Monday, August 31, 2009

China - Day 11

Friday, July 24
Beijing

Friday morning we took a flight from Xi'an to Beijing. So, we had only half a day's worth of sightseeing in Beijing this day. We stayed at the Peninsula Hotel.

There are areas in Beijing, like the one in the picture, that are modern. Most of what we saw there was ancient. The picture was taken from the bus.

The streets aren't as crowded here as in other cities we visited. Beijing liked the alternate days for cars being on the streets (that it had for the Olympics) so much that it instituted it permanently.

Our first stop was the bell and drum towers near the old entrance to the Inner City. This is a picture of the old gate (Zhengyangmen, but now called Qianmen) to the Inner City, as taken from inside the Bell Tower. This was the first time in our trip that it was rainy.

Then we took a pedicab tour of a nearby hudong. Here is a view of one of the streets in the hudong. This neighborhood is one that is going to be kept as is instead of making way for high-rises.

While there, we also visited a "typical" resident at her home. She was retired, had formerly worked at the tourist bureau, and had visited many countries in Europe and several states in the US. She was also an Obama fan.

Friday, August 28, 2009

China - Day 10

Thursday, July 24
Xi'an

Our first stop on our tour of Xi'an was the Great Wild Goose Pagoda. There is much more on the grounds than just the pagoda. There are several Buddhist temples and a small cemetery.

As we neared the temple grounds, we saw a street cleaner truck and commented among ourselves how nice it was that the truck was playing some soothing Chinese music. Later in the trip, we saw another one that was playing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" -- much, much better than "beep, beep, beep".

Next we went to a jade showroom where we saw how jade is carved and the many colors jade comes in. One could buy anything from jewelry to large statues to (our favorite) globes - with oceans and countries in different colors of jade.

Then we went to look at the city wall (which is enormous), one of the few remaining intact city walls in China. It's surrounded by a moat which is now a park.

Xi'an and the surrounding area have a long history. The Northern Silk Road began at Xi'an. Xi'an is on the Wei River, which is a tributary of the Huang He or Yellow River, called the cradle of Chinese civilization.

After that we went to eat lunch at a dumpling restaurant inside the city walls. The dumplings were shaped in the form of the type of meat/vegetable that they contained -- chicken-shaped for chicken, etc.

The drum tower (pictured) is near the restaurant). There is also a matching bell tower nearby. In ancient times, the drum was beaten at dusk to mark the end of the day, the time the city gates would close. The bell was rung at dawn to mark the opening of the gates.

After lunch, we drove out to the Terracotta Museum where Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a united China, had statues constructed of his army -- an estimated 8,000 soldiers plus quite a few horses and also court officials and entertainers. His tomb lies nearby, undisturbed. Construction began in 246 BC. The picture shows part of the largest excavated pit.

Then, in the evening, we went to a performance celebrating the Tang Dynasty. Costumes were based on paintings and carvings from that time. We stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

China - Day 9

Wednesday, July 23
Eclipse Day
Wuhan


This was the big day ... the main reason for our trip to China ... a solar eclipse. It was one of the longer eclipses in quite a few years (5 1/2 minutes of totality where we were located).

Early in the morning buses took the group to Wuhan Bioengineering Institute, where we would hopefully be able to watch the total solar eclipse. The earliest group arrived at the site before sunrise in order to be able to get their cameras set up properly. The cameras were designed and programed to follow the sun through the sky. Others, like me, had low-tech cameras. There were professional and amateur astronomers in our group as well as people who just like solar eclipses.

Astronaut Alvin Drew joined our group on the day of the eclipse, just for the eclipse. In the background are a few others in the group plus some people who just came out to the area.

Some terminology: First contact is when the disk of the moon first touches the disk of the sun. Second contact is when the disk of the moon first completely covers the disk of the sun. Third contact is when the disk of the moon last covers the disk of the sun. Fourth contact is when the disk of the moon last touches the disk of the sun. The length of totality is the length of time from 2nd contact to 3rd contact. Baily's beads and the final Baily's bead, a diamond ring, are often seen at 2nd contact and 3rd contact.

It's safe to look in the direction of the sun between 2nd and 3rd contact. Special glasses, eclipse glasses, like that being held by Alvin Drew, are needed to look in the direction of the sun otherwise.

Here is a link to a National Geographic article on the eclipse. And here is a link to a summary of the eclipse with pics written by Glenn Schneider, a member of our tour group and a professional astronomer.

The wind was still except for a rush of wind 20 to 30 minutes before 2nd contact and another one 20 to 30 minutes after 3rd contact. Unfortunately, there was a partial cloud cover. We could see only the last minute and a half of the eclipse.

Here is a picture I took just after 3rd contact (through one of the special eclipse glasses). The moon is covering the most of lower part of the sun and a cloud is covering part of the top.

After the eclipse, we ate at the university and then traveled back to Wuhan. We saw rice paddies on the way. Before boarding a plane for Xi'an, we visited the Rock and Bonsai Museum in Wuhan. Here is a picture of some carvings of different rocks and crystals displayed in the museum. -- It's not food in the picture. It's carvings in the shape of food as served Lazy Susan style.

RIP

It's strange when the reality of death finally hits. It hit me when the emergency vet's office called this morning to say that our cat's ashes had arrived and were available for pickup.

Our cat died on early Monday morning. She was 18 years old and had been suffering from a slow-growing tumor in her nasal cavity for a year and a half. Here is a pic just before we took her to the vet to be put to sleep.

We thought she was going to die in June of this year. In fact, the DD and DS1 flew in to say good-bye to her before she passed away. (DS2 lives nearby.) She recovered and was back to her old self until this past Sunday when she suffered a sudden relapse of the worst of her previous symptoms.

A dear friend of ours gave us the cat and her littermate while we were living in Ohio. She drove all the way from NC with the cats (who were just kittens then). They quickly became part of the family. They went with us when we moved to Sweden and then England and finally back to the US. The cats even understood some Swedish.

Her littermate is still alive and active and living with us.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

China - Day 8

Tuesday, July 21
Chongqing

Our last stop on the cruise ship was Chongqing (Chungking), a busy commerce center. Chongqing has a registered population of over 30 million. However, the urban population is "only" 5 million plus. The registered population includes people living in rural areas around Chongqing. Also, just because a person is registered as living in a certain place, it doesn't mean s/he actually lives there. S/he may be living and working elsewhere in the country. The first pic is a view of the city from the cruise ship.

Our first stop was the zoo. The weather was so hot (around 100F) that the pandas weren't going to be let out after noon. Lan Xing, in the picture, had to be lured out of the shelter with an apple by a zoo employee. Another zoo employee lured Liang Liang (who lives in a separate area) out to pose for photographs, again using an apple. So, we got to see 2 pandas at the zoo.

Then we went to another part of the zoo for an exhibition on painting. The artist (in black) painted the entire painting during the course of the lecture. There were other paintings for sale there including ones done on Banyan leaves.

Afterward, we visited a local food market. There was quite a variety of products, including live eels (not in the picture) and lotus. Lotus is surprisingly good.

Finally, we went to look at the main square which is dominated by the Great Hall of the People.

After that we boarded a plane to fly to Wuhan, which in on the Yangtze river downriver from Yichang but inland from Shanghai and Nanjing. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Riverside in Wuhan.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

China - Day 7

Monday, July 20
Fengdu

Still traveling up the Yangtze River, we took an excursion to a ghost city, Fengdu. It isn't a ghost town in the western sense. Rather, it's a place souls go after the body dies (evidently, the only one in China). There a person is judged for what s/he did in life and then given the appropriate punishment.

The first pic is an embodiment of excessive drunkenness -- one of several statues showing positive and negative traits.

The next pic is of a pagoda.

According to our guide, this area was one of the few religious places untouched by the Cultural Revolution. It has both Taoist and Buddhist influences.

The last pic is of masks sold near the entrance to Fengdu. They are masks of some of the "demons" who punish evil doers.

After we returned to the ship, we went to a talk on pearls. It was surprising how many pearls one can get from a single oyster. There were talks the previous days, as well. We attended a talk on Chinese embroidery (which consists mainly of satin stitches but with different thicknesses of silk yarn to produce amazing pictures) and another on bottle painting (in which lead crystal is shaped into a bottle - or other shape - and then painted on the inside). There was also a talk organized by our tour group on the upcoming eclipse and previous eclipses.

Monday, August 24, 2009

China - Day 6

Sunday, July 19
Shen Nong Stream and Baidicheng
Wu and Qutang Gorges

After breakfast, we went on an excursion to Shen Nong Stream, a tributary of the Yangtze. We went on a tourist ferry boat to the mouth of the stream and then boarded small boats to travel up the stream. The scenery was breathtaking -- even though what had been a fast-moving stream had become a lazy river because of the Three Gorges Dam.

After returning to the ship, we went a little further upriver. Here is a miscellaneous picture of the Yangtze, with a small fishing boat in the river and farmland on the shore. We also saw quite a few barges on the river, some carrying coal, one carrying new cars, some carrying other goods. We saw fields and fields of corn throughout our travels in China. Our tour guide said that winter wheat and rice are also widely grown. We didn't see any wheat, but we did see rice paddies later in the tour and also fields of soybeans.

We went through two of the three gorges this day, Wu Gorge and Qutang Gorge. Qutang Gorge is the most interesting and beautiful. Here is the exit/entrance to Qutang Gorge - taken from upriver. (A similar picture is on the back of the 5 Yuan note.)

In the afternoon, we took an optional tour to Baidicheng or City of the White Emperor. The city is now on an island due to the river level rising because of the dam. Several people decided to pay to be carried up to the top of the island to tour the buildings there. Most decided to walk.

The "city" was where the first emperor of the Kingdom of Shu, Liu Bei, died. It is also famous for the poets who have visited and lived there because of the beauty of the place. The entrance to the Qutang Gorge can be easily seen.

Finally, here is a pic of our guide there and a dragon where I evidently doomed my children. I was busy looking at the interesting sights and missed the guide's talk about the dragon. My DD said I was supposed to touch the dragon for good luck for my children. However, she neglected to tell me I was supposed to touch the dragon with my right hand. Well, I touched it with my left hand. My DD said "wrong hand", and so I quickly took my hand off the dragon and touched it with my right hand. Then while my DD was explaining to me how I had doomed her and her brothers, I leaned on the figure with my left hand. (I hope it was just a tale.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

China - Day 5

Saturday, July 18
Xiling Gorge and Three Gorges Dam

We left the dock early on the morning of the 16th, heading for the first of the three gorges on the Yangtze (the one farthest downstream). The first pic was taken as we were entering the gorge -- several miles below the Three Gorges Dam.

The next picture is midway to the dam. There is a small waterway off to the side of the river with docks for fishing boats.

Before going through the locks, we docked and drove to the dam's visitor's center. The Three Gorges Dam is enormous. Here is a view of part of the dam.

Then we went back to the cruise ship and sailed upstream. Here is as we were going through one of the locks. There are five locks going upstream and four down. It took a while for us to go through the first lock since we were waiting for a second cruise ship and a second barge to enter the lock before the lock door was closed and water began filling the lock. But, after that, it was really fast -- about half an hour per lock. It was interesting how the locks opened and closed and how quickly the ship rose as water filled the lock. We were close enough to the side of the lock that we could touch it.

The last pic is from the top of the dam after we'd gone through all the locks. The final water level is going to be even higher than it is currently -- meaning that many more people will need to be relocated.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

China - Day 4

Friday, July 17
travel from Shanghai to Yichang

After breakfast at the hotel, we walked around Shanghai for a bit by ourselves before boarding a bus to the airport (the other Shanghai airport) to take a flight to Yichang.

Here is a pic of Yichang taken from the bus. A lot of people in China carry umbrellas for shade from the sun. It was hot.

Then we drove to where the cruise boat -- President #1 -- was docked. Every cabin had a balcony. We ate supper on board after settling into our cabins (and buying soft drinks, etc. from the vendors on the dock).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

China - Day 3

Thursday, July 16
a visit to Water Town

Zhujiajiao is a "small" town (60,000 people) on the outskirts of Shanghai. It's also called Water Town because of its canals. The town has relatively narrow streets and several stone bridges. It is also near China's Grand Canal which stretches over a 1,000 miles from a city to the south of Zhujiajiao to Beijing. While in Water Town, we visited a traditional doctor's office and a Qing Dynasty post office (one of the oldest in existence).

We also visited a Tao temple. It had an abacus over the entrance because of the commercial history of the area. The first 3 numbers on the abacus were a little disconcerting -- but we were told that the numbers stand for peace.

We ended our visit with a sampan ride through the town -- crossing the Grand Canal -- and then lunch at a local restaurant.



Afternoon and evening were free of organized tours. Some people took the opportunity to travel on the mag train to the airport and back (just to say that they rode on such a fast train). We took the opportunity to take a better look at the Olympics venue nearby to the hotel.



Then we walked to the shopping area. Here is a view from one of the pedestrian bridges. We took the subway back to the hotel. It was surprisingly inexpensive.




I almost forgot.... Midday, we visited a silk factory in Shanghai. Here are some of the rugs produced there. They also had silk scarves, silk ties, and silk sheets and comforters.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

China - Day 2

Wednesday, July 15
a full day in Shaghai

We started out early to take tour buses to the Shaghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. (We had 3 buses since there were about 90 people in the tour group.) On the way, we drove past parts of the downtown with its interesting architecture. The first picture is taken from the bus at a roundabout similar to the one in yesterday's post. Notice, especially, the tops of the buildings. Again, the road below is less crowded than in general.

The highlight of the Exhibition Center is a scale model of downtown Shanghai. Our tour guide said that they have to keep changing the model since Shanghai is changing so rapidly. Shanghai sits on the Yangtze River delta.

Then after touring the Exhibition Center, we went to what our guide called "China Town". It's also called the Old City and is an area within Shanghai with older architecture. In the background are a couple of skyscrapers. One has a hole in the middle to let the evil spirits pass through. In the foreground is Ha'ba (the blue figure), the symbol for World Expo 2010. Ha'ba can be seen almost everyone around town.

Here is another picture of the area. The pink bridge is not straight in order to protect against evil spirits crossing. (We had lunch in the area -- dim sum. The food throughout the trip was excellent.)

After we crossed the bridge, we came to the Yuyuan gardens. A high-ranking official of the Ming Dynasty began construction on the gardens in 1559. The gardens occupy about 5 acres with several buildings and several garden areas. They fell into disrepair over the years until the Shanghai government restored them. In the morning people go into the gardens to do Tai Chi.

In the afternoon, we toured the Shanghai Museum. A person could spend a whole day there. There were exhibits of jade, furniture, coins, calligraphy, paintings, etc. Pictured is a chair and screen.
We ate supper at the hotel.

Monday, August 17, 2009

China - Day 1

This is the start of a series of posts on the eclipse trip we took to China. We arrived there on July 14th and left on the 27th. There were so many interesting things to see and do there that one or two posts would even come close to describing the trip. So, I'm going to do the posts day by day.

Tuesday, July 14
Early in the morning of July 13th we got on a plane from Chicago to Toronto, Canada. We met several other people from the tour group at the Toronto airport, 4 from London, Ontario, and 2 from Boston, Mass. Then we settled in for a very, very long flight to Shanghai. We arrived the afternoon of the 14th. (China time is exactly 12 hours ahead of EDT during the summer and 8 hours ahead of UDT all year round. All of China is officially in the same time zone.) The captain said that we would fly within 300 miles of the North Pole before flying over parts of Russia and China before eventually landing in Shanghai.

We oohed and aahed over the highway and building construction we saw on the way from the airport to the hotel. The landscaping around the highways was fantastic. There were well-tended shrubs, flowers, and trees on the sides of the road and in the median. The first picture shows some construction for the World Expo to take place next year in Shanghai.

The next picture is one after we got off the divided highway and onto city streets (which were quite wide also). A street this empty was the exception.

Finally, here is a view from our hotel room. Usually, the roadway in the picture was packed with cars. To the right is an IKEA. To the left and not visible in the picture is one of the venues used for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

By the way, we checked the hotel elevators for which floors would and would not be there. Every hotel we stayed in (with possibly one exception) had both a 4th and a 13th floor. (4 is considered an unlucky number in China since the Chinese word for 4 sounds a lot like the one for death. 13 is, of course, often considered unlucky in Western cultures.) We stayed at the Huating Hotel and Towers.

Friday, August 14, 2009

getting ready for winter

I must be subconsciously thinking it's almost time for winter to start. I've recently finished a winter-themed shawl and a tuque.

But, there's more to it than my thinking that it's snowy around here most of the time -- even though we did move to the area in January of last year and have experienced 2 colder than normal winters and 2 colder than normal summers so far.

The tuque is a Jayne Cobb hat for my DS2. It recently came to our attention that my DD hadn't seen any Firefly episodes. So, we had a Firefly marathon while she and DS2 were visiting for part of the summer. I finished the hat just in time for "The Message" episode. DS2 wore it through the entire episode. It's made with Vanna's Choice yarn in rust, mustard, and brick.
I'd never tried Vanna's Choice before. I really like the colors and the feel of the yarn.

Next on my to-do list was to finish a shawl I'd started last year, Estes Park by Nautical Knitter. I changed the snow flakes a little and made the increases a bit more regular. I started working on it with the Yahoo group KAL. -- And have finally finished. I was originally going to make it into a curtain. Then I changed my mind and decided to work it as a shawl. I also decided to change colors. So, here it is ... with beads and in KP bare lace-weight yarn. I really like how the background pattern changes subtly. It really reminds me of a field of snow.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Chrissy's sock book

Chrissy Gardiner's sock book is now up for sale on Amazon.com. Here is the official website. I test knitted several patterns in the book. So, I thought I'd show off the socks.
--There are easier to make socks contained in Chrissy's book, but I like challenges.

Here is Sakura, with size 1 needles and knitted with Knit Picks Essential terrain twist.



Next comes Great Plains socks in Spunky Eclectic Super Nova with size 2 needles.



Then here is Fjordland with KP Essential yarn -- grass, pine, and buckskin. This was the first colorwork sock I'd ever done.



Finally, here is Diamond Lucy in mercerized cotton crochet thread (size 10) and size 1 needles. (The sock is designed for regular sock yarn. But, I wanted to see how cotton would work in a sock. It's supposed to work nicely and to get softer with each wash. I still don't know for sure since my DD liked it so much that she took it and its mate with her.)