Thursday, March 23, 2006

Marco Polo Bridge

Why I have so few photos of this bridge is anybody's guess. Was it the bleak, dry, early spring landscape? How un-photogenic the place looked as the the river that flowed underneath had been diverted? 

Anyhow, at least I have these two here from the Marco Polo Bridge. The one built around the end of the 12th century. That Marco Polo highly praised on the 13th. That has endured since. And that has hundreds of lions adorning it - big ones, small ones hiding under the paws or beneath the belly of the bigger ones... Some 500 lions all in all, dating from the Jin Dynasty (which began in the 12th century) all the way to the Qing Dynasty (which ended in the 20th century).

Most definitely worth the 15km trip southwest of Beijing. And deserving of way better photos, needless to say! LOL

Thursday, March 09, 2006

spring at the Gardens of Perfect Brightness

Spring in Beijing was for me quite an event, always. That brief period between the dry, cold, drab winter and the humid, sweltering hot summer, where all of a sudden flowers bloom madly, taking advantage of the small and sadly short respite of spring.

One of the places we enjoyed the most for flower watching was the Old Summer Palace, which in Chinese translates as the Gardens of Perfect Brightness (圆明园). One of the advantages of living in Beijing, right? Being able to visit an important historic site simply for flower watching?

In case you don't know, by the way, this is an 18th century Qing Dynasty palace, where the court and emperors used to reside. Long and complex story short, during the Second Opium War the Chinese didn't bow to the French and British, tortured and killed some envoys, and the British and French retaliated by looting and destroying the palace, burning it to the ground. Ah, the beautiful love story between China and western powers...

At least something was left, as a stark reminder of a rough part of China's history. And to my delight, one of the surviving structures was a maze! I can't get enough of those things. Ever.


But I digress. Severely. Spring was the theme. Cherry blossoms, weeping willows, wisteria, magnolia trees... We enjoyed this visit incredibly.  The pictures are pretty bad, I'll be the first one to admit. But the experience of enjoying all that colour gracing this part of China's history with pleasant spring weather? Amazing.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Fire Dog in the South - Hong Kong

Our last, and most fun stop in our quick tour around this corner of China, was the former British colony of Hong Kong! 

We adore Hong Kong. It's incredibly alive. It's Chinese. And British. And something else completely. And you can go from the extremely traditional temples to super glitzy glass towers. And the crowd is as mixed as anywhere in the world. It's so energizing! 

Let me just point out a few of the things I enjoyed most this time:

Victoria Peak (太平山)

You can safely say that no visit to Hong Kong would be complete without a visit to the Peak, the highest mountain in Hong Kong. From here you get superb views of the city below and, with plenty of vegetation and paths, it is a beautiful (and cooler, thanks to the altitude) area to explore on foot. We spent quite some time there, enjoying the breeze, the unbelievable views, the greenery...


Frankly, half the time we spend it just looking at the city itself. It's an incredibly wealthy place. And since it became a British colony from around the mid 19th century until 1997, there's also a fair share of more traditional English architecture. I so love the combination of high-rises, vegetation and traditional British architecture!

Kowloon Bay at night

Another big pleasure we couldn't deny ourselves was enjoying what is, for me, the most astonishing side of Hong Kong - Kowloon Bay, at night. I mean, just look at the photos. What more can I say? And since plenty of times the weather is foggy, the lights of the buildings just make it that much more incredible! And romantic. So we went for a glass ("a" as in "one, single", because prices were through the roof!) at one of the nicer bars with a view: at the Felix, in the Peninsula Hotel. Though I can't remember what I had, my partner had one of the most wonderful glasses of Spanish wine ever! Yay! Plus, being at this sort of places (mega-fancy) always carries interesting surprises, like the men's washrooms - you peed facing a glass wall! No, correction. You pee AGAINST a glass wall facing the city! Crazy! 


My partner had never ever been to Disneyland. So this trip to Hong Kong was the perfect excuse! Moreover, Hong Kong's Disneyland was made according to the plans of the original and very first one. I guess they had to figure how to deal with limited space, right? But we had a blast! Especially since I found a way to trick my partner into getting on some of the more adventurous rides he'd never have consented to otherwise! Specifically, I said I'd ride Space Mountain by myself, but asked him to keep me company while in the line-up. Of course, at some point he was so deep inside that social pressure to get in the car and some gentle and reassuring prodding from me did the trick. But I swear in the end he enjoyed it, honest! 


Just walking around the narrow streets of Hong Kong is great. Coming across all this incredibly rich variety of spices, food and items is enough to keep you entertained for hours! And then a a street with antiquities? Of course, antiquities are usually interesting, but seeing them in Hong Kong, with the cultural mix they presented, was particularly curious. 

Temples and Spring Festival

Of course, this being Chinese New Year, rituals and praying were at their peak. We came across a small temple or something like that where a man behind a plastic curtain was offering advice on the future to people, or writing down wishes or names? We couldn't quite get what he was doing. Anyhow, at other smaller chapels here and there people were making offerings of incense and chanting and praying. At yet another temple the throngs of people were so big they had to line up t get in. 

This was one very strange experience. Yes, we had seen some rituals and Chinese New Year ceremonies in Beijing. But somehow these felt more authentic, or deeper, or widespread... Maybe it's just that Hong Kong suffered no Cultural Revolution. Or maybe it was just my imagination. Whichever way, this felt very, very different.


I almost forgot about this part because I have no photos of it! Another brilliant reason to visit Hong Kong is to party! No, that glass at the Felix doesn't count, that was romance. I mean getting sweaty dancing and drinking with the cosmopolitan and queer crowds of this crazy city, including at the city's most famous gay club: Propaganda. Maybe it's not such a bad thing I have no photos of our partying around the city, right? And talking about "around the city", having lived in a number of big crowded ones, Hong Kong's subway system is amazing! We're in love with it! It takes you everywhere! If I ever get to have a say on a megalopolis's transport system, I'm putting all my eggs in a Hong Kong mass transit system basket! 

And this was the end of a trip to four extremely close, yet incredibly different, places - Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Macau and Hong Kong. A trip through southern Chinese culture, through Portuguese culture, through British culture, and through locally developed and unique Macanese and Hong Kong cultures. It was rich. It was so fun! A great way to start a (Chinese New) year.