Seeing as our first trip to the Temple of Heaven was hijacked by some greedy commies, we decided to make the temple our only destination on our last day in Beijing. While small in comparison to the vast corridors of the forbidden city, and naturally not quite as never ending as the 4000 kms of the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven is considered to be a very worthy destination on any ones Beijing itinerary. And since it was only a short walk from Tian'anmen square and we were still wrecked from scaling the heights of the great wall, it was the perfect choice for a day of semi-nothingness.
We caught the impressive tube towards Tian'anmen for the umpteen time and took our best shot at where the temple was on our vague map.
Vague turned out to be an understatement, and the supposed 20 minute walked turned into an hour in which we got a good look at some of the urban areas of Beijing. We soon came to an area lined with tourist buses and sure enough in front of us was the entrance to the temple. Well, almost. A nearby solider sporting a decent sized automatic waved up a hand to us to indicate that we should not step any further, unless we didn't particularly like breathing, and he gestured for us to go out and around the little sub complex we had strolled into. We beat a hasty retreat and joined the groups heading towards the proper entrance, and soon we were inside the structured gardens leading towards temple. We could see the temple's unique layered structure, already looking striking against the Grey/white background of Beijing's polluted skies.
We strolled around the lush green park towards the temple, again noticing that we were vastly outnumbered by Chinese tourists here and we were in a very small minority. This seems to be the case for much of China where, like the United States, theres a really big emphasis placed on domestic tourism, and many of the television programs they show here on Chinese television are travel programs set within China. We climbed the stairs leading to the main courtyard to be greeted by the impressive sight of the temple and its outlying rooms. A religious building by design, the circular buildings of the complex all represent heaven, and the square bases on which they stand all represent heavens colliding with earth. While this all seems strange in an atheist country, the whole place was impressive in its own way, and the gardens surrounding the whole area were a good place to just stroll and enjoy.
We only spent an hour or two in the complex, where the buildings around the temple all housed various historical artifacts. Some rooms housed old soldiers uniforms and others were stuffed with muskets and spears and other war paraphernalia. Had we not spent the last 11 months seeing large portions of the worlds finest sights, treasures and collections, we probably would have been more interested in these, but as it was we breezed in and out and instead had a laugh trying out the different setting on our camera and the different angles we could get of the temple. Blase is not the word for us right now, but seeing the Great Wall the day before probably made us even more so!! Still we appreciated the scene around us, and we were satisfied with our day as we started the unsure walk back towards Tian'anmen square.
We somehow managed to find our way back despite another small detour, managing to come out towards the very top of the square instead of the end where had begun our journey. This was fine by us as we had wanted to see the square for one last time, as although it lacks anything of interest by the way of a fountain or cathedral or any other building of significance, this is entirely made up for by the crazy Chinese people who flock to it. We took a seat to rest our weary legs by the outskirts of a large lawn that noone dared to sit on, save for the few bold children whose ignorance afforded them bliss. We killed an hour people watching, although my Heidi-esque locks meant that we were not the only ones doing the looking. As we were about to leave a girl tapped my shoulder, giving me a proper fright and making me think that another seller was in our midst.
Instead she handed me the a tiny little paper swan, crafted with the obvious skill of someone trained in the art of origami, that I accepted with awkward gratitude. The swan was made from a flyer that had simply being lying by her feet, and she was not making them wholesale, but on seeing us sit beside her she had begun to put it together and she was happy to hand it to us as a gift for which she expected no compensation. It was really touching, a reaching out between two people who could not communicate with words, and I was only too happy to accept her thoughtful gift. Even more so when she took the item back and motioned towards it rear, revealing that it flapped its wings whenever you pulled on the tail. Very grateful and saying "shi shi", or thank you, in Chinese many times, we set off for home. Just one more sleep and its back to Hong Kong on another 25 hour journey.