Having gotten in late the night before, I reserved this day for what I was taught Sundays to be: the Sabbath, and lazy days for whatever. So I simply planned to get to know the city before all the heavy touristy stuff kicked into gear during the week. First thing I did when I got up? Checked out my digs:
This hostel even took this element up a notch:
And it being a hostel and not some stuffy hotel, I was free to be me:
Okay, enough turtle-play; time to set out.
Though nearby, I avoided the sight-seeing mainstays (Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City) on this day. I read about a church nearby and always wanted to write a piece about religion in China. In fact, this lazy Sunday ended up being a day of witnessing worship in a couple of ways by local Beijingers.
Let me show you.
First, just outside my hostel was a network of narrow alleyways known as Hu Tong. They’re an attraction themselves as lots of history has passed through their narrow corridors. Plus it’s enjoyable to feel the intimacy with Beijingers—the small shops, the humble, concrete-built homes, and the bicyclers peddling their old contraptions:
Being near the touristy areas of Beijing, here was an alleyway converted accordingly:
But soon I left the maze:
It was gorgeous outside, absent the smog. Just blue skies and Beijing heat. After walking this, the streets of restaurants and souvenir/convenience shops became avenues offering museums, hotels, and government buildings. This area had an executive/formal feel to it. None of the buildings were very tall, leaving access to the wonderful weather.
St. Michael’s church, a Catholic church, was only a handful of big Beijing blocks away. I approached the old steeple with a cross atop around noon. Mass was in its final stretch:
Black-haired heads I assumed to be Chinese filled the pews, but a monitor of text had me question my assumption. (You can always tell Korean characters by the circles.) Asking a nearby nun, I found out that this was, indeed, a Korean congregation.
A few Chinese and myself lined the back to observe as everyone exited:
I stayed to look around. The church had that solemn feel and featured pictures along the side walls of Jesus at different times in his life. This small to mid-sized church wasn’t overdone, but offered a nice environment.
I always appreciate the deeper self that is reached during worship and while being in such a building. People come here to tap into that real, more serene self, and that aura always has me leaving a better person.
Afterward, I meandered and moseyed south towards, fittingly, Temple of Heaven Park. It’s well known for its historic structures (so they get ya with an admission charge). Dad gummit.
I walked in and right away felt the shine not just of the sun but of the energized folks around me. It was great. They were pair-dancing to Chinese tunes with Western pop beats.
I have much praise for both large and small cities. Here though, I felt that energetic presence that citizens in the largest cities have: a freedom of timidity to enjoy themselves in confident, expressive ways. These dancers reminded me of some skaters in New York’s Central Park I saw a few years back: not punk skateboarders or even cosmopolitan roller bladers. No, these were vintage 4-wheel roller skaters, dance-skating to old hip-hop and disco beats. Funky stuff; and fun to absorb. As was this scene in Beijing’s Temple of Heaven Park.
It’s inspiring to see people so free to do what makes them happy. As such, I felt like I arrived someplace special. Better make a note of it:
After this performance, I delved deeper into the expansive park. Later, after getting a little shade and turning down some overpriced ice-cream, I heard some music.
And I followed it.
A large group of mainly middle-aged singers congregated around a band. It looked like an informal gathering, perhaps just a Sunday afternoon pass time.
But I found it noteworthy that the music sounded like a hymn and the folks sang like choir.
See, I know China as an agnostic country, but I’ll be a six-toed sloth if the group I saw wasn’t worshiping something. It certainly had the look and feel of it, and so I enjoyed seeing the folks here, as the Koreans in the church this morning, elevate to a place of love and joy. I learned that though most Chinese claim to be agnostic, the search for something deeper exists in everyone.
Their elevation rubbed off on me. Maybe through the power of the Internet, you can get a taste of it yourself.
to New Plateaus,
Next time, I’ll take you out of the day-to-day and into the past, right here in Beijing: ground zero for some of the richest history on Earth.