Saturday, July 25, 2009

City Center

26 May 2009 - You know those days when you're kind of not doing a whole lot, but still feeling good and contented, and you're hanging with good people? Today was one of those days - while Tim worked in the morning I explored a bit around the neighborhood (aka. seek street food!), and in the afternoon we invaded the dead-center of the city with roommate, Will.

Taking the one of the two underground metro lines - the Loops - we arrived at Qianmen Gate station, across the infamous Square and it's namesake gate, Tienanmen, and the Forbidden City which it has long guarded. In this part of the city, which for centuries was the heart of the Universe for imperial China (and is currently equivalent to the U.S. National Mall district in Washington D.C.), these gates were actually used as such - security gates, control points for flow of people and things into important places. Now they stand as island-relics of a long, pround, and immodest history. And lucky for me, epic landmarks for wary travelers!

Qianmen Gate; through it you see through to Tienanmen Square to the North.

It was here where, among the many nearby, we found an amazing museum about really just Beijing - the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall. I was seriously in my element: running wild through this museumreading & watching exhibits (in English!); recalling snippets from some of my favorite classes, essays, and documentaries; foaming from my brain with ideas & knowledge about sustainable human development, better energy efficiency & production, public works, international municipal cooperation, natural resource conservation, and effective city planning, and equitable social stratification! [OK so I made that last one up, but its supposed to be a 'communist country' (marx & trotsky must've turned in their graves) so a guy can dream, eh?]
Aside from an awesome 3D movie flythrough of the cityscape, the giant the bas-relief map of the entire city (circa 1956) to scale entirely of BRASS, and the exhibits on public transportation and waste/water infrastructure (my current career field!) - aside from all that, AND a scale model of the Forbidden City, this place rocked my reference for cool museum shit with the 1:750 scale model of much of the city layed out in 1m^2 blocks on the floor in a whole wing of this place. I'm talking seriously awesome exhibit, a whole room where anyone looks like Godzilla romping through, and where ceiling blinds opened & closed to mimic day/night cycles, and the city & infrastructure light up to correspond! Cheesy maybe, but fuckin sick.

Lights on, ceiling blinds almost closed, 'sun' setting in background; the tallest building of the Forbidden City (center) is about 10 inches high. Planning Hall

Another exhibit: wastewater treatment! Pretty good job security in a city of 12million...

And like it's sister district the D.C. National Mall, the area around the very center of Beijiing area houses the more visible cogs of the national government (Legislature) and icons of civic significance (museums, monuments). The actual Square, sitting between Qianmen & Tiananmen Gates, is reputdely the largest public square on Earth - and it feels that way when you're in it. In a strange juxtapose of my developing ideology & sheer awe, I almost felt a desire to want to identify with China & its history, if only to be part of something so great, so enormous that one of the oldest and certainly the largest civilization - in short, I experienced a sense of nationalistic pride, for China. Of course, awareness of Chinese (and almost every culture's) brutal imperialistic history seeped back in pretty quick. I now have hope I may actually be breaking through that doctrinaire patriotism we're imbued with in America (it seems to be as strong in China, too...) and moving closer to really embracing a sense of internationalism!

Monument to the People's Hero's, Tienanment Square, Beijing, China.

One of two large statues flanking Mao's Masoleum, in tribute to the Workers. While only rather symbolic today, its working-class focus is a perspective we should take.

You gotta do it - Me, Mao, Tienanmen Gate, Forbidden City - encompass China. (StoCo Surf, represent.)

Finally, after taking pictures with Mao, a transmutation from trio to duo, and perambulating through the hallowed ground of imperial & national China's soul, Tim & I made our way to a nearby example of its emerging soul (one closer to that of the West): the Market, at Wanfujing. A tourist trap any city treasurer & commerce chamber would envy, this single side-street featured a way over-priced but multifarious selection of food, trinkets, & other traveler 'essentials' (items WAY cheaper if not free with good planning & forethought for a trip on a budget). But also wacky, funky things - like grilled scorpions, insects, & shahorses on sticks, local candy & drinks , 'unique' 'antiques', books, & more - all in one alley. Then after exploring a few districts by foot, we finally ambled our way toward the Uni district, home, and a great evening with a few good people, if I recall, at hotpot!

A few stalls in, and Tim can't contain his self.

Wanfujing Market/Street. Probably the highest concentration of Westerners in Beijing here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Yee Haw, Juan! (or, Yi He Yuan, Imperial Summer Palace)

Pagoda roofs, looking South over Kunming Lake on the front of Longevity Hill towards Beijing city center. Note smog obscuring view to less than 2km.

Nepalese-built tower, just one in the massive complex of buildings making a Tibeten-style temple named Four Great Regions behind Longvity Hill.

Another incredible example of imperial Feng Shui design. View from a courtyard en route to the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha, background.

Fully resplendent of classic imperial architecture based on principles of Feng Shui, this courtyard leads to the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha.

Stretching 728m and complete with 14,000 paintings, here is one short section of the Long Corridor, the longest painted gallery in the world.

Wenchang Tower along lake front. One of several monolithic towers just sitting throughout the Palace grounds.

The Great Stage within the Garden of Virtue and Harmony - an opulent venue where Empress Cixi would host performance art shows. Note players in shadows, for scale.

Epic craftsmanship. Solid wood carving of an Immortal, housed in Wenchang Gallery.

Enlarged for detail; close-up of the intricate facade on the building named Realm of Multitudinous Fragrances.

This structure at the apex of Longevity Hill boasts one of the most intricate faces of any building I've ever seen.

Tall bridge over lake. How else do you accommodate the imperial boats?

25 May 2009 - So when you think imperial China, one of places where all that popular imagery comes from can be found at the Imperial Summer Palace (Yi He Yuan) in NW Beijing. This park was once the summer retreat of emperors, empresses, their family, guests and dignitaries . This newly renovated space is a serious massive throwback to the magesty of Chinese dynasties of yore - needless to say, even 100 years ago I would never have made it past the gates.
Of all I saw in Beijing, only the Forbidden City matches the Summer Palace in terms of grandeur (2.9km sq compound) and exclusivity for laypeople. It's location at the foot of the mountains circling the city's north half, complete with 2.2km sq artificial lake, shaded trails, and windy fields, makes it much more comfortable place during Beijings 80-degree+ summer days.

Beijing City Streets

Truck loaded, driver ready, tire missing - working hard in Beijing. I love this City.

Squat toilets - how we done for eons. WAY more comfortable than you'd think, and better for your back. This model includes elevated tank complete with flush cord.

Just across the market was this storefront with all kinds of meat (vegetables in the next window, too). At least one of these meats is sliced pig ears. Yum.

This bustling hutong boasted among least expensive markets I've ever seen - including knock-offs, foods, household goods, trinkets, & all.

Just outside this hutong, as in many, any reUSEables & recylcbles are centrally collected. I can't say it matches SF's rate of 72% trash diversion, but I wish..

Most striking was that construction did not appear abated. I can't imagine what a non-recession period looks like here.

In between eras, the next generation will always make do.

Hutongs in development; from narrow, windy streets to straight open avenues and modern high-rises. Chinese character for 'demolish'.

Hutongs are the old-style neighborhoods or streets in China, most of which are now being demolished & replaced with what you see above.

24 May 2009 - Having lived in NYC, Jersey's 'Shore' (no one who lives there calls it that), and now San Francisco I think I've picked up a good idea of what the prototypical tourist does - and more importantly, doesn't do. One thing they don't usually do is explore the nethers of a city; that is the not so major attractions, historic neighborhoods, or the residential sections. So with guidance from my intrepid host and 2 friends, we ventured through some of the city's streets.