To the Forbidden City, Beijing China. Waiting for our guide ….
To the Forbidden City, Beijing China. Waiting for our guide ….
Across from Tiananmen square, our next stop:
The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty. It is located in the center of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.
Built in 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 72 ha (180 acres). The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture, and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
Filled with buildings that once housed royalty, it is worth a wander.
Our guide mentioned that this is a single piece of stone, climbing up the steps. If I recollect the story correctly, it took thousands of people a very long time to move it here as one piece and then hundreds to carve it – with dragons.
Dragons are everywhere.
According to Wikipedia, the Chinese dragon remains important in today’s Chinese culture:
Chinese dragons traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers, particularly control over water, rainfall, hurricane, and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck for people who are worthy of it. With this, the Emperor of China usually used the dragon as a symbol of his imperial power and strength.
In Chinese daily language, excellent and outstanding people are compared to a dragon, while incapable people with no achievements are compared with other, disesteemed creatures, such as a worm. A number of Chinese proverbs and idioms feature references to a dragon, for example: "Hoping one’s son will become a dragon" (望子成龍, i.e. be as a dragon).
The number of dragons is very important – on the roofs, always an odd number. But not all lucky numbers are odd (to my surprise).
One things is consistent through the shots, the grey sky.
As I have mentioned before on this blog, when traveling we love to visit markets; seeing what the locals eat and how they live their lives.
I would say that the Chinese medicine market was a new level of different for our travels. As we pulled up our guide explained that these markets are in decline, replaced by Chinese pharmacies that carry every type of herbal medicine imaginable.
Perhaps the decline is a display issue. A few of these sellers were bagging their wares to sell to other shops.
A few of my favorite shots.
That is a bag of snakes.
I cannot remember, but these were some type of fish. There was a common theme through the market, almost everything would cure one condition … and contribute to fertility or virility.
Odd to see Sea Horses.
The shells of turtles, for some reason that bothered me.
As did seeing these deer horns.
Last shots. Of course, there has to be lots, and lots of beetles.
Really interesting to see.
At the Chinese medicine market in Xi’an, China.
That calculator looks like it has a lot of miles on it.
This is the Temple of Heaven, on a warm day with the smog backdrop. We were not there on a clear blue-sky day.
The Temple of Heaven, literally the Altar of Heaven (simplified Chinese: 天坛; traditional Chinese: 天壇; pinyin: Tiāntán; Manchu: Abkai mukdehun) is a complex of religious buildings situated in the southeastern part of central Beijing. The complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. It has been regarded as aTaoist temple, although Chinese heaven worship, especially by the reigning monarch of the day, pre-dates Taoism.
To me the more interesting view is the walkway to the temple. Filled with retired people and families, enjoying each other – playing cards and different board games. There is a lot going on, and I am sure there is some money changing hands in some of those games.
Shirts optional. The Chinese men had an interesting cultural norm of pulling their t-shirts up from the bottom and tucking them through the neck, exposing their mid-sections. It was hot, but for me, not hot enough to resort to that (smile).
I think I would call this shot “friends”.
Another shot from the hiking along an abandoned section of the Great Wall of China this summer.
We did not go this way.
We went this way.
I love this little flower shop. This wonderful elderly couple run it and over the last couple years I have gone in there many times. No shared language, other than a love of flowers and herbs.
A story about Canada Post.
I have two parcels shipping from Vancouver to Toronto express – 2 day delivery. Unfortunately, the shipper accidentally sent one of the parcels via Canada Post and the other via UPS. The second I saw Canada Post I rang them and tried to stop them – but it was too late. Both had left the building.
In my mind, I just knew that the UPS parcel would get there just fine and the Canada Post “Express Post” parcel would have a problem. Sure enough, the UPS parcel was on time. 9AM at the doorstep. Where is the Canada Post parcel?
A quick check of the tracking website:
So I call. This is the condensed version of the conversation:
Me: “Why is my parcel at the post office, when I paid extra to have it delivered to my door?”
Her: “Because the shipper does not require a signature for delivery”
Her: “Because the shipper did not click the box and require a signature for delivery, we do not deliver it to your door”
Me: “So, because they did not require a signature which means you can just drop it off because you do not have to make multiple trips to get that signature, you will not deliver it?”
Her: “Correct. Plus, it will not fit in your mailbox” (It is a 13lbs package).
Me: “Ok, but there is someone there. Right now. All day. And you guaranteed delivery so please deliver it to my front door just like UPS and FedEx. That is why I paid extra.”
Her: “I can’t without my supervisors permission”
Me: “You can’t make that decision”
I feel bad for Canada Post employees – that they are not trusted to make the right decisions, for the benefit of the customer, at that moment. Certainly not the Four Seasons model.
They wonder why they lost $193M last year? It is pretty obvious to me.
An abandoned section of the Great Wall. Amazing that these bricks are 900 years old and were hand carried up a 800m incline centuries ago.
Traveling around Asia you become accustom to different levels of garbage. In the emerging countries where people are trying to make a living you see garbage everywhere for logical reasons; when you are trying to feed your family, ensuring that every plastic bag is picked up doesn’t really make the priority list.
In Tokyo, which went through a terrible pollution stage post World War II, the emergence of wealth has led to incredible cleanliness. Garbage in Japan is about as common as immigrants – not often seen; truly the cleanest city in the world.
Which left me wondering, what would it be like outside of the business areas that I was accustomed to in China? We have all read about the terrible pollution, so would that also mean that the same disregard for the environment is prevalent along back streets?
The answer was a a surprise – it is quite clean. As we traveled around Beijing and Xian, you did not see piles of roadside or back alley garbage. Instead, I saw a lot of people collecting garbage.
My favorite garbage collectors were those at Tiananmen Square and like many people in China, they were on electric scooters.
Our tour of China started with Tiananmen square. It is interesting to tour the square knowing the history. I don’t know what I was expecting to see? Obviously not demonstrators or anything of that ilk.
In the end it is a big square, with a few monuments to those deemed worth. My shots; Config Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM. A note on the shots: China was very frustrating. I did not bring the right filters and the haze/pollution played havoc with the shots.
One of the buildings surrounding the square.
The big communist party building beside the square, The Great Hall of the People. When you read through the history you will find that occasionally it is used for artistic performances. I found it funny that the first western performer was a country western singer. I will refrain from explaining why I found that point so humorous.
This is the Tiananmen.
The Tiananmen (simplified Chinese: 天安门; traditional Chinese: 天安門; pinyin: Tiān’ānmén), or Gate of Heavenly Peace, is a famous monument in Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China. It is widely used as a national symbol. First built during the Ming Dynasty in 1420, Tiananmen is often referred to as the front entrance to the Forbidden City. However, the Meridian Gate (午门) is the first entrance to the Forbidden City proper, while Tiananmen was the entrance to the Imperial City, within which the Forbidden City was located.
The monument to the People’s Heroes, manned by young communist party members and commemorating wars such as the Opium war, the war against Japan and the different revolutions. When you read through China’s history and how imperialist forces abused this country, it is no wonder that self defense is so important to them.
The square is filled with uniformed and plain clothes security. Many standing at attention.
An interesting stroll through the square.
Wasn’t that a book? No, it is the Monk who sold his Ferrari.
Well, it would appear that the monks of Japan are not so interested in selling. I am amazed by the number of BMWs you see at shrines around Tokyo. When I asked a colleague, he explained that many of the shrines are handed from family to family, and are exempt from taxes.
Interested if anyone has a link – my searches on the topic proved futile.
A few shrine shots around Minato-ku, Tokyo.
And of course, a BMW
I think that Yoyogi Park is one of my favorite parks. I love walking it. In Tokyo, people gather in the parks on the weekends. Families, friends, joggers, ninjas, cosplayers, dancers … everyone.
That is why it is such a great park, if you stop and look around.
There are many joggers holding a piece of rope between them. When I asked, it was explained that these people are jogging with a blind companion.
The bridge, that takes you to where the festivals are – on this day it was Cinco de Mayo day.
A few shots from Cinco de Mayo which was all about the food and .. of course, some dancing. It was amazing watching this woman balance the bottles. I wonder what made her want to learn this dance? She went to 8 bottles.
In Japan you will never be disappointed by the unique English translations.
You will never be disappointed by the food either.
I have travelled to China a number of times, but always on business. Business travel involves plane > cab > hotel > client/office > hotel > plane. Maybe a restaurant in between. I never make time for personal travel while on the road.
But China was on the bucket list and we finally got there. Posts to follow … But I had to put this picture up from when we hiked an abandoned part of the Great Wall. It captures the moment well. Just us, our guide and the wilderness.
I will miss trying different foods. Tokyo is for the bold, in this case squid – with a little mushroom.
I am quickly approaching the point where I will try anything. As my wife always taught, you have to try something 3 times before you are allowed to say you do not like it.
They were good, although I liked the tuna better.
On the weekend you will see these huge trucks driving around Tokyo blaring music – advertising bands. These bands are always pop bands – and J-POP is a very unique brand of music.
You be the judge: when you read the name of this album – GUTS! – and interpret the name of the band (‘Arashi’ means ‘Storm’) what do you envision? Myself, I envisioned a tough-guy band.
Now view the band. (smile)
Near Roppongi there are a lot of police – all the time. I believe that this is due to it being a diplomat area. China, Korea, Qatar, Pakistan, Finland, Germany – there are a lot of embassies near our home.
Makes you feel safe, that is for sure – but it is also a little odd.
The police have these roll out barriers everywhere. These are used for crowd and traffic control. The odd things is that to hold a demonstration, you have to file a notice with the police (read more here) so they would have lots of opportunity to deploy these when required. Instead, they are on street corners all over Minato – accompanied by cones, large plastic boxes (containing who-knows-what) and these tire busting contraptions.
This is the Chinese embassy. There is always someone in that van idling with the air conditioning on. I had to snap this shot quick, they do not like photos around the Chinese embassy for some reason ….
Perhaps the street barricades are to lean on. Of course, no shortage of pylons.
And of course, the officer is properly masked – a truly Japanese custom.
Just down the road from where we live in Tokyo. There is no lawn at this club, the courts are all clay (smile).
A few HDRs from when the azaleas were in full bloom.
The path beside the club. I walked this path for a year – until we changed offices.
We took our March break in Phuket this year. The Le Meridien is a great stop; outside of the hustle and bustle of Phuket but still accessible with a great private beach.
The waves would kick up some mornings, making for some great shots. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.
A contrast to a calm sunset.
It was early and I was enjoying a coffee on the balcony. I turned on my iPad’s wi-fi and noticed a new signal ‘Samax’. Odd. I looked out over the beach and saw this.
Turns out it is easy to find a ship, thanks to websites like this.
You can read a fascinating account of how this yacht survived the 2005 tsunami here.
This was the rest of my view that morning.
It is a colorful city. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.
Sitting in one of the canal locks (there are many).
You also see some interesting wildlife on the canals. To answer your question, yes – it really is that big. This is not the zoom making it look bigger.
On the canals of Bangkok. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.
As we rode down the river, lots of people were playing music. Some with some very big speakers.
These homes exist in the shadow of some of the world’s most modern buildings.
Reminds me of Hong Kong.
Actually, down the street from where we live – a spring view. Config: Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.
Many restaurants look like this, with the welcome cloth over the door.
This fellow was arriving, ready for his next food delivery.
Last shot, in black and white.
I kept meaning to take a picture of these uniquely Japanese scooters. These retro, cruisers are everywhere.
My last shots.
I had never seen porcelain prayer requests before.
I also do not know what these are. Perhaps prayer requests for a nice garden this summer?
As with most shrines, 1,000 cranes offered.
Last shot – a caged dragon.
As previously mentioned, a few weeks ago we headed to a shrine sale/market on a Saturday morning. In one area they were serving food. I love Japanese food. I love that Japanese “fast food” means that someone is cooking it quickly, from scratch, instead of mcCooking it.
A few shots. This fellow was quite artfully keeping his ashes out of my food (smile).
These folks were cooking a very popular dish that you see at the baseball fields – octopus balls with a nice squirt of Japanese mayonnaise on-top.
I went for the noodles.
I am afraid that I am becoming a Japanese food bigot and will not be able to step into Canada’s version of a restaurant .. Moxie’s, Jack Astors .. without a sense of despair. I will definitely have to seek out those Canadian ‘chef owned’ restaurants actively.
Reflecting on the difference, it seems to come down to economics. More and more, Canadian restaurants are owned by business people – not chefs. It is bought as a business, not as a extension of a passion and everything from building layout to food delivery is controlled by HQ.
Very different from Japan where those holes in the wall are still family owned with the husband busy cooking while the wife runs the business. Sure, there are fast food chains, but they are a small fraction of the ecosystem.
Guess that is why Tokyo has more Michelin stars than anywhere else in the world – by a huge margin. If you come to Tokyo, explore the food. You will not be disappointed.
A fun way to spend a Saturday morning.
This fellow was super content.
In the end we didn’t buy anything. I don’t need a $100 hand crafted wood comb. But really enjoyed wandering around.
I was in North America for a few hours recently and I grabbed a quick bite in a food court – avoiding the fast food chains (which is really hard) and getting a scratch made sandwich. I walked down the drink aisle and found it depressing. Pop, a few vitamin waters, high sugar energy drinks – a wasteland of unhealthy drinks and obesity in a bottle.
Just so different to Japan where it is pretty clear that the vending machines are one of those secrets to long life and a low BMI.
A North American drink shelf.
Now Japan. In the country with a vending machine for every 13 people, the diversity is amazing. Coffees, green teas, hot – cold, jasmine tea, sparking water (in many flavors), flavored waters sweetened and unsweetened, this grape drink with aloe cubes and everything in between.
Sure, you can buy a pop (I still love a cold Coke) or a different fizzy drink, but it makes up a very small percentage of the vending machine real estate.
Lattes, vitamin C, milk tea, fiber drinks …
This is a pretty common sight, 4 or 5 vending machines in a row. They are everywhere.
Here is my current favorite drink, the “Green Shower”. It is humulus lupulus sparkling water – and has an herbal taste to it.
For those of you who do not know what Humulus Lupulus is (I certainly did not):
Humulus lupulus (common hop or hop) is a species of flowering plant in the Cannabaceae family, native to Europe, western Asia and North America. It is a dioecious, perennial, herbaceous climbing plant which sends up new shoots in early spring and dies back to a cold-hardy rhizome in autumn. Strictly speaking it is a bine rather than a vine, using its own shoots to act as supports for new growth.
Who are the companies that make all of those healthy, amazing Japanese drinks? Ironically, the same ones that delivery very little choice in North America. Or perhaps, they are delivering what the market wants – which is too bad.
The homes and apartments may be small, but they burst with plants.
Notice the complete lack of any litter.
The Japanese make the most of their space.
The time the sun rises in Tokyo. For some unknown reason Japan does not believe in daylight savings time. In Japan’s semi-tropical climate, no black-out blind every made can stop that UV 14 sun.
I wake up very early every day. I guess there are worse things in the world than sitting on the deck and enjoying a cappuccino to this sunrise.
After all of my posts on India, I am left with a sense of awe. We went not knowing what to expect, a little worried and questioning if it was the right trip for us.
India is a full-on, visual assault. People, activity, honking, smells, traffic, chaos, laughter, despair – all these words describe it. But in the end, I think I would trend toward words like ‘vibrant’ and ‘colorful’ as the ones that truly capture India.
Yes, I think the right word is “colorful”.
It is not for everyone. It is definitely not for the first time or unseasoned traveler.
Personally, I cannot wait to go back.
With Jaipur complete we faced the arduous trip from Jaipur to Delhi. How long would it take? The answer was 5 – 8 hours. Who knows? That is the joy of traveling in India. A couple hundred kilometers is a trip into chaos where anything can happen.
The good thing about that? Lots to see. A few shots from the drive.
Those are bags filled with cotton candy. Some children will be happy,
While we were in India I read all about multinational business failure in India’s food market. It seems like the country is not ready for wide-scale, super market led food distribution. Read the article on the Journey of an Indian Onion from the Economist, fascinating.
One of the many, many markets that we passed as we drove to Delhi.
One of the local distribution engines in action. If you tried loading your truck up like this in Canada, you wouldn’t make it 2km before the police had you stopped.
Of course, the police would have to find you and get to you first. It might be hard to conduct a police chase on an Indian highway .. with all of the tractors, cattle, camels and everything else in between.
These guys didn’t seem to mind the traffic.
One last shot of a potter, by the side of the road; who needs some help organizing.
It took us 7 hours. Time seemed to fly by.
If you live in Japan, you know that the Japanese are dog crazy. With a plummeting birth rate, the dogs are clearly filling a gap.
This little fellow is in the pet store down the street. Take a guess at the price.
You are probably wrong.
That translates to roughly $20K CDN. Premium, for sure. If you are going to have a dog that expensive, you better buy a dog stroller.
You better buy a carrier too.
Of course, if you are having a tea party, everyone needs to be dressed up – bow in the hair and all.
Japanese love their dogs. Check out this site from some amazing Japan dog photos.
Once inside the fort, it felt different than others we had visited. More opulent.
You can read more of the forts history here. In a nutshell:
The aesthetic ambiance of the palace is seen within its walls on a four level layout plan (each with a courtyard) in a well turned out opulent palace complex built with red sandstone and marble consisting of the Diwan-e-Aam or the "Hall of Public Audience", the Diwan-e-Khas or the "Hall of Private Audience", the Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace) or Jai Mandir, and the Sukh Niwas where a cool climate is artificially created by winds that blow over the water cascade within the palace. Hence, the Amer Fort is also popularly known as the Amer Palace. The palace was lived in by the Rajput Maharajas and their families. At the entrance to the palace near the fort’s Ganesh Gate, there is also a temple dedicated to Sila Devi, a goddess of the Chaitanya cult which was given to Raja Man Singh when he had defeated the Raja of Jessore, Bengal in 1604. (Jessore is now in Bangladesh).
There are really two key areas. The central court yard and the third courtyard. It is beautiful.
Looking down from the walls you see the ruler’s herb garden. Cooled by the lake, it allowed the ruling family to grow foods that would not otherwise do well in this climate.
But the highlight of the fort is third courtyard which is breathtaking.
The building to the left of the entrance gate is called the Jai Mandir, which is exquisitely beautified with glass inlaid panels and multi-mirrored ceilings. The mirrors are of convex shape and designed with coloured foil and paint which would glitter bright under candle nights at the time it was in use. Also known as Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace), the mirror mosaics and coloured glasses were "glittering jewel box in flickering candle light". However, most of this work was allowed to deteriorate during the period 1970–80 but has since then been subjected to a process of restoration and renovation. Carved marble relief panels are placed on walls around the hall. The hall provides enchanting vistas of the Maota Lake.
A shot where wall and roof meet.
We wandered deeper into the fort.
An ancient ventilation shaft. Love the way the light comes through in the shot.
A beautiful fort, well worth the rather painful trip to get to the top.
There are 3 ways to the top of the Amber Fort, walk (it is long), a jeep up the side streets (our method) or an elephant ride that wanders up the hill.
I jumped in front of this one as it made its way back down the hill.
The road up and down the hill is packed with jeeps. Elephants randomly walking into the middle of the street do not speed things up.
Neither do the random cattle. Wandering free and completely unafraid.
I had a chuckle at this sign. Not an issue.
This fellow was moving much, much faster than we were.
It was very hard not to jump out of our parked vehicle for some authentic popcorn. But the rule was clear, no street food, no matter how seemly innocent – not even popcorn.
Never a dull moment.
Our last fort and our last site, as we finished our tour of the Golden Triangle. The Amber Fort is quite opulent, and flows across the hilltops with a great view of the town below.
A few of my favorite shots from the walls. Mostly in HDR with a Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM).
A man, lost in his thoughts, on the wall at the Amber Fort, Jaipur, India.
According to our guide, Jaipur is famous for their blankets – people come from around India to buy their Jaipur blankets. Very colorful.
A blanket market .. I think.
Unfortunately, we did not need a blanket.
While in Jaipur we made a trek to Elefantastic. From all of the reviews, it seemed the most humane, animal centric group who would give us a chance to see elephants up close. It is hard to see them in captivity, but with less and less space, their reality has now become one where they cannot roam free.
We have been to places like this before in Asia and Elefantastic lived up to their reputation. Families living with the elephants, making a living while treating them as – one of the family, in this huge communal area.
When I have the opportunity to be close to elephants, what always strikes me is the eyes. You look into them and you know, there is a deep intelligence looking back.
Part of the tour is seeing how they live. This is an elephant home, shared with the handlers family, with a big yellow door.
Satellite and all.
The handlers guide the elephants with their bare feet.
For me, the highlight was not the ride. It was simply spending time with them – feeding the elephants and being around such huge, majestic animals. Part of the tour is the opportunity to paint the elephants before they go for their dip in the lake.
What else would I paint?
Shot through the window of our van as we drove through a street.
The goats of India are like the dogs of Tokyo, dressed!
One of the benefits of having a private guide is itinerary control. When we arrived in Jaipur the family was ready for a quiet break from touring. I had to run an errand and Anu accompanied me – through the side streets of Jaipur.
Once the errand was complete we stepped out and decided to take a one block loop around the shop. What fascinated me was the fact that the one block walk was a city, inside a city with a wide range of shops so diverse that the area could almost operate as a self contained unit. Food, mechanical shops, butchers, a pharmacy, clothing and apartments in a block.
Rickshaws are like scooters in other countries, everywhere.
Fossil fuels, specifically wood, is still used to cook and in homes around the city. This wood “store” was manned by a man and his goat.
A micro-city, within the city, which also included a wide range of food – fruits, street vendors and of course, the local butcher.
Last street shot. The hustle and bustle, in this case two guys trying to sell carpets. According to our guide, the women are tough negotiators.
Highly recommend stepping into the side streets if you can.
The second stage of the sales cycle was to show us how they made a carpet.
Hand woven and then burned with a torch to remove the extra silk.
An intricate process of burning (to tighten and seal the knots) and shaving. With the wool carpets he took a blade to the fibers to finish the process.
While it is all staged to facilitate the sales process just like in other places such as Murano, Italy, it was interesting to watch. The problem I have as a “tourist” is what is the right price? This vendor was pitching us rugs that ran from $5K-$12K USD. While I know silk rugs in downtown Toronto often go for that price (or more), I was instantly on the defensive. Certainly they send those to foreign markets at a fraction of the cost – so what is the right price?
In the end, that is why we did not buy. Perhaps we would have if we felt there was a compelling reason and a deal to be had due to the “buy from the source” scenario.
Being Expats our propensity to “consume” is quite low. Beside the fact that we are living in Tokyo, we have entered into a phase in our lives where we are getting rid of things – not adding. It has to be pretty special to get into our suitcase on a trip.
Our guide had scheduled a stop at a textile shop which is a collective and one that he trusts. I have a long sales background and appreciate a good selling process. Their process is all about creating that emotional tie, letting us know the background on the collective and walking us through how the carpets are made.
The selling process started with showing us how they print silk by hand. Amazing to watch.
The finished process.
Made me wish that we needed something. Carpets, their high price item, were next.
I kept seeing these sidewalk barbershops as we traveled the roads of India – often too late (our van had already whizzed by). On our last couple days in India I set a goal – get a few shots before it is too late.
Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/28 USM. Having the 300mm helped.
I think that the blue chair might be a barbershop standard.
This is the only barbershop that I spotted inside – on the way from Jaipur to Delhi.
Incredible India! I just loved having a camera there.
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