Monday, December 26, 2011

Very Superstitious - The Ming Tombs

OMGGGGGGGGGG. I swear that every holiday season gets more and more crazy as the years go on. It's been, like, three weeks since I last blogged! Sheesh!!!

Okay. Next stop - the Ming Tombs. Now, here's the deal - there were 16 emperors in the Ming dynasty, and 13 of the 16 emperors are buried at this site. The tombs are spread out over 15 square miles. This tomb we went to is the most popular, the tomb of Yongle, the 3rd Ming emperor.

This is the first gate you get to - the Gate of Eminent Favor:

The center arch could only be used to transport the body of the emperor to his resting place. Everyone else had to use the other arches to walk through the gate.

This is the Hall of Eminent Favor:

It was a sacrificial hall.

We could not, for the life of us, find Sadie's jacket, and we knew she'd need one, so the night before, when Ben made his run to the silk market, he looked for children's jackets, but they didn't have them. This was the smallest sweatshirt he could find - a women's extra small. It was still huge:

Sadie crouches like this all the time - our Chinese friends loved it, because this is how the Chinese customarily rest or relax:

They kept saying, "Sadie is Chinese! Sadie is Chinese!"

There were these carvings all along all the tiers and stairways:

I read that they are meant to resemble clouds and are supposed to be beacons to guide the souls of the deceased.

Inside the Hall of Eminent Favor (this was the first time that we could actually go INTO an enclosure. A miracle), there is a huge sculpture of Yongle:

I looooove that picture because of Dylan. He had seen a wasp and was freaking out; hence the pinching of the neck of his shirt. For some reason, whenever he sees a bug, he is worried the bug will fly into his shirt. It cracks me up. What a wuss!

So these columns are sooooo tall - 43 feet tall, to be exact:

And each one was originally a tree TRUNK. They're big. And rumor has it that they were transported clear from the south of China (and this was clear back in the 1400s) up to Beijing for this purpose. Can you imagine how long that must have taken???

I love this model of an ancient Chinese ship:

I read that you can actually ride one of these in Hong Kong somewhere. I would have liked to have done that. There were a lot of things I would have liked to have done. :)

Some artifacts they had on display - hairpins:




Ancient artwork:

I love this pic, too, because it shows Dylan holding my hand. I love that he still holds my hand. One of my favorite things about him:

To our immense relief, our tour guide the second day wasn't the loud screaming lady. I think his name was Charles, and he was a doll:

Behind him is a Pakistani guy who was in our group. There were three of these Pakistani guys, and they were hilarious. They got the biggest kick out of teasing Micah and making him scream. I liked them immediately.

This is the funniest thing about the whole Ming Tombs thing. I kept thinking we'd actually see the TOMBS. Being called the Ming Tombs and all. Nope. You see the entrance to the tombs, but only one of the tombs (an emperor named Ding Ling. I think that name is funny) has actually been excavated. What you get to see here at Chang Ling is a hill wherein Yongle is buried:

Charles told us that they're too scared for the oxygen to ruin everything. So it sits there, inside the dirt. I seriously thought I'd see an old casket or whatever, you know? Like you see all over Europe. With intricate carvings on the top, etc. So Yongle, his wife, and 16 of his concubines are all in there. Somewhere.

Micah, making like a local:

At the entrance to the tombs (which you can't actually enter), there is a big building called the Spirit Tower. There's quite a view from the top of it:

This was so interesting - each brick had the brickmaker's name on it:

That way, the emperor would know who to praise/punish for the workmanship, depending on how well it held up. :)

As you can see, Dylan was still concerned about wasps:

This was interesting - a tree that had grown through one of the walls of the Spirit Tower:

You can see how pidgeon-toed Dylan is in this pic:

Right after this picture was taken, for reasons unknown to me, Dylan shoved Sadie and made her fall down this steep ramp. I was pissed. I don't think he even knew why he did it. He is very compulsive like that.

A good shot of the Spirit Tower:

This little gate is really interesting:

According to superstition, you can't walk through it on your way to the Spirit Tower. It's bad luck. You can only walk through it when you are leaving the Spirit Tower. And you have to walk through it holding hands with your wife or husband. You have to step through it with your left foot first. And you have to shout, in your native language, "I'LL BE BACK!!!" If you don't do these things, you're destined for bad luck FORRRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEEVVVVVVVVVEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRR.

So Ben wanted to take a picture of the kids and I walking through the gate and yelling, "I'll be back!"

So we did it. And then Charles came running up to us, brow furrowed.

"Why didn't you walk through this gate with your husband???" he asked.

"Um, because he wanted to take a picture," I said.

"But now you won't be able to be together forever!!" he whispered, dead serious.

"Um, I think we will be okay," I said, smiling sweetly.

Charles told us a lot about Chinese superstitions when we were on the bus on the way to the tombs. It was fascinating. He talked about the animal years. Like, I was born in 1977, the year of the snake. That is supposed to mean that I am pliable, that I bend with each new situation, like a snake can bend its body easily.

Charles asked when Sadie was born. We said 2005. "That's the year of the rooster!" he said. "That means that she must love getting up really early. She is a morning person." Ben and I looked at each other and chuckled. "Uh, not really. She sleeps in and hates waking up." Charles seemed thoroughly confused that the Zodiac animal didn't really match her personality. He seriously treated it as undisputed truth.

Next year, 2012, is the year of the dragon. If you have a baby born in 2012, they will be very powerful, talented, and strong. (Ben likes to brag that he was born in a year of the dragon, which he was.) Charles told us that many, many couples actually timed their pregnancies so that their babies would be born next year. Can you imagine??

He told us more about some of the superstitions of the Chinese. For example, many buildings will not show an eighth floor. Ben and I actually noticed this. You'll be riding in the elevator, and you'll see all the buttons for all the floors - 1, 2, 3, and so on, but then there is no 8. It goes straight to 9. They still build an eighth floor, but because 8 is an unlucky number, they label it the 9th floor. Like I told you, I don't make this stuff up. I just tell you about it.

I love these waterspout thingeys:

The dragons look like they have braces. So I feel an affinity with them, since I've had braces three times in my life. I feel your pain, dude. I feel your pain.

A lot of these trees are hundreds of years old. Each one was labeled according to how old it was. I think this one is 200 years old:

The Ming Tombs were nice and uncrowded. It was a refreshing change from the day before. :) And Charles was so nice. He let us take pictures and wander around. That's my kind of tour guide.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Two Seconds at the Summer Palace

Ugh, I really should be making jello for dinner. But what am I doing? Blogging. That's so me.

Alright, the Summer Palace! The last stop for our first day of Beijing. So, no, I wasn't wearing the same shirt for seven days. All of this happened in one day!!

Kay. So the Summer Palace was built by an emperor named Qianlong. It's situated on a hill by a man-made lake. The hill is actually made from the earth moved to make the lake. It's north of the city and was basically a vacation home for the emperors. I guess it was much, much cooler there than in the Forbidden City. I can imagine. There are tons of trees and gardens at the Summer Palace, and basically zero trees and foliage in the Forbidden City. If I was the emperor, I would want to stay in the Summer Palace permanently, dude.

You can take a little boat across the lake, which is fun and really refreshing. Our boat looked exactly like this:

You can see, behind the boat, the hill made from the dug-out earth. It's called Longevity Hill. The building behind the boat on the left is the tallest one on the hill - it's called The Temple of Buddhist Virtue. It's where the emperor would pray on the 1st and 15th of each month. It's so weird to me that such a huge, gorgeous building would only be used twice a month. That's what I kept thinking of the Temple of Heaven - "All that work, for just visiting twice per year??"

Here's a closer view of the Temple of Buddhist Virtue:

This is called Happiness Longevity Hall - Emperor Qianlong's library:

This grouping of buildings is called the Court of Picture-Like Scenery:

I wish I knew what those buildings were for. Maybe for looking at the scenery?? :) Just a wild guess.

This is called the Autumn-Depicting House:

Again, no clue what it was for. Seriously, all of these pictures were taken from our boat, and we got out and got to see like two things and then had to get back on the boat.

This is called the Bronze Pavilion - it's made of mostly bronze and weighs 207 tons:

Do I know what the Bronze Pavilion is for? Nope.

Ah, now here is something I know a little about - it's called the Marble Boat. It's actually made of wood, but painted to look like marble:

However, it's not seaworthy - it's actually built onto a concrete pedestal and just sits there. Haha!

The lady that ordered the boat built was called Empress Dowager Cixi:

The Chinese call her The Dragon Lady, because she was soooo powerful. This woman amazes me so much, because she started out as a low-ranking concubine to an emperor named Xianfeng. BUT, she gained power when she bore the emperor's only son. Out of who knows how many kids. Remember - each emperor had thousands of concubines. And then that emperor died when her son was only six years old, so she became kind of his advisor.

Maybe rising in the ranks went to her head, because she looooooved her power. She actually used money earmarked to improve the Imperial Navy to expand and improve the Summer Palace. Our tour guide told us that she had 200 courses from which to choose for each meal. Holy moly. Just for her!!! This wasn't a meal for her and a bunch of courtiers. Just for her! Imagine all the food that was unused and thrown away!

Anyways, so that "marble" "boat" was built from those embezzled funds, among lots of other things. And I guess she liked to get on the "boat" and feel the coolness from the lake. I don't blame her. Summer in this part of China is a KILLER. I know from experience, dude.

And look! Another long corridor!!:

I love these. This one was even more ornate than the one at the Temple of Heaven. This was built so that Emperor Qianlong's mom could walk through the gardens protected from the elements. So funny. Get an umbrella, lady!

Ben wanted to snap a pic of the kids and I:

Gagey was sleeping. And Micah was being...Micah.

So, while Ben was posing us and taking pictures of us and trying to get Micah to smile, all of these tourists started gathering and taking pictures of us, too. I seriously felt like I was on the red carpet. It was flash, flash, flash, flash. It was really uncomfortable for me. Here I am, saying in my head, "Alllllrighty then....time to escape....":

Before long, our Nazi-like tour guide was screaming at us to get in line to get back on the boat to leave. The line was really long and very compact. Because of where we were in line, we missed the boat our tour guide wanted us to get on, so we got yelled at. :) By this time, I had HAD it:

The ride back across the lake was gorgeous, because the sun was setting. This pagoda is called Yu Feng Pagoda:

This is called the 17-arch bridge. It connects the Eastern edge of the lake to one of the man-made islands on the lake:

And of course there's a reason for 17 arches. From either side of the bridge, the architects wanted there to be nine arches to the middle of the bridge. And nine is a lucky number. So no matter what side of the bridge you're on, there are 9 arches to the middle arch. The middle arch is shared/claimed by both sides. I don't make this stuff up; I just tell you about it. :)

That night, when we got back to our hotel, I sent Ben to the silk market to pick up non-Chinese dinner for us and some more gifts for family and friends. I gave Gage some snacks and a drink and put him down for a very, very needed evening nap. And the other three kids and I gathered in the second hotel room on the bed and watched Harry Potter on HBO China. It was awesome. Ben brought back pizza, and we gorged ourselves. It tasted amazing.

And, a little factoid for ya - HBO in China is totally edited. Everything on TV, no matter the channel, is basically rated G. Which is kind of cool for a family like ours.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

You look just like Angelina Jolie!!!

After the Temple of Heaven, we were off to another tourist trap - the pearl market. Micah was dead to the world at this point:

It's hard work getting carried around all day. :) Haha!

We were ushered into a little classroom...

...and a lady there taught us all about pearls, which are a huge export in China. She told us that most of the pearls grown in China are actually freshwater pearls, and that the majority of them are grown and harvested in the lake in Beijing where the Summer Palace is located. (The Summer Palace is my next post. Stay tuned. If I ever get a dang moment to blog - December is busy.)

Freshwater pearls actually yield about 25 pearls per mussel. Cool, huh? She actually cracked one open for us and showed us the rows upon rows of teeny pinkish pearls. They were very small - she said that this mussel was only two years old or so, and that they usually let the mussels grow more mature before they crack them open - when they're six or so. She kind of wedged the pearls out of the mussel and let each of us keep a couple of them. Dylan asked if he could have mine in addition to his, to give to his girlfriend, Sierra. He's so cute.

So there are four colors of pearls that the freshwater mussel makes - pink, white, and purple. They're just gorgeous. She told us which colors go best with which kind of complexions - the white are supposed to look really good on olive-skinned people with dark hair. The pink is supposed to look best on blondes with tan skin. And the purple is supposed to look best with brunettes or blondes that have non-olive skin.

The gal in there taught us how to tell between real pearls and fake pearls. She rubbed two different strands of pearls together. One of them sounded kind of like hard plastic toys rubbing each other. The other sounded like two smooth rocks rubbing each other. I couldn't tell them apart by sight. The one that sounded like rocks was the real set of pearls. She says that sometimes people create fake pearls by using ground pearl dust and some other component together.

She also said that, when you rub two real pearls together, they will leave a small amount of dust on your hands. Fake pearls won't. So now ya know.

Then we were let into the main area to do some shopping. The pearls weren't cheap by any means, but gosh, they were gorgeous. Ben tried to do some bartering, but they weren't having any of that here. We really should have saved our money and gone to the silk market for pearls (though this shop was a state-run, guaranteed certified pearl place, and who knows if the ones in the silk market are real?), but the lure was too great, and we got a few birthday and Christmas presents for certain relatives who shall remain nameless, except for Mom. Her birthday was in October, so she's received her gift. We got her a necklace and bracelet with pink pearls in it. Yes, she's blonde with non-olive skin, so we should have given her purple, but I knew she already had purple pearls. My mom is a jewelery junkie. She had purple and she had white, so we gave her pink. And she loves them.

As we were milling about, there were, as is usual in any store or shop in China, about ten billion salespeople who were just standing around. I feel badly for them. But at least they have jobs, right? Maybe the Chinese have it right in that way. So I went to this one counter and was looking at necklaces, and this cute little Chinese gal looks at me dreamily and says, "You look just like Angelina Jolie."

To say I was flattered is an understatement.

But then I realized that this was probably like the flattery technique used in the silk market - flatter the vain Westerners, and they'll buy more stuff from you. Haha! (It still made me feel good. Even though I know it's in no way true.)

Micah got really heavy, and Ben and I had made our purchases, but of course, we had like two hours at the place where you can spend money. Haha! So I rested for a bit until the whole group was ready to go to the Summer Palace:

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