Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Gift giving

Everyone in our group was impressed with how thoughtful our Chinese hosts were. We received gifts from so many of the people we met. Mr. Huo, the talented bronze artist, whose factory we visited in Xi'an, gave all of us a replica of "Galloping Horse," a sculpture from the East Han Dynasty (about 25-100 A.D.). He urged us even to take anything we liked from his display room, which we declined, although there were many lovely options. In talking with me individually Mr. Huo offered to donate a sculpture to my childrens' schools, which, while tempting, I did not feel I could accept.

The Confucius Institute in Beijing, which was responsible for our trip, gave each member of our group a different Chinese paper cutting as a memento. Paper cutting is an absolute artform in China and involves the skill of just one person, a pair of scissors, and a piece of paper. The creations that emerge are amazing. Here are some of the images: https://www.google.com/search?q=chinese+paper+cutting&hl=en&rlz=1T4ADFA_enUS438US438&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=3RTFT76TCqbc2AWCk8lj&ved=0CHkQsAQ&biw=1600&bih=747

As an aside, I should mention that in the not too distant past, a Chinese woman was not considered good wife material unless she could produce beautiful paper cuttings.

At each of the universities we visited the faculty and administration had gift bags for us and at Soochow University many of the art faculty gave us some of their art work.

Our very knowledgeable and patient tour guide in Beijing, Michael, even gave us all a small gift on our last day together, and you've already read earlier in the blog about how Alice's husband, Mr. Foo presented us all with strands of pearls.

This generosity of spirit and hospitality is a touching aspect of Chinese culture.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Paige and I were introduced to a new word in China (one of many) -- that of "rockery." Essentially a rockery is a rock garden. These were quite popular, particularly in Souzhou. The rock used is limestone, which is very porous and gives way to unusual shapes and forms, leading one to believe that the rocks in the gardens were sculpted by man. However, this is not the case. The elements, and water in particular, create the unique sculptures. Typically the limestone had to be transported long distances from South China. Anyone who had a rockery was recognized as wealthy because of the expense associated with moving the limestone from its quarry.



Many of the ancient buildings we toured in China had high thresholds at the entrances to rooms. Thresholds served spiritual purposes, to keep evil spirits out, and practical purposes, to keep water out. These thresholds were quite high, causing one to have to step very carefully and purposefully over. The higher the threshold, the wealthier or higher in status the owner of the building. Women should step over the threshold leading with the right foot while men should lead with the left foot. This stems from the Chinese belief in Yin and Yang. Yin is associated with the feminine, while Yang is associated with the masculine.


Bringing Sexy Back

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), one of the most prosperous periods of Chinese history, Emperor Xuanzong had a beloved concubine, Yang Guifei, about whom much was written. Yang was reported to have a voluptuous figure and started a fashion trend towards full-figured ladies being all the rage. A woman with a double chin was very desirable during this time . When our group toured a musuem in Xi'an, we viewed a porcelain exhibit of these fashionable ladies, which you can see in the picture Paige took. Their low necklines were apparently very scandalous for the time.

Later in our travels we visited a courtyard home in Beijing. Immediately on being seated around a table in the receiving room my eyes were drawn to a large glass jar of dark liquid containing a preserved snake. I was at once repelled (fearing I might be asked to consume some of the substance) and fascinated. I asked the hostess about the jar of liquid and was informed through an interpreter that the unfortunate snake was caught in a rural area, then preserved with some combination of ingredients the hostess had prepared. After we'd left the courtyard home I was informed that some Chinese people believe that the snake will release its essence in such a concoction and help bolster a man's sexual stamina if he drinks it. Kind of like a tradtional Chinese viagra, I thought...


Sunday, May 27, 2012

China Daily Articles

I finally had a chance to read the China Daily English language newspaper I picked up in the airport. Here are links to some articles I found interesting:


"Students prep on amino acid drips" http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2012-05/08/content_15239380.htm

"Parents 'wait and see' on all-boys classes" http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2012-05/21/content_15341409.htm

"Racing for places at schools" http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2012-05/21/content_15341393.htm

"'Fortunetellers' guide students through exams" http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2012-05/22/content_15351884.htm 

"Elite colleges must embrace rural students" http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2012-05/22/content_15351914.htm

"Be yourselves, coaches tell Chinese students" http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/sunday/2012-05/20/content_15338621.htm


"Reading without seeing" http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2012-05/22/content_15356372.htm

"Grandma returns to school, to teach love" http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2012-05/22/content_15351842.htm

"Light at the end of the tunnel" http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/life/2012-05/24/content_15377582.htm


Beautiful Babies and Cherished Children

As Peggy expressed in her "Welcome Home and Highlights" post, the people of China LOVE their children; their beautiful faces and expressions quite often stopped us in our tracks. As humble as the people were, they were thrilled by the attention to and photographs taken of their babies, and the care-givers were most often grandparents.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Huo Bao Zhu's Design Studio and Factory

One of the highlights of the trip for me was the private tour of Huo Bao Zhu's Foundry. The statues and sculptures he designed were breathtaking and watching the art-making process was fascinating. Mr. Zhu was a gracious and generous man who spent hours sharing his work with us.

Huo Bao Zhu

Huo Bao Zhu's Office

Huo Bao Zhu and Peggy Delmas

Huo Bao Zhu and Paige Vitulli

Huo Bao Zhu, is a Chinese businessman who believes he owes a debt of gratitute to the United States after a Portland physician treated him for a rare form of leukemia, when his doctor in China had given him only two years to live. He donates generously to the United States, including Troy University.

Mr. Zhu generously presented each of us with a replica of the Bronze Galloping Horse Treading on a Flying Swallow from the East Han Dynasty (about 25-100 AD) which was excavated in Leitai Wuwei City in 1969.  "It has become a symbol of Chinese tourism and a representative work that brings forth the time-honored cultural tradition of the Chinese nation and the oriental aesthetics to the world."

Lindang Hutongs and Rickshaws

On our last day in Beijing, we discovered the history of hutongs, courtyard homes, and rickshaws.

The hutongs, and their associated courtyard houses (or siheyuan, meaning four sided courtyard or quadrangle) are still an essential part of the unique character of Beijing. The hutongs are the ancient alleyways or lanes formed between lines of courtyard houses. Up until around 60 years ago most of the residential areas of Beijing were composed of hutongs and quadrangles. What gives the hutongs their unique character are the courtyard houses, hiding behind their long attractive curtain walls, with just the doorways giving a clue as to what lies behind. The main buildings in the hutongs were almost always quadrangles. The courtyard house is one of the most interesting features of traditional Chinese architecture. Source: http://www.sacu.org/hutongs.html
Paige and Peggy with the gracious owner of a courtyard home
Walnut tree in the courtyard
A trip through the hutongs on rickshaws gave us a glimpse of Chinese traditional life.

Kim and Alice