Returning to Beijing, China this summer for the third time in three years, Rhonda Veroeven of Windsor, WI knew what she was getting into, and she was prepared. While she and her traveling companions spent time at the pearl markets in Beijing, Veroeven also wanted to include some geocaching in her itinerary. As a dedicated and experienced geocacher, Veroeven was determined to add a Chinese cache to her list of geocaching finds and she wanted to do it with a Chinese friend.
But finding a cache in Beijing wasn’t as easy as one might guess. Most of the caches there have been hidden by expatriates from other countries who have come to Beijing for work. Even a small GPS unit becomes massive luxury not easily afforded in a country where the average income is $7,000. Likewise, any metal or plastic container could easily be found and taken for recycling income. In this case, one clever geocacher decided the cache would have to be hidden a in a very public area, and hidden very well. They chose The Temple of Heaven in Beijing.
Located on almost three square kilometers of Beijing parkland, the Temple of Heaven is literally translated “Altar of Heaven” and was built between 1406 and 1420. Also included in the park are three groups of buildings which were constructed according to strict philosophical guidelines: the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (a completely wooden structure with no nails), the Imperial Vault of Heaven (surrounded by an Echo Wall) and the Circular Mound Altar (an actual altar on three levels of marble).
Veroeven said “Even though Beijing is a beautiful city, I really enjoyed spending time with the people,” which meant she enlisted her driver and friend Su Guan Ming (aka: Joe) to go with her to a cache hidden in The Temple of Heaven—an area filled thousands of people at any given time on every day. As Veroeven explained to Joe what they were looking for—a small container with a piece of paper and trinkets—across a language barrier—Joe was respectful but doubtful of his guest “We will never find,” he concluded.
Joe drove them to the Temple of Heaven and from there, Veroeven handed Joe the GPS—something he had never seen before—and explained how to use it. Together, they began walking through groups of people doing morning exercise, singing opera, tai chi, ribbon dance, kung fu, and elderly playing on adult playscapes. During their walk, Joe kept muttering “We never find…we never find…” But then Joe started walking in circles and Veroeven explained that now they were close.
“We just need to start looking around in this area.” Their walk had led them to a very private and secluded garden in the middle of the huge public park. After a quick perusal of the area, Veroeven encouraged Joe to look at one rock in particular in the middle of a rock garden. Joe looked at her quizzically, but checked it out only to find that it was plastic and hollow. “We find! We find! We find!” Joe exclaimed. And Veroeven added to her list one of the best finds of her life: the joy of introducing an international friend to the joys of geocaching.
Originally published: August, 2009