Beijing's Park Life - The Temple of Heaven
Mystical sounds of the cucurbit flute at twilight
In places, the Chinese capital's lack of colour puts the beige in Beijing. It's not the greenest of cities, but at least it has a multitude of parks to offer solace to the soul. Whether you're looking for a sense of community or a respite from the urban rush, you can find it in one of Beijing's parks. Parks are perfect places to be alone, or with family, friends or lovers.
CRI's William Wang strolls along countless quiet pathways in order to tell you about Beijing's unmissables.
A woman stretches out on the Temple of Heaven's Danbei Bridge
A man screams in the distance. A long, sorrowful bellow. Then there's silence. Minutes later a woman's shriek can be heard coming from another direction. Two women playing cucurbit flutes barely pause before continuing their sad and strange song.
Everyday, busloads of tourists follow tour guide's waving flags towards the Temple of Heaven's central focus. They chatter across the echo wall and briefly peruse the other structures before being whisked off to Beijing's other must-sees. They may snap the requisite photo of the temple's circular rooftop, but they do miss one of the best places to take in Beijing local culture.
The 267 hectare park is large enough to avoid crowding. A massive network of geometrically planned pathways, it offers walkers and runners countless routes, while tai chi practitioners stake out their spots amongst the trees.
Women explore their feral side
4000 ancient cypresses are laid out in tight rows that on one hand feel a bit claustrophobic, but on the other hand provide a sharp contrast with the spacious Danbei Bridge area where people stretch out on its expansive stone walkway.
Those looking to experience nature will have to look elsewhere. But despite Confucius's influences of order and symmetry, the park is far from manicured. Boxed in between the fences and corridors, there is a feeling of restlessness. The cypress trees may be trapped in rows, but their knotted gnarled branches battle for space, pushing in all directions.
Like other parks, you have dancers, musicians and men slamming down their cards in an effort to break the table. Mornings in the Temple of Heaven Park are particularly bright and bustling. Singsong, synchronized exercises and all sorts of wholesome activities fill the pockets of space.
Lanterns at twilight at the Temple of Heaven Park
But once the sun slinks beyond the cypress trees, a personality unique to the Temple of Heaven crawls out of the shadows.
The first sign is when the kites in the sky transform into twinkling LEDs surrounded by darkness. The second sign is men and women releasing guttural screams at the top of their lungs. This is apparently done for health reasons. Although it may help those individuals deal with their daily pressures, park visitors should take care not to get stressed upon hearing the ominous cries.
Some ghostly characters rhythmically stroll past while emitting the nasal sounds of Peking Opera, oblivious to the activities and individuals around them.
Large groups of people may be seen intensely clapping their hands in unison for bizarrely long periods of time, echoing the words of the eminent leader. Casual observers are forewarned not to join in for fear of falling into a trance and repeating cryptic syllables of uncertain meaning.
ai chi at dusk at the Temple of Heaven Park.
If those scenes put you on edge, you can head to the Long Corridor where groups of people gather to belt out some karaoke. Or at the east gate, ballroom dancers cut a rug to Chinese pop classics. Particularly after dusk, the Temple of Heaven Park bears witness to the usual activities, as well as the unexpected.
Location: Yongdingmen East Street (S gate), or go to Tiantan East Gate subway station.
Admission: 15 yuan for park entrance. Does not include entry to temples.
Opening hours: 6am-9pm