Travel China with the Yangxifu: Yuelu Academy and Yuelu Mountain, Changsha

The grounds of Yuelu Academy in Changsha, Hunan
Yuelu Academy -- built at the foot of Yuelu Mountain -- is a refreshing, and even inspiring, retreat for any China traveler.

When I think of Yuelu Academy — one of China’s oldest academic institutions — I think of peace, and the peaceful moment my Chinese husband, John, and I had there one afternoon. We strolled in and out of galleries and open-air courtyards, until we came upon a tiny courtyard nestled in a corner with a 100-year old Chinese privet. The privet rained its fragrance — from the tiny, yellow star-shaped flowers — all over the courtyard, filling the air with a rare sweetness on a sultry summer afternoon. I breathed it all in, feeling a sense of renewal, as if this was the very scent of inspiration.

Inspiration seems central to Yuelu Academy. Like all of China’s academies of classical learning (institutions where scholars could teach and study the Chinese classics), the planners for Yuelu chose a remote, picturesque setting for the academy, establishing its network of Chinese-style courtyards and open classrooms on the Eastern side of Yuelu Mountain beginning in 976. Such a place offered a quiet, meditative environment conducive to the study of Confucian classics.

Today’s Yuelu Academy is tucked within a neighborhood surrounding the modern university that has continued its legacy — Hunan University. While the remoteness seems a memory, the picturesque quiet still remains, like the venerable trees blanketing the school grounds. Continue reading “Travel China with the Yangxifu: Yuelu Academy and Yuelu Mountain, Changsha”

Travel China with the Yangxifu: The Henan Museum, Zhengzhou, China

The Henan Museum
The Henan Museum offers extraordinary stories and relics, in one of China’s most overlooked cities — Zhengzhou. (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

“The museum is under construction, so there are only two rooms open,” the woman behind the information desk told us in a droll voice in Mandarin. She probably had to say this same thing hundreds of times a day, every day.

But while this was just another day for her, this was the only day for John, my Chinese husband, and I to visit the the Henan Museum in Zhengzhou, Henan Province.

We just shrugged our shoulders in disappointment, and walked to the room to our right. It was painted in a forgettable beige — nearly the same color as the loess of the loess plains, where Zhengzhou is located — and seemed to hold, on first glance, an equally forgettable collection of artifacts that couldn’t match what we’d seen in Beijing, Shanghai and Changsha.

Yet, forgettable is hardly how we would describe our visit. That’s because the Henan Museum, opened to the public in 1998, is one of the few museums in China where you don’t feel as if you’ve seen this bronze or that porcelain 100 times before. Invest a little time, be curious, and you will be rewarded with extraordinary stories and unusual relics. Continue reading “Travel China with the Yangxifu: The Henan Museum, Zhengzhou, China”

Travel China with the Yangxifu: the Kaifeng Night Market

Travel China with the Yangxifu takes you to the Kaifeng Night Market. Here, I’m trying fried bean-starch, or chao liangpi.

Foreign women are not available at the Kaifeng Night Market — even if there’s a demand.

“Wow, you have a foreign girl — you’re really sharp!” The almond tea vendors, wearing white coats and kufi — the traditional Muslim caps for men — reveled in the fact that my Chinese husband, John, had a foreign wife. But their revelry was more than just a casual curiosity.

“I’d like a foreign wife,” one of the vendors declared in a rough Henan accent. “How do you get one?”

You don’t get one at the Kaifeng Night Market.

But you will find so much more, from fantastic xiaochi (小吃), which means

snacks), to quirky people (including the aforementioned foreign-babe obsessed vendors) and a uniquely boisterous atmosphere. The Kaifeng Night Market is a living relic, a reminder of the forte volume and flavorful delicacies of night markets that once blanketed the country, but are now disappearing because of city beautification or cleanup projects. (Interestingly, my friend Frank G, who works as a judge in Kaifeng, said that the city cannot shut the market down, because they’re afraid the sellers would protest.) But, most of all, it is relaxing, fun and leaves you with none of the touristy aftertaste associated with China’s major attractions.

Continue reading “Travel China with the Yangxifu: the Kaifeng Night Market”