There must be an Angel
We had arranged to meet Hetty, who we met on the Trans-Siberian Railway, at the 798 Art District. She had just completed three days hike of the Great Wall of China and we were intrigued to find out how she got on. Before that, we visited the Temple of Heaven.
To the Temple of Heaven was a thirty-minute walk south of our Hostel, through some of the old Hutong alleyways. Every space is used, even for vegetable growing.
The Temple of Heaven complex was used for annual harvest ceremonies and built at the same time as the Forbidden City. Interestingly, unlike the other significant imperial buildings, which were all built on the central south-to-north axis, this was southeast to the Forbidden City, which is the ultimate direction of the power from the sun. The other difference is that the buildings here were round in shape, representing heaven, rather than the usual square. Jiajing Emperor who arranged the round constructions wanted to show that his succession as Emperor, from his childless brother, was the will of heaven.
The parkland is just over 1 square mile, and it was relaxing to spend some time amongst the trees. We wandered down the central Long Corridor and could soon see the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The marble steps led us to the three-tiered temple painted blue, yellow and green. Inside the Temple, it had four outer pillars signifying the four seasons and twelve inner posts for the 12 months of the year.
We walked along the Danbi Bridge and veered off to the east to try and find the Seven Star Stones which are in the pattern of the Plough constellation. Sadly we couldn’t find them, time was of the essence, and we got waylaid watching (and me joining in) some people doing Tai Chi.
Back on track, next was the Echo Chamber surrounding the Imperial Vault of Heaven. Unfortunately a barrier in front of the wall stopped us standing next to it; however, we did experiment with me standing on the right of the entrance calling out “Elephant and Giraffe”, while Tim was on the left listening intently for my two animals. All he could hear was a small child yelling.
Our last place to visit was the Circular Mound Altar where sacrifices were made for a good harvest. The number nine is applied in several areas such as tiles and balusters, as this is the supreme number in Chinese culture. I stood on the marble Heavenly Centre Stone to check out the resonance of my voice which is supposed to be amplified to reach the heavens.
We could easily have spent a whole day here, there was a lot more to explore, and it would have been nice to sit with a picnic amongst the trees, watching people practising their martial art moves.
It was time to get a metro up to the 798 Art District to meet Hetty. I couldn’t wait to hear about her three-day expedition on the Great Wall. After we met, I was firing questions at her, how was it? What were the paths like? Where did you sleep? Her experience made our one day sound like a stroll in the park. Often she was clambering up or down on her hands and knees, with the angle nearly vertical. One of the nights they stayed in a charming guest house, the other they camped in a remote watchtower.
After lunch, we came across some gorgeous angel wings ready for Hetty to stand by with the apt quote “All those who work hard are Angels”. She certainly is an Angel.
One of the reasons we wanted to visit this area, as well as seeing art, was because it is recommended in the Lonely Planet’s top 500. It is a mix of Communist history with old Bauhaus style factories built by East Germans in the 1950s taken over by contemporary artists from the military when they moved out in the 1990s. I don’t think we embraced the area to its full extent. We wandered around aimlessly (or was that just me), looking for 798 Space Gallery.
Tim was on top form and enjoyed reacting to some of the statues and artwork along the lanes, making Hetty and I hoot with laughter. He really can be a funny guy.
Where was this 798 Space Gallery? We asked a few people, and eventually, a young lady walked us there. It wasn’t how I imagined. I thought it was in a large separate hangar but it seemed to be in a complex with other art galleries and shops.
There was an interesting exhibition that peeked my appetite called “All We Love”. A range of photos of people with their possessions outside of their homes, the exhibition was based on family stuff that we love, mainly connected with our homes. The description talks about the relationship we have of the physical space and objects within our home and the emotions and attachments we have with possessions, including those handed down from generations. Having cleared out our house two years ago, letting go of many belongings, I reflected on what we have kept. Two plates that used to belong to my great-great-grandmother have been carefully packed away. The plethora of weird and wonderful objects that were hung in our downstairs toilet are all kept in a box.
We were getting cold and tired, so stopped for a hot drink before Hetty needed to dart off. We both loved her company, fun and easy-going. We hope that we meet her again. At least with social media, we can keep in touch with this hard-working Angel.
There was one last thing that needed to be done in Beijing - Tim found a well established restaurant near to our hostel, serving the finest Peking Duck. He said it was amazing, crispy on the outside, soft and tender on the inside. We sat next to three guys from New York and chatted with lots of laughter. A great end to our stay in Beijing.
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