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A Nanjing Getaway – Part 1

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Sunday 8th November, ~5pm

I’m on a Chinese train on the way back to Shanghai, hopefully arriving in about 40 minutes. It’s been 3 hours so far on the train, where we played a game of Cluedo – which I won (it was Miss. Scarlett in the lounge with the revolver), and thereafter attempted to nap. Before the Cluedo game, a saleswoman was promoting some cucumber-slicing tool, by going around the carriage with a cucumber and peeling/slicing instrument, explaining how to use it and what benefits cucumber has on your skin. (Answer: it whitens it — skin-whitening is a huge thing in China). I guess she got excited when she came to our booth and found not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, but 5 foreigners; and so when I asked her what exactly it was she was selling, she responded by slicing me a thin ‘layer’ of cucumber, putting it on the back of my hand, and saying “it will make your skin white!”. (Yes! There is hope for me yet!)
She then proceeded to cut some for all of us, while I responded: “but I kinda like my current skin, I don’t wanna make it white…”, to which she chuckled, already halfway down the carriage, and won me turned heads and curious stares from about half of the carriage.

The de-browning process

The de-browning process

 

On Thursday, I arrived in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, on a high-speed/bullet train from Shanghai, which took under 90minutes and reached speeds of about 300kmh.

Bullet trains - 300kmh

Bullet trains – 300kmh

I met up with Nafeesah, we didn’t do much sightseeing that day, until nighttime, when we went in search of a night market with a famous reputation online, only to find out after arriving at the location that it had closed down a few years ago. Oops.

Friday, however, was a beautiful, hot day; we visited the famous Purple Mountain Scenic Area (紫金山). The first stop was a shuttle to get to Sun Yat-Sen’s Mausoleum, where we climbed and climbed to reach a not-incredibly-interesting statue of Sun Yat-Sen, but a pretty view, albeit a rather foggy one. The pictures make it look foggier than the reality, though.

Starting point

Starting point

 

First glimpses

First glimpses

 

Halfway up

Halfway up

 

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From the top, looking down

 

There were ladybirds EVERYWHERE; on our backs, arms, faces, heads, shoulders, bags, everywhere. Black with red spots, red with black spots, orange with black spots, all the colours.

Count the ladybirds

After going back down, we bought tickets for the cable car, met a Chinese guy whose English name was ‘Relax’, and who was also visiting the site, so we headed to the cable car area together. After walking through the trees for about 20 minutes, he declared that it was another couple of kilometres, and wasn’t really walkable, so we got in a taxi, made it to the cable car boarding spot and man – it was a scenic ride.
The leaves on the tress were in full Autumn colours: reds, oranges and greens that I thought I wouldn’t be seeing this year!

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We reached the observatory spot, but didn’t realise we were just meant to lift up the metal bar ourselves and let ourselves off, so we continued up to the top of the line, disembarked to admire the view and be attacked by ladybirds left, right and centre, and all of the other 16 directions. We tried to walk up the hill that claimed to lead to the peak, but ended up at a green gate, for military personnel only…. Seems dodgy.

On the cable car down, we jumped off ourselves this time at the only other stop, to visit the Zijinshan Astronomical Observatory (Purple Mountain Observatory). There we saw samples of rocks that had been found around China, as well as other countries, that had come from space. Apparently. I must admit, I wasn’t entirely convinced by most of them, but I guess I wouldn’t know what a piece of the moon looks like up close. I just didn’t expect it to look like a marble tile like this:

On display as a piece of the moon...

A piece of the moon on display…

It was made more ‘believable’ by the prices of some other rock pendants that were on sale for only 50RMB per gram…

Convincing

Astronomical pendants

 

We saw some interesting astronomical instruments, enjoyed the truly beautiful view from the rooftop and decided to ditch the cable car, and walk back down.

This is an armillary sphere. It was used for determining the positions of celestial bodies in ancient China. Don't ask  me how.

This is an armillary sphere. It was used for determining the positions of celestial bodies in ancient China. Don’t ask  me how.

 

And this is a 'gnomon', or so the sign said.

And this is a ‘gnomon’, or so the sign said. The shadows produced supposedly indicate when it’s the solstice.

 

View from the top of the Observatory

View from the top of the Observatory

 

Incredible autumnal colours

Incredible autumnal colours

 

By the time we got down, it was getting dark and we found a bus going back to the city, went to meet a friend at the railway station who was joining for the weekend, grabbed some dinner and headed back to the hostel after an exhausting day.

 

On Saturday morning the weather surprised us; the 12⁰C cold was far from the 25⁰ we’d experienced the previous day, but we continued with our plan to visit Xuanwu Lake, which I absolutely loved. It was so quiet and peaceful inside the park, a welcome break from the bustle and noise of city life.

Xuanwu Lake/Park

Xuanwu Lake/Park

 

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A little bonsai collection

A little bonsai collection

 

Inside the park we saw a man practising Taiqi to his own little music player, and the whole scene just made me feel so peaceful. It was the kind of thing you might imagine China to be like from inaccurate movies etc, which depict everyday life in China as being tea-drinking, Taiqi-practising, country life in beautiful green surroundings.

People's wishes, dreams and prayers hanging on red strips

People’s wishes, dreams and prayers hanging on red strips

Someone representing!

Someone representing!

If it had not been cold and wet, we would probably have gone on those huge hanging swing rides 😀

The lake/park area and the Purple Mountain are places I wouldn’t mind coming back to. After lunch, we went to the Presidential Palace, which was nice enough, but not exactly riveting in my opinion, as I feel like it’s very similar to all other such places I’ve seen before. We had planned to visit the Confucius Temple after the Palace, followed by the famous night market around it, but by the time we were done at the Palace, daylight hours were almost up, so instead we headed straight to dinner and then the night market.

You can never evade the Chinglish

You can never evade the Chinglish

 

Inside the Presidential Palace

Inside the Presidential Palace

 

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Not so secret anymore...

Not so secret anymore…

 

Night market things

Night market things

 

5:45pm – I think we’re almost there so Part 2 will follow soon!

Mandarin proverbs

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All languages have their own common sayings and idioms, some of which make sense from the words used, and some of which don’t. Usually, there is a story behind how it is that certain words put together have come to have a specific meaning. While I thought English was a language quite reliant on the use of idioms, they are just as common in Mandarin Chinese, if not more so, especially because there are so many that are derived from classical Chinese stories, i.e. those written by Confucius and Mencius. These usually intend to get a moral across. Most standard Chinese proverbs consist of four characters.

成语, Cheng yu = Chinese set expression, often made up of 4characters, often alluding to a story or historical quotation

The following is a list of some that I either find amusing, interesting  or ones that are just fresh in my mind, because I’ve come across them recently. Some of them aren’t proverbs, but random bits of Chinese that I’m putting on the list anyway.

In no particular order at all, apart from the order in which I typed them out, here goes, because… it’s cool to know things in different languages…. (Hey, each to their own!)

  1. 鸡毛蒜皮 – ji mao suan pi
    Literal: chicken feather, garlic skin – alluding to the sorts of things that are ‘kitchen trash’
    Meaning: Trifling matters, trivialities
  2. 生老病死 – sheng lao bing si
    This one refers to the ‘fate of humankind’ (i.e. mortality), as it literally just describes the life cycle. And by literally, I mean that the words translate literally to “birth, old, sickness, death”. No beating around the bush here.
  3. 自相矛盾 – zi xiang mao dun
    I wonder what guesses people would make for this one if they only knew the literal meaning of the words: “self-“, “spear” and “shield”. There is a short story to this one, which describes a man in ancient times, who used to sell spears, and – you guessed it – shields. Smart salesman that he was, he needed some marketing slogans, right? Well, according to him, his spears were so sharp that there was nothing they couldn’t penetrate. Wow, they definitely sound as spear-like as they come; if I were buying a spear, these sound like a good choice. But that’s not all! What about the shields, sir? “My shields are so strong that nothing can penetrate them!” Hurray! Wait… about that spear, then…
    Meaning: Self-contradictory
    It all makes sense now, hm?
  4. 说曹操曹操就到 – shuo CaoCao CaoCao jiu dao
    Mostly I just like this one because of how it sounds. It’s quite difficult to say at speed.
    Literal: Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives (Cao Cao is someone’s name)
    Meaning: Speak of the devil (and he will appear)
  5. 炒鱿鱼 – chao youyu
    I have no idea about the backstory to this.
    Literal: To stir-fry squid
    Meaning: To fire someone, to sack someone
  6. 青天大老爷 – qing tian da lao ye
    I like this one because it’s kinda cute 🙂
    Literal: Grandpa in the clear sky
    Meaning: God
    Isn’t that a cute image?
  7. 刀子嘴把豆腐心
    Literal: knife mouth, tofu heart. = Your tongue is sharp, but your heart is full of tofu.
    This would be the equivalent of “a sharp tongue, but a soft heart”. I think it’s funny how so typically Chinese it is, using tofu.
  8. 马马虎虎 – ma ma hu hu
    Literal: horse horse tiger tiger.
    I would have really liked to see people’s thoughts on this one, but the temptation of Google would have made this all too easy. It’s also more well known (I think) than the others, in the form of a typical “Hey, guess how you say ____ in Chinese??” type of question.
    Meaning: Okay. As in, ‘I thought that restaurant/movie/book was okay’. (And not as in, ‘Okay, I’ll bring the book to show you tomorrow’)
    I don’t know how this came about at all, but I’m glad it exists – it is also a fun-sounding Chinese phrase. Admittedly, I don’t think I have ever heard it used by a Chinese person, it’s usually heard among foreigners.
  9. 人山人海 – ren shan ren hai
    Literal: people mountain people sea
    Meaning: A vast crowd, crowds of people, or – to stay closer to the literal meaning – a sea of people.
    This one is applicable to every single situation in China, and I like how accurately the image of the idiom describes the reality.
  10. 东西 – dongxi
    Not a proverb or saying in any way, but just a VERY common word that is so normal now that I almost forgot how strange it actually is.
    Literal: East West
    Meaning: Things, as in ‘we talked about lots of things’, ‘that shop sells lots of stuff’.
    How did the two words East and West come to mean ‘things’?

Do you know any interesting proverbs, idioms and/or other traditional sayings in other languages? I’d like to know! For example, in Gujarati, one way of saying someone is really annoying you or bothering you would translate literally into English as so-and-so is drinking my blood. Maybe the city of Gujarat used to be inhabited by vampires, who knows?

Zhangye Danxia 张掖丹霞

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I came across this and just had to share.

Can you believe this place exists?? Why does everyone not know about it?!

The above pictures are of a place in Gansu province, China, called Zhangye. The maps below gives a rough idea of where it is in general, and in relation to Beijing (where I am).

The landform itself is called Zhangye Danxia – 张掖丹霞.
Danxia is a general term for these landforms of red sandstone, and there are more across China!