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.
“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”
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.
I wrote this piece five years ago, but it still rings true. If you miss the holiday atmosphere in January, after Christmas and New Year’s Eve, then you should be in China.
It was early afternoon, and the little Luwan Food Store in Shanghai was belching out patrons left and right. We felt the squeeze as we waited in line for the sesame seed/walnut powder. I was taken by one man who bought two large containers, and slipped them into a black valise that seemed more fitting for someone in the secret service. The people behind John and I impatiently nudged us forward.
The ladies behind the counter just beyond that — the one for Chinese tonics and herbs, everything from ginseng to swallow saliva — bustled back and forth, handing the remedies over to customers in the smart, glossy red packages. Even the tea department brewed with energy. Several men hunched over a counter displaying an assortment of dried and cured leaves in a spectrum of greens, browns and black.
When John and I returned to Huaihai Road — the “Fifth Avenue” of Shanghai — we plunged into a odd gallery of late-season holiday decorations in the store windows. Tinsel, Christmas trees and images of Santa Claus all contradicted the reality that Christmas was already over. Even department stores broadcasted Christmas carols in the background.
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