For weeks, that old song has been stuck in my head. “One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster”, etc. etc. Rest assured, that gorgeous place didn’t make these tough guys tumble.
There are many times over the years that we have been thankful for Tim’s great job. This week in Bangkok was one of those times. Tim had to go for a few days of work, so we tagged on some vacation time too. We loved the city and the people, though the weather reminded us of a trip to Provence in June many years ago when a friend, Matt, said, “Oh, this must be what it’s like to live on the sun.” A humid sun, no less. For people like us who sweat when the AC is off, just walking outside in Bangkok put a nice sheen on our entire bodies. They know how to use the air conditioning there though. The sky train (elevated train) was a welcome cool as we traveled around the city. The trick was to keep moving; on land or water – the breezes were critical outside.
Since we only had a short tourist time, we opted to use a tour guide for the city one day, and outside the city another day. Tour with Tong was recommended by many folks on Trip Advisor, and we would have to agree. They certainly made things more efficient and it went much more easily with them. Our first stop was the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This is an amazing complex; one of those places that you don’t believe really look that way until you’re standing there yourself. Like St. Basil’s in Red Square – it doesn’t look real in the pictures. Many sites in Bangkok are like that too. The Palace complex construction began in the late 1700s and it was until recently, the royal residence. It remains government offices, foreign dignitary guest housing and the famous Temple. There are gloriously ornate buildings, defenders of the King in huge statue form, walls of galleries telling a proud history, and Buddha is ever-present. We saw and heard tourists from around the world, at the same time seeing locals in devout daily prayer.
The Thai people are pleasant, seemingly happy, and smiling most of the time. They always take the moment to smile, greet you and say their sawahdee. Dare I say you feel a bit happier being around them. We heard the tourist warnings and took heed of pushy vendors and tuk tuk drivers, but had no problems. I think because we choose to have, and plan on, a good experience, then we do.
In addition to the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaeo), we also visited the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho), the Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun), and took a river and canal tour. Throw in a tasty lunch, a tour of the Jim Thompson house, and even a traditional Thai massage, and it was a great day.
On Monday, we opted to see some of the country and toured the Kanchanaburi province. The main purpose of this trip was to see the Temple of the Tiger, a sanctuary for rescued animals in the area. It was started years ago, when a poacher brought a baby tiger to the monks (because the mother was dead). From that one occurrence, the temple grew and the number of animals grew too. They have 72 tigers this year, along with water buffalo, pigs, deer, and even a peacock. It was amazing to see their work; like taking care of those animals is their calling in faith. As with all travel, there is food involved, and Monday’s lunch involved pad thai and spring rolls at a fabulous outdoor, rural restaurant. We loved it. After the temple, we stopped at the Erawan Waterfall and hiked to the first two levels. For us, this was another of those places that don’t seem real in the photos. On this Kanchanaburi trip, we also visited the bridge over the River Kuai and the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre museum. The latter tells the story of the Japanese invasion of the region and is dedicated to the men who were prisoners of war for the death railway. It was sobering, to say the least. It has always been important to us, in traveling, to see the beautiful and the sometimes painful reminders of the past. It gives us perspective on where we are in the world; where we have been and where we are going.
The next couple of days involved Tim going to meetings and Julie off on her own. In this week, there were some non-touristy things too, like our first Burger King and Dunkin Donuts in three months, a visit to a great grocery store with lots of Western products, a fantastic bookstore where I spent a little too much money on English books, and a couple of American movies. All of these things give us perspective too, and a little comfort.
Last weekend, we went to Dandong and Hushan, about 3 hours southeast of here, on the eastern part of the Liaoning Province. The Yalu River separates Dandong from a small industrial town in North Korea. Yes, the border. The Yalu River Bridge used to connect the two sides, but it now ends half way long its full span, the remainder was dismantled by the Koreans at some point. They say the Chinese half of this bridge bears the scars of US fighter jet combat in 1950. This, along with a museum, monuments the War to Resist US Aggression & Aid Korea, or as we call it, the Korean War. There is the new Friendship Bridge, for trains and buses. The train line runs from Beijing all the way to Pyongyang.
It was amazing to us to be so close to the border. You could swim across, and at some points, I think the river is quite shallow. We were able to see factories and other buildings. Through the telescope in our hotel room, we could also see some people and even a North Korean cow. You’ll be happy to know they look the same as they do around the world.
About 10 miles from Dandong is a town called Hushan. It is very small actually, but famous because there is a restored piece of the Great Wall there. It is amazing. The Great Wall is called Changcheng in Chinese, which can be translated as “long fortress” or “long city”. The fortress itself once stretched more than 5000 miles in northern China to protect the country from invaders. That included about 4000 miles of actual wall, with some trenches and other blockages for protection. The building started in the 5th century BC and went through the 16th century. They have done a great job to restore many parts of the Wall, most of them near Beijing. Most of what remains is from the Ming Dynasty (15th & 16th century). So before Columbus even landed in North America, the Chinese were restoring sections and building new sections.
Part of the Wall near Hushan was only unearthed in the last 10-20 years after years of sandstorms had covered it. This section also overlooks the Korean border, and there are warnings about hiking out of range since the border is not always well marked. An amazing feature for us to see was working farm situated right next to the Wall. And yes, we climbed all the way to the top!
The other stop we made was at the Daoist Temples at Phoenix Mountain (Feng Huang Shan). This is similar to Qian Shan that you may have seen elsewhere in the blog. You hike for a while, then stop at a temple to look at it and get some rest, then more hiking. We picnicked with friends, did some hiking, and in the rain, also saw much of the mountain by car. Driving to and from the interstate, we drove through very rural area and saw rice and tea fields. We have seen many crops before, but never those two. Like so many things seen with fresh eyes, we looked at these and remembered how lucky we are to have these experiences.
I became a member of the International Club of Shenyang to meet new people, resources, and benefit from organized activities and meetings. And this past Sunday, Tim and I took a day trip with several other couples/families. We drove about 2 hours to Qian Shan, a national park near the city of Anshan, China. The trip was planned for hiking and a picnic. The weather was cool and we narrowly missed the rain, so a perfect day for rigorous hiking. The flyer for the day said:
Qian Shan is called “ A thousand lotus mountain as well and it is the branches of Changbai mountain. It is famous for its high hills, marvellous pine trees, and old temples. The main part of Qian Shan is made by 999 hills, which is why it is so called “ Qian Shan”. The highest peak is 708 meters with over 200 places of interests to visit.
We can vouch for the gorgeous pine trees and amazing temples and buildings along the hills. Here are some photos from our day. For a more detailed description of each photo, just click on it and read the caption.
Two weeks ago, we went out to see the Imperial Palace here in Shenyang. Most people have heard of or seen the one in Beijing, but there is one here too. The construction began in the 1600’s. It is mostly attributed to the Manchus and Qing (ching) Dynasty, though is blends many styles. It is a UNESCO Wold Heritage Site since 2004.
If you would like to read the rest of the history and palace information, I pulled this from www.chinaculture.org.
The Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is an excellently well-preserved cultural relic. In 1625 Nurhaci began construction on the palace and it was completed in 1636 under Abahai’s reign. After that, it was expanded in the Qianlong and Jiaqing reigns. It takes three hundred and thirty-two paces walking around the palace and there are eight gates. The streets in the city formed the shape of #. The palace was set up at the center of the #shape and was the imperial palace in the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The palace was originally called the Imperial Palace of Shengjing and was renamed the Fengtian Xinggong (the imperial palace for short stays away from the capital) after the Qing Army entered the Shanghai Pass. Covering more than 60,000 square meters, it has over 90 buildings including 300-odd rooms and houses. Surrounded by red high walls and covered with golden tiles on the hall roof, the palace is richly ornamented and dazzlingly brilliant.
According to the natural layout and the sequences of the constructions, the Shenyang Imperial Palace can be divided into three parts. Main architectures on the east axis include the Dazheng Hall and the Shiwang Pavilion which were built when Nurhaci (1559-1626), the founder of the Qing Dynasty, began to establish the capital in Shenyang; the main architectures on the central axis are the imperial halls built during the reign of Abahai, including the Daqing Gate, the Chongzheng Hall, the Fenghuang Tower, the Qingning Hall, the Guanju Hall, the Linzhi Hall, the Yanqing Hall and the Yongfu Hall. On the west axis there are the Wusu Pavilion, the Jiayin Hall and the Yangxi Room, which were added to the palace during the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty. The Shenyang Imperial Palace is the second complete palace complex only next to the Forbidden City in Beijing.
The Chongzheng Hall, also called as the Main Hall, is located at the midmost of the front yard on the central axis. It was built during the Tiancong reign (1627-1636) in the Late Jin Dynasty (1115-1234). In the first year (1636) of the Chongde reign, it was renamed as the Chongzheng Hall, and is also widely known as the Gold Bell Hall. The hall has the front and rear porches and is surrounded by the stone railing carved with kylins, lions, sunflowers, lotuses and so on. The pillars supporting the porch are square. There are hornless dragons puffing water under the roof pillars. The roof is covered with yellow glazed tiles with a green edge. The pillars in the hall are round and two of them are connected with a carved dragon. The dragon’s head is stretching out of the eaves, while the tail is attacking straight into the hall. Hence the practicality and decoration are combined together, not only adding the imperial spirit to the hall, but also making the architecture appearance pleasing to the eye.
The ceiling has no decorations, and only patterns of blue lands and white clouds are painted on the roof boarding, making the hall look lofty and elegant. On the beams, purlins, rafters and square wood, there are colored paintings depicting dragons in the clouds, immortal peaches and others. In the center of the hall, a flight of steps was built in the shape of the Chinese character 凸 (convex). In front of the flight, there is a tortuous golden dragon in lifelike posture on a pillar. The folding screen, throne as well as the sundial, measuring tool and other articles on display were all set up during the Qianlong reign. This hall was used by Abahai to handle daily military and political affairs and meet foreign envoys and representatives of the minorities on the frontier. In the 10th year (1636) of the Tiancong reign, the ceremony of changing the title of the Late Jin to the Daqing was also held here. After the Qing Army entered the Shanhai Pass, the capital of the Qing Dynasty was moved to Beijing. Since then the emperors of all dynasties used it as a temporary court when they inspected the east area.
The Dazheng Hall, initially called as the Grand Hall, the Eight-Square Hall or the Big Yamun, was named as the Dugong Hall in the first year (1636) of the Chongde reign and was changed to the current name upon the order of Emperor Kangxi. In front of the hall, there is a space 195 meters long from the south to the north and 80 meters wide from the east to the west. Two ways were paved from the midmost. There are ten square pavilions arranged on the east and west, known as the Shiwang Pavilion (the Pavilion for Ten Kings). These were the places where the two kings and eight ministers handled governmental affairs. It is a unique characteristic of the layout for the Shenyang Imperial Palace. Behind the Shiwang Pavilion is the Dazheng Hall, which was structured with eight-square eaves and posts, connected by rabbets and rivets. The eight sides of the hall are wooden doors with grids without any bricks and stones, which can be opened at will. Under the Hall, it has Buddhist seat foundation and surrounded by bluestone rails with a variety of fine carving. The inside of the hall is bright with the sunshine penetrating from the top. The pendentive, sunk panel, ceiling and others are all extremely exquisite and unique. The roof of the hall, like the Chongzheng Hall, is covered by yellow glazed tiles edged with a green border. There are 16 ridges made of full color glazed tiles on the roof. In front of the main gate, there are two tortuous golden dragons carved on a pillar.
The Wensu Pavilion is the principal architecture on the west axis of the Shenyang Imperial Palace. In front of the pavilion, there is the stage and the Yangxi Room. Behind the pavilion is the Yangxi Room, which was first built in the 47th year (1782) of the Qianlong reign, specially used for treasuring up Si Ku Quan Shu (the Complete Library in the Four Branches of Literature) and also the place where the emperors read and enjoyed playgoing when they visited Shengjing on their eastern tours. The style of the architecture follows the Tianyi Pavilion in Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province. The Yangxi Room has front and rear porches, and its roof is covered with black glazed tiles edged with a green border. The front and rear eaves and pillars are decorated with green lichen.
Si Ku Quan Shu is a lager-scale collection compiled in the Qianlong reign, which had taken 10 years to complete since the 37th year (1772) of the Qianlong reign. The seven parts were separately kept in the Wensu Pavilion in the Shenyang Imperial Palace, the Wenyuan Pavilion in the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Wenyuan Pavilion in the Winter Palace, the WenjinPavilion in Rehe, the Wenhui Pavilion in Yangzhou City, the Wenzong Pavilion in Zhenjiang City and the WenlanPavilion in Hangzhou City. Later on, except the part in the Wensu Pavilion fairly well preserved, all the other parts in other pavilions were either destroyed in wars or littered and lost. Now the part in the Wensu Pavilion has been moved to other places. There is a stele pavilion at the east of the Wensu Pavilion.
The Qingning Hall, originally named as the Central Hall, is midmost of the back yard on the central axis. It was first built around the 10th year (1625) of the Late Jin Dynasty. The palace was built on a foundation of 3.8 meters high and surrounded by high walls. The gate tower named the Fenghuang Tower stands tall and upright in front of the palace. On the left there is the Yongfu Hall and the Guanju Hall, while the Linzhi Hall and the Yanqing Hall on the right. Each of the side is all by itself, thus they form two separate castellar complexes.
The Qingning Hall is five-bay wide. There are the front and rear porches. The roof is covered with yellow glazed tiles edged with a green border. In the east of the palace, it is a warm room, which was the bedroom of Qing Emperor Taizong and his wife. There is a partition in the middle of the room, separating the room into the south and north parts. The Dragon Bed (bed of state) was set up in the north part. Under the window of the south part, a Kang (a heatable brick bed) was placed with some soft seats to the east, where Emperor Taizong rested and met important officials alone. There is a side door in the west of the hall., which makes the west part become a pocket type hall. This was not only the place where the emperor held informal banquets in the inner court, but also where the Manchu witches Shaman prayed for the emperor and the country.
The Fenghuang Tower, originally known as the Xiangfeng Tower, is in front of the Qingning Hall and is a gate tower. It was in construction from the first year (1627) to the 9th year (1635) of the Tiancong reign in the Late Jin Dynasty and rebuilt in the 21st year (1682) of the Kangxi reign in the Qing Dynasty. The tower was changed to the current name in the 8th year (1743) of the Qianlong reign. With three storeys, the lowest one is a passage leading to a high platform, which allows the platform and the five halls to form a castle alone. The tower has three eaves resting on the wall like three drops of water. Its plane is square. It is three-bay wide and long, and surrounded by a roofed corridor. The roof is covered by glazed tiles edged with a green border. The beams and pillars of the third floor are visible. There is a colored painting on the top of the rafter. After the Qing Army entered the Shanhai Pass, Shi Lu (the actual records), Sheng Xun (the imperial edicts), Yu Die (the jade writing slips), Sheng Rong (the imperial containers) and other jade treasures used during the initial period of the country were treasured up here. The Fenghuang Tower used to be the tallest building in Shengjing, so the morning sun over the Fenghuang Tower was reputed as one of the eight sceneries in Shenyang.
After many large-scale repairs, the Shenyang Imperial Palace now becomes the Imperial Palace Museum of Shenyang. In addition to its ancient palace complexes, it is also well known at home and abroad for the abundant treasures. Every year, it attracts streams of tourists to visit and study. It is the most well-preserved extant imperial palace complex next to the Forbidden City in Beijing.
It is May 26, 2010. We have been in Shenyang for a little more than a month. In that time, we lived in a hotel for about 3 weeks, and moved to our apartment last weekend. Our shipment has yet to arrive from the US. As of Saturday, it was in Dalian, China, about 4 hours south of here. The Michelin contact says it is going through customs now, and we should receive it next week. Our cats are in transit from North Carolina. Actually, they are on their flight from Amsterdam to Hong Kong right now thanks to Pet Relocation and KLM. So for the last 10 days, I have been doing a major cleaning of the apartment, watching hulu and studying my Chinese. The cleaning is going alright, though I’m bored with that and wish my Dustbusters folks were here. The Chinese is going alright too, and my teacher thinks I’m doing well so far. Or maybe she is just being nice.
I have some pictures to process before I post our latest excursion, so this post is just some ponderings and experiences, in no particular order.
… Top Ten Responses. When we told people we were moving to China, there tended to be a lot of the same questions, and we got to the point where we could say the answers before the interrogation began.
No, we’ve never been there.
He will be working on a new plant construction project for Michelin.
I don’t know what I’m going to do with my time.
Shenyang. It is in the northeast, close to the Mongolian, Siberian and North Korean borders.
No, we don’t speak Chinese (yet).
We will live in a furnished apartment.
We can take 1100 pounds of our stuff in a shipment.
Yes, we plan to take the cats.
… Services. In preparing for this move, and in doing research, I began using this phrase a lot – There has to be someone who does this. For example, when we lived in France, our amazing friend, Donna, was kind enough to check our po box and mail things to us periodically. This time, I kept thinking there has to be a service like this for businesses, expatriates, world travelers, drug dealers, etc. And so there is. We use a mail service and are able to maintain a US address in Miami. (insert your own drug dealer joke here) And unlike the last time we lived overseas, you are now required to keep a US address in order to maintain US bank accounts. So we’ll be keeping the service throughout our time here. Friends and family members might send mail to us in Miami, or they might send it directly to China. Purdue will send it to China. We are still determining what mail goes to which address. When we receive a piece of mail in Miami, the company takes a photo of it and sends us an email. When we log on to our account, we can look at the photos and also find out how much the piece weighs. We discard it or keep it. And when we save up enough for 1 pound, we tell them what to send and where, and off it goes in a DHL envelope. We pay for 1 pound regardless, so we save up. The envelopes take about 4 days to reach us, and they deliver to the door. The last envelope included my Fine Cooking magazine and some final notices from utilities and banks following the house closing. There were ribs on the cover of FC, so I think you know what I looked at first.
… Another “there has to be someone who does this” moment happened last week when I googled “using email to send letters”. My Mom doesn’t have nor will she get email, so she looks forward to what arrives in her mailbox everyday. I haven’t quite figured out the postal system in China and was wanted to send her a letter. Turns out there are online services where you can submit a letter electronically, then they will print it and mail it for you. It costed $1.10 for 2 pages. Then I also submitted pictures to walmart.com and had them mailed directly to her. So despite her lack of email or desire for it, she is still benefiting from the internet in other ways. And I’ll have a little less guilt during the next phone call.
… Wrong numbers. It is an amusing annoyance to me getting wrong number calls in China. You see, they don’t have voice mail here. I know it sounds crazy. We didn’t really believe the cultural consultant when she told us this two months ago, then we arrived and found it to be true. No voice mail, no answering machines. They answer their cell phones anytime. They text. So in the US, when someone calls the wrong number and you answer, you say hello and you both realize that it’s wrong. Click. Or they get your voice mail and realize it is the wrong number. Click. Here, if you don’t recognize the number and let it go, they get ringing and more ringing, and they keep calling back. One person called me 8 times on Saturday, until I answered the phone and said “hello, are you calling for Julie?” Click. (This also helps end the telemarketing calls quickly.) On Sunday, they called me 4 times, until I texted them in English. They still call me once a day, and unfortunately, this morning it was at 6:15. I’m not sure why they don’t have or use voice mail in China. I’m sure it is something about how they value relationships and that answering a call will help build a relationship much faster than voice mail. It may also be that they do not have the same sense of order nor interuption as Westerners do. (see below about waiting in line) Please understand this is not a criticism, just something different about their culture. I told my Chinese teacher about the wrong numbers and told her that, this morning, I had asked them, “Ni shuo Yingu?” (do you speak English?). She thought it was amusing that I would use wrong numbers to practice my Chinese.
… Sterilizing with ozone. We have an extra contraption in our kitchen, a sterilizer. It is about the size of a large microwave and is mounted between cabinets above the sink. You need this because there are bacteria in the water. It is not safe for drinking, and despite washing the dishes, you still need to sterilize them in some way. You can use a bleach or vinegar mixture, or use the heat sterilizer in the dish washer. Since I don’t really care for our dishwasher, and it took me a few days to buy bleach and vinegar, I got used to using the sterilizer. It has a dish rack, so you wash items and then put them in the sterilizer, turn it on for 45-90 minutes, and it generates ozone to kill bacteria. It makes a low buzzing sound, and you get used to it. I realized that you could also wash fruits and vegetables and put them in this machine. That helps. I found that they make ozone machines with tubing also. I’m going to look for one of those. You put fruits or vegetables in a bowl of water, insert the end of the tube, and the machine generates ozone that travels through the tube and makes bubbles in the water. Fascinating.
… Waiting in line. The Chinese gather, or congregate; they don’t wait in line. Store employees or customer service reps will serve multiple people at a time. Waiting for the elevator is a free for all. A restaurant buffet is like watching ants attack spilled soda on a sidewalk. And the traffic, oh my, the traffic, and the honking! From our apartment, we look down at a 6 lane street that often has 8-9 lanes of cars. Taxi drivers turn left from the far right lane, and will use opposing lanes of traffic to go around slower cars. The traffic could be many paragraphs all by itself; let’s get back to lines. There aren’t any, or many. I believe the only reason people wait in line at the grocery store checkout is because you are funneled toward the cash register. Recently, we went to an event of the European Chamber with other Michelin folks, and it was chaos. It was one of those events, like a Taste of Shenyang, where there tables around the room providing information and sample food and wine. Nice, huh? In principle. Imagine 100 Westerners, or NAFs as I say, non-Asian faces, a term I came up with because Western doesn’t describe those from down under. Imagine these Westerners getting in line for the pasta station; waiting patiently to choose which pasta, which toppings, which sauce, mmmmm. Imagine another 100 people who don’t have the same concept of waiting in line. Suddenly, the pasta station becomes this crazy place with pushing and hovering and personal space invasion. For those who know me, you know that order and structure are paramount to my sanity. Make fun if you will; I own it. The driving and traffic don’t bother me so much, probably because I am not the one driving. But lines and order, hmmm … our stint in this country will either calm those tendencies in me, or I’ll end up on some sort of OCD medication soon enough because of a freak-out in the grocery store. (insert your own Julie/control issues joke here. @#*%&@#* – there might be children reading)
We did a walk-through on our apartment yesterday and will be moving on Sunday! The views are great, but that’s what you get for living on the 10th floor. I’m glad the sky was bright when I took these; I imagine the view will be a bit more somber in winter, but we’ll be warm inside. More details are attached to the photos. 🙂
Tim and I have the fortune to experience a second Spring this year. Spring had arrived in Lexington SC in late March / early April. Then we moved to northern China. Of course, I write this before the sneezing and pollen has begun. So far, we’ve only seen the budding trees and flowers. Thankfully, we chose yesterday (May 8th) as the day to head out for a walk on the Wu Li River. This is very close to our hotel and will also be close to our new apartment. The sun was out and the temperature must have gotten to 75F or more. Gorgeous! I said “thankfully” about yesterday because when we were out int he city today, the temp went down to 60F and it was windy with rain approaching. There are pictures below from our walk yesterday and a few today. Open up the photos if you would like to see the descriptions.
An interesting topic that I haven’t mentioned yet; the Chinese time zone. China spans 3123 miles (5026 km) from east to west. For perspective, the distance from San Jose, CA to Virgina Beach, VA is also about 3000 miles. So thinking about that, imagine the entire US on 1 time zone, as China is. So on on the east coast of China, where we are, the sun is rising at approximately 4:30AM and sets ~7PM at this point in May. By mid June, the sunrise is estimated at 4:11AM. (I hope our cats follow the alarm clock, not the sunrise by then.) And in December, we will be experiencing sunrise at 7:15AM and sunsets around 4:15PM, more than an hour less sunlight than Atlanta. The time zone is just one example of a centralized government you may not have thought about.
Today, we saw our second movie in China, Iron Man 2. Yes, in English. We have noticed that curse words are censored on the hotel’s HBO, and they were in the movie today too. More interesting than that, the references to “Russia” and “Russian” were distorted so that the audience members heard a different word. I read on a Shanhai blog a similar post; that at first you think it is something wrong with the sound. The Shanghai expat can read Chinese characters though, and said the subtitles read “mother language”. Maybe they don’t want Russia to be seen as the villian, and that is where Mickey Rourke’s criminal character is from. Or maybe just this week since President Hu Jintao was in Moscow last week…. interesting.
Enjoy the photos. Thanks for sharing our adventure and for staying in touch.