Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tian Tan, Muslim District, Tea Street

On Wednesday of this week I went over to the Temple of Heaven, Tian Tan. I tried to get there early to avoid the crowds, but my hour long bus ride may have defeated that purpose. I did get there a little before 9 though, and while it was wicked crowded, I did manage to get a few pictures of the temples without millions of people in them. Unfortunately it was also quite smoggy, although I've attempted to fix both the people and pollution factors in photoshop (I like to call it the "china button.")

I didn't have too much time to walk around, since I had a meeting back on campus at noon, but I did my best to squeeze everything in. I went to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and it's associated halls, the Vault of Heaven and it's Echo Wall and the Circular Mound Altar. It was all wicked interesting. I learned quite a bit in the museums, and at one point acted as a translator for this American couple whose tour guide didn't speak very good English. That was a great opportunity both to practice my Chinese and to take advantage of the tour guide to ask questions.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is the temple you think of when you try and picture the Temple of Heaven (which is actually a huge complex of parks and temples). One of the museums walked me through the steps to worship here. The emperor first had to fast for a few days in the Fasting Palace (the one building I was unable to visit), then he had to approve the animal sacrifices, then watch the sacrifices being made (in fire, usually 3 cows), say his prayers, then retreat to Tiananmen to announce that he had prayed. Something I'm still a bit confused about (and my Chinese just wasn't good enough for me to figure it out) is what sort of religion the Temple is for, and what religion was official at the time. I'll have to do a bit more research (unless someone could enlighten me).

The Vault of Heaven wasn't too stimulating, although I think the major draw of this place is the echo wall. You can stand on one side of the circular wall and whisper along it, and your friend on the other side will hear you quite clearly. Since I was alone I couldn't really participate in that, perhaps another time. The mound mirrors the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, except that there's no building. It's pretty cool to stand in the middle though. If there weren't such a long line, and if I weren't so pressed for time I would have asked someone to take a picture of me there, but it's probably for the best, since that would most likely have been quite tacky.

On the way home I took the new subway line! Line 5 is beautiful, and I'm quite jealous that I have no reason to take it all the time. It's designed just like the subway I took in Shanghai, except newer and more wonderful. I'm excited to keep taking it.

Today I had planned on going to Maliandao, Beijing's tea street. I recruited some friends and we decided we would grab lunch in the Muslim district on the way, since it was nearish and we're all missing Xinjiang food like crazy. I have still yet to figure out why the street is called Niujie (niurou de niu, for you Chinese speakers) Lunch was fabulous, and then we decided that while we were in the area we might as well check out the Mosque there, which we learned was built in the 900s. It was a good decision because it was crazy cool. If there was no Arabic, and if you didn't know any better, you wold most definitely think that it was a Buddhist temple. It was gorgeous though, and most certainly worth a visit. Plus, the guy we paid our entrance fee to was just so jolly. Actually, everyone in the Muslim district was quite jolly, especially our waiter at lunch. We also discovered that the Muslim district is an excellent xiao chi location, and I am now stocked for a while.

We finally made it to Maliandao around 4. It's pretty overwhelming, and after some random stuff we ended up at this tea shop tea tasting for hours and chatting it up over watermelon seeds with these random people. It was really cool, and I know a lot more about tea and the tea ceremony than I ever did before. I'm really glad we ended up staying impromptu for so long and really checking stuff out. I have a tea guy (well, actually, girl) now!

Terra had to leave to meet her soc. class (is there a proper spelling of soc. as is sociology?) so I decided to walk North until I was tired and/or had to pee after my gallons of tea. So I walked for a while and eventually made it home. It was nice to walk around a new and random part of Beijing, especially since tonight wasn't quite as hanleng as it's been lately.

I think that's about it for now. Tomorrow I'm circumambulating the 2nd ring road. I think it'll take me about 7-9 hours, depending on where I stop and such. I'll keep you posted.


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