We are in Xining because that’s where we will catch the train to Lhasa, Tibet. It’s certainly not the most attractive city that I’ve been in. It’s surrounded by barren rock like hills, with a population of 2 million living in the multitude of ever increasing high rise apartment blocks which stand like sentinels across the skyline. The air is heavy with smog and dust. I have read that Xining has been dubbed the “summer resort capital of China” due to its cool summer, but somehow can’t see the attraction.
So, after picking up our train tickets to Lhasa from the station, and feeling uninspired to visit tombs or temples I pointed to the largest green space on the Chinese language map and said “let’s go there”. We flagged down the taxi, pointed to the map and were delivered to the Peoples Park.
Somehow the air was clearer there and we spent an enjoyable couple of hours wandering through this community park. As we ate our ice creams we watched Continue reading →
China’s history and culture is amazing, and it seems every Chinese person has a great depth of knowledge about their country’s past, so it was wonderful to have cousin Wei as our personal guide through some of China’s best sites. Coming from the West, I had previously only paid attention to the much publicised Chinese icons such as the Great Wall, the Giant Panda’s and the Terracotta Warriors. But after our visit, I am in awe of the vast array of heritage sites far beyond those we typically associate with China.
As a key historical region, Shaanxi rates at the top. “It was here were it all started for China. As the heartland of Continue reading →
A wonderful delight in Xi’an was cycling around the old city wall. In fact we liked it so much that after completing our morning ride with Karin and Wei we returned the following day to do a sunset ride. Steve aptly named the circuit the “Red Lantern Ride”.
Xi’an is one of the few cities in China where the complete city wall is still standing and that’s pretty amazing because it was built in 1370 during the Ming Dynasty. This is a huge structure, the walls are 12 metres tall, 12-14 metres wide at the top and 15-18 metres thick at the bottom. The walls form a rectangle with a perimeter of 13.7 km.
Initially the wall was built with earth, quick lime and glutinous rice extract. This made it Continue reading →
It’s been described as the greatest find of the 20th Century, and touted as the eighth Wonder of the World. I was only 15 in 1974, and it was in that same year when a group of peasant farmers in the Lintong District, Xi’an, digging a well, discovered the Terracotta Warriors (Terracotta Army).
We have all seen pictures of them, but the enormity of this discovery only becomes evident when you visit the site. Awe-inspiring, Gobsmacking, Amazing, and Incredible, are all words that immediately come to mind when you first see the Army lined up in formation in their pits, but these words don’t come close to describing the sensation you have at first sight. It was much more.
The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The sculptures were buried with the Emperor in 210-209 BC, and their purpose was to protect the Emperor in his afterlife. Estimates from 2007 suggest that Continue reading →
We’ve been staying with Karin and Wei in Beijing. Karin is Steven’s cousin, so that makes us all cousins. Lovely.
Wei was born in Beijing and left when he was 15 years old. He, and Karin, returned l last year.
They elected to live in the inner city so it’s been a privilege to have a taste of their life in a hutong. Hutongs, the heart and soul of Beijing, are alleys formed by lines of traditional courtyard residences. Neighbourhoods were formed by joining one residence to another to form a hutong, and then joining one hutong to another. Hutong also refers to the neighbourhoods of alleys. Many hutongs have been demolished to make way for new housing, others have fallen into disrepair and are low cost accommodation while others have become protected historical areas.
Karen and Wei’s home in the hutong, is one of the few in the alley that has been renovated, with the rooms wrapping around a small courtyard, a remnant of a much larger courtyard from times long ago. Wei calls his serene courtyard a ”chaoasis”. An oasis from the chaos that is sometimes life in Beijing. Sitting in the sanctuary of their courtyard it is impossible to believe that there is a city of 27 million people just outside its walls.
Karin is an amazing cook with a passion for Chinese cuisine. We have been treated to a dazzling array of treats from across the country, all created in her tiny kitchen. Her banquets start northern style, with a selection of cold dishes such as marinated cucumber, jellyfish with chilli, lotus root salad, shredded bean curd, three flavoured salad and woodear mushroom salad. She follows this with an array of hot dishes such as steamed eggplant with cumin, asparagus in chicken broth, duck and winter melon soup, tree bark with egg, pork cooked in red fermented beans, chicken with peanuts, sticky rice in lotus leaves and garlic steamed prawns. The dishes have exotic names such as La pi, Gong Bao and Su Dong Po but I have been at a loss to remember them and put them with the correct dishes. I have learnt that Continue reading →
We booked a tour, which consisted of us, an English speaking local guide and a driver, for a day out at the Great Wall of China and the Ming Tombs. The day started with a stop at the jade shop. We could have opted out of this part of the tour for a cost of $20 extra each. That’s right, you pay more if you don’t want to attend the mandatory shopping. So we obediently looked around the jade shop, admired the art work and left without spending a yuan, then headed on to the Ming Tombs.
I was surprised at how quickly we left Beijing behind and started driving along country roads and by farmlands. We visited a tomb where Ming Dynasty Emperor Zhu Yijun (1563 – 1620) was buried. The construction of the tomb started when he was 22 years old. It’s a strange concept to me preparing for your death at such an early age. I wonder what impact it has on the way you live your life? The Ming tombs are not small mausoleums, they were built as hidden palaces, replicating that which the Emperor lived in but on a slightly smaller scale. While the tomb we visited was not elaborate, as the relics have been removed, it’s fascinating that Continue reading →
We could not be in China without visiting the Giant Pandas so took ourselves off to the Beijing Zoo. Pandas sleep about 16 hours a day so we timed our visit for the morning when we heard they were most likely to be active.
The first Panda we saw was sitting up munching on a feast of bamboo leaves. He looked like he was at a resort, lounging against a rock and enjoying himself. When he finished eating he walked over to a platform for a snooze and had a cute wiggle as he walked. Pandas are pigeon toed so I guess that accounts for their unusual gait.
We wandered past a few other panda enclosures but they were chilling out and mostly sleeping. Then we were lucky enough to watch two 18 month old male panda twins playing together.
They bear hugged each other, chased each other, nipped at each other, rolled through the dirt together, climbed up a platform and slid off it. We stood there mesmerised for about 20 minutes until they exhausted themselves and lay down for a nap.