Saturday, December 29, 2007

Xi'an - Second Day

XI’AN – Day Two

Terracotta Soldiers – At Last!

The next morning was bright and cold. We got an early start because we had to be at the airport at 4:00 for our 6:00-something flight to Beijing. I bundled up to the hilt, boarded the van and headed out. The first stop of the day was the official reproduction factory for the Terracotta Warriors and Soldiers. The government controls the factory but there are small enterprises that try to mimic the process and then sell their wares for lower prices that the authentic ones. Or so we were told. We drove quite a way to reach the area we were going to visit and then wound our way through tiny old streets past old time houses and other buildings. Finally we came to the factory, which looked from the outside like a newer version of the older buildings nearby. There was a gateway leading into a hard packed earth courtyard. We were so early that we arrived before it opened but our driver got out and knocked on the door to rouse them. It worked and we were invited to come inside. Meanwhile, we were enjoying the sight of w sets of three each life-sized terracotta warrior. The middle one in each set was headless and backless so visitors could go behind them, stand on a platform, and be photographed as a terracotta warrior.

We asked Mei and Ma (the driver) to pose and they did.

Mei and Ma, terracotta warriors 0257

Buveh, terracotta warrior 0259

“You are very strong!” Buveh to terracotta soldier 0261

After the photo op, we went into the factory and a guide explained the process by which the reproductions are made, which is the same way the originals were produced. Molds are used and the very soft, chocolate-brown clay is pressed against the carved out portions of the mold in two pieces, front and back. Then the two parts are fitted together and fired. After firing, the bodies are placed upright with props holding them.

Bodies after first firing; note closed mold on the left 0265

Close-up of soldier’s uniform; nicely ornamented 0266

Half-size versions sit on a drying rack 0267

Guide showing us how the clay is pressed against the mold 0271

Table full of small, smaller and smallest versions; grey one has been completely fired 0272

Close-up of fired replica 0275

Many bodies awaiting their other parts 0273

After viewing the process, we were guided through the shop and into another area where lacquered items are made. They gave a tour of this process, too, but I wasn’t interested and wandered around, taking photos. I just wanted to get to the site of the Terracotta Soldiers. Later I had to delete unnecessary photos when my camera memory ran out and those were among the ones that got the axe.

From there we drove to the expansive grounds where the Terracotta Soldiers were discovered and where the repaired ones now stand in formation in a huge open museum. We had to walk at least ten minutes to get to the place where the buildings were and we had to go through three traditional museums before we were – finally – led to the “terracottas.” No photographs were allowed in the museums but we learned the history of the area and of the emperor whose tomb the warriors guard and about how they were discovered and how the excavation and repair of them are being done. It was very interesting, but I wanted to get to where the terracottas were!

Finally Mei led us from the last museum building out onto the grounds and across to The Museum, Pit 1 area! When we entered I held my breath, waiting to find out if what I’d see would live up to my expectations. It did! The room was vast and yet row upon row of repaired Terracotta Soldiers stood in rank and file along trenches excavated from the earth.

First sight of Terracotta Warriors and Horses 0286

Closer-up of soldiers and three horses 0287

Another view showing how many trenches of them there are 0288

Buveh and Terracotta Soldiers and Horses 0289

Sign explaining the fate of the weapons these particular warriors had held 0290

Buveh and soldiers, again 0291

Mei led us around to the right to travel along the long side of the building and then we could see what had been hidden from our previous vantage point: three long rows of warriors lined up facing the entrance to the (I believe) next pit.

Three long rows of soldiers 0293

View from the right 0294

“Sleeping” soldiers; this is the way all of them had been found – collapsed from weight and time 0296

More sleeping soldiers 0297

Covered areas where more soldiers are being excavated 0298

Buveh and the far set of Terracotta Soldiers 0299

Close-up of them 0301

In a pit at their feet were more, lined up facing the direction of the emperor’s tomb. Obviously, some are awaiting their heads and weapons 0303

Horses and soldiers around a corner from those above 0304

The wide view 0305

After seeing those magnificent statues, my mind was caught up in their grandeur so although we stopped at several of the gift shops in the various museums, I didn’t buy anything, even postcards! N&N made purchases, however. I already had my treasures – memories and photos. I’d wanted to see the Terracotta Soldiers ever since I first learned about them in a book about the Silk Road way back in the mid-1980’s. Something I didn’t realize, however, is that the Silk Road started from Xi’an!!! Of course, I’ve already been to several Silk Road cities, in Uzbekistan: Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bokhara. Now I’ve been to the starting point!

Our next stop was lunch, which was not as good as yesterday’s. Then we took off for the Tomb of Emperor Shihuang'.

After we dragged ourselves away from the soldiers, our next stop was the Tomb of Emperor Shihuang. The grounds were lovely although because of the smog we couldn’t really see to the top of the manmade mountain that was at the back of the site. On the lower level was a memorial monument with elaborately decorated tables topped by lovely potted plants. Traditional structures behind had pictures of events in the life of the emperor.

Some of the photos turned out well.

Landscaping 0306

Stairs led to the next level and eventually all the way to the top of the mountain 0308

Mei was ready to take us to see the murals and then take the stairs to the top of the mountain but we were frozen by then and we still had one more site to visit before going to be at the airport to catch our flight, so we opted to leave. As we made our way to the entrance, we saw reenactors dressed in military uniforms of Emperor Shihuang' s time standing guard with vicious-looking weapons. I paused long enough to take a picture of them and a view of the emperor’s mountain, where his tomb is located, as we made our way to the road and crossed it at great risk to life and limb to reach the van which had parked over there.

Huaquing Pool and Hot Springs

Our next stop had been a place of resort and rest for one of the ancient emperors, who built it especially for his favorite concubine, Lady Li. It had vast grounds and fantastic architecture and landscaping. When we arrived, Mei led us first to the original pool, which had been a hot spring until entrepreneurship set in after the emperor had been defeated in an uprising. Numerous hot spring bath houses had sprung up and the hot spring water diverted to feed those baths. Now it’s just a lovely pool with a beautiful building in one corner.

Huaquing Pool 0313

As we stood admiring it and taking photos, Mei told us about its background and then she led us up into the grounds. Of course there were lots of stairs but the landscaping was well worth the climbs involved.

View from one landing 0316

Inside one of the bath houses was one of the pools used by Lady Lin; it no longer has water in it 0317

A view of several buildings on the grounds 0318

Cool-looking tree with pavilion and building in background 0319

Wider view of the grounds with pavilion on right 0320

Close-up of pavilion with stone seating 0321

Interior pool reached by a bridge 0323

Fantastic walkways, round entry, many levels of stairs 0324

My camera memory had run out so I was prevented from taking many more photos. I went back through the ones in the memory and deleted those obviously blurry or unusable and managed to take a few of the Pool area but really wanted to take many more. Two more things we saw here were of interest. One was a larger-than-life-size white statue of Lady Lin. It was X-rated, however, so after a brief glance, I turned my back on it and sat down on a balustrade while Mei talked about the lives of the Emperor and Lady Lin. Then we went down some steps (surprise!) and over to a fountain with several water spouts. There, for a mere fifty-cents, we could wash our hands and faces in genuine water from the same hot springs as the emperor and his lady had once sported in. Surprisingly, while it was definitely warm, it was not hot and felt good to my cold hands and face. As we exited from the fenced area where the fountain was, we were offered the use of a towel – for a price. We each declined and let our hands air dry in the frozen air. Then we went through a room where other (empty) carved out pools were that Lady Lin had used. Around the walls on the upper level were paintings of the story of the two lovebirds, a tale that Mei called a “Chinese Romeo and Juliet story.” Nikki took issue with that phrase because it wasn’t identical or even parallel to Shakespeare’s R&J, but it was actually a kind of equivalent based on Chinese culture in which the practice of having concubines was common and accepted.

We had loaded our suitcases into the van that morning and the airport was between where we were and where we had stayed in Xi’an, so they were going to personally take us to the airport.

We arrived at the airport in a timely manner and had enough time to sit in a coffee shop and rearrange things in our luggage before going out into the spacious, clean and well-lit waiting area. I left N&N guarding my carry-on while I went in search of a new memory card for my camera. Fortunately I found a 1-gig one for a good price and snatched it up. I was relieved to know that I wouldn’t have to delete pictures in my other two memory cards in order to photograph the great sites we would be seeing in Beijing.

When we arrived at the airport in Beijing, we retrieved Nikki’s suitcase from the carrousel and headed outside the terminal to catch a taxi. We had the name and directions to our hotel written in Chinese (retrieved from the hotel’s website) to show the taxi driver and then sat back and enjoyed the ride through the darkening streets of Beijing. We actually stayed in a 2-bedroom “serviced apartment.” It was fabulous, with hard wood floors, modern furniture, walls at angles in proper fung shui style. It had a huge dining/living room area with a big TV, which we didn’t use but could have, and a big, tiled bathroom and a nice kitchen with wonderful appliances, of which we used only the refrigerator. It cost $108 per night; divided by 3 it wasn’t a bad price to pay for such nice accommodations.

Our tour guide for the next day had left a message with the desk for us to call him when we got in, which I did. I also by request called the tour agent I’d emailed extensively in setting up our tours to let him know we had arrived and would be ready to go the next morning.

Nancy, who had slept on the roll-away bed in the Xi’an hotel, got a bedroom to herself while Nikki and I shared the other room, which had two double beds. We had planned to play a game of Quiddler but were so tired we just hit the sack.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Xi'an - Arrival and First Day


Night of Arrival

We arrived at the Xi’an airport “as per scheduled” (TSS insider joke) and made our way to the luggage return area by following the signs. Like the Shanghai Pudong Airport, Xi’an airport was clean, large, modern, well-lighted and had excellent signage in Chinese and English. Because we had booked a private 2-day tour in Xi’an, we were to be met by our tour guide and taken to our hotel. As we walked into the area where the luggage carousels were, we saw the roped-off reception greeting area on the far side of the room. Many people were waiting there and those along the rope were holding signs with names on them. Most of the signs were in Chinese, so we hoped none of those were for us – how would we identify them?

We had been informed that our tour guide was named “angle” so we weren’t sure if that was male or female, which added to the challenge. Most of the sign holders were male, wearing black suits. Finally, near the end of the row, nearest where we would pass after picking up our luggage, we saw a young woman wearing a white coat holding a sign with three names in English. Even before we got close enough to see if those were our names, she was smiling widely and waving enthusiastically. Sure enough, when we got closer we saw that our names were on her sign. Briefly we wondered how she knew we were her tourists and then – Duh! – realized that we were the only Westerners coming off the plane and we were three females. I guess we stood out like sore thumbs.

After we retrieved our luggage and passed by an airport official, we approached our guide, who said her Chinese name was Mei (pronounced “May”) and she preferred to be called that. She shook our hands, introduced our driver, a man named Ma, and started talking very fast, non-stop, as she led the way out of the building and across the parking area to where the tour company’s white van was parked. Ma stowed our luggage and we wearily climbed aboard. It was twilight outside and it had been a long day. Nikki and Nancy got into the first row of seats and I sat in the row behind. As we started out of the airport grounds, Mei was still talking. She tried teaching us to say “Excuse me” in Chinese – why, we were not sure – but it was rather difficult with many syllables and since I was sitting behind N&N, I copped out of that exercise. Eventually, Mei started telling us about the area we were passing through and then general history of Xi’an, which has a long and noble place in Chinese history, having been the capital for three (I think) ancient dynasties over a period of several centuries.

When we neared the central part of Xi’an, the traffic was incredible, wall-to-wall for as far as the eye could see and barely moving. As we slowly passed by buildings, I saw rows of tiny shops that reminded me incredibly of Uzbekistan and when I saw a vendor standing outside a shop tending a shashlik cooker, I was suddenly transported in memory back to my time in Uzbekistan in 1996-1998. I saw “mosquitoes,” tiny three-wheeled trucks with little beds (like pick-up truck beds) darting here and there. Cars were using the sidewalk as an additional lane of traffic although there were five lanes going in each direction. It took forever to drive about two kilometers but I was fascinated with all the parallels with Uzbekistan. The next day, Nancy suggested that the strange dream I’d had that night was a result of that déjà vu experience.

Finally we made several tortuous turns and arrived at the hotel that would be ours for two nights. Mei escorted us inside, where we were surprised to see a large decorated Christmas tree surrounded by potted Poinsettias in the center of the lobby. She helped us check into the hotel, escorted us to the elevator and pointed out the ground-floor restaurant where our included breakfast would be served. The bell hop had our luggage on a cart and went with us up to our room. As we walked down the hallway toward our room, we were startled to see a young woman who looked very much like a prostitute coming out of one of the rooms. She was Chinese, had long, black and very disheveled hair and was wearing a white dress that plunged so low in front that it almost didn’t have a top. The skirt of the dress was extremely short. Other than that, we have nothing specific to base our opinion on. She seemed equally startled to see us. Later, when Nikki looked out of our door to see in the bell hop was returning with our towels, she saw the woman going back into the room.

After he had deposited our bags and acquired a third set of towels for us, we had time to look around the room and were disconcerted and astounded to realize that the wall dividing the sleeping area from the bathroom was of glass! The bathroom consisted of three sections: the washing area with a sink, the toilet area and the huge shower area. A glass wall, partially clear and partially lightly frosted, was between the bed area and the wash area; a similar wall divided the wash area from the toilet – the door which formed part of the wall was clear and the part near the toilet was frosted. I think the wall of the shower area was clear but – fortunately – a thick, opaque shower curtain could be drawn across the entire length of the wall for total privacy while showering. Or not, according to preference. We preferred to close it! I never even thought to take a picture of it so I have no proof of my claims and nothing to include on the blog. I did take a picture out the window, however, and include it here.

View from Window 9799

We settled ourselves and started a game of Quiddler but gave out before long and after finishing only up to eight cards, quit and retired for the night. Nancy slept on the roll-away bed brought in to house our third person. Nikki and I each took one of the nice double beds. Except for the sounds of a party going on somewhere outside, we slept well and awoke anxious to get our tour of China underway.

Day One Tours – Saturday 8 December 2007

The next morning, we got up and dressed very warmly because the weather was going to be colder than in Shanghai – which was too cold for me – and went down to the main floor to have breakfast, which was served buffet style. Our choice of utensils was chopsticks but we had come prepared – each of us had temporarily borrowed a fork from the TSS dining room, just in case. We bravely took chopsticks but after we’d selected our food, ended up using the fork for most of it. I don’t remember a lot about what I ate but remember that there was a very green leafy vegetable that was delicious but tricky with chopsticks. I enjoyed the “lemon juice” which was freshly squeezed lemon juice sweetened and warmed. Its being warm was unexpected but it tasted great.

After eating, we went outside and walked two doors down to a 24-hour bank that had ATMs and each withdrew a number of Yuans because we had to pay Mei for our tour in cash. Then we went back to the hotel and there in the lobby and there was Mei, waiting for us. We went outside and hopped into the white van and took off to see the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower. The ride was one of my favorite memories of China because we drove into and through an old, traditional section of Xi’an having narrow, winding streets and buildings almost flush with the street. I only managed to get a few shots of what I saw on the way to and from the two towers but include them below. It is necessary to say here that the pollution was as bad here as it had been in Shanghai and so most of the shots will look cloudy and slightly blurred. That also means my blurriest shots will be really a mess!

The van parked in a tiny slice of space and we four women got out to walk along the street, up a ramp, through a passage way under a building and out onto an open square from which we could see both towers. As we approached the ramp, I took this slightly blurry photo of a street vendor.

Street Vendor and Stand 9803

Walkway through and beneath the building 9806

We were on the upper level of the open area. The Drum Tower was to our right and the Bell Tower to our right. The buildings along one side of the square had traditional red lanterns hanging outside. Red is considered a very luck color in China. The old buildings have the traditional architecture of peaked roof facing the front of the building, eaves that curve up, tiled roofs, and a series of significant animal figures lined up on the outer edges of the eaves. They also have red lanterns hanging from them.

First shot of Drum Tower to our right 9805

First shot of Bell Tower to our left 9807

We were surprised and very upset when we found out that our tour, which was supposed to include “admission tickets to the sites” did not include tickets to these towers. We could go inside, Mei told us, if we paid 40 Yuans. We were so distressed by this situation that she ended up calling her boss but the answer was still no. Then she gave us the choice of which tower to first see closer up. We never really decided but since we could get closer to the Drum Tower, ended up there.

Closer-up of Drum Tower. The two large circles on the first balcony of the tower are drums. 9810

Even closer 9812

It was easier to see it when closer up to it. I was fascinated by the architectural and decorative features that were so typically Chinese.

Upper levels 9813

My attention was momentarily distracted by a kite seller who was roaming around the square and who had let out a whole, long string of kites which sailed upward almost out of sight so of course I had to take a photo of it.

String of Kites 9814

Then I turned my attention back to the Drum Tower and focused on the details.

Animals on the eaves. Each represents a different historical character having certain qualities 9815

Peak decoration – no significance according to Mei, just beautiful 9821

Drums, red lanterns and top of entry stairs 9822

Close-up on Drum 9824

Close-up of Lantern 9826

As we looked about from our vantage point near the Drum Tower, we noticed that the moon was still up and barely visible through the smog. Mei said that it was a Snow Moon and meant it would snow. When we went to the end of the walkway nearest the Bell Tower, a great shot of the moon and the Bell Tower presented itself.

Bell Tower and Snow Moon 9828

Closer-ups of Bell Tower 9830, 9833, 9834

While Mei was explaining about the Bell Tower, the Drum Tower and the history surrounding them, we occasionally heard bells from the Bell Tower boom out. They sounded more like gongs than Western bells. They were not happening regularly so we asked what it meant when a bell was rung and learned that people who visit the tower can make an offering and then can strike the bell to send their requests to the gods.

Other interesting, more modern sights, could be seen from our vantage point including a covered metro stop, nearby buildings

Metro stop 9837

Nearby buildings (with moon) 9827

Then it was time to head back to the van to go to the City Wall so we walked back through the opening in the building toward the ramp and saw the scene going the other way.

View 1 9838

Close-up of commonly-used tricycles parked near the curb 9839

Gated window on building 9840

As we drove away, I tried taking photos through the bus window across the aisle from me. Most didn’t turn out, of course, but one shows a slice of some signs.

Signs through Bus Window 9842

The City Wall

Xi’an had been a walled city for centuries it still stands, separating the original city area from the “new” city, which is actually quite old. The wall is very thick and has tunnel entrances leading to the interior. The entrances are large enough for modern tour buses to pass through so our van had no problem entering the inner courtyard, which now serves as a parking lot for tour vehicles. As soon as we exited the bus, I took a picture of the entrance, looking from the parking lot back to the street we had entered from.

Entrance from parking lot; note the building on top of the wall 9863

Closer-up of entrance with some bus drivers hanging out until their groups return 9864

The opening in the wall that was opposite of the one we entered through, which was placed between the two stairways going up. The arch of the opening was made of bricks in a fan formation. This opening had closed red doors rather than being open as the other one was.

Archway detail 9868

Red doors within the arch and sign above arch 9869

Can you guess? It’s a trash can, designed to fit into its surroundings 9871

Detail of animal figures on eave of wall building 9865

As we started walking toward the stairways leading to the top of the wall, my heart sank. More stairs and a lot of them with no landings! However, they were lovely to look at and flanked by lamp posts with red lanterns suspended from them.

Stairs, lamp posts at top and bottom and Information stand 9873

Steep stairs 9874

I somehow managed to get to the top of the stairs, but only by pausing halfway up to take a picture of the courtyard and the building opposite the one shown above.

View from halfway up 9876

All along the top of the wall on the short sides flanking the two buildings were displayed traditional weapons of war and defense. Some were most unusual from a Western point of view but look plenty vicious.

View of several weapons 9877

When I turned to my left, I saw a great view of the building at right angles.

Building 9878

Behind me was the open square with the parking lot. I gook a picture of the corner of the wall with two entrances visible, one with a closed door and the one at the right which we had driven through.

Open Square 9880

Directly ahead, past the weapons was another outpost on another section of the wall. I was impressed with the architecture, with the walls slanted from top to bottom because they are thicker at the bottom. The outposts are extremely attractive as compared to Western ones, having the traditional Chinese architecture.

Outpost on wall 9881

From our vantage point on the wall, we could look down at a walking entrance to the grounds outside the wall, where there was an attractive person-scale gateway.

Gateway 9882

I was taking pictures while Mei described the wall and its functions, the history of the area and the role the wall had played in the life of the city and its residents. I got some close-ups of the weapons.

Cart-style weapon 9883

Ladder-like weapon on wheels 9893

Catapult-type weapon 9894

Battering ram 9895

Triangle-shaped weapon 9900

Although I was bundled up against the cold, having on thermal underwear, a long-sleeved blouse, a hooded sweatshirt, a buttoned sweater and an insulated jacket with hood, knitted scarf and knit gloves and looked like a butterball, I had my photo taken.

Buveh and the building on the wall 9886

Mei offered to take a picture of all three of us against the big bell nearby. Nancy is so bundled up you can’t see her face but you have to admit she looks much more stylish than I do.

Buveh with N&N at bell 9887

Another shot of the outpost, showing angles and arches of wall entrances 9888

Bell with sun in background 9891

After wandering around on that part of the wall for a while, we started walking toward the building on the far side. On the way, Mei pointed out the markings on the stone walkway. They are Chinese characters telling the name of the company that made the stones, the year they were made, etc.

Markings 9898

A covered chair, formerly used to transport an important person through the streets. Runners held the red bars and ran through the streets with the chair. Note the dragon designs on the eaves.

Covered chair 9901

Close-up of dragon 9903

Close-up of nearby lamp post 9904

Close-up of eaves of nearby building; note animal figures atop it 9906
Then we approached the building we were headed for, which housed an information place.

Sign above entrance to building 9914

Beautiful carved wooden screen inside entrance to the building – note the camel on the far left, behind the screen 9915

After I’d taken the photo, N or N hissed to me, “You’re not supposed to take pictures in here!” So I put away my camera and didn’t get a photo of the large stone dragon-lion in the next room.

We went behind the screen to see a mural that depicted the ages of Xi’an with images representative of its significant accomplishments. The camels (there are more that the one visible below) represent the Silk Route. Xi’an was the beginning point of that famous trail.

Then we were introduced to our “local guide” and escorted into a nearby room hung with photos and displaying a large jade lion-dragon. The guide told us the legend of the lion-dragon and said that this particular carving was very popular with local people, who rubbed it in a certain way to bring various kinds of good luck. First, rub the palms of your hands together, then use both hands to rub the ears, the beard, the feet, the legs and the haunch of the beast. Then gather your hands together to cup the good luck and place your hands in your pockets to keep the luck with you. We each got to rub it but I have to say that when I went to put it in my pockets, I missed and the good luck “fell out.” So, I guess I won’t be rich or any of the other things represented by the various parts of the lion-dragon that I had rubbed.

Once back outside, I took a picture of the scene opposite, which included an ancient building in traditional Chinese architectural style with a large building crane and the superstructure of a new, modern building next to it and with traditional red lanterns on posts at intervals along the wall.

Scene opposite 9918

Close-up of building under construction 9919

We walked over to the part of the wall closest to the construction site. To our right and on the side of the wall opposite the construction site were two guard stations in traditional architectural style. The wall stretched on out of sight, especially in the smog, but the sight of the buildings and the red lanterns on their dragon-motif poles made my heart go pitty-pat. It was exciting to actually be seeing things in person I’d studied and read about and seen photos of for many, many years (the exact number of years shall remain undisclosed). I took a Chinese History and Culture class during my last quarter as an undergraduate, for my teaching minor in History and loved every minute of it.

Two guard towers with lamp poles 9920

To our other side was another guard house which we approached and I took closer-up shots of it.

Other guard house 9922

Then we looked over the ramparts to view the main street. Mei pointed directly down the street and said, “The Drum Tower is right there and usually you can see it easily.” But that day, the view was obscured. I took a picture of where it would be, anyway. Note the traditional tricycle making a right turn.

Looking toward where the Drum Tower would be visible 9924

We went closer to the guard house and I took some detail shots out of admiration for the architecture and decorations.

Close-up of doors 9927

Closer-up of door detail 9928

Porch overhang detail 9930

Close-up of animals on eave 9935

View along length of porch, showing pillars and lanterns in a row 9936

View along length of ramparts 9937

Ramparts and guard house 9938

Two guard houses, one barely visible through the smog 9940

Then we descended the stairs to the open courtyard and I took photos of the long house above the entrance through the wall and another close-up of the entrance itself.

House atop wall 9941

Close-up of entrance 9942

It was my turn to sit next to a window as we journeyed to our next stop, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda so I spent my time, as I listened to Mei tell us about the pagoda and general history of the area, taking photos through the bus window. Some of them actually turned out and are here.

Street scenes:





Bus 9951






Notice anything familiar about the building? Yes, KFC is even in China! 9963

Just after passing the shopping center that included KFC, we had our first glimpse of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, barely visible through the mist.

Can you see it? 9964

More of the shopping center, with traditional Chinese architecture 9965, 9966

After passing the shopping center, we turned left and went past a park area which was made in the lovely, soothing Chinese style. Of course, I took photos of it.

Rock wall 9971

Stairway and landscaping 9972, 9973

More of the park 9974

Main park entrance 9976

A popular place 9977

Finally we came to the grounds of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which is surrounded by a Chinese-red wall. The first photos show how that color is incorporated into the outer design of the grounds.

Wall 9978

Wall with top of interior building showing 9981

The pillar on the other side of the entrance had a different motif 9991

On the wall next to the entrance was a carved scene 9994

Close-up of scene 9995

I took a direct shot above me of the eave on one outer corner of the roof 9996

The pillar on the other side of the entrance had a different motif 9991

On the wall next to the entrance was a carved scene 9994

Close-up of scene 9995

I took a direct shot above me of the eave on one outer corner of the roof 9996

A shot of the entire entrance 9998

Guards/ticket-takers at the entrance 0001

Carved divider on steps up to the entrance 0003
Mei paid for our tickets and then led us through the entrance into the grounds.

The first thing I saw was a beautiful building in traditional Chinese architectural style framed by green trees.

Building 0005

Beyond the building we got our first glimpse of the pagoda. This shot shows Nancy in the black hat, Nikki bareheaded and Mei in a white coat.

Pagoda and tourists 0007

Close-up of Pagoda through the smog 0008

Buildings along the sides of the courtyard leading to the pagoda 0010

Near the pagoda, on each side of the courtyard, were two small buildings that were shrines to two different Buddhas.

Shrine 0014

Female Buddha statue inside shrine; large drum above 0017

Décor on walls inside shrine 0019

Inside the other shrine, a small male Buddha with large bronze bell above 0020

From here, I’ll let pictures be “worth a thousand words.” Please note the serenity of everything.

Buveh with pagoda behind 0022

Another building on the sidelines; we went inside later 0023

Yet another building 0025

A picturesque tree 0028

Landscaping between above building and corner of pagoda 0029

Carved stair side piece 0030

Lovely setting for the pagoda 0032

Monument with green words in Chinese 0033

Lion-dragon standing guard outside stairs leading to pagoda 0034

Close-up of carving on pedestal holding lion-dragon 0037

Elaborate carvings of dragons dividing stairway leading to pagoda 0038

Lion-dragon on other side of stairway 0041

Close-up of other lion-dragon 0042

View of approach to pagoda 0045

Close-up of carving on wall 0047

Carvings on outside of stair railing 0048

Close-up of dragon head drain water spout 0049

“Mouth” of drain water spout 0040

Close-up of carving on balcony railing 0051

Close-up of dragons on base of monument 0059

Decorative wall surrounding pagoda’s elevated walkway 0046

Close-up of dragon medallion on stair rail 0056

View of pagoda and front building from stairway 0058

Carved stair divider on second level leading to pagoda 0060

Carved wood doors of building fronting the pagoda 0061

Closer-up view of doors 0062

Detail of door carving 0064

Detail of divider on door 0065

Detail of upper portion of door 0066

View of under part of porch roof 0068

Close-up of guardian animals on eave of building 0070

We were not allowed to take photos inside the pagoda itself, but there were wonderful murals, portions of which were of carved wood and other portions which were paintings that described the story of the Buddhist monk who made an eight-year journey from India to China carrying scrolls of Buddhist scriptures with him. All his adventures, perils and conversion activities were portrayed in these murals. In one scene, a flock of geese played an important role but our guide was sometimes hard to understand and I’m not sure what they actually did. However, whatever it was the reason for the pagoda’s name: Big Wild Goose Pagoda. There was a room with a big Buddha statue and many, many small statues all along the top edges of the wall and in niches in the beams of the room.

When we came out of the pagoda, we walked around to the back of it and came to an open square with buildings on all sides. I tried to photograph all the sides.

Buildings on one side (red pillars of pagoda are on left) 0071

Across the courtyard was a beautiful building fronted by a lovely bare tree in front of a larger, leafed tree. In the courtyard were stands selling implements for offerings and two places to make offerings.

Scene described above 0072

Corner scene of square 0073

Close-up of bare tree with hand-pulled wheelbarrow behind 0075

The two offering places were a heavy metal fire holder and a circular stand for lit candles; long incense sticks for the fire and red candles for the holder could be purchased at a table on the left or a small building on the right.

Crowd around vendor at table selling incense sticks and red candles; two offering places visible 0079

Devotees making candle offerings 0080

Another close-up of the bare tree with fire offering place on right 0082

Fire offering place 0084

Making an offering 0086

Building at back of square 0087

Close-up of vendor booth selling incense and candles; note pillar with turtle base 0088

Front of pillar with turtle face showing 0089

Pillar with pagoda behind 0091

Close-up of upper reaches of pagoda 0092

Carved stone planter on grounds 0094

Devotees making candle offerings 0096

People buying incense sticks and red candles at vendor stand 0097

Vendor booth and candle stand 0098

Angles of buildings in corner of square 0099

Entrance to pagoda, up divided stairway and through carved entryway 0100

View of entrance and pagoda rising above 0101

Plaque on wall of pagoda entrance denoting the structure as a National Tourist Attraction with a rating of AAAA 0103

Lovely decorations on gateway 0106

Side of building; note that the peak like this on an American house would likely be at the front of the house, not the side 0109

Mei led us on a tour of the grounds near the pagoda. The landscaping is based on principles of Fung Shui, aimed at harmony, keeping away negative influences and accentuating positive influences. Along the way, we saw:

This Buddha statue on a rock with carefully selected stones in foreground 0113

A grouping of selected rocks in a wooded setting 0114

Even the drains had nicely carved stone enhancements 0115

Proximity of rock grouping to nearby building 0116

A traditional-style pavilion 0117

Close-up of pavilion 0118

Buildings on surrounding square 0120

Close-up of building showing lines and angles 0122

Words on pillar sign 0123

Building with stone lanterns on either side of entrance 0124

Lovely hanging lamp (blurry) 0125

Sign above doorway, lamp behind 0126

Lovely planting of delicately-leaved trees (bamboo?) 0127

Shot of pagoda and fronting building 0128

Fronting building 0131

Elephant statue in courtyard 0132

Buildings, or possibly they were gateways, lead from one section of the grounds to another. It was an attractive way to break up a huge amount of space into enjoyable portions,

Gateway or divider building on one side 0133

Gateway with stone lantern in foreground 0134

Use of bamboo scaffolding in a corner where three buildings came together 0135

Carefully placed stone with appropriate landscaping framing it 0138

Rounded corner on stone wall surrounding a smaller pagoda-like structure 0139

Closer-up of large structure for a sign 0140

Smaller pagoda-shaped building 0141

Another Buddha on a stone foundation nestled among shrubbery 0142

Even without leaves, the bare trees contribute to the serenity and beauty of this spot 0144

Closer-up of bare trees in setting 0145

After passing the above landscaping, we came to an area where many bird cages holding singing birds were hung in trees. The Chinese love song birds and having a caged songbird is a delight for them.

First birdcage I saw 0146

In another landscaped courtyard near the bird cage was a place where wishes or prayers could be posted on a special holder. Hundreds or even thousands of these wish boards were hung on holders there. It was possible to read the writing on them but most were in Chinese so I don’t know what they said. At least one was in English but I didn’t read it. It was possible to buy a board at a nearby vendor booth and write your wish on it, then add it to one of the groups on the board.

Wish/prayer board 0147

Vendor booth with signs showing available products 0151

Near the vendor stand was an impressive ad serene-looking gold Buddha with floral offerings surrounding it.

Gold Buddha 0148

After I took this picture I realized the thing wasn’t a religious object; it was a trash receptacle made to maintain the integrity of its surroundings.

Trash can 0150

Another Buddha was secluded in a nearby area. It was different in that it was apparently carved out of a rock, part of which had been left in place to provide a frame and “cave” for the figure.

Buddha in “cave” 0154

An interesting, well-placed layered rock 0155

Along one of the walkways, walking toward us came four chickens. I managed to get my camera to cooperate only after one of them had walked out of the scene.

Chickens 0157

A very interesting stone figure atop an equally interesting stone in a lovely setting was a curiosity to me. The figure’s clothing looked more Arabian to me than Indian or Chinese.

Different stone figure and interesting rock 0158

Nearby was yet another Buddha in a “cave.” This one was a very fat, smiling Buddha. The setting for the figure was a lovely arrangement of smooth, layered rocks. It was a peaceful and contemplative place.

Fat smiling Buddha 0160

Fat smiling Buveh sitting near the fat smiling Buddha 1063

Nearby was a small hexagonal table and four small stone stools. Near them was another item that I realized was yet another – and different – trashcan although it was shaped like a tiny pagoda. The stools had carved decorations on the sides, two motifs on each stool.

Stone table and stools; trashcan 1062

Close-ups of the sides of the stools 0164, 0165,

Different stone figure and interesting rock 0158

Nearby was yet another Buddha in a “cave.” This one was a very fat, smiling Buddha. The setting for the figure was a lovely arrangement of smooth, layered rocks. It was a peaceful and contemplative place.

Fat smiling Buddha 0160

Fat smiling Buveh sitting near the fat smiling Buddha 1063
Nearby was a small hexagonal table and four small stone stools. Near them was another item that I realized was yet another – and different – trashcan although it was shaped like a tiny pagoda. The stools had carved decorations on the sides, two motifs on each stool.

Stone table and stools; trashcan 1062

After following the walkway the chickens had just been walking on, we came to a sidewalk leading past the buildings on the far side of the grounds. Buddhist monks live and work in the buildings. Most fascinating were all the birdcages of songbirds lined up along both sides of the sidewalk. Each cage had a hook on the top so it could be hung from a tree. I guess they are rotated so each spends some time hanging in the trees and other times sitting on the ground. I asked Mei who took care of the birds and she said the monks did.

Lines of songbird cages 0168

Closer view of buildings behind wall along side of grounds 0170

Angles of roofs 0171

We turned to our right and proceeded along the walkway in the direction of the entrance. To our right was a stone courtyard having carved pillars of various sorts. Some reminded me of headstones in Western cemeteries but apparently these were memorials of a different sort. They were of contrasting shapes and sizes and made pleasant viewing.

Stone memorials 0172

Close up of some of the memorials 0173

A group shot of the memorials 0175

Close-up of one of the oldest ones 0176

Close-up of one of the most interesting ones 1078

The most oriental-looking one with lovely wall railing behind 1080
Close up of some of the memorials 0173

Close-up of stone carving of dragon holding ball 0181

Eave art on nearby gateway 0177

Gateway with beautiful painted decorations and lovely red door 0182

Beautiful eave art and wall on building 0183

Carving on stone 0184

Near this area was a building with a gift shop inside. We flocked inside because we all love to shop in gift shops. There were some wonderful things inside and I bought a few items including one special one I’ll give as a Christmas gift but will remain unspecified here until after it has been given. When we entered, Mei handed each of us a colorful handout showing a chart of Chinese astrological characters and the birth years they are associated with. Nancy and I realized we were both born in the Year of the Rat (we were not especially overjoyed at this news but the shop workers were delighted; when I asked them what the characteristics of the rat were, they answered: wise and clever.) Nikki was born in the year of the Rooster and she was happy with that and bought a book in English that described the characteristics of “Rooster People.”

After I’d looked around a bit but hadn’t bought anything, one of the shop girls invited me to go into the back of the shop. I was a little hesitant, wondering what was going to happen to me but I followed her out of the main room through a room where carpets were sold and behind a screen to a place where there was a table covered with interesting items. She showed me a paper just like the one Mei had given me and explained that it was a gift from the shop. She had me identify the year I was born and that’s when she told me the characteristics of the Rat. Then she selected a stone stamp from the table in front of her and made a stamp of a rat in a special place on the paper and formally presented it to me. Of course I thanked her profusely. Then she led me back to the shop where I began browsing again. Eventually both Nikki and Nancy were led to the back room and came back bearing their special gift with the stamp of their astrological sign on it.

Dumpling Dinner and Ming Dynasty Show

That evening Mei took us to the dinner theatre where we were going to experience a dumpling dinner and Ming Dynasty Show. The building was ornate and huge. The space where the tables were set up was spacious, had red walls and red decorations and a huge stage with red curtains. We were on the second level of three and in the second row of three. Tables were places so we were sitting at right angles to the stage. We were interested and pleased to note that although there were other Westerners there, most of the attendees were Asian. At the table beside ours were two Mexican men. Nikki, who is fluent in Spanish and has lived in Mexico City, identified them from their Spanish “accents” and she had a brief conversation with one of them before the show began.

But first we were to experience the delicious and multi-course Dumpling Dinner. Dumplings, as we soon realized, are small foods made of a n outer layer of thin pastry, each filled with something and are cooked by means of steaming in a special bamboo container with a screened bottom. Some of the dumplings had special shapes but most were like little bags with drawn-up tops. We had fifteen different types of dumplings during the dinner (and were bursting full by the end). Fillings included meat, thinly shredded vegetables, fish, shrimp and even a sweet mixture like a dessert. The dumplings in their baskets were brought into the room in tall stacks and then one basket each was quickly served to each table and three types of dumplings were in each basket.

Stack of dumpling baskets awaiting serving (blurry) 0188

Soon after we began eating, the entertainment began. A young woman wearing traditional Ming era clothing sat at a stringed musical instrument and played lovely music as we ate. That lasted about half an hour as dumplings came and went at the tables. The three of us had been practicing our chopstick skills and they came into play as we ate our dumplings.

Entertainer regaling the audience with beautiful music 0190

One basket of dumplings, including fish-shaped ones with green pea eyes that had fish filling 0193

Buveh demonstrating use of chopsticks 0195

Then soup was served. It came to the table in the form of a plate bearing a burner topped by a handled metal soup bowl. After placing it on the table, the waitress lighted a match and applied it to the open interior of the burner and a white substance there burst into flame. Soon the soup in the metal bowl was steaming hot.

Steaming hot soup in metal bowl, heated by flaming burner 0207

The soup ended the meal and then the waitresses and waiters whisked away all the dinner trappings and brought bottles of mineral to the tables. The lights dimmed, music sounded and two actors, a male and a female dressed in traditional royal dress of the Ming dynasty, walked onto the stage in front of the curtains. The male began introducing the program in Chinese with a deep, loud, stylized voice. Then the female repeated the same information (at least I suppose she did) in English. They were the narrators for the program and each time they came onto stage to introduce the next act they took turns speaking in English or Chinese.

The acts were spectacular in all aspects, including costumes, scenery, music, singing and acting. It was colorful, action packed and a treat for the eyes and ears. I tried to take pictures of each act but many were blurry because the actors were in almost constant motion. The best are included here and even some not the best but included to give an idea of the elements of the performance.

Group playing traditional musical instruments 0212

Lovely dancing maidens wearing dresses having extremely long flowing sleeves 0216

Another shot of the same 0217

A different dance, also with long flowing sleeves 0218

A musical group with singers (note the spectacular scenery) 0219

Dancing girls in GREEN dresses 0221

A very dramatic warrior dance performed by males 0224

The mask with glowing eyes (above dancers) that lowered at the beginning of the dance 0225

Dancers getting into it beneath mask 0226

A famous Chinese painting comes to life (dancers are behind a mesh screen) 0228

Dancers in front of mesh screen 0229

Horn playing musicians; note spectacular flower backdrop 0230

A misty dance with maidens in flowing pink dresses 9231

The main dancer arrives 0232

The group together 0234

Twirling 0235

Posed 0236

Comic musicians performing in front of a backdrop of a court scene, as if performing for that audience 0237

Close-up of musicians and backdrop 0239

Musicians playing long horns 0240

Dancers performing for the emperor and empress 0241

Out come the long flowing sleeves 0242

Star performer swishing her sleeves 0244

Another dance act 0245

Swish those sleeves! 0247

The finale begins 0248

Emperor’s courtiers arrive to take a bow 0249

Emperor and empress bow 0250

The entire ensemble 0251

Our tour guide, Mei, met us after the performance and we rode back to our hotel in the tour van with Ma driving. We had planned to play a game of Quiddler before retiring for the night but we were all so tired we just got ready for the night and crashed in our respective beds and slept like logs.