The Skeptical Boffin

Mishaps, Maladies and Mutterings

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China Trip Part 1 - Beijing
So I got back from China on Monday morning, slept for six hours straight, spent another day recuperating - and now that my 900+ photos are sorted out, and selected pictures have been cropped and resized, it's time for sharing!
(Epic picspam follows. Open at your own risk).


This was a tour specially organised for our family, and good friends of the family. I'll reserve comment for now about whether or not going on tour with family and close friends is a good idea. ;)


The Trip to Beijing...

... Was less smooth than we would have liked. There was the interminable airport waiting time in between three (yes, THREE!) connecting flights from my hometown to KL to Shanghai to Beijing, which took the better part of one day (we were at the airport by 5pm on the 3rd, arrived in Beijing at 11.50am on the 4th), during which time a book, a stroller, and a suitcase mysteriously went missing at each of the three stops. (The suitcase, it turned out, got left behind at Shanghai, and was sent to Beijing via the next plane, but the stroller and book never showed up again). A friend of my aunt's got hideously sick during the first flight (low oxygen conditions?), and did not improve during the next two; and quite unfortunately, none of us got any sleep on board the long trip to Shanghai that night because my nephew spent something like four hours screaming his sodding head off.

Beijing Day 1

Due to sleep deprivation, I think most of us were at the point of collapse by the time we flopped into our respective rooms at the end of the day. Out of consideration, our tour leader and guide rescheduled the itinerary so that we wouldn't have so much on our plates today, so all we did was take a trishaw ride through the hutong, drive past Tiananmen Square, and check out the Uyghur (bizarre) food street.

The hutong are narrow streets and alleys commonly found in Beijing, and most of them are formed by a grid of traditional Chinese courtyard residences. Many of them have now been demolished to make way for modern roads and buildings; consequently, one of these residence areas can fetch a price of something like two billion RMB on the market today, or so the owner of the one we visited told us. (And no, I did not misspell "million". For perspective, USD1 is roughly equivalent to RMB6.5).

Only in China, will you see such a culturally contaminated establishment such as this...

Grouping outside one of the hutong entrances. Our Beijing guide, Cathy, is the third from left. (In green).

Our trishaw cabbie prepares to take us through the narrow backalleys.

A typical courtyard residence entrance. The number of beams above the door is an indication of social status (the more beams there are, the higher the family's status). There is also a threshold that must be stepped over (not on!) - a safeguard against ghost and evil spirits who might think it a good idea to pay the household a visit! (Thankfully, Chinese spirits can only hop, and not very well at that, it seems). Men cross left foot first; women, right - something that just about everybody in our group managed to get wrong repeatedly throughout the trip.

The traffic jam! Unfortunately, this picture was taken while the coach was moving, with my dinosaur of a Nikon, which has no stabiliser. >.< Still, the colours are pretty, I suppose?

Tiananmen Square, site of the infamous 1989 protests and resulting massacre. (An irony, when you consider the fact that tian an means "heavenly peace"). Again, taken on board a moving coach.

The National Centre for Performing Arts. We only walked past it, I'm afraid.

Dubious dishes found at the food street. Cthulhu offspring maybe?

Apparently, cocoons are a delicacy here.

Kidney, coagulated blood and testicles. Food fit for Dr. Hannibal Lecter's discerning palate.

And fried starfish..

This picture was taken hurriedly before hawkers could chase me off, but I think the labels on the trays are clear enough.

Beijing Day 2

Because of rescheduling, our second day in Beijing was nothing short of hectic. Our first stop for the day was the government jade factory (one of those infinitely boring, but necessary places to visit, if you want your tour package cost reduced significantly).

As if I'd want to.

Probably the most useless battle axes ever made. Although I suppose that if you were swimming in money and had no better use for it...

Upon my mother's insistence, I got myself a small Chinese seal. A word of warning: you may see this on some of my future paintings.
(This photo was snapped at home. Obviously).

Statues depicting a bunch of ancient dudes carving jade?

Our next stop was the Ming Dynasty Wax Works Palace, also known as the idiot's guide to Ming Dynasty history. My dad and I were hoping to see how many people might mistake some of the waxwork figures for real people; alas, that never happened!

1363: Zhu Yuanzhang whomps chief rival Chen Youliant at the battle of Lake Poyang.

1380: Zhu proceeds to accuse Hu Weiyong, and executes over 30,000 of Hu's family and friends, all in the name of power fortification.
Oh, and those look suspiciously like ancient Converse sneakers.

Starving peasants in the Chinese countryside.

1426: Zhu Gaoxu, Prince of Han, is roasted alive in a three-hundred-jin bronze vessel following a failed rebellion against the Xuande Emperor (Zhu Zhanji). What sounds like muffled screams can be heard issuing from said vessel. You say morbid, I say cool.

1449: Oirat Mongol troops catch up with Emperor Yingzong's army (deceived by the Emperor's eunuch Wang Zhen), taking the Empror prisoner, killing the ministers, and making off with the imperial concubines. As karmic retribution, Wang Zhen is hammered to death by General Fan Zhong.

Having thus received rudimentary instruction on the history of the Ming Dynasty, we then proceeded to the tomb of the 13th Ming Emperor, Zhu Yijun (1563-1620) and his two empresses. The Ming Tombs are scattered at the foot of the Jundu Mountains, forming a 40km2 necropolis. To this day, Dingling supposedly remains the only one of the tombs to be excavated, although the remains of the emperor and his empresses were dragged out, denounced and burned during the 1966 Cultural Revolution. (So the coffins and boxes you see below are reproductions. Boo to the Red Guards!). Unfortunately, this disaster led to the current People's Republic of China government's decision against excavating any more historical sites except for the purpose of "rescue". 

This would have been much cooler with real corpses inside, especially after the very long walk and seven flights of steps we took underground to see it.

The guides had chosen to leave the Great Wall for the afternoon - a decision that was met with much disgruntlement by the more, uh, fragile flowers of the group. However, it turned out to be a pleasantly cool - albeit misty - afternoon: perfect for climbing, awful for taking photographs.The original plan had been to go to Badaling, the most visited section f the Wall; however, our tour guide pointed out that it would be a 40-minute walk to the Wall alone, to say nothing of the climb, and it made more sense to go to Juyongguan, where you could park right outside. In retrospect, I'm glad the change was made: Juyongguan is not only a strategic military fortification, but a gorgeously scenic spot, although you wouldn't be able to tell from the quality of these shots!

The West Wall of Juyongguan inclines up to 80 degrees, and is harder to climb than the East. Guess which we went up...

You probably can't tell, but the steps are uneven, ranging from a couple of inches to almost a foot high in places. And most of them have been worn concave and slippery.

You can see the East Wall in the distance. ;)

Our reward for climbing the Wall. ;) (I've blanked out part of my name for privacy reasons). It would have been nice to walk the length of the Juyongguan Pass, but we'd probably still have been up there at dinnertime.

It's impossible to go up the Great Wall (or even see it from a distance) and not feel awed. The Wall was built between the 5th and 16th centuries, which means Manual Labour Hell. And when you think of how high they had to carry all that construction material, and how many builders had died and were entombed within the Wall, there's no way to feel anything but profound respect for the people responsible for it. (And to the person who, upon returning, claimed that "China was nothing to shout about" - shame on you).

[I can't help but wonder how many people we walked over...]

Our last touristy place for the day was the OCT Theatre, where we caught a spectacular stage production called the Golden Mask Dynasty show. (The plot of which can be summarised thus: Queen repels, captures invading army along with its king. Queen brings reign of peace, frees said invading soldiers and king in a lavish festival. King and queen fall in love with each other. Queen sacrifices life during a massive flood to save her people, but is reincarnated as a sunbird. Everybody lives happily ever after).

The deceptively modest exterior of the OCT Theatre.

In case you can't tell, those are real white peacocks.

I don't know how many bajillion gallons of water went into the production of this show, but it was spectacular!

Beijing Day 3

Another hectic day! (and the sort of pace only the Japanese and Koreans can typically keep). And one that met with an annoying delay at the Temple of Heaven, firstly because half of us wound up getting lost, and secondly because the women in our group went into overtime buying scarves and other wares from street vendors.

The Temple of Heaven was once a religious complex visited by Emperors from the Ming and Qing Dynasties during annual ceremonies; today it is a public park and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A Chinese man practices calligraphy with a squeegee on the pavement.

A group of locals gather to perform Chinese folk music. In Chinese parks, everywhere you turn, you see people of various ages engaged in performances, sports, martial arts, chess... even knitting.

Steps leading up to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. It's actually a reproduction; the original was burnt down in 1889 in a lightning-caused fire.

A closer shot of the Hall of Prayer.

And an interior shot. You would not believe how many pictures I had to take to get one that turned out this well (again, I blame my dinosaur and its lack of a stabiliser!).

The numbers 3 and 9 are of great importance in the design of this temple Here you can see a triple gateway (and the Hall of Prayer is triple-gabled).

Our next stop was the Forbidden City, that sprawling complex of a Chinese Imperial Palace that served as the household of Ming and Qing-Dynasty Emperors, as well as ceremonial and political centres of the time. There are something to the order of 980 buildings with 8,707 rooms, and occupies an area of 720,000 m2. No longer forbidden to us common folk, the City now houses an extensive collection of artifact from the two Dynasties.

The Hall of Literary Glory is now the Hall of Ceramics. (I think?).

An ancient sundial.

Vessels like this are scattered all over the Forbidden City. Back then, they contained water, to put out fires. One has to wonder about how they put out oil-based fires...

This might be the Hall of Complete Harmony, although we were walking through the complex so fast I missed half the signs.

Quite possibly the Gate of Mental Cultivation.

Even the beams were lovingly decorated...

The Hall of Mental Cultivation.

What is it with China and ancient, gnarly trees?

See what I mean? ;-)

In the afternoon we were given forty minutes at the Capital Museum - and, surprise, surprise, I managed not to be late.

The foyer of the Museum is a quirky blend of traditional Chinese and modern architecture.

Ancient cannons - and the closest thing you'll get by way of a self-portrait. ;)

After which we spent a mind-numbing 20 minutes or so at the government-controlled pearl factory (another of those wretched places!), where, out of courtesy, we could not leave as soon as we arrived, but had abso-fucking-lutely nothing to do there. This was followed by a short trip down to the Summer Palace - or rather, to Kunming Lake bordering said Summer Palace. Originally built during the Jin Dynasty, the place has gone through several name changes and two major attacks (during the Anglo-French invasion of 1860, and by the eight allied powers in 1900). Apparently the infamous Empress Dowager Cixi (18351908) diverted a vast sum of funds supposedly designated for the Chinese navy into reconstructing and enlarging this "summer resort".

Entrance to the lake.

The Summer Palace can be seen in the distance, sitting on Longevity Hill.

The day's tour was concluded with the Legend of Jinsha acrobatic show - which, unfortunately, paled in comparison to the previous night's performance, although the stunt involving four motorcyclists chasing one another in a large spherical metal cage was *very* cool. Our evening was spent eating a buffet dinner at the Silk Street market (read: mall), home to thousands of shops selling imitation goods. (None of which received my custom, of course).

Up next: Suzhou-Hangzhou.

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These are some pretty amazing pictures!

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