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We woke up to brilliant, golden rays of sunlight as the modern city of Nanjing came to life. After a delicious hybrid breakfast of American staples and traditional Chinese dishes, we departed the Jinling Hotel by bus to go see the Purple Mountain.
The Purple Mountain encompasses a huge area of land adjacent to Nanjing and is also a public park. It houses the Ming Tombs and Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s mausoleum among several other areas of historical importance. We spent most of the morning there visiting the mausoleum and tombs.
The mausoleum was simply stunning. White slabs of stone formed a collection of gates, stairs, and buildings that all led up to the tomb of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the founding father of the Republic of China. Once we climbed all of the steps, we could see the massive size of Nanjing. The former Chinese capital seemed to expand endlessly in all directions, only stopping at the rugged mountain ranges that surrounded it. We descended in order to go to the Ming Tombs, which were just a quick walk away from the mausoleum entrance.
We entered the main pathway leading towards the tombs by crossing over a small bridge, then came to a small, rectangular building with a tortoise. The tortoise symbolizes longevity and sits beneath 4 characters that describe the first Ming emperor’s greatness. Two altars for burning currency are located behind the building on both sides and were used to honor the dead. Though the tombs were originally much larger and more complete, wars and time caused much of them to decay or be destroyed. However, we discovered that the Sacred Way was still in near-original condition; it was a sight to behold.
The Sacred Way, a road surrounded by stone statues on either side, was the official entrance to the Ming tombs. There were 6 kinds of animals that lined the road; two pairs of animals were placed for each kind. One pair rested while the other stood guard, to ensure one was always awake. Past the animals, four pairs of ministers and generals sit on either side of the road. They mark the final approach to the entrance of the tomb.
We took a break from our sightseeing to enjoy a scrumptious meal at a local restaurant. We ate in the lap of luxury, sitting in a private room (with its own bathroom) and rotating a lazy susan to pass food around the table. We tried many tidbits of various dishes ranging from spicy fish soups to the traditional steamed rice. After eating, we went to the Nanjing Museum.
The Nanjing Museum impressed everyone. The traditional architecture in the main building perfectly complemented the ancient Chinese artifacts, while the change to more modern architecture showcased the exciting temporary and art exhibits. The museum itself was far too large to see in just a couple of hours, but we were able to select a few special exhibits to focus on. The digital exhibit was a favorite because of the many activities and projected images which made old pieces of art turn into motion pictures.
We then headed to the wall of Nanjing. The gigantic wall, originally used to repel invaders, towered over the municipal government buildings next to it. We were astonished at the sheer height and width of the wall; it reminded us of the magnitude of the Great Wall. However, unlike the Great Wall, the wall of Nanjing formed a loop and enclosed an area of land. Therefore, gates were essential for daily life. The gates were monstrous yet gorgeous and are still used today; we had to use one to get to the Purple Mountain earlier that same day.
The students finished up the day at Pizza Hut, but it wasn’t the same type of Pizza Hut one would see in America. This Pizza Hut was a sit-down restaurant that had a menu full of pizzas, pastas, hot dishes, sides, drinks, and desserts. The pizza itself seemed to be a hybrid of deep dish and pan-style pizzas, but was tasty nonetheless. It was a perfect end to a long day, and everyone was happy to crawl into their beds.
Waking bright and early on the coldest day of the trip, we set off to go to the Temple of Heave for our last day in Beijing. During the bus ride, we learned that the temple was actually one of a series of temples dedicated to Heaven, Earth, the Sun, and the Moon. Because the emperor was known to be the Son of Heaven, the temples were built so that he could pray for a successful harvest (and, of course, subsequently not be overthrown by hordes of angry farmers).
Actually arriving at the temple, we discovered that “temple” was almost an understatement; instead of the few buildings many had anticipated, it housed many temple complexes, gardens, and even public parks. No one was shocked to learn it had been built by the same architects who designed the Forbidden City. We also saw firsthand how, in China, the elderly often socialize by gathering in parks to sing revolutionary songs, participate in square dances, and use the public exercise machines. And boy were they ripped! Many of the students tried using the equipment, only to be shown up by the hundreds of age 65+ men and women working out next to them.
After a humiliating defeat at the pull up competition, we found a more secluded spot to learn a traditional Chinese breathing combination. With emphasis on diaphragmatic breathing and a stretched, upright posture, the 8 positions we learned seemed almost like a moving meditation. By the time we had learned all of the positions, from “White Crane Spreads His Wings” to “Daoist Archer,” every student felt more in tune with his or her Chi, or breath, and we were ready to see the actual temples.
Many would recognize our first stop, the Temple of Heaven, from the China pavilion at Epcot. While the recreation at Epcot is doubtlessly a work of art, the sheer size of the original and intricacy of the details were astounding. And, instead of a video inside the temple, there was an ornate altar where the emperor could pray for a successful harvest. It was even more impressive when we learned it was not the true original; the first had been hit by lighting and burned down long ago.
After touring more gardens and buildings (and being sure to always walk through the emperor’s personal gate), we had to leave the temple having seen only a small portion of what it had to offer. It was time to try our hand at one of China’s greatest pastimes: haggling. We went to the Pearl Market and set off to find the best deals. After an hour of heated debates (and even some broken tea pots), the students emerged victorious, heading to the train station with bags full of fake brand name products, jade jewelry, and even silk robes.
After a lunch at the distinctly American KFC, we found way onto a bullet train to migrate to slightly warmer climates. While the ride itself was far from eventful, it gave us all the opportunity to see the diverse landscape of China, from pastures to mountains to the city to which we were headed: Nanjing.
Arriving in our more Western late at night, we decided to postpone sleep for a few more hours and explore the Confucius Temple area. Unlike the traditional Confucius Temple in Beijing, this area was much more vibrant and modern. The entire area was lit with lanterns and lights and crowds of people flocked in to see the lanterns and partake in the revelry. It resembled an American strip mall, albeit with more traditional Chinese restaurants nestled in between the Häagen-Dazs and Pizza Huts. After dinner, we tooka late night boat tour through the district. While we couldn’t understand the Chinese tour, it was impossible not to enjoy the beautiful lanterns, lights, and sheep decorations along the river.
When the boat docked, a dozen sleepy Pace students were faced with the day’s biggest adventure: finding the subway station. While some were not as happy about finding our way in the cold, the distinct lack of hutangs and busy roads gave us a distinct feel for the differences between Nanjing and Beijing. Of course, we all made it back to our hotel safely and settled down for a good night’s sleep.
-Rebecca Husk ’15