The Hanging Monastery: History, Tolerance and Engineering

The Hanging Monastery: History, Tolerance and Engineering

The Hanging Monastery is an interesting combination of history, religious tolerance and engineering. The monastery was conceived over 1500 years ago, in 491 AD during the Northern Wei dynasty. Supposedly, one man named Liao Ran (了然) built the first iteration of the building, a pretty tall order indeed. As with most historical buildings in China, the Monastery went through a series of renovations and maintenance during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Religious tolerance: One of the more interesting aspects of the temple is that it is home to not one, but three different religions: Buddhism, Taoism and Confuianism. Throughout the complex, you can find some 78 religious sculptures. Sanjiao Hall houses the most impressive sculptures, including a trifecta of statues from all three religions. Why three religions? There are a couple of conflicting stories on why all three religions are represented at the monastery. My taxi driver, who was formerly a history teacher, told me that foreign invaders once conquered the northern area of China and in order to bring about unity among the people, their leader ordered the temple be converted into a religious conclave for all three religions. Another story goes that due to its remote location, travelers often used the monastery as a stopover on their journeys elsewhere. Back in the day, people were weary of staying at a place home to a different religion. Thus it was a practical matter and not one of unity at all. Whatever the case, in this day and age, rampant with prejudices, it’s a prime example of how things ought to be. How did they do that? The real draw to...
Five things you may not have known about the Terracotta warriors (Travel Landmark of the Week)

Five things you may not have known about the Terracotta warriors (Travel Landmark of the Week)

Most people know the basics around the Terracotta warriors: They were replicas of an actual army buried with an emperor and that no two of their faces are the same. But did you know the following? Blacksmiths used Chrome plating technology Some of the weapons found inside the tomb are extremely well-preserved. After testing several of the weapons, scientists concluded that the surface contained a layer of Chromium, about 10 to 15 microns thick. The chromium helped preserve the luster and sharpness of the blade for 2,000 years. Chrome plating was recently invented in the 20th century, however ancient China had developed a similar technique almost 2,000 years ago! The boots reveal the status of the man You know what they say, it’s the shoes that make a man. And in this case, it’s really true. Depending on the angle of a statue’s boot tip, you can tell whether he was lower, middle or upper class. The lower class infantry, for example, have a flat toe, no upward angle what so ever. Archers and middle level officers on the other hand have a slight upward angle at the end of their footwear, whereas generals (pictured below) have a very pronounced, upward curved boot tip, almost like a ski jump. A farmer found the first soldier On March 29th, 1974, local farmer Yang Zhifa along with 5 other farmers from Xi Yang village discovered some pottery fragments of bronze weapons as they were drilling a series of wells in search of water. This lead to the excavation and subsequent discovery of the terracotta warrior army. Due to the incredible scope and value of the find,...
The Yungang Grottoes will take you back in time (Travel Landmark of the Week IV)

The Yungang Grottoes will take you back in time (Travel Landmark of the Week IV)

Datong is a coal mining town – smokey, hardworking and practical. In stark contrast to the city’s rough and dirty exterior, quietly sits the Yungang grottoes. In case you need a reminder though of what pays the bills around these parts, a coal refinery sits squatly on the exterior of the cave complex, billowing out its modern-day smoke made from ancient animals. When you arrive at the cave complex, notice how everything either glistens like new, or is beautifully dull due to its old age. Let your self drift. Once you make it past a weird metal tree, pillars of elephants and a renovated temple, put the modern world behind you and allow yourself to be transported back to 460 AD.  51,000 statues were painstakingly carved here during the 5th and 6th century. Some are the size of matchbox cars. Others the size of Semi-trucks.  And some look like ET. Time has taken its toll, but for being over 1500 years old, these guys are in pretty good shape. Well, this guy definitely is past his prime. And some are so cool, that they won’t even let you photograph them. Make sure to check out cave number 5, which holds the largest Buddha in the complex at 17 meters, and 6, which is known as the Indiana Jones cave due to its plethora of Buddhist Angels. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed, but here is a picture of the wooden structure built around them to give you a sense of the scale. Practicals: How to get there: Take bus 4 to the end of the line and then cross the road...
Travel Landmark of the Week: Lama Temple

Travel Landmark of the Week: Lama Temple

What is it: Back in the day (1694), court eunuchs resided in the original complex of the Lama Temple and served the emperor of the Forbidden city. Interestingly, other than not having, ahem, some of the anatomy of fellow-men, eunuchs didn’t have it all that bad. Think of the most privileged of the bunch as Varys from Game of Thrones. They ran the daily operations of the imperial court, in various capacities, from 220 BC to the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911. They also vied for power with military officials and other politicians. Some even chose the profession to escape the clutches of poverty. A “small” price to pay for the possibility of wealth and power. Eventually, Prince Yongzheng heir to the imperial throne, took up residence here. After his accession in 1722, half of the temple was turned into a lamasery and the entire complex was converted in 1744. Of particular note in the temples are the three statues of the Buddhas of the Three Ages (pictured above) and a 26m tall White Sandalwood statue of the Maitreya Buddha. How to pray: Today, tourists and faithful alike visit the temple. Upon entering the complex, the smell of incense may already be noticeable. If you want to have your prayers heard, there is a very specific way of doing it. The number three plays in important role in the ritual. Basically, you have to light three incense sticks and bow three times in all four directions, but that is a definite oversimplification. An extensive article on the subject can be found here. But ladies, be forewarned, there are certain “times” of the month when your prayers will not be heard. The following excerpt was taken from Theworldofchinese.com (the source of the link above). Menstruation: For some reason, praying while having your...
Travel Landmark of the Week: The Forbidden City

Travel Landmark of the Week: The Forbidden City

What is it: This residential palace of past emperors, where entering the grounds without an invitation used to cost you your life, sits squarely between Tian’anmen Square on the south side and Jingshan park to its north. Most tourists (and there are a ton of them), concentrate their efforts on the main drag of the complex, hitting the three main Great Halls: Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Middle Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony. The Hall of Supreme Harmony, built in the 15th century, is the star attraction and includes a huge, elaborately decorated Dragon Throne. Here is where the emperor held court and made underlings kowtow, a practice of touching the floor with the forehead nine times. Tips to avoid crowd frustration: I hate crowds, so I always try to find the quieter, less trodden parts of attractions. If you want to slip off into a less densely packed area, after passing through Meridian Gate, try heading left to a Caligraphy exhibit, or right to a meticulously curated porcelain exhibit. Make sure to check out: For a small fee, you can hit the Treasure Gallery, which contains the interesting Nine Dragons Screen. Try to find a square panel that looks different from all the rest. Legend has it that one of the workers broke the only porcelain tile made and there was not enough time to make another one. The workers decided to use a wood panel instead, hoping that no one would notice. Time is the great revealer and now the eroded wood is noticeable when compared to the pristine porcelain tiles. For a good Picture: Off...
Landmark of the week: Palácio da Alvorada

Landmark of the week: Palácio da Alvorada

The Brazilian capital was founded in the late 1950s in an attempt to move more Brazilians inland, away from the coast. Architect Oscar Niemeyer was the chief architect of the new city and built many of the cities most iconic buildings. Palácio da Alvorada (Palace of the Dawn), is the presidential residence and was the first building dedicated in Brasilia. The name was supposed to signify a dawning of a new age in Brasilia. Learn more about the iconic building...
Landmark of the Week: Castle of the Counts

Landmark of the Week: Castle of the Counts

Landmark of the Week: Castle of the Counts Castle of the Counts (Gravensteen) in Ghent, Belgium was built in 1180 by Philip of Alsace. If you can stomach it, there is a torture museum inside as well. Cost is 10 Euros which includes a movie guide. More info...