Friday, April 23, 2010

景山公园 -- Jingshan Park

Friday was 'Sports Day' at BLCU - an academic holiday - so an Aussie mate and I decided to go to Tiananmen Square to view Chairman Mao's body. We figured that since it wasn't a weekend or a holiday, the line might be shorter than the last time I tried to see Mao.

Something brought Beijing people out in droves - it must have been the nice weather. The line to get into Mao's mausoleum was actually longer than the last time I was there.  Unbelievably longer … so long that we couldn't even find the end of the line! So, we decided to head north to the Forbidden City and beyond.

It was good to go back to the Forbidden City because I was able to make some new observations and get some different pictures, including a couple of cool statues of dragons and a statue of a turtle.

The Forbidden City is very grand in scale and the artisan work on the buildings that have been restored is very impressive. I was surprised, however, that many of the most popular buildings haven't had the art work restored. There was also a bit of irony with the crowds at 'The Hall of Supreme Harmony' and 'The Hall of Preserving Harmony'. There was some serious pushing and shoving going on, so I couldn't even get close enough to get any pictures.

Just north of the Forbidden City is 景山公园 (Jingshan Park), which overlooks the Forbidden City as well as the rest of Beijing. It is a well-manicured park, built around a huge hill made out of the material excavated to create the moat around the Forbidden City. It is the most pleasant place I've been in Beijing. I've included a picture of me standing on the hill with a good view of the Forbidden City in the background.

After that, we wandered around some of the small alleys around the park and eventually made our way to 雍和宫 (Yonghegong) – the Tibetan area of town. We were there just long enough to eat some fantastic prawns made with spicy Tibetan sauce and some spicy Tibetan beef.

After all of this, we made our way back to the university. We were too tired to see the Buddhist temple at Yonghegong. But don't worry, a visit there is also on my agenda!


Friday, April 16, 2010

More pics from the Great Wall

I had some technical difficulties yesterday with remote blogging. Here are a few more pics from the Great Wall.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Great Wall of China

Today, my class took our first field trip – we went to 长城 (The Great Wall)! As you may know, the wall dates back to before 200BC and was built to protect China from invaders. It didn't work very well for that purpose – China was successfully invaded in the 13th century by the Mongols and in the 17th century by the Manchus – but it did help the Chinese to transport supplies and to communicate over rugged mountain terrain.

These days, the wall is the world's longest tourist attraction. We visited a portion of the wall at Mutianyu about 90km (56 miles) from Beijing, which has fewer tourists than other parts of the wall near the capital. Although there were only a few other tourists visiting, there were very many merchants, selling souvenirs and trinkets. Getting from the parking lot to the base of the mountain was like running the gauntlet with people blocking my path, grabbing and pulling me. They must consider commerce to be a contact sport!

I knew that we had to 'climb' along the wall, but I really was not expecting such a steep climb just to get to the wall. At Mutianyu there is a ski lift to make the ride up or down easier, and there is also a sled ride to get down. I considered taking the ski lift, but I wasn't sure of the quality of the workmanship that went into building and maintaining it. And besides, my classmates were climbing (see photo), and I wouldn't let them climb alone.

Once we got onto the wall, we saw some amazing views. I've tried to include a couple of pictures to capture what I saw. Looking out onto the mountains and the countryside is great, but I found it even more impressive to see how the wall climbs up and down the mountains for miles in either direction. Climbing along the wall, I tried to imagine how hard it was for people 2000 years ago to build it, and how difficult the soldiers' lives must have been defending it. Simply walking along with my backpack was a strain in some of the steeper places - carrying weapons and supplies would have been really tough.

After a few hours of touring the wall and inspecting the various guard towers and fortifications, we headed down the mountain, through the gauntlet of merchants and back to the bus. We returned to Beijing, and now the work begins. I'm writing a speech in Chinese to present in class, describing my experiences at the Great Wall.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

清明 -- Tomb Sweeping Day

While all of my friends in the Western world are celebrating Easter, Chinese people everywhere are enjoying the traditional 清明 (Qing Ming) festival, which is also called 'Tomb Sweeping Day'. This holiday falls about two weeks after the astronomical start of spring. It gives people time to enjoy the outdoors and the rebirth that spring represents, but there is a more serious side, too. Many people show respect to their ancestors by cleaning their graves, thus the name: Tomb Sweeping Day. Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau have had public holidays for Qing Ming for quite a while, but only recently (2008) has mainland China recognized the festival with a public holiday.

Because of the three-day weekend, I took Easter Sunday to go to
天坛 (Temple of Heaven), a UNESCO world heritage site in the southern part of Beijing. It is a fantastic temple and associated complex of building. The oldest part dates back to the Ming Dynasty and was constructed in 1406-1420! The emperors used to go there during the winter solstice to pray for good harvests. The extended, multi-day ceremony would include fasting and animal sacrifices. (I'm starting to get the picture that animal sacrifice was an important religious rite for previous Chinese generations!)

The exhibits at the Temple of Heaven give information about the buildings and rituals that took place there, and they point out the many important people who have visited the temple in the past. I've attached my picture of another famous picture that was on display there. (See photo.)

At the Temple of Heaven I actually used
汉语 (Chinese language) to ask a local to take my picture. I spoke in complete sentences, and she actually answered! It was good to practice in a real-life situation. Unfortunately, the picture was back lighted, so it didn't come out well enough to post - but I'm considering the encounter to be a moral victory.

In other news, I've been adjusting well to life in China as well as my course at BLCU. I've been a bit overwhelmed with the spoken language, but the longer I'm here, the more I'm starting to understand. I'm meeting my Chinese tutor for the first time this afternoon, and I'm hoping that she'll help me understand more of what people are saying.

The shock of the first week kept me on campus studying, but I hope to get out more - and blog more - as I get my classes under control. Until my next update: