Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Bears Went Over the Mountain

Yesterday afternoon, as we walked from the law school to the kindergarten, the sky went as black as night and rain poured down in sheets. Umbrellas were pretty useless under that onslaught. Still, we managed to get the girls and make it home without drowning! The forecast for today was rain, rain, rain, so we didn’t want to go too far afield. We decided to walk down Siming Nanlu, toward a park we often see from the bus, just to see what we could see. I figured if it started to rain, we’d be able to easily catch a bus home. We managed to avoid the rain, and made some fun discoveries along the way.

Our trek started at the book fountain, which seems a fitting sight for a road that leads into a university.
As we walked, we passed lots of apartment buildings and small stores, many with details worthy of photographing (not that it takes that much for me to consider something photo-worthy!). Soon we spied a wonderfully exotic building in the near distance.

I had no idea what it was, but we decided to head in that direction. Even as we approached, it wasn’t clear what the building was for. We entered into a garden and approached the building. I thought it might be a hotel, or a government office, but it turns out it was the Overseas Chinese Museum.
I had read about the museum, and knew it was not far from Xiada, but I hadn’t really focused on where it was. As fascinating as the experiences of emigrants from China can be, I had pretty low expectations for a museum dedicated to their exploits. [Museums in China can really be deadly dull, too.] Boy, was I wrong! The museum turned out to be very interesting!

The first floor was dedicated to the experience of leaving China by boat, since that is how most emigrated. There were replicas of wooden boats, and drawings of Chinese crammed into the holds of boats, and statues reenacting the scenes. The exhibit reminded me very much of images of African slaves being shipped to the Americas.

The second floor was dedicated to the daily life of Overseas Chinese in Chinatowns throughout the world. There was information about the contributions of Chinese to the world economy, including scenes of rubber plantations, mines, and railroad construction. There was even a section about more modern contributions, with lots of pictures of Chinese businessmen and computer moguls. This floor also had the girls’ favorite exhibit – animals of Asia. And these were actual animals, preserved and stuffed. It seemed pretty cheesy to me, but the girls loved it.

The third floor had “Relics from the Collection of Mr. Tan Kan Kee.” He’s the Overseas Chinese who founded Xiamen University, and is probably the most famous of the Overseas Chinese who brought the wealth he earned abroad back to Xiamen. He had a fascinating collection of metal vessels, pottery, statues, and calligraphy scrolls. The displays were very well done, and very modern -- the lights in the cases with the scrolls were set with motion detectors so that each scroll was lighted only when someone stepped to the case to see it. I'm glad they are working hard to preserve these beautiful pieces of art, so of which were hundreds of years old.

I’d say the museum was extremely effective, giving great insight into the life of the Overseas Chinese throughout the world, and their attempts to stay connected to Chinese culture and to China. I loved this poem etched in glass on the second floor:

The Green Leaf’s Attachment to the Root
Don’t ask me where to go,
my heart is attached to you.
Don’t ask me where to go,
my passions go with you.
I am one of your green leaves,
my root is deep in your soil.
Waving farewell in spring breeze,
I leave here and go far away.
Whichever cloud I dwell upon,
my gaze is always on you.
If I sing in the wind,
the song is also for you.
So don’t ask me where to go,
my road is full of memory.
Please bless me and I’ll bless you.
This is the green leaf’s attachment to the root.

– Wang Jian

I think the poem speaks well to the batch of Overseas Chinese near and dear to our hearts – our adopted sons and daughters.

After leaving the museum, we walked on toward our destination, momentarily distracted by this venerable building, crumbling into ruin. I liked the contrast of the old and the new – look at the modern new apartment building growing behind this near-ruin.
A few more blocks, and we reached our destination – Hongshan Park.
The park is completely vertical, step upon step up a mountain, with temples and bridges and pagodas and overlooks, and a teahouse at the top. But, first, we had a false start. Just behind the inscribed rock, we spied a tunnel. We decided to check it out, and it went on and on and on through the mountain! I thought we’d never get to the end. And at the end we were simply in a new neighborhood, with the usual weekend market. [Fascinating if you haven’t seen dozens like it!] But it was worth it – for the first time we saw lychees at the fruit sellers. Mimi has fond memories of eating fresh lychees when she was a child living in Africa, so she’s been on the look-out for them here. (We ended up having them for dessert after dinner, and Mimi says they are as good as she remembers!).

We went back through the tunnel, and then up the first of many stairs. We climbed and climbed, and came to a bridge over a tiny pond.

Across the bridge we found a small Buddhist temple. Buddha is happy today, isn't he?!

One of the best parts of the climb was the panoramic views of Xiamen from on high. We could even see over the strait to Gulangyu.

And in the opposite direction we could see the tall Xiada administration building, showing we hadn’t really walked that far from home!

And in between, lots and lots of rooftop views.

Mimi’s favorite part of the climb (it certainly wasn’t the stairs!) were the multitude of flowers along the way. The park was lush, green, and tropical.

We finally reached the highest point on the mountain after climbing for about an hour. Of course, we stopped quite a bit on the way up to enjoy the views and to REST – and eat snacks!

The girls loved this sleeping child statue at the entrance to the teahouse at the top of the mountain. Can you see that Maya is petting the mouse sleeping on the child’s shoulder? There’s another mouse at his feet. Maya decided that the child was sleeping on an ice cream cone – kind of explains the mice, doesn’t it?!

If it took us over an hour to get up the mountain, how long do you think it took to get down the mountain? How about less than 15 minutes?! Of course, gravity is your friend going down, and your enemy going up!

Once we hit flat ground, we walked two blocks to the bus stop, and took a bus home. There’s only so much walking we’re willing to do! We ate a huge lunch at Lin Duck House to refuel, and then walked home just as the rain started to spit on us.

Perfect timing! No downpour to mar our perfect walking expedition!