Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Beijing Nov '09 trip 1: Datong, Pingyao

Julie, Hua Keong and I made a 15- day trip to Beijing from 11th/Nov to 25th/Nov. Weather can't be better, comfortably cool. Dominick and Karen played hosts in Beijing, with their driver chauffeuring us all over Beijing and it's vicinity. This picture was taken in front of Dominick's neighbouring house, a local Chinese singer.
As we have all been in Beijing before, this trip we concentrate mainly on Beijing new attractions and outskirts, mainly destinations not normally visited by most tourists.
Special arrangement was also made for our tours outside Beijing. The first exciting place of visit was Datong 大同(265 Km SW of Beijing), after a long night train ride in a local train. Datong used to be a big coal mining town in the past. Here we witnessed the Unesco World heritage Yungang Caves—云冈石窟.
These are huge Buddha carvings on a low but long sandstone cliff, dated back 2500 years ago. Created over the years, these carvings reflect Indian, Central Asian, Persian, and Hellenistic influences entering China via silk road.

We are up near to the Buddha Statue. Look how small those people below are. Different caves house different Buddha statues, big and small, exceeding 51,000 of them. It reminded me of the same stone cave statues in Afghanistan destroyed by Taliban a few years ago. What a shame!

We then proceed to the 'Internet famous' hanging monastery 悬空寺, a place I never dreamt of visiting years ago when I first read in my e-mail. Can't imagine it right in front of my eyes now. Temple built on stilts!

This carefully selected site at 恆山 (for the temple) caves inwards, and thus the wooden temple is sheltered from direct rain, and avoids strong wind erosion from both sides. It sits high up so as to avoid flood water from the river used to run below.
Supported by slender wooden pillars, the temple clinks precariously to the canyon's walls. It has some 30 over halls, connected by walkways and bridges.

They house numerous statues of Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist Gods, an example of religious harmony dated back to the Qin dynasty, 2200 years ago.

However, the tourist guide predicts that this temple may be closed to all visitors in 2-3 years time, as the old structure may not stand the increasing load of tourists pouring :( So, go asap if you want to!

En route to dinner, we visited this 11th century wooden pagoda, 县木塔, one of the oldest wooden building on earth, constructed without using any nail. The clearance of the wooden hinges makes it survived many earthquakes.
A closer look.
Yet we can still walk up to have a good look of the surrounding.

An excellent dinner was arranged in a huge courtyard restaurant with special performance demonstrated in our room, with the kind arrangement of 小峰。
After enjoying 刀削麵, we were shown how to slice it from the dough.

Looks easy for me....:) ,
.........and Karen

However, you can see the struggle from the others, like Dom, hehe.
Julie almost cut her fingers.
while HK did not manage to slice any piece, ;)
The Sifu then challenged us to do it on wheel, blind folded. We almost fainted!

What I love most is this 1-strand 'throw noodle'.

Ladies are supposed to take just 1 strand, it makes 1 big bowl. Even the stronger sex, just 2 strands will be more than enough!

Fortunately, Marco Polo did not learn this trick, otherwise, spaaaagggghhhhheeeeettttttiiiiiii will be spelt this way.
The grand finale was a conducted tour to witness the many collector items of the restaurant.
The next day, we visited a very beautiful old Chinese courtyard house and garden 乔家大院 , made famous by Zhang Yimou's film, "Raise The Red Lantern", starring Gong-Li.

It has 6 courtyards, and 300 rooms, built in the 18th century. A typical courtyard viewed from top.
Supposedly, there are a lot of Qi balance ( Harmony?) in the construction of this courtyard.
Can you feel it?

The big urn is filled with water, and it is where the Qi collects.

That explains why the owner is so rich, through his tofu and tea business ;)
Lunch at another courtyard restaurant was sumptuous, with too many dishes. However, the typical local cold dishes do not suit our taste buds. Somehow, we prefer hot food:)
, 平遥, our next destination, has the best preserved city walls( 6 Km) from the Ming dynasty. Being the financial center of China during the Ming and Qing Dyansties, Pingyao used to be an affluent town. The first bank in China was established here. It subsequently offers 'Cheque' issual facility, with special technology and codes to prevent frauds.
However, when Qing dynasty defaulted on loans and abdicated, the banks were left empty, and thus Pingyao lost it's colour too. New financial centers were then built in Shanghai.
This is a main part of the city walls where visitors gain access to the top.
A view from the top.... Within the walls, there are 3000 historic shops, museums, and heritage sites.
Rain makes these beautiful shop houses look sad, with so few customers.... :(

yet another gate tower.
We then visited an old court of justice, the black stone carries original knee prints sunken into solid stone slabs. You can imagine how many people knelt here since day one!

Next is this 'car-less city', where the only fast transport is by golf carts. Some cycle, while many walk. It has long narrow roads, but clean!
Dinner, we slowly enjoyed some local delicacies in this pretty courtyard restaurant.
Our rowdy neighbours were shouting, yelling, quarrelling, or were they just celebrating some function?
We don't know!
Restaurant is beautiful, food is just so so lah. However, the toilet is far beyond description...... We still have quite sometime to kill after dinner, so we went for foot massage. But the standard is poor, far from Dominick's angels.
Soon, we have a night train to catch.
Good night.
See you in Xi An........

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