Listed on all the tourist guides as the number two, and sometimes number one, “must see” location in Beijing is The Temple of Heaven. It’s a vast complex of temples covering the same area as 10,000 tennis courts, and construction began back in the 15th century. Today we were lucky enough to have the whole place to ourselves… for an hour.
This didn’t come without a price – a 4.40am wake up call to get us to the site before the tourist hordes descended. Our director Mark had a face like thunder, which was pretty much the only thing that wasn’t coming down out of the sky, as a monsoon had descended on us. This was our most expensive filming location of the series and he’d been hoping for sunlight glistening off the temples’ blue porcelain tiles, enhancing the deep reds of the painted walls. Instead, rain chucked down on us relentlessly as clouds of mist drifted across our path. Naomi and I presented the entire item under umbrellas and as we approached the first temple, The Hall Of Prayer, even the locals doing their morning thai chi were cowering under the impressive covered cloisters that lead up to it.
The guards opened the thick red doors decorated in gold nodules and a vast courtyard opened up to us, in the centre of which sat three tiers of marble staircases and the biggest pagoda I’ve ever seen, with a huge gold ball on top. We were the only people in there, and as we filmed our pieces to camera I kept reminding myself how lucky we were despite the weather. In fact, I was starting to think it added to the atmosphere of the place.
Eventually the doors were flung open to tourists and we had to negotiate our way around them at the next two sites, The Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Circular Mound Altar (more of the same really, but on a slightly smaller scale). Once again, I thought their different coloured umbrellas and the little jokes Naomi and I could make about the filming conditions actually added to the piece and by lunchtime I thought we’d come away with a really great little film that will stand out against all our sunny and sweltering items we’ve shot this series. And I’m not just saying that to make Mark feel better!
Naomi and I had been under umbrellas all morning but the rest of the crew were soaked through to the skin (literally. I heard our cameraman Geraint complaining about his soggy pants). However, there wasn’t much we could do about it so we had a quick lunch at a nearby hotel (I really can’t get into tofu and bean curd, no matter how many times I give it a go. It’s really not food as far as I’m concerned!) and then made our way to a calligraphy school to film this afternoon’s song. It was about calligraphy, unsurprisingly.
Once again the weather had limited us, this time to being indoors in what was essentially a white walled room with a couple of tables, a book shelf and a man called Mr Chu merrily dipping his brush and inking out countless examples of Chinese calligraphy for our benefit. After an hour or so’s feverish planning we set out to make the most of what we had at our disposal (geed along by our bouncy song based on noughties pop classic ‘Mambo Number 5’) and once again I think we really turned things around. As we piled into the bus at the end of the afternoon (which appears to have become infested with some rather hungry mosquitos) I felt pretty proud of what Team ‘All Over The Place’ are capable of when our backs are against the wall. Proud and tired. Really tired.