If you're not familiar with EPCOT, half of the park is the World Showcase where pavilions from eleven different countries encircle a large lagoon. Each country sets the mood with iconic buildings such as the Eiffel Tower in the French pavilion and the Chichen Itza pyramid in Mexico. In Italy, you feel like you've just stepped into Venice's St. Mark's Square that happens to have a fountain evocative of Rome's Trevi Fountain on the side. In just a few hours, you can pretend you are hiking around the world as you walk from pavilion to pavilion.
|The China pavilion at Walt Disney World EPCOT|
As a kid, I was puzzled by the China pavilion as I didn't recognize the building. It was neither the Forbidden Palace nor the Great Wall -- the only two famous Chinese structures I knew. When I finally visited Beijing (the real one, not a Disneyfied version) a few years ago, I was excited to figure out that Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest within the Temple of Heaven complex is that building from EPCOT.
|The real Temple of Heaven|
Do other people do that? Do they see the Matterhorn in the Alps and think, "Hey, that looks just like that ride at Disneyland... except a lot bigger?" When we revisited EPCOT after our travels around the actual world, I thought it was fun to re-examine it through the new lens of an experienced world traveler. How authentic was it?
|Inside EPCOT's China pavilion|
As I walked up to the real Temple of Heaven in Beijing, my crazy mind half expected a giant movie theater to be inside. It probably comes as no surprise that there wasn't. In fact the entire interior was cordoned off so visitors could only gaze in from the outside perimeter.
|Looking up inside the real Temple of Heaven|
The real building in China marks the spot where heaven and earth meet with the azure blue tiles on the triple tiered roof symbolizing the sky. A bold, gold finial sits on top. The temple's blue, yellow and green color scheme represent heaven, earth and the mortal world, respectively. The 120-foot-tall vaulted ceiling was impressively constructed without nails.The four painted pillars closest to the center signify the seasons, and the twelve columns on the outside symbolize both the 12 months in a year and the 12 years in a Chinese zodiac calendar cycle. These pillars hold up a square set of beams representing the Earth and then a round one on top of it representing Heaven.
Disney did an amazing job replicating the temple on a half-size scale. The EPCOT version seemed just as detailed and ornate as the real thing. During construction, Imagineers screenprinted copies of the intricate design patterns on hundreds of tiles. One advantage of the Disney building is that you can walk through it and gaze straight up at the ceiling. I didn't have that chance in Beijing. If you stand exactly in the middle of the round room and talk, your voice will be amplified due to the room's acoustics. Since I never set foot in the real Temple of Heaven, I don't know if it works there, too.
|A gilded dragon and phoenix medallion on the ceiling of the EPCOT China pavilion.|
Visiting the Tomb Warriors exhibit at the EPCOT China pavilion is a good way to pass the time while waiting for the next CircleVision 360 movie to start. The Terracotta Warriors of Xian must be one of China's most intriguing archaeological finds, Each soldier has unique hair, facial and clothing features leading scholars to think that each was modeled after a real person. They are supposed to protect the emperor in the afterlife.
|Tomb Warrior exhibit at EPCOT. Note the man in back for a scale reference.|
While the EPCOT replica gives you a sense of what it is like, it really cannot compare in scope or size. Walking into the actual covered dig site in Xian, I realized that the entire army is much more vast than I had imagined.
|Terracotta Warriors in Xian, China. Note the crowds standing on each side for scale reference.|
In this case, the Disney version is a good alternative if you can't get to China, but the real one is far superior.
Flipping through my photos, I realized that there seem to be a lot of photos of me imitating statues.
|Me next to a Tomb Warrior at EPCOT|
How else can I explain that I have matching photos of warrior statues taken a few years apart?
|Me standing next to a carved Jade Warrior in Beijing.|
I think they may both be copies of the same soldier. What do you think?
So, that's my take on China two ways. Many people who visit EPCOT will never visit the real China. I'm glad that there's at least some way for them to get a sense of the country's treasured heritage.
Gong Xi Fa Cai! Happy Chinese New Year!
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