Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Winter Day at the Summer Palace

Looking to do a little sightseeing and jump back into the role of a tourist, I decided to visit the Summer Palace. My friend Mike, from China Daily, hadn't seen the royal summer grounds yet and I wanted to actually see the palace instead of walking around the entire lake area (recall, the last time I visited the Summer Palace I was taking part in a "race").

Much like the Forbidden City, everything about the Summer Palace is elegant. Built on the side of a small hill overlooking a lake, which was expanded a few times to accommodate the needs of the numerous royal families that used the lake during the summer months, each building has an individual design with intricate carvings and vibrant colors. Red is everywhere.

The lake was all but drained, with a few icy patches near the center. Despite the "Do Not Walk in the Lake" signs, a large number of people were out and about, slipping and sliding their way across the once-full lake instead of walking around it.

But one of the more impressive aspects of the Summer Palace is the marble ship docked next to the main palace buildings. The ship is exactly as the name describes it -- a boat made of stone. While not meant to actually float, the Marble Boat was more of a symbol of longevity, that the current dynasty would last as long as the stone used in the ship. The funds used to build the structure were originally earmarked for a new Chinese navy.

There were a few other special festivities as part of the Spring Festival and, of course, food. But unlike my previous visit to the Summer Palace, I opted out of walking around the whole lake. Maybe in the early summer months, when it's a bit warmer.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

New Year's Day...again

Happy New Year...again.

I went to one of the many miao hui (temple festivals) today. Full of fun, food and typical carnival stuff nobody should ever buy (but do anyway) the festival reminded me of the many fairs I went to as a child back home -- only there were about six times the number of people crowded into the small park I was walking around.

Aside from incense burning, I was disappointed to see that everything seemed to have a Western feel to it. The games all had prizes of big stuffed animals, many from Western cartoons. I also didn't get to see the dancing dragon cutouts (you know the ones) that I see in all the movies.

But like all festivals, the food was good, and cheap.

YEAR OF THE TIGER: It may be my Chinese zodiac year, but those kind of stripes are not my style

WHAT'S UP DOC?: Not sure why Bugs Bunny was at the festival. He must have thought 2010 was the year of the "wabbit"

CARNIE GAMES: Pictured are large stuffed animals that are impossible to win and over priced to play for

RED, RED, RED: Apparently, during a person's "year," they are to surround themselves with red and wear or carry an article of red clothing or red object with them at all times to ward off evil spirits

Let There Be Light

The bombardment began around 8 a.m. Saturday morning. Someone outside my apartment complex decided to start setting off fireworks at that time and not stop until later the next morning. Around midday, a slew of other people in the neighboring communities followed suit and by nightfall the city was full with a variety of fireworks lighting the night sky.

It was time for Chinese New Year.


To be honest, it sounded like a war zone, if not for the bright red and green colors in the sky.

I decided to find a nice open area to enjoy the show -- Hou Hai, the lake area I enjoyed visiting during the warmer summer and fall months. I arrived at about 11:30 an already fireworks were going off. Then, minutes before midnight, all across the city trails of light and smoke could be seen.

A few people setting off fireworks got a little trigger happy with their displays. A round or two went off feet from where I was standing and it wasn't till the next morning that I got my hearing back.

The display itself was amazing. I read somewhere that the fireworks set off in Beijing are the largest, uncoordinated (and probably unsafe) show in the world. I think I may have seen more red, green and white explosions in 30 minutes, all around me, than I have in the last 23 years. It was awesome.

The mess afterward was equally awesome. Heaps upon heaps of red paper littered the streets across Beijing. Smoke filled the air (in the video, notice how the visibility in the area quickly deteriorates). I smelled like sulfur and gun powder by the time I left.

I think the fireworks, at least in my area, stopped around 3 or 4 a.m. That's when I finally fell asleep -- and was promptly woken up around 8:30 a.m. with a new round of explosions.

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT: I tried to use as many trees and Chinese people for cover as I could while video taping the firework display

CITY VIEW: Fireworks went off across the city and nation, possibly visible from space (much like the Great Wall)

SO MUCH FOR THE RULES: A warning sign outside my apartment. Off camera is a group of Chinese setting off a chain of firecrackers

THE MORNING AFTER: Walking to the super market to buy groceries for breakfast, I was greeted with a bang... literally

FOLLOW THE RED COVERED ROAD: The street outside my apartment was blanketed in red paper from the remains of fireworks that had been set off since 8 a.m. Saturday morning

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Eye of the Tiger

While the Gregorian calendar celebrated the beginning of the new year on January 1, the much more interesting Chinese year begins on February 14. I say "more interesting" because each Chinese year represents a different animal. Last year was the Year of the Ox, and the year before that was the Year of the Rat. But this year, this year is special. 2010 marks the Year of the Tiger, but, more importantly, it is my year.

The Chinese New Year revolves around 12 animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. For some reason, the panda -- which is the Chinese equivalent of the American eagle as a symbol of the nation --was excluded from the list.

Much like our monthly zodiacs, each animal has certain characteristics. Those born in the year of the dog are loyal and obedient people. Tigers are strong passionate people, but are often impatient.

The Lunar New Year begins on February 14 (also Valentine's Day). Celebrations usually begin the day before (or two days before) and last throughout the following week.