Saturday, June 29, 2013

China Miscellany

Some interesting signs, buildings, and food we found during our time in China.

A kung fu theater in Beijing

On a gas cap while walking around Beijing

Smallest bag of M&Ms - had 9 M&Ms in it.

Zeroes for O's?

You can't do anything here. Especially play the trumpet.

The garden at a hotel in Huangshan

Very small, but "Congratulations...."!

Huh, they call it a Chinese restaurant in China too.

Must keep eye on views....

On the stairs...

Lingering is a little girl jumproping?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Terra Cotta Warriors

The picture that got us to Xi'an, China was of the terra cotta warriors. I find it fascinating that an area so large could be uncovered a mere 40 years ago. Marked as the most significant archaeological find of the 20th Century, the work to uncover the warriors and horses is still happening. In 246 B.C., the Emperor, then only thirteen years old, began work on his mausoleum. He wanted to be guarded in the afterlife and so he created clay figurines of warriors and horses for protection.

We had a chance to meet the man who discovered the underground area. He was digging for a well at the time and now leads a very comfortable life. He didn't speak any English, but through our translator we were able to speak to him. He was very proud of meeting President Clinton.

The warriors were set up in battle formations with officers in various areas. Each warrior has distinctive features. That's right, over 7,000 different faces. Each originally  held a spear or weapon that was removed by a later Emperor who wanted to make sure the army was weaponless.

Bits and pieces
One sad discovery was that the ink used to paint the magnificent clay warriors reacts with air so much of the coloring has been lost over the years. Archaeologists are trying to find a way to preserve the beautiful color while unearthing the figures.
Just a bit of red remaining...
For now the area is still a functioning dig site with a huge air hanger over it. To see the full-sized warriors and horses was amazing and knowing that this treasure was underground for over 2000 years just magnified it.

After our terra cotta warriors it was time to go back to the airport for our return flight to Beijing. We said goodbye to our wonderful guide and got on the fifth plane in five days.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Xi'an City Wall

After our brief stop in the Muslim Quarter we went to the Xi'an city wall. Originally built around 800 A.D. the wall has since grown and been added to over time with the last expansion completed in 1781. The wall stands about 40 feet high and is 40-45 feet wide at the top. The length runs about 8.5 miles and makes it one of the largest military defense systems in the world.

The most penetrable area of a wall is the gate, so only four gates were established. Each was built with two large guard towers with a large open square between them. If attackers made it through the outer gate, they would become trapped between the guard towers in the courtyard.

Originally the wall was built using rice gluten and dirt. During a restoration in the 1500's bricks were added to fortify the wall. Each brick was stamped with the creator's name. Any bricks that failed inspection would mean punishment up to death of the brick maker.

What is the best way to see the entire city wall? By bicycle! We rented bicycles and spent an hour meandering around the wall. It was a nice day and there weren't too many people.

A bumpy ride

The inside of the city wall is filled with smaller, older buildings. The outside has grown and includes many skyscrapers. The juxtaposition of the two areas was starting when on top of the wall.

There are many exhibits along the way to stop and read more about the wall and its history. It was a great ride, albeit very bumpy.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Muslim Quarter

The next morning we woke up to clear skies and began our quick one-day tour of Xi'an. First stop was the Muslim Quarter. This area was set aside by the Chinese government and is home to over 20,000 Muslims. The history of the Muslim population and the Chinese government hasn't been all sunshine and roses. Now the street is open to the public for tourism and has become quite popular because of the interesting (and tasty) foods. We arrived early in the morning so we weren't in the mood for snacks, but we enjoyed walking one of the main streets and watching the day being.
Hand-painting with a tiny paint brush.
Persimmon Fruit Pies

Making salted walnuts
One of the biggest treats in this area is crumbled unleavened bread in mutton stew. We saw many pots being warmed with some interesting ingredients, but weren't hungry enough to try them.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Food in Xi'an

Our first night in Xi'an was a bit of a whirlwind. We arrived in the evening and immediately checked into our hotel. Our guide recommended dinner at a restaurant a few blocks from our hotel. Her first question was, "Do you like spicy food?"

Why, yes, yes we do. So she ordered this:

Whoa! A plate of all different types of peppers with a few beef strips. It was super spicy, but very delicious.

After dinner we walked around a bit in Xi'an. The city was very clean and reminded me of Japan. Pedestrians wait at crosswalks, cars stay in their respective lanes, roads are lined with flowers and bushes - all things that were missing in Beijing. While exploring we crossed an open block that a few hours before had been empty. Now it was filled with food carts providing a quick meal. Many carts set out small (and I mean kid-sized) chairs so you could sit to eat ramen or rice bowls.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


After hiking all through the mountains and enjoying the park, we were ready for showers and food. Dustin and I did not really enjoy the food in this part of the country. I felt it was greasy and had less flavor than food I had previously enjoyed. I did accidentally have frog....all those tiny bones. Blech.

We had an interesting night on the mountain (ahem, huge spider next to my face upon waking). We stayed in a room on the "new" side of the hotel. It had high quality products, but the craftsmanship was very poor. For example, beautiful yet bubbly tile with large gaps or heavy door but unaligned to the door frame. The mattress was very uncomfortable and roughly half an inch thick. Seriously, not exaggerating at all.

The next morning we got up before sunrise to catch the clouds below us. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate so we only saw gloom. After a greasy breakfast we hiked to the cable car for the return trip. Our driver met us and transported us to Hongcun.

Students painting the picturesque village

Hongcun is a village in the shape of an ox that was (surprise!) built with Feng Shui in mind. The area contains some of the most well-preserved architecture and carvings dating back to the Ming Dynasty (600 years ago for those paying attention).

The area was used for filming in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. We haven't seen the film in a long time, but this bridge is quite famous because of it. We spent a few hours wandering the alleys and meeting people along the way. Some people would let us into their homes to see beautiful carvings or family heirlooms.

Meat anyone?

Beautiful area

Drying seeds for next year

All the buildings are connected by a shared stream of water. Also, each building has an open ceiling to catch rain water. Rain would collect in reservoirs underneath and be used for drinking, bathing, cooking, etc.

At the center of the village is a large pond or the "stomach" of the ox.

In many of the homes we noticed split tables. They designed to be separated when the husband was away. The women and children would eat at only half a table. When the husband returned, the tables would be combined and the family would come together to eat. As a military spouse I was intrigued. We have our own ways of creating traditions when our spouse is deployed or away. This was the Chinese version over 600 years ago.

As we exited Hongcun a huge rain shower erupted. Luckily we were done for the day so we hopped into our vehicle and headed towards the airport. We said goodbye to Libby and flew to our third city on our itinerary, Xian.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bridge of the Immortals

So the picture that brought us to the Huangshan Mountains was of the Bridge of the Immortals. This area of the park is more secluded and we would spend hours hiking without running into anyone.

Getting closer!

We made it! This is an amazing bridge strung between two jagged granite peaks with more than 1000 meters of air beneath. It was a bit unnerving. If we looked down too long we got a bit dizzy.

From the lookout point at the Bridge of Immortals we found a rock hut built by monks that lived in the area. It is a small shrine/praying area for the former residents of the mountains.