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  VISITING BEIJING (an introduction)  

The joy of living!

The Temple of Heaven is also a place where one comes to have fun. One foreigner became so caught up with the uninhibited joy of living of the Chinese women dancers that he simply had to join in with his friend for some improvised dancing.
Enough has been said about the Great Wall of China, Tian An Men and its Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. If you should ask me what is the attraction not to be missed in Beijing I would say without any hesitation that it is the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan Gongyuan). In fact I would describe it as a spontaneous playground for Chinese adults young and old (some foreign tourists cannot resist but join in) and where the joy of living is everywhere.
Even if you don't like temples this is one temple you simply have to visit when you are in Beijing. Why? Because when you come here you are not just visiting the temple itself. You are also taken to the very heart of Chinese leisure life. In the park that is part of the temple grounds and for which you pay a reduced admission fee (15 yuan instead of 35 yuan for a through ticket) you have the privilege of observing at first-hand a microcosm of today's Chinese leisure life as well as the Chinese outlook on life. Whether you are with them on the temple grounds or along the Long Corridor that leads to the Hall of Prayer, you will forget all the worries that you have and become as zen as the local populace. Go on a Saturday or Sunday morning (I was there on a Saturday morning) when many of the "performers" would be free from work and you will see what I mean. I have never come across a park that is so full of life as the amateur performers are all there just to amuse themselves. That they entertain the onlookers at the same time is just a coincidence as they perform without any monetary expectations.
One of the most popular activities among the locals is community singing. By buying a photocopied collection of traditional Chinese songs costing 15 yuan anyone can join in the singing (ok, ok, I don't expect you to do so!)

The Chinese singing and dancing their blues away...along the corridor or in the open air

The men singing the men's part with gusto...And no, the "chief conductor" is not making an obscene gesture!

Your turn, ladies! Young and old, this group makes it a point to come here to join in the improvised singing every Saturday.

You just walk from one group to another as your fancy takes you, lingering here for a few minutes, there for half an hour or more. The pictures here unfortunately can only bring out what you see, not what you hear or even the amicable and jovial ambience that fills the air and permeates through each and every visitor. You will return home with the answer why the Chinese have so little and yet are so happy in life. And it has nothing to do with their religion.

Now to come to the temple itself. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is where the emperors go to pray for a prosperous harvest. Don't ask me how it was possible to build the whole wooden structure without a single nail or cement. But as it was built for the emperors' worship it was. Another place here that tourists flock to is the Echo Wall surrounding The Imperial Vault of Heaven. It is said that if two persons stand by the wall, one behind the East Annex Hall and the other behind the West Annex Hall and speak with their face toward the north, they can hear each other's voice clearly. However there is nothing left but its reputation as the voices of the tourists easily drown out whatever little echo that could be heard.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in the Temple of Heaven.

The Imperial Vault of Heaven and its echo wall.

Click here for the first of eight pages of pictures and text on Beijing.

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