Off the tourist track – The Tang Dynasty Tombs

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.

The Spirit Way
The Spirit Way

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

The Red Lantern Ride – Xi’an City Wall

P1100260A 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”.


Plenty of room to ride
Plenty of room to 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

Emperor Qin Shi Huang and his Teracotta Army

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).

Awe Inspiring
Awe Inspiring

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.

P1100001The 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

A taste of life in a Beijing Hutong

P1090403We’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.


P1090122They 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.

P1090935Karen 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.

P1090702Karin 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

Sliding down the Great Wall of China

Entrance to tomb of Emperor Zhu Yijun (1563 – 1620)

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.

Tomb headstone

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 just had to visit the Pandas

P1090729 (2)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.


P1090746 (2)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.

P1090757 (2)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.



P1090756 (2)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.

 Here are a few random facts I have now discovered about Pandas. Continue reading

The Artist – Meeting Mr Zhou

For some time now I have admired a stunning, and rather large piece of Chinese art that hangs above the dining table in Karin and Wei’s Melbourne home. They affectionately refer to it as “My Concubine”, but I now know it by the artist’s name “China Auspicious No. 2”. I think I prefer “My Concubine”.

She is gorgeous don’t you think?


In Beijing we were privileged to meet the artist, Mr Zhou Yingchao, at his private studio in one of the City’s outer North Eastern suburbs. Wei and Karin have built a personal friendship with Mr Zhou, and he was Continue reading

A water town and a garden city

If you happen to be in the vicinity of Shanghai, a  “water town” and/or a “garden city” should be added to your itinerary. We heeded the advice and included both in ours.

P1090546 (2)Xitang is a “water town”, about 85km west of Shanghai, or for us, a 2hr bus ride. If you are a Tom Cruise fan, you will recognise the name because Mission Impossible III was shot here. It’s a quaint town, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the big Chinese cities of Shanghai and Beijing. There are narrow cobbled streets, arched bridges and old rustic buildings, complemented by Continue reading

Two days in Shanghai

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We took the high speed train from Beijing to Shanghai, travelling at up to 307 kms an hour, a five hour fast ride from heritage sites to a futuristic looking city.



The Bund, along the Huangpu River, looks old to me but by Chinese standards it’s quite a modern addition, as the 52 Western modern and classical style buildings were built in the 20th century.  The Bund formerly housed banks and trading houses from across the world.  When you look at this area you could be in any European city and its disorientating because you know you’re in Shanghai.

The Bund

If you turn your back on the Bund the modern city of Shanghai is laid out before you and looks like a city of the future with its space age Oriental Pearl TV and Radio Tower and light displays on skyscrapers, only the flying cars are missing.

Futuristic Shanghai skyline
Futuristic Shanghai skyline
The market outside the hotel door
The market outside the hotel door

The mall we wandered down could have been any big city in the world with its plethora of expensive international brands and hip and trendy young people. Shanghai is an interesting mix of old China, with a street market outside the hotel door, the quaint French Concession and the modern, almost culturally unidentifiable areas such as Xin Tian Di Street.

P1090506We spent an afternoon exploring the delightful Continue reading

Celebrating Contraception on Mother’s Day

It’s Mother’s Day in Australia today and I have just finished reading The Birth of the Pill by Jonathan Eig. It made me realise how this contraceptive profoundly changed the experience of motherhood for me and for many women across the world. The book is truly fascinating and reads like a thriller.  Here’s the blurb from the cover:

the-birth-of-the-pill-1In the winter of 1950 Margaret Sanger, then seventy-one, and who had campaigned for women’s rights to control their own fertility for five decades, arrived at a Park Avenue apartment building. She had come to meet a visionary scientist with a dubious reputation, more than twenty years her junior. His name was Gregory Pincus. Continue reading