Behold: the Yellow Mountain. Places in China get famous either because something significant happened there, or because some guy wrote a poem about it, and the Yellow Mountain (which is actually more of a mountain range) has inspired countless poems and paintings. When you see a Chinese painting with mountains, they're based off of this one. We spent several days there, most of which consisted of climbing the thing. There is a lift, but it only gets you part of the way there, leaving hours worth of uphill trekking in thin air. It is undeniably scenic, but in our initial journey, it was so misty that none of the scenery was visible. The effect was actually a lot like running through Everquest with your clipping plane pulled in close. You could see yourself and the path, but everything else was simply white.
At the top is a hotel. Remember how I said there are no lifts to the top? Everything that the hotel uses (and also everything that was used in its construction) must be carried up by hand, which they can get away with because labor in China is cheap. A steady stream of workers passed by us as we walked back down, providing an important cautionary tale to all the little Chinese kids who were falling behind on their studies.
The collection of locks is apparently a Chinese mountain climbing tradition. To commemorate your ascent, you can buy a cheap lock at the top and then hook it onto the chain at the peak. I didn't add one, but I did get pictures.
Supposedly, there are monkeys around, but I never saw any. The gardeners among you may be interested to know that spirea and lace cap hydrangeas grow abundantly up there.
We also spent some time at the World Fair in Shanghai. For those of you who don't know what that is (I was among your number), it's like a business convention, but with countries instead. In theory, each country's booth/building should give you a feel for the country. The reality is somewhat different. The theme of Chile's building was, so far as I could make out, that parks are good. Bolivia's was about how great cocaine is. Cuba's was basically nothing more than a bar. The line was too long for America's, but I did get to visit Slovakia (one of my ancestral stomping grounds), and they actually put on a pretty good booth for such a minor country. The cutouts where you could pretend to wear traditional Slovakian garb were a big hit.
Periodically a parade would wander through the grounds, each float presumably emblematic of one of the countries in some way. The picture above was, we are reasonably sure, "American." Behold yourself through the eyes of others.
What you see here is us about halfway up the long staircase to the tomb of Sun Yat-sen, claimed by both China and Taiwan as the father of their nation. He started numerous uprisings against the Ching dynasty, one of which eventually succeeded. Not pictured is the extreme heat and humidity of that day. We required several ice waters apiece simply to reach the top without suffering heat stroke. Fairly nearby (in normal weather, it would have been a walkable distance), is a Ming tomb from 1381. The path is lined with statues of officials and a variety of animals standing guard.
Though these complexes are always described as "Confucian temples," "school" seems like a more accurate term. The red things you see are hung by students looking for good luck on their exams. On giant stone tablets are carved the names of everybody who passed their civil service exams. The tablets you see contain the great Chinese classics (and commentaries), first gathered together in this great hall.
Now the Buddhists, they definitely have temples, and those temples are full of idols. The one you see is the largest Buddha to ever have been carved out of single sandalwood tree, and it has the certificate from the Guinness Book of World Records to prove it.
Behold, the Old Summer Palace. It was built in a Western style, and then destroyed by Western powers in 1860. It remains in that ruined state as a testament to the "national humiliation," according to park's signs. This is hard for my American mind to comprehend. The closest analogue I can think of is if we had left the burnt remains of the White House unrepaired after the War of 1812. Instead, we hardly think of that war at all. I suspect this points to a major difference in the Asian mindset.
The ruins were nice to explore, although it was difficult to keep in mind that they're only 150 years old, when I'm used to Roman ruins that stretch back millenia.
This is one of the more famous gardens in China. Naturally, many poems have been written about it. Gardeners will again be interested to note how the style of Chinese gardens differs from that of Western gardens. They center around bodies of water, and generally only make use of a handful of different plants. Famous western gardens usually have as large a variety of plants as they can, and focus far more on flowers and their many colors.
No report on China is complete without a mention of the odd foods I encountered. Behold: a fish cooked "squirrel style." Those things that look like French fries are in fact still attached to the fish, though they're breaded and covered in sauce. It was quite good. Next to that is mud chicken, which is exactly what it sounds like, and which we did not eat. After that, we have the Chinese equivalent of French fries. They're cooked differently, making them much more crisp and moist, but the overall taste is essentially the same.
At one place, when we asked for Sprite to go with our meal (you always have to ask; Chinese drink very little with their meals other than tiny cups of tea, whereas I am used to downing several glasses whenever I eat), they brought out bowls with the soda in them. I was convinced that they were playing a prank on the white guy, but Jennifer's mother assured us that this was the traditional way to take drinks back in the old days. Judge for yourself.