Seriously…it sucks to be in this wheelchair, and it sucks for the people (Giff and tour guides) whom have to push me around everywhere I go! I have never twisted my ankle in my 33 years but I decided during a trip around the world to do so…why?? Ok, sorry about my complaining…on with our adventures of the day.
The Temple of Heaven was built-in 1420 at the same time as the Forbidden City. It is the largest sacrificial building in the world and covers 674 acres. The entrance was a large park, full of trees and large grassy areas, although no one could step or sit on the grass since the Chinese feel it is wrong to step on grass…it is a living thing and could be damaged-we found that a bit strange. We walked/wheeled by a building on the property full of locals. Some were selling crafts, some were moving slowly to music…something close to Tai Chi and others were playing cards/board games. The scene seemed genuine and was a slow build up to the actual Temple of Heaven which was where the emperor made an annual pilgrimage to pray for good harvests.
There were three temples, Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Circular Mound Alter. We walked up the steps of the Hall of Prayer noticing the wide round walkway surrounding it. The space was big but only the emperors back in the Ming and Qing dynasties, no “common” people were allowed in the gates. Once at the top of the steps, we peeked in to see the interior which we were not allowed to walk into, it was blocked off. The building was round and made of wood with no nails, it was built on three levels of marble. There were many symbols painted into the building…specifically things in reference to the harvest. So, earth was represented as a square and heaven the shape of a circle. There were also sets of 12 inner and outer pillars representing the 12 months of harvest and 12 hours in the day. All three buildings had blue tile roofing which represented heaven. This of course is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Right next door to the Temple of Heaven was a government-run tea house. We were excited to taste various teas of China since it is one of their most well-known goods around the world. We sat down with our guide at a traditional tea ceremony where the women went through various traditional steps in preparing each tea. She explained the health benefits as well as flavors and growing process. She also instructed us on the proper way to hold our tea-cup which is different for men vs women. We tasted and re-tasted and decided to buy a few things to ship home since it stays good for about 2 years. We bought a tea called puer tea which is a black tea and comes in little discs individually wrapped. You can use about half a disk (the side of a silver dollar) for a whole pot of tea. It is ideal to drink after meals and is useful in digestion and losing weight. It is only grown in very specific tea regions and many people make fake puer tea…do we have the real stuff…who knows, it’s China. We also bought some green tea because it is so healthy specifically against health issues such as cancer and high cholesterol.
After our tea break, our guide took us to an herbal chinese office…Chinese people go to these wellness centers usually in being proactive for their health. They are examined and then if needed…herbal medications can be prescribed and or other methods such as massages, cupping therapy and acupuncture are also used. The US would consider these alternative methods but here in China…it is the mainstream way of dealing with various illnesses. We thought it would be fun just to get an examination.
We walked in and were welcomed by the staff. They served us a cup of tea and placed us in an examination room together. They had us take our socks/shoes off and placed our feet in buckets of hot tea water. Two younger men came in and after washing our feet in the tea water, dried them and rubbed them for about 45 minutes (only one of my feet could participate). A doctor’s assistant came in and introduced himself. He spoke English which was a bonus! He explained the differences between western vs eastern medicines/procedures and that one is not better than the other but actually can work together. He talked about the body and how it reacts to various things…he explained what the exam would be like. The doctor will come in with a translator and will look at our skin coloring, tongue and take our pulse on both the left and right wrist. She will also ask us a few questions and based on the exam, will either prescribe herbs or other remedies if needed or not.
We thanked him as our feet were being rubbed and waited for the doctor. She came in with her translator and started with me. She had me stick out my tongue and took notes, then she took my pulse on each wrist and looked at my skin coloring. She also looked at my nails. She asked me questions like do I have lower back pain, do I get tired etc. She explained that my coloring was wrong and that I was “lacking chi”. Chi is an energy that flows through the body. I needed to get more chi in my blood. She showed me a piece of paper in English which described the herbal medication and the symptoms that would prompt the need for the medication. It actually really hit close to home for me. The ingredients were listed showing all natural herbs inside the capsules. The problem is…these meds are not cheap…they are expensive (for non-Chinese citizens) but based on the things she was saying to me, and the herbs she thought I needed to add to my diet…I was sold. She wanted me to take 2 months of the herbs but I only bought one so I could try it. It is 4 capsules per day and I will start taking them as soon as I get back to the US.
Next was Giff’s turn…she moved over to him, looking at his tongue, taking his pulse on both wrists and looking at his coloring. After taking notes, she said…he was healthy and strong, and does not need any herbs!
The Doctors assistant came back in and talked with us about the exam, I explained to him about the breast cancer and the medicine I am currently taking to make sure there is no problem mixing the two. He assured me there wasn’t but I will still be confirming with my western doctor first. He also talked about one of their most powerful medications which is actually dried up worms! He said it is so powerful and specifically helps people whom have gone through chemo to heal the body after it has been through so much poison. It was really expensive and we only knew what he was telling us, so we turned it down but did purchase the one month supply to help me get my chi back!
It was really interesting to go through that exam…when you think about it…looking for signs on specific parts of the body can tell you how your body as a whole is doing, since everything is connected. We were really glad that we got to see eastern medicine first hand.
After our doctor experience…we got dropped off in a little and very old neighborhood called, Hutong. It was full of old traditional houses and little narrow alleyways. We jumped in one of the many rickshaws and watched the scenery as the older man bicycled us around. We went along the river and through some of the streets until we came to someone’s home. A women showed us inside and had us sit for lunch. The owner of the house made us a typical lunch. We had hot tea with cookies and tomatoes to start, which was followed by a couple different stir-fried dishes and a plate of rice. We ate with the tour guide and asked questions about Chinese culture.
After lunch, we walked around a bit through the little streets and the guide talked with us about the various houses and people living locally. Each house was built with a little courtyard shared by all…it made for close neighbors but also minimal privacy.
The day was coming to an end but before we went back to the hotel…we stopped at the famous silk market. This was not the silk factory…this was a multi-level building of fake stuff! It was kind of like the vendors on the corners of NYC except there were tons of them back to back on various levels of the building. It was broken down into sections…electronics, jewelry, clothes etc. we walked/wheeled quickly through the clothes section and went upstairs to the watches. They had famous high-end name brands that were all really good fakes. We bought one with the intention of giving it as a gift, but Giff decided it was pretty cool and needed to see how it looked on his own wrist…he’s been wearing it ever since!
Since I had missed seeing Tiananmen Square from the first day of our tour…the guide agreed to drive around it a couple of times before dropping us off. I at least wanted to see what the 3rd largest square in the world looked like…it looked like a big open space with some buildings scattered throughout. The square looked closed and no one was really around.
Finally we arrived back at our hotel, I got an ice bag and elevated my foot. Giff walked to a nearby restaurant and got us some Chinese take out again (he’s so good to me). By the way, in the US…Chinese food is known as take-out. In China…that is not the case, it is actually difficult to get them to make it to go, the plastic containers are not so good, most people eat at the restaurant.
We watched some TV, ate dinner and unwound for the evening. Tomorrow we have to be up early and back to the airport to fly to Xi’an.