An appointment with the sky

An entry about Thursday 18 October. Some photos by me, some by D.

The end of D’s visit was fast approaching, and it was busy enough at work that anything very far away was out of the question, so we opted for Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven. It’s one of Beijing’s major attractions, but I’d never been there, and the new subway line has a stop right at the east entrance, so it was a perfect choice. And aside from a stiff breeze, it was a perfect day for sightseeing. As at the Summer Palace, you can buy either a simple entrance ticket or a “through ticket” which includes admission to the special areas that require their own paid admission. With two through tickets in hand, we went in. Maybe it’s always mellower here, or maybe it’s just past the peak tourist season, but we were happy to find very few hucksters offering postcards, Mao watches, guidebooks and the like.
There’s a long covered walkway that goes from the east gate to the main temple. Lots of locals seem to hang out there, playing cards or mahjong.
This old guy was stomping rhythmically and chanting, kind of an old school Chinese rap, I guess.
The obvious thing about this temple compared to all the other Chinese temples I’ve seen is that it’s round. Cool.
But seriously, some of my American coworkers had told me they didn’t much care for visiting Tian Tan, but I rather liked it. While it was far from empty, it was incredibly quiet within the gates, and very peaceful feeling. The buildings are impressive, and don’t resemble anything at the Summer Palace of Forbidden City.
Okay, I take that back. The standard elements of traditional Chinese design are all here. I guess I’ve seen enough of them that I’m now noticing very subtle differences.
The terraces leading to the main temple are decorated with dragons (representing the emperor) and phoenixes (representing the empress) in alternating layers.
It’s hard to get a good shot inside the big round building, especially with the crowd always gathered at the small openings you’re allowed to look through.
This is the circular altar where the emperors made sacrifices to ensure good harvests.
The central stone serves a more secular function now.
To the west of the temple complex is the Institute of Divine Music, where musicians were trained to participate in the ceremonies.
The first interesting thing about these buildings is that they are actually less than ten years old. The original music school went through some very hard times after the last dynasty fell, having served as medical facilities and barracks for troops, various government offices, and finally as raw materials for people to cart away and use for other buildings. In the 1990s, it was decided that the Institute was an important cultural site and should be restored, so old drawings, paintings, documents, and plans were consulted and the whole things was rebuilt. It houses a museum devoted to Chinese music as well as a concert hall for performances. Most of the explanations are available in English. Some ancient instruments are represented by real pieces, while others are just photographs. The variety of drums in particular is impressive and unusual. We respected the no photo sign, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

After leaving the music museum, we were about done for the day, so we headed back across the park to the subway.
And speaking of music, we encountered several groups of people making some around the place.
Here’s another in the series of pictures to cute to avoid posting.

There was a KFC across the street from the park gate, so we grabbed a late lunch before leaving that part of town. On the subway, D and I parted ways. She headed back to Wangfujing to pick up some gifts for people back home, and I headed for the office to catch up on developments and attend Chinese class, where we learned about expressing durations of time for actions.

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