What do you do when you have a lot of days of vacation? With the many days of the Spring Festival/New Year in full swing in Beijing, one of the answers here is to attend a Temple Fair. Traditionally a time to make offerings to different deities with the intention of setting things up right for the ensuing year, modern day temple fairs may take place in historic and/or historically religious settings, but the overall feeling is anything but sacred. We decided to take the family to three different fairs: one at Taorading Park, another at the Temple of Earth, and a third the Old Summer Palace. Each fair has its own feeling, but the red lantern decorated trees and carnival atmosphere is common to all (see The Beijinger’s listing of this year’s fairs).
CHANGDIAN TEMPLE FAIR (at Taorading Park):
Our first temple fair was crowded getting in, but only an introduction to the more expansive crowds we’d see at Ditan Temple. Replete with some young-child-oriented sketchy carnival rides and bazaar stands selling paper lanterns and toys (a natural fiber owl on a stick and a ninja sword were favored by Sophia and Dylan), we mainly indulged the kids. Opting out of chair skating (we’d already tried it once and had had enough) and “skiing” down a marble hill, our adult fun was limited to the extensive food court (see this link for the top 10 food items at Temple Fairs), where I tried deep-fried durian and bananas and soft-shelled crab on a stick, while Manu went for a spiced chicken kabob, a spiced pork kabob, and, surprisingly, a Spanish-specialty, churros (w/chocolate and ice cream), which didn’t quite live up to the real thing, but wasn’t bad. We also climbed the hill to the temple, but it was closed and clearly not the emphasis of the fair.
Video of the Changdian Temple Fair(This is a Youtube video of the fair. Our connection is too slow to upload ours but it will give you a sense of the ambiance at the fair)
DITAN TEMPLE FAIR (at The Temple of the Earth):
Our second temple fair, located in the heart of Beijing, was crowded enough to almost stop us from going to another one. We went with some new friends with a one-year-old boy, so we were a bit of an entourage maneuvering through the throngs (we chose that day for our first excursion with the stroller and not just the Ergo…hmmm…). This time we entered the offering section of the temple right away, so had a quick blast of the sacred before hitting the ultra-profane in the mandala-like structure of the rest of the temple. The outer square was rimmed with carnival games, and all the accompanying noise and eye-catching oversized stuffed animals, as well as performances of traditional Chinese arts (parasol dancing, Peking opera, etc.). The center of the mandala, where the offerings to the earth gods would traditionally have been made, was where a very loud Chinese rock band was performing (a great example of the success of the Cultural Revolution!). As we attempted to meander to the outer promenades, we were confronted by more bazaar booths selling items that attracted the kids (there were many weapons, from traditional swords to modern machine guns ), so we pushed our way through and ended up with another owl and a ninja axe (the kids spent the money they’d received in a red envelope [hong bao] for New Year from our friend and former colleague, Lu Yuan). We found a food stand area and munched on a spiced lamb kabob and squid on an iron grill (also served on a stick: check out the pic of all the sticks thrown away in trash bags!), while sipping juice through a straw from a fresh, young coconut. While the kids ran around in a shaded park area (Dylan kept picking up people’s used food sticks, trying to hit trees and poke people), we gathered ourselves together and decided to take off, conserving our remaining energy for another packed trip home on the subway.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kKflQxDKKY Video of the Ditan Temple Fair(This is a Youtube video of the fair. Our connection is too slow to upload ours but it will give you a sense of the ambiance at the fair)
YUANMINGYUAN ROYAL TEMPLE FAIR (at the Old Summer Palace):
The setting of our final temple fair was definitely the prettiest and most spacious, as the grounds of the Old Summer Palace are extensive, with a lake in the middle. The schtick of this fair is that people are dressed and engaging in games and activities of the Qing Dynasty. Soon after we entered we saw a large group of men dressed in Qing-era royal clothes, skating on the ice, the tail end of an “ice play” (you can see a beatiful scroll painting of this tradition here). On another side of the lake was an expansive area for the ever-popular chair skating.
Crossing pretty arched bridges, we made our way around the lake, stopping for the kids to have a ride in a royal palanquin, carried by four men who bounced them as they walked to the sound of an upbeat, traditional trio of instruments. In the same area, people had the chance to dress up in royal clothing, throw coins at an enlarged coin and bell for good fortune in the coming year, and to tie a talisman on a tree. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjpmIEGrK1g Video of the YuanmingyuanTemple Fair (This is a Youtube video of the fair. Our connection is too slow to upload ours, but it will give you a sense of the ambiance at the fair) We hit the food area next and found a lot of the same offerings (the kids loved the extremely airy, white cotton candy), but one of the most interesting to me was a kind of peanut brittle-like treat. After being handed a hot, malleable, brown ball, two men with large wooden mallets took turns hitting it on a tree stump. Even when it looked flat and ready to eat, to me, they kept picking it up, folding it over, and swinging at it some more. When it was done it was sliced into thin squares and sold. At the end of our day we exited through what must be a relatively new re-built temple area with gorgeous architecture. Although it would have been cool to check out some of the other fairs, we left, glad to have experienced this New Year tradition. Pam