Waking bright and early on the coldest day of the trip, we set off to go to the Temple of Heave for our last day in Beijing. During the bus ride, we learned that the temple was actually one of a series of temples dedicated to Heaven, Earth, the Sun, and the Moon. Because the emperor was known to be the Son of Heaven, the temples were built so that he could pray for a successful harvest (and, of course, subsequently not be overthrown by hordes of angry farmers).
Actually arriving at the temple, we discovered that “temple” was almost an understatement; instead of the few buildings many had anticipated, it housed many temple complexes, gardens, and even public parks. No one was shocked to learn it had been built by the same architects who designed the Forbidden City. We also saw firsthand how, in China, the elderly often socialize by gathering in parks to sing revolutionary songs, participate in square dances, and use the public exercise machines. And boy were they ripped! Many of the students tried using the equipment, only to be shown up by the hundreds of age 65+ men and women working out next to them.
After a humiliating defeat at the pull up competition, we found a more secluded spot to learn a traditional Chinese breathing combination. With emphasis on diaphragmatic breathing and a stretched, upright posture, the 8 positions we learned seemed almost like a moving meditation. By the time we had learned all of the positions, from “White Crane Spreads His Wings” to “Daoist Archer,” every student felt more in tune with his or her Chi, or breath, and we were ready to see the actual temples.
Many would recognize our first stop, the Temple of Heaven, from the China pavilion at Epcot. While the recreation at Epcot is doubtlessly a work of art, the sheer size of the original and intricacy of the details were astounding. And, instead of a video inside the temple, there was an ornate altar where the emperor could pray for a successful harvest. It was even more impressive when we learned it was not the true original; the first had been hit by lighting and burned down long ago.
After touring more gardens and buildings (and being sure to always walk through the emperor’s personal gate), we had to leave the temple having seen only a small portion of what it had to offer. It was time to try our hand at one of China’s greatest pastimes: haggling. We went to the Pearl Market and set off to find the best deals. After an hour of heated debates (and even some broken tea pots), the students emerged victorious, heading to the train station with bags full of fake brand name products, jade jewelry, and even silk robes.
After a lunch at the distinctly American KFC, we found way onto a bullet train to migrate to slightly warmer climates. While the ride itself was far from eventful, it gave us all the opportunity to see the diverse landscape of China, from pastures to mountains to the city to which we were headed: Nanjing.
Arriving in our more Western late at night, we decided to postpone sleep for a few more hours and explore the Confucius Temple area. Unlike the traditional Confucius Temple in Beijing, this area was much more vibrant and modern. The entire area was lit with lanterns and lights and crowds of people flocked in to see the lanterns and partake in the revelry. It resembled an American strip mall, albeit with more traditional Chinese restaurants nestled in between the Häagen-Dazs and Pizza Huts. After dinner, we tooka late night boat tour through the district. While we couldn’t understand the Chinese tour, it was impossible not to enjoy the beautiful lanterns, lights, and sheep decorations along the river.
When the boat docked, a dozen sleepy Pace students were faced with the day’s biggest adventure: finding the subway station. While some were not as happy about finding our way in the cold, the distinct lack of hutangs and busy roads gave us a distinct feel for the differences between Nanjing and Beijing. Of course, we all made it back to our hotel safely and settled down for a good night’s sleep.
-Rebecca Husk ’15