Clear blue skies over Beijing! The weather’s not quite as cold as I’d expected either, though I’m sure that the mercury will begin a rapid descent as evening arrives. My flights haven’t been as stressful as I’d expected either given that the Lunar New Year Holiday is fast approaching. Facial recognition systems at airport security check points dramatically reduce the waiting times for everyone.
China is justifiably proud of the capacity it has built up to handle an estimated 3 billion trips during the holiday period. No other country comes anywhere near matching the scale, efficiency, and convenience of its transportation infrastructure. Its high speed trains, in particular, put the rest of the world to shame. Continue reading Notes from the field: blue skies over Beijing→
There was plenty of action this morning at the weekly Sunday book market held at the Shanghai Confucius Temple. Plenty of blasts from the revolutionary past piled on the vendors’ tables as well. As I browsed through the books, comics, magazines, and other mementos, I felt like I was back in China as a student in the mid-1980s. There’s nothing like a touch of nostalgia to rejuvenate the body and mind.
Although the origins the Shanghai Confucius Temple go as far back as 1294, the complex has been moved to a number of different sites and undergone multiple reconstructions since that time. The current incarnation has a charming southern Chinese architectural style that’s easy on the eye. The graceful curves of its russet halls and pavilions stand in stark contrast to the towering steel and concrete blocks surrounding it. Continue reading Notes from the field: Sunday Book Market at Shanghai Confucius Temple→
There’s a lot more to see than the usual stops on the standard Qufu tourist circuit of the Temple of Confucius, the Kong Mansion, and the Kong Forest. Not surprisingly, many of these sights are related to the Confucius, but if you’ve already imbibed too much sagely wisdom and history you can simply relax and enjoy the stunning natural beauty of the surrounding countryside.
Two spots that immediately spring to mind are the cemeteries of Mencius, second only to the sage himself in the Confucian pantheon, and his formidable mother, which I visited in October this year. Cemetery is probably the wrong word to describe these two places. Forest, the literal meaning of the Chinese word (林/lín), is a much more appropriate name because the graves of son and mother and a few other notables and relatives are surrounded by pristine woods comprising cypress, oak, elm, and maple trees that go back as far as two thousand years. Continue reading 2019 highlights: beyond the standard Qufu tourist circuit→
I didn’t get much of a chance to explore new places in China this year, but I’m glad that I did at least manage to make it to Wuzhen (乌镇), one of the most famous ancient water towns located less than a two-hour high speed train ride from Shanghai.
Wuzhen was a prosperous trading center during the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties thanks to its location along the Grand Canal, which was once the main transportation route connecting Hangzhou and Beijing. Most recently, it has turned itself into a popular tourism destination following extensive renovations to the stunning architecture of the old town center, attracting over 1.5 million visitors a year. Continue reading 2019 highlights: exploring the charms of Wuzhen ancient water town→
The Summer Palace (颐和园) was the perfect place to finish my final trip to China this year. No matter how many times I visit this former Qing imperial resort, I never lose my sense of wonder at the sublime beauty of its palaces, pavilions, and lakes.
The Qing emperors and their retinues certainly knew how to enjoy themselves. However, their extravagance – best exemplified by the construction of the notorious marble boat for the Empress Dowager Cixi using funds intended for modernizing the navy – played a major role in the demise of the dynasty around the turn of the twentieth century. Continue reading Notes from the field: the Beijing Summer Palace→