Imperial Capital 北京

Empires.

You’ve read about them. Might have watched documentaries about how they rose and fell. One common thread of these huge political entities is the grandeur of their capital. And Beijing is one such example.

Not capital till the early 1400s, the city was a ‘mere’ provincial town on the northern reaches of the Chinese empire. While it was ‘capital’ of regional kingdoms and fiefdoms, it was only because of Chu-Ti’s ascension to the throne that got the city into the limelight. Not wanting to remain in Nanjing where the founder of the Ming dynasty (his father) domiciled, he preferred his own base in the north where he had previously been the feudal prince.

Thus an imperial capital was born.

And it has continued growing ever since, gaining weight (we mean size) and transforming into a city with so much to see and do. Because it is filled with such a diverse array of relics and imperial wonders. You have to know we are all privileged. During the imperial era, no commoner would easily ever set their eyes on what you now take for granted to visit and see. Unless you became either an eunuch, a soldier or a palace maid.

The city is a must to visit and we cannot profess to provide a guide. But we’ve compiled a few stories on Beijing. Starting from the cover here, we dive further sharing with you what we saw with our eyes (umm…camera). Enjoy!

Have you been to Beijing? Does it put you in awe?

Food tour of 张家界

Since we are on a roll here with food posts, here’s one that also happens to be a handprint story.

Perhaps you’ve not read our journalogs (two parts) on the journeys we made to the “avatar” inspiring landscape of Zhang Jia Jie (张家界) here. And so we tell you, you’ve missed out! LOL. But today’s post is not about the beautiful landscapes that you missed because misty days made us miss some too.

Rather, we want to share with you the incredible food journey we experienced while journeying through the misty lands that seem to be forever (at least when we went) shrouded in mystery…

Really you ask? What can there be in them mountains?

From strange looking edible fungi to tuber that is medicinally sought after, such are the wonders that nature produces. Could this be the reason that the sages of yore went to the mountains to seek out the meaning elixir of life? Perhaps. But more important is that the loss of such habitats is irreversible. Which is why we are advocates of conservation and a limit to development. Through land use intensification coupled with adequate infrastructure for living and playing, we can save these bastions of natural pharmacies alive!

Such were some of the meals that infused these local ingredients into both a feast to the eyes and the stomach. Because eventhough there were only two of us, we still got the usual many course meals. It was hearty indeed for every day we are surprised.

Take a read here and whet your appetite to make the same food journey. Wouldn’t you like to visit the land of the avatars?

Enjoy the caves of 九乡

You might recall in an earlier post we shared our handprint story of struggling with rarefied air in the highlands near the Tibetan border. If you had read the story, you would also know that we ‘evacuated’ back to lower altitudes as soon as we could to avoid worsening our bout of altitude sickness. Talk about cutting losses…

What was one to do now that we are back at a more comfortable altitude?

Why we set out exploring of course! Because we only had two days remaining, it was not possible to go far. In fact, we only had the hotel nights in Kunming city itself, thus leaving for another city such as Lijiang was not possible without paying more and changing the flights home. Hey you’ve still gotta stick with budget right? Afterall one can still save for a return in the future. So where did we go?

The caves are alive with the sound of (Yunnan tribal) music… Yeah. That was sure fun.

But that was not all. We also visited a tea institute where the senior students host visitors and provide an appreciation of the prized tea of the highlands – Pu’er (普洱) tea. Not only are they aged for long long time, they are said to have wellness effects too. We bought a couple of ‘cakes’ of tea home and are still drinking them.

Yunnan is a fascinating mix of different ethnic cultures and natural beauty. Find out more about our cave exploration here and tell us if you’d do the same!

Suzhou (苏州) and 太湖

Having read all about Hangzhou’s West Lake (here), we hope your appetite has been whet for more stories of what short road trips one can take while in Shanghai. Literally a stone’s throw away in today’s terms, Suzhou can be counted as one of the places where a day’s journey can yield a treasure trove of experiences that brings you back to the time of the Song/Sung dynasty.

Whereas Hangzhou is a city of tea and home of Longjin (龍井), Suzhou is a city of silk it is said. And when we were in the city it seemed evey corner there were vendors trying to sell you the most wonderful quality fabric… let’s just say we were not interested to buy any…

What some might know of the other side of the city is its famed gardens. Home to quite a few of the largest private classical gardens in China, they were the abode of bureaucrats or merchant princes from a golden age. For as one of the cities of eastern China, it had grown wealthy from being the terminus of the grand canal – the source of booming trade that flowed between north and south China, someday which we want to explore too.

But Suzhou is not just the city. It is also near lake Tai, one that is so large that it continues to supply freshwater to surrounding cities. Let this essay enchant you into perhaps not just road tripping there, but stay longer. Have you been the this half of heaven?

Glimpses of Tianjin (天津)

One of the things about making frequent business trips to China is the opportunity afforded by it to take some time out. And so it was in the city that was the gateway to imperial capital Beijing. The seaport that is.

Tianjin, like many coastal Chinese cities in the 19th century was witness to the arrival and eventual domination of foreign powers. No different from the likes of Shanghai, the port were part of the “concessions” granted (well forceably) to foreign governments to maintain their own quarters and laws (yes extraterritorial). To the point that jurisdiction was off limits to the reigning Qing dynasty of China. So much for benevolent rise of stronger nations…

Today it has re-emerged as one of the industrial giants of China. And with development has come not only the glitzier skyscrapers and wonderful looking modern architecture, but also the pollution.

Our little red dot has an on-going collaboration to build an eco-city in Tianjin. This is envisioned to be a model of sustainable city living and development. Eventually to be copied (heheh what’s new) all over China. It’s a grand experiment.

While it may not have as much to offer as nearby Beijing, it certainly has its character. Read our short handprint story here. Have you been to Tianjin?

West Lake (西湖) in Hangzhou

You’ve read about artsy water towns in East China in our previous article (here). Northern Italy has a plethora of beautiful lakes in addition to its large water town (heheh – Venice). How about China? Can it offer anything to rival Italy?

Perhaps not rival. Afterall no two places are the same. No?

The cities of Eastern China along the tributary rivers of the mighty Yangtze had always been blessed with having a good mix of fertile valleys fed by plenty of water. And so Hangzhou is no different. Set within the city is a lake that had inspired many a Chinese poet or painter. They were mesmerizd by the wondrous beauty that the lake supposedly exuded. So famous the lake was that even emperors came to visit.

Of course Hangzhou is more than just the lake. Afterall, it was the capital of the Southern Sung dynasty. An imperial capital for 150 years until it was taken by the Mongols resulting in regime change. Our stay though revolved around the lake and all that is to see here. And you should know we do not stay grounded in one location for too long when on our journeys. We spent almost 4 full days there. Do you wonder why we were struck by the lake? Was it really so alluring? Read all about our poetic journey to Hangzhou’s famed lake.

Perhaps you might book yourself into one of the new luxury hotels there and enjoy the view? Would you be inspired to become a poet by the lake?