Saturday, July 14, 2018

Ni Hao Part 11 Some Everyday Scenes

Rental Bike with a solar panel ink and watercolor by Meera Rao

I noticed little things affected welfare of mind, body and daily living. There were dozens of bikes or some places just a solitary one with QR codes on the handles parked on the sidewalks. They are easy to rent  with just an app on the smart phone. People ride them to their destination and leave them by the sidewalks when they are done. The bikes are then ready for the next person (with an App on the phone) ! 

Country is Home ink and watercolor by Meera Rao

There are panels with cute illustrations and sayings on walls along the sidewalks all around the cities. I wondered if they were advertisements. We were told that they are government sponspored and convey pride for the nation and civic duties of the citizens. Once again I used my translation app to read this panel.   

Buddhist Lamas at Temple Gate  #directwatercolor #nosketching by Meera Rao

Buddhist temples are oasis of beauty, calm and quiet in the middle of the buzzing cities.  We saw groups of monks, visitors and devotees paying respects, praying or just enjoying the premises.  

Daily Tai Chi Practice #directwatercolor #nosketching by Meera Rao

Daily Tai Chi Practice #directwatercolor #nosketching by Meera Rao

The parks and gardens are lush and lovely. In all the parks in every city, many people - mostly retirees, get-together in groups or singly to practice Tai Chi or other martial arts, exercise to music,  give mini concerts, enjoy ballroom dancing,  take care of babies and children, play board games, walk and talk or meditate!  

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Ni Hao Part 10 Guillin

Li River Cruise watercolor 2 page spread by Meera Rao

Mountain Peaks by Li River  Left page watercolor By Meera Rao

Mountain Peaks by Li River  Right page watercolor By Meera Rao

We reached Guillin in the late afternoon as the flight was delayed by a couple of hours. The guide in Xian joked that they say CAAC - 'China airlines always cancel' - but at least we were only delayed;). Beautiful Guillin apparently was China's first city to develop tourism after 1949. 

It was raining when we landed and the route to town was amazingly picturesque with lush green covered mountain peaks shrouded in fog all around. After  checking  into the hotel we went to explore the city by walking around.  There was a beautiful little Buddhist temple not too far and as we entered the premises they started their evening chanting and prayers. We watched and waited till the rituals were done - this was our first time watching and participating in Chinese Buddhist prayers and rituals. We then went over to the canteen next door - but unfortunately they were cleaning after the lunch session and would open only at 6 for dinner - an hour away. 

We decided to buy some bananas to snack on ( my google translator came in really handy! ) and find a bank ATM. The lonely planet guide book had high recommendations (one of two places mentioned in the book for places to eat!) for an Indian restaurant started by a man from Darjaleeng, India : Kali Mirch in the town square tucked behind Sheraton Hotel. With that as our guide we went searching and finally found it after someone recognized it as ‘indo canteen’  in an alley that was all colorful and lit up with festive lights  and lined with many many tiny restaurants.  The interesting thing in China we  have discovered is that everything and everyone has a English and a Chinese name - most locals know only the Chinese names - even English is ‘yīngyǔ’ in Chinese.  Btw- The food at Kali Mirch was excellent :) 

Cliffs by Li River  watercolor by Meera Rao

The next day our guide drove us to a wharf an hour away and we took a river cruise down a very tranquil Li river to see the mountains all around - it is a very beautiful and serene journey - even with a looong line of small cruise boats  filled with tourists making their way down the river! The hotel had packed us boxed lunches and there was plenty of tea served throughout the journey as it was a four hour ride.  Every inch of the journey was a digital moment - everyone was oohing and clicking away - I realized very quickly that photos just couldn't capture the awesome peaks all around - growing more mysterious by the minute with fog and drizzle. The twenty Yuan bill of Chinese currency showcases a painting of these mountains.  We passed  high cliffs,  rice paddies, quaint little villages, fishermen on bamboo rafts, water buffaloes and horses grazing by the banks. 

We got off at Younshu and again elbowed our way thru a narrow passageway packed with vendors shouting and hawking off the goods while thousands of tourists from the cruise boats tried to make their way to buses and cars and other means of transportation back to their hotels ! We tried our bargaining skills and did a little bit of shopping ! “You shop like Chinese ladies’ we were told by a vendor ;) 

Entrance to Guillin Tea Research Center watercolor by Meera Rao 

Hat Rack in the Walkway watercolor by Meera Rao 

We toured an organic tea plantation on our way back, saw demonstrations of Chinese tea fermentation of green, white, black teas. We tried out the huge stone grinder/rollers used in crushing and oxidizing  the tea. We posed for photos wearing the classic cone shaped hats as we watched ladies carefully picking tea leaves in surrounding tea plantation.   Of course, we were treated to another session  of tea ceremony - this time we tasted Osmanthus, white and Pu'er teas unique to that area. 

Evening we were on our own and this time we went back to the temple canteen ( again lonely planet recommendation) and had the best Chinese vegan buffet- tried all kinds of noodles, dumplings , steamed buns, vegetables , pickles and many varieties of fruits!! Two days in a row dinner was excellent for us us vegetarians and vegans!  We ventured out for more little shopping for Chinese-English children's books for grandkids at street side stores. Thanks again to the google translate app we were able to find what we wanted in a small stationary store:)

The sun and Moon Twin pagodas  

Last day in Guillin,  we had till noon  to ourselves - so armed with a map we went to see Sun and Moon Pagodas in the Shan Lake that could be reached by a scenic winding path from the hotel. The two pagodas are connected by a beautiful underwater tunnel. We climbed 8-9 floors up each pagoda  for gorgeous views from above.  We even managed to visit The South Sea Pearl Museum and Showroom before heading to the airport for our flight to Shanghai. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Ni Hao Part 9 The Terracotta Army

Terra-cotta Army of Qin She Huang  ink and watercolor by Meera Rao

From Xi'an City wall, after cheering the marathon runners, we drove to the archeological excavations site and museum of the  famous Terra-cotta warriors discovered in 1974 by local farmers. The subterranean life size terracota army(210-209 BC) of Emperor Qin Shi Huang was awesome to see. The sight of more than 5000 of  the dug up and restored warriors, horses, carriages, artifacts in the excavation pits took my breath away! There were three huge pits and a few warrior statues were displayed away from the pit on higher floor where we visitors could see them up-close.  The excavations and discoveries are still in progress.

Co-incidentally, I had recently watched a documentary about the discovery this archaeological site, the history behind it and also had visited the US tour of a small part of the Army and artifacts at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts at Richmond, Va. That helped me understand the scale and importance of this site. Again crowds here were just HUGE - had to squeeze and elbow our way to the viewing balcony to be able see anything at-all:) 

Terracotta Soldier ink and watercolor by Meera Rao

The details on these warriors, horses etc. were very impressive - no two are alike! This archer  was probably holding a bow and arrow ready to defend at moments notice by the looks of his pose.  

Stretching dough for handmade noodles   watercolor -no sketching  by Meera Rao 

For lunch we were treated to handmade noodles that were prepared right on the premises in the museums restaurant. It was fascinating to see how by just stretching and twisting repeatedly within minutes the dough is turned into to long noodle threads!!! They are then cooked in boiling water for a couple of minutes, drained and served. 

This last painting is not in my sketchbook but a part of the #30x30Directwatercolor, #nosketching challenge  :) 

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. 
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