Temple of Heaven

Beijing, China

The Temple of Heaven was built around the same time as the Forbidden City, dating back to 1420.  It was used by the Chinese Emperors to pray for a good harvest and well-being for the people of China.  He prayed for Heaven and Earth with sacred ceremonies.  In ancient times, only the Emperor was permitted to pray directly to the heavens, so his times of worship were highly celebrated.  Commoners were not even allowed through the Temple of Heaven gates.

Today, for a small fee, anyone can enjoy this beautiful temple complex.  Chinese people still use this area for personal and group worship.  On special days of the year, the entire complex can still be found full with people chanting and practicing various kinds of worship.

Right now, the inside of the Temple is lined with stone cow statues.  In days past, the Temple was lined with live cattle.  I thought it was because they worshiped cows, but I was wrong.  The statues are there to represent sacrificial cows.  The Emperor would look at the 25+ cows and choose the best one to sacrifice.  Lucky cow.

Colors vibrant and the atmosphere bursting with positive energy.  The Temple of Heaven complex was beautiful and I felt a very peaceful vibe as I walked around the sacred ground.

The Gate to the Temple of Heaven <– This is the gate to the Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven is one of four important temples located in Beijing.  Other prominent temples include The Temple of Sun, The Temple of Earth and The Temple of Moon.

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Forbidden City

Beijing, China

The Forbidden City was amazing…  It felt like a real privilege to walk around an area that, only 60 years ago, had been closed to all but the highest ranks of the Imperial government.

Built during 1406 – 1420, the Forbidden City was home to Chinese Emperors for close to five centuries.  No one could leave or enter the city without the Emperor’s permission.

The picture above is a single marble carving of 9 dragons.  It weighs over 200 tons and took 20,000 workers 28 days to move into the Forbidden City.  I wish I could have fully captured the detail on this beautiful marble stairway, because it was outstanding.

Something unfathomable to me was the amount of buildings needed for the Emperor.  He had buildings for sleeping, mating, eating, meditating, writing and the list goes on.  These buildings weren’t exactly tiny either.

Particularly humorous to me was a set of three rather large buildings, in close proximity.  Each building had a different purpose but they were apparently always used in succession.  The first building was solely for the Emperor to change clothes.   Basically, it was a giant closet.  He would then walk, 20 feet, to the second building “to take a rest.”  This building held nothing but a giant couch-like object in the center.  After his rest, the Emperor would then walk 25 feet to the third building.  This final building would be similar to what I think of as an office.  Government officials would meet to discuss business with the Emperor.

In the Forbidden City, everything you see has some sort of symbolism.  Each color, animal and number is chosen carefully and with purpose.  Odd numbers are used for men and even numbers are used for women.  Nine was considered sacred and the Emperor’s building and throne was surrounded by groups of nine statues, steps, animals…

Forbidden City

Animals and their symbolism:

  • Dragon – Male, power, strength
  • Phoenix -Female, power, luck
  • Tortoise – Longevity, strength
  • Crane – Longevity, beauty
  • Tiger – Strength, courage

Colors and their symbolism:

  • Yellow – Color of the emperor
  • Red – Wards off evil spirits
  • Green – Earth (or wood) and growth
  • Black – Water (also meaning fire protection, so for example the library had a black rooftop)

Forbidden City (from Jingshan Park), Beijing Tile work, Forbidden City, BeijingBronze tortoise, Forbidden City, Beijing

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Making Silk

China is known around the world for their silk.  For centuries it was their well-kept secret until someone smuggled out silkworms in a hollowed out walking stick.

1.10.06 Chinese Silk

Now, even I know how to make silk.  ;-)

<– this machine spools the silk threads off silk worm cocoons

Did you know that one silk worm can spin a thread of silk that is one mile long?

It’s true!

One thread by itself is strong, but usually 12 of them are put together to form a super strong thread.  This machine keeps the cocoons wet and  spins 12 threads into 1.  Different dyes can be added to the water to make the silk different colors.

Fact:  Royal palaces had a special room, sometimes even an entire building, with the sole purpose of praying for a good silkworm harvest.

<– the white things are the cocoons of silk

To make a blanket with silk lining, the cocoons aren’t spun into individual threads, they are soaked and stretched.  Actually, in the background of this picture on the left you can see 2 white triangles.  First they stretch 7 cocoons onto the small triangle, one at a time, right on top of each other.  Then they take the 7 (now smushed into just 1) and stretch it onto the bigger triangle.  Finally they create 15-20 layers, of the 7-layer stretched cocoons, to eventually stretch into just one layer of silk blanket lining.

They let us help stretch out one of the layers.  Not as easy as you’d think.

Depending on how thick they want to make the blanket lining, anywhere from 50-100 layers will be stretched on top of each other.  This blanket never bunches and doesn’t even need any quilting to hold it in place.  Alot of work goes into making just one blanket.

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Great Wall of China

Beijing, China

Pictures do not do the Great Wall of China any justice.  There is nothing to write that can convey the awesomeness of being there in person.

Including natural barriers, the Great Wall stretches a bit over 5,500 miles long running from East to West China.  Actual constructed Wall is around 4,000 miles.  It was built for protection and as a physical divider between countries.  Some areas of the Wall date back to 221BC but those original barriers were rebuilt, fortified and moved throughout the various times of war and expansion of country boundaries.  The strong, massive Wall we see today was completed in the mid 1400’s.

Several sections of the Wall are open to the public.  We visited the Beijing portion, which is usually the area that you see in all the magazines and on TV.  The top of the mountain is only 482 meters high, but the climb felt like so much more.

For 2 1/2 hours we climbed, slipped, slid, gasped, sighed, wa-hooed, gripped, enjoyed, rested, and climbed some more.

I am soo proud of myself for making it all the way to the top.  Seth, of course, had no problems.  We did it together and I was soo happy that I was almost in tears.  Definitely a dream come true.

The view from the top was inspiring….

“It looked like someone had unrolled a spool of wire across the mountain.  The wall was pretty great and I’ve never seen soo many Russians.”  That is what Seth had to say about his experience.   We were surprised by the bus loads of Russian tourists, not only at the Wall but all over Beijing.

Great Wall of China:

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2009 Comes to an End

2009 will always be my “Year in Korea.”  What a ride…

As much as I miss home, leaving will be difficult.  We have less than a month left in Korea. This year has flown by at race car speed,  the world just a blur of light whizzing around me.  So many amazing memories, so many amazing sights, so many amazing people.  I am truly blessed.

This New Year, we’ll miss the the iconic Times Square ball of light and various over-the-top musical performances.

Instead, we’ll ring in the New Year Korean-style and watch (on television) the striking of the Boshingak Bell.  This massive bell is struck 33 times by 16 different people (the # of people changes from year to year).  The bell ringers are members of a diverse, ever-changing group comprised of celebrities, dignitaries and common citizens.  As in New York, the ceremony will include over-the-top performances by today’s “It” K-Pop bands.

The traditional ringing of the bell originated in the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910). In the early Joseon period, bells at Seoul’s four main entrances and four small entrances were rung every morning and evening to notify the opening and closing of the gates. The bells sounded 33 times in the morning to start the day and 28 times in the evening to announce the curfew.

I put together a slide show of my favorite 2009 memories:

Finally, I’d like to share a few of my New Year’s resolutions with you. Sharing them makes it hard to break them.
  1. Write letters/ post cards more often
  2. Be more patient with myself
  3. Seek out more live music
  4. Teach my dad how to use a computer
  5. Continue painting
  6. ?????  taking suggestions…

I hope everyone has a wonderful new year! Goodbye ’00s, hello ’10s.

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Year of the Horse

The Horse


I love the Chinese Zodiac.

Mostly, for me, it’s just a fun thing to read.  However, it’s taken more seriously by the Chinese than regular Astrology is in the rest of the world.  According to Chinese Zodiac, I am a Horse.  In the most random places, I have found statues of the Chinese Zodiac animals.  These are only 3 examples I have seen:

<– in Taiwan

According to Chinese Zodiac:

Horses love to be surrounded by people, that is why they are drawn to events like concerts, theaters, meetings, sporting occasions, and of course, parties. (oh how I do love a good concert…)

Charming and cheerful, the Horse is an extremely likable character. (If nothing else, I am charming and cheerful) Hard working, self-possessed and sharp, the Horse skillfully acquires power, wealth and respect. However, the Horse’s sometime-appreciated frankness can be blunt and tactless. An impatient pursuit of success or self indulgence may become extremely selfish and predatory. Horses can be obstinate. In truth, they are more cunning than intelligent, and they know it. So, despite the facade of assurance, the Horse lacks confidence in him or herself. (shhhh, don’t tell anyone about this one)

Like their symbol, Horse-born people are high-spirited and lively. Their vivacity and enthusiasm make them someone you want to be your friend.  Silly in their humor, Horses are masters of repartee. They love to be center of attention and amuse audiences everywhere. On a negative side, many times rash and willful, they can be prone to sudden mood swings (um, I do tend to be moody at times) and, although seldom. really explosive bursts of temper can occur.  When they do see red, it is not a pretty sight. Those who have suffered a Horse’s rage will never feel quite the same about him or her again, for the fits of temper are a bit dramatic and childish. (yeah, when I get mad… watch out) If he or she wants to succeed, they have to master their emotions.

zodiac zodiac

One thing I want to point out is that if you are born at the beginning of the year, you’ll need to check the exact dates.  The Chinese Zodiac years are based on when the Chinese New Year begins, not January 1st as you might expect.  For example:  Seth was born in 1981, but because he has an early birthday he is actually a Monkey and not a Rooster.

Hee hee, Seth’s a monkey.  :mrgreen:

Rat 1924 1936 1948 1960 1972 1984 1996 2008
Ox 1925 1937 1949 1961 1973 1985 1997 2009
Tiger 1926 1938 1950 1962 1974 1986 1998 2010
Rabbit 1927 1939 1951 1963 1975 1987 1999 2011
Dragon 1928 1940 1952 1964 1976 1988 2000 2012
Snake 1929 1941 1953 1965 1977 1989 2001 2013
Horse 1930 1942 1954 1966 1978 1990 2002 2014
Sheep 1931 1943 1955 1967 1979 1991 2003 2015
Monkey 1932 1944 1956 1968 1980 1992 2004 2016
Rooster 1933 1945 1957 1969 1981 1993 2005 2017
Dog 1934 1946 1958 1970 1982 1994 2006 2018
Pig 1935 1947 1959 1971 1983 1995 2007 2019

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Christmas in Korea

Christmas in Korea is like any other day.

E-mart, along with every other store and shop in Sanbon, remained open.  Unsurprisingly, Koreans celebrate holidays quite differently than we do in the States.  There is a large Christian population (along with the Buddhists), but people don’t go wild with store closings or gift-buying. In America, Christmas is a huge commercial holiday with families spending hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on gifts.

When talking to my students, very few of them had Christmas trees. Even fewer said that they will get presents. Christmas is not a gift-giving holiday in Korea.

I also wasn’t bombarded with Christmas songs non-stop since the day after Halloween.  When I did hear the random Christmas song, I was surprisingly happy to hear it. Sometimes I sang along.   Back home, I get soo sick of Christmas music, hearing all the remakes of the same stupid songs, over and over again.

I did buy a tree.  Albeit a small tacky tree, but perfect in every way.  :razz:

Our director at work gave all the teachers cakes.  Seth got a bigger and different cake than the rest of the office.   His had a huge cookie on top. Mine was a cheesecake.  In the few days before Christmas, all the store windows were lined with red, green and blue boxes of cakes.  Everyone we passed on the street seemed to be carrying a cake too.  Instead of giving presents, I suppose giving cakes is an appropriate way to celebrate Christmas.

Christmas lights make me happy, but finding them in Seoul was a rarity.  When we did see twinkling lights, they were beautiful and reminded me of home.  Sanbon had no decorations of any kind.  These two pictures are from Itaewon and around City Hall.  Areas where foreigners frequent were the only areas decorated with Christmas cheer.

Hanging out with some friends of mine.  Just thought it was a cute pic.  It was a Christmas Eve Eve get-together.  :mrgreen:

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DMZ – Part 3 (last one)

On top of buildings, fences, and lining the river, I’ve never seen soo much barbed wire in my entire life.  Maybe even if I combined all the previous barbed wire I have ever seen, it might equal what I saw during the few hours in and around the DMZ.

This is obviously a fake fence and mannequin, but I couldn’t get close enough to get the real thing.  All along the Joint Security Area (JSA) were these fences with white rocks and red tags.  If someone tampers with the fence, the rocks fall out and one of the South Korean or U.S. soldiers will notice.  It’s the most simple design, but completely effective.

The JSA is closest to the DMZ border.  It’s better known as  Panmunjom, a village destroyed in the war.  Today you have to have a passport and an escort to even enter this area.

Surrounding the JSA are land mines left over from the 1950’s, but still very dangerous.

<– weapons from the war

One last thing that was interesting to see was the underground tunnel.  No photography was allowed.  North Korea has dug 4 tunnels and at least 6 more are suspected.  They all lead towards Seoul and were intended for surprise attack purposes.  It was said that 30,000 North Korean troops could have made it to Seoul in an hour.

We were permitted to go into Tunnel #3, discovered in 1978 and biggest in terms of height.  There was a 300m tunnel leading underground at a 13% incline.  At the bottom was a natural spring.   Helmets were provided in case we bumped our heads, which came in handy.  The actual tunnel is around a mile long but only 265m are open to the public.

When the tunnel was discovered, North Korea said it was being used to excavate coal.  The mountains of Korea do not contain coal, and so this was obviously a lie.  To carry on with their lie, North Korea had painted the tunnel black to make it look like coal.  I found this quite funny.  Those silly North Koreans.

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DMZ – Part 2

Even though the weather was -18C we enjoyed our tour to the DMZ with the USO.  Getting an up-close glimpse of the insanity and weirdness that goes on in North Korea made the cold tolerable.

To actually get to the border, like we did, you have to go with the USO.  None of the other tour groups are permitted this far into the DMZ.  They hold them most Saturdays and some Wednesdays. Tours need to be booked 3-4 weeks in advance.  We tried to come here many times, but they were always booked solid.  Glad it finally worked out.

Blue buildings are South Korean and the grey building is North Korean.  The actual border runs directly through these buildings.  They are used for conference talks between the two sides.  The big grey building in the back is the North Korean ‘Welcome Center’.  Ha, like they actually welcome people or anyone would want to be welcomed.

So this was the only North Korean we saw, he’s way up on the stairs in the back.  I can only imagine what he must think of us.   He kept watching the group through binoculars.  He stood alone and remained at the door to the Welcoming Center the entire time.

We were told that if we communicated with the North Koreans in any way that we would be escorted off premise immediately.   No waving, pointing, shouting or light shining of any kind was permitted.

We were escorted by a US soldier (funny guy) into one of the blue barracks.  The table is on top of the SK/NK border.  24 hours a day microphones record and there is a soldier that stands on the line.  As I took the pictures, I was standing on North Korean soil.  Weird.

The soldiers all wear Ray Bans and stand at Tae Kwon Do-Ready at all times.  This is to intimidate the North Korean soldiers.  Also, to be chosen as a soldier on the DMZ border you have to meet certain height requirements.

They call the South Korean soldiers ROKs (like rocks).

We had to remain behind a big yellow line to take pictures at the observatory.  It was 20+ feet behind the binocular stands.  This is about as good as we could get, especially with the fog.  That’s Propaganda City in the background.  We saw no movement at all.

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DMZ – Part 1

A country divided.

Republic of Korea – South

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – North

Going to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) was an amazing experience.  Making me feel lucky to have been born in the safe mountains of West Virginia and also showing me the insanity that can happen in your own backyard.

Starting our tour with the USO, we were told a story from our tour guide about her parents.  They had escaped North Korea as a young couple in their twenties.   It was winter and the Han river was slushie with ice.  Armed with only the clothes on their back and a make-shift boat that kept teetering back and forth, dunking one of them into the water up to their neck.  All while holding a baby high into the air.

I just about cried.

That’s the really sad part about this nasty battle between North and South.  Families were separated.  Still today people have family they aren’t allowed to see or even have any type of communication.  In the 1970’s there were talks of having family reunions in the DMZ.  But even as talks of peace were taking place above ground, the North was digging tunnels for attack purposes, underground.  The family reunions never took place.

What you see here is North Korea.  Propaganda City is the name because it’s only a show town, not where actual people live.  There used to be a very loud speaker that could be heard even where I stood, but today it is silent.  Quite creepy indeed.  Most of the houses and buildings are empty.  They are mere shells of buildings, with no windows or doors.

The North Korean flag stands a whopping 160 meters high.  When the South Korean flag went up to 100 meters, this is how the North responded.  On days of bad weather, it is lowered to around 120 meters.  The flag itself weighs 600 lbs when it’s dry!

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