Wednesday, March 20, 2013

China Trip: Hangzhou

After Shanghai we headed out to what turned out to be the city with my favorite sight, Hangzhou. This time we rode our tour bus (no plane), and on the way back to Shanghai, we stopped at Suzhou. But first, Hangzhou.

Pagoda One at West Lake
We visited West Lake, where we rode a boat, saw the three pagodas in the lake, and then headed to the close-by, Lingyin Temple. I loved Lingyin Temple. Many, many Buddha (in various stages of his life) are carved into the hillsides, and the temple itself, seems to go one forever. I am not sure how big it is because we were limited on time, but it was the most amazing sight. Yes, even more amazing than the Great Wall.

I think what I liked about the temple so much was how old it is. This Buddhist monastery was built during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 - 420 A.D.).

It is customary to light incense here, and then you bow four times. I think this was for good luck...

Dragon carving on the incense holder
Even the railings along the stairs were carved beautifully.

We also visited the Lihue Pagoda and a tea farm.

Lihue Pagoda
From afar, the hillsides of the tea farm reminded me of wine country in Napa. We saw workers picking tea leaves, drying them, and enjoyed some green tea.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

China Trip: Shanghai

Shanghai. We zipped through this city. It was the most Western of all the cities in China that we visited. From the architecture to the slightly more comfortable beds to the city as a whole, this felt the most comfortable because it reminded me of the U.S. Of course there were still many, many people out and about.

Our first stop was the Shanghai Museum. I especially enjoyed looking at the jade pieces, as well as other artifacts like the ceramic pillows the Chinese once used. Something that was quite amusing considering how hard the beds were in some of the hotels.

Shanghai Museum

A ceramic pillow

We also shopped along Nanjing Road, which is the main shopping street in Shanghai. It was incredibly crowded. This may it hard to get a real good look at the architecture, which was more European.

Nanjing Road
Our shopping expedition also lead us to Yuyuan Garden. This is probably the area where we had the most free time from "touring." We actually walked around on our own and bargained for souvenirs. I took a picture of the building below because it is a restaurant with Western style toilets, which are located on the second floor. It seems silly, I know, but after awhile in China, you really want Western style toilets.

A restaurant in the Yuyuan Gardens
A sight that should not be missed in Shanghai is the Bund at night. The Bund is Shanghai's famous waterfront. Located on the west bank of the Huangpu River, this is where you will find buildings of different architectural structure that are decidedly European. Across the river, you see the Pudong Area, which you probably recognize from movies.

A building along the Bund

Pudong Area from the Bund
My final picture is of more construction, this time in Shanghai. Most of the construction projects look like this one, it's just that I was actually standing still and not in a moving tour bus when I took this picture.

Friday, March 15, 2013

China Trip: Xi'an

After two full days in Beijing, we made a quick stop at the Bird's Nest, and then boarded a plane for Xi'an. We were going to see the Terracotta Warriors - something I have wanted to see in person ever since my Chinese history classes with Dr. Marks at Whittier College.

Xi'an was not nearly as crazy as Beijing. The tour bus ride was not nearly as frightening, but I was still glad we had a local driver and guide. As with Beijing, there were always a ton of Chinese tourists, touring their own country. This still fascinates me, because I don't think Americans tour the US the way the Chinese do China.

We started at the Shaanxi History Museum, which displays works of art. There were some Terracotta statues here, which was actually good to see because at the museum you could get up close (something I did not realize or appreciate at the time).

Terracotta Warrior at the Shaanxi Museum in Xi'an.
The smaller statues were amazing - mostly because there would be whole armies of them displayed.

Painted Honor Guards for Prince Quinjian of the Ming Dynasty (Shaanxi Museum).
Xi'an is known for its dumplings, so dinner one night included a variety of dumplings. Each one had a different filling, and was sometimes shaped according to its filling.

Notice the yellow duck? A duck-filled dumpling.
The greatest sight in Xi'an are the Terracotta Warriors. Created for China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, they are a life-sized army, interred in vaults for more than 2,000 years. The warriors are an ongoing archaeological excavation project, and when I went there were three pits open to visitors. Pit 1 is the largest and best for viewing the warriors, while Pits 2 and 3 are much smaller, with much less to see.

I did feel a little let down because you are quite far from the actual warriors, and because the site is so crowded, you have to keep moving and can't really soak it all in the way you might want. However, this is one of those sights you must see in China. The workmanship is incredibly detailed, and there are not just standing soldiers, but kneeling archers, scholars, horses, and more. The history behind it all is worth at least a quick read if you don't have your own Dr. Marks telling you about them in class.

Pit 1

Terracotta horses
Many of the statues were destroyed long ago, so workers today are doing repair work.

Just to give you an idea how large Pit 1 is inside.

The warriors come in all shapes and sizes.
These statues were to the back of Pit 1, and on this particular warrior, you could still see the red paint on his clothing. They were painted at one time. The passage of 2,000-plus years has worn the paint away in most cases.

Pit 2 was very dark and not as exciting.

Much of Pit 3 is not excavated.

It is a long walk from where your tour bus drops you off to the Terracotta pits. However, there is a tram - for a fee. We rode the tram up, but it was not-so-mysteriously unavailable on the way back down. There of course is a shopping to do on the way back to your tour bus.

By the way, our tour guide tried to be the middle man on arranging the tram ride. Doing so would have allowed him to make a little extra cash. M best friend's dad knew what our guide was doing, and so he took care of the arrangements for us. I don't think any of us were offended, it felt like it was just a part of the culture. The important thing is to remember that most everything is negotiable in China, so be aware.

Our final stop in Xi'an was the City Wall. It was built to keep enemies and invaders out.

Xi'an City Wall
Looking back at the city from the wall. This side is lower because it did not need to be defended.

This side of the wall was meant to keep people out, and is higher than the side that faces the city.
Another interesting thing about China was the construction. Everywhere we went there were multiple cranes and highrise structures.

They are constantly building in China!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

China Trip: Beijing

Two years ago, I crossed a country off my bucket list. It was my first foreign adventure in a long, long time, and it took me to the Middle Kingdom, other wise known as China.

I never posted a blog about it because my life also happened to be completely upside down at the time. 2011 was the year I took a giant leap of faith that everything would be okay - I quit a solid job so that I could move back to Southern California, totally job-less. Thankfully, my China trip had been planned and paid for the summer prior, so I was locked in to this vacation. 

Now I find myself two years later, staring down another foreign adventure, and finally ready to blog about my China trip.

I went with my best friend and her family, and we packed in a whirlwind of a trip. We were on the ground for seven days, and we visited five cities. The first was Beijing.

China was amazing. It is crowded, and by crowded, I mean that there are people everywhere, at all times of day. It's like when you go to a football game, the game's over, and everyone's leaving. That's how China is all the time. But it's also so very old. There's just so much history to this country, and I only saw five cities.

Here's the first, Beijing. We visited the Forbidden City, which was the Imperial Palace from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty.

We entered the Forbidden City from the back. It actually really helped to go against the grain.

The usual Forbidden City shot - view from the front, with Mao's portrait hanging.

A female lion at the Forbidden City. You know she is female because she has a baby lion under her left paw.
 Next, we went to the Summer Palace.

A boat at the Summer Palace, made of marble.
 Another stop included the Temple of Heaven.

Temple of Heaven
A trip to China is incomplete without a visit to the Great Wall. It is an amazing sight to behold. From the parking lot, it looks easy to climb. Really, it is steep, with stairs of varying heights. I climbed much higher than I expected I would. It was cold up there, and I started out wearing my two jackets, a hat, and gloves. By the time I stopped climbing, I had to remove my jackets, hat and gloves (see the picture at the top). We saw the Juyonguan part of the Great Wall.

Climbing the Great Wall, and looking down at the second turret and parking lot.
Our China trip was a guided tour. Tours in China include things like rickshaw rides and visits to the homes of local families. My thought was that these visits are meant to show Westerners like us that Chinese families are living good lives...but who knows.

It was a chilly ride, so the rickshaw had blankets for us.
Our last day in Beijing included a stop at the Beijing National Stadium, which most of know as the Bird's Nest, home of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

We did not go in the Bird's Nest, and just made use of the visit as photo opp.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Man Made by Joel Stein

Man Made: A Stupid Quest for MasculinityMan Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity by Joel Stein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

They say expectations are premeditated resentment. I expect funny from Joel Stein. But I don't resent him for writing, Man Made: a Stupid Quest for Masculinity.

He had me from the introduction. And he kept my attention all the way until the end. Basically, Joel freaks out when he finds out that he and his wife are expecting a boy. He has no idea what to do with a boy. Joel doesn't like sports, but he likes musicals...hence the quest for masculinity. The quest takes him on a camping trip with Boys Scouts, sends him to boot camp, puts him in the Octagon, and so, so much more.

I could go on writing my review, trying to be clever like Joel, but what's the point? I'm not Joel Stein. I don't do funny that well. Just read the book. Especially if you enjoy self-deprecating humor. Joel tells his story well, and has no problem sharing embarrassing things about himself. By the way, these declarations are so funny and not masculine that I would totally make fun of him if we were friends.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Book Review

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: A NovelThe Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: A Novel by Deborah Moggach

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After seeing the film, Deborah Moggach's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was not quite the light-hearted read I expected. It could just be where I am in my own life (mid-30s, single, worried about the future), or maybe it is actually one of Moggach's themes that became more apparent as I read the book.

Regardless, I enjoyed this read as much as I enjoyed the movie. It's probably not obvious, but I really liked both (hence, the four Goodreads stars). Although, come to think of it, I am annoyed that the original book title changed from These Foolish Things to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. If it was the author's original choice, then great, if it was changed to sell more books after the movie came out, well...

But I digress. And, I forgot to mention - spoiler alert.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an easy read, and one that I recommend. The central theme focused on relationships - the relationships that older people have with each other, their adult children, and young people. A group of British senior citizens make their way to India to live out their so-called golden years in a hotel-turned-retirement community known as the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

The story moves from person to person, and you read about each of their struggles. The multiple story lines and character perspectives flowed well. The hard part was reading all the things I personally fear about growing old. From being alone (whether it be because my spouse dies or I never marry) to still floundering for happiness to being married to someone fro 48 years, only to realize with glaring clarity that you just don't like the person.

Yet, I enjoyed it. Enjoyed it to the point that I actually want to go to India now. A huge mind shift for my first-world-clinging-self.

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