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Photo Friday: Guan Yin and the Solar Eclipse

Posted by Ted on Jul 28, 2011 in Events, Photography, Space, Travel

The longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century has already happened, just two years ago on July 22, 2009. Totality could be seen from eastern India, through China, and across the Pacific – a swath of darkness 1000s of miles long and only 160 miles wide. We chose to watch this cosmic event at the feet of Guan Yin, on the island of Putuoshan, in the South China Sea, near Shanghai. The island is named for the mountain at its heart, one of the four sacred mountains of Buddhism, and which is the earthly home of Guan Yin, the bodhimanda of Avalokiteśvara.

This longest eclipse of the century had much anticipation for many eclipse chasers. This was our first, and we had no expectations, but we did hope to actually see the eclipse. As our luck would have it, the day was thick with cloud cover. Very few in our corner of China were able to actually see the event itself.

That said, it was no less magical or spiritual. For over six minutes, what had been daylight a few minutes ago was now darkness. The Goddess was suddenly glowing gold against a night sky.

(Related pictures can be found here.)

(Read more about the Total Solar Eclipse in 2009.)

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China pictures!

Posted by Ted on Sep 13, 2009 in Photography, Travel

After a busy month and a half, the images from our China expedition are now online!

Pictures from our trip to China to see the Total Solar Eclipse on July 22, 2009

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China – Two Final Lessons

Posted by Ted on Jul 27, 2009 in Travel

As we left Shanghai yesterday morning, we were taught two final lessons. The first was as we harriedly returned to the Yu Yuen Gardens in order to find the painting that we’d eyed a few days before. The shopkeeper had told us on Monday that we might have it for 300 Yuan, down from the listed 1200. At the time, earlier in our trip, we declined. When we returned the following busy Sunday morning, she denied ever having offered such a price and we must have misheard her. We finally negotiated her down, somewhat painfully for both of us, to 500 Yuan, paying 200 in poor negotiating tax. Always bargain better on weekdays, and never reference historical verbal offers.

Then, as we caught a cab to the maglev station, we paid merely 30 for the metered fare. This was 4x less than what we’d paid when we arrived a week earlier, our naive mistake at the time being that we asked “how much?” before we got in the cab. Never do that. They have meters for a reason, and have no qualms about ripping off unsuspecting and overtired tourists just getting off a long international flight.

All in all, we probably negotiated most of our deals reaonably well, and will know how to even better next time.

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China – Day 7

Posted by Ted on Jul 25, 2009 in Travel

Today’s adventures took us first to Long Jing, the Dragon Well tea village. Set into the lush hills south of West Lake, the tea produced in this small town is world famous for its smooth, sweet taste. We took the Y3 bus from in front of the hostel up a winding road, over a pass, and down into a valley. After we got off and as we were reviewing a posted map of the area, a short old woman with green eyes and a kind smile asked if we wanted some tea. We followed her through the village, framed by terraced hillsides of waist-high tea plants. Outside of her modest home were her own rows of tea, inhabited by a flock of chickens. She set up a table and two chairs, and brought out three sacks of tea leaves, inviting us to smell each one. She then produced three cups and a carafe of hot water, putting some leaves into each cup, filling them with water, telling us simply; “ee”, “er”, and “san” – 1, 2, 3. We then tasted and retasted all three, gazing at the hills from which they came. It turned out that for a change, we preferred the cheaper of the three, and bought some to take home. We then left and walked back through town, stopping at a restaurant for lunch, which happened to be playing such hits as Careless Whisper, Hotel California, and The Sound of Silence.

We took the Y3 back to the hostel and rested a while before renting a couple of bikes to ride around West Lake. As we turned onto the Su causeway, we stopped, locked our bikes together, and hired a small paddle boat to take us around the lake. It was a relaxing break from the throng of pedestrians, and we enjoyed the cool breeze. We passed other small and larger boats, the passengers of some waving at the ‘bai ren’, something we were still getting used to. To the east, Downtown Hangzhou with its skyscrapers looked like a ghost city in the afternoon haze.

Once back at shore, we left our bikes tethered to each other and sat beside the causeway path and were watched ourselves as much as we people watched others. One young man even approached us and asked if he could have a picture with us. After a little while, we joined the flow of walkers, and enjoyed the beauty of West Lake as it is meant to be. We watched thousands of dragon flies looking like helicopters flying in formation, and we lost ourselves in the maze of a peony garden.

Finally the sun was setting and it was time we were on our way. We returned the bikes to the hostel, and as we stood on Nanjing Lu waiting for a cab, we were approached by a gentleman on a three-wheeled scooter who offered to give us a ride to the train station. It was the most terrific ride through traffic. We arrived much faster than we ever would have in a cab. Red lights were run with abandon, and we negotiated cars and pedestrians within an inch of clearance. It was well worth paying double the cost of a taxi for the sheer reckless joy of being such an exposed part of the crazy Chinese traffic mentality where lights and lanes are merely suggestions.

Now we are on the fast train to Shanghai, starting our long trip home, as we leave on our return flight tomorrow at noon. It has been an amazing vacation, despite the fact that we completely missed our intended goal of seeing the eclipse of the century. Many lessons were learned, many people were met, and we saw the barest glimpse of this huge country, steeped in history, yet changing at a breakneck pace. We look forward to returning in a few years and exploring more of this complex and beautiful land.

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China – Day 5 & 6

Posted by Ted on Jul 24, 2009 in Travel

The lesson of the last couple of days is don’t brush your teeth with tap water when travelling.

On Thursday, we woke, had breakfast, and walked through Puji Temple, the main temple on Putuoshan, behind our hotel. It was beautiful and crowded, and featured a huge gold Buddha, gleaming in the darkness. We then walked the grounds of the Botanical Gardens, killing time until 9a when we could use the business center at the Xelei hotel to review and digitally sign the offer letter on a house back home.

Afterwards, we took a bus up to the northern part of the island, to the cablecar that goes up Mount Putuo. It afforded a stunning view of other islands in the archipelago, as well as an even bigger temple complex than any we’d yet seen under construction. At the top, we enjoyed the cooler temperature and different smells. We walked down a few paths, one ending at a scenic overlook with a small gazebo, complete with two sleepers, escaping the morning sun. Then we took the long way down the south side of the mountain, via a beautiful stone stairway, through a forest of trees, occasionally opening up into vistas across the island and towards Guanyin in the distance. We passed a number of devout Buddhists on their ascent, stopping every few feet to bow in supplication, touching their foreheads to the cool stone steps every time. We stopped at the bottom for lunch, having the best dry sauteed string beans.

Afterwards, we took a bus to Puji Temple and began our long trip back to Hangzhou, via boat, bus, train, and taxi. We arrived back at the West Lake Youth Hostel around 11, feeling like we’d come back home. It’s a lovely hostel, traditional in architecture, set in the woods south of the lake, and staffed by friendly kids and an exuberant puppy.

Yesterday morning is when the painful lesson was learned, as I woke up to the classic travelers’ sickness. Thankfully, with the help of some Cipro, the worst was over in a few hours.

Taking the rest of the day relatively easy, we went to the Seal Engravers Society, and Liz picked out a chop to be made for her. While we waited, we had some tea at the nearby Sunrise Pavilion, overlooking the lake and the green hills beyond, sprinkled with classic Chinese architecture. With chop in hand, we then headed to the Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine, where Liz got to see pictures of some of the major contributors to the art over thousands of years.

Conveniently, we were also near Qinghefang, a pedestrian street filled with medicine and curio shops, and a small alley of food vendors where we picked up some pineapple fried rice, and had a lovely conversation with a Chinese woman from Belgium, traveling with her mother and aunt. Afterwards, we continued our walk, but soon became weary of seeing the same stuff for sale, and caught a cab back to our hostel.

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