Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Beijing part 3, another five attractions (China)

Beijing, the great capital city of Central State. Part 3: The Giant Panda house at Beijing Zoo, Temple of Heaven, Xiaojinsi Hutong, Summer Palace, and Panjiayuan Antiques Market.

Hello, Sign Hunters!

It has been a busy June 2020 for us with plenty of happenings both at home (we moved into a new apartment) and in the school where we work here in Hangzhou, China. Most importantly, the school has now officially come to the end; therefore, I still have the last day of the month to make this blog post! I am literally doing this in the last second, which is so annoying but I could not do anything against it. It is also the first post ever, which I have written and created completely on my phone via the absolutely useless Blogger app and the mobile version of the site. The preparation was an absolute nightmare, but hey! It is now coming together, though it is not based on a fully new material. In fact, this is now the third installment of the Bejing blog series, which takes us back to the Beijing trip that we did in mid-January 2020. It is finally time for me to finish this series before I carry on with another posts of something more recent. If you want to see the previous posts and catch up on our Beijing trip, then follow the links: click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

In this post, I am going to take you to see five more sites that make up some of Beijing's major tourist attractions. In order, this includes the Giant Panda house at Beijing Zoo, the famous Temple of Heaven, the less-known Xiaojinsi Hutong, the Summer Palace, and the amazing Panjiayuan Antiques Market.

I am not going off track too much, so let us get started! First of all, the Giant Panda house at Beijing Zoo. Since we were on a paid and strictly scheduled trip, we only went to Beijing Zoo to see the pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca; 大熊猫). We had never seen pandas before, so that felt like a good choice, although we are not great fans of zoos in general. The "Chinese National Symbols" live in the zoo within excellent circumstances, they are well looked after, although it still felt quite artificial - because it is human made in the end of the day! Plus, those animals who were not sleeping or eating bamboo were truly bored, some of them were just spacing, so we did not feel comfortable about it. Obviously, there is a great deal going on there with these animals as their population is vulnerable and endangered, though they generate some good money for the zoo and the country. 

We had gone to see Temple of Heaven before we saw the pandas, so the places and photos that I am sharing with you are not in chronological order. There is a simple reason behind this choice, because, as you could see, the zoo actually had an official sign! Since the temple did not seem to have one like the zoo, it made sense to place the it first, because - as you know - a blog post needs to refer to a sign, otherwise we were not called 'The Sign Hunters'! So, the Temple of Heaven (天坛) is one of the main and best-known attractions of Beijing. According to Wikipedia, it is "an imperial complex of religious buildings situated in the southeastern part of central Beijing (Dongcheng). The complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest." This means, the Temple of Heaven is not just one building, in fact it is a relatively large area. Its most famous building that associates strictly with the name "Temple of Heaven" is, however, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, which is also the largest building in the temple complex. The site was constructed from 1406 to 1420 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor of Ming Dynasty, who was also responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing (see blog post Part 1 for photos). The Temple grounds cover 2.73 square km (1.05 sq mi) of parkland and comprises three main groups of constructions, all built according to strict philosophical requirements. The main part of these is "The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (祈年殿), which is a magnificent triple-gabled circular building, 36 m (118 ft) in diameter and 38 m (125 ft) tall. It was built on three levels of marble stone base, where the Emperor prayed for good harvests. The building is completely wooden, with no nails. The original building was burned down by a fire caused by lightning in 1889. The current building was re-built several years after the incident."

The Xiaojinsi Hutong refers to a bunch of alleyways within the old part part of Beijing. That is exactly what hutong (胡同) means: "alleyway", which is a type of narrow street or alley commonly associated with northern Chinese cities, especially Beijing. According to Wikipedia, the "alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. Many neighbourhoods were formed by joining one siheyuan to another to form a hutong, and then joining one hutong to another. The word hutong is also used to refer to such neighbourhoods. Since the mid-20th century, many Beijing hutongs were demolished to make way for new roads and buildings. More recently, however, many hutongs have been designated as protected, in an attempt to preserve this aspect of Chinese cultural history. Hutongs were first established in the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) and then expanded in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties." During our visit to Xiaojinsi Hutong, we were taken to a local family, so we had the chance to see how a hutong courtyard looks like.

The Summer Palace is a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces located in Beijing's Haidian District. According to Wikipedia, it was an imperial garden in the Qing dynasty. Mainly dominated by Longevity Hill (万寿山) and Kunming Lake (昆明湖), it covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometres (1.1 sq mi), three-quarters of which is water. The origins of the Summer Palace date back to the Jurchen-led Jin dynasty in 1153. The entire Summer Palace is centered around Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, with the latter covering about three quarters of the area. Most of the important buildings were built along the north–south axis of Longevity Hill, which is divided into the front hill and the back hill. The most attractive part is definitely Foxiang Ge (Tower of Buddhist Incense) which is located on Longevity Hill and its dominance can be seen from afar. The park area is very large, so one can spend a lot of time there exploring it. Another thing though that sticks out is the Stone Boat (石舫), which is 36 metres long. The original wooden boat was burnt down in 1860 and was then replaced with a marble copy with western style paddle wheels.

The last place that we visited in Beijing was Panjiayuan Market, which is classed as an antique market, although there are many artists who also sell their work there. It is also known as Beijing Antique Market or "The Dirt Market". According to Wikipedia, "this spontaneous market came into being in 1992 as a roadside market. As trade in folk antiques and craft grew, it had become a large antique and handiwork market spreading folk culture in 2002. Many Chinese antique collectors believe that they started their career in Panjiayuan". It is a fantastic and very big collectors market too as one can find many things here.

Part 3 and the Beijing blog series end here. I hope you enjoyed going through these photos with me. Keep an eye on our news feed as new blogs of both new and older trips will be coming soon.

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~ Laszlo

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© All photos were taken by Laszlo Bokor (2020). The Sign Hunters, all rights reserved.


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