Our son, Aaron, joined us for a couple of weeks. He just finished two years teaching english in Korea, then completed a 12-day trek in Mongolia before meeting up with us for some family travel time before taking off to Kathmandu for a trek to Mt. Everest base-camp.
After Beijing, we flew to Xi’an to see The Terracotta Warriors, dated from the 3rd century B.C. They were buried to protect the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang in the after-life. The site included, but was not limited to, over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses.
Xi’an city is a fast-moving metropolis; a morass of muscling masses, walking, biking, running, riding and driving. It was easy to get lost in as many parts of the city as there were no distinctive features or landmarks. In a couple of areas I saw so many cellphone stores I wondered if every Xi’anese own 5 cellphones each.
Our next stop was JiuZhaigao National Park. At the north end of Sichuan Province, its scenic grandeur reminded me of some of our own treasured national parks like Yosemite. JiuZhaigao’s landscape is made up of high-altitude karsts shaped by glacial, hydrological and tectonic activity. It was jam-packed with thousands of tourists who were relegated to the boardwalks that run through the parks instead of natural hiking trails. The admission fees were about $36 per person per day and we speculate it may rank among the highest in the world.
It’s difficult to see a country as large and vast as China in just 3 1/2 weeks. We covered a lot of ground, saw a lot wonderful sights and met so many friendly people, yet it still feels like we just scratched the surface. We owe a special thanks to our friend, Thomas, born and raised in Chengdu, for helping us sift through the many choices of where to go and for putting together an outstanding itinerary. He asked us what we wanted to see and do in China and we told him that we enjoy learning about history and culture combined with opportunities to spend time actively enjoying the outdoors. That’s exactly what we got….and lots more! Thomas was our virtual tour guide instructing us on where to go and how much time to spend in each locale. He even gave us written trail instructions for Mt. Emei which encompasses a vast area and is the highest of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains in China at over 10,000 feet.
25 Km from Mt. Emei was the Giant Buddha at Leshan.
When we finally got to Chengdu, we met Thomas’ parents who literally gave us the VIP treatment. We sat in the VIP section of a dinner show featuring the famous Sichuan hot-pot dish, a juggler, a magician, dancers, a martial arts exhibition, a contortionist, and a traditional Chinese Mask-Changing act. They took us to see the Panda Research Center where we got special access to have our pictures taken with -and even pet- a panda, we toured some of the area’s natural and cultural sights and met some of their good friends. We were wined and dined to near exhaustion. They all made us feel so special and so welcome.
It’s extremely difficult to document your travels when the government has blocked access to your website login–along with various other subversive websites such as The New York Times. So special thanks are in order to my good friend, Bruce, who was gracious enough to volunteer the tedious task of posting from home in the US.
I thought of the phrase, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. In this case, it was free speech. So thanks to the Peoples Republic of China for reminding me that even with all it’s faults and problems, the U.S.A. continues to stand as an international beacon for freedom.