Monday, June 30, 2008

Day 4: Xi'an (Terracotta Warriors and Wild Goose Pagoda)

The wake-up call came far too early this morning: 4:30 a.m., to be exact. As we know, I am not exactly a morning person, so I was practically comatose when the phone started ringing. Josh sprung out of bed, and I groggily mumbled to myself and stumbled to get ready.

We jumped in a cab and arrived at the Beijing airport at 6:00 a.m. to catch a flight to Xi'an. With some time to kill and grumbly stomachs, we made our way to a noodle shop that was completely packed with people looking for breakfast (turns out noodles are a common Chinese breakfast food).

I ordered spicy pork noodles. They were unbelievably delicious and although this is something I would usually consider a lunch or dinner food, they surprisingly hit the spot.

Josh ordered veggie noodles. Also very delicious.

Our flight took off at 7:15 a.m., and we arrived in Xi'an a little after 9:00 a.m. We were met by a driver to take us to the Terracotta Warriors. The Terracotta Warriors are about 8,000 warriors made out of clay that guard the tomb of Qi Shi Huang, the self-titled "First Emperor of China." Before Qi Shi Huang, China was a bunch of city-states. He came along and unified the city-states in 221 B.C. This guy was quite a character to say the least. Among his list of accomplishments, he commissioned what would become the beginnings of the Great Wall of China, commissioned the Terracotta Warriors, and unified China. The bad news? He killed hundreds of thousands of the laborers who built both the Great Wall and the Warriors.

The Terracotta Warriors were only "recently" discovered in 1974 by a local farmer who discovered pieces of one of the soldiers while at his well. This farmer now hangs out in the gift shop signing programs. Josh and I saw him, but they won't let you take pictures with him. Apparently, some of the elderly Chinese are superstitious when it comes to cameras -- they believe they bring bad luck. (I hate having my picture taken, so I am considering adopting this philosophy.)

Josh outside the museum that houses "Pit 1" of the Terracotta Warriors.

One row of the warriors. Sorry it's so blurry. The lighting was low and no flash photography allowed. I wanted to get down there and take pictures with the soldiers, but unfortunately, it's all roped off.

More of the army. One very cool thing that you cannot tell from my blurry photos: each soldier is different from the others. They have unique clothing, hair styles, and facial expressions. Also, you can tell the rank of the soldier by his hairstyle and how pointy his shoes are! (The pointier, the more powerful, of course!)

The building that houses the soldiers is HUGE!

More (blurry) pictures.

After finishing at the museum, we headed back to our car and our driver took us back into the city of Xi'an which is a little over an hour away. The combinations of the air conditioned car, the vibrations of the road, and the lightning speed at which we have been traveling started to make Josh and I realize how tired we were. We both started to drift in and out of sleep.

That is, until we arrived at our next destination: the Wild Goose Pagoda. The Wild Goose Pagoda is a Buddhist pagoda dating back to the Seventh Century.

Outside the gate was this little boy who appeared to love the lions as much as I do!

Here is the pagoda. Isn't it magnificent?

We walked all around the pagoda. Again, no pictures of the Buddha allowed, but it was spectacular and golden, of course.

More pictures of the gorgeous pagoda.

As we were walking out of the pagoda, it started to rain. By the time we got to our hotel, it was pouring. Honestly, it's probably a good thing as I want to go out and explore, but we should probably go to bed early tonight. There hasn't been much sleep on this trip (we can sleep at home -- too many other, better things to do in China!), and I feel myself starting to get snappy. I had to hold in some rage when the woman at the front desk of the Sheraton Xi'an started to make things difficult. However, it turns out that it is hard to get mad at a woman named Smile Li.

Back in our hotel in the early evening, we realized we were starving. Did you notice that there weren't any pictures of lunch? Yeah, that's because we were so busy darting around, we didn't have any!

So, in a grumpy and hungry haze, we stumbled down to the lobby, borrowed a couple of umbrellas, and walked to a dumpling restaurant close by. (Xi'an is apparently famous for its dumplings.)

The server recommended this noodly spinachy concoction soaked in chili oil. It was one of the most delicious things I've eaten here so far!

We also ordered pork dumplings (for me) and vegetarian dumplings (for Josh).

We asked for napkins, and they brought us these cute little packets with scented napkins (smelling kind of like old lady perfume).

After dinner, we hit up a small convenience store so Josh could buy some candy. Now, we are back in our room. Although it's pretty early, I think it may be time to take advantage of the bad weather and get a good night's sleep! We have to be up early tomorrow to catch a flight to Shanghai.

Before signing off, though, two quick non-China-related items. First, I have been reading a bit of news on my Blackberry and came across this article. Although I love politics, I usually stray away from discussing political topics on this blog as it's not really the proper forum, in my opinion. However, suffice to say that if we go to war with Iran, I am moving. Italy sounds nice. Even Canada.

Second, today is my Grandma's birthday! Happy Birthday, Grandma!

Okay, time for bed. Next time you hear from me, we will (hopefully) be in Shanghai!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Day 3: Beijing (Summer Palace, Lama Temple, Drum Tower, Hutong, Beihai Park, Beijing Opera ... phew!)

Today was our third and last day here in Beijing. Again, we were up around 8:00 so we were ready to meet Mary at 9:00. This morning, we had breakfast food from our grocery trip yesterday. I had what appeared to be apple milk in a juice box but tasted more like an apple creamsicle! So delicious!

Our first stop this morning was the Summer Palace, once the emperor's summer home, it is now a lakeside park with the living areas preserved and turned into exhibits.

When we walked in through the gate, there were many locals dancing and singing. It was such an amazing sight! Americans don't exactly gather in parks to sing and dance together, and so it was a beautiful thing to witness.

People with red fans.

More dancing (with something resembling but far surpassing the beauty of a ribbon wand).

In the building behind the ribbon dancers, there was a large group of people singing what sounded like an anthem at the top of their lungs. Although I couldn't understand the words, the sound of the song was very powerful and sung with tremendous passion. The singers surrounded several women who were dancing to the music.

Mary told us the song is a very famous anthem to Mao, praising him and saying, in essence, that their hearts beat for him. Out of the crowd, this guy was definitely my favorite. He was rocking out. When I passed him, he smiled, pumped his fists in the air, and exclaimed: "Ni hao!! Welcome to China!!" People here are so, so nice.

The Summer Palace surrounds Kunming Lake.

The bridge is lined with lions. Can you tell I am a little obsessed with the lions here? I'm sure they're supposed to be fierce, but I just think they're cute!

To get to the living quarters of the royal family, we took one of these boats across the lake.

On the other side of the lake is the Marble Boat. Seems weird to make a boat out of marble, no? Well, first off, it doesn't float. It is anchored to the bottom of the lake. Secondly, it was symbolic of the emperor's strong family. According to Mary, the emperor was superstitious that if his boat were capsize, then the people would revolt and remove his dynasty from power. So, since the marble boat cannot be capsized, the emperor believed it to represent the longevity of his dynasty.

So, what do you do with a marble boat you cannot sail, you might ask? Well, apparently the emperors often took tea there. Sounds like the life to me.

So, at the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, the streets have pebbly paths along the smooth part. The concubines' shoes were thin, so the pebbles provided a foot massage. How clever is that?!

The Long Corridor. The Qianlong Emperor commissioned this for his mom's 60th birthday so she could walk along the lake in the shade or when it was raining.

More pictures of the Summer Palace.

So pretty. I think I liked the people watching at the Summer Palace as much as the historical sites.

Next stop? The Lama Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Beijing.

Outside of the temple, there are many shops to buy incense before going in to pray.

The gate.

The first building. The "temple" is more like a series of buildings. Each has incense burning in front and at least one Buddha inside. You walk through one building and there is a slightly larger one behind with the same set up.

Prayer tablet.

Unfortunately, it is forbidden to take pictures of the Buddhas, which is too bad because they are spectacular. I thought about trying to sneak a photo, but most people there were there to pray and not sight see, so I decided to be respectful.

The last building. There is a huge Buddha inside here that is as high as the ceiling! In fact, this building was built around the statue.

After the temple, it was time for lunch. Guess what Josh had to drink? You got it, a new type of Chinese beer he had yet to try!

Fried potatoes and eggplant in the most delicious sauce.

"Pancakes." (Not sure what these actually are called, but that was the translation on the menu. They were very bready and delicious.)

Josh ordered some broth and noodles. I had a taste, and it was amazing!

Mary and I split spicy white fish, recommended by our very friendly server. It was bony but tasty.

After lunch, we went to the Drum Tower. During imperial times, the emperor would let the people know the time by ringing the bells in the daytime and sounding the drums at night.

This picture is blurry but I wanted you to see the steep hike up to the top of the Drum Tower!

We got there just in time to see a drum demonstration.

The Bell Tower across the way (it is closed for renovations).

We carefully climbed down the Drum Tower and walked around some hutongs. Hutongs are narrow streets, no wider than "twelve steps," that represent "the Real Beijing" according to Mary, where people have lived and worked for centuries. With the Olympics coming, many of the hutongs have been destroyed to build newer, modern buildings. The general consensus seems to be that this is a big loss.

This sign made me laugh.

I wanted to steal this little girl and bring her home with us, but Josh told me I couldn't.


We walked through the hutongs to Beihai Park, an imperial garden dating back to the tenth century.

Nine Dragon Wall.

Cat on a hot tile roof.

One of the five dragon pagodas.

A few more shots.

White Pagoda.

By the time we had walked through Beihai Park, it was almost 5:00 p.m. We said goodbye to our amazing tourguide, Mary. Here she is.

Mary was a wonderful guide, and we felt so lucky to have found her! If you know of anyone considering a trip to Beijing, I highly recommend her. Her website is here.

We got back to the hotel around 5:30 p.m. and had just enough time to clean up and head out the the Beijing Opera. Although I was pretty exhausted, our tickets to the opera confirmed that we were doing the right thing by venturing out instead of sleeping.

We got to see some of the actors putting on traditional make-up.

Then, the show began. The first act featured two incredible acrobats.

The second act was a goddess picking flowers and praising Buddha. If you have not heard traditional opera in China, let's just say it's much more nasaly than western opera. And, this lady had lungs on her.

The third act was a woman who was trying to steal an herb from the eternal mountain to help her dying husband. Although it may sound heavy, the translation was a little funny. In the middle of the sad part, our protaganist exclaimed out of nowhere: "On the Dragon Boat, I drank too much." Well, hey, who hasn't drunk too much on a dragon boat before?

Despite the fact that she was so sad her "tears were weeping," she managed to kick some major butt. At one point, she was sword fighting five guys and showed them who was boss. My kind of girl.

The opera finished, and we wearily made it back to our comfy hotel. I am so beat. We have been going a mile a minute, but I can't imagine skipping any of the sites we've seen. So far, this has been a truly amazing trip!

Tomorrow morning, we fly to Xi'an to see the Terrcotta Warriors. But for now . . . sleep.