Beijing: Week 5
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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Beijing: Week 5

We had a day, Teddy and I.
I don't know what was better this week, visiting the Temple of Heaven or winning pub quiz. Given that one rewarded me with some UNESCO heritage architecture and the other rewarded me with a keg of beer, I think it's pretty clear.

The photos are highlighting a very blue theme in Beijing last week. Strolls back from the flea market and through the park at the Temple of Heaven were once again reminders that air pollution is not a constant problem here. Near-constant, but not constant.

So the Temple of Heaven is the big thing to visit in Beijing. It was 30 RMB to get into the park and then into the temple complex (low-season prices). This is sort of like the Notre Dame or St. Paul's of Beijing. It's an old wooden temple from the 1400s, and it is pretty. Very pretty, even. As a Western tourist, however, it left me a bit sad.
Blues everywhere...

First, very little explanation is in English. There are signs talking about Chinese virtues and all of the fluffy language that ultimately says nothing. But there is little information about what actually happened here, who visited, why it's so important. I wanted its story. Maybe I should have rented the audio guide. I suppose that is on me.

Second, it's just neither peaceful nor very engaging. There's nothing really to see besides the outside. You can't go in it, and the side temples aren't really that interesting. At least in Notre Dame you can sit and, despite the crowds, sort of take it in. The Temple of Heaven isn't designed to welcome people like us, so you walk up to it, look, and then leave. I suppose that's fine, but I wanted more.
Some foods, some views...

Finally, Chinese tourists don't make the experience enjoyable. Again, I know it's cultural, but when you're at a UNESCO site and everyone is hocking up their phlegm on the ground of this supposedly important monument, it makes you step back and think. Chinese tourism is very different from Western travel. They all seemed to be on the same conveyor belt through the park, visiting the sights and then leaving. That's cool, they are doing their thing and I respect it. Maybe there wasn't time to hack up that mucus somewhere else, but cultural or not it's hard to appreciate this aspect of Chinese heritage when the people that venerate it also spit on it.

Once I got away from the hoards, the rest of the park was very nice and serene, mostly because tourists don't get off the beaten path. It's a fascinating spectacle to experience, and I suggest going to the temple. But a after years of visiting chateaux and cathedrals and palaces in the West, it was hard to be wowed in the way I hoped for at the Temple of Heaven. Maybe I'm jaded. I'll shoulder some of the blame, but not all of it.

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