“Architecture is frozen music.” – Random anonymous reviewer on a random pop music review website

The Temple of Heaven is a quintessential Beijing Landmark-site. A squarely symmetrical, sprawling construct of wood, stone and marble all painted, carved and hewn into a man-made landscape that outlives the empires that built and maintained them.

Vivid restored dragons of hundred-year-old lumber gaze glassily out from their secure wall mounts at the crowds of wheezing foreigners crowding the pavilion. They are parsed out along vague lines linguistic and ethnic demarcations. It makes it much easier for the chartered tour guides to know which language to dictate through their headsets and belt-mounted amplifiers. So dehydrated Westerners slouch in place in the Beijing sun in pursuit of the slim red nylon battle standards that guide them across a couple hundred years of vacuum-sealed history.

Between the broad figures of the Minnesotan family, I spy two sweat-streaked Vietnamese kids in tiny soccer jerseys staring at our overweight, out-of-shape procession from across the impossible distance of the pavilion.

Gary, our masterful tour-guide, a graduate and repository of Middle Kingdom history and survivor of the tail-end of the Cultural Revolution, informs us through his mic that the Temple was constructed without a single metal nail in its foundations.

Streetside outside a new commercial concession mall (with magnificent air conditioning). Despite the pounding afternoon heat, four old grandpas squat on vulcanized rubber stools and play xiangqi. It’s a game designed almost specifically for streetside or park-front game sessions. They are quick round– the leapfrog whirlwind moves of the cannons and the paranoid right-angled hurtling back-and-forth of the rooks see to that.

They, the players, hurtle to and through from quiet intensity of purpose in ignorance of the roaring street traffic and guttural cicadas only to burst into explosive combustion of pressure relieved as the big wood block pieces are shuffled by gnarled long-fingered hands to start anew. Places on the rubber benches are switched and swigs are taken from transparent bottles foggy with condensation and ages of teabags. The game starts anew with new players.

They’re as thin as Olympic swimmers under the damp white undershirts they reach underneath to scratch.

– California 2007