Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Further Adventures in China

My last post highlighted the countryside of the Yangshuo region of China. This one will focus on the urban areas: the town of Yangshuo and China's capital city Beijing.

On maps of China Yangshuo looks tiny. By Chinese standards it is tiny. In actuality it is a good size city of several hundred thousand people. Located amidst China's famous karst mountains,

it has become a popular destination for Chinese and international tourists. No surprise then to find the usual kind of tourist amenities: restaurants and shops, tour guides and taxis, hotels and hostels. To visit the town of Yangshuo, we walked from our guest house, The Giggling Tree,

off the main road, past an old village,

over a small pass and into the busy streets to have a look. Most of the tourist activity is along West Street

and the smaller streets that intersect it.

I found several shops with interesting textiles. This one specializes in woven items,

while another one carried traditional garments and textiles, some antique and and some newly made. I couldn't resist this indigo batik table runner, which is long enough for my dining room table.

I also purchased some notebooks and cards

I don't see any Mao quotes. It's a blank book!

at a nice little stationery shop.

Mostly, it was fun just to take in the lively street scenes

 and colorful displays.

At the end of my trip I spent an afternoon at the Forbidden City, in the very heart of Beijing. For over 500 years it served as the Chinese imperial palace. Now it is a museum and I am guessing the most visited site in Beijing. It is an imposing place: 180 acres with palatial buildings,

enormous courtyards,

 colorful gardens,

and massive statuary.

Instead of jostling with the crowds trying to peer inside the most important halls, or palaces, I focused my attention on the beautiful details to be found elsewhere. I particularly liked the striking orange-yellow tile roofs. From a distance the exuberant color stands out, as does the subtle variation in their shapes.

Up close you can see that each is adorned with a different set of figures. The more figures, the more important the structure.

The walls exhibit similar far-near differences. From afar it appears that all the walls are brick red, but if you look closely, in places you can see pieces of vibrant polychrome plaster work

and hidden gems like this terra cotta flower built into a brick wall.

You also have to get up close to the marble stairs and railings to see their true beauty. It seems that every bit is embellished with decorative carving. These waves and flowers make me think of quilting designs.

Given my interest in needlework, I naturally think of translating Forbidden City designs into quilts and embroideries. Clearly some others translated it into the very modern Beijing airport where massive halls have overhanging roofs held up by rows of red columns, just like palaces of the Forbidden City.

Beijing Airport

Prior to my flight I enjoyed wandering around the bright and spacious terminal

and inspecting a few shops. I even found one that carried a small selection of fabric and quickly snapped up these traditional homespuns from the Jiangnan region, southwest of where I visited.

Jiangnan homespun fabric

I am adding them to the indigo fabrics I have been collecting for a quilt.

I have been making good progress on my current quilting projects in the past several weeks so I just may let myself start a new one before the summer is out. Come back soon to see the ones I have recently finished!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mind Sliding: Adventures in China

The Chinese language is so completely different from English that I expected traveling in China would entail a few adventures. I was not disappointed, though some were rather different than I anticipated. It turns out that Yangshuo, the area I visited, is a popular enough destination that many signs and menus have English translations. It also turns out that Chinese language structure and vocabulary is different enough to make direct translation a bit tricky.

We saw this first hand on an excursion in the Yangshuo region to Moon Hill, so named because of the moon shaped arch that forms its peak.

Moon Hill

We hoped that climbing the 800 limestone steps to the top would reward us with a good view of the area. Sure enough, just as we reached the top the haze cleared enough for the sun to shine through a bit and reveal numerous of the karst towers for which the region is known.

View from atop Moon Hill

Still, the most interesting part of this excursion was in the signs and their English translations along the stairs to the top. For the most part we could understand what they were getting at. Yes, the stairs would indeed be slippery on rainy days.

And, yes, the mountain path is steep.

The translations are charmingly not quite right. Rather than lose something in the translation, these signs gain something in the translation. This one seems like a good piece of general advice. Certainly it's applicable to dealing with too-slick salespeople!

This one made me wonder if those drop down menus common in software are really so dangerous. Better stay away!

This one made me feel that whoever put up the sign was really, really concerned for my safety.

But this one still has me stumped. What is empty? And why should I be careful on it?

Here is my favorite of all. It captures that feeling I have when I can't find a name or a word I am looking for. Or when I think about this year's presidential election.

Just so you know my mind hasn't slid too far, here are a few more photos from the China trip. Yangshuo is a beautiful area and its citizens are kind and warm. It is definitely worth a visit.

Surveying the scene in Yangshuo

Yangshuo vendor

Fencing, one of bamboo's many uses

Detail of a door in one of the "ancient villages"

Sunset in the Yangshuo countryside

Typical old style farm house

In the Xingping market

Transaction in the Xingping market

Raftsman along the Yulong River

Rafting along the Yulong River

In the Yulong River Valley

The Yulong River

View from atop Lao Zhai Shan: Xingping, the Li River and karst towers

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Flower Filled Spring

I've said before that spring is a wonderful time to be in central Texas. This year was no exception. In fact, it was the best wildflower year I think I have ever seen. Thanks to substantial and well-timed rains from winter through spring the flowers got just the right mix of water, sun and warmth for spectacular shows.

Texas Mountain Laurels, a small evergreen tree, bloomed in February. This one attracted dozens of Pipevine swallowtail butterflies.

Bluebonnets, or Lupinus texensis, the state flower of Texas provided the first no-holds barred show of meadow flowers.

I love how they glow in the late afternoon light.

These cactus were, for once, more flower than spine. I still wouldn't advise that you try to pick them.

Just as the bluebonnets were fading, these little yellow flowers, brown bitterweed, opened up.

And then came Indian blankets, acres and acres of orangey red.

Even the deer seem amazed.

Up close you can see how the petals vary from red with yellow tips to entirely red.

The other nice thing about being at home for a while this spring was that I made so much progress on my various projects. I finished knitting the Calza shawl I was working on during March's cruise. (The pattern is available through Webs here.) Manos del Uruguay Serena hand-dyed yarn (60% baby alpaca, 40% cotton) is a delight to work with and results in subtle color variations. The finished shawl is light, soft and drapes beautifully.

The simple short-row pattern is worked in garter-stitch with a ribbed cable on the long end so both sides look exactly the same. Ta da! Completely reversible! I have gotten lots of use from it already, finding it great for airplane rides (remember the days when they offered blankets for free?) and over-air-conditioned restaurants.

On the quilting front, I finished piecing and quilting my Cookie Tree quilt. It awaits a binding.

I also finished piecing and quilting this broken star quilt for my younger daughter. It too still needs a binding.

I quilted the star's diamonds using an orange peel design and the background in a radiating pattern of alternating wavy and squiggly lines. I added up my quilting time and was amazed that it came to over eight hours!

I made a set of placemats out of some blocks leftover from another quilt. They were a fun way to practice freehand quilting on my long arm machine before I attempted the star quilt above.

I finished enough sixteen-patch blocks for a quilt and started putting them all together.

And finally, I have kept up with the "Westering Women" block of the month. Month four, Lone Elm, has so many pieces that it is naturally a very busy looking block. I think my use of only three fabrics helps to alleviate that and makes the overall tree design stronger.

My next post or two will be about China so I hope you'll visit again soon!