Marco Polo Bridge

In March, we visited Marco Polo Bridge (in Chinese, Luguo Qiao–which doesn’t have anything to do with Marco Polo but I forget what its actual Chinese meaning is). One of Jared’s professors from Peking University kindly took us there in his nice car and told us all about everything.

Jared and his teacher.

Unfortunately, he took us in the evening since we could get on the bridge for free after 6:30 or something, so the pictures are all kind of dark.

One of the proclamations by Emperor Kangxi.

Apparently, westerners call it the Marco Polo bridge because they first heard about it when Marco Polo wrote about his travels in the 13th century. The bridge here now has been updated since the 11th century when the first one was built (apparently it needed renovations in the 17th century), but the lions decorating the edges and some of the stones in the middle are the original stones, I think.

View to the city at the end.

Our guide told us that nobody knows exactly how many lions there are: people have tried to count them and come up with different numbers. I guess some of them have gotten worn away with time, so that doesn’t help either. This lion, for instance, has a little lion under its paw and another by its head–and every lion on the bridge is different.

Marco Polo Bridge
Stone Lion
Marco Polo Bridge
Some more little lions.

Another thing Marco Polo Bridge is famous for is being the place where World War II started in China (also known as the Second Sino-Japanese War) in 1937. My Resident Historian (everyone should keep one on hand!) tells me that Americans don’t think of WWII as starting until their involvement in the war with Pearl Harbor in 1941, but that the official date should really be July 7, 1937 because that’s when Japan extended its invasion of China.

Original stones in the middle. The ruts are where wagons used to cross over.

Apparently, the objective of the Japanese was not just the bridge over the river, but Wanping “city” at the other end of the bridge. (It’s really more like a fortress or castle, but our guide told us it was a city.)

Wanping Fortress

The fortress was built a lot like Xi’an: city walls of nearly 30 feet thick, a series of gates and courtyards for the entrances(so when the enemy had broken through the first gate they’d be penned up like sheep and easy to kill), and guard towers directly on top of the gates. It’s quite a bit smaller, though.

The gate into the fortress

On the outside walls of the castle, you can see the marks of the Japanese invasion. The walls are riddled with bullet holes and in some places scarred by cannon fire. But even a cannon can’t do much against a 30-foot wall.

A  large hole in the wall from cannon fire, I think.
Bullet holes.

Eventually the Japanese did capture the fortress of Wanping, and Marco Polo Bridge became known not just for its beauty, but for its tragedy.

Jared and me trying not to shiver while standing still.
The lions guarding their bridge.

Happy New Year!

It’s midnight in China, and it feels like we’re in the middle of a siege right now, as loud booms, sharp reports, and far-away thunderclaps crack. The smell of gunpowder and explosions is everywhere: burnt, acrid, sharp. We try not to think of what it’s doing the air quality.

Why, didn’t you know trees grow red leaves around here?

This city is echoing, filled with thousands of distant booms, and some not-so-distant ones. Every Chinese person left in Beijing must be setting off firecrackers right now. Unlike holidays in the US, where only certain designated authorities can set off fireworks, anyone in China can set off any type of firework so everyone is setting off every kind. And so we’re carried back to what the Civil War must have sounded like: thankfully, though, without the accompanying carnage. This is a celebration.

Built-in Christmas lights.

At the louder cracks, we lean out of our windows, trying to catch a glimpse of some of the fireworks, making sure they’re not headed for our building. I finally manage to get the camera ready in time to get a picture against the dark night sky.


At 10:00 p.m., we decided to wander around campus for while to get some up-close action. We should have brought ear protectors, because wow are these fireworks loud. Take the noise of a string of Black Cats and multiply it times ten or so and you’ll have a rough estimate of what these sounded like.

These are the really loud type, and this string went off for five minutes straight.

Unsurprisingly, it’s nearly all men setting these off. They seem to love the loud sounds and watching things go “Boom,” with the added spice of danger from perhaps getting hit by an errant Roman Candle.

Such a typical “man” picture.

One man came up to us and asked if they have fireworks in America (at least, that’s what I think he was asking!). We tried to tell him we did, but that you can’t set off big ones there. I’m not sure he understood us–we were lacking some pretty necessary vocabulary words, as somehow they don’t teach you to say “fireworks” in Chinese class.

Sparklers are for the younger members of the crowd.

And then we went home and tried to go to bed–I’m sure you can guess how sucessful that attempt was. Strings of fireworks being let off outside one’s bedroom window do not a sucessful bedtime make. The noise was a cross between a loud hailstorm on a metal roof and a catfight.


And that was how our first day of the new year ended, not with a bang, but a whimper. Of relief that the fireworks were finally over, and we could go to bed.

This week, we’re planning to see some of the other New Year celebrations–yes, it’s celebrated for a whole week. Probably by the end of the week, we’ll be able to sleep through just about anything.

City Walls: A Visit to Xi’an

Before our trip to Xi’an gets lost in the smog of memory, I should probably share more of it with you.

We saw all the touristy things, of course, and many of them were really neat. My favorite, I think, was the city wall.

The wall of the city has been there since 1370, and is, apparently, one of the oldest Chinese city walls. It’s absolutely enormous, too. It’s about 39 feet tall and 50-60 feet thick (I know! 60 feet is huge!). The neatest thing about it is that you can rent a bike and ride all the way around the top of the wall, which provides a great view of the rest of the city.

So without further ado, I present you with pictures of the city wall.

The elephant things are in preparation for the Chinese New Year.
One of the guardhouses over a gate.
An archway inside.
Jared, for scale.
On top of the city walls.
King of the world.

Because the air quality was so bad, we wore masks the entire time. Have you ever worn a mask in a humid place? It’s awful–the water collects inside and starts dripping down your shirt front. So, be thankful for your clean air–and keep it that way!

Stylish, huh?

Actually, a lot of Chinese now wear masks for fashion statements. They say it enhances their mystique or something. Should I bring this trend back to the States?

Looking down on the moat. See how bad the smog is?
Another moat picture.
The wall at night. They light it up really prettily.
People come out every night and dance in the parks.
They have the nicest park around the city wall.

Oh, and we rode a bicycle built for two around it, and Jared made me sing “Bicycle Built for Two” the whole way around the wall. But I didn’t want to make you all feel jealous of our mad cycling skills, so we failed to get a picture. Actually, for some reason it’s really hard to take a picture of yourself on a bicycle. So you won’t be able to see us on our bright yellow bicycle going crazy fast with no hands. (Don’t worry–it freaked me out. Just ask Jared).

This visit seems to be taking up a lot of blog space, so maybe NEXT time I’ll finish it up and get on with the boring pictures.

Beijing at Night

In which there are lots of pictures and few words.

One of the few Christmas light displays in Beijing. It had a really cool raindrop effect also (which doesn’t show up in the picture).
Another “Christmas” display. Except they mixed it up with Valentine’s day and tractor day?
Waiting at the bus stop.
Impressionism. Actually, just the bus window, but it does have a rather cool smeary effect.
What Beijing traffic is like. Except these people are being good and are stopped at a stoplight.
This one also has a sort of “futuristic” effect.
A few more Christmas lights.


A few random buildings and bus stop.
More people–at the mall.