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.

1 comment:

  1. Adele, this is simply incredible. I loved those photos and I learned so much from your blog, I am so thankful. I was here in my office and for a second I logged into your blog and you took me to more that 600 years ago. What a blessing!!