For the first week I attended a conference in Hangzhou, which is about 120 miles southwest of Shanghai. The conference was in memory of Armand Borel.
One day was devoted to a bus trip to two attractions. The first was
This was the retreat of a scholar named Yan Zi Ling, who lived about 2100 years ago. His old school friend Liu Xiu became emperor (thanks to Ruochan Liu for correcting which emperor!) and called Yan Zi Ling to serve in his court. Yan Zi Ling did not want to take a position of authority, fearing that he would become corrupt. So he remained at the Angling Terrace, which has for centuries been a destination for those with similar qualms about administrative appointments.
Lake by the Angling Terrace
Mrs. Saper, Les Saper, Jean-Pierre Labesse
on the boat travelling to the Angling Terrace: Dominique Borel, Labesse, Les Saper, Bill Casselman, Mrs. Saper, Wilfried Schmid.
more lake, with a smaller tour boat than ours.
at the Angling Terrace, taken with the low-resolution camera in my Palm Pilot.
The activity at the Angling Terrace was to walk up a beautiful
wooded path to an overlook, passing many statues of notables and
examples of calligraphy along the way.
Our party sets out.
Either this or perhaps this is a statue that was described to us as "the god of tea." I presume this is Lu Yu, and my vote is on the second one. According to Lu Yu, "the best quality tea must have creases like the leathern boot of Tartar horsemen, curl like the dewlap of a mighty bullock, unfold like a mist rising out of a ravine, gleam like a lake touched by a zephyr, and be wet and soft like a fine earth newly swept by rain." I have had tea like the leathern boot of Tartar horsemen (or at least as I imagine those boots to be), and you can too: go to the rest area at Mile 192 on Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania, and use the machine on the left. It's best not to press the button for extra sugar.
Bamboo along the way.
trudge, trudge. Did I mention that the temperature and humidity were both in the 90s?
Anne and Dominique Borel at the overlook.
The lake from the overlook.
I'm appallingly bad with names, and I apologize profoundly if this is not Nathan Saper at the overlook.
Chenbo Zhu, Lizhen Xi, Wilfried Schmid
Seccond destination for the day was
Longmen Ancient Town
This descriptive sign will tell you more than I can about the place: something vaguely along the lines of Plymouth Plantation, except of course that the history being commemorated is much older here. About two-thirds of the inhabitants share the name (Sun?) of the famous ancestor. Here is
Bill Casselman as we waited to enter.
drawing from a temple inside.
ship model from a collection of several such.
inside the town. This was what the nicest parts were like inside; other sections were much more crowded and dark. Unfortunately my camera was not quick enough to capture the water buffalo being driven by.
famous battle is depicted in this drawing. I think that the town had one famous son in addition to the emperor Sun Quan. This one was a military leader or theorist of some kind, and there was a building devoted to him.
ancestors or descendants? of the military leader. This display seemed to be in honor of the individuals named on the little plaques, but more than that I didn't understand.
targets. This stood outside in the town, and seemed to be heavily used. The range seems much too short for arrows, and the marks on the boards seemed more like knives than darts; but we didn't see it in use, and I don't know.
For the second week, I travelled to a conference in
which is the capital of Xinjiang Province in the northwest corner of China. Urumqi is less than 100 miles from the geographical center of Asia. It is also farther from any ocean than almost any other place on earth. The city lies on the Silk Road, and the manufacture of silk and wool carpets is still a major industry. The region is thinly populated by Chinese standards: the province includes about one sixth of China's area, but has only about 17 million people (less than 2% of the population). The city is a bit less fancy/developed than cities in eastern China, but still looks at first glance like any other city anywhere in the world. Here are some pictures from my hotel, this one looking at a park across the street.
My first day in Urumqi was the day before the conference began, and Jing-Song Huang kindly arranged a trip to see the
Tiger Mouth Glacier.
This lies about 200 kilometers southwest of Urumqi, and the top of the glacier is at an elevation of about 4600 meters. I think that Urumqi is about 1000 meters, so there was a lot of spectacular mountain driving to get there.
Jing-Song Huang and the guide
farmhouse and cattle on the road from Urumqi.
We took a long detour up a gorgeous valley. The road was being rebuilt, so we drove on dirt and rocks and constantly reforded the little stream.
Boys with sheep and yurts can be seen despite my fingers blocking most of the picture.
camel is here only for tourists to sit on for photographs.
snow on the mountains perhaps fifty miles beyond the camel, and much higher; probably over 3000 meters.
yurt and snow close to the glacier. We stopped for lunch at an elevation of perhaps 3800 meters. I'm not sure what the nature of the restaurant was. We ate in what was clearly a bedroom for three people: the bedding was rolled up, and we sat on the mattress pads. Food was a wonderful lamb stew, with potatoes and who-knows-what spices: definitely one of the best stews I ever ate.
After lunch we walked and were led on horses up the highway (I think this is still Route
216, which we had followed from Urumqi; most of the way was paved.)
Jing-Song actually rode his
horse a bit; behind him is the horse's master. Finally we scrambled up some rocks to the bottom of the glacier. The crest behind Jing-Song is what's
supposed to be 4600 meters; it appeared to be a few hundred meters
Finally, at the end of a very long day, here is a random street in Urumqi. The non-Chinese signs are in the language of the Uygur, who comprise about 45% of the population of the province. (After forty years of immigration, about 40% of the population are Han Chinese.) The language is not Arabic, although there are some common words, but the it uses the Arabic alphabet. In other places I saw signs in the Cyrillic alphabet: apparently not Russian, but perhaps Kazak.
To simplify the organization, I will break chronological exactness and put here pictures from the opening and closing
of the Urumqi conference.
The opening banquet took place in the hotel where the conference was, in the middle of Urumqi. The food was gorgeous and delicious; the shrimp you can see on the left arrived as a two-story arrangement, with fried shrimp on a platter resting atop the three inverted wineglasses (which in turn were filled with water and decorative herbs).
The closing banquet (that's Michele Vergne) took place on the Xinjiang University campus, and was a step up in fanciness. An entertaining feature was the arrival of the roast lamb, bedecked with red ribbon; this is apparently a traditional banquet event, and here was suggested as a photo opportunity. Regrettably I had only my Palm available.
My friend and colleague Jing-Song Huang organized the Urumqi conference. He attended with his wife Guang and son James. Guang's uncle runs the largest travel agency in Urumqi. He very kindly invited me along for a dinner/spectacle at the
International Grand Bazaar
on Thursday evening during the conference. The Bazaar is a
tourist-oriented shopping center, employing elements of Islamic
architecture to (a) sell souvenirs, and (b) keep the Prophet spinning
in his grave.
Dinner was prepared and served outdoors, buffet style.
The first after-dinner event was a tightrope walker. There followed a series of dances, mostly in a variety of traditional costumes, but with an occasional nod to the influences of Rockefeller Center. After the performance was over, Guang's uncle arranged for a picture with one of the lead dancers. You had to pay to be inside the fence where dinner was served, but the spectacle was quite visible for passersby, and there were tremendous crowds of local people watching (despite the fact that the show went on every night).
On Friday the conference participants and families climbed on two buses for a trip to
En route we stopped at a wind farm, where Pavle Pandzic and Michele Vergne, Michel Duflo, and Marko Tadic were kind enough to pose. The wind farm was a popular destination with local tourists as well.
The Turfan Depression descends to 505 feet below sea level, lower than any place except the Dead Sea. It is incredibly hot and dry. The "natural" parts of the landscape are utterly desolate: rocks and dust with almost no vegetation. But it's been irrigated for thousands of years, using a system of tunnels/deep channels called karez to bring water from the mountains fifty miles away. I think the point of tunnels instead of ditches is to prevent the water from evaporating in the open. We visited a museum in the city of Turfan dedicated to the karez (and to allowing Tohru Uzawa to examine colorful traditional costumes). We were able to walk along a channel part of a karez; trees grew along the little ditch of water, and the air was much cooler than at ground level ten feet up.
Because of the irrigation, there is a lot of fruit grown in Turfan. We visited a vineyard where I took pictures of Chenbo Zhu, Eng-Chye Tan, and Toshiyuki Kobayashi and even Michele Vergne, expressing support for the fruit of the American vine. After the vineyard tour we had fruit snacks in a local farmhouse. Here is Tank, nephew of one of the Chinese mathematicians, playing with a kitten.
From the city of Turfan we drove to the
Ancient Asian city of Gaochang.
This city was built around 2100
years ago, and abandoned before 1400. There is another ruined city
nearby which formed the northwestern terminus of the Great Wall; the
abandonment of both cities around 1400 had to do with a decline in the
fortunes of the Chinese empire.
We travelled the few hundred yards from the road to the ruins by donkey cart. What I found most entertaining about Gaochang was the Buddhist temple. According to the tour guide (I can't find any other evidence) the lords of the city kidnapped an itinerant Buddhist monk named Xuanzang in 629. He was finally released, on the condition that he lecture to the townspeople about Buddhism for one month; which he did, in this temple. Don't know why the story just resonated somehow.
After Gaochang we visited another museum, where (for the fourth time in two days) I could see colorful Uygur costumes. Finally, we looked at Flaming Mountain. It certainly appears hot and desolate. The location provided another opportunity for tourist camels, shown here with Marko Tadic (left).
The following day we took our buses uphill instead of down, to
This is a gorgeous mountain
lake, overflowing with tourists but still nice. Undoubtedly this
sign helps; the English
text says, "It would be wonderful that everyone is in favor of
environment protection -- take care of environment is a kind of civilization."
This sign I can unfortunately no longer
decipher; two of the placards read "The Help Center" and "The Horse
The day was cloudy, but the waterfalls below the lake still looked good. One high point of the day was the presence of a summer school class of kids who were practicing journalism skills, interviewing tourists at the lake. Chenbo Zhu and Michele Vergne turned out to be excellent subjects.
We concluded the day with a tour of a carpet factory, where we watched a woman weaving by hand. I took pictures only with the Palm, which just hints at the glorious patterns and colors.