Food + Wine

The Dream List: Once-in-a-Lifetime Trips

by Brook Wilkinson

China: Antiquities in Dunhuang, a kingly feast in Beijing

The specialist: Guy Rubin, Imperial Tours; Beijing

The Dream Trip: "As a young country, America tends to look toward its future. The Chinese, however, are forever looking to their past. The painted Mogao Caves (pictured), in Dunhuang, for instance, are the origins of Chinese visual arts. They were painted from the 4th to the 14th centuries, when Dunhuang was a major stop along the Silk Road, and today they're alluded to everywhere: in the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremonies, for example, and in cutting-edge contemporary art. Some of the caves are just massive—one houses the world's third-largest sitting Buddha. The most important ones, with classic Buddhist images such as The Western Paradise, are open only to art historians, academics, and our clients. You'll visit three of them with an expert guide [$400 for two].

"Then there is the arcane symbolism of kites, also treasures of a former age. We can arrange a kite-making lesson in Beijing with the grandson of the last emperor's official kite maker. Now, these are not the kinds of kites you fly; we're talking about hand-painted, very intricate silk kites that you'd put on the wall. You'll spend an hour constructing and decorating a simple kite, and learning about the enormous symbolism behind the images. When you're with this gentleman, you feel that you're scratching the surface of a deep well of knowledge [$100 for two].

"Archaism is also at work in shorter historical cycles. Government leaders who dine at the private home of Chairman Mao's personal chef take great pleasure in admiring the ceramic plates and bowls he once used. They will often opt for Mao's favorite dishes rather than those with more grandiose ingredients. It's an act of reverence and respect for the past. You too can have a meal here prepared by the grandson of Mao's chef, who now lives in this exquisite courtyard home, also in Beijing. He'll prepare the identical menu his grandfather served to the last emperor when Mao hosted him in 1962, and tell you stories about when his grandfather cooked for visiting dignitaries like Richard Nixon and the Dalai Lama, and the role of food in Chinese medicine [$500 for two]."

Guy Rubin
Tel: 888 888 1970

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