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Gates of a Nightmare, Nanjing

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

I enjoyed the wall so much yesterday that I decided to check out another section to the south. According to the hostel staff the Lake section is largely intact from older restorations while it’s obvious todays section has been recently rebuilt. It was still nice to walk between the Qinhuai River and the wall, imagining a sea of invaders where traffic and trains now whiz by.

I came to Zhonghua gate, the largest and main southern gate of old Nanjing. It used to have a large castle on top until the infamous 1937 invasion by the Japanese army. It was from this gate that the soldiers entered and began their bloody massacre that left as many 200-300,000 people dead and countless millions forever scarred by the rape, torture and slaughter that took place. While here I’ve skimmed past the topic of Japan and my time there as this is understandably the epicenter of animosity and hate.

With the castle structure gone, what’s left are three gates that once contained huge stone doors. There are 27 caves in the gate walls that can hold 3,000 troops or 250,000kg of grain. They’re empty now except for the old stone cannon balls, called lei, excavated from from the site. Other caves house exhibits and the persistent vendors to which I’ve become immune. Everything in China is “so cheaper for you.”

Ming city walls of Nanjing

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

The people of Nanjing have been the friendliest I’ve encountered in China so far. Shanghaiese are friendly, but with the prevalent tea scam and hundreds of art students pestering you to see their gallery, sometimes it’s hard to pick out the folks who are just looking to chat. I’ve found Chinese tourists on holiday to be so inviting and friendly, the hard part is distinguishing the nice folks from the scammers.

When I arrived in Nanjing (formerly Nanking) tonight I was approached by three people offering to help me find my way, one girl even getting on her phone to track down my hostel. Good start.

The highlight of Nanjing is definitely the old Ming city walls that still stand around the old city proper. About 60% of them still remain and once made up the largest city fortification the world has ever known. Everyone always thinks about the Great Wall, but China has a bunch of lesser known city walls that are just as extraordinary. The walls here are huge and when intact reached nearly 34km all around. Needless to say Nanjing was and still is massive.

The best way to see the wall is busing up to Xuanwu Lake and walk along the southern shore until the wall suddenly emerges from the trees to your left. It´s about 80 feet tall here so you can´t miss it.


About a kilometer down there is a random staircase leading up into the wall. For 10RMB you can get on top and will have free access to explore for the day. From the top the view of Nanjing is amazing. The lake, the buildings, and Purple Mountain to the east make for a great panorama and Nanjing is one of China´s more attractive cities.I was excited to see an old wall but had no idea how big and in what condition it would be in. I think much of this section of wall has been refurbished, but you can still walk along and read the names on the ancient bricks. The emperor made each brick maker sign their product as an early form of quality control. Not sure what happened if a brick broke.

Walk along the wall toward the pagoda at Jining temple. It´s 5yuan to get in and 5 to climb the pagoda. This is an active Buddhist monastery for women and a perfect spot to relax and let the chanting of Sutras calm your mind.
I´m here on a perfect breezy spring day and the ambiance and surrounding scenery couldn´t be better. 

The Gardens of Suzhou

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

Suzhou is only one hour west of Shanghai, and just happens to be the sister city of Portland, my home town.  Wandering through the famous gardens of Suzhou and soaking up the zen makes a nice day trip from Shanghai, ... [Continue reading this entry]