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Day 30: Beijing

Beijing Travel Blog

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cycling Beijing

It was our last day in Beijing, which meant also the last day of our trip. What to see? What to do? A tough decision. This being our last day we were somewhat down, to say the least. But it was a tough decision in many respects, because Beijing is a big place, with a lot to see, and we simply had to pick one sight to spend our last day. But what made the decision even more difficult was that Beijing is in fact a bit boring. Don't get me wrong, I love the city. I just love wandering through the Hútongs, soaking up the atmosphere, watching the people, watching the world go by. But in terms of touristic sights, this mainly comes down to visiting old palaces or temples, and frankly, all these look the same.

Temple of Heaven

We had hired bikes to ride around the city, which turned out to be great fun. For an Asian city the traffic is quite allright, and despite the smog cycling around the city is a rewarding experience. We had doubted between the Summer Palace or the Temple of Heaven park. Eventually we opted for the latter, which I think was a good choice. Whereas all temples and palaces in the city all look alike, at least the Temple of Heaven has the added feature of being round, rather than square.

Tian Tan, which literally means the altar of heaven, was constructed in the 15th century during the reign of the Yongle emperor and expanded to the complex which can still be visited now in the 16th century. The main temple, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is special for many ways, because it is circular, completely made of wood and without nails.

Temple of Heaven

Other interesting structures are the echo wall, a circular wall 60 metres in diameter, which through its unique design can carry sounds around. It was really cool, Robbel and I, 60 metres apart, both facing the wall talking in opposite direction from eachother, could have a normal conversation without having to raise our voice. Amazing!

Towards the south of the park is the Circular Mound altar, which consists of three levels of marble stones, with the top one being completely devoted to the number 9 (a symbolic number for the emperor). The top of the altar has a single round marmour plate in the middle, which is surrounded by a ring of 9 plates, the next ring consists of 18 plates and so on, up until the 9th ring, consisting of 9x9 plates.

Temple of heaven park
An ingenious feat of engineering and puzzling.

But it wasn't the temples and altars that made this place so special, no, it was the people. The park welcomes millions of visitors eachs year and is probably the most visited free attraction in Beijing. People gather here just to spend the afternoon in the park, playing music, singing songs, exercising by practicing Tai Chi or other sports.
Two things struck me about this park. Firstly the peace and serenity you can find in this park, in the middle of the city, and secondly the absence of peddlers and hawkers and how people generally will leave you alone here.

Amongst the thousands of Chinese there were maybe a handful of Westerners present in the park, and these Westerners, with their lack of understanding the Chinese culture, are more than welcome to join in with whatever the Chinese are doing.

people having fun at Temple of Heaven park
In fact, they'll happily show demonstrate the moves or whatever it is that you are supposed to be doing. But if you don't want to, nobody will bother you, people will leave you alone if you want to and only talk to you if you show genuine interest. And this was such a welcome relief. Not that we'd had any problems with hawkers this entire trip, but in general compared to other countries (in particular my experience in Vietnam was negatively influenced by the people).

In the afternoon we went back to the Silk market. We'd decided that this was the best place after all for doing some serious shopping. Souvenirs and presents for people back home, as well as some new clothes and other gadgets for ourselves.
And we just had so much fun in this place. Normally I am not much a fan of haggling, I mean it is fun for a couple of minutes, but I have been to places where you'd had to haggle over each and every item you'd buy, and it just drains the fun out of it after a while.

girl selling T-shirts at Silk Market
However, after Russia, where people simply don't want to sell you anything unless you speak Russian, and Mongolia, where people were seemingly too timid to rip you off, it was a delight to do some full on haggling again. All with a big smile of course.

There are quite a lot of young girls working at the silk market who have discovered the advantage of using their cute looks to persuade hapless western men... yup, indeed, I ended up buying five shirts in total, whereas I was only looking to buy one...

For the last night of our trip we met up with Maciek once more. His sister hadn't joined him, but instead the three of us met up with a German couple Maciek had travelled on the train from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing with.
The five of us had a wonderful meal at a simple sidewalk restaurant, where we basically pointed at anything that looked interesting on the poorly translated menu.

our last dinner in China. And when in China, pose as the Chinese do...
The food was really brilliant. I can't really remember what we had anymore, but we had ordered way too many dishes to fit on our little table, and, in good Chinese tradition, way too much for us to eat.

This was exactly how I'd hoped China would be. I've had similar meals in Hong Kong and Singapore and it is just so much fun sitting on little plastic furnature on the side walk, getting served delicious food that has been cooked in a tiny kitchen in someone's home.

After this we went for a quick drink in the Hútongs again. This time not on a rooftop terrace as it had started raining again, well, no, let me rephrase, it started piss pouring down again. I reckon the next day would have been a nice day to visit the Great Wall....

 

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cycling Beijing
cycling Beijing
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
Temple of heaven park
Temple of heaven park
people having fun at Temple of Hea…
people having fun at Temple of He…
girl selling T-shirts at Silk Mark…
girl selling T-shirts at Silk Mar…
our last dinner in China. And when…
our last dinner in China. And whe…
Maciek and I having one of our usu…
Maciek and I having one of our us…
terrific Chinese food (what was le…
terrific Chinese food (what was l…
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
8,468 km (5,262 miles) traveled
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photo by: Deats