Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Forbidden City in Beijjing, China

Okay so this is of course way to late- the last time I was in Beijing was one or two years ago I think, but I'm slowly trudging through my pictures and want to share with you my experiences in mainland China. So here's a great one in the Forbidden City.

The Forbidden City is an amazing place! For those of you who don't know, it's the area where many of the emperors of China lived (from the Ming Dynasty through the end of the Qing Dynasty), and it's seriously large enough to be a small town. You can see it directly from Tian'an Men Square. Just walk towards the humongous picture of Chairman Mao.
Now I have a small issue with this picture, and I may get some anger directed at me for this, but I think it maims the historical integrity of the Forbidden City. I wish the entrance had been kept the way it originally had been when it was used by the emperors. If, on the other hand, China wants to give tribute to someone who helped to bring down the reign of the emperors and restore more rights to the people, Mao is not the correct choice. Dr. Sun Yat Sen is credited with ending imperial rule and I think it's his picture that should be up on the entrance, if any picture at all. Chairman Mao, on the other hand, is the person who made China a communist nation and that's not directly related to the Forbidden City. So I apologize if it offends anyone, but that's my humble belief.
 The forbidden city was constructed during the time period of 1406-1420 when the capitol was moved from Nanjing to Beijing. It's about 180 acres large and there are 980 buildings inside. It was called the forbidden city because no one could enter or leave without the emperor's permission. However, there have been some unfortunate times when this place was occupied by Anglo-French forces during the Second Opium War (1860) and also ravaged during the Boxer Revolution.
 Inside the entrance there's a small barracks. I'm a little bit confused why this is the spot they chose.
 Now this place is huge and it's divided into two major areas: the outer court where ceremonies took place, and the back palace where the emperor and his family (concubines included) resided. There are also multiple halls where the emperor would conduct business and they're all given philosophical names.
 Here are a few pictures that try but fail to give this place justice.
 This is a turtle mythical creature.
 Look at the cool designs!
 This "cauldron" I guess you would call it is one of the casualties from the Second Opium War. Anglo-French forces scraped all of the gold off of it and this is how it looks now. These cauldrons are placed all over the Forbidden City as a means of putting out any fires. Pretty neat! I wouldn't want to be the one carrying them though.
 I love the designs all over this place!
 I'm sorry I can't remember which Hall this is supposed to be. All I can tell you is you have to push and shove and be pushed and shoved to be able to take a picture from the entrance (you can't go in, obviously).
 Now this one I know! The Hall of Preserving Harmony! Notice the nine dragon throne- it's pretty famous. And again, more pushing and shoving here.
 This jade installment was put outside the emperor's study for him to look at when he got bored or was out of ideas. I'm sorry I totally forgot what the tour guide said about it- that was years ago.
 This jade was put in the back palace by an empress to remind the concubines to be pure. Well unfortunately I don't think a rock kept them from backstabbing and sabotaging each other to win the emperor's affections.

 I really enjoy visiting the forbidden city every time I had the chance. I'd like to go again even! When you go though, be prepared for large crowds around the halls. Since it's such a large place you won't feel squished all the time. It's just nice to walk where emperors and empresses used to walk and imagine what it was like. Next time I'll tell you about the Temple of Heaven in Beijing!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Kenting July 2014

Beach season is over in Taiwan. It's already too cold and windy to visit the coast, but it's nice to look back on my trip to Kenting this year. I've been there three times now, I believe! It's on the southernmost tip of Taiwan and you have to take either the train or the high speed rail, then a long bus ride to get there.

Kenting has really good memories for me. It's where I celebrated my first birthday in a foreign country, and it's also the original image I had of Taiwan before I came. Palm trees and beaches everywhere.

The nightmarket in Kenting is also a walk you must take. I don't have any pictures because we were just enjoying the moment, but some interesting things to see that you won't see anywhere else in Taiwan, including French ice cream and cross-dressing shows.

All in all, it was a romantic and relaxing time. We stayed at the Chateau Beach Resort, which if you have the money to splurge, is totally worth it. They have their own private beach that's CLEAN, for one. The food is amazing, and they also have a pool that overlooks the ocean.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sun Moon Lake (Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village)

It was a slightly rainy day but still a great one to see the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. In case you don't know, Formosa was an old name for Taiwan! ;) This park is half roller coasters, and half an educational exhibit on the aboriginal tribes of Taiwan. We only had half a day so we spent it learning about the native tribes. You get there from Sun Moon Lake by cable car. The view was, again, really gorgeous and it was close enough to a roller coaster in itself, since you have to cross over a couple mountains on the way.

This is a really bad picture- it was inside the museum and I couldn't get the lighting right. But I just want to show you that there are 26 tribes on this small island (according to the map). I believe only 13 or 14 are officially recognized and the park only has exhibits on 9 of them. (please correct me, I know I'm wrong on how many are recognized by Taiwan)

They had different houses reconstructed of different tribes- here's an example of one from the Paiwan tribe. My impression is that they are very short in general and pretty small. One tribe even had a custom to bury their ancestors inside their houses so that they can watch over and protect the family.

This is the "men's lodge" of the Paiwan tribe.

In the museum they showcased traditional clothes from different tribes. I loved it so much! Here's some pictures of them:

This tribe is super interesting. They're on a small island off the coast of Taiwan. The attire looks a little ridiculous because they cover their head but practically nothing else. However, I read that the helmet is used as protection in fights and also against evil spirits. They're famous for the boats they make and I've seen examples of the boats in China's National Palace Museum in Shanghai. Of course, they were grouped in the exhibit as one of China's aboriginal tribes.

I really want to go to their island someday though!!!

There were a couple of shows about the tribes and they were really interesting to me because I could see more concrete examples of the culture. :)

Next, the food!!!! For some reason I was starving the whole day, which was great since that meant we could try a lot of traditional food from the tribes.

That's millet rice, dried meat, and tarot. I really loved the rice!

And here's the famous bamboo rice. It's cooked inside a piece of bamboo, as you can see. There were also tiny taros. I normally hate taro but I loved it here!

Also from the museum. Can you believe children played with dried out fish?!

I feel like I've seen and heard this instrument in other places as well, but it's a common one for some of the tribes. You can see a video of it being played below.

In addition to going to shows, checking out the museum, and walking through traditional houses, there were some activities to try like: blow darts!!!!! (and archery)!!

This was so much fun! I never tried it before!!!

I think this was my second time with archery. It's not easy at all! Albert had a better time with it but somehow his form was correct (or he has big arms), and the string kept snapping against his arm. Got a big ole bruise for the rest of the day! :P

So that was only some of the cool things at the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. We were only there a half day and didn't even get to see all of it. It was a ton of fun though!!!

Sun Moon Lake (Xuan Zang Temple)

Xuan Zang the monk is famous for going to India in the Tang Dynasty to bring back Buddhist scriptures to China. His story became legendary in the the novel Journey to the West. I read an abridged version in an Intro to Asian Studies course in undergrad and now I'm reading the full version, in English of course. I can't exactly read ancient Chinese yet! So although the novel could not be a true account with all of the monsters, Buddhas and Daoist gods that appear, it still has some roots in what actually happened.

I was extremely excited to find out that there was a temple to Xuan Zang because I love the story Journey to the West, especially the monkey king, Sun Wu Kong. I've been reading the novel (it's broken down into four books, each over 1,000 pages long) and I'm on the second to last chapter. In the book, Xuan Zang is characterized as extremely naive and scared of anything that moves. He also seems to lose heart easily. He's not a well liked character in my opinion, but he does have a good heart and has the strongest morals of any of his other companions on the journey.

The temple was less ornate than Wen Wu Temple, but it was more peaceful and had a nicer view, which I will show you later.

The statue in the middle is Xuan Zang, and if you look on his back there is an ancient version of a backpack with all of the scrolls he brought back.

What's different about this temple is that there is no incense burning or food offerings. Instead you light a candle in a lotus shaped candle holder. I like it because it's more environmentally friendly. I would have lit one too, except I used my money to buy a wooden carved keychain.

On the second floor was a small exhibition about Xuan Zang and Buddhism. This is a diagram of the cycles of life you can be born into (according to the religion): there's a few types of Buddhas and saints, gods, people, animals, and two different categories of demons.

When enlightened Buddhists die, their remains will be burned and supposedly some kind of round crystal or stone remains. The amount of stones indicate how enlightened the person was. In this chalice type thing you can look through the yellow glass and see some such stones.

What's famous about this temple is that it holds part of Xuan Zang's remains. It's blocked off so you cannot get close enough to see. However, a camera kindly shows you the remains of part of his jaw bone in a tv screen.

A little morbid, right? But still cool if that was really part of his body!
Here's the view I promised earlier. Sun Moon Lake is so gorgeous. It's no wonder it's one of the top tourists spots for Mainland Chinese people.