China Travel 2018 – A Second Try

China Trip – 2018 – Prolog

October, 2017 my trek to Mogao Caves was suddenly shortened to return to the US. JoAnn had broken her leg and I returned to take care of her. I was in Beijing at the time, and packed and returned to the US. Training at Mogao was postponed. They were very kind and accommodating to postpone at the last minute and I was not certain we could reschedule the training. Fortunately they kindly rescheduled and so I am again leaving for China for five weeks in Mogao working with the English speaking guides.

China – 2018 Departure

This time I decided to take United Airlines even though there is a connection in DC, Dulles, because I was returning with a stopover in San Francisco and United had a more convenient Beijing to SFO flight.
The sequence was Boston to Dulles on UA 525 at 0935 to make the connection Dulles to Beijing on UA 807 leaving at 1250. Then an overnight in Beijing to make a 0640 Air China flight to Dunhuang.

The DC to Beijing segment was quite filled in economy and I upgraded, at quite a premium, to a row which was not filled. On boarding, the window seat was now taken, but there was more leg room and with the middle seat empty, it was less claustrophobic. Departure was delayed due to unspecified issues which the pilot continued to update us with less than usual information and more of “they are working on it.” This is the second consecutive time I have taken United on an Asian flight and had it delayed.
My priorities on flying are get out my books and magazines, settle in, find the earphones and the In-Flight entertainment and put on some music. I found there was no music channel on the onboard entertainment. The Flight Attendant told me that it was because the licensing fees were too high. Too high for United with their financial and Management issues. OK, I had lots of reading material. I monitored progress with the In-Flight route map. I noted after an hour that we were taking a different route from the usual North West over Canada. In fact, we were headed due north. The Flight Attendant confirmed, that this was true and in fact we were going to pass over the North Pole. Over the top and then turn right. Following up with the app www.flightaware.com, the route was mapped out. In fact, from the data reported we were about 1600 miles from the true North Pole before we turned more eastward.

There must be a reason to fly this route, because it is longer and takes more time. Not knowing the details, I would guess there are fees that United can avoid with this route. Flying this route, the left, west, side of the plane has continuous sun while the right or east side of the plane was in continual darkness. Flight time at 13 hrs. 34 min.

Arrival in Beijing with United means a gate at the terminal. Hainan, with the shorter western route stops on the tarmac and you transfer to a bus to be delivered to the airport.

Overnight at a nearby hotel in Beijing allowed for six hours of sleep before a 4 AM wake up call to catch the 0640 flight to Dunhuang.

Arrival in Dunhuang at 1010 and Lucy was there to meet me.

 

 

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CHINA 2017 – A NEW ADVENTURE BEGINS

Off to China – 2017

Modern Technology Makes Travel Almost Easy

Slightly prior to the one year anniversary of last year’s trip I am off to China again. This time, JoAnn has her own agenda and is not accompanying me. It has been a fortunate coincidence that my retirement was last Friday, Sept 29 and I the trip to China was planned to start on Tuesday Oct 2nd.
I was invited by the Dunhuang Academy to spend a month at Mogao working on the cave presentations with the English Speaking Guides. The best time for training is when no one else wishes to visit, so alas, my trip is not during pleasant weather. The best bargain was November. At least not the dead of winter.
This allows three weeks in October in Beijing studying with Margaret at the Mandarin Zone School. I will start with a side trip to the Shanxi Museum in Taiyuan and then to Datong, to see the Yungang Caves, the last of the major Chinese Caves I had not yet seen.
Off on Hainan Airlines flight HU482, non-stop between Boston and Beijing. This is a wonderful development. That longer routes are being flown, and non-stop from Boston, saves four hours. Avoids the stop-overs required by other carriers. Further, their planes are newer and cleaner and the service is quite good. Yes, a bit conflicted about not using a US carrier, but the benefits with Hainan are too significant.
Planes are numbered, a fact I had never considered and the Boeing 787-9 on this flight was Hainan Number B7667. Amazing; anything you wish to know seems to be on the internet. Without many clicks I found that the Boeing number 62720 and it was delivered in July 2017. Only three months old.
Last year we postponed our trip for a week because it coincided with Golden week, an autumn week long holiday in China. We were warned that everyone in China is travelling and sightseeing that week, but this year I had few alternatives.
The flight, in the middle of Golden Week Holiday was not completely full. Many families, with small children, returning to China. Yes, lots of crying during the flight making sleep on board difficult.
Retirement brought the change of medical care that is highly charged in America. Off the corporate health coverage onto a mix of Medicare gap insurances, dental insurance, vision and hearing insurance, and Plan D, pharmacy coverage. Did I miss something in the list? Possibly! New rules, co-pays, different coverages, donut holes, etc. it is quite confusing, but possibly worthwhile so that we understand our costs and coverages. Truth be told, we did spend the month of September visiting all of our caregivers for last minute procedures, prescriptions, etc. Going into retirement and Medicare coverage, we feel we are as healthy as possible.
Preparation was quite hectic for us both, JoAnn and me. Two months away for me and JoAnn planning her month in London. But quite amazing what has become possible in this modern world. Finding flights, trains and organizing connections are an at home compute project. Hotels, homestay, any sort of accommodation rentals, are at the control of the mouse. Maps, reviews, competitive information, Google maps to see the neighborhoods all in advance of a decision. I can price as well as the local travel agent.

It does extract a toll. I was mentally exhausted with I boarded.
Further amazement at this modern world, arrival in a foreign country, place your plastic card in an ATM, enter your identification and within less than a minute you have made a withdrawal from your account and are handed local currency.
The taxi driver has a GPS with exquisite address and location information, down to feet. An obscure address of a residence can be located with this technology and I am securely left at the door of the hotel, not down the street, on a dark night.

Bingling Si

Bingling Si

Leaving Xiahe, we drive to take a boat to Bingling Si.  The caves which are on the Yellow River have been partially flooded due to a dam built across the Yellow river creating a large lake.  Our guide Lydia knew of a dock closer to the temple that wold make shorter boat ride and lower cost.  To find it, we had to navigate an unpaved, rutted dirt road off the main road.

Off season rates, or maybe special consideration for our guide, the cost was only 500 RMB for the round trip, 20 minutes each way.  The day was calm and the ride was very smooth and we cruised at about 30 kts.

Arrival at the Bingling Si dock we decided to have lunch on the permanently docked boat.  The food wasn’t too bad, Joann had an eggplant dish and I had the beef noodles.

At the ticket gate we tried the “We work at a museum in America, let us in for free,” approach, which did not work.  We then went for the “Old person” discount, which gives us discounts and at BingLing Si was half price.   Thing have changed over the past years, or maybe my Chinese has improved.  Previously they demanded the Chinese card for old age, but now they look at my passport and give the discount.

BingLing Si is a very peaceful and serene environment.  Sandstone cliffs, obelisks surround the canyons below.  This Buddhist site is clearly prepared for tourists with marble fences and tiled pathway.  Beneath the walkway, which is probably filled with water at high water season, is marshy grass and reeds.  So cool and serene.  Very calming.  I can see how monks would choose this space for meditation.

After a few minute’s walk you glimpse a silhouette of the giant Maitreya statue and then you come upon the carved niches in the mountainside.  They have good descriptive labels, and they are numbered in sequence from our start, starting with number 3.  Earlier niches were carved lower in the cliff and have been damaged by the waters of the reservoir.

We have arbitrarily agreed that niches do not qualify as caves in our goal of “30 caves in 30 days.”  The art and architecture are from the same periods as earlier caves and they are great examples seen up close.  There is a greater degree of carving and statue at Bingling Si. The style shows a great influence of Indian art in the clothing and body positions.

Cave 3 – Tang Dynasty.  Central stupa, typical Tang architectural item.  Niche in left hand wall had statues, barely seen, but quite Indian in style.  Wall painting well preserved.  Stories in blocks as in Kuqa, not free form as in Dunhuang.

Cave 4 –   Tang dynasty.  Buddha seated not in Lotus position. Nicely draped robes over legs.  Ananda quite slim and fit figure.

Cave 5 – A nice niche with a seated Buddha.

Cave 10 – Tang dynasty.  Buddha with disciples.  Not only are there disciples painted on the wall, looking over at Buddha but we found images of disciples in Buddha’s aureole.

Niches 17 – 47 are a series of sculptures and reliefs along the wall of the cliff.  They are wonderfully stylized.  Much Indian influence in the postures and clothing of the women.

Cave ? – A sculpture of Avalokitsvara with five heads and eight arms.  She was repainted later.

Niche 134 – A wonderful small composition of Buddha, disciples and attendants.

Maitreya – Best seen from across the canyon to appreciate her size and artistry.  She is not completely Chinese, with a nose, eyes and lips more central Asian than Chinese, but with an oval face. Her not too complex drapery of the clothes indicates an early stage effort.

Unfortunately being off season, the upper floor caves and niches were closed to the public.

The pathways back crossed Grotto 16, from the Wei Dynasty which had a clay sculpture of Buddha in Paranirvana.  In this case, Buddha had feminine lips and face.

We returned to the car and drove to Lanzhou.  Rush hour in Lanzhou was a third world experience.  One of three major North-South routes was under construction and was reduced to a one lane unimproved road.  Lydia, our guide said that all roads in Lanzhou were under construction.  This seemed more third world than economically developed nation.  China still has a way to go.  One mile took one hour.

Hotel in Lanzhou, a Crowne Plaza was certainly five star.  Unfortunately we were there for one night with little time to appreciate. The accommodations.

Beijing Subway – Contagion of Courtesy

Courtesy – An Infection

 

               Beijing subway travel during rush hour is a numbing experience.  Within two weeks of morning rush hour travel I too have become personally desensitized to the discomforts of the train.  It is a torture you endure until you are released onto your destination.  I sense from the running of many on the street that the discomforts of the train are only the beginning of the daily grind and that the race to work may indicate indignant bosses carefully watching the clock.

               My habit at my starting point Shilihe Station is to get on the line at the bottom of the stairs.  At this door is a very nice guard trying to keep order as the masses push and pull when the train doors open.  Keeping people from pushing forward and blocking the doors so people can exit the train is his challenge.      

               There is no courtesy for those exiting the train.  The crowd of people waiting to get on is a formidable force.  As a group they are focused and their energy is combined and they will push each other to pack the train.  The individuals exiting are not as unified.  The first group, prepared to exit are organized and their group energy can overcome the energy of the entering group, but the stragglers trying to exit as individuals are often overwhelmed by the onslaught and swept backwards into the train car, even further back than before.  You can hear their cries of helplessness and despair.  The crowd is unmoved by their problem, they are determined to get on, no matter what the cost to others.

               One morning, with the usual scrum standing in front of the door I noticed a woman carrying her child, probably two years old, standing with others in the middle of the lines.  I asked the woman in the front of the line whether this woman with the child could get in the front of the line with her.  Women, the kindest of our species, understood the woman’s predicament and agreed.  She moved to the front of the line holding her child. 

               For the next moment our door was organized.  People were standing in two lines on each side of the door, not crowding the center, allowing people to exit.  Did the act of courtesy remind them of their humanity?  Did, for that moment, they remember what their parents taught.

               I hope, for one moment they stopped and thought.  I hope they pass it on.

 www.overseventy.xyz     :    Expand your mind.  Stretch your body.             

Luoyang

Luoyang and Longmen Grottoes 

 

Multiple niches in Luoyang
Multiple niches in Luoyang

               Longmen Grotto in Luoyang is one of the four major Grottoes in China.  We have visited two already, Mogao in Dunhuang and Maiji Shan near Tianshui.  Unfortunately, on this trip we will miss Yungang Grottoes in Datong.  Which gives us an excuse to visit again. 

Luoyang is different than the other sites, but it is possible that it is in the presentation of the caves.  Kumtura, Kizil, Bezeklik, Mogao and Western 1000 Buddha Caves focused on larger caves which could include many people even to the size of caves for larger assemblies of worshipers.  Luoyang, like Maiji Shan, were mostly niches, which housed small and very large statues.  Few of the “caves” in Luoyang appeared large enough to allow large assemblies of worshipers.  I would call most of the work at Luoyang, niches.  However, while we were allowed inside Mogao and others, Luoyang was only viewed from the outside,  and the majesty of the cave may be lost. 

What is most impressive about Luoyang is the quantity of sculptures.  Every available cliff space is occupied by some sculpture.  Between niches are marvelous miniature carvings.  The wonderment at the extent of the work is startling.  Your eyes roam away from a major figure and then is confronted with some marvelous miniature with exquisite detail. 

               Luoyang was an ancient capital of China in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) when it moved east from Xi’An.  The earliest caves at Luoyang date from the Norther Wei Dynasty, the early sixth century.   The Longmen Cliffs are on the bank of the YI River.  The western cliffs have the greatest number of carvings including the largest, the Fenxian caves.  They claim over 2,000 caves and niches and over 100,000 statues. 

               It does seem that the earliest caves are in the Northern portion of the Longmen Grotto, closest to the city and newer caves were sculpted later.  There are three Binyang caves.  The central cave is the oldest, Northern Wei, about 523 AD.  The Buddha in this cave has facial features typical of Northern Wei, elongated face, slimmer body a quite a humorous smile, the robe covering both shoulders and flowing robes with many folds.    Buddha is flanked by his disciples, Kapsyapa and Ananda. 

               North Binyang cave, to the right of the central cave was begun in Northern Wei but finished in Tang Dynasty.  This cave has the Buddha’s right hand in the Kapitthaka mudra, two fingers pointing upward, “removing fear.  South Binyang Cave was also begun in the Northern Wei Dynasty but completed in the Tang. 

               The major sculpture are in the Fengxian cave which is about 30 m x 40 m (100 feet by 130 feet).  The central Buddha is 17 meters, about 56 feet tall.  The cave was commissioned by Empress Wu Zeitian and it is said that the Buddha resembles the empress.  She was the most powerful woman in China since her husband, the Emperor, Gaozong, has a stroke and was incapacitated.  Five figures are in this cave, two flanking on each side.  On the northern side, the side accessible from the city of Luoyang are two Guardians, Vajripani first with quite a fierce look and strong pose, and then Vaisravana who is holding the protective stupa and is poised standing upon a vanquished earth spirit.  On the right of Buddha are two disciples, Ananda and Kapsyapa, Kapsyapa quite destroyed and a Bodhisattva. 

               The view for the east side of the river has a good view of the magnitude of the effort in carving the Longmen Grotto.

Bingling Si Grotto

Bingling Si

Cliffs Along Yellow River
Cliffs Along Yellow River

 

Leaving Xiahe, we drive to take a boat to Bingling Si.  The caves which are on the Yellow River have been partially flooded due to a dam built across the Yellow river creating a large lake.  Our guide Lydia knew of a dock closer to the temple that would require shorter boat ride and lower cost.  To find it, we had to navigate an unpaved, rutted dirt road off the main road.

Off season rates, or maybe special consideration for our guide, the cost was only 500 RMB for the round trip, 20 minutes each way.  The day was calm and the ride was very smooth and we cruised at about 30 kts.

Arrival at the Bingling Si dock we decided to have lunch on the permanently docked boat.  The food wasn’t too bad, Joann had an eggplant dish and I had the beef noodles.

At the ticket gate we tried the “We work at a museum in America, let us in for free,” approach, which did not work.  We then went for the “Old person” discount, which gives us discounts and at BingLing Si was half price.   Thing have changed over the past years, or maybe my Chinese has improved.  Previously they demanded the Chinese card for old age, but now they look at my passport and give the discount.

BingLing Si is a very peaceful and serene environment.  Cliffs and obelisks of sandstone surround the canyons below.  This Buddhist site is clearly prepared for tourists with marble fences and tiled pathway.  Beneath the walkway, which is probably filled with water at high water season, is marshy grass and reeds.  So cool and serene.  Very calming.  I can see how monks would choose this space for meditation.

After a few minute’s walk you glimpse a silhouette of the giant Maitreya statue and then you come upon the carved niches in the mountainside.  They have good descriptive labels, and they are numbered in sequence from our start, starting with number 3.  Earlier niches were carved lower in the cliff and have been damaged by the waters of the reservoir.

We have arbitrarily agreed that niches do not qualify as caves in our goal of “30 caves in 30 days.”  The art and architecture are from the same periods as earlier caves and they are great examples seen up close.  There is a greater degree of carving and statue at Bingling Si. The style shows a great influence of Indian art in the clothing and body positions.

Cave 3 – Tang Dynasty.  Central stupa, typical Tang architectural item.  Niche in left hand wall had statues, barely seen, but quite Indian in style.  Wall painting well preserved.  Stories in blocks as in Kuqa, not free form as in Dunhuang.

Cave 4 –   Tang dynasty.  Buddha seated not in Lotus position. Nicely draped robes over legs.  Ananda quite slim and fit figure.

Cave 5 – A nice niche with a seated Buddha.

Cave 10 – Tang dynasty.  Buddha with disciples.  Not only are there disciples painted on the wall, looking over at Buddha but we found images of disciples in Buddha’s aureole.

Niches 17 – 47 are a series of sculptures and reliefs along the wall of the cliff.  They are wonderfully stylized.  Much Indian influence in the postures and clothing of the women.

Cave ? – A sculpture of Avalokitsvara with five heads and eight arms.  She was repainted later.

Niche 134 – A wonderful small composition of Buddha, disciples and attendants.

Maitreya – Best seen from across the canyon to appreciate her size and artistry.  She is not completely Chinese, with a nose, eyes and lips more central Asian than Chinese, but with an oval face. Her not too complex drapery of the clothes indicates an early stage effort.

Unfortunately being off season, the upper floor caves and niches were closed to the public.

The pathways back crossed Grotto 16, from the Wei Dynasty which had a clay sculpture of Buddha in Paranirvana.  In this case, Buddha had feminine lips and face.

We returned to the car and drove to Lanzhou.  Rush hour in Lanzhou was a third world experience.  One of three major North-South routes was under construction and was reduced to a one lane unimproved road.  Lydia, our guide said that all roads in Lanzhou were under construction.  This seemed more third world than economically developed nation.  China still has a way to go.  One mile took one hour.

Hotel in Lanzhou, a Crowne Plaza was certainly five star.  Unfortunately we were there for one night with little time to appreciate. The accommodations.

 

www.overseventy.xyz     :     Expand your mind.  Stretch your body.