Friday, May 11, 2007

Nanjing Weekend

Nanjing, China

A short May Day holiday gave the perfect opportunity for a road trip to Nanjing, a 3 1/2 hour drive from Shanghai.

We booked into the new Sofitel Galaxy Nanjing at internet rates, upgrading to a Deluxe City View and Premier Lake View. The rooms were great, especially for the price. I wouldn't bother with the "Lake View" unless looking through the haze a couple of kms off at about 2 o-clock is what you consider a lake view. I always hope for the quieter side of the hotel with this kind of thing, but neither a view nor quieter aspect was on call. The room was very nice, so regardless of the view, the price to value ratio was great!

As the weather was expected to deteriorate over the weekend, we headed after lunch to ZhongShan Mountain National Park, otherwise known as Purple Mountain, and Ming tombs. Thirty-two years from 1381 to 1413 and 100,000 laborers were used in constructing the tomb area, with Zhu Yuangzhang, aka Hong Wu, first emperor of the Ming dynasty being buried in 1398. Many of the buildings were damaged during various wars, but the carvings remain impressive.

Douglas finds the buildings and carvings relatively boring. However, most imperial building have great marble staircases that easily turn into slides. Being one of the few sets of Westerners in the grounds, Douglas provided much amusement to the Chinese families and tour groups.

The most interesting sight of the grounds is Shen Dao, Spirit Way, which is lined with massive Ming Dynasty stone statues of guardian animals. The pairs of animals represent the virtues of the emperor. At 13, Douglas still can't resist getting astride these statues. The only problem is that he's not that easy to pick up any more!

Zheng He is celebrated at the newest $50 million dollar museum of Nanjing. Quoting from, in a period of 28 years, from 1405 to 1433, Cheng directed seven expeditions and visited no fewer than 37 countries, stretching from Champa in the east to the African coast in the west.

In preparation for these expeditions, some 1,180 ships of various types and measurements were constructed. The size of the fleet varied from voyage to voyage. The first expedition consisted of a 27,800-man crew and 62 large vessels and 255 smaller ones carrying cargoes of silk, embroideries, and other valuable products. Zheng took personal command of each voyage, but he often entrusted his lieutenants to undertake side trips away from the main itinerary. The countries visited ranged from the nearby states, such as Champa, Sumatra, and Java, to the faraway lands to the East, including Arabia and places on the east African coast, such as Mogadishu and Brawa.

The museum contains a replica of one of the troop carrying ships - relatively small compared to the command ship - but enormous compared with the ships of the European explorers who sailed over the next century and more. More than anything, the museum reinforces the thought that numbers are frequently staggering in China compared to western countries. The Ming shipyards were extensive, the labor force enormous, and the sailing fleet vast.

Nanjing, filled with museums and universities, is a pleasant city with wide tree-lined streets and many separate bike lanes. From Purple Mountain to the parks, city walls, and memorials, there's much more for our next road trip.

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