On my first trip to Xi'An (西安), I became enthralled by the Muslim Quarter. The blaring music, blinking lights and steaming food were all intoxicating. On my second trip, there was no way I would miss it.
I recently had the opportunity to photograph the Beijing Bowl Ultimate Frisbee tournament. It was an exciting weekend, with many good teams vying for the coveted championship trophy. Though I haven't played Ultimate in many years, I was still happy to live my past glories by taking pictures of hucks, D's and layouts.
The area around Shanghai and Suzhou, China is famous for its water towns. There are at least eight different villages within a few hours of the cities, each with its own special character. These villages are perhaps the best way to get a glimpse of the old way of life in central China.
Shanghai, population 24 million, is the biggest city in China. By some measurements, it's the biggest city in the world. I've visited Shanghai three times since moving to China, two years ago. The city is all business. The Pudong district, on the far side of the Huangpu River, is full of skyscrapers, including the Shanghai Tower, the second-tallest building in the world. The French Concession has beautiful broad avenues and boutique shops. Even in “old” places such as the Yuyuan gardens, shopping is the name of the game.
The world-famous Great Wall of China sees millions of visitors every year. The vast majority of tourists visit the restored sections, such as Badaling and Mutianyu. However, there are also many long stretches of the Great Wall that receive almost no visitors. During winter, it would be a rare occasion indeed to see another living soul in these parts.
For many visitors, the Forbidden City (紫禁城) is the highlight of China. It was the Imperial Palace of the Chinese emperor from 1420 until 1912. Today, it's known as the “Palace Musuem” (故宫博物院) because it houses a large number of ancient Chinese artifacts. It has 980 rooms, and the buildings exemplify China's ancient architecture. The compound was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. With 14 million annual visitors, it is the most visited museum in the world. Will you be among them?
Beijing's Yong He Lama Temple (雍和宫) is constantly beckoning. We live a short bike ride from it, and it's visible from our apartment's balcony. Whenever we have guests, we take them to the Lama Temple. They're never disappointed. The compound has over 300 years of history, with many prayer halls and works of art to enjoy. The highlight of the Temple is the giant Buddha statue, carved from a single piece of sandalwood.
Almost everyone who comes to Beijing visits the Forbidden City, one of China's highlights. Afterward, most people go back to their hotel, or at least to a different part of the city. But if you cross the road to the north, you can visit lovely Jingshan Park (景山公园), in the exact center of Beijing. Not only is the park beautiful, with great views of the city and mountains, but is has some interesting history, as well. This is where Congzhen, the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty, fled after Beijing fell in 1644. Out of options, the emperor hung himself from a tree near the park's entrance.
While traveling through the Ningxia semi-autonomous region in north-central China, I had the opportunity to check out a unique site. Shui Dong Gou (水洞沟) is one of the oldest Paleolithic excavations in all of China. It features ancient skulls and tools, as well as some models of old houses. But mostly, Shui Dong Gou has become a tourist haven, with nonstop fun for everyone. Sometimes it was hard to tell what was original and what was a recreation, but Shui Dong Gou still made for an interesting day away from the big city. Did I mention there were tractor rides?
After seeing the Genghis Khan Mausoleum, I left Inner Mongolia for Ninxia Hui, a small autonomous region in north-central China. My first stop was Yinchuan, Ninxia Hui's small capital, with a population of 800,000. Being a Chinese city, everything there seemed interesting to me, from a lake on the city's northwest side, to a smallish mosque, to a pedestrian shopping street. Here are a few photos from my stroll through Yinchuan: