This Summer – a recall on blue

I took my summer Sperrys out for a walk yesterday, wishing for sunshine. I searched for colors, saw two things I had never seen before, got rained on a little, and shared an overhang with a woman and her gorgeous handbag. While I take a few days to sort photos from our recent travels, I thought I’d share some sights of a Shenyang summer.

I choose not to include one of the dismal sky, preferring to remember the beautiful spring we experienced this year.  This year’s summer sky is one described best by Barbara Kingsolver in Flight Behavior.  She wrote, “Whoever was in charge of weather had put a recall on blue and nailed up this mess of dirty white sky like a lousy drywall job.”  Yes, just like that.

I will keep wishing for sunshine and searching for beautiful things.  Enjoy.

More summer shots on Instagram @thesimpleadventure, including a short clip from a local noodle shop.  This post is ipod pictures only.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gu Gong

Where was an Emperor to live with his Empress and 14 concubines during the Qing Dynasty?  A little place in the middle of Shenyang did nicely.

The Shenyang Imperial Palace (Gu Gong  沈阳故宫) is more than 60,000 square meters, 300 rooms, and home to 40,000 relics from the Qing Dynasty and other royal families.  The main buildings were constructed in 1625 when Nurhachi was in power.  The site was completed in 1644 under his son, Hong Taiji (also referred to as Huang Taiji).   Shortly after, the capital moved to Beijing, though Qing emperors spent some time in Shenyang every year.  Qianlong expanded the palace in 1780.  It has been well-preserved and was listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 2004 as an extension of the much larger and only other existing palace in China, the Forbidden City in Beijing.

On a recent visit, I was fortunate enough to see the dragon robes on display, learn more about the external chimneys as a part of the advanced heating system of the time, and see a performance of the royal wedding of Hong Taiji to his favorite concubine, Harjol.

“Actually, a pretty nice little Saturday.”

Short videos of the wedding performance show can be seen here. http://youtu.be/wv5ARlFCeTQ  For more details, click on the photos.

 

My Heart is Here

Last week, it was time for our annual cupcake decorating day at school.  This is a day when I bring in 5 dozen cupcakes, perfect frosting, and so many sugary decorations that the children either squeal or stop in their tracks when they see the options.  Then the delicate construction process begins.  The next day was our last day of school, and I never know how many will be back in the fall.  So I cherished every moment, and then, wait and see.

Four years volunteering in the same school, watching children grow up and mature right before my eyes, it is unbelievable.  I am so lucky they are a part of my simple adventure in life.

A piece of my heart will always be here, and here, and there, and with each and every one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes. Please.

There were quite a few authentic and traditional Chinese dishes we had to try when we went to Xi’an.  We did our very best to eat our way up and through the Muslim Quarter.  Some things, we had to try more than once or twice, just to give it a fair shake.

Rou jia mo is like a Chinese hamburger on a flatbread-type bun.  Every one of the 4 I tried (ha!) was fantastic, and the spicy vegetarian version (cai jia mo) was fantastic too.  Biang biang mian is a carbohydrate dream – wide, thick, long hand-pulled noodles in a sauce of varying spiciness.  Yang rou chuanr is a lamb skewer and at each stall, there are different spices available for you to add your own.  Cumin is a regular favorite.  There were sweet rice cakes, nutty candy, fried little potatoes, noodles, fruits and vegetables, drinks, nuts, breads and so much more.  Enjoy!

Build Yourself an Army

Is it only emperors who can build themselves an army?  My friend, the talented potter / highly educated chemist, can she build herself an army of ceramic cats to protect her from unseen forces?  If I buy enough souvenir Eiffel Towers and display them in organized columns, will they come to life and become my garde militaire?  Seems like reason enough to buy another Eiffel magnet.

Last month, I had the fortune to travel to Xi’an with friends.  It was a whirlwind weekend of seeing and tasting, laughing and thinking, being with people full of love.  It was a weekend of armies, history, emperors, relics, food and a little more food, and plenty of photos.

Xi’an, located in the heart of China in Shaanxi Province, was home to 11 dynasties over a period of 4,000 years.  Nearby is the Banpo site, home to a village in the Neolithic period, 6,000 years ago.  Xi’an was the farthest eastern destination of the Silk Road and the first capital of a unified China more than 2,200 years ago.   Today, it is home to 14km of intact city walls, pagodas, the Terracotta Army, and, in my opinion, one of the best history museums in the world.

In 1974, 3 peasant farmers were digging a well and came upon the tomb-guarding warriors of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi.  Little did those farmers know that there were three pits and more than 7,000 life-size soldiers, archers, officers, horses and chariots.  Each one was once colored with pigment and had a weapon, and they all have an individual expression on their face.  Huangdi knew how to build himself an army for his life after death.

The Shaanxi History Museum is an eye-opening experience.  Not only can you see the terracotta soldiers up close, but you can see thousands of relics from the varied history in this province.  On special exhibit while we were there were relics discovered inside two large pots.  Again, a Shaanxi farmer was digging for something and found Tang Dynasty treasures instead.  This museum is amazing and the displays are very well done.

I’m not sure I can choose just a few photos for this blog post.  Keep an eye out for more on the food in Xi’an.  Enjoy.

 

Close your eyes and clone yourself.

Build your heart an army.

To defend your innocence

while you do everything wrong.

Don’t be scared to walk alone.

Don’t be scared to like it.  

Worry, why should I care?

John Mayer – “Age of Worry“.

 

You Are Cordially Invited

It took me a while to attend my first Chinese wedding.  I’ve seen the traditional processions on the streets, the photo displays in hotels, and the marketing power that is the 80 billion dollar wedding industry in China.  It wasn’t until September 2013 that I experienced it as a friend, and this month gave me my 2nd and 3rd opportunities.

Weddings in China are one of the ultimate cultural experiences.  Many times, marriages still rely on arrangements, contracts, dowries, and family pressure.  Families determine the lucky day and time for a couple to be married.  One friend signed her marriage license at the Civil Affairs Bureau in November, but didn’t have her reception until this month because the families were worried about a marriage in the Year of the Horse.  The license meant they were actually married 6 months before the bride donned the white dress.  From what I’ve read, this giant industry is one of the many ways capitalism has entered this communist country.  Thirty years ago, they say it was license, then a family dinner, move into the new apartment, done.  Now, families save so much money for the photos, apartment, decorating, dresses, meal, gifts, etc.

Rather than having photos taken after the ceremony, as is the tradition in other parts of the world, brides and grooms have wedding packages assembled to be shown at the reception.  Today, that slide show included video of the gorgeous couple around Shenyang, at their church, etc.  It looked like they’d jumped off the pages of a fashion magazine!

When you arrive at the wedding feast, there are usually a few things on the tables – small snacks, some type of seed or nut, cigarettes, bai jiu (Chinese liquor), and beer.  Welcome to our wedding – snack and smoke while you wait for us to make our entrance.  Guests prepare their little red envelopes (hong bao 红包) in order to present the bride and groom with a monetary gift.  Brides and grooms make the rounds to each table, pouring drinks, lighting cigarettes and talking.  Friends will make the couple “do tricks” in order to receive their hong bao.  In our group of school colleagues, these games are fun, albeit a little cruel.   Of the 3 weddings I’ve been to, the bride wears a white dress at the beginning and changes clothes once or twice.  There has always been a red dress among them, and my friends chose not to dress in a traditional qipao, but rather in fashionable and gorgeous full length gowns (complete with bling!).

At the weddings I have had the pleasure to attend, the brides were all work colleagues and friends.  All three couples are in love.  I’ve seen them together and have no doubt.  None seem to want to have children right away, though the family pressure is probably high.  All were ready to move in together by the time of the reception.  As is tradition in China, the husband provides an apartment, and depending on the family’s wealth, other gifts.

One of the parties was a dinner.  They had done the official reception in their hometown outside of Shenyang, so they hosted a local dinner for friends.  It was in a simple and very good local restaurant.

The second was a big event.  The restaurant provided a handsome master of ceremonies for introductions, speeches, jokes, etc. One friend was surprised he was so handsome because “he shouldn’t be more handsome than the groom”.   The bride is a Christian so they did a church blessing on the stage at the restaurant and had prayers with family as well.  At one point in the presentation, they went to light what I thought was a unity candle, but it was actually a unity firecracker…  with a bubble machine in the background.  She had three dresses, including a gorgeous modern take on a qipao.

The third event was very special.  They attend a local church and held the ceremony there.  Church members and friends sang to them.  The pastor performed what we saw as a traditional ceremony, though there were a whole lot of words we didn’t know.  After, guests walked or drove the few blocks to a friend’s restaurant for the reception.  She was an absolutely beautiful bride, never more so than when she wiped a tear from her husband’s cheek during the vows.  Being there today, we all shared in their love and happiness.

So, you are cordially invited to take a look at a few pictures from these three weddings.  I’m sure Songjia, Elim and Xiao Bing would have welcomed you too.

 

 

 

 

 

A Spot of Tea

There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. 
― Henry JamesThe Portrait of a Lady

Well, it was morning tea, but quite agreeable, just the same.  It was a pleasure to go along with friends.  We tasted white and black tea at a little boutique in the Wulihe Tea Market in Shenyang.  It was lovely.  You can read details by clicking on the photos.  And a short video at http://youtu.be/LFflQRJJek4.

A Little More Winter

When a friend and I decided to visit the city of Harbin, China last month, T said it was because I wanted to experience a little more winter.  It has been a rather odd season in Shenyang.  January brought two to three days of 32F followed by two to three days of 15F followed by much of the same.  Weird.  I’d worn my lighter weight down coat for two months while so many were suffering a polar vortex in the US.  For Harbin, I pulled out the heavy duty Lands End coat and the trusty (original pair of) Merrell boots, a few layering items, some hand warmers and the camera, then S and I hopped on a train and headed out.

Located at 44 degrees North, Harbin, or Ha’erbin, China is famous for the annual Ice & Snow Festival, celebrating 30 years in 2014.  We began our tour with a stop at Sun Island Park for the Snow Sculpture Art Exposition.  Many artists create works of snow in this wooded park, the detail and size of which I find difficult to believe, and I’ve seen them twice in the last few years.  We spent the afternoon there, and were even treated to a special show.  You can check it out here at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFgwynmz1yI.

We moved on to Ice and Snow World.  This year, there were many models of churches and church themes.  The largest monument was modeled after a church in Reykjavík.  There were Gothic archways and pagodas and more.  I am so glad we saw them in the afternoon sunlight and in the LED-filled evening hours.  The sculptures were gorgeous as well.  We went later in February and, with a “warm” winter, we could see some rounding edges on the various displays.  That didn’t take anything away from the view for me.

On Sunday, we hired a taxi to take us around the various sites, including the Siberian Tiger Park, the Temple of Bliss, the Pedestrian Street, then back to the train station.  We were lucky to have a beautiful weekend in Harbin, not too cold, but a nice, winter experience.  You can check out CNN’s coverage, http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/03/travel/harbin-ice-festival-2014/, and get my view too.  Enjoy.

Click on the photo for more details.