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Nanjing (again)

A couple weeks ago, Nichole and I headed off to Nanjing for my birthday. We’re both quite fond of Nanjing, and we wanted to see some sights we’d missed on our first trip. These are just a few of the pictures; there are many more here.

Our first stop was the Nanjing Massacre Memorial, which was closed on our last visit. For those who aren’t familiar with this dark bit of history, when the Japanese invaded China in December 1937, they tore through the countryside to Nanjing (then the capital of China). Over the course of a few months, they proceeded to torture, rape, and murder everything in sight. Though the exact number will never be known, it is estimated that over 200,000 people were killed. Most ended up in mass graves, one of which is the basis of the Memorial.

The Memorial is a stark, modern complex of dark stone and concrete. Everything is labeled in Chinese, English, and Japanese.

Nanjing Massacre Memorial

Nanjing Massacre Memorial

Nanjing Massacre Memorial

The most chilling part of the memorial was a chamber built directly over the mass grave. The soil had been excavated, and you could clearly see hundreds of skeletons. Many of them showed clear signs of their cause of death – bullet holes, bayonet wounds, iron nails – and many of them were women and children. For obvious reasons, no photography was allowed.

After we left the memorial, we headed to Fuzimiao, an important shopping and cultural district. We didn’t do much shopping, but it’s a nice place to walk around.



The next day, we headed to the Purple Mountain west of the city. This mountain is famous as the final resting place of Sun Yat-sen, one of the greatest heroes of modern China.

At the top of this massive stairway is the tomb of Sun Yat-sen. It’s one of the most important cultural sites in China, but it’s significance is frankly wasted on Nichole and I. We were more interested in the mountain itself.

Purple Mountain

Purple Mountain

We were planning to take a cablecar to the top of the mountain, but it was closed that day.

Purple Mountain

Instead, we headed up the long road that led to the Purple Mountain Observatory.

It was a beautiful walk through the mountains, and the recent snow made it even more beautiful. Nonetheless, it took us 2 hours to get to the top, and we were both quite exhausted.

Purple Mountain

Purple Mountain

We were put to shame by this old woman, though.

Purple Mountain

Once we reached the observatory, though, it was all worth it.

Purple Mountain Observatory

The Purple Mountain Observatory is probably the oldest operating observatory in Asia. It is used to this day, but it also functions as a museum to the old ways.

Purple Mountain Observatory

In addition to the modern equipment, you could see some of the original astronomical equipment, some of it dating back 500 years. Between my history nerd-dom and my astronomy nerd-dom, I was in heaven.

Purple Mountain Observatory

Purple Mountain Observatory

Purple Mountain Observatory

Purple Mountain Observatory

Purple Mountain Observatory

That evening, we went to Behind the Wall, a tiny hidden Mexican restaurant I’d discovered on our last visit. As we worked our way through chile rellenos and margaritas, the house band (basically two guys with guitars) produced some truly stunning classical guitar music. We ended up staying and listening for about 3 hours.

The next morning, we headed to the Nanjing Museum. Having been here a year ago, we’d already seen 2/3 of the exhibits, but there were a few new things to explore as well. We spent a few hours here, then headed to the bus station to catch a 1:00 bus (I had to teach a class at 6:30).

Unfortunately, when we arrived at the bus station we found that it was chaos. It was packed with people to a degree rarely seen outside major holidays. At the ticket counter, I found that the first bus home with any open seats left at 6:20, and that one was nearly full. We bought tickets for that bus and called the school to inform them that it didn’t appear I’d be making it to class.

Faced with 5 hours to kill, we decided to go to the Nanjing Zoo, about which we’d heard decidedly mixed reviews.

The zoo was nearly deserted on a weekday in January. We wandered through hillside paths to the bear area. As far as we could tell, there was 1 bear in the 3 pens, and this was the closest we got to it (this is max zoom, about 30 yards away).


We weren’t impressed. As we wandered along the hill, we saw a variety of other creatures. You can see in the pictures a general indication of the quality of the animals’ care. They all appeared healthy, but the cages offered little in the way of comfort or amusement.





The tiger cages were particularly sad. They were nothing more than a concrete pad with chain-link fence all around. The tigers laid around doing absolutely nothing. It occurred to me that a tiger was the sort of animal one should fear, respect, and admire, but no tiger should be placed in circumstances where it is the object of pity. To see such magnificent animals in such a situation was deeply sad.

About this time we were joined by a companion.


This scruffy-looking dog was being chased out of the zoo by some of the staff when he apparently decided he liked the looks of us and trotted over. For the next few hours, he loyally stuck with us as we explored the zoo. He’d wander off to explore something new, but a few minutes later he’d be back at our heels, happily walking along. We named him Sneezy, since he seemed to have a cold.


These animals are Red Pandas, a smaller cousin of the famous Great Panda. They scamper about like cats, and are basically cuteness incarnate.

The zoo had a Great Panda as well. We watched it for a while. Eventually it sat up, looked around, shifted position, and went back to sleep.

Eventually we went into a building to see a fish and reptile exhibition. Sneezy wasn’t allowed in, and he made quite a clamor clawing at the glass door as we walked away. We felt quite guilty for leaving him there.



When we left the reptile house, Sneezy was nowhere to be seen. We felt marginally better when we realized that really, it was he who had left us, not vice versa. Still, we missed him.



The zoo was not at its prime in the dead of winter. We might have to go back in the summer, when hopefully it will be in better shape.

We made our way back to the bus station, and got on the bus home. Quite a pleasant trip, really.

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