S: China 2011
FC: China 2011
1: The Forbidden City | The Forbidden City is the section of Beijing that was once reserved for the Emperor and his court. It was forbidden for regular people to enter the city, which is where it gets its name. You enter the gate under Mao's portrait, then cross a courtyard before entering through another gate. The gates have large nodes on them that visitors touch for luck.
2: Inside the Forbidden City | The guardians on the roofs at the forbidden city are very important. There are more in a row there than anyplace else in China. Nobody was permitted to have more guardians in a row than the emperor.
3: The figure here on the left is part of an urn in the Forbidden City. This urn was filled with water and kept on hand for putting out fires. It's scratched up because when the Forbidden City was invaded during the Boxer Rebellion, the foreign soldiers scraped off the bronze to melt down and sell. | The top photo is the inner building, where the emperor would actually live. The bottom photo here is an outer building where the emperor's guards controlled admittance to the city.
4: Since the emperor had to live inside the Forbidden City, he didn't have any other access to nature except what he had in his own gardens. The trees that grow in the garden now are in some cases extremely old. | The rocky outcropping on the right is a place in the garden where the emperor and empress climbed on a particular day during the year. Some of the rocks have been carved into animals, though they're hard to find when you look at them. | The Emperor's Gardens
5: Tienanmen Square | Tienanmen Square is the largest expanse of concrete that I have ever seen. It spreads out in all directions, seemingly without end. On one side is the Forbidden City. In the bottom left photo below you can see the view of the Forbidden City from the Square. The bottom right photo shows the square from the Forbidden City (with cars in the way, since there's a street between). At one end is a giant mega-tron playing films about China's beauty and wilderness, while the flag of China flaps in the breeze. The sound of the flags was beautiful, and could be heard over all the sounds of the Square and the city around us.
6: The Great Wall of China | There's no way to prepare for just how steep the Great Wall is until you walk it. Since it's along the spine of the mountains, it's very steep. The masonry is also rather tricky. I tripped a few times, but luckily didn't fall. | When you look out from the Great Wall, you can see the most beautiful mountains all around.
7: The Ming Tombs | Here is where many emperors and their courtiers were buried. The actual tombs are within the giant mound behind these buildings. Within the buildings we saw a museum that had some items found within the burial site. The large bronze statue above is of an Emperor. Chinese people visit this statue and leave money and offerings for his blessings. I was surprised to see this, because I thought the Empire years weren't remembered fondly in China, but clearly I was wrong.
8: The Bird's Nest Stadium and Water Cube at the Olympic Park | The people of Beijing are very proud of their Summer Olympics from 2008. I was thrilled to set foot on the track and to smell the chlorine of the pool. It was my own Olympic dream come true. This is where Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps won their gold medals--how could I not get a little giddy to walk in their footsteps?
9: Pandas at the Beijing Zoo | Chinese people love pandas so much that it almost defies logic. At the Beijing Zoo, there is a special section devoted exclusively to pandas. If you want to see the pandas, you must purchase a special ticket. We saw plenty of pandas, who were mostly eating and napping in the sun. As much as the Chinese people love pandas, the pandas love bamboo. They ate away at large bushes of the stuff, seeming to live the good life.
10: After Beijing we traveled to Lanzhou, which is in the middle of China. The University that was hosting our group is in Lanzhou.
11: Lanzhou is a city near the mountains, along the Yellow River. These are photos from the city and the nearby monument to the fighters who died in Lanzhou during the civil war.
12: Dunhuang is in the north of China, in the Gobi Desert. We traveled to Dunhuang from Lanzhou to experience the Chinese desert and to visit the Mogao Caves. | Dunhuang
13: Our first night in Dunhuang, we visited the sand dunes, where we rode camels and took part in a sport called "sand surfing," though sand surfing is really more like sledding. We had to climb up the dune to sled down. By the time we'd climbed up, I was exhausted and very hot. Though it looked very dangerous to slide down a dune on a thin board of bamboo, I was happy to do so if it meant I got to go back to the shade.
14: After our travels on camelback and the sand surfing, we visited the Crescent Moon Lake, an oasis lake in the middle of the desert. Chinese people come from all over to visit this lake. It's very beautiful, and looks particularly lovely in the setting sun. | The left is a photo of the trek up the dune to do sand surfing. There is a hemp rope fixed to the dune to give people a handle for climbing. By the time I got to the top, I had splinters of hemp and bamboo in my palms. It was a grueling climb. | To the right is a photo of Dunhuang's night market. It really gets going after dark, since it's too hot during the day for most outdoor activities so close to the desert. Buying anything requires the ability to haggle, which I don't do particularly well. At this market, I bought a necklace and a wooden plaque that is a common souvenir of the city.
16: The second day we were in Dunhuang, we got to visit the Mogao Caves. These caves are also known as the Caves of a Thousand Buddhas. Inside the caves, there are centuries-old statues and paintings devoted to Buddha and his followers. The monks who created the carvings dug directly into the solid rock, creating the caves as well as the statues. This was the first time during our adventure in China that I was completely overwhelmed. The carvings are enormous and detailed. We were incredibly fortunate to be able to see them. Our contacts in Dunhuang got us permission to see some caves that aren't normally open to the public. It was really awesome. | These men were leaving incense sticks in memory of their loved ones outside the Mogao Caves. As a site of pilgrimage for Buddhists, many people at the caves were there to observe their beliefs. The quiet devotion they showed was really moving.
17: This is a marker for a tomb. Many families over the centuries have left their loved ones near the caves, because of their religious significance. | The photo to the left is a picture of the structure that has been built outside of the caves. Inside the caves that you see is a Buddha statue that's over five stories high. The window-like openings are where the monks carved into the rock to make the statue. They started at the top, and then made more openings as they carved down towards the ground.
18: Dunhuang was the site of my greatest adventure in China--a trip to the Traditional Chinese Medicine center. Because I was the only member of our group to have experienced acupuncture before, I volunteered to demonstrate the process. I told the doctor about my bad digestion, so she stuck a needle in my tummy and then put this miniature haystack on top, which was then lit on fire. I had to lay there for over an hour, while everybody else left. I spoke no Chinese, and the doctor spoke no English. I had no idea about what she was asking me, and didn't know my prognosis until much later. Apparently, the greatest danger to my health is from "cold air."
19: A Salute to Chinese Food | Every day in China was a feast. Many of our hosts delighted in creating a memorable experience for our group. Feasts lasted for hours, and included many delicacies. We ate things like donkey, camel, sea slug, pigeon egg, and a specially roasted lamb. My favorite dish was a roasted eggplant spiced with Middle Eastern flavors that we ate in Lanzhou. I ate a lot of different mushrooms in China, which I had never really cared for before, but they were fantastic! | Seaweed Pringles | Market Stall Cooks | Banquets