We had some grand plans for the weekend, but unfortunately Mother Nature did not cooperate. It was drizzly yesterday, and it's drizzly today, and my e-bike battery is looking very sad, all by itself, plugged into the wall and waiting for better weather. I had hoped to make a trip back to Ritan Park so I could begin my glorious ping pong career -- I picked up a sweet 4-star paddle at the market the other day (before you ask, yes, there is a 5-star racket, but I thought buying one of those would be a little brash.
Oh, what's that you say? Your table tennis racket doesn't come with its own cover? What kind of amateur are you, anyway? As I type this the weather is getting a little nicer, so perhaps I will make it to the park after all.
But speaking of fun hobbies/pastimes, I think one of my favorite things about China so far is how many people are always outside, getting exercise of some form or another. And if you are in the right place, you can pretty much witness every major pastime in one place. One such location to do so is the Temple of Heaven / Tiantan Park. Mind you, we were there on a drizzly Saturday, and the place was thronging with people (you can click here for my pictures from the park). It must be even crazier on a sunny day.
As you step through the gates, you hear loud music Chinese music with a modern beat. Then you turn the corner, and see this:
There must have been over 200 couples dancing. In the rain. For fun. They were so much fun to watch -- especially the couple near the tree on the right, the guy with the red shirt and tan fedora -- that I had to video them, which is available here. Anyone could join in, there were no rules or steps to follow, and everyone had such a huge grin on their faces that it's tough NOT to join in.
The park for the Temple of Heaven is enormous, and as you walk around the grounds, you can find people singing in large groups (like 50+ people) or middle-aged people playing what looks like long-distance hackey sack with something that resembles a large badminton shuttlecock -- I am talking 50- and 60-year olds in better shape than most 30-year olds I know. You can get into a game of that, too. But the most fun is when you walk down the long covered corridors leading to the temple, which are packed with people singing songs, performing operas, playing in what appears to be a harmonica-orchestra, or just watching the Wayne Newton of China do his thing. Being outdoors and with other people seems to be a big part of city life here in Beijing, much like it was/is in some parts of NYC, whether it's gathering in the park in the mornings or on the stoop in the evenings. But even then the experience is more of an enclosed one, and more about a private circle than it is about the community. Since there is an admission price to the park, many residents have annual passes so they can always meet up with their friends to play mahjong, dominoes, or just walk their birds (they take their caged songbirds out for a stroll!).
Anyway, there's no need to go into detail about the Temple of Heaven itself here, as you can view the photo album on my Shutterfly site, complete with photos and videos of not only the temple grounds, but also all the fun sideshows going on all over the park.
After Tiantan Park, we took a bus back to the city center to check out the Beijing Urban Planning Museum. It's not exactly popular -- I think I counted about 10 other people there yesterday, which was a quintessential "museum day" since it was sort-of raining. But we found it very interesting. The best part was the 3rd floor, where they had about 75% of that one floor dedicated to a huge combo 3D model/2D satellite photo of the entire city of Beijing. Unfortunately, our building is not on the 3D part -- it's right where the 3D model meets the 2D map -- but Laura's office building is:
Our apartment building is right about where that pole stand is next to Laura's left foot. There is a better picture of the whole floor at my photo site.
Finally, as we made our way back home we stopped at a pedestrian mall for a snack:
So on this particular vendor's menu, from right to left, you've got seahorses, lizards of some sort, caterpillars, grasshoppers, squishy things, really squishy things, and finally, scorpions (which where still alive and moving on the stick). I of course took a video of it, so you can squirm in your seat as you watch the scorpions squirm on their sticks. Although, fair warning: I do drop an expletive during the filming of these scary snacks (sorry Mom, Grandma, et al), so mute the volume on your video players if that offends your sensibilities.
At the end of our long day, we brought Black Magic down into the parking garage to protect her from another expected rainy day today. There are apparently some heavy hitters in our apartment complex, because not only are there plenty of BMWs, Audis and the like, but there is also a red Ferrari, a white Maserati, and an orange Lamborghini. But seriously, if you're going to buy a Lamborghini, should you really customize it like this?
I realize orange isn't really a "tough guy" sort of color, but a HelloKittly gas cap? A bedazzled HelloKitty gas cap? And then I had to think about it a little longer: how old is the person who drives this car? Would anyone, American, Chinese or otherwise, put any HelloKitty accessory on their car if they were over, say, 25 years old? So apparently there are 25-year old, Lamborghini-driving, HelloKitty-gas-cap-customizing men in Beijing.
I'll tell ya, these are the experiences I came here for.