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Posts from the ‘China’ Category

Shamian Island: outpost of the West


Separated from central Guangzhou by the still waters of a canal, and cut off on two sides by an elevated six-lane highway, Shamian Island is an anomaly in the chaos of China’s third-largest city. Read more

Hiking to the clouds, Longji

Hair wrapped artfully in a turban of black cloth, her tough frame is softened by a lilac top and short frilly skirt. As she saunters in and out of the room, I watch the light momentarily catch on her earrings – they are two silver crescents, raw and slightly tarnished, sweeping around a hollow in the shape of the full moon. Read more

A change of heart, Guilin

“I dreamed about Kweilin before I ever saw it,” my mother began, speaking Chinese. “I dreamed of jagged peaks lining a curving river, with magic moss greening the banks. At the tops of these peaks were white mists. And if you could float down this river and eat the moss for food, you would be strong enough to climb the peak. Read more

No karst too great, Xingping

At 4:00am I am jolted from my slumber. Stumbling across the room, I pull open the curtains, half-expectant in the hope that yesterday’s rainclouds have already moved on. We are here in Xingping to walk the 1159 steps up Lao Zhai Hill, a proud shaft of rock jutting high above the riverside town. Read more

A Lesson on the Great Wall, Jinshanling

Headlights on and engine roaring, the bus devours the morning silence. “Is this going to Jinshanling?” Nodding, the driver waves me aboard and I take my place, sleepy-eyed, in the second row. Our tour guide looks like he could use a strong cup of coffee.

Not many things merit a 5:00 a.m. start and an uncomfortable four-hour bus ride with terrible leg room. But it is my last day in Beijing and I have booked myself a trip to see the final item on my checklist: the Great Wall of China. Read more

Jingshan, the Emperor’s Hill

Late afternoon shadows

After a day of exploring the hutong I was on the way back to my hotel when I came across a mesmerizing sight at Jingshan Park. The smog of the previous day had disappeared, and the rays of the late afternoon sun were sparkling off the gold leaf adorning its west gate. Intrigued, I paid the 2 yuan entrance fee and went in to take a look. Read more

Journey to the Summer Palace

Winter scene at the Summer Palace

Even in the smog, the lake is undeniably beautiful. Nearby the vendors offer bags of freshly grilled corn on the cob and skewers of candied Chinese hawthorns. I am observing the frozen waters from the Pavilion of Heralding Spring, where the weeping willows are the first to bud and the ice already broken. Read more

In Search of Beijing’s Soul

Beijing traffic

It is just after midday and a band of hungry window shoppers are congregating around a pile of sizzling lamb skewers. Like a lunch signal the steam wafts off the grill and into the cold winter air, alerting the crowd of potential buyers to its presence. Read more

Revisiting the Temple of Heaven

A Beijing icon

On a frigid Saturday morning, Niki is waiting on the main road outside my hotel. She has hailed a taxi, and as we climb in I can hear her utter the name of our destination.  “Tiantan nan-mer.” We are heading to the Temple of Heaven. “If you don’t speak with a Beijing accent,” Niki says, referring to the pirate-like ‘r’s, “the taxi drivers won’t understand you.” It’s been barely two days since my arrival, but I can already feel the city’s tones creeping gently into my Mandarin. Read more

Inside the Forbidden City, Beijing

Unlocked – inside the palace garden

When a Chinese dynasty is overthrown, tradition dictates that the old palace must be razed to make way for a new one in its place. But in the summer of 1644 the Manchus broke with the age-old habit, sparing the already fire-damaged residence of their predecessors a similar fate. Instead the new rulers would set about restoring the 15th-century marvel to its former glory. Read more