China scent

It is well known for those who work on alternative therapies that many of them evolved up to a signifacant degree in a country where they are applied even today in full harmony with classical medicine. This country is China. With a history of approximately 4000 years, the civilization of Huaxia (another name often used to represent China) is considered to be one of the most influential in the world.
Recently I had the chance to visit Beijing, the "North Capital" of China with almost 19,500,000 inhabitants, where tradition and contemporary technological achievements, wealth and poverty, vast parks and heavy air pollution, western fast food chains and local snacks, luxurious cars and fanciful modified vehicles coexist. All these and much more compose an extremely interesting scenery which leaves the visitor with the feeling of living in two parallel worlds, so controversial and yet so interdependable.

I came back from Beijing with the sense that notions such as "original", "ideology", "development" are absolutely relative and with the ascertainment that adaptability and collectivity are a society's best supplies.
I hope that the following photographs will waft to you some "China scent" and why not, urge you to add this faraway country to your travelling destinations.
Forbidden City from above. Perhaps the most characteristic sight of Beijing, residence of the Chinese emperors, their officers and courtiers for almost 500 years. It is difficult to grasp the city's size and magnificence from a photograph. It consists of 980 buildings, it covers 720,000 square meters and it could accommodate up to 10,000 people. Its construction begun in 1406 AD, lasted 15 years and required the hard work of almost one million workers and tones of wood and marble.

Inside the Forbidden City. Significantly different from the luxurious palaces of European capitals but its size, the perfection of its constructions and the details on the wall paintings and the carved marbles induce awe. Admirable is also the fact that the whole city was designed taking into consideration religious and philosophic notions of the Chinese folk. Symbolism is an integral part of the Forbidden City's design:
It was built exactly at the center of the ancient town of Beijing in order to highlight the importance of the imperial institution.
All main buildings of the Forbidden City are aligned with the North-South axis and their facade is facing the South, offering protection from the frozen North winds and the evil spirits (which were identified with the intruding hords from the North).
The roofs were build with tiles painted purple, the imperial color. Only the building of the library had black tiles because Chinese believe this color corresponds to water and could therefore protect books from fire. The buildings were princes lived had green roofs. Green corresponds to wood and represents growth.

Statues looking like dragons and other mythologic creatures are decorating the roofs and their number proclaims the significance of the building.

The Imperial Path is the carved on marble path which links all main buildings of the Forbidden City. Only the Emperor was allowed to pass over this path. Even today those sections are not accessible by visitors. The specific part of the Path shown on the photograph was constructed by a single piece of marble weighing 200 tones and was transported to Beijing drawn on ice.



Yin and yang are substantial concepts of the Chinese cosmic theory. These opposite yet supplementary energies are expressed by the two lions which were positioned at the entrance of every imperial building. The female lion (yin) holding under its claw a baby lion corresponds of course to the empress while the male lion (yang) holding the globe corresponds to the emperor and is a symbol of power and authority.

According to feng shui the dragon is the symbol of success, power, influence, creative energy, progress and protection. Therefore, it is also a symbol of the emperor and that explains its presence on the wall paintings of imperial buildings and also on the trunk of holy trees. The juniper shown on the photograph is over 500 years old. This tree is known as the "juniper of nine dragons" because the spiral grooves on its trunk resemble nine coiling dragons climbing up towards the sky. But in China dragons can be seen even in water...


Water is one of the five basic elements of feng shui. Without water life does not exist. The liquid element provides a home with health, prosperity and balanced relations. Some of the most privileged dwellings of Beijing have a view to a lake.


As well as the Summer Palace, where the lake is artificial and is hosting one of the heaviest ships ever built.


The Marble Boat never sailed in reality as its base was constructed with large stone blocks. The rest of the construction was made out of wood painted to imitate marble. 

 
Summer Palace is also hosting the longest corridor of the world. Its length is 728 meters and it was constructed so the emperor's Qianlong mother could enjoy her walks in the garden unaffected from weather conditions. I wonder, is it a coincidence that the emperor's name in English contains the word "long"?


The corridor that earned a place in the Guinness World Records book has over 14,000 wall painting decorations of extreme detail showing mainly landscapes of South China and glorious warriors.




Although China has high growth rate the last years and major effort is made by the state to improve the living standard of its inhabitants, living conditions for many Chinese people remain poor. However, Chinese are among those who enjoy a high life expectancy. One of the Chinese symbols for longevity is the bamboo tree. A plant that is tall, resilient, flexible, green all year round and able to withstand every crankiness of mother Nature. Chinese people believe that the secret for living a long, happy life is adaptability. Bamboo is fairly considered to be the best representative of this belief and it is not a coincidence that the Purple Bamboo Park is situated in Beijing. The former imperial garden is nowadays an oasis of coolness and amusement place for the inhabitants of Beijing who gather here in order to listen to music...

or to enjoy an outdoor foot massage!


Massage, reflexology, botanology and acupuncture are the traditional therapeutic systems of Chinese people and integral parts of their every day life. This is proclaimed by the innumerous massage institutes of Beijing, the ancient inscriptions reporting acupuncture points and meridians...


the numerous kinds of tea sold in super markets...

and on the street,

and the parterres of plants with healing properties.
 
The plant shaoyao or paeonia lactiflora is often seen in the gardens of China, not only because of the beatiful  flowers it offers during spring time. The roots of the plant are renowned for its antispasmodic properties, they are used to lower fever and reduce pain and on wounds as hemostat and antiseptic.
The systematic, almost daily low to medium intensity workout is another habit of Chinese people linked to longevity. The parks in Beijing and the country are full of people exercising in a little different way of what is accustomed in the West...



Slightly different is also food in China. Perhaps you have tasted one of the most famous Chinese dishes, Beijing duck, but would you be bold enough to taste sea cucumbers...


scorpions on a stick...

 
seaweed...

 
or shrimp nymphs;

 

If you do, you may be able to understand better the folk that 2,500 years ago constructed one of the seven wonders of the world, the Great Wall.
Contrary to what is said, this glorious construction can not be seen from the moon with naked eye. But believe me, this information can not diminish the intensity of emotions felt by the wall visitor. Walking on the pavement that stretches along the wooded ridge is a unique experience, almost magical. Every step is filling the organism with energy and the soul with a mood to push the body to its natural stamina limits. Every kilometer covered is a feat and every kilometer spreading ahead is a challenge.
The trip to Beijing was an experience that will surely leave its mark in my soul and spirit. If you are also planning to travel to China or specifically to Beijing I advise you not to set off without having packed two worthy books, namely "The Rough Guide to China" and "The Rough Guide to Beijing".

Both guides offer valuable and above all valid information about sights, the culture of China, daily trips you can plan and practical tips relative to staying, eating, shopping and having fun with safety and according to your financial ability.
For those readers who work on alternative therapies or those who would like to learn more about the longevity secrets of Chinese people I suggest you obtain two great books: "The Chinese Secrets of Health and Longevity" and the "Secrets of Longevity" that mention smart ideas and easy practices to ensure a happier, longer and more balanced life.