Sunday, April 8, 2018

Day Trip. Guanzhong Folk Art Museum.

have to admit that I was a bit hesitant, actually quite a bit hesitant, about visiting this place called Guanzhong Folk Art Museum.  But Genessa kept assuring me that it was worth coming to and I'm glad I listened to here.  I was imagining a museum filled with all sorts of artifacts and indeed that's what it is except it's an open air museum and the artifacts are mainly houses.  More about this later in the posting but for now, I have to do the obligatory "post up about breakfast" blurb.

After enjoying two afternoons of free tea at the Eastern House Boutique Hotel, we all decided it was worth the $13 USD each to have breakfast here as well.  The offer quite a large buffet selection of dishes that were a mix of Eastern and Western dishes.

As well seasoned travelers, we know to stuff our selves full at breakfast because you never know when lunch will come around.  We each went back for several helpings! 😁

When we exited our hotel at 8a sharp, our guide, driver and car were already waiting for us.  Our guide introduced himself as Nathan and my first impression of him was that he was very nice, spoke excellent English and did not look at all *Chinese* as you can see in the photo below, which I took of him later in the day.  He told us he was Uyghur, from Urumqi, which got us all excited as we told him that was our next destination!   We talked to him quite a bit about Xinjiang and of course, I was curious how he liked living in Xi'an.  Although the Muslim community in Xi'an is predominantly Hui, their food and customs are similar enough to Uyghur that Nathan feels comfortable living here.  Of course, growing up in China, he was required to learn to speak and write Mandarin so he is able to easily integrate with the larger *Chinese* community here.  But just one look at his facial features and you know his origin is elsewhere.

Xi'an is not a big city though according to Nathan, the Chinese government is attempting to make it a larger city by offering citizens financial incentive to relocate here.  I think the government wants to spread its population out so people are not heavily clustered into a just a few big cities.  What they are wanting to do with Xi'an is already evident in that there are clusters upon clusters of high rise apartment buildings.  Hopefully, the government is taking the steps to do proper urban planning so the infrastructure (utilities, roads, public transportation, schools, hospitals, etc) that are required to support a booming population are all in place before masses of people descend on the city to live here.

Heading out past the city the one thing that you do notice is just how good the roads are here.  I think pretty much every country around the world has emulated the US highway system (same green and white road signs) so it all looks very familiar.  I don't think it would be hard to rent a car and drive around.  Hmmmm.....perhaps another trip idea.....a self drive tour through China!

Even though the Guanzhong Folk Art Musuem is not located that far away from Xi'an city, it did take almost an hour for us to reach the place.

From the parking lot, we strolled along a path that cut through a small garden.  Lots of pretty spring flowers in bloom.

Peonies were in full bloom.

At the end was this beautiful gateway which was the entrance to the museum.

While Nathan got our entry tickets, I took a few photos....just a few of the small entry plaza and the entry gateway itself.

The pole like things are hitching posts i.e., the posts that you tie you horse to.

The museum is the brainchild of man named Wang Yangchao who was an official in the National People's Congress aka the Communist Party.  During the Cultural Revolution, many of China's historic landmarks and relics were destroyed.  Determined to preserve whatever he could of what was left, Mr. Wang set about collecting cultural artifacts including stone and wood carvings, stone and wood pillars, furniture, paintings, porcelains, woodblock prints, shadow puppets, carved windows and doors, and large bells.  In total, the museum is home to 33,600 items which Mr. Wang and his team collected over a period of about 23 years.  Included in the collection are some 8,600 stone hitching posts that date back to the Tang, Qing, and Ming dynasties.  Someone had to single mindedly put just that one collection together!   Incredibly, Mr Wang paid for everything out of his own pocket.

He even saved old courtyard homes by having them dismantled, one stone block at a time, and reconstructed on a site that would eventually become this museum.   In all, 40 houses dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties were dismantled, relocated and rebuilt.  Another 20 houses were built brand new but in accordance with designs dating back to both dynasties.  All 60 homes are presented along the recreation of an ancient Qing dynasty street.  In some ways, the museum gives us a small inside into an ancient Chinese residential street.

Mr. Wang began his collection efforts around 1985 and the museum formally opened to the public in 2008.  It was the first private museum dedicated to Chinese folk art and in my opinion, it was truly a labor of love.  Future generations should be thankful to a man who had the vision to preserve a small part of China's cultural heritage.

The entrance gateway to the museum is something worth pausing and taking a closer look at.   Known as Zhao’s Gateway, the structure is 15 meters (49 feet) wide and 13 meters (43 feet) tall. It has a large stone gateway in the middle and two side gates.

With our tickets in hand, we followed Nathan inside.  He then gave us brief insight into this special place.

One you pass through Zhao's Gateway, the first thing you see is this carved brick screen, which was a common feature of a gateway in ancient Shaanxi architecture. First built in late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), this gateway was relocated the city of Weinan. The original mansion that it belonged to had been destroyed, leaving just this gateway.

From here, a long walkway took us past the collection of houses.  Many had descriptive plaques but most were unnamed.  So, I have little information to share about any of them.  Not that it really mattered to me.  Happy in my ignorance, I just enjoyed entering a few of them, seeing what the courtyard homes looked like back in the day and taking lots of photos....especially of the entry ways which I got a bit obsessed about as you will soon realize once you see all the shots I took of them!

I do have to say that to at least my untrained eye, I could not tell original art from reproduction.  Even with the houses, it was impossible to tell which had been relocated from elsewhere and reconstructed here versus which homes were newly built from ground up.

The carved facades were incredible.  To think that this is how houses were adorned back in the day is incredible.  Puts modern day housing design to shame.

Several of the homes were used as mini exhibition halls, displaying the museum's extensive collection of artifacts.

These next two photos show step stones that people used to stand on in order to mount their horses.

Many of the museum's collection of 8,600 stone hitching posts are displayed outside, flanking the walkways.

But a good number are housed inside a small building.  There are dozens of posts here and each is different.  It's incredible to think that the ancient Chinese went through the trouble to carve stone hitching posts rather than just put up a wooden pole.  That most certainly would've been easier though perhaps not quite as beautifully decorative.

In the same exhibition hall, some of the museum's woodblock collection was on display, along with the prints that they would have been used to make.

Surprisingly, we managed to spend about two hours at the museum.  The courtyard houses turned out to be very interesting and it was such a picture perfect day for a walk in an open air museum.  In some ways, I felt like I was strolling down and ancient street in China.  At least I could pretend I was. 😁

From here, we headed back to the nearby town where Nathan and our driver took a few minutes to grab a bite to eat.  The four of us were still very full from breakfast and even though I suggested everyone grab a small bite to eat, there was zero interest.  So we waited for the guys outside the was much to nice to be sitting inside the van.  Although we told the guys not to rush their eating, they were in and out of that place in no time.  And so we continued on our journey to our next destination, Danjiacun, small ancient village that everyone who has been there raves about and also advises to visit now....before the government restores and renovates it and turns it into the next tourist hotspot.  In fact, I had been debating whether we should visit Danjiacun or a place called Pingyao.  After reading about how touristy Pingyao is, I decided we should follow everyone's advice and take the opportunity to visit the lesser known site first.  So, Danjiacun, here we come!