Life in Weihai is great, but travel is also fun!
We arranged with a travel agency here in China (Discover China Tours) for a customized, private tour of these three cities. Our agent, Molly, listened to our wishes and designed a tour that gave us the time we wanted, where we wanted, and of course gave helpful suggestions of things to add or maybe by-pass according to our particular wishes. Anyway, after a period of back and forth emailing between Deb and Molly, we finally had a trip that fit our time availability of the National May Day holiday weekend. We especially wanted to visit the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, that memorializes the massacre of over 300,000 civilian victims in 1937-38, and some of the gardens of Suzhou. Having read Iris Chang’s book, The Rape of Nanjing, and the movie made from it – which we saw last year, the museum in Nanjing was a “must see” experience for us. In addition, we have always heard that Nanjing was and is again a beautiful city, so we wanted to see the beauty of the city. Since I had visited Suzhou back in 2004 and had fallen in love with eth gardens – especially the Garden of the Humble Administrator, which is probably the most famous, I wanted very much for Deb to see these gardens, the fact that Nanjing and Suzhou are relatively close to each other meant that we could see both places in one trip. And, while Deb and Molly were discussing the sites we would see, Deb discovered that there is a small “water village” near Suzhou that is said to be very picturesque – so a side trip to Tongli was added to our last day – on the way to Shanghai’s Hongqiao airport. Molly and Deb had arranged a schedule that took us to key places for tourism, in consistency with our particular interests. What follows is our summary of this experience. We cannot do justice to any of it, but we’ll do our best to share what we can!
On Thursday (April 29) afternoon, we hired a taxi to take us to Yantai airport because of the greater set of options for travel to Nanjing from Yantai. The ride is normally about an hour in length, and it was this time, too – except that at the toll gate, we had to have a passport check before going on. It didn’t take long, so all was well. We had an on-time flight with no hitches, so we arrived in Nanjing on schedule. Our guide of the Nanjing portion of the tour was a college student, whose English name is Bill and who is planning to study computer science in London for a doctoral beginning next year. We were in our hotel in time to have dinner before turning for the night. Although it was dark as we drove from the airport to the hotel in the center of Nanjing, we could tell by the tall trees lining the motor lanes and overarching them, that this is a beautiful city. That was correct!
On Friday morning, I awoke feeling awful about 4:00 and did not sleep much after that. By the time that Deb was getting up I was quite sick, so Deb had to do the first day without me. Deb’s account of the tourism of that day follows. I stayed in the room, and restricting my intake to a glass of orange juice, I was feeling better by the time Deb got back to the room. She was tired and I was weak, so we camped out – but had a good dinner in the hotel restaurant (I had noodles!)
Deb’s Friday, April 30, 2010, adventure:
Friday, while Finnie was sick, I visited Zhongshan mountain, the location of the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum, and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek’s villa. In the afternoon I visited the Nanjing National Museum before calling it a day.
As I started out with the guide and the driver, I was enchanted by the lush parks and tree lined streets everywhere. While the city is huge, there has obviously been a concerted effort to beautify the city to a degree that makes one think that wherever you are, you are in a park. Vibrant flowers abound, beautiful trees overhang even the large busy streets, and parks (large and small) could be seen at almost every corner. The warm spring weather was for me a wonderful respite from the bitter wet cold of Weihai. Our first stop was Zhongshan Mountain, also named Purple Mountain. The mountain area has been made into a large park, mausoleum, and tourist area.
“Zhongshan Mountain, situated on the eastern outskirts of Nanjing, was originally called Jinling Mountain in ancient times. The name Zhongshan Mountain, first heard in the Han dynasty, has been renowned as one of the “Four famous mountains in areas south of the Yangtze River” since ancient times. Also named Purple Mountain due to its peak frequented by purple clouds, it covers an area of 31 square kilometres, with the main-peak towering 448 meters above the sea level.
As the main part of Zhongshan Mountain, the scenic area of Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum witnesses a galaxy of famous scenic spots and places of historic interest of Nanjing as an ancient capital. Magnificent and solemn Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum, spectacular Ming tomb, vivid stone carvings on the tomb-path, gorgeous Plum-Blossom Hill, ancient, serene and charming Linggu Temple, limpid Purple-Glow Lake as well as many tombs of noted figures of the past, pavilions, terraces, towers and water-pavilions are interspersed amidst bamboo groves and forests, blessing Zhongshan Mountain with naturalness and wilderness as well as architectural masterpieces.”
We entered the park nearest the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum which we actually walked to by walking along the Elephant Road. The Elephant Road is a path way with rock carvings of fantastical animals – for instance, a half camel/half rhinoceros, or a half tiger/half bear. The carvings were imaginative beings that one would find in stories of mythology. “It is lined with several pairs of stone sculptured animals guarding the tomb. Each animal is postured differently and each conveys an auspicious meaning. For example, the lions, king of the animals, show the stateliness of the emperors, the camels, symbol of desert and tropical areas, indicate the vast territory of the dynasty and the elephants imply that the policies of the dynasty are to meet the desire of the grass root and the stabilization of the dynasty.” Source: http://www.chinatourme.com/Nanjing/767.html
Stone Elephant Road
We arrived at the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum and I unfortunately was aching from the walk along the Sacred Way. My understanding from the guide is that we could only go to the first gate of the tomb because the rest of the tomb was closed in order to preserve its archaeological qualities. This tomb is regarded as a very special place to visit since it is where the first emperor of the Ming dynasty and his wife are buried.
“This tomb is that of the Hongwu Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming dynasty, and his wife Ma Liangliang. Legend says that in order to prevent robbery of the tomb, 13 identical processions of funeral troops started from 13 city gates to obscure the real burying site. The construction of the mausoleum began during the Ming Dynasty in 1381 and ended in 1405, with a huge expenditure of resources involving 100,000 laborers. The original wall of the mausoleum was more than 22.5 kilometres long. The mausoleum was built under heavy guard of 5,000 military troops.
The tomb site today consists of the Civil and Military Gate, the Imperial Tablet Hall, the Sacrificial Hall and the Rectangular Citadel & Ming Tower. Behind the latter is a large mound where the emperor and his queen were buried in a clay vault, 400 meters in diameter. On a stone wall surrounding the vault, 7 Chinese characters were inscribed, identifying the mausoleum of Emperor Ming Taizu (respected title of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang).”
Since this was a holiday, many school children were on field trips today. This bunch of children was heading into the Ming tomb area.
Ming Tomb Scenic Area – School children visiting Ming tomb
Traveling on toward Sun Yat-Sen’s Mausoleum, we walked through some gorgeous park areas and found ourselves winding along pathways past spring flowers, Japanese maples, flowering trees, little streams, and little pavilions like this one where a woman was singing songs to herself. It was used as a pavilion for poets to gather and write poetry. The serene setting is conducive to singing, poetry, and other meditative endeavors.
Before too long we encountered some trains that would take us from the tomb area to the mausoleum area – a grateful respite for me.
Sun Yat Sen is revered in China and his mausoleum is visited by thousands every day. It is a gorgeous set of white buildings with royal blue roofs that climb the mountain to the ultimate resting place of Sun. Sun Yat Sen was the founder of the Nationalist Party in china in the early 1900’s, a party that overthrew the last of the long line of Chinese dynasties, the Qing dynasty. His second marriage was to the middle Soong sister, Soong Ching-ling – another interesting and influential Chinese family of the time. (The youngest Soong sister, Mayling) was married to Chiang Kai-Shek, a protégé of Sun Yat Sen) Sun and his wife never had any children but spent their lives fighting for the rights of the individuals. “Sun’s chief legacy resides in his developing a political philosophy known as the Three Principles of the People: nationalism, democracy, and the people’s livelihood.” (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Yat-sen).
I chose to not climb the 372 steps to Sun’s resting place but I am very happy to have visited this special place in Chinese modern history because it has piqued my interest in finding out more about Chinese history both past and present.
After lunch, I was taken to visit Madame Chiang Kai-Shek’s villa which is situated not far from Sun Yat-sen’s mausoleum on Purple mountain. Enjoying the beautiful wooded mountain and cool breezes, this villa was the centerplace for many political meetings of the beginning of the modern era of Chinese politics. Chiang Kai-Shek and his wife, Soong May-ling, were instrumental in motivating a new force in China. Madame Kai-Shek lived until she was 105, residing the last 30 or so years of her life in New York City. Madame Kai Shek traveled extensively acting as a Secretary of State; her fluent English and her understanding of the political matters at hand made her a powerful world figure. “Soong May-ling or Soong Mei-ling, also known as Madame Chiang Kai-shek (traditional Chinese: 宋美齡; simplified Chinese: 宋美龄; pinyin: Sòng Měilíng; March 5, 1898 – October 23, 2003) was a First Lady of the Republic of China, the wife of former President Chiang Kai-shek. She was a politician and painter. The youngest and the last surviving of the three Soong sisters, she played a prominent role in the politics of the Republic of China.” (Source: http://www.answers.com/topic/madame-chiang-kai-shek)
The villa is beautiful furnished with gorgeous 1930’s era furniture. Each room has a large set of windows overlooking some part of the mountain.
Rooms in Soong Meiling’s Villa
Rooms in Soong Meiling’s Villa
After lunch we moved on to the Nanjing National Museum. Here were rooms full of the precious national treasures of China when Nanjing was the capital of China. Artifacts from the ancient dynasties dating back to before 2500BC to the Tang, Song, Ming, and Qing dynasties are represented in this museum. It helped me to understand even more fully the rich artistic heritage of the Chinese culture. From using bronze to make delicate head ornaments and figurines, to making exquisitely decorated pottery from the Ming dynasty, to interesting pottery and glazing techniques that produced the famous tri-color pottery of the Tang dynasty, to collecting jade and turning it into beautiful pieces of art, to growing silk worms that produced silk that was turned into rich brocade silk clothing for the emperor. There are many well known pieces of art on display in this museum, but I think the most fascinating to me was the Cloud Brocade room. Here is displayed the art of weaving silk into stunningly designed fabrics that depict symbols that are considered royal: dragons, clouds, and phoenixes. “The origin of Nanjing cloud-pattern brocade can be traced back to 1,500 years ago. It used to be the brocade that was reserved only for the emperors and the royal family members in the dynasties of Yuan, Ming and Qing. It is said that the cloud-pattern brocade was used to make imperial robes and hats as well as the concubines’ clothing. In Qing Dynasty, the development of Nanjing cloud-pattern brocade entered its period of full bloom. At that time, there were more than 30,000 looms with nearly 300,000 workers engaging in this trade. The weaving technique of Nanjing cloud-pattern brocade was so complicated that only five to six centimeters of brocade could be woven every day. In the year of 2001, Nanjing cloud-pattern brocade has been selected into candidate programs of the oral and intangible heritage of human at UNESCO.” (source: http://english.people.com.cn/200507/19/eng20050719_197039.html) In the cloud brocade room was a room sized loom showing how the brocade silk was woven. A complex pattern was woven using a mathematical, computer programming like-skill to ensure that the different colored silk threads were woven into intricate patterns. Photos from the Nanjing National Museum:
Emperor’s Silk Robe Silk Loom
Jade Death Shroud Jade Pot
Clay Figurine Ming Pottery
Ancient China: Bronze Headdress Ancient China: Bronze Deer
And of course I was lured to the gift shop where I bought some examples of brocade silk – I could not resist. It is exquisite in design and even though expensive was something I will treasure for years to come.
After the museum I was returned to the hotel where I found Finnie still feeling miserable, but somewhat hungry. So after some deal of discussion we decided to go to the hotel dining room for noodles and fruit. The bland diet was soothing to his tummy and helped him get ready for the next day. I took no time in taking my arsenal of pain killers and trying to get ready for the next day.