Thursday, April 30, 2009

Heading for the Wall!

I told my students in class today that I will be hiking along the Great Wall this holiday weekend. They burst into laughter and applause. (Chinese students are SO sweet!) One young lady from Beijing gave me her phone number, in case I find myself in any trouble. I had her write "I want to go to the train station" on a slip of paper I can give to a taxi driver, because I don't know what to say.

So now I will close down my computer, sling my pack over my shoulder, and depart for my biggest Chinese adventure so far. I will try to find internet cafes along the way, but I can't promise anything. I need to be back at night on Tuesday, May 5 (which, to quote Ronald Reagan, will be morning in America).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The great hall from the back side

When Marcy first came to Dalian, she complained. "It's not Chinese enough." She was right — Dalian is basically a European-style city. If not for the Chinese people and the squiggly characters all over the place, it could just easily be in a former Soviet republic.

Shenyang, on the other hand... now THIS is China!

More architectural painting

Everywhere we looked, there was interesting hand-painted woodwork.

Ticket to ride

I found out only last weekend that this weekend is a strange sort of holiday (for an American). We have Friday, May Day, off outright. It's a communist country, after all. But then Monday and Tuesday are borrowed days — not outright holidays, because we must pay them back by working the following weekend. This sort of thing would never happen in the States, but I kind of like it. I'd rather get my days off all in a row, so that I can spend them traveling.

So, as you may know, I decided to take a trip to Shanhaiguan, where the Great Wall dips its head into the Bohai Sea.

This is the easternmost part of the Wall, so it's known as the Dragon's Head. And actually, it kind of resembles a dragon's head. Shanhaiguan itself is a smallish, walled village with a handful of hotels and hostels of varying levels. There is reportedly a small Great Wall museum, and one can hike the wall for many miles from there. This is my plan.

I don't have a proper backpack, yet. Hopefully I can get mine from America before I start my big adventure this summer, but for now I've bought a fairly comfortable day-pack. I'll take enough clothing and equipment to last a couple of days, I'll throw in my super-powered water filter in case I can't find bottled water for sale — and of course, there will be a camera. Expect some fun stories and pictures!

It was not an easy thing to get a ticket for the train to Shanhaiguan. Everyone travels when there is a holiday like this. Serena, the foreign faculty "handler" for my Department, tried several options before she finally got me a sleeper on the 12:45 train Thursday afternoon. It cost twice what I would have paid for a simple seat on the same train, and it's going to be tough to get to the station in time for that early train (class ends at noon). But I'm lucky to have a ticket at all.

On the plus side, this is a high-speed train, so it will only take about six and a half hours to travel almost 400 miles.

Monday, April 27, 2009


I know I'm going on and on about the architectural details in Shenyang, but I really found them fascinating. I'm usually not a big fan of over-detailed ornamentation in architecture: I tend toward the Chicago School of American architecture. But Chinese design seems to be somehow both ornate and integrated, and I think that's a crucial virtue. It's the tendency of minute details to overwhelm the grand structure that, I think, makes me dislike it. When it fits the overall structure, an attention to details is lovely.

I was especially impressed by the details on the rain spouts, which I thought were very cool. It's not great art, perhaps, but every piece seemed to be hand-crafted.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

More of Shenyang

I know some people are ready to be done with Shenyang, but there's a ton left to show off. This plaque was in the back reaches of the palace museum.

Here is some more detail. I can't help but be amazed by this image.

Dwelling-place for concubines -- wow!

After the Qing emperors had moved their capital to Beijing, they still used the Shenyang palace as a summer retreat — a Qing Camp David, if you will. When the Son of Heaven travels, of course, he must bring with him a proper selection of his wives. Thus, was this small building built about fifteen feet out the back door to the Emperor's sleeping quarters.

It's perhaps a little cramped, suggesting that the Emperor traveled with a greatly reduced retinue of concubines, relative to the hundred or so who might be available to him in Beijing. Such a pity! 

Okay, the neon-green sign over this circular door might not be authentic. I don't know. 

This was the only place in the Palace where I noticed a circular orifice, and I'm pretty sure that little architectural detail was original. Am I wrong to think that it's perhaps suggestive of something?!

To a modern eye, the concubine's "job" may seem a little off-putting, but at least they lived with some degree of sumptuous comfort. I especially enjoyed the light fixture with the tassels.

Looking the other way, we see another circular doorway with labial drapery. Perhaps the writing desk is historical, but I don't know that the concubines had such liberties afforded to them.

Please forgive me if disturbed

Today I received the following e-mail message: 











Run through Google Language tools, it reads:

Hello, your company: 

    I Industrial Co., Ltd. Shenzhen Tianhong, I in (across the country) have branch offices, can be completed more than a month proceeds Set fat / vote 

Out now on behalf of each month development / votes, value-added tax (customs payment book), tax and government rent: the goods sold Sale, transportation, advertising; 

Construction and installation; other services, etc., open to concessions on behalf of the basic, but also by the size of the number to discuss. 

Please forgive me if disturbed, 

Details, please call; 

        Contact: Mr. Huang 
        Phone :138-265-91959 
        Business QQ: 326763017

So this is my first Chinese spam! I feel I'm moving up in the world.

My favorite part is the last line: "Please forgive me if disturbed." If only it were that easy, Mr. Huang!

Friday, April 24, 2009

More details -- and a warning

Here are some more of the beautiful details from the Shenyang palace. I love the intricate carvings -- all done by hand, long before electric jigsaws!

Unfortunately, the entire place is exposed to the elements -- as well as tourists' fingers (as we saw a few posts back), flash bulbs, and other destructive substances. Amazingly, flash photography is not prohibited anywhere that I'm aware of inside the Palace Museum.

Still, some lovely painted woodwork has survived. These scenes are painted on the beams under the eaves outside two of the buildings. The first one was near the front gate, so I presume it may represent a visiting dignitary being greeted.

These birds were painted under a kind of pagoda in the far back of the palace, in what might have been some sort of flower garden.

As I'm enjoying the palace scenery, I have to realize that the standards of authenticity are maybe not the same as they might be in the States. Looking in the window of an ancient storage room, I saw the following spare parts. They look authentic enough, and they probably are patterned after the original decorative elements, but I'm sure they are quite recently minted.

As I post more pics from the Shenyang palace, I'll try to include only photos of parts that seem authentic.

Shenyang architectural details

I was particularly fascinated by the beautiful, detailed carving and painting at the palace in Shenyang. Everything was so exquisitely handcrafted, and the details were so clear after four centuries. This stone carving is from the stairway into the Chongzheng Hall, which I discussed in a previous posting.

Here is the throne room in
 Chongzheng Hall. Notice the incredibly detailed columns, the details on the watchful dragons, and the scrollwork on the throne.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mandarin jackets

I'm taking a break from my stories of Shenyang to show you two recent purchases. Marcy and I went to Er Chi Square to shop for traditional Chinese goods. She bought a beautiful green silk blouse with a bamboo pattern on it, which I will post a picture of as soon as she sends it to me.

When we went to pick it up, I saw several gorgeous Mandarin jackets for men. I couldn't resist ordering two of them. The woman took my measurements and sent me on my way. The cost for two tailor-made silk jackets, including material and labor: $75.

I wore the gold one to class today. My students audibly responded when I walked into the room. None of my students said anything out loud, but as I was walking down the hall a student pointed at the jacket and said "It's very wonderful!"

Here is the other one. I can't decide which I like better.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Manchu kings

Although the Palace in Shenyang is built on the same plan as the earlier Forbidden City in Beijing, it shows a significant influence from the nomadic heritage of its builders. I'm not an expert, but I can see definite hints of it. Here, for example, is where military parades took place. The Emperor would have been in Dazheng Hall, which is the roughly hexagonal building at the far end. It's shaped rather like a Mongolian ger, the circular tent used by nomads in China's frigid north.

Note also the small buildings that line the square. These were occupied by military leaders when they gathered for ceremonies or strategizing. They are small and simple, and reminiscent of a commander's tent in the field.

Sudden-Advent Day

I told my students in Spoken English class today that they should expect an oral exam in two weeks. No one said a word about it in class, but after class one student came up to ask "what can we do if we will not be here for class?" It turns out that the university just recently announced a five-day May Day holiday, which I believe runs from May 1-5. (This is still notionally a Communist country, so May Day is a cause for celebration.)

It's nice to have some time off, but I sure would've appreciated a little heads-up!

Now I have to figure out what I'm going to do with all that time off...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Entering the palace

Entering the main palace gate, looking north toward Chongzheng Hall, the center of government.

Looking upward from the spot where the previous picture was taken, I saw that I was being protected by a watchful dragon. The dragon was a benevolent figure, in Chinese mythology — not a villain like in Western stories. Each of the wooden columns of the gatehouse is topped with one of these dragons.

The two stairways up to the throne room where the emperor held official audiences are guarded by four of these watchdogs. They may be lions: the Chinese venerated lions, but they didn't have much concept of what they actually look like, so they often modeled them after dogs. At least, that's what I remember from grade school history class.

Marcy had to pet the guard dog/lion.

The Other "Forbidden City"

Most Americans don't realize that several places other than Beijing have served as the capital of China at various times during China's history. From 1625-1644, the Qing Dynasty ruled from Shenyang, which is a few hours north of Dalian by train.

The Qing were Manchurians, but their intention to rule all of China is evident in the fact that their palace compound in Shenyang is modeled after the Forbidden City in Beijing, from which the Ming dynasty had ruled since 1406. Still, the architecture in Shenyang shows interesting influences from the nomadic northern culture of Manchuria.

The palace is right in the middle of Shenyang, which is one of China's largest, busiest, most industrial cities. The streets are crazy with
traffic, the air grey with heavy soot. Here is the street outside the palace walls. 

The palace gate is approached down a long, touristy alleyway filled with buildings made to look antique. It's fake, but it works to shake the impression of the modern city.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Being a celebrity

I've never gotten all that much attention as a Westerner in Dalian. Other than small children, a few of whom have stared noticeably, people pay no more attention to me than to anyone else. But my friend Marcy has gotten constant attention since she arrived here a week ago. Here we are in Xinghai Park, along the waterfront, where people stared at her, asked to take their pictures with her, touched her hair as she passed them.

It's been even more extreme here in Shenyang. There seem to be fewer Westerners here. Even I have noticed more attention, and she is definitely a rock star. At the Shenyang Imperial Palace this morning, these people were
staring at her rather obviously.

The guy with the wild hair had been following her around, trying not to let her notice that he was taking her picture from a distance. It didn't work — she saw him — so finally she invited him to come take a picture with her. I had to take a picture of Marcy being a rock star.

A few people invited us both to get our pictures taken with them. Once they'd gotten their own pictures, I insisted that they take another picture with my camera.

The train to Shenyang

This weekend, Marcy and I headed north of Dalian to the Shenyang, capital of Liaoning province and ancient capital of China. It was a four-hour train trip through the dusty, rural farming areas of Liaoning.

There was almost nothing growing yet, so I assume it's planting season. Farmers 
with rusty bicycles could be seen far out in the dessicated fields, hoeing up huge plumes of light-brown dust. Others walked behind sluggish oxen, plowing the fields the ancient way.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Real-estate Chinglish

I've posted before about the funny, butchered English one finds on Chinese signs and advertisements. It seems to me that real-estate signs are the worst. It's as though some one, very bad advertising copywriter had a monopoly on signs for new developments. These first two are from a new high-rise going up on Zhongshan Lu, in a very fashionable area.

This one is just of Zhongshan Lu, right across from Xinghai Park. Another very expensive area.

I suspect you can tell a lot about the Chinese language by the characteristic mistakes Chinese people make when they attempt English. I've seen many very nice-looking buildings referred to as "treasure apartments," so I'm guessing that must be the standard phrase in Chinese for a luxury apartment.

A blizzard in mid-April?!

Yesterday, it was like this in Dalian. Sunny, beautiful, and warm. The flowers were blooming.

This morning, the thunder storm started about 4:30. By 6:00, a few snow flakes had started to join in. By 6:30, it was a full blizzard.

These look like my pictures from February, not April!

Chicks for sale

In case you can't tell from these pictures, this box was indeed full of live chicks, brightly dyed in festive Easter colors.

I have no idea what someone would do with such a chick, once purchased.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Product names

Here, one sees the best product names...

...and the worst.

Somehow, that straw with the greenish fluid coming out of it looks a little too much like "peejoy."