April 2007 - China

Day two in Beijing started out with a trip to the Temple of Heaven. Thankfully their recent renovations were complete so we were finally able to see something in its entirety. The Temple itself sits in parklands, surrounded by city in all directions. It must be an escape from the craziness of outside for many locals that come and play music, sing, dance, sports. There was certainly a feel of everyday life in the park, with a few spots of rain.

The Temple itself has been restored beautifully, with the fresh coat of paint really showing off the intricacy of their work and what it would have looked like in its day. The Temple of Heaven was where the Emperor would come to pray/sacrifice for a bumper harvest. It consisted of the main Temple, Middle Temple and the Round Altar. Surprisingly the Round Altar was by far the most interesting. For starters it was built on a square meant to represent earth, the round altar representing heaven (all Temples are the same, square stoned area with circular temple). This whole structure (marble of course) was based around the very lucky number 9. 3 levels, 9 stairs leading to each level, each level 9 stones wide, on the top, 1 stone in the middle with 9 stones radiating around it, 18 stones around the 9 and so forth to guess what number? 9 x 9 = 81 stones on the outer rim of the top level. I have to say something geeky here, but it’s pretty cool when numbers fit together like that. There is also a wall just before the Round Altar known as the echo wall. Apparently if there are no tourists (obviously we weren't able to give this a shot) you can stand at either side of the wall facing north, whisper and the other person will hear you.

The drizzle had cleared by the time we left the Temple and next we walked to the Pearl Markets. The Temple and Markets were about a 25 minute walk from the Hotel and it is a completely different side of Beijing. As we were walking to the markets there was a very long wall (no, not the Great Wall of China, that’s tomorrow) and inside were slums, where roofs were the occasional tarp held in place by loose bricks. I only saw this through the couple of driveways into the slum, the rest was all wall.

Next we walked to Pearl Markets where “hello lady” rang out from every stall, begging for you to stop and buy a bag. Complete with catalogues they were very motivated sellers (there are many motivated sellers in China), however this had the opposite effect on us. There was no way we could pick one stall to shop at out of the hundreds, so after a quick look around we headed back to the Hotel and onto the Yashow Markets.

Now the Yashow Markets are a little further from the centre of Beijing and a little more civilised than the Pearl Markets. The bonus for us was Neri (a seasoned veteran of the bargaining process) joined us for a spot of shopping. This started with bags and we went to a store where the lady remembered Neri. She took us out the back to the ‘storeroom’ but sadly there weren’t many bags there, so we went to another ‘storeroom’. Once we decided on the bags, Neri stepped in and started bargaining and did an amazing job of it. When we went to the watches Dad thought he would give it a go, unfortunately the lady was (and I quote Neri here) “a ball breaker”. And he was left with no choice but to walk away. We picked up a few more bargains (no watches) along the way. Thirsty and exhausted we soon headed back to the Hotel.

Dinner was very low key tonight and the parents wanted to see all the food stalls from last night. I forgot in my last blog to comment on the smell. It was a smell that had no clear distinction (ie Fish, Meat, etc), it was bearable, but only just, any stronger and I would have been on the other side of the street, far far away.