Being a senior in China

In my first China travel, several years ago, I went to Southern China, near Guangzhou. I didn’t imagine that I would meet that many elderly people hanging out in the streets. Since I’ve never been to Northern China, I thought that it was something typical from the South, since weather is quite warm and because […]

In my first China travel, several years ago, I went to Southern China, near Guangzhou. I didn’t imagine that I would meet that many elderly people hanging out in the streets. Since I’ve never been to Northern China, I thought that it was something typical from the South, since weather is quite warm and because it wasn’t a very big city, so seniors could enjoy the tranquility of the city with their friends. But when I came back in China few months ago, taking a flight to Beijing more precisely was quite surprised to notice the same phenomena here. Seniors are especially active in China; I think that there is a huge gap between seniors in western countries and eastern ones.

In France (where I come from), the Elderly are quite alone, I mean they spend their day at home, reading the newspaper, watching TV, going out sometimes to shop at the supermarket or at the market, and see their family members once a week. They have plenty of time but don’t have the opportunity to meet other a lot of people, or do some regular activities. I think that seniors in China are much happier than in France, they are surprisingly active. Furthermore, most of the times they live in the same place than their children with the whole family or just at the house/apartment next door, they are never very far from their children and grandchildren.

Here is a typical day of a senior in China:
They wake up quite early in the morning drink a cup of tea, have a breakfast and read the newspaper. As they’re up before the whole family they prepare the breakfast for everyone and have it together. Then, while the weather is still fresh, they go to some parks, in the streets, or just down the building to have a walk, gather with the old people in the neighborhood, do some exercise with some punchy music and dance. At midday they go back home to have lunch with the grandchildren they took at school, and then they take a nap because the weather is too hot to go out. And when they wake up they usually spend the rest of the afternoon with their friends chatting outside or play games like mahjong or cards.

Indeed when I go to the parks or when I walk out from my building I like to chat with the Elderly. They are very nice, funny and are happy to speak and meet with a foreigner. They might invite you for a cup of tea in the afternoon and eat some fruits if they like you. Or better, you can spend the afternoon playing with them at Chinese chess, mahjong or cards. I still don’t know how to play Chinese chess, but they already taught me how to play mahjong and cards. First, the rules of mahjong were quite difficult to assimilate, but after few games, I felt like I’ve been playing this game my whole life! I must confess that this is now my favorite game; it requires skill, strategy, calculation and involves a certain degree of chance. Now I can easily “Pung, Kong, Chi” with the 136 tiles.

No surprise that Chinese people are known to have the longest life in the world if they are as happy. I wish I could live like them when I grow old and spend my day taking things easy. So, next time you will see a group of seniors in a park or in the street, don’t hesitate to discuss with them even if they can’t speak English, I’m sure that you will spend a great time and live an amazing human experience. What make your China tour different from others would be the people you met and the experience you’ve shared not only the place you’ve visited.

Summertime at the Summer Palace

On July 9, 2012, in Beijing, Parks & Gardens, Summer Palace, by Jack Li

For a newcomer to China travel like me, the Summer Palace was a must-see Beijing hotspot and beautiful example of Chinese architecture set against the tranquil landscape of Kunming Lake. Constructed over 250 years ago, this visual gem is a great place for tourist groups of any size to take some amazing pictures as well […]

For a newcomer to China travel like me, the Summer Palace was a must-see Beijing hotspot and beautiful example of Chinese architecture set against the tranquil landscape of Kunming Lake. Constructed over 250 years ago, this visual gem is a great place for tourist groups of any size to take some amazing pictures as well as enjoy the Chinese culture. It will cost you a mere 30 RMB to experience all the gorgeous surroundings this park has to offer, and for students with a valid ID its half price! For those who enjoy the outdoors and are looking for a great place to just relax by the water or even burn a few calories on Longevity Hill, the Summer Palace is perfect addition to your China Tours. The natural environment of this palace can be attributed to the exquisite garden design and landscaping. It’s unlike anything I have ever seen! No wonder the Chinese name for this attraction literally means “Gardens of Nurtured Harmony.” With scenic views and structures fit for royalty, this palace served as a peaceful residence for many Qing Dynasty ruling family members. As you ascend the hill, you’ll find yourself trekking up some large rocks so make sure to wear comfortable shoes. You can get some good pictures if you are ready and willing to climb up on some of the rocks and look out over the whole hillside.

Dispersed over the hill are a number of stunning buildings such as the Sea of Wisdom Temple, the Cloud Dispelling Hall, and the Temple of Buddhist Virtue, where the Tower of Buddhist Incense takes center stage. This impressive three story tower is the major focal point of the Summer Palace. After coming down the hill’s opposite side, the biggest treat of my day was walking along the lake and watching the boats pass by. Food and souvenir vendors are plentiful. Personally, I purchased a decorated fan and a vanilla ice cream cone to help keep cool in the Beijing summer heat. There were also a handful of skilled performers throughout the grounds ready to entertain passing crowds with Chinese acrobatics or traditional music. At the lake, paddle boats can be rented as well as tickets for boat rides at a reasonable price; I highly recommend these options. Nothing beats getting out on the water on a hot summer day! Closer to the edges outer edges of the lake, the water is covered with the pleasing green hue of massive lily pads. Stretching out across the lake is a multiple arch bridge, where you can join in on some kite flying. The entire park is huge, almost 750 acres, so give yourself plenty of time because a single visit can take up the whole day. There’s so much to see in Beijing, but make sure the Summer Palace is a priority place to visit. Your travel to Beijing won’t be complete without indulging in all this natural elegance.

 

Zizhuyuan Park

On May 23, 2012, in Beijing, Nature Scenery, Parks & Gardens, by Jack Li

One very special spot in amongst the busy roads of northwest Beijing is the Zizhuyuan Park (also referred to as ‘purple’ or ‘black’ bamboo park). It is easy to spend a good few hours in this beautiful location enjoying getting lost between its labyrinths of paths which weave in-between the bamboo shoots before heading back […]

One very special spot in amongst the busy roads of northwest Beijing is the Zizhuyuan Park (also referred to as ‘purple’ or ‘black’ bamboo park). It is easy to spend a good few hours in this beautiful location enjoying getting lost between its labyrinths of paths which weave in-between the bamboo shoots before heading back with peace-of-mind to one of the splendid China hotels in the area. Rated as an AAAA tourist attraction means that Zizhuyuan Park is a definite must-see for anyone who decides to travel to Beijing.

Depending on which gate you use to enter the park, depends on the subway station you get off at. Either the National Library station or the Beijing Zoo (although the latter is about a good 15 minute walk from the station) is probably the most convenient means to reach the park. On entrance to the park you will notice that there are no shortcomings on the scenic front, with approximately 50 species of bamboo inhabiting the park and three lakes crossing the 48 hectares of parkland.

As suggested earlier, the park is a welcomed retreat from the fast-paced roads surrounding it. If anything, Zizhuyuan feels like it possesses its own aura with even the normally urban-dwelling pigeons appearing as if they are gossiping casually whilst amassed on the branches dangling over the placid lake. Head towards the lakes and you may well find a few mandarin ducks with mother duck directing her brood. From here, you can sit and watch the tranquil waters as time goes by.

Spanning from the lakes are the various bamboo gardens which skirt through the park whereby you will have the pleasure of reading the tongue-twisting names of bamboo species such as ‘phyllostachys propinqua’ and ‘phyllostachys bambusoides’. A particularly magical section of the park is Yunshi Garden which includes some enchanting spots such as the waterfall at Qinglianyanxiu (Bright Scene of Refreshing Elegance) and the springs of Jiangnanzhuyun (Graceful Bamboos). No trip to this park is, of course, not complete without visiting Banzhu Lane (Lane of Mottled Bamboos). Indeed, the ‘purple’ mottles of the bamboo is where the park gets its name from. The legend states that these mottles represent the tearstains of the sage-king Yao’s daughters, Ehuang and Nuying. Interpretive sculptures of the daughters are an eye-catching sight in the park. The mottled lane is clearly popular insomuch as the odd tent could be seen camouflaged in its foliage.  

Note that this park has more than bamboo – although bamboo is wonderful in its own right. Indeed, Zizhuyuan plays host to a classy store called Royal Bamboo, has a small amusement park, the usual outdoor gym, Mingyuange Teahouse and Zhuyun Restaurant and a Henhuadu (Lotus Ferry Crossing). Youxianshanguan’s (Friendship Garden) name is made evident here after seeing the enthusiastic chess players and marvellous chess-piece sculptures uniting in games of goodwill. Thus the park is multi-faceted and attracts visitors throughout the day (or night as the case may be) and is a welcomed break on any China travel tour.

Ritan Park

On May 21, 2012, in Beijing, Historical Relics, Parks & Gardens, by Jack Li

Following on from the Jianguomen diplomatic area and close by to some excellent Beijing hotels lays Ritan Park. This is a lovely spot for everybody and anybody who is going to travel to Beijing. What’s more, this park is free, so suits anyone who wants to combine some historical sightseeing with a few leisurely pursuits. […]

Following on from the Jianguomen diplomatic area and close by to some excellent Beijing hotels lays Ritan Park. This is a lovely spot for everybody and anybody who is going to travel to Beijing. What’s more, this park is free, so suits anyone who wants to combine some historical sightseeing with a few leisurely pursuits.

Only in the 1950s did Ritan Park form; because before, that it was the sacred site for the Temple of the Sun which was built in 1530. The benefit of the park being free to enter provides the added bonus of being able to observe sights which under most circumstances you would pay to view. Despite most of the historical sites in the park not in their original states, they are nevertheless intriguing. Moreover, here’s a tip, if you don’t feel like paying the entrance fee to the renowned Temple of Heaven, but want to experience ancient holy sites in Beijing, then a trip the Ritan park is always another option. Amongst the most notably relics include; the mural on ritual sacrifices to the sun and the circular mound altar. The red colouring of the walls around the relics clearly highlights that the purpose of the temple was for sun worship. Consequently, due to the historical importance of the place, in 2006, the government designated the park as a State Protected Historic Site.

Equally, another significant historical site is the burial place of Ma Jun, a revolutionary deemed a martyr. Before entering this very tranquil section of the park through a portal-shaped arch, you will have the pleasure of listening to a recording (from a tree-stump like speaker) in both Chinese and English. Through the arch is a rose-looking garden called the ‘senior citizen’s activity area’ with the tomb, memorial and exhibition hall of Ma Jun situated behind.

The park is, nonetheless, a popular place in which many foreigners frequent and is full of modern activities for all the family to enjoy. Indeed, the park attracts many locals with its outdoor gym, table tennis and impressive climbing walls. The wall itself is an excellent attraction in
which to partake regardless of your climbing ability; or, if preferred, to watch others attempt to courageous scale the great height. The cost of climbing for day is 30RMB and one climbs totals 10RMB which sounds like a fair price. Other exciting activities in the park are is the children’s amusement fairground for those who don’t mind spinning around, then there is water-zorbing at the spring garden!

For a more laid-back approach, take a stroll down the south-western section of the park. Here you will find some idyllic waters surrounding by rockeries and sip on a drink on the stone boat on the lake. Pavilions, peonies and people are all plentiful in this most peaceful of parks. Anybody who is thinking of arranging or taking Beijing flights might want to take into account the splendid Ritan Park.

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Beijing: Park-life

On May 15, 2012, in Beijing, Nature Scenery, Parks & Gardens, by Jack Li

In spite of the ‘urban jungle’ feel, travel to Beijing and there are plenty pockets of peace in which to relax with the city being home to numerous parks of all shapes and sizes. By Beijing’s very nature, I have found it to have a strong sense of community with can be observed in the […]

In spite of the ‘urban jungle’ feel, travel to Beijing and there are plenty pockets of peace in which to relax with the city being home to numerous parks of all shapes and sizes. By Beijing’s very nature, I have found it to have a strong sense of community with can be observed in the city’s parks. It is unlikely that Beijing tours will operate in these recreational areas, but hopefully this article will create a convincing argument for this purpose.

Beijingers are like any city-folk who live in high-rise apartments, enjoy escaping to green open spaces. In some respects, park-life in Beijing appears very similar to life in any western park such as London’s Hyde Park or Central Park in New York with a comparable layout.  Even the petite type of dogs found throughout the city seemingly reflects the style of the urban dwelling accommodation. Yuyuantan Park, (over the river from Beijing’s Millennium Monument) exemplifies the universal character of a park the world over. The park is full of neat pathways cutting through the enormity of the place, people can be found fishing (and even swimming!) along the river, youth group singing ‘Light Up’ by Snow Patrol, kids skating and risking their safety with ever more daring tricks and families are just doing what they do. So are there any significant cultural differences with park-life in Beijing to, for example, western cities – what makes them special? Of course, I would hope so; this is China, filled with a rich customs and tradition…

As mentioned before, there is a strong sense of community, and this is evident with the amount of activity in the parks. Group dancing and singing, for instance, are some activities which simply marvellous to watch. Furthermore, the best thing is, many of these activities are open for all. When I visited Jingshan Park one Sunday afternoon, the place was beaming with life. Meander down from the top of the hill here, and you expect to find of choir groups singing joyfully even to the point where they could be competing with one another. Moving right to ground level at Jingshan, I was absolutely amazed at the large mass of people dancing to traditional songs. Paradoxically, I was unsure whether the dance was spontaneous or organized as the synchronicity was superb (well, bar one foreign chap; who, give him his due, was trying his best). Moreover, it seems as if anybody can join in on the dance and just follow the leader. Apart from song and dance, there was also a peculiar performance occurring in Jingshan in which a large crowd was gathering around. I later discovered this was a comic show with part of the act comprising of man and woman pretending to play out a bull fight!

Each park I have visited has demonstrated a cross-section of society having fun. One of the most fascinating and enthralling games which I have seen in the parks is Jianzi (or Chinese hacky sack), which is akin to volleying a shuttle amongst players. What’s great is that I often see the young (and seniors) play the game with the utmost skill – after trying this game myself, I can assure you that it is not an easy! While other characteristic aspects to be found in the parks include flying quintessential Chinese kites, Tai Chi, Cherry Gardens and pavilions (in Yuyuantan) and people practising on their personal karaoke set. All in all, wherever your Beijing hotels are located, you will not be far from a park teeming with local culture.

 

 

Jingshan: The Park on the Hill

On May 9, 2012, in Beijing, Nature Scenery, Parks & Gardens, by Jack Li

At nearly 50 meters, climbing to the top of Jingshan Park (also called ‘Coal Hill’) may be quite a mission; but once there, the views are astounding. Justification for walking up the steep steps to the top, (and perhaps in booking your Beijing flights), is that you will be able to gaze in awe at […]

At nearly 50 meters, climbing to the top of Jingshan Park (also called ‘Coal Hill’) may be quite a mission; but once there, the views are astounding. Justification for walking up the steep steps to the top, (and perhaps in booking your Beijing flights), is that you will be able to gaze in awe at the majestic Forbidden City. Listed as an AAAA scenery spot in Beijing and approximately covering 230,000 square meters the park is unquestionably a China travel must-see attraction. It is remarkable to think that the hill itself was created from the material dug to build the Forbidden City’s moat giving it a deep-rooted connection with the nation’s past.

The Wanchun (Everlasting Spring) Pavilion is the highest point in Beijing, most centrally located and in my opinion the most impressive of the five pavilions. Around this pavilion, merchandise is sold for tourists and there is the opportunity to dress like the Emperor (or Empress depending). Personally, I gave this a miss as the Emperor’s robes looked a bit too much on such a hot day. In light of this, the views are the best bird-eye you will ever get of the Forbidden City on the land. On a clear day, due to the pavilion’s centrality and height, you can peer over the length and breadth of the city from the greenery of Bei Hai to CCTV Tower.

Littered with evergreen foliage, the park is a scenic throughout the year. In the spring, for example, the park host a peony show whilst there is a lotus show in the summer and displays or fruit in the autumn. This park is certainly a national treasure at the very heart of the capital and which is cherished across the generations. It is therefore understandable that there is a small entrance fee to help with the upkeep of this beautiful spot and the Emperors would use the park as a place for recreational pursuits and escape. For those who may have difficulty walking to the top, the parkland surrounding the hill is a hive of activity with people, young and old playing games and singing which is great fun to watch or join in!

Getting to the park can be slight tricky. One option is to take the subway to Dongsi station on line 5 and then either walk or take the 101 bus to the Forbidden City Station. Another option is to take a bus, such as the 111 to the South Gate of Jingshan Park. Note that, if you travel to Beijing, visiting the park in the afternoon might be useful after visiting the Forbidden City in the morning. This is primarily because the exit from the Forbidden City lies on the bus route to the park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Visit to Jade Lake Park

On April 25, 2012, in Beijing, Festivals, Parks & Gardens, by Jack Li

When you travel to Beijing, you will see that there are lots of parks offering locals and tourists enough opportunity for some outdoor activity, a walk around a lake, family time and a nice scenery to take pictures. If you want to learn about the country and culture you can get a lot of information […]

When you travel to Beijing, you will see that there are lots of parks offering locals and tourists enough opportunity for some outdoor activity, a walk around a lake, family time and a nice scenery to take pictures. If you want to learn about the country and culture you can get a lot of information on organized China tours where you can rely on the tour guide’s knowledge. For the less informative but more relaxing part of your holiday you might take the opportunity to visit Beijings parks. There are many parks with their own atmosphere, so they are not just all the same.

Yuyuantan Park (Jade Lake Park) is situated in the western part of Beijing and is surrounded by other places of interest such as the CCTV Tower west of the park or the Millennium Monument and the Military Museum close to the south entrance. Two man-made lakes build the center of this municipal park which is a great place to visit especially in spring time during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival starting towards the end of March. There are more than 2000 cherry trees mainly in the north western area of the park. Apart from the different types of cherry trees offering great scenery for pictures you will also find many other types of trees, including bonsais, and also rare stones in the park.

There are several entrance gates; the general admission fee is 10 RMB, half price for students. The park opens between 6:00 and 6:30 am and closes between 20:30 and 22:30 pm, depending on the season, and the last admission is at least an hour before closing time. It might seem annoying that you have to pay money to enter a regular municipal park but this guarantees that the park it very well cared for and it’s also less crowded than some parks where there is no entrance fee.

Around the lakes and most of all around the entrance gates you will find lots of stands to buy souvenirs, things for kids and adults, dried fruit and other snacks. And you will also pass several food areas where you can get all different kinds of warm and cold meals with tables to sit down to enjoy your meal. You can try out things like grilled scorpions which aren’t really typical for this area but still an experience for visitors. There is also a big variety of sweet treats from different countries, like ice-cream, churros, crêpes, sugar cane juice, cotton candy or fried durian fruit.

Currently the eastern lake is drained for construction but that doesn’t affect any of the other activities going on in the park, like for example photography contests or auctions of pictures. Of course, more people stay in the western half of the park because of the better view on the lake. There you can rent boats, have a picnic, do some outdoor activities, just go for a walk and enjoy the great view. Many Beijing hotels are in the vicinity of the big parks offering some nature just around the corner.

Zhongshan Park (Beijing)

On April 24, 2012, in Beijing, Historical Relics, Parks & Gardens, by Jack Li

Over the past week, Beijing certainly has experienced its fair share of rain which in turn has provided the city’s parks with a well-deserved drink. Combined with this replenishment and the warm springtime weather, it makes sense to visit one of the city’s green gems; namely, Zhongshan Park. The park is conveniently located next to the Forbidden […]

Over the past week, Beijing certainly has experienced its fair share of rain which in turn has provided the city’s parks with a well-deserved drink. Combined with this replenishment and the warm springtime weather, it makes sense to visit one of the city’s green gems; namely, Zhongshan Park. The park is conveniently located next to the Forbidden City with the nearest subway station being Tiananmen West on Line 1. If you intend to see the other more renowned sights on your travel to Beijing or have gone on Beijing tours in the area, it would also be an idea to have a glimpse of this treasure in the city center.

On the surface, the park has changed quite a lot. Once, the park was ironically called ‘Central Park’ and then issued the name Zhongshan Park. While in terms of its purpose, the park formerly facilitated different temples going back as far as 1,000 years ago. In spite of its names and purpose changing over the ages, admiration and popularity for the park has still remained constant. Even though this is a park for the public, like many of the famous parks in China anyone visiting will be required to pay a small entrance fee. There are also additional costs for entering some gardens and buildings within the grounds.

Historically, the site was where the emperor would be involved in ceremonies at the Temple of National Prosperity (which became the Temple of Longevity and National Prosperity). The only real reminders of these days are the ancient (and spectacular) cypress trees which parade the vicinity. The centrepiece of the park is, nonetheless, the Altar of Earth and Harvests (built in 1421) which, despite it appearing somewhat empty, held great importance to its Confucian practitioners. The altar’s platform contained five different soils which in turn symbolized five elements (or ‘Wuxing’).

Throughout the country, there are many parks commemorating Zhongshan (or commonly known as Sun-Yat-Sen); China’s first revolutionary leader. This park indeed places much significance on Zhongshan. In particular, when entering the park, you will be able to see an impressive statute of the man himself. To learn more about this man who was instrumental in changing modern China, Zhongshan Hall (just behind the Altar of Earth and Harvests), provides information on his life and works.

Amongst other things, the park is an ideal place for anyone to potter on a sunny day. The plant life is abundant and this is emphasized with the springtime bloom. Nowadays, the park hosts a beautiful array of flowers, (like tulips which were given to the park by the Princess of Holland in 1977). Hence a visit to the park’s greenhouse and its garden bursting with bamboo is an excellent choice for plant-lovers. Throughout the park there are also lots of pavilions, ponds (with unusual fish) and rockeries to admire while you sit and soak up the sun. If you desire a bit more activity, the park has paddle-boats which can be steered around the moat of the Forbidden City (plus, this is a good opportunity to see the Forbidden City at a different angles for those interested in photography!) In short, when booking your Beijing flights, this lesser-known Chinese attraction with all its appealing features should definitely not be overlooked.

 

 

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Relaxing Sightseeing

On April 17, 2012, in Beijing, More Places of Interest, Parks & Gardens, by Jack Li

Travelling is always a great experience and a great opportunity to gain insight into the culture and traditions of the country you are visiting. So apart from the tourist attractions it’s interesting to see the different aspects a place has to offer. Therefore it’s nice to see the crowded and the quiet places, the tourist […]

Travelling is always a great experience and a great opportunity to gain insight into the culture and traditions of the country you are visiting. So apart from the tourist attractions it’s interesting to see the different aspects a place has to offer. Therefore it’s nice to see the crowded and the quiet places, the tourist areas and residents’ daily life. When you travel to Beijing you have the opportunity to see all this and in many Beijing hotels it’s literally surrounding you.

To see some historic spots, Beijing’s daily life and to have a relaxed time, Shichahai is a very good place to go to. The area is situated north of Beihai Park surrounding three man-made lakes, the so called Xihai (West Sea), Houhai (Rear Sea) and Qianhai (Front Sea). It is a very popular area for residents as well as tourists and like other parks almost an oasis within the city. With the great view on the lakes and the relaxing atmosphere around the water you can almost forget that you’re still in the city center.

Around the three lakes there are plenty of bars and restaurants right at the shore to sit down for a while and enjoy a refreshing drink in the heat. For an even better view many of those have a second floor where you can practically sit on the roof for a slightly different perspective from above. This bar street is open until late at night. So it’s a great spot during day time but also at night when the lights of the city create a different atmosphere.

Along the shore there is a playground, so it’s suitable for younger kids and several places where you can rent bikes for a tour around the lakes. But be aware that on nice days it’s very crowded and the roads are full of people, bikes, rickshaws and others. Especially Houhai and Qianhai, the middle and the southern lake, invite to a boat tour. At different places around the lake you can rent boats and take a tour on the water.

In earlier times these three connected lakes were an important part of the waterways to transport goods by boat from the Grand Canal into the city. Of all three lakes Xihai is the least crowded one and therefore worth a visit. It seems more relaxed and somehow more original than the others. But apart from the relaxing aspect the whole ares also offers enough opportunity for sightseeing.

Right around the lakes you can visit several mansions and residences, for example the Song Qingling Mansion, which has been turned into a museum. Song Qingling was the wife of Sun Yatsen, the first president of the Republic of China. And the famous Prince Gong Mansion can be found  west of Qianhai and is a very interesting place to see. From the south gate at Qianhai it’s also not far to the Drum and Bell Tower and around the area are great places to see the original hutongs, Beijing’s typical residential neighborhoods which can be found throughout the center. So there are several places that can easily be combined in a Beijing tour.

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Echoes from the Temple

On April 11, 2012, in Beijing, Must-sees, Temples, by Jack Li

Why not indulge your spiritual side for a few hours at the Temple of Heaven (‘tiantan’). The Temple of Heaven (the Temple) claims to possess both the most famous temple (The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests) and the largest heaven worship architectural complex in the world. Initially constructed under the reign of Emperor Yongle […]

Why not indulge your spiritual side for a few hours at the Temple of Heaven (‘tiantan’). The Temple of Heaven (the Temple) claims to possess both the most famous temple (The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests) and the largest heaven worship architectural complex in the world. Initially constructed under the reign of Emperor Yongle (1420), The Temple is most famous for practicing Taoism, but the site has also been used for other ancient beliefs to encourage abundant harvests. These reasons alone should convince any traveller that this place is an obvious stop-off on a Beijing Tours route with some excellent China Hotels nearby.

In days gone by, emperors would enter the Temple from the Forbidden City via the South Gate Street, cross the Heavenly Bridge through the streets and then reach the restricted area of the Temple. Nowadays, anybody can access the complex. The most recognised attractions are the The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (The Hall), The Circular Mound Altar and the Echo Wall. The Hall itself sits on three layers of a white marble altar with the diameter of the bottom layer being 91 metres and The Hall standing at 32 metres high. Around The Hall visitors will have a splendid location to take photos and admire the views over Beijing city. At the back of the Imperial Vault of Heaven is the Echo Wall (or ‘Sound Spreading Wall’). The theory dictates that when people face north and speak towards the wall, the sound waves will echo and spread. The sound is meant to be so clear from one part of the wall to another that it is apparently like speaking on the telephone. If you want to see if this works, then you can visit the Wall and try this out with a friend. Another activity to try is standing on the ‘Heavenly Centre Stone’ on top of The Circular Mound Altar. Here, it is said that people are able to listen to the divine heavens.

Despite being a holy site, visiting the Temple does not have to be a serious affair. This is largely due to the fact that the temple complex encompasses an area of 273 hectares, which in turn also acts as a park for local Beijiners. Amongst other things, the Temple complex provides quite a lively and interactive atmosphere. Upon entering the Temple grounds, for instance, you will be met by avenues of ancient cypress trees. These trees certainly stimulate the imagination as they twist in many directions. One particular tree is called the ‘Wentian Cypress’ and has a branch which points towards the sky which has been interpreted as an interrogation towards the heaven. The relaxed environment around the park is also noticeable by the very fact that locals (and foreigners alike) can be seen playing games together (such as skipping and cards). The park is also a place to buy souvenirs such as shawls from local sellers. When buying tickets at the entrance to the complex, there is the option of purchasing an artistic guide around the Temple of Heaven. The guide costs 10RMB, but it provides a fair amount of information about the place and is also a great souvenir!

Access to the Temple of Heaven can be reached from the park’s East Gate at Tiantan Dongmen Station via subway line 5. In addition, note that there are separate admission fees depending on your china travel visit to the Temple.

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