Archive for the ‘China’ Category

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.        -Mary Schmich




Smile and wave, thumbs up, camera click, wipe the sweat from your brow, no stand this way, closer, closer and camera click again, smile into the lens… perfect!

Look at us on the Great Wall, see how far it goes through the countryside! Wow!

They say you can see this from the moon, or maybe that’s a myth, we’ll google it when we get home.

Yes that’s right, built to keep out the Mongols…or the rabbits ha-oh-ha.

Can you believe that we are here? Let’s buy a t-shirt on the way back down, yes what a great souvenir! What do you think? The one that says “I’ve climbed the great wall!”

Don’t forget, they say never pay the price that they ask, oh no sir, haggle with them to a tenth of the price… that’s what it’s worth after all.

Do you think Grandpa would like one? Of course, let’s buy three.



The climb up was hard, but we had modern convenience on our side. Imagine it is three thousand years ago. Where do you think these rocks were quarried from? Not nearby I’m sure. It’s a marvel, a feat, this structure of protection.

But there is the echo of a throb here, a throb of living-beats that were silenced by this grey and cold blooded snake.

Now we are at the top, feel that under your feet? We are fortunate to be in a place that many dream of visiting, and yes, you and I, we are here.

Place your hand there. Yes, there on this rough hewn rock. It’s not as cold as you expected? Perhaps because it holds an eon of misery. Pain rising and sighing through its stony face and jagged miscoloured mortar. It’s been said that every foot of this wall represents one human life. Can you see how far the wall stretches? Yes, you are right, it stretches beyond sight.

In the earliest dynasty the tyrannical Qin Emporer would send scholars here to work on the wall, as a lonesome, soul-breaking punishment. Yes, it’s hard to imagine how many people would have perished.

And see these spaces in the wall, pretty, steeple shaped spaces, like little windows in a child’s doll house. Well that is where they would have laid their bows, arrows poised. Weapons of death to the marauding nomads. And this space? Yes, you learn quickly, no, not from a dolls house. This space was for pouring burning-missives to assail the enemy.

Why do you think they call this section the wall of the bones? It’s simple really and gruesome too, for if you died up here they simply threw your body over the edge.

And maybe, they hoped, your lifeless, worthless existence would knock an enemy asunder on its perilous way down.

Cruel you say? Yes, cruel it is true, but it was the way of the world back then and now that you sense the immense history you can also marvel at the feat of structure and engineering and planning and endurance. 

And the enormous power that the Emperors wielded, in human life, with the stroke of a calligraphed signature and the stamp of a Royal seal… in the name of defence.



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P7072775P7072759P7072874P7072850Leading up to the Hall of Preserving Harmony is the largest- or perhaps better described- longest stone carving of the Forbidden City.

The single piece of marble is intricately and symbolically carved with dragons- the symbol of celestial power and the Emperor. It forms a ramp flanked by two marble staircases and measures sixteen metres long (that’s over fifty two feet for my non-metric friends).

The Emperor was the only person permitted to travel over the carving and he would be carried up the ramp via a sedan chair.

The difficult task of hauling the large stone into position was performed by rolling it along carefully placed logs. In winter the task was completed by pulling the marble over man made ice trails. Sounds easy? Doubt it- the stone was hewn from the FangShan mountains approximately seventy five kilometres west of Beijing and the historic description of the journey suggests it took several seasons.

It makes me wonder which ancient Chinese herbal remedies were created for back ache as a direct result of this magnificent work of art?

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Behind the Hall of Preserving Harmony is the largest courtyard of the Forbidden city.

As some of our group, sweaty but determined, headed up the grand marble staircase I was distracted by a gathering of folk who seemed intent on trying to fan themselves while catching two wild children.

These kids were slippery indeed.

They sped up and slowed down to taunt the grownups who had now drooped- either exhausted from the chase or from the heat or quite possibly both. As I got a little closer I realized that the pair of terrors were dressed identically and were obviously twins. I’ve read that triplets and quadruplets were considered bad omens in Ancient China, but in a nation of family life governed by a one child policy I suddenly realized that a multiple birth would now be a different kind of omen.

Attention turned in our direction as the group watching the twins, act out all kinds of naughtiness, spotted my daughter. With her long dark-blonde hair and fair skin she had been treated as somewhat of a celebrity in Beijing. Every where we went people asked if they could take her photograph, posing with her and intrigued by her ability to speak rudimentary phrases of Mandarin- thanks to three years of weekly Chinese lessons at school. The Mother of the twins smiled broadly and waved her camera at us pointing at my daughter and then in the direction of her girls. Miss 8- who had begun to enjoy the Miley Cyrus treatment struck a pose and waited patiently as the Mother called her girls over.

The twins however weren’t all that interested in obeying.

They ran around their Mother, black plaits whipping the stodgy air and cackling at their own defiance. Everyone looked a little embarrassed and our guide looked away muttering  “spoilt princesses”.  The Mother- maintaining a composed face grabbed at the little boy standing next to her and pushed him into frame. He obliged instantly and beamed into the lens.  I asked if this was her son mistakenly now assuming that the twins were actually a trio, but got told no he was “just a cousin”. The girls did eventually saunter over and pose, curious perhaps as to how attention had so suddenly shifted away from them.

Miss 8 is now in our lounge room adding the final touches to her suitcase for her next big adventure- tomorrows grade three camp to Mt Eliza. Her big brother is giving her all kinds of advice like:

Don’t be scared of the flying  fox- it’s a blast.


Just eat everything they give you or you don’t get any dessert.


Watch out for the snakes and tigers (chortle, chortle).

She’s listening intently and throwing him a playful punch when she knows he is teasing her. He suddenly gets all serious and says “You know I’m going to miss you?” she gives him a quick hug and throws in another punch just to place the sentimentality firmly back where it belongs. “Muuuuuuum” he screeches “she punched me…”

My instant reaction is to think of the heavenly quiet that will transcend our home over the next three days. Ahhhhh no sibling rivalry! But then I flashback to those  twins, and China, and the One Child Policy.

As I continued my walk that hot, hot day I found it increasingly difficult to align modern day China’s family policy with that of the world of the Dynasty Emperors. In front of me lay Palaces- one more sumptuous than the last, erected to house the abundance of Empresses and Concubines whose sole purpose was to seed as many descendants as possible. These walls would have contained a bounty of brothers and sisters. Spoilt and plump and plotting. But now mostly families with only one child walk through the courtyards to sightsee the old ways.

And of course there are those families lucky enough to have twins.


Three days of peace and quiet will be lovely.

But to be honest I’m also looking forward to hearing my kids argue with each other again on Friday afternoon….

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P7072360P7072416P7072355P7072425my walk/great wall of china/mutinyu section/july09

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