Sunday in the Park, Beijing-Style
Beijing has quite literally bloomed before our eyes. As the days have gone by the magnolia blooms have fully opened and more and more tress are showing their beautiful yellow, pink and purple blossoms. The temperature is still cool (high of 60) and the sky a pastel blue-what better day to visit the Temple of Heaven and its beautiful surrounding park.
We walked through the park with expanses of bright green new grass, flowering trees, music and laughter everywhere. The park was full of people on this Sunday, and no one was lounging on the grass or picnicking-they were all actively doing something: cards, board games, dancing, playing instruments or exercising. Others were gathered around trees sharing the resumes of their eligible single offspring in a sort of parent-driven, Chinese J-date. The park was also on the route of the Beijing Marathon run earlier today.
This setting became our venue for trying a few of the more gentle “internal” martial arts. I tried my hand at Tai Chi, and really enjoyed the experience and found it very relaxing. The next thing I knew, my husband was participating in some sort of balance paddle ball game, easily flipping balls under his leg and behind his back to his Chinese instructors and game-mates. Called Taiji Bailong Ball, it is a type of Tai Chi and the object is to keep moving the wrist so the ball doesn’t ever touch the ground, but stays on the paddle until tossed. He was great. First using chopsticks and now this, what next?
After playing in the park, we visited the beautiful Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan), the round, ancient building typically used as the signature visual symbol for Beijing. Another relic of the Ming Dynasty dating from 1420, the Temple has religious and cylindrical significance, and was used for the Emperor to make sacrifices and pray for a good harvest. It’s a truly beautiful venue, even with the lights and staging being set up for the Beijing Film Festival which is just getting underway.
A few of us visited a nearby Tea Shop for a lively, rapid-fire presentation and tasting about different teas and their health benefits. The young lady who did the talking must’ve had to really practice to get it all in this fast – she was cute and funny and we felt like we were in a Saturday Night Live skit. It was effective, however, I think we all bought tea.
We took advantage of the lighter Sunday traffic to see the impressive new skyline of the business district, and then made our way to the area of town where most of the foreign embassies are located. It was a pretty area and reminded me of fraternity row. The buildings all looked pretty similar, and had Chinese guards, since the local government doesn’t allow any other country’s military to be visible. It was in this leafy neighborhood we had a light and delicious lunch at a spot called Panino Teca. You can guess from the name it was Italian and featured really good sandwiches (I had toasted prosciutto) and yummy desserts and gelato.
The afternoon was dedicated to some more exploration of the hutongs. We returned to the area we had previously visited near the northern lakes and took another trishaw ride. BTW, a trishaw is a hybrid rickshaw-bicycle. This time, we took a different route, and rode along the other side of the lake and through the hutong’s narrow streets. Ultimately, we ended up at the typical siheyuan home of a local artist who we were able to visit. The couple was probably in their mid-60s, and through a translator we were able to have a lively and candid discussion about their lives and how they live. Nothing was off limits, and it was very interesting. The wife was a retired factory worker, and the husband an artist with his own gallery. They were successful enough to have traveled to the U.S., and he had been all over China. Yet they share a bathroom with two other families now housed in their courtyard home, and live in conditions markedly different than their counterparts in the U.S. It was a highlight to have the privilege to meet them, and also to speak with our guide on a more in-depth level.
The trishaws navigated us out of the hutong and back to our bus for the trip back to the Regent.
Tomorrow we head to Xi’an, and there has been a lot of (apparently unnecessary) concern about the published weight restrictions on the Chinese airlines. Thanks to our Tauck guide Annie for today’s tip.
Tip of the day, “Don’t worry about the weight of your baggage-just worry about your weight.”