Chinese Tea Ceremony in a Plantation, Jiujiang

One of the highlights of our trip to China was the visit to the tea plantation, the guided tour of how tea is picked and dried and finally the tea ceremony with different cups and kinds of tea. This plantation belongs to the Institute of Tea that studies and documents the different stages of processing tea.

The first thing offered to us were these giant straw hats to put on our heads and walk through the rows of low bushes with shiny green leaves. The pickers pick them by hand. The leaves are washed and sorted, then dried in small ovens and left to ferment in woven baskets. This process is repeated several times.

In the tea ceremony room we were seated around long tables. The teapots are preheates with hot water and the tea is carefully poured, stirred and poured again. The picture with the “brick” shows the most expensive variant, the highly fermented tea which is very appreciated among the connoisseurs. Our European taste is more for the young, fresh tea leaves however.

In the adjoining shop all kinds of tea in all sorts of sizes are on offer, as well as wall hangings, teapots and cup sets, tile placemats, figurines, vases and so forth. Many tourists take advantage of the offer and buy tea for themselves and their friends. Most shops will have the larger items sent to your home abroad should you wish to acquire a souvenir, statue or furniture.

Shanghai – downtown and Yuyuan Garden

Right in the center of Shanghai, between modern shop fronts and high rise buildings you can walk through a gate and find a beautiful garden : the Yuyuan Garden. Winding pathways lead you past little pagodas, ponds, flowering shrubs and walkways decorated with banners of golden Chinese letters. In between you can rest your weary feet on roofed benches inside shady and artfully carved wooden frames. This is one place you shouldn’t miss. It is a real oasis within a busy city.

After enjoying ourselves among the shady fronds and Chinese pointed pagodas, we decided to have some nice tea and look out over the rooftops of the city, where a cool breeze dried our damp forehead.

China – The Dazu Rock Carvings of Mount Beishan

The Dazu Rock Carvings are actually about 75 sites scattered throughout the steep hills. This World Heritage Site depicts Buddhas and gods with Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist influences. They are in the Dazu District about 2 hours away from the large city Chongqing.

Some carvings are shrines but by far the largest part are carved into the open rock face. What is unique is their exceptional coloring which has often been preserved. The biggest site is on Mount Beishan. The oldest carvings are from the mid 7th century in the Tang dynasty.

It is a refreshing walk through green trees and bushes to see the outdoor carvings of Buddhas.

Beijing – The Forbidden City

Many, many, many people, mostly Chinese stood in line on the Tiananmen Square outside the walls of the Forbidden City in Beijing (Peking). Luckily, our Chinese guide “Joseph” who spoke excellent German, had already organized the tickets and the wait was not quite that long. Meanwhile, we were often asked by Chinese tourists whether we would stand with their group for a photo and would grab any one of our group by the sleeve. They were always smiling and very pleasant and well-mannered.

The Forbidden City served as Imperial Residence for the Ming through the Qing Dynasty (1420-1912). For 500 years it was the center of political power. It is not far away from downtown Beijing. It is entirely surrounded by walls with the Palace (now a museum) in the center and the women’s quarters on the edge. The women have a beautiful rock garden near their building, one part of which is now a souvenir shop with lovely silk items. Many of the former concubines lived in comparative solitude we were told. The complex is now a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site of oldest wooden structures.

As you can see, red and gold are the predominant colors, blue represents the sky. The pointed roofs ward off evil spirits. The large metal bowls filled with water are a symbol of eternity. The steps and decorations are carved in white marble.

At times the crowd was so thick you could only see inside a temple using your camera and a selfie stick to reach over other people’s heads and look inside the room. Note also how many people used parasols, as the sun was very hot. Several hours are a minimum to see all the artefacts and wonders of this Palace!

The Tombs of the Ming Emperors near Beijing

From the third Yongle Emperor on, the one who chose feng shui principles for the tombs, thirteen emperors of the Ming dynasty in China have been laid to rest. The valley enclosed by mountains was chosen so as to guard the spirits from bad demons. A seven-kilometer “Spirit Way” leads into the complex, guarded by animals and a large “Red Gate” with three arches. The tombs are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 2003) including yet other tombs of the Ming and Xing dynasties. The eighteen pairs of mythical animals carved of stone lead the souls of the dead Emperors to the nether world.

The steps are made of marble and carved with snakes and dragons. The all-pervading royal colors are red and gold. Large metal pots filled with water symbolize longevity. The pointed ends of the rooftops shall ward off evil spirits. Bells and prayer drums are for the use of the devotees.

Within the buildings many objects like headdresses and silk robes are on display.

Longmen grottoes in Luoyang, province Henan, China

The limestone caves or Longmen grottoes are about 12 km to the south of Luoyang. They are the finest examples of Buddha statues carved in the soft rock and formerly painted. At times steep steps lead up to the statues, other are farther down, sometimes an entire rock face has been transformed into miniature and large niches for different sized statues. The Yi river flows through this area, the Yique or “gate of the river Yi”.

About 1/3 of the caves are from the Northern Wei and about 2/3 from the Tang dynasty, with some caves from other periods of time. The grottoes have been included in the World Heritage list as ‘outstanding manifestation of human artistic creativity’ by the UNESCO in 2000 showing such an amount of Tang art. The surrounding area is home to almost 2,500 stelae and inscriptions, as well as 60 Buddhist pagodas.

The Olympic Park in Beijing (2008) and the train CRH2 at 300 kmh

On the last day of our visit to Beijing we rode out to the Olympic Park with the famous “Bird’s Nest”, the stadium finished in 2008 by Herzog & Meuron. Altogether there are not many people walking around out there, a school class or some families passing the colorful mascots in costumes at the entrance. In some areas you can see 8 lanes on either side of the road leading around, but no traffic. On the periphery skyscrapers rise high, however it seems that the Olympic buildings are not used very much.

On our way to the train station we saw many highrisers, fashionable office space as well as appartment buildings. The apartments almost all sported air conditioners. Inside the fast train station CRH2 you must wait in the proper spot printed on your ticket.

On the inside of the train the seats are new and comfortable. Up front you can watch a screen showing exactly how fast the train is going. You don’t really notice how fast it is, but the number of km per hour on the screen is truly fascinating! Much faster than German and French TGVs at any rate.