Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

We, too, were carving a pumpkin. All I have to do now is using up the pumpkin puree :))

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Beijing - Wanfujing Museum, Ming Wall, Dongtang Church and a Guqin

While C attended the International Cosmic Ray Conference in Beijing, I was free to explore Beijing ... again; I was in Beijing seven years ago. So I was wondering how much Beijing had changed. The first thing that struck me was the enormous amount of traffic. Cars were running (or rather standing in the traffic jams) without end. And mostly Audis and Mercedes cars, not the small Chinese cubes they had a couple of years ago. With the high amount of traffic has come the smog. There are only short times after a rain washed down the smog particles that you actually can see the sun or the stars. It is funny, because they have a temple of heaven but you can't see the heaven under the pall of smog; and they have a temple of earth but you can't see the earth either because it is plastered up with streets for cars. How very sad. Plus I got my cough back which I also had in Delhi. This was the not so good part of Beijing. Luckily there were plenty of nice things :)

So let us look back into the past when there were no sky scrapers and shopping malls. To have a closer look at what was beneath the malls I went to the Wangfujing museum. In 1996 they started building the Oriental Plaza shopping mall and during construction work they found Palaeolithic remains. Part of the original finds' layer has been kept open and is the centre piece of the exhibition; with several showcases full of artefacts surrounding it.

If you think this is just a patch of dirt, you might want to have a closer look. Here you can see a fire place with burnt stones, bones and some charcoal. This already gives you a date, the technology, the diet, the time of occupancy within the year, whether it was a more permanent camp or just a short lived hunter's camp, and, and, and... Fascinating isn't it? All the information from a couple of broken stones and some ash on the dirt :)

You can read more and have a look at some other finds here (English) and here (German).

Since the entry fee is very moderate I decided to spent some more money on a nice tea in the Paris Baguette coffee shop next to the museum, after all it is placed right in the middle of the shopping mall.

Thus invigorated I went to see the Ming city walls, the last remaining pieces of the former city walls. Built in the early 15th century, it was originally about 40 km long. In the Ming-city-wall park there is a 1.5 km long piece of the Ming dynasty wall:

Close by is also the National Post Stamp Museum which features a bronze figure of a post man from earlier times as well as modern one on the opposite side:

From here I took a taxi (since when did they become so expensive? And where were all the young student taxi drivers?) to the Dongtan church or also called Wangfujing Cathedral (王府井天主堂), one of the two only Roman Catholic churches in Beijing. Although Roman churches are supposed to be open for prayer, this one was not but then, the Pope doesn't recognize it as such anyway. As if the church should be picky ... At least I can show you a photo of its exterior, which is from the rebuilt church (the original was destroyed by earth quakes) from 1904 in Romanesque style:

Maybe you are interested in some more photos from my way back to the hotel:
Famous actors (Sammo Hung, 洪金宝) is featured in the magazines

Ming dynasty city ruins called the 'Ruined Walls', a gate construction used during the Ming Dynasty, but given up under Qianlong (18th century) when the Imperial Palace was opened to the public:

Entrance door in a street close to the Imperial Palace:

A first glimpse on the Imperial Palace:

And of the not so beautiful moat.

And some poorer districts opposite the Palace:

By now it was high time to return to the hotel because we had tickets for a performance of Li Xiang Ting (李祥霆), a music professor who played the guqin, a Chinese zither as part of a music festival in the Forbidden City Concert Hall (北京中山音乐堂). A very memorable performance, especially since he engaged the audience so well. They could choose poems or self-written pieces and he interpreted them on his guqin.

Watch a video of him here or here. Or watch him on youtube.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Papaya And Squash Soup with Sweet Curry

So, I had left overs from yesterdays squash and I had an overripe papaya sitting there and looking at me very sadly with the first dent in its ripe and soft skin like a swollen eye. But then I remembered a recipe I recently read, namely a pumpkin papaya soup on Now Serving ... Exactly what I needed. Priya from Now Serving gave her soup not only a South Indian touch but also mixed in some Italian herbs. My papaya was happy again!

I changed the recipe a bit, stayed taste wise on the Indian continent and this is what came out of the experiment, a  fruity yet hearty soup. The recipe is enough for 4 portions but beware, M alone had 3 bowls of it.

Here is my adjusted recipe:

Papaya squash soup with sweet curry


1/2 Hokkaido squash  (ca. 300 g peeled and de-seeded), diced
1 Papaya, peeled, de-seeded, and diced (keep the seeds for super yummy salad dressing)
2 tablespoons coconut powder (I ground desiccated coconut shreds in my electric coffee spice mill)
2 tablespoons coriander, ground
1 fresh red chili, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
sesame oil for frying
2 cups vegetable broth
salt and sweet curry to taste (I used sweet curry from ProBio)
cilantro and red chili for garnish (or a dollop of coconut milk)

What to do

Heat the sesame oil in a pot. Add the garlic, coconut powder, ground coriander, and red chili and fry till it smells pleasantly and the coconut powder is slightly browned. Add the diced squash and papaya and fry until the pieces are covered by the oil-spice mixture. Add the broth and let cook for about 20 min.
Now it should look like this:

Pour into a blender and pulse until it becomes nice and creamy like this:

Season with salt and sweet curry. Heat through again and serve with sliced chili and cilantro.

And since Jacqueline from Tinned Tomatoes is hosting the October event for No Croutons Required I would like to share this recipe. This month's challenge was to create a soup or salad using squash as a main ingredient.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Autumnal Squash Risotto

Golden Autumn days call for golden risottos, don't you think? With a Hokkaido squash lying around this was an easy task. The photo of the end result sucks as usual, since we are having dinner under artificial light and the cherry-tree table gives a reddish tinge to everything. But there you go, here is my Autumnal Squash risotto:

And you even get a recipe, just don't take it verbatim.

Autumnal Squash Risotto


1 red onion, halved and then sliced
1 clove of garlic, pressed or minced
olive oil for frying
1 cup Arborio rice, washed and drained
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 Hokkaido squash, peeled and grated
2 green onions
2 cups chanterelles
flat leaf parsley
salt, coarsely ground black pepper, nutmeg

What to do:

Fry the onion slices in hot olive oil until they start browning, add the garlic and fry till it smells deliciously. Add the rice and stir until it is covered with oil.

Add the broth, at first one cup and then little by little. The reason is you have to stir more often which is necessary for a vegan risotto that lacks the cheese which glues everything together; so you have to make a creamy and slightly sticky risotto by thorough stirring.

Add the grated squash and the green onions.

Let simmer (don't forget to disturb your slumbering risotto and wake it up with your wooden spoon; frequent stirring also prevents your risotto from burning) for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile clean the chanterelles thoroughly and fry them in some olive oil. Don't pamper them, the oil has to be really hot otherwise they will become mushy. Slightly salt them and put aside; cut the parsley.
When the risotto has reached the desired texture add pepper and nutmeg. Then fold in chanterelles and parsley. Serve immediately and enjoy with a leafy green salad.

Tomb of Wang Zhaojun, Hohhot

The next morning we sadly had to leave the grasslands and went back towards Hohhot.

We had just enough time to visit the tomb of Wang Zhaojun ( 王昭君) before our driver took us to the air port. Wang Zhaojun was the concubine (or rather lady-in-waiting) of the Han Dynasty Emperor Yuan. She was married to the the king of the Huns Chanyu Huhanye (33 BC). A purely political marriage to bring some piece to the ever quarreling countries. Countless poems, stories and drama plays were written about her character (Pi-Wei 1996).
Zhaojun brushes off the inlaid saddle,
Mounts her steed, tearstains on reddened cheeks.
Today, she's a lady in the palace of Han;
Tomorrow, a slave-girl in the northern steppes.
Li Bai (699-762) -  translated by Eoyang 1994

After having at least two sons and a daughter in this marriage she died and a burial mound was erected over her coffin. Whether this one is really the tomb of Wang Zhaojun is not known, since it hasn't been excavated. The 33m high mound was adorned with a chapel, as you can see in the photo.

Today it is a huge museum's complex. They also had a nice tea house and since they were just playing some music when we arrived, this was our first stop.

Look at that beautiful lithophon!

Walking up the burial mound you have a wonderful view over the landscape and the many vegetable farms.

The chapel itself is surrounded by souvenir stands.

Maybe the picture of the tragic heroine whose sacrifice (ensuring peace by marrying a barbarian) was considered by the Han Chinese as a 'living death' (Eoyang 1994, 10) is only one side of the coin. There are a lot of depictions of Wang Zhao Jun riding and having fun with her husband. So whenever you see a couple on horses it is probably a pointer to the Hun emperor and empress.

There were also two museums at the site. A small one with objects (mostly replicas) from the Xiongnu culture like the eagle-shaped gold crown from the Xiongnu grave in Hangjinqi, Inner Mongolia.

and the other the larger Wang Zhaojun Museum.

in which you are able to see life sized models of the famous couple.

In the unlikely case that you are interested in more infos about the museums you can go to my archaeology blog. There is a German version here and an English one here.

And I nearly forgot the most important thing! A day without a camel is a day lost, so here I present the camel leading the way to Wang Zhaojuns grave:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Inner Mongolia - more on Gegentala Grassland

After our nice lunch we explored the resort. Unfortunately we were so full we just couldn't go to the tea house called 'Milk Tea Bag'. But then I wasn't very keen on drinking the famous yak milk tea, not so much because of the yak part but rather because I don't drink milk anymore. But it is said that yak milk is quite sweet and unique in taste, so it would have been a nice experience at least for C.

Instead we had a look at more yurts,

Mongolian she-cars,

and at thousands of grass hoppers that populated the grassland and incessantly chirped their singsong

The area of the resort was quite nicely decorated, for example with these carved poles.

As soon as we finished our little tour, it was time for a horse ride to a small 'aobao', a sacred shrine built of stones with a pole in the middle. It is quite difficult to see with all the colourful cloth strips attached to it.

We also took a ride in a buggy-style vehicle

and soon our guide appeared and brought us to a show of Mongolian sports like wrestling

acrobatic horseback riding

and a look at other traditional means of transport

By then the accompanying Shangri-la chef had prepared an opulent dinner. Just imagine, we were travelling with a followership of four (!) people! I felt like royalty, really weird.
The chef prepared several vegetarian courses for us, but my most favourite dish was a simple millet congee served with veggie jiaozi (dumplings). Delicious!

With a bonfire, more performances, and eventually people starting to dance and sing, another long day drew to a close.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Inner Mongolia - Gegentala Grassland

Next day we headed towards the opposite direction, up north to the Gegentala Grassland. Gegentala is Mongolian and means 'summer resort'.

At first we drove alongside the mountain range. While yurts are a thing of the past or for touristic purposes, this is a true Mongolian village; the mud-brick walls hardly visible against the soil of the mountainous area.

But the outline of yurts are still used in modern architecture as can be seen by these buildings in a town we crossed:

We stopped at a small lama temple:

 The freshly re-painted temple walls tried to out-sparkle the sun:

I especially liked the coloured ceiling beams; white with dragons painted on them:

this was our friendly driver posing in front of his audi, yes they really do love German cars in China :)

Finally we reached Gegentala grassland. In ancient times Mongolians brought their cattle and horses here for summer grazing. Today it is a holiday resort for tourists, where they can stay in 'traditional' yurts. There were three different areas in this resort. We stayed in a yurt in the 'combat tank packzge' whatever this means.

I know roughly what the sign wanted to say though; our yurt was based on yurts used for the generals while on war (hence the combat). These yurts were mobile and could be dragged by many many oxen (mobile like a tank - I guess).

But otherwise it didn't have a lot in common with Ghengis Khan's yurts. I doubt he or any other general had modern comfort in it:

Including hot running water:

After a short break just enough to explore the area a bit we were ushered into the dining hall where a table was already set for us with different vegetarian Mongolian dishes. Note that this was meant to be for two people and it was not the end yet!

I just loved the fried bread:

This is the Mongolian girl taking care of us during lunch. As you can see, we weren't even allowed to pour the tea ourselves.

To prevent customers from getting bored they staged a 'lunch show'; we were entertained with dances, Mongolian overtone singing and of course the horse-head fiddle.

These two young men playing the horse-head fiddle or morin khuur, were especially talented. They were called oo-bama. If somebody knows them, please add some details, I think they were just awesome. Sadly I can't find any information on the web; I would probably need their Chinese name.

Enjoy them for 14 seconds; we were so busy munching our lunch we forgot to take a proper movie:

With all our senses satisfied we headed for more adventures, so come back to my blog to see more about beautiful Inner Mongolia.