the first police barricades.

They had a perimeter blocked off around the Olympic Green of about a mile in all directions. By this point, it was getting dark and we were getting pretty tired. We were already worn out before the day started and, with the walking we'd done in the park, were up to about 6 hours of walking today. With no clear view of the sky due to buildings, powerlines and trees, we were about to give up. I convinced Angie to go a little further before we bagged it and cabbed back to the hotel.

We found a street going in the right direction and were able to get about as close to the stadium as possible. We could see the top of the broadcast pagoda and the glow from the Olympic Flame in the mist. It was still about a half hour before the start of the Ceremony, so we staked out a spot. And stood there. And stood there. And stood there. And decided since the fireworks were only going to really go off at the end, which was 2.5 hours away or so, and since we were both very tired that we'd bag it after all and go back to the hotel.

So we watched the Closing Ceremonies and fireworks like everyone else, on TV.

We could see bits of the fireworks from our hotel room, but they were all in the distance. They were spread out all over the city by the looks of it. We were fairly frustrated that we weren't able to correctly communicate with anyone that we had wanted to watch the fireworks. Communication, even with English-speaking Chinese, has been spotty. You can never be sure that they understood your question or the intent of your question. The answer they give you often is very limited to the specifics of your question, if they get it right. They don't offer any other information, such as "No, you can't get on the Olympic Green to watch the fireworks without an event ticket, but if you want fireworks here are the 6 other locations you can go." Or, if they aren't sure about what you've asked, they just give you a no. We've really had to work hard to ask the right questions the right way in order to get the information we want, and even then we can't be sure until we get to where we think we're going that the information we received was correct. The Chinese people, except for a couple small instances, have been very helpful and seemed honestly sincere in their attempts to be good hosts, but the language barrier was a lot bigger than we'd expected and it hampered us in a lot of ways.

So, by the end of our "take it easy" day, we'd walked 25,000 steps according to Angie's pedometer. I don't know what that translates to in miles, but it felt like lots.

Tomorrow is our last full day in China and we're heading to the Summer Palace for one more sightseeing jaunt. Then, it's a full day of airports and no leg room.

Oh, one more thing — we saw a cat in a dry moat around the Fasting Palace in the Temple of Heaven. It was the first cat we've seen and I tried to follow him, but we lost him. I think I miss our cats.

Beijing Day 9 — Temple of Heaven — 46

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