Most baby boomer visitors to The Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China are awed by the sheer magnitude of the Taoist complex. Did you know that it’s three times larger than The Forbidden City? And oh those colors! The intricately designed buildings with their blue-tiled conical roofs and red facades are impressive and particularly photogenic. But what delighted me the most, when Alan and I arrived to explore, were the Chinese boomers hanging out in the park that surrounds The Temple of Heaven.
The sea of parked bicycles was our first clue that something big was happening here. After entering the gate, we walked down the sidewalk shaded by cypress trees that are hundreds of years old. But we soon learned that we had not happened upon some important event.
“No,” said Jane, our Chinese guide, “This is every day life for retirees in Beijing.”
It was like New York’s Central Park on steroids. To my left, a group of boomers practiced Tai Chi. On my right, men and women retirees exercised using fans. And then there were the badminton tournaments or chess for the more sedentary Chinese baby boomer. Dancers clogged the sidewalks as their leaders shouted instructions. One group practiced ballroom dancing while another danced the jitterbug. I had to restrain myself from dragging Alan over to join the fun.
Continuing the walk toward the entrance to The Temple of Heaven, we turned a corner to discover a woman and man entertaining a crowd. Dressed in a pink sweater, blue jean skirt and yellow shoes, the woman sang and danced to her partner’s harmonica accompaniment. Across the way, a male opera singer belted out an aria as an older gentleman wearing war medals pinned to his coat pocket listened intently.
Entering through the ticket gate at The Temple of Heaven, we moved from the world of the Chinese retiree to an era (beginning in the 1400’s) when the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties prayed for the optimum time to plant and for a successful harvest. Joining tourists, both local and international, we marveled at The Hall of Prayer For Good Harvests. The round building with three-tiered roof is made of wood but no nails were used in the construction.
Our adventure at The Temple of Heaven could have lasted an entire day, but we had more of Beijing to see. When we left, the crowd in the park had thinned out, although small clusters of boomers were deep into conversation. Jane explained that Chinese parents come here to make a wedding match for adult children who are too busy with careers to care about marrying.
Alan and I visited Beijing on a cruise excursion when we sailed on Regent Seven Seas Mariner from Vancouver to Singapore. Regent offered all passengers transportation to and from Beijing plus one night’s free stay, with the option to purchase a second night. Our accommodations at The Regent Beijing Hotel were luxurious and convenient. Although the ship’s tour office offered free tours in Beijing, we hired a private guide, Jane Yeo, who unfortunately has closed her guiding service.