China Archives - Page 3 of 4 - Eva Varga

October 15, 20139

discovering china

你好 (Nihao) !  I’m delighted you are following along with us as we tour China, city by city.  We recently returned from a three-week family holiday in China. This is the second of ten posts whereby I introduce you to the culture of China through our eyes.  Today, I bring you to The Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven – two of Beijing’s most popular tourist attractions.

The Summer PalaceThe Summer Palace

The Summer Palace (Yiheyuan) is a “biggie.” Once an imperial pleasure garden, it has temples, residences, pavilions, marble bridges and an enormous lake for boating. In the 19th century, the Summer Palace was a favorite spot of the extravagant Dowager Empress Cixi, who restored many buildings and added new ones. For centuries, the emperors with their entourages relocated to escape the heat in summer, and today the Summer Palace is a great place to go with kids. A whole day excursion in itself (bring a picnic), the Summer Palace can be crowded on weekends, so try to go on a weekday.

East Palace Gate – Arriving through the monumental East Palace Gate, this is the heart of the palace complex, with administrative, residential, and pleasure buildings, such as a three story theater. Don’t miss the Happiness Longevity Hall (Leshoutang) where Dowager Empress Cixi made her home from May to November. Outside the hall are exquisite bronze statues of cranes and deer, inside is the empress’ throne room.

Long Corridor – This shady walkway goes on for almost half a mile, gloriously painted on the underside of the roof. Supported by brightly painted emerald green and bright red columns, each beam has a different painting of flowers and historical figures. The Long Corridor ends at the lake, where you can check out the amazing Marble Boat, a solid marble palace built in the shape of a two-story paddle steamer!

Longevity Hill – If the kids need to expend some excess energy, climb up to the top of Longevity Hill. You’ll pass by the majestic Precious Clouds Pavilion and the Buddhist Temple of Sea of Wisdom.  When we visited it was a beautiful day and we could see clear views of Beijing in the distance, but usually it’s a bit hazy (so don’t do this expecting a view). When you walk down the north side of the hill, there’s a shady pine grove.

Kunming Lake – Rent a boat and join Chinese families on the lake. Most fun is an electric boat, where you can really explore the lake which is quite large. If you want to go under your own steam, rent a pedal boat. Boats are available for rent near the dock at the Marble Boat, and at the South Lake Island.

peking duckPeking Duck

After spending the morning at the Summer Palace, we made our way to … Restaurant meeting our foreign exchange student and her family for a traditional meal.  We were surprised to discover we had our own private dining room … what a treat!  We exchanged gifts and enjoyed one another’s company as we learned to make our own “duck taco” using the pancakes and lean meat.

If you get the chance to try Peking Duck, see if you can talk the restaurant into showing your kids the wood-fire ovens where the ducks are roasted and then ask the staff to show you how to eat it. Most restaurants assume you know what to do with each course, but many first-time visitors have no idea. Kids might really enjoy dipping the crispy skin in the sugar.


After our meal, we took the bus to a traditional Chinese neighborhood, called a Hutong; houses built around courtyards, like a village in the city. Kids will enjoy a fascinating glimpse into Chinese family life.  We walked around leisurely – did a little shopping and marveled at the architecture.

Temple of HeavenTemple of Heaven

A few days later, we met up with a childhood friend who happened to also be in Beijing for business.  We were delighted that he had a day free to do a little sightseeing with us – and he was delighted to have company.  We spent the morning at the Temple of Heaven and opted to forgo a tour guide – in fact, I don’t even recall anyone offering their services here which now that I think about it was rather unusual.  Anyway … we purchased a map of the garden area and Buddy was confidant he could lead us through … and he did so very well.

Each year at the winter solstice, the emperor visited the Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest and sacrificed at the Altar of Heaven to ensure a bountiful harvest.  Circles and squares never looked more beautiful than they do at the Temple of Heaven complex. Shapes and numbers have cosmological meanings – circles symbolize heaven, squares symbolize earth, four columns represent the four seasons, twelve columns represent the months of the year, the number nine is divine (heaven has nine levels).

Visitors can stand on the round stone in the middle of the Altar of Heaven (Circular Mound Altar). Look down at the concentric circles around the stone, 9×9. Each circle is the number nine multiplied, out to nine circles. The round Altar of Heaven sits on a square base, which has four different entrances (and each with has nine steps). In the Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest, count the columns. There are 28 columns, 4 big ones +12+12 = four seasons, plus twelve months, plus twelve Shichen hours (the day was divided into 12 hours).

The Temple of Heaven complex is bigger than the Forbidden City, so take time to explore the park. There are many other exquisite pavilions to discover, grassy areas and flowering tree, bring kites to fly, and you might hear people playing flutes and the erhu (traditional Chinese stringed instrument).  We joined in a game of Tai Chi Ball with two young men only to discover they were playing it as a means to captivate unsuspecting tourists.  We fell for it but were only too happy to bring a set home for ourselves.  It was fun!

You won’t want to miss my post tomorrow, Beijing Part 3, when I will take you to Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City.

Autumn-Hopscotch-2013This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s Autumn Hopscotch, a 10 day series of posts by over 40 different homeschool bloggers. You can visit the hopscotch home page at iHN for ideas and inspiration in topics like Encouragement for Parents of Kids with Special Needs.

All 10 days of Discovering China will be linked to one landing page.  Bookmark it for reference!

October 14, 20133

discovering china

Beijing, capital of China, was founded by Kublai Khan in 13th century. The Ming Emperors built the lavish Imperial Palace (Forbidden City) and Temple of Heaven, and Beijing (sometimes romanized as Peking) remained the capital through the Qing dynasty, until the early 20th century. In 1949, Mao Zedong declared a new era in Chinese history, establishing the People’s Republic of China, a one-party socialist state controlled by the Communist Party.

Today, contrary to what you might expect, Beijing has amazing green parks and lakes, where emperors and empresses once composed poetry amidst nature. Not far from the bustling metropolis, adventurers can explore the Great Wall of China, Ming Dynasty Tombs, The Temple of Heaven, and many more incredible national historical and cultural sites. It is a great city from which to begin our discovery of China.

慕田峪 The Great Wall 

The Great Wall, the longest man-made structure in the world, is one of the new seven wonders of the world, and nothing can prepare you for the sensation of actually looking at the Great Wall as it winds through miles of steep hills and rugged countryside.  Up over mountains, into rivers, across deserts, spanning thousands of miles and different time periods.  Standing on the ramparts, we could easily imagine we were defending China against the Mongol hordes.

great wall windowEmperor Qin Shi Huang (Qin Shi Huangdi) constructed the first Great Wall to keep out the nomadic invaders to the north. The wall, a huge earthworks rampart, took 11 years to build, from 221 – 210 BC, and stretched 3,000 miles. During the Han dynasty, the wall was lengthened and more watchtowers were built to add protection for merchants traveling the Silk Road.

mutianyu watchtowerOver the next 1,000 years, the Great Wall crumbled, but the Ming emperor rebuilt the Great Wall bigger and better than ever. Working on the wall from 1368 to 1644, the new and improved Ming wall was thicker, covered in glazed bricks and stone blocks, and lengthened to 4,000 miles, from Jiayuguan in the west, to the sea at Shanhaiguan in eastern China.

The Great Wall is a series of towers, connected by a whopping big double wall, with gates at key locations. Soldiers guarding the wall lived in the watchtowers or forts. Beacon towers were used for communications when invaders were spotted, signal fires were lit (or rockets were launched) all along the wall.  When you visit the Great Wall, you can walk on the wall for miles in any direction, encountering towers as you go – some towers are elaborate multi-story forts, others are just a simple beacon tower.

great wall defenderThe most popular place to visit the Great Wall is Badaling, but Mutianyu is your best bet with kids. Mutianyu is less crowded, and it has a cable car that takes you to and from the wall.

Olympic Park

There is definitely something special about visiting an Olympic site when you clearly remember the Games and the excitement you had when watching them. There is obviously the amazing Bird Nest Stadium, the Water Cube, the place where the flame was lit, the tower. The list goes on. We visited on a weekend when no events were taking place and whilst there were others there, it was by no means busy.  It was very enjoyable to wonder around and soak up that special atmosphere.

olympic parkOlympic Park is easy to visit (it’s on the subway) and it is free to walk around and see the outside of the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube (you do need to go through security and have your bags scanned).  We bought a kite with the Beijing Olympic mascots and enjoyed taking turns flying it while Patrick took photographs of the stadium.

olympic parkWe had the whole day and planned a surprise for the kiddos – they didn’t realize that there was a water park inside the cube – they were delighted to make this discovery. As swimmers, we enjoyed seeing the competition pool aspect of the Water Cube but the whole building seemed to be crumbling and badly maintained on the inside. It appeared as though it was finished hurriedly and they haven’t maintained it well. As such, I would suggest going at night for the lighting (though we did not).  The water park aspect was expensive and I can’t say I wasn’t a little disappointed, but we had a great time nonetheless.

Join me tomorrow for Beijing Part 2 when we visit the Summer Palace, The Temple of Heaven, and try Peking Duck with the family of our exchange student.

Autumn-Hopscotch-2013This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s Autumn Hopscotch, a 10 day series of posts by over 40 different homeschool bloggers. You can visit the hopscotch home page at iHN for ideas and inspiration in topics like Family Geography Using Geography Quest, Composer Studies for Young Scholars, and The How To’s of Book Clubs.

All 10 days of Discovering China will be linked to one landing page.  Bookmark it for reference!

September 27, 20134

Prior to our departure for holiday in China, we had enjoyed the new DreamWorks movie, Turbo. Snails were thereby on our mind and to the delight of the kiddos, we happened upon a few small garden variety in the ancient gardens of China and at the Panda Breeding Center in Chengdu.  In Yangshuo, we discovered what the locals called Duck Snails, a large freshwater snail belonging to the family Ampullariidae.  The more accepted common name is the Apple Snail, an aquatic gastropod mollusks with gills and an operculum.

apple snails

Field Studies

We first noted the presence of these snails because of the bright pink egg masses that we observed all over the shoreline of the Yu Long (Dragon) River. These egg masses are laid on solid surfaces up to about 20 inches above the water surface. An average clutch contains 200 to 600 eggs, with each egg measuring 0.9 to 1.4 mm in diameter. Soon thereafter, as the kids began to play in the river, we found adult snails in a variety of hues, ranging from creamy yellow to a light pink.

As amateur naturalists, we are not sure exactly what species we observed (Pomacea canaliculata or Pomacea insularum) – perhaps even multiple species.  Based upon our research, we are leaning towards P. canaliculata.  Even so, the kids enjoyed playing with them and watching them glide across the surface of the bamboo boat structure that was anchored near shore.

Sweetie expressed wanting to take them home and of course, I explained that this was not only illegal (customs would certainly not allow us to transport live animals back to the states) but it would also be negligent on our part and potentially environmentally catastrophic.


Phylum Mollusca

When we returned home, I took advantage of their interest in the snails, to engage them in a little nature journaling.  I pulled out a few text books and had the photographs we had taken in Yangshuo available on the iPad.  Sweetie ran to her room and brought back one of the shells she had collected during our stay.  We then got about sketching and noting our observations in our journals.

As they worked, I read aloud a book that I had purchased years ago in Hawai’i, Beyond ‘Ohi’a Valley: Adventures in a Hawaiian Rainforest by Lisa Matsumoto.   The illustrations are very beautiful and the characters are very comical; the storyline tells about the native animals of Hawai’i and the impact of invasive, non-native species.  While discuss how similar problems could occur with the introduction of the apple snail – in fact, it is happening …

Pomacea canaliculata is native to temperate Argentina and northwards to the Amazon basin. Through human introduction, this applesnail has rapidly spread to Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong, southern China, Japan, Philippines, and Hawai’i. There are indications that they are invading Australia. In the 1980’s, channeled applesnails were introduced in Taiwan to start an escargot industry. This snail was originally imported under the name “golden snail” or “golden applesnail” for human consumption. However, the Asian escargot market never materialized and applesnails, that escaped or were released, ultimately came to cause extensive damage to rice fields. 

I’ve posted more pictures and information about Pomacea canaliculata onto Project Noah.  I encourage you to hop over if you are interested in learning more about Apple Snails.

Submitted to the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival at Handbook of Nature Study.

August 19, 2013

This week flew past and we have two winners: Alex (Canada) and Kat (U.S.A.)! The surprise package scavenger hunt contest is now closed (and I’ve added the answers to the quiz below), but don’t fret, I’ll continue to hold little contests and giveaways like this one in the future!

Would you like to get a fun “surprise package” from me and my kids? A package of cool, child-friendly things from China that will make your family do cartwheels on the front lawn like Kung Fu Panda?

scavenger hunt

To mark the 6-year anniversary of our homeschool journey—and to say “xiexie” for all the warm support Academia Celestia has received since I posted my first article—I’m holding a little contest.

The contest is a quiz about this site, and the first 3 readers to submit the correct answers to 10 questions will win a “surprise package” for their family!

Entry is open to all and is completely free, so read on for all the details!  I encourage you to subscribe .. in the future, I will be hosting more activities like this and subscribers will have an advantage.

**Contest Rules for the “Surprise Package” Scavenger Hunt**

1. The first three people to email the correct answers to the quiz questions will each win a “surprise package.” Your email should be sent to: eva underscore varga at me dot come

2. I will respond to each email as quickly as I can, confirming whether or not all 10 questions are answered correctly. If not, you are free to resubmit your answers one more time.

3. When there are winners, I will update this blog post with the news.

4. When three winners have been confirmed, the contest will close and the answers will be added to this blog post. However, the contest will still close on Aug 25, even if there are fewer than three winners. (In other words, the contest will close when there are three winners, or on Aug 25 whichever comes first.)

5. The “surprise packages” will be shipped in Sept to the winners.

Again, this contest is open to everyone, both subscribers to the Academia Celestia (Eva Varga) newsletter and non-subscribers alike.

 **Questions for the “Surprise Package” Scavenger Hunt**

These 10 questions are about my family in some way. The answers can be found in my blog posts. (Hint: Use the ‘Categories’ menu and / or the ‘Search’ wiki located in the left sidebar.

Short answers are fine, but please make sure everything is clear and complete.

Remember, the first three people to submit the correct answers will be the winners! Best of luck to all!

1. What does Sweetie want to be when she grows up?

An engineer.  (See Girls in Engineering Workshop Captures Her Imagination)

2. Who does my son, Buddy, idolize and what skill has he developed as a result?

Indiana Jones.  (See Conversations with Indiana Jones)

3. When the kids were younger, we volunteered as living history interpreters. Where did we do this and what year did we portray?

High Desert Museum / 1880.  (See Homeschooling in 1880 :: Living History Volunteers)

4. What service learning project did my Roots & Shoots club undertake that took more than 2 years and nearly $500?

Interpretive Signs.  (See Our Interpretive Sign Project)

5. We presently live in California. In what city and state did I grow up? (hint – I mentioned this in a post published in July of this year.)

Bandon, Oregon.  (See The Secret of the Tides)

6. As members of the Sons of Norway, we have pursued cultural skills in cooking (amongst others). What dish do I now incorporate into our annual traditions?

Fårikål (other acceptable answers included Blotekake and Lefse).  (See Fårikål: Norway’s National Dish)

7. Thus far, we have welcomed one foreign exchange student into our home. What country was she from?

Beijing.  (See A Surprise from Beijing)

8. A surprise discovery on a Roots & Shoots outing provided us with the opportunity to observe the life-cycle of an insect. We sketched the complete cycle in our nature journals. What insect was it?

Mosquitoes.  (See Mosquitoes: Summer Nature Study)

9. What project did my kiddos enter in their first science fair?

Toothpick Bridges.  (See Building Toothpick Bridges: A Lesson Plan)

10. We have taken many exciting field trips over the years, one to the home of a famous composer. What is his name and where did he live?

Edvard Grieg / Bergen, Norway.  (See Scandinavia ~ Day Eleven)




May 21, 2012

When my mother came down to visit us last week, we were eager to show her around some of our favorite locales, one of which was Turtle Bay.  It was here that we stumbled into an ancient world – one we previously were not familiar.

Welcome to the ancient world of penjing. It’s a place where a lone, wind-blown tree grows meditatively from the side of a rocky cliff. Where the stunning beauty of Chinese landscapes have been captured in their grandest element and then, through an ancient art and the touch of a master gardener, reduced to a size that fits on a table.

Penjing (pronounced “pen jin”) is an art form that dates back more than 1200 years, evidence of penjing is depicted on the walls of the tomb of a Tang Dynasty prince from the Shanxi region of China.  This ancient art form is similar to bonsai, the art of dwarfing trees and shaping them, but differs from it by incorporating intricate outdoor vistas.  In its finest form, penjing became a scholarly art like poetry, calligraphy, painting, and gardening.

Sculpted by Chinese penjing master Qiao Hong Gen, the pieces pictured here were amongst the eleven pint-sized masterpieces on exhibit in Turtle Bay’s McConnell Arbortetum & Botanical Gardens.  As we wandered about the gardens between our usual lessons, we marveled at the miniature landscapes.  Sweetie evan stated she wouldlike to give this form of expression a try herself.

January 4, 20122

One of the biggest worries I had prior to our relocation last year was in finding a native speaker of Mandarin to continue my daughter’s lessons.  I posted an inquiry on the local homeschool board hoping another family could recommend someone.  My query resulted in only one option – can you feel my anxiety?

I gave him a call shortly after we moved and made arrangements to meet.  Both Patrick and I were very impressed and agreed to continue our studies with him.  Phew!  In addition, not only would Geneva be continuing her lessons (two 1 hour sessions each week) but Jeffrey would begin as well (two 30 min sessions each week).Exploring Chinese Culture: Cooking Chinese Food

The other major difference was that the lessons would take place in his home.  One of the greatest advantages of this is that it enabled us to take part in regular cultural lessons, specifically cooking.   Over the past few months, we have had three cooking lessons – each very different:   饺子(jiaozi),  热干面 (règānmiàn),  and  毛豆 (máodòu).

“For me, cooking is an expression of the land where you are and the culture of that place.” ~ Wolfgang Puck

Each dish has been wonderful and the kids and I have been able to recreate each a few days later to share with Dad.  It has been a delight … and a bit of surprise.  When we were reflecting upon 2011 and discussing our goals for 2012,  Jeffrey stated that his favorite food was Chinese Food (I hadn’t realized this before) and that he wants to get better at cooking.

Exploring Chinese Culture: Cooking Chinese Food

As we have continued to learn how to prepare a variety of Chinese dishes, I have compiled the links to the recipes and lessons below for your convenience. I will continue to add to this list as we progress.