On 12.22 in Shanghai, but 12.21 in the U.S., my mom and I made an impromptu agenda – we would join an all day tour on our 2nd and last day in Beijing. The tour would allow us to see the main sights without much headache of figuring out logistics. However, today we would hit up walkable sights on our own. My mother predicts we will find a tour guide selling his services while we are out today. This journey involved a very cold trek to Tian Tan – aka Temple of Heaven, Wang Fu Jin shopping, and Tiananmen Square. My mother was so excited about Tian Tan. She kept telling me that the emperor would pay his annual visit to pray to the gods there. She said it over and over again. It is what she does when she is excited. I finally asked her, when do they go to pray? She did not know. Then she got stuck on that question. We decide to go to Tian Tan first because the other places would stay open longer. We trekked over to the Temple of Heaven where I learned that the emperor rebuilt the temple from a square to circle to represent the 12 constellations (i.e. zodiac), 12 months in a year, and the 4 seasons. These new edits were performed to represent the earth. And he used the colors blue, red, and gold to mostly represent the heavens. It was further explained that this temple was viewed as the space between heaven and earth. I began chuckling to myself because of my moment of narcissism. My Chinese name, Tien-Lo, according to my mother, means between heaven and earth. Here I was, Tien-Lo, standing in the emperor’s “between heaven and earth.” Ah life.
We walked out to see the Round Altar and a nice man points us in the right direction. He informs us that we have to hurry because the park is closing. We thank him kindly and my mother starts to ask him a question about another tourist spot. It turns out he is a tour guide and he asks our permission to walk with us while sharing his tourism service. Details aside, we sign up and he accompanies us to the Altar as he records our contact info. He informs us that we must see the Altar today because today is the day that the emperor would make his annual visits to Tian Tan 12/21. My mother and I gasp at the fortune we had that we made it on the day that the emperor would visit. I began to share with her that this is the day of the winter solstice and also the last day in the Mayan calendar and she gasps a second time to remind me that our hotel room number is 1221. “How exciting!” she exclaims. To her, it means we are on the right path, whatever that means. Although… I do agree. It’s funny, as I walk the streets of Beijing, a city whose culture is demonstrated in the clutter of walled neighborhoods filled with old homes interspersed between modern high rises, I feel a sense of being grounded. I am not sure where this trip can really take me. After all, it is only 8 days. But I am up for the ride.