Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dark Red Earthen Tea Sets Factory Tour

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The final destination in Wuxi included in the tour is to a factory producing the famous local product of the state; dark red earthen tea sets.
We were brought on a short briefing and presentation on the interesting facts about the famous product here and the buying tips.
(Of course, the place is also trying to sell us their tea sets, which they used in the demonstration to prove the quality and authenticity, which only tea set lovers would know about).

These tea sets are famous because they were made from the earth collected from the bottom of the mine in Yixing; which has one of the right quality of the earth to make these tea sets.
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A Yixing tea set, which is made of the earthen clay, is considered to be a valuable addition to a tea set lover. The tea set is said to differ from normal tea sets in a lot of aspects, and the typical buying guide as shared by the experts included the usability and functionality of the teapot.
A genuine teapot made with the earthen clay could make a difference in the tea brewed; and this is especially meant for the brewing of green tea.

A few criteria when selecting a teapot:
1. The type of clay used to make the teapot
2. The physical touch of the surface of the teapot
3. The functionality; which includes the alignment of the spout to the handle, the fitting of the lid into the mouth and the smoothness of flow of the tea through the spout

1st criteria: Type of Clay
There are generally a few types of clay which can be used in making the teapot. The clay used are obtained from the bottom of a mine in Yixing, and generally known as the zisha clay. The colors range from red to yellow, and black and also in hues of rose-brown, light brown, dark brown and purple red-hues.
However, the ones which deserved attention are mainly two; purple clay and red clay.

The purple clay, or zisha, is the more common type due to its versatility. The hardness of this clay produced a lower frequency of the teapot's body, due to its solid iron hardness. Typically this would be used for quick brewing of fermented tea like Oolong.
Usually teapots made of this type of clay would be recommended for one's first tea set.

The red clay, or also known as Hongni/Zhuni, is the higher quality one due to the slightly harder exterior compared to that made of the purple clay. The higher frequency of this type of teapot makes it more suitable for aromatic tea like green tea.

2nd Criteria: Physical touch
Funny as it sounds, the smooth surface of the teapot and the feel of it when one touches the surface also plays a role in determining a good teapot.
The Yixing clay is reputed to be smooth, even if the surface looks a little rough.
If it were to feel rough or sticky at touch, it meant that the kettle was either mass produced (instead of individually crafted) or the clay was not from Yixing and may include other materials in the clay.

3rd Criteria: Functionality of the Teapot
A good teapot should have the spout aligned to the handle of the teapot, as it creates a smooth balance for the pouring of the tea. Also, the lid ought to fit properly instead of being a size smaller or larger and will not fall into the teapot.
Another important thing to check for is when pouring water out of the teapot. A good teapot will not spill, and the flow from the pot to the spout is smooth. Tea leaves should not get in the way or be stuck at the spout. When it comes to pouring from the teapot, of course the handle of the teapot does play a part as it should not be too close to the body of the teapot and one should feel comfortable when holding the handle. It should not be too close and the fingers/hand should feel comfortable and not be burnt by the heat of the teapot, nor is it at an awkward angle.

It is interesting to learn about the types of teapots and also the guide to tell a good teapot.
The main focus of the tea set is on the teapot, as the tea cups are more of the accessories to the entire set and usual ceramic clad cups could be used as well along with this tea set.
Cups are not that important, and could be selected from a variety and they need not match the tea set. Of course, it would be all different to a tea set collector.

There are many more things to learn about a good teapot/set, and I have found the following links to share:
Chinese Tea Set
Practical Tips

We did not buy any, as my father-in-law already own these tea sets; maybe I will share a photo of it in another post sometime.

Pictures of the clay figurines in the exhibition gallery
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The tour to this place ended our day trip to Wuxi.

To be continued to our next destination...

Fairy Islands or the Island of the Immortals borders Tai Hu

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From Turtle Head Peninsula Park, one can continue to be awed by the beauty of Taihu Lake by taking a short boat ride to the nearby island; Fairy Islands,which is one of the three small islands off the coast of the Turtle Head Islet.

There are several islands surrounded by Taihu Lake; and these islands were originally known as Sanshan Island or also Turtle Islands, and now Fairy Islands. These islands are also known as the Island of the Immortals where the beauty of the lake was said to be so mesmerizing that it even enchanted the gods and deities, who descended to earth to enjoy the wonders of the lake.
Being of godly nature, the gods, deities and even nature spirits are said to inhabit the island which is separated from human beings by the great Taihu Lake.

Years have passed, and although the deities or gods may not dwell among the living as they were said to be in the past, their legends continued to be a part of the local folklore.
Their legendary presence was said to have inspired the beautiful and picturesque nature, which created most of the scenic spots on this island.
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There were many temples built in honor of the deities; such as the Matchmaker God's Temple, Heaven Gate, Heaven Capital Fairy Mansion(Tiandu Xianfu), Heavenly Street and Heaven/Jade Emperor's Palace (Lingxiao Palace).
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The Immortals Cave and Dajue Bay with the immortals etched onto the rocks, creating the many grotto are also the spots that visitors will not be able to miss, without leaving the island with a heavenly impression.
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There is also a large statue of Lao Tzu on the island; in honor of the great old age teacher.
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Boats run between the Turtle Head Peninsula Park to the Fairy Islands regularly throughout the day, and if you are like me, on a tour, you'd definitely not miss visiting both top spots to relish the amazing scenery of the famous Taihu Lake.
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Enjoy Tai Hu Lake from Turtle Head Islet/Peninsula

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Tai Hu Lake is the third largest lake in China, and also another lake to add to the list of the top amazing scenery in the country.
The lake is one of the five most famous freshwater lakes; and covers a vast area of 2,420 square kilometres which covers two provinces; Zhejiang and Jiangsu.

To enjoy the breathtaking view of the lake, Turtle Head Peninsula/Islet is the ideal location as it is stretched like a turtle out towards the lake, thus earning its name.
The islet is shaped like a turtle gently docking its celestial head to take a further look.

Visitors can take in the view of the lake from the gardens of this popular tourist attraction; the Turtle Head Peninsula Park or also fondly known as 'Yuan Tou Zhu' (literally means Head of the Dragon Turtle).
The gardens and the whole park offers an amazing and panoramic view of the large lake Taihu, while taking in the natural settings of the trees, flowers and landscapes set in the park.

A stroll in the park during winter is definitely not as hot as in the summer, but I'd wished to see the cherry blossoms in their full bloom; in the Sino-Japanese garden where most of the cherry blossoms tree were donated by Japan.
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These trees are planted and can be seen (in the winter, for us, they have all withered) after one walks through the Jianjin and Lishe gate.
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The Changchun Bridge (translated into Long Spring Bridge) is the first scenic spot; and it is also where the lake is sort of separated into two parts.
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At the end of the bridge, cherry blossom trees are planted on both of the banks and it was said that when in full bloom (usually in April), the place would seem like it was covered with pink clouds. I am sure it is an enchanting sight for all the visitors to enjoy.
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From the bridge, there is also another lotus pond and Huxin Pavilion to look out for.
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This is a place best to enjoy the lotus flowers in the pond especially during summer.
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A turtle with a dragon head statue was erected in the middle of park; after the name of the park.
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It was definitely more windy and chilly to walk through the gardens during winter season, but the view was still nevertheless stunning.
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From this park, one can reach the adjoining island (one of the three small islands) by boat to continue enjoying the beautiful scenery of the lake, which will be in the next post.

The Turtle Head Peninsula Park is not to be missed if one wants to fully indulge in the beauty of Tai Hu Lake as it has been visited by many poets and scholars in the past which rendered it many recommendations, and earning it the Best Spot to enjoy Tai Hu.
In fact, Guo Murou, a modern poet was said to have composed a poem to praise this park,
"Where owns the best scenery of Taihu Lake? It is just on the Turtle Head Park" (source)

To be continued...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Wuxi: Zhong Shui Pearl Research Institute

Pearl is considered one of the precious produce in Wuxi; with its strategic location in the middle of the Lake Taihu, gaining its name as the 'Pearl of the Lake Taihu'.
The pearls produced here are of freshwater nature and artificially cultivated in the mollusks.

Sporting a big grain with a crystal-like glisten in its round shape, the pearls here are considered one of the best with its premium quality and purity in color.
Therefore it is no surprise that visitors on tour would be led to a pearl research center; and in our case, Zhong Shui Pearl Research Institute.
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I personally feel/expected that the tour should be designed in a more informative and educational style to provide a good insight into the origin of the pearls and the way in which it was cultivated. However, leading us into a room with a lady talking about the beauty and the quality of their pearls in front appeared to be more of a sales presentation rather than a knowledge sharing session.
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Thankfully the briefing lasted a short while before we were being led into an exhibition gallery where the pearls were being sold to visitors.

We were also told to have our lunch in the nearby restaurant (or the only restaurant) within the premises of the institute.
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For more details and photos of our lunch, check it out here.

Wuxi: Three Kingdoms City

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A place built initially for the intention of filming one of China's most prolific historical literature, the Three Kingdoms City offers more than just a filming location but also an insight into the remarkable journey of notable figures during the war period.

The 84-episode Romance of the Three Kingdoms, filmed in 1987, by Chinese Central Television Station (CCTV), is the main reason of the establishment of this location which was set to model the various places mentioned in the historical classic for the purpose of perfecting the scenarios as depicted in the story.
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The city is built on a area of about 86 acres located in the southwest of suburb Wuxi and is modeled after the architecture of the Han Dynasty.
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Since its establishment in 1987, film and movie makers have made their way there to produce their own version of Three Kingdoms; making many films and TV dramas and bringing the literature classic to life on the screen.
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Buildings, palaces, military camps, war locations, temples, gardens, towers are the structures forming the filming set and they are real-life model sets which appeared so realistic on TV and impressed the millions of tourists who visit this place every year.
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Walking through the model sets makes me felt like I was walking through the historical Three Kingdoms period; and the buildings and fields just makes me feel like I was on the battlefield as well.

To fit in with the overall theme of the place, even the workers there donned on costumes from the Han Dynasty period.
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There is also an opportunity for one to experience horse riding; which cost RMB20 for a brief 5-10 minutes ride.
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Another highlight when visiting the movie set is to catch the reenactment of the battle scene between Liu Bei's troop and Lu Bu, which is scheduled several times in a day.
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Located strategically beside the famous Lake Taihu provided the filming city the ideal location to build the naval base described in the novels.
Building a few piers and ships for each of the kingdom, the naval base is a sight to behold and to marvel at the military establishment.
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One can also board the war ships on a short tour which takes visitors to the middle of the lake before making a turn back to the shore and enjoy the entertainment provided on board.
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A statue of the famous strategist of that era; the idolized and honorable Zhuge Liang
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Other landmarks include the palaces, the Seven Star Platform where the notable Zhuge Liang prayed for the southeast wind, the Eight Diagrams formation, the Peach Blossom Garden where Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei took the oath to be sworn/blood brothers.

This is a place not to be missed by fans of the Chinese classic literature, as it provided an amazing insight into the actual events which took place during the period.
A place to enlighten on the history and to marvel at the majestic sets used in filming.