So where do you go in Beijing on the first sunny day of your visit? You could do worse than the Temple of Heaven.

The Temple of Heaven complex was built around 1420 by the same emperor responsible for the Forbidden City. Makes me wonder if these great public works were a way of providing employment to the masses – the ‘shovel ready’ projects of their day.

This is actually the ‘Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests’ within the temple complex that comprises several other buildings, courtyards and parkland. The dark blue tile of the roof represent heaven.

Of course, nothing is what it seems. The original burned down in a fire in 1889 and what we see today was rebuilt several years later. The structure is apparently completely wooden with no nails or other metal fasteners holding it together – quite a feat.

South of this hall is a smaller, single gabled, circular hall called the ‘Imperial Vault of Heaven’. It is surrounded by a smooth circular wall that can transmit sounds over long distances and is known as the ‘Echo Wall‘. This would be where I took the photo of the young lady yesterday and confirms what I thought – the shape of the wall acts as a wave guide and the young lady is probably listening to a friend some distance away from her.

I think it’s also interesting to note that back in 1991, no one was apparently bothered by not having a smart phone. I’d wager a similar scene today would capture a number of people head down in their screens, oblivious to their surroundings.

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‘If walls could talk’ was a phrase I used to hear quite often, referring to the silent witnesses to all that goes on within a space.

Well maybe this young lady is a wall whisperer – a lady who can hear what the walls have to say.

I spied her at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing in 1991. She stood at the wall for some time, listening intently. Sometimes she’d press her ear close against the wall.

I wondered if the area she was in had those acoustic characteristics like that place outside the oyster bar in Grand Central Station in New York where you can whisper into one wall and people diagonally across the space can hear you quite clearly. The shape of the ceiling acts as a wave guide and carries your voice along the ceiling to them. If you turn and talk to them directly they cannot hear you (unless you’re shouting, of course).

I was also struck by her hair. I imagine unbraided it would sweep the floor as she walked!

Update September 25, 2013
From research for my next Daily Photo, I’m sure now this photo was taken at the ‘Echo Wall’ surrounding the ‘Imperial Vault of Heaven’. The ‘Echo Wall’ is a smooth, circular, wall that transmits sound over long distances. It does act as a wave guide and does indeed exhibit the same phenomenon as the ceiling outside the oyster bar in Grand Central Station.

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I saw these engines everywhere I went in China in 1991 which is why I titled this photo, ‘Engine of Growth’. I saw this type of engine powering so many different things – they seemed to be everywhere.

This crew is inside the Forbidden City, on their way to some restoration site.

I think the foot pedal is some form of brake but I never figured out if the engine drove the wheels or if it just drove the belt and the belt driven wheel was linked to the wheels.

I wonder how easy these combinations are to drive. The driver here seems to be concentrating on the task but maybe there were people ahead of him or he was seeing some other situation develop. It certainly doesn’t look as though you have the control finesse of a pickup truck or even tractor and trailer.

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I’ve titled today’s photo ‘Forbidden Decay’ because it shows one small corner of the Forbidden City under repair in 1991.

With 980 of these wooden buildings to maintain and a government since 1912 with other priorities, it’s not surprising that these quieter corners of the complex were decaying at a faster rate than the more visited, central building.

It looks as though the roof of the building on the left has already been restore when compared with the roofs of the taller building surrounded n scaffolding and the building with the terrace on the right.

Shrubs are growing between the blocks lining the canal and the stone ramp up the the building on the right is also sporting a carpet of foliage as well.

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‘Welcome Everyone, to the Forbidden City’ is what I imagine Chairman Mao’s portrait is saying to the visitors streaming over the bridge and in through the gates.

Built between 1406 and 1420, for about 500 years the Forbidden City was the home of emperors and the ceremonial and political center of China. This came to an end in 1912 when the last Emperor of China, Puyi, abdicated.

The complex consists of about 980 buildings, all in different states of repair when I visited in 1991. The city had been declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 as the largest collection of ancient wooden structures in the world. And it’s clearly no longer ‘forbidden’ since the ordinary folk no longer need the Emperor’s permission to enter through the gates.

But like any infrastructure that’s not in constant use, it starts to fall apart and so the Palace Museum is working through a massive restoration project.

Given Mao’s driving of the Cultural Revolution with the goal of enforcing communism and removing capitalist elements from Chinese society, I’m surprised the portrait is still there. Capitalism now appears dominant in China today, in practice at least if not in official policy.

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