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.

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.

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.

The Lama Temple in Beijing, China

Before we left Beijing, we visited the Lama Temple. One walks through several courtyards and through several large buildings, most often in red and gold, the sacred colors. In the first courtyard there is a small corner window where a helper passes out free boxes of incense sticks for the devotees.

You can see gorgeous paintings, statues, nasty monsters being crushed, banners and parasols. In the courtyards people stand in front of a kind of low iron oven in which they poke their incense sticks after lighting them. They bow low in all four wind directions pronouncing holy phrases. It gives you a sense of peace just watching them. Most Chinese follow Daoism. As far as I have understood, it makes most of them friendly, peace-loving citizens.

The temple figures in the Guiness Book of Records, since one of the longest and largest trees ever was used to build one of the buildings.

Peking duck and the Hutongs

One of our first meals was Peking duck, of course. As we were a group of 16, we always sat around two large circular tables with a kind of Lazy Susan in the middle. All the vegetables, soup (rather tasteless), fluffy rice and meat dishes would be placed there and everyone could take as much as he liked. In the photo you can see the chef carving up the duck.

We entirely preferred the food which can be seen in the second row, cooked by a professional cook who lives in a hutong – a sort of narrow alleyway near the Forbidden City. She makes a little extra money cooking on her tiny double stove for foreign guests. Unfortunately, the authorities would like to tear down the old, low houses and replace them with high-risers. We read a newspaper article that some houses had their doorway cemented closed, leaving the inhabitants to climb in and out of a window.

We also took a ride in a bicycle riksha through several hutongs. Although they are not very pretty, they still have the right size for a neighborly lifestyle. We did not see many dogs on a leash, nor cats. Instead, it is normal to keep chirping birds and singing crickets in cages near the door.

The Great Wall to the northeast of Beijing

Our small group took a bus to visit the Great Wall directly after visiting Beijing. We recommend taking along walking sticks should you plan on following one or the other piece of wall as they are at times extremely steep. In the turret I walked up to they were selling cheap coins and certificates to show that you have been on the Wall.

My husband was stopped by an energetic 12-year-old who spoke good English, whether she could ask him questions. She then translated them into Chinese to the rest of the passers-by. Hubby quite enjoyed his “stardom”, but needless to say, all the Chinese people we met were very pleasant, cheerful, curious. However, not everybody speaks English in China as we found out later on!

At the bottom of the hill you will of course find flower beds, toilets, souvenir shops and cafés for the tourists. Some of the souvenir items were absolutely stunning and some also rather large, like life-sized warriors and horses.

Unfortunately, there are only a few sections left of the Great Wall. It is certainly worth climbing on, the view is spectacular.

Shanghai by Day

When visiting Shanghai you should take some time not only for the fashionable colonial street “Bund” and the skyscrapers, but also for their wonderful museum.

Right outdoors of the museum is the river bank walk, where we witnessed a young bridal couple having their photo taken. From the walk you can admire the Bund and the skyscrapers opposite.

Funnily enough, on the way to the airport we saw an area with low houses and little grass + garden plots all around. We were told they belong to affluent people who can pay to have a larger plot and not have to live in a tall building.

As to ownership, the Chinese may only lease their appartment for about 70 years, then it is given to the State. Those people who wish to make money by renting out appartments can only buy a second or third flat under certain circumstances, such as divorce. One lady was in the newspaper for divorcing her husband several times over in order to buy new appartments!