Thursday, September 30, 2010

Beijing, part 13: Going to Simatai

Finally we headed to the Great Wall of China!

We started by sleeping in... Breakfast at 9:30, then go. The roads were busier than I expected for a Saturday morning. Maybe if we'd left earlier...

v4 - Steven and Chunlin on the Road
Chunyu, Yufang, Steven, Chunlin, and I in one car. We met up with Yufang's niece and her boyfriend at a toll gate, for a grand total of seven in our group.

v3 - Jingcheng Expressway over the Chaobai River

It felt good to get out of the city. Once we passed the 6th Ring Road, the Jingcheng Expressway was clear sailing all the way to Simatai.

North of town, the new expressway was an almost continous series of tunnels and bridges.

v16 - Hengchengzi Tunnel

v8 - In the Jindinghu 1st Tunnel

v9 - Juifeng Mountain

I could see the Great Wall in the distance! Let's get closer!
v20 - Welcome to Sīmǎtái

But first, some food.

The restaurant took far too long to produce dumplings. Hmph. No air circulation inside, either, making it unbearable. Hungry, hot, impatient, wanting to go to the wall -- I was in no mood for this delay! Just ask Chunlin.

Finally, we got on the cable car.

v25 - Chunlin on the Cable Car
It was slow, but easier and faster than walking.

v26 - Up the Sīmǎtái Cable Car
Closer and closer to the wall.

v33 - Sīmǎtái East Tower Six

Next, the mini train, pulled up up up by a giant winch.

v34 - Getting on the Tram

Closer and closer, off the tram and up the trail -- staircase, really.

v37 - Climbing up to the Great Wall

Up up up, closer and closer to ... the wall!

v41 - Sīmǎtái Great Wall & Tower Nine

Smaller than I imagined...

More photos on flickr.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Beijing, part 12: 798 Art District

We headed into the 'burbs to the 798 Art District, which used to be an industrial area, but was repurposed by the government. The concept of a centrally planned art district is just wrong, if you ask me. The government says, "Here. Take this old factory. You go here. You go there. Be creative in your little box."

Dominating one courtyard was a set of sculptures -- many wolves around one swordsman.

u3 - Wolf Pack

u5 - Swarm of Wolves

u4 - Danger

u6 - Never Surrender

u7 - Fierce

We wandered around, not quite sure which gallery to see first.

This is one of the first galleries we went in. It didn't have any "no photo" signs...
u8 - Repurposed Factory

I tried to take a photo of the next gallery -- the room, mind you, like above, and not a specific painting -- and I get a "No photos" from a worker. I can understand them not wanting someone to reproduce one of their paintings without permission, but to block a photo of the whole space? Petty security-guard nonsense.

Even if I were to photograph a painting, it's still not the real thing. If I diseminate the image widely, it's free advertising! But they want control, not fame and money.

A tshirt shop had three signs around the door proclaiming "No photos." One of the signs even said they'd fine you 100 yuan ($15) for taking a picture. Really? On what authority? Is this a law? Does it apply to the tshirts visible from the sidewalk?

They're afraid of someone stealing their ideas, but their ideas are so basic that I wouldn't need a photo to reproduce them: Obama dressed as Mao, etc. Let others make similar tshirts and let the competition begin!

So I took photos of the old buildings and a restaurant's lanterns.
u10 - Lunch by the Factory

And Chunlin, of course.
u11 - Chunlin at 798 Art District

And random bits of architecture.
u9 - Blue Sky Wall

And the sculpture arrayed along the sidewalks.
u12 - Art on the Street

We sat for a while in an exhibit called "Kids" -- paintings of children from around the world, by one artist. The set in front of us was entitled "Health Disease Happiness Sadness Grow-Up Death Homeland Rangers." Of eighteen portraits, only one or two look happy. The vast majority look miserable. If you put balance in your title, your art work should have balance.

The silkwork in one gallery was very nice. The musculature on the horses -- done in thread -- looked real. A black cat disappearing into the darkness. Expensive, of course. Everything's for sale -- but you've got to go to China if you want to see it because free advertising is out of the question.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Beijing, part 11: Summer Palace

t1 - Kūnmíng Lake

After three long bus rides, we'd traversed the city and arrived at the gate of the Summer Palace, the 18th and 19th Century pleasure park for the emperors. Hot but a breeze kept us comfortable as long as we didn't move. Lots of people visiting, hanging out, flying kites.

We got some food -- baozi, etc. -- and ate it. We then crossed the 17-Arch Bridge to South Lake Island, home of the Dragon King's Temple.

t4 - 17-Arch Bridge and Yuquan Pagoda

t6 - Seventeen-Arch Bridge

t8 - Lion Fascination

The temple wasn't very photogenic, so we continued onward to the north end of the island.

t10 - Mark and Kūnmíng Lake - Ch

t11 - Stairs of the Dragon King

We fought the tour groups for a seat on one of the dragon boat ferries.
t18 - Dragon Boat Ferries

t13 - Fragrance Pavilion from the Boat

The ferry took us to the ultimate symbol of Empress Dowager Cixi's "let them eat cake" attitude: the marble boat.
t14 - Empress Dowager's Marble Boat
"We don't need a modern navy. We need more playthings for me!" Although by that time (1888), it was probably too late for the empire anyway.

We finally started some souvenir shopping. A dragon, rabbit, and monkey for us and a tiger for Amy. A Monkey King and the ingénue from the opera. Jesus armwrestling Satan -- in 3D!

And then we slowly proceded down the Long Corridor -- with uncountable tour groups.
t17 - Chunlin in the Long Corridor

Some of the tour guides carried national flags that had nothing at all to do with the tour group -- the groups looked all Chinese to me. I suppose the national flags were unique and easy to spot in the crush of humanity.
t15 - Tour Group Not from Spain

t19 - Mark in the Long Corridor - Ch

t22 - Up to the Fragrance Pavilion

Near the East Gate were the main imperial buildings -- the local throne room, etc. Outside the main hall was this qilin -- a strange mix of dragon, deer, fish, ox, and lion -- which is a good omen of serenity and prosperity.
t25 - The Qílín

Outside the East Gate, we caught a bus -- which bus? That bus? It doesn't stop. How about this bus? -- and went to dinner.

I've got more photos from the Summer Palace on flickr, if you'd like to see them.

Beijing, part 10: Temple of Heaven

We hopped on a bus, meaning to go to the subway, but by happenchance, the bus turned south and went right to our next destination, Tian Tan, Temple of Heaven.

But first, food. We wandered the neighborhood, but the back-alley restaurants frightened Chunlin. We therefore went to KFC.

s29 - KFC to Go
They deliver.

Half the chicken offered at KFC in China is Chinese-style fried chicken. Different seasoning and no breading. We also got a spicy chicken sandwich (American style!) and a Sichuan-flavored fajita wrap. No mashed potatoes for sale here, so sad. French fries, though!

And then, into the Temple of Heaven Park. Some local pay fifteen yuan ($2) just to get into the large park where they play cards, dance, and generally just hang out.

s31 - Temple of Heaven Long Corridor

s33 - Water Calligraphy

s35 - Chunlin Keeps It Up
We bought one of the weighted feather toys. Chunlin was good at it, since she used to play this game as a kid.

s38 - Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
The temples aren't really temples, but altars for sacrafice by the emperors. Thus, no monks or incense burning or statues. More like the many throne halls of the Forbidden City.

s39 - Inside the Qínián Diàn

s44 - Down the Heavenly Road

s46 - Imperial Vault of Heaven
The main buildings are all round because the circle was identified with heaven, as opposed to the square for the earth.

s49 - Round Altar to the South Gate
Near the south gate (the traditional entrance and apparently the tour-group entrance) is the Round Altar, which doesn't even have a building. It's a circular pyramid of sorts, with a large area for the sacrafices on top.

With all this paving, we were baking. Even in the shade, it was hot, but okay with a breeze. It's a dry heat...

A couple buses later, we were at Dian Gate at the south end of the old city, at the south end of Tian'anmen Square. This was the imperial entrance into the inner city, just a bit south of the Forbidden City south gate (gone -- now the location of Mao's masoleum).

s51 - Arrow Tower from the Inside

s54 - Jiàn Lóu from the Outside

Just outside the southernmost gate, the Arrow Tower, is milemarker zero for all the roads in China.
s57 - China's Mile Zero

We then walked around the west side of Tian'anmen Square, sticking to the shade of the trees as much as possible. The Money Museum was closed for renovation, which bummed me out. I wanted the change in scenery from all the medieval gates and temples.

In the middle of Tian'anmen Square are two giant LED signs.
s60 - Giant LED Slogans on Tiān'ānmén Square
They changed around from video of Chinese scenery to what I assume are government slogans. In other parts of the country, there were plenty of banners with messages of a similar style, hung along fences or above streets, but none so fancy as this.

We then got on a bus heading east back toward home, on the street above the 1 subway line. I wouldn't have been able to ride the buses without Chunlin. No maps.

Going past places we've seen before: Tian'an Men, Old Astronomy. Going slow. I want more breeze...

For more photos of Beijing's slice of heaven, go to flickr.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Jeopardy! Three-way Tie

In Alex Trebek's second episode as the host of Jeopardy!, all three contestants missed the Final Jeopardy! question and the game ended in a 0-0-0 tie.

The Final Jeopardy! answer was: "Calendar date with which the 20th century began."

All three contestants bet all their money and gave the same question: "What is January 1, 1900?"

Alex: Oh, boy. What... I'm at a loss for words in a situation like this. [whistles] Hey folks, easy come, easy go. Because all of our contestants wound up with nothing, we have consolation prizes for each of them. Tomorrow on Jeopardy!, we'll be bringing in three new players to play the game...

Voices offstage: The answer!

Alex: You mean, "What is the question?" The question is "What is January 1, 1901?"

How could they all miss that? So simple and basic...

[Found via Tom McMahon.]

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Beijing, part 9: Old Fortifications

s5 - The Giant Boxer Shorts
Okay, so that's not really "old fortifications." On the way to the Ming-era city walls, we stopped to see the new CCTV (China Central Television) building. The locals call it the Giant Boxer Shorts. Construction is still ongoing, so the bottom was blocked by a huge billboard fence all up and down the streets.

We walked a bit, then got back on the subway 1 line for a couple stops and headed south.

s7 - Ancient Observatory Tower
This looked like it could be the old city walls, so we stopped here. Actually, it's the Ancient Observatory. It looked like an old city wall!

We decided to pay the small fee and look around, anyway.

s9 - Dragon at the Ancient Observatory

s10 - Flag over the Observatory

s13 - Rabbit Water Clock
This was a water clock. I had to take a photo because it has a rabbit, and Chunlin was born in the year of the rabbit, so...

After a breather in the observatory's courtyard, we continued walking south and arrived at the much more magnificent Southeast Watchtower.
s17 - Southeast Corner Watchtower

Below the tower and along the remnants of the south wall stretches a very green park. We sat in the shade with the retirees and toddlers. Nearby, a couple groups of college-age kids were doing group drills of some sort. Apart from the lawnmower, quiet and peaceful. Naptime.
s18 - Ming City Wall Tree

We passed through the Railroad Gate (a retrofit for an early-1900s rail line) and climbed up the wall.
s20 - Up the Wall
The stairs used to be a ramp, but it was later modified for the horses.

s27 - All along the Watchtower

Inside the tower is now an art museum. Stone walls, timber construction for the tile roof.
s22 - Inside

s26 - Art by the Wayside

s23 - Windows and Beams

We climbed up to the top and viewed the city in all directions through the small windows.

Impressive red timbers, but not the best view...

More photos at flickr, as I'm sure you expect.