Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dragon Diaries: Reflections on China (Beijing Part I)

Pagoda at The Summer Palace
Ni hao! I'm guilty of not posting sooner, but the past 48 hours I've existed in a near zombie-like state, replying (or reading and deleting) the hundreds of work emails; cycling through piles of laundry on auto pilot, and most importantly sleeping. Oh the wondrous, restorative benefits of sleep.

And so the sleeping dragon emerges (me, not China), and I look forward to sharing some highlights of my travels. I'll do so in three parts, logically divided into the three cities we visited in the order we visited them: Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.

But before I do that, an update on the house hunt. After all, this blog was created for my (currently nonexistent) Norfolk nest. Tomorrow is April 1st and we are officially 60 days from when we would like to close on a place. Saturday we are meeting with our realtor to look at a few homes and now that spring has officially sprung in Virginia, we hope there are more to come on the market this month. So that is the update. Not much of an update.

I possessed a slight resemblance to this Chinese gargoyle after
the 20-hour journey home

Back to Beijing. The capital of the Republic of China is rich with history and a good first stop for us. The CNC (Chinese National Congress) was meeting in Beijing when we were there so security was on high alert.  Chinese military were posted in all the public spaces and seeing these young men in their dark green uniforms at attention dispelled the first myth for me: I was not that tall in China. The younger generation (20's and 30 somethings) in all three cities dress fashionably and the girls hit the streets in their high heeled, ornate, size 5 booties. Maybe it was the booties adding a few extra inches, but in general, I didn't feel like the giant at 5'9" Americans had warned me about. We visited many historical sites including The Forbidden City, The Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square (the largest public square in the world), The Llama Temple, the Temple of Heaven, and of course the magical, meandering Great Wall. Other than the Great Wall, my favorite place was the Llama Temple which is both a temple for worship and a monastery for the Geluck School of Tibetan Buddhism.  The buildings and art within combines the Han Chinese and Tibetan styles. It is one of the largest and most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world. 

I immediately gained an appreciation for the Chinese archiectural design with attention to detail and use of symmetry. Balance, or feng shui (ancient Chinese aesthetic of the laws of heaven and earth and translated to "wind, water,") is revered in their culture and though suppressed during the 1960's Cultural Revolution, the symmetrical design style remains in old structures and is experiencing a renaissance with contemporary urban planning.

I will spare you the list of exotic, authentic Chinese foods we were offered at each meal and instead post a few pictures of design inspirations from Beijing.

Chinese lantern outside a tea house in Beijing

Llama Temple

Door to the Imperial Vault of Heaven
Temple of Heaven located in central Beijing (Taoist architecture)

Geometric ceiling with paper lanterns at Peking Duck Restaurant

Door at Summer Palace (Qing Dynasty)

Vases we found at The Celadon Story House on Donghumen Street in Beijing;
I bought a few smaller pieces as gifts for friends

Chinese lacquer chest in the Jade market outside of Beijing

Chinese chaise with gorgeous wood carving detail at the Jade Market

Armoire with silk screen and gold carved inlay

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