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19 posts from May 2008

May 03, 2008

Gwen Gwen, Maddy Maddy, Mommy Mommy

Shanghai Friends
Originally uploaded by Donna & Andrew

I met Lynne back in 2005 when I did a random (but somewhat predictable) blog search for blogs that mentioned China adoption and the name "Gwen". Since the name "Gwen" isn't very common, I wasn't sure what I might find but I was happily surprised to find another family adopting a little girl from China! Like us, they also intended to name their new daughter Gwen but even more surprising was that they already had a daughter named Madelyn. I emailed her and we've been Blogger Buddies ever since.  How could either of us have ever dreamed that the first time our families got together we'd ALL be in China!?

Here are the fun pictures of our afternoon together at Century Park in Shanghai:

Shanghai Friends (slideshow)
Shanghai Friends (thumbnails)

Loving Daddy to Death in Shanghai!

Loving Daddy to Death!
Originally uploaded by Donna & Andrew

Today we took a bullet train to Shanghai -- top speed 240 kph, soon to be increased to 300 kph.  And there's a maglev planned for Shanghai from the airport that will hit 460 kph.  Everything's getting faster in China.  And Shanghai is leading the change.  Ten years ago, there were 200 buildings in the city with more than 25 floors.  Now there are over 3000, of which around 80% are residential, but many are giant business skyscrapers.  The architecture here is more stunning than anywhere I've been.

We got into Shanghai early, around 8:30am, so we headed straight to the Jade Buddha Temple, which houses two of five ancient Buddhas from Burma, the Sitting Buddha and the Reclining Buddha.  Actually, the reclining one is a replacement of a smaller original.  The sitting one is particularly beautiful, with translucent jade that looks oiled under the lights.  No photographs allowed, so you'll have to find pictures on flickr....

From the beautiful temple, we went to Yu Gardens, located near a famous teahouse accessible by a zig-zag bridge designed to keep ghosts away.  In the Chinese mythos, ghosts are impoverished creatures:  they can't cross a raised threshold, and once they get going they have difficulty turning -- hence a zig-zag bridge is sufficient to prevent them from joining you for tea.  As an aside, this is why if a highway turns, you'll never see an apartment building straight ahead, as the ghosts would fly straight through it.

Anyway, the gardens are beautiful.  They include two "dragon walls," each with an intricately carved wooden dragon's head, and then an undulating body that spans 50-100 feet of white wall.  If you look closely at the picture of the dragon, you'll see three claws, and you can notice that another couple of claws could easily be added.  In fact, there were five originally, but the owner of the house discovered that the emperor was planning a surprise visit the next day.  The owner knew that once the emperor saw an anatomically correct five-toed imperial dragon, he would know that the owner was making an architectural claim of imperial status, and he would promptly execute the owner.  So the night before the emperor's arrival, the owner removed two claws and did some fancy fixup to obscure the change.

After leaving the gardens, we walked through an old pedestrian part of the city during the middle of the labor festival going on now.  The crowds were out of control, and we had a difficult time staying together through this -- the pictures say it all.

From there, we went to the Shanghai museum, but due to the festival entrace was free, and the lines were maybe 45 minutes long.  So instead, we just walked around the museum and the People's Square it abuts.  We got some beautiful pictures here.  The museum itself is wonderful.  Square on the bottom, signifying earth, and round on the top, signifying heaven.  We took some pictures on the grass, before being informed that it was illegal to walk there.  Soon enough, a bunch of Chinese people joined us until the police came by and chased everybody off, amicably enough.  The girls had a great time running around and playing in the dry fountain.  And we got some nice pictures of people flying kites in the square, against the skyscrapers on the horizon.

Tired out, we headed to the Jianguo hotel to get checked in and say goodbye to our guide.  That night, we managed a quick walk around the Bund, then back to the hotel to sleep.  Tomorrow we have the day off and look forward to seeing some blogging friends.

Shanghai (slideshow)
Shanghai (thumbnails)

May 01, 2008

Maddy peeking at you from Suzhou!

Suzhou - Maddy eye
Originally uploaded by Donna & Andrew

I used to be able to write.  In fact, I was pretty good at it!  But the part of my brain that used to house the cells that would generate intelligent thoughts has been completely replaced by something known as "Mommy Brain". In other words, I can't remember details about where we've been or what we've seen and I can't remember names of people or places.  However, I can tell you (in more detail than you want or need) the last time my children had a bowel movement, took a nap, or ate something other than an orange lollipop. For everything else, thank goodness there's Andrew.

So, with that as a pathetic intro and no proper drum roll, here's Andrew's review of our fantastic visit to Suzhou!

Today we visited the Master of Nets garden and the Humble Administrator garden, and took time in-between for lunch at a silk factory and a quick run through a Taoist temple. Our guide Roy contravened all his training by suggesting that we skip the silk factory tour, as we toured a silk factory two days ago in Xi'an. As anybody who has taken a China tour knows, a "factory tour" is the equivalent of what would be called a "brief informational presentation of our timeshare property" in the US. So we swung by the factory for our lunch and ducked out before we could be force-marched into the showroom.

The Master of Nets garden was awesome. According to our guide, the difference between a garden and a park is that a garden is private, while a park is public. There are three types of gardens in China: first, grand imperial gardens like the summer palace; second, temple gardens for contemplation by monks; and third, private gardens like the ones we saw. Suzhou is famous for these. The Master of Nets Garden (I"ll call it the MONG for short) is smaller but beautiful. Like all gardens, it contains a special form of rock called "female" rock, acquired from river beds, and distinguished from the "yellow" rock quarried from the mountains. "Female" rock is softer and more slender, and comes in small chunks pocked with holes and full of character (this part of the sentence is no longer metaphorical). The owner of the garden connects these chunks together into formations that give insight into his philosophy and approach to life. Today, they are connected with concrete; in days past, they were connected together with glutinous rice, I kid you not.

We entered the MONG through the front door, which historically had a 2-foot-high board in front of it. For high status guests, the board could be removed and sedan chairs could be carried directly through the front door, but for everybody else, the side door was considered more than adequate. The height of the threshold denoted the status of the occupant. Just outside the threshold were two stone carvings, one on each side of the door. When the man of the house married, his wife would enter the house and short of an occasional banquet would never again step out of the house. When her husband left on a long trip, she was allowed to stand between these rocks to say her goodbyes to him.

Inside, we saw a sedan chair made of mahogany with bamboo, requiring eight bearers to carry one person. We also saw the receiving rooms: first, one for the men, and second, one for the women: darker, dimmer, and smaller. This latter room contained an "opium bed," so called because the woman of the house spent her whole life indoors idling, and would commonly turn to opium just to survive the boredom.

You can see a large painted map of the garden in our pictures, along with a couple of landscapes of the beautiful central section with the large pond. Also, you can see a close-up of the mosaic on the floor as you enter the garden, showing a crane with pine leaves (indicating longevity), surronded by a border of bats -- these are lucky in China as the word for bat (fu) is the same as the word for fortune. The remainder of the entryway is patterned after a fisherman's net, hence the name of the garden. As the story goes, the daughter of the owner was washing clothes in the canal when she fell in. A passing fisherman saved her from drowning, and in gratitude, the owner of the house bult the garden as a tribute to the fisherman. Hence, MONG.

From the MONG, we went to lunch and on to a Taoist temple -- very different from the Buddhist temples we've seen in various cities, with 50-100 separate statues of gods inside, many of which covered people with a particular zodiac sign and a particular age, so there might be a figure who was the patron saint of people born in the year of the monkey, but only those who were either 77 or 113.

From the temple, we went to the HAG: the Humble Administrator's Garden, which is famous throughout China. Humble in this case should be read as either "see how humble my great honking garden is" or "let me call this humble so nobody lynches me." The great honking garden is broken into three still-giant pieces, not by design, but perhaps by providence: the humble administrator's son managed to lose the entire garden in a single night of gambling, and it was divided into three pieces among the three winners of the bet.

We didn't actually have much time here, as the girls ran out of steam and we had to head home a little early. But you can see a few pictures here....

Suzhou (slideshow)
Suzhou (thumbnails)


Photos finally added...

I've finally added photos of our trip to the Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Some are really spectacular! Check them out here:

Summer Palace (thumbnails) (slideshow)
Temple of Heaven (thumbnails) (slideshow)

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