Friday, July 28, 2006

Beijing Part 3 -- misty mountains where giants sleep (repost)

Reposted, this is the postmortem on the China trip.


Being the third and last round of observations from my stay in China. Pictures are large in resolution, but due to the fog and rain on the Great Wall, not all of them are huge in filesize.

01: Construction near my hotel. It is anticipated that 200 -- yes, two hundred -- new hotels will be completed and put into operation between now and the start of the 2008 Games.

02: Government building, also near the hotel. Explicit signs of the communist regime, in most places, are fairly few and far between. This one suggests a legal or justice department.

03: lol chess sculpture is teh wrong. This is not a mis-played game, but a chess set deliberately set up in a configuration that could never happen in a real game. The pieces are marble and extremely heavy, so it's not like anyone will correct it anytime soon.

04: Side view of the board above. From this angle it may be easier for chess buffs to pick out the two points which show that this setup does not represent any real possible chess game. One is kind of easy and the other is more subtle, but they're both still there.

05: Tomb gate. This is for the tomb of the 13th Ming emperor, if I recall correctly, and is the only tomb in China's equivalent of the Valley of the Kings that is open to the public. There is another tomb open, but it was basically destroyed by government fiat during the Cultural Revolution.

06: Map of the Ming Tombs area. The location we are at is the Chang Tomb, as can be seen from its extended detail.

07: Close-in shot of the way to the imperial tombs. All of these structures are still extant and mostly visible from the road on the drive in, but it was extremely foggy and the combination of the weather with the inherent problems of shooting through plexiglass windows on a moving bus kind of discouraged me from trying to shoot any of them.

08: Park area, Chang Tomb. There's just something in this area about the way that the pines grow, the way they come out of the grass, that is really photo-worthy.

09: Pines and the wall, Chang Tomb. It was probably the lighting and the enormous amount of texture and detail that attracted me to this shot.

10: Stairway carving, Chang Tomb. The idea of these slabs is similar to the ones at the Forbidden City, but the subjects are different.

11: Museum hall, Ming tombs. Though this hall is at the Chang Tomb, the artifacts displayed inside were mostly recovered from the one tomb that has been opened; after mistakes made with some other of its artifacts, including the emperor's body and funeral garments, that destroyed a nontrivial piece of China's cultural heritage, the opening of the Chang Tomb is held up until the archaeologists are sure that they can properly excavate it without damaging anything.

12: Silk burner for offerings. There are two of these, one on each side of the way up to the museum hall.

13: Decorative detail, museum building. The lower piece is probably refinished; the upper may well be original, but without probably three degrees in different branches of art history and materials science, I can't say for sure.

14: Gold utensils recovered from the Ming Tombs. Most of this set is kind of blurry, as I used the night setting in order to avoid flash bouncing off of the glass display cases.

15: Ceiling design, museum. There were some parts of just raw wood and joinery that I found even more interesting, but I didn't get pictures of these.

16: Gold ingots recovered from the Ming tombs. There was also a collection of silver ingots, but the visual aspects are more striking in this one.

17: Porcelainware from the Ming tombs. The orange pieces are actually from the preceding Tang dynasty.

18: Jade utensils recovered from the Ming tombs. Several different qualities of both jade varieties are represented.

19: Jade belts, Ming tombs. A belt like this was a sign of extremely high status, because it could only be given directly by the emperor.

20: Ceremonial crown. This was worn while handling affairs of state.

21: Ceremonial robe. This garment is a reproduction, though based on historical pieces.

22: Ceremonial crown. I believe this was exclusively for religious uses.

23: Chain posts, documentation, and offerings at the foot of the emperor's statue.

24: Statue of emperor Chang. This piece is found at the center of the museum, and fairly dominates the eye when you come in the doors.

25: View over the ceremonial arch to the soul tower, which stands over the entrance to the tomb, almost 30 meters below the surface.

26: Trees growing out of what looks like sterile, hard-baked clay. This was so neat and visually odd that I had to take it.

27: Soul tower, vertical shot.

28: Park sign. I can't tell if the Japanese is as subtly off-kilter as the English is.

29: Quality control markings on an ancient brick. It took about a year to import the clay for these blocks and form and fire them into finished pieces, so there were naturally strict quality controls on all lots that passed through the system.

30: Tree growing from the wall, Chang Tomb. Just another cool picture.

31: Jade bowl, National Jade Gallery. I bought a bunch of souvenirs here, but also took pictures both openly and surreptitiously of the super-pieces that, while they may be for sale, will never be purchased by a normal person.

32: Jade backing panels, above the bowl pictured above.

33: Jade ship, forend. This is a gigantic piece depicting a dragon boat of nine dragons, which includes amidships a version of the south gate to the Forbidden City. It is for sale, but I have no idea who in their right mind would buy it. This is too big to be actually stored in any private collection, though it would display as well in a museum as it does in the showroom here.

34: Jade ship, amidships. Here we can se the detail of the famous gate.

35: Jade ship, stern. The level of detail here, and all over the rest of the ship, is just mind-boggling.

36: The Farmer Hero. A Chinese Wat Tyler or Oliver Cromwell, this man (whose real name has been lost to history) led a revolt of a million peasants that overthrew the final Ming emperor. He ruled for a totalof eighteen days before being himself overthrown by the Qing/Ching, but his accomplishments have been appropriately commemorated by the new socialist China, even if his statue now stands in the middle of a traffic rotary.

37: Up to the wall through the fog. Despite the lack of precise detail in many of the resulting pictures,and how soaked I got in person, this was a great atmosphere to see the Great Wall in, and I doubt that I'd rather have gone on one of the clearer days we had.

38: Chinese flag over the wall. The flag gives it the sense that this is still a frontier outpost, even though the Mongolian border is many miles further on, and Mongolia is now basically a client state of China.

39: Ascending rampart of the Great Wall.

40: Graffiti down the centuries. Though many of these are probably from tourists, there are probably some that were cut into the bricks at some point by the members of the actual garrisons.

41: Up the wall to the first north tower. The north side at Badaling is probably the part of the wall that you are most likely to have seen in pictures.

42: A small paddock with a horse and camel for riding by tourists, curently resting due to the inclement weather forestalling people from coming over.

43: Up to the second north tower, showing that the slope is getting a little steeper.

44: Down into the fog from about halfway up to the third tower. Visibility was nearly nil, and it hadn't really even started raining hard yet.

45: Up to the third tower, from about the same place. The worn stones made improvised steps out of the mortar around them, which was harder and still high enough to form ridges to catch your boots on.

46: Empty battlements at the third north tower, which unlike the first two no longer has its second story floor.

47: Down into the valley, on the "China" side of the wall.

48: Camel for pictures and riding at the fourth north tower lookout point, covered by a Yanjing Beer umbrella to keep off the rain.

49: Camels, tourists, and the concession stand in the driving rain and no visibility really give this the sense of some anonymous trading post in Central Asia, but it was a lot cooler in person than the picture manages to capture.

50: North tower 4. This was as far as I managed to go; the ascent here ran about 300 meters, almost straight up, and not only was I bushed, but I couldn't manage to find the way to go on, and the rain was really getting thick.

51: The battlements of the third tower again, this time on the "China" side.

52: Tree in blossom, growing up from the base of the wall on the "Mongolia" side.

53: Sign from the Badaling fortress entrance point. You can see that I only completed 1/3 of the north side, so it should be fairly trivial for anyone else who goes here to go farther.

54: View down into Badaling from the gate to the fortress. At this point it was really raining like hell.

55: Towers in the mist, shot from the front porch of the Badaling Hotel Coffeshop. After this picture my batteries finally gave up, after soldiering on through a huge day of photography.

56: One last view of Beijing. This was a remarkably clear day, the previous day's rain having washed all the pollutants out of the air.

57: Beijing, not looking down into the local microslum.

58: Yanjing and automated change. Ever since I first encountered them as a child in rural Japan, I've wanted to actually buy beer from a vending machine. I finally got the chance while waiting for my flight back, and immortalized it here along with the 1-yuan coins that I got back as change, the first that I had gotten during my stay.

59: A veritable forest of cranes. It may not be the national bird of China, but there is nothing so prevalent, at least in Beijing and at least right now, building towards 2008, as the construction crane.

That's it for pictures; there are some more observations that I'll have in later, a lot from the airport and the flight back.

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