Is this Heaven? No, it’s China.

So, it’s 2am and you’re wondering why you’re wide awake. That, my friend, is called jet lag, and if you’ve never experienced jet lag before, let me be the first to tell you that traveling to China is just the worst. China is literally half way around the world meaning that they are 12 hours ahead of us. And while the clock says it’s 2am, your body is telling you it’s 2pm and wondering why you’re trying to sleep right now. This was how my first day in Beijing started off. By the time 6am breakfast rolled around, Karolina (my roomie) and I had our whole morning planned. We were going to visit the Temple of Heaven and get back to the hotel in time to meet the group for lunch.


Let me pause for a moment here and point out that if you think the idea of jet lag is bad, it’s nothing compared to trying to get somewhere in a city where you don’t know the language and can’t even begin to try to decipher the symbols on the signs. It took us 30 minutes and charades with 3 different people to find the subway station which was literally a block and a half from our hotel. We got on the subway, took it 3 stops, got off and were in the same situation as before getting on the subway…lost. Luckily for us, the Temple of Heaven is a big enough tourist attraction that there was a (emphasis on “a”) sign for it in English. It took us 45 minutes, but we finally found it.


I’ll be honest. I wasn’t so gung-ho about visiting the Temple of Heaven at first, but when we got there, I was so glad I went along with the idea. It was definitely worth all the struggle it took to get there. The Temple of Heaven is a temple (obviously) that was built by the Chinese emperor as a place to hold the ceremonies involved with worshiping heaven. The ceremonies took place in several different buildings each dedicated for a specific purpose in the worship. Now the buildings are preserved as a museum to showcase the history of China worshiping the heavens. The last ceremony was celebrated in 1914.


There is more to the Temple of Heaven than all of the old, museum-ified buildings. The buildings are surrounded by a very large park dedicated to preserving the peacefulness associated with the Temple of Heaven. Though the park is always full of people, it is still very quiet. Most of the park attendees are the elderly who come to the park to practice their exercises like Tai Chi and some TempleofHeaven_ParkChinese form of Zumba. There are also a ton of people playing cards and dominoes and other games. The game that fascinated us the most was one very similar to hacky-sack, but with an arrow looking shuttlecock instead of a ball. We later found out that the game is called jianzi and originated from soldiers kicking around a broken arrow. The game was meant to increase the soldiers’ speed and agility. After watching a group of old people playing this game, Karolina and I came to the consensus that they were in way better shape than we are.


While the Temple of Heaven was our first experience with Chinese history, it was also our first experience among the people in China. Karolina and I were taking a
break in the shade at the Temple when we were approached by a group of guys who wanted to get a picture with Karolina. I totally missed the memo that Chinese people have a tendency to take pictures with laowai (foreigners), and as we are definitely NOT Chinese it’s pretty difficult to avoid the looks, the approaches, and the pictures. By the end of the trip, I’m sure our group was trending on Renren (China’s version of Facebook).


That morning, I had made the not-so-smart decision to wear flats on our journey to the Temple of Heaven. I took a 30 second break to put a band-aid on my ankle12038673_10153040351985213_8401363672375921785_o and an elderly gentleman came up to me and started talking to me in Mandarin and pointing at his shoes. At first I was very confused, but I finally realized that he was telling me I should have worn tennis shoes instead of flats. Had I known that our trip to the Temple of Heaven involved a nine and a half mile walk, I definitely would have worn tennis shoes instead. I smiled at the gentleman, gave him a thumbs up and said “tomorrow”. He seemed satisfied and walked away. Later that day, a US ex-pat described China to us as a country where all of the elderly assume the role of your nosy aunt or uncle and tell you what to do. My encounter with the elderly gentleman suddenly made so much more sense.


Karolina and I walked around the Temple of Heaven and the surrounding park for a couple hours until it was time for us to meet back up with the group at the hotel for lunch. Remember that jet lag thing I was talking about? In China, when the clock says noon, your body says “Bed time!” While we still had a full day ahead of us, mostly of trying to stay awake, the Temple of Heaven was a great beginning to our visit of China and we were excited to see what else the ancient city of Beijing had in store for us.
— Vanessa Holloway