At first glance, the Temple of Heaven sits as an entrance to another Beijing tourist hotspot. There are gates and guards standing in front of the entrance of history, and after a long day in the Forbidden City, I longed for authenticity; I longed for that strong Asian appeal to nature and the harmony it shares with beauty, and to be blunt, I was slowly becoming disenchanted with another location littered with crowds pushing for a quick picture, and I became even more disenchanted when I walked through to this grand, 15th century piece of architectural art only to feel little connection with the actual history of the place itself. “This is where the Emperors gave regard to Earth, and all the fruit it would bear to the people,” I thought, yet I couldn’t hark in on the actual connect to that piece of ancient history. Yes, the attention to detail is profound and breathtaking, and yes, it’s hard to look away from such a sight, yet I couldn’t shake this Disney feeling of day-trip attractions and monetary attention to the past that brought us to this strange, ever-unfolding present. I walked and walked and finally, I turned right, and there I found that piece of Chinese solace I’ve been craving since the minute wheels touched the ground on Beijing.
That right turn opened me up to canopies of trees with the gray undersides of leaves exposed from the wind that had so beautifully blown away the Beijing smog and exposed us to the grand blue sky. It was here I was able to breathe in that side of culture I had been so aching to experience in Asia: leisure activity in the presence of the inevitable historical backdrop.
There were roses of interbreeding colors you could smell for miles and the local Chinese visitors were doing just that-walking with hands clasped behind their backs simply breathing in the immense acres of park land that is so joyful to stumble upon in a city so layered with constant life and movement. The rose garden gave this temple a newfound vitality, and beyond that, the leftover acreage of walking paths and trees only gave more enchantment to the place as a whole. I was finally able to merge beauty with history and understand the significance of where I was standing.
I stumbled across two elderly women walking in circles and carrying plastic bags underneath two trees only to look above and realize they were searching for falling blackberries. A huge blackberry tree, in the middle of this park! The language barrier kept our relation at bay, yet I understood her notion to climb the tree for her and attempt at catching any ripe fruit close to the tree’s base. I took her offer and wasn’t able to receive any fruit, yet we both smiled and I was warmed by how universal the notion of grandparents encouraging the youth to take risk for fun is both a joyful hobby and an act of silent affection at all that the young are still able to do. No fruit in my hands, but we still smiled and shared a moment of laughter under those great blackberry trees. Some forms of communication remain universal no matter how far you travel across the globe, and it’s always comforting to capture those random similarities.
In my years of Westernized park exposure, I’ve gained the sense that the notion of actually going to the park is something involved around an event. You are either running, attending a birthday party, taking your dog on a long walk, etc. Yet here in this historical Chinese park, there are men reading the newspaper on pagodas and laying down when they’re done, and couples silently holding each other on the benches just enjoying the chance at fresh air in Beijing. Every bench I passed by was occupied with the day’s visitors, and it was refreshing to see that a culture so large as the Chinese can still hold on to their space in the midst of 21st century tourism and simply remain their calm selves in their given setting.
The effect of leaving the Temple of Heaven is something filled with peace and attention to consciousness as the ancient rituals and wisdom of the place itself survive amongst those who wish to catch a glimpse inside one of the most fascinating and antiquated pieces of history in human-kind: the reign of the Chinese dynasties. It’s a blessing that such a sacred place can be maintained as a park bloomed with relaxers, walkers, and performers of all kind simply attempting to connect with those ancestral roots that are ever-pervasive in the ways the Chinese live their lives in the modern day. What sights you will encounter on a trip to the Temple of Heaven may vary per individual, yet the theory of presence exudes itself onto anyone passing through a place with such rich, historical context and beauty that has survived through the many decades of humanity.