Day One in Nanjing – Guests of the Family

My wife Stephanie had been wanting to go to Nanjing. Most especially because we knew our friends Bin and Zhenmei were staying there. Zhenmei was born and raised in Nanjing, and her parents, sister, brother-in-law, and niece all live there.

Honestly, we could not ask for better hosts. When we were reunited with our friends, they would not let us pay for anything. It was clear at the end of the first day that we were not just guests of Bin and Zhenmei, but of Zhenmei’s family, too. Their hospitality, coupled with what there is to see and do in Nanjing, had us wishing we could stay for much longer.

We rode the high-speed train to Nanjing on Friday morning, which took less than an hour and a half. Our friends met us at the station and went with us to our hotel, guiding us onto the city’s Metro and once we got off the subway, hailing us taxis to take to the hotel. We checked in to the Nanjing New Town hotel. It’s in the newer part of Nanjing. There were dozens of cranes looming above several construction sites near the hotel.  (There is construction everywhere in China on a scale I have never seen in the U.S.)

The hotel was much nicer than the one in which we are residing in Shanghai. Of course, that hotel is only three years old, so all of the facilities are nice and new. Plus, the TV had ESPN in English and a station that showed Chinese cartoons. We didn’t have time to watch TV. We all got back on the Metro and headed into the center of town where we had lunch.

Lunch in Nanjing was the first time I tried salted duck. So good.

Nanjing is a very important city to the history of China. It was the capital of the country during several dynasties. Not to mention being the site of the start of the Opium Wars and the infamous Rape of Nanking by the Japanese in 1937.

Stephanie and I wanted to see the Confucius Temple. Bin has seen the Confucius Temple many times. Oliver was also not interested in going. So Bin stayed with the kids at the mall. They played games in the air conditioned arcade and then later, Bin bought the kids water guns. There is a large pool on the lower level of the mall, which the kids used to refill their guns. Meredith got very wet.

I know the kids had a better time at the mall than they would have had walking in the heat in Nanjing.

While they played at the mall, Zhenmei acted as our tour guide, taking us over the Qinhuai River, to the Li Xiangjun Residence, the Confucius Temple and the Jiangnan Examination College.

Here’s the giant gate to the area where the Confucius Temple is located. Notice the Haagen-Dazs and the Pizza Hut. Confucius say: Pizza and ice cream bring harmony to the people.

Behind those shops is the Qinhuai River. For many centuries this river was Nanjing’s “main street.” It was the central artery for the transportation of goods and people to and from the city.

Before we went to the Confucius Temple, we stopped along the way and saw the Li Xiangjun Residence. Li Xiangjun was a renowned geisha. (Yes, there were geisha in China. I didn’t know that either.) Her home was set next to the Qinhuai River. It has been restored and contains many of her original furnishings. She was a very successful geisha.

Here’s the view of the Qinhuai River from Li Xiangjun’s house.

After seeing all the rooms filled with beautiful old artifacts we headed to the Confucius Temple.

Writers like Lu Xun were very critical of Confucianism and it’s paternalism. During the Cultural Revolution, the government tried to do away with Confucianism. Though he isn’t held in the esteem he once was, you can’t just throw away 2500 years of a philosophical basis for an entire society. So Confucianism still survives as a philosophy, while Confucius himself survives as a tourist attraction.

Located in front of the shrine is the largest statue of Confucius in China. It’s made of bronze.

Inside the shrine is a large portrait of Confucius. On the walls are murals which are carved and painted. This one depicts a man about to be beheaded (for stealing, if I remember correctly).

On the temple grounds is a large drum and a large bell. Banging the drum once is supposed to make your problems go away. Ringing the bell is supposed to bring peace. Stephanie paid the two Yuan each to bang the drum and ring the bell.

They’re both quite loud.

At the exit of the temple is a small performance space. There is a list of songs you can request the musicians to play…for a price. I took a picture but it did not come out clearly. Confucius say: let no opportunity for profit go unexploited.

Before heading back to the mall to meet up with Bin and the kids, we stopped at the Examination College museum.

The Examination College “is the site for ancient imperial examinations.” It was founded in 1168. The examinations were ended in the 1890s. For 700 years exams were held to determine who should work for the government. Sometimes as many as 20,000 people took the exam. Only the top 200 were given a job by the Emperor. Your acceptance letter came from the emperor himself and was delivered to your home. This is what the “you’re hired” letter looked like.

It’s the biggest acceptance letter I’ve ever seen.

You can’t tell the history of taking tests without including the history of cheating on tests. There was one small display showing various methods people used for cheating, usually with palm-sized cheat sheets.

The rest of the walls were filled with portraits and bios of some of the more famous people who received top scores on the exam and went on to do other things. One of the more famous was the writer Wu Cheng’en. He later went on to write Journey to the West, one of the Big Four classic Chinese novels. It’s also known as the legend of the Monkey King, which has inspired countless cartoons, movies, and TV shows. My kids have seen versions on TV here in China.

I should note that there is one woman who got the top score. Fu Shanxiang. She took the test during the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. Otherwise, women were not allowed to even take the exam.

At any rate, you can see why test-taking is very important to the Chinese. They have a very long history of taking tests….

Stephanie, Zhenmei, and I walked back to the mall to meet up with Bin and the kids. The kids discovered a touch screen mall directory that they liked playing with.

We stopped off at our hotel to rest before meeting Zhenmei’s family for dinner. We discovered that the air conditioning in the bedroom of our suite was not working. Bin called down to the hotel desk and had them send someone up. Within a very short time we were given another room (equally nice) down the hall.

Dinner was delicious. We got to meet Zhenmei’s wonderful parents, sister, and niece at a restaurant serving Taiwanese style food. There are apparently close ties between Nanjing and Taiwan due to Chiang Kai-Shek. The restaurant was in the Nanjing Taiwan Trade Mart.

They ordered what seemed like an endless amount of dishes, and Stephanie and I tried them all. I even tried and liked Duck Blood Soup. I didn’t think I would and I had no intention of trying it. But there I was at the table with all that food and a bowl of that soup was placed near me. I’m a guest of these incredibly generous people, so I figured I ought to at least try it. I begin to use my chopsticks to put some noodles onto my plate. The next thing I know Zhenmei’s mother is helping me, heaping copious amounts of noodles and meat into my bowl. I was not about to say “no” to her.

Xiao Long Bao was among the dishes that were ordered. It, too, was very good. It was so good that it was given the seal of approval by Zhenmei’s father and mother, so another steamer of the soup dumplings was ordered and brought to the table. Her parents were so lively and her sister so engaging that I really wish I spoke Mandarin so I could have talked with them more easily and freely, while we ate until our stomachs couldn’t fit even a morsel more.

After dinner, we took a taxi back to our hotel where we all got a good night’s sleep.

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