Day 4 Beijing

I woke up early again and stretched and practiced some Qi Gong (氣功) before cleaning up and going down to breakfast.  I really enjoy waking up in this manner.  It helps me awaken both my mind and body before starting my day.  After breakfast we started on another day full of sightseeing.

Temple of Heaven

Tian TanWe started the day by visiting the Temple of Heaven (Tiāntán 天壇).  The Temple of Heaven is a complex of Daoist buildings. The complex was visited by the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to heaven for a good harvest.  In modern times, however, it has now been turned into a large recreational park and tourist attraction.  Many people come here to relax and play.  There were lots of people there in the early morning so areas of the park were quite crowded.  Most of these people were elderly and either retired or only working part time.  Everyone was very active and participating in some sort of activity.  There was a group of older ladies doing some sort of line dance.  There were several groups or individuals practicing Tài Jí (太極).  Many smaller groups of friends played a game with a feathered shuttlecock that was very similar to hacky-sack.  People played badminton or gathered around to sing karaoke and one gentleman was practicing his calligraphy (shÅ« fÇŽ 書法) on the sidewalk.  It is pretty amazing to see so many people between the ages of 60 to 80 being so active.  In the U.S. the elderly tend to be more home bound and socialize less, often with little or no mental or physical exercise.  The Chinese feel that it is necessary to engage the mind and exercise the body in their later years to prevent health problems and to maintain a better quality of life for themselves as they age.

The people are very nice and often invited us to join in their activities.  We stopped to observe some men practicing Tài Jí, one of which was practicing the Tài Jí fan.  The invited several of them to try a few techniques with them.  I performed a few labels from the Yang family style which met with some astonished looks and even some words of approval from one of the other practitioners.  One gentleman invited me to play Tài Jí Ball with him.  It is a game that consists of two rackets in which the center of the racket is stretched piece of plastic that is slightly loose and a hard rubber ball filled partially with sand.  You toss the ball back and forth and attempt to catch and redirect to the other person without it hitting the ground.  It was more difficult at first because if the ball hits straight down onto the racket it will bounce out.  Instead you must follow the principles if Yin and Yang and learn how to give with the incoming ball so that you can accept its force and catch it.  I quickly picked it up after he showed me a few tricks and we tossed it back and forth from crazy angles.  It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed myself very much.  When we were done he politely offered to sell his set to me, but I declined and picked one up later for a better price.  I think it may be an interesting exercise for some of my students.  We also played with a few groups doing the hacky-sack like game.  The were impressed that we could play and I was impressed that they could play at their age.  One gentleman was 80 years old and as spry as many of our group members.

The park surrounding the temple is massive and the temple grounds themselves are quite large accommodating many people.  The central tower, Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (祈年殿), is very powerful and beautiful. There are several buildings on the temple grounds many of which have been converted into small museums.  Being there among all of the buildings and the stone courtyard is truly impressive.  The central tower is several stories tall and constructed entirely of wood with no nails used in its construction.  While the park is full of trees and flowers and is well maintained the temple itself, in stark contrast, has no greenery at all so that the full view of the heavens can be seen and provides an unobstructed view.

Fresh Water Pearl Factory

Next we visited the fresh water pearl factory.  We learned that unlike saltwater pearls, freshwater pearls can create multiple pearls per oyster and that this happens with manual intervention.  By cutting tiny slits into the interior muscle of the oyster and placing grains of certain types of ores, different colored pearls will develop. The shop told us how to distinguish real pearls from fake ones by rubbing them together.  This act should feel rough not smooth and will leave behind a slightly powdered substance.  Their showroom had many pearls of varying sizes and colors made in to earrings, necklaces, bracelets and other items.  They even had cosmetic products made from pearls for sale.  We had lunch here at the factory and the food was very good.

Summer Palace

Summer PalaceAfter lunch we traveled to the Summer Palace (Yíhé Yuán 頤和園) or literally translated as the Gardens of Nurtured Harmony.  This was used during the hottest two months of the year when the emperor and his concubines would retire to the lake.  It spans the grounds around KÅ«n Míng Lake (昆明湖).  This lake is entirely man made.  We took a dragon boat across the lake to the palace on the other side.  The view from the water as we approached was amazing.  The long corridors of the palace grounds seemed to go on forever and were covered with small pictorials from different famous stories from Chinese history.  We did not get to see as much of the palace and grounds as I would have liked but the area is so massive that it would take a couple of days to see it all.

On the boat ride back I struck up a conversation with some other Chinese tourists.  I had some trouble since I do not have a very wide vocabulary yet, but I did not do too bad communicating with them.  We discussed what kind of work I did and how old I was, how long I was in China for and other such cursory topics.  It was fun practicing with them.  The Chinese as a whole are very friendly and are interested in you since you are so interested in their culture.  It is interesting to see so many tourists at the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven especially with the majority of them being Chinese people from other parts of China.

Olympic Icons

Bird's NestWe made a quick stop to take pictures of some of the buildings that housed the games for the 2008 Summer Olympics.  We got pictures of the hotel where most of the athletes stayed as well as the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube.  I was a little disappointed because I thought we might actually get to see and tour these facilities, but apparently they were closed to the public while they were being cleaned.  Many groups had been touring them and left the places a wreck so efforts were being made to clean them back up with hopes of reopening them to the public at a later date.  It was nice to see them but would have been much better to see them up close.

Foot Massage

Our last destination for the day was to a Traditional Chinese Medical Clinic.  We went here primarily for the foot massage which was much needed after so much walking.  I had already begun to develop a blister on my left foot.  We sit in some comfortable chairs and placed our feet in little tubs of hot water with a tea bag floating in it.  The hot water is almost too hot at first but feels wonderful to let your feet soak in it.  Then the masseurs come in and began to massage our feet.  I spoke to some of the masseurs in Chinese a little bit.  I tried to pay attention to what they were doing and hopefully learned some good techniques for massaging the feet.  They were very good and the massage felt great!  While we were receiving our massage several doctors came in to see if we had any imbalances and would diagnose us and then prescribe an herbal treatment that they would be happy to provide.  My doctor checked the color of my tongue and felt my pulse, two very common ways of diagnosis in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  He was able to determine that I have some pain and tension in my neck and shoulders and problems with my spine.  Everyone was diagnosed and some were more generic in what they needed prescriptions for than others.  The prescriptions were priced very high since this is again another tourist type attraction with the touring agency getting a kick back.  None of us purchased any of the prescriptions.

We finished the day off with dinner at an ethnic minority restaurant.  Here you eat foods common to some of the ethnic minorities in China, of which there are many, and watch some of the girls perform some of the traditional dances from their cultural heritage.  The food was excellent.  I think that every place we go to eat is better than the last.  Every restaurant is slightly different and has a unique specialty so I do not feel like we are always eating the same type of food, which would get old very quickly.

The hectic pace of seeing so many places in one day is beginning to take its toll.  I am already very tired and am looking forward to a good nights sleep.

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