Temple of Heaven (Still Beijing)

A quick stop on our very busy day (I’m still covering my first day in Beijing, remember) was to the Temple of Heaven, a site the emperor set up so that he could go there to pray and make ritual offerings. I think the building’s neat because it was made without any nails at all!

Can you find me?

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Here’s what it looked like on the inside.

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These green tiles were on the way to the temple. My favorite color!

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I’m so tired of people telling me OMG WATCH OUT FOR THE TOILETS when I told them I was going to China. They’re squat toilets. You bring your own toilet paper and things are totally fine. No big deal. This toilet was even ranked, and it was perfectly acceptable.

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At any park in China, you can find people exercising. These folks were dancing.

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Being a bus driver is very hard work.

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Random fact: there’s more than one kind of dragon. There are also 9 dragon sons. One of the sons is able to tell whether an official is loyal or corrupt. So this dragon son is often found in front of office buildings.

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Also, lest you think that China is dirty, this sign was up in the airport:

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Tiannemen Square

I just flew in to Xi’an, where we’ll be staying at the Sheraton. (Mom and Dad, their picture should be on the Web site)

I was sad to leave Peggy behind. Peggy was our Beijing tour guide and she was wonderful. She has fantastic English — even idioms, like “piggy-back ride.”

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So when I last left you, we were on our way out of the Forbidden City. Remember that gate I showed you, with the arch in the middle that only the emperor could go through? We walked through it. Here’s what it looked like on the other side.

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There are a ton of tourists here, but not many of them seem Caucasian. Walking through this big arch, I only saw two other people who looked like they weren’t Asian.

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Before you fully exit the Forbidden City, there’s a big statue pointing out. That was supposed to remind the emperor to go out and listen to the common people while he was ruling.

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On the other end of the tunnel was Tiannamen Square. You immediately see a giant picture of Mao Zedong, who was in charge of China in the middle of the 20th century. The picture is 6 meters tall, and it’s replaced every year. I wasn’t supposed to take a picture this close, whoops!

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So in 1989, students protested in Tianamen Square. It was a big mess, and when people complain about China, they often complain that the government doesn’t address the riots. Many people in China haven’t seen any pictures or coverage of the protests, including Peggy. Tour guides aren’t permitted to answer many questions about Tianammen Square. Regardless, it’s an interesting place to be.

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Long before the protests, when Chairman Mao was in charge of China, people flocked to Tiannamen Square to hear him speak. He was controversial because he helped China grow, but he also had some ideas that wound up getting many people killed. The official view is often referred to as “70/30,” which means that 70% of the things that Mao did were good, and 30% of them were not so good. So I guess your view on Mao depends on how heavily you weigh that 30 percent. I don’t think I’ve read and learned enough about Mao to fully judge him, so regardless, it was pretty neat to hang out with him.

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When Mao died, his body was embalmed and he rests on the other side of the square opposite the gate I showed you above.

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It doesn’t cost any money to view Mao’s body, which is raised from a giant freezer for a few hours each day. The line is usually crazy-long. Waiting in this line took about 2 hours. We didn’t wait, but I thought the umbrellas looked pretty neat. 🙂

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I hope you’re enjoying my accounts. Next up is the Temple of Heaven!


July 25th: The Forbidden City

Before we were able to begin our adventures in Beijing, I needed to get into the country first! Here’s the picture I tried to take during our Seattle-Seoul flight, the one that wound up flashing our entire section of the plane..

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When we got to our layover in Seoul, South Korea, we had to fill out a health questionnaire to make sure we wouldn’t bring H1N1 (swine flu) into the country. They also took our temperatures on the way off the plane.

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Did I mention that we had a 10-minute sprint across the airport to make our connecting flight? Because we did. It was crazy.

The morning after we arrived, we went to a million places, so it seemed. One of those was the Forbidden City, which is where the emperor used to live and do a lot of his business. Now that there is no longer an emperor of China, it’s technically called the Palace Museum, and it opened to the public in 1925, 499 years after it was completed. Here’s the street approaching the city.

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This is the North Gate into the city. It’s not the main way in – it’s actually the entrance where ladies used to wait to be chosen for jobs with the Emperor.

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Here’s Caryn, me, and Nicole about to enter the gate. We were not waiting to be chosen for jobs with the Emperor. We’d much rather stay teachers.

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This is one of the doors at the gate. There are nine knobby things up and nine knobby things across the door, because nine is the most auspicious number in feng shui. Auspicious is basically a fancy way of saying lucky. Chinese people often believed that the way their surroundings were arranged had an impact on the fortune they had in their lives.

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Also, just for size comparison, here’s my hand on one of the knobby things.

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Now, the gates into the different sections of the city aren’t just like giant doors. They have little steps you need to take in order to get through them. That’s because the Chinese used to believe that spirits tried to get into their homes, but the spirits were so small that they couldn’t jump over the steps.

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This is a good place to mention that yellow and red are colors often used with royalty. That’s because red means happiness, and who doesn’t want to be happy? Certainly the emperor wanted to be. Yellow was a color only the emperor could use because the character for yellow in Chinese is pronounced almost the same as the character for emperor.

Before you go into the main part of the city, you pass through the garden. The garden is honestly where the emperor went “to play,” as our tour guide put it. There are trees in the garden, but none on the inside. That’s because if the Chinese character for “tree” is added to “palace,” it becomes “prison.” And people usually prefer not to work and live in prisons.

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If you want to go to the Imperial Tea House, you can also get a Coke.

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Here’s me by one of the side gates. There are more than 8,000 rooms in the city. That means that if a baby was born in one room, then spent every night of its life in a different room, he or she would be 27 years old by the time they slept in every room.

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I wanted this man’s shirt.

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This is where the Emperor conducted his important business. It doesn’t look terribly comfy, but it is quite lovely to look at.

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Our tour guide called this the “oldest business complex in China.” I’d rather work here than a skyscraper.

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Many of the buildings in the Forbidden City are made of wood. Fire destroyed a large part of the city just 100 days after it opened. The Emperor at the time completely freaked out (he thought it was a sign that he was doing a bad job), and so to make sure that things wouldn’t burn to the ground again, he put 400 of these pots all around the city. They were filled with water just in case another fire started.

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Here’s the gate leading out of the Forbidden City. See that big opening in the middle? Only the Emperor could use that gate. I think I’d feel kind of weird having a gate that had no other purpose than to allow me into and out of my house. Maybe that’s why I’m not a Chinese emporeress. The opening to the right was for royal family members, and the one to the left is for high-ranking officials. Low-ranking officials had to use the opening on the far right (there’s one on the far left too, but it’s not in the picture). Normal people couldn’t come in at all.

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This gate leads to Tienneman Square, which I’ll cover in my next post! (Hopefully… We leave for Xi’an tomorrow and I don’t know what my Internet will be like)

Today we went to the Great Wall, which absolutely blew my mind into a thousand pieces. And also my calves and thighs. I’m kind of not sure how to get up from the computer once I’m done with this. J I miss you all! Be good, and take care!


Sunday Morning

Nothing like using 2 Yuan a minute Internet to put me on a deadline. 🙂

It’s Sunday, June 26 for us here and we’re about to leave for the Great Wall! I’m so thrilled! Yesterday was insanely busy. From the time we woke up (4:30 AM — none of us could sleep!) until the time we went to bed (we passed out simultaneously at 9:40), we were on our feet.

I hope to upload some pictures and write more about each day tonight, but for now I’m going to back up to go into more about our trip over, so I can get things committed to paper before I forget about them!

My parting view from the United States was an obnoxious woman who blocked the entire escalator instead of standing to one side, talking loudly to all those around her. When a nimble thin guy tried to go past her, she was offended and looked around her to find someone to complain to. None of us made eye contact, and we emerged unscathed. Yech.

Also, a brief public service announcement: Those family bathrooms were especially constructed for you and your 9-year-old boy so you don’t need to come into the women’s room. Nine? That’s a bit old.

Anyway, I already mentioned how fabulous the service was on Korean Air. This despite the fact that I made so many fau pax… At lunch, one woman asked me if I’d ever eated Korean food before, then a man two seats over gave me a step-by-step picture instruction guide when he saw me struggling to open all my little trays. Whoops. That really made me rethink my views on picture menus that some restaurants have in the US.

Then, my in-flight entertainment system had a sweet picture of a teddy bear buckling up, but when I tried to take a picture, my flash went off at about 1 AM local time, when everyone was trying to catch some sleep. Yikes.

And I didn’t realize the bathroom doors pushed in. Eek. So sdon’t make the same mistakes I made. 🙂

I’m getting all these anecdotes from the notebook I brought along with me on my trip. We talk a lot in class about our writer’s notebook, and I remember one of you told me last year that you didn’t think my writer’s notebook was fair because I’d had it longer and had more story ideas in it. (Due to district Internet policy, I can’t give credit for that thoughtful observation, but I can tell you his class number was 19. 🙂 Well, I started fresh with this notebook, and I hope to practice what I preach and put together some personal narratives for you.


July 23-24

Here I am, halfway around the globe from home! I have so many thoughts and things that I’ve been writing down, but I haven’t had much time to decompress yet, so here are some initial observations, I suppose.

Things actually seem pretty familiar. The cars drive on the same side of the street as in the U.S. Most signs are in English and Mandarin, so I haven’t encountered much I can’t read yet. I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe for the city to look like something out of Bladerunner or Pattern Recognition, but it honestly seemed like driving into any major American city. Very interesting.

Skyline from Bladerunner

Skyline from Bladerunner

Our flight over was great. I don’t think I ever want to take a domestic flight again. We flew with Korea Air, wich had impecable service.

Cute Uniforms

Cute Uniforms

I spent a lot of time on the flight just writing and reading, but I also watched a bunch of TV and movies. 🙂 Awful, awful romantic comedies, too.

Mad props need to be given to Tracy, who totally helped me figure out how to get enough water on the plane so I won’t be dehydrated. I brought an empty water bottle on, then had the flight attendent fill it up two or three times. I was completely set, and didn’t get a headache on the flight like I usually do.

I apologize that I have nothing particularly deep or profound to share, but I promise I’ll be back soon with more exciting information, and maybe even some pictures! 🙂


Ahhhh Book List!!!

Here are the books I’m bringing with me. I’m not bringing any guide books because they always stress me out, and I’m not bringing any Mandarin Chinese phrase books because I’m absolutely hopeless.

(You didn’t hear me say that, ladies and gentlemen. I can learn anything I put my mind to, I just can’t do it before I fly out tomorrow.)

Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie (for all my relatives who still call Chinese folks “Orientals”)
Close Kin and In the Coils of the Snake, Clare B. Dunkle (parts II and III of The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy, which was recommended to me as a younger, more third-grade-appropriate version of Twilight)
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro (by the author of The Remains of the Day, because I should read more fiction)
China, Regional Studies Series (thanks, Jackie! :))
The CAFE Book, “The Sisters” (this is how we’re doing the Daily 5 next year)
The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart (a Battle of the Books book!)
Lost on Planet China, J. Maarten Troost (I hear he’s a funny travel writer like Bill Bryson)
Shutting Out the Sun, Michael Zielenziger (about the Japanese hikikomori, people who never leave their rooms or homes… This is the biggest, heaviest book and I’m halfway through, so I shouldn’t bring it… But I want to so badly!!!)

I’m worried because so many of the books are library books, therefore hardcover, therefore heavy. I’ll have most of them in my carry on, so here’s hoping they don’t add too much weight…

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What am I saying — of course I’m going to wind up waking up in the middle of the night and shuffling books around, taking some out and putting more in. Ahh!


24 Hours to Go!

At this time tomorrow, I’ll be on my way over the Pacific Ocean on my way to Seoul, Korea, en route to Beijing, China! I’ll still miss you, ladies and gentlemen, but are you ready to go on an adventure with me?!

(Here’s hoping you say yes! If not, whatevs, I’ll see you on the first day of school!)

I’ve been away from this site for a while because I’ve been busier than I thought I’d be this summer. Part of that has been because I’m trying to get ready for our new reading program next year.

Teacher books for Daily 5 and Balanced Literacy!

Holy cow, teacher books for Daily 5 and Balanced Literacy!

Some of the time was spent visiting my fantastic parents!!!

With Mom and Dad at Pike Place Market

With Mom and Dad at Pike Place Market

And the rest of the time has been taking care of getting stuff together for my trip! A lot of time has been spent talking to various doctors about my migraines (you know, headaches that make me seem spacey and forget how to talk when I’m teaching).

Today, I finished up the host gifts I’m going to give to the family that’s taking care of me when I’m in Taiwan at the end of my trip. Host gifts are important because they show your appreciation for the family that’s letting you stay in their home. Here’s hoping they like mine!

Cherry preserves made from cherries picked at Toby's mom's house. Very serious business.

Cherry preserves made from cherries picked at Toby's mom's house. Very serious business.

Little sachet stuffed with lavender and spearmint

Little sachet stuffed with lavender and spearmint.

Face Steam -- you boil it, then sit in front of it and it's supposed to do lovely things for your complexion and sinuses. It fits inside the nice gift bag.

Face Steam -- you boil it, then sit in front of it and it's supposed to do lovely things for your complexion and sinuses. It fits inside the nice gift bag I sewed from scrap material.

Anyway, I fly out tomorrow. It’s a 13-hour flight, so I have a ton of books packed (typical). Our first few nights in Beijing we’ll be staying here, at the Crown Plaza Sun Palace. Mom and Dad, I know you’re reading this and if something horrific happens, you can reach me at 010-6429-8888.

Our room. Seriously?

Our room. Seriously?

I really can’t think of anything profound or exciting to say. I’m so grateful as always to the CE folks for making this trip possible! I’ll leave you with the quote that’s on the door of our classroom:

“There’s so much left to know, and I’m on the road to find out.”