Sunday, 27 June 2010

Great Wall of China

One of the things to do in China, in fact a must do, is to see the Great Wall of China and it is really amazing to be able to walk along pathways and through buildings that were originally built in various stages from the 5th Century BC up to the 16th Century! The Chinese name for the GW is "Wanli Changcheng" and it means the long fortress of 10,000li, which is just short of 9,000 klms and just over 5,500 miles. Most of what remains of the GW was built in the Ming Dynasty between the 14th and 17th centuries. We visited the Mutianyu section of the wall which is about a 90 minute drive from Beijing. Although it was Sunday there were not so many visitors as to make it crowded or uncomfortable and we had lots of opportunity to take photos and not have them full of people. This is quite different in China as most tourist spots have wall to wall people and you struggle to get photos that don't have people in them.

At Mutianyu we were able to take a gondola style cable car to a high point on the wall and walk about 2klms to a chair lift that takes you back to the entrance area. Along the way you climb and descend hundreds (no - probably thousands) of stone steps. You also pass through a number of watchtowers and along some parapets. It can be done at a slow ambling pace and there are lots of places to stop and catch your breath. There are also some small stalls that sell water and iceblocks, Coca Cola and other soft drinks and BEER!

At the entrance to the site there is a small tourist shopping area selling "I climbed the Great Wall of China" t-shirts and other touristy paraphenalia. We got the T shirts!

So I guess now we can say - "Beijing? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt!"

Saturday, 26 June 2010

The Forbidden City

After Tiananmen Square we crossed under the road and came up at the entrance to the Forbidden City. The reason it is called the Forbidden City is because no-one could enter or leave it unless they had the permission of the emperor. UNESCO lists it as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. It is a World Heritage Site. And so there are a lot of reasons to visit if you are in Beijing! Some statistics quoted from Wikipedia say the Forbidden City was built in 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms and covers 720,000 m2 (7,800,000 sq ft). It was impossible to visit all aspects of it in one afternoon. There is a lot of information in the Wikipedia entry at this link: 

I was struck by the fact that an ancient imperial "city" would have a picture of Chairman Mao mounted above the entrance. He actually wasn't anywhere around when it was built and didn't come along till centuries later! The Emperors would roll in their graves to think that Mao now has pride of place at the Tiananmen Gate to the Forbidden City! I suppose Mao is just there to keep an eye on happenings in Tiananmen Square. I got my camera out to get a photo with one of the guards and he quickly said "No Photo" quite emphatically - however I had already taken this one and it seemed OK at the time.

You can wander for days through the Forbidden City and I imagine you could get lost in there without too much trouble at all. However Ron and I had taken advice from our friend Lynn who had said not to follow the tour groups up the middle of the city and to branch out to one side where there were far less people and in fact quite a lot of lovely things to see. We decided to head off to the right as we entered the main part of the palaces and found ourselves going through the Galleries of Treasures. it was much quieter than the central path that went through all the palaces and it was very interesting as well - lots of museum pieces that indicated the life of the emperors and the lifestyle of the court. 

I wouldn't have missed it as it was genuinely stunning. However if you really have an interest in Chine Imperial history you will need at least three days to explore it.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Tiananmen Square, Beijing

In 1989 there were several incidents in and around Tiananmen Square where intellectuals and students had gathered to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, a Chinese official, and former General Secretary, who had taken a stand against corruption in the Chinese government and had also led a pro-democracy movement in China. The death of Hu Yaobang was a catalyst for massive rallies by students, anti government protestors and intellectuals opposed to the communist regime across China but more so in Beijing where many thousands of protestors staged events for about 3 months from April to June. Scuffles broke out between the protestors, who were promoting democratic and economic reforms, and the state police and security. The army was called in to clear the area on the 4th June and that day is now remembered in many parts of the world (but not in China) as the day of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Some reports have up to 3,000 people killed but here in China it is still only known as the June the 4th incident and is swept aside as an insignificant event in Chinese political history.

I had expected that the square would be quite large and imposing and I guess I also expected that there would be some attention to the event and memorial to the victims - I am not sure what I really expected! However what I found was simply a fairly large square with Mao's mausoleum in the central area and a number of monuments to the the martyrs of the communist revolution - including a tall obelisk which is the Monument to the People's Heroes - shown in the collage above. There is no evidence of the massacre or the students who died there and life goes on as if it really never happened.

The square is situated in front of the Great Hall of the People and across the road from the entrance to  the Forbidden City and the Palace Museum. The area is easily accessed through the Tiananmen subway station.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Muchou Lake Nanjing

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Muchou Lake is situated just south of Nanjing City. Like all the lakes I have seen in China the water is very thick and green and I wonder just how the fish survive! However the gardens have been put together beautifully and apparently there is a legend about the lake and the "Lady Muchou" who was a peasant girl who married a nobleman and lived happily ever after. Therefore the lake is said to be popular with young lovers and families. It is certainly busy on the weekend. However it is a lovely place to have a walk and do some people watching and we have visited a couple of times now.
I am always amazed when you see these beautiful gardens and lakes just how the buildings have fallen into disrepair and how unkempt and unclean they are - they look like they need a good wash and a man with a toolbox hanging about all the time. I must admit there is no rubbish laying around because there are people who clear it away. However the museum at this park was a very dismal sight with what would have been a lovely display of Chinese brocade, but all the models hair was moth eaten and it had fallen all over the clothing and there was dust (many years of it) settled on the displays. There are a whole lot of people sitting around trying to flog souvenirs and it really would only take a few hours a week for some of them to actually put in an effort to maintain the displays! Oh well that's CHINA!

Dragonboat Festival Nanjing

This weekend marks the annual dragonboat festival and holiday in China. We made two trips to Muchou Lake to have a look at the dragonboats. These photos were taken on the practice day - we didn't get there early enough to get photos on the day of the big race and it was so crowded near the shore we could not get a good vantage point. However it was a great day - very festive and the people of Nanjing were out to celebrate. Lots of families were out in the park and we only saw one other western person there! They really need to publicise these events better so people can go along and see what is happening.
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