Monthly Archives: January 2012

Where was I?


Ah yes, I was going to write one last post about Andrew’s visit and put it to bed. It was only a few weeks ago yet I feel like it was months ago. Where does the time go? I told  my Chinese teacher this morning that time flies when you’re having fun and when you’re old!

We visited the Chen Clan Academy. It is a complex that was built in the late 1800’s as a temple and school for boys taking exams. It has since evolved into the Guangdong Folk Art Museum. The buildings themselves are part of the exhibit. Everywhere you look there are wood, plaster, and brick carvings, pottery on the rooftop ridges, and etchings. Again, I stood too many times with my mouth agape. There was a special exhibit in honor of the upcoming year of the dragon. On display were pottery, porcelain, wood, and bronze dragons. Some were ancient and some were modern but all were impressive.

On our way into and upon exiting the academy, women were practicing a ribbon dance for the upcoming New Year’s celebration.  I don’t know how else to explain it other than to say it was so Chinese.  The music and drums, the dance steps, and the atmosphere were exactly what you would picture in your mind. Andrew very smartly captured video on his phone.  I’m not that smart.

We also saw quite a few older people playing badminton in the plaza. I guess they had seen the dancing and heard the drums one time too many. They weren’t playing in the traditional sense where there is a net and you play to win by smashing the shuttlecock in someone’s face (at least that’s the way I play) but it was like a dance. They held a racquet in each hand! and very gracefully hit the birdie back and forth to whomever was standing in the circle.  It looked like they were playing in slow motion. It was so rhythmic and calm and peaceful. It’s a way to keep playing the game when one gets older but without the stress and strain on the body.

Ben suggested we visit a park that is located along a canal in the middle of an older section of GZ.  Part of it has original buildings and others have been renovated in the original style. It’s GZ’s version of Venice in a smaller and more Asian way;-) There were a few vendors along the sidewalks selling baked goods. Of course I bought some cookies and I had a nice exchange with the salesman. Like the temples in the same area, you would never know that you’re in the middle of a very large and highly populated city. It was a so charming.

Shamian Island was the first place we went to, way back when.  It’s an island in the middle of the Pearl River that originally housed foreigners and Chinese were forbidden. It’s tiny and I could easily run the perimeter. It’s very old-world  European in feel and because of this it’s like  nothing you’ll see in GZ. The American consulate is located here and this is where Americans come to finalize adoptions of Chinese girls. It’s very common to see Americans pushing strollers with their newly adopted bundles of joy. The stores also cater to them as there are a lot of clothing shops that sell only girls clothing.

Shamian is also a VERY POPULAR place to have wedding photos taken. They have this done long before the ceremony, I mean days and weeks in advance. The brides and grooms are wearing Western wedding clothes too. I have never been to the island that I haven’t seen a half a dozen or more couples on a photo shoot.

That about finishes up Andrew’s visit. Between Andrew and Ben I did not plan one outing but now know where to take all of our visitors.  I believe that I’m ready to host guests and not have them be bored. Guangzhou has a lot more to offer than the guidebooks would lead you to believe.

PS – It is so good to be back writing my blog. I missed it.

2PM – 61°

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Forced Break from Blogging


Sorry to say that I won’t be able to post a blog for a few weeks. The government has blocked the VPN site and I am unable (along with every other customer in China that uses Witopia) to access my blog and FB and a bunch of other sites for that matter. 😦 In order to access another VPN I need a VPN, ironic isn’t it? It means that I have to go to Hong Kong where I should be able to open a new VPN account without the benefit of already having one. It’s a shame too because with Chinese New Year, there is so much to write about. Oh well, this is the first time I’ve felt the pinch of living in a censored country. Appreciate what you have! Thanks to Kiersten for posting this for me 😉

Good to be the king


Today is museum day. It will be a short post because Andrew got sick at one of them 😦

Anders, Andrew, and I went to the Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King. The tomb was discovered by accident in 1983 when they were digging for the foundation of the hotel that is currently next door. It hadn’t been touched so everything found was as it had been 2,000 years ago when the king was buried. Zhao Mo was the second Nanyue king and was buried in a shroud made of almost 3,000 jade tiles that were sewn together with red silk thread. This is the only known shroud of its kind. It’s amazing that it survived for 2,000 years but then again I suppose it would because it’s jade. Also found in his tomb were the bodies of 15 sacrificial victims. While it was good to be king it was not good to be his wife, favorite concubine, cook, or servant.

The museum contains several thousand relics and are very nicely displayed. Most of the captions are also in English.  Besides the shroud I suppose the other most noteworthy relic found was the gold imperial seal of Zhao Mo. It’s the oldest one found in China and it’s right here in Guangzhou! Also on display are ceramic pillows. The first time I ever saw one I was with Ben at a flea market type place. I thought it was a little stool and before I had the chance to open  my mouth and make a fool of myself he explained what it was. Can you imagine? If you don’t have pillows why wouldn’t you use your arm? Anyway, they’re beautiful.

The next museum we visited was the day before Andrew left. He, Ben, and I visited the Guangdong Museum. This museum is only 1 1/2 years old and it was practically empty (of visitors that is). We walked through an exhibition of the wood carving of southern China. It’s hard to believe how intricate the pieces are. It was a fascinating exhibit. There were also pots, ceramics, and porcelain on display. Some of them were from 500 BC and still intact. We were just getting to the best part, the history of the Guangdong area, when Andrew said that he needed to go home. No details will be forthcoming. 🙂 Next time I go to the museum I’m starting at the top floor and working my way down. That way I’m sure to see everything I missed the first time around.

These are just 2 of the museums to visit in GZ. I think they’re probably the best of the lot but I have to do some more reconnaissance work before I make my final decision. Tough life, I know.

I’m short on photos because no flash is allowed and it’s tough to take nice photos w/o flash in flourescent lighting. Also Andrew was supposed to send me his photos but still hasn’t done that. I guess he’s busy being an actor or student or something. 😉 This is the real reason: I forget to take them because I’m so caught up in the age or beauty of the displays.

3PM – 67°

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Long way up/down, depends on your perspective


Towards the end of Andrew’s visit we still needed to check the TV Tower box. After we got back from Beijing the weather wasn’t cooperating but we had to do it. We were down to 2 days and we chose the best of the worst days. Not what we wanted but better than not going at all.

On the short drive from our house to the tower it seemed to grow in height as we got closer. I must admit that I was starting to have second thoughts about it. We managed to talk Ben into coming with us. He’s not crazy about heights but if Andrew was going, he was too. As it turns out the elevator ride was the worst part. We went as high as the inside observation deck which is 428 meters high, or 1,400 feet. It’s up there. The elevator faces the outside and it goes fast. We could see buildings and the river getting smaller and smaller at a very fast pace. I think if the elevator was enclosed I would have been fine. I even said to Andrew that I thought I wasn’t sure I could do it again with other company. However, once it stopped I was fine.  As I was doing research the morning of our trip I learned that there are 2 decks that protrude from the building with a glass floor. As we were driving there I could see them. I had never noticed them before. That’s the first place we headed. I hesitated taking that first step. I felt like I was stepping off the building and  going to fall. My brain knew I wasn’t  but my heart didn’t. I think my heart rate is going up just thinking about that step. Nervous laughter ensued, let me tell you. But then I was used to it and took in all that I could see.

And I could see pretty far. It was hazy as a storm front was moving in but we could see enough to know that GZ is one huge city. I knew that and because of the population it would have to be but still…I had no idea how far it stretches and never really saw just how many skyscrapers there are. We were able to see the island where we live and our apartment tower. Seeing things from as high up as one can get is so much fun. That’s why I like to go to the highest point of a city or town that I’m visiting. I get a completely different perspective. I would love to go at night. I can only imagine how beautiful the city is seeing it from so high with all of its colored lights. I just  may have to convince Anders to do that.

We didn’t do the bubble trams (the outside ride on the upper most deck). That is best saved for a clear and windless day. Yes, the structure sways in the wind. I know that I will really have to work up the nerve for that.  I think I made a pact with Andrew to do it when he returns to GZ in the summer. 🙂 That gives me  7-8 months to think about it.

3PM – 73°

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Temples today, TV Tower tomorrow


When Anders and I arrived in Guangzhou the weather prevented us from getting out and exploring. It was so HOT! Once the temperature was finally manageable we were too busy traveling to visit any local tourist venues. Andrew’s arrival changed that. It was finally time to be a tourist in the city that really isn’t on too many China tours.

I threw an Eyewitness Travel China book at Andrew and made him do all the work of deciding where to go. That’s why we have kids isn’t it? We make them do the work we don’t want to. As I mentioned before he is interested in world religions, particularly Buddhism.  Two places he wanted to see while here were Buddhist temples. We tackled them on our first day out as tourists and the weather was perfect.

The  first temple we visited was Liu Rong Si or the Six Banyan Temple dating from AD 537.  Ben was particularly happy because we were able to park at the front door, VIP parking you know. 😉 Again, how he does it I don’t know. I bought my tickets, in Mandarin uh-huh, and in we went. The grounds were not huge, you could see everything from the entrance but it was so tranquil. The smell of burning incense was everywhere. There hasn’t been a temple or monastery yet that I’ve walked into that didn’t give me an immediate sense of calm and peace. I’m not a Buddhist but oh the tranquility is divine. We walked around, looked into the halls with the religious statues and remembrance halls. From the beginning I had planned on walking up the 17 flights of steps of the pagoda but it was closed. Ben bought incense and offered 3 sticks to both Andrew and myself. I lit them, said my prayer, placed them in a burner, and went on my way. Not sure what that means as a Christian but I think it demonstrates understanding and respect of other religions. Fingers crossed. 🙂

Next we went to Guangxiao Si. It is the oldest and largest monastery in Guangzhou. It was very busy with people worshipping, even in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. The landscape was beautifully maintained and the trees were amazing. I took a photo of one that was being propped up with  the remains of another. I like that the first inclination in China is not to tear down and rip out trees but repair and nurture. Three was a huge pavilion that displayed artwork that was for sale and I could have bought a dozen paintings. They were all very simple compared to Western art but so beautiful. I may just come back to America with one. This is tops on my list of places to take visitors so I’ll be visiting often enough that one of them will call my name one too many times. As we walked up the steps to look in a hall there were 3 women scrubbing the marble courtyard/entrance. It was a large area but they were there with buckets and mops cleaning away. They were not using power tools, just a lot of elbow grease and back muscle. I’m not used to seeing people perform these tasks, somehow they just get done. It made appreciate how much work is done for the upkeep so we can enjoy.

I find I’m reluctant to leave these temples and monasteries. I know that what’s waiting is car  noise, jostling, and general chaos but it’s all part of the charm of China.

3PM – 68°

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What exactly did I buy?


Today I ventured to the plant and flower market. They were busy for Chinese New Year but it was manageable. By Thursday the place will be a zoo. We were able to park as close as one can to the entrance. I do not know how Ben does it but George Costanza would idolize him. If you never watched Seinfeld you have no idea what I’m talking about 😉

It is common to decorate one’s home with chrysanthemums and what appear to be orange trees. They look more like bushes but they’re pretty. Like a lot of fruit trees that are decorative the fruit is inedible. They are for sale everywhere, not just the market I went to. They also have kumquat trees. I hadn’t eaten one until today. Ben pilfered one off a tree for me to try. I asked him if I was supposed to peel it, it’s tiny and would have been difficult but I’ve never seen one of these things. Sometimes I don’t know how he doesn’t laugh at me. We all know how gross orange rind is and I didn’t want that!  He told me to eat the whole thing, rind and all. I did it, he’s never steered me wrong. The initial bite was sour but then once I got the whole thing chewed it was delicious. My first kumquat was certainly less daunting than my first pig’s blood.

We started walking around and this place was bustling. I did not take any photos because it was crazy and I was afraid I’d get hit by a motor-scooter or truck. The market is just a bunch of covered open areas, stalls, and alley ways. People were everywhere and trucks were snaking their way around vendors and pedestrians.  Throw in a lot of people on scooters that beeped at the drop of a hat and you have Chinese chaos  and may I say I love it. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there and I was … you guessed it… the only Westerner. There was so much to look at that I couldn’t take it all in. There were so many tropical plants that I’ve never been able to grow because I’ve never really live anywhere warm enough in winter to allow me to do that.

After looking at a couple of places that were selling orchids we stopped one place and Ben motioned me in. We were looking at green plants, no flowers. Plants are all the same in a way, you look for ones without bugs, nice and green in color, and with new growth. I picked one out because Ben really wanted me to. It came in a terracotta pot and he was trying to get me to buy one in a plastic pot that I could transplant  in one of the many ceramic ones available (we didn’t even venture into those stalls). When I told him I liked the old, crusty pot it was in he chuckled but he appreciated that I appreciated the character of it. It took him about 10 minutes of talking/negotiating with the saleswoman who was so sweet, I paid, and off we went. I have no idea what they could have been talking about for so long, I guess he was trying to get me the best price.

We walked around and went to the area where the cut flowers are. It was amazing. This is nothing fancy like the flower markets in Europe or NYC  but it was pretty in its own way. The smell was amazing and I ended up buying 10 huge stems of  Stargazer lilies for $15. As we stopped at another place and Ben was looking at plants to buy there were 4 boys, all brothers I’m sure. They were from about 6-12 years of age and they were ADORABLE. They were staring, giggling, whispering in each other’s ears, doing everything but pointing (it’s rude to point in China) and trying to figure out what I was doing there. When I smiled at them and said ni hao they practically fell off their stools. It was one of those moments that will stay with me for a long time.

After about 1 1/2 hours of roaming around we left. On the way home, with the help of Google Translate, I know that I am now the proud owner of an orchid. I am to water it about every 10 days, preferably with rainwater. I need to give it “medicine water” but I don’t know how often and if I do it too often it will die, keep it out of direct sunlight or it will die, and bring it in when it gets too cold and too hot or it will die.  I’ll be lucky if this thing lives because I’ve never had an orchid. The plant has 4 flower stems, we’ll see what happens. I need to make Ben proud.


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Random thoughts – Beijing

  • Beijing was very easy to navigate. Taxis are incredibly cheap. I don’t think we paid more than $2.75 for a ride. Walking around is easy as well. It’s good for getting the blood circulating too 😉
  • We were so lucky to see the sun all 4 days instead of the gray/brown cloud that settles in during the winter.
  • Peking duck? Amazing, as you would expect since we ate the dish where it was invented. My mouth is watering just thinking of the crispy, golden skin and tender meat all rolled into a dumpling wrapper. Actually I’m not sure what we were rolling the meat in but it was hao chi (delicious).
  • We came upon the meanest, nastiest, angriest Chinese yet. But then again, he’s only one in a billion. 🙂 It was a taxi driver. He didn’t want to take us back to the hotel. Then he just started screaming and saying that he was going to charge us $3/person. He pointed his finger at us and screamed 100RMB, 100RMB, 100RMB! We hadn’t paid over $2.75 for the farthest ride and since when does a taxi driver charge per person!!!He made quite a scene and other people were staring. Yikes man, step away from the public.
  • We actually ate lunch for a total of $5 for 2 cans of soda, a bottle of water, and 24 dim sum. To be honest it tasted like it only cost $5 but it’s a benchmark.
  • There were many times when I caught myself with my mouth hanging open while looking at a display or an artifact or Buddha statue or any of a number of things.  I was embarrassed a few times because I know it was for more than a few seconds and I didn’t look so intelligent.
  • I’m wondering what other communist country’s square I can visit. I’ve been to Red Square in Moscow and Tian’An Men Square in China. Perhaps North Korea should be next? Just kidding.
  • I really like Guangzhou! What does that have to do with Beijing? The cold, the Siberian wind, the smog (even thought we didn’t see it doesn’t mean the rumors aren’t true), and the size of the city made me appreciate GZ even more than I already do. Besides, I still think the nicest people in all of China live in GZ.
  • After being chased back to the hotel by the bone-chilling cold and mean taxi man, we sat in the hotel atrium for almost 5 hours just chatting with no electronic devices!!! Truthfully, it was a highlight for me.  (I may have gotten my phone out once to check that I was right about something and I’m sure I was. :-P)
  • Don’t give your camera to “the best person in the world” to hold for you while you visit the lady’s room. Today’s slideshow is the result. The worst part is that I did it twice. I knew the second time what would happen and just wanted to see what he would come up with. 🙂 Take note of Anders’ incredible acting job in the photo where he’s facing the wall.  Andrew directed the scene and they did a fine job. Anders looks so pathetic and you can’t even see his face! What emotion.

3PM – 63°

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Beige is boring but Beijing is not


Somehow we managed to go to a few other sites while in Beijing.

The afternoon after we saw the FC, we ventured to the Lama Temple or Yonghegong. It was very cold by the time we got there and it was a damp cold. It was also very crowded with worshippers which made it difficult to get around. I didn’t mind though because it’s nice to see it being used for worship and not just tourists. Andrew will receive a minor in religious studies when he graduates in May and he has learned quite a bit about Buddhism. It was nice to have him along to explain the meanings of statues and rituals.

The Lama Temple is the most famous Buddhist temple outside of Tibet (high on our list of places to visit, sooner rather than later). The path proceeds from beginning to end following a south to north direction. This symbolizes going from earth to heaven. I love it!  There are 5 halls that contain beautiful statues important to Buddhism. The last one is the Hall of Ten Thousand Happinesses. It houses an 80-foot high Buddha that is carved from a single piece of white sandalwood. I had read about this in the guide-book and thought I knew what to expect. WRONG. This Buddha is huge and we think that the hall was partially built and then it was brought in or the hall was completely constructed around it. There is no way that it was brought into the pavilion after it was completed. 

The other place we managed to see before we left was the Temple of Heaven or Tiantam. This complex is a beautiful park. It contains one of the most iconic buildings of Beijing, you’ll recognize the picture.  The Hall of Prayers for Good Harvests was beautiful against the backdrop of clear blue skies. We arrived early on the morning that we left Beijing and even though it was very cold there were people ballroom dancing, yes you read that correctly, fan dancing, doing tai chi, and strolling.

While walking to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests we saw men taking down scaffolding that was used for the New Year’s Eve celebration. Check out the photo. The scaffolding was very high and they were breaking it down bucket-brigade style. They simply had their legs wrapped around a pole. That was the only connection they had to the structure. Safety harnesses, ropes, and nets are for sissies!  I was very nervous for them although it made for a great photo 🙂

We saw and experienced a lot in our 2 full days and 2 half days in Beijing. We only scratched the surface of all that the city has to offer but we’ll be back.

4PM – 58°

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Beige is boring


Day 3 took us to Tian’an Men Square and the Forbidden City.  Just another glorious day in Beijing.  Again we were blessed by the sunshine. Three days in a row in Beijing with sun!

As we walked onto Tian’an Men Square I couldn’t help but think about how the Western world perceives it. We (at least people of my generation) remember the terrible sight of the 1989 pro-democracy uprising. No mention of that from our guide! For modern-day Chinese the significance is that this is where Chairman Mao proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. This is like our July 4th. It’s also the reason we get to take amazing vacations in Bali. The country has a huge weeklong celebration and it’s best to just vacate. How’s that for etymology!

I’ve been in far more beautiful squares but not one that was bigger! It’s the world’s 3rd largest. Mao’s mausoleum is located here along with a few museums. Chairman Mao’s body is displayed in a crystal coffin. It comes up out of the refrigerator everyday for people to pay their respects.  We passed on that. We also did not linger in the square. There wasn’t a whole lot to see, it was bitter cold, and we had things to do and places to see.

The gate that is used to enter the Forbidden City is called Tian’an Men. It means Gate of Heavenly Peace. That’s one reason I love China, everything has meaning and significance. It was another one of those moments that I had to take a deep breath and enjoy the moment. I have read several novels that were set in the Forbidden City and it’s always exciting to see and experience the places you read about. They rarely disappoint and this surpassed my expectations.

It took more than a million workers 15 years to complete the construction. When you see it you understand why. I was struck by how colorful everything was. No surface was unadorned or beige. The emperor’s decorators were definitely not minimalists 😉 There are so many buildings and gates inside and they have names like  Gate of Heavenly Purity, Gate of Divine Prowess, Hall of Supreme Harmony, and Hall of Preserving Harmony. 

I’ll stop now and hopefully you’ll enjoy the photos.

4PM – 65°

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