There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Nanjing (1) Sun Yat Sen, The Zhonghua Gate and Salt Water Duck: Part 1 of South East China

'Do not saepk louldy'
(Slogan seen on a tee shirt, Hong Kong to Nanjing flight)

10th and 11th of November 2016

Staffordshire to Nanjing via Manchester and Hong Kong is a monstrous journey, fifteen minutes short of 24 hours door to door. It largely went to plan, though the thirty minute circumnavigation of the roundabout at junction 15 of the M6 was not the best half hour of our lives.

We met our guide, S, at the airport and Mr D, her driver, took us the 25km into the city along an 8 lane highway first past fields, then a forest of high rise apartments, a vast university campus with art gallery, library and gymnasium, and finally a VW factory before reaching the city walls, the traffic building steadily as we neared the centre. Nanjing (‘southern capital’ - c.f. Beijing, ‘northern capital’) has some 8 million inhabitants and behind the walls were the towers of any major modern city.  We worked our way through the traffic to our hotel in the city’s north-western corner.
Jiangsu Province within China

We have stayed in many Chinese three star hotels over the years. In rural areas they can be spartan, though often the best available, while in cities they are usually good. Our Nanjing hotel was the probably worst we have stayed in. The d├ęcor was tired, our carpet was badly stained and it had an odd feature we have encountered once before - a transparent bathroom. There was a blind, but only half a door.
Our hotel room and its interesting bathroom
There was a blind to pull down, but who thought a glass bathroom was a good design idea?
S had indicated a nearby road which had, she said, many restaurants and after a short sleep we decided to check it out. Nanjing has a first world infrastructure, but at ground level it is more basic, and we found ourselves walking through what may have been a red light district. ‘Restaurant road’, though, lived up to its billing. There were dozens of them, from street vendors with various things on sticks, through scruffy holes-in-the-wall up to some smart fish restaurants.

We wandered back for more rest.

Since picking at an airline lunch we had eaten nothing and by 7 o’clock, although neither of us felt hungry, we needed to go out and do something.
A bit of Nanjing's city wall
I know its not a great photograph, but it is largely in focus and was taken from a moving car. After being awake for 25 hours I think that is some sort of achievement

We chose a bright-looking restaurant largely for the picture menu on the wall. Only inside did we realised it specialised in hotpots, cook-your-own meals which require the diner to tick off their choices from a list – an almost insurmountable problem for us illiterates - and we could not reach the pictures without climbing over other diners.

Our waitress spotted the problem and quickly produced an iPad with pictures and prices of the non-hotpot dishes. This is the new China. Flicking through, we selected a dish of squid (we hoped), which looked big enough for two. It soon arrived and was both a good size and indeed squid (we once ordered pig’s trotters from a picture menu in the belief they were beef ribs) in a soy-based broth with angels’ hair noodles. It was simple, elegant and just what we needed. With two beers – Snow 'Draft’ (actually in half litre bottles) is a sad, feeble brew but was all they had - it came to under £8.

Nanjing within Jiangsu Province


Our night’s sleep was hampered by bodily uncertainties about what time it really was. Morning looked cool and misty but was the mist just water or had each droplet, saturated with pollutants, formed round a nucleus of particulates?

Nanjing in the morning - it is probably pollution
 Normally we like a Chinese breakfast but today we were offered little more than rice, noodles, bean soup, tea eggs, steamed buns and a choice of hot orange juice or milk; the Chinese drink tea all day but not necessarily at breakfast.

S arrived on time and Mr D drove us along where the northern section of the city wall had once been, to the railway station where we took delivery of our tickets for Monday. Obtaining a ticket, or even entering a station, requires the production of an identity card – or passport in our case.

Beyond the station, the wall reappeared behind Xuanwu Lake, originally a medieval reservoir, now the centrepiece of a park. We were heading east of the city to the wooded slopes of Zijin Shan, (Purple-gold Mountain); unfortunately so was everybody else. It was the first dry Saturday for two weeks and the whole of Nanjing was intent on climbing the 450m peak or visiting the botanical gardens, the Ming tombs, or any other of the district’s attractions. Turning left at the lights onto the narrow parkland road took an age, and it was slow going once we had got there. Chinese traffic jams are not helped by the local driving style in which consideration for others does not feature.

The mausoleum of Dr Sun Yat-sen is the most distant attraction and also the biggest. As we learned when we visited his house in Shanghai, Sun is treated with almost religious reverence, both in the People’s Republic and in Taiwan. Mr D drove us to the car park from where we walked through an avenue of plane trees to the mausoleum.

Through the avenue of plane tress to the mausoleum of Dr Sun Yat-sen, Nanjing

It seemed much quieter here after the earlier madness, but we soon discovered this was a false impression. The crowds were immense – it was not just a Saturday but also Sun Yat-sen's 150th birthday.

The entrance to the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum park

The path inside is lined with snow cedars interspersed with osmanthus bushes. The fragrance of osmanthus had been a feature of our 2010 trip to Guilin, and would have been here had we been a month earlier.

In January 1912, as the Qing Empire began to collapse, Sun was elected president of the provisional government in Nanjing. Ufortunately only Yuan Shikhai who controlled the military in Beijing, could actually force the emperor’s abdication so in March Sun resigned to avoid civil war.

In 1919 as war lords threatened to fragment the country, he co-founded the Guomindang – the Nationalist Party – and for the next six years worked to bring together the many disparate progressive groups, realising the communists must be included for there to be any chance of success.

He died in Beijing in 1925 aged only 58 and was buried in a crystal coffin. He had expressed the wish to be buried in Nanjing, so when his mausoleum was completed in 1929 his body was brought from Beijing. The plane trees were planted to provide a processional route for his coffin.

The mausoleum sits 392 steps up a hill. The 3 is for his three principles (nationalism, democracy and care for the people), 9 is the largest, hence most important digit and 2 represents the linked Communist party and Guomindang.

The pavilion after the first 100 steps

 After the first 100 steps there is a pavilion from which you can look up and see the next 292.

Some of the last 292 steps, Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, Nanjing

 Nearing the top my legs began to wish he had fewer principles. Looking down, when you eventually arrive, the steps cannot be seen. This, apparently symbolises the good Doctor’s wish not looking down on the people. I do not understand; it is obvious to those at the top that everyone else is below them regardless of the visibility of the steps.

Looking down from Sun Yat-sen's mausoleum, all but the topmost steps are hidden from view

Joining the queue we filed round the great man’s statue and photographed it from the permitted location. There are always flowers here, but his birthday meant a bumper crop. Behind the statue is the mausoleum itself, which is not open to the public. Inside is a replica of the Crystal coffin, while the man himself lies several meters below in a more standard casket.

Sun Yat-sen in his mausoleum

The 1937 Japanese attack on Nanjing will feature in the next post, but as a taster we passed a shot-up urn on the descent.

Damaged urn, Sun Yat-sen's mausoleum

From the mausoleum an easier journey back into central Nanjing allowed time to ponder what might have happened if Sun Yat-sen had lived longer. Could he have prevented the Guomindang under the conservative Chiang Kai-shek (who was his brother-in-law) fighting a civil war against the communists? Hostilities paused during WW2 as they united against the Japanese but resumed afterwards leading to Mao's victory in 1949 and Chiang Kai-shek’s retreat to Taiwan where he set up the Republic of China. The ROC and Mao’s Peoples’ Republic of China glowered at each other across the Taiwan Strait, each claiming jurisdiction over the other’s territory. Supported by the USA, the ROC held the Chinese UN seat, including their permanent seat on the Security Council until 1971.

We entered central Nanjing through the wall. Although some parts are older, the walls were mostly built by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang (r1328-98) the founder of the Ming dynasty. They were 36km long and unlike the rectangular walls of Datong or Xi'an they curved round a potato shaped city apparently dangling from the southern bank of the Yangzi.

The Zhonghua Gate is claimed to be the biggest city gate in the world. Looking through the tunnel you see four sections, each once protected by a substantial wooden gate. In theory once the attackers had broken through, a stone gate slid down behind them, trapping them and allowing the defenders to mop up at their leisure. With four such killing chambers the gate was considered impregnable – not that anybody was stupid enough to check that out, at least not until the rules of the game changed in the 20th century.
Looking through the Zhonghua Gate, Nanjing

 There are steps to the top for men and for cavalry - the walls were wide enough for six mounted men to ride abreast.

Model of the Zhonghua Gate, Nanjing

From the top we could look beyond the city. In the 1980s, when the population was under 2 million, Nanjing remained within its walls. The current 8 million inhabitants spill some distance into what was once the countryside beyond.

Outside the walls of Nanjing

 And we could look back at the city inside, at towers of the business district….
The Nanjing business distict
 …and the low rise buildings of the rebuilt ‘old’ quarter.
The 'Old' quarter of Nanjing
 We walked a little way along the wall, which here is new. Of the original 36km, 21 are original, of the rest, some is missing, but parts have been rebuilt.
Along the Nanjing city wall near the Zhonghua gate
 WW2 started in 1939, when Britain and France declared war on Germany over the invasion of Poland. But in Azerbaijan, it started in July 1941 when the Germans attacked the Soviet Union and in America everyone knows the correct date is December 8th 1941, the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. In China WW2 started in July 1937 with the Japanese invaded. Conveniently, everybody agrees it ended in 1945.

The Japanese took Nanjing in December 1937.  They came through the Zhonghua gate, though they did not need to take it, modern weaponry was sufficient to reduce the wall on either side to rubble. What followed is known as the Rape of Nanjing, which features in the next post and explain why the city has so few old buildings.

Next we headed for the Confucian Temple district, an area of old style one or two storey buildings round the Confucian Temple. It looks like a recently built simulation of old China, because that is exactly what it is.

Lynne at the entrance to the Confucian Temple district, Nanjing
We had previously discussed Nanjing's food specialities with S. ‘Duck is popular,’ she said. ‘There is salt water duck, which you might like to try and duck’s bloody noodles* which you probably won’t.’ We are made of sterner stuff, but thought it best to start with salt water duck - a reference to cooking method rather than habitat.

S took us to a small restaurant and stayed to help with the ordering, which was important as the system involved buying a card for an appropriate figure (we chose 100yuan) and then sticking your head through a series of hatches to select different parts of your meal, the cost being swiped off the card as you go.

The restaurant, Confucian Temple district, Nanjing
 We chose salt water duck – it comes in slices and is served cold - and a vegetable salad. It did not look much so S insisted we needed a bowl of noodle soup as well. After indecision at the noodle counter S decided for us, though her selection, with its strong woodland flavour of wild mushrooms, would not have been our choice – had we been capable of making one. The duck was pale, very tender and full of bones; pleasant enough but (and I would say this very quietly in Nanjing) not a patch on Beijing duck.
Lynne with salt water duck, vegetable salad and a bowl of noodle soup, Nanjing
Lunch over, we returned our card, took our change and went out to explore the district.
The rebuilt Confucian Temple, Nanjing

The Confucian Temple has been rebuilt and the city fathers are currently also rebuilding the examination cells. From the 9th century until 1905 advancement in the Chinese civil service was  based entirely on examinations in Confucian principles. Those who passed at county level became local officials while the very best came here for the provincial examinations. Each candidate was allotted a cell just big enough for a desk which could be reconstructed as a bed at night. The examinations lasted a week and they had to bring with them all they needed including their food. The successful became provincial officials, while the very best went on to the Imperial examinations with the chance to really make it big and become a mandarin.

Rebuilt Confucian Examination Centre, with the cells down the left hand side
We walked round the nearby stalls. Everybody knows that beans improve brain power. The most efficacious are called ‘mandarin beans’ and the stallholder will bag you up a couple of hundred grams for 20 Yuan - a tiny price to pay for a life of wealth and power.
Want some Mandarin beans? Nanjing
Other stalls were frying ‘stinky tofu’ which has many regional variations. The Nanjing version is said to be mild though the cloacal pen and ink seemed strong enough to us. There were also Nanjing duck stalls, I attempted to photograph a pile of ducks, pale and unhealthy looking beasts compared to their Beijing cousins, but two passing ladies hijacked the auto-focus without my noticing. Still, they make a pleasing picture - and the ducks are there in the background.
Two Nanjing ladies - and a pile of salt water ducks
We spent some time in the temple quarter among the shops and beside the canal, but nothing is as old as it pretends to be.
Canal and dragon screen, Confucian Temple District, Nanjing
 We returned to our hotel in mid-afternoon. Our itinerary had included a drive across the world's longest double-decker road/rail bridge spanning the Yangzi a few hundred metres north of our hotel. The bridge was closed for repairs (road and a metro tunnels are still available) but S suggested we could get a good view from a hill in a nearby park. There was enough light left for this expedition but we failed to find the right route and decided to seek further advice tomorrow.
We failed to find the viewpoint, but it was a good walk in the park

Later we walked back down the street of a thousand restaurants to one where we had earlier seen pictorial menus.

Nanjing's many tourists are overwhelmingly Chinese - we had seen four other westerners all day - and it is still possible to cause a stir here by marching into a restaurant in possession of round eyes and a big nose. The days when this might cause fear or even hostility are long gone and we quickly gathered four young waitresses round our table all smiling and eager to help as we leafed through the pictures. They made suggestions and shook their heads when we selected dishes that were unavailable.  Eventually we all agreed on shredded pork, which arrived with sliced spring onions and pancakes - a poor man's Beijing duck - and a huge dish of morning glory with garlic, ginger, pork lardons and ample chillies. Half way through one of the dishes they had said was ‘off’ arrived. We pointed out the error (by mime) and after a conference they agreed and took it away. I hope none of them got into trouble as they had all been so helpful. Actually, the cubes of belly pork in a highly glazed sauce looked good and part of me wanted to eat them as well, but even gluttony has its limits.

And so (burp) to bed.
Nanjing at night
*Wikipedia calls it duck blood soup.

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