Sunday, December 14, 2008

December in Dalian

This is the last week of the semester for me. I'll be giving and grading exams starting tomorrow. Susie is in New Mexico and will visit Will and Maya in California before flying back to Shanghai on Christmas Eve. We're going to take a trip to some more rural areas in southern China before heading off to France for January and February. Keep watching the blog for updates on our adventures!
In the meantime, here are a few random pictures I took this past week -- some in my classroom building, some in the city, and a few here in the neighborhood.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Talking Turkey

For the past two weeks, I have been leading classroom discussions about Thanksgiving and Christmas. I took pictures to class for Thanksgiving (pilgrims and the Mayflower, turkey dinner, football game, Macy's parade, etc) and Christmas (paintings of the Nativity, Santa Claus and his sleigh, trees and decorations, stockings on a fireplace, etc) and answered the students' questions. They were especially interested in Ralph Stone's pictures of a real Thanksgiving and had many questions about both holidays. Some were what I expected: How do you cook a turkey? Is it a real tree and what does it cost? Are there special songs for the holidays? However, a few of the questions were real stumpers. Here is a sample.

  • Why do Americans give each other colored eggs at Thanksgiving?

  • Who do you give thanks to on Thanksgiving Day?

  • How much do turkey eggs cost and how do you cook them?

  • What kind of ID card do you need in order to go inside a church?

  • In the Nativity scene, which one of the men is Santa Claus?

  • If you can afford to buy new decorations every year, why do you still use the old ones?

  • The animals pulling the sleigh: are they elk? (They remembered Rose Mary Harty's wonderful pictures of the elk at Horseshoe Loop)

  • They were thrilled to learn that 85% of artificial trees are manufactured in China.

  • Very few knew that the Western calendar numbered years from the supposed date of the birth of Jesus. They knew ther abbreviations "B.C." and "A.D." but were not aware of what they stood for.

  • Asked to identify the people in the Nativity picture, about half knew the baby was Jesus and a few knew that the woman was named Maria. Asked who the white-haired man standing beside Maria was, they replied in unison: "STEVE!"

  • They love to sing in English, so I taught them the words to "Silent Night." Then I was asked to explain the "Virgin and Child" concept. Not as easy as you might think...

The questions were earnest attempts to understand Westerners and I repeat them here not to make fun of my students, but to give an idea of how eager they are to penetrate the mysteries of beliefs and traditions that we take for granted. These kids are wonderful, always surprising and a pure joy to teach.

Quiz: What Is It?

Today's round of the "What Is It Quiz" features a few random objects from daily life, mostly in our apartment. See if you can guess what each object is before you read the captions. A perfect score is a "10." Lucky contestants with scores of 8 or above can join me on the street for a quick snack of Grilled Squid on a Stick.

Seriously, several of these things are gifts from Chinese friends and small souvenirs of our travels. They add color and pleasure to our lives and will bring back happy memories for many years to come.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Memorable Birthday and Thanksgiving

Today is Thursday, November 27. When I arrived for my morning class with thirty sophomore English majors, I was stunned by the gifts they had prepared for me. Scott, our class artist, had made some original drawings for me on the chalkboard. Cathay, our class musician, brought her two-stringed erhu. She played "Happy Birthday to You" while the class sang to me, first in English and then in Mandarin. Then Cathay played a tricky traditional melody called "Running Horses" as a special gift for me. Last week, the class took up a secret collection and sent out a delegation to buy me a handmade stocking cap and scarf to protect my health during the Manchurian winter. At Thanksgiving, I always have so many blessings to be grateful for. These young men and women made Thanksgiving 2008 a day that I will never forget as long as live.

Monday, November 24, 2008

November in Dalian

We thought the warm weather would never end, especially when our apartment was invaded by a large batallion of mosquitoes. Susie made an effective bug zapper out of a long cardboard box so that we could kill them when they landed on our ceiling. Our ceiling now looks like it has the chickenpox, covered by dozens of tiny red bug corpses.

But the weather finally turned crisp and cool -- highs around 50 most days -- and we even had our first light snowfall. One thing we have enjoyed observing is the way street vendors sell different kinds of produce as the seasons change -- first grapes, then cabbages and turnips, and now big apples. Previously, we mentioned the custom of drying winter vegetables outdoors for use in pickles and soups. Food and the traditions surrounding it are central to Chinese culture. One reason the Chinese dine on so many "funny things" to us Westerners is that they have lived on the verge of famine for so long. We have read estimates that as many as 30-60 million people starved in the three years' famine of the early 1960s during the disastrous years of the "Great Leap Forward." Today, instead of asking "how's it going," one can still greet a good friend by asking "Ni chi bao le ma?" [Have you had enough to eat?] So things that to us might seem inedible have been transformed by innovative Chinese cooks into a delicious cuisine. Necessity + creativity = culinary art.
Speaking of food and traditions, I am doing a unit this week on Thanksgiving -- Mayflower, pilgrims, turkey, Macy's parade, football, and feeding the homeless. It's one of the most successful topics I have tried so far. I'll try to do the same for future holidays as well. As you can see from the pictures, China is already busy importing some features of our holiday season -- especially as they pertain to retail marketing.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dalian: East Meets West

Here are a few random shots illustrating just a few of the many ways in which East meets West here in Dalian. The billboard pictures were taken on a quick light-rail trip to Ka Fa Qu, a specially designated zone for high-tech investment by Western corporations just north of Dalian. The pictures at the bakery were taken in the Roosevelt Shopping Mall in downtown Dalian. The classroom pictures were taken on the day when I introduced trick-or-treating to my students. Our classrooms have no computers, no video or CD players. The departmental photocopier hasn't worked in weeks. Several of my classrooms do not have operating electrical outlets, so I have bought batteries for a boombox to take to class. There are rumors that the heat will be turned on soon, but right now (15 November) the students live and work in unheated dorms (eight to a room, no showers in most buildings). But look at these smiling faces! These students are an absolute joy to teach.

Beijing: Exploring the hutongs

Beijing still has many ancient neighborhoods known as "hutongs." The city's skyline is marked by countless new high-rise apartment complexes, but millions of residents live in the closely packed alleyways of the hutongs. These neighborhoods began as the homes of affluent imperial officials living just outside the Forbidden City. They were originally laid out as spacious walled courtyard dwellings similar to a Roman villa or a Spanish hacienda, but they gradually evolved into densely crowded neighborhoods consisting of small one-story buildings crowded around tiny twisting alleyways. Some of the hutongs remain much as they were in earlier times, but in a process that is familiar to Washingtonians some are being gentrified into comfortable up-scale homes, shops, and inns, while others are being bulldozed away to make way for new development. Our walk took us through several areas near the Forbidden City, including a tradtional hutong and one that is undergoing renovation.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Beijing: Summer Palace

We spent all day Monday wandering through the extensive grounds of the Summer Palace, a quiet country refuge for the imperial court laid out in the late 1700s and extended and rebuilt twice (in the 1860s and after 1902) by the Empress Dowager Cixi, one of the most powerful and enigmatic women in Chinese history. (She effectively deposed both her son and her nephew in order to rule as regent for half a century. Her personal excesses and political blunders led to the demise of the last imperial dynasty in 1912). The weather was sunny and warm -- perfect for a stroll and a picnic.

The Summer Palace consists of a large lake to the south and a steep hill to the north. The lake has numerous pavilions, artificial islands, charming bridges and causeways. The hill is covered with shady tree-lined walkways, palaces, temples, gardens, and living quarters for the imperial court. The names of these cool, peaceful spots are a delight in themselves: Hall of Jade Ripples (where Cixi imprisoned the emperor), Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, Garden of Virtue and Harmony, the Cloud Dispelling Gate, Hall of Good Sight, Hall of Heralding Spring, Pavillion of Forgotten Desires and Accompanying Clouds, Pavillion with Fish and Algae, Hall for Listening to Orioles, Tower of the Fragrance of Buddha, etc.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Beijing: The Great Wall

The Great Wall was begun by Qin Shi Huang (d. 210 BCE) , the first emperor to preside over anything resembling a unified China. He is also the man whose unexcavated mausoleum near Xi'an is guarded by the army of terra cotta warriors. The Wall runs in various segments and byways for approximately 4200 miles. It was, of course, primarily intended as a defensive fortification (impressive but ineffectual), but it also served as a stunning piece of propaganda, a visible statement of the empire's military might and economic resources, a means of rapid communication, and a way to transport men and supplies over vast distances. In its heyday, it was manned by as many as one million soldiers. Some sources estimate that one to two million laborers died during its construction.

We hired a car with another couple and drove to the Mutianyu section of the Wall, about 55 miles north of Beijing. The countryside is rural, rugged, and steep. Many parts of the wall are little more than ruins today, but the section at Mutianyu (begun in the 6th century and extended in the 14th and 16th centuries) has been restored to its former grandeur.

As an added bonus, we got to take a ski-lift to the summit of the pass. After our hike, we rode back down to the base of the hill on tiny toboggans, racing like happy berserkers down a slick metal chute about one mile long.

Beijing: Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is an enormous walled complex of courtyards, temples, palaces, offices, gardens, and service buildings in the center of Beijing. It was largely completed by 1420, but was renovated and added to many times over the following centuries (sort of like our cabin at Horseshoe Springs). The Forbidden City was the home of 24 emperors and their concubines, relatives, courtiers, and retinues numbering into the thousands. It was also the seat of government, the focal point of sacred ceremonies, and center of the entire cosmos.

One could easily spend several days exploring every corner of the Forbidden City, which is often said to have 9,999 rooms. Impressive doesn't begin to describe its magnitude or its splendor. Still, we were more impressed by the quiet beauty of the Inner Court, the residential palaces and gardens reserved for the imperial family and their most intimate circle.

Beijing: Tian'an Men Square

We took a long weekend (Friday-Tuesday) to visit Beijing, a colossal metropolis of at least 18 million people -- and still growing at an incredible pace. Beijing (the name means "northern capital") became the seat of the Yuan dynasty in the late 13th century. Beijing epitomizes the contradictions of 21st-century China: ancient history and booming development, stunning wealth and heartbreaking poverty. One cannot begin to explore it in four short days or describe it in a brief blog entry. Susie found us a great place to stay only a few hundred yards from Tian'an Men Square. We hope to use it on future expeditions as well.

Tian'an Men (Heavenly Peace Gate) is the enormous public square at the heart of Beijing, bordering the Forbidden City on the south. It has been the site of historic events ranging from the proclamation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, to the huge rallies of the Cultural Revolution, to the notorious massacre of peaceful protesters in 1989. (The latter event, known as the "June Fourth Incident," is rarely if ever mentioned in the PRC.)

The square covers about 100 acres and can hold more than one million people. It is often said to be the largest public square in the world, but the new Xinghai Square in (of all places) Dalian is larger by more than 10,000 square meters (2.5 acres). As you can imagine, this is a source of great local pride. Here are a few pictures:

Monday, October 27, 2008

Study, Food, and Fun

This week I saw several events for students here at LNU. First, I was interviewed by a trio of tri-lingual hosts for a talk show on the student radio station. Then I stopped by the library to return some books and saw students hard at work early on Sunday morning. Dormitory life is crowded and difficult by American standards. The students sleep eight to a room and many of the older buildings have no hot water, so the students walk for several blocks to newer dorms where they can shower. That's why the library is always so crowded. Then I attended the CCTV English Speaking Contest. Thirty contestants gave a prepared speech, an impromptu speech, and answered questions from the judges. Participants came from universities all over northwest China. The winner of our regional contest goes on to Beijing for the finals. Finally, I watched some fiercely competitive basketball. Just who are those guys anyway?

On one of my walks, I came across a small group of older amateur musicians playing traditional Chinese music to celebrate the grand opening of a restaurant. I joined a small appreciative crowd to listen to the music -- a single piece that lasted about 20 minutes. On a barely related topic, this also seems to be National Dry Your Winter Vegetables Week. I'll ask my students to explain what's going on and report back to you.

Dalian Street Scenes: Chapter 2

Here is a collection of miscellaneous pictures that I took last Sunday afternoon (October 26) when I went looking for places of worship in Dalian. There's no theme: it's just a random collection of the kinds of things you would see on any ordinary autumn afternoon.

Russian Quarter

As the northernmost ice-free deepwater port on the Pacific coast, Dalian has been coveted by both the Russians and the Japanese. In fact, the city was leased to, occupied by, or ruled by one or the other of these two nations between 1895 and 1955. Most guidebooks list Russian Street as one of Dalian's main attractions. The street itself is now a wide pedestrian walkway runnng for about 200 yards near the old seaport. It was the heart of the Russian community around 1900. Many historic Russian-style structures remain, but they have all fallen into severe disrepair. The street is now the definition of "faded glory." It is lined with decaying buildings in front of which sidewalk vendors hawk cheap knick-knacks and souvenirs.
The narrow streets surrounding the main boulevard once held numerous brick-and-stucco residences for the Russian community posted to Dalian. Today, the area is mired in poverty and neglect. It is worth bearing in mind that despite China's rapid economic transformation, the rising tide has not lifted all the boats. Poverty is real and brutal, both in the city and in the countryside. I will have more to say about China's economic miracle and the increasing income gap in a future blog post. I'm a visitor, not a journalist, so it was hard for me to take these pictures. There are other scenes that I chose not to photograph at all.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Since today (Sunday, 26 October) dawned clear and crisp and cool, I decided to make a photo safari to several of Dalian's places of worship. American readers might be surprised to learn that there even are such places, but it is worth knowing that freedom of religion is explicitly enshrined in the constitution of the People's Republic of China, although the enormous loopholes are pretty obvious: "No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination" (Article 36).

The PRC recognizes five main religions: Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, Catholics, and Protestants. There are also small communities of Hindus and indigenous folk religions, as well as religious movements that are not officially sanctioned. Estimates by Chinese scholars say that about 300 million people (31%) consider themeselves to be "religious" in some sense. A recent article in China Daily notes, for example, that official records show that there are about 16 million Protestants in China. (That sounds like a lot, but it's less than 1.5% of the population.) The number of Protestant seminaries has increased from 1 to 18 in the past ten years. There are more than 10,000 officially recognized Protestant churches. China also has more than 20 million Muslims worshipping in more than 40,000 mosques.

Our earlier blog entries had pictures of the Buddhist temple here in Dalian as well as various temples, monasteries, and mosques in Xi'an and Tibet. Today, I walked to a Roman Catholic Church, a Lutheran Church, an Anglican Church, a former Russian Orthodox Church, and a mosque. I know of a few more places of worship in various office buildings and hotels, and there is said to be a Hindu Shrine somewhere near the Buddhist Temple in Zhongshan Park. I have also heard that there is a new Protestant mega-church with about 4000 members near the airport, too far for me to walk today.

Echinoderms on Parade

Finally, the moment has arrived -- the festival we have all been waiting for in breathless anticipation is here! That's right -- it is now officially Sea Cucumber Month here in Dalian.

The uninitiated among you might well ask: "What the heck is a sea cucumber anyway?" So here is a helpful quiz to test your Sea Cucumber IQ. Is it (a) California slang for a guy who wears a surfer's wet suit at the beach but never goes near the waves, (b) an elliptoid vegetable growing in the warm salt water of the North Pacific, prized by gourmets when served in a salad with a splash of balsamic vinegar and a touch of triple cold-pressed Tuscan olive oil, (c) Florida slang for those purplish welts that amateur body-surfers get on their foreheads and elbows when the waves plow them into the beach, or (d) an expensive and quasi-edible aquatic bottom-feeding echinoderm with leathery skin and yellow vanadium-bearing blood that is beloved in Dalian as a medicinal panacea, an aphrodisiac, and [when properly distilled] an intoxicant?

If you answered (d), sharpen up your chopsticks and dig right in! You have earned the right to relish your very own sea-slug.

As for me, I certainly hope that there will be a parade with music, floats, and costumed sea-critters to mark the occasion. I wonder who will be named Ms. Sea Cucumber 2008?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tibet: Jokhang Temple, Potala Palace, Norbulingka

Our stay in Lhasa included visits to three of the most important sites in Tibetan Buddhism. Because photography is prohibited inside these sacred places, we can only share a few pictures of exteriors. The first and most important site is the Jokhang Temple in the center of the oldest section of Lhasa, the Barkohr.

The Jokhang Temple dates from the year 639 CE. It was built by a Tibetan king to house a statue of the Buddha as a child that was brought from Nepal by one of his two brides. His other bride, the Chinese princess Wencheng, selected the site for the new temple to be built. According to legend, she threw her ring into a lake and declared that was the spot where the Buddha should reside. A white goat, now much honored in Lhasa, carried loads of dirt to fill in the lake. The interior of the incense-filled temple features numerous small chapels dedicated to different manifestations of the Buddha and a large inner sanctum where hundreds of monks can assemble for daily prayers and special ceremonies. Every day, hundreds of pilgrims prostrate themselves outside the temple and walk clockwise kora routes around the temple complex.

The Potala Palace is without doubt the most famous place in Tibet. Just open your wallet, take out a 20 yuan note, and you will find a picture of it right on the back of the bill. (Mao Zedong is on the front, of course, since his picture graces all the currency.) The Potala Palace was established in 631 CE by the same king who built the Jokhang Temple. The small cave chosen by King Songsten Gampo as his favored place of meditation can now be seen within the palace. The Palace was vastly expanded in the 17th century. It now includes more than 1000 rooms and was the residence and burial place of every Dalai Lama from the 5th to 14th, an imporant place of worship, a monastery, and the seat of Tibet's government. Vistors can see the stupa covered with more than 6000 pounds of gold that contains the body of the 5th Dalai Lama, huge three-dimensional mandalas covered with gold and jewels, numerous chapels for meditation and prayer, and the living quarters, meditation room, and throne room of the Dalai Lama.

Norbulingka is the pleasant summer palace of the Dalai Lama at the western edge of Lhasa, the last residence occupied by the current Dalai Lama before his flight to India in 1959. It features beautiful parks and gardens, open-air study rooms situated in a small pond, and grassy lawns where families can picnic. The rooms of the small residence are preserved exactly as they were when the Dalai Lama went into exile.

The album has pictures of all three locations.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Tibet: Faces of the People

We love to visit museums, temples, parks, shrines, historic sites, and scenic wonders. But what we really love most of all is observing and meeting people -- seeing how they work, eat, argue, dance, sing, worship, and play. Most of the pictures in this album were taken in the Barkohr -- the ancient neighborhood of stone houses, narrow streets, tiny shops, sacred shrines in the heart of the oldest part of Lhasa. Because the Barkohr is also the site of both the Jokhang Temple -- the most sacred site in Tibetan Buddhism -- and the mosque that presides over Lhasa's lively Muslim Quarter, it is an eclectic meeting place teeming with pilgrims, families, soldiers, workmen, tourists, and vendors of every description. In short, it is an ideal location for world-class people-watching.

Tibet: Rural Life

Farm life is never easy, least of all in Tibet. On our way from Kabala Pass back down to Lhasa, Pema asked if we would be interested in seeing a small Tibetan farm. She herself had grown up in a tiny village and was intimately familiar with the hardships of rural life. We stopped by the roadside and selected a farmhouse at random. Pema knocked at the gate and asked the farmer whether he would be interested in having visitors. Our host was incredibly gracious to us, showing us around his home, introducing us to other members of his family, offering us home-grown barley and toasted beans and homemade cheese for us to sample, and talking with us about his work and his life.

The gentleman is 51 years old. He lives on the farm with three sons and a daughter and two infant grandchildren, a pair of five-month old twin girls. His wife has passed away. His daughter-in-law died soon after the twins were born. His son is a widower at 20 and will probably remarry if he can find a family whose daughter will accept his two daughters. Our host greeted us warmly and made us feel welcome during our entire visit with him and his family. His life is hard. He smiles and gets on with it. It was a rare privilege to meet him.

Tibet: Kabala Pass and Yamdrok Lake

We had originally planned a day-long trip to Namtso Lake, but unfavorable road conditions made that impossible. Instead, we drove southwest from Lhasa along a new two-lane highway that crossed over Kabala Pass to Yamdrok Tso, a beautiful turquoise lake high in the mountains. Pema (our Tibetan guide) and Mr Chimee (our driver) secured the necessary permits for the trip. Above and beyond our American passports, my LNU contract and work permit, and our one-year Z-visas, we also had to secure a letter absolving my employer from any liability, a special permit to enter the Tibet Autonomous Region, and extra permission to travel outside the immediate vicinity of Lhasa.

The paperwork was well worthwhile. The drive up the river valley and into the mountains was truly memorable, and Yamdrok Lake itself is spectacular. We passed a number of small farm villages (and a few deserted ones as well) and ended the afternoon with a picnic on the roadside. Here is a small album of pictures we took that day:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tibet: Arrival and Sera Monastery

The Tibetan Autonomous Region of the PRC is an immense and sparsely populated area consisting mainly of an arid, high-altitude plateau and a few scattered towns and settlements. It covers more than 460,000 square miles and is home to a mere 2 million people. Lhasa, the capital city, has a population of only 140,ooo. (By way of comparison, Texas has an area of 260,000 square miles and a population of 24 million.) Lhasa, a city of thin air and bright sunshine, is situated at an altitude on 13,000 feet. To the southwest, Mt Everest soars to just over 29,000 feet.

Tibet is a land of very stark contrasts, embracing modern development and renovation alongside ancient monasteries and nomadic yak herders. Tourism, which was drastically curtailed following violent disturbances in March 2008, is now an important source of economic growth.

This is not the appropriate place to discuss the complex and intractable issues surrounding Tibet's political status. Suffice it to say after the introduction of Buddhism into this remote part of the world, Tibet became an isolated feudal theocracy. By 1950, when the People's Republic of China reasserted its centuries-long claim to Tibet through an act of "peaceful liberation," the Tibetan people were suffering from abject poverty, disease, and a 98% illiteracy rate. In the words of one very balanced account, "the country entered the modern world without an army, without lay education or roads, and with few technologies more advanced than the prayer wheel." The Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s inflicted new anguish on this long-suffering people. Today, the PRC seems about as likely to relinquish sovereignty over Tibet as the United States would be to return Arizona to the Navajo. We have read official government reports that list the numerous investments the PRC has made in Tibet. The PRC refutes claims of "cultural genocide" by detailing the undeniable progress that has been made in education, health care, economic development, transportation, religious freedom, and the protection of the Tibetan art, language, and culture. Ironically, perhaps the greatest obstacle to continued stability and progress in the region is the massive influx of Han Chinese who, while they have contributed greatly to Tibet's progress, now outnumber the population of native Tibetans.

Our first destination was Sera monastery just north of Lhasa. It was founded in 1419 and once housed more than 5000 monks in its three colleges. Today, about 700 monks reside there. It is a popular pilgrimage site, especially for parents who line up for many hours in order to present their children to a Buddha whose blessing brings special protections to the very young. We were not permitted to photograph the interior of this sacred spot, so you will see only pictures taken outdoors.

Xi'an: Army of Terracotta Warriors

China's first real emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, died more than 2200 years ago in 210 BCE, but his remarkable legacy is still quite apparent. He was an energetic and visionary despot who made no small plans. Qin Shi Huangdi subjugated his many enemies, unified his empire militarily and politically, began work on the Great Wall, designed an extensive system of roads, standardized the currency and the system of weights and measurements, and laid the foundation for a comprehensive legal and administrative system that existed for centuries.

He also assembled a workforce of some 700,000 men to work for 36 years building a vast necropolis near Xi'an. His mausoleum is still visible from the highway about a mile west of where his underground army was discovered. It is a huge burial mound that has still not been excavated. Ancient written sources say that it contains a miniature version of his realm, complete with rivers of liquid mercury and a sky studded with pearl stars. Two incredible bronze chariots, complete with horses and drivers, have been recovered from his tomb and are now on display. Archeologists have begun work on a large number of surrounding structures and tombs, unearthing many bronze artifacts and weapons, stone armor, pottery sculptures, rare birds and animals, and human bodies.

In 1974, peasants digging a well in a field about a mile of the mausoleum discovered pottery fragments that led to one of the most astonishing and significant finds in the history of archeology: Qin Shi Huangdi's underground army of terracotta warriors. To date, three huge pits covering about 22,000 square meters have been excavated, revealing the shattered fragments of about 8000 highly detailed life-sized warriors and horses. These silent guardians were meant to protect the emperor's tomb and allow him to continue his conquests in the afterlife.

If only a single one of these remarkable sculptures had survived, it would be hailed as an unequalled work of art. To see rank after rank of them standing in battle formation just as they did 2200 years ago is simply breathtaking. The terracotta army has been called the Eighth Wonder of the World. Susie and I agree that this is no exaggeration.

Today (October 12), I read in the China Daily that a group of sculpted musicians has just been discovered near the imperial tombs. We know that Shaanxi province contains many more unexcavated ancient tombs. This area is the Chinese equivalent of Egypt's Valley of the Kings, and untold wonders still await discovery.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Xi'an: Four Temples

At the height of its glory during the Tang and Ming dynasties, Xi'an is said to have had more than 1000 temples for its immense and diverse population of Buddhists, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Manicheans, and Nestorian Christians. Previous blog entries have described the former Confucian academy (now the Forest of Stelae Museum), the Great Mosque in the Muslim Quarter, and the former Daoist shrine that has been converted into a mosque. Here are a few images from some other current and former places of worship, remembrance, and meditation.

One of the most famous is the Great Goose Pagoda, a Tang Dynasty structure dating from the mid-seventh century CE. It was built to house the sacred Buddhist scriptures (sutras) brought from India by the pilgrim monk Xuangzang whose mythical adventures are recounted in the comic epic Journey to the West, featuring his sidekick the Monkey King (still a popular figure on Chinese television). It stands at the center of a huge complex of temples and gardens.

On one of my walks, I came across a small Daoist temple that I later learned was dedicated to Han Xiangzi, one of the Eight Immortals. He is thought to have gained eteral life when he accidentally fell from a sacred peach tree, and he is most often depicted playing a flute. Like most temples, this one consists of an archway entrance, a beautiful courtyard filled with natural objects for contemplation (stone, water, plants) and a main hall for devotees who wish to light incense and offer gifts (e.g., money, fruit, flowers) and prayers. An attendant strikes a chiming bowl every time a worshiper kneels in prayer.

On the edge of the Muslim Quarter, I also stumbled into a large temple complex that is now quite run-down. It is currently undergoing restoration by the government, but the process seems to be slow, underfunded, unplanned, and totally haphazard. Nevertheless, the sunny courtyard was filled with activity: workmen, worshipers, tourists, food vendors, craftsmen, grandparents and grandchildren, and entertainers.

Finally, Xi'an is also home to the Temple of the Eight Immortals, a thriving religious community of Daoist monks and nuns just outside the ancient East Gate. The complex includes numerous shines, temples, walkways, gardens, offices, and housing for the residents. Famous visitors include the Eight Immortals themselves, a team of saints with various superhero powers who are said to have appeared on this site sometime during the Song Dynasty, and the Dowager Empress Cixi and the Emperor Guangxu, who took refuge here in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Xi'an: Street Life

Xi'an is not just a museum of art and culture. It is also a vibrant city of nearly seven million souls. Here are a few of them going about their daily business. This particular day happens to be during Golden Week, THE National Holiday in all of China, thus the heavy presence of China's flag.

Xi'an: Art and History

Xi'an is home to two unique museums that chronicle China's cultural past. The first of these is the Shaanxi History Museum, a collection of nearly 400,000 artifacts ranging from prehistoric skulls and stone tools up through artworks from the end of the Qing dynasty (1912). The museum is especially famous for material from the pre-Ming period (before 1350) of Xi'an's golden age. The album shows just a few samples from this vast collection:

The second collection, the Forest of Stelae Museum, is housed in a complex of seven separate halls that are all on the grounds of a former Confucian academy. The stelae are massive stone pillars -- more than 1000 in all -- that are inscribed with the definitive versions of classic texts such as the Confucian Analects and the I Ching (Book of Changes) dating from as early as the ninth century. Students and scholars could make rubbings of the stelae, thus eliminating the vexatious problem (for medievalists, at least) of scribal errors made by copyists.

Muslims were not the only religious minority welcomed in this cosmopolitan city. One stone pillar crowned by a cross and dating to 781 CE preserves a text brought to Xi'an in 635 CE by Nestorian Christians fleeing persecution at the hands of their co-religionists.
Craftsmen still make hand rubbings of the stelae for visitors. We purchased an ink rubbing that is about 7 feet by 3 feet. Its Chinese characters form a famous poem hidden among the stalk and leaves of a bamboo plant.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Xi'an: The Muslim Quarter

Since Xi'an was the former imperial capital and the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, it became the home of many Muslim immigrants from as early as the 8th century when Islam was still a young religion. Today, the Muslim community in Xi'an boasts a population of more than 30,000, most of whom are of the Hui ethnic minority. They maintain a number of historic mosques and populate a very lively Muslim Quarter in the heart of the old city. It was one of our favorite places to walk and eat, although the evening crowds were so dense as to make the narrow streets nearly impassable. Here are a few pictures of life in the Muslim Quarter:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Xi'an: Ancient Walled City

October 1 is National Day, the 59th anniversary of Mao Zedong's proclamation of the founding of the People's Republic of China. (Thus making me almost two months younger than the PRC!) As a result, the entire nation celebrates "Golden Week," giving Susie and me ten days off to travel along with several hundred million Chinese families. We chose two completely different destinations for our getaway: the ancient imperial capital of Xi'an (Shaanxi Province) and the mountain capital of Lhasa, Tibet.

In 1066 BCE, the Western Zhou dynasty was centered near Xi'an. The city became the imperial capital of China when the nation was unified by its first real emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, in the year 221 BCE. Qin Shi Huangdi organized the effort to build the Great Wall, standardized money and measurements, and established the basis for the legal system. He is best known as the creator of the mausoleum with the terra cotta army (subject of another blog coming soon).

The high point of Xi'an's prosperity was during the golden age of the Tang dynasty (618-907). As the imperial capital and eastern terminus of the Silk Road, Xi'an became what was probably the largest (more than 1 million inhabitants) and wealthiest city in the world. Today it is still a major
city, the capital of Shaanxi Province and the home of a very diverse population numbering about 6.6 million inhabitants.
The inner ring of Xi'an's defensive walls was built by the first Ming emperor in the late 14th century. The outer ring of walls, which once enclosed a city covering more than 30 square miles, has now disappeared. We took a couple of walks along the walls:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Adventures in Shopping: The Sequel

A few days ago, Susie posted a blog entry and some photos about the challenges of shopping in a supermarket (Adventures in Shopping . . . or WHAT am I buying??). This is a sequel that offers a glimpse of another way to shop in Dalian. A few blocks from our flat there is a very long, narrow street -- really more of an alley for pedestrians -- that runs for two or three blocks. It is lined with numerous small vendors selling fresh food: meat, fish, grain, fruits, and vegetables. In the evening, the street is packed with a crowd of shoppers picking up items to take home for dinner. Everything is fresh (some items are still very much alive, in fact) and your purchase is always cut, cleaned, trimmed, weighed, counted, or measured to your individual order. You don't have to worry about the environmental costs of buying pre-packaged food at this market!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Two Festivals

There are two national festivals in September. The first is Teacher's Day (September 10), begun in 1984 in response to the violent anti-intellectualism of the Cultural Revolution. When I entered the classroom on Wednesday, my students surprised me with a very thoughtful gift: a beautiful piece of red knotwork to bring Sue and me luck. The "class monitor" gave a short speech thanking me for my energy and diligence in teaching him and his classmates. After the brief formalities, a few pictures of these energetic future English teachers were definitely in order:

The second holiday is the Zhong Qiutian -- the Mid-Autumn Festival -- that occurs on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month (September 14) when the full moon is thought to be at its brightest and most beautiful. The tradition dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when Chinese emperors offered sacrifices to the Moon God. Today, the festival is celebrated with family reunions (or groups of classmates going to a restaurant or a karaoke bar). Family and friends gaze at the full moon, drink tea or wine, and eat delicious round "moon cakes" filled with candy, fruit, nuts, eggs, or meat. As "foreign experts," the city government of Dalian treated us to a free concert of traditional Chinese music. The program included symphonic arrangements of well-known folk songs, arias from the Beijing opera, virtuoso soloists on tradtional instruments like the erhu and flute, and even an arrangement of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" scored for a Chinese instruments:

The Freshman Experience

As we mentioned in a previous entry (First Day for Freshmen), the life of first-year students at a Chinese university is quite different from that of their American counterparts. Classes have already been meeting for two weeks when the freshmen arrive. Sophomores clean the dorm rooms of the incoming students, meet them at the train and bus stations, help them register, conduct campus tours, and even carry their bags and belongings to their dormitories.

On their second day on campus, however, all of that changes. The freshmen are issued uniforms, divided up into platoons, and assigned to the supervision of a drill instructor from the People's Liberation Army. For the next two weeks, the freshmen learn military discipline, march in formation, sing patriotic songs, learn martial arts, and engage in various group-building activities with a cohort of classmates that they will stay with for the next four years.
Here are a few pictures showing the first days of a new student's life at LNU:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Treasures of the Past

After leaving Labor Park (separate blog entry), we sought out an antiques market that is held every weekend at a Buddhist temple in Dalian. Merchants from Dalian scour the countryside for every kind of item imaginable and bring their discoveries to the temple to offer for sale. There is an incredible array of fascinating objects: jade carvings, brass sculptures, jewelry, old coins, musical instruments, books, artwork, scrolls, tools, scientific instruments, Mao memorabilia . . . the list is endless. The sellers are happy to show you how things work and all prices are (of course) totally negotiable.

At the same time, the temple is a functioning place of worship where Buddhists come to meditate, pray, and make offerings. The pictures in this album are intended to show both aspects of the temple: a gathering place to buy and sell and a house of worship.

Saturday in the Park

Saturday, September 13, dawned sunny and clear with a temperature in the mid-70s and much lower humidity than usual. Our neighbor, Steve Keith, a retired middle-school principal from Indiana who has been teaching in Dalian for a year and a half, offered to be our guide to Laodong Gongyuan (aka, Labor Park). The park is a spacious green oasis right in the heart of our bustling metropolis. At the entrance to the park, we encountered a balloon vendor with strangely familiar wares (see picture within) that led us to suspect that Labor Park was not much more than a knock-off Chinese version of Disneyland. We soon realized that our mistaken first impression could not have been further from the truth. The park offers a wide variety of pleasant outdoor settings to enjoy. People of all ages and all walks of life come here to take part in many different activities. Just click on this link to join us on a quick tour of the park:

Steve Keith tells us that Labor Park is full of activity every day of the year, including a twice-a-month "marriage market" where hopeful parents trade information about their single offspring.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Street Scenes

In our neighborhood, many people earn their living by literally taking their business to the streets. Every day we see countless merchants, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and every service, craft, and trade imaginable. It's not at all unusual to work, shop, play, eat, study, exercise, dance, and converse outdoors on the sidewalk or in the park. Here is an album of people at work and play in our neighborhood, all within a five minute walk of our flat.

Because eating street food is so popular, it is important for sidewalk food vendors to display the freshness of their wares. Diners select their own ingredients and the chef prepares each dish to order while you watch. Here are some things you might find on the menu du jour:

Adventures in Shopping .. or WHAT am I buying??

I think I mentioned a few blogs back that WalMart was a welcomed signpost when we got to Dalian.  Let me hasten to say that shopping at the Dalian WalMart is nothing like shopping in the ones in the U.S.  We appreciated a few of the western items in stock, but of course, if the place is to remain in business, it must cater to the local clientele ... all 3 million of them in Dalian.

So, I thought I would give you a little visual experience of items we see when shopping in the majority of the stores we frequent (these would be equal to Kroger's, Safeway, Albertson's).

First, let me say that English is a very popular language.  Even though most Chinese can neither read it or speak it, English phrases are frequently used in advertising, though the phrase is usually absolutely meaningless and has no relationship to the item being promoted.  Here's a little phrasology slideshow for your enjoyment (later captions will tell you what is being promoted).

Can you name this fruit?    Me neither, until I looked it up after repeatedly seeing it the store of late.  It is a dragon fruit.  Further research (reading, not tasting ... yet) reveals that, once pealed, it has a crunchy texture akin to an apple and tastes like a pear/kiwi combo.  I'll report back.

What would you do if the entire fruits and vegetables sections was filled with items such as this?  Thankfully, that is not the case. However, about 70% of the items I see in the fresh foods section fall into the category of "yet to be explored."  We are working on that list, one item at a time.  We have now incorporated pumpkin squash (which looks like a small halloween pumpkin crossed with an acorn squash) into our meals.  Even items that you are familiar with, sometimes look quite different.  Leeks in the US are fat and short, here they are skinny and long.  Green beans are about 18 inches long and very, very thin.

I should have begun this post with the seafood area instead of fruits and veggies.  That is the area where I am really out of my comfort zone!  There are more squiggly, squirming, slimey things than I can begin to list.   Keep in mind that the pictures I have included don't show the dried seafood aisle.

At left ... I know these!  Crabs and turtles.  Alas, to me turtles are pets, not dinner --  especially if I have to kill them, what a softie.

So we have picked out a few fruits and veggies, passed by the seafood, stopped at the butcher (where I recognize most everything even if I can't say it or want to buy it ... like tongue and other organs that I can't truly appreciate).  Now we're headed for the dairy area and the dry goods.    If you saw this item on the shelf, what would you think is in the package?

If you said MILK ...  you would be correct.  Milk  is packaged in several differnt forms.  These bags contain about 1 cup of fresh, whote, vitamin D milk.  The colorful bags give shoppers a clue as to the "flavor" ... one can have 
plain (blue), chocolate (brown), purple (walnut), green (coconut) ... and there is one other that I can't think of it right now.  These little packets can also be bought by the case (left) -- the case comes with a nifty little carry bag!  One frequently sees children with a straw poked in the bag ... in fact the university students do the same.  Milk also comes in 1 liter boxes ...  UHT (ultra high termperature) and can remain unrefrigerated for a VERY long time.  When opened, it is then refrigerated.  We buy the dancing cow (pink), which designated low-fat milk.

Whew, we're almost done.  Of course, being in China.  We better pick up some rice.  I think Steve provided a previous image of me bagging up about 3 pounds of loose rice when we found it on special one day.  Rice is usually bought in much greater quantities -- I'd say 5 pounds minimum.  Some bags are so large we couldn't get them out of the store between the 2 of us.  We usually buy loose, brown rice and purchase about 2 pounds at a time.  We have a nifty little rice cooker that we call "Miss Piggy"  ... visual detals to follow. 

A few other details to complete your shopping experience.  

I was VERY happy to see that there is a big campaign in progress to encourage shoppers to bring their own shopping bags ... and most do.  If one forgets, it is possible to purchase a plastic bag at checkout ... 2 cents.  In large department stores (no supermarkets), the shopper usually 1) selects the item for purchase, 2) the clerk writes it up on a carbon receipt, 3) the shopper takes it to a central cashier (several on every floor) and pays, 4) the cashier multi-stamps (red ink) one of the carbons, 5) shopper takes carbon back to clerk to retrieve item.  Why do things the easy way?

The concept of customer service is alive and well here in China.  In the above scenario, when one is looking for an item to purchase, it is not uncommon to find 2-3 clerks in one single aisle offering assistance.  In our case, much of their energy is wasted because we cannot understand the nuances they are describing.  On the other hand, when we have purchased electrical items, the clerk takes it out of the box, shows you that all the parts are there, PLUGS the item into the wall to demonstrate that it actually does work!!!!  In the case of a light, the clerk retrieves a lightbulb to perform that function as well.  Can you imagine that happening in a US store???

I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted.  Time to catch the 101 bus home with my 3 tote bags.  I'll be back day after tomorrow because the goods are fresh, the refrigerator is small, and the tummies are hungry.

Don't forget to check out the answers to advertising quiz!

Friday, September 5, 2008

First Day for Freshmen

The first day of class here at Liaoning Normal University was back on Monday, August 26, but the incoming freshmen didn't arrive until almost two weeks later. Excitement was in the air as the first-year students and their parents finally arrived on campus today (Friday, September 5).

The LNU sophomores are responsible for welcoming the new students. All last week, my students were busy cleaning the freshman dorm rooms from top to bottom and doing other chores to prepare for their arrival. Today, my sophomore students got up at 4:00 AM to begin greeting the newbies. They basically run the orientation process -- greeting incoming students, helping them register, showing them around the campus, and even carrying their bags and other belongings to the dorms for them.

The sophomores love being entrusted with the important task of welcoming the freshmen and they were especially proud to show me all of their hard work.

Classes for freshmen won't begin for yet another two weeks. First, they will have fourteen days of group-building exercises with their new classmates, including various drills, marching in formation, rigorous physical training, singing patriotic songs, and various orientation lectures. The same cohort of 25-30 classmates in each freshman "platoon" will stay together for all of the classes in their major for all four years. I'll try to add some pictures of freshman activities in the near future.

Here is a little album of scenes from the hectic activity on the day when the freshmen arrived:

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Flashback: New Mexico

If you are looking for more pictures of our adventures in China, don't look here! If you click on this link, you'll find an album of captioned pictures from our summer sojourn in Jemez Springs, New Mexico. Credit where it is due: many thanks to Charlie Ess, Ralph Stone, and Rose Mary Harty for sending me some of their great pictures.

Dinner Party

In our first three weeks here, Susie and I have been invited to three wonderful dinners and a fancy luncheon. The pictures in this album might give you a taste (at least a visual taste) of what such an occasion is like. The meal takes place at a round table in a private dining room. A "lazy susan" holds the many dishes (seafood, pork, beef, various sauces, vegetables, fruit, small cakes, etc.) and each diner uses chopsticks to help himself to a morsel as the table is rotated by one's companions. We often begin with a glass of bai-ju (a clear and slightly sweet distilled spirit) and then graduate to wine or beer. The host offers the first toast, after which we take turns toasting one another throughout the meal. On one occasion (not the one pictured here), the evening also included some of the diners singing along to a karaoke machine. Click here to view a small album:

Needless to say, everything is incredibly fresh and delicious. We may not know the name of the dish or its ingredients, but we know what we like!