Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Illuminated #UNESCO village Fenghuang with Wanming Pagoda at nightfall. Truly a beautiful Chinese place to visit.

Monday, September 24, 2018

A Walk on the Xi'an City Wall - Part II

From the height of the Xi'an City Wall, I had a fairly good view of the surrounding area. Outside of the wall were quite a few skyscrapers and modern buildings. Contained within the wall were buildings typically of an older era and generally shorter. Some were rather dilapidated and in desperate need of repair. Others had received some renovation but still retained an older look.
Some of the buildings just inside the south wall were hostels. A sign here indicated that this building was the site of the Honglu Guesthouse, built during the Tang Dynasty to accommodate foreign guests and ethnic envoys. How interesting that the area has retained its original function! 

I liked how some of the newer buildings reflected aspects of the traditional architecture.

Buildings as seen from the North Wall.

Within the Northwest corner of the city is the Guangren Llama Temple. It was built in 1703 as a Palace Hotel for Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas on their way to pay homage in Capitol. It is the only Tibetan Buddhist temple within the Shaanxi province and the only worship temple for the Green Tara. The bronze roof of the Golden Worship Hall glistened in the late afternoon sunlight.

Guangren Llama Temple

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Walk On Top of the City Wall - part 1

Archery tower on top of one of the ramparts
I hadn't intended to walk the city walls on this day, but after walking a bit along a park-like path alongside and looking up at the massive structure, I couldn't stay away. Its 40-foot (12 meters) high brick walls with protruding ramparts beckoned me.

Yongning - South Gate
I walked up the promenade leading to the South Gate, known as Nongning, meaning Eternal Peace. This was extremely close to the subway stop where I exited. Being one of the major tourist sites in the city, signs in English were present. I paid for the entrance ticket by having the QR code on my WeChat app scanned – much easier than using cash.
A wide and lengthy walk
Once on top of the walls, the width and legnth of the wall impressed me. It is between 40-46 feet in width. From my view at the South Gate, I couldn't even see to either corner. To make the trip around the 8.5 miles (13.7 km) wall more manageable, many people opt to rent a bike. Tandem bikes were quite popular. Riding at about medium speed, the whole circumnavigation would take between 1.5-2 hours. For those in a hurry, battery car can take smaller groups around.  Others like me chose to walk.
West Gate (Anding)
Built by the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Xi'an City Wall was actually an enlargement of an original city wall made from rammed earth. The current structure is the largest and best-preserved city wall in China and one of the largest ancient military defensive systems worldwide. Around every 394 feet (120 meters), a rampart protruded from the wall. On top of each rampart was an archery sentry building. From here, soldiers could shoot arrows while being protected. The distance between each rampart was just within the range an arrow could be shot. Along the outer part of the wall were crenellations from where arrows could also be safely shot. The wall has a total of 5,948 of these battlements. Each gate had three gate towers. The outer one was used to raise and lower the suspension bridge. One opposite to it was used as a defensive outpost. An inner one was used as the main entrance to the city. Occasionally along the inner side of the wall, one could see very steep ramps that were once used for horses, but these were now blocked off. 

When I reached the West Gate (Anging) which means Harmony Peace, I had the option of descending. Seeing how clear the skies were and how pleasant the temperature was, I decided to push on.
Old and new structures side-by-side
Because I walked, I had plenty of opportunities to read the signs that were nicely posted in Mandarin and English. I also was able to take plenty of photos from different views.  Looking beyond the walls, one could see large contrasts in architecture, from run-down old structures to modern skyscrapers.
Wedding photos
A few bride and grooms took advantage of the beautiful weather and had some photos taken on this famous landmark. What a challenge the photographer must have had with the many bicyclists and pedestrians vying for the same space.
Northwest Watchtower
By the time I reached the northwest watchtower, the sun was already starting to get lower. I especially liked the roof of this building. Wanting to catch a taxi before it got dark, I pressed onward.
Bell from 1428
In the half of the wall that I walked, I saw a few bells. This bell near the Anding gate was from 1428 and was 5.6 feet (1.7 meters) high. Its rich tone once alerted people of the city.
North Gate at sunset

Just as I reached the North Gate (Anyuan), meaning Forever Harmony, the sun began to set. The flagposts, lamps, bell, and gate tower were now silhouetted against the warm glow of the sunset. It was a beautiful first trip to the Old City. With the address of my apartment written in Mandarin, a taxi driver successfully took me back to the concrete jungle of highrise apartments where I live about 25 minutes away. It was a good first adventure out.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Gao Xin Hua Fu

I'll take you through a bit of the complex where I live - Gao Xin Hua Fu. It is located a little less than 5 miles south of central Xi'an in a newer area.  My apartment building (#16) is one of the taller ones.  It wasn't easy to get in the entire height of the building. I'm live on the top floor of this one!

Vehicles enter outside the complex and into an underground parking area, leaving the complex mostly to pedestrians and some two-wheelers. On the route I take to the main gate, there is a special slightly softer path that is especially nice on which to walk or jog. The complex is large enough that if you would go around the paths, you could get in a fair number of steps. I was pleased to see grass and a fair number of trees, all of which gets regular waterings by workers.

More buildings are still being constructed. Lots of cranes in the area!

Wide walkway to the main gate. 

Main gate of the complex. One needs a special card that you wave over the turnstile, much like in a subway station. One can borrow carts or dollies to haul stuff to your apartment.  

View right outside the gate at sunset. The street is a fairly busy one. The shuttle buses that take us to school begin the journey right outside the gates and then proceed to pick up teachers in a few other places. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

In Xi'an - first post

Now that I have internet via hotspot from my phone, I'm getting around to posting about my experiences in Xi'an as a teacher at an international school in this historic city.

On late Sunday afternoon, I arrived in Beijing. The process was a bit longer than anticipated - waiting in line to go through immigration, shuttle train from international to domestic terminals, security screening, and more. I was thankful to see that all my luggage arrived from the 13 hour Chicago to Beijing flight as well as the Milwaukee to Chicago flight. After collecting the pieces, I had to go through another security screening with the luggage. If only there were the perks of Global Entry here. The one medication I was taking with me drew extra attention and further scrutiny, but thankfully they let me keep all the bottles. After another short scan of all the luggage, I then waited in line for domestic transfer. Relieved of my luggage, I quickly went to the gate and was one of the last ones on the plane. Those 2+ hours went by quickly!

In a little over 2 hours, I landed in Xi'an. Alas, two of my suitcases did not arrive with me, likely due to the short amount of time after I dropped off the luggage for transfer. Thankfully the airport said they would deliver the suitcase to the school address the next day. The school principal and nurse were there to greet me. The principal took me to my apartment. After taking a brief, lukewarm shower (the gas hookup needed some attention) by maintenance staff, I went to bed. I sat down on the bed and heard a THUD. It was so hard, I could knock on it. Tired, I gave it a try, hoping that the A/C and nice comforter were enough comforts to override the rock-hard "mattress." Thankfully my down pillow was in the suitcase that arrived with me, so I had another softer item. After a non-so-super sleep, I got up to enjoy the sunrise. I had quite an overview from the 34th floor, the top floor of the building. No, it's not a penthouse.
Sunrise from the enclosed balcony on the 34th floor
I proceeded to unpack and put items away. A few hours later, a gal from the agency the school partners with came to take me to IKEA. Later we also went to the gas company to pay $30 for 2 months worth of gas. A rep from the cell phone company came right to my apartment and set up my service. For $15 a month, I have unlimited data, but after 20 GB,  the data is slowed to 3G. The school was able to communicate with the airport to deliver my baggage to my apartment complex, so the evening was spent unpacking that and setting up/unwrapping IKEA items. For a later supper, one of the teachers took me to a shopping mall where we ate at a Japanese restaurant.

The next morning I had to go with a school nurse downtown to a government clinic for foreigner workers entering China as well as Chinese people seeking to study/work abroad. Because we arrived early, my turn in the queue was not long and after going through the multiple stations (ultrasound, x-ray, blood, vision, etc), we were done. In the afternoon, the gal from the agency went with me to a supermarket that also had imported items. Although I was able to figure out most items, she helped decipher a few labels that were only in Mandarin and lacked visual clues. Now that I had a screwdriver, I was able to assemble my couch table. My apartment was coming together. Below are a few photos of each room.

Living room and enclosed balcony (a rod can be cranked down so you can hang laundry from hangers). Note the identical building as seen through the balcony window

Dining room table and door entry

Master bedroom with closet

Master bedroom and view

Spare bedroom with slightly less hard real mattress

Spare bedroom desk and closet. I'll try doing my drawing here.

Bathroom with washing machine that is complex and all in Mandarin

Shower with just a short lip - easy for water to overflow onto bathroom floor

Kitchen with two burners and no oven. Refrigerator is very narrow.

Spare room with raised storage. I presume a bedroll could be placed on top of it. The next part of the building blocks out most light.