Two places I wanted to go were both closed. I sat down to look at my map and guidebook and see what my options were. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed with how the day was going. However one of the great things about China, perhaps the greatest thing about China, is its people. They are warm and friendly, and children are especially eager to talk to foreigners to try and practice their English. As I sat somewhat dejected, a little boy about 10 years old came over to me and said "hello." He asked where I was from and what I was doing in Beijing. His bright smile made me feel better. Once you get frustrated in China there is always something that comes along that picks you up. Feeling invigorated, I decided to go to the Temple of Earth, which is the counterpart to the more famous Temple of Heaven.
Not knowing exactly how to get there and the day getting darker, I chose to once again go by taxi. Since this time it was not raining, I found a cab in moments. In about 15 minutes I was dropped off at the entrance to the park. I gave the driver 15 yuan and hopped out. Before I entered the park, however, I needed some refreshment. Beijing has some surprisingly good baked goods and when I saw the nearby bakery I knew I had to go. I got a muffin-like treat of pineapple and chocolate for 4 yuan which gave me the energy I needed for the final part of my day.
I paid my 2 yuan to enter the Temple of Heaven and it was 30 cents well-spent. The thing one senses upon entering is serenity. It felt miles away from the hustle and bustle of Beijing. It was refreshing to smell the grass and trees and hear birds singing. Couples walked arm in arm, people played Chinese chess, ran, did tai chi or just strolled. Ancient temples shared space next to hastily-constructed swimming pools built for an upcoming festival. It is my favorite park that I have yet to visit in Beijing.
I sat for a few moments to take it all in and relax. I had done a fair amount of walking and was starting to get tired. However the day had one last surprise for me. As I turned a corner in a secluded part of the park, I saw two young women playing a game of jianzi. A jianzi is sort of like a Chinese hacky sack, but with feathers. The women were good, each of them displaying serious skill. I had played soccer for many years so I have some footwork ability and I decided to ask if they would let me play.
Through a series of gestures I communicated my intention and they let me join. They took the game very seriously and corrected my technique, indicating that I was hitting it too low. Few words were exchanged or laughs bellowed, as jianzi was a serious game to them. The object is to keep the jianzi off the ground as long as possible by using any body part except your hands. I was definitely the weak link but held my own, even trying a few tricks from my old soccer days, none with success. After about 20 minutes I decided to retire and left the game. I thanked them for letting me play and took one last walk around the park, basking in its beauty and solitude. I then hopped in a taxi and headed home for dinner with a friend.
It seems that 100 yuan can get you a day full of adventure here in Beijing.
(China.org.cn July 10, 2008)