Saturday, December 24, 2005
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
My partner's mom visited us for a whole month in China. Since Beijing has so much to offer, and she wasn't really into being dragged for hours on end site after site, we took our sweet slow time to show her around little by little, bit by bit.
Obviously, no visit to China could be complete without a visit to the Great Wall, right? But it's not such a simple choice. After all, the wall itself is some 20,000 km long and made up of countless sections and branches! But we figured our best bet was to take her to the most restored part of the wall - Badaling. Yes, it's the most touristy, but it's also the most walkable and, thanks to its degree of preservation/restoration, it also gives you a pretty neat idea of how it looked like when it - this section - was built 500 years ago.
It's strange how I have visited this section of the wall a number of times, yet it's always intriguing to look at and see it serpent its way through the mountains in the distance. There couldn't be anything more typical to visit, but it would be such a sad mistake to miss it!
It's customary to also visit the Ming Tombs - a cluster of 13 mausoleums built during the Ming dynasty - after you go to Badaling. They're not too far from there, and it's a nice combination of Chinese culture. Unless the crowds at Badaling have really tired you and the heat is unbearable, in which case you might end up mostly dragging your feet through the Spirit Way - a road that leads to the mausoleums and that is flanked with statues of guardian animals and officials - to then have a just a quick peek at some of the mausoleums and their steles. Honestly, the tombs are really worth a visit, they're even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But I'd definitely advise not combining them with anything else, or you'll end up like we did, begging to get back home!
Fortunately, my partner's mom was pretty happy with her visit. Even if she preferred to stay in the car while my partner and me visited the tombs! Oh well...
Monday, October 17, 2005
Friday, October 14, 2005
I've visited this place so many times. In summer, winter, fall, spring... It's one of those places you can keep coming back to time and time again and still discover new things or different ways to look at the same thing. It is almost a physical a cliché. Yet an essential one. The Forbidden City. Always.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
The Yonghe Lamasery or, as most of us knew it, the Lama Temple. One of my favourites because, among other things, of its trilingual Tibetan-Manchurian-Chinese signs at the entrance of different areas (it's silly how much that bit excites geeky me, right?). Also, please note the yellow tiles on some of the roofs - they denote the imperial status the temple received.
Though one of the more important Tibetan Buddhism temples, it's rather "new" - late 17th century. It welcomed numerous monks from Tibet and Mongolia, and for those lucky of us living in Beijing offers the amazing chance to witness a number of Tibetan Buddhism rituals, like the making of mandalas with coloured sand and the giving of Laba porridge during the Laba festival (ok, I haven´t witnessed this one yet, I'll confess), which commemorates the enlightenment of the Buddha.
So, yes. Tibetan Buddhism. With an important temple. In Beijing. With all the political complications that may or may not imply.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
This must be by far one of the most peculiar temples I've seen in China - the Temple of the Eastern Peak (better known as the Dongyue Temple, or 东岳庙).
But before I get into that, some info. This is a 14th century, Taoist temple. In fact, it's the largest temple of this branch of Taoism (Zhengyi) in Northern China. To give you an idea of the size, it has 3 courtyards, 376 rooms, and covers 4.7 hectares. That big.
So, one of the nice things about this temple is its stone steles, about 90 of them, in one of the courtyards. Sorry, reading Chinese stone steles is not my forte. Can't tell you what they tell. But it's still a very interesting sight nevertheless! "Chinese stele gardens"! And you've got to especially love the ones mounted on mythical creatures, right?
Something else and pretty noteworthy, but which I'm afraid was just part of some special event or festival, was this Chinese "zoetrope" (or layangpian, 拉洋片), a pre-film animation device with a storyteller telling you the story sound-effects and all! We loved it!
But finally, and I was saving the best for last, there were countless chambers with scenes from the different Taoist departments of death! I can't explain much about this part of Taoism, it was completely unknown to me until I visited this temple. But one thing is for sure - after a visit here, if have the tiniest Taoist vein in you, you'll definitely want to behave afterwards! There were departments for implementing violent death, for suppressing schemes, for punishment, for those on drugs... Some were so gruesome!
Quite the unique place, eh?
Friday, September 30, 2005
Because this is one of my favourite places in Beijing (not the top one, but close). Where at the Circular Mound Altar (圜丘坛), the altar proper where emperors came to pray to heaven, you can stand in the center of the platform (called the Heart of Heaven, 天心石, or the Supreme Yang, 太阳石) and have your voice resonate thanks to the stone guardrail around. A beautiful, mystical place (even for those of us not into mysticism or spiritual stuff). The Temple of Heaven (天坛) indeed.
Friday, August 26, 2005
Ah... our first visit to Fragrant Harbour, better known, of course, as Hong Kong (香港). Not out of pleasure, though, but out of necessity. Since marriage equality is non-existent in our dear home-country and my beau is, therefore, a nought when it comes to a too big number of rights, we were forced to make a rush visit to anywhere outside of Mainland China where he could secure a visa to remain with me. Fortunately that was Hong Kong, so even though the trip derived from our status as second class citizens back home, at least we got to see one of the most fascinating cities in the world!
Which didn't mean the weather cooperated much with our impromptu choice of destination, of course. We got all the wind and rain we could have needed. Umbrellas were useless and even a nuisance, as you had to fight to keep them from flipping up while your lower half became completely soaked. A wet, foggy, unwelcoming Hong Kong greeted us, as if to get back at us for travelling there not out of pleasure, but necessity...
But... us being us, and having seen far worse in our life, and always excited to discover new places no matter the circumstances, made the most out of it, and actually greatly enjoyed the futuristic images of a fog covered sky-scraper-ful futuristic cityscape by the harbour...
And traditional life side by side modern structures, like these people practising Taichi with swords...
But best of all, for me, the Hong Kong Museum of Art (香港藝術館), where I saw one of the more impressive pieces by artist Xu Bing (徐冰): the Book from the Sky (天書). Xu Bing printed page upon page of text which, at first, looks like it's composed from Chinese characters but, upon closer inspection, reveals a totally unintelligible text - the characters are indeed built following the rules of character creation and composition, real character parts are used, but every single character is made up, mixing parts and radicals in a way that had never been done before. I realize it's difficult to understand what I'm writing about if you don't know Chinese or haven't seen this before. But I loved it. I absolutely loved it and thought it was genious. And the fact that the Chinese title means both "A book from heaven" and "gibberish" only added to it.
So, a first glance at Hong Kong, amazing views of the harbour (I like misty views, sorry!), great art, and a visa to guarantee the beau can stay with me. A success. And an invitation to come back, with more time, with less pressure, and for lots of fun!
Friday, August 12, 2005
Barely a month after arriving in Beijing we visited this amazing place that so didn't exist when I studied here back in the late nineties! The Panjiayuan Antique Market (潘家园)! Sure, you'd have to be pretty naïve to think that everything is an authentic antique. Frankly, I'm not one to fret about that, and I simply enjoyed the views (oh, so different from Lebanon!), particularly this section filled with statues of all sorts, many of them Buddhism-inspired. Crazy! Of course,
I didn't need to buy any Buddha heads, though. I have my own, super cheap, stone one that was left behind by the previous residents of an apartment I lived in when I was in Shanghai 2000...
Friday, July 29, 2005
So, what do you do when you've just moved country to your new job, and you simply can't ask for days off to celebrate your 4th anniversary with your beau? Well, you use a weekend, and make the most out of it! And that's what we did. We grabbed a flight to the "nearby" (1000km away) city of Shanghai (上海)! Ah, yes, by the way, Shanghai literally means "upon the sea", hence this post's title.
Now, I lived in Shanghai for about six months in 2000. And I had visited once in 1997 (or was it 1998?) too. My beau had never been anywhere in Asia. So this cosmopolitan, vibrant, historic city seemed like a great option to celebrate four years together.
Some highlights? Well, obviously, the cityscape! The speed at which this city develops renders any photos outdated the second you take them, for sure. But it's always a peculiar sight, especially with the Jinmao Tower (金茂大厦, tallest building on the right, first photo) and the Oriental Pearl Tower (东方明珠塔, the tower on the left). The water, unfortunately, is always that charming muddy colour. But still, going to the waterfront for views of the city, or taking a boat tour (we didn't) is a must.
Then, there's the Bund (外滩). Right by the waterfront. Chock-full with European buildings and a nice, broad promenade. Were it not for the Chinese flags and the throngs of Chinese, you could for a second forget you were in China. We headed to for a plunge in some contemporary Chinese consumerism - Nanjing Road (南京路), one of the biggest shopping streets in the world. I might have been to these places very many times before. But I simply can't get tired of seeing this city!
Then, besides the skyscrapers, and the European architecture, and the rampant capitalism with Chinese characteristics, there's tradition - Yuyuan Garden (豫园). This 16th century garden is next to the City God Temple (上海城隍庙), and both gave us the chance to explore shops, ponds, rockeries, dragon walls, bridges... My favourites are always the rockeries and the koi ponds, of course! It's a pretty big place, so we'll have to come back someday, right?
And last, but not least - the Grand Hyatt Shanghai (上海金茂君悦大酒店), where we spent our nights. The hotel is in fact part of the Jinmao Tower (金茂大厦). When I used to live here, I would often come here to party at one of its nightclubs, where I had the most fun I had in the city. One night I saw an amazing jazz singer at one of its bars, too. And the hotel starts on the 53rd floor, goes up to the 87th, and it has a barrel-vault atrium that starts at the lobby (53rd floor) and rises to the 88th (the skywalk). The views, either of the atrium from within or of the city from your room, are amazing.
So, obviously, this was the one place I felt I could properly celebrate the beau had spent four years of his life walking the world along with me. And I even managed to get a corner room with views of the city (not an easy feat, beginning with the fact that, more often than not, fog will block said views!).
A fourth, romantic, happy anniversary, and our first one in Asia! Yay!