Sunday in the Park and the The Temple of Heaven

We went to see the Temple of Heaven today. It is an enormous park created for the Chinese emperors to speak to God. There were three impressive temples built of wood and highly decorated with the imperial colours of blue, red and gold. Cathy tells me that each door way has a threshold which is deliberately built high to keep out evil spirits. It is bad luck to step on the threshold as it lowers the ramp and allows spirits to enter. In some temples , the thresholds are so high that people are forced to kneel in honour of the temple gods.

The park is visited by the many Chinese where they either play mah-jong , tell stories , sing … it is a park where there are impromptu performances by grandmothers, uncles and sons.The performances are for the socializing, not for pay – as no money is asked for , orcollected.Unusual to my western eye, was the age of the participants who all looked to be mature but active.People in their thirties to seventies were there, doing their thing.No brassy teenagers or hyper-youth were around.Instead, hundreds of multi-generational families and seniors abound – walking, playing, picnicking and socializing.

I saw people with nylon paddle boards doing tai-chi like dances – either alone or in harmony with a partner. They dance gracefully with the paddles, balancing the ball with indescribable grace and elegance. Elsewhere, old men tell stories as they write character with water on the stone pavement and younger men walk with their cages of song birds. Under a covered pathway musical performers play traditional Chinese instruments and songs. To my Western ear the Chinese songs sound strident and tooth-shatteringly painful, but it’s clear that others appreciate it. Further on , I see a four-some playing a version of kick-ball with a feather ball (looking like a badminton birdie). Rather like soccer players, these 50-somethings kick the ball between them, doing head –spins and ankle/knee tosses like any Brazilian soccer star.

Bargaining in Beijing – Hongqiao Pearl market

After the park we went shopping at the Hongquai Pearl Market.This is a large indoor shopping mall, packed with stalls and vendors selling many things, including pearls.As in all Beijing markets, bargaining is required for all purchases.

I started at one of the silk stalls where I purchase a beautiful white embroidered blouse, a rich charteusse green jacket, a black cheongsam blouse for Laurie, and two brashy silk ties, red dragon and purple pandas, for Luc. This is my first venture into bargaining and from a starting of 1200 Y we get down to 800 Y.

Upstairs, I stayed at Dong Li’s pearl stall for nearly an hour as she and her sisterpulled forward a selection of freshwater pearls and jade.She hand strung a customized string of pearls with a light jade pendant, and tailored another necklace to my desired length.Dong Li’s explained the difference between good and poor quality pearls, and politely encouraged me to buy more jewellery.When it came time to bargain, she started at 880 yuan and we worked down to 650 yuan.I suppose a better bargainer could have gotten lower, but at $110 for four beautiful necklaces,I figured I wasgood.It must have been a good deal for Madam Dong, as she gave us a bonus.I got a free pearl bracelet, and later when Cathy came back to find me, so did she.I also received two bottles of water and some very nice gift boxes for each necklace.It was very pleasurable shopping experience and I can well imagine doing this over and over, and ending up with dozens of necklaces.

Beside the pearl stall, I found a chess set for Daniel.Set in a painted wooden box, the chess pieces are hand carved bone statues of a Chinese Emperor, Empress and Chinese soldiers.I asked for a full size set and started the bargaining process.The vendor started at 800 Yuan and eventually made her way down to 550.I punched in 400 ($60) on the calculator and she went down to 500.At this point I was ready to go … I hadbegun to think about the sheer size of the box …but then she say’s ‘OK, Your price my friend!’.I thought for a moment that she’d given up, but then she pulls out a new box and I realize we’vecompletedthe sale.Once again, I get a bonus, this time a wooden lucky charm.As I walk away, Iwonder about my travel sanity as I size up not only the size but the weight of this box.

With my chess set, pearl necklaces, base ball caps and silk blouses, I realize that I needed to make another purchase – luggage. Downstairs , Cathy took me to her favourite vendor and I pick-out a large (knock-off) Swiss duffle on wheels. Because the vendor knew Cathy, I immediately got the sell price of 150 yuan ($25). Cathy bought a very nice Gucci handbag for 200 yuan. At this point, I want to buy more .. but I am now out of cash (having bummed the last 100 Y from Jim) and the ATM doesn’t work. We retreat for lunch.

Lunch is at a local joint across the street.It has the advantage of having an English menu (Hongqiao is a tourist attraction) and Jim orders several dishes, including a Potatoe, Eggplant and Green pepper stirfry. Jim explains that he orders potatoes whenever he sees it as potatoes are a precious vegetable, sold by the unit, and sparingly used.The stir-fry arrives and is surprisingly good – it’s a strange combination of soft but flavourful textures.I wait expectantly for rice, but it doesn’t appear.Jim tells me that rice comes at the end, after all the dishes are done.I ask to break tradition, as I’d love to eat the lovely food with rice.

Beijing, 2007

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