Sunday, August 21, 2011

The math is mind-boggling!

The Marble Boat
As part of my duties as topic editor for Chinese history, I wrote an article on how Express Dowager Cixi embezzled  money from the Chinese navy to renovate the Marble Boat at the Summer Palace. The boat was built by Emperor Qianlong in 1755 and destroyed by foreign forces in the Second Opium War. Cixi wanted the boat refurbished for her 60th birthday. Work started in 1888 and ended in 1893.

OK, here is where I get overwhelmed by the math. One credible source says she stole 30 million taels of silver to pay for the project, which also included work around Longevity Hill at the Beijing historical site.
From research, I learned that a tael is 1.3 ounces of silver, so that would work out to 39 million ounces of silver.

Back then, at least in the United States, silver had a set value of $1.29 per ounce, though the market value was somewhere around 60 cents an ounce. If I have done my math correctly, that works out to $22.4 million. I cannot imagine any construction project costing that much money back then, even if the project did take five years to complete.

But wait: It gets better. The price of silver today is about $42 an ounce, give or take a few dimes. Multiply $42 by 39 million, and the figure is an astronomical $1,638 trillion. Someone please tell tell me I didn't do the math right.

By contract, the Chinese government spent only $17.7 million to renovate the Summer Palace and two other major parks for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

Are you going to China?

If China is in your future travel plans, check out Cheryl's China, and feel free to email me with any questions about travel in the Middle Kingdom.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What I like about Xi'an

Silk Road monument in Xi'an
When I lived in Beijing and talked with my Chinese friends about visiting Xi'an, all advised me to take the overnight train there, go see the Terra Cotta Warriors, and take the night train back. While I've never been overly impressed with the Terra Cotta Warriors, even if it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I did find a lot of other things to like about the city.

I really liked the Muslim quarter with its narrow alleyways and colorful meat markets. I enjoyed walking on the wall surrounding the old city. And the Big Wild Goose Pagoda was an interesting temple. I especially liked the street snacks I sampled, including a honey-nut bar and a persimmon dripping with honey.

One of the things I most enjoyed about Xi'an, however, I came across by accident as I was wandering around the city. In a residential area, where a grassy median should have been, was a marvelous monument to the caravans that traveled along the Silk Road of yore. Depending on your perspective, the Silk Road either started or ended in Xi'an, an early capital of China.

The stone monument was made up of massive men and camels. It was surrounded by rose bushes, though I doubt the trip centuries ago was anything but roses.

One of these trips to China, I ope to get out to Kashgar, which was the official end or start of the Silk Road in China.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to the Middle Kingdom, please visit Cheryl's China and feel free to email me with any questions you may have.