We had a great time with signs! 


Inexplicably, everything in China is labeled in English. You would think if there were ever to be a place on earth where you would see only Chinese, it would be deep in the heart of China. Wrong. English is everywhere - street signs, the ubiquitous ads, businesses, commercial buildings. An extremely common sign, with or without words, is "No Smoking." One more place the guide books had it wrong. Smoking is as outré in China as it is in California. 

   Over yonder there, you can step up to the bar and get beautiful. 


Taking more care over one's belon gings is good advice anywhere. 



Glimpsed hurriedly out a taxi window, this one exhibited a very unusual approach to beef butchering. 

And it didn't need to be in English! 

   The whole world knows you don't fool around at Tienanmen Square! 
   When they say "Care of the Green,"  you know they mean either keep off the grass
   or look out for the guys in the green uniforms!

   This one was near the Big Bell Temple.

                                                                                         This one was simply everywhere.

   This one about says it...

   How about another sign...it says:

The Beijing World's Top Tourist Attractions - The Yongle Big Bell
Presented By The Beijing Assessment Committee of the World's Top Tourist Attractions

The Great Bell Temple

Standing back a bit from it, we see the approach and the building it is on. Inside this building is the largest bronze bell in the world. It takes up the entire building. It was cast in the 1400s, a staggering technical feat. On the grounds around it are other buildings containing hundreds of bells, plus a great many very large bells in outdoor concourses. 

The Bell

This is the bell, as best I could photograph it from inside the building. It is covered inside and out with poetry, a dizzying piece of work. You can climb stairs to get up to the top, where you are allowed to throw coins into the center of the top of the bell, for good luck (everything in China is for good luck somehow). 

Three stories up, the top of the bell

Doesn't Heath look resolute?

Heath paid 4 kwai and got to sound the bell with the big striker. Then we all ran down and inside the bell, and listened. It was extraordinary. 


The grounds of this temple are set in a rather seedy industrial neighborhood. Inside the walls, on perhaps two acres or a bit more, are lovely, well-tended gardens and a cluster of buildings housing hundreds of bells that were removed from various Buddhist temples that were decommissioned and torn down since 1949. So there's a bittersweet edge to the place. It's a museum now, not really a temple. 


Among the exhibits of big bells, little ones, and hand bells are bells from other cultures (including a replica of the Liberty Bell). Here is a scan of a postcard of the pièce de resistance, the 15th Century whopper of Yongle. 

 In one of the buildings, there are sets of bells for orchestral music. The big black ones are bronze, and the greenish-white things to the right are slabs of jade, tuned to different pitches. The biggest bells (in the second photo above) were struck with the long pole with the red padding on the ends. 


Mallets for playing the regular bells in the set above. 


We were curious to know what this one sounded like, so the curator/guard was kind enough to whip off a few runs for us. She also sold me a CD of music played on these instruments, including some old pieces and some contemporary ones composed just for the instruments in the room. It's quite a lovely recording. 

Also in the building with the big bell was a small bronze bowl filled with water. By wetting one's hands it was possible to rub the handles and set the bowl singing - and set the water inside it vibrating and making wild little wave patterns. Here's Jody attempting to play "Greensleeves" on it. 


Right outside the Big Bell Temple were these fire buckets. Add a couple of long spoons, and another set of orchestra bells was simply waiting to be brought to life! Did the Fire Inspector have an sense of how funny this was? 

From the top of the Big Bell building, over the roofs of the museum buildings, one glimpses the state of Beijing today: complete overhaul and modernization.
What would the Great Helmsman think if he saw China today?

Want to keep going? Bully! Click here to go back to page one or two or on to page four


This site began as a practice version of an article I wrote for The Old Time Herald, and that article has been published. 
Be sure and read this fine magazine, which you can access by visiting their website at http://www.oldtimeherald.org

Click here to read Jody Stecher's different and quite wonderful article which he wrote for Fiddler Magazine

This little scrapbook is a work in progress. More pictures are bound to come, and more jabber to go with them. Check in again.
Most of the photos are mine, but a few good ones are Heath's and Jody's. Xie xie! 
In case you hadn't noticed, many of the pictures have built-in captions that light up when you put your cursor over the image.
Want to see my lutherie pages? Click here. Email me here.

last fooled with on 25 February 2001