Monday, July 28, 2014


"Female" lion, Forbidden City, Beijing, China
The following is an excerpt from the diary of our trip to China July, 1995.  We were traveling with three friends, spending five days in Beijing and then three days in Xian.  China has changed greatly since our visit but many of the places we went to are still among the popular tourist spots.
Tiananmen Tower and Gate to Forbidden City
Day 3:  On the morning of our second full day in Beijing we met our guide, Amy, after breakfast at our hotel and proceeded to Tiananmen Square.  Amy told us that she had been in her first year of college in 1989.  She had been in the square during the day, but at night her mother made her stay home because she thought it was too dangerous. When we got to the square it was crowded with people, including thousands of Chinese in a huge line snaking its way toward the monument where Mao is entombed.  Apparently, all Chinese learn a saying from the time they are very young: “Once in my life I will visit Beijing to see Chairman Mao.”  So these people were making their once in a lifetime pilgrimage.
Hall of Preserving Harmony.  The carving along the stairs weighs 250 metric tons.
The Square was made of stone blocks about a foot and half square.  Amy said that if one person stood on each of these, the Square would hold a half million people.  We than walked across to the gate to the Forbidden City, where we received tapes for our tour.

Bronze turtle, Forbidden City
This large bronze turtle is a symbol of longevity and stability.  It is also an incense burner–the smoke comes out of its mouth.
Roof carvings, Forbidden City

These elaborate roof carvings inside the Forbidden City tell a story of a cruel tyrant who was hung from the eaves of a roof.
Large water pot, Forbidden City

Fire was a constant threat in the Forbidden City.  This is one of many water pots in place to use for dousing fires.

After lunch, we drove to the Summer Palace.  Among the more interesting things was an exhibit of photos of the Dowager–in one case with an American woman who apparently lived at the palace. We saw a picture of a traditional wedding dress–which includes an elaborate headpiece.  I asked Amy if she would be wearing such a dress for her wedding in the fall.  She said she might rent one for a photo, but that it would be too expensive to rent one for the whole day.  The actual date for her wedding is not yet set.  She will consult a soothsayer who will look at all the factors and determine the most propitious day.
Summer Palace
At the Summer Palace we saw another example of recreated hills as well as “borrowed scenery”-- where a distant landscape is incorporated into the whole panorama. The long corridor and walk beside the lake was quite refreshing because of the breeze off the water, but the stone boat at the end was a bit anticlimactic.  Although one could go for a ride across the lake on a brightly painted real boat, we didn’t do that.
Marble boat at the Summer Palace
That evening we were on our own for dinner.  We went out to a local noodle shop and ordered by pointing to dishes on other people’s tables.  We were the only Westerners in the restaurant.  The meal was inexpensive and quite tasty.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Great Wall of China, Badaling
The following is an excerpt from the diary of our trip to China July, 1995.  We were traveling with three friends, spending five days in Beijing and then three days in Xian.  China has changed greatly since our visit but many of the places we went to are still among the popular tourist spots. 

Detail of Cloisonne Vase

Day 2: On our first full day in Beijing, after breakfast at our hotel, we climbed into our van for a trip outside the city.  We drove northwest along wide streets and onto an expressway.  Our first stop was a cloisonne factory where we watched people making each step of the process–forming the patterns by gluing bent strips of copper onto the posts, applying the color paste, firing the pots and grinding and polishing them at the end.

"Painting" the cloisonne designs

Our guide, Amy, revealed that the workers we saw were only representative and that the real factory was somewhere else.  Flying over the yard were hundreds of swallows, by far the most common bird we saw in China.  After buying souvenirs I went to the bathroom–my first experience with a half-door floor toilet.

Taking the cloisonne pots out of the kiln

Next stop was the Ming Tombs.  We climbed up to the top of a hill and then descended a long stairway into the tombs–a series of underground rooms empty except for a few huge stone chairs. The locks on the doors were large versions of the anti-burglar poles that you jam into your door from the floor.  After the tombs were built they were buried to create a large hill.  Apparently all the workers were killed and buried in them so that no one except the next in line to the throne knew the location of the tombs.  (The ancient Chinese seemed to have no compunction about rearranging the landscape to their liking–moving rocks hundreds of miles to create gardens, digging lakes, and using the earth to build small mountains.)

We left the Ming Tombs and drove through the countryside and a small town, and then began to wind our way up into the mountains past small houses made of brick or stone, each with a fenced in courtyard in front.  We passed several sections of the Great Wall–including a large section being restored with a stone bridge across the road.  All along the way we saw beehives and small tents pitched next to the road with signs offering honey for sale.  We finally arrived at Badaling, a point where the Wall crosses a pass.

We made our way from the huge parking lot past a dusty camel, dozens of tourist stalls selling T-shirts (“I climbed the Great Wall”, etc.) and went through the gate up onto the wall.  The choice was between right–less steep but more crowded, or left.  We went left.  The most steep part (reminiscent of the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan in Mexico because the steps were so short your whole foot didn’t fit) was toward the beginning.

Alongside the wall, below, was another camel and a clothes rack of costumes.  For a fee you could dress up as a Mongol warrior and be photographed. As we made our way along the top of the wall we saw three species of butterflies and a magpie.  The sunlight became more golden as we walked and the crowds fewer so that by the time we got to the end of the reconstructed part we were the only people there. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

BEHEI PARK, Beijing, China (Day 1)

Behei Park, Beijing
The following is an excerpt from the diary of our trip to China July, 1995.  We were traveling with three friends, spending five days in Beijing and then three days in Xian.  China has changed greatly since our visit but many of the places we went to are still among the popular tourist spots. 

Temple roof decoration, Behei Park
Day 1:  We arrived in Beijing in the morning and were met at the airport by our guide, Amy. She led us to a car where our driver was waiting and we drove into the city. After helping us check into our hotel (Xinqiao) near the city center, we drove to the entrance to Behei Park, one of the oldest and best preserved ancient imperial gardens in China. We walked through the park to a temple, where, after paying a fee, we climbed up through two or three temple buildings with Buddha figures and then up a steep flight of steps.  Finally, we reached the top of the hill where we had a sweeping vista over the city.
View of Forbidden City and Beijing skyline from Behei Park
We climbed down over rocks on the back side of the hill.  At the bottom we walked under a covered walkway at the edge of the lake and chose to continue around the lake on a sidewalk rather than taking a boat across.  The lake was dotted with people in pastel colored pedal boats.
Walkway along lake, Behei Park
At the other end of the lake we went to a small “People’s Park” where groups of men played cards, dominoes, and a form of checkers on a board marked with intersecting lines. We then walked along the edge of the lake where there was a sort of street fair with stalls of toys, books, clothing, pottery, antiques, fruit, etc.

After returning to the hotel, we walked to the Foreign Language bookstore to look for a book of birds of China, but were unable to find one.  The street was crowded with shoppers.  We walked through a crowded department store filled with people buying purses, perfume, appliances, and a whole array of consumer goods.  On our way back to our hotel we passed McDonalds–the biggest McDonalds in the world, with 200 plus seats.  We went to bed early, to be ready for a full day of touring in the morning.

Monday, July 7, 2014

THE LIBERTY BELL, BEN FRANKLIN, and More: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Liberty Bell, cast in 1753 by John Pass and John Stow for the Pennsylvania State House
The Liberty Bell, with its famous crack, has long been a symbol of the American Revolution. But contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that the Liberty Bell rang on July 4, 1776, to proclaim independence. However, it did ring on many other occasions and was used to summon members of the Pennsylvania Assembly and to announce noteworthy events. It last rang in 1846 to celebrate the birthday of George Washington.
Independence Hall
Two weeks ago Art and I spent the weekend in Philadelphia at a family celebration and had the opportunity to visit the Liberty Bell and other sites around Independence Mall. The wealth of historic sites reminded me how central Philadelphia was to the early history of the United States. A map inside the Liberty Bell Center shows dozens of important sites–Independence Hall, the Benjamin Franklin Museum, Betsy Ross’ House, Christ Church and the Christ Church Burial Ground, Mikvah Israel Congregation (the oldest continuous synagogue in the United States), the Franklin Mint, the new National Constitution Center, to name a few.  We visited the historic area on a Sunday morning, which had the advantage of being cooler and less crowded.
Part of historic Philadelphia
My last visit to Philadelphia was fifteen years ago and I remember going inside Independence Hall and seeing where the Continental Congress first met.  Now, in order to go inside, one has to get a ticket (which is free) and stand in line for a tour (which we didn’t do because of our limited time, although we did walk through the grounds.) On my last visit, the Liberty Bell was housed in a small building by itself.  Now it is part of a large visitor center filled with exhibits about the bell and the concept of freedom, focusing on the fight to end slavery and for equal rights for all citizens of the United States.

Exhibits in the Liberty Bell visitor center
If you go to Philadelphia, it’s hard to avoid Benjamin Franklin. You can see where he lived, where he worked, and where he is buried.  His name is everywhere from the Franklin Mint to Franklin Court behind the Ben Franklin Museum.  Even the chairs in the lobby at the Westin Hotel where we stayed were decorated with his image.
Coins for good luck are strewn across Benjamin Franklin's Grave
Born in 1706 in Boston, Benjamin Franklin moved to Philadelphia as a young man, where he lived until is death in 1790 at the age of 84. Among his many accomplishments are that he founded the Philadelphia Library, invented the Franklin stove, was the first to utilize electricity, was the postmaster of Philadelphia, and a delegate to the Continental Congress. At his grave site in the Christ Church Cemetery there are two plaques.  One lists important dates in his long life.  The other has three quotes about him.  My favorite is by French writer Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot who wrote: “He tore from the skies the lightning and from tyrants the scepter.” (1779)

This trip made me realize that I need to go back to Philadelphia when I have more time so I can do justice to all the fascinating history in the city.  
Plaque at Christ Church Cemetery with famous quotes about Benjamin Franklin