Monday October 15, 2012
Asia 2012: Day 2
Today we joined our tour of China, starting with the Temple of Heaven. As we drove from the hotel, I noticed the checkers players as seen last night were still playing, same spot, same game, but perhaps different participants. The Temple of Heaven is a set of buildings built in the 1400's for religious prayer activities by the Emperors of China. They would go here to pray for good harvest, at a circular altar, about three platforms tall. The building that we think of as the Temple of Heaven is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, which I learned from Wikipedia after the fact.
As the day started, many Chinese seniors took to the parks in this complex to exercise. While some of them played a hacky-sack game with a feathered weight, probably trying to encourage tourists to buy one, others danced to electro-infused Chinese folk music, oblivious to the hundreds of onlookers. One old man, swerved around visitors on home made skates, his own music playing and having a great time. Another set of couples, danced ball room style.
They say that when you carry a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Today I swapped my 24-70mm for a 17-40mm early on and as a result, I began to take overly wide photographs of monuments. I also found my 5D overexposing everything, though that could be the unfortunate overcast day here in Beijing.
At lunch, our tour took us to a nearby mall with fast food options in the basement as a matter of convenience. While we were discouraged from buying anything, walking around the stalls brought a wide variety of usual and unusual items for sale. Some stalls had cheap gadgets and watches for sale, others cell phone cases. On the other hand, they also sold a variety of expensive digital cameras. But my favourite was by far a stall where the owner would sculpt a small figurine of you, bobble head style in half an hour while you had lunch. I absolutely loved this guy--in a sea of fake watches and generic mass produced products, he'd tapped into the tourist market with a unique and creative, though wacky, business.
For lunch, this mall seemed to cater to tourists based on proximity to historic sites, and as a result, offered DQ, KFC and McDonalds. However, in the basement was a Xiabu Xiabu hot-pot restaurant, a large chain where you sit down with a hot-pot and make your own lunch by adding raw vegetables and meat to the broth. Hot-pot is fairly common in Chinese Canadian restaurants and families, but I've never seen one so oriented to fast-food eating. Siobhan and I had a great time with it, despite not speaking any Mandarin.
In the afternoon, we went across Tiananmen Square, covered in flowers and flanked by the national assembly and museum, to the Forbidden City. This is the imperial palace of the Ming to Qing dynasties. That Grade 5 project came to life as the hundreds of buildings, each with their ornate roofs and interlocking terraces unfolded. Despite being a cloudly day, thousands of visitors joined us, making it difficult to get clean photographs.
Our guide offered to take us to the 2008 Beijing Olympic site to see the Water Cube and Birds Nest, the Beijing National Aquatics Center and Beijing National Stadium. Getting there was quite a challenge, in the traffic of Monday night rush hour. We got in line for a city bus, where a man was barking orders for transit patrons to stay in line. Powered by a small speaker over his shoulder and an official flag used as a pointer, he forcefully and skillfully shaped up the waiting lines, ensuring everyone got onto the bus in time and in an orderly fashion. While a little loud and comical, I'm sure it'd be chaos without him.
Driving through the city at night brought little vignettes of daily life--people bringing home groceries and getting around for dinner. The Olympic site, in comparison, was quiet. The Olympics long gone, the buildings are visited tonight by visitors like us, poking around and taking photos of themselves with these giant architectural marvels. I'm sure they are used in the day time, but at night they seem a little lonely, waiting for the spectators and athletes to return again.
Tonight I pulled out my new tool in long exposure photography without carrying around a heavy and bulky tripod: A Manfrotto Superclamp with a ball head on it. Useful? Well clamping to poles, gates and benches makes for solid camera support. The problem I've found is they don't tend to put these things in the center line of major subjects. Verdict is still out of it made sense to bring this.
( Oct 15 2012, 05:31:44 PM EDT )
I ended up out for dinner in a small restaurant nearby the hotel with the tour group. Next door to the checkers players, games still continuing, we had wok fired dishes, grilled chicken and lamb, and of course, tea and rice.
Trackback URL: http://blogs.mie.utoronto.ca/roller/tsangc/entry/asia_2012_day_2