Monday, June 18, 2018

Ni Hao Part 8 Xi'an

Cheering the Runners at Xi'an   ink and watercolor by Meera Rao 

Xi'an City Wall Marathon ink and watercolor by Meera Rao 

After a sumptuous breakfast, we set out early to explore Xian. Xi'an, an ancient capital of China has the oldest, largest and most well preserved fortifications.  Our guide was excited and flipped our itinerary a bit.  She drove us to city wall and gate (built in the 14th century) much earlier than planned because it was Xian City Wall Marathon day ! We too climbed up the city wall to watch and cheer as the runners went by. It was the very festive and Chinese version of the Rock and Roll marathon - with mostly retired elderly ( and mainly women) drumming and leading the cheers with ribbons, flags and colorful scarves as the runners breezed through.  We also had a great view of the city from the wall.  

China Post ink and watercolor by Meera Rao

Among the things that caught my attention during our trip to China were the green Chinese post boxes, mail vans and post offices. The mail delivery and pick up vehicles especially in the cities were all small and  three wheeled.  This one had a big basket on top.  

Umbrella for Motorcycle ink and watercolor by Meera Rao

Electric scoters with covers ink and watercolor by Meera Rao 

To tackle transportation and  environmental problems, China has millions of electric motorbikes and scooters - electric are the only ones allowed on the roads now. I saw a number of them being charged by the curbside with electric wires running from stores or houses.  They run very quiet and walkers have to be vigilant and  watch out for fast moving vehicles that sneak up suddenly in their path! Many of the bikes and scooters I saw had colorful umbrellas or covers to protect them from rain and sun :) 

Another interesting feature was how they used coats/jackets or special covers for their hand and vehicle handles but not the rest of the body!  

Monday, June 11, 2018

Ni Hao Part 7 Chengdu

View From Boat, Le Shan watercolor and Ink by Meera Rao

Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province was our next stop. Chengdu seemed like a laid back modern city with high rises and bustling ring roads. I fell in love with the old part of the city with its beautiful and grand traditional buildings, the ancient Wenshu Temple dedicated to Manjushree, and its distinctive streets.  The pavement in each street in the old city had its own special carved markings. The Temple and its sprawling gardens once again were an oasis of calm and serenity.  And of course, the restaurants by the temple served delicious vegetarian and vegan food!         

Grand Buddha at Le Shan, watercolor and Ink by Meera Rao

Le Shan's Grand Buddha was an easy day trip from Chengdu. The serene 1200 year old 71meters (233') tall Budha is carved from a cliff overlooking the confluence of three rivers: Min, Dadu, and Quinyi. It is also an Unesco World Heritage site. We took a boat tour so we could see the entire statue. The view of the cliff, the Buddha statue and the many centuries old buildings enhanced the leisurely boat ride. I even had time to sketch as the boat slowly made its way to and from viewing the statue. :) Later we enjoyed walking along the park-like riverfront of the picturesque town of LeShan.
View from Boat,  LeShan watercolor and Ink by Meera Rao

The next morning was devoted to observing the Pandas at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Center.  The vast and beautiful park like research center is a popular tourist attraction and once again there were HUGE crowds! We saw many adult pandas resting or eating and about half a dozen juveniles climbing and playing.  They were all spread out in the park and we got our day's exercise by walking  a couple of miles or more :) 

Panda watercolor and Ink by Meera Rao

In the old part of the city, we found many vendors selling fruits, noodles, and knickknacks in small stalls.  Some had a few baskets of fruits and vegetables set on the steps. This particular stall selling mulberries, mangoes, dragonfruits and jackfruits was flanked by elegant stone carvings of an elephant on a circular wheel like base.  A couple of books and a baby's sippy cup were resting on the elephant. I noticed that around dusk, in the old part of the city, many families pulled chairs around a folding table right by the street side next to their stalls and enjoyed their dinner and conversations.  
Fruits for Sale on the Steps of an Old Building in Chengdu watercolor and Ink by Meera Rao

Monday, June 4, 2018

Ni Hao part 6 Sun Temple Beijing

Sun Temple Gardens/Ri Tan Park, Beijing watercolor and ink sketch by Meera Rao 

We went exploring one evening from our hotel. The Sun Temple and Ri Tan Park so clearly marked on the map within walking distance somehow kept eluding us.  And then suddenly just as we were about to give up, I saw a sign with so many things crossed off (see below) and had to take a photo. Right next to it was the sign we were looking for all along :) near an unassuming gate. 

Ritan - The Temple of the Sun was built in the 9th year of Emperor Jiajing in 1530 during the Ming dynasty. Along with temples dedicated to the Earth, the Moon, and  the Temple of Heaven, its one of five historical temples of Beijing. The Temple of the Sun was used by the imperial court for rites of worship of Sun, fasting, prayers, dancing as part of a year-long cycle of ceremonies. The color red was associated with the Sun, including red utensils for food and wine offerings, and red clothes for the emperor to wear during the ceremonies. The temple is now part of a public park. 


We strolled the beautiful grounds lined with trees full of red blossoms.  It was an oasis of peace in the middle of a buzzing city! There were people doing tai chi, exercise walking, chatting away and some meditating in quiet corners.  The temple complex is grand with ornate pagodas, ponds, rock sculptures, and serene gardens. We watched the sunset from top of a little hill with a beautiful pagoda in the center of a small garden. By the time we walked around and found the temple, it was dark and the doors were closed for the day. But we had a very enjoyable  and peaceful evening.

Spring in Beijing  watercolor and ink sketch by Meera Rao 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Ni hao Part 5 Old Beijing Hutong

A Doorway in Hutong, Beijing watercolor and ink by Meera Rao

The old streets and buildings in 'hutong' area of Beijing are architecturally distinct and very quaint.  There are many ornate doorways with red lanterns that line the streets. These open into residential courtyards. The wall near this doorway also had a community notice board with many notices stuck on it. 

According to wikipedia :Hutong (Chinese: 胡同) are a type of narrow street or alley commonly associated with northern Chinese cities, especially Beijing.  In Beijing, hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. Many neighbourhoods were formed by joining one siheyuan to another to form a hutong, and then joining one hutong to another. The word hutong is also used to refer to such neighbourhoods.

Since the mid-20th century, a large number of Beijing hutongs were demolished to make way for new roads and buildings. More recently, however, many hutongs have been designated as protected, in an attempt to preserve this aspect of Chinese cultural history. Hutongs were first established in the Yuan dynasty (1206–1341) and then expanded in the Ming (1368–1628) and Qing (1644–1908) dynasties.  

Yogurt Bottles on A Utility Box  Watercolor and Ink by Meera Rao

The life in the hutongs looks laid back with clothes drying by the street side, and bicycles resting against walls. Quiet residences are tucked between bustling small stores, temples and markets. I saw yogurts in small bottles being fermented and sold. The bottles covered with a bit of cloth and a straw sticking in it, were all lined up on a metal utility box.  

Solar Powered Public Telephones  watercolor and ink by Meera Rao 

All through the city were these bright orange and yellow pods on about 5' poles that intrigued me.  Finally on a evening walk I was able to see them up close and realized they were public telephones with solar panels on top. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Ni Hao part 4 Tea Ceremony and Bell Tower

Tea Ceremony at Bell Tower, Beijing  watercolor and ink by Meera Rao

Bell Tower and Drum tower in Beijing's old town Hutong area were built in 13th century and were important for the citizens as they kept time and chimed twice a day - 'a morning bell and a dusk drum.' There was no other means of telling time and this continued until 1911, when the last Emperor was forced out of the Imperial City. The practice was picked up again a few years ago - a dozen times a day mainly for tourists. Our timing of the the visit was off as we were returning from a long morning of sight seeing and missed the drum and bells being played.  There weren't too many other people around and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. 

We walked around the square, check-out the drum tower from outside and went inside the Bell tower for a tea ceremony. Again we had to go through security.  Over the centuries, the towers had been rebuilt twice because of fires and I saw a prominently  placed sign that said "No Kindling" with a illustration of match box crossed out in red.   The tea ceremony was elaborate  and fun with tastings of Jasmine, Lychee Oolong, and Pu' er Teas. The place showcased antique tea sets and accessories. Of course, after the ceremony we were ushered into their shop that sold Teas and all things associated with Tea :)   

Bell Tower watercolor and Ink by Meera Rao

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Ni Hao Part 3 Tian'anmen Square and Forbidden City

Tian'anmen Square  watercolor and ink by Meera Rao 

Tian'anmen is in the center of Beijing and it's name means "Gate of Heavenly Peace." It was designed and built in 1415 during Ming Dynasty. The area around it, Tian'anmen Square, was designed and built in 1651 and enlarged four times its original size in 1950s. At 109 acres, Tian'anmen Square  now is considered one of the biggest city squares in the world and is lined on four sides by the Monument to the People's Heros, The Great wall of the People, National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong - all of which we checked out from outside only. 

The square was packed with thousands and thousands of people -our guide informed us that there is a cap of about 80,000 visitors a day! Our guide expertly ushered us past the crowds and whisked us past security and ID checks. There was very heavy security and I was impressed with crowd control ! I felt really eerie to stand around the square as a tourist with the memory of the most recent massive show of military force and the resulting massacre there.  

Tian'anmen Gate Entrance to Forbidden City by Meera Rao 

The Forbidden city is a HUGE Palace complex of the Ming and Qing dynasty 1420-1912 and is now the Palace Museum. Even though it was crowded with long lines of tourists to get in, once inside the crowds got dispersed in that massive, sprawling place! The Palace Museum complex highlights the unique architecture of the palaces, beautiful gardens(only at the edges of the complex - no plants, trees inside!), colorful and decorated Temples, Royal Court Halls, art and artifacts, and Chinese history.  There are also 10 meter high walls and a moat around the complex :)  This is also an UNESCO designated World Heritage site.  

It was awesome to get a glimpse into a world of wealth and power of Emperors that was off-limits to all but a few for  over  500 years. We walked around the complex for 3-4 hours, put in over 3 miles and barely scratched the surface of things to see - especially since there are close to 9000 rooms covering  an area of 74 hectares.  I had read about Forbidden city in novels and history books, seen the complex in movies but it is absolutely impressive in person with regard to scale and imagination! 

Rows of water sprout and One Spout in detail by Meera Rao

Fantastic creatures on walls, doors, and Grills by Meera Rao 

There was no time to sketch inside the complex but  I hope to someday paint more images from this iconic place.  

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Ni Hao Part 2 Peking Opera

Peking Opera Putting on Makeup On stage ink and watercolor by Meera Rao

Peking Opera - All Made Up ink and watercolor by Meera Rao

Peking Opera 

Peking  Opera 

Table with Tea Service at Peking Opera 

Before the Peking Opera show started, an actor was on stage putting on his makeup as audience started filling up the seats.  We were served tea, Chinese cookies, sweet sesame seed bars and cherry tomatoes as we waited for the show to begin.  We watched two stories - one was a simple folk tale about a poor girl finding a jade bangle and the other told  of a young lady warrior who fought off a invaders to her village.  There was a live orchestra on the side and the actors sang their parts.  The costumes of the warriors were very elaborate and there were some acrobatics in battle scenes while the folk tale was simple story with minimal props.  There was a screen on the side with 'chinglish' translations that brought chuckles and giggles :)   We never saw the actor who got dressed on stage earlier show up on stage during the show!  Even though the Peking Opera did not live up to the write up it was a novelty and we had a fun evening. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Ni Hao part 1

Cover page-China sketchbook by Meera Rao April 2018 

I just returned from a wonderful two weeks trip to China.  Sometimes while on location but mostly at night in the hotel room if I was not too exhausted after a long day of sight seeing, or in airports, planes,  I sketched my impressions in a small 5.5x3.5" Stillman & Birn Beta series softcover mixed media sketch book finishing many of them after my return. I shot hundreds of photos with my iPhone to capture the trip and bolster my memories.  Neither the photos nor sketches do justice but I am very pleased that I have  my own 52 page travelogue :)

Sketch of Map showing places visited  By Meera Rao 

After a much delayed but non-stop flight from DC we reached Beijing late in the evening. We were met at the airport by John, our tour guide for Beijing and drove to the hotel. The gridlocked traffic, the models of the vehicles, and the highway from airport to hotel rivaled any from major US or European city - only the signs in Chinese reminded us where we were! Our guide 'John' gave us a running commentary on the history, geography and notable buildings along the way. 

Our first priority once we checked in, met our travelmates -my Brother-law and his wife,  was getting dinner at a nearby very modern U-Town Shopping Mall food court where most of the places were already closed or closing down for the day. The US franchise 'Subway' had not yet closed and was the best option for hungry and tired vegetarians and vegans not quite ready for  deciphering Chinese menus of the couple of noodle shops that were still open :) Our feat for the day was trying out the ATM for exchanging dollars - 6.2 Yuans for a dollar at the Bank of China machine. The official name for the currency is Renminbi, which literally translates to People's Currency and is abbreviated to RMB. The widespread international usage is Yuan, which is abbreviated to CNY.

Cup of Tea 

Breakfast buffet bars at the hotel restaurants were a feast for the eyes and stomach with table after table of dishes from both Chinese and western cuisines.  I loved the traditional Chinese plain rice  congee (similar to Indian ganjee that I grew up on) on which I heaped on vegetables, beans, nuts and dried fruits and a teaspoon of red chili paste :) There were breakfast noodles and dumplings that I learned to check for meat by asking 'Bu Chi Rou? Bu chi yu ? ' (no meat? no fish?) The waiters and Chefs were amused but helpful. Of course, there was plenty of tea - green, jasmine, oolong, Pu er. and black. And so many fruits - dragon fruits, mangoes, lychee and some Chinese native berries whose names I could not find out along with different melons, oranges, kumquats and apples.  Everything and everyone in China has a Chinese name and an English name. Every hotel gave us a card that said 'Please take me to _" with the Chinese name and address of the hotel written in Chinese and English to aid us in getting back when we went exploring on our own - to show taxi drivers or helpful locals! 

Great Wall of China at Badaling  ink and watercolor 11x3.5" by Meera Rao 

With just the four of us, the driver and our guide John piled into a Buick mini van, we drove over an hour or two to Badaling - to see, climb and walk on a small part of the Great wall of China.  The drive through the city of Beijing with its modern highrises and sky scrappers and then the Chinese country side was captivating.  Spring was in the air with the hillsides all dotted with white and pink blooming trees and fresh green leaves just showing up on bare trees. The streets and neighborhoods spic and span - free of any garbage with cleaners constantly cleaning. Throughout we peppered John with questions as he gave us more history and factoids. 

We caught sight of The Wall here and there snaking along our route.  The gate to the entrance to the wall at Badaling was beautifully ornate with brightly colored designs.  The place was teeming  with thousands and thousands of visitors- mostly Chinese.  It was indeed awesome to climb up the steep stairs and walk on a portion of the wall - quite steep as well! It was not easy to hang on and keep our balance climbing up or walking down. When we came to an especially steep part, mindful of my recently healed sprained ankles, I opted to stay back to sketch the wall while three of them went on to climb the higher section. It was exciting to draw on location at the wall and I think I overworked the sketch!  I had many people stop,  check and give me thumbs up :) "You draw -you see"said an elderly man with approval as he stopped to check. I did not attempt to draw any people on my wall though!

Motifs on the entrance Gate to Great wall by Meera Rao

Motifs on the entrance Gate to Great wall by Meera Rao

 Below are sketches I did while killing time during the 3+hours delay at Dulles International at the start of the trip.

Sketches At theAirport April 2018

Sunday, April 22, 2018

In A Fog

In a Fog casein  7x9.5" by Meera Rao 

"One of the things I like about music is, it is an abstract art,
 totally abstract, where you can convey an emotion 
which I find amazing" 
~Bernard  Sumner~

I loved working in casein, teasing out emotions from its unique texture. Trying out new mediums and styles is simultaneously very exciting and unsettling for me. But then, it is also the same mixing bowl of emotions I find myself in as I paint, draw, and sketch everyday- the joy, the uncertainty, the fear, the expectation. And always wondering, worrying if I stopped too early or went on on too long ! Amazingly though I find my self fully immersed and lost in the process of creating. That is totally satisfying :)  

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Explorations and Expressions

Abstract watercolor  4x6" by Meera Rao

In 'Art and Fear' the authors David Bayles and Ted Orland write : "The dilemma every artist confronts, again and again, is when to stick with familiar tools and materials, and when to reach out and embrace those that offer new possibilities"   They then conclude:  " In time exploration gives way to expression"  And I find that I thrive on explorations.  I love the journey that the different paths - the various materials, methods and styles take me on.  When I am working without being trapped by a desire for perfection, I discover a different expression of my art. As I proceed on this long journey I strive to find the right balance :) 

This art work is available at the fundraiser auction  Maury at the Market  for Maury Elementary School in Washington DC.  Mobile bidding: April 13-19; Live and Silent Auction on April 21 at Eastern Market, North Hall. 

"Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting,
experience treacherous, judgement difficult"

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