The Temple of Heaven

This morning, there was a half-day tour of Beijing planned. Fortunately, the first stop was somewhere I had wanted to visit but was not on the itinerary from our previous Gate 1 Tour: the Temple of Heaven. The second stop was a Hutong visit. There are multiple Hutton’s in Beijing so we hoped to visit a more authentic area than the previous visit.

We didn’t start until 9 am so had plenty of time to get breakfast beforehand. A local guide met us in the lobby of our hotel. We would be taking the metro to visit the sites.

The Beijing metro is pretty easy to navigate; there are signs translated to English. Ford, our guide, purchased our tickets for us and we rode 2 stops to reach the east gate of the Temple of Heaven.

He purchased our tickets for entry and warned us not to lose them. Each time we entered a different area of the grounds, we would need to have our tickets scanned. We had also been told to bring our passports with us, but we did not need them.

Ford gave us minimal information as we walked through. He had a quiet voice and didn’t talk much. We passed by the 7 Star Stones but couldn’t hear the significance of them. The Temple of Heaven was built nearly 600 years ago in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty.

One of the main buildings was the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest where the emperor would come to pray every summer solstice. Since China was an agrarian society having good crops was of critical importance. The Gods of Heaven and Earth were worshipped by the Chinese. This temple was originally the Temple of Heaven and Earth and so the original roof colors reflected this. The top layer was blue to represent the sky; the middle was yellow to represent the emperor; the bottom was green to represent the common people. Eventually, a Temple of Earth was built north of the city. This became the Temple of Heaven and the 3 roofs were all painted blue.

We were able to walk up to the Temple to look inside but were not allowed in. Ford had told us about the symbolism inside. Everything with the Chinese has symbolic meaning.

On the walk to the next area, I accidentally bumped into a Chinese lady. No problem! She wanted to share her umbrella with me, and several of her friends walked alongside videotaping the two of us together. When we split up, a couple of her friends continued to walk in front of me taking my picture. I guess there is something interesting about my white skin and white hair!

Ford pointed out the 9 dragon juniper that we passed. It was quite beautiful. The number 9 in Chinese sounds much like the Chinese word for longevity and so has special meaning. The number 4 sounds much like the word for death and so is not so popular. Many Chinese buildings do not have a 4th floor because of this.

The Imperial Vault of Heaven was our next stop. It is surrounded by an echo wall and has interesting acoustical features built in, though in order to experience them, you would need to visit when the place was empty (in other words, it ain’t going to happen!). There is a staircase leading up to the temple. If you stand on the first step and clap once, you will hear a single echo. If you clap once on the second step, you will hear two echoes. On the third step, a single clap will net you three echoes. I am not sure if this pattern continues all the way up, but pretty cool nonetheless.

The final temple was the round altar where the emperor would pray during the winter solstice. The inner wall is circular, representing heaven; the outer wall is square representing earth. Each section contains 9 steps (a lucky number) and each part of the structure is composed of an odd number of items. Odd numbers represent yang in Chinese (heaven) and are considered better than even numbers which represent yin (earth).

At the very center of the top level is the place the emperor stood. This was a popular spot for the locals to want to stand!

I enjoyed our visit very much. Be warned that if you do visit, be prepared to do a large amount of walking and climbing up and down stairs. No big deal but if you have mobility issues, this would not be an easy place to visit.

As we walked back to the metro, Ford described the Hutong we would visit. Unfortunately it was exactly the same one we went to before so Clayton and I decided to head back to the hotel instead. Ford bought our subway tickets and we were able to easily find our way back to the hotel.

We used the afternoon to have lunch at Pizza Hut and buy groceries for the first part of our train trip. The Pizza Hut was quite different from what we have in the US. It is a full service restaurant with a menu that includes all types of items including steak dinners. We were a bit burned out on Chinese food after our two weeks spent here so wanted some good old American style pizza. It wasn’t exactly like what you would get at home, but the pizza was pretty good. We were excited to find that there was free lemon water that you could help yourself to. I should say, we were excited until we drank it – we forgot that the Chinese like to drink their liquids warm. The best analogy I can come up with is it tasted like dishwater liquid mixed with some lemon fresh Joy! Not good. Instead, we ordered Pepsi to go with our pizza. We forgot to ask for it without ice so are hoping that they use purified water for the ice cubes. If you visit China it is best to ask for your drinks with no ice, just to be on the safe side.

We needed to pick up a few items at the grocery store so headed to the supermarket that Svetlana had pointed out the night before. We grabbed some snacks for just in case the restaurant car didn’t have any decent food. Some people in our group plan on surviving on cup of noodles and water but we would prefer to have regular meals if possible. As the train moves from country to country the dining car changes. On the Chinese portion of the trip, meals are included. From then on, we are on our own. We will not be on the train continuously, so only needed enough food for a 30-hour train trip.

We decided to take it easy the rest of the day. We would be meeting our tour group at 5:30 am so needed to make it an early day.