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This was our last full day in Beijing, and the day to visit one of Beijing’s iconic landmarks – The Temple of Heaven. Last time we visited Beijing, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests was being renovated for the Olympics, so we missed out, whilst on other visits, we’d never made it to the Temple. In fact visiting the Temple was one of the main drivers for actually returning to Beijing in the first place.

Being a Saturday the park was packed, both with tour groups, individual tourists and singing, dancing and sport enthusiastic locals. The temple was build in 1420 as the stage for the solemn rites performed by the emperor (the Son of Heaven), who came here to pray for good harvests and seek divine approval and atone for the sins of the people. This was an old ritual dating as far back as 2600 BC and continued through to the early 20th century.

Just before the winter solstice, the emperor and his entourage of elephant chariots, horses, lancers, musicians and 2000 ministers made their way, in total silence, from the Forbidden City to the temple. In the Hall of Abstinence, the emperor purified himself by fasting from meat, alcohol, women and work and then made sacrifices to the gods (first after the sacrifices of animals and food were checked to be of the highest quality). A month later he would return and beseech the heavens for a good harvest.

The main building, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is the most spectacular, and is mounted on a three-tier marble terrace, and is decorated in blue, yellow and green glazed tiles, representing heaven, earth and the mortal world. Seen from above, the temples are round and their bases square, a pattern deriving from the ancient Chinese belief that heaven is round and earth is square.

We walked around the temples, Yanmei and Daji had their pictures taken in the middle of the Round Alter – just as many other Chinese did. By chance we bumped into Ping, our driver to Chengde, in the Temple of Heaven – he was driving for an American family – even in Beijing it’s a small world.

We walked to the adult exercise ground in the park and spent an hour whilst Yanmei and Daji tried the different things. Yanmei started to play with a French girl of her own age – Estelle, and in no time they were running around together and communicating as best they could in English.

We left the park at the north entrance and walked towards Qianmen. We passed an indoor market and went in. It was packed with stalls selling all sorts of things, and managed to leave with a pair of plimsolls for Yanmei and a set of feather shuttlecocks with a rubber tip, so you can play badminton with a hard bat instead of a racket and some Japanese game for Daji.

As we turned into Qianmen, we were surprised to see that the area was completely re-developed with a row of grey brick houses on both sides and a pedestrian street with a trolley bus running up and down the street. Most of the buildings lining the street were empty, but that didn’t stop massive crowds of people from taking a stroll up and down the street.

We turned off onto Dazhalan Jie, a crowded street with silk and tea shops, department stores and clothing stores. We stopped for coffee at Beijings first cinema and bought silk clothes for Yanmei and Daji from the Century Silk store – the girl that served us asked us if we hadn’t been there before, and when we answered we had, she told that she could remember Daji. Without any bargaining, she gave us a 200 RMB reduction on a dress for Yanmei!

We walked back across Tiananmen Square - Steven taking some last pictures, eat noodles in the Oriental Plaza and bought cakes before heading back to the hotel. We packed, but still had room in the bags despite everything we’d bought, so Steven went out to buy CD’s and a pair of tennis shoes – coming back empty handed (for Steven, 2 CD’s is empty handed!)

NEXT DAY (19th)