Share |

My plan for this day was to visit sights that were all within walking distance from my hostel. The first place on my list was Prince Gong's former residence. While walking there, I came by a little museum of the residence of some guy I'd never heard of.  I stopped to peek in and the ticket lady looked at me so hopefully, that I decided to pay the $1.20 admission fee to go inside.  The person, Guo Moruo, studied a lot about ancient Chinese culture and was into the science-of-history sort of thing. He was a literary figure of sorts.  Actually, the museum was quite nice, and I was the sole visitor for the duration of my visit.  There were many quotes by this man put up among the exhibits and he said some interesting things. The ticket lady, though, made me think of that I Love Lucy episode where they're driving across the country and get gas at a station, then stop at a restaurant where the waiter is the same guy as the gas station attendant, and then they get a hotel room and the hotel manager is the same guy again – he's just running around ahead of the Ricardos and Mertz's.  Well, the ticket lady hustled over to the first exhibit hall to sit by the door as I walked in, and then as I was nearing the end of the exhibit, she ran over to the next hall to sit by the door as I went in over there ... one step ahead of me to man each post in the museum.

I made it then to Prince Gong's Mansion (or some say Palace). And that is one lovely place. A humble entryway opens up into a child's ultimate paradise (for kids like me, anyway) – you can just run around where ever you please, and there are all kinds of stone paths, nooks, stairways, tunnels, and funky rock formations.

Entrance to the grounds of Prince Gong's Mansion in Beijing.Stone pathway around the perimeter of the palace grounds, Prince Gong's Mansion, Beijing.Detail of stonework along a pathway through the gounds of Prince Gong's Mansion, Beijing.

The centerpiece is a pond, complete with ducks and geese, with a nice gazebo beside it. It was terribly relaxing, even tranquil, despite all the people (I was the only Westerner, though). I was approached this time by three middle-aged men who wanted to be photographed with their own cameras standing next to me.  Funny thing, that. If that happens yet again, I will ask them to take a photo of us with my camera as well.

Inside a shelter beside the pond in the middle of Prince Gong's Mansion grounds, Beijing.Detail of ceiling inside the shelter beside the pond in Prince Gong's Mansion, Beijing.Tame birds on the pond in the middle of the grounds at Prince Gong's Mansion, Beijing.

I never get bored with or tired of the quaint "portals" into courtyards throughout Chinese architecture ... usually circles or ovals and sometimes more unique polygon shapes. They seem somehow magical to me, like the architecture of fairy lands. And I'm always impressed by the long corridors with elaborately painted roof beams -- another ubiquitous feature in the imperial architecture. The one pictured below is also lined with lanterns ... I think it's one of my favorite photos, actually.

Oval entryway into a courtyard inside the grounds of Prince Gong's Mansion, Beijing.Round portal leading to oval portal in a succession of courtyards inside Prince Gong's Mansion, Beijing.Corridor lined with Chinese lanterns, Prince Gong's Mansion, Beijing.

Then I went on to the former residence of Soong Ching Ling, former wife of Sun Yatsen, as per the well-deserved recommendation of my aunt and uncle. The grounds are very nice. But its primary feature is the very interesting information. From the reading I'd done before I came to China, I knew something about the Kuomintang and Sun Yatsen, but for all that I knew I had equal confusion, because they are referred to in drastically different lights based on the time-frame of reference to them and based on who is referring to them. I won't give you the history lesson that I have now learned, but let's just say the exhibit was very informative. One thing I thought was funny was that Sun Yatsen's wedding gift to Soong Ching Ling was a pistol.  How romantic is that?  So I didn't make it to my third intended destination, but no matter. I had a peaceful and lovely day all the same. Oh, and the best part was at Mdme Soong's residence there was a swingset with two very sturdy swings on the grounds next to the pond, so I swung for about 15 minutes until closing time. Not only was it fun, as swinging always is, but the "wind" in my face was so deliciously cool on a very hot day. 

Canal running past Soong Ching Ling's residence in Beijing.Gazebo on the grounds of Soong Ching Ling's Residence, Beijing.

While we're on the subject of lesser-known attractions in Beijing, I read a description in my guide book of a Museum of Chinese Architecture that talked it up, and it was near the Temple of Heaven which was one of my priorities to see. So I decided to check it out.  The friendly staff at the hostel called the museum to get directions, and wrote out an extensive page of characters for me to give to the taxi driver. But the driver still had to get out and ask directions along the way. Clearly, it's a little obscure. After the driver finally let me out, I walked under an arch into what appeared to be the driveway for the museum.  Soon I came to a little building that looked like a ticket window, but there was otherwise really no indication that I was at a museum of any kind. So I went to the guy behind the window and pointed to the paper that I had given the taxi driver and asked if this is where I was. The guy started talking and talking and pointing back behind me. Another guy came over and joined in the pointing.

"Go back," they say. So I figured I've got the wrong place. I walked back to the arch. I asked two ladies there, pointing to the Chinese characters on my slip of paper if I am there. They pointed back to the direction I had just come from and said, "That way, up ahead." So I walked back up the road, past the little booth a short ways to where the road ends at a gate with a guard. I asked the guard the same question. He points back the way I've just come, back toward the arch and the ladies. 

For crying out loud! I was thinking at this point. This is so silly -- me walking back and forth along this same stretch of road. So I went back to the little booth and talked to the guy again. This time, after another minute of him saying stuff I couldn't understand, rather exasperatedly, I finally understand him to say that I had to buy a ticket back at the arch.  So I walked back to the arch, got the ticket and came back, waving my ticket happily. He laughed and let me in. It was a very silly scene, me walking back and forth like a dope.

At last I gained entrance to the Museum of Chinese Architecture, where I puttered around for over an hour, during which time I was the sole visitor. I'm beginning to realize it's not actually very hard to get away from crowds in Beijing. There were some interesting buildings which were built in that dazzling year of 1420. It's original function was connected with the imperial ceremonies that took place at the Temple of Heaven. One of the very coolest things I've seen since I've been here was the ceiling of one of these buildings, which was a round dome painted beautifully, and ringed around the inside with small and amazing wooden carvings of pagodas and other Chinese-style buildings. It was stunning. And then befell me the diabolical misfortune of my camera ceasing to work.  So I will have to keep the picture of that amazing ceiling just in my head. The large courtyards were filled with stone and tile artifacts.

Pieces of stonework lined up in the courtyard of the Museum of Chinese Architecture. Beijing.Pices of tile work lined up in a courtyard in the Museum of Chinese Architecture. Beijing.

Then I moved on to the well-known Temple of Heaven, the primary place of ceremony and sacrifice for the dynastic emperors to maintain prosperity in their kingdom with the help of the gods. The main structure here was under renovation and not open to visitors, which was a bit of a disappointment, but fortunately the following year it had reopened for Erik and me to see.  However, the rest of this large heavenly park was very lovely, indeed. Any disappointments were canceled out by stumbling across this crazy musical gathering filling the length of "The Long Corridor." (yes, another one ... see the Long Corridor in the Summer Palace HERE from year 1 and HERE from year 2) Walking through the wooded park, I started hearing a cacophony of sound up ahead. I arrived at the corridor to find it packed with musicians of all sorts -- playing traditional instruments, playing saxophones in a way that sounds more like a stringed violin-type instrument, whole choirs of singers with accordion accompaniment (I got the feeling it was some kind of casual singing group), and individuals belting out Chinese opera songs. Wow. I don't know if it's always like that on Thursday afternoons (or every afternoon?), or if something special was going on. But it was just amazing. These were not like just joe-shmoe people practicing their instruments; they all sounded to me like concert performers. It was as if they were all practicing for some kind of competition. I had SUCH a good time just walking the corridor back and forth and sitting and listening to some of the different musicians for awhile. 

Musicians and singers are packed inside a long corridor in the Temple of Heaven, Beijing.

Finally I tore myself away and made it into all of the remaining structures just before they closed.  The coolest thing was this huge round ceremonial structure for offering sacrifices to the gods of heaven. By structure I don't mean a building in this case, but a round platform in several tiers. Again the favored number "9" came into play where many features of the platform were present in numbers divisible by 9.

Large iron cauldrons to hold offerings to the gods at the Temple of Heaven, BeijingLarge iron cauldrons to hold offerings to the gods at the Temple of Heaven, BeijingThe Temple of Heaven from a ceremonial platform. Beijing.

The whole complex of the Temple of Heaven is associated with worship and sacrifice to the gods. There is a building where the sacrifices are killed, one where they are prepared, a place where they are burned, a place where the emperor stays in abstinence before the ritual, a place where he changes clothes for the ritual, etc. etc. The intricacies of these rituals are astounding. But perhaps having kept the Chinese empire in tact for so long, the rituals became ever more elaborate in an attempt to maintain an ever-more staggering feat of national unity.

A room for sacrificial preparations for a ceremony, Temple of Heaven, Beijing.

*


Read more articles about China from China Archive I

So 1420 was a heck of a year in Beijing.  This year, the Ming Dynasty oversaw a construction frenzy.  All kinds of buildings inside the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven, and what is now the Architectural Museum (near T of Heaven) were built in 1420 (most renovated or rebuilt at some point later in time). I visited the temple and museum today.  Oh, but first I had to go to an office building to pick up some plane and train tickets for my next few legs of travel in China.  They couldn't be sent to me in the U.S., so I had to pick them up here.  While waiting at a traffic light, one where a policeman was stationed to direct traffic, two girls started walking across the street in the crosswalk when there was no oncoming traffic on that side.  And the policeman freaked out.  They apparently had to wait for his official signal.  He was just completely wiggy.  The girls were already half-way across the road, and he made them turn around and go back to the sidewalk even though now traffic was starting to come through and they were in danger of getting hit.  Only when, and ONLY when, he signaled for pedestrians to cross could anyone step foot off of the sidewalk.  It made me chuckle.  But I granted a chuckle to anyone who might have been watching me in the building where I picked up the tickets.  I pushed the elevator button.  I had to go up to the fourth floor.  I got in the elevator and pushed 4.  Nothing happened.  I pushed and pushed:  nothing.  So I exited the elevator and got into another one (it's a big fancy building with numerous elevators in a row).  Pushed 4.  Nothing.  Pushed and pushed.  Nothing.  So I exited that elevator back into the lobby again.  Now I felt really stupid.  How hard could it be to operate a Chinese elevator?  Then I noticed outside each one was a list of floor numbers.  Only certain elevators go to certain floors.  So I found the right one for #4 and finally got up there.  But if anyone saw me going in and out of the elevators, it had to have been amusing.  

So anyway, on to the sights.  I read a description in my guide book of a Museum of Chinese Architecture that talked it up, and it was near the Temple of Heaven, which was my main goal to see today.  So I decided to check it out.  The friendly staff here at the hostel called the museum to get directions, and wrote out an extensive page of characters for me to give to the taxi driver.  But the driver still had to get out and ask directions along the way.  It's a little obscure.  Then I had another back-and-forth episode.  I walked under an arch into what appeared to be the driveway for the museum.  Soon I came to a little building that looked like a ticket office, but there was otherwise really no indication that I was at a museum of any kind.  So I pointed to the paper that I had given the taxi driver and asked if this is where I was.  The guy started talking and talking and pointing back behind me.  Another guy comes over and joins in the pointing.  Go back, they say.  So I figure I've got the wrong place.  I walk back to the arch.  I ask two ladies there, pointing to the Chinese characters on my slip of paper if I am there.  They point back to the direction I had just come from and say that way, up ahead.  So I walk back up the road, past the little booth a short ways to where the road ends at a gate with a guard.  I ask the guard the same question.  He points back the way I've just come, back toward the arch and the ladies.  “For crying out loud!” I'm thinking at this point.  This is so silly, me walking back and forth along this same stretch of road.  So I go back to the little booth and talk to the guy again.  This time, after another minute of him saying stuff, rather exasperatedly, I understand him to say that I have to buy a ticket back at the arch.  So now I walk back to the arch, get the ticket and come back, waving my ticket happily.  He laughed and let me in.  

Now, the other day at that little temple across from the Lama Temple, I thought it was a bit of a find because there were so few people there, and it had been so peaceful.  At the Museum of Chinese Architecture, where I puttered around for over an hour today, I was the sole visitor.  Now THAT was peaceful.  Some interesting buildings, built in, you guessed it, 1420.  One of the very coolest things I've seen since I've been here was the ceiling of one of these buildings, which was a round dome painted beautifully, and ringed around the inside with small and amazing wooden carvings of pagodas and other Chinese-style buildings.  It was stunning.  And then befell me the diabolical misfortune of my camera ceasing to work.  So I will have to keep the picture of that amazing ceiling just in my head.  

I left the museum rather dispirited about the camera.  But I went on over to the Temple of Heaven.  The main structure here is under renovation, and was not open to visitors, which was also a bit of a disappointment.  However, the rest of this large park with other buildings in it was very lovely.  And all the disappointments were fairly well canceled out by stumbling across this crazy musical gathering along "the long corridor." (yes, another one) Walking through the wooded park, I started hearing this cacophony of sound up ahead.  I arrived at the corridor to find it filled the whole length with musicians playing traditional instruments and playing saxophones in a way that sounds more like a stringed violin-type instrument; whole choirs of singers with accordion accompaniment; and individuals belting out Chinese opera songs.  Wow.  I don't know if it's always like that on Thursday afternoons, or if something special was going on.  But it was just amazing.  These were not like just joe-shmoe people practicing their instruments; they all sounded like concert performers.  It was as if they were all practicing for some kind of competition.  I had SUCH a good time just walking the corridor back and forth (the theme for the day!) and sitting and listening to some of the different musicians for awhile.  Finally I tore myself away and made it into all of the remaining structures just before they closed.  The coolest thing was this huge round ceremonial structure for offering sacrifices to the gods of heaven.  By structure I don't mean a building in this case, but a round platform in several tiers.  The whole complex of the Temple of Heaven and the buildings in the Museum nearby are all associated with worship and sacrifice to the gods.  There is a building where the sacrifices are killed, one where they are prepared, a place where they are burned, a place where the emperor stays in abstinence before the ritual, a place where he changes clothes for the ritual, etc. etc.  While standing around on the big platform, two teenaged boys came up to me and one of them wanted to have his friend take a picture of him beside me.  I agreed, but I don't really know why they wanted me in their photo.


Tomorrow I take the overnight train to Xi'an.  Don't know what I'll do about my camera.  I continued to try to use it, and sometimes it worked and sometimes not, about 50/50.  I think most of you understand what a travesty it would be to have only my puny brain to record all this stuff I'm seeing!  I don't have Erik here to remember everything for me.  So I don't know what to do.  Also, opposite to what I imagined, I haven't bought anything at all yet.  Not even postcards.  So to my regular receivers of such, I don't know if I'll get to it!  My days end up being so full as it is.  OK.  Over and out.

Archive

 

-- AFRICA --

 

 

Uganda All posts

 

Uganda photos only

 

South Africa All posts

 

 - includes Lesotho

 

S. Africa Photos only

 

Botswana

 

Namibia

 

Namibia II Witchcraft

 

Save Rhinos

 

 

 

-- MIDDLE EAST --


Tunisia


Iran  All posts


Iran  photos only

 

 

 

ANTARCTICA 

 

 

ARGENTINA

 


-- EUROPE --

 

Central Europe


- Czech Rep.


- Poland


- Slovakia

 

Catalonia, Spain

 

Andorra / France

 

Iceland

 

Greece Refugee Camp

 

 


-- ASIA --

 

China I

 

China II

 

 


- NORTH AMERICA -

 

Ixtapa, Mexico

 

Maui, Hawaii

 

Puerto Rico

 

Keepers of the Wild

 

Maine

 

Colorado

 

Utah

 

California

 

 


Trip posts for Trazzler

 

(worldwide)

 

Travel Essays

Newsletter

 

To subscribe to the

 

SKJ Travel newsletter

 

 Please visit the

 

Contact page.

 

Most Recent Additions

1. "Dragons, Land & Rain Gods: Village Temples in China" added to Travel Essays

 

2. "Eve of Battle: China's Traditional Village Landscapes Changing" added to Travel Essays
3. "Things I Keep: Observations in Guatemala" added to Travel Essays
4. "At Night in the Loo" added to Travel Essays

5. "The Earthen Heart: traditional farming in China" added to Travel Essays
6. "Is Iran Safe? The Traveler's Guide" added to Interviews with SKJ

 

Follow SKJ Traveler

 Facebook
 RSS Feed
 Twitter
Google+

 

<script type="text/javascript" src="https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js"></script>
<g:plusone></g:plusone>

Support

 



If you like what you read,

feel free to support the

website, so SKJ Travel

can keep showing you

the world! Expenses include domain name

& website hosting.