Thursday, July 11, 2013

China Day Four - Inside the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Our second (and last) full day in Beijing began again with breakfast and meeting Angela at 8am. This time it was just our family in the van, along with Angela and our driver Mr. Gao. It was overcast and rainy, but Angela had big umbrellas for us to use.

This was a busy day and a very good one. We started at the Temple of Heaven, built by the same Ming dynasty emperor that built the Forbidden City. This was where the emperor and his officials would come to worship. The emperor was known as the Son of Heaven, and while the Forbidden City is huge, the area of courtyards, gardens and buildings for the Temple of Heaven is over two times the size of the Forbidden City and Tiannemen square combined - as a show of respect for the god of heaven. The main Temple of Heaven was used by the emperor to pray for a good harvest. The boys recognized this building as there is a smaller replica in the China pavilion at Epcot. Since the number 9 is the Chinese number of prosperity and dragons represent the imperial emperor, there was symbolism everywhere in the design and shape of courtyards, worship spaces and other buildings.

The imperial vault - halfway back to the temple. 
The echo wall - Angela stood on the other side and talked and we could hear her plain as day.

On our way out of the complex, we walked along a very long portico that was once used to bring the food to the main temple area from the kitchen. Nowadays it is a gathering place for people, who line both sides of the portico playing cards, hackeysack, a game that was an interesting take on badminton, dancing and playing music. It was lively and fun.

We made a restroom break before leaving the Temple of Heaven complex. When out and about you had to pay special attention to the signs. Western style toilets were sometimes available, but more often you encountered a "squatty potty." Daryl and I had experienced these before in the Middle East, but it was a new experience for both the grandparents and the boys. These were probably the nicest public bathrooms we encountered on our entire trip. 

From there we headed to the silk factory to see how silk was made. The boys were especially impressed with all the information on silkworms and cocoons, and even live silkworms munching on mulberry leaves. It was an eye opening tour - we had no idea how much intricate, tedious work goes into making silk. We spent some time in their shops and picked up a variety of souvenirs. 

From there we went to another family style meal with Angela at a restaurant whose name meant "Big Bowl". This time we were at a round table but in a room with three other round tables with Chinese families. It was fun to people watch as we ate. Angela made excellent, yet different, choices for lunch and we enjoyed the food a lot.

After lunch we headed back to the Forbidden City and this was our opportunity to tour  inside. There are 9,999 rooms in the Forbidden City and we saw only a small portion of those and yet what we walked through and did see was so large and impressive in scale that it was seriously hard to fathom. The glimpses of the Forbidden City that you see in movies just simply does not prepare you for everything that lies behind those gates. And when you think of the fact that most of the City was private for just the imperial family and their servants, the opulence and splendor boggles the mind.

Following the Forbidden City we headed for an area just outside known as the Hutong District. This housing area was built for the emperor's officials. Great detail went into the markings of these buildings indicating a person's rank or specialty. For instance round stones on the front stoop by the door indicated military officials while square stones indicated civil affairs officers. After the last emperor was forced aside in the 1920s, the houses in the Hutong district  became available for common people to live in. We rode in rickshaws to tour through the district and then we stopped to visit a local family in their home. When you step through the door you go into an interior courtyard and there about 9 rooms along the four side walls. The eldest generation of a family would reside on the north side, with sons on the east, daughters on the west and servants to the south. The particular home we were in had at one time housed 16 people in 3 generations. The home visit was interesting and the rickshaw ride was neat, plus it gave you an up close view for the crazy driving on the roads.

From there we headed across town to catch a show by an award winning Chinese acrobatic group. Even though we were tired and the theater was dark and cool, you had to keep your eyes open to see all the amazing things on stage. The grand finale was 7 guys on motorcycles riding around inside of one steel cage ball and jumping over each other!

Angela and Mr Gao dropped us off at our hotel and we walked around some more, settling on Burger King for dinner and then a trip to a Chinese grocery store. We needed snacks for our Sunday trip on the bullet train - Angela had warned us there might be a serious language barrier with ordering food on the train. There was a serious language barrier in trying to read the labels and guess at the odd combinations in the store too, but we did manage to find some Snickers, Oreos and Pringles. On the way home, the boys were stopped by one of the attendants in the underpass near the subway station. Apparently someone had tried to go on the subway with helium balloons (that had lights inside of them!) and they had been confiscated. She sweetly gave them to the boys. We exchanged more money at the hotel in preparation for leaving and headed up to repack our suitcases for the train ride. Our next stop was Guangzhou and that is when the real fun of this trip began as we received Davis. 

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