The above video is one I took last year from my hotel room in Xiahe. This could be any neighborhood park or square in China. Every morning, in virtually every park, there is a plethora of activity: dancing, Tai'chi, badminton, ping pong, walking, running and jianzi (Chinese hackey sack). Sometimes the activities are done as a group. In that case, there is a leader who brings the music or calls out the movements. The uniformity of the movement is mesmerizing and fascinating. It feels as if one must know the full order of the movements, but the participants are eager for new recruits and happy to introduce us to their activity.
Join me on my next trip and do some line dancing with me!
In Luoyang, the same area as Longmen Grottoes (blog from two weeks ago), is an almost 2,000 year old Buddhist Temple. In the Han Dynasty (64 AD), the emperor sent a delegation to study Buddhism. They brought back two Indian monks with a white horse carrying Buddhist sutras. This was the first time Buddhism was brought to China. To express his thanks, the emperor ordered that a monastery and temple be built. This area became known as the 'cradle of Buddhism' in China.
The Chinese characters are 白马寺, literally 'white horse temple.' The grounds are immaculate, best seen in spring or fall. There is a strong sense of peace and tranquility at the temple, heightened by the chanting of the monks. I look forward to returning there with a future group of travelers.
One of my favorite things to do when bringing people to China is to stop at small villages and spend some time with local people. They have lived the same way for hundreds of years.
When we first arrive, the people are hesitant to interact. In some places, we are the first westerners they have ever seen in person. Once I break the ice, I offer our help with whatever is going on in the village. We have dug garlic bulbs, built fences, painted, taught English and farmed rice. We form a quick bond, if only for an hour or two.
A few years back, I purchased a portable printer that connects to my phone. Before we leave, I take a selfie on my phone and print it. The picture above on the lower left is one of the women in a village outside Xiahe admiring the picture of me and her.
Join me on a journey to China that you will never forget. Meet the people and learn about life on the other side of the world.
If you look closely at the picture on the left, you can see the tiny people near the statues at the Longmen Grottoes, giving you a sense of the size of the largest of the buddhas. It's important to note, however, that as impressive as those buddhas look from across the lake (photo taken on left), there are some buddhas carved into these grottoes that are as short as an inch.
The grottoes are located in Luoyang, in central China and are one of the most impressive examples of Buddhist art in all of China. They are carved into a one kilometer stretch of limestone on the Yi River. There are approximately 1400 caves, the little holes in the limestone visible in the above pictures included. Inside and outside those caves reside approximately 100,000 statues.
The earliest of the statues was carved in 493 AD. Many of the statues were commissioned by emperors in memory of ancestors. Over the years, they were looted by foreign countries and warring states. In addition, wind and water erosion have worn away some of the statues. Over the past 60 years or so, the Chinese government has made a concerted effort to restore and protect the grottoes.
It is worth a visit to Luoyang to see the grottoes. Other attractions in the area include the Shaolin Temple and Song Mountain.
On every trip to China, we visit a food market. The variety of fruits and vegetables is magnificent. The vendors set up the items in a colorful array of circles and lines. Purple eggplant. Orange carrots. Fuchsia dragonfruit.
I could mill around the produce for hours. I love listening to the vendors talking to one another. I watch as they pat each other on their backs, laugh and share a cup of tea. There is a sense of community that we don't find in our local supermarket.
There is another section in these markets that offers more than color: spices. They tickle my nostrils with the unfamiliar. The spices remind me of the meals I share with the people with whom I travel. They remind me of family dinners, even though I rarely make a stir fry.
On every trip to a market, I buy a bag or two of spices. They are never used to cook. In fact, they I don't think they have ever made it back to the U.S. I just like to buy them. I generally leave them in my hotel room before checking out of the hotel in the city or village in which they were purchased.
I buy them not for their future use, but for the present moment. Even if I did not speak the language, the transaction would still make an impression that shapes the way I see the world. The smelling of the spices. The smile of the vendor, noticing my appreciation. The offer of a sample taste. The unusual flavor as it hits my taste buds. Pointing at a small bag. The scooping of the spice. The trade of spice for money. The bag in hand as I walk away. No words required.
Lijiang is an ancient town in Yunnan Province, in the southwest of China. The streams that run through the old town are bordered by cobblestone streets and made all the more beautiful by the 800 year old bridges. As with most well-preserved towns, Lijiang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Home to many ethnic minorities over the years, such as Naxi and Bai, the area is filled with spectacular natural scenery. The most impressive is Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Outside the Andes, the mountain is the most southerly snow-capped mountain in the Northern Hemisphere. The highest point is about 18,000 feet. There are some brave climbers who hike to the summit, and others, like yours truly, take a cable car. The views are breathtaking.
One of my favorite parks in China is Black Dragon Pool Park. The mountain is in the background, with greenery, pagodas and bridges. The park is peaceful and quiet, especially in the morning. There are myriad trails around the park, including some that allow travelers to walk up a short distance for views of the surrounding area.
Travelers could spend days walking around Lijiang old town, but it's fun to travel outside to other villages. Baisha village is a Naxi community. The village boasts murals that are over 1,000 years old. Indeed they are beautiful and impressive. Just as impressive, however, is the way that the locals still live, as if time has frozen.
The legend of Chinese New Year revolves around a monster named Nian. Nian means "year." Once each year, Nian would emerge from hiding and devour the people of the villages. In order to save their children, parents would give their children money at night, so that they might bribe the monster to spare them, thus the tradition of giving money.
Over the years, the villagers became aware of the beasts' fear of the color red. So every year, when Nian was to come out to feed, villagers would hang red lanterns and put up red decorations, thus the tradition of decorating with red and giving money in red envelopes.
The villagers also discovered that Nian was afraid of loud noises. In order to scare Nian away, the people lit firecrackers at night, to dissuade the monster from coming to their village, thus the tradition of lighting firecrackers on celebrations like Chinese New Year and weddings.
During Chinese New Year, as well as for other special occasions like weddings, Chinese people give red envelopes. Red is the luckiest color in China, symbolizing happiness and good luck. Red envelopes are filled with money and represent good wishes. Giving them is a way of sharing one's blessings.
Numerology is important to the Chinese people. Never give an amount of money with the number 4, 40, 400, etc. Four is pronounced "suh" and is the 4th tone. Death is also pronounced "suh," but it is third tone. Because of the similarity of sound, most buildings in China were built without a floor labeled "4," just like "13" in the U.S.
When receiving a red envelope, accept it with both hands. The same holds true for business cards. Business cards are an extension of the person giving them, therefore you honor and respect that person by using both hands to accept the card or red envelope.
Elders give red envelopes to children and grandchildren as a way to pass on good fortune. Another version is when younger people give envelopes to their elders in order to bestow longevity or show gratitude.
Next week is the story of Chinese New Year and the legend of the monster, Nian.
新年快乐！新年 means "new year" and 快乐 means "happy." This common greeting (transliteration: sheen nee-en kwai luh) is uttered hundreds of billions of times each year.
Last week marked the beginning of Chinese New Year, the biggest holiday of the year in China. It is such a big holiday that children are out of school for a month. It has been dubbed the largest human migration in the world, with billions of people returning to their hometowns or visiting family and friends. The train stations are packed with people; standing room only for hours on end. There have been miles and miles of traffic jams in recent years, some so slow and long that they have lasted for days.
The migration is an inevitability for the Chinese. It's like Mother's Day, Father's Day, birthdays and anniversaries all in one. You MUST go home to celebrate. And celebrate they do! Days and days of firecrackers, gorging on food, music, dragon and lion dances, laughter, gift giving (especially money) and visiting with friends and family.
Chinese New Year is celebrated by Chinese, and other Asian cultures, around the world. From Vietnam to the United States, from Taiwan to Indonesia, from Malaysia to South Korea, from Singapore to Brunei. For those who want a little taste of Chinese New Year, New York City's Chinatown, and Chinatowns across the U.S., the celebrations are joyful and exciting. Check it out sometime. Or better year, get to China!
Tianmen Mountain in Hunan Province (near Zhangjiajie National Park), is a beautiful mountain filled with lots of long rides...world's longest cable car, one of the world's longest escalators and a crazy bus ride up the mountain, with 99 hairpin turns. The mountain also boasts a glass walkway, that hovers off the side of the mountain. Tianmen Mountain is a lot of fun and adventure in one day trip.
I spent a day on Tianmen in 2016. After the 99 hairpin turns (see slideshow above), we reached a platform where we could view the big erosion hole at the top of 999 stairs. For those who didn't want to walk the interminable stairway to heaven, there is an option to go up one of the world's longest escalators to the top. The views are breath-taking, as are all views from China's sacred mountains. We meandered along several paths to get to the glass walkway. At the time, that was the coolest glass-related walking we could do, but since that time an enormous glass bridge, that goes from mountaintop to mountaintop, is available for the brave travelers willing to try it.
The way down the mountain was an amazing 30 minute ride on the world's longest cable car. Most of the things we did are not great choices for those afraid of heights, but for me, it was a fantastic adventure with some awesome high school students, teacher friends, my dad and my son, Max.
I have traveled all over the world, including adventures in China, Taiwan, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Switzerland, England, Denmark, Russia, Costa Rica, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Dominican Republic, Canada and Mexico. My greatest love is introducing Americans to the sites, traditions and people of China. My hope is to give travelers a new lens through which to see the world.