Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Which is the real Temple of Heaven?

Day 6 (Mon, 24 Nov 2008)

Today, we set out for Tiantan (Temple of Heaven) which is where the Emperor used to go to perform certain rituals, offer sacrifices and "communicate" with heaven.

On arrival, Lesley-Anne commented, "It looks exactly like the Forbidden City!" Well, I guess to Philistines like us, the architecture does look pretty similar.

But there are differences, even to the uninitiated. First, the Temple of Heaven has sprawling, expansive grounds - the garden is actually larger than the umm... built up area (I'm a city gal! I don't know what it's called!) You pay a fee to enter the grounds, then there is an additional fee to enter the temple areas. We didn't bother to explore the gardens but there were many people just strolling, it's very scenic even in winter.

We entered by the South gate and came to the Circular Mound. The walls and staircases surrounding and leading to the Circular Mound are all made of marble. The Circular Mound is paved with 9 concentric circles (symbolising the 9 heavens), and the main attraction is the middle Heavenly Centre stone where the Emperor would stand to talk to the heavens, as that's the most resonant spot.

Of course that was the spot for a photo op, all the tourists were clammering to stand there (everyone wants to be an Emperor even just for 5 seconds!) And of course we weren't any different - here's Emperor Andre, in royal yellow no less.

That's one of the main differences I found between the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. Where the Forbidden City is all angles and squares, the Temple of Heaven is all about circles.

From there, we walked on to the Imperial Vault of Heaven (left pic) which housed the important relics for worship ceremonies. More interesting though was the surrounding grounds which had an Echo Wall (supposedly two people can talk at opposite ends of the wall and be able to hear each other) and strategically placed stones where you can hear an echo if you stand at those positions and clap. Lesley-Anne tried it (right pic below), it works! Something about the way the whole place was constructed in a circular manner. Don't ask me what Andre was doing in the picture below.

Then it's more walking past giant gates along a very long walkway to the Temple of Prayer for Good Harvests (the name is self-explanatory.) Again, everything was built in circles and in threes or nines, including the three-tiered roof.

Very ornate and pretty but you know, it starts to look the same after a while. We exited from the East gate and walked towards Hong Qiao Pearl Market, which is supposedly another cheap shopping mall similar to Silk Market. But the real gem was behind Hong Qiao Market - Toys City!! Wah - Andre was so excited, now THIS was the real Temple of Heaven for him! Four floors of every kind of toy imaginable, from action figures to soft toys to electronic cars. One floor sold entirely stationery. And every floor you ascended, the toys got bigger and bigger, until on the top floor, you have toys in gigantic boxes, including motorised cars and bikes.

Everything was dirt cheap - Andre got three action figures, including a large one which lights up and speaks when a button is pressed, for only RMB 40 (S$8.80). Lesley-Anne bought two ridiculously cute stuffed giraffes for RMB 30 (S$6.70). Of course you have to bargain lah!

We were having so much fun that by the time we decided to go for lunch, it was already 2.30pm. There was nothing much to eat in the vicinity so we took a cab back to Solana which was close by. We'd actually planned to try out one of the many restaurants along the food street but alamak, everything was closed! Here, the restaurants generally close at 2pm for lunch, which was rather frustrating.

So guess where we ended up? Back at the Japanese restaurant we went to yesterday! It was the only one opened. In fact, when the waitresses saw us, she had to turn on the lights, we were their only customers. Really, nobody eats at odd hours here??

But no matter, the food was still yummy. Above is a pic of a sushi roll with prawn tempura. Watch Andre dig in!

And then it's back to my cousin's place where the kids happily played with their new toys (and watched Kung Fu Panda again) for the rest of the day.

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