Posts Tagged With: Shrines

GOING BACK TO CHINA

My tendency has been to forge through life, swiftly, do everything, don’t allow a stone unturned.  Say yes!  Let’s go, let’s do it.  Influenced by my partner, Jim, my new philosophy is stop and smell the flowers.  While home in Murphys these past weeks, an unfinished travel journal of my trip to China in 2006, nudged me. Jim says this summer promises to be slower paced,so I think I’ll go back to China.

I traveled with my friend, Michal Houston. After a long flight, we landed in Shanghai tired and weary only to be  shuffled to another plane that took us to Beijing. Our assigned room had one bed instead of two as requested. Her name spelling, Michal translated as Michael. Exhausted, we tumbled into bed and straightened it out the next day.

Beijing was in the middle of changing from a Socialist/Market Economy to a Capitalist Economy back in 2006. Beijing is a modern city of  only thirteen million people. I say only seriously because Chinese Cities can be,  and are, much larger than this home to International Government, political,  and financial centers of China. You find modern condos and 200-year-old homes side by side. Sixty per cent of the people in Beijing work for the government, kind of like Washington D.C.

Tiananmen Square is so huge it dwarfs any mall we have in the U.S. Soldiers on guard are always visible. And, surprising to us, we saw “modern” Chinese tourists; older people visiting their own iconic places and young people with cell phones in their ears.  This is the infamous spot where protests during National day 1989 led to the deaths of students and gave China a black eye over their aggressive policies. The poster of  Chairman Mau in the background looks small. In reality it stands  about twenty-five feet high. We have a group photo taken here and get our first taste of the new capitalism with vendors selling post cards and junky trinkets. Some of them starve on the new system and intrude, shove things under your nose, begging you to buy their trinkets and post cards.

One side of the square is this lovely government building and gardens, always statues and memorials from every preceding dynasty that governed China except maybe the Mongolians. Chairman Mau tore down the old city walls and opened things up with a ring road inhabited more and more by modern cars but  still madly outnumbered by eight million bicycles on the roads, the most common form of transportation in Beijing.

China has a love affair with dragons.  Their most favored and positive sign is everywhere in China.  As it turned out, I was born the year of the dragon.

We move on the Forbidden City where we see soldiers congregated in the square and their boots lined up outside of their barracks which were built in 1406 and finished in 1420. The Palace has 9,999 1/2 rooms. Nine is the supreme number. So, there are nine gates, each gate is nine by nine and has nine knobs. You can extrapolate that process through out the Imperial Grounds and Palace. It has served Eleven Emperors.

The “building” is actually one of the nine gates we pass through to reach the palace. The emperor has a resting place inside the gate where he emerged to address his people. He stood on a stair high above them.  This complex is a series of high gates, (stairs up stairs down)  and open space between them.

The walls here are made from 15 thicknesses of bricks to avoid tunneling into the Imperial Grounds.  There are 18 water pots around the grounds one for each of the 18 provinces. (Notice the multiple of nine.)

One side of the palace wall is made up of four panels of huge tiled dragons, approximately twenty feet tall.  Among the palace antiquities, marvelous gold, huge jade carvings, a gold Buddha, marvelous crystal, precious jewelry and marvelous treasures. I’m unsure why no pictures inside the palace. We may not have been allowed flash photography inside.  At one place we passed the shrine (inside) devoted to one of the Emperor’s favorite concubine. She was forced to jump into a well by the eunuchs of the jealous empress. Inside the court-yard we had a Starbucks coffee and cookies. The Starbucks was protested by Chinese activists and removed after our visit.

These  Chinese lions, one with his left foot on the ball, the other with his right foot on the ball have some significance in their stance which I’ve since forgotten. But, what I do remember is there are no lions native to China and  Chinese illustrators drew what a lion looked like from verbal descriptions of those brave explorers from “olden” times. Thus lions have fierceness, clawed feet, a mane and a ferocious face that much resembles a dog.

We went on to visit a couple of grouchy, lethargic Panda bears at a very seedy looking facility and then do not wonder much why there are only 1,000 of them left in captivity and the wild. The Chinese were not very conscious of environmental concerns in 2006.  We  finished our day with a famous Peking duck dinner. (More tomorrow.)

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THAI SCHOOL, BANANA LEAF LUNCH AND RUINS

Today we check out of our hotel and head for Sukhothai Thailand’s largest National Park. It contains a huge complex of ruins of Ancient Siam, temples, shrines and palaces. On the way we visit this rice mill almost as ancient.  It still employs a steam driven hydraulic system of wheels and belts that defy modern mechanization. Still efficient and readily repairable, now considered “old” green technology.
Rice has many forms. Between chaff and rice flour is the skin, nose, broken pieces, and full grain. All command a different price and use in the market. This mill uses the husks to fire the steam, and the ashes for fertilizer. Nothing is wasted.

At the Ruins, Panu hires a ride for those who choose not to bicycle. The weather is hot and the bike ride cooling, invigorating and enjoyable.

Ancient Siam in the Utria period, had no written language. The ruins here start in the 1100’s and cover the layers of history of the 1200’s and 1500’s, three different Buddhist temples.

Here we see the main Chedji, (old Stupa), that hold the ashes of deceased Kings.
Above, one of several giant sitting Buddhas. The old population around this area was laid waste by a cholera epidemic and when King Ramkamhaeng took the throne, he brought great architecture, art and stones inscribed with a chonicle of his achievements. He is credited with invent Thai script. He was a skillfull combatant from elephant back for which the Thai’s have a long, interesting history. He spread Theravada Buddhism and developed relations with China.

Our next stop is 40 miles away to visit a local school, one of the high points of an OAT trip. On the way, we watched for several minutes in fascination as a farmer worked his ride paddy with a motor. Thai’s have mechanized from the water buffalo to machines. Now, with gas prices so high, some farmers are returning to the water buffalo.
We arrive in time for lunch with a local teacher. She set up this lovely lunch, all cooked in banana leaves.
We were invited to eat in the “old” style, with our fingers, from our banana leaf plates. She demonstrated taking a pinch of sticky rice and using it to pinch the more liquid pork and gravy entre and bring it up to your mouth. There was fruit and the traditional coconut milk, tapioca, dessert. This teacher spoke good English though we tried to communicate in Thai. And, of course, we had the option to eat with chop sticks rather than our fingers if we chose.

After lunch, we walked a short distance to our teacher’s house and met with her 83 year old mother. We asked her questions about her life, her children, her husband and traditions. A delightful encounter.

At the school, Mason, the only boy, was a hit with the kids. The older girls broke into giggles and shyly peeked, quite entranced by this “foreign” boy come to visit. After the kids entertained us, we paired off with younger students and listened to them read in English.

Susan and Sheila had this instant rapport with the children, while my student was tongue tied and could barely speak. They are endearing and sweet. It is obvious they went through excited preparations for our visit and put their best foot forward. After the entertainment, we taught them to do the Hokey Pokey.
And, of course, Flat Stanley met the students after they danced and played musical instruments for us. How cool is that?
After our school visit, we drove on to Phrae, which is in the Province where the current Queen was born and raised. Thai’s are very conscious of their royals and hold them in high esteem. This province was at one time covered in ancient teakwood trees which were logged. The queen headed up the project to reforest the slow growing teakwood which is now on the endangered list.
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