Temple of Heaven Beijing

It’s early evening; the sun is slowly setting. As I wander through the gate in the bright red wall and into the park, I wonder: if I travel ever westwards, how fast will I have to go to see a perpetual sunset? A continuous magical golden hour?

Let’s see: if we stick with the Equator, Earth is about 40 000 km around. Then there are 24 time zones. To follow the sunset through each zone, I would have to run at 1666 km/h. Mach 1.35. Breaking the sound barrier. I would have to be Super-Sophie. For reals. (Of course, I could always just get on a Concorde say, but that’s too easy).

This is how I entertain myself as I walk slowly through Tian Tan Park. Too much time on my own, perhaps.

Tian Tan is the park that surrounds Tiāntán, also known as the Temple of Heaven, a symbol of the relationship between earth and heaven – and it is indeed divine. Inspiring thoughts of the heavens.

For 500 years, the Temple of Heaven was where Ming and Qing emperors came to pray in the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. What they prayed for? Three guesses, and the first two don’t count.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests has a golden ball on top. Underneath is 50 000 blue tiles. It’s all wood, no nails, and it’s pretty damn gorgeous.

This pleasurably peaceful park with the stunning temple is my favourite place in all Beijing, a breathing space in the middle of China’s busy capital. At this hour and in the early hours of the day especially.

As I saunter along the path, I pass four people playing a game similar to hacky sack (old enough to remember hacky sack, young ‘uns?) Only instead of a bag filled with pebbles or beads, this gang kicks around what looks like a badminton feather ball. Deftly, they kick it in front, then behind, straight on, at an angle… I watch for a while, then move on.

Soon I come across three others playing. They invite me to join – and I’m reminded how thoroughly crap I was at hacky sack back in my uni days. Still am, I note, somewhat surprised. Don’t know why. Still in that Super-Sophie state of mind, I suppose. I can do anything. Except magically improve my hacky sack skills over the years without any practice whatsoever.

When I return to the park bright and early the next morning, there’s even more activity. T’ai chi, as I expected. Fencing. Line dancing. Ballroom dancing. Kids playing. Songs and laughter. A light-hearted mood.

I have a late-night flight home. It has been years since I was last in Beijing, and I meant to have a look around some of the famous spots. Instead, I remain here in Tian Tan Park all day. I’ve a book in my bag. The Mac I could scribble on. Both remain untouched. There’s so much to see, so much to listen to, so much vibrating life to experience. And yet, it is all so beautifully serene. Calm. Pure harmony.

World at a Glance is a series of short articles here on Sophie’s World, with a single photo (I know, I know, can’t abide by my own rules), portraying curious, evocative, happy, sad, wondrous or unexpected little encounters.


unesco logo

Temple of Heaven: an Imperial Sacrificial Altar in Beijing is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.