Drum Tower

the bell tower & the drum tower in xi’an

Monday, April 20:  Finally, on my last day in Xi’an, I wake up to sunshine.  I’m glad because I have a lot I want to see today before flying back to Nanning tomorrow morning.  I enjoy the buffet breakfast in the hotel, then I head out toward the Muslim Quarter.  I make stops at the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower on my way there.

The Bell Tower was built in the 17th year of Hongwu (1384 AD) of the Ming dynasty.  It’s named for a huge bell hung in the tower to tell the time.  The tower is a mixed structure of bricks and wood, is 1370 square meters, and is 36 meters high with the architectural style of the Ming dynasty. It has undergone many repairs since 1949.

Bell at the Bell Tower

Bell at the Bell Tower

I walk around the perimeter of the tower, which sits in the middle of a roundabout, and see views in all directions.  This is the view to the north.

the view north from the Bell Tower

the view north from the Bell Tower

I can see the Drum Tower to the northwest.

Looking west to the Drum Tower

Looking west to the Drum Tower

Looking directly west I can see the busy streets of Xi’an and the Drum Tower to the right.

The view west from the Bell Tower

The view west from the Bell Tower

The Imitated Qin Chime Bells, 39 pieces altogether, are reproduced in line with the Yuefu bells unearthed from the mausoleum of the first emperor of the Qin dynasty and the Bianbo bells excavated in Meixian and Fufeng counties of Shaanxi province.

In the Chime Bell room are some interesting Chinese paintings.

Chinese paintings

Chinese paintings

According to a placard in the room, this set of imitated chime bells includes 7 bo bells, 18 Yong bells, and 14 Niu bells.  They are exquisite in decorative patterns and are in timbre.  Such classical musical instruments could produce tunes of all kinds, ancient and modern, Chinese and foreign.

The Imitated Qin Chime Bells

The Imitated Qin Chime Bells

I adore the colorful painted ceilings in this room.

pretty painted ceilings

pretty painted ceilings

swirls and squares

swirls and squares

another Chinese painting

another Chinese painting

Outside, I admire the iconic flying eaves that are so perfectly Chinese.

flying eaves of the Bell Tower

flying eaves of the Bell Tower

ceiling in the Bell Tower

ceiling in the Bell Tower

I see the view looking south to the south gate of the city walls.  My hotel is along this stretch, only a block or two from the tower.  It’s the perfect location for exploring Xi’an.

View south from the Bell Tower

View south from the Bell Tower

I love the red doors and the carvings on the railings that make interesting shadows on the walkway.

walkway on the perimeter of the Bell Tower

walkway on the perimeter of the Bell Tower

I come full circle and see the western view again.

View west from the Bell Tower

View west from the Bell Tower

After leaving the Bell Tower, I walk west to the Drum Tower, built in the 13th year of Hongwu (1380 AD) of the Ming dynasty.  It’s named for the huge drums laid in the tower to tell the time.  The tower is also a mixed structure of bricks and wood, occupies an area of 1840 square meters, and is 34 meters high in the typical architecture of the Ming dynasty.  Like the Bell Tower, it has undergone many repairs since 1949.

The Drum Tower

The Drum Tower

Eaves of the Drum Tower

Eaves of the Drum Tower

Drums at the Drum Tower

Drums at the Drum Tower

It just so happens that I arrive at the Drum Tower just in time to hear the drum performance.

A drum performance

A drum performance

painted drum

painted drum

dragon drum

dragon drum

Fast motion drummer

Fast motion drummer

Walking around the back rim of the Drum Tower, I can see Beiyuanmen in the Muslim Quarter.  It doesn’t look quite as busy as it was last night.

View of Beiyuanmen in the Muslim Quarter

View of Beiyuanmen in the Muslim Quarter

more drums at the Drum Tower

more drums at the Drum Tower

From the Drum Tower, I can see some gardens and the Bell Tower to the east.

View from the Drum Tower back to the Bell Tower

View from the Drum Tower back to the Bell Tower

Around the north side of the Drum Tower, there is the usual bustling commerce that’s ubiquitous throughout China.

View to the northeast from the Drum Tower

View to the northeast from the Drum Tower

view northwest from the Drum Tower

view northwest from the Drum Tower

After leaving the Drum Tower, I head down and out to explore the Muslim Quarter and the Great Mosque.

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Categories: Asia, Bell Tower, China, Drum Tower, Shaanxi, Travel, Xi'an | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

first venture into xi’an’s muslim quarter

Sunday, April 19:  After my full day with the Terra Cotta Warriors, the emperor and his concubine, and Chiang Kai-Shek, Chelsea drops Andrew and me back at our respective hotels.  I sit in the lobby for a while checking emails and posting some pictures before heading out to check out a restaurant recommended by Chelsea; it sits on the street between the Bell Tower and the south gate of the city walls.  I find when I go inside the restaurant that it’s outrageously expensive, so I decide to leave and head to the Muslim Quarter, which I’ve heard is lively and has some of the best food in the city.

Looking at the Bell Tower from the south gate of the ancient city wall

Looking at the Bell Tower from the south gate of the ancient city wall

I haven’t yet explored the ancient city walls, but I hope to do so tomorrow.  I’ve heard you can rent a bicycle at the top of the wall and can ride all the way around the perimeter if you like.  I can only hope there’s no rain.

the south gate of Xi'an's ancient city wall

the south gate of Xi’an’s ancient city wall

As I walk north on the main street, I can see the fabulous Bell Tower glowing in its golds, greens and reds.

The Bell Tower at night

The Bell Tower at night

At the Bell Tower, I turn to the west and stroll toward the Drum Tower.  It is also lit up beautifully.

The Drum Tower at night

The Drum Tower at night

Just north of the Drum Tower is the Muslim Quarter, home for centuries to Xi’an’s thirty thousand Hui people, said to be descended from 8th century Arab soldiers (Lonely Planet China).  The quarter covers several blocks inhabited by over 20,000 Muslims. There are about ten mosques in this area, among which the Great Mosque is the most famous and popular (China Travel Guide: Muslim Quarter).  I plan to visit the area in greater depth tomorrow.

venturing into the Muslim Quarter

venturing into the Muslim Quarter

Muslim food and souvenir vendors abound on Beiyuanmen, the flagstoned narrow street just north of the Drum Tower.  The buildings on both sides of the street are modeled on architectural styles of both the Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasties (1644-1911). The owners are all Muslims (China Travel Guide: Muslim Quarter).

the busy Muslim Quarter

the busy Muslim Quarter

Lanterns for sale

Lanterns for sale

The Muslims on Beiyuanmen are devout followers of Islam, so they form a tight-knit community, which maintains its own culture and traditions to this day (China Travel Guide: Muslim Quarter).

As you can see below, the street is very crowded this evening.

Xi'an's Muslim Quarter

Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter

I stop in a restaurant for some dinner. I’ve heard of a delicious soup with beef or lamb that’s poured over unleavened bread, but I have a hard time finding it on the menu, even using my cumbersome WayGo app.

the menu in the restaurant

the menu in the restaurant

I finally settle on some very wide spicy noodles that I see at someone else’s table.  I gesture to the waitress that I’d like whatever the man in the center table is having.

a nice little Muslim restaurant

a nice little Muslim restaurant

I didn’t mention that I’ve had an upset stomach most of the day and, even tonight, my stomach is feeling a little queasy; these stomach problems have accompanied me throughout China over the last year.  That doesn’t stop me from eating every last bite of these oily and spicy noodles, which are fabulous.

wide spicy noodles

wide spicy noodles

The crowds are thick in the Muslim Quarter and I’m tired from my long day today, so I walk back to my hotel, once again passing the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower on my way “home.”

The Drum Tower

The Drum Tower

The Drum Tower in Xi'an

The Drum Tower in Xi’an

It’s been a great two days in Xi’an, and I have another whole day tomorrow, Monday.  My flight back to Nanning isn’t until early Tuesday morning. I plan to visit the Bell and Drum Towers, the Muslim Quarter, the city walls, and in the evening, to attend a performance with Mari, the Finnish lady I met today. The performance is to be accompanied by dinner, in which dumplings of all kinds are served. 🙂

Categories: Asia, Bell Tower, China, Drum Tower, Muslim Quarter, Shaanxi, Travel, Xi'an | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

houhai & wangfujing: rickshaws & weeping willows, scorpions & golden lilies

Friday, September 24: On this journey to China, I’ve brought along a book called Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a novel by Lisa See set in 19th century China.  I’ve been reading it at nights here in Beijing and just last night, I read the chapter titled “Footbinding.”  I cringed while reading this chapter, which goes into excruciating detail about the horrors of footbinding.  “Golden lilies” were considered much more important than a pretty face; tiny feet could improve social standing for a girl.  The way it is described is thus: the feet are bound with bandages such that the four smallest toes were rolled underneath the foot.  The idea was to get the toes and heel to meet, creating a cleft, but leaving the big toe to walk on.  As the bones broke within the tightening bandages, the flesh putrified, with blood and pus oozing out.  During this long tormenting process, the girl was forced to walk back and forth across the floor, causing the bones to break faster and to hurry the process along.  Apparently, one out of ten girls died from footbinding across the whole of China.

Lisa See describes in her excellent book that the goal was to achieve “7 distinct attributes: The feet should be small, narrow, straight, pointed, and arched, yet still fragrant and soft in texture.  Of these requirements length is most important.  Seven centimeters — about the length of a thumb — is the ideal.  Shape comes next.  A perfect foot should be shaped like the bud of a lotus.  It should be full and round at the heel, come to a point at the front, with all weight borne by the big toe alone.  This means that the toes and arch of the foot must be broken and bent under to meet the heel.  The cleft formed…should be deep enough to hide a large cash piece perpendicular within its folds.” (page 26).

I have read of footbinding before, but not in such horrifying detail.  I cannot stop thinking about it and as we meet in the morning for breakfast, it is fresh on my mind. I tell Suzanne about what I’ve read after breakfast and she can’t believe it.  I wonder whether women still do it today and if they are still walking around China with bound feet.

Grace, our guide through the hutong

Grace, our guide through the hutong

Today we have a free day in Beijing, so Suzanne, a couple of other girls and I have made plans to go on a rickshaw through a hutong.  Our tour guide, Grace, arrives to take our little group in a van to the hutong; while we’re waiting for everyone to assemble, I ask her about the practice of footbinding.  She tells me it was banned when the Qing dynasty collapsed in 1911, but people were still doing it until 1949, when it was finally outlawed forever by the Communists.  Footbinding was practiced for about 1,000 years in China, from the 10th century to the first half of the 20th century. Girls had no say in the matter, as their mothers bound their feet when they were 4-6 years old.  The resulting stumps were regarded as beautiful and exciting to men.

inside the drum tower

inside the drum tower

The pictures I have seen of these feet are so horrible and hoof-like, it’s hard to imagine why men would find them sexy.  They look like animal hooves, honestly.  I ask Grace if it might be possible to glimpse a foot-bound woman on the streets of Beijing today.  She says that it is possible.  I determine to keep an eye out for one of these women, but I never happen to see one during my time here.

the 69 longevity steps

the 69 longevity steps

When we arrive at the hutong, our little group goes to the Drum Tower, from the 15th century Ming dynasty.  In this tower, from which we can see Houhai Lake and the Forbidden City, drums were once beaten to announce dusk and to call imperial bigwigs to meetings.  Every half hour between 10 a.m. and noon and from 2-4 p.m. a group of drummers beats on the giant drums inside.  We witness this not-especially-spectacular spectacle and then climb back down the 69 longevity steps to go outside to meet our orange-vested rickshaw driver.

suzanne, me & our rickshaw driver

suzanne, me & our rickshaw driver

We cruise on our bicycle rickshaw through the alleyways of a hutong near Houhai.  In a whir, we pass through gray alleys, cluttered courtyards, public bathhouses, symbolic gates, bicycles, and other rickshaws. Street vendors offer fruits and women artfully display their vegetables.  It’s breezy & fun, zipping through what used to be the true Beijing, but is now just a carefully preserved specimen of what used to be.

the cozy tea shop where we have a more intimate ceremony

the cozy tea shop where we have a more intimate ceremony

We make a stop for an intimate tea ceremony at a cozy tea shop; since there are only eight of us, I feel this is more like what a tea ceremony should be.  The young lady here tells us we should take 3 sips of each tea for happiness, longevity, and a good future.  The local tea of Beijing is jasmine tea, which is supposed to relax the nerves and mind and help you sleep.  She tells us you can save the tea, dry it in the sun, and make pillows to help with blood flow.  Oolong, or black dragon, tea is made with boiling water and is best in autumn.  Green tea, made with 80 degree water, is best in summer.  She tells us the Chinese tea ceremony is more flexible than the Japanese one; the Chinese emphasize just relaxing and talking with friends.  She says when you have tea in China, you should relax and enjoy.  The procedure is not complicated.

the tea ceremony

the tea ceremony

We browse in the little shop following the ceremony; here I buy some tea and then we continue on in our rickshaws, making another stop at a courtyard house where we are treated to a lovely, but aged, little garden brimming with pomegranate trees.  The owner of the house invites us into his tiny and cluttered living room, where he serves us grapes on a plate.  Grace tells us there are only 100 courtyards remaining in all of Beijing.  In this particular courtyard, surrounded by a number of small buildings, 8 family members and their families live.

a courtyard house in the hutong blooming with pomegranates

a courtyard house in the hutong blooming with pomegranates

We get back in the rickshaw and since I have to take a bathroom break, we stop at a public bathroom.  Apparently, none of the houses in the hutongs have private bathrooms, so people use public bathhouses.  We see plenty of people wandering around the streets in their bathrobes.

After the rickshaw tour, Grace walks us over to the lovely Houhai Lake.  This is my favorite place in Beijing…the Summer Palace being a close second.  Houhai isn’t necessarily a tourist place, although it draws plenty of tourists.  It’s a thriving commercial area with funky and cool shops, restaurants with outdoor cafes and live music, weeping willow trees, paddle boats, bicycles galore, and a cool breeze blowing off the small finger-shaped lake.

the weeping willows of houhai lake

the weeping willows of houhai lake

In Nicole Mones’ book, A Cup of Light, she tells an interesting story of Houhai Lake.  I’m not sure if it’s true, since this is fiction, but she says “this was the body of water to which candidates who failed the imperial examinations came to drown themselves.  There were always those who chose to hurl themselves in the water rather than return home to face their parents.  Now their ghosts were here forever, mourning by the banks of the lake.” (p. 82)

communist dolls for sale near houhai lake

communist dolls for sale near houhai lake

One street back from the lakeside street are multitudes of shops filled with tea cups, pots and teas, journals and bookmarks, scarves and lanterns, clothes, Chinese masks, cushions, Buddhas, little Mao dolls in Communist clothing, shoes, traditional clothing, Chinese artwork & scrolls… too many desirable things!

our rooftop lunch place

our rooftop lunch place

We have a light lunch on a rooftop cafe where the service is atrocious; after, some of the girls take off to paddle-boat around the lake.  Suzanne and I go on a shopping spree.  This is the kind of shopping I enjoy, in shops where I can browse and find beautiful things, not necessarily things that I NEED, but things that will add beauty to my life, to my living space, things that will make me smile.  I buy a lantern, several scarves, a ring, a tea-cup with a ceramic insert punched with holes where you can steep the tea.  Not much, but these few things make me happy.

bicycles at houhai lake

bicycles at houhai lake

Suzanne and I wander around the lake.  It is so lovely, with a cool breeze sweeping the weeping willows on the lake’s edge, like soft woolen fringe on a Nordic sweater.  The lake is filled with dancing points of light, effervescent.  We take our time, meander and wander, and finally stop at a lakeside cafe ~ AUTHENTIC MEXICAN BEER! ~ where there is a Chinese girl playing folksy guitar tunes.  Between the two of us, we hardly have any money remaining, and I have just enough to get one beer.  It is so relaxing here, I think we could sit here indefinitely.  But we are due to meet up with some of the other girls, so we can’t linger long enough.

on the other side of houhai lake

on the other side of houhai lake

When we meet them, we split up to go into two taxis to Wangfujing Food Street.  We get separated from the other girls and never find them at the food street.  There, we check out all the bizarre foods: starfish, squid, octopus, giant prawns, sea cucumbers, scorpions on sticks, sea horses, snake, legs of lamb, silkworms, and some kind of drink with volcanic smoke erupting from it.  We see giant crickets, fruits on sticks, and the typical Chinese fare of dumplings and stir-fry.  I take a picture of a brave girl eating silkworms, but I am too afraid to try anything myself.  Yes, admittedly, I’m a wimp.  Besides, at this point Suzanne and I barely have enough money for the taxi back to our hotel.

the AUTHENTIC MEXICAN BEER outdoor cafe with live music along the lake

the AUTHENTIC MEXICAN BEER outdoor cafe with live music along the lake

At the end of the food street, we come to the modern and high-class shopping district, Wangfujing Dajie, which has a huge glitzy mall full of designer shops.  The best find for me is the Foreign Languages Bookstore, where I browse and find the Nicole Mones book and Cries in the Drizzle by Yu Hua.  I actually find too many books I want and since I’ve been starved for an English bookstore since I arrived in Korea, I could be happy to stay here all night.  But again, since we are short on cash, we figure we better take the taxi back to the hotel.

starfish for sale

starfish for sale

We catch a taxi and we have exactly 39 yuan between us.  I have 34 and Suzanne has 5.  The ride to our hotel is a long and convoluted one and we watch the meter carefully, nervously wondering if the taxi driver is taking us on a wild goose chase.  Finally, as the meter approaches 34 yuan, we pull into the entrance to the Holiday Inn Lido.  We escape the taxi with 5 yuan in our possession.

scorpions, anyone?

scorpions, anyone?

I am tired as we’ve been on the go all day, so I decide to get comfortable and relax and read.  Suzanne takes off to hang out with her friends.  I am back to 19th century China, engrossed in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.  Our last night in China, I’m exhausted but happy to have come here. I have found a multi-layered culture of incredible richness and depth and am disappointed that I have to leave tomorrow morning, after just four days in Beijing.  I’m left wanting more.  I’ll have to figure out another time I can get back to China to explore the hinterlands and the other cities, like Shanghai and Hong Kong.  Hmmm… When (& HOW) can I do this?  A dilemma.

wangfujing food street

wangfujing food street

Categories: A Cup of Light, Beijing, China, Chinese food, Drum Tower, Houhai, hutongs, Nicole Mones, tea ceremony, Wangfujing Dajie, Wangfujing Street | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

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