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Peaceful Gardens, Honking Horns, Shuttlecock (Taiyuan)

posted Dec 11, 2008, 8:14 AM by Pacific Rim
Jin Ci Temple
In my humble and highly subjective opinion, this was the most beautiful temple yet, though I often find myself thinking that with each one I visit. However, this was especially unique because the complex was not only chock full of art and history, but it was also a nature park, complete with trails and hills. It had three thousand year old cypress trees shading elaborate temples, willows reflecting off fish ponds, mysterious paths, bubbling brooks, and fragrant flower beds. Even the entrance was attractive, with ancient trees over long pools of water. The temple was built in the memory of provincial king Cheng’s younger brother Yu, and it served as an imperial garden.

Although the temple is dated back to the Western Zhou Dynasty, 11th century to 711 BC, most of the art is attributed to the later Song dynasty. One of the central attractions was the Saint Mother’s Hall, which honors the chastity of a particular widow and represented the architectural savvy of the age. The Saint Mother, who doesn’t like to be photographed for fear it will spoil her dress, is surrounded by thirty-three maidservants constructed out of clay and given lifelike proportions and soft, realistic folds in their clothing. Natural gestures in their mouths and eyes reflect a wide range of emotions, and each statue is quite unique in her expression. Other attractions at the temple included ominous-looking iron statues, the “Flying Bridge across the Fish Pond,” an opera theatre, the Never Aging Spring and an Offering Hall.

The City
If Beijing was cleaner, posher, and softer than some of our preconceived notions of China, then perhaps Taiyuan was a little closer to the chaotic climate many of us had imagined. It had the cacophony of honking horns at all hours, repetitive techno music pumping from the bar across the street, the local red light district a few blocks down from our hotel and a visible puff of smog hanging from the tips of buildings. Taiyuan also had pleasant aspects, such as paddleboats for rent, peaceful city parks, and charming waiters. We waited until noon to check out of our rooms, and then had a few hours to blow in this industrial city of 3.4 million people before we moved on. Seeking comfort foods, many people decided to visit the local KFC to see if the chicken sandwiches were the same in China as they were in the States. Most people agreed that there was no difference, except that coffee ice cream shakes were a surprisingly scrumptious option.

Half of our group spent the day in the city park playing cards and shuttlecock, a Chinese game similar to hacky-sac. The only major difference between shuttlecock and hacky-sac is that instead of kicking around a bean bag, we kick a badminton birdie. Allison and Stephanie discovered this game during a morning stroll through the park, where they were invited to join some local shuttlecock enthusiasts in a volley. At the end of the game, the birdie became a gift for the two foreigners, and the game caught on with the rest of the Pac Rim group. In the evening, we bought snacks from the mini-mart in preparation for the long night ahead on the soft sleeper train to Xi’an.

(Pictures coming soon)

(Article by Lindsey)