Dispatch 5

Date: June 16, 2001. Saturday.

Location: Beijing

Greetings from Beijing for the last time. We leave for Nanchang early in the morning. This is likely going to be the last dispatch for a few days until we find internet access in Nanchang.

Our day was spent in two parts. First, we went back to the Temple of Heaven. Second, we went to the Great Wall.

By the time we got to the Temple of Heaven at 7:30 am, the park was brimming with hundreds, maybe even a couple thousand people out in groups, singing, dancing, practicing martial arts, playing badminton, and generally having a high old time.

It was altogether a joyous place. Here are a few women who were doing Chinese dance aerobics. An old aerobicizer herself, Susannah joined in at the edges just after I snapped this photo. Far from being offended, they welcomed her with open arms, encouraging and teaching her until she became comfortable with their moves.

In Imperial China, your status in the Great Poobah Hierarchy is declared in the number of animals on your cornice. By these standards–and others–the Temple of Prayer for Good Harvest, shown below, is perhaps the most important building in all of Imperial China: just look at those animals! A full complement of nine, though only five in this photo of another section.

Its main entrance (a three-animal location) is reserved for the God of the Harvest–not even the Emperor was allowed to pass through that gate, but had to come in through a side entrance for his once-a-year ritual.

Passing through Tienanmen Square on our way back to the hotel …

… to meet with our group, we went through one of the downtown hutongs for the last time.

Susannah snapped several photos that give a glimpse into everyday life for the people who live here. No doubt, hutong life is austere, but it also has a simple dignity that demands respect.

Once back at the hotel, we joined the rest of our group and immediately hopped on a bus for a section of the Great Wall to the north of Beijing, the part at Badaling. We knew in advance that it was going to be steep, and long, and high, and a challenge to climb. We never expected, though, that the individual stone steps would be worn down from the cumulative effect of millions of climbers over the last thousand years–and this was one of the newer sections of the Wall! Each footfall went into a hollowed out scoop in the stone for the lower part of the wall. As you got closer to the top, fewer people had gone before you and the stones were mostly intact. It was a pleasant day, with the temperature in the 70s and the humidity low. The sun was hidden by light clouds most of the time. Yet, by the time we got to the top of our climb after about an hour of aerobic step work we were dripping with sweat and flushed with color.

Here’s what you look like when you make it to the top of the Great Wall.

What climbs up must climb down. In this photo of Susannah, you can see how high up we are and how steep the climb can be.

We got two more photos of Eleanor today.  Both were taken on April 27 — after our referral date — and one of them shows the foster mother ZFR again. We will be spending Saturday evening quietly in the hotel and leaving for Nanchang very early in the morning. In our next dispatch, we should have our first photos of the three us, together at last.


Robert & Susannah / http://eleanorjean.com