Yak Butter Candle Making at the Ramoche Temple: Lhasa

Yak butter candle making 酥油灯; sūyóu dēng at the Ramoche Temple Lhasa 小昭寺; Xiǎozhāo Sì

Yak butter candle making 酥油灯; sūyóu dēng at the Ramoche Temple Lhasa 小昭寺; Xiǎozhāo Sì

The three story Ramoche Temple, in the heart of Lhasa, just a little walking distance away from the Bakhor, is an interesting place to visit when you are in Lhasa.

Yak butter candle making 酥油灯; sūyóu dēng at the Ramoche Temple Lhasa 小昭寺; Xiǎozhāo Sì

Ramoche Temple Origins

Originally Built around the same time it’s more famous sister temple, the Jokhang temple (at some point during the Tang Dynasty), probably between 649 and 676 during the reign of Mangsong Mangsten,  the Ramoche temple has been destroyed and rebuilt more than once during its turbulent history.

Yak butter candle making 酥油灯; sūyóu dēng at the Ramoche Temple Lhasa 小昭寺; Xiǎozhāo Sì

A Strong Smell

Your nostrils detect the oily, buttery, smell of boiling yak butter long before you actually you arrive at Ramoche. The air in and around the temple is filled with the unmistakable smell of Yak butter; it permeates everything from the walls of the temple to the clothes of the pilgrims.

Yak butter candle making 酥油灯; sūyóu dēng at the Ramoche Temple Lhasa 小昭寺; Xiǎozhāo Sì

On Arrival

During much of the day Ramoche is a hive of activity, with throngs of visiting pilgrims, the odd tourist group, resident monks, caretakers, , sand using mandala makers (The mandala represents an imaginary palace that is contemplated during meditation), and finally, the unmissable yak butter candle makers.

Yak butter candle making 酥油灯; sūyóu dēng at the Ramoche Temple Lhasa 小昭寺; Xiǎozhāo Sì

As you watch the yak butter makers go about their trade, there are moments when you think they are going to be entirely devoured by the soaring flames. At other times, their faces are forced to wince and scrunch up at the scorching heat and the spitting fat that leaps out of the cauldrons.

Yak butter candle making 酥油灯; sūyóu dēng at the Ramoche Temple Lhasa 小昭寺; Xiǎozhāo Sì

The process is non-stop; with someone always on hand to take over when a worker is flagging. Sometimes its a monk, other times it’s a care taker, and at other times pilgrims join in.

Yak butter candle making 酥油灯; sūyóu dēng at the Ramoche Temple Lhasa 小昭寺; Xiǎozhāo Sì

With the yak butter candles inside the temple burning almost 24/7, it’s no wonder that the butter making process is relentless and continuous.

Yak butter candle making 酥油灯; sūyóu dēng at the Ramoche Temple Lhasa 小昭寺; Xiǎozhāo Sì

The heat generated from the cauldrons can be felt around the main square in front of the temple. Monks and workers use enormous wooden handled ladles to stir the molten liquid and then scoop it out and pour it in to buckets for the gooey fluid to cool.  

Yak butter candle making 酥油灯; sūyóu dēng at the Ramoche Temple Lhasa 小昭寺; Xiǎozhāo Sì

At the same time other pilgrims are adding more butter to the cauldrons. The pilgrims believe that by bring their own yak butter they will gain merit.

Yak butter candle making 酥油灯; sūyóu dēng at the Ramoche Temple Lhasa 小昭寺; Xiǎozhāo Sì

When the butter has cooled, it is taken inside the temple, where an army of helpers fill the empty candle holders. Like the melting process outside, cleaning and preparing the candles seems to be an around the clock activity.

Yak butter candle making 酥油灯; sūyóu dēng at the Ramoche Temple Lhasa 小昭寺; Xiǎozhāo Sì

As soon as a new candle is prepared, there is always a newly-arrived pilgrim ready to burn it. And so the cycle goes on.

Yak butter candle making 酥油灯; sūyóu dēng at the Ramoche Temple Lhasa 小昭寺; Xiǎozhāo Sì

Making Sand Mandalas  沙坛城; Shā Tánchéng

If you are lucky, you might also catch the monks making sand mandalas  沙坛城; Shā Tánchéng .

Making Sand Mandalas  沙坛城; Shā Tánchéng

One of Tibetan Buddhism’s most bizarre activities; the monks can spend hours, days or weeks preparing these incredibly beautiful and ornately coloured sand mandalas; only then to destroy them after a ceremony.

Making Sand Mandalas  沙坛城; Shā Tánchéng

Why? To demonstrate the Buddhist belief that nothing is permanent.

Pilgrims

Bamboo Temple,筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì, Kunming. Are these the world best Arhats?

The pictures you see here are the prints I bought from the temple when I visited as photography is not allowed.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Arhat Halls

I love visiting the arhats halls in Chinese temples. These are halls filled with amazing figures and transcendent scenes. Arhats or 羅漢 luóhàn in Chinese, are often defined as those who have gained insight into the true nature of existence and have achieved nirvana.

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Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Arhats line the walls of many Chinese temples, but you’ll fine some of the most stunning examples in the 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì, on the outskirts of Kunming, Yunnan Province. The temple’s arhat hall was built between 1883 and 1890 and includes 500 individual arhats  bǎi Luōhàn. 500 is the usual number.

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Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Despite being a relatively recent creation, given china’s long history,the lifelike facial expressions of arhats in the Bamboo Temple, their clothes and the colours, all take one back to a time that evokes China’s mythical past and conjure up the west’s romantic fantasy with all things  exotic and Chinese.

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Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

An arhat hall is the China we imagine when we read such stories as Journey to the West 西遊記 Xī Yóu Jì, Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三国演义Sānguó Yǎnyì or the Water Margins or Outlaws of the West 水滸傳 Shuǐhǔ Zhuàn.

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Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

For me personally, an arhat hall is the China I imagined as a kid having just visited the Chinese gallery in the British Museum.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Of course the above sentimentalism and romanticism about ancient China is a far cry from the reality of China’s historical past. A 5000 year history full of brutality and oppression, wars and conquests, famine, drought and floods. The China of Su Tong‘s Binu and the Great Wall and Rice. And Mo Yan‘s Garlic Ballards and Big Breasts and Wide Hips.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

A moment of Peace

Nevertheless, for a few moments when I gaze at the arhats in front of me, I feel I am in the dream like world of China’s fantastical past. The China of its great mythical novels.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Not all arhat halls are the same.

In some temples, the arhats can be simple, almost monotonously similar, and painted in one colour; often gold.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

The artist was hallucinating?

However, other arhat halls are an exuberance of colour and fanciful scenes making one wonder what the artists might have been taking when they created them. The Jinge Temple 金阁寺 in Wutaishan is a good example.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Contemplating the 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats.

When I visit an arhat hall, I’ll spend hours staring at their virtually true to life faces, pondering on who their creator was, and who he was basing them on, and speculating whether or not they were real characters who existed in the artist’s lifetime, or if they were just a figment of his imagination. Or as previously mentioned: was he on something?

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Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

In temples such as the Bamboo Temple, 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì, 15 kilometers outside Kunming, the arhats are truly spectacular.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

They are remarkable for the riot of colours; memorable for the individual expressions on the faces of the arhats; mind-blowing for the bizarre mystical scenes in which the arhats are placed.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

The Bamboo Temple’s arhat hall is a creation of an artist whose powers of invention have run wild making it one of my all time favourite arhat halls. If you are in Kunming it is a must see. Below are the accounts of our two visits to the temple.

February 1991 and August 2010: two visits to the Bamboo Temple, 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Despite all of China’s modernization, it still takes just as long to get from downtown Kunming to the Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì as it did way back in 1991.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Getting there in 1991

In 1991, you picked up a clapped out over-crowded bus in downdown kunming that within a few minutes had already reached the outer limits of the city. After that, the bus slowly trundled past verdant green rice paddies and along pot holed roads before eventually ascending up through the lush forest to the temple.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Getting there today 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

Today, there are no green fields, just kilometers upon kilometers of monotonous suburbs and snarling traffic that hold up the comfortable modern bus. Only the last two kilometers on the ascent through the forest brought back any memories of the previous trip.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Chinese domestic tourists now come to the temple in large groups on air-conditioned tourist buses; they are then disgorged from the buses and unleased upon the temple: A few selfies later they return to their waiting vehicles and moved on to their next destination.

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Vegetarian Food at Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

Domestic Tourists Can’t Enter The Arhat Hall

Due to their recent unruly behaviour, especially, the throwing coins at the arhats and patting them on the head for good luck, the monks do not let Chinese tourists enter into the arhat hall. Instead, they must be observed from a safe distance from which no damage can be done. It maybe one reason why the Bamboo temple is actually far more sedate than it was 30 years ago.

Individual foreigners, on the other hand, will be invited into the hall by the monks to stand in front of the arhats if no tour groups are around ( no photography).

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Vegetarian Food at Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

Mayhem in 1991

I remember the mayhem from our visit back in 1991. Then, the Chinese visitors came with their Danwei (work group), and would fight their way to the front of the hall in order to touch or throw coins at the arhats.

Fake fish Vegetarian Food at Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

All the visitors, men and women alike, were dressed uniformly in their blue Mao suits; I can tell you it was quite a sight watching the hordes clamber over each other to get to the arhats!

Vegetarian Food at Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

The incredulous, and at the same time resigned expressions, on the faces of the caretaker monks said it all.

Vegetarian Food at Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

In 1991 there used to be snack stalls and tacky souvenir vendors around the temple. Most of them (if not all) have gone now. The area is actually quite a serene given that this is one of Kunming’s highlights..

Not for eating Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

What you do have now is a decent indoor and outdoor vegetarian restaurant set in lovely surroundings from where you can sip a cold beer, eat a delicious veggie meal and watch the huge resident tortoises roam around the grass. What more could you ask for?

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Three Little Pigs Dumpling Restaurant / Los Tres Cerditos: Great Dumplings in Madrid

Three little Pigs Dumpling Restaurant / Los tres Cerditos: Paseo de las delicias 73, Madrid

三只小猪饺子店

Mixed Prawn and Veggie Dumplings THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

Jiaozi or Chinese Dumplings (empanadillas in Spanish) have been popular in Madrid for a number of years, but finding the real McCoy, as you would in the old days in Beijing’s Hutongs, has been more of a struggle.

Jian Bing  煎饼 / Chinese Pancake THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID
Jian Bing  煎饼 / Chinese pancake THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID (Photo Marcel)

The opening of the Three Little Pigs Dumpling Restaurant 三只小猪饺子店 (Tres Cerditos in Spanish) has remedied the situation sensationally and especially for vegetarians.

Prawn Dumpling THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

The tiny restaurant does three types of dumplings:  meat, prawn and vegetable. The dumpling dough, using wheat flour, is color coded; bluish for seafood, green for vegetarian and orangey for meat. You can have them grilled ( a la plancha) or steamed / boiled (hervido).

Prawn and vege dumplings THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

The prawn dumplings are simply delicious, while meat eaters rave about the veal or pork dumplings. My only gripe is that the homemade chili sauce is not spicy enough for my spoilt taste buds. However, there is Thai Seracha sauce on hand.

Meat and veggie dumplings THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

The vegetarian dumplings have an original filling of carrots, onions, leeks and herbs (fresh coriander). Not only is the combination wonderfully eye pleasing, but it is also unbelievably tasty.

Beautiful veggie dumpling THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

Next on the menu are Jian Bing  煎饼 or Chinese Pancakes. These Tianjin style filled pancakes with vegetables only, or with chicken / beef and vegetables are enormous, delicious, cheap and filling. They are also one of my favourite beakfasts when I am in Beijing.

Jian Bing  煎饼 Stuffed Egg Pancake THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID
Yum THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

The pancakes are made on a hot metal grill and you can watch the staff preparing them right in front of you. First the dough is spread onto the hot plate and then an egg is added.

THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

The process of making the pancakes looks simple but the number of different ingredients and various stages is quite mind-boggling. I imagine it is a case of practice makes perfect if you want to learn how to do it. However, I’d recommend leaving the task to the experts at the restaurant.

Hand-Made Noodles THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

Other dishes: Also on the menu are hand-made noodles. The noodles are cold and come with a scrumptious hoisin style Cantonese sauce and are accompanied with an assortment of vegetables.

All the dishes THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

Rice flour is used to make the delicate and mouth-watering wantons (meat only). All the wanton wrappers are hand-made in the restaurant.

Working in the Kitchen THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

The kitchen is open for all to see and kept incredible clean. The owner is from Zhejiang 浙江省, but the dumpling makers are from the home of dumplings, Shandong 山东省 province and further north in Dandong 丹东 Liaoning province 辽宁省.

The Kitchen THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

The menu below is in Spanish only. If you are visiting the Museo de Ferrocarril ( the Railway Museum in Madrid), then a visit to the Three Little Pigs Dumpling Restaurant is a must! Just walk long the attractive street Tomás Bretón to get there. There is another Tres Cerditos restaurant in the neighbourhood of Manuel Becerra.

The Menu THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

The Barrio (Neighbourhood)

Delicias

Just off the Atocha station and the magnificent Reina Sofia musem, home to Dali’s Guernica, is the attractive, but little visited neighborhood of Delicias.

The Restaurant

Delicias was the first neighborhood where we lived when we came to Madrid. Back then, 1993, it was a traditional working class neighborhood (or barrio castizo) and slightly seedy due to its closeness to Atocha station. Over the years, it has become a melting pot for immigrants from all over the world, but particularly from Latin America.

Menu THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

This change you can see everywhere on the streets, on the faces of the passers-by as well as in the restaurants. Delicas now caters to all tastes. If you want to eat Ethiopian, there is an Ethiopian restaurant: Habesha . Want to try Korean? There is a great Korean place: Go Hyang MatFancy Cuban food? Head for the fantastic Havana Blues.

Making Jian Bing  煎饼 ( Photo by Marcel) THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

Chinese food had gone somewhat under the radar in this neighbourhood, but this has now changed with the opening of the Three Little Pigs restaurant.

Making Jian Bing  煎饼 ( Photo by Marcel) THREE LITTLE PIGS RESTAURANT / LOS TRES CERDITOS: PASEO DE LAS DELICIAS 73, MADRID

Sabor Sichuan (Taste of Szechuan) 川百味

Sabor Sichuan 川百味 (Taste of Szechuan)

Calle Gabino Jimeno 6: Usera, Madrid

 

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州考鱼 Sabor Sichuan 川百味

Do you like Spicy Food?

Madrid is a fabulous city for eating out. For the adventurous, boundless opportunities for exciting dining exist all over the city. However, those who crave spicy food, and I mean really spicy food, are often disappointed by the dearth of options.

川北凉粉 spicy mung bean noodles Sabor Sichuan 川百味

Some Peruvian restaurants make brave attempts to keep up their spicy tradition, but most succumb to the whims of their autochthonous diners by watering down the kick. Kitchen 154, a mecca for spicy food in the market of Vallehermoso, does a pretty good job. Cruel, there own chili brand, is pretty fiery .

四川凉面,cold Sichuan noodles Sabor Sichuan 川百味

This after all is the country were the giant Tabasco Sauce company has almost given up the ghost. Sales in Spain are about its worst in Europe. Spanish tolerance of hot spice or chili is pretty low.

Sabor Sichuan 川百味

Thank heavens for Sabor Sichuan (Taste of Szechuan). This small little restaurant in the barrio of Usera , south of the River Manzanares, and  in the heart of Madrid’s China town is a godsend.

青椒皮蛋 green peppers and 1000 year old eggs Sabor Sichuan 川百味

If you have ever been to Sichuan or Chongqing and continue to crave that lip burning and tongue numbing Mala 麻辣 spice then Sabor Sichuan is Continue reading “Sabor Sichuan (Taste of Szechuan) 川百味”

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼: Grilled Fish from Chongqing 重庆

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼 the Chongqing dish that is hot in Madrid’s Chinatown

Lotos Roots; one of the usual condiments for Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼

 A local specialty from Chongqing, China called Wanzhou Grilled Fish (Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼 ) is now all the rage in many restaurants in Madrid’s Chinatown neighbourhood of Usera.

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼

What is Wanzhou Grilled Fish / Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼

It is a grilled /roasted whole fish covered in a dry dressing of Sichuan peppercorns, dried chilies and and served in a big pan filled with a soup like sauce that is not to dissimilar to the stock used in Sichuan hot pots 火锅 (huoguo).

The dish originates from Wanzhou (formerly WanXiang) in Chongqing municipality: It’s now popular all over Mainland China.

The original way of making this dish is to first grill a freshwater fish (Carp 鲤鱼 is popular) over charcoal and then cover it with various condiments that you order from the menu.

Some of these condiments might include lotus roots, potatoes, bamboo shoots, glass noodles, edible fungus, and beansprouts.

In Madrid the fish is usually Sea Bass (Lubina in Spanish)鲈鱼.

A great place to try Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼 is in the Sichuan restaurant Sabor Sichuan in Usera, Madrid. See our review:

Huanghua Cheng 黄花城 Walking the Wild Wall: 2001

 

From our Diary 

Monday 24 September, 2001.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城


The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

We are picked up at 7.30 sharp by Sue Lin in his shiny black car and leave Beijing via a four-lane road, lined with old trees. The road looks innocent and pleasant enough, but apparently people get killed here everyday. Although Sue Lin is a good driver, we ourselves experience a couple of near misses, due to the crazy manoeuvres of other vehicles.


The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

It’s supposed to be only 60 kilometres to the village, but it takes us more than two hours. We have to stop and ask for directions a couple of times and once we even have to backtrack a bit. We don’t mind at all, because the scenery is absolutely gorgeous; we are surrounded by those dark, rolling mountains that I remember from my first visit to the Wall, so many years ago.


The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

In fact, our route takes us quite close to Mutianyu. From time to time we can actually see crumbly bits of the Wall, running along the tops of the hills. At the foot of the mountains there are fields of corn, wheat and beans, and small villages. There is a busy traffic of donkeys and carts because this is September and the harvest is in full swing. We are in the middle of the real, rural China, we have seen so little of on this trip, and so close to Beijing as well!

Our journey ends at the refreshment stall of an incredible old lady who whips out a copy of ‘Lonely Planet’ and explains all the pros and cons of the two possible routes. She proudly shows us her collection of photos, taken by and with foreign visitors.


The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

Apart from selling drinks, snacks and film, she also keeps the most amazing toilet: it’s a concrete box, open to the air and entirely without doors, so that you have to climb over the wall to get in, or out. Most importantly, it’s clean, airy and quite pleasant.


The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

The views from here are stunning: there is a very steep piece of Wall right in front of us, and a reservoir on the other side. Something that looks like a Continue reading “Huanghua Cheng 黄花城 Walking the Wild Wall: 2001”

Hakka Tulou / Earth Buildings / 土樓

Photo of the Week:  福建土樓 Fujian Tulou 2005

Tulou Fujian  福建土樓

Just a few of the magnificant Hakka Earth Buildings (Tulou) we were fortunate enough to visit before the arrival of mas tourism.

The Tulou are found in the province of Fujian. Other hakka earth buildings can be found in Guangdong and Jiangxi Provinces

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International Women’s Day in China

During the One Child Policy (一胎政策) which finished in 2015, the Chinese government tried to persuade the population not to discriminate against having female children.  Unfortunately, the campaign was not successful and has resulted in there being far more males than females in China. Traditional families, especially in the countryside chose to have a male child over a female child.

This is a government propaganda sign in Rural China (Bakai, Rongjiang, Guizhou Province) reminding the local population that males and females are equal.

Boys and Girls are the same.
生男生女都一样

However, due the gender imbalance, the government is now asking women to lower their aspirations and be less picky when choosing a male partner for life.

There is still a lot of work to do.

 

Maijishan: Haystack Mountain

Maijishan 麦积山

Haystack Mountain:

Tianshui 天水  Gansu Province 甘肃省

Maijishan 麦积山

There is nothing quite like Maijishan 麦积山 in China. The bizarre, haystack shaped mountain rises majestically up over a subtropical zone of greenery and rivers.  Other Buddhist sites might have enormous statues or high ceiling-ed painted caves, but the views they offer are often more restrictive and it may be difficult to get up close, due to barriers or hordes of visitors.

Maijishan 麦积山

At Maijishan 麦积山, the cave art and statues are right in your face and you can almost touch them, though you mustn’t, of course!  And, in addition, there is the mountain itself: a honeycomb of caves and statues reached by climbing up a snakes and ladder board of incredible staircases that cling precariously to the side of the mountain.

Maijishan 麦积山

The first Chinese character of Maijishan, “mai” (麦), means wheat or grain resulting in the mountain being called Haystack Mountain, because of its uncanny resemblance to the Continue reading “Maijishan: Haystack Mountain”

Lijiashan 李家山窑洞村

Lijiashan 李家山窑洞村

山西省

Lijiashan 李家山

Lijiashan 李家山 is probably one of the best examples of Northern China’s cave dwelling architecture 窑洞风格. Situated in a steep valley above the Yellow river 黄河, it exudes bucolic charm. However, if you are not going to stay the night or go off hiking, an hour or two is enough to see everything and have a cold beer.

Lijiashan 李家山

Lijiashan (from Margie’s diary 26/8/2016)

Qikou 碛口Guesthouse 13.00

The driver, who had taken us to Qikou 碛口 from Lüliang Lishi 吕梁离石, has convinced us that Lijiashan village is much too far too walk. For another 30 Yuan he’ll drive us, wait and take us back. But first we can have a beer and something to eat. As we fancy the home-made noodles which have to be ordered for three, our driver joins us for lunch. We have cucumber salad, aubergine with beans, plus the delicious noodles with a simple fresh tomato, coriander and chive sauce.

Lijiashan 李家山

The ride to Lijiashan is not far (5kms), but the road is windy and at times exceedingly steep. It’s also a scorching day and there’s little or no shade from the merciless sun, so we are pleased we took the lazy option.  The village is really tiny, much smaller than I’d expected. Our guidebook had written a whole column about it. The setting is nonetheless lovely: the village is surrounded by green hills, some of them terraced, and there are lots of fruit trees and plants.

Lijiashan 李家山

There are cave-dwellings, mostly abandoned, as well as more elaborate complexes, set around courtyards with cave-rooms at the back. Most buildings are dilapidated, though some Continue reading “Lijiashan 李家山窑洞村”