We're back online in Turpan, but first let me fill you in on the last two days! Yesterday we took a little road trip out to the geopark, where we saw the landforms that remain from erosion over the years in the shape of a bear, sphinx, and peacock. On our way back we stopped at the remains of a wall from the Han dynasty, and the Jade Gate Fortress, a stopping point along the Silk Road used for trade and defense.
On our last day in Dunhuang we road out to the Mogao Caves! There are over 300 of them with art that accumulates to over 40,000 square meters. We got to peek inside a few, but no pictures are allowed. Many of the caves had art relating to popular stories of Buddha at the time. The biggest sculture we saw of Buddha was over 35m tall On our last day in Dunhuang we road out to the Mogao Caves! There are over 300 of them with art that accumulates to over 40,000 square meters. We got to peek inside a few, but no pictures are allowed. Many of the caves had art relating to popular stories of Buddha at the time. The biggest sculture we saw of Buddha was over 35m tall, and sleeping Buddha was 15m long. We also got to take a peek at the Library Cave, a sealed off room that was discovered to contain thousands of ancient texts from temples around the region.
We had an early start this morning- up at 3am to get to our flight out to Dunhuang on time. Our local tour guide, Amy, picked us up to go back to the hotel and get some rest before lunch. Then, we headed out to the edges of the Gobi desert to ride camels and walk around the Crescent Lake, both of which have been around for over 2000 years!
Today we slowed things down with a trip out to the countryside in Donghancun. Not many tourists get this opportunity. First we visited a gallery and got a lesson on paper cutting as well as a chance to see beautiful examples of Farmers' paintings. Then we walked down the residential side streets to the fields. Apricot, date, walnut, and magnolia trees lined the roads along with private vegetable gardens.
We got to experience one of the local residences when we got got a lesson in dumpling making. Our hosts and bus driver were more than happy to show us their techniques. Afterwards we were served a fresh lunch, one of the best we've had so far!
Last thing on our agenda today was a visit to a local NGO (non-governmental organization), the Xi'an Xincheng Huiling Sunlight Home. The Sunlight Home provides services to kids with disabilities , and we got the chance to dance with them, and practice our paper cutting skills!
11,641 steps. 6 miles of tandem biking. 7 stories of stairs. To say we got our exercise in today would be an understatement!
We started off at The City Wall of Xi'an, with a bike ride around its perimeter. This gave us a chance to enjoy the cityscape and get an idea of how hard the city must have been to infiltrate. Ice cream post-ride was a must.
Next we hopped on the bus to go visit the Great Wild Goose Pagoda, built during the Yonghui era in 652AD. Within the walls were various rooms dedicated to Buddhist worship. A bell tower use to produce measured tolls that would mark out monks' daily routine. Our tour guide at the pagoda, a Buddhist, walked us through each building and then gave us a brief show on Chinese calligraphy. Then: the climb. 237 steps later (or that's what I counted anyways) we arrived at the top of the pagoda to view the city from the crossroads of two major city streets. It sure was worth it!
And of course, what would this blog be without pictures of the food?
Lastly, we went to the Muslim Quarters, where we did a walk-through of an upper-elite living space of a Muslim family. We also got to see one of the only mosques open to visitors. Tonight we'll be exploring the night market and hopefully get some really good food on a stick. Pictures to come!
We checked out of our hotel in Beijing after a morning of exploring the main street and headed out to lunch- a great vegetarian place with dumplings for days! We had a brief Chinese lesson from Louise at a local teahouse and got a private lesson on the tea ceremony and the six main kinds of tea that are popular across China.
From here we drove to the Capital museum, a massive building filled with every piece of history you could imagine about China, and stayed until close. And of course, we can always count on Dr. Pitner for an awesome meal!
We said goodbye to our tour guide Louise and maneuvered our way through the train station. We boarded to find our little compartments and settled in to work on journals and get to know each other a little better. Or at least that's what it felt like in the 6x7' rooms with two bunk beds.
This morning we arrived in Xi'an right on schedule! While it's a city that is smaller than Beijing in both size and population, Xi'an has a long history. It was the starting point of the Silk Road, and served as the capital during 13 dynasties. Currently it serves as a major hub for industry and manufacturing and is rated third in China for higher education with 80 universities.
After meeting our new tour guide, Mark, we headed out to see the proclaimed 8th Wonder of the World: the Terracotta Warriors. Thousands of these warriors served as protection for Emperor Qing Shihuang, the First Emperor, in the afterlife. Three pits located 1.5km from his mausoleum contain individually crafted generals, officers, warriors, archers, and horse-drawn chariots in strategically placed battle formation.
Our last destination today was the Banpo Museum, an archeological site and museun dedicated to a neolithic settlement from 6000 years ago. The residential area, burial sites, pottery, and utensils of everyday life were on display for us to explore.
This morning we got to sleep in a little later to catch up from yesterday, and headed out to the Antique Market. This is a traditional weekend activity and we got to explore the different vendors for over an hour!
We also visited the Temple of Heaven, which was where the emporer would go three times a year to pray for a good harvest, rainfall, and peace and prosperity for the country. Over 654 worshipping ceremonies were held. The gardens at the Temple are three times the size of those in the Forbidden City, but are made up mostly of trees- 3,600 of them from the Ming dynasty. Many locals visit the site two times a day for tai chi, card playing, and other forms of entertainment.
After a brief lesson on how silk is made we headed to lunch, which was delicious as usual! Lamb and squid were the specialties on the table today.
We ended the day with a visit to the Confucious Temple, a great learning institution in its time.
Today was absolutely packed with incredible sights! We started off the day with blue skies for the second time, which our tour guide said was lucky because 200 days of the year are smoggy in Beijing. This turned out to be perfect because we visited one of the 7 Wonders of the World today- The Great Wall of China! The wall stretches through 9 cities, provinces, and autonomous regions, and approximately 1/5 of China's population took part in its construction. After a 1.5 hrs ride through the city and into the country side, we were able to see the more agricultural side of the country and eventually reached the Yanshan Mountains. We took a cable car up and started our trek across the wall in two directions, with some of us reaching the end of the wall's segment! FYI: this was a huge victory- the wall is anything but flat.
After taking in the views we took a toboggan ride back down the mountain and headed to lunch. On the menu today was BBQ trout and donkey meat, along with five or six other dishes.
We waved goodbye to the wall and drove to a government run Cloisonné factory. This is a traditional enamel ware that has a 500 year old history in China.
Next: The 798 Art District, an entire town filled with galleries, cafés and fun little shops to explore- not to mention incredible graffiti art!
Our last meal of the day was at Peking Duck, an extremely popular choice among locals. We had our duck, supposedly cut into 108 pieces as is tradition, and headed on our way to the Laoshe Teahouse. While enjoying our jasmine tea we viewed a range of performances on stage. Acrobats, jugglers, playacting, shadow puppets, a balancing pot artist and fan dancers to name only a few.
We started our day with a nice breakfast buffet and headed out at 8am. First stop on our itinerary was Tiananmen Square, a pivotal place in the political realm of China's history that is presently used for celebrations and other important events. Next we walked through the south gates and into the Forbidden City, which receives about 50,000 tourists daily and up to 80,000 during peak seasons. 24 emperors lived and worked here during the Ming and Qing dynasties and there are currently 8,704 rooms! Every animal, color, shape, and style of architecture is symbolic of Chinese values and culture. Within the city we were able to explore the Clock Hall, Treasure Palace, and Imperial Gardens before crossing the 52 meter moat and exiting the north gate.
For lunch, we went to a local restaraunt and experienced our meal family style; about 8 dishes on a spinning table split between all of us.
Full and fighting jet-lag, we took a bus trip to The Summer Palace, sprinkled with lavish living quarters, a theater, temples, and the world's longest walking corridor that Emporer Qianlong built for his mother to enjoy. The corrider borders a lake and features 14,000 different paintings on its beams.
The last excursion of the day was to a Chinese cooking class from a master chef! After a lesson on how to ( safely ) use a cleaver we learned how to make Gung Bao Chicken and Three Treasures, a dish of eggplant, pepper, and potatoes.
After our 13 hour flight we arrived in Beijing! Our tour guide Louise, a Xi'an native and university student, met us when we landed and gave us an introduction to this city of 22 million people. She walks about 20,000 steps a day so we may have our work cut out for us these next few days!
We got settled into our first hotel and ventured out for some 'baozi', or steamed buns, to enjoy in the courtyard. It was a perfect way to end our first evening in China!