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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Trip to China: A random recollection

Trip to China: A random recollection
          as recounted by Siew Leng

 “ Like to join us on a trip to Xian?” my sis-in-law asked one morning. Having seen documentaries about the terracotta warriors on TV and having read Steve Berry’s ‘The Emperor’s Tomb’, I accepted the offer without much hesitation. 
The morning of 18th May 2012 found us on board a flight to Shanghai and from there we took a domestic flight to Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province.

 After breakfast our tour group headed for the Yellow River Park where we experienced a hovercraft ride. As the craft skimmed its murky water, we caught fleeting views of communication tower and ferris wheel. Two colossal stone figures carved into the hillside loomed above us.

Boon Neo, Siew Leng and Teck Neo at the Yellow River Park

Long Xern at the Yellow River Park


Communication tower

A ferris wheel

Two colossal stone figures in the background

Kaifeng court complex

The Kaifeng court complex consisted of Song dynasty buildings. As we stepped into Kaifeng hall, the tour guide informed us that the hall was where Justice Bao who was known for his incorruptibility and uprightness used to administer justice without fear or favour. Perhaps, having followed the Cantonese TV series about Justice Bao, the name immediately conjured image of a judge with a stern demeanour and a dark face with a distinctive crescent birthmark on his forehead. Guillotines that were used to behead  criminals who were sentenced to death were also on display in the hall. The knife-shaped guillotines were decorated with different animal’s head _dog’s headed knife for the common criminals, tiger-headed knife for crooked and corrupt government officials and dragon-headed knife reserved for royal personages.     
Kaifeng court complex

Guillotines on display'

'Justice Bao' holding court

We then made our way to the iron pagoda which we found out was not really made of iron, but so-named because the colour of the pagoda had a close resemblance to iron.
View of the iron pagoda

Gulou night markets
Although twilight had not come the lights were switched on and the morning's drab and unattended stalls were transformed into a kaleidoscopic picture of garish neon lights. Bathed in the warm glow of the reflected light, we strolled past food stalls selling various food. Skewered meat sizzled on hot plate and spewed acrid smoke into the balmy evening air. From another stall wisp of white smoke emanated from large aluminium pots, tingling the nostrils of passersby with its savoury odour.  We were warned by our guide about the hygiene and   doubtful nature of the meat and so we gazed with suspicion at the food and  refrained from savouring the 'culinary delight'.    
Garish neon lights lit the night market

Skewered meat sizzled on hot plate

More skewered meat

Assortments of food

Wisp of smoke 

Dengfeng, Shaolin temples 
As the coach made its slow ascent, the rising road offered stunning vistas of ancient temples that nestled among blue mountains. When we reached the gateway to the Shaolin temples, we found the place was already teeming with camera-toting tourists.Then as dusk edged into night, the lights came on and the darkness of the place was magically transformed into a  blaze of colours. Where monks once used to pray, meditate and practise their close-guarded kung fu styles within cloistered walls, the place now resonated to the sound of pulsating music while novice monks displayed their martial arts skill in front of an appreciative audience.

Gateway to the Shaolin temples

The place was teeming with tourists

A stunning vista

Temples nestled among blue mountains

A blaze of colours

A blaze of colours

Shaolin kungfu show

Luoyang, Longmen grottoes 
Longmen grottoes is located to the south of Luoyang city. We were told that the grottoes consisted of more than 2,000 caves and niches and contained more than 100,000 statues besides being a treasure house for historical materials. A glance at the many steps leading to the grottoes and wooden walkways that seemed to hang precariously from the cliff’s surface made me realise the need for well-lubricated knees , a steady pair of legs and a stout heart. The largest grotto is the Fengxian temple where visitors can see an impressive statue of Vairacona Buddha with a serene face and elegant smile sitting on a lotus throne flanked by his disciples, Kasyapa and Ananda.
Entrance to the Longmen grottoes

The many caves and niches

Walkways hung precariously from cliff's surface

Statue of Vairacona Buddha in the background

At last we had reached the final leg and perhaps the highlight of our tour. We took a quick view of the city wall which we learned was one of the oldest and best preserved Chinese city walls before proceeding to the Bell and Drum Towers, an iconic landmark of the city. At the first light of dawn the strident clang of the bell would signal to the Xian residents the start of a new day and as the last ray of the setting sun dipped behind the city wall the deafening boom of a drum would announce the closing of another day.
 Our next stop was the Museum of Qin Dynasty Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses which housed a collection of terracotta warriors depicting the army of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The hangar-like exhibition hall  is topped by an impressive glass panel arch fitted with neon lights. Rows of terracotta warriors with different poses and  physical features stood motionless in excavated pits divided by earth corridors. We were told that in 1974 some peasants digging a well had uncovered an underground vault which later was found to contain the life-sized terracotta warriors.It is not exactly known what was inside the original tomb, but legend has it that the Emperor employed artisans to decorate the ceilings with precious stones to represent the heavenly bodies in the night sky and to create underground rivers of flowing mercury.
It was late evening when we finally  made our way back to the hotel and left the terracotta warriors to their eternal duty of guarding the Emperor's tomb.
Zai Jian!

Xian city walls

Inside the Terracotta Warriors Museum

Rows of terracotta warriors

Among the warriors

Below is a slideshow of our trip to China: Zhenghou, Kaifeng, Dengfeng, Luoyang, Sanmenxia, Lingbao and Xian
18th May to 24th May 2012


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