Way back in the day (over Thanksgiving), Chuck and I re-attempted our trip to China… and actually made it this time! We spent 4 days in Beijing, which were unexpectedly cold. We packed for 40-degree weather, as forecast, and it ended up falling below freezing… but we shivered through it and learned a lot about a place that has captured the West’s imagination for centuries, in all kinds of different ways.
So what was it like, to visit a country that rivals the U.S. as a world superpower and hosts one of the 7 Wonders of the World? Well, to be completely honest, we didn’t love it. The Great Wall was amazing, and the Forbidden City was pretty cool, but Beijing itself left a bit to be desired. You know how iconic cities all over the world have their own cultures that draw you in and show you a good time, regardless of how well you know the history, or how much you care about the monuments? Well, Beijing is not one of them. At least not for me. This was one of those places where the sites were cool, but the culture left you feeling… not great. Needless to say, this is not a place I would consider visiting twice. Continue reading
Not everything about this past weekend was depressing. During the “up” times, Chuck and I ventured out twice to explore some local Okinawan attractions. The first was Fukushuen Gardens in Naha, which is actually a Chinese-style garden established to honor the relationship between China and the Ryukyu Islands (of which Okinawa is a part.) The relationship goes back over 600 years, and as I have noted in previous posts, there is quite a bit of Chinese influence here. The gardens were lovely and expansive, even if the water was rather sickly green. I particularly enjoyed the large waterfall, the numerous turtles and fish, and the gazebo-like structures scattered about for relaxation and shade. Of course, there could always be more flowers! I told Chuck that when we are older and richer we can have a garden like that… so long as we get a professional landscaper to do all the work, since I have a brown thumb! 🙂
The second trip took us to nearby Katsuren Castle, which is only 25 minutes from where we live. In fact, we could see our Tower from the top of the Castle! Now, when I say castle, I actually mean ruins. There isn’t much to the place, but it makes for a fun excursion nonetheless. It dates back to the 15th-century, when a lord named Amawari reveled in its golden era. It is perched on a magnificent hill with a simply stunning view of the ocean and the village below.
Side note: it’s really interesting to see how the Japanese manage their tourist attractions. There were quite a few occasions where I thought to myself, “This would NEVER fly in the U.S.!” Case in point, the fact that there is no railing on the top of the castle (note the lower left corner photo of me standing on the ledge in the above collage.) There were a number of high-risk areas in the Fukushuen Gardens, as well – gaps in walkways over water, slippery stones, etc. Not that I mind. I actually really like that there is no added hindrance to the beauty of the sites. But in my American mind, I could only think of the lawsuits that could come out of places like these. The accidents! The children! Oy vey.
Anyway, here are some more shots of Katsuren Castle and its surroundings. I kinda want to go back for a romantic late-night picnic someday. It was completely unsupervised 😉
One of the first things I noticed while driving around the island was the omnipresence of the rather creepy looking “lion-dog”, or Shisa. Nearly every business, household, and restaurant has two of each – one on either side of its entrance or rooftop. One, with its mouth open in a vicious snarl, is the male shisa (despite the obnoxious assumptions made by certain males in my company), and the other is the female shisa (with its mouth firmly shut, thank you.) As it turns out, these shisas are protectors based in Okinawan and Chinese mythology, intended to shun evil spirits. The open-mouthed shisa wards off the evil, while the close-mouthed shisa keeps good spirits in (although, according to Wikipedia, these gender roles can be “variously assigned.) I am not superstitious, but in the spirit of cultural immersion, I will definitely have to get a petite pair of these guys for my new home! Besides, who doesn’t want good spirits?
The other item I’m seeing everywhere I go – though less frequently than the shisa dogs – is the Maneki-neko, or “the beckoning cat.” Usually made of ceramic, these cats are meant to bring luck to the owner. White cats bring general good luck all ’round, black cats bring good health, and gold cats bring financial fortune. There are a series of beautiful (sometimes heartbreaking) Japanese folktales tying the cat to good luck, which – as a crazy cat lady myself – pleases me to no end. In addition to my shisa dogs, I plan on getting a few of these feline talismans in smaller form, since I find the large ones a bit tacky and overwhelming for my taste. Maybe one in each color!
PLEASE don’t buy fur! Ever! This video (click title link) has very disturbing and graphic material, but I think it’s important that people know what is happening, and what many of us support without even realizing it.
I tend to have faith in humanity overall, but this kind of stuff seriously makes me wonder sometimes. I will never understand.
Shocking Look Inside Chinese Fur Farm
Hot tea-cup with white nectarine slices #snacktime
(Taken with Instagram)
… so I am researching Ukraine. Random? Maybe. It’s about that time for Chuck and I to start the early stages of plotting our escape from Coastal Carolina, and (among other things) we are looking at international/language billets.
Of the options provided, Chuck ranked 1) Russian (Ukraine), 2) Thai, and 3) Chinese. I probably would have swapped the third for Peru or something, to avoid two Southeast Asian options and mix it up a bit, but whatever. I wanted something French, but Senegal wasn’t really what I had in mind…
I don’t think odds are ever heavily in our favor to get what we want or plan for, but it gives me something to occupy my obsessive brain with these days – I just don’t want to jinx it! If we get a billet like that, I plan to learn the language with Chuck so that I can get everything possible out of the experience. I figure if we are doing the military thing, I am down for something a little crazy – even if it continues to hold me back professionally a little longer. I would love to live abroad for a bit!
Although who knows – I could find something really cool/random to do in Ukraine. There are still wayyy too many unknowns at this point to truly plan anything (even our anniversary trip – Chuck’s deployment details literally change daily, argh), but I’m learning lots. Did you know the Ukraine military is the second largest in all of Europe after Russia??! I sure didn’t!!