Tuesday, October 24, 2006

China Day 4

Ok, my elbow is healing, so I'll write more about my China trip. Day 4 we only spent the morning in Beijing, visiting the Temple of Heaven, a very large blue round temple where the Emperor, the Son of Heaven, would come to do rituals twice a year. The huge round blue Temple of Heaven symbolizes Beijing in a way like the Empire State Building symbolizes New York.

When we got there, we went through one of the gates to a large arcade where hundreds of senior citizens were doing group exercies: social dancing (it looked somewhat like a fox trot); banging around a small ball on a white paddle in a group led by a leader; etc. Other seniors were singing opera in a group or playing mah jong. The arcades and the nearby areas looked like a giant senior citizen center. Our guide told us that since China doesn't have enough jobs to go along, people who are 55 are encouraged to retire so young people can get the jobs. So many people retire between 55 and 60. Where do they go? In the summer to the parks where they do group exercise. Actually I enjoyed seeing all the seniors dancing, singing, and gambling--much better than the old days when this whole huge area was reserved just for the Emperor who came twice a year!

Past the arcade area we walked to the Temple area itself: the temple halls are huge and round but the bases are square. The Round Alter was built in 1530 and rebuilt in 1740. The Emperor would do rites to ensure a good harvest, ask for divine guidance, and atone for sins of the people. Now hundreds of tourists walked up and down the stairs of the big blue Temple. I was a bit tired, so I sat down and started talking to a male Belgian tourist who said he just took the Trans-Siberian railroad from Moscow which ends in Beijing. He had just come from Ulan Bator in Mongolia.

What also comes from Mongolia to Beijing are dust storms as the desert is growing. Another environmental problen is the gray skies. All the skies throughout mainland China were gray. I heard that China is now burning a lot of coal for energy, and the coal burning pollutes the sky. Anyway, in the Chinese newspapers they announced they have a "Blue Skies" campaign, and what they do is have tree planting day once a year where they plant thousands of trees. So they are aware of the environmental problems in terms of dust storms, polluted gray skies, and polluted water. But in L.A. we have a group called Treepeople which has planted 1,000,000 trees starting in L.A. and then spreading out to the world. More tree planting is needed in China, I think.

That afternoon we flew is Xi'an, a city in the west of China near the famed terra cotta army of soldiers. Xi'an like Beijing was once capital of the Empire and is the eastern terminus of the Silk Road. Along with trade goods both Islamic and Buddhist missionaries came to Xi'an 1st and then to the rest of China. The city has a big mosque and a Muslim neighborhood. As we took our bus in from the airport, Xi'an looked poorer and dustier than Beijing. Yes, it had high rises--office buildings, hotels, and apartment buildings--but it had more 1-story stores lining the main road.

The next day when my group went off to see the terracotta army I was ill and stayed in the hotel. I knew that the Emperor who built the terracotta army did so because he killed a lot of soldiers, and wanted the protection of a terracotta army. I was also tired of imperial monuments. Anyway, in the gift shop of the hotel I found a wallet to replace my stolen wallet! Back in business! When the tour group returned, they kindly had bought me a book on the terracotta army and actually had it signed by one of the farmers who discovered the terracotta soldiers! A signed copy!

Six of us decided to go to the shops across the street, but first we had to cross the street. Everywhere in China cars don't stop for pedestrians, and large streets are particularly hard to cross. We finally did it in a large group, dashing across the street. We entered a shopping area which had lots of small stalls--mostly housewares, hardware, and wallets, wallets everywhere! I saw a small tea kettle which I liked, & pointed to it. The saleswoman took it out and also a calculator. She put 36 on the calcualtor for 36 yuan ($1 = 8 yuan Chinese money). I hit the key 30 yuan. She nodded. We had a deal! I was learning the shop and bargain without language!
Our guide in Beijing had taught us some simple words in Mandarin such as "hello" and "how are you" which I had learned, but no shopping words!

To get back across the street, we walked up the stairs to the upstairs pedestrian way which went over the street to walk among more stahls, but these were all clothing. A few Chinese women had sewing machines to alter the clothes if needed. Now the problem is most of the American women were too large for the Chinsese sizes! We're big and they're small!
Actually, I fit in into a Large (sizes were small, medium, large, extra-large) but some of the other American woman fit into an extra-large which they didn't like at all. They were quite unhappy and were not going to buy extra-large shapeless grandmotherly clothing.

That night we went to a theater where we had dim sum (many, many dumplings) for dinner and where where we saw dances in gorgeous traditional costumes. The finale dance had two dancers dressed as the Emperor and Empress and other dancers doing classical dancers for the imperial couple. It was fascinating. I seem to be enjoying traditional Chinese dance!

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