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Monday, February 28, 2011

N. China - Day 8, Part 2 - Beijing: Temple of Heaven

"Imagine if every Thursday your shoes exploded if you tied them the usual way. This happens to us all the time with computers, and nobody thinks of complaining." - Jef Raskin

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N. China
Day 8 - 6th November - Beijing: Temple of Heaven
(Part 2)

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Under the eaves

There was an exhibition in one of the buildings: "Exhibition of the rite of worshipping Heaven", so I went to take a look.

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"Five Emperor Dynasties"
If I understand the caption correctly this talks about historical records of the Five Emperors. I think no one outside of China and the Chinese diaspora seriously believes in the Five Emperors.

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"Jade"

The exhibition claimed that the Temple of Heaven was the International symbol of China, the key symbol of Beijing. I'm sure the people behind the Forbidden City and Great Wall would have lots to say about that.

The audioguide said either the gate or the hall (probably the latter) was built only from wood. I wasn't paying attention as I was helping 2 people to take photographs (one after the other).

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"Plague of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests"

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Designs for Ancient Chinese altars

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If I hadn't known better, I'd have thought this was a depiction of African or Aboriginal Australian rites to worship the sun, and the exhibition was drawing a comparison between aboriginal Chinese rituals and those of other primitive cultures, but knowing the parochialism of China, I was quite sure that these were supposed to be Chinese.

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Famous visitors. Listing Vanuatu here is quite desperate. I had no idea which country "Zelanian Viceroy Boys" represented (now looking at the Mandarin it says New Zealand).

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World Heritage photos

Just as I exited the ticketed area for the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, I saw a French-speaking family with 6 kids (2 in strollers). I was very surprised. They ran in to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests before I could ask anything. I suppose this shows just how high the fertility rate there is (even excluding immigration).

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Gate of Prayer for Good Harvests

There was a dressing terrace where the Emperor changed his clothes before prayers. Now you can play dress up yourself.

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Danbi Bridge

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Danbi Bridge
The middle path is for God - even the Emperor cannot walk there. There was no walkway for ordinary people, because the bridge was out of bounds to them.

Animals needed to be moved for sacrifices, but they were not allowed to walk on the bridge. So there was a walkway underneath for them.

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"The Ancient Cypress Woods"
They are more than 800 years old

Next I entered another ticketed area: the Imperial Vault of Heaven.

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Imperial Vault of Heaven


Panorama
Notice the people clapping - the wall is supposed to echo the claps back

The echo wall is supposed to be so well-designed, if you whisper on the wall, someone more than 60 metres away will hear you. However it was so noisy I couldn't test this.

When you stand on the stone in the centre and clap, you're supposed to hear 3 claps coming back at you: one from the Echo Wall, one from the Main Temple and one from the Annex Hall. My theory is that you will indeed hear 3 claps - from all the other visitors clapping.

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Imperial Vault of Heaven

As at the Forbidden City, the automatic audioguide talked so fast I couldn't walk fast enough to keep up.

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The poetically named "Circular Mound"
This was the "'real' Temple of Heaven"

The number 9 is very important in the mound. It is the biggest Yang number. For example each level is a different height, but each consists of 9 steps.

There is a round stone in the centre with stories about it. Supposedly it's the Heaven Heart Stone, but going back 2-3 decades, the audioguide labelled this Feudalistic Era Gossip: 'Even if God exists, they are nobody but the ancient architects and craftsmen who built the miracle'. Tsk, Atheistic Communist Preaching!

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Plaque on the Lingxing Gates which you see in front of the circular mound

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Circular Mound

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Spouts

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"Heavenly Centre Stone"

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Looking back at the Vault of Heaven

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Looking back at the Vault of Heaven and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

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Glazed Bricks

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A pole that had been erected to mount a CCTV camera on

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"There were three poles for watching lanterns during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Two of them were cut down by Yuan Shikai when he came here to worship the Heaven in 1914"

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Circular Mound exit gates
The middle door is the largest, for God. The one on the left is for the Emperor. The one on the right is the smallest, for the officials.

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They have not one but two Complaints Hotlines - a "Complaints Hotline" and a "Price Complaints Hotline". Très bien !

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UNESCO stone

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Nine-Dragon Juniper
This tree was planted in the reign of Jiaqing. It is the most famous cypress here. Kissinger came here 12 times as he liked it.

My guide from the Summer Palace had advised me to just walk down the central path and avoid the attractions at the side as there was nothing to see. However I spurned her advice as I had nothing else to do with my time (and thought that PRCs had different standards from foreigners - as evinced by the Marble Boat).

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Path

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Fasting Palace
Unfortunately it was closed. And the audioguide didn't work either. So my erstwhile guide was right after all!

On the way out, I spotted a gelato place so I decided to try it. The price was supposed to be 15¥ but I wheedled a 10¥ portion out of them (I said it was winter and it was cold).

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Watermelon gelato
It was alright even if not smooth enough - they didn't ruin it, even if it wasn't up to Venezia standards, though it had... chocolate inside (before I ate it I thought it was watermelon seeds). I asked the woman why and she said they felt it was too 淡 (bland). She said business was still okay in November, but not in colder months. I said she could close shop then, and she scolded me.

I was tempted to write in to what was the Italian franchise owner and complain about the chocolate, but maybe they only supplied the cups (the website says "Artisan gelato PreGel: prepared and ingredients for gelato, semi-finished products for gelato, products for gelato and pastry")

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Evil cat. I saw a lot of evil cats in Beijing. They need a new exotic meat on their menus.

At the entrance, there was a sign in cyrillic!

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Beijing was one of the last places I expected to see a tin foil hat


One should adopt the heuristic that a local in China who approahces you unsolicited is probably trying to swindle you. This could be labelled xenophobia (or racist, if you are white), but the cost of not being "xenophobic" is very high. Ironically, it is precisely if you are white that you will need to be careful, as they will be more likely to swindle you.

The women in Northern China don't look particularly good. Probably because the good-looking ones are all in Hong Kong, Zhuhai, Macau, Shanghai and Singapore... working.

Visiting China, I have a rough idea of what visiting Russia is like, being in a country with a language which many people in the world speak (thus hitting a critical mass which means people do not feel the need to learn foreign languages), with a script which is not the Latin alphabet (so you cannot randomly guess words or even hazard pronouncing some words, and writing things down for people won't help).
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