Tea ceremony

In Beijing, after we visited the Temple of Heaven,

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we went to an official tea house where we enjoyed a remarkable and pleasant experience.

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I don’t remember the details, but I do remember that there were a lot of them (details).

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Incredible flowers were involved.

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Look what this one does when you pour boiling water on it.

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May your weekend include ritual and friendship.

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A vertical garden in Hong Kong

It was a little hard to photograph this vertical garden, which was in the ICON Hotel restaurant/bar on Kowloon (on the peninsula across Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong Island). Before this one, I had never heard of a vertical garden before, let alone seen one.

hong-kong-kowloon-17 hong-kong-kowloon-16 hong-kong-kowloon-15 hong-kong-kowloon-14 hong-kong-kowloon-13And here’s a panorama from a window, Kowloon in the foreground, Hong Kong Island across the harbor.

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The Hutongs of Beijing

The Hutongs are the old part of Beijing, quickly disappearing, where you can slip into the past. We took a taxi there, traveling through streets lined with shops and looking quite contemporary, not fancy, but not rundown, lots of restaurants and clothing shops. Then we arrived at the area called the Hutongs.

As old as everything is, there’s a Starbucks near the entrance!

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We were wandering along, wide-eyed, wondering how to find a rickshaw driver to take us around, when a very industrious man found us. He had a laminated piece of paper that showed his rickshaw and all the stops on his tour. So we went with him.

He was wonderful. His rickshaw had a little motor, so we didn’t have to feel badly about him peddling large Americans around on his tour. He didn’t speak much English, but what he did speak, he put to good use. “Nice to meet you!” He would say, with a big grin. And “Rickshaw photo!” Then he’d pull over and take our picture with our cameras. We really loved our tour.

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The Forbidden City…

…was different than I expected. Well, unconscious expectations are interesting. I become aware of them only in that brief moment when I first lay eyes on the famous sight. The way turning on the light erases the dream, for an instant the contrast of reality exposes the imagined, illuminating its images in a flash before extinguishing them forever.

I think I expected the Forbidden City still to be vibrantly alive, filled with soft impermanent things like silks, rugs, robes, incense, wood, leather, music, and fragile things like ceramics and paintings, but the Forbidden City comprises mostly hard substances–stones and structures. Like other exposed antiquities, only the things that couldn’t be carried off still remain. The Chinese have proudly restored pigment to the gorgeous eaves and ceilings of the Forbidden City, and they have carefully preserved the bit of furnishings spared by British and French soldiers whose gentlemanly sensibilities thankfully restrained their conquering hands from grabbing the interiors of the women’s  quarters. I hope that other treasures that are scattered in museums throughout the world will soon make their way back home where they belong.

I’ll start with the women’s quarters, where we can still glimpse the rich layers of daily life. Unfortunately, like all examples of excessive power, there is the grotesque and immoral side to the story. Girls were selected as concubines for one of the emperors, and kept here in these rooms with the emperor’s wife. Having a daughter selected for the emperor’s (lascivious and decadent) possession was an honor for the family but a disaster for the girl. Anyway, I won’t go into detail about the girls’ lives, but will note that the female occupants were not allowed to leave the inner city during this period. A raised barrier lies at the foot of the gate between the deep interior of the city and the outer part. These raised steel panels must still be stepped over, an easy feat for tourists in sneakers, but not so easy for women crippled by bound feet. The barriers were both symbolic and effective in that sense.

My impression is that symbolism abounds in the Chinese culture and in these historic sites. To me, these symbols are fascinating from sociological, historical, and art-appreciation standpoints, but, like bound feet, can cripple those who let superstition govern their thoughts, choices, actions, and lives.

Once I adjusted to the reality versus my expectation, the Forbidden City amazed me. It is vast! Walking through the bones of the ancient city gives a sense of the events and lives that took place here. Marco Polo sat on his horse on the stone expanse below the emperor’s platform (The Gate of Supreme Harmony…I think). You can imagine this huge courtyard filled with horses and the awesome power manifest in the ornately attired emperor up there on the platform with all his attendants.

The first set of photos is of the beautiful interiors of the women’s quarters where we can still see the wood, ceramics, tapestries, paintings and other artifacts. These rooms are behind glass, so that’s my excuse for the quality. I think they will still interest you despite their photographic flaws!

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This picture shows the women’s quarters from outside. This is in the far back of the Forbidden City.

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Look at these gorgeous rooftops and terraces.

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Here is where the emperor would rest and have tea after the tiring task of being carried out of the private area.

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Here’s the biggest building at the center (the Palace of Heavenly Peace) and the raised marble platform surrounding it.Forbidden-City-China-12

Here is the stone courtyard with deeply layered stones capable of holding a lot of weight, a whole army on horseback.Forbidden-City-China-11 Forbidden-City-China-10

Again, the largest building, the Palace of Heavenly Peace:Forbidden-City-China-9

The gate to the left of the Palace of Heavenly Peace, through which we passed into the inner part of the city.Forbidden-City-China-8

And just some photos for you to enjoy:Forbidden-City-China-7 Forbidden-City-China-6 Forbidden-City-China-5

Here’s the entrance to the Forbidden City.

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Here’s Tiananmen Square, which you cross to go to the Forbidden city. It’s huge. These flowers are just in a small corner of the square.

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Here is another view of Tiananmen Square, showing its size:

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Monochrome madness from Beijing

Hello blog followers! Sorry for the long silence. For the part of the trip in Townsville Australia, I was very busy with my co-author’s family…the kids were on school holidays, and we had a lot of playing to do.

Today we are in Queenstown New Zealand. I wish I had my camera out when we flew in, also when we arrived. I was tired as we hadn’t had much sleep, but I did take a phone photo, fortunately, because now it  is raining and you can’t see as much.

Today’s photos are 3 monochrome shots I took in Beijing, some of which will show up in Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness series.

The Forbidden City
The Temple of Heaven
Silver bird outside the hotel
Silver bird outside the hotel
The Beijing TV station
The Beijing TV station

 

Riding the subway in Beijing

Yes, we did it! We felt safe in Beijing and a Chinese man we met in Sweden said we had to try the subway. We would be amazed at its efficiency. Once we were assured that the signs were also in English, we decided to give it a try. We rode all the way across the city to go to the zoo.

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It was a challenge but manageable. It was nice to mix with the locals. We avoided rush hour but even so, the way back was more crowded, because it was around 3:00.

We made one mistake and went the wrong way on the above-ground connecting train. We stepped off at the first station and waited for the train in the opposite direction. I used the opportunity to take pictures out the window, finding it fascinating to see a non-touristy part of Beijing. It was called the Wudaokou Area. Apparently there are three universities in this area including one where Chinese learn other languages and foreigners learn Chinese. It is written about by a native here: http://blogs.transparent.com/chinese/top-10-places-in-beijing-wudaokou/. I was tempted to learn Chinese when I was on the Subway because the recorded voice pronounced the words clearly and I could hear the musicality in the language. It was good to spend a day really concentrating on the language. Who would have thought that a trip on the subway would have been a lesson in Chinese? I asked our guide, the previous day, why they had signs in English. She said for convenience. I asked if it was because there were a lot of American business travelers, and she said, no, it was that they are teaching English in the schools now, and it is a good common language. Anyway, it was interesting to listen to the translations on the subway.

 

Here are a couple shots from the train station window. Not much, I know, but a little peek at another place.

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Yes, we did make it to the zoo, which is pretty. I have a few shots, but I won’t share the ones of the giant pandas, the reason for our trip. These magnificent animals shouldn’t be in zoos. I get depressed every time I go to a zoo because I don’t like seeing wild animals confined. I made an exception to go see these pandas, but I had the same reaction I always have. I think the only place I didn’t have that reaction was the Desert Museum in Tucson.

According to this sign, the preservation of habitat is expanding. I know the reason for zoos is to show people these magnificent animals and that helps people to have the will to protect them in the wild. The children who saw the pandas that day were delighted.

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Here is a WWF article about the giant pandas and their work with the Chinese provinces to preserve their habitat: http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/giant_panda/panda/where_panda_lives_habitat/

I think the waterfowl are quite happy, though. For one thing, they aren’t confined. Here is one I thought was pretty.

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I decided not to enhance the photo so you would see the smog, which is quite heavy a lot of the time in Beijing.