Xi’an Terracotta Warrior Army (秦陵兵马俑), City Wall and Muslim Market

We got off the sleeper train from Beijing at 8:00am ready for another action packed day and were met by our guide, Lily.  She immediately asked if we wanted to freshen up before starting our day, but we knew that it was going to be a packed agenda and wanted to get going.  It was a 45 minute journey in a very comfortable vehicle to the Terracotta Army site and we were well stocked with plenty of water to keep us hydrated.

Lily was extremely knowledgeable about Xi’an, China history in general and especially about the Warriors.  As we were pulling into the Museum, she was telling us the story about how they were discovered (by a farmer called Mr Yang in 1974) and said that he was often at the shop to meet people and answer questions and have photos taken. It was our lucky day as he was just walking into the shop at the same time as us so we all had our photo with him and he signed our book!

All of us meeting Mr Yang who discovered the Warriors.  We got his autograph too!  What an honour.

All of us meeting Mr Yang who discovered the Warriors. We got his autograph too! What an honour.

Lily told us a funny story about Mr Yang meeting President Clinton.  He was being taught some basic English to say and was told to say “how are you?”, with which Clinton would respond “fine, thank you, and you?”  and then Mr Yang should say “me too”.  However, when he met the President he actually said “who are you?”  Clinton then said “I am the husband of Hilary Clinton” and Mr Yang responded “me too”.  Definitely lost in translation!!

The entrance to the Terracotta Warrior Museum.

The entrance to the Terracotta Warrior Museum.

There are beautiful gardens all round the pits.

There are beautiful gardens all round the pits.

Experiencing the very moving Warriors was all the more special as Lily was telling us stories about each section and how they are working on uncovering more, the preservation techniques and the history associated with them.  The detail on each Warrior is outstanding and hard to believe that they are over 2200 years old.

The first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, wanted to be protected in his afterlife and therefore had his army recreated in Terracotta to be buried with him.  To date, over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses have been discovered in 3 main pits.  The figures vary in height according to their roles and the tallest are the Generals.  Other terracotta non-military figures were also found in other pits and they include officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians.

In addition to the warriors, an entire necropolis built for the emperor also has been found surrounding the first emperor’s tomb mound which is located at the foot of Mount Li and built in a pyramid shape.   It was designed to be a scaled down version of his imperial palace and includes offices, halls, stables and other buildings.  This is all surrounded by rammed earth walls with different gateway entrances.

The terracotta army figures were manufactured in workshops by government laborers and local craftsmen using materials originated on Mount Li, and some historical documents estimate as many as 700,000 people working on these. Heads, arms, legs, and torsos were all created separately and then assembled – an early production assembly line!  Historians believe that there were 8 basic face moulds which were then made unique with additions of clay and sculpting.  Each worker signed the piece that they worked on.  Once complete, they were placed in military formation around the tomb.  They vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank and most of them originally held real weapons such as spears, swords, or crossbows. Evidence shows that they were also painted with bright paint – pink, red, blue, green, white, black and brown.  Unfortunately, once the terracotta warriors are uncovered the vivid paint curls and flakes off or fades rapidly – within 15 minutes of exposure.  Lily told us that they know there are many more figures to excavate, but are waiting for the right technology to do that AND preserve the colour.  And, they haven’t even started on the actual tomb of the Emperor yet!

Pit 1 is HUGE.  Approximately 6,000 Warriors in this building.

Pit 1 is HUGE. Approximately 6,000 Warriors in this building.

Tight squeeze to get all of us plus some Warriors in 1 photo!

Tight squeeze to get all of us plus some Warriors in 1 photo!

Although I had seen pictures of the Warriors, it does not prepare you for the scale and magnitude.

Although I had seen pictures of the Warriors, it does not prepare you for the scale and magnitude.

Sara, Oliver, Owen and Isabelle by the Warriors

Sara, Oliver, Owen and Isabelle by the Warriors

Warriors

Warriors

Broken Warriors waiting to be fixed.

Broken Warriors waiting to be fixed.

The slow and delicate process of excavation….

The slow and delicate process of excavation….

Restored and repaired Warriors

Restored and repaired Warriors

More Warriors and us!

More Warriors and us!

Information about the pigments and colours.

Some of the original vivid pigments and colours.

Waiting to be assembled

Waiting to be assembled

More colour examples

More colour examples

Some of the horses

Some of the horses

We all got to pose with some very good replicas!!

We all got to pose with some very good replicas!!

To keep Isabelle and Oliver occupied while us adults were in awe of what we were seeing, Lily kept them fed with Oreo Cookies and other treats!  After seeing the pits, we moved into the museum area.

Information

Information about Pit 3

The kneeling archer.  Even the soles of his shoes are incredibly detailed.

The kneeling archer. Even the soles of his shoes are incredibly detailed.

Each exhibit had information next to it.

Each exhibit had information next to it.

The back of the kneeling archer.  Some of the colour has been preserved and you can also see the detail on the shoes.

The back of the kneeling archer. Some of the colour has been preserved and you can also see the detail on the shoes.

A Cavalryman with his horse.

A Cavalryman with his horse.

Information about the Cavalryman and Horse.

Information about the Cavalryman and Horse.

A Chrome plated weapon.  This technology was not "re-invented" until the 20th century!!

A Chrome plated weapon. This technology was not “re-invented” until the 20th century!!

Technology from 2200 years ago!!

Technology from 2200 years ago!!

Leaving the Terracotta Warrior Museum and on to Xi'an.

Leaving the Terracotta Warrior Museum and on to Xi’an.

After spending several hours at the Museum, we left to have a delicious lunch at a local restaurant. Lily was very conscious of Oliver’s nut allergy when ordering all the dishes and was very insistent with the restaurant staff that everything should be nut free.  The meal was fantastic (she had asked what food we preferred, but of course we all said local!!)  More history and local knowledge was shared with us over this meal.  After lunch we went to visit the City wall and the Muslim shopping area.

When Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), captured Huizhou, a hermit named Zhu Sheng admonished him that he should ‘built high walls, store abundant food supplies and take time to be an Emperor,’ so that he could fortify the city and unify the other states. After the establishment of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang followed his advice and began to enlarge the wall built initially during the old Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), creating the modern Xian City Wall. It’s the most complete city wall that has survived in China, as well being one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world.  Source: TravelChinaGuide.

The wall is almost 14km long, with a deep moat surrounding it.  Every 120 meters there is a rampant, 98 in total, that houses a sentry building.  The only way for an enemy to enter the city was by attacking the gates in the wall, so the ancient Chinese built complex structures within the wall!  The City Wall in Xi’an includes four gates and they are; Changle (meaning eternal joy) in the east, Anding (harmony peace) in the west, Yongning (eternal peace) in the south and Anyuan (forever harmony) in the north. The south gate, Yongning, is the most beautifully decorated one. It is very near to the Bell Tower at the center of the city.  Watch towers are  located on each of the four corners of the wall.  The one at the southwestern corner is round, but the other three are square-shaped.

On top of the City Wall at Xi'an

On top of the City Wall at Xi’an

Isabelle & Oliver on the top of the City Wall, and looking through to the City.

Isabelle & Oliver on the top of the City Wall, and looking through to the City.

More intricate and fascinating architecture.  This was an important building, and you can tell because of the animals on the roof edges.

More intricate and fascinating architecture on a Watch Tower. This was an important building, and you can tell because of the animals on the roof edges.

Xi'an City Walls important buildings

Xi’an City Walls important buildings

Hanging out over the City Gates.

Hanging out over the City Gates.

More detailed architecture.

More detailed architecture.

Looking across the gate to administrative buildings on the other side.

Looking across the gate to administrative buildings on the other side.

The view across the City (and moat below) was very good.  Wish it had been a clearer day!!

The view across the City (and moat below) was very good. Wish it had been a clearer day!!

Underneath a huge bell.

Underneath a huge bell.

The Bell Tower

The Drum Tower

The Drum Tower got its name from the huge drum located within the building.  At the beginning of each day, at dawn, a bell was struck – in the Bell Tower.  At the end of each day, the drum was beat at sunset to indicate the end of the day – in the Drum Tower.  On the first floor of this tower is a hall that houses many large drums, decorated with intrinsic and beautiful Chinese writing, which symbolizes good fortune.

Many of the tour guides offer bicycle riding along the top of the City Wall.  I think this is an excellent way to see it all!

Many of the tour guides offer bicycle riding along the top of the City Wall. I think this is an excellent way to see it all!

After we had visited the City Wall, Lily took us to Muslim Quarter, which includes Muslim Street.  The street is about 500 meters in length from south to north and you reach it under the archway under the Drum Tower. This street is paved with dark colored stone with lots of green trees lining the street.  The buildings on both sides of the street are modeled on the styles of both the Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasties (1644-1911).  Some of the buildings are restaurants, while others are stores selling lots of tourist souvenirs, but here there is one thing in common: the owners are all Muslims.  This is a big tourist attraction in Xi’an! Xi’an was the starting point of the ancient Silk Road 1,000 years ago in the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-9 AD).  A number of merchants and overseas students from the Arabic countries and Persia went to Xi’an for business and studying since the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-9 AD); they settled down on the present Muslim Street, and they were called the Hui people by the locals.  One generation after another, the descendants of the Hui ethnic people now number over 60,000.

Muslim Street

Muslim Street

The street is lined with street food vendors.

The street is lined with street food vendors.

We did not try anything here, although i wanted to!

We did not try anything here, although i wanted to!

Lily was a great tour guide.  We had heard lots of stories about tourists being taken to certain shops and vendors and pushed into buying something, but Lily did not do this.  At the end of the day, she returned us back to the train station and even wanted to come and wait with us until the train time (which we declined as we thought we could do that by ourselves!)  The whole day was a brilliant experience with a lovely lady who ensured that EVERYTHING ran smoothly with no unexpected surprises or additional fees.  Like Jeff the day before in Beijing, Lily is also proud of the history and culture of China and this comes through when she is explaining and discussing it.  This made a huge difference to me – being able to hear from a local all the things that you would never read in a guide book.  She answered all our questions with patience and detail.  It could not have been a better day!

Sharing a meal with a local!

Sharing a meal with a local!

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The Great Wall at Mutianyu, 长城/万里长城

After a good night sleep in the hotel, we were up early to to do the hour’s ride to the Great Wall (ChongQing in Chinese).  It was a fairly easy drive, and only the last 20 minutes were busy.  Lots of mini-buses, coaches and vans taking crowds of tourists to this popular part of the Wall.  We were lucky with the weather as the smog levels were relatively low and it was not raining!  Jeff went off to buy our tickets for the ride up/ride down part of the day.  He told us that Michelle Obama and her 2 children had been there within the previous 2 weeks which now made this part of the Great Wall even more popular.  The American public will be pleased to know that their taxes paid for this busy attraction to be completely closed for their visit!  There were street vendors all over the place selling souvenirs, fruit and vegetables.

The busy street vendors.  We bought some dried pineapple here - best ever!

The busy street vendors. We bought some dried pineapple here – best ever!

The plan was to take a chair lift up to the Great Wall and then do the toboggan ride back down after.

Isabelle & Oliver by the entrance to the Chair Lift ride.

Isabelle & Oliver by the entrance to the Chair Lift ride.

The Great Wall at Mutianyu

The Great Wall at Mutianyu

Ashley & Oliver riding up on the Chair Lift.

Ashley & Oliver riding up on the Chair Lift.

Ashley, Harley, Kim. Owen. Isabelle, Sara & Oliver on the Great Wall.

Ashley, Harley, Kim. Owen. Isabelle, Sara & Oliver on the Great Wall.

Another one checked off my Bucket List!  Oliver took this photo of me on the wonky steps on the Great Wall.

Another one checked off my Bucket List! Oliver took this photo of me on the wonky steps on the Great Wall.

And, here is how the wonky steps look from the bottom.....

And, here is how the wonky steps look from the bottom…..

This was an amazing experience.  I did not imagine that I would make it to the Great Wall.  It just shows that if you put items on your Bucket List to achieve (even if you think they are wild and out there, hopes and dreams) you can complete them.  Now, if I can just find a way to complete 77 – take off and land on an aircraft carrier in the ocean…….

We spent several hours walking parts of the wall and listening to Jeff give us some history and facts.  The architecture is quite spectacular.  All the more because it has survived for thousands of years, is so extensive and has some quite brilliant engineering.  For example, archeological surveys have determined that the Wall is over 8,850km (5,500 miles) long; it was started 800BC but was mostly built during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644); there are approximately 25,000 watch towers; it has been estimated that up to a million people died building the Wall over the period of time of construction.

Fire was used to signal to other watch towers, so when the guards/soldiers wanted to eat or stay warm, they had to light fires in chimneys like this one.  It would have been incredibly smokey in here!

Fire was used to signal to other watch towers, so when the guards/soldiers wanted to eat or stay warm, they had to light fires in chimneys like this one. It would have been incredibly smokey in here as there is no outlet for the smoke!

The Great Wall has holes like this to line up bow and arrows to fire at approaching enemies.

The Great Wall has holes like this to line up bow and arrows to fire at approaching enemies.

There are cannons at intervals - pointing at the North (Mongolia) ready to fire!

There are cannons at intervals – pointing at the North (Mongolia) ready to fire!  Oliver is in the line of fire here!!

We were lucky with the weather.  It was actually a warm sunny day.  Smog was relatively low - even so, you can see the haze.

We were lucky with the weather. It was actually a warm sunny day. Smog was relatively low – even so, you can see the haze.

Absolutely amazing.

Absolutely amazing.

All of us with another view…..

All of us with another view…..

Oliver & Isabelle by one of the windows in a watch tower.

Oliver & Isabelle by one of the windows in a watch tower.

Jeff took a photo of all of us at the top of a Watch Tower.

Jeff took a photo of all of us at the top of a Watch Tower.

I was quite surprised at how many steps there were.  When I thought of the Great Wall, I had imagined it quite smooth on the top.  It is definitely a work out to see this marvelous piece of engineering and building.  After all the exercise walking along, we were ready for a thrill ride back down to the village.

We had to wait in line for about 45 minutes as this is a popular way to return to base!  But, it was definitely worth the wait…….

Kim and Sara ready in our toboggans.

Kim and Sara ready in our toboggans.

Oliver rode with Ashley.

Oliver rode with Ashley.

Harley and Isabelle riding down.

Harley and Isabelle riding down.

Once we were all safely at the bottom, it was time for a very late lunch.  Jeff took us to another great local restaurant and we stuffed our faces with more delicious local food.  Our original plan had been to see the Summer Palace after this, but we had spent so much time on the Great Wall, that we ran out of time.  So, Jeff took us to the train station so that we could continue on with the next leg of our journey.  On to the sleeper train for 1 more night, this time traveling to Xi’an.

 

Beijing – Ti’an’anmen Square, Forbidden City & Rickshaws

Our Beijing adventure started on Thursday April 10th. We had booked an action packed weekend through Catherine Lu Tours (highly recommended). The kids came home from school, we rushed through dinner and packing and then set off for the train station to catch the sleeper train from Shanghai to Beijing. It had all started well, the traffic was not so bad and we made it to the Hongqiao Travel Hub with plenty of time to spare. However, when we asked where our train was, the reply was “at Shanghai Station”!!  Owen made a couple of frantic calls to Catherine, I made a couple of calls to my lovely assistant and we immediately called Fu to return back to pick us up and take us to the right station!
This was a stressful journey as the time was ticking down and we were not sure if we would make the train or not.  I did not know that Shanghai actually has several (ie, more than 5) major train stations!  It was obviously not clear on our tickets either as it was all in Mandarin which none of us can read.
We did make the train – 4 minutes before departure time we were sitting in our cabin and catching our breath.  We had run all the way through the station and down the platform and were all panting.  Once on the train, we saw that the cabin’s were set up with 4 beds (fluffy duvet and narrow pillows on each bed) bunkbed style. The kids were on top, Owen and I had a bottom bunk each. In the cabin next door were Kim, Ashley and Harley.  We had paid for the extra bed so that they would not have a stranger sharing the last bunk!  There was room underneath the beds to stow our luggage and a small table inbetween. We quickly organized the kids into their pj’s, cleaned their teeth and settled them into their beds. The kids thought it was all cool!  The toilet’s (one of my favourite subjects!) were not as bad as I was expecting and there was a choice between western and squat so all of us were especially happy about that.
The kids soon fell asleep lulled by the gentle motion of the train.  It had the same effect on me and so I organized my duvet, got in my pj’s and prepared for sleep. It was quite a hard mattress and the pillow was not very soft.  I had seen some of the locals carrying their own pillows and I now discovered why.  I did sleep, but not particularly well.  However, the kids had a blissful full nights sleep!
We woke up in the morning with about 1 hour to go until arrival in Beijing, so got ourselves ready and packed everything away.
When we got off the train, our guide Jeff was waiting for us and eager to get going. We had to delay him for a few moments as we had seen a MacDonalds and all of us were hungry and adults needed coffee!  I think that Jeff might have been a bit depressed at this point, thinking “these westerners only eating western food!!”  We all felt perked up and raring to go after food and cafeine.  Jeff asked about lunch and we all said, “local, of course” and I am sure he felt much better about being our guide for the day!

Owen, Oliver, Isabelle, Sara, Harley, Kim & Ashley at Ti'ananmen Square outside the Forbidden City.

Owen, Oliver, Isabelle, Sara, Harley, Kim & Ashley at Ti’ananmen Square outside the Forbidden City.

We had a lovely van to transport us around – spacious and comfortable for all 7 of us.  Jeff took us straight to the hotel (Marriott Apartments at Imperial Palace) so that we could check in and leave our luggage.  Immediately after we were on our way to Ti’an’anmen Square and the Forbidden City as our first stop.
Jeff was entertaining, knowledgeable and full of energy. He really made a difference to our time in Beijing as he was flexible with our schedule (tight to start with) and conscious of all our needs (including ensuring that Oliver’s nut allergy was covered).  Jeff also knew all the good photo stops so throughout our visit he was stopping us to take pictures of all of us.
Tianamen Square was quite the sight to see. The 25th Anniversary of the protests are this year and Jeff was pointing out where the tanks and Chinese Army had been.  I had expected some reluctance to discuss this episode in Chinese history, but Jeff was very matter of fact about it and did not try to gloss over or distort the events.  Security was tight around the Square and into the Forbidden City – we all had to pass bags through X-Ray and walk through metal detectors, but the line moved quickly and we were in the Forbidden Palace grounds within 10 -15 minutes.  We entered through the Meridian Gate (午门; Wǔ Mén).  In ancient times, this gate was reserved for the Emporer.  The Emporer’s Army would enter through the West Gate, while mere mortals had to use the East Gate.  Once through Meridian Gate, we immediately enter an enormous courtyard.  The Golden Stream (金水; Jīn Shuǐ – shaped to resemble a Tartar bow and spanned by five marble bridges) runs through this area.  The other side of the courtyard is the Gate of  Supreme Harmony (太和门; Tàihé Mén). This courtyard could hold an imperial audience of 100,000 people.

One of the lions guarding the Forbidden City

One of the lions guarding the Forbidden City

The detail on the buildings is beautiful

The detail on the buildings is beautiful

Standing by 1 of the main entrances into the Forbidden City.  The red doors are huge and very thick.

Standing by 1 of the main entrances into the Forbidden City. The red doors are huge and very thick.

A Red Door

A Red Door

Isabelle and Oliver on the bridge in front of the Supreme Harmony Hall.

Isabelle and Oliver on the bridge over the Golden Stream in front of the Supreme Harmony Hall

All of us by one of the many stone Lions guarding the Palace.

All of us by one of the many stone Lions guarding the Palace.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony

The Hall of Supreme Harmony

The Forbidden City was built between 1406 and 1420 by over 1 million workers.  There are 980 buildings over 180 acres.  It was the home of the Imperial Palace for the Ming and Qing Dynastys.  After being the home of 24 emperors – 14 of the Ming dynasty and 10 of the Qing dynasty – the Forbidden City ceased being the political centre of China in 1912 with the abdication of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. In 1933 the Japanese invasion of China meant that many of the precious relics were evacuated to Taiwan.  They can be seen today in the National Palace Museum in Taipei.  However, there were still many beautiful and ancient artifacts to see in the many buildings within the Forbidden City Walls.

The building names within the Forbidden City, are interesting!  Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Middle Harmony, Hall of Preserving Harmony, Hall for Ancestral Worship, Palace of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Union, Palace of Earthly Tranquility, Complete Palace of Peace and Longevity, Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies, Hall of Mental Cultivation, and the Palace of Gathered Elegance.  Each of these buildings have many symbols to identify the significance and importance:

  • Yellow is the color of the Emperor.  Therefore, almost all of the roofs in the Forbidden City have yellow glazed tiles. There are 2 exceptions to this – the library at the Pavilion of Literary Profundity had black tiles because black was associated with water (fire-prevention) and the Crown Prince’s residences have green tiles because green was associated with wood (growth).
  • The main halls of the Outer and Inner courts are all arranged in groups of three – the shape of the Qian triagram which represents Heaven.  The residences of the Inner Court are arranged in groups of 6 (Kun triagram) which represent the Earth.
  • The sloping ridges of building roofs are decorated with a line of statutuettes, starting with a man riding a phoenix, followed by an imperial dragon.  The number of statuettes represents the status of the building – a minor building might have 3 or 5.  The Hall of Supreme Harmony has 10, the only building in China to be permitted this in Imperial times. As a result, its 10th statuette, called a “Hangshi“, or “ranked tenth” is also unique in the Forbidden City.
The 10 Statuettes on the Hall of Supreme Harmony.

The 10 Statuettes on the Hall of Supreme Harmony.

The Forbidden City.

The Forbidden City.

Harley, Isabelle, Oliver and Ashley.

Harley, Isabelle, Oliver and Ashley.

The detail on the buildings is exquisite

The detail on the buildings is exquisite

All of us with the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the background.

All of us with the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the background.

Inside the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the Dragon Throne.  This is where the Emporer would sit before his trembling, nervous court!  The entire court would have to touch their heads to the floor 9 times in his presence.  This is called kowtowing!

The history of the urns.

The history of the urns.

Huge copper and iron urns - for both water storage and fire.

Huge copper and iron urns – for both water storage and fire.

I was grateful for these reminders of the artifacts we were looking at!

I was grateful for these reminders of the artifacts we were looking at!

Inspiration from Native Indians??

Inspiration from Native Indians??

Owen wanted one of these!

Owen wanted one of these!

Back scratchers!  Owen wanted one of these too!

Back scratchers! Owen wanted one of these too!

The Clock Exhibition Hall is in the Hall for Ancestral Worship and is filled with amazing elaborate timepieces.  Many of the examples were gifts to Emperors from Kings and rulers around the world.

The Clock Exhibition Hall is in the Hall for Ancestral Worship and is filled with amazing elaborate timepieces. Many of the examples were gifts to Emperors from Kings and rulers around the world.

So many beautiful works of art.

So many beautiful works of art.

The Face of the last Emperor - Puyi.

The Face of the last Emperor – Puyi.

A centurys old teapot.

A centurys old teapot.

Owen and I loved the carving on this.

Owen and I loved the carving on this.

So much detail everywhere.  This is the domed ceiling in one of the halls.

So much detail everywhere. This is the domed ceiling in one of the halls.

Harley, Oliver and Ashley.

Harley, Oliver and Ashley.

The Imperial Garden

The Imperial Garden

After this history filled morning, it was time for lunch.  Jeff took us to a great local restaurant.  He ordered a great selection of food for us to eat.  We all enjoyed everything.

Our lunch restaurant

Our lunch restaurant

Best Tofu I have ever eaten!

Best Tofu I have ever eaten!

After lunch it was time to go visit the Hutongs via a Rickshaw ride.

In the past, Beijing was composed of hundreds of courtyards around the Forbidden City and these lanes stretched out in all directions, inter-connecting with one another across the city. Hutong is a Mongolian word meaning water well.  They were originally formed in the Yuan Dynasty and grew rapidly during the Ming and Qing dynasties.  In the Yuan Dynasty, Mongolians attached great importance to water, so almost every community in the city was designed around a well, which provided the daily water for the locals. Until now, one can still find dry wells in Hutongs.   In the Yuan Dynasty, there were about 29 Hutongs, while in the Ming Dynasty (1368 –1644), this number increased to 1,070.  In the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), it grew to 2,076.  It is said that by 1949 there were as many as 3,250.  Unfortunately, during the Cultural Revolution, much of this was demolished for “new development” – housing and buildings and in 2003, only 1,500 were left, and now no more than 1,000 remain.  Today, protecting what is left is now a priority.

The lanes have their own layout and structure, and when viewed from the air the combination of the lanes and courtyards resemble a chessboard with delicate gardens, fine rockeries and ancient ruins this makes them a wonder in the world. Because of the cross interlacement of the lanes every house connects to the other, making it easy for local people to keep in touch with their neighbors. Therefore, once one enters any of the lanes, one can feel the deep and warm relationships among people, which is rarely found in this modern world.

Jeff & Kim ready for our Rickshaw tour around the Hutongs.

Jeff & Kim ready for our Rickshaw tour around the Hutongs.

Isabelle & Harley sharing a Rickshaw

Isabelle & Harley sharing a Rickshaw

Owen & Ashley

Owen & Ashley

Me and Oliver ready to go!

Me and Oliver ready to go!

A great view of the Drum and Bell Towers that are the outer edges of the Forbidden City.

A great view of the Drum and Bell Towers that are the outer edges of the Forbidden City.

A rickshaw!

A rickshaw!

So many symbols in China.  The four blue posts signify the level of the family living here.  The color is also significant and indicates different professions (military, government, retail, etc)

So many symbols in China. The four blue posts signify the level of the family living here. The color is also significant and indicates different professions (military, government, retail, etc)

We stopped at some of the stores in the Hutongs and saw this display of food - these are 1000 year old eggs!!

We stopped at some of the stores in the Hutongs and saw this display of food – these are 100 year old eggs!!

Fantastic selection of spices

Fantastic selection of spices

Lots of souvenirs to buy in the little shops

Lots of souvenirs to buy in the little shops

Ashley & Oliver by a Hutong that is designated for demolition.

Ashley & Oliver by a Hutong that is designated for demolition.

When we had checked into the hotel at the beginning of the day, the kids had seen the swimming pool on the 8th floor.  I am glad that they knew it was there as the promise of swimming later in the day kept them going through all the site-seeing! Ashley and Harley were keen to go with Isabelle and Oliver and it was a race to see who would be ready to go first!  Kim and Owen took this opportunity to nap while I “supervised” from the side of the pool!  An hour of so of swimming recharged the batteries ready for dinner…..

Isabelle taking a flying leap into the pool.

Isabelle taking a flying leap into the pool.

Ashley throwing Oliver!

Ashley throwing Oliver!

A large leap from all 4 - huge splash!

A large leap from all 4 – huge splash!

I had asked a few local colleagues that live in Beiing for recommendations on a good Peking Duck restaurant and the reply was unanimous – “Da Dong Duck”.  So, the 7 of us were excited to eat Peking Duck in Peking at Da Dong Duck!!  Jeff had recommended that we order 2 ducks and then a selection of vegetable side dishes so that is exactly what we did.  What a delicious meal!  The Duck was beautifully carved and there was plenty of perfect crispy skin for everyone. The traditional accompaniments is spring onion (scallion), finely chopped garlic, plus sugar! Sugar and crispy duck skin is a wonderful taste explosion!
We all had multiple duck pancakes. All of the vegetable dishes were yummy too – we had each picked 1 that we liked the look of in the menu (thank goodness for pictures!)  By desert time, the kids wanted a Chocolate Bomb.  This arrived at the table with what looked like a big sparkler sticking out.  The server lit this and when it had burned down, the chocolate “bomb” had opened to reveal lots of packets of chocolate sweets inside.

Da Dong Duck Restaurant

Da Dong Duck Restaurant

The Duck getting expertly carved.

The Duck getting expertly carved.

The arrival of the Chocolate Bomb dessert.

The arrival of the Chocolate Bomb dessert.

After the "bomb" had exploded!!

After the “bomb” had exploded!!

A very busy day, with another one ahead of us.  It was an early night for all of us!

Pirates – Long Blue Pete, Friends and Treasure Islands

Oliver’s topic at school for the last few weeks has been on Pirates.  He has really enjoyed this and was excited that his class assembly was going to be all about Pirates.  He came home with the script and we practiced his lines – first he would stand by the front door and recite them, and then he would race upstairs to his bedroom and recite them.  He was very loud and very clear!  He told us that he would be holding a microphone too.  The morning of the assembly dawned and we all went in to school together.  We dropped Oliver off at his classroom and saw all the cool costumes laid out ready for them to change into.  Owen and I went to the Theatre to wait for the production to begin!

The welcome screen on the stage.

The welcome screen on the stage.

The class made the Jolly Roger boat.

The class made the Jolly Roger boat.

Ready for showtime!

Ready for showtime!

We had asked permission for Isabelle to come and watch and so she joined us in the Theatre just as Assembly was getting started.  (Assembly is for Infants so it was all the classes in Year 1 and 2.)  After some announcements and recognition for “Stars of the Week” it was on to the main event.

The class started by introducing themselves – with their Pirate names.  Oliver’s was Long Blue Pete.

"My Pirate Name is Long Blue Pete"

“My Pirate Name is Long Blue Pete”  His teacher, Mrs Finan, is at the front.

As the show went on, Owen and I were amazed to see Oliver performing more than we had practiced.  All of a sudden he was also the Pirate King!

Long Blue Pete is on the right delivering a birthday present to the Pirate Queen.

The Pirate King, AKA Long Blue Pete, is on the right delivering a birthday present to the Pirate Queen.

It was a wonderful performance by a lovely group of 5 and 6 year olds.  They all sang beautifully, remembered their lines and obviously enjoyed being on stage.  Oliver closed it out at the end with his 2 lines that we had rehearsed.  Mrs Finan told us right after that the original Pirate King was sick and she needed somebody to stand in.  As Oliver had done such a good job learning the script (plenty of help from Isabelle too) she had asked him to “save the day”.  He did brilliantly and we were so proud of him.  You would never have known that he jumped in at the last minute.

"Thank you for watching and hope you enjoyed it!"

“Thank you for watching and hope you enjoyed it!”

All the parents took lots of photos at the end:

Chloe (Oliver's special friend!), Oliver and Lucy.

Chloe (Oliver’s special friend!), Oliver and Lucy.

What is really under a Pirate's eye patch?  Oh - it is an eye!!

What is really under a Pirate’s eye patch? Oh – it is an eye!!

Arrrr, shiver me timbers, are you ready to walk the plank?

Arrrr, shiver me timbers, are you ready to walk the plank?

Happy that it is over and happy that we were there :-)

Happy that it is over and happy that we were there 🙂

As well as practicing for the Assembly, Oliver also had a homework project to create his own Treasure Island.  We had fun finding things at home to make this – he had toilet roll and tissue paper palm trees, a jewelry box as a treasure chest, painted little pebbles for gold, brown sugar for sand, a volcano, pirate ship and pirate.  The finishing touch was a selection of Oliver’s shells that he has collected from our various trips abroad.  He worked so hard on this and the end result looked fantastic.

Oliver's Treasure Island homework project.

Oliver’s Treasure Island homework project.

China Air Quality – Smog, smog and more smog

Today is a beautiful day in Shanghai.  The sky is blue and I have a fantastic view from my office window across the city.  The AQI is 63 (US Consulate) or 57 (China local monitory) – a “good” day.  AQI is a daily topic of conversation among ex-Pats and locals alike.  What is AQI?  It stands for Air Quality Index and it is the measurement that is used for the health of individuals breathing the air every day!

A breakdown of the classification of AQI

A breakdown of the classification of AQI

China has been in the International news quite a bit over the last few months and it is all because of the appalling smog that is blanketing this Country.

Atmospheric particulate matter – also known as particulates or particulate matter (PM) – are tiny pieces of solid or liquid matter associated with the Earth’s atmosphere.  They are suspended in the atmosphere as atmospheric aerosol, a term which refers to the particulate/air mixture, as opposed to the particulate matter alone.  PM 2.5 and PM 10 are two types of pollution involving particles too small to see with the naked eye – less than 2.5 or 10 microns in diameter.  Particulate matter, or PM, is the term for particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets.  Particles can be suspended in the air for long periods of time.  Some particles are large or dark enough to be seen as soot or smoke.  Others are so small that individually they can only be detected with an electron microscope.

Many manmade and natural sources emit PM directly or emit other pollutants that react in the atmosphere to form PM. These solid and liquid particles come in a wide range of sizes.  Particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10) pose a health concern because they can be inhaled into and accumulate in the respiratory system.  Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) are referred to as “fine” particles and are believed to pose the greatest health risks.  Because of their small size (approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair), fine particles can lodge deeply into the lungs.

Sources of fine particles include all types of combustion activities (motor vehicles, power plants, wood burning, etc.) and certain industrial processes. Particles with diameters between 2.5 and 10 micrometers are referred to as “coarse.”  Sources of coarse particles include crushing or grinding operations, and dust from paved or unpaved roads.  Other particles may be formed in the air from the chemical change of gases.  They are indirectly formed when gases from burning fuels react with sunlight and water vapor.  These can result from fuel combustion in motor vehicles, at power plants, and in other industrial processes.  Often these consist of fragments of unburned fuel and are small enough to reach the lungs or, in the smallest cases, to cross into the bloodstream as well.

Airborne Particulate Size Chart.

Airborne Particulate Size Chart.

The World Health Organization (WHO) sets a maximum safe limit of exposure over a 24-hour period: 25 of the PM 2.5 particles in every cubic metre of air.  Levels above 300 are considered hazardous, while the WHO recommends a daily level of no more than 20.

Global AQI

Global AQI from Wednesday February 26th 2014

The Chinese government has launched an effort worth 1.7 trillion yuan (£180bn) to clean up power stations and traffic fumes.  Specific measures include closing down any power stations within the city that burn coal – or switching them to burning cleaner gas instead.

A new lottery system with very few winners is restricting the rise in the number of new cars and drivers.  Beijing already has five million cars on its roads, and greener cars will get priority.  Beyond that, a major push for renewable energy including hydroelectric, wind and solar is designed, in part, to help replace power generation by coal, the cheapest but most polluting fuel.

Hundreds of flights were recently delayed or cancelled in Shanghai as record levels of air pollution shrouded the city in smog, prompting authorities to issue the highest level of health warning.  That was especially embarrassing at a time when China seeks to build Shanghai into a global business hub on par with the likes of London, New York and Hong Kong by 2020.  (The Shanghai government issued its severest health warning as the city’s pollution index ranged between 23 times and 31 times the levels recommended by international health officials.)

On a recent flight into Shanghai’s PVG airport, I took these photos from the window.  You can clearly see the smog hovering above the city.

Clear blue sky above the smog.  This should have been a fantastic view for me across the city.

Clear blue sky above the smog. This should have been a fantastic view for me across the city.

What a pity that I cannot see the skyline…..

What a pity that I cannot see much below me…..  Again, the line between clear blue sky and the smog can be seen.

The smog is so bad that it "dims" the sun.

The smog is so bad that it “dims” the sun.

Look at this famous skyline from just across the river.  Smog is low and thick.  Many days seem to be like this in Shanghai now.

Look at this famous skyline from just across the river. Smog is low and thick. Many days seem to be like this in Shanghai now.

Last April a new health warning system was launched, and this year has been the first time that the Shanghai authorities urged residents to stay indoors and asked factories to either cut or halt production.

Air quality in cities is of increasing concern to China’s stability-obsessed leaders, who are anxious to limit potential unrest as more affluent citizens turn against a growth-at-all-costs economic model that has polluted much of the country’s air, water and soil.  The people are increasingly vocal…..  The government has announced many plans to fight pollution over the years but has made little apparent progress.

BISS cancels all outdoor activity when the AQI is too high.  It is amazing that both my children refer to “Green” days, “Orange” days or “Red” days and know exactly what the implications are.

Employers are also concerned for their employees.  Last week, my company sent this email out:

Free Mask Dispensing for Employee

Dear colleagues,

As is known to everybody, more mainland cities have been increasingly beset by thick, acrid smog, posing health risks towards our health and safety.  In order to care for each member of our community and reduce this risk, GFM plans to dispense free mask for every employee in our Office with details as below;

Criteria: only AQI exceeds 200 based on local formal forecast.

Distribution Point: reception desk

Dispensing Rule: one piece for each employee and registration is required in line with staff list.

Usage Period:  approx. 7 days  (PM2.5 filtration efficiency 90%)

The air quality is a major concern to Owen and I and we do not let the kids play outside when it is bad.  We have industrial grade air filters in each of our bedrooms and living space at home.  BISS has air filters in each of the classrooms, so the school does not have to close when the AQI is too high.  I believe that this is the biggest single problem for China at the moment.  However, London had a similar problem back in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  Once the Government there got serious about fixing it, it was fixed 🙂  There is hope for the Chinese…….

World Book Day – Rolly & Cat in the Hat

BISS has been celebrating books all week.  One of the highlights of the week has been DEAR – Drop Everything And Read.  A teacher will pop their head into a classroom and shout DEAR.  Whatever class is going on, it stops and they all start reading.

They also had a book fair and all the kids had plenty of opportunity to spend their money on a wide selection of books.  Both Isabelle and Oliver found a couple of books that they liked!

Friday was Book Character dress up day.  Isabelle decided to go as Rolly (one of the 99 puppies in 101 Dalmations) and Oliver was Cat in the Hat for the day.

Isabelle’s costume was so easy as she borrowed some pj’s from a friend and I just painted some spots on her face.  Oliver’s was a little trickier.  I had originally decided to make a pop-up Dr Seuss hat, but after 2 attempts of following the instructions, it ended up as a normal hat.  Even so, it was well after midnight on Thursday before I had finished!!  I made him a bow tie, had some furry fur sewed onto a black hoodie and white gloves finished the look.  He was so reluctant to have anything (make-up/face paint) on his face, but I persuaded him that the look would not be complete without a black nose and whiskers!

The Infants (Year 1 and 2) had a costume parade and Oliver was thrilled to win the Boys prize for best costume!  Guess the late night was worth it!

Cat in the Hat and Rolly AKA Oliver & Isabelle

Cat in the Hat and Rolly AKA Oliver & Isabelle

Oliver was a little grumpy because he didn't want the "make up"on!!!!

Oliver was a little grumpy because he didn’t want the “make up”on!!!!

Oliver - winner of the Boys Best Costume posing with his girlie counterpart!  Glad to see he is smiling this time.  Photo is courtesy of BISS.

Oliver – winner of the Boys Best Costume posing with his girlie counterpart! Glad to see he is smiling this time. Photo is courtesy of BISS.

 

Daddy Daughter Masquerade Ball 2014

Saturday March 1st was THE social event of the year at BISS (at least, for the girls!)

The invitation

The invitation

Daddy Daughter Ball 2014 and it was a masquerade event this year.  This was Isabelle and Owen’s 2nd ball and the excitement level was high (at least, for Isabelle!)  As like last year, the girls have all been talking about, anticipating, discussing dresses, hair styles, nail color and shoes for weeks.  Also like last year, Isabelle designed her dress and right before Chinese New Year we again went to the Fabric Market to have it made.  She envisioned a purple creation of wonderfulness and was thrilled with the results.  We had spent hours looking at all sorts of dresses on the Internet to give her extra ideas, but her original description of what she wanted was pretty much what she ended up with.  (She does say that being a Dress Designer is one of her future career options!!)

In the afternoon we went to Maddie’s house and waited for Phoebe to arrive to paint her nails.  Purple, of course!  Then, we rushed around the corner to our local hairdresser’s to have her hair done.  Last year she had french braids and curls, and this year she chose to have 2 french braids joining at the back and then very straight hair.   Home to get dressed and put a little bit of make up on!  I did some glitter eye shadow for her and pink lip gloss.

Nail Painting with Maddie

Nail Painting with Maddie

Her beautiful french braid (wish she would sit still long enough for me to practice on her - then I wouldn't have to pay $3 to have it done by a professional!)

Her beautiful french braid (wish she would sit still long enough for me to practice on her – then I wouldn’t have to pay $3 to have it done by a professional!)

Owen was also getting ready, super-stud-Bond-like in his tux and matching bow tie.  My hubby and daughter looked amazing.  At 5:45 they left to enjoy the fun of the evening.

My handsome hubby and gorgeous girl.

My handsome hubby and gorgeous girl.

Isabelle was very specific about the detail on her dress!

Isabelle was very specific about the detail on her dress!

Oliver was testing the various masks we have at home and couldn’t resist getting in a few photos!

With masks on!  Isabelle is ready to go with her lovely furry cape.

With masks on! Isabelle is ready to go with her lovely furry cape.

Even Tetley got in on the action.

Even Tetley got in on the action.

This was the plan for the night:

The evening plans

The evening agenda

I think Owen was a little bit relieved to also see this sign:

YEAH!

YEAH!

The Dance Floor

The Dance Floor

Once Daddy and Daughter had left the house, Oliver and I got ready to go to Katrina’s house.  10 lovely lonely ladies (plus 6 sons!) met to share some nibbles and cocktails while the D&D’s were dancing!  Oliver had fun with some friends while the Mums were enjoying adult girlie time.  At 9:30 the party goers returned and we continued it for another couple of hours.  Initially there was lots of action from all the kids, but this is what it looked like after about 30 minutes:

Movie and chillax time!

Movie and chillax time!