Saturday, July 28, 2012

Temple of Heaven

                     I'd planned to spend my last day in Beijing at the Temple of Heaven , Summer Palace, Qianmen and at a Hutong ( hutongs are narrow alleys formed by lines of  traditional courtyard residences) .At around 5:30 AM , I packed my things and prepared to check out. I had a problem though , check out time was at 12 noon yet but I wanted to tour the city first thing in the morning ( until it's time for me to head to the airport around 8pm to catch my flight back to Manila).I didn't want to leave my backpack in the hostel and be interrupted with my tour at around 12 noon just to get my bag and check out. On the other hand , If I checked out early I'd have to carry my backpack all day while touring the rest of Beijing.The staff advised me that I could actually check out early and I could just leave my bag in their storage room and just pick it up before I head to the airport.                
               After checking out , I made my way to the Tianamen East subway station. It's quite a long walk. The directions provided by my hostel ( Peking Youth Hostel) in Beijing says that it's 200 meters from the subway station but it felt like 500 meters. What I loved the most about my hostel was its location which is right smack in the middle of Beijing, to the east of the Forbidden City. Yes, they were neighbors with the Emperors.  I took the subway from Tianamen East station , and I got off at the Tiantan Dongmen station which is the closest station to the Temple of Heaven. 
                            The Temple of Heaven is a complex of Taoist buildings constructed from 1406 to 1420. It was in the complex where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties would go to pray to heaven for good harvest, to be exact at the"Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest"( redundant?). The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is the most popular and most photographed structure in the complex. It  is a magnificent circular building, built on three levels of marble stone base.The surroundings of the Temple of Heaven is also a very popular park among the locals where they take part in different activities. Another reason why I really wanted to visit this place.




                          I paid 30 yuan for a combination ticket that gave me access to all sections and buildings of the complex. As I made my way to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest I was welcomed by the sight of a park teeming with locals , as they start doing the activities of their choice .I was entertained by watching elderly women happily dancing to Chinese music in one corner and another group doing Tai chi in the other. There was also a part in the park where some exercise equipment where put up for the elderly men and women to use. I was amazed at how fit and flexible those old folks are.

                            From the park of the complex, I walked through a long corridor on my way to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. Lining the corridor were groups of elderly again. Each group formed a circle.I was intrigued so I checked out one of the groups and I found out that they're playing card games. 
Grandmas and Grandpas playing card games early in the morning
                             When I reached the Hall of Prayer I didn't feel the same thing I felt upon seeing Angkor Wat in Siem Reap and Wat Arun in Bangkok for the first time. It wasn't stunning. It looked pretty much the same as in the photos I had seen. Somewhere in the complex there's another building that serves as a mini museum. It displays old photos of the Temple of Heaven in its early days. At least this time I enjoyed looking at the black and white photos depicting the renovations done for the Hall of Prayer. There were also photos of leaders from all over the world visiting the complex.
               The architecture of the buildings in the Temple of Heaven is new to me but it's the activities of the locals in the morning that I enjoyed more during my visit. 

Interior of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Olympic Green : The Bird's Nest, Water Cube and everything about the 2008 Olympics

           Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest served as the venue of the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony as well as the closing ceremonies,athletic events and football finals.It has become one of the most famous landmarks in the world. Documentaries were shown about its construction and a lot has been written about it. People from different parts of the world raved about its unique design which is inspired by what else? a bird's nest. 
          When I was creating my itinerary for my Beijing trip I made sure there'd be enough time allotted for the stadium and the entire Olympic village also known as the Olympic Green. I'd seen a lot of photos of tourists taken in front of the stadium but I was intrigued about the inside. I wanted to feel even just a fraction of what those lucky spectators of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games felt while watching the spectacle inside Beijing's newest architectural wonder.

                After relishing the panoramic view of the Forbidden City and other parts of Central Beijing from the Jingshan hill I went down to the street east of the hill and from there I took the looong bus (yes, they have those long buses in Beijing whose length is equivalent to the length of two regular buses) to the nearest subway station on my way to the Olympic Village. The bus passed by the Drum Tower but I thought I didn't have enough time to explore both attractions that afternoon so I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon for the Olympic Village alone.I got off near the Drum tower and I had a hard time finding the nearest subway and eventually I got lost.I regret asking directions from a young chinese couple because they pointed me to a regular train station which led to more confusions and charades.No way! we did this in Bangkok already.Finally, I found a subway station. I paid 2 RMB for the ride to the Olympic Village.The good thing about Beijing's subway is you only pay 2RMB regardless of where you are going,even if you make several transfers from one line to another.
          I arrived at the Olympic Sports Center Station around 2pm.Before coming out of the station I was looking forward to that "WOW! moment" that I experience every time I see a famous landmark for the first time.Same feeling I got when I saw Angkor Wat and Wat Arun. The Bird's Nest didn't fail me. From the subway station I had to walk quite a distance to the stadium.I paid 50 yuan to get inside. It's actually a lot bigger inside than how it appears from the outside.While inside, I could imagine what it must have felt like during the Olympics 2008 when you're just one of the 90000 or so people (which is the capacity of the stadium) watching the opening ceremony and other events during the games . I checked out the view from the top most bleacher and in that section I realized the enormity of the structure. I sat there for a while and all of a sudden I felt lonely. The emptiness of the stadium and the hazy Beijing afternoon I think rubbed off on me so I went down and explored other areas.

            Below the bleachers are shops selling olympic souvenirs and a room displaying wax figure of the Olympic officials.There was also an exhibit of the musical instruments used during the opening ceremony of the Olympics at the stadium like the famous drums that were lit up during the countdown at the beginning of the show. 
One of the drums used during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics 
             After exploring the stadium, I waited for the structures in the Olympic Green to be lit up. While waiting I observed the different activities in the area. There were people flying kites and some were just sitting at the benches surrounding the different interesting scupltures on display at the Olympic Village. I also went to the other side to check out the Water Cube aka The National Aquatics Center which served as the venue of the water sports during the Olympics.I learned that it had been converted into a water theme park.The Water Cube is so beautiful when it's lit up and it's nice to see the color change every couple of minutes. 
              Almost four years have passed since the Beijing Olympics and still a lot of people are interested to see the Bird's Nest and other structures within the Olympic Green that were once witnesses to another milestone in China's colorful history. 
                  You have to visit it now before they convert it to a mall.That's what I've heard.
Park around the stadium


Water Cube
Admission Fee:    CNY50 for a visit to the National Stadium
Opening Hours:   9:00 to 18:00 on weekdays
                             9:00 to 21:30 on weekends and public holidays.

How to get to the Olympic Green : 

By Subway: 

Take Subway Line 10 to Beitucheng then switch to Subway Line 8 (Olympic Special Line): get off at Olympic Sports Center Station, get out of the station from Exit B1 (northwest exit) or Exit B2 (northeast exit), and walk north to Bird's Nest.

By Bus :

Take bus 82, 538 or 611 and get off at Guo Jia Ti Yu Chang Dong (National Stadium East) Station.
Take bus 18, 108, 124, 207, 328, 380, 387, 409, 426, 558, 653, 694, 758, 803, 849, 985 or 特2 and get off at Ao Ti Dong Men (Olympic Sports Center East Gate) Station.
Take bus 84 or 407 and get off at Ao Ti Xi Men (Olympic Sports Center West Gate) Station.