The Old & the New May 2014

I spent a day wandering around the city of Singapore and checking out some of the streets with old shophouses and colonial buildings side by side with modern high rises.  Shophouses here are mostly constructed between the 1840s and the 1960s and are at most two to three storeys tall. The ground floor was used as a shopfront with the owners of the business living in the upstairs quarters.  Once dilapidated, these shophouses are now restored and used as galleries, boutiques, cafes, and bars.

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Yungang Grottoes April 2014

Yungang Grottoes are ancient Buddhist grottoes near the city of Datong in Shanxi province built in the Northern Wei period between the Tang and Song Dynasties.  It is one of the three major cave clusters in China, the other two being Longmen and Mogao Grottoes.  Here at Yungang, there are altogether 252 grottoes with more than 51,000 buddha statues.  These grottoes represent the peak of Buddhist cave art and tell the story of past glory.

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The Hanging Temple of Henshan April 2014

The Hanging Temple of Henshan or Xuankong Temple is a temple built into a cliff more than 1,500 years ago.  It is about 65 km outside of Datong City in Shanxi Province.  The temple is famous not only for its location on a cliff, but also because it is the only existing temple that caters to all three Chinese traditional religions: Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.  It is believed that the reason for catering to all three religions of the time was to prevent the destruction of the temple through regime changes and the resulting more prevalent religion of the regime.

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Wang Family Compound Shanxi April 2014

Our visit to the Wang Family Compound or Wang Jia Da Yuan, 35 km outside of Pingyao, was very special and especially meaningful to my family.  My last name is Wong, and Wang and Wong are actually the same in Chinese and means “King”.  Apparently, all the Wang/Wongs in the world originated here in Shanxi.  The first Wang was a prince of King Ling of the Western Zhou Dynasty named Wang Zi Qiao which translates to “Prince Qiao”.

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Pingyao Ancient City April 2014

Pingyao is a county in Shanxi province in China and was once the financial center of China during the late Qing Dynasty.  The ancient city at Pingyao is a very well preserved walled city,  typical of a traditional Han city in the Ming and Qing dynasties (14th-20th centuries), and still inhabited by about 50,000 residents although many buildings have now been transformed into shops and restaurants.  Pingyao dates back some 2,700 years and it is where the modern Chinese banking system started.  Most of the city is off-limits to cars and is perfect for wandering around on foot.  Tourists can purchase a common ticket that lasts for 3 days which grants access to about 30 attractions inside the city including the City Walls, Rishenchang Exchange House, County Government Office, and some former residences.

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Xian April 2014

Xian, located in the northwest province of Shaanxi of China, was called Chang’an in the ancient times and is the oldest of the Ancient Capitals of China.  It is one of the birthplaces of ancient Chinese civilisation in the Yellow River basin area.  Xian has been continuously occupied for over 3,000 years including over 1,100 years as the capital city of ancient dynasties.  As the eastern terminal of the Silk Road, it was frequented by merchants from the Middle East, and hence the large Muslim population here.  Other than the famous Terracotta Warriors, the Ancient City Wall, the Muslim Street, and a few temples and museums are also worth a visit.

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Terracotta Army in Xian April 2014

Xian, located in the northwest province of Shaanxi of China, was called Chang’an in the ancient times and is the oldest of the Ancient Capitals of China.  It is the starting point of the Silk Road and home to the famous Terracotta Army of the Qin Dynasty.  The Terracotta Warriors is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, and was buried with the emperor to protect him in the afterlife.

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