Posted by on Apr 21, 2011 | 7 comments

Morning Workout Temple of Heaven Park

East Entrance Temple of Heaven Park

East End Long Corridor Looking North

Old Man Stretches

Long Corridor Looking West

Old Man Knits

Card Game

Playing Dominoes

Hacky Sack

Opera Singers

Opera Performance

West End Long Corridor

Hall of Prayers for Good Harvests

City Skyline from Hall of Prayer

From Hall of Prayer Towards Imperial Vault

Burning Vessels

Green Roof Tiles

Ancient Cypress Tree

Imperial Walkway Bridge

An Imperial Gate

Yuan and Imperial Vault of Heaven

Imperial Vault of Heaven Front

We entered the Temple of Heaven park at the East Gate and ended at the South Gate. Apparently this is exactly the opposite of the recommended route. I was following along with an audio guide that would automatically start playing when I got close to a landmark.  Trouble is, it always assumed I was approaching from the opposite side, so nothing they described matched what I was looking at.  It ended up being more annoyingly distracting than helpful.

Like many people I have seen pictures of most of the famous landmarks in Beijing, including this one, but this was my first chance to see it all up close. The two things that stand out in my mind after being here are the enormous scale of it (the park covers 270 acres), and the incredible attention to detail of all of the beautiful architecture and decor.

There are lots of web sites out there that have very professional photos of the most famous landmarks in the park, so I will not try to duplicate them here. I have included a few of my own photos, and you can find more of them in my Template of Heaven Gallery.

Walking along the Long Corridor, the amazing artwork is on display all along the eaves and the roof. This is a very entertaining walk, as there are so many natives out for fun and games on a Sunday morning. People were playing dominoes, cards, hackeysack, and other games. There was even a pair of opera singers giving a performance, with an audience that was up close and personal.

Some parts of the park were overrun with crowds, while other sections were totally empty. The contrast was startling. Nature is abundant, and the vast forest of ancient cypress trees reinforce that impression, while the majesty of the buildings, masonry, stone carvings and other artwork amplifies and celebrates the interplay of man-made and natural wonders to be found here.

When I was standing on the platform in front of the Hall of Prayers for Good Harvests, I was struck by the juxtaposition between the ancient stone wall in the foreground and the modern city skyline in the background. On the left side of this photo you can see the tallest building in Beijing jutting up into the sky, with a rather tall set of electric lights directly in front of it and looming over the park in the foreground.

The burning vessels were sitting near the Hall of Prayers on a platform that was completely empty and peaceful, while on the other side through the gate a huge crowd of people could be seen.

One of my favorite sights was the green roof tiles (these also appeared elsewhere in blue) with their tubular shapes, and a dragon carved into the end of each one. There must have been thousands of these around the various buildings, each one with these intricate hand carvings. The effect was extremely impressive.

Equally impressive were the three-dimensional stone carvings at the center of many of the staircases (even more of these carvings can be seen in the Forbidden City).

Everywhere you turn in the Temple of Heaven there are dragons. On top of the roofs and walls, in carvings and paintings, they are a constant presence that leaves an indelible impression on the visitor.

Even the trash receptacles have an imperial quality to them.

One of the most popular spots in the entire park was the Heavenly Center Stone. Supposedly if you stand at the center of the stone and speak, your voice will be amplified. I never got to test this theory, as there was an endless crowd of people constantly competing for the coveted spot, merely for the purpose of getting their pictures taken there. Similarly I didn’t have any luck testing the aural qualities of the Echo Wall or the Triple-Sound Stones. No matter, there were more than enough wonders to experience to make this a truly magical and unforgettable place.

As we were getting ready to leave the park, we noticed a lot of people milling around in one area. Yuan informed me that this was a matchmaking event, in which parents make and distribute flyers to advertise the desirable qualities of their children, in order to find mates for them. I wanted to take a closer look and snap some photos. As I started to take a picture of one of the flyers, a very nervous and flustered middle-aged man put his hand in front of it to stop me, waving his other hand and speaking in Chinese with an agitated tone. On the flyer was a picture of himself, and he didn’t want anyone photographing him. He spoke to Yuan and told her that he was 56 years old, and was looking for a woman around his own age, but that he had high standards. When Yuan asked what those standards might be, he replied that he wanted someone who had no children.

Moving on from here, we came across another group of people who were also participating in the matchmaking. Mindful of not wanting to invade people’s privacy, I nonetheless wanted to get at least one photo that gave an impression of the event. I composed a shot that included some of the flyers without showing any photos or even any identifiable text, and without even showing anyone’s face, and I snapped the shutter. Immediately an old man started yelling at me and pointing at my camera. I couldn’t understand his words, though I had a pretty good idea what he was saying. Yuan stepped in to interpret, and he began yelling at her. Yuan did her best to restrain herself from responding in kind (and she succeeded to a remarkable degree), but she did try to offer some words of explanation.

Brian and Imperial Vault

Imperial Trash Receptacles

Dragon Stair Carving

At Circular Mound Altar

Heavenly Center Stone

Guard Dragon

Empty Terrace

I didn’t require an interpreter to follow this conversation. He thought I had taken his photo, which Yuan insisted I had not done. I showed him the camera and the pictures that I had taken, and he was nowhere to be seen in them. Nonetheless he was already worked up, and he wasn’t going to be satisfied with any response. He just kept yelling louder and louder, shaking his finger at Yuan, telling her that she had no right to be there, and that she should know better than to bring me there, and just going on and on and on… Then another man stepped in and spoke to me in English, saying something like, “don’t worry about him, he’s overreacting”, and then he started yelling at the man, then at Yuan, then turning to me and apologizing.

It was time for us to go. Standing there was just exacerbating the problem, so we just walked away and left the two men arguing amongst themselves. I found the whole scenario to be highly entertaining and amusing, though it was sad to see an old man taking out his frustrations on passing strangers that way.

Matchmaking Event




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