With my new found freedom I went to the following amazing places:
1. A good bye party in a photo studio hutong for Kemin's supermodel girlfriend Mia Qiqi (nickname in English).
The hutongs are built in a warm gray brick and as I stepped up to the raised door I suddenly realized there was a courtyard inside. Just like the temples, an entrance needs a gate. This courtyard was small but fit a table and chairs and the table was laden with party food that included French pastries, fresh tiny apples the size of my thumb, and vinyard grapes with their snap of citrus and earthy tang. The inner rooms of the house had been combined into a studio with drop cloths and lamps at one end and a computer and cameras at the other. A cluster of beautiful people sat and watched a slideshow of fashion photos on the large monitor. The old wooden beams looked like an inverted hull of a ship over our heads.
Mia is not only tall, thin, 23, and beautiful, natch; but artistic, fully involved in a charity for kids and adults with special needs, and wildly in love with all things Paris. She is off to live in the city of lights for awhile and when not modeling, learning French, and taking art classes, she will be drawing her adventures in her whimsical dreamy art and words. And no doubt publishing them at some time! The party was full of Beijing's artsy types, from the supermodels who swayed overhead, to photographers, TV show hosts, producers, actors, and a man who has to be the world's expert rubic's cube performer--with a book out too! He did every variety of rubic, one of them looked to be 8 or 12 squares across, and he also did one blindfolded. He could do them one handed and blindingly fast. A normal cube he could do in under 22 seconds.
We got to talking to a very attractive honey blonde woman named Charlotte MacInnis. I asked her how long she had been in Beijing and she got a bemused look and said she had been born here. She must be assumed to be a foreigner all the time. She does two different TV shows for CCTV, one on learning to speak Chinese and the other on cultural events in Beijing! That night when we got back to our hotel room, we turned on the TV and there was Charlotte, in a pink hoodie, explaining how to say "I'm sorry about that" with video clips, grammar cartoons, and her own warm and animated face! Charlotte grew up in China, then attended Columbia University, and returned to work here in Beijing. She described a huge culture shock coming to America! Unfortunately, acting parts for whites are somewhat limited since non-traditional casting isn't done very often, but she seems very involved in her shows. She has written over 60 episodes for the language show!
I also got to talk to Nick, a friend of Kemin's who grew up in the Midwest and developed strip malls. He looks Asian but I quickly saw how American his gestures and expressions are. He came to Beijing 10 years ago when his bilingual and real estate skills were highly in demand. He was able to name his own price (plus a villa and full time driver) but soon enough, more folks came over and things got a bit more competitive for guys with his skills. He said he is currently involved in developing good nursing homes in China. He says what currently exists is appalling, even for people who can afford to pay, it is like incarceration. Locked in, fed and pilled three times a day, an occasional sponge bath, and nothing else. And these are the "good" ones! Awful. He feels happy about what he is doing, it makes up for all those strip malls! he says with a laugh, and he is looking at multi-use places with retiree apartments on golf courses with hardly any help provided (other than doctor access and house cleaning) to full hospital care and everything in between. When he speaks about nursing homes the Chinese at first say no way, never! Because their images of such places are so grim. But once he describes what he is doing, they want to sign right up. He says he has to start with the very wealthy, but hopes this model spreads to the middle class as well, with a bit less luxury... His very cute toddler Darwin carefully picked up runaway grapes from under the table and threw them out. And what grapes didn't drop from his pudgy little fingers went into his mouth.
|Amazing Rubic's Cube guy|
|In the photo studio|
|Nick and Darwin|
|Mia relating to toddler Darwin. She is tall when standing up!|
2. The Temple of Heaven
You would think I'd have known how important it is to have a street map, in scale, with English, Pinyin, and Chinese characters on it. Right? Sigh. I got out at a subway stop I thought was close to the large park which holds the Temple of Heaven compound. I ended up walking miles through hutongs and busy highways (passing a district of plumbing supplies), over rivers and under overpasses...it seems like every inch of street that hasn't been taken over by parked cars has a merchant selling trinkets and produce on a bit of cloth over the curb or sidewalk. I kept asking directions of people who could only point, backtracking and second guessing my miserably out of scale map...before I finally saw the southern gate. The first tourist shop selling cold water in a bottle was like finding an oasis after sweating through the cement desert. The droplets of cold felt like heaven against my forehead. The young woman who sold me the water practiced her English on me. She was amazed I was from New York City. I told her Beijing was just as amazing as the big apple...
Here is what the guide books say: "The Temple was built in 1420 A.D. during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifice to Heaven. It is much bigger than the Forbidden City and smaller than the Summer Palace with an area of about 2,700,000 square meters....The Temple is divided by two enclosed walls into inner part and outer part. The main buildings of the Temple lie at the south and north ends of the middle axis line of the inner part. The most magnificent buildings are The Circular Mound Altar (Yuanqiutan), Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu) and Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qiniandian) from south to north. Also, there are some additional buildings like Three Echo Stones and Echo Wall. Almost all of the buildings are connected by a wide bridge called Vermilion Steps Bridge (Danbiqiao) or called Sacred Way."
I moved slowly because of the heat and my now tired legs (I had spent the previous week chained to the bathroom so I'd lost a lot of walking muscle). But I was glad I'd taken the southern route. The gates and walkways each led to buildings of greater size and magnificence, culminating in the three tier Temple of Good Harvest.
I didn't buy the audio tour or join a group. The signs were in Chinese and English. Not to mention loudspeakers everywhere playing music or giving lectures... I relished taking it slowly. Letting my fingers touch the warm slightly pitted marble and glazed heads of tile dragons. The entire place was designed to go together. It is "branded" by symbols. Square for earth, round for heaven. Blue and gold tile to speak of heaven. As I stood in line to look into the temples, I was surrounded by all the languages of the world. I took so many photos the camera grew hot in my hands. But my little pocket camera was defeated. I could not find a shot that showed how it felt to be there with ancient history all around me. I tried to imagine the Emperor taking three days to make his annual report to god. Everything one man does to make prayer becomes separate buildings. There was a yellow roofed structure just for changing his clothes. I was unable to be the Emperor in my mind. It was much easier to think of myself as a worker with a twig broom sweeping the many steps and paving stones. I sank onto the steps on the shadow side and joined many other weary visitors and simply looked at the brightly colored pagoda shaped rooftops against the gray backdrop of skyscrapers.
I bought a charmingly illustrated tourist map of the park and enjoyed the almost English translations...
I followed an ancient covered walkway through the park. Small children played as their parents rested a moment on the sides. Off to my right a group of singers were enjoyed by a large middle aged crowd and everyone sang the traditional songs except for me. Some large white bumpy stones turned out to be where sacrifices where beaten to death with mallets before dispatch by knife became popular.
And there at the eastern gate was the subway stop I should have used. I gratefully hobbled down the many steps and went back to the hotel for a nap.
Oh, time to see a run through of Jim's play, more later...