Hello World

Passing through again.

It’s almost over. I’ve just finished the last lesson plan this morning, and I’ve been preparing the materials for tomorrow. I still have to do the Materials Compilation Projects (the purpose of which I don’t really understand; it seems to be a summary of the planning process??) and the final essay in which I’ll say how I want language learning to be a hippie, tree-hugging ex­perience and create safe and comfortable learning environments for pupils. Should I wrap them in cotton wool as well? I suppose I’ll have to wax lyrical about the Basic Muddle, and not mention that it’s overcomplicated and boring – for both the teacher and the pupils. The teacher still does the bulk of the talking in spite of injunctions to the contrary.

Anyway, one more day and I’m off to Shanghai late on Monday. There, I’ll be bored for three days, during which time I’ll be told how to do my job be­cause, as we all know, after two months we’ve completely forgotten how to do it. Let the newbies go to these meetings, but leave the rest of us out of it.

The news from Chengdu is that apart from me, Glen and Row, there’s going to be someone called Brian. And that’s all Linda or I know. I’m not even sure what teaching I’m doing now. Possibly some Senior 1 (there’s now a third class) as well as Senior 3. Or Senior 2. Or all of them. Who knows?

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Zhuhai

Either hot and sunny or warm and wet.

I did say that I might drop by from time to time. I arrived in Zhuhai proper, after a furious taxi ride from the airport, at about midnight. I ended up in a posh room on the 11th floor, but got some good pictures of this part of the city. Good pictures will be supplied in due course. I signed in to the course on Sunday morning and went over to the flat, which I’m sharing with Michael who teaches for Gateway Language Village, and Ken who’s another of the course members and, like me, has been in China awhile. He’s been out in Xinjiang for the past three years.

Zhuhai is amazingly clear. Unless the clouds gather and it starts to rain. Then it’s amazingly wet. But it clears up to rain at lunchtime before it clears up for the afternoon. It’s much warmer and steamier here than it is in Chengdu, although the clear sky helps. Yes, I mean it. No visible layer of pollution. [25.08.13. I believe the Party Boys use the place as a holiday resort. I wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if things were arranged so that they are spared the choking filth which is killing everyone else off across the Empire.]

So far I’ve been too busy with the course to see anything of Zhuhai apart from the local area, but there’s going to be a tour on Saturday.

More in due course.

The green sheep of the family

That’s the Way it is.

I thought I’d take a trip to 青羊宫 (Qīngyáng Gōng; Qingyang Palace) this afternoon. It was a fairly brief trip partly because the grounds are small; partly because I’ve seen all that sort of thing before; and partly because the batteries of my camera were dying as I’ve been expecting them to for about three days now.

Qingyang Palace is a Daoist temple and, like Wenshu, a working temple. There were plenty of people lighting candles and praying (“Please don’t let me get put on Double Regulations.”). The original temple dates from the Zhou Dynasty, which means that it might be between 2200 and 3100 years old. During the Tang Dynasty, one emperor retreated there during an insurrection, after which he had the place renovated. It seems to have taken a battering during the Ming Dynasty before Kangxi reconstructed it.

This is a shot from the gate with Hunyuan Hall in the background. That was rebuilt in the late 19th century by Emperor Guangxu.

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Beyond Hunyuan Hall is the Eight Trigram Pavilion. This was rebuilt by on two occasions, once by Tongzhi and once by Guangxu.

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Behind the Eight Trigram Pavilion is the Hall of Three Purities which was rebuilt during Kangxi’s reign about 30 years before he got round to Wenshu in 1697. Every time someone donated money to the temple, one of the monks would hit the bell with a hammer. I assume that the bell was the Bell of the World of Darkness which is one of several Ming Dynasty relics in the hall.

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The Hall of the Goddess Doumu is the only Ming Dynasty style building in the complex.

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This is the Hall of the Jade Emperor which was built in the early to mid 19th century. The girl in the dark blue-green outfit was shaking a container full of sticks as she knelt before the shrine.

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Past the Hall of the Jade Emperor is the Hall of the Tang Emperor, although Kangxi was behind this one. The hall includes an effigy of the first Tang emperor

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After this point you then swing right and pass the Hall of the Two Immortals (another of Kangxi’s dating from 1695; I did say he was behind the building in the previous picture), the Hall of Patriarch Lü Dongbin, and this gate – reverse (slightly wonky shot; oops!)

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and obverse from 文化公园 which is just next door.

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I also took a brief turn around the park which included another monument to a group of martyrs, this time the No. 12 Bridge Martyrs from 1949. The park itself is dominated by tearooms which are absolutely everywhere you go. There’s also an amusement park and a boating lake.

Well, that’s the last post from me until,er, whenever.

When the sun shines in Chengdu

Gentlemen of leisure visit Dufu’s Thatched Cottage.

Yes, it’s true. Another sunny day in Chengdu accompanied by your actual blue sky. I decided to take a trip to 杜甫草堂 (Dùfǔ Cǎo Táng). Dufu (712-770) is one of China’s greatest poets and lived during the Tang Dynasty. He came to Chengdu to escape from conflict in another part of the country. As seems to be typical, he tried to get an official position, but when he did, it was only at a low level because of the machinations of some despicable bureaucrat. He got bored with the job which was, no doubt, unworthy of someone with Dufu’s talents.

Here’s the man himself.

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Those are my legs reflected in the bronze. Steady, ladies. I know they’re sexy, but try to calm yourselves. You’ll notice that the beard is a slightly different colour from the rest of him because of the Chinese mania for touching bits of statues for good luck.

This is the replica of Dufu’s cottage. From what I could tell from various exhibits (with limited info in English), the complex became more and more extensive, although I’m not sure whether this was in Dufu’s time or, as seems more likely, after it.

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Actually, there’s a museum near the North Gate which displays a dig from which Tang Dynasty artifacts were unexpectedly uncovered in the course of building work. The find was quite important because there are apparently not a lot of remains from the Tang Dynasty (apart from the Politburo; sorry, couldn’t resist).

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One of the things they unearthed in the course of the dig was this stone tablet, the inscription on which includes a date of 687AD. Well, the Chinese equivalent of such a date.

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In the south-east corner of the grounds is 万佛楼 (Wàn Fó Lóu; Ten Thousand Buddha Building). It’s built on the site of an earlier pagoda, but it’s been shifted slightly so that you can see the base of the original columns which have been preserved under glass at the bottom of the building.

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While I was in the building, I managed to snap this bird sitting on one of the roof ridges a moment before it flitted away.

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Overall, Dufu’s Cottage is a very picturesque garden with features such as a red-walled path overarched with green bamboo.

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Or this pleasant waterside pavilion.

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Or this pavilion with a stele with an inscription from a Tang Dynasty noble called Prince Guo (which features on a mouse mat I believe I bought in Changzhou).

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Or ponds full of lilies.

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There are quite a few displays in the place including one building with pictures of various Chinese leaders from Mao to Jiang Zemin who had visited Dufu’s Cottage. Deng Xiaoping said that if you visited Chengdu without visiting Dufu’s Cottage, then you weren’t visiting the place at all. Curiously, there were examples of calligraphy by various Party boys on display, only some of which were clearly identified. Either the staff don’t know who produced the calligraphy, or they don’t want to say for some reason, but I noted that the ill-fated Liu Shaoqi was among those who dropped by. So was French president Jacques Chirac.

I tried to do a circuit of the place, but got slightly lost in the middle. Nonetheless, I managed, somehow, to see most of the grounds. I note that once again, like the map they hand out at Wuhou, the map of Dufu’s Thatched Cottage is in Chinese, Japanese and Korean. In fact on this map, there’s not a scrap of English.

So, if you’re ever in Chengdu and have 2½ to 3 hours to spare, then this place is worth a visit. (Now if the Sichuan Tourist Board would pay me an advertising fee…)

So that’s what it means

The T-shirt has spoken.

longfeng About some years ago, I bought a T-shirt from the Silk Market in Beijing. It had a picture of a dragon and a phoenix in a roundel (much like the illustration) beside which were some handwritten characters. I managed to figure out what the first two were without much bother (龍 lóng “drag­on” and 鳳 fèng “phoenix”), but the other two characters have always looked in­de­ciph­er­able. Tonight I thought I’d see if I could track them down in my dictionary. The last character was quite easy to find, and I took a guess at the structure third which is written in a rather scrappy fashion.

The whole phrase is 龍鳳呈祥 (lóng fèng chéng xiáng). I thought I’d do an online search for it to confirm that this is, indeed, a phrase. But the first page I looked at had an English translation at the bottom. Now I know the traditional and simplified forms of 龍 (龙) and 鳳 (凤), hence I didn’t bother looking them up in my dictionary. And what should I find when I checked the entry for 龙?

龙凤呈祥 prosperity brought by the dragon and the phoenix; extremely good fortune

Excuse me while I go and kick myself for a bit. If you must know, I find handwritten Chinese characters intimidating because I know I’m probably going to get frustrated if I spend time trying to work out what they are. The ones I know are, perhaps, not too hard to recognise (so I’d like to think), but the ones I don’t know – that’s a different matter.

Wenshu Yuan

The things I do when it’s fine and sunny.

It was fine and sunny today. Here’s a picture to prove it. The camera never lies. Much.

Sunshine and blue sky in Chengdu

I went to 文殊院 (Wénshū Yuán; Wenshu Monastery). Here’s a picture to prove that. Entrance fee, ¥5. Nope, I’m not exaggerating.

Wenshu Yuan, Hall of Three Saints

The Hall of Three Saints is on the left, while on the right in the background is a place where you could get fresh flowers, presumably for offerings. The Hall was first built in 1697 during the reign of Emperor Kangxi, and renovated in 1815. This is a working temple complete with monks and a vegetarian restaurant.

Behind the Hall of Three Saints is Sakyamuni Hall. The original building was also erected in 1697, but was renovated in 1741 during the reign of Qianlong, and expanded in the early 19th century. The gate to the hall was shut, but everybody was touching the rounded 福 character on the boss. The old woman and her granddaughter were kind of typical of the people there. Old or young, but not so many in between.

Wenshu Yuan, Sakyamuni Hall

Behind Sakyamuni Hall was the Dharma Preaching Hall. It also dates from 1697 and was, like the others, renovated early in the 19th century.

Wenshu Yuan, Dharma Preaching Hall

The Tripitaka Pavilion is at the back of the complex. Again, it dates from 1697 and was renovated in the early 19th century. In the courtyard before it, a man was busy consulting Buddha – loudly on his mobile.

Wenshu Yuan, Tripitaka Pavilion

To the west of these buildings is a garden with a Long Life Pond, which is full of terrapins either lazing around in the limpid green waters or sunning themselves on rocks or each other.

Terrapins in Long Life Pool

Beyond the garden to the north of the halls is the monastery library which is of far more recent date than the rest of the complex.

Wenshu Yuan, the monastery library

To the east of the main complex of buildings is the Thousand Buddha Peace Pagoda where, as you can see in the picture, people were making offerings, and also circling the pagoda. If the guy who was doing the praying before the pagoda was hoping for a girl in short shorts, he was in luck. She’d just walked up behind him.

Wenshu Yuan, Thousand Buddha Peace Pagoda

It’s not an especially big monastery, but it’s in the middle of an urban development area (i.e., tourist trap). I ran into an American who said that he’s been there six months earlier when they were still building the shops on the other side of the road from the monastery.

There were a number of foreigners strolling around the place, which reminds me. As I was heading up the road past 人民西路, I saw this hugely fat foreigner. I know I’ve seen a fair few lard-arsed foreigners in this city, but this guy was massive sideways. I just hope that the über漂亮 Chinese girl behind him was merely embarking on the long trek to get by Mr Tun-Belly, because if there was some sort of close personal association between them, it’d turn a Christian normal in a moment.

Wuhou Memorial Temple

The Tomb of Liu Bei.

I went to Wuhou Memorial Temple this afternoon and took a turn around the grounds for a couple of hours. Today had started wet, and it was raining very, very slightly when I went off this afternoon, but it started to clear and hazy sunshine didn’t so much break through as ooze. The greyness and the dampness made for what I felt was a typical scene in a Chinese garden, the light being bright, but casting no shadows.

The temple itself was first built in AD 223 and has been open ever since (barring Cultural Revolutions, I expect). Certainly been open for business because there was no lack of shops selling souvenirs.

We start with a picture of Jianxin Hall (荐馨堂) which is at the end of the avenue along the west side of Wuhou. This is the tomb of Zhuge Liang (aka Kongming), the great strategist who features prominently in the story of The Three Kingdoms.

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South-west of this is the lake, beside which is the romantically named Lamei Wood (腊梅林; làméi means “wintersweet”; I learn from further research that wintersweet is a variety of flower, although now is not the time of year when you might see it).

lake

Past there, you enter the area where Liu Bei’s tomb (the tumulus where he’s buried) is. You pass through this gate

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and can walk around the burial mound itself, which, as you can see from the pic­ture, is overgrown with plants and trees.

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The wall that surrounds it is like the echoing wall at Tiantan in Beijing. I could hear the people at the gate in the picture above much sooner than I could see them. On the other side of the wall from this a quiet bonsai garden.

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Anyway, I’m sure you’re dying to see Liu Bei’s effigy, and here it is.

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There are quite a number of effigies in the complex, some of which are purportedly about 400 years old or so, although I’m a little sceptical that they’re originals. The most recent ones, as far as I saw, date from the mid-19th century.

This is the temple next to Jinli, which you can see through the gate. It’s actually the temple in honour of the oath sworn by Liu Bei, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu in the peach garden.

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And here are the effigies of the boys inside. Zhang Fei was loyal, but a drunkard, and his brutal treatment of his men after Lord Guan was executed led to his assassination. Guan Yu was a greater fighter, but was captured and executed by Sun Quan of the Southlands.

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And thus I amused myself for the afternoon.