Monday, May 31, 2010

We Feel Right at Home When We Find the Shishi Dogs

Seriously, I had intended to do the next blog post *days* ago, but I was enjoying my four-day weekend. I went to the movies once, sat around in my pajamas a lot, and stuffed myself silly with scones and jam and cream this morning at the Rose Garden. SO not looking forward to work tomorrow ;)

Anyway, after our trip to the zoo to see the pandas, our next stop in Shanghai (yes, we're still on the first day of our trip to China...I have been VERY slow with sharing the pictures) was the Yuyuan Garden, which was first built in the 1500s by this guy Pan Yunduan as a present to his parents.

The crazy part is the garden is in the big fat middle of Shanghai, but you really can't tell once you get inside. You can't hear the city at all and I don't think I could see any skyscrapers from in there, either. Pretty amazing.

One of the best things about being a small group with our own tour guide is that it's not hard at all to get pictures with all four of us together.

And there's Lee making like a shishi dog :) We saw several pairs of shishi dogs, or pixius, or whatever they are. I refused to go lifting up any statues' tails to check if they were shishi dogs or pixius...come to think of it, I think the pixius usually have wings or a horn or both. So maybe these really are shishi dogs.

I had to take a picture of the cub under the female shisa's paw, kind of a fun detail shot don't you think?

The garden kind of winds around through several distinct courtyards, and in one part there was a hallway divided in two. Jessica (you can kinda see her behind Missy in this picture) asked if we could guess why they would have divided the hallway in two when it goes to the exact same place, so I guessed that one side was for men and one side for women.

I was right. Jessica said I was the first one of all her tourists to guess the correct answer.

Here's another viewing area with pretty flowers...wonder what would be the best time of year to visit here? It was gorgeous when we were there so I think that the beginning of May must be a pretty good time.

It was overcast when we were visiting the garden so of course the sky just looks white :( But I love this wall, I think when Lee and I buy our own house we should build a wall with a dragon like this on top. Just 'cause it would be cool.

Hey look, there's another shisa in the lower left corner. The gardens here aren't just flowers and trees, they have a lot of rocks placed in a decorative fashion. That's my kind of garden...much harder to kill rocks than it is to kill flowers. I've got two black thumbs.

We saw several doors that were not just the normal door-shape, so of course I took a few pictures. I liked this one and another one that was shaped like a vase.

Whenever we see a bunch of flowers in one place, Lee just hands over the camera without even asking if I want it. I already have hundreds of flower pictures (quite literally) but I love to take new ones :)

This was my favorite flower shot of the day, I just loved how it turned out. I love hydrangeas...I had them in my wedding bouquet and we had a little hydrangea plant at our house in North Carolina.

Lee took this picture...actually, I think he took more pictures than the rest of us combined. It's always interesting to me all the stuff that they have on the roofs of Chinese buildings and Lee says he only took pictures of the roof stuff because I asked him to. And he's not sure that he took this picture, so maybe I did after all. He's giving me editorial comments as I type this.

But look, there he is in action with the little camera :)

So there you have it, highlights from the Yuyuan Garden, a place of serenity in the middle of the hustle and bustle of modern Shanghai.

Found one more picture to share...

So this was from back at the jade place, I knew we had a picture of us all in front of that boat. Turns out I was looking in the wrong folder on the CD of Missy and Bennet's pictures. And now you have an idea how big that thing really was!

Promise this time I'll be back by Wednesday night with more pictures. Should still have maybe two posts for Shanghai.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Kung Fu Panda

When we discussed what we wanted to see in China, pandas were pretty close to the top of the list, so Missy and I decided to cut out a half-day of shopping in Shanghai in favor of a trip to the zoo (Lee and Bennet concurred). We lucked out too--thanks to the expo, the zoo had 10 or so adolescent pandas on loan in addition to their adult pandas, plus about half the cast of the movie Kung Fu Panda.

So there we are at the entrance of the zoo. This is actually a full arch but the elephants were so big that we were a little too close to get the whole thing to show up in one picture. Just trust me when I say it was big and neat-looking. Of course, once we got inside the zoo, the first thing we wanted to do is book it towards the pandas since we didn't have a whole lot of time to explore. The first panda we saw was this one:

Yes, he's a panda. A red panda (or a lesser panda). You know, like the master kung fu dude on the movie (yes, everything I know about China I learned from the movies, most of which are Jackie Chan, so I'm relieved that no one tried any kung fu on us since it seems like everyone in the movies is constantly getting into elaborately choreographed fights. But I digress.)

Hey look, it's a panda!! Mom asked how close we were to the pandas, and the answer is that this zoo was a lot like the one in Sapporo. Basically it was us, some Plexiglass, and then the pandas, so depending on how close they were to the window you could be all of six inches away from one. Mostly I think they were maybe five to ten feet away or so.

The group of people watching the pandas wasn't so huge that it was a problem to get some good pictures, and Lee managed to finagle the camera settings to get some really good shots. Most of the pandas were just lying around eating or sleeping (both of which sound like a really good way to spend the day in my opinion).

Lee got five or six shots a lot like this. I took several on the little camera, but once he got the settings right on the big camera, it took a lot better shots.

So here's Lee and me with the panda...not 100% happy with how this picture turned out. I was hoping for a really fantastic shot to send in to Eskimo Joe's.

Maybe three or four of the pandas weren't eating or sleeping, they were practicing their kung fu:

And climbing skills:

We took a lot more pictures of the pandas, but that's a pretty representative sample of what we got. After the pandas, we walked around to several of the animals that were close to that area.

Oh look, the lion sleeps tonight.

Hey, I'm laughing, even if you aren't.

This tiger statue kind of reminds me of the tigress in Kung Fu Panda, you know the one voiced by Angelina Jolie? What do you think?

The tigers were quite a bit more active than those lazy lions. Missy said that Jessica, our tour guide, narrated the interaction between the two tigers in hysterically funny fashion ("Boy tiger says he wants to do something, but girl tiger says she has a headache and wants to sleep. So he's mad at her and says she always has a headache...")

Then they got in a fight. (I took this picture with the small camera, which is why the color isn't as good and saturated as the rest of the shots. Lee MISSED getting a shot of the tigers fighting!!)

Then they kissed and made up. Awwww, snuggly stripes.

By this time, our tour guide was starting to hustle us out of the zoo...seriously, we could have spent a full day here, but we did have one more stop to make before the end of the day. So we started on our way out, but on the way we stopped to see the bears.

That group of people on the left were feeding the bear so that's why he was standing up and giving them his undivided attention.

But I think that the bear feeders got a bit nervous when we all showed up since you're not supposed to feed the bears, so they moseyed off. But we still got some good bear pictures.

And here's Bennet and Missy on the way out of the zoo.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

We Learn About Pixiu and Silkworms

I always have good intentions of coming home from work and updating the ol' bloggypoo, but somehow it just doesn't happen. Partially because I'm tired of staring at a computer and partially because it's fun to sit around and watch movies while I cross stitch :) (Like my mom, I'm maybe a little obsessed with it at the moment...)

Anyway, after we did the ADHD tour of the Shanghai Museum, our tour guide Jessica took us to some kind of art exhibit/showroom thing that I don't remember the name of but it was where they had a lot of jade stuff. There was a very nice lady there who showed us around the exhibit and showed us all different kinds of jade and things made from jade, starting with the Happy Buddha:

You rub his belly for good luck (the way the lady said belly, the L's were like a cross between L and R so it sounded kind of like "belry" which I thought was funny. Then again, I can only say three words in Chinese and probably all of those with a horrible accent, so I can't laugh too hard).

This massive dragon boat is made out of one enormous block of jade so it's all the same color. I thought we had a picture of us all in front of it, but I can't find it. The boat was something like 6 feet tall and 10 to 12 feet wide, pretty impressive. But these weren't the only dragons:

It would have probably cost more than our house to take this orange dragon home :) although I'm not 100% sure if this was actually made of jade, because some of there stuff wasn't. Lots of green jade, but also white and pink and orange. It's kind of hard to tell from the picture of the dragon but I think he's got five toes, which means he's an imperial dragon. Only the emperor was allowed to have five-toed dragons on his stuff.

The lady also showed us three bracelets and asked us if we would guess which one was made out of real jade (I didn't guess correctly, but I think one of the others did). Turns out that real jade will scratch glass, so they have to use diamond-edged blades to cut jade. Also, she struck the bracelets with something (couldn't tell if it was glass or another piece of jade) and told us to listen to the tone. The real stuff made a clear, high-pitched sound when struck, and the other pieces made lower tones and they just sounded muddier if that makes any sense. Then we got to learn all about these:

This is a pixiu (pronounced peeshoo). Looks kinda sorta like a shishi dog, but it's not...it's supposed to be the offspring of a dragon and a phoenix, and it is meant to attract good fortune. Supposedly the pixiu can only eat gold and wealth, but it can't go to the bathroom (I'm so looking for a delicate way to say that...) so good luck and wealth only go in, not out. The more he eats, the fatter he gets, so you want a really fat pixiu.

Right after this we were shown into the big showroom where they tried to sell us all kinds of stuff like earrings and necklaces and figurines and lots and lots of pixiu. (Unfortunately we didn't take any pictures because we were busy looking, not photographing). While Missy and I were looking at the jade earrings, the employees were swarming Lee and Bennet and showing them about a thousand pixiu, and they kept repeating over and over "no anal" just to really get the point across. Of course the pixiu then became the butt of all our jokes (haha, I crack myself up) for the next ten days. In the end, we got a little green jade pixiu pendant who is maybe an inch tall and two inches long. I think Missy and Bennet got one too about the same size although they kept trying to sell us the bigger (and thus more expensive) pixiu. They also showed us a pixiu that's supposed to be good luck if you want to start a family but we all dropped that one like a hot potato (sorry Mom and Dad, no grandbabies for you!). We got ones that are holding coins in their front paws to attract more wealth...we figured we would need all the help we could get after this trip, ha!

After the jade exhibit, we ate lunch and again took no pictures (man, we missed out on taking pictures quite a few times but we still came home with like 1500!). Our guide asked if there was anything we wouldn't eat so we said no seafood, and so what we got was a family-style meal of lemon chicken, pork, shrimp & peas, and several other things with rice, of course. We started out with about three dishes on the table and every few minutes they brought in something else--we didn't find out until later that the Chinese dislike it if you eat everything that's put in front of you because then they feel like they weren't able to serve you enough food to satisfy you. We couldn't have eaten all this stuff if we'd really tried, but the amount of food that must go in the garbage every day in China is astounding to think about.

Next up, we went to a silk shop and got to learn about the silkworm's life cycle from Pierce Brosnan. No really, the Chinese guy who showed us around there said that his English name was Pierce Brosnan. We weren't 100% sure if he meant it as a joke or not, though.

That's Pierce over to the right. They showed us some silkworm cocoons and explained that there are two kinds, one for a single silkworm and then a double cocoon made by two worms that are really good friends. For the single cocoons, once they find the end of the strand of silk, they can unravel the entire cocoon in a single strand using this machine shown above. Then they use that silk to make things like shirts and neckties and handkerchiefs and silk embroidery.

The double cocoons can't be unraveled since there are two strands, so for those they stretch them out and use them to stuff duvet covers and things like that.

After watching the employees stretch it out, we got to try it ourselves.

And of course we can't do it nearly as well as they can, so we didn't stretch it out evenly. Missy ended up with a big handful of silk after we stretched it out, so Pierce teased her that she must get cold at night so she wanted more of the silk on her side :)

After that, of course, they tried to sell us everything under the sun that they can make out of silk. We didn't buy anything, but we did take a few pictures of stuff.

Those are duvet covers, they had all kinds of colors and patterns. Totally beautiful, but I can just see my little dogs' claws getting all over that.

Lee took this closeup of one of the patterns. Some of them were bold floral patterns, and they also had a lot of tone-on-tone designs with filigree and dragons and bamboo and stuff.

Here are two examples of the really expensive silk embroidery. If the pixiu was doing its job to get us lots more money, then Lee said he would have liked to get something like this. They had some really amazing pieces, and since they're silk, they kind of shine as you look at them from different angles. Then, of course, they had the dresses:

Beautiful, huh? I think they had a pattern book so you could pick out what kind of dress you would like and then what fabric, but we didn't want to stay too long to find out. We still had two more stops to make before the end of the day (yes, this is still our first day in Shanghai!!) so I'll have more pictures as soon as I can get through the next batch. Tata for now!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

We Do the ADHD Tour of the Shanghai Museum

Ready to start with the China pictures? In the interest of getting these posted as quickly as possible, we haven't edited any photos other than shrinking them a bit to make them easier to upload on here. We'll have to take the time to edit them all before I start printing them off for a scrapbook.

So let's get started! First off, we flew out of Okinawa and had a layover in Hong Kong. Not a real long one, but enough to get a bit of food (Ben & Jerry's, very Hong Kong-y don't you think?) and get some of the HK coins which have ruffly edges. And I forgot to take a picture of those, but I kept a couple so I'll have to do that later. So here's the view Lee got as we flew into Hong Kong:

Totally love the dragon on the wing, don't you? We didn't arrive in Shanghai until about midnight, and we were met by our first guide, whose English name is Jessica. She and the driver took us out to our hotel which was really, really, REALLY nice but we didn't take pictures of it until later and I'm sharing pictures in chronological order so I'll just talk about the hotel again later. So anyway, on the 6th, our first real day in China, we started off our day with a tour of the Shanghai Museum.


There's Bennet and Missy in the atrium of the museum. I also like the golden dragons on the stairs...I'm sure there's a real name for that bit of a staircase but I can't think what it is right now. Here he is closer up:

And here's a look down towards the atrium from the third or fourth floor, just to give you an idea how pretty this place is:

Problem: it's 4 floors and has thousands of pieces on display, and we had like an hour? Maybe an hour and a half. So we looked at the map, picked the exhibits that sounded the most interesting to us (calligraphy, painting, furniture, and jade) and then proceeded to run through those as if we all had ADHD so we could see as much as possible.

We spent the most time in the calligraphy exhibit because that was the first one we went into, and then we really rushed through the other ones. I liked the calligraphy one though, it was neat to see the different styles. Some had hundreds of tiny characters all arranged in neat rows, some looked like the artist had ADHD and forgot what he was saying midstream, and some looked almost Egyptian. We didn't take a whole lot of pictures in the museum though since it's pretty dark in there.

They had all kinds of different paintings, some black and white and some color, but the most popular subjects seemed to be flowers, bamboo, and landscapes. The museum had information on the artists for most, if not all, of the paintings and the calligraphy, and the thing that struck me is how long their lifespans were. Many of the pieces on display were made in the 1300s or 1400s, and the artists were often in their 70s when they created them. That's a heck of a lot better than Europe was doing at the same period of time.

It should surprise none of you that I really liked the Ming furniture exhibit. I just always like looking at furniture :)

And this stuff was totally amazing. Such intricate carving to decorate every possible surface, and all of it done by hand.

Yeah, I so wanted to take some of the furniture home, but it wouldn't fit in my suitcase. Ha! The last exhibit we saw was the jade exhibit, and this was my favorite piece (and the only one I took a picture of, too, since we were out of time):

I took a picture of the information card for this one too, and it said that this was in the Hindustani style where it has inlaid jewels on very thin jade. They had all kinds of things made out of jade, like belt buckles and swords and tons of dragons and such, very pretty. All different colors too, not just green. I'll show you more jade in my next post so this is just a teaser.

And here we all are out in front of the museum. The little blue Gumby dude is the mascot of the World Expo that is in Shanghai right now, and had only been open since May 1. We would have liked to go see some of it, but Jessica told us that the wait to see a single pavilion was up to 6 hours, so we just didn't have the time. But we saw lots of blue Gumbys :)

Just a few of the many, many skyscrapers in Shanghai. The whole city seemed very shiny and new; Jessica told us that they had torn down quite a few old factories and buildings to make room for the expo, and they're going to tear down 90% of it later this year when the expo is over. Kind of crazy. All this shiny newness made it feel like it could be a big city anywhere, not necessarily China...I think Tokyo is that way too; once the city gets to a certain size it seems to lose its individuality I think. An interesting introduction to China, at any rate, and quite a contrast to some of the other places we visited.