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September 25, 2001
Nanjing: centerpoint of history (Russell)

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Downtown Nanjing (note rickshaw and man in yellow silk!)

Our train arrived in Nanjing a half-hour late, at 10:00 AM.  Because the schedule was off, we peered desperately out of the train windows to ensure that we did not miss our stop or get off at the wrong station.  We did fine, and were met by our guide Christine and our driver Mr. Guan.

Our guides are getting younger.  Our Luoyang guide May was 23; Christine is 22.  (In a curious demarcation, May has a sister, while Christine -- born one year later -- is an only child because of China's "one child per family" policy.)

Our stay here was frustratingly short, as Nanjing is a centerpoint of history.  Its name means "Southern Capital," and Nanjing served as China's center until the capital was moved to Beijing (which means "Northern Capital").  Even afterwards, this city on the Yangtze River never lost its importance.  It was the site of the infamous "Treaty of Nanjing" after the first Opium War a century ago, when China was forced to open Canton and cede Hong Kong to the Europeans.  More recently, it was the site of the even more infamous "Rape of Nanking," when up to 300,000 Chinese were slaughtered by the Japanese during WW2.

Today, Nanjing is a very modern, very Western city that juxtaposes the natural beauty of the Purple Mountains with the technology of modern skyscrapers.  With only a few hours of sightseeing, we were frustrated in not knowing what we did not get to see here.

What we did get to see included an ancient Observatory at the top of the Purple Mountains.  Here, we saw complex astronomical instruments from centuries ago -- 3,000 years ago, the Chinese knew that a year was 365.25 days.  (Each of the instruments was accompanied by a sign saying "Taken by such-and-such European country in 18xx, returned in 19xx.")  As well, we ascended to a vista point at the top of the mountain where we could overlook the entire valley (well, all of us except Gail -- she freaked out at the sight of a man putting his baby up on the railing and she descended back down).

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Two tourists taking pictures from the top of Purple Mountain

Our second stop was the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum at the foot of the mountain.  Here was an elaborate memorial to China's first president after the fall of the "last emperor" in 1912.  Even though he served for only four months, Dr. Sun is well-remembered (even by the Communists) as "the father of China."  The memorial is at the top of 392 steps, representing China's then population of 392 million.  Our reward for completing this trek in the hot, humid weather was ice cream.

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Ascending the 392 steps

After lunch (our first buffet -- no wasted food!) and a brief walking tour of downtown Nanjing, we checked into the Mandarin Garden Hotel.  It was our first five-star hotel in China, and we were delighted finally to get two rooms with an adjoining door.  We decided to spare the boys any more sightseeing on our own, and we devoted the rest of the afternoon to home schooling.  As well, we were able to see our first English-language television broadcast -- CNN -- since arriving in China more than a week ago.

 

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