Out of China

Out of China

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.

Well, after 2 years of only Korean food, I guess it tastes good.

Well, after 2 years of only Korean food, I guess it tastes good.

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.

Terracotta Army

Terracotta Army

The army faced East and was ready for battle

The army faced East and was ready for battle

The figures are life-sized. They vary in height, uniform and hairstyle in accordance with rank.

The figures are life-sized. They vary in height, uniform and hairstyle in accordance with rank.

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.

Riding on the ancient city walls of Xi'an

Riding on the ancient city walls of Xi’an

Scenic JiuZhaigao N.P.

Scenic JiuZhaigao N.P.

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.

JiuZhaigao had some of the most unique waterfalls

JiuZhaigao had some of the most unique waterfalls

It's lakes were multi-colored

It’s lakes were multi-colored

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.

On Mount Emei summit above a floor of clouds

On Mount Emei summit above a floor of clouds

The amazing 48 meter-tall multi-dimensional golden Samantabhadra Buddha on the summit

The amazing 48 meter-tall multi-dimensional golden Samantabhadra Buddha on the summit

25 Km from Mt. Emei was the Giant Buddha at Leshan.

At 71 meters tall, it was completed in 803 AD

At 71 meters tall, it was completed in 803 AD

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.

Singers with panda

Momma panda and cub

Momma panda and cub

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.

Mao

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.

Advertisements
Beijing

Beijing

Some of our expectations of China were immediately swept away. I anticipated hordes of people massed throughout the city with bustling sidewalks and traffic jams. No doubt, there are a lot of people and we’ve seen and been among lots of traffic but the crowds seem to be spread out (or focused at tourist sights) and the traffic, though heavy, moves along. As do the people. There’s a flow to the city that is not frenetic or edgy as you can find in NYC or Cairo. Perhaps this is one result of over 2000 years of the influence of Confucianism. The streets are  laid out in a grid running east/west and north/south and they’re named as such to make location identification and transit easier. For a city of 22 million people there’s a nice vibe.
Confucius
Confucius
Cindy was anticipating dress to be more traditional but many people here are in western style clothes, women in high heels and young hipsters with fashionable haircuts not shorn for wall-street jobs. She also expected streets to be dirty, but in fact, the streets are kept very clean.
Image
There’s a ritual that happens outside restaurants before dinner time that involves the staff to line up and be addressed by their managers,  I presume to be given a pep talk. It can also involve ‘team building’ exercises. This group lined up to give each other massages, then they turned around and reciprocated. After the massages they did a song and dance to some recorded music.
Image
Image
They had a great time.
Image
To be sure, it was a jolt going from an english-speaking country to one with great phonetic and alphabetically differences. However, I grew up hearing Chinese spoken and acoustically it makes more sense to me than hearing Turkish–consonants and syllables connected together to make words and sentences. As I try to learn some Chinese words, I’ve found that easier than Turkish, too. The written language, however, looks extremely daunting; perhaps even more difficult than identifying enantiomers in organic chemistry. And perhaps I might change my mind after I’ve learned phrases that require tonal inflection. I am having fun learning Chinese, though.
Image
Tiananmen Gate. The south entrance to the Forbidden City.
The sights are big, literally and figuratively. Tiananmen Square is the largest public square in the world, and just north of it is the Forbidden City, the largest (former) Imperial complex in the world.
Image
The Forbidden City
One evening we went to see an acrobatics show. There were excellent tumblers, contortionists and acrobats. The finale of the show featured a 15-foot steel-cage ball that had up to 5 motorcyclists zooming simultaneously through.
The most memorable moments remain those of human interaction.  While we were on our way to tour some of the most famous hutongs (alleyways), we found ourselves alongside a young man who was taking pictures of the same sights as us. A conversation ensued, and we ended up spending the entire afternoon with Ming, a film-maker who was visiting and touring from the south. We were there to see the same things so we toured together and had a wonderful time exchanging thoughts and ideas and discussing some of the cultural differences of our countries. These are the kind of experiences that are so incredibly rich and yet you can’t buy them in a tour.
The hutongs are where it’s at in Beijing. They have been disappearing as the government has expanded roads into and around the city, though, some have been rebuilt and some are being preserved, but that is where the everyday life of everyday people of Beijing happens.
Image
Life in the hutong
We took a bike tour of Beijing. Our tour guide, Fiona, would occasionally look back to check on us while not looking at what was happening in front of her. But she confidently and effortlessly made her way forward through the steady flow of traffic and pedestrians. It lasted three hours but I could have spent the entire day biking through the city.
Image
In front of The Imperial Gate (a partial reconstruction)
I took this next picture while riding in the narrowest hutong….though, not sure why. Some of the doors in the hutong rolled up instead of opening in/out.
Image