Saturday, April 25, 2009

Random photos from the past 2 weeks

It's way late. And I'm wiped. But I want to get some photos up so you can see more about the fascinating world I visited the past 2 weeks to learn more about the culture of China.

A relatively new phenomenon in China is local tourism. Wherever we went, no matter what day of the week or what time, there were tour groups. And many of them! The vast majority were from other parts of China. This particular group, if I remember correctly, was from Anhui. Notice their different style of dress!

At the Temple of Heaven. This is where the Emperor would come every year to worship the God of whom you could make no idols. The rituals for worship are VERY similar to Old Testament practices, another reason to believe that the Chinese had known about God for thousands of years.

I had a blast hanging out mostly with these couples (from San Diego and Vancouver). Also had fun getting to know the rest of our group of 27!

The ornate decorations at the temples amaze me. The primary colors at the Temple of Heaven was blue and green (representing heaven and earth) rather than the red and yellow at the Forbidden City (representing the Emperor).

It was amazing watching how people would come and meditate at this one spot in order to get "good chi" (or energy). This is a very Taoist practice ...

... and this is where they were trying to get their energy from - a tree!

These were twins we saw on the grounds. In a country with a 1-child policy, twins are considered an amazing blessing (and you can keep both without paying the US$18,000 fine for a second child).

There were many groups of people gathered all around the Temple of Heaven grounds, playing cards, dancing, making music. This old man simply sat and watched his friends play. I wonder what stories he has to tell...

On our last afternoon in Beijing, we were taken downtown, where 3 of the guys from class (Darrell, Mark and John) decided to go for it and be shot up in the air in a giant slingshot!

On the train to Xi'an. It was an overnight train. I hung out with my buddies (Rob, Terri, Laura and Scott) for a while. We had good wine and a wonderful time visiting!

This is a classic shot of a kid wearing kai dang kudze, Chinese-style baby pants which make it easy to train the kid to go...

In the suburbs of Xi'an, I saw this kid in a traditional stroller. Since I am now entering the world of baby strollers and such (with my new PR job), it's fun to notice old strollers!

A handful of the Terra Cotta Soldiers. I don't have the energy right now to explain the story behind them. Read it here.

Each one looks different since they were modeled after real soldiers!

There are thousands more to be excavated, but they've stopped the process for now.

Kiptoo decided to practice his leadership skills and order a few of my miniature soldiers around.


There were many amusing road signs, like this one: "Do not drive online." OK. I'll only chat online. Or post photos online. Or search for information online. (We know it's good not to drive on the line, yes.)

We visited the Nestorian Pagoda, which is a pagoda built in 600-some A.D. when the Nestorians came to bring the Gospel to China! It's now used as a Buddhist pagoda.

No, I wasn't "squatting" in the winter wheat field. Just having fun taking photos!

At the market in the Muslim Quarters of Xi'an. Lamb feet, anyone?

We hiked on the 600-some-year-old Xi'an city wall!

While some classmates chose to bike the wall. (Here's Mark, Rick, Paco and Darrell.)

On our last day in Shanghai, we visited a migrant school. Walking to the school, I saw these kids. Then, afterwards, I noticed the 5th kid in the back...

At the migrant school, a little one is practicing calligraphy.

At the school. It was one of the most fun places to visit!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

On walking where the emperors walked . . . and trying my hand at calligraphy

Still need to do my homework, hence a quick overview again. After a lecture this morning, we went to visit the Forbidden City. (I'll explain more at a later stage how our experiential learning works in case you're thinking I'm really on vacation!)

Our bus dropped us off near the Eastern Gate to the place, and as we walked along the mote, I saw this guy with a funny mound of something in front of him. He's from Urumuchi, which is in Northwestern China. It was obviously some kind of snack from that region, and he sold it per gram. We got him to cut us a chunk and snacked on it for much of the day. More about it later...

Our group inside the Forbidden City. I honestly don't like doing sightseeing in groups like this, so five of us got permission to step away from the group and explore by ourselves. But in the process, two got called back, so in the end, one couple and I explored the place on our own, and had a BLAST!

Scott and Laura, with whom I spent my afternoon exploring the Forbidden City.

The intricate architecture. It was built from 1406-1420, so it's pretty impressive!

Different buildings have different little figures for protection ... The more the figures, the more important the building. This particular roof is to the emperor's throne room, hence the most number of figurines: 11 small ones, followed by the dragon (symbolizing the emperor.) The front one is the empress on a phoenix's back, then there's a whole line that include a horse, phoenix, lion, seahorse and more.

One of the throne rooms. Can't look it up right now to make sure which one this is, but if I remember correctly, it's the one where the emperor would inspect materials prior to his annual prayer to Shang Di, the God of the universe.

Dragons play an important role in Chinese culture. Read more here. It looks like Kiptoo is telling Jeruto, "Don't look now, honey, but there's a dragon behind us!"

One of the many passages to many more buildings. The staff all stayed on the grounds. The emperors had several wives (or one wife and many concubines), and to thus maintain control and to be "the only man" in the compound, all male servants were made into eunuchs.

I saw this old man with a face that begged to be photographed... I asked him permission to take his photo, and he obliged. After taking the photo, I told him how handsome he is ...

... which caused him to break out a smile. :)

The trees are starting to blossom. Beautiful, aren't they?

While Jeruto was off smelling the flowers, Kiptoo explored more of the architecture.

After walking around for 3 hours, we were dropped off at Houhai, an area that my friends and I had explored the day before the others arrived. By then, we were ready to just sit down, have some coffee, talk, and break out the Urumuqi snacks! The main ingredients seem to be sesame seeds and honey. But there are also dates, dried apricots, almonds and raisins in it. Yummy!

Then we walked around some more. Laura (I had walked around with her and her husband all afternoon) loves to do fun things, like she'd go and pose with groups of people all day. (Which they loved!) While walking around the waterfront, she started playing a Chinese version of hacky sack with some waiters. We all ended up joining in and having a blast! Heading back to the main road to catch a cab, we walked past these rows of bicycle rickshaws that take tourists on tours of the hutongs.

But before we could head home, someone wanted to buy a kite from a vendor, so we walked back to the waterfront. An old man was there, doing water calligraphy on the sidewalk. Laura, of course, joined in. And next, the old man invited me to write. Laura had written in English, but when I stepped up and took the brush, the crowd said I should write "China," which I really can't! The first character is simple! I got that right. The second one is more complex. I can read it, but cannot write it! So I started it and then improvised... The crowd burst out laughing, as did I! I love this photo for how it captures the fun of the moment!

We hopped in 2 cabs and headed back to our hotel, from where we went to a nearby restaurant. The food was delicious, and the company delightful. (We didn't care too much for the skewered shrimps, though, so Kiptoo and Jeruto finished them off for us.) Yenenish, my Ethiopian roommate, is in the background.

Yet another fun day of learning, laughter, and contemplation.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Wall

I'm wiped. Had a full and wonderful day. Still need to do writing tonight and prep for tomorrow, so a very quick update.

Went to the Great Wall today. Had a blast. My friends and I laughed, sang, goofed around, had serious conversations, were polite, learned lots, got sunburned . . . all on the Great Wall.

Then went to a place in the city to visit friends, and after that, had Peking Duck at a famous restaurant. Laughed more. Tried new things. Learned. Thought. Wondered. And got back on the bus for the last stop of the day: The Bird's Nest and the Water Cube, sites from the 2008 Olympics.

Kiptoo and Jeruto went along.

Here are some photos.

"Watch that you don't fall, Jeruto. It's steep!"

It wasn't a holiday, nor a weekend. Yet the wall was packed with tourists - mostly locals!
Yip, there's a Starbucks at the Great Wall!

Scott and Laura, classmates, with the Birds Nest and Water cube behind them
Me, at the Birds Nest.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sightseeing with Friends

The rest of our group was to arrive throughout today, so the three of us who were here first decided to head out and explore today...

First stop: The Lama Temple. This is a Buddhist temple in the same tradition as the Tibetan Buddhism. Here you see people praying. There were several temples with different sized Buddhas, from small to large. At each, people were praying and were required to leave at least 3 sticks of incense in reverence of the Buddhas in the particular hall.

One of the doors at the Lama Temple

Worshipers - the focus in this photo, though, is the kid in the back. You see this style of baby/toddler pants everywhere. It's called "kai dang kudze," or open poop pants... When the kid has to go, you simply let them squat and voila, it's all taken care of. No poopy diapers to get rid of!

Terry and Rob are from Vancouver. I know Rob from our previous class in Seattle.

One of the doorways at the Lama Temple

This is the biggest Buddha in the world made of a single piece of sandalwood

Pretty doors

Sour milk is a popular drink. It's served in pottery goblets

Old men are seen along the major streets playing Chinese checkers and dominoes

The Forbidden City. We climbed to a high hill at a park to the north of the Forbidden City to take this photo. After this, we hopped in a cab and drove to Silk Street so Rob & Terry could shop. But not before we sat down for a while and had some good coffee.

After shopping we went to Tiananmen Square to watch the flag lowering ceremony. The entrance to the Forbidden City is on the other side of the road.

Justus has been a great sport! He's from Zimbabwe. Rob and I both know him from Seattle.

There was a huge crowd to watch the flag lowering ceremony. It was super crowded and just didn't feel very safe. Too easy to be pickpocketed in a crowd like this. I loved the little kid on her dad's shoulders, waving her own little flag!

The soldiers who came as a part of the flag ceremony. Actually, after waiting for an hour in the sun and the crowd, we stepped back from it all and just watched the flag lowering from a distance!

Before going to dinner, we made a bathroom stop. I found this sign pretty funny. Asian toilets are usually squatty potties, so when there's a Western-style toilet, there are often signs asking people not to squat on the toilet. Whoever wrote this sign must've looked up the word for "step on" and found "trample" as one of the options, but in the sign writing process it changed to "trampie."

So remember, please don't trampie the toilet.

I'm off to bed. We walked for a good 11 hours today!

Tomorrow, the whole group is heading to the Great Wall at Badaling.