Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Sunday Afternoon in the Park

Sunday, the day of rest. No more stairs - stressing about, running/climbing on, or otherwise thinking about. We went to the Temple of Heaven and surrounding park, and then on to the marketplace for a little bargain shopping before our banquet dinner.

The park reminded me of NYC's Central Park with all the activity. People hanging out, playing games, dancing, singing, flying kites, etc. (Click images to enlarge.)

This is a version of hacky sack, but they play it with something that looks like a badminton shuttlecock.
The Temple of Heaven was the place where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties worshipped heaven and prayed for bumper crops. Built in 1420, it is the largest architectural group in the world for worshipping heaven. (I guess California's Crystal Cathedral has a little competition, huh?) Included in this group are the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, which is the main alter for praying during the spring, the Imperial Hall of Heaven, and the Abstinence Palace where – you guessed it – the feudal emperors practiced abstention before the rituals. Meat, drink, music, and women – the four basic evils. They also had a 60-year-old gate and a 70-year-old door, which has nothing to do with how old they are. When the emperor went to pray, he was supposed to walk to the altar along the main road, but as he got older the trek got to be a bit much (trust me, I feel your pain). So when he was 60-years-old, they made him a 60-year-old shortcut gate and then another one when he was 70. Brilliant! I'm going to try to market this idea in Florida. And when I go home I want a 46-year-old gate put in at the end of my street.

At this point we were feeling rather holy, so we decided to have another religious experience and go shopping in the marketplace – the land of knock-offs! I consider myself a shopping expert, but wow! This place even gave me a headache after a few hours. Here's how it works: When you first walk in the door you get bombarded with "hey lady, you need (insert anything imaginable)?" So then, you look at whatever it is – Coach, Burberry, Gucci, Prada, Rolex, Ipod – and ask how much. They tell you something ridiculous like 2000 Yuan (approximately $288 USD) and then you tell them something equally ridiculous like 100 Yuan (approximately $14 USD). Then they say "oooohhhhh no, 1000" and you say "150" and so it goes. They say they'll lose money at that price, you say you don't want it after all, and then when you walk away, they run after you and give it to you for your final bid. It's kinda fun, but very stressful to someone like me who can't do math. Now I'm sure you're wondering what I got suckered into, right? Of course I'm not going to tell you! I want to keep you guessing so the next time you see me you'll be wondering – is that really a fancy Kmart purse, or is it one of those knock-off thingees? Just know that the Chinese economy has been boosted by my visit.

Later that evening we went to the Great Wall Marathon Gala Dinner where the tour sponsors wined and dined us as we limped around and told war stories. We watched a dragon dance, ate tons of great food, watched video footage from the race, received awards (okay, some people did), and heard lots of great stories. It was a lot of fun because we had met so many fantastic people throughout the week and we were actually quite sad to say goodbye. However, I noticed no one said "see ya next year, same time – same place". Gee, I wonder why? (Click here to see ALL pictures.)

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