Beijing--August 25, 2004--Temple of Heaven, Pearl Workshop, Drum Tower, Hutong Visit, Prince Gong Garden, Beijing Opera
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At about the same time as the Forbidden City was built, so was the Temple of Heaven. Each winter solstice, the emperors would lead a procession to the temple to make sacrifices to promote the following year's harvest. Of note here is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (124-125), first built in 1420. This building is a replica, having replaced one which burned in 1889. The Echo Wall (133) is also here--two persons can stand on opposite ends of the enclosure and hear whispered messages from each other.
From the Temple of Heaven, we proceeded to a pearl workshop (137-144)where we not only learned much about pearls but also saw that they could be fashioned into almost any object such as the necktie shown (142-143).
After lunch, we began our journey into the hutongs. These are the original neighborhoods of Beijing, built in a sort of maze along narrow streets. The width of the original streets ranged from about two feet to thirty feet. We boarded a pedicab (145) which consisted of bicycle-type apparatus pulling a seat for two persons. We went in and out of a hutong, along the river and eventually arrived at our first stop--the Drum Tower (152). At that point, we alighted from the pedicabs and walked up a very steep set of stairs (153) to reach the top where we had views of the surrounding hutong area (154-157). We were treated to a demonstration of the drums (158-159) which originally served a timekeeping purpose for the area. After a time, we descended the stairs (160) and proceeded back to the pedicabs to visit a family in the hutong.
We arrived a short time later at a hutong courtyard housing surrounded by three homes (161-163). We were invited into the home of a family of three and greeted warmly by the wife. We were all seated and then proceeded to have a discussion with her (using our guide as an interpreter) about life in both China and the hutong. Questions ranged all over the map including how far she had traveled in China and her views on the one-child policy. She conveyed a spirit of optimism about the economic future of the country and indicated that she thought she had a pretty good life. Once the questions were finished, she showed us around her home where we also encountered her daughter, the only child, in accordance with Chinese policy. The wife had worked in a semi-conductor factory but had retired and the daughter was also in the computer technology field. The wife indicated she had homing pigeons (chart at 172) and also showed us her pet dog (166) and cricket (175). After a very interesting visit, we left the home and proceeded next to the Prince Gong Gardens (178-184).
The gardens are adjacent to the Prince Gong Mansion but only the gardens are open to the public and they present a combination of pavilions and rockeries, beautifully arranged. Although the site has been owned by several individuals over the years, it is named after the 19th century son of one of China's emperors.
In the evening, we bussed through the streets of Beijing (185) and concluded the day with a short performance of the Beijing Opera. Before the show, it was possible to see the performers apply their elaborate makeup in the lobby (188-192). Very different from Western opera, the Chinese version consists of popular stories, shrilly sung with clashing cymbals and performers heavily made up. The roles can be very demanding and the training can be quite strenuous. At one time, performers were recruited almost exclusively from orphanages.
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