July 19, 2012
We arrive in a very crowded Wuhan City, population 10 million with another 6 million surrounding the city. It has temperature extremes with hot tropical summers and snow in the winters. It is considered one of the furnace cities of China. Vicki has a friend here who owns a Citron. He works for the factory, he has company housing and can park his car on the roof of the plant. Here we see American brands everywhere, McDonalds, Michelin, Milky Way, KFC. People love KFC, Vicki tells us. Merchants here do knockoff designs, very smart Gucci bags, Rolex watches and other designer goods. If caught, they pay heavy fines. We pull into our Shangri La Hotel and police stop our bus. It seems Jacque Chirac, the President of France is in town and we had to by-pass the hotel and have the porters come to the bus. Secret Service all over the place escorted us up the sidewalk to a freight elevator, then to another elevator into the hotel. We could not take pictures and were asked to leave our cameras in our rooms. We had a great dinner and got to taste dishes typical of the area, a huge sea bass, some special potatoes in broth, a sticky rice with pork and eggplant, a marvelous juicy dumpling with tasty meat and vegetables inside. Cuisine from this area is considered one of the major cuisines of the world. We could see why. Everything was delicious.
The next day, on our way to the Wuhan Provincial Museum, we see a bride and groom in a bright red Volkswagen. People marry on even days. They pick a lucky day and a lucky time.
The revelers followed in a decorated open truck. Weddings have become westernized. The man proposes and puts a ring on during the wedding ceremony. The bride will wear a western type wedding dress and a cocktail dress for the reception. Old Chinese women wear rings but they have nothing to do with their marital status. Chinese joke: The groom used to jump over a broom. Now they say, we love each other but we haven’t swept together yet. Ha, Ha!
Vicki tells us that in the 1970′s a person wanted his own watch, his own bike and a sewing machine. A man had to earn 50 yuan a month before he could get married in Mau’s planned society. People needed a coupon for oil, pork, or cloth and most fairly basic commodities.
People in the 1980′s wanted TV’s, refrigerators and washing machines.
People in the 1990′s wanted a private telephone, a CB or Ham radio and they got mortgages starting in 1998.
Now people want cell phones, cars, houses and computers. The government controls TV and the internet. But, after the technician installs it, you hire another guy to unblock it. There are 10 provincial channels, 40 others from the government. Foreign TV is not allowed but you can pirate it easily, Vicky tells us. They will crack down and block the internet in the future, she predicts. It is just too much freedom and will give people corrupt ideas.
We arrive at the Provincial Museum. As always, everything is ornately decorated, though this 350,000 year old city, was bombed, and flooded and destroyed over many years of conflict including Japanese and revolutionary warfare of Sun Yat Sen. In 1911, the uprising led to the fall of the Quing Dynasty and the emergence of the modern Republic of China, right here in Wuhan City.
The area is noted for its intellectuals; poets, writers, and artists. They specialize in bronze and gold, interesting garden design, bridges and buildings, very contemporary. Our city guide, Harry, teaches us the word for cold beer, bing peejo. We would like to have a good beer here. It hasn’t happened yet. Mostly a weak rice beer that is wet. Ditto the wine.
The centerpiece of this museum is an ancient tomb unearthed in 1978.
The huge timbers covering it since 430 B.C. are incredibly intact. Inside was the remains of the Marquis Teng and 13 of his concubines. There were thousands of artifacts, much of them musical, zithers, flutes, drums, whistles. Bells that could produce two separate tones. Ancient musical scripts that are still used today.
The bronze work was extraordinary, very ornate and beautiful. Everything here is under glass and almost impossible to photograph with my meager skills and first digital point and shoot.
This is how the aristocracy served wine. From a vessel with dual handled dippers.
The dippers were made of bronze and gold.
Much talented ancient Chinese craftsmen made these intricate carved legs and decorations in bronze. This vessel has an inner bowl so that ice or hot water could surround the food to keep it warm or cool on the serving table. And we thought that was a fairly modern idea.
The ancients had developed a special lacquer ware then as well.
On this sophisticated triple bell, musicians can play Ode to Joy, by Beethoven and Adelweiss. Harry, our city guide, sings Adelweiss for us in a very silvery voice to demonstrate the versatility of this amazing bell.
I found it interesting that this ancient bell looks like those of later centuries. The pattern carried through many generations. Later in the evening, we attend a concert on a replica set of bells as those found in the tomb.
During the concert, the musicians played typical Chinese music, but also demonstrated classical music from Irving Berlin and other composers. What a trip to see another what is considered “8th Wonder of the World” this magnificent bell.
There is also a legend that got started about the tomb, Harry tells us. It was opened in the dead of winter with snow on the ground, and somehow the story got started that a couple of butterflies hatched and flew from the tomb when it warmed up.
From Vicki we got a list of movies about China considered very good. Balzar, The Little Chinese Seamstress, Raise the Red Lantern, Mostly Martha, Zellany. Also the book River Town. I thought Keys To The Kingdom was a fascinating look at China through the eyes of a priest. Also made into a movie.
Tomorrow, another UNESCO city.
July 1, 2012
Before leaving Beijing, we attended the traditional Opera that is no longer performed anywhere in China but Beijing. It is considered old-fashioned, an old art. There were no pictures allowed of the opera, nor the beautiful costumes on display in the lobby. Cast members entertained us at our tables while we enjoyed refreshments. A teapot with a three-foot long spout was used to dramatically pour our tea into tiny cups without splashing or spilling a drop, much to our delight. On stage, one very acrobatic act performed in slow motion, with every muscle in coordination, had us holding our breath. The performers painted faces were allowed to show no emotions; their lips could not move, not even to take a breath. You could see their nostrils flare as they took in air during extremely strenuous moves. It put us on the edge of our seats. The opera is part singing, part acrobatics and part storytelling. One story (all printed in English on screens at the side of the stage) involved a hateful government edict presented to the people. They conspire to steal the key and change the offensive edict. This is important because in old China, it was the only form of protest the people had, through their art. One act was a about a Shogan who falls in love with his concubine. Another “social issue.” It was wonderful. Viki told us most people skip the Opera, but, I would certainly recommend it if you have a chance to see it.
The next morning, we flew to Xian, pronounced shy-ann. Realize that the soldiers were discovered in 1974 and they have been designated the 8th wonder of the world. Xian was once the capital of China during the first of thirteen dynasties, the Ching Dynasty. Here, underground, lay the roots of the dynasty, for over 2000 years. The photo of a photo taken by the archaeologists shows what the soldiers looked like as they began to uncover this phenomenal treasure.
The soldiers are displayed in the pits from which they came and covered over by a roof. This photo shows the immensity of this pit. They carried weapons because the soldiers were ready to do battle for their emperor when he died. The soldiers were destroyed by the incoming faction of government after the Emperor who ordered the armies built, died, while inspecting the army. The soldiers weapons were removed, then the figures were broken up and covered over.
This photo shows the depth of one of the pits. There is six pits open to the public if I remember correctly. There is 8,000 soldiers, over three hundred chariots, wagons, and horses, jade armor, animals, dancer, acrobats plus other people, statesmen or persons important to the Emperor.
A flash only carries so far and it is difficult to get really good pictures of the soldiers. But the immensity of the task and the visible definition of the clothing, the hands, the features overwhelms. I find myself continually amazed at the wonders people crafted when given inspiration, and that I should have the privilege of seeing them.
The soldiers, when first removed had color in their faces and clothing. The Chinese government is building a new museum for the soldiers because they’ve lost their color from exposure to light and air. The roof leaks in places and since the discovery, they’ve found 73 more mounds, 16 of which they’ve opened up and reburied until they have perfected a technology to preserve the color and prevent deterioration of the figures. The rest will not be opened until they have the financial reserves and technology to care for this enormous treasure. The Terracotta Army is also a UNESCO site. UNESCO means this is a world treasure, to be preserved for all mankind and funded and preserved by shared funds. That designation carries a lot of responsibility and cooperation between countries around the world and benefits all of us.
Some of the best views of the warriors are replicas from the museum store.
You can buy one of these and have it shipped back to the United States. The replicas are a treasure as well as the man who discovered the soldiers and had to turn his farm over to the government. He was given the official job as book signer. He is a small man, very quiet, doesn’t say much. He is no longer allowed to have his picture taken because his eyes were damaged by so many flashes. A cute story about him: He was told President Clinton would be visiting and he was taught a bit of English to greet the President. He learned to say “How are you?” He was coached that the Clintons would likely say, fine, thank you and he should answer, I’m fine too. But, Clinton said “Hello”. And the farmer, who was nervous said, “Who are you?” And Clinton said, “I’m Hillary Clinton’s husband.” And the farmer said “Me too!”
The Provincial Shaanxi History Museum, adjacent to the pits, holds this team of horses. All under glass, tough to get a decent photo of them.
And this chariot driver. The detail in the clothing, the hands, the faces…truly awesome. All of these figures were modeled after real people. They were fired in kilns and then painted.
The horse to me has a wary expression as though aware of a stranger’s approach.
I was surprised at how little from the pits was in the museum. Hopefully that will change as they rebuild and restore.
One of the best things about the museum was their noodle lunch. A guy on each end of a long counter holds a hunk of noodle dough like this. This cook was quickly shaving off a piece of dough into hot broth with a special tool that made wide noodles.
This guy on the opposite end of the system, had the same size hunk of dough, that he forced a hole in the middle and then began stretching it. He stretched, and stretched and stretched until it spontaneously separated into this four foot long strand of fine noodles. It was a real show to watch. I tasted both soups and they were equally delicious. I guess it doesn’t take much to impress Westerners. I loved it. Is it any wonder Marco Polo decided to bring this wonderful food back to Italy?
I fell in love with the exquisite pottery in the museum. This piece is a pillow, believe it or not.
My second favorite was a depiction of what an ancient Chinese home would look like, with animals encased in the same abode.
Notice the precisely rendered hooves on this horse. This artist loved horses, you can tell.
And the musicians on a camel. Whimsical.
For more pottery, click the link below: