Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dragon Boat Festival

How many people (that I know) can say they have seen actual dragon boat races on Dragon Boat Festival day IN China?? Now I can say that I have! This morning I woke up way earlier than I normally do to take in the festivities. I was able to find a spot that was near the finish line to watch the races.

Only a small portions of  the thousands
of people lining the lake
Now I've been to plenty of concerts and large festivals before but the crowds in China are something else. I have never had people touch, bump and just push their way through with no regard to who is around them. There was one old women with a child who forcibly pushed her way next to me. I'm not proud of this but I had a strong feeling to knock her to the ground! Fortunately I didn't but I guess when you have over a billion people, personal space wouldn't be a common issue. Nothing like being felt up by an elderly chinese women, haha.  

Each race had 4 or 5 teams, with 12 paddlers on a team plus a drummer and a steersman. They were divided into co-ed, male and female heats. Overall the races weren't all that exciting; other than the occasional tipped boat they were pretty standard. Though, still a fun event to see. 

And GO! 

Near the Finish Line
Some of the dragon boat teams
People watching the races 

Some of the members of my branch 

I met up with some friend from the branch to watch a beginning races, little did we know that there was a larger group of branch members there as well. It ended up turning into a mini branch activity.  

Sometimes I feel guilty for just sitting at home on my days off, I mean I'm in China and should be out there experiencing everything I can! However life gets in the way and I don't get as many memorable experience as I would like. I'm glad I can at least add this to my list.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Master of the Nets

Yesterday was a beautiful spring day, just the kind of day for visiting one of the many gardens in Suzhou. A couple ladies from the branch and I visited Master of the Nets Garden, a garden first constructed in 1140, gone through a few owner before being given to the government in the 1950s and becoming one of the Classical Gardens of Suzhou.

There were several pavilions traditionally used for entertaining, painting and playing music. The pavilions are pretty typical of most chinese gardens; beautiful wood furniture, classic paintings and tile roofs. 

Inside the Pavilions

Beautiful wall painting

Entering into the garden area
But the center of the garden is a large pond surrounded by rocks, small seating areas and plants. It may have been because its spring but everything was so green, which is not a natural color you often see in the more modern parts of the city. I had forgotten how beautiful a bright green tree is. 

 At night they have traditional musical performance. 

Rocks in the rock garden area

Brenton, Chantel and Natalia 
Rocks you can climb 

Different pathways, they like the crooked style

One of my favorite pictures of the day

So much green! 

It was a great day to get out and experience more of this beautiful and 
ancient city I call my temporary home.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Big Buddha

After 8 months of waiting I was finally able to visit the Grand Buddha at Ling Shan, located about an hour bus ride outside of the city of Wuxi, which is about a 15 min train north of Suzhou. I had heard about the "giant" Buddha shortly after I arrived in China. A student in Zhangjiagang had offered to take me but could never find the time to actually go.
So I was quite excited when one of the students, Sunny, here offered to go with me. She was great about it too; making all the arrangements, which was good since I don't speak Chinese and would have a really hard time figuring any of it out. We went this past Sunday (after church of course) and the reported rain never ended up happening so it was a nice day to spend outside, sight seeing. 

One the bus with Sunny
Along with the Buddha there are several traditionally built buildings, The Brahma Palace and art museum, the "Five-Signet" Palace and another building I never got the name of.   
The Brahma Palace and Art Museum

The Brahma Palace and art museum is the largest of the building and has a grand hall, performance theatre, restaurant and art museum. We watched a short performance about the life of Buddha with 180 degrees screen, dancers, and a full size tree coming out of the center of the room depicting Buddha reaching enlightenment. 
                                        Sunny and I outside the Palace

Inside the palace

The booties I had to wear while inside the building

Ceiling decorations
Colorful glass wall
Brahma ceiling, it turned different colors
Me and my Chinese zodiac sign,  I'm a "pig".
Across from the Brahma Palace is the Five Signet palace, surrounded by a koi filled lake. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to go inside of it but from the outside it was still very beautiful. 

Five Signet Palace

I wasn't able to get the name of the white building but we were told it was just a shell and didn't have anything in it. It reminded me more of a middle eastern building than Chinese. 

Besides the Big Buddha there was an actual size replica of the open palm right hand of that is on the big Buddha and a large statue of the fat "Happy Buddha" with children running all over him.  Both are pretty massive and represented different stages in Buddha's evolution. I personally like the "Happy Buddha" the best, but who wouldn't love a giant smiling Buddha.

Me next to the big hand
The symbol in the center represents a "wish" ,
wishing the world happiness and welfare

My hand compared with the Buddha's
"Happy" Buddha

The Grand Buddha is the 8th largest Buddha in the world at 88m tall (about 290 ft) and although it's not ancient is quite impressive.  It sits at the top of a large staircase and is standing surrounded by lotus petals. There is a platform below him and also one that is in the lotus leaves. 

Each hand has the "wish" sign and there is a correctly facing swastika in the center of his chest. The swastika is an ancient symbol that can represent solemnity, virtue, well-being and good luck. 

Us under the Buddha

There were signs saying  that you could pay to "hug" Buddha's leg but since it was so close to closing we were able to sneak up there without anyone noticing. 

My hand compared to his big toe nail

Me standing next to his foot

Despite what people think, I am not living a crazy and adventurous life; it's actually pretty mundane most of the time. But it was great to get out and have another Chinese experience. Makes me appreciate living in this beautiful, history rich country.