China

have no expectations

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One post ago, we mentioned anticlimactic holiday experiences and now we can actually describe one of them: the Terracotta Warriors. There was no wow factor, there were no goosebumps and all we saw was everything we have seen in documentaries and pictures previously. There had been an exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW, in 2010/2011, of the Warriors that we went to see and were so utterly fascinated and impressed that we would imagine seeing hundreds and thousands of them lined side by side would be mind-blowing. It partly made us more keen to visit China! But it wasn’t to be…

Warriors in the pit
Warriors in the pit

It probably didn’t help that we were in a warehouse, walking with hordes of other people around the “pit” where all the warriors stood! We won’t deny what incredible workmanship went into carving and painting each warrior: individual features, expressions and even sizes! The level of detail and thought put in is unbelievable however the ambience did not lend itself to allow a sense of wonder! So another lesson we learnt through our travels: Do not have any expectations and then you will NOT get disappointed. We actually thought we had come with little expectations but obviously we still had some!

To be fair though, the other things we experienced in China seemed more exciting possibly because we didn’t know what to expect. For example, we visited Ping Yao which we had never even heard of.

Streets of Ping Yap
Streets of Ping Yao

To visit Ping Yao is to visit an ancient Chinese city. It is so well preserved and still a walled city. Upon entering the gates, it seriously feels like we have stepped back in time. A time where kung fu happened on the streets and ninjas are running across roof tops – there is a strong possibility that image was heavily influenced by Hollywood and Chinese Kung Fu movies! Here we visited China’s first private bank and a Taoist temple, walked the city wall and watched artists in the lacquer museum. We even stayed at a hotel that was, although modern and comfortable, completely decked out to appear authentic. The decor and courtyards set the mood.

The hotel courtyard
The hotel courtyard

And another example was visiting the Wild Goose Pagoda where Tripitaka resided after returning from India and bringing Buddhism to China. Having grown up watching Monkey Magic, this seemed like a very awesome thing to see for ourselves.

So it’s no wonder that the Warriors didn’t stand a chance amongst the other things that we saw in China.

Wild Goose Pagoda
Wild Goose Pagoda
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a place in the cliff face

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There are many a-times when we travel that we have seen things that make our jaws drop. There are other times where we’ve been disappointed because something is an anti-climax! And then there are times where we are so utterly speechless after seeing something that is simply mind-blowing, so much so that we are overcome with emotion that brings tears to our eyes. The moment where we pinch ourselves and say to each other, “Oh-mi-gosh! We are really here. And seeing this in real life and not just in pictures!” So what the heck are we raving about?

Hanging Monastery
Hanging Monastery

Imagine a temple built 1500 years ago with elements from Buddhism, Taoism and Confucian. A very picturesque temple, narrow and sparse on internal space, but picturesque all the same. Now imagine that same temple elevated 75 metres above ground, not a high-rise, not sitting on top of a mountain but built into the cliff face of the mountain and held in place with some wooden logs. This is the Hanging Monastery (nearest city is Datong). The Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Warriors gets a lot of tourist attention but worthy of nudging those two aside is definitely the Hanging Monastery.

To be fair, it could have been that due to the few tourists there that made the experience all the more gratifying! To think about, if there were a lot of tourists swarming the place, we probably would’ve thought twice about climbing through it – would that structure hold us??! So fortunately the low numbers gave us confidence to climb and climb…. although a little unnerving as the winds were fierce and blowing a-gale and step too close to the ledge and that would’ve been the quickest route back to the coach! Never in our  wildest dreams would we have thought that we would be here and done that! After that experience, it definitely has rocketed up to number one as our most favourite historical site EVER (yep, a pretty big call).

Little Buddhas
Little Buddhas

A few other highlights of this region were:

  • Yungang Buddhist Grottoes (UNESCO Heritage-listed), walking along and viewing the temples and thousands of buddhas carved in the grottoes. We saw a Buddha that was 17 metres tall and ones that were as small as our palms
  • Catching glimpses of the original Great Wall of China which are still intact but have not been restored
  • Visiting the first Buddhist temple in China.
Original Great Wall
Original Great Wall
Wutaishan
Wutaishan

a city where 20+ million live

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Keeping an eye on the temperature on our iPhones before we left showed that China was going to be cold. And because we were doing more “off the beaten” track – we would be in the mountains which meant it would be even colder! We were on the 18-day Helen Wong: Ancient Panorama tour. The great thing about this tour was that the price we paid was inclusive of all meals, accommodation, transport and flights.

Flying with Cathay Pacific to get to Beijing was a very uncomfortable experience. The seats instead of dropping back, slide out from where your bum is. Very unusual design as we don’t know anyone’s back who actually can be angled that way. But anyway, we made it to China and found out that on our tour we had 8 people. That’s right…. ONLY 8 people: a wonderful couple from Townsville who we are still friends with today (thanks to Facebook) and 2 other couples from NSW and us from Sydney. Again we were the youngest in the group but that doesn’t faze us.

The weirdest thing to date that we have experienced was looking up at the sky and seeing only fog and pollution. The sun literally looked like a “lightbulb” in the sky or was it the moon, actually we will never know.

The sun amongst the grey skies
The sun amongst the grey skies

Driving through a city that houses almost the Australian population, you can imagine – there are cars and people everywhere all the time.

It was quite a surreal feeling to be walking around Tiananmen Square, around the Forbidden City and around the Temple of Heaven. The architecture and artwork on the buildings are intricate and carefully constructed. When we visit places like this, our minds try to imagine what life would’ve been like back in time. In this instance, it was trying to conjure up imageries of emperors and advisors and carriages and ceremonies. But the only “reference” we have to really do this though is to think of movies or paintings depicting such scenes.

As fascinating as all this history was, we were more keen on doing a few other things in this city:

1) The Great Wall of China

2) Eating Peking duck in Beijing (or formally known as Peking).

And both we did do!

Getting to the top
Getting to the top

Now nobody told us that to walk on the actual wall that you needed to climb up a gazillion steps first. Not that it would have made a difference because we were going no matter what. Starting off, we were as keen as beans but by about midway, the calf muscles start to tighten, the thigh muscles start to ache, the beanie comes off and then the puffy down jackets are stripped off… we had to get to the top – nothing was stopping us!

And when we did, all the aching and panting dissipated! Peacefully quiet facing a pathway that goes on forever…. well for approximately 21, 000 km at least. Another wake up call reminding us how great this world is and how amazing the people can be!

View more photos of our trips at Photo Gallery.

The stairs that no one tells you about
The stairs that those who have gone before forget to mention
The Great Wall that goes on
The Great Wall that goes on