The Eastern Qing Tombs and Dowager Empress Cixi’s Final Resting Place

Sunday, 30th of April 2017


Strolling towards the tombs of one of the most powerful women of the Qing dynasty – the dowager empress Cixi.


Weekends are for daytripping – at the end of last month that motto brought us to the Eastern Qing Tombs in Zunhua, almost 130km northeast of the Jing in the province of Hebei. Since online research suggested that regular public transportation wasn’t an option we went to Qianmen to buy a bus ticket with one of the public tourism companies a day in advance. We must have scored two of the last tickets, because early the next morning when we entered the bus, almost all the seats were taken. Five hours later, when we finally arrived at the Qing Tombs, we definitly learned some lessons:

  • Always arrive some 30 minutes ahead of time if you want to have adjecent seats

    I’m not gonna translate that (go ahead and use the translator)

    in the bus (that one should go without saying, and it proved to be true once more);

  • Boiled eggs are a type of “fast food” snack in China and a fart-like smell that creeps through the centre aisle does not necessarily mean that somebody couldn’t restrain themselves;
  • No matter how innocent an intersection looks, you can be almost certain that traffic will jam for miles nonetheless (giving you the time to stretch your legs and buy some ice cream at a rural 小卖部);
  • If you didn’t think about “doing your business” before the trip, you better be prepared to pay 10 Kuai to use the roadside thunderbox for a No. 2.
  • Never trust that the bus driver knows the way – even after continously consulting his cell phone map, he chose a road that allowed only vehicles no taller than 2.9m (yes, a long distance bus is taller than that). Luckily, pragmatism wins, and ten minutes after being stuck here a

    Our bus driver didn’t agree with the hight limitation of the road he chose, so he asked the gatekeeper to lift it.

    chubby gatekeeper arrived to ramp up the steel barrier and let us pass.


Exploring the Qing Tombs

The burial site was too large to see it all in three hours, and we will definitly come here again with a rental car. Along the way many locals offered rural homestays for rent, so it might even be an option to make this a weekend trip. The imperial mausoleum complex is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and requires a whole day of sightseeing if you want to see it all. On the tomb grounds, shuttle buses and golf caddies transport visitors from one grave to the next.

Again, I have embarrassingly little to write about the historic significance of the Qing Tombs. In fact, I am still waiting to discover a tourist site in China that actually has meaningful descriptions that provide some background information about the place you are visiting. So instead of paraphrasing Wikipedia I trust that the images convey the grandeur and splendor of the Qing Tombs. Enjoy.

At the entrance to the expansive tomb grounds ponds with water lilies and marble bridges greet the visitors.

Three gates granting access to the necropolis of the Qing emperors. The left (eastern) gate is the entrance gate for the emperor, whereas the west gate was used by the ministers. The coffin was carried through the center gate.

The Eastern Qing Tombs.

Yu Tomb (Qian Long) Stone Tributes, representing an altar with an oven, two candle holders and two vases on it. It was used to worship the ancestors. During the Qing dynasty, the royal harem could go no further than here.

Yuling, the tomb of the Qianlong emperor is one of the most magnificient royal graves in Chinese history. A series of nine vaults separated by four solid marble doors, weighting 3 tons each, are located at a depth of 54 metres. In 1928 the underground palace was robbed by the warlord Sun Dianying.

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Down below in the Yuling tombs, all the walls, vaulted ceilings, and gates are covered with Buddhist imagery and more than 30,000 words of Tibetan scripture and Sanskrit.

Reenactment of a royal ceremony.

Marble bridges leading to the Xiao Tombs Tablet Tower. The double eave gablet roof covers the tablet on which Emperor Shun Zhi’s title is carved in three languages – Manchu, Mongolian, and Chinese.

Cixi Tomb Small Tablet Tower.

Looking down from the Ming Tower of Cixi’s Tomb, the highest site of the mausoleum.

Below, the grave grounds span all the way to the mountains.

The Pride of Lions guarding Beijing’s Marco Polo Bridge

Saturday, the 29th of April 2017


One more of Beijing’s sights is down from our tourist bucket list. Last weekend we took a bus all the way out to the suburbs of Beijing and visited the Marco Polo Bridge, a historically significant place in the south-west of town. There is not much else out there, but the bridge in itself is definitly worth the trip. Along the railing over the river some 500 different lions from different eras of Chinese history guard the bridge, and myth has it that no two persons will count the same number of lions there. One of the reasons why is that each individual lion is oftentimes joined by many more small baby lions hiding all around the stone sculpture. Below is a small selection of the creatures that can be seen there.

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Temple of Ancient Monarchs Li Dai Di Wang Miao in Beijing

Saturday, the 21th of January 2017

The Temple of Ancient Monarchs


Today is another day of brilliant blue skies and sunshine in Beijing. Three weeks into the new year the weather is freezing cold, but due to the icy winds the air is clear again and you can see the mountains surrounding the city miles away. Naturally, we always want to make good use of bright days like this and decided to go visit the Temple of Ancient Monarchs, also called The Historical Emperial Temple of Beijing [Li Dai Di Wang Miao 历代帝王庙].

Personally I get the impression that many of the sights in Beijing look quite alike and I’m sure architects or historians see the many unique features in every one of them. Risking to appear ignorant I’d say I rather visit the temples that are a bit off the trail and attract less visitors but appear to be carved from the same wood than join the masses and squeeze through the entrance of the Forbidden City. First time visitors to Beijing will probably disagree and will gladly endure the crowds to enjoy the magnificence of the top rated tourist sites. And I have to admit that you probably cannot travel to Beijing and later tell your friends and family that you wouldn’t visit the Lama Temple in fear of too many people. I will still try to convice you that the Temple of Ancient Monarchs is very worthwhile even though it might not be the number one priority on your Beijing bucket list.

Since we only have one week left until Chinese New Year – a week of holidays with abundant fireworks and merry family get-togethers – red laterns and lucky symbol appeared all over the city virtually over night. Contrary to the jammed experience of tourist sights during the Spring Festival itself, today the Temple of Ancient Monarchs was almost completely deserted. On the one hand, that might be due to the fact that almost nobody is actually a “native” Beijing citizen and thus returned to their home provinces for the festival already. On the other hand minus 5 degrees C and a stiff wind probably convinced people to stay indoors despite the beautiful sunshine.

The Historical Imperial Temple of Beijing is easily seen in an hour’s time. There are three major halls, all of which contain religious artifacts. There are also two halls housing a large buddha, and two pavillons with traditional Chinese “turtles”. In the west annex hall leading off the main structure to the left you’ll find the small Guan Di Temple. Outside, a small steel oven is used to burn incense, while inside a regious entity may be adressed for prayers. In the east annex hall visitors may see the Well Pavilion, used to make sacrificial soup and to clean up after the animals were slaughtered for sacrifice.The well’s roof has a square hole in the center facing the mouth of the well, symbolizing that heaven and earth were linked together.

For an overview of the temple’s layout see the map below.

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Winterly Temple of Heaven in Beijing

It’s our first week back after the Christmas holidays and I have to say the weather treated us very nicely. Over newyears our friends who didn’t return home as well as the German media repeatedly reported the devastating smog situation in Beijing, and I already expected the worst. Fortunately, we brought the clean air back with us and the last few days have seen brighter and brighter skies. Exploiting the opportunity to be outside without wearing a mask, we paid a visit to the Temple of Heaven, one of the few sights that I haven’t been to in the 16 month that we have been living here. It’s quite an amazing monument and is conveniently located at it’s own subway station (Tiantan Dongmen, Exit A). As it so happens the Pearl Market is directly across the street, so you could also get some (souvenir) shopping done since you’re already in the far south of the city. Tiantan one of the less expensive tourist attractions of Beijing and a regular “through ticket”, which grants you access to the main temple and some other importants parts of the area, costs 28 RMB (student price is 14 Kuai less). I recommend to buy the through ticket immediately and pay the extra 18 Kuai on top of a regular ticket, otherwise you can only get access to the front plaza and won’t be let through to the main temple. You’d have to buy a seperate ticket for 20 RMB if you haven’t gotten the through ticket right at the entrance.


Walking towards the main temple, you will see groups of elderly people playing cards and mahjongg. I’m always inspired by this routine, prefering to spend the sunny hours of the afternoon with old friends outside, rather than sitting isolated in your living room and counting the hours.

Many parents also took advantage of the clear and sunny day and visited the temple grounds today. A mother with her two kids positioned themselves in front of the main structure and captured the trip with their cell phone camera. She tried to convince her daughter to let her sister give her a smooch on the cheek, but as you can imagine she wasn’t too fond of the idea.

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Roadtrip to Panlongshan Great Wall, Gubeikou, Beijing, China

Having a drivers licence in China (or a boyfriend/girlfriend/good friends that don’t mind bringing you along who have one) turns out to be of great great advantage when living in Beijing. On weekends you can spontaneously rent a car (i.e. from Avis near Dongzhimen for 290 RMB/day), pick one of the many sightseeing spots that lie just outside of the city, and get started. So yesterday we did just that and started our trip Friday night after work – en route out of the city center traffic jams are notorious and unavoidable anyways, so you might as well get it over and done with then, and start the saturday and first day of your weekend trip after a good night’s sleep in closer vicinity to your destination.

Yesterday we set our target on Miyun 密云, a smaller district some 50k out of Beijing proper, and spend the night in a hotel there. Although a very Chinese-style breakfast was included, we quickly packed our stuff at 6:30am the next morning and drove the remaining 50k to Panlongshan, east of Gubeikou Village. With a nice headstart on all the other tourists, we arrived there at around 9:30 am, but we needn’t have worried: although it’s supposedly the only part of the Great Wall that has never undergone any reconstruction, it doesn’t attract many visitors. The small parking lot was almost empty except for some 10 cars, and during the entire time of our walk along and on the Wall we met only a handfull of hikers. And a hike it was. The short ascent through the “forest carnival” (= the obligatory tourist entertainment park/trap along the entrance area, complete with jungle gym and rope garden) leads you up a few hundred steps, before you reach the actual Wall. Compared to other much more popular parts, Panlongshan Great Wall doesn’t have such steep climbs and/or hilly sections and it simply continues on the soft ridges of the surrounding mountains. It is however far less developed and you oftentimes walk next to the wall due its high degree of decay. You definitly have to have good physical condition and some experience walking on uneven terrain. The trails are littered with debris and the steps up (and far worse – down) are crooked and of various sizes, shapes, and hights, so make sure to wear sturdy footwear. Yet, all of this contributes to this tour’s unique charme and natural beauty which all the other parts of the Wall I visited so far lack of completely. You won’t have all the souvenir shops and map sellers here, so remember to bring enough bottles of water and some snacks, because there are also no vendors along the way.

As the pictures below will show, we were exceptionally lucky in terms of the weather conditions. Even though it was already fall according to the Chinese moon calendar, temperatures still climbed above 30 degree C during midday, and those of us who remembered to apply sun screen in the morning definitly had an advantage.

There are two major watch towers along this tour, the General Tower, which has two sides with four windows and the other two sides with three windows, and the 24 Window Tower, which has – as the name correctly suggests – six windows on every side. Or used to have: two sides of the tower were destroyed during the Japanese invasion, so you need some imagination to envision the whole building today.

After making our way back down from the wall we were pretty starved (remember, no vendors along the way), so we entered the Gubeikou Ancient Village and were suprised to find it almost deserted. Lucky for us two lonesome men dressed in military uniforms (wtf?) were just setting up chairs for a wedding ceremony (WTF??) and the guy instructing them on how to align the rows was married to a women living close by who agreed to cook lunch for us. Obviously she didn’t have a menu to guide us through the food options, so she prepared us a meal from the ingredients she had at home (…I hope we didn’t eat all her supplies for dinner with her family…). We ended up with a fairly delicious choice of dishes, ranging from chicken marinated in soy sauce, over a cooked cucumber salad, to thick slices of bacon with a side of crispy onions.

Shortly before we began our drive back home, massive storm clouds darkened the sky and a major rain and hail storm came pouring down on us. It was quite impressive to see the weather change so quickly, having bright blue sky on the one side of the horizont, and dark menacing clouds on the other. As suddenly as the storm came, as quickly it was gone again, leaving the streets and everyone who didn’t make it home in time soaked and steaming in its wake.

 

The World’s Largest Glassfloor Viewing Platform now opened in Beijing

On May Day 2016, the world’s largest glass floor viewing platform opened in Beijing. Of course we went, and here is  how we got there:

A few Saturday’s back we took the early morning bus 635 (or 117, whichever you prefer), riding to Dongzhimen. From there, we interchanged at Dongzhimen chuniuzhan (the hub station) to bus 852 and went 60km north east into Pinggu county, where we got off the bus at the local bus station. Finally, after fighting off some black cab drivers (you really don’t need them to get to the viewing platform), we boarded bus No. 25 (or 26), which drove us through beautiful fruit and nut tree farms right up to the mountain on which the platform opended only weeks before. You will also pass a ‘small’ hydro dam and a gigantic golden buddha perched on top of a neighboring mountain, which unfortunatley we didn’t get the chance to visit yesterday (it looked like a fun hike up and down though, with a veeery long summer slide going down that was constructed dangerously close to the mountain side). The bus drops you off close to the entrance, and the trip up the mountain can either we climbed by food, or taken with a cable car. Walking up to the platform, the first kilometer(s) lead you through something like an outdoor adventure park for kids: arrow shooting, hurdle racing and crossing small rivers by hanging bridges. Soon you come to a very steep flight of stairs (I think they called it ‘Stairway to Heaven’), that brings you a good distance closer to the top of the mountain, where the glassviewing plattform was contrsucted. We were fooled into thinking that this was the hardest part, but what followed was an continuous steep climb up very narrow flights of stairways, which are definiftly not recommendable to someone who’s afraid to hights. It very exciting though and even though there was a constant stream of people going up and climbing down these stairs, its quite spectacular to watch people of all ages using their own “techniques” to make it up to the top. I wouldn’t recommend going there in the mid of summer, though, since it was already a tedious climb at the beginning of may. If you like to go, wait until fall, and then start your trip as early in the mroning as possible in order to escape the thickest masses of people.

 

A Week in Hong Kong – Part I

Hongkong really surprised us and it wasn’t like Mainland China AT ALL! Admittedly, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I guess I just assumed it would be at least similar to other (Chinese) capital cities I visited or lived in before. Since we chose early March to travel there, the weather situation in Beijing was still fairly bleak: temperatures below freezing point and icy winds had us wrapped up in thick winter coats, hats and gloves. Arriving at HK airport though, with its high humidity, tropical vegetation, and almost 20 degrees C, the winter attire almost immediately became obsolete. To get a feel for the city’s size and its landscape, we climbed (!) to The Peak, or Victoria Peak – with more than 550m the highest mountain on HK island. These pictures were taken from the viewing platform at 379m, overlooking HK and Kowloon.


 

EINE WOCHE HONGKONG – TEIL 1.

Hongkong hat uns wirklich überrascht, vor allem weil es so GAR NICHT wie Festland China war. Zugegebenermaßen wussten wir nicht ganz genau, was uns erwarten würde, aber ich ging wahrscheinlich einfach davon aus, dass es zumindest ähnlich wie andere, chinesische Großstädte sein würde. Als wir Anfang März in Peking losreisten war das Wetter hier noch sehr winterlich: Temperaturen unter dem Gefierpunkt, dicke Winterjacken, Mützen & Handschuhe. Bei Ankunft am HK Flughafen konnten wir die warme Kleidung daher dank hoher Luftfeuchtigkeit und knapp 20 Grad C schnell wieder in den Koffern verschwinden lassen. Um uns einen Überblick über die Größe der Stadt und ihre Landschaft zu verschaffen haben wir den Victoria-Gipfel, auch einfach The Peak genannt, zu Fuß erklommen [Die Schlangen für die Tram waren einfach zu lang und das Wetter zu schön]. Mit knapp 550m Höhe ist er (oder sie) der höchste Berg der Insel Hongkong, und die Bilder wurden auf der Aussichtsplattform auf 379m Höhen aufgenommen. Man überblickt Großteile von HK Island und des Landesteils Kowloon.

The art of making crispy pastry rolls / Chinesische Gebäckröllchen

Long time no read, so here’s a quick update on what we discovered this weekend! Found this lady making her own crispy pastry rolls on our way to IKEA [yes, they have two IKEAs in BJ]. The dough tasted like sweet vanilla laced with black sesame, which actually tasted really delicious! A big bag of these small delights cost 10 Renminbi, which is about 1,30€. They made me crave a chocolate fountain and a good cup of coffee!


Jetzt haben wir ja schon ganz schön lange nichts mehr von uns hören lassen. Hier also ein kleines Update unserer Wochenend-Hightlights! Als wir gestern auf dem Weg zu IKEA waren [ja, Peking hat sogar zwei Filialen], habe wir auf einem kleinen Markt in einer Seitenstraße diese Frau mit ihrer brillianten Gebäck-Back-Station gefunden. Der Teig schmeckte leicht nach süßer Vanille und war vereinzelt mit schwarzen Sesamkörner gespickt, was wirklich sehr lecker schmeckte! Ein großer Beutel dieser Gebäckröllchen kostete 10 Renminbi, also circa 1,30€. Das Einzige was jetzt noch fehlte waren ein Schokobrunnen und eine gute Tasse Kaffee 😉