Exploring Beijing, having fun in the parks

Temple of Heaven, Beijing

One of the simplest and most enjoyable pleasures in Beijing is to spend time in many of its wonderful parks.

These parks range from an attractive place to sit or stroll to the grand parklands of the Summer Palace or the Temple of Heaven.

In these parks Beijingers relax and the older generations can be seen thoroughly enjoying themselves, growing old in China looks so much fun!

We had seen a lot of this in the Summer Palace, women knitting, groups playing cards, the more agile playing Ti Jianzi (shuttlecock) and dancing. However the best parks we visited for this fascinating insight into Chinese life were the Temple of Heaven and Beihai Park.

Beihai Park, BeijingBeihai Park was in walking distance from our hostel and we visited one hazy, smoggy Saturday.

It cost just 50p to enter the park from the north gate, we could hear loud music floating across the still lake and as we walked south the cacophony rose.

a cheeky fellow

a cheeky fellow

There were many people enjoying a weekend stroll around the lake and the crowds gathered at the southern end to watch the free entertainment.

People were singing into microphones, dancing or just simply listening to loud radios.

Cards and dominos were being played by the water’s edge or on tables under the trees, small crowds huddled round them to watch the games unfold.

Larger groups were learning ballroom dancing, this drew bigger crowds of onlookers.

Behind some old temple walls young guys were practicing martial arts and a few couples were salsa dancing.

The Nine Dragon Screen

The Nine Dragon Screen

The most wonderful of all though were the Bollywood dancers, they were a feast for the eyes.

Older Chinese men and women dressed in colourful Indian costumes complete with false mustaches for the men.

The beaming faces of the dancers and the sheer enthusiasm to which they performed was infectious, it was a joy to watch, right down to their authentic wrist movements and ‘wobbly heads’.

Beihai Park, Beijing

The view across the lake to Jade Islet and the White Dagoba {a Tibetan-style Stupa} were pleasant and we crossed the pretty bridge over to it. It was the perfect place to enjoy fluffy clouds of candy-floss and take a rest.

We were accosted by a cheerful, giggly group of young Chinese who excitedly wanted us to pose in photos with them, it was lots of fun, darn that I never thought to get one in return, oh the photo regrets of traveling!

Clouds of candy floss

Clouds of candy floss


On the way out of the park we watched calligraphers use water and a foam brush to write Chinese characters on the pavement, their brush strokes were so delicate and precise.

The Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven, Beijing

The Temple of Heaven was also a great place to people-watch, as well as take in some of Beijing’s finer sights.

A large park enclosed by a wall with gates at each of the compass points. We entered from the east and explored the north end of the park first, drawn to the  music.

There was singing and dancing, tai chi and Ti Jianzi.

The Long Corridor to the south of this corner of the park was dappled in sunlight filtered through the trees, here sat many Beijingers, the men were playing cards or listening to their radios, the women clustered together gossiping and knitting.

China seems a nation of knitters, everywhere there are older women knitting, from hostels to street corners, to parks and trains.

Temple of Heaven, Beijing

Our ticket gave us entry into a few sights within the park, the highlight being the circular Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

Like a glorious cloisonné biscuit barrel, the wooden hall stands on a platform of three marble terraces, its iridescent blue roof tiles reaching up to heaven.

Beautifully painted and decorated, the temple was constructed without nails, the wooden pieces fit together like an intricate puzzle.

A raised avenue leads out from Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests slicing through the park in a poker-straight line to the Round Altar, a series of flat marble platforms.

Next to this is the Imperial Vault of Heaven, another wooden hall which has the mysteriously named Echo Wall wrapped around it. Apparently the Echo Wall can carry a whisper around it’s circumference, we tried but it was too busy and too noisy.

Away from the touristy sights the park was peaceful, with neat tree-lined avenues and twittery wild birds, park benches and wide gravel paths.

On the way back through the park Chris was enticed into a game of fabric hoop, a jovial man tried to throw fabric hoops over his head, one on top of the other, much to the enjoyment of the local passers-by.

We had to pose for photographs after the game, he even laid the hoops out to make the Olympic rings.

He wanted us to then send him the pictures so he could add it to his long, fold out length of photos which he then produced. It was amazing, people from all over the world had sent him them, what a treasure.

Temple of Heaven, Beijing

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Try these posts:

The Great Wall is a Mighty Dragon. Wandering the Great Wall almost alone!

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China’s National Treasure: The Pandas of Chengdu Yes, there’s baby pandas!

Exploring Beijing From a Palace to the Streets The spectacular Summer Palace and an ancient Confucious temple.

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2 Responses

  1. Dave Rowley says:

    I love your comment “growing old in China looks so much fun!” We found the same thing there at the parks of Beijing. Our favorite was seeing the retired Beijingers singing their hearts out in the parks, one of our favorite travel moments ever! I love your photo of the Bollywood dancing, especially the fake mustaches and the head bobbles. That must have been hilarious!! Growing old in China seems very different than in the West where our old folks get shut away in homes. But I’ve never understood WHY it’s different. Why do you think older folks are so much more active in China?

    • I thought it every time we saw the fun and dancing, why are our old folk stuck indoors, under blankets watching daytime tv? These guys just wrap up for the weather, and boy does it get cold, and spend their days outside, socialising and playing! They’ve probably had hard lives, they deserve this gaiety. They never heat their homes, everyone wears coats indoors so maybe that is one of the reasons, they have no apparent self-consciousness either, they dance with gay abandon, wonderful. The tai-chi and the dancing keeps them fit and active.