Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Ancestor Project

We landed in Beijing at about midnight local time and boarded a bus for the hotel.  By the time we were all checked into our rooms, it was probably 1:30 in the morning.  I had awakened in Michigan nearly 30 hours earlier and although I had managed to sleep a few hours on the plane, I expected to crash for a good rest at the hotel.  To my surprise, I woke up with the sun, bright and early.   I tried to get more rest, but there was no more rest to be had, so I got up and decided to go for a walk before breakfast. 

I had absolutely no idea where our Beijing hotel was in relation to anything else.  I had no map.  I can read no Chinese.  I knew I needed to be back at the hotel by 8:30 a.m. because my travel group would then board a bus bound for  the Great Wall and would not be returning to the hotel.  Ever.  Missing the bus seemed ill-advised; getting lost seemed likely.  But once outside, I realized that our hotel was on a main street and I figured that if I didn’t make any turns, I couldn’t go too far astray.  

Soon, I came upon this sign pointing towards Tian’anmen Square, only 3 km away.  That seemed like a good destination, so I watched for additional signs.  I never saw another but after what seemed like 3 km, I saw a walled area across the street, which I guessed might be the place.  I crossed the street turned down a side street.  Suddenly, I was in a different world. 
Modern Beijing

The very modern glass,brick, and steel buildings of the eight-lane main street gave way to small shops and green spaces. 
Side street

Canal  one block off the main highway. 

An area of small and modest residences was to my right. 

Residential area

I figured the square had to be to my left so I looked for an entrance.    I found a little gate and proceeded through.  I was stopped by a young man who simply said, “Ticket.”  He pointed to a makeshift kiosk so I went over and the woman there said “2 Yuan.”  That is about 35 or 40 cents, so I assumed that I misheard.  “2?” I asked?  “2” she said holding up 2 fingers.  So I paid the rather modest fee and went inside.

I was suddenly in a park that was so quiet that I could hear my footsteps as I walked.  The acoustics were very strange and echo-y.  I could hear the footsteps of the one other person in the garden, probably 100 yards away.  The silence was almost deafening.   I explored the garden and soon stepped over a high threshold in an opening in a red wall to find myself among yellow-roofed temples. I was excited because I knew that yellow was the imperial color, so I thought I must be in an important place.

The largest structure was marked “Hall for Worship of Ancestors.”   Completely by chance, I had stumbled into a public park called The Working People’s Cultural Palace that includes the Imperial Ancestral Temple and associated buildings.  The Ancestral Temple is thought to be one of the most sacred buildings in Beijing.  The whole area was part of the old imperial city and it turns out that I was very near the Forbidden City itself, and just a  little east of Tian’anmen Square. I couldn't have gotten into either the Forbidden City or Tain’anmen Square, but I had the Imperial Ancestral Temple almost to myself. 


Oh my, yes!

Ancestors play a big part in Chinese culture, much larger than in our own.  In my absence from this blog,  I have been working on what I call “The Ancestor Project.”  The idea took form last fall after I came upon a quote by Jonas Salk, who said “Our greatest responsibility is to be great ancestors.”  I thought about how much of my ancestry is lost; we have some genealogies and the like, but the characters and the thoughts of our ancestors are gone.  I really wish I had listened more carefully to all the family stories that my parents told, but I didn’t and now those stories are lost to me.  I assume that our kids are not really listening to us either.  So, I am writing the family stories, documenting events and trips, collecting photos, making a family cookbook, and trying to capture our  thoughts, ideas, and opinions so that someday, when and if anyone wants to look back they will be able to reconstruct this family in this time and this place.  A few of the blog entries from 2010-2012 have even been incorporated in one way or another.

I don’t think it will make me a “great” ancestor, but it seems like the least I can do.

I have been absent from “ExtraOrdinary Ramblings” for a long time.  I never intended to stop writing; I guess life just got in the way.   “ExtraOrdinary Ramblings”  began with the “August Pledge” of 2010, when I challenged myself to write every day of that month.  This entry begins my similar “July Challenge” of 2012.  As always, I will end each entry with a brief statement of gratitude.  This is the most important part for me because it helps me to remember how blessed I am, especially in the midst of the swirling chaos that can be my life. 

Today I am grateful for fresh air and clean water.  My travels this summer reminded me that not everyone can take these fundamental things for granted.    

Oh.  About that early morning walk in Beijing.  I was so enamored with the buildings and gardens that I completely lost track of time.  I suddenly realized I was going to be late unless I seriously hurried.  So hurry I did, made no wrong turns, and arrived in time for breakfast as if I had everything under control.  As if.

1 comment:

  1. Delightful as always, my friend! I look forward to a month of wonderful reading. Oh, and, um, I guess I'll be doing a wee bit of writing, too ...