Monday, September 12, 2016

A Bit of Shopping and The Great Mosque.


Original Publish Date: September 12, 2016.

I met up with the gals for the buffet breakfast at the hotel.  I'm slowly getting reacquainted with Yim and acquainted with Malamo or Mal as Yim calls her.  Mal's much more relaxed this morning than last night, enjoying a hearty Western breakfast.  Yim and I went Chinese, eating rice porridge though after seeing Mal eat her eggs, I was craving one myself.  The one nice thing about staying at an upscale restaurant is you get a better buffet.  I left the table happily filled and ready to get on with the day!

Shortly after 9a, we were down in the lobby.  Our first order of the day was to set up our tour to the Terracotta Warriors.  We decided to hire a car and driver to take us there and bring us back.  Since I saw the warriors on my 2009 visit, I decided to let Yim and Mal make the arrangements.  Yim had an idea to visit another destination as well so it will be a full day of sightseeing for us.


Today was our day to explore Xi'an on our own and so I led the gals to the Muslim Quarter - a place I know well and I thought both of them would enjoy strolling in.  Plus, I didn't make it to the Great Mosque yesterday, which I had wanted to do and so today, I would do that with the gals.

On the way to the Drum Tower, we once again passed by the Taiwanese pastry shop that I had bought mooncakes from yesterday.  I knew Yim would be interested so we stepped inside and well, both of us left with bags of pastries :-)  You can never get enough of mooncakes when it's mooncake time of year!


We made a few photo stops along the way.  I was quickly finding out that Yim enjoys taking photos as much as I do so it's okay that we stop for a shot or two.

The Muslim Quarter was as crowded today with people as it was yesterday.  By now, the sights, sounds, and smells were very familiar to me but it was new to the gals so I let them soak in their surroundings.

Yim is as much of a foodie as I am and I envy her living in Sydney where she has access to an incredible array of ingredients for cooking up her dishes.  Like me, she was curious about all the foods they were serving up here.


I remembered that when I was here in 2009, it was by sheer luck that I saw the plaque, posted up on the side of a building, pointing in the direction of the Great Mosque.  Today, as we strolled along,  I kept an eye out for the sign.

I also remembered that the last stretch of walk to the Great Mosque took me through a narrow alley flanked with souvenir shops.  The moment I saw those shops today, I figured we were on the right path.  I had no intentions of buying anything but Yim was on the lookout for something to take home and apparently, Mal is quite the impulse shopper.  She had already made quite a few purchases in Beijing and was ready to make more in Xi'an!


Of course, I spoke all too soon because we did enter a small art gallery that caught Yim's attention.  The entire place was owned and run by the family of the artist.  Yes, I looked around.  No, I wasn't going  to buy anything.  Yim picked out something.  I did too.  She bought.  So did I - I fell in love with print below and the colors will work perfectly in either my living room or my guest room.

The artist is Ding Jitang and the work is titled, "Picking Jujubes".   The son also gave each of us two sets of postcards, printed with Ding Jintang's work so I now have a mini-gallery of his pieces.  I just might take a few of them and frame them up as a collage.  I didn't plan to buy but I'm glad I did.


After Yim and I had settled on our purchases, Mal decided to buy a print as well :-)  We negotiated a bit of a discount with the seller as you're expected to haggle for a deal.

Luckily, the print I bought is literally on paper as thin as tissue paper and the son of the painter was able to tuck each of our paintings into cardboard boxes.  I know well enough now to only buy works of art that I know can fit inside my suitcase.


We didn't walk all that far before we arrived at another gallery.  This time it was a set of six wall tiles that collectively make up a decorative wall plaque.  I really liked it but I wasn't going to buy it.   No....not going to buy.  But really like.  Okay, maybe I will buy if the price is right.  Oh.....what's that?  That's a cute painting?  Oh....and there are more cute paintings.  Okay, what if I can negotiate a good price for the two pieces.  May be I will buy.  But no room in suitcase.  Yim had so thoughtfully brought me some gifts all the way from Sydney and what little space I had in my suitcase is all gone.  But....the tiles are small and the painting can fit inside the box I got from the other gallery.  Hmmm....Okay, we negotiate.  250 yuan for both pieces.  High price I thought but I really liked what I had in my hands.  Okay, okay, I buy but that's it.  No more.

In the meantime, we also admired the artist's so called finger paintings.  Looking at them, it was hard to see how they were painted with a finger so he kindly showed us. 


His talent and skill were amazing.  So  much so that Mal could not resist but to buy a small, handpainted book mark from him.  She's absolutely obsessed with pandas so she picked out a bookmark with a few of the cuddly creatures painted on it.  We asked him to put her name down on it so he did the best he could to break down her name, phonetically, into Chinese and then write that down on the bookmark.





Watching Mal gleefully look at images of pandas brought a smile to my face.  She has a big soft spot and she's very sweet natured.  She's very quickly growing on me.  As the artist was hard at work for Mal, I spotted this old man sitting on the stoop, right next door to the gallery.  He was selling street maps of Xi'an for 5 yuan each.  I decided to buy one for him.  I gave him a 10 yuan bill and did not take the change back.  He could use it more than me.   I loved his face.


Now, it was time to get to the mosque.  It was starting to drizzle and we needed to get a move on it.   We took one wrong turn but otherwise, got to the mosque easily.

The entrance to the mosque is on Hua Jue Lane so when you see this sign, you know you're in the right area of the Muslim Quarter.


I knew we were close by when I spotted skullcaps for sale.


The Great Mosque in Xian is one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved Islamic mosques in China. According to historical records engraved on a stone tablet inside, it was built in 742 during the Tang Dynasty (618 AD -907 AD). when Islam was introduced into China by Arab merchants and travelers from Persia and Afghanistan during the 7th century.

We bought our entry tickets and then made our way to the entrance arch.



Occupying an area of over 12,000 square meters (3 acres), the mosque is divided into five courtyards and is nicely landscaped. Once inside the complex, we all just wandered around on our own.  On my 2009 visit, I barely took any photos as I really wasn't much of a shutterbug back then. Today, it was different.  I really enjoyed capturing images today so here are a few.  For some reason, my lens kept fogging up so there's a hazy look to quite a few of the photos.


The one thing that strikes you about the mosque is the architecture.  The complex looks and feels more like a Buddhist temple.   To start with, there is no obvious minaret.




The first courtyard contains an elaborate wooden arch nine meters high covered with glazed tiles that dates back to the 17th century.






In one of the pavilions, several ancient stele were on display.



In the third courtyard stands this tower known as the *Xing Xin Ting* ("Pavilion for Introspection") or *Sheng Xin Lou* ("Tower of the Visiting Heart").

As described in Sacred Destinations:
"Rising over ten meters tall, the octagonal brick tower consists of three stories separated by eaves and enveloped in wooden balconies.

Unlike earlier mosques, this tower combines two functions into one: the moon watching pavilion (or bangke tower) and the minaret. It is designed in traditional Chinese style: the exterior is decorated with blue glazed tiles and dragon heads. Inside, the carved ceiling is brightly painted with lotus flowers."



In the center of the second courtyard, a stone arch stands with two steles on both sides. On one stele is the script of a famous calligrapher named Mi Fu of the Song Dynasty; the other is from Dong Qichang, a calligrapher of the Ming Dynasty. Their calligraphy because of such elegant yet powerful characters is considered to be a great treasure in the art of handwriting.



The prayer hall is located in the fourth courtyard.  There were a few men inside so I kept a good distance to take photos.  I don't want the sound of my camera shutter to disturb them.  As you can see from the time on the clock, midday prayer would soon begin and we would have to leave.








Standing in the fourth courtyard and looking back towards the entrance you see the *Feng Hua Ting* (Phoenix Pavilion). Dating from the Qing Dynasty, it is named for its resemblance to a phoenix with its outstretched wings. The Chinese-style roofline conceals an Islamic-style wooden cupola that covers the central space.




By the time we started to make our way out, men were coming in for prayer.  Drizzle was also turning into larger raindrops so after a quick visit to use the facilities, we quickly made our way back to the entrance.







The souvenir shops are in a covered part of the market,  Just as we made our way back to them, the skies opened up and rain poured down.  There was nothing we could do but wait for the rain to pass.  Yim had her umbrella and I had my rain poncho so we were prepared to deal with the wet weather but not so Mal so once the downpour subsided we found a vendor selling cheap umbrellas.  She was going to suffer through the rain but we talked her into getting the bumpershoot especially since it was only a few yuan for one.   Now it was on to our next destination.  I figured with all the rain, it would be good to do something indoors....a museum would be perfect or so I thought :-)