Kaifeng - Capital of Northern Song Dynasty (960 to 1126)
One of the fun things about traveling in China is that their recorded history is unbroken for a couple thousand years! So, they have facts on hand like the fact that between 1194 and 1938 the city of Kaifeng was flooded 368 times by the Yellow River. The result of all the flooding is that the oldest buildings are covered under 25 to 30 feet of dirt dumped by the river in all the flooding. So, all the good stuff has to be dug down to and no overly tall buildings can be built because the foundation isn"t allowed to go too deep for fear of damaging things. It makes Kaifeng a fun city to wander in. Lots of narrow streets, old architecture, and a night market which is good fun. "Night Markets" seem to be pretty common in China. Basically at night a bunch of vendors set up mobile restaurants and shops for the masses to wander through and socialize around. It is crowded, noisy, full of bizarre looking food, and fascinating people watching. Kaifeng"s is particularly famous. The first night, we walked through the area where it would be and there wasn"t much going on at about 6PM. We walked back through at 7 and a whole city and sprouted out of the pavement! We saw them coming the next night. At some signal we didn"t see, two rows of night market carts already set up were streaming down the street with flaming grills and boiling pots cooking on the way. It took maybe 30 minutes for the area to be packed and tables and chairs set out. The rush was on!
We also had the good fortune of meeting an English-speaking rickshaw driver. He may actually be the ONLY English-speaking rickshaw driver. He"s getting a bit of fame for it apparently. While we riding around in his rickshaw people stared at him speaking more than at us as foreigners! He was even offered a job by some guys walking by. Apparently that happens all the time with people asking him why he doesn"t get a "good" job. It was great for us and he really seems to enjoy what he does! We learned a lot about the architecture of some of the old buildings and some of the things we learned will help us throughout China. Some of the most interesting things we learned were about the symbolism in decorating. I"ll try to explain it a bit here.
Lots of buildings here (old and new) have various animals and plants featured on them. Fish, pomegranates, flowers, etc. Some of it looks a bit funny sometimes. I had been thinking that it was just a peculiar sense of taste when it turns out they have a deeper symbolic meaning based upon the sound of each word in Chinese. While the Chinese written language is beautiful in its own way, it isn"t very poetic to splash the word "more" across a building and blatantly display ambition. But a fish that when said sounds like the word "more" is much less offensive somehow. Not exactly like but sort of similar to corporate USA"s fascination with vertical space in entries to their buildings to imply strength, power, and success. It just wouldn"t work to write out the words across the entry! It is particularly easy in Chinese because so many words sound alike. A beginning Chinese example is the word "ma". Depending on how you intone it, it can mean "mother", "horse", "to scold", "hemp", or be a question mark. We have a similar issue in English only not as often and there usually isn"t any help in intonation. (For example the sound of "plane". It can be "airplane", a verb for shaving down a piece of wood, a big flat area of ground, or describe how I like my food.)