The Temple of Heaven…I think the photo says it all, don’t you? It is a very heavenly sight. It’s one of the largest complexes in China. Chinese emperors considered themselves the sons of the Heaven. As a sign of respect, they built the Temple of Heaven even larger than The Forbidden City. Many visitors crowd in and around the Circular Altar, where sacrifices were made every Winter Solstice in hopes of bringing good fortune and prosperity for the coming year.
While I was there, I got a kick out of watching the people near the Three Echo Stones. It is located outside the Imperial Vault of Heaven. I think this was the only time I saw Chinese people line up properly. They were simultaneously shouting at the wall and shoving their ears against it. It is said that if you speak facing the first stone on the Vault, you can hear one echo. If you speak facing the second stone, you can hear two echos; third stone, three echos and so on. The frigid cold didn’t seem to deter any visitors away. There were swarms of them everywhere. And a large crowd of tourists usually means that a horde of taxi drivers were waiting nearby.
When we left the Temple of Heaven, they were all parked outside the drop off area. We hopped into a black Benz. I watched as the taxi driver snatched the removable sign off the roof of his car. His furtive glances back and forth gave it all away. He was running an illegal taxi business. He toss the sign in the car and we drove off. At first glance, it is a little suspect and it would be something to be wary about. But JC is one of those people who’s always curious and always full of questions. Unlike others, he actually takes the time to have an actual conversation with locals wherever he goes.
As it turns out, the taxi driver wasn’t a bad guy. He admitted to running an illegal taxi business. He even told us he wasn’t a local from Beijing. He came to Beijing in search of better work opportunities but it didn’t turn out as easy as he had hoped for. As a result, he drives around in a Benz disguised as a taxi. He risks paying fines with money he doesn’t have and serving jail time when his family depends on him. But this was a stable way for him to provide for them. By law, it is illegal. By law, this makes him a criminal. But is he really?
For many tourists, they only see the facade of what life is like in China. That’s why there is such a big difference between being a tourist and being a traveler. Tourists only sees what’s on the surface. Travelers seek to discover what’s underneath.