Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year!

I will be 14 hours ahead of most of you in welcoming 2014. We are currently in Seoul, South Korea after 6 days in Japan. I am accumulating material for weeks of blog posts. If I have some down time this week, I will start on a post for the weekend but don't hold me to it.

In the mean time, thank you dear readers for all your support over the past year and I wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2014!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Season's Greetings to all!

Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa and a Happy New Year to all my readers. I am traveling a bit right now so no posts but I hope to have lots of material to kick off the New Year right!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

More from Xi'an

As I mentioned in my last post, Xi'an has a large Muslim population. Most people who visit the Muslim quarter come to sample the unique cuisine of these people. But most of it is non-vegetarian so we weren't interested. We tried some fried sweets - like a doughnut filled with dried fruit. It was much more to our taste than the traditional Chinese sweets which are not very sweet. We also found a lot of nuts and dried fruits among the stalls and bought a sampler - which turned out to be dried fruit paste - like fruit leather. The dried persimmons were delicious.
The Muslim quarter is very colorful.
In addition to the dried fruits, nuts and foods, there are stall selling the usual tourist tchotchkes.
The quarter comes to life in the evening, and to facilitate action after dark there are lights hanging from the trees. We had to go to a sound-and-light show so we left right at dusk.
You can see the lights hanging from the trees. I wasn't sure how the photo would come out at dusk so I took it while there was still light.

Our guide took us all the way across town to check-in and get some rest before dinner. This was a bad move. We were caught in traffic going and coming and ended up getting to our dinner/show late. We had tickets to a show that had music and dance from the Tang dynasty along with a dumpling dinner. They promised us vegetarian dumplings and they delivered. Dinner was delicious but we had to eat it in 20 mins before the show started due to our traffic woes.

I took some movies and stills of the shows but I won't bore you with all of them. The staging was colorful and there was variety in the music and dance. This one is from an energetic masked dance to drive away evil spirits.
One of the musical numbers...
And one of the more flowing, graceful dances...
The sleeves of the dancers' costumes were long and they used them like scarves in the dancing. It was a pleasure to watch and admire the skill with which they made them flow like ribbons.

I also learned why every place (temple, palace, etc.) has a drum and a bell tower. The bell was rung in the am to tell people it was time to go to work and the drum was rung at the end of the day. Xi'an still has its city walls, moat and all. The walls are surrounded by a park now so people can enjoy the open space. They also light them at night.
These were shot from a moving car so I apologize for the blurry photos. But I wanted to give you an idea of how wonderful they look at night.

One of the things I liked about Xi'an is that even their new buildings retain a hint of the Tang dynasty architecture. It gives the city a sense of place, even when the Tang roofs are over a Starbucks.
We were visiting the Wild Goose Pagoda. The area around the Pagoda is one of the newer and more expensive residential areas in Xi'an. And lots of open space.
This is the plaza in front of the Pagoda. Chinese cities have lots of places like this for people to come out and exercise in the morning or hang out in the evening.
The Pagoda was built to house documents brought from India by a Buddhist monk who traveled there to learn the teachings of the Buddha from the place of his birth. The monk lived and taught here for many years after he returned. We didn't go up to the top of the Pagoda as we were running out of time. We wandered through the complex. I didn't take photos inside the various shrines as they are still places of worship and it can be misunderstood.

But I did take a photo of a gorgeous mural describing the life of the Buddha. The mural is completely done in jade of various colors.
After the Pagoda, we went to the city walls. The roads in Xi'an go in and out of the city walls. There are 16 openings now, I believe. We went through one of them and parked. I took this photo to show scale.
This is the gate we came through with its Arrow tower. The Arrow towers were for protection as archers could fire arrows from them. The courtyard here is a trap. If invaders came through the outer wall, it could be shut behind them and then they would be at the mercy of the archers from the tower and the walls on all 4 sides. Sneaky, eh?

This is view through the gate to show how thick the walls are.
Looking down from the top of the wall...
One of the popular things to do is to rent a bike and ride around on the wall. The entire perimeter is 8 miles long.
Look at the haze. Day 2 was not as nice and clear as day 1. The pollution level was higher than the previous day.

The Arrow tower is beautifully decorated.
There are also guard posts along the walls. I believe they are spaced exactly the distance an arrow can be fired apart. You can see one in the photo below. Apparently one can also ride a bus around the wall!
We walked some distance and then came back as we had to head to the airport. With the traffic problems we had had the day before, we didn't want to cut it too close. And it was a good thing we got there early.

My husband's ticket had my passport number on it. We stood in the check-in line and got to the check-in counter before we discovered this. So we had to go and stand in the ticket counter line to get the ticket re-issued with the correct passport number. Then we had to go back to the check-in line to check-in. The person manning that counter insisted we go back to the ticket counter to get the boarding pass stamped so we went back to the ticket counter. Fortunately there was no line there then because the lady there said we didn't need any stamps. We got through security without any issues after that and got home without incident. But all that standing in line took time and it was a good thing we had time.

I wouldn't mind going back to Xi'an to spend more time in the Muslim quarter and to ride a bike around the city walls.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

An army for the afterlife

Xi'an means Western Peace and it was one of the first capitals of a unified China, before Nanjing and Beijing. Long before Marco Polo, travelers came here to trade and seeds were some of the first things that came and stayed. For those of us who think about 'introduced species', seeds and plants were brought by man from one part of the planet to the other as long as man has moved around. Our guide told us that melons were one of the items brought to China and the name for watermelon (Xi Guo) means Western fruit.

We left early on a Saturday morning and flew to Xi'an. By the time I gained consciousness on the flight, we were flying over mountains and then we came to a flat plateau before we landed in Xi'an.
 That line down the center of the next photo is a railway line.
One of those emperors who unified China back in the day was very concerned about his own immortality. To protect him in the afterlife, he commissioned hundreds of terracotta figures to protect his mausoleum. Back in the 70's, when China was still ruled by Chairman Mao, a group of farmers found a few fragments of terracotta at a well. They told the local officials, who told the officials in Beijing who didn't think much of the whole thing. But they sent a few archeologists down anyway. Nothing much happened for a few years but later in the 70's, people realized what they had found.

Today there is a beautiful complex that protects and showcases the farmers' find. The last of the farmers is still alive and apparently comes to the museum to sign copies of the guidebooks periodically.
It was a beautifully clear day in contrast to the next, as you will see.
The emperor built himself a mausoleum, and then protected his mausoleum with hundreds of terracotta warriors, horses, chariots, and even some actual animals. His mausoleum has not been excavated and only a portion of the protective army has been excavated.
This is a map of the area. The three pits that have been excavated are at the far end of the map. I wonder what else he has buried there with himself. Maybe there are some archeologists excavating the area, but nothing is publicized but what is on display.

There are many world famous sights that look exactly like their photographs. The Taj Mahal is one of these, as is the Roman Colosseum. Yes, it is amazing to stand there right next to them but there is a feeling of deja vu. Not so with the warriors. Everyone has seen photos of the warriors but the scale just boggles the mind!
This is pit #1, the largest of the three. Each warrior is larger than life. They vary in size and weight with the archers being the lightest and the generals being the largest and heaviest. So look at that photo and just imagine how big the whole pit is. The raised sections in the middle are the supports that held up the roof. There were wooden beams and then a roof with matting on top. Above the matting was soil so no one walking above would realize there was all this beneath them. The wood roof had long since rotted and the warriors were found broken and mixed up with the roof materials.

There are phalanxes of warriors in the middle and on the outsides, the warriors face outward.

The well where pit 1 was discovered is just off to the left of the photo above.

Here is another panoramic view of pit 1. I was testing the pano setting on my camera.
The people give you a sense of the scale on the far side vs. the people on the right who are on my side.

A close up of the warriors...
You can see where the roof supports rested. Another shot of pit 1.
Much of pit 1 is not excavated. This is true of the other pits also. The problem is that the warriors deteriorate and there are just more of the same. So there have been some test digs in other parts and then they've remained covered up.

Putting them together is one giant jigsaw puzzle. The bodies are of a few basic forms. The heads are all different. They were cast the same but each has different features and expressions. So it doesn't matter which head goes on which body but putting all those pieces together into complete bodies is quite a job.
Although there is no one working in pit 1 currently, there is a set-up on the far side that shows what it is like. They wrap the glued pieces in plastic wrap till the glue sets. This poster shows the work that is needed to restore each figure.
Pit 1 is the largest of the three pits and pit 3 is the smallest. It is set up differently and the feeling is that it was supposed to be the command center of the army. The figures are arranged differently. They face each other with protective soldiers around the perimeter.
Here's what the pits look like when they are excavated. This area is also where they found some real animal bones, that is not clay animals.
The marker that says '38' is where the animal bones were found. Pit 3 also has horses in it.
The buildings in the complex are decorated with some of the warriors faces.
Some of the warriors are set up so one can get up close and personal with them.
This is a kneeling archer, the lightest and smallest of the figures. You can see how detailed the clothing and features are. There are braids in the hair and the tunics are extraordinarily detailed.
And this is a general, one of the larger figures. See how detailed his costume is.

Pit 2 is mostly intact. They found the painted warriors here and suspect that all the warrior figures were painted at one time. But the color disappears when exposed to air so they've left the figures intact for now.
Here you can visualize the roof a little better. And see the fragments that have to be put together to recreate the figures.

This is a photo of a painted face taken when it was found.
 I said it was a beautiful day, right? Here you can see the mountains outside Xi'an from the complex.
In addition to the warriors, some other figures have also been found. They are thought to be entertainers for the afterlife. As such, they are generically labeled acrobats.
The other major find in the pits are bronze chariots with horses. These are smaller than lifesize - maybe 3/4 size?
They are extraordinarily detailed. The chariot even has a window that slides open and closed.
Since this is already a long post, I will defer the rest of the Xi'an visit to another post. Xi'an has a large Muslim population and relations between them and the majority Han Chinese population has not been great at times. There are still some issues with the government and discrimination but they mostly coexist peacefully these days.

Treats to come include photos of the Muslim quarter, the city walls and other historical buildings and more. Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Christmas in China

I thought it would be good to show you some of the Christmas decorations that I am encountering. The sample is very small as I haven't been going out very much. It has mostly been work that is getting in the way. Last weekend we went to Xi'an but that deserves its own post and I have to do justice to it.

We live near a very high end mall with very expensive brand name stores. They have done a great job decorating for Christmas with a house, nut crackers, Christmas trees, all lit up with lights. The railings on the various floors have garlands on them.
There are also decorations in the lobby of my office building.
And there were some in the lobby of our hotel in Xi'an. A gorgeous purple tree...
The bake counter in the restaurant in the lobby was decorated like a gingerbread house.
In contrast to all this light and festivity, we have also had a very high level of pollution this week. It is not common in Shanghai but our levels were higher than those in Beijing this week.
This is the sun at around 10-11 am
Through the trees...
If you remember the photos from my balcony last winter, here is the same view yesterday. The pollution level has dropped a lot today.
Air purifiers and masks are sold out at most retailers. Our apt doesn't seem to admit the pollution as I could smell the difference as soon as I stepped out into the balcony to take that photo. I did wear a mask on the way to work and back and when I went to the bank.

Lastly, I whipped out this pair of mittens for DH last weekend.
The yarn is the hand-dyed merino I bought in Melbourne. I knitted it at a fairly tight gauge. I hope it holds up. Merino is nice and soft and the mittens can handle some felting but I hope they don't pill too much.

I also did some finishing of handspun. I had some sample yarn spun on the various Jenkins spindles I've acquired over the last year. I had not finished any of them. So I wound them off and finished them. 
Today I finished the yarn that was endlessly plied on the Jenkins Swan. Here is the very beginning of the story. Here is the end... more than 1000 yds of 2 ply yarn - spindle spun and spindle plied. It was made from one 4 oz braid less the singles that I lost when I messed up one of the bobbins along the way. You can see that disaster here. If you want to read the whole story, just look at posts with the label 'gradient'. But all's well that end's well.
That last photo shows the gradient. It goes from a brownish red to a pinky red to a purple.

It is still damp so I won't wind it up into a twisted hank yet to take the shot with the quarter. That is reserved for next time.

I am also spinning away on the Briar Rose Cormo. Progress to date on the first single.
I hope the color counteracts the dreary pollution pictures.