Monday, November 24, 2014

Suzhou Canals Night Cruise

This past weekend we went on a night cruise on the canals around old town here in Suzhou. This event was put on by the Expatriate Association of Suzhou. This was a really neat way to see the city.  Again I forgot my good camera at home so all I have is a few pictures from my phone.
On the cruise we went under twelve bridges. We couldn't go all the way around old town (the canals do go completely around) because there was construction on some of the bridges. There was a translator that was telling some history of Suzhou as we were cruising along. She was a little bit hard to understand and I'm not sure that she was entirely accurate with the "history" she was giving.
Part way through the ride we could go up on top of the boat to take pictures and to get a better view.  It was fun to be on top of the boat on the cool evening. At one point the translator and one of the crew came up top and starting telling us we had to crouch down as the upcoming bridge was low. There ended up being a couple of bridges that we needed to do this for. What fun!
This was an interesting thing that I feel would only happen in China.

At the end of the cruise there was a short performance by a Bian Lian dancer. Bian lian means "face-changing" it is an ancient Chinese dramatic art which is part of the Sichuan Opera. The performers wear bright costumes and face masks that are changed from face to face. Here is a short video showing the mask change. (Just to warn you - the speaker was right behind us so it might be loud.)

Night Cruise Preformance from Erin on Vimeo.
The beginning is a little bit long, but you will see the changing-faces a couple of times during the video.

Another Suzhou Garden

I know, I know all we do is go to gardens in Suzhou! There are just so many to see and they are all different and interesting in there own way.

A couple of weekends ago we headed to the Couple's Retreat Garden. This garden was built in 1874. I forgot my good camera so I the pictures are from my phone and not great quality.
The Couple's Retreat has a central living area flanked by an east and west garden. The Couple's Retreat is approximately 2 acres and is surrounded by canals on three sides. It is currently registered as a World Heritage site.
We stopped to listen to these woman preform. The older woman is playing a 'pipa' which is a four-stringed lute. The younger woman on the left is playing a 'sanxian' which is a three stringed lute. The younger woman was also singing. It was neat to see them preform, although this is not my favorite type of music.
 It is a little bit hard to tell but Baby O is looking to the side in this photo. There were two or three women over there also taking our photo.
 And it didn't stop with those women from the previous picture we also go to take photos with a bunch of people after J took this photo of us.  Again Baby O is distracted by them.
The cell phone paparazzi
This is definitely the smallest garden we have been to in Suzhou and a little bit hard to find. But it was still worth a visit.

After checking we were headed back to the subway station and we happened to walk past a section of the Suzhou City Wall. This section of the wall is not original, there weren't any signs so I don't know when it was built, but it looks rather new. There are sections of the city wall in Suzhou that are much older than this that we will have to check out at some point.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Giant Buddha

A week ago we went to Wuxi, China which is about 45 minutes west of Suzhou.  We were going to see the Giant Buddha. All 280 feet of the Giant Buddha is made of tin and copper, weighing 700 tons.
There is a water show with this lotus flower statue, there is also a baby Buddha that comes out of it. We were hoping that it would happen while we were visiting but we didn't get to see it.  
Leading up to the Giant Buddha there were people hanging notes on these racks that lined the pathway.

This is not a great picture of me, but it shows a common occurrence here in China. A Chinese lady walking past Baby O smiling and making noises at him as he watches and smiles back, like he is doing here with the lady under the umbrella.

There were many stalls where you could buy candles to light and say a prayer to Buddha.

There are always SO many stairs!

Right under the Giant Buddha there was a little museum and also another spot to pray.
Right under the Buddha. There was a huge line for an elevator to get up to the Buddha's feet, we liked the view from below the lotus flower.
There were other buildings on the grounds surrounding the Giant Buddha that were interesting to see. This one was HUGE. We kind of got stuck in a massive crowd trying to get out which wasn't very fun.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Master of Nets

Master of Nets entrance gate
A couple of weeks ago we visited one of Suzhou's gardens, Master of Nets. The garden was first constructed in 1140 by the Deputy of Civil Service Minster, Shi Zhengzhi. After Shi Zhengzhi's death the garden fell into disarray until 1785. At this time Song Zongyuan, a retired government official, restored/redesigned the garden. Over the years owernship changed hands many times with the final owner being He Chang. In He Chang's will he stated that the garden be donated to the government. In 1958 his daughter, He Zehui, donated the garden to the Suzhou government.

We had a good time wondering around the garden the beautiful fall day (although it was rather warm, so it didn't feel like a true fall). This is a much smaller garden than the others in Suzhou that we have been to. There were a couple of tour groups there, as well as an art class that were spread out around the pond drawing.
This large pond was in the center of the garden/buildings

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Seoul: Day 5/6 - More sightseeing, a little shopping and heading home

Our last full day in Seoul was a beautiful sunny day! We were headed for Changdeokgung Palace...or at least that was the plan. We arrived (and bought tickets) for what we thought was the Palace, but it turned out we were actually at Jongmyo Shrine. Since it wasn't in our original plan it was a nice sightseeing bonus.

The Jongmyo Shrine is where royal ancestors are enshrined and memorial services are preformed for deceased kings and queens. When a king or a queen died mourning at continue at the palace for three years. After the three year mourning period the memorial tablet of the deceased would be moved to Jongmyo and enshrined. The Jongmyo Shrine has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1995 because it is the only Confucian state in all of Asia that has preserved its royal shrine and continues to preform royal ancestral rites.
This is one of the buildings where the tablets are enshrined.

We did make it to Changdeokgung Palace, it was just a little further down the road. This palace was built in 1405, a secondary palace to Gyeongbokgung. The entire palace was destroyed in a fire in the Japanese invasion of 1592. It was restored in 1610 and served as the main palace for 270 years. There is a secret garden that is only accessed with a guided tour of the facilities. We decided to just wonder on our own and skip the garden (I had read mixed reviews so I didn't feel that we were missing much).


As we were exiting form the metro for our next stop, I tripped and fell on the escalator (it was not running at the time). It made a loud noise, I had Baby O in the carrier, there was a large crowd also exiting and it was embarrassing! A nice man ran over to make sure I was ok and help me up. I had bruised/cut knees like a little kid.  Thankfully it was just my knees that were hurt and not Baby O.  Our next stop was to Cheonggyecheon Stream (I forgot to take pictures here). It was not as exciting as I thought it was going to be, but I did read that going at night is better because there are many colorful lights. After walking along the stream for a little bit we stopped at Dunkin Donuts for a snack.

Before heading back to the hotel I had one other thing to do, I was in search of some shoes that I had seen at a store in the metro station. We retraced our path from the previous day (when I had seen the shoes) but couldn't find the shop.  We had just given up when J was looking for a restroom and their they were! And they had my size! Hooray!

Dinner on our last night in Seoul was delicious! I believe that it is called dak galbi, it was a spicy tomato based sauce with chicken, cabbage, potato, onions, carrots and tteok (a rice cake that looked like giant noodle).  All of this was cooked on a round cast iron skillet in the middle of our table. (Thankfully no one asked to hold Baby O, he actually fell asleep while our food was cooking.)

The next day was a long one but uneventful day. We spent pretty much all day at airports (in VERY long lines at Incheon). It was a great trip but we were ready to be home.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Seoul: Day 4 - A Palace, a Caprisun and a Temple, oh my!

On the forth day we headed to Gyeongbokgung Palace. The palace was orgininally built in 1395, just after the Joseon Dynasty was founded. Gyeongbokgung means "the palace greatly blessed by heaven". The palace was destroyed during the Japanese invasion of 1592-'98. A secondary palace, Changdeokgung, was constructed and served as the main palace. Gyeongbokgung was left deserted  until 1867 when it was reconstructed by the Prince Regent. This rebuild was mostly torn down during the Japanese occupation of Korea. In 1990 a restoration effort began, starting with the Heungnyemun Gate.
Baby O was a rockstar in Korea! J could hardly walk through the crowd. He got stopped often for pictures, and people oohing/aahing over Baby O. Baby O is usually a good sport about it and smiles at everyone. It is fun (but also a little annoying) to see how excited people get about Baby O.
The Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds also houses the Korean Fold Museum. It was not a very big museum, but it was fun to see some historical objects, traditional clothing and traditional daily life of the Korean people.
1981 the year of the rooster
As we were leaving Gyeongbokgung Palace we were able to see the changing of the guards. The changing of the guards ceremony is only done for tourist. It was fun to see the traditional clothing.
Next we headed to Insa-dong which is a neighborhood in Seoul to get a quick bite to eat. There is a walking street in Insa-dong with many shops, cafes, small street vendors and street food. After our snack we wanted to find the cocktail vendor that a friend had told me about. She called them adult caprisun's. We got a mojito to share, it was very tasty. After our drink we headed to Jogyesa Temple. There was a pretty building housing a big gold Buddha and some people praying. (There were signs no picture sign up, so I don't have any of this part of our day.)
After the temple we headed back to our hotel to rest a bit before dinner. Getting back to the hotel took a little longer than it should have because we accidentally got on the wrong train. Thankfully we only went two stops out of our way and there was a nice man that pointed us in the correct direction and told us where we needed to transfer.
Before dinner we stopped at a little (and I do mean little) bar that had some of its seating pretty much on the road. After our beers we went to dinner, it was kind of like a teppanyaki restaurant with a flat cooktop in the center of our table. I am not sure what it is called. They had a set menu option that we tried. It was good and there was a ton of food,  a pork chop, steak, a few shrimp a hamburger patty and some vegetables.