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Historic Melaka

Today we were heading to Melaka. We made our way to the BTS and found out that buses left every 15 minutes to Melaka, how convenient. We booked tickets for 10 am which was essentially right away. The bus station was quite organized with screens letting you know if the bus was delayed and by how much time. Ours was a little late, but still arrived remarkably quick. The bus was so new that it had that chemical 'new' smell that Ryan informed me was all the glues and adhesives giving off fumes. It was quite the contrast from Myanmar who had decades old buses bought second hand from Japan.

Soon we made it to the Melaka Sentral station. We walked around until we found a buffet lunch in the station. There was pumpkin curry, off-tasting yellow greens, and other vegetables. Ryan enjoyed his fried chicken. When we caught a cab, the driver knew exactly where to go to our homestay which was nice.

The homestay was a sweet older home with a yard that would have been a great rest area with shaded benches and lots of plants. Our room had an old wardrobe and desk plus plenty of space. This definitely felt like a real homestay even with shared washrooms past the kitchen, though it was run like a hostel.

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The staff helped us figure out a path to see the historic area. We walked past the big hotel and near a mall before we entered the historic area. An old Portuguese fort, Kota A Famosa had stood the test of time. Only a small part of the fort remained, The Porta de Santiago, a small gate house, and a man played covers of Western rock music on his guitar inside. The fort was built by the Portuguese in 1512 after they defeated the Sultanate. Albuquerque, the man in charge, picked the site on a hill on the sea as he believed Melaka would make an ideal trading location, which it did. The fort was built with forced labour with remains of destroyed mosques, palaces and royal mausoleums.

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The fort grew larger before it was handed over to the Dutch upon Portuguese defeat in 1641. The words ANNO 1670 were carved into the arch along with a bas-relief of the Dutch East India Company logo. The fort was turned over to the British who didn't want to maintain it and feared it could be used against them when the Dutch took the fort back. They ordered its destruction in 1806. Most of it was destroyed until Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, arrived and saved the gate house. He didn't want to see history destroyed.

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We climbed a bit more to St. Paul's Church which had been built by the Portuguese in the early 1500s as a Catholic church named Nosa Senhora. It was built on the site of a palace destroyed in their bombardments using the ruins as building material. It was too bad so much of the Malay history was destroyed. The Portuguese added a watchtower a few decades later. The Dutch converted the church into a Protestant one named St. Paul's and used it until the late 1700s when they built another. Then St. Paul's became a fortress. When the British came, they used it as an ammunition depot so the area was ever changing. Inside there were tall white walls with open windows. Many large gravestones stood inside the walls with histories inscribed on them. It seemed more interesting our simple birth and death dates, but these were also for the more important foreign citizens.

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We walked down to the Dutch graveyard, which also held British graves. It was fairly small.

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From there, we unknowingly sneaked into the Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum. It was a replica built in the 1980s in the style of the era of Sultan Mansur Syah, who ruled from 1456 to 1477. It was a wooden building with several small roof sections.

Along with a large collection of weapons, models of traditional homes and clothing, there were interesting stories. One man working for the Sultan was headstrong and demanded to be married to the Sultan's wife. Since relations were unstable, the Sultan divorced his wife to allow them to be together. In another story, a friend had accused another of a crime. Without much investigation, the man was sentenced to death. The employee responsible for carrying out the sentence didn't think the conviction was fair and sent the convicted man away. The Sultan came to regret the death sentence he had bestowed and the employee then declared he hadn't killed the man. The convicted man was brought back and asked to kill the man who had wrongly accused him for petty reasons.

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We explored the grounds of the historic area, which included a plane and a boat replica. The airplane was a Twin Pioneer CC MK 1, manufactured by Scottish aviation from the mid 1950s to late 1960s.

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There were more museums than we could visit so we quickly looked through the architectural one, not absorbing much. Our headaches kept us from reading too much.

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We passed a red building featuring galleries along with the clock tower and a Victorian fountain. The Tang Beng Swee Clock Tower was built in 1886. There was a windmill and a Hard Rock Cafe across the street too.

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We visited a couple more churches. The Christ Church had been built by the Dutch betwen 1741 and 1753 to replace a shattered Portuguese church. Bricks were shipped from Zeeland in the Netherlands and the building was a reddish colour. It is the oldest Protestant church in Malaysia. There was also St. Francis Xavier church with white towers.

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We had a late lunch/early supper at an Indian restaurant with cheap egg and masala rotis. We shared the thosai masala after and had a couple fruit shakes to beat the heat. It was delightful and we were the only ones in the restaurant. We did a really quick walk through Little India before heading back down the alleyways to Apa Kaba our homestay. We were too tired to do much after that so we called it an early night.

Posted by Sarah.M 19:13 Archived in Malaysia Tagged palace malaysia museum a british kota dutch colony melaka portuguese sultanate famosa Comments (0)

Mosques, museums and towers

We walked toward the National Mosque and the Islamic Arts and Culture Museum. The museum, which we didn't know much about before visiting, had an impressive collection of intricate dioramas of mosques from around the world, including the Middle East, India, Malaysia and China. The architecture gallery was likely my favourite. The beauty of the mosques had me wishing I could visit many of the countries some day, once many conflicts were resolved. Mosque architecture was designed to display humility and simplicity.

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According the museum description, the towers were built so that one could call to prayer and be heard. Most had domes that we now associate with mosques, designed for ideal acoustics, and others had courtyards. The first mosque built as an annex to his house by the Prophet in Medina was a model for mosques to follow. Mosques featured a sheltered portico courtyard used for congregational prayer, a minbar: raised steps where the khatib addressed the congregation, a minaret from which the mu'azin called for prayer, a qibla a wall accented by a Mihrab or niche which faces the Kaaba in Mecca and finally the dome to provide shelter and encourage spiritual unity. Later on the Dikka, a platform raised on columns, Kursi, a raised chair with a book fold for the Quran and the Maidha'h, the water source for the traditional ablution before prayer.

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Along with the architecture was the Ottoman Room, a reconstructed interior of an Ottoman Syrian room dated 1820 - 1821 AD that was impressive as well. It had beautiful painted wood paneling and few windows.

http://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/entertainment/arts/frame-up/2014/10/05/islamic-arts-museum-malaysia-sacred-and-splendid/

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The museum itself was beautiful with spectacular domes ceilings. The tiles inside were from Iran while the outer stucco was from Uzbekistan.

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The museum also had a collection of beautifully scribed and illustrated Qurans and manuscripts. Authors and illustrators went to school for years to qualify to be part of the process. Calligraphy was highly respected in society and leaders also liked to show off their prowess. There were fragments of the Quran that dated date back to the 8th century from either North Africa or the Middle East. The museum collection featured Qurans from different centuries and different countries. Those from India, Persia and the Ottoman empires were far more embellished than those from the Middle East.

http://www.iamm.org.my/galleries/quran-manuscript/

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There were also collections of Islamic articles and items from the three main cultural groups in Malaysia: Chinese, Indian and Malay. Islam was prevalent in Northern India. Many Indian items were from the Mughal era (1526-1828) when many items were embellished and there was much attention to beauty and extravagance.

In China, Muslim emissaries arrived during the Tang (618-709) dynasty, but the exact date Islam arrived is unknown. It is thought to have come either through the trade route from Southeast Asia or across the Silk Road trading route.. Trade cities like Xi-an and Guangdong welcomed Islam and it later spread to China's western provinces. By the Song dynasty (960-1279), mosques were built throughout China. Muslims had unprecedented political influence during the Ming era (1368-1644). They also produced a number of goods with calligraphy and Islamic text for export. Items like ceramic pen boxes, alien to the Chinese market, were created for export too. There were even ceramic hookahs. Today there are ten ethnic Chinese Muslim minorities, most of who live in the Northwest. Hui Muslims are spread throughout the country.

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The Malay World, encompassing much of Southeast Asia from Southern Thailand to Indonesia and stretching east as far as the Southern Philippines, were influenced by nature. Plant, cloud and fruit often showed up in the work either concretely or abstractly. Qurans were also made in the Malay world. People were well known for their woodworking and metalworking skills, beautifying Quaran boxes, prayer screens, and weapons (which even included ladies daggers).

http://www.iamm.org.my/galleries/china/ http://www.iamm.org.my/galleries/malay-world/

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We had hardly explored the second floor which featured ceramics, jewelry, weapons and textiles among other displays, when the lights turned off to let us know that the museum was closing. We still got to marvel at the impressive paintings inside the dome ceilings and see a nice fountain. An interesting aspect of the museum was seeing how far and long Chinese influence as a trader, distributor and producer has spread. Some of the mosques included lotus flowers to show China's influence in the ceramics.

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Even though we hadn't had enough time to finish the Islamic Arts museum, we thought let's cram in one more visit to the National Mosque. When I was in Malaysia in 2012, Justine and I went to visit it together and it was time to return. There were still thirty minutes left before tourists would be kicked out so it could be used for its intended purpose of prayer. We had to put on purple robes so we'd be able to explore. I believe Ryan's shorts were the reason he had to wear one as well. I also got to wear an orange hijab. After going up the stairs, the open halls had wonderful view of the city including its famous KL tower.

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The mosque was built in 1965 to celebrate the country's recent independence. It was quite large and could hold up to 15,000 people. There was a turquoise star dome with eighteen points representing the thirteen states of Malaysia and the five pillars of Islam. A 74 metre minaret that broadcast the call to prayer as far as Chinatown. That was one of the first aspects that had struck me about being in a Muslim country, hearing the call the prayer several times a day.

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We ventured over the prayer room, which wasn't open to non-Muslims to enter, but the doors were open wide enough that you could still look in from afar. Volunteers from Islamic Outreach stood outside to chat with us and answer any questions that we had about Islam. It was always refreshing to see someone with so much passion and confidence in their beliefs. He walked us through the five daily prayers facing Mecca (in Saudi Arabia), the cleansing ritual of ablution before prayer, how woman are respected and valued in Islam and how extremists do not represent their faith. They valued human rights and equality. I still have a bit of struggle with the fact that woman should not promote or distract others with their sexuality while men were not subject to equal treatment, but I appreciated hearing his honest views. I'd imagine it would be hard to see your religion blamed and bashed in the news constantly. It would also be hard to see how the same book that supports your beliefs is also blamed for extremist actions like the recent burning of the Jordanian pilot.

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For supper, we found an Indian restaurant with vegetarian food near KL Sentral. I ordered butter vegetable masala curry and a samosa. Ryan went for a potato dosa and roti. We swapped a few pieces of our monster meals. It was really good, though the curry was on the spicier side.

After that, we took the rapid KL line and monorail to get near the KL tower. No matter the hour, the streets of KL were quite lively. The telecommunications tower stood at 421 metres with an antenna, 335 metres if you were measuring to the top of the observation deck. At the tower, we waited for the shuttle to the base until time convinced us that it would be faster to walk to the entrance.

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At the ticket office they tried to talk us into the upper deck, which cost twice the price, but we were fine looking out through the glass of the lower level. The elevator ride up was fairly quick. Kuala Lumpur was lit up brightly at night. From the top, we could see the Petronas Towers, though the view wasn't as perfect as we'd anticipated. We checked out what was happening on ground level and at the towers with the binoculars. In the end, it probably wasn't worth the cash to go up there, but we could say that we'd done it. Watching videos of people base jumping from the tower was pretty cool.

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We walked over to the Petronas Towers afterward, passing plenty of bars and restaurants. The towers were busy as usual with every group or couple waiting to get their pictures. We got ours quickly, admired the bright silvery towers and did some people watching, always fun when pictures were involved. The towers stood at 452 meters high, taller than KL tower and certainly more beautiful. There was a sky bridge between the 41st and 42nd floors that connected the two towers and tourists could visit an observation deck at the top for quite a price, if the tickets weren't sold out, which was why we'd chosen KL Tower. Plus I imagined looking at the exterior was more interesting. The towers' floor plan was designed keeping the Islamic eight point star in mind and the five sections of each tower represented the five pillars of Islam.

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After a walk back to the hostel, we discovered half of our clothes had gone missing, mainly Ryan's half. Perhaps doing laundry here wouldn't be as much of a bargain as we thought.

Posted by Sarah.M 06:55 Archived in Malaysia Tagged mosque tower history india kuala malaysia china museum towers national arts lumpur petronas kl islamic Comments (0)

Art and Airplanes in Beijing

sunny -4 °C

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On Saturday, we headed to the National Art Museum. It met my friend's two specifications: indoors and not far from the apartment. We only had to walk ten minutes and it was free to boot if you brought your passport/local ID card. The museum turned out to be quite busy. It featured modern art, sometimes using bold, bright colours, abstract style or portraits of local people. There was a neat red chair sculpture with wooden antlers that my friend wanted for her apartment.

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The next sections featured jade carvings from Chen Lizhong. Some were large pieces and extremely detailed. Others were tiny with the same amount of detail, so small we had no idea how they managed it. Maybe with trained mice. Birds with various beak lengths and lotus leaves on the brink of death were the themes of one artist's collection.

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http://www.namoc.org/en/exhibitions/201410/t20141030_283264.htm

Next, we went upstairs to check out a photography exhibit which featured photographers from all over the world, but a fair chunk from the US. They were part of the Straight Photography movement from 1839-2014. The exhibit featured photographers like Ansel Adams, Kim Weston and many others from similar photography groups. Many had collaborated in the past. Some shots had double exposures to juxtapose different images and others employed Photoshop-like techniques that had inspired the software. The macro flower photography was one of my favourites.

http://www.namoc.org/en/exhibitions/201410/t20141030_283259.htm

On the top floor, a Mexican artist, Diego Rivera, was featured along with his many paintings with a theme of rebuilding the country. It also featured his portraits and large murals. Since it was the weekend, many children were there taking art classes as they sketched away the scenes in Rivera's murals, typically the non-nude ones.

http://www.namoc.org/en/exhibitions/201410/t20141011_283047.htm

We went back down to the first floor to see the exhibits we missed. One Chinese artist, Liu Yunsheng, did portraits of people from Yunnan and Tibet provinces so realistically they looked like photographs. He did very well with expressive eyes and capturing lighting.

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http://www.namoc.org/en/exhibitions/201411/t20141104_283469.htm

For supper, we were pretty starved considering we hardly did breakfast and lunch was a piece of chocolate cake for me, strudel for Ryan and coffee for my friend. The restaurant my friend wanted us to visit didn't open until 5:30 so we found Grandma's Kitchen instead. We sat inside the cozy backpacker joint with a Western themed menu as Christmas music played in the background. The most important part was that it was warm. The food was just alright, but we stayed mainly to enjoy the atmosphere and company.

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Sunday, Ryan and I made our way to the aviation museum bright and early. We rode the subway until the end of line 5 then caught the 643 bus. We even got seats! A couple on the bus chatted with Ryan to help him find our stop and to ask about our trip. They told us we were very brave to get on a bus and not really know where we were going. I wasn't sure if it was bravery, cheapness, the anticipation that there would be friendly, helpful locals to point us in the right direction or a combination of the three that motivated us.

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The walk there was a bit long through a flat open field with harsh winter winds penetrating our fall jackets. Half the exhibits were outdoors. Joy. The first collection had many Soviet designed Chinese MIG fighter jets and other aircraft mostly from the Korean war era. They also had Soviet copies of the American built DC-3's along with a few dozen tail dragger Chinese YAKs and a few rarer tri-gears. It was even possible to sit in the cockpit of a retired MIG or enter the Chairman Mao's personal aircraft, for a fee of course. Surprisingly, you could get as close as you wanted to all of the planes in the outdoor displays.

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After making our way through all of the MIGS outside, we decided to warm up and check out the one of the indoor displays. During the Cold War era, the Chinese had built a large bunker beneath Datangshan mountain to protect their aircraft from enemy bombing raids. Since the airfield was no longer in use, it was turned into part of the museum.

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Inside the very long bunker were aircraft from all over the world and different time periods. Including some aircraft on loan from sharing agreements with other countries. They also had some rotary-wing aircraft including the impressively large Russian Hind-D, a rough looking Chinook and a few old Hueys. They had some World War 2 British trainers and even a DHC-2 Beaver. China's first own designed production aircraft was also on display.

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While viewing a few more MIGS, it was interesting to read descriptions of the Chinese perspective of the Korean war. Their collection featured MIGS that had shot down American-Allied aircraft and were quite proud of their own fighter ace pilots. After seeing most of the aircraft on display, we walked through a few exhibits that were all Chinese with no English translations.

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Entering back into the cold, we made our way to the far end of the outdoor displays and quickly looked at the artillery and old radar/communication sections. Many of the larger aircraft were located at the end as well including a ORBIS flying hospital and an amphibious plane sitting in pond. There was a bomber and some passenger planes as well. With the cold nipping at our cheeks, we decided against touring the larger museum and caught the bus and subway back into Beijing.

My friend had a work supper event so we decided to revisit the hutongs for some Greek food. Again it was pricy but Ryan would have probably given a newborn child for a gyro. His didn't come as expected as the pita was more like a base and the meat built atop like a cheeseless Greek pizza, but he still enjoyed it. My veggie moussaka was tasty but Winnipeg's wide selection of amazing Greek restaurants had spoiled me and made the dish hard to live up to its Canadian counterpart. Ryan's also convinced we needed to visit Greece in our lifetime as he stared at all the photos on the walls.

Posted by Sarah.M 03:49 Archived in China Tagged art china museum national photography mig aviation bomber Comments (0)

Xi'an's Terracotta army and museum

semi-overcast 5 °C

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Early the next morning, after we enjoyed some tasty and cheap egg and veggie buns from a local street vendor, we headed to the bus station looking for a bus bound for the terracotta warrior archaeological site. Using our trusty student cards, we acquired our discounted tickets and found a tour guide. The Terracotta army was built for the first Emperor of China Qin Shi Huang in 210-09 B.C. The Emperor believed the army would protect him in the afterlife.

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We started in the largest of 3 pits which were uncovered by farmers in the 1970s while digging for a well. Entering the large warehouse looking building we were confronted by the terracotta warriors. Rows and rows of meticulously crafted soldiers stood in perfect formation just as they would have been placed thousands of years ago. Most of the warriors had been broken and had been pieced backed together not unlike a puzzle. Each face of the warriors was unique, and carefully carved. Apparently when the faces were being made, if someone had not done a good enough job, their own head would be cut off. This was serious business.

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They had different ranked soldiers, archers, and even horses with wagons made of wood that long since rotted away. At the opposite side of the site, they had a reconstruction area where archaeologists were busy working on piecing together more warriors.

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We next went to the 2nd pit. Pit 2 mostly contained infantry and cavalry statues. While significantly smaller than the first, it featured a small museum featuring some interesting pieces and a chance to get up close to some terracotta warriors.

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Our guide quickly moved us through the 3rd pit, the smallest of the burial chambers. Pit 3 was the command centre and mostly had high ranking officials. At the end of our tour, our guide took us to the gift shop where she would receive some kind of bonus or commission for bring us. Slightly annoyed, we looked around and quickly left. Our guide then took us to a jade shop for a 10 minute briefing on the differences between real and fake jade. Clearly not interested we left and were lead to another identical jade shop for the same briefing. This tour guide certainly wasn’t getting a tip.

Included with our ticket to see the terracotta warriors was also a pass to go see Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum where a emperor was buried. Legend had it that it was rigged with booby traps and a river of mercury flowed through it. Also, all of the engineers who built it were buried along with the emperor taking with them the secrets of the mausoleum. The mausoleum had not been excavated but probes had shown a level of mercury in the soil showing some possible truth to the legend. A short bus ride later we arrived and walked along the mausoleum which was packed earth formed into a hill. We walked around the gardens which weren’t very impressive, probably because it was the beginning of December and everything was dead.

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The next day we went the Xi’an provincial museum. After showing our passports and signing in we were given our free tickets. The museum had exhibits from pre-historic beginnings to modern day Xi’an. And of course, there was no escaping some more pottery, ceramics and bronze vessels. They even had some terracotta warriors on display and dioramas of burial sites located around the Xi’an area.

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After the museum and picking up another tasty pomelo fruit, we got ready and dropped our humongous bags off at the train station. We walked around trying to find some food, eventually settling on some flavourless, flat circular bread form a Muslim food cart. We sat and ate in a creepy dark park area across from the McDonalds and train station. We then bordered our last sleeper train to our final destination in China, Beijing.

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Posted by Sarah.M 20:00 Archived in China Tagged museum army xi'an terracotta provincial Comments (0)

Chengdu Museum

overcast 8 °C

Our first full day in Chengdu, we ventured out to the Sichuan museum. It was much trickier to find with Google maps being blocked by the Chinese government, but luckily, two parking attendants and a random man who spoke English came to our assistance after we started asking for the provincial museum. It was kind of in the direction we thought it would be. It was just a matter of finding our bearings after getting off the subway.

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The museum was a nice collection of pottery, ceramics, bronze painting and a section on Tibet since we were so close yet so far to intriguing locale. The free museums did begin to resemble one another given their content, however, this one differed in some areas. Their pottery exhibit focused more on the death rituals, including the tombs as well as their doors and various tomb stands to encourage wealth, good fortune and immortality in the afterlife. There were depictions of everyday life on different slates. The bronze exhibit had more weapons than the previous ones had.

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A famous Chinese painter was featured, Hou Baochuan, along with his landscape paintings, one of his favourite subjects being Da Liang Mountain. Sometimes the snowy landscapes would remind us of home with their whiteouts. Others really brought out the texture in the painting.

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The Tibetan exhibit had some recreations of temples or sections of them, including the many coloured flags ascending to the summit and the wheels that would be spun for good luck. The clothes looked warm as well, made of mostly animal fur and skin. The Buddism in their culture was slightly different too, based on Bonism.

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With our winter coats, we ventured out to find a historic thatched cottage to visit in the area. Instead, we ended up at a small river and walked through a narrow park where men were fishing with long fishing rods. Then we ended up in a residential area with schools and figured we were quite lost. On the way back we saw the sign for the cottage, go figure. China's signage only existed sometimes, not consistently enough to get people where they needed to go, at least not English speakers.

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We made it to another park, encompassing more than just the river this time, and enjoyed the big pond and beautiful trees. There were some neat statues around and a ton of fish swimming in the ponds. We found the cottage, but it would be closing shortly and we wouldn't get our money's worth for the admission, so we headed back for supper instead. We had dumplings and noodle soup. Ryan enjoyed the dumplings, but I was missing the flavour of our first Sichuan meal packed with heat, good spice and rich flavour.

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  • *Please bear with us, the internet in our current country Myanmar isn't the most stable. We'll try to keep up as we can. Thanks for reading. Cheers**

Posted by Sarah.M 02:00 Archived in China Tagged park museum lost sichuan chengdu Comments (0)

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