In April 2016
Cassie and I spent 3 weeks in China and Japan. We visited Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taiyuan and Beijing.
My interest in these places didn't fade out after we returned, so I dedicated the next months to studying their history and culture. I surely wasn't the first Westerner affected by that particular fixation, but that didn't stop me from creating this page.
Before the trip I spent a month doing my homework and learning about Chinese history. Not only that wasn't enough to understand much about China, but also didn't leave me any time to read about Japan. So my entire preparation for the first part of the trip consisted of memorizing a few phrases from the
Sprachfürer shown here.
The first and definitely not least exotic stop on the trip was Warsaw Chopin Airport. I'm quite a frequent visitor there, but this time I saw something new: a small exhibit dedicated to St. Matthew, the patron saint of customs officers. On the poster shown here the officers petition the saint for blessing. Feeling much safer, I was ready to board LOT Polish Airlines plane to Narita Airport.
Train trip from the airport was through a seemingly endless desolate sea of suburban concrete. But the massive city center is all but empty. Tokyo overwhelms quickly.
Inokashira Park in the cherry blossom (sakura) season. I was taking photos in that park while eating sakura flavored ice cream. The park was offered to the public by the emperor in 1918.
The small statue in the park got my attention because it was dressed in white and red. Needless to say, it had nothing to do with Polish national colors. Only after the trip I read that such statues represent miscarried children. They are often dressed and dedicated to
Jizō, a buddhist bodhisattva and a patron of deceased children.
During the entire trip I was easily mesmerized by bamboo trees. Or rather – bamboo grass, because bamboos are not really trees. Finally I could knock on their trunks and verify if they're really hollow (they are).
A 26km long
Kanda River has its source in the Inokashira Park. It so short it is fully contained within the city's limits.
An actual Tokyo raven (not
Is there is anything more romantic than a trip on a swan boat during sakura?
Hanami are flower viewing picnics in the cherry blossom season. They are VERY popular.
A small memorial dedicated to
Yoshinao Nakada, a Japanese composer.
Tufted ducks in front of the Benzaiten shrine.
Buddhist shrine in Inokashira Park dedicated to the goddess
Hachikō statue near Shibuya, the most famous rendezvous spot in Tokyo. City residents built the statue to celebrate the dog that waited at the station for its deceased owner every day for nine years. The original monument was unveiled in 1934 and Hachikō was present at the ceremony. The dog died one year later. During the war the monument was recycled to support war effort. It was recreated in 1948.
Tower Records store near Shibuya, one of the largest music retail outlets in the world.
Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingū) welcomes visitors with the view of hundreds of sake barrels.
Wine donated to the shrine by French winemakers.
Meiji Jingū is a Shinto shrine dedicated to
emperor Meiji and his wife.
All building at the shrine look as if they were hundreds years old. In reality they were built just 90 years ago, then destroyed during WWII and rebuilt by 1958.
Prayers left by visitors.
A Shinto monk.
Wedding ceremony at Meiji Jingū.
The tourists must have outnumbered people participating in the wedding ceremony.
Busy Takeshita Street is just 100m away from the Meiji park.
Rikugi-en is a very small but popular park. The queue of people wanting to see illuminated cherry trees was few hundred meters long.
The best sashimi I've ever had, in a sushi bar near
Tsukiji market. A really fresh tuna has a texture of a delicate mousse. This breakfast was great despite the fact that we showed up there on one of the few days the tuna auction was NOT happening – on a Wednesday. So should you decide to visit Tsukiji yourself and not end up lost and confused like us, be sure to prepare. And be aware that the market is supposed to move to another location in preparation for 2020 Olympic Games.
Cassie's order featured sea urchin and eel, among other delicacies.
Tuna in love with a crab at Tsukiji.
Kabuki-za Theater, prominent kabuki theatre in the city.
Pachinko museum was still closed early in the morning.
Ginza is a luxury shopping district in the center of Tokyo.
We experienced Ginza early in a morning, just after leaving Tsukiji, so it was still quiet and empty.
Tokyo Station viewed from the south.
Salarymen emerging from the Tokyo Station and disappearing in the nearby corporate offices.
The facade of Tokyo Station looks old fashioned, as it was built in 1914. Most of the structure is hidden under ground. The station is the busiest one in Japan in terms of the number of trains passing through.
I'm easily impressed by glass and steel.
Carefully maintained trees surrounding the Imperial Palace, with the skyscrapers from Ginza in the background.
Imperial Palace occupies the most prime location in Tokyo. The park around it is full of the most valuable commodity in the city: free space.
Moat surrounding the Imperial Palace.
The palace is hidden in the park and not easily visible from the outside. It corresponds well with
emperor Akihito's quiet demeanor. He is an ichthyologist, with papers published in journals such as Gene, Science and Nature.
My favorite shot from Tokyo.
There are good reasons to visit Tokyo during sakura.
At 9am the area was still rather empty and calm. Two hours later it filled up with crowds.
The street sign is not a pun on importance of sushi.
National Diet is the name of Japanese parliament.
Sidewalk on the perimeter of government and imperial complex.
National Diet Building is the seat of both of houses of Japanese parliament.
Hiding behind cherry blossom is the
National Diet Library.
Massive granite walls of the
Supreme Court building.
The statue of
Ōmura Masujirō, a 19th century military theorist known as the father of modern Japanese army. The monument is located near the entrance to Yasukuni Shrine.
I had a keen eye for any artifacts related to Poland.
Daini Torri – a gate to the shrine. Incidentally, a largest bronze torii in Japan.
Yasukni is a highly controversial place. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to the Japanese soldiers fallen in the service of their country. Because among the soldiers listed there are over 1000 war criminals, visits to the shrine by government officials are politically charged and often create tensions with China.
Interestingly, there was a significant number of Chinese tourists visiting the place while I was there.
Yūshūkan museum is located near Yasukni Shrine. It's an oldest military museum in Japan. Pictured here is Mitsubishi Zero, one of the most famous fighters of WWII.
Howard Hughes claimed that the Japanese copied his
H-1 Racer while designing Zero. Both planes share distinct slick shape.
A crosshair is visible in pilot's cabin.
Last look at the moat surrounding the Imperial Park.
After a wave of terrorist attacks in the mid nineties trash cans disappeared from Japan. Yet everything is remarkably clean and free of litter, even subway tracks.
Ted Baker store in Tokyo. I thought about buying something there until I was reminded we're going to Shanghai soon, a place where
everything is made.
Pin board on a police station wall. No, I'm not there yet.
Everything looks better during sakura.
Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park, a small park that nevertheless has at least 400 years of history.
Another shot from Arisugawa-no-miya.
This poignant poster asks the owners to not abandon pets such as cats, dogs and ducks.
In Japan I started to learn kanji characters. By the end of our stay in China I knew about 40. Here I could recognize characters for
mountain (山) and one (一), and use Google Translate to find out that 向 stands for direction. But the meaning of the phrase doesn't have to be a combination of individual characters' meanings. Instead the symbols may only represent sounds, and form entirely new name ( Yama kōichi in this case). In the end, I can only guess that this small, quiet place in Roppongi district is most likely a shrine.
Women in kimonos are a rare view in Tokyo.
The Revenant, coming soon.
View from 52nd floor of
Roppongi Tower on the iconic Tokyo Tower.
Tokyo Skytree, the tallest building in Japan (634m), is about 10km away and visible on the horizon.
Roppongi Tower was the tallest building to date I visited, so having two massive residential blocks at my feet felt both amazing and uneasy (I have a slight fear of heights).
South-east view from Roppongi. On a clear day Mount Fuji is visible there.
The building with the red logo is
"> A friendly-looking sculpture near Roppongi Tower depicts female spider, holding a sack of eggs. It's called
Konami headquarters. A shrine of a different kind.
Automated sushi bar. Selection is made from the touchscreen (English menu is available) and the food arrives quickly on a conveyer belt.
I was frequently impressed by the quality, looks and thoughtfulness of design in Japan, from everyday items such as yoghurt boxes with foldable spoons to this cool backpack.
I wanted to buy EVERYTHING from that store. Marked for future reference.
Clash of Clans ads at Shibuya station, one of the most prime locations in the city. Supercell must be spending a fortune advertising there. Or a few-hours profits generated by CoC.
More Supercell advertising at Shibuya. At the time Supercell was owned by Japanese
A taste of Berlin in
Akihabara, Tokyo's most famous entertainment district.
I went to a six story building with toys and action figures. But a boy in me didn't wake up, and I left empty-handed.
Akihabara is THE place to buy any imaginable artifact of Japanese pop culture.
In front of me is everything from
maid cafés, 8-story shop with Volks figures, GiGO SEGA building with 6 floors full of arcade machines, and a giant Pachinko salon.
Tiny sample of selection in another 6-floor toy store in Akihabara.
Before leaving Tokyo I had to visit Pachinko parlor. But I was quickly overwhelmed and ultimately disappointed. A place is noisy, smells of cigarettes and in the end the game is just a slot machine. So I left without even trying my luck.
On board of a
Shinkansen train to Osaka. The famous Japanese trains are no longer the fastest in the world. To travel on the fastest train I had to wait until Shanghai.
Mount Fuji is located between Tokyo and Osaka, so I was hoping to see it on my train ride. Unfortunately, the mountain was hiding behind clouds that day.
Spotting a piece of undeveloped land on the 500 km long trip to Osaka proved to be impossible. This is was the closest I could get.
Umeda Sky Building, one of Osaka's icons.
Gentsuki Genchan, a lucky mascot.
Train stations in Japan can get BIG.
Nakanoshima sandbank in the middle of Kyū-Yodo River.
Osaka City Hall guarded by a watchful eye.
Several of these statues, each in different pose, were in front of an insurance company building. Each one was labeled and described in Japanese. However, because neither of us understood the language, we were reduced to a painful role of ignorant observers of the ordinary.
The city center was impeccably clean and even small islands of green, such as this one, look carefully designed.
A building in
Chūō-ku, Osaka financial district.
A small garden near
Tekijuku, a “place for study” (on the right) established in 1838, that later evolved into Osaka University.
Osaka is so dense the bridges run not only across rivers but also above them...
Capcom, one of the giants of video games industry, is headquartered in Chūō-ku.
A statue dedicated to world peace, by
Seibo Kitamura, near a bridge leading to Osaka castle. While depictions of rearing horses are common in Europe, I don't think I've seen one like this, with the animal kicking its rear legs up instead.
Students during a rehearsal.
Moat surrounding Osaka castle.
The castle complex is full of cherry tries.
hanami season the castle is a very popular destination. Fortunately the crowds are not as massive as in parks in Tokyo.
The views near the
castle can be breathtaking.
A performer accompanied by a human in the Osaka castle park.
The monkey seems to my untrained eye to be a
Japanese macaque, from a species native to Japan.
The monkey was simply amazing.
Star of the show preparing to make a risky jump. Yet, in the end was the human master, not the stuntman, who collected all the money.
Osaka castle was originally built in late 16th century and then destroyed many times. The current building has been restored from the WWII damages as recently as in 1997.
Kendo practice in a building near the castle.
To someone unfamiliar with the discipline it looked like there was a lot of shouting and not that much sword fighting.
A reconstructed warehouse from the
Kofun period (III-VI century AD) in front of Osaka Museum of History.
I have to admit this: I fell in love with Japanese toilets. I have heard about them before the trip, and I simply had to try them out. The one here features a sink on top. The water is first used for washing hands and then for flushing. A control panel with advanced functions is also visible.
The control panel may look intimidating, but with the help of icons and Google Translate's ability to scan and translate images, it's easy to understand. The toilet offers seat warming, washing (with adjustable water temperature) and drying. Western equivalents are, in comparison, a barbaric contraption.
Billboards for talent scouting agencies. I hope.
Pet store in Chuo ward.
A narrow street like this one, full of electric cables and signage, was very close to the image of Japanese cities shaped in my mind by movies and video games.
Kimonos: checked; red sun: checked; cherry blossom, Mount Fuji and the great wave: checked, checked and checked. Maybe Westerners shouldn't feel so bad about their tendency to reduce Japan to a set of tidy clichés.
The poster warns sararimen about the dangers of being drunk in subway stations.
Kamo Gawa – or Duck River – in Kyoto. It's the most eastern of three rivers in the basin containing the city.
A few photo sessions were happening, each one using sakura as a background.
Japanese cemetery. Many graves have wooden boards called
sotoba next to them. They feature extracts from a buddhist sutra and names of the deceased, written in Sanskrit.
A small buddhist Senshoji temple just next to the cemetery.
Shiokoji Diori street. Behind the fence on the left hand side is
Sanjūsangen-dō, a buddhist temple famous for its 1000 statues. My blissful ignorance of the temple's significance prevented me from seeing them. It wasn't the first, nor the last time, something similar happened to me on that trip.
Chrysanthemum carvings on the door to the Hōjūjidono temple, just across the street from Sanjūsangen-dō.
Shaping a tree in the temple park.
The garden is carefully designed to not look designed at all.
The place has irresistible charm.
Prayers on the branches.
Chochin lanterns in the Hōjūjidono temple.
A pathway to Yōgen-in, another buddhist temple just next door to Hōjūjidono and Sanjūsangen-dō. Ceiling in that temple was built using floors from
Fushimi castle. It still has blood stains of Torii Motatada, a samurai loyal to Tokugawa Ieyasu. Torii lost the castle to Tokugawa's opponents in an unwinnable siege in 1600, and subsequently committed suicide.
Kyoto National Museum.
Main hall of
Yasaka, a shinto shrine established in 656 AD.
Roofed dance stage at Yasaka.
The dance stage. Each lantern bears a name of the business that donated money to the shrine.
Behind the shrine is
Maruyama Park, a very popular spot for viewing cherry blossom.
Few of the hundreds of carps in Maruyama Park ponds.
Imperial Palace Park in central Kyoto. During our trip the palace complex was not accessible without making a reservation few months prior. Since mid 2016 no reservations are needed anymore.
In the center of the park lies the
Imperial Palace. It was the seat of Japanese emperors until they moved to Tokyo during Meji Restoration in 1869.
Western palace gate.
People are working hard there to give trees in the park fantastical shapes.
I'm running out of captions to describe these trees, so let's just enjoy them.
Nishiki market in downtown Kyoto.
These clams were about 30 centimeters long.
After few days in the country I was willing to attribute supernatural quality to any Japanese products, including these perfectly round cookies.
Street in downtown Kyoto.
Bukkō-ji buddhist temple.
The sign looked very inviting, but we refused to hang on the locker door.
After one week we boarded a plane to Shanghai and left Japan. The country gave us the impression of extreme cleanliness, perfectly designed items, excellent food and incredibly polite people, going out of their way to help. The more adventurous part of the journey was ahead of us.
My last view of Japan featured Mount Fuji.
Approaching Pudong airport. Shanghai skyscrapers are seen in the far distance. Already about 20 kilometers away from the coast the color of the sea water changed to brown, from the sediments brought by the Yangtze river.
On board of the fastest train in the world,
maglev connecting the airport with Shanghai. I barely missed the moment when it reached its highest speed of 431 km/h. The train has been dubbed a white elephant, because of the unlikely chance to ever recuperate the $1.2 billion investment.
Our apartment was located in the
French Concession. This part of the city was administered by the French from 1849 to 1943, and still has plentiful signs of Western architectural influence. The photo depicts a building near Huaihai Road, known as Avenue Joffre during the French rule. Note that the behavior of pedestrians and motorists has no visible correlation with the traffic lights.
Eclectic influences. A sculpture in a restaurant garden.
Qian Xuesen library in front of Jiao Tong University. Qian is known as a father of Chinese rocketry. He's got his education at MIT, and was one of the pioneers of rocket technology in the United States, but then he was accused of supporting communism, and put under house arrest during American red scare of 1950s. After his release he returned to China where he made important contributions to the Chinese nuclear and space programs.
Xuhui campus of
Jiao Tong University. Established in 1896, it's one of China's oldest research universities. In 1930s it was even called “MIT of the East”.
Spicy and delicious feast.
Apartment buildings near Lujiabang Road in central Shanghai.
Construction workers didn't have any qualms about working on a flimsy bamboo scaffolding. In front are swift and quiet electric scooters. Their drivers don't seem to care about pedestrians or traffic lights, so we quickly grew to be paranoid about these vehicles.
Silk worm cocoons in the South Bund Fabric Market. The market is a large building with hundreds of small shops where you can order any kind of custom clothing, and have it completed within a couple of days. I didn't have the intention to buy anything, but eventually left with 3 ties, a custom wool coat and two shirts. Haggling is not obligatory, but was fun and effective.
A statue near a spiral ramp to
Building with sea horses near
Huangpu river bank.
Huangpu river banks featured a mix of both poor and obscenely lavish housing.
Entrance to Lunda Financial Center near Huangpu river. The door is guarded by a
couple of lions, a motive very common in China. The lioness is usually on the left side and has her paw on a playful cub.
Cool Docks feature tens of restaurants, clubs and bars.
Just next to Cool Docks are barracks housing hundreds of workers who build modern Shanghai.
Zhongshang Road near Golden Waterfront Garden at dusk. The road is named after Sun Yat-sen, the Father of the Nation, since he was best known in Chinese as Sun Zhongshan. Zhongshan Road in Shanghai encircles the whole city center. The segment shown on the picture leads to The Bund.
One of the offices of
Bank of Communications, headquartered in Shanghai.
One of the most iconic skylines in the world.
Friendly red neon lights on the right belong to
Poly Technologies, a weapons manufacturer.
2010 Expo village was located further up Huangpu river, on the Pudong side.
Jin Mao Tower and the Shanghai Tower.
In 2001 a
shoe salesman with no previous climbing experience was "struck by a rash impulse" and decided to climb Jin Mao Tower. Before being captured by the police he climbed 300m high, with his hands bleeding from cold.
World Financial Center is only second highest building in the city after Shanghai Tower, but it had the advantage of being open to the public at the time of our visit.
Oriental Pearl TV and Radio Tower is one of Shanghai's most recognizable landmarks. Illuminated at night by dynamic LED lights, it begs for photos better than taken with a phone camera through a window glass. Notice the tiny cruise ships on the Huangpu river.
One can see through the glass a street that's 474m under. Just in case, I stayed away from that glass.
Southeastern view from the observation deck at World Financial Center.
Jin Mao Tower doesn't look that tall when seen from above.
TV and Radio Tower and its neighbors in all their shiny glory.
I'm not angry, I'm terrified.
Kids in the observation deck didn't display any signs of fear of heights. Unlike me.
420m tall Jin Mao Tower (center) used to be China's tallest building until 2007, when it was surpassed by 492m World Financial Center (right), which was then leapfrogged by 632m tall Shanghai Tower in 2015 (left).
The financial district of
Lujiazui is charming at night, but it also looks very empty, compared to the bustling historical city center in Puxi.
Last look at the World Financial Center. Glass floor of the observation deck is visible here from the bottom side.
Finishing the day with a plate of dumplings that didn't look that much different from Polish pierogi, except they were served with rice vinegar.
24-story building of
Shanghai Library. Red banner with familiar sickle and hammer commemorates the 95th anniversary of the founding of Chinese Communist Party.
Entrance to the Shanghai Library.
A concept that seems to be unique to Shanghai is dedicating entire streets to specific types of shops. For example, you can find every kind of musical instrument on East Jingling Road.
Male guardian lions can be recognized by a ball they play with their paw.
The Bund. The clock tower belongs to the Customs House, a building from 1927, still serving its original function.
Bund Center building in reality is a bit away from the Bund.
Spicy green beans, papaya, lotus root and squirrel fish – one of the most delicious meals I had in China, in Shanghai Grandmother restaurant near the Bund.
Cassie was slightly perplexed by the bull statue at the Bund, but the little boy knew exactly what to do to secure his future prosperity.
Bund Bull is modeled after the bull from Wall Street, but with few significant differences to emphasize the spirit of Shanghai and dynamism of Chinese economy. Yet, the statue was built in Wyoming (despite having ming in its name, Wyoming is NOT a place in China).
The HSBC building at the Bund, now owned by
Shanghai Pudong Development Bank. Only this year I learned that HSBC stands for Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, as the bank was established in Hong Kong.
On a foggy day the Pudong skyline has lost some charm, but none of its scale.
Tallest skyscrapers of Pudong, with the golden
Aurora Plaza in front of them.
Shanghai lies close to the Yangtze, but Huangpu river flows through the middle of the city, and is the main source of drinking water. Sadly, most of the city's wastewater is also disposed directly into the river. Despite ongoing efforts to improve the situation, the pollution is very visible.
The building on the left served from 1924 as headquarters for
North China Daily News, an English-language newspaper. It was then confiscated by the communists in 1951, damaged during Cultural Revolution, and finally restored in 1996. It's currently owned by the insurance company AIA.
The Monument to People's Heroes has a form of three rifles supporting each other and was erected relatively recently, in 1993. There's an identically named monument in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
The name Jahwa reminded me of something from my youth, but I couldn't recall what. Perhaps it was my past interest in
The Bund is very popular location for newly wed couples to have their photos taken.
I joined the fry as an uninvited wedding photographer.
If I stayed at the Bund a little bit longer I could make an album full of wedding photos.
Apple store in of the world's most prime locations:
East Nanjing Road.
Practicing Chinese calligraphy.
Gigantic building owned by
Xinhua Bookstore chain. The store has few floors, including one dedicated to books on marxism and leninism. I went there with a specific purpose of obtaining The Little Red Book, but left empty-handed – the book is no longer in print. This, probably more than anything else, shows complicated relationship the Chinese have with Mao. His face is still featured on every banknote, yet no one seems to be eager to study his ideas anymore. There's no problem to buy Chinese translation of Ayn Rand's Anthem in the same store.
Shanghai Grand Theater building is in fact housing three different theaters inside.
A Chinese gentleman practicing ephemeral art of calligraphy on a walkway in People's Park.
View of the Grand Theater from the center of People's Park.
A giant standing out in the crowd at the exit from People's Park.
Park Hotel was the tallest building in Asia between 1934 and 1958. On the rights is Radisson Blu with a saucer on its rooftop.
Shimao International Plaza strongly resembles Barad-dûr.
Former building of
Shanghai Race Club. The communist government took over the properties of the club in 1950s and turned the racing grounds behind the building into what is now People's Park.
I got some insight into how much a restaurant worker in the city center could earn. One yuan is about 0.13€ or $0.15. Many jobs on this board have age requirements, such as 18-25.
I didn't get to see the real
terracotta army of emperor Qin, so I had to settle for this instead.
Pedestrian section of East Nanjing Road at night.
It remains a mystery to me if that dance routine was spontaneous or staged for tourists and visitors.
Communist Party monument in the People's Park.
I couldn't help but be inspired by the statue.
That must be the cutest guide in the world to surviving terrorist attack.
Some parts of the French Concession have the atmosphere of a small European town.
We chose a path less trodden when going to South Bund Fabric Market to pickup the clothes we ordered two days earlier.
On Monday we returned to the “music instruments street” (i.e. Jinling Lu).
Some of the pianos in the store were really beautiful.
My favorite photo of Shanghai that captures two sides of the city, in both geographical and economical sense.
We are about the enter the old town, now distinguished by numerous shops selling gold, traditional Chinese medicine and delicacies, from ginseng to
One of the many jewelry shops in the area, gleaming with gold.
Yuyuan Bazaar is located in the former Chinese-only part of the city. Now it's a place to buy all sorts of memorabilia, jewelry and anything else a tourist may want.
Jiu Qu Bridge is a nine turn
zig-zag bridge. According to zen tradition zig-zag bridges served to focus the walker and induce mindfulness. For that reason they often lacked railings. The picture shows approximately 1000 tourists, all searching for mindfulness.
Water was almost boiling with carp.
The zig-zag bridge leads to a tea house, pictured here in the center.
Extensive rockery in
Yu Garden (also known as Yu Yuan Garden).
Yu Garden features many large perforated limestones like this one. They're called
scholar rocks and are quite a common sight in Chinese gardens.
Yu Garden was built in 16th century by a son of a Ming dynasty official. The son failed imperial exams, and started the construction to comfort his old father. The cost eventually contributed to financial ruin of the family. Perhaps for the better the old man didn't live long enough to witness that.
The garden probably looked more cosy when it was freshly built in 16th century, but it retained a lot of its beauty.
Many buildings in the surrounding market area borrowed the style of their red walls and black roofs from the structures in the Yu Garden.
The long-whiskered dragon was my favorite of all dragons I've seen in China.
A couple of iron-cast lions in Yu Garden bravely resist rust since the Ming dynasty.
Edward Snowden clearly made it into the pop-cultural pantheon.
Bamboo shoots. After cooking they're edible.
Pond in Guangchang Park.
Fearless warriors. Chinese are spending millions of dollars on
The aquariums are boiling with golden fish.
Jiangyin Road was dedicated to pet and flower stores. This one was selling rodents such as hamsters pictured here.
Electric scooters may look innocent, but their drivers in Shanghai only look for opportunities to run over you.
No wonder so many people smoke when even pandas advertise cigarettes. Who could resist that!
Hong Kong welcomed us with temperature of 25°C, the most humid air I've ever experienced, and lush vegetation. Wet weather stayed with us throughout the entire visit.
This plant looked familiar as soon as I spotted it. It's a
rushfoil (also known as garden croton), a pot plant in Europe, here growing in the open.
Kowloon Walled City no longer exists, the area still feels very claustrophobic.
After two weeks of eating Asian cuisine exclusively, I decided to get something more familiar. So I ordered tiramisu, pictured here.
The pink mouse is a "hit with the ladies".
International Commerce Centre, hosting the highest hotel on the planet, is soaring above the clouds and smaller buildings.
Probably that's the smallest MacDonald's I have ever seen.
Flamingos served as a reminder that we were in the intertropical zone.
More plants I knew only from pots.
The roots of this tree reminded me of chicken feet, except the trunk was over 1 meter in diameter.
The ship pictured here is
MS Star Pisces, built in Turku, Finland, on the Baltic Sea coast, no less.
The famous Hong Kong skyline is hiding somewhere in that picture.
Ferris wheel overlooking Victoria Harbor was built just in December 2014. We were not tempted by the prospect of seeing the city from there.
Fog, drizzle and rain kept us company on every day of our stay. Only in Hong Kong I became familiar with dehumidifiers. On the bright side, my normally dry skin experienced fantastic recovery.
Tram ride is one of the better ways of exploring the
Central district of Hong Kong island.
I barely resisted touching the street lights from my double decker tram window.
Tram lines go through the entire northern part of the Central. A ride takes just over 2 hours.
Hong Kong is not a place for people with claustrophobia. North-eastern coast of the island is just a hundred meters away, but tightly separated by the wall of buildings.
Iconic shape of
Bank of China Tower is sometimes called Yi Ba Dao (“one knife”), due to its resemblance to a meat cleaver. When it was conceived in the early 1990s, it was one of the few such major projects in the city that didn't involve feng shui masters in the design process.
A long trip to
Victoria Peak rewarded us with this spectacular panorama of the city.
Polygons of the Bank of China Tower are sneaking from behind of
Cheung Kong Center. The architects of the latter hired feng shui masters to balance negative energy coming from the cleaver of the Bank of China building with peaceful and conservative form.
Sloped streets of the Central.
The long staircase had a certain glamour quality to it.
It's turtles all the way down in the
Hollywood Road Park. From this very place the British claimed possession of Hong Kong in 1841, for the next 156 years.
A reminder that Hong Kong is the world's 4th busiest port.
On our last full day in Hong Kong we went for a hike in the hill forests of
Lantau island. We walked towards Ngong Ping. The cable car visible in the distance is a much more popular way to get there.
Hong Kong lies just below the Tropic of Cancer, so I think it's fair to call this forest a jungle.
Dense forest, especially in bad weather, is not a great subject for landscape photography, but it was still one of my favorite segments of the journey.
The hike was about 6km long and very comfortable. The concrete path felt like an overkill, but given how quickly the forest grows there, it was perhaps necessary to keep the passage accessible.
The photos didn't capture
very loud sounds made by exotic (by my Central European standards) birds and other animals. I loved it, and even recorded some frogs.
I was very surprised how few people were on the trail: we met one monk, four workers and just two other tourists. In a place as crowded as Hong Kong I expected more people to seek leisure in the forest.
Not without some difficulty, we arrived at
Po Lin Monastery.
At last, the goal of our journey – the statue of
Tian Tan Buddha. The shroud of ancient mystery surrounding it had to give way to a mere haze after I learned that the structure was completed as recently as 1993.
The Buddha is surrounded by bronze statues collectively called “The Offering of the Six Devas”.
devas offer flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music. They represent the Six Perfections necessary for enlightenment: generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom.
The name Tian Tan refers to the Altar of Heaven, i.e the official name of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, which we visited just a week later.
From the altar of heaven, back to earth.
Paifang leading to the Tian Tan Buddha site. The holy mixes with the profane around there. Next to the monastery and the Buddha is a large complex of shops, restaurants and all sorts of entertainment facilities. Exit through the gift shop was a recurring theme in Hong Kong.
Local creature presented properly stoic attitude.
On our way back we took the cable car. The views were certainly unusual, but it wasn't exactly “sightseeing”.
This aerial tramway is called
Ngong Ping 360.
Only after the safe trip I learned that the tramway had a history of occasional failures, including an accident, when an empty cabin fell and crashed during the annual checkup. It happened
despite following the best feng shui practices during the construction process!
Ships, buses and cable train. What else could one want?
Tung Chung Bay seen from 40 meters above the sea level.
Taiyuan is a city of 3 million people, and the capital of Shanxi province. Fen River, pictured here, is the second largest tributary of the Yellow River. Over the long course of Chinese history Taiyuan was occasionally elevated to the status of the Northern Capital – or Beijing in Chinese.
Taiyuan is rapidly modernizing. Only 15 years ago it was one of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world, partially because of the geography and Shanxi coal industry. Now, while air pollution is still a problem, infrastructure projects in housing and public transport (subway, roads with bike lanes and rental bikes) improve the situation. Most buildings and roads look brand new.
This ad was perhaps too earnest.
Entrance gate to the Yingze, largest park in the city center.
We chose an absolutely perfect time to visit the park.
Even though this sign was translated to English, I remained puzzled by it.
Within the park is a small Shanxi Merchants Museum.
The museum documents rich and long history of trade in the Shanxi province.
I couldn't resist getting a photo in front of
Guan Yu's statue. He was a major figure in the Romance of Three Kingdoms, recently known better in the West thanks to Red Cliff, a movie by John Woo. Guan was a general, deified for his loyalty and righteousness in the service of Liu Bei. Chinese devotion to Guan Yu was confirmed soon after my trip, with the completion of a 58-meter tall statue in Hubei province.
The museum is relatively new and its exhibitions are based on private collections and donated artifacts.
The small museum features some examples of Chinese architecture. With at least 2500 years of history, Taiyuan is actually the oldest of all the cities we visited on our trip.
A stage near the Shanxi Merchants Museum.
One of my favorite images from China: seniors making music in the park.
Judging by his acting skills, this boy is a natural.
In Taiyuan I saw a
marriage market for the first time. The place seemed to be attended mostly by parents, either posting ads or searching for an ideal partner for their child. Dating apps are not banned in China, so that could also explain relative lack of young people there.
The ads were very straight to the point and no-nonsense, compared to what one can find on dating websites. They included information such as income and specific expectations from the partner. My guess is that ads were written by parents, and thus less likely to make cringeworthy attempts at romance.
My arrival caused a small sensation, lots of laughs and comments such as: "See, even white people come here to look for a wife!" I had a blast.
Cassie was growing up in this building. Now it's almost empty and quite likely will be scheduled for demolition.
It took a long time, but finally, thanks to a tip from a
Didi driver, we found a used copy of the Little Red Book in Taiyuan's flea market. It costed about 7 euros, but the wisdom within is priceless.
Cassie's elementary school, no longer operating.
The school is scheduled for demolition. It felt like very few buildings in Taiyuan were older than 20 years.
Cassie's aunt, a civil engineer, was part of the team that designed Yifen Bridge, pictured here.
Nonchalant use of English gave this ad some international flair.
Cosmic shape of Shanxi Geological Museum.
Shanxi Museum has a massive collection and I was quite excited about seeing it. Unfortunately, I scheduled my visit on Monday, when it's closed to visitors.
A pond near
Jinci Temple, 25 km from Taiyan. The temple complex was created to honor Tang Shu Yu, a son of the founder of the Western Zhou dynasty. Yu was appointed by his brother, second king of Zhou, to rule the Tang province, and was remembered as an intelligent and unselfish leader.
A lioness holding a cub. Older depictions of female lions frequently showed them with their mouth shut.
Three deities symbolizing attributes of a good life. All are associated with celestial objects, and are depicted from right to left, just like Chinese writing: prosperity (Fu – Jupiter), status (Lu – Mizar in Big Dipper) and longevity (Shou – Canopus).
The Flying Dragon Pavilion
This recent monument depicts the second ruler from the Tang dynasty, emperor
Taizong, and his top staff. He is considered one of the most respected emperors. His reign started a golden age in Chinese history.
Jinci was rebuilt and reshaped over the course of centuries. The oldest written records of the temple go to the northern Wei Dynasty (386-535 AD).
There are many examples of old calligraphy on the buildings in the Jinci complex. The scripts are often too old to be deciphered by regular users of modern Chinese.
The Goddess Mother Hall (or Saint Mother Hall), seen here from the Flying Bridge, is the best known building in the complex. It was constructed between 1023 and 1032, during Song dynasty, making it the oldest building we saw during our entire Asian trip.
Four of the eight wooden dragons wrapping the hall's columns.
The hall hosts over 40 unique painted wooden maid statues from the Song period. Unfortunately, photography was forbidden.
The guardian statue wears a belt depicting
Xing Tian, a mythical figure representing tireless fighting spirit. Xing Tian was decapitated and his head was buried, but he kept fighting, with his nipples as ‘eyes that could not see’, and belly button as ‘mouth that could not open’.
Cypress tree, dating back to the Western Zhou dynasty (1027-771 BC), is one of the oldest trees in the whole country.
One of the main attractions of the temple complex is a spring, visible under the small roof just right off the center of the photo. The water coming out of the spring is supposed to maintain a constant temperature of 17°C throughout the entire year. Many visitors, such as the ones shown on the right, wash their hands in the spring water, hoping for a blessing.
Behind the temple lies Xuanweng Mountain. At the time it was not accessible to tourist because of the fire hazard.
Entrance to the Wang Family Hall, a private villa built in 1532 for a high official serving under the Ming dynasty.
Delicious hot pot dinner on my last evening in Taiyuan.
Morning run at 6am in a school just outside my window.
On our trip we stopped at the site of former
Qiao family residence near Dongguan, in a middle of the road between Taiyuan and Pingyao, a historical city in Shanxi province.
A movie from 1991,
Rise the Red Lantern, was shot on this site.
A slightly fictionalized version of the story of the most well known member of the Qiao family, financier Qiao Zhiyong, was told in a TV series
Qiao's Grand Courtyard, shot here.
Just before Pingyao we stopped at a restaurant that had an
extremely authentic atmosphere, bringing me some distant memories of Poland in 1980s.
The first place we visited in Pingyao was Yamen, a county government office. It was occupied by an official who served as the mayor and the judge.
This charming part of Yamen was originally a prison courtyard.
A garden in Yamen.
The complex includes about 300 rooms, from governor's offices and his concubines' quarters to prison cells and storage rooms. Governor's wife was not allowed to live with him, so he could focus on his duties.
It's never too late to put on a bride costume.
Pingyao's history dates back to the Zhou dynasty. Today it's a UNESCO Heritage Site, thanks to the old city walls and largely unaltered architecture from Ming and Qing periods. Currently about 50,000 people still live in the city, and millions more visit it every year.
The city is overflowing with tourists, almost exclusively Chinese. However, I also met a small group of visitors from Poland!
Trying not to get lost in the crowd where no one spoke English was my main task. Occasionally I spotted something special, such as the Market Tower shown here in the distance.
The city is famous for two products in particular: beef and lacquerware. “Pingyao beef scam” (outrageously overpriced beef meal) is a recognized phenomena, and I bet this must be its lacquerware equivalent.
Thousands of visitors touch the dragon pole every day, hoping for luck and good fortune. I concluded that touching it might also give me plenty of other things I didn't ask for, so I just stood by.
Pingyao used to be a major financial hub in 19th century (late Qing dynasty). At that point more than a half of the country's financial sector was located in the city.
Rishengchang, founded here, is considered the first bank in Chinese history. The silver and gold accumulated by these bankers is long gone, but their industrious descendants seem to be doing quite well, selling fake “bank certificates” and “gold bars”.
Original walls from the 14th century (Ming dynasty) are important parts of the city's historical heritage. They're 12m high and 6km in perimeter.
An elderly couple of acrobats in Beijing demonstrated some incredible skill, defying their age.
hutong street in the Houhai area. We stayed in a siheyuan, a building similar to these. Most of the city's population lived in such quarters for hundreds of years, until they were replaced with high-rises in the last century.
There's no way this poor dog could walk.
Well, I was wrong: as soon as a female dog showed up, the obese creature got up and followed her. Hopefully he didn't pay for it with a heart attack.
Allegory of the close relationship between the People's Army and, well, the people.
A church belonging to state-sanctioned
Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. The organization is not formally recognized by Vatican.
China Post News is not affiliated with
The China Post from Taiwan. Instead, it seems to be a subsidiary of state-owned China Post postal service.
Our Peking duck was served by the saddest cook in the world.
We had our first Peking duck in the world's biggest restaurant dedicated to this dish,
Quanjude on Hepingmen Ave. Restaurants in Chinese cities are generally large, but this one is an unparalleled 7 story building, capable of serving 2000 people at the same time. This particular location was hand picked by a former prime minister Zhou Enlai.
National Museum has an enormous collection of artifacts, from 1.7 million year old fossils of a homo erectus specimen called Yuanmou Man, to the documentation of “national rejuvenation” led by the Communist Party of China.
Tiananmen Square takes its name from Tiananmen Gate, visible here in the back. The square is really enormous and can fit more than 500,000 people. It was a site of important moments in Chinese history of the last century, such as May 4th Movement of 1919, unsanctioned by the party displays of mourning after the death of Zhou Enlai, and the protests of 1989.
A monument in front of
Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, or Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, is the resting place of Mao's embalmed body. The place didn't seem to be open to the public at the time of our visit, so I haven't seen the crystal coffin.
The Monument to the People's Heroes occupies the center of Tiananmen Square. Since its completion in 1958 it was a focal point of mass demonstrations and official ceremonies.
Reliefs on the lower part of the monument document various revolutionary movements in China, from destruction of British opium in 1839 (trigger to the
First Opium War), to the crossing of Yangtze, a turning point in communist victory over Kuomintang in 1949.
Sadly, the handsome soldier didn't appreciate my attempts at photographing him.
The Great Hall of People is a meeting place for National People's Congress (Chinese parliament), and a site of special events, such as state memorial services.
Tiananmen is so iconic to China, that it's pictured on country's national emblem. Interestingly, the emblem is also displayed on the gate, creating recursion. The banners say: “Long Live the People's Republic of China” and “Long live the Great Unity of the World's Peoples”.
Since 1949 the entrance to the former imperial quarters in Forbidden City is overlooked by Chairman Mao himself. His portrait is replaced with a new one every year before October 1st, the anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic.
Forbidden City is the most popular museum site in the world (ahead of Louvre), so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that the audio guides were available even in Esperanto.
On one of the five bridges crossing the Golden Stream.
Gate of Supreme Harmony was used by Ming emperors for morning court sessions with the ministers. In Qing era these were less ceremonial, as emperors were more involved in operations of the state. The sessions were then held in the Gate of Heavenly Purity, closer to emperor's quarters.
A bronze lion defending the Gate of Supreme Harmony.
Panorma of Tianhedian (Harmony) Square shows how enormous it is. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is in the center. Major buildings on the sides are Tower of Enhanced Righteousness (left) and Tower of State Benevolence (right). The area has perhaps the largest number of grandiosely named buildings in the world.
Forbidden City is located in the very center of Beijing, and built around the south-north axis. Thus the path in the middle is also the central axis for the whole capital. The middle part of it was reserved for the sole use of the emperor.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony occupies the center of Forbidden City. During the Qing dynasty the building was used only for very special occasions, such as imperial weddings and coronations. It is still the largest wooden structure in China. It burned and was rebuilt seven times, with the current iteration finished in 1697. The first fire happened just after inauguration during the reign of Yongle Emperor in 15th century: the roof was hit by lightning and the building burned to the ground.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony sits on a three story tall marble platform.
To eliminate any doubts, the character above the exit says “door”.
A look back at the Gate of Supreme Harmony, from the Hall of Supreme Harmony. A couple of hundred tourists shown here are a tiny part of the throng of 14.6 million that visit the palace museum every year.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony seen from the north. All major structures had south entrances, since north was regarded as “harmful”. The pavilion where the emperor rejected potential concubines was one of the few facing north.
equatorial sundial, such as this one, has a plane parallel to the equator plane, and the gnomon in the north/south axis.
Dragon Throne in the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
And now, for a different perspective, let's bring here this
classic user review from Trip Advisor: “Yes, yes, red buildings and yellow roofs... Somethings with thrones inside.”
A view at the courtyard from the platform shared by the Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Central Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony.
Throne in the
Hall of Central Harmony. This relatively small pavilion served primarily as a lounge for the emperor, before he took part in official events.
Throne in the
Hall of Preserving Harmony. This hall was smaller than the Hall of Supreme Harmony, and during the last dynasty (Qing) was used for imperial banquets, rehearsals and, after 1789, for Palace Examinations. These exams were the final and highest stage of the country-wide system for selecting public officials. While in the later years of imperial China the system became corrupt, for centuries it was an unparalleled attempt to create meritocracy, in place of inherited titles.
The fact that Forbidden City survived to this day is quite a miracle. The metal vessels visible here used to be covered with gold. The precious metal was scraped off by the British and the French during occupation in 1860, during the
Second Opium War. The same powers considered burning the place to the ground, but eventually chose to burn the Summer Palace instead. A hundred years later, during Cultural Revolution, overzealous Red Guards also wanted to burn Forbidden City, as a symbol of the old order. The site was preserved thanks to a personal intervention of Zhou Enlai, a prime minister at the time and one of the very few bright figures of that period in Chinese history. He sent a battalion to guard the place. Eventually all four gates to Forbidden City were sealed from 1966 to 1971, to protect it from fanatics.
This stone carving is made from a singular giant rock, 16.5 meter long and 200 tonnes in weight. The rock was brought from Fangshan mountains, 70 kilometers from Beijing. The emperor was allowed to travel over the carving, carried in his sedan.
Throne in the
Hall of Heavenly Purity. This palace was emperor's main private residence throughout the entire Ming period and until the reign of the renowned Kangxhi Emperor. Out of respect for Kangxhi, his son moved the royal residence to the Hall of Mental Cultivation, a smaller building that doesn't lie on the main axis of Forbidden City.
Even the number and order of decorations on the roofs on imperial buildings is
full of symbolism.
Only the emperor and his family spent time and relaxed in the Imperial Garden. Now everyone is permitted to do so, but no one can among the crowds.
This fierce looking creature is not yet another lion, but benevolent (and vegetarian)
Some of the few hundred years old cypress trees.
Qinandian, or the Hall of Imperial Peace in the Imperial Garden. This hall was dedicated to
Xuan Wu, a taoist god capable of controlling the elements. The temple was supposed to protect wooden palaces of Forbidden City from catching fire. Efficacy of this solution is highly questionable, since there were over 50 fires in the complex during Ming and Qing rule.
Rockery in the Imperial Garden.
Caisson ceiling in one of the pavilions in the Imperial Garden.
Rich and colorful roof decorations are much more common on historical buildings in China than in Japan.
Hill of Accumulated Elegance (I prefer that name to the other English translation: Piled Elegance Hill) is a 10-meter high artificial rockery, topped with the Imperial View Pavilion.
The ruins of Crystal Palace, or the Palace of Prolonged Happiness, in the north-eastern part of the complex. The construction was started by empress
Dowager Cixi in the 1890s. The building was designed by German architects and had western style, with many glass windows and an underground aquarium. Qing dynasty fell before the construction was completed, and the structure suffered additional damage later on, including a bombing in 1917.
A walled “street” in the dense, north-eastern part of Forbidden City.
6-meter tall Chinese water clock welcomes visitors to the Clocks and Watches Museum located in the Hall of Worshipping Ancestors. After refilling with water it can still tell time for 72 hours.
The museum has 1500 or so clocks in the collection, but only about 300 are on the display.
The Chinese were quick to appreciate the precision of Western mechanical devices, compared to water clocks. Soon they started to produce their own time pieces. This one was made in
Suzhou in late 19th or early 20th century.
Not all clocks are functioning, but there is a small team of watchmakers (3-6 people) restoring them.
Numerous clocks were “gifts” given by foreign traders, mostly British, to the Chinese custom officers in 18th and 19th century.
A “pocket watch”, about 20 centimeters in diameter.
Around the time I took the trip I was writing software for Apple Watch. I just couldn't resist to take THAT picture. The centuries old clock behind me can still keep time. I wonder how many Apple Watches will be able to do the same in 2250.
Dear white pole, you're the best.
I like the frankness of the old name, “Pavillon of High Expectations”.
Tongzi River is much more than a moat for Forbidden City. A system of pumps and underground channels exchanges water with three nearby lakes west of the city, ensuring flow and self-cleaning. First underground channel was built in 1760, but the system underwent modernization in 2007.
Just north of the Forbidden City lies
Jingshan Park. The central feature of the park is an artificial hill, built with dirt from the construction of Tongzi River. It's 46 meters tall, but in Ming and Qing eras it was the tallest spot in Beijing. The building in the foreground is Qiwang Pavilion. The top of the hill is the location of Wan Chun Ting (Everlasting Spring Pavilion), visible here in the background.
Each of every five pavilions on Jingshan Hill used to contain a copper Buddha statue. In 1900 allied western powers looted four of them and destroyed the fifth. Now the top pavilion hosts a statue again.
The size of Forbidden City can be best appreciated from the top of Jingshan Hill.
Visitors exit Forbidden City through the
Gate of Divine Might. The round object on the far right is the National Centre for Performing Arts. It shouldn't come as a surprise that it's nicknamed The Giant Egg.
Miaoying Temple is easily visible from the hill.
Northern part of Jingshan Park as seen from the top of the hill. Located in the far distance is the
Drum Tower (Gulou). Together with the Bell Tower behind it, it served as official timekeeping device for the city until 1924.
Jingshan Hill was sometimes called the Coal Hill (Meishan), as some believed that emperors were hiding coal there. The very final moment of Ming took its place here, when
Chongzhen Emperor, the last in the dynasty, committed suicide on the hillside in 1644.
stupa of the Miaoying Temple dates back to Mongolian Yuan dynasty.
One of the smaller pavilions in Jingshan.
A northern gate in Jingshan.
Peony is the national flower of China. We visited the park during the peak of their blooming season, when hundreds of people came to photograph them.
Amateur but skilled performance in the park.
The park serves as a center of activity for seniors and younger people.
Floral design contest.
In China Apple is less careful about the secrecy of new prototypes and precision of their branding.
The saints of different eras.
National Art Museum of China
Traffic in Chinese cities is an indescribable phenomena. This picture can give only a vague idea of the thrills we experienced each time we had to cross a street.
The archery tower of
Zhengyangmen, the former front (southern) gate of Beijing's city walls. It's still one of the city's major landmarks, located just south of Mao's mausoleum.
Qianmen was renovated for the 2008 Olympics and has a good chance to become city's high street. As of now, though, it still feels a bit empty and barely finished.
American iconography is used casually in advertising in this “communist” country. Here: an ad for a social news app.
Hutongs on our street were just a blocks away from glamorous modern hotels.
The headquarters of
China Central Television. It holds the title of the Best Tall Building Worldwide of 2013.
Locals call it “the big pants”.
After seeing some apocalyptic photos of pollution in Beijing, I was pleasantly surprised by the situation on the ground. However, the glassy walls of CCTV HQ certainly had their share of dust.
CCTV HQ with World Trade Center Tower 3B in the background, still under construction.
In retrospect, I have no idea how I managed to survive that trip without a selfie stick.
The Long Corridor leading to the
Temple of Heaven (Tiantan in Chinese). The temple was built in the early 15th century by Yongle Emperor of the Ming dynasty. It was the same emperor who ordered construction of the Forbidden City. The Long Corridor bears its name for a reason: it goes on for 350 meters.
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is the most iconic building in the Tiantan complex. It's an impressive, 38 meters tall structure. The name precisely describes its function: the emperor was praying here for good harvests, in a ceremony that was secret to regular citizens.
The Heavens represent spiritual domain that gives a mandate to the emperor, known as the
Son of Heavens. Transitions between Chinese dynasties happened when the emperor lost this mandate, as demonstrated by his inability to rule successfully. Distinct blue color of the roofs of major buildings in the temple represents the Heavens.
The building sits on a marble base, but is entirely made of wood, without nails.
The Hall of Imperial Heaven is a smaller building just north of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Shrines visible here hold holy tablets.
Models of Chinese temples from different periods. From the left: from the
Yellow Emperor's period, Western Zhou, Eastern Han.
Danbi Bridge is a 360 meters long elevated pathway connecting northern part and southern parts of the temple.
Architecture of Danbi Bridge symbolizes a connection between Heavens and Earth. The northern part (Heavens) is slightly elevated in comparison to the southern part (Earth). Additionally, northern part of Tiantan Park has a round shape, associated with Heaven. The southern edges of Tiantan form a square, symbolizing Earth.
In the middle of Danbi walkway are three paths. The central one was reserved for the god of Heavens, the eastern for the emperor, and the western for highest court officials. Unaware at the time, I committed a sacrilege.
I respect how fiercely this woman was protecting her business. Still, I managed to get a glimpse of a slightly amused fake princess.
Danbi Bridge leads to Imperial Vault of Heaven in the south. The building mirrors the round, heavenly shape of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, but on a smaller scale.
Interior of Imperial Vault of Heaven. In the center of the gilded ceiling is a dragon playing with a pearl, surrounded by 360 smaller dragons.
The Vault is surrounded by Echo Wall, a smooth, 193m long round structure. Under perfect conditions, two people could hear each other talking, while standing in the right locations. As a result, hundreds of tourist desperately shout at the wall, hoping for their words to come back. A deep metaphor for social media must be hiding here in plain sight.
The Imperial Vault of Heaven is a 19m tall wooden structure built in 1530 on a white marble platform. The main function of the building was to store tablets used in the ceremony of worshipping the Heavens.
The third most important location in the temple is the
Circular Mound Altar. It's surrounded by an outer square wall (symbolizing earth) and the inner, circular (heavenly) wall. The inner wall is decorated with blue glazed tiles and carved dragons.
The altar has three levels. On every Winter Solstice the emperor would thank here for the harvest and pray for future blessings.
The top of the Circular Mount Altar features design emphasizes the special meaning of the number 9. As the largest “positive” single-digit number (Chinese considered odd numbers to be “positive” and associated them with
yang, light and masculine energy), 9 used to be a symbol of imperial authority. The Heart of Heaven Stone in the center is surrounded by a circle made of 9 stones. The next circle has 18 stones, then 27, and so on until the most outer 9th circle with 81 stones.
Both outer and inner walls surrounding the alter are pierced by 4 groups of 3 so called Lingxing gates.
Some cypress trees in the park surrounding the Temple of Heavens are few hundred years old. Before I and millions of other visitors were allowed into the complex, its monumental scale and careful layout were capable of creating an atmosphere of spiritual concentration.
Younger trees in eastern part of the Tiantan Park.
A man exercising with nunchakus in Tiantan Park is keeping a perfect composure despite being photographed by pesky tourists (such as myself).
After spotting a store with table tennis accessories I had to check it out. Most items on the display aren't paddles – these are blades, that can be customized by adding rubber layers.
Some blades cost as much as 3000 yuan – a monthly salary for many people in the city.
On our last day in Beijing we went to see a kung fu show in the Red Theater. The plot wasn't the strongest point, and the behavior of some members of the audience was
very disrespectful, but the acrobatic feats of live performers were nothing short of breathtaking.
I never felt more at home in Berlin as after this 3 week long trip.