Monday, 31 May 2010

On the silk road

In 2 weeks, we set foot on the ancient capital city of Chang'an, traversed across the Gobi desert to Dunhuang, experienced desolation at the western pass of the Great Wall of China in Jiayuguan and then carried on our journey to Xinjiang.

There were beautiful sceneries along the way as always, farmlands, grasslands, mountains, desert... but none could match the extraordinary charms of Tianshan and Tianchi. We saw people of different races and cultures. The Hans, the Tibetans, the Muslims and Uyghurs are mostly kind and generous. We slept on trains, galloped on horses, rode camels, sat on a donkey cart (...and ate some donkey).

Here are some of the places we have been to.

The terracotta army museum.

Iron Bridge over the Yellow River at Lanzhou.

Beautiful scenery outside the window on our 5 hours drive from Lanzhou to Xiahe.

Monks spinning prayer wheels at Labrang Monastry in Xiahe.

Tibetan nomads and their horses in Sangke Prairie.

Riding a horse on Sangke Prairie.

Desolation at Jiayuguan.

Thousand hands Guanyin (千手观音) performance in Dunhuang.

Echoing Sand Dune (鸣沙山) in Dunhuang.

Cresent Lake (月牙泉) in the middle of the desert.

A road through the flaming mountain (火焰山). No sight of Iron Fan Princess.

Muslim prevalence in Turpan.

The Uyghur children loved to be photographed.

Magnificent beauty of Tianshan (天山) and Tianchi(天池). Picture perfect.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Vienna, where the old and new converged

The Austrians have certainly got plenty to brag about to world. From a long list of great classical composers (Mozart, Strauss, Schubert, Haydn...), to the internationally renowned Vienna Boys Choir, and horses that waltz to a Mozart piece... it is cultural, aesthetical, sophisticated and once home to the most famous immigrant, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It is the same feeling as I had 2 years ago when I walk down the streets of Vienna once again. The serenity and peace are well in agreement with my penchant for quietness. The sound of traffic, noise from machines, the hustling crowd which are familiar sights in most Asian cities are absent from here. The unusual tranquillity is charming and is what I love most about this place.

Vienna is far from being a solemn and boring city. It is urbane and modern amidst its cultural endowment. International boutiques sell leather goods, fine clothings and expensive watches under the roof of buildings that are centuries old. There are a myriad of cafes around Stephenplatz, some of chic elegance, others with a touch of classic royalty. Being in the old school, my favourite is Cafe Demel founded in the 18th century, which was the royal confectioner of the Austrian Hapsburg empire.

A cup of Melange (coffee with milk and foam) at Cafe Demel. An Austrian gentleman once told me that the best thing about the cafe culture in Austria is that coffee is always served with a glass of water and you can sit for hours reading papers without being disturbed.

Vienna, in short is a city where the old and the new converged.

Horse carriage and taxi running alongside each other.

Statue eyeing on McDonalds. She's obviously "Lovin' it" too.

Wallpaper covering the exterior of centuries old Gothic church undergoing restoration. It is bizarre looking I must say, but ingenious at the same time.

"Mozarts" touting at tourists. Sunglasses are fine for the glare but not quite fine with the classic costume.