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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Five Day Trip to Seoul, South Korea

One of the banes of living abroad (and especially in China) are visa runs – being forced to leave the country simply for the purpose of renewing your residence permit. So why not use the compulsory trip to catch up on some long due traveling, in our case bridging the 1000km distance from the Jing to the South Korea. More precisely to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, a stone’s through away from their atomic neighbors. The pictures below were taken on our five day trip to the capital, which is about the time you need to get a rough idea of the friendliness of the people and the cleanliness of the food. But first, let me (take a selfie…) give you a small list of impressions that were the most remarkable about Seoul, either compared to Beijing or compared to the general public opinion about Seoul:

  • You don’t need a visa to enter the country (at least not as a German passport holder), which was a very good thing given that we talked about looking up the visa regulation for Korea but in the end totally forgot to check again (that would have been one nasty surprise at the border)
  • Flight time between Beijing and Seoul is something like two hours (again, I didn’t have the time to gather more concrete travel information about this trip, so I simply assumed that it would take more than a few hours to get there. Which is also why I devoured that aweful plane meal, being under the impression that I wouldn’t get any food for the next couple of hours…)
  • The traffic (and the general demeanor of pedestrians and car/bus/taxi/motorbike/bicycle drivers) generally adheres to the rules
  • People in the streets don’t spit/fart/burp on a crowded sidewalk
  • Contrary to common notion the people of Seoul don’t speak English (at least using English won’t get you much farther than it would in downtown Beijing and sign language is still the means of communication for any non-Chinese speaking visitor)
  • You can buy beer that doesn’t taste like stale water (which is especially nice for people used to German brews)
  • Juice is actually made from fruit (we bought the most amazing fresh apple juice in an ordinary convenient store)
  • Koreans have a high quality coffee culture, so even smaller cafés tend to have portafilter machines (plus the milk that’s used tastes much better than in China)
  • One can receive ashtonishingly decent public wifi connections (we didn’t manage to buy a mobile phone card, so we used the public wifi, and except for some smaller bumps we got along quite well)
  • Art & history museum are for free, because the government provides cultural education for everyone (you do have to pay to gain access to the shrine and temples)
  • Shockingly we weren’t able to use WeChat in every store (which is a major problem once you fully got used to the comfort of not having any cash in your pockets). AliPay would have worked though
  • People tend to have good oral hygiene, so you don’t keel over everytime someone yawns in a crowded subway next to you
  • The public education videos in the subway actually seem to have an effect on the behaviour of the metro users (i.e. the majority sits with their ankles crossed instead of shoving the soles of their shoes into your knees
  • Contrary to the general opinion, Seoul didn’t turn out to be a shopping metropolis for us. With a european size 42 and shoe size 39, I didn’t find a single piece of clothing that didn’t look ridiculously like something a manga character would wear.
  • It was however ok with regards to their assortment of cosmetics. Especially in the main shopping street in close vicinity to the M Korea Tower, stores specializing in body lotion, facial creams, lip sticks, fake eye lashes, contact lenses, neon eye shadow, skin masks, hand lotions, and whatever else you can think of to smoothen out those wrinkles or lighten up your tone of skin was offered in one street.

So without furher ado find some of our travel pictures below…Enjoy.

 

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.

 

Hexigten Global Geopark, Inner Mongolia, Northern China

Photo documentary from our road trip to Inner Mongolia. The second stop took us to a UNESCO geopark.

 

Nocturnal Fleamarket in Wudaokou

A nightmarket near Tsinghua University in Wudaokou district. Mainly shoes and second hand clothing, badminton rackets, and old electrical gear. Whatever isn’t needed anymore is brought here – who know if someone else has a need for second hand dried blueberries.

Tianning Temple Tower

The other day we accidentially discovered a small buddhist temple in Beijing’s Xicheng district. It was a beautiful day, we just came back from the old CCTV Tower and saw the tip of the pagoda while riding past in a bus. Although it was surrounded by the usual overdone new structures that you also find at other more ‘touristy’ sights, the original 13 story builing was an authentic piece of history seldomely seen in Beijing. Some female monks still live and worship in the temple and a couple of women from the sorrounding neighborhood communities volunteer to help maintain the structure. Unfortunately it is located pretty far off any other tourist sights, so it might be hard to convince visitors to go there instead of, say, the Confucius Temple, but if someone is interested in a place that really dates back hundreds of years (and also still looks like it, in great condition), I highly recommend it!

 

Farm2Neighbors Market Beijing

Every weekend, the ground floor of The Grand Summit turns into a local produce and artisan market. Here are some impressions of today’s vendors.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Last week Beijing welcomed the Year of the Monkey with a week-long holiday and incredibly loud fireworks. We participated with the kids’ version of some of these rockets and were impressed by the large variety of firecrackers available.

This Video was taken during one of the last days of Chinese New Year 2016 in front of the Worker’s Stadium. Two guys kept bringing out new firework batteries out of the back of their trucks and always lit two massive cases of them at once, to make the lightshow even more impressive. The sound of the video is much quieter than it was live, you really had to cover your ears while watching.