Monthly Archives: November 2014

China Diaries – Day 6

P1030195 (Small) P1030186 (Small) P1030192 (Small)P1030175 (Small)Today we visited the Summer Palace. The opulence of the emperors we had seen yesterday in the Forbidden City was very much in evidence in the grand scale and impressive construction of lakes, hills, pagodas, gardens, temples and statues. It was another stunning display of grandeur and wealth, clearly designed to impress. At the same time it is a stark reminder of inequality, repression and serfdom sustained across the millennia through the various dynasties. It took some time, in the heat, to walk the length of the corridor by the man-made lake and take in the detail of exquisite decoration – all for the enjoyment of one person. It is extraordinary.

Various notices and displays alluded to the invasion by the British and their trail of destruction as they rampaged through the area, burning everything in their path. We attempted to look non-British and hoped that our nation had been forgiven by now!

En route to the Great Wall, north of Bejing, we stopped off at the Bejing Zoo to observe the pandas. I have to say that if I was a panda stuck in a zoo with a plentiful supply of bamboo and people looking at me the whole time, I think I would turn my back on them and retreat to the confines of the shadiest recesses of my enclosure. And that is exactly what these creatures did. We managed a couple of photos – job done and back on the minibus.

P1030231 (Small)An hour later, we arrived at the Great Wall. As with all the sites and attractions we visited, the scale and experience of actually visiting in person is difficult to capture in words of photos. There is something about climbing up a small section of the Great Wall and extrapolating the effort expended to the vast distances that the wall disappears off into, that gives you an appreciation of the breath-taking organisation needed to build all 6000km of it.  We were surprised that the climb was so steep and the steps so uneven in height. It was a tiring endeavour at this altitude, we often had to stop for breath.  Thanks to our remote location and the time of day, we were some of the only tourists on the wall itself. From the top of the valley, we enjoyed some spectacular views, tracing the wall’s passage across the distant range of hills.

In the restaurant that evening, we quizzed our waitress via Zhiang and learned that she came from the Gobi Desert  area; that she had been in Bejing for 1 month, working in the restaurant, who also provided her accommodation in a shared room with 3 other girls. As her identity card marks her out as originating from Tibet, it would be difficult for her to get married as any prospective husband would not want the responsibility of returning with her to visit her family.  She asked us if we would let her take a photo with us as she had never met westerners before.

China Diaries – Day 5

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It was a very warm day for sightseeing. There were many umbrellas / parasols in evidence as we approached Tiananmen Square – the 4th largest public square in the World, named after the Tiananmen gate to its North separating it from the Forbidden CIty.

Leaving the relative cool of the minibus, we were immediately aware of the high security surrounding the whole area. The square itself is fenced off with security gates and detectors for bags at each corner. We duly waited in line and emerged into the melee of various indigenous Chinese who thronged to this meeting point. To our South we observed the seemingly endless queue of those wishing to pay their respects to the former Chairman Mao in his permanent mausoleum where he continues to lie in state.

Progress across the square was difficult. As westerners and with half of our party black, we were a novelty, particularly to those from the north west who had never actually seen species such as ours in the flesh before. They all wanted a photo with us.

Eventually we made it to the northern subway and emerged at the gates to the Forbidden City under the immense portrait of Mao. We joined the crowds walking through the impressive gates, already awed by the scale.

Some 10 minutes later, we met up with Ziang, clutching a handful of tickets by the paying entrance.

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As we proceeded into the inner courtyards, he gave us some facts and figures –

  • The “city” covers 1 km2
  • It took ½ million workers 20 years to build it
  • By the time of the Qing Dynasty, the emperor had up to 20,000 concubines living here
  • Kowtow comes from 2 words Kow – hat and Tow – floor, so literally hat to the floor, which is the position to be maintained in the emperor’s presence unless you wished to be parted from your head!
  • Chinese whispers derives from the communication lines associated with the palace hierarchy and the fact that what was originally intended was likely to be corrupted according to how the message would benefit the next in line.

It was a very impressive site. In the end we were exhausted by the heat and the walking but it was worth it.

P1030170 (Medium)

After lunch we visited a traditional Chinese medicine hospital. We observed various treatments with a very knowledgeable and informative doctor as our guide. These included acupuncture, cupping, massage and manipulation and a visit to the pharmacy for traditional herbal medicines where we were shown the wooden cabinets with over 300 different drawers containing ingredients ranging from root ginger through to dried scorpions.  These are selected, weighed and combined into a prescription which is boiled in a pressure cooker into a rather noxious smelling “tea” which the patient ingests.

In the evening we went to the Chaoyang Theatre to watch the acrobatics show performed by young people. The skill, strength and dexterity were very impressive. Just as we were about to leave for the theatre a lady arrived who had been contacted that day to see if our group could meet up with her whilst we were in Bejing. She joined us on the short journey to the theatre discussing her social enterprise model of community child development and care. She had travelled 4 hours to meet us for 15 minutes!

China Diaries – Day 5

P1030128 (Medium)

It was a very warm day for sightseeing. There were many umbrellas / parasols in evidence as we approached Tiananmen Square – the 4th largest public square in the World, named after the Tiananmen gate to its North separating it from the Forbidden CIty.

Leaving the relative cool of the minibus, we were immediately aware of the high security surrounding the whole area. The square itself is fenced off with security gates and detectors for bags at each corner. We duly waited in line and emerged into the melee of various indigenous Chinese who thronged to this meeting point. To our South we observed the seemingly endless queue of those wishing to pay their respects to the former Chairman Mao in his permanent mausoleum where he continues to lie in state.

Progress across the square was difficult. As westerners and with half of our party black, we were a novelty, particularly to those from the north west who had never actually seen species such as ours in the flesh before. They all wanted a photo with us.

Eventually we made it to the northern subway and emerged at the gates to the Forbidden City under the immense portrait of Mao. We joined the crowds walking through the impressive gates, already awed by the scale.

Some 10 minutes later, we met up with Ziang, clutching a handful of tickets by the paying entrance.

P1030145 (Medium)

As we proceeded into the inner courtyards, he gave us some facts and figures –

  • The “city” covers 1 km2
  • It took ½ million workers 20 years to build it
  • By the time of the Qing Dynasty, the emperor had up to 20,000 concubines living here
  • Kowtow comes from 2 words Kow – hat and Tow – floor, so literally hat to the floor, which is the position to be maintained in the emperor’s presence unless you wished to be parted from your head!
  • Chinese whispers derives from the communication lines associated with the palace hierarchy and the fact that what was originally intended was likely to be corrupted according to how the message would benefit the next in line.

It was a very impressive site. In the end we were exhausted by the heat and the walking but it was worth it.

P1030170 (Medium)

After lunch we visited a traditional Chinese medicine hospital. We observed various treatments with a very knowledgeable and informative doctor as our guide. These included acupuncture, cupping, massage and manipulation and a visit to the pharmacy for traditional herbal medicines where we were shown the wooden cabinets with over 300 different drawers containing ingredients ranging from root ginger through to dried scorpions.  These are selected, weighed and combined into a prescription which is boiled in a pressure cooker into a rather noxious smelling “tea” which the patient ingests.

In the evening we went to the Chaoyang Theatre to watch the acrobatics show performed by young people. The skill, strength and dexterity were very impressive. Just as we were about to leave for the theatre a lady arrived who had been contacted that day to see if our group could meet up with her whilst we were in Bejing. She joined us on the short journey to the theatre discussing her social enterprise model of community child development and care. She had travelled 4 hours to meet us for 15 minutes!

China Diaries – Day 4a

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For some reason I managed to omit our visit to a daycare and “after-school “ centre yesterday, sometime between  visiting the garden of nets and the bullet train.

The centre is located on the first floor of a shopping centre in the middle of a residential  and commercial area. It serves working families who use it for child care – somewhere for children to be cared for whilst parents are at work. Clearly these are not impoverished migrant workers as all clients are fee paying. Young children attend during the day, typically brought and collected by grandparents whilst the parents are at work. This is a new type of private enterprise in China and unusual in being owned and run by a woman. We were told that she also runs another centre and has plans to expand. Like so many PVI proprietors, it was her personal search for appropriate care for her own son that prompted her to start her own provision. Her son is disabled and she was unable to find anywhere that would take him.

Interestingly, as a tenant, she had no legal tenure or lease covering her business which seemed a bit of an exposure but the ongoing symbiotic relationship between rent paying tenant and landlord seemed to be serving both parties.

It was rather a utilitarian facility but nonetheless safe, bright and clean. It reminded me of a retail unit in a shopping mall, which I guess was its intended purpose on construction judging by neighbouring shops and restaurants in the same complex. There was no adjacent outdoors provision. The nearest “recreational” area is an open community space with some play equipment, about 200 metres away, having taken the stairs or a lift ride down a floor.          

The curriculum was one that had been bought in. A quick glimpse suggested rather “schooly” rather than experiential learning activities but this was based on a flick through a book. As a private provider, seemingly the activities were relatively unregulated. They are free to choose their own curriculum and activities.  Most of the staff seemed quite young and we did not find out about their qualifications.