coal hill

You gotta love the Mings. They were the ones who transformed Beijing from a village into a city and gave it its name!DSC_1175

Ok, well, Kublai Khan had made this spot his seat of power when he was emperor. But most of his town was razed when General Xu Da drove the Mongols out of China on behalf of Zhu Yuanzhang.  He became the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty in 1368. Continue reading

chinese wine

“Chinese wine tastes like dead mouse”

Peter Farrow, narrator

Bonfire of the Vanities, by Thomas Wolfe

IMG_0051It has been said that brevity is the soul of wit, so whoever observed that “a hang-over is the wrath of grapes” was very witty indeed; and likely very familiar with the Chinese.  It seems that 50% of Chinese have a genetic mutation that impedes their ability to metabolize alcohol.  In its mildest form they suffer the “Asian Glow”, and in its severest form they suffer epic debilitating hang-overs.  While that would be a miserable affliction for a Vogel, at least it’s the ultimate excuse for an extended morning in bed.  Surely no boss can chastise an employee with a genetic malady!

Despite this genetic curse the Chinese have a long history of alcohol consumption as a part of their dietary and ceremonial lives.  Indeed, two of the oldest dynastic regimes ended with similar tales of alcoholic excess.  The 17th and last ruler of the Xia dynasty, Jie (1600 BC), was said to have ordered the construction of a pool of wine that was big enough to float a boat; and the last ruler of the subsequent Shang Dynasty, Di Xin, also followed the suspect counsel of his mistress and built a similar pool of plonk.  Di Xin’s final act of excess brought about the end of the Xin and advent of the Zhou dynasty.   Clearly, Oscar Wilde’s famous quip, “everything in moderation, including moderation”, came much too late for naughty Emperors Jie and Di Xin.

IMG_0045 Continue reading