Finding what's ancient in a modern nation
(more about my travels in China)

Big Wild Goose Pagoda, Xi'an, Shaanxi

Back in January, 2007, I took a flyer at a high-paying job with one of the most mismanaged companies conceivable. (I didn't know that when I signed up, though!)

The job lasted a month. Aside from a magnificent salary, I managed to get one trip out of it. On four consecutive nights, I slept in Wuhan, Xi'an, Chongqing, and Chengdu. Despite the whirlwind nature of the trip, I did manage to get in a little sightseeing, especially in Xi'an.

Here is one of the most famous sights in Xi'an, the Da Yan Ta or "Big Wild Goose Pagoda." It was first built in 652, when Xi'an (then called Chang'an) was the capital of Tang-Dynasty China. (What we see today is a Ming restoration of the tower that was built in 704.)

One of China's most famous monks was Xuanzang. In 629 he set out on a seventeen-year journey to India, where he learned Sanskrit and collected sutras and other artifacts. (The novel Journey to the West is a fictionalized version of that adventure.)

After returning to China in 645, many of the relics and other objects he brought were placed in the newly-built Big Wild Goose Pagoda.

The first time I saw the pagoda was at night, when my generous friend and colleague Brandon Plazier took me to a nearby Indian restaurant. It was a full moon, and I had my tripod. I still say "wow" when I see this.

The next day I returned; this is Xuanzang standing in front of the pagoda.

The pagoda now stands on the grounds of a temple; I didn't have time to enter, but had a nice walk around the outside.

Here's a shot of the pagoda's side, over the temple wall. It's even more imposing in person.

Yuansheng Temple, Yangzhou

Yuansheng Temple was built in 1930 (according to a plaque on the site) "to release the soul of the late salt merchant Xiao Yunpu from purgatory."

There had previously been a guildhall on the site (if I understand the Chinglish of the plaque correctly). A hall on the north side (pictured below) still has three rooms made of "Nanmu wood" that date back to the Ming dynasty.

It was, the plaque says, "the biggest temple built in Yangzhou during the period of the Republic of China."

My, how the mighty have fallen.

The first sight to greet the visitor is the laundry hanging in front of the "main gate." Scooters are parked everywhere willy-nilly, and some indolent fellows are playing cards under the umbrella on the right.

Entering the gate, one encounters the "courtyard." More laundry (the red bra is an especially nice touch) and squatters' shanties fill the space. The "main hall" (straight ahead) is occupied and not accessible to visitors.

This is the front of the "Ming Dynasty" building. It was in fact the only hint that this place might have been something at one time.

This corridor is hanging feebly onto the other (south) side of the "main hall." I was afraid to mount the steps on the chance that they might not hold me.

Visited on a ramble through the hutong (alleyways) in July of 2007.

Under a Spreading Chestnut Tree...

Know what this is?

In an alley just around the corner from my building in Gangxia, Shenzhen, I saw this setup. It's a shop (of sorts). Can you guess what it is?

  • Clue #1: The blackened wall on the left indicates fire.
  • Clue #2: That's an old bathtub on the right.
  • Clue #3 (this should do it): The hat is covering a chunk of wood with a piece of iron on top.

Forge - bath - anvil.

It's a blacksmith's shop.

Crude but effective. I never saw the smithy at work, but every time I passed there weresigns that he had been there.

By the way, the title of this piece comes from an old poem, called "The VillageBlacksmith," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The title is apropos, no?

The Stone Pagoda Temple, Yangzhou

This beautiful little carved stone pagoda stands in a traffic island near the central intersection of Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province.

According to the plaque nearby, it was part of Mulan Temple. ("Mulan" is a kind of magnolia; it's the same characters as the legendary girl hero that the Disney film Mulan was based on.)

The pagoda was built in the year 838, in the Tang Dynasty, to hold Buddhist relics.(That's the purpose of most pagodas.)

It has five stories and six sides, with (once upon a time) a total of 24 finely carved Buddhas. It was repaired in 1964.

The pagoda is all that remains of Mulan Temple. For this reason, it is generally refered to as "Shi Ta Si": Stone Pagoda Temple.