China Travelogue -- A pictorial

Hi All,

Here is the slide show of all the pictures of our trip through China. It was a great and wonderful experience and I look forward to going back sometime soon again.

For full size images, please follow the link below:

You can view our videos here:

Thank you for reading all our posts and thank you for your friendship and love. A the table of contents for the travelog is below with easy links to each entry:

  1. China Travelogue 1: Shenzhen to Yangshuo
  2. China Travelogue 2: Yangshuo to Kunming
  3. China Travelogue 3: Kunming to Lijiang
  4. China Travelogue 4: Lijiang to Chengdu
  5. China Travelogue 5: Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou
  6. China Travelogue 6: Jiuzhaigou to Langmusi
  7. China Travelogue 7: Langmusi to Lanzhou
  8. China Travelogue 8: Lanzhou to Beijing
  9. China Travelogue 9: Beijing to Taipei
Hope you enjoy

Paul and Queenie


China Travelogue 9: Beijing to Taipei

This Post: Beijing --> Nanking --> Shenzhen --> Hong Kong --> Taipei

(The road ended in Hong Kong. Queenie, Paul, Annie and Dennis at a pub on the beach in Sheko, Hong Kong)

Dear All,

It is been more than a week since the last update. Since then we have left Beijing, travelled to Nanking, journeyed back to Shenzhen, visited Hong Kong and returned home to Taipei. The week was long but the road easy and the journey fun. The good news is that being back in Taipei it is conceivable that we may soon be able to post some pictures online (but don't hold your breath as it might take a while). Unfortunately all our pictures from Lingxia to Shenzhen had been destroyed so we cannot show you those.

Anyway, we left Beijing last week Sunday to travel to Nanking. Nanking is a city with a lot of history and a place that I had wanted to visit for a while. Another motivating factor for visiting the area was one of our ex-colleagues, Ling Yan, is from Nanking and we got to spend a significant amount of time with her.

On the Sunday after our arrival we had VIP treatment for the first time: Ling Yan greeted us at the airport and the hotel had been arranged and our life was easy. After checking into the hotel we went for a walk and had a late lunch. After that Ling Yan had to return home. We decided to go out for dinner later in the evening and this is when I got the impression that Nanking never really liked me that much. It seemed as if there was a "malign presence" (I borrow the phrase from the documentary Touching the Void) out to disrupt my time in Nanking.

Firstly, the restaurant we ate in, although homely and quaint, had the worst service in China. Afrer waiting an hour for my food and watching Queenie eat her dinner I just gave up and decided to go hungry for the night. After that we went for a walk through Nanking where we found the revolving restaurant at the top of the highest building in Nanking. I managed to get some food there and had a beer or two but then, when we decided to go back to the hotel, the taxi driver went completely the wrong way and refused to listen to me.

After getting back to the hotel and trying to get to sleep a car alarm started to go off outside our Hotel room. We called the reception but they said there was nothing they could do about it. I was forced to go down to the reception in my pyjamas and persuade them to persuade the customer to come down from the room and turn it off. Eventually the nightguard went to the room but the guest refused to come down saying the alarm was broken and there was nothing he could do about it. The reception staff seemed to be very afraid and offered to change my room at 2:30am in the morning. I got stubborn and insisted that they tell the guy to turn off the alarm. Eventually I was forced to go to the guys room myself. After I knocked on the door I was greeted with a 5 foot man in his underwear with a prostitute hiding under the blankets. The guy also had a weird tattoo of the Buddha covering his back. I realized he was probably with some organized crime group but I still insisted that he turn off the alarm. He never did!

The next day, Monday 12, we went to the Nanking Massacre Memorial. For those of you who do not know, on December 13, 1937, Japanese troops occupied Nanking, the then capital of China, after the Nationalist government had fled to Chongqing. What followed was 6-weeks of madness in which some estimate that over 300,000 people were massacred and over 20,000 woman (of all ages) raped. The memorial itself is built on a mass grave and there is an archeological excavation that tourists can view that shows the skeletons of some of the victims. It is probably the most macabre museum I have ever seen. The only one that comes anywhere near it is the American War Crimes Museum in Ho Chih Minh city, Vietnam. The photographic museum itself made for some fairly grim viewing but many of the pictures in the museum I (Paul) had already seen in the late Iris Chang's popular work, "The Nanking Massacre". The museum was too heart wrenching for Queenie and she was unable to stay there for too long a time. On December 13, the following day, sirens went off periodically throughout the day in rememberance of those who had fallen during the massacre. It was a moving time to be in Nanking.

Now what is interesting to both Queenie and I is that the people in Nanking are fairly accepting of the Japanese. There is no pervading hatred for what happened in the past. This is really strange as they did bear the brunt of the assault of the Japanese. Yet, people in places that did not experience so much devastation from the Japanese imperial forces have a great hatred for the Japanese for what they did in World War 2. In fact, I knew a Chinese teacher in Shenzhen who refused to teach any Japanese people. The Nanking people are different: they are welcoming to the Japanese and have assigned these grim actions to the history books as it should be.

In the afternoon we met with Ling Yan and went to the old government building where the nationalist government was formed and where much of China's early 20th century political history transpired. The building itself was interesting and seeing the places where Chiang Kai Shek and Sun Yat Sen worked was fairly interesting. Needless to say that building and house was another excellent example of Chinese housing and gardens. In the evening we went for a walk to see the Yangtze River. One of the most important rivers in China. What is there to say about it? It is big, and it looks like a river, but that is about it.

After that we had the tremendous privilege of meeting with Ling Yan's parents who took us out for a fantastic meal at a wonderful restaurant. We had met her mother in Shenzhen but it was the first time we met her father and it was great.

On Day 3 in Nanking we went with Ling Yan to visit some Ming Dynasty tombs, Sun Yat Sen's mausoleum and a famous pagoda. The mausoleum was the most impressive. It is on a mountain and Dr. Sun's statue looks out over a beautiful evergreen forest with the city of Nanking in the background. The whole development and design of the mausoleum had a fascinating history itself. One Chinese person told us that although Sun Yat Sen had opposed the Emperors, he himself was buried and is revered as one.

After leaving the pagoda we went to the older part of Nanking city where they had a wonderful market and a lot of original architecture. It was a quaint part of the town where mostly young people go to strike up bargains and by cheap clothes. In the evening we took Ling Yan to the revolving restaurant, as she had never been, and had a wonderful dinner while watching Nanking at night.

On Wednesday morning we decided to visit the Chinese Department at the Nanking University. In the library we bumped into Josh, a young Canadian from Vancouver, who has a degree in Classical Chinese Literature, works as a translator for a local Nanking opera house and is endowed with a vast knowledge about China and things Chinese. His perspectives on the state of China were most interesting and his knowledge of the dialects and the different opera's that permeated China throughout its long history was immense. For us though was the most interesting was his perspectives on repression in China. From his own understanding the Chinese government is not interested in "oppression for the sake of oppression" but rather fears any organized group that can threaten its existence.

He also told us that Nanking opera used to be the most popular opera in China but that it is preeminent position has been taken over by Beijing opera. Apparently, Nanking opera predates that of Beijing but does not receive much exposure. Unfortunately, due to the murder of a critical mass of the Nanking population in 1937, Nanking culture has been diluted with an influx of outsiders into the city of Nanking. Josh also said that many of the local operas e.g. those in Soochow and other places are facing extinction because they require that the performers speak the dialect from childhood. It seems that this modus operandi of recruiting opera singers will surely guarantee its demise. The other day on a culture program on China's official English channel I saw a Chinese opera singer saying that when she first started to sing French opera she never understood a word of French. Surely other operas, in order to survive, should be willing to employ others to learn the language and perform?

We finally left Nanking on Wednesday afternoon and said our final farewell to our dear friend Ling Yan. We arrived in Shenzhen and spent a good few days there meeting with our friends and ex-colleagues from the language center we used to run. It was a wonderful few days of reestablishing and reaffirming relationships with those whom we have grown to love as dear friends over the last year.

On Saturday we left for Hong Kong. On the ferry to Hong Kong we heard the sad news that Queenie's grandmother had passed away. It was a disappointing end to the journey through China.

In the afternoon we went for a walk through the WTO protests stands in Victoria park and hooked up with a camera man from the South African Broadcasting Company (SABC). He commented on how well the police were managing the protests. Little did we all realize the madness and mayhem that was going to take place in the evening. The direct consequence of the WTO meeting was an immediate hike in hotel prices and also a lack in available rooms.

As for the protests, in the afternoon they seemed pretty lame. What was surprising were the slogans that they were using. They had the most foul language. I guess if they do want to be taken seriously they should engage people in a different way. What was also surprising was that most of the protestors came from abroad. Hong Kong people are used to corporate competition. As one of my HK friends told me "competition is a way of life in HK." When he was young he and his family had a factory assembly line on their dining room table and this was common in those days. As a result of the intense commercial competitiveness that exists in HK, most HK people seemed to be curious specatators watching a weird circus that came to town. What was surprising was the compassion and understanding the HK citizens had for the protestors. One taxi driver told me that if he was in the position of a South Korean farmer he would do the same thing. He said this after the violent protests that put the conference center under seige.

On Saturday evening our great friend Annie and her fiancee drove us out to Shek-O, a small town on Hong Kong island where we had a fantastic hot-pot. After dinner we landed up at a "secret" pub on the beach. Although it was cold, there was a fire to warm us and cold beer to keep us chilled. What a great place to end the China journey. We could see stars in the clear night sky and for the first time in an eon hear the crashing of the waves as we sipped our drinks. It was another precious evening that will live long in our memories.

On Sunday afternoon we went back to Taipei where we met my mother and had a long awaited reunion. On Monday we went South to Chiayi to attend Queenie's grandmother's funeral. The funeral was a wonderful celebration of her life. As a Christian she apparently never missed Church and shared the love of Christ with all she met. She was so caring that she also always bought the pastor lunch on Sundays. She was a wonderful woman and it was a great privilege to have known her. Her loss will be felt deeply by many.

Well, the journey is over. We are back in Taipei and getting ready to get back to our normal lives. (whatever that means).

God Bless All,


China Travelogue 8: Lanzhou to Beijing

This Post: Lanzhou --> Beijing

Hi All,

I don't suppose any of you missed me very much...grin...all those long emails jamming up your accounts (heh heh heh)...okay okay...the journey is nearly over. Queenie and I are now in Nanking and have had a wonderful time in Beijing. Before we get to Beijing though there were two things I forgot to mention in the last post.

The first was when we were in Xiahe, at the Labrang monastry, a young, 16-y/o Tibetan Buddhist monk asked Queenie where she is from. Now in China this is a loaded question because soon as she says Taiwan then there is usually a long detailed telling of why Queenie is actually Chinese and to not raise the ire of others we usually have to just be silent and accept what they say or settle down for a long argument that gets nowhere. Anyway, the young guy asked where in China Queenie came from she said that she came from Taipei he immediately said that she is not Chinese but Taiwanese. We nearly fell over with shock! I then asked him if Tibetans are Chinese and his emphatic response was "NO" they are Tibetans! It was a really refreshing point of view.

The second point that is worth mentioning happened in Lanzhou on last week Saturday morning. When we went to be on the Friday evening it was a clear sky but when we woke up in the morning the city was covered in a beautiful blanket of snow. We were on one of the higher floors in the building so we had a really good view of the snow falling down and the snow covered rooftops and streets. What a pleasant and magical vision! Lanzhou is a dirty city but the snow seemed to make it as pure a place as any.

Okay, so onto Beijing! On the morning we left for the Lanzhou airport we met a really interesting driver who was only too interested to describe to us the thinking of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. The guy though that politically Mao was one hundered percent spot on but economically he was 30% wrong (the wrong cost 30 - 40 million lives in the great leap forward). He told us that in the hearts of the Chinese Mao the most revered leader of all time. In fact, our driver who took us to the great wall on Wednesday, told us that the Chinese think of Mao as a God, but more of that conversation later!

We flew into Beijing on last week Sunday afternoon and we have spent one of the coldest but wonderful weeks of my whole life. When we landed the temperature was about -5C! After arriving at the hotel, we decided to go to Tianamen square but we thought we would walk! BIG MISTAKE. The first part of the walk was bearable but then we turned onto the mainroad that leads past Tianamen square and a huge wind hit us. We immediately froze! Coupled with the wind and the cold, Queenie wasn't feeling well! Despite all adversities we soldiered on until we finally got oppostie the square where some young are students invited us into a gallery to view their artwork and to try abd sell some of it! We immediately went in and started to feel our noses and ears again! We never bought any paintings and we never got into Tianamen square on that day! Too bad, we thought we would try again the next day! We also later learned that the temperature had actually dropped to -9C!

In fact, according to the weather report on the TV the weather had dropped all around the country because of a Siberian cold front that came in from the north. Those cold fronts are no friends of mine!

On Monday morning, after a MacDonalds breakfast, the first fast food in an eon, we dared to get to the square again. Well, we decided to do it by Taxi this time! WE MADE IT! Now the square itself I thought was fairly unimpressive but the weight of its history was upon our shoulders (as wall as the arctic wind) so it was a fairly moving experience to be standing in the square with Mao's mausaleum in the back and his portrait in the front. But, after standing in the square for about 15-minutes we dashed into the nearest restaurant (another MacDonalds) to get warm. After that we thought, "to hell with the weather," and went to one of the premier shopping malls in Beijing, the oriental plaza, and spent the day there where we watched two movies (Harry Potter, again, and Perhaps Love, a new Chinese film).

The following day, Tuesday, we went over to the Studio Classroom offices in Beijing (who used to supply me with English learning materials for the school I used to run) and met Bruce and Sarah, who are both absolutely fantastic people. In the evening we went to the English training of the Beijing Olympic Games Orginizing Committee and that too was a fantastic experience. Afterwards we met with Sarah and her husband who have similar worldviews to me and had a fantastic discussion about their bigger family in China, it was an excellent evening!

On Wednesday we also hooked up with the Taipei Language Institute (TLI) (who provided the Mandarin programs for the school we ran in Shenzhen) and had a great time meeting with them too. We even got invited to their Christmas party on Friday night which was a lot of fun.
Over the next few days we visited a bunch of the historical sites in Beijing: the Hutongs (old traditional Beijing houses), the Forbidden City, The Great Wall (which should not be climbed too fast), Beihai park, the Ming Dynasty Tombs and the old residence of Mei Song Ling (Sun Yat Sen's wife). The one thing that impacted me walking in Beijing was the full weight of history this city has. This is a city of emperors and empresses, of uprisings and some of the center of some of the greatest turmoil and strife of the 20th Century. The history in this city is amazing and we never did get to see all the sites! Unfortunately many of the places were partially closed so we couldn't see a lot, but we saw enough to satisfy.

The Hutongs are something that I found immensley interesting. These residences (or perhaps types of residences) have been in existence for over 700 years and the government, in an attempt to modernize the city for the 2008 Olympic games, are destroying about 10,000 homes a year. They are paying the residents compensation but despite this there seems to be a lot of nostalgic regret about the loss of these homes. I found this really surprising! Sure the Hutongs have a developed a subculture within them but according to our cyclo rider they do not come with central heating or bathrooms and 15 families will live in the smallest of places. No bathroom or shower! Imagine that it is -9C in the middle of the night and you really have to go? Who wants to run out to the public bathroom! Also, because they do not have showers in the home the residents have to use public showers to keep clean and apparently, according to our guide, this is not done very often. Now, I know I am an outsider and probably understand very little, but putting these people in different, modern homes will surely help their quality of life improve! Who am I to speak? The government does intend to keep a 5KM2 area open for tourists to visit and so the old Hutongs will not be forgotten!

Speaking of the cyclo driver, the poor guy is 70 years old and still riding people around on his bike because he has no retirement fund! He said he used to be an architect but that stopped a long time ago. His parents belonged to the Kuominngtang and they were both executed during the cultural revolution! Our driver to the great wall also told us that his uncle was excecuted during the cultural revolution and that his parents were forced to go work on farms in the country. In fact, our driver to the great wall used to be in the secret police. He was driver and his job was to tail suspects in Beijing! He was not allowed to lose the target so he really new how to drive well. He lost his job in 1989 as part of the fallout of the student protests in Tianamen square! When I asked him about the cultural revolution he said that it was no Mao's fault and that it was the result of a power struggle amongst the people. This guy was also full of insights into Chinese History and culture and had a really good understanding of modern China. It was really surprising and interesting!

On Wednesday Queenie and I went to the Forbidden City were I saw a copy of "From Emperor to Citizen" the autobiography of Pu Yi, the last emperor in China. The rhetoric in the book was really amazing: my favorite passage was the one that described China as a democratic-dictatorship. What does that mean! If you are interested you would have to pick up the book yourself but I really did feel sorry for this person who was a victim of history and lineage! But there are many like him I suppose.

So what is there to say about Beijing? A lot I suppose, the city is very clean and it is a place in which I could live. Queenie and I enjoyed the parks, culture and history associated with the city. One can live a fantastic life here and, if there were ever an opportunity to work here, I would seriously consider it. There are certain things I would not like e.g. the weather, the traffic and the lack of certain freedoms (but this is endemic accross China).

So last night was our last night in the Capital and went out to buy some late night snacks where I was approached by some prostitutes. They spent about 10-minutes telling me their story and their journey to Beijing from the far reaches of the country and how, if they could, they would like to find a new job. They earn about RMB3000 a month and are forced to give half their earnings over to their pimp. It is really a sad life for them I really wished I could help them but there was nothing much I could do, so, after a while, I said my goodbyes and went back to the hotel to eat. It was kind of a low note to end this part of the trip on but it was still enlightening to discuss the strife and the troubles of a very marginalized community in China!

Anyway, we are now in Nanking and our next stop will be Shenzhen on Wednesday where the journey ends (sniff sniff sniff)....until the next posting, stay well everyone!

God Bless


China Travelogue 7: Langmusi to Lanzhou

This Post: Langmusi --> [Hezou] --> Xiahe --> Linxia --> Lanzhou

(A proud Tibetan in Xiahe)

Hi All,

So when I left off the last time we were about to board the bus from Langmusi to Hezou and then head to Xiahe. The ride from Langmusi was excellent! For the first time in a while we had an excellent bus and the road was brilliant! I also had the front seat which meant great legroom (heh heh heh). Anyway, the scenery outside the bus was still quintessentially what we had seen on the road to Langmusi with the exception being no dangerous mountain roads.

Arriving in Hezuo brought us back to our feet. On the bus there we thought the rough rides were over. Think again! The bus dropped us off at one bus stop and to get to the next one we (Queenie, myself and Trevor who we hadn't lost again) hopped onto a motortricycle with all our bags. Well, as you can imagine there was not much breathing space.

After we got to the second bus station we duly boarded the bus and the for the first time were obliged to store our bags on the roof, a decision we would regret later when we discovered that we would be travelling on another dirt road! Of course, after we retrieved our bags they were all mucky and dirty!

At the second bus station in Hezuo things started to get exciting. We saw two poor people arguing over the garbage! They obviously collect the bottles and tin cans and then hand them in for a few mao (cents). They nearly came to blows and had to be forcibly separated by the station authorities. The one guy actually grabbed a wooden stool and wanted to hit the other person on the head with it. It was a really saddenning event to witness.

Well anyway, after a while we were on the bus and ready to go and, as it turned out, this was to be one of the most eventful bus rides of them all! Just before the bus was leaving a drunk guy got on board with two bottles of beer! He opened one with his teeth (a particularly painful thing to do) and continued with his binge. He was, in the beginning, really friendly. He told us a lot of stories and he also said he was a famous singer. We then asked him to sing a song and he noticed Trevors guitar. We duly gave him the guitar and for about half an hour he strummed it quite happily (while I dutifully held his beer).

After he was finished he gave the guitar back and he was fairly peaceful but then we hit the dirt road with all of its bumps and of course the beer went frothing and flying all over the show! It was actually quite funny. After a while this guy seemed to get bored again and he turned around in his seat and started grabbing my hands and twisting them around. After that he pretended to try to hit me but being drunk and on a bumpy road he nearly hit poor Queenie. As a result I was forced to subdue the poor guy. Okay, I never hurt him but he got my message and was fairly grumpy for the last hour of the trip!

We actually found out his sad story a little later from an English speaking tour guide who came from the same town. This guy came from a good family and was quite a good guy until about 28 when he started to drink. He had apparently, through drinking, made his parents quite poor and as a result his father died last year because they had no money to take him to hospital. His sister still provides him with some money but this guys wife divorced him, remarried and opened a business in Lhasa. I felt sorry for the guy, especially after having done what I did but Trevor said that I probably had no choice and that I was really gentle with him.

Arriving in Xiahe 3-hours later, covered in dust and beer, we were a little disappointed. The town wasn't at all what we imagined. It was a little cold and of course there was no hotwater! The second day we dutifully went for a walk around the Labrang monastry! This monastry has over a thousand prayer wheels around it and people come on pilgrimage to kowtow and to spin the wheels. We joined the pilgrims and walked around the entire monastry. It is quite a far walk!

We also went inside some of the temples where we saw people kowtowing on the steps and rubbing their heads on the door handles and the pillars outside the temple. 95% of the people were elderly and to see them doing this and giving their money to this was really sad. As soon as we left some of the temples, some of the worshippers came running up to me and actually grabbed me asking for money. That was quite a shocking experience to me. I have never had beggars physically restrain me and demand money from me! And I never expected it from people worshipping at a temple.

Anyway, we continued around the monastry and saw people kowtowing on the ground! Apparently their goal is to kowtow around the whole monastry in a day. Like those we saw on the road to Ruoergai they walk three steps and kowtow, walk three steps and kowtow etc. It is in the dust and the muck! Queenie said that this religion is too hard for her. I have to agree. All this kowtowing in the sand is just too much for us.

There was also a structure on the outskiurts of the monastry around which many of the pilgrims walked. We stood there for about ten minutes watching them. Some walked around it only a few times. Some people were still walking around it when we left. It is part of their religious devotion.

After walking around the monastry we went in to another temple. The main door was closed but there were two small boys on either side of the door. They told us that they were around 8-years old and that they were meant to be kowtowing, but they were just shooting the breeze. All of a sudden the abbot appeared from nowhere and these guys were diving into the ground as if their lives depended on it. Is this the way to raise a kid! Apparently their parents are happy to send them to the monastry at a young age! I guess it is one less mouth to feed. It kind of reminds me of medieval Europe where similar things used to happen.

We then walked into another temple where we saw boots scattered all over the courtyard and heard booming sounds from the interior of the temple. I went up to have a look and there must have been a few hundred monks meditating while some played musical instruments. It was a really eerie experience. We then watched how they ate lunch all huddled up on the floor. Some people would run out grab a big container of rice and meat and then charge back in and fill up the bowls of those sitting! It was really fascinating.

Queenie's observation was that these were the true communists! They all dress the same, eat the same and live in the same quarters. They are all perfectly equal! It is ironic how the "communists" tried to destroy these true communists during the cultural revolution.

After lunch time we met with a 16 year old monk from Mongolia whose government had sent him to study at the monastry. He had been there for ten years and at the age of 20 he would return home and become a teacher. He took us to watch some monks playing basketball and, I must say, after soccer, this must be the worlds most popular sport! We asked the monk if we could take a picture with him but he said it would be against the rules. He eventually conceded as long as no one saw us do it!

That night we found Trevor again and hung out and had a barbecue with him. It was an interesting evening as he is a Jehova's Witness (JW) and explained their theology to me. It is the first time I have ever had a theological discussion with a JW. All in all it was a great evening. It was also the last time we will probably see Trevor on this trip!

Anyway, on Thursday we headed off to Lingxia, a Uighar Muslim town. I thought it would be interesting to see the contrast in the cultures. The closer we got to Lingxia the more desolate and barren the land became. I knew we were close to the region when we started to see the traditional domed shaped Mosques on the horizon. On Friday, before we came to Lanzhou, we were woken up by the Muslim call to prayer. I felt like I was back in Turkey!

We found a small restaurant for breakfast. We spoke to the Han Chinese owners who told us that there were some tensions between the Han Chinese and the Muslims but that they had a peaceful coexistence. On the road in Lingxia we saw sheep being slaughtered and bled on the roadside. This was a little close to home, but I suppose that is where the lamb noodles comes from.

After breakfast we went to two of the older and bigger Mosques in the town and they were amazing. When we arrived I was expecting a dome shaped mosque with spires on the outside but these actually looked like Buddhist temples with people burning incense. The architects of these Mosques had synthesized Chinese architecture with Islamic themes to create something rather special. The one mosque we went into was apparently a thousand years old and had been completely destroyed during the cultural revolution and has only recently been rebuilt.

After the tour of the Mosques we dutifully boarded our bus and headed for Lanzhou, where we are now. The closer we got to Lanzhou the more desolate the land became. I guess you know that you are heading into the desert! Arriving in Lanzhou, the world's most polluted city according to the Lonely Planet, was a shock to the system. After travelling in the country for the last two weeks and arriving in the city and learning how to kick and scream and shout your way through the crowds was quite startling. I can imagine how people from the country must feel when they first arrive.

Lanzhou is not that interesting. We visited a night market and had a walk along the yellow river. Apart from that and shopping there is not much to do so we are a little disappointed. The one museum that we wanted to visit is still closed for renovations. Tomorrow we will be heading for Beijing and hopefully some more fun times. The hardest part of our journey is now over and we will be flying to save time so there will be no more exciting bus ride stories to share.
Before I end this travelog there is one news item I wish to comment on (close your eyes if you are not interested). Recently a video was taken in a Malaysian prison of a Female Chinese citizen being abused by the guards. This is tragic! The Chinese government has DEMANDED an immediate investigation into the abuse. But I am forced to wonder what types of abuse and barbarism we would witness if we were to get a camera into a Chinese prison? Yes, I am forced to wonder.

I will leave you with that thought. Stay well everyone.


China Travelogue 6: Jiuzhaigou to Langmusi

This Post: Jiuzhaigou --> Songpan --> Ruoergai (Zoige) --> Langmusi

(Queenie with the Shepherd Children in Langmusi)

Hi All,

In one of the earlier eamils I sent, I said we didn't have a travel plan, well we made one. From Jiuzhaigou we decided to go to Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, on bus! We will then fly to Beijing then go to Nanking and then end our trip in Shanghai, but not lets get on with the latest travelog!

Okay..so we have been travelling China now for three weeks and I can honestly say that I had my first "I hate China morning" on Friday. It all started at around 4:00am in the hotel in Jiuzhaigou when the temperature outside was about -5C and we realized that the cleaning lady had not closed the window and the room was also about -5C.....agghhhh....

....well after we warmed up and a little we had to wake up at 6:00am and leave the hotel at 7:ooam. We asked the hotel to find us a taxi but it was still dark outside and they could not find one so, in the bitter cold, we had to hike to the bus station......agghhhh....

.....we then got on the bus, of course we were the last ones to arrive, and after we got seated we realized we were surrounded by a bunch of chain smokers who initially respected my request not too smoke but afterwards just lit up anyway.....aggghhhh.....

.....after they had lit up I tried to open the bus window to get some air but I ripped my gloves.....aggghhhhh......

.....we then arrived in Songpan at about 10:30am where we were to spend the night before heading off to Gansu and the bus driver managed to tear the waist strap off my hiking bag....aggghhhh.....

.....we arrived at the hotel which was very dirty and did not have running water (we since discovered the whole town of Songpan does not have a continuous water supply). The hotel seemed like a prison with two uninterested girls running the place....agggghhhhh.....

.....we then discovered that every one in Songpan spits at an alarming rate and we had to play hopscotch to avoid the puddles of saliva that marked the street....agggghhhhh......

....and all this time we were really cold....aggghhhh....

...But then the sun came out, we found a place to have a hairwash, we had a wonderful walk through the town and started to enjoy the day at abuout 11:30am, and it has been pretty good since then. So what is there to say about Songpan?

It was once an important town that was used in some famous wars and battles (not famous enough for me to know). It still has the original wall and city gates. The people of Songpan are a diverse mixture of Han, Tibetan and Muslim. Really interesting. All the people (but most noticeably the kids) have the reddest and rosiest cheeks you have ever seen. In fact this is true for all the towns we have been in from Songpan up. It really looks unhealthy on them. The houses outside the city walls are all broken down wooden structures and the people still use firewood and coal to warm their homes and do their cooking. We actually saw a coal shop where you could buy a bag of coal. I forgot to find out how much a bag would cost! It generally wasn't a bad place but it is not the sort of place you wish to spend more than one day and a night in, and we didn't.

During the day we were sitting in a coffee shop in Songpan where they had the television on. The program on the TV was a variety contest were entrants were singing famous songs. The competion was in China but Queenie noticed that all the songs that were being sung were either from Taiwan or Hong Kong! She has been really surprised by the popularity of Taiwan music in China. Everywhere we go people are mostly listening to Taiwanese singers! In fact, one of the contestants on the show was even singing a Taiwanese folk song! really interesting.

In the evening we met an Englishman called Craig who was coming in the opposite direction (from Gansu into Sichuan) and he told us about the cold and how dangerous the roads were (he wasn't kidding). Craig also had many interesting stories about his travels around the world and especially about the "hygiene" in India (I will spare you the details). But we had a great time. Walking back to our hotels we were guessing the temperature. Craig figured it was about 2C, we found out the next day that it was about -8C (really cold).

That night neither Queenie and I could sleep! The electric blanket we were using was too hot and if we turned it off we were too cold. That is a real dilemma. Saturday dawned and we were to be up at 6:00am to take the 7:00am bus to Ruoergai (Zoige in Tibetan) and what a ride that was!

Firstly, you guessed it, it was freezing! We got on the bus with all these Tibetan people dressed in their traditional thickset cloaks and went off on another interesting bus journey (at least this bus driver cared about our lives). The first half-hour of the road was tarmac we then turned off onto a dirt track in the valley of two huge mountains (actually the dirt track is a road in the making). Of course in the valley we never saw the sun and so our feet felt like ice-blocks. During the bus journey in the valley the bus would continuously stop and people would get off and go to their homes. We couldn't see where they lived but I really felt for them! They live in such isolated places with so little warmth that it was just pitiful. I remember three of the people that got off. Two were kids who got off the bus, thinly dressed, shivering in the bitter cold and carrying a bag of clothes to a small store their parents ran where they would try to sell what they had bought. The second was a wrinkled, bent over old lady, heavily laden who got off the bus and headed down a small road with no home in sight. Queenie and I really wanted to weep after seeing this. This is the face of modern China!

Well anyway, after an eternity in this valley, and freezing to death we started to ascend a dangerous mountain road! But halfway up we met the sun and started to warm up. After about 15 minutes we finally reached the plateau, and what a sight it was! Snow covered fields filled with Yaks and Tibetan herdsman riding on their own yaks, horses or motorbikes! It was a sight to behold. As the journey went on the snow got less and more brown grass dressed the fields: but the yaks, Tibetan shepherds and the flat barren landscape with scattered Tibetan prayer flags, framed with snow covered mountains, never ended. I remember the first Shepherd we saw was a lady sitting in the snow all by herself, miles from anywhere, watching the yak herd. What an amazing life they lead!

On the road to Ruoergai we also saw these Tibetans kowtowing (bowing in worship) on the road. Later when we arrived in Langmusi we discovered that these Tibetans were kowtowing all the way to Lhasa! They would take 2 or 3 steps then kowtow, 2 or 3 steps then kowtow.....continuously.....it will take them 2-years or more to reach Tibet....what devotion! They believe that they will have a better next life if they do this.....but ahh, the agony.

After driving on the plateu for a few hours we finally arrived at Ruoergai....a sleepy Tibetan town with a population of about 70,000 according to one of the residents. Actually the town cannot hold more than a few thousand people but it seems that most of the population of Ruoergai county are shepherds and yak herders, living in tents, in the freezing cold! After arriving in Ruoergain we met a Canadian called Trevor who is still travelling with us (we had the same route). We have lost him once or twice but we always seemt to find him again!

Anyway, when we got to Ruoergai we immediately went to the Ruoergai hotel (at Craig's suggestion). This must be the central China Hilton. It was a MAGNIFICENT hotel with 24-hours of hot water, beautiful rooms and a wonderful reception, all for the grand price of RMB150 per night. We never wanted to leave. We could also phone anywhere in China for free! What a deal! If any of you ever land up in Ruoergai, this is the place to stay...no doubt.

The town of Ruoergai has an average annual temperature of 0.5C and the Ruoergai plateau on which it is situated is at elevations between 3500m and 3900m. The plateu is the home to a number of endangered animals. The town itself is laid back and we really had a good time just walking around and talking to a bunch of people on the road. That evening we had a meal with Trevor and learned of his travels through China (he has pretty much followed our route, or we have followed his). The temperature in Ruoergai was cold but the hotel was warm and we had a really good time there.

On Sunday, we were to board our third bus (to Langmusi) in as many days! We went early to buy the tickets and managed to get some but Trevor went too late and there were no tickets avaialable! We asked the bus driver if we could pay him directly and he told us that Trevor should go to a junction on the edge of the town. I told the cyclo rider the place but when we arrived at the junction, Trevor wasn't there, so we had lost him! At the junction the bus driver took out a bunch of small metal stools, put them out in the middle of the bus and then sold tickets to a bunch of people who could not but tickets at the station! The bus got really crammed and the driver pocketed a few extra yuan.

The bus from Ruoergai to Langmusi was mostly dirt road and it really got interesting when we went over a mountain. Coming down the other side I swear our wheels were millimeters from the edge! We saw an overturned truck on the road which really made it interesting! At any rate, we arrived in the dirty monastry town of Langmusi safetly 4-hours later. Once again we found a pretty decent hotel that was only RMB75 per night and it also had a heater.

That night, after walking through the town and eating dinner im a Muslim restaurant, we found a really cool Tibetan coffee shop where we met a bunch of really cool Tibetans. The owner of the coffee shop is A-Sun and he is only 26. He was telling me about the business and religious life in Langmusi. To start the business in Langmusi he had to pay the temple in his hometown, Gong-Ba which is 12km from Langmusi, RMB5000. After that he has to pay about RMB800 a month rent and it cost him around RMB30,000 to decorate the place. He also told me that the Langmusi Lama is a county vice-president. The Lama lives in Hezuo and only returns on weekends. The Langmusi Lama also owned the hotel we were staying in. So much for separating business, religion and politics (perhaps I know a little of that)...heh heh heh....A-Sun also told us that the Langmusi temple had been completely destroyed during te cultural revolution and was only rebuilt 20-years ago.

That night we also met a Shepherd who currently owns over 50 yak and more than 100 sheep. Apparently when the price is good one yak is worth RMB3000 and a sheep about RMB300. When the price is bad the yak is worth only RMB1200. He also told us about the difficulties of living on the plateau in winter and the cold. This guy has given up shepherding and is helping his wife run the Lama's hotel. He allows other shepherds and herders to use his land in return for them looking after his sheep and yaks. Oh, yes, the guy also owns 3 horses and he reckons that a horse is way easier to ride than a yak. I wonder? Our friendly shepherd had also been in Lhasa for four years. When I asked him what he had done there he just said had fun! Actually, I found out later that when the Tibetans do a pilgramage to Lhasa they will have to kowtow for at least 2-hours each day!

Day 2 saw us eating breakfast in another Muslim restaurant! You might wonder why this is well, the truth is that the Muslims are just so much cleaner (I kid you not). Now, I can understand why people do not want to shower when they have to carry the water from the river, then boil it and then afterwards freeze until you can get warm again! This I can understand. What I couldn't understand was why were the Muslims, who live in the same conditions as the other, just so darn spanking clean? It was an amazing contrast! At any rate, in Langmusi our staple diet was lamb noodles and mantou (a Chinese bread).

After breakfast we went to the Langmusi temple and hung out with some Tibetan Buddhist monks. We actually in the end never landed up going inside the temple but it was really cool talking to the monks. Apparently they are obliged to pray for 4 to 5 hours each morning. They then take a break for lunch (see video below), have lessons in the afternoon and do some self study. After that they do more prayers from 5:00pm to 9:00pm. This is their everyday routine! As I said, what a life. Some of the monks were as young as 12 years old.

We met some monks who had lived in the monastry for 20-years or more. How they did this if the temple was only rebuilt 20 years ago I do not know but it is what they told us. watching the lessons were also quite interesting! One person who was standing would shout out a question to someone sitting on the ground. The person on the ground would then shout out the answer.

We did try to find out about their beliefs but all they said is "We believe in Buddha, you believe in Jesus." They also thought that to gain membership into the Church a person had to pay lots of money. I told them that in all the Churches I had been in it was free. They were duly surprised, perhaps they thought I was lying!

Now the coolest part of our trip to Langmusi happened in the afternoon! Queenie and I went for a walk accross a small hill that was covered in snow. We got to the other side where there was a road and a frozen stream to cross where we met 3 shepherd children. They invited us back to their tent where we met their mother. It was great. The mother welcomed us in and she made us tea and then they set about making us Zhong Ba, the staple Tibetan food! Well, out of politeness I had to eat it. To be honest (and polite) I will say it was not that good but I still ate half of it and they were thrilled.

We also watched the kids chasing stray yaks around the campsite! These kids are half my height and run toward the yaks head on, without fear, shouting and throwing stones. A fully grown yak is huge, I was inclined to run the other way, but what can you do when a yak is about to trample your tent and all your earthly belongings? They told us that they had just walked five days from their previous pasture area to Langmusi to see out the winter! After seeing their life first hand I can honestly say that I appreciate mine more and more. At the end of our visit we took some pictures and the kids asked if we could mail them to their school where the could collect them. It was really cute.

That night we again hungout with A-Sun and the shepherds and this time I dragged Trevor along (who we found again earlier in the day). That evening there were a bunch of Tibetan youths hanging out in the coffee shop and they all just broke out into spontaneous Tibetan dancing. It was another great evening!

I suppose the last observation to make about Langmusi where the beggars and the way they are treated. For the first time since I left Shenzhen I was troubled by beggars! On the first night at least seven beggars came into the restaurant we were eating in to ask for money. The most amazing thing was that all the local people gave them one yuan. This happened regularly! Also, the restaurant owners always allowed the beggars to sit at a table and eat any left overs! It was an interesting sight. Of course I was also targeted and in the beginning resisted giving out money but after a while I started to give them a bit as I was shamed by the locals who have no money.

So far Langmusi has been one of the best places I have visited: watching the Buddhist monks eat in Muslim restaurants on modern cell phones and racing motorbikes up and down the road and as we say in South Africa "popping wheelies" was interesting. The warmth of the country folk and their generosity and openess to all was a pleasant departure from many of my experiences in China.

Tuesday saw us leaving Langmusi for Xiahe (where I am now) but that journery and this part of the trip is another story and I will send it to you all soon. Until then, all of you take good care of yourselves. Sadly, we only have 16 days left on the road, but we will make the most of it!


China Travelogue 5: Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou

This Post: Chengdu --> Jiuzhaigou

(Queenie in Jiuzhaigou holding a lamb)

...Let me start this travelog by saying, "I saw a yak on Tuesday"...(I never thought I would say a sentence like that)...heh heh heh....yeah, a real live yak waltzing down the street, but now I am getting ahead of myself.....

When I last left off we were still in Chengdu and still had a night to spend there before getting on a mad-hatter bus to Jiuzhaigou. The last night in Chengdu was great. Sun Yi Yi, our old colleagues friend, treated us to a fantastic Sichuan fish and tomato hot pot. What a great meal! Once again the restaurant left much to be desired (sunflower seed shells and fishbones littered the floor) but the food was great, and of course I had to wash it down with a beer. How else can you hope to eat a Sichuan fish and tomato hotpot?

At dinner we were telling Sun Yi Yi about our trip to the Panda base. She told us a funny story of a man who had a big white dog and had died its ears and eyes black and also the tail and some of the torso to make it look like a Panda. The poor guy had apparently been arrested nine times for having an endangered animal. This may be a Chengdu urban legend, but if its true it is funny...heh heh heh....

Going home that night we sadly noticed that the beautiful river that ran next to our hotel and bisects Chengdu was a place for prostitutes to find customers. It seems that China is one big brothel...(and yes we saw brothels too)...but remember prostitution is illegal in China...there is none! Such is life...at least there were not so many as there are in Shenzhen. The Lonely Planet says of Shenzhen, a city that used to be a small fishing village, that the "only fishnets your are likely to see are on the hordes of whores that inhabit the city." Such is life!

It is funny how we get used to the places we live in. When I first moved to Shenzhen the one thing that caused me great interest was the way people all crowded around a single television, and overflowed into the street, to watch a particular program. Well, I never noticed it for a long time but then in Chengdu, walking back to the hotel on Monday night, we saw some entrepeneurs had setup small rooms, with chairs, for people to watch television. They can then order a drink from the guy who owns the stand and that is how they make their money. Interesting concept and excellent idea.

The other thing that I had become "blind" to is how the public authorities stick the daily newspaper on a public notice boad so that people who cannot afford to buy the newspaper can still have access to the news. We have seen this regularly on our travels. Perhaps this journey is reopening our eyes to the things we had forgotten. This is indeed good!

So then, Tuesday morning and the road to Jiuzhaigou....what a ride....what was meant to be a ten hour jaunt become a 14-hour ride into madness by two insane cowboy drivers whose only agenda seemed to drive as fast as possible and to honk their horn when they saw anything that seemed alive and moving....sometimes they just honked their horn...but they only honked in daylight...when darkness overcame us they decided that honking wasn't needed. The best way to describe the journey would be to say that it was a combination of taking a ride on the Wizard bus in "Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban" and Jonathan Harker's mad rush to Dracula's castle in the first chapter of Bram Stokers Dracula. The ride was crazy....somehow we survived....

Of course there were two delays: one was 2-hours and the other 1-hour. The first was caused by an obstruction on the road and the second was caused by a crash (no one injured) but they refused to move the bus, car and truck until the police came. Of course these vehicles were blocking the road and instead of just marking the accident site to allow the free flow of traffic, they had to delay about 1000-people. Although the police were just down the road they took an hour to get there. It was lunch time I think.

Something else that was really funny was whenever there was a bathroom break the bus would come to a screeching halt, we would all nearly fall out of the window and the driver would shout, "Shang Tse Suo" (go to the toilet) and everybody would dutifully march off the bus into some of the most disgusting toilets we have ever seen (the public toilets in China are something else again and civility prevents a thorough description...use your imagination...on second thoughts don't).

Well anyway, it was at one of these crazy toilet stops that I saw the Yak....and it was not too friendly....Actually, I remember the first time I heard about a Yak was when I read Willard Price's "Indian Adventure" when I was nine or ten, it took me a while to see a real one.....

Despite the mad-hatter driving of the cowboys up front, the scenery outside the bus was amazingly beautiful....big mountains with beautiful rivers....and some snow....the scenery was, for the most part, incredible.

Anyway, after a torturous 14-hours and some beautfiful scenery we finally landed up in the village of Jiuzhaigou, our final destination. Being the intrepid travellers we were we had not yet booked a hotel. We had gotten off the bus into about -5C into a deep darkness (you see the village is in the shadow of the mountains). Well, Queenie hailed a cab driver and told him matter of factly: "Get us to a hotel fast: the budget is RMB200 per night." We were there in a flash! Of course we were still hungry and the hotel being a budget place never had any food...so Paul (being the guy) had to once again go out and get some food. I landed up in a restaurant and told them I wanted some Qing-Jiao-Neu-Rou (green peppers with beef)....here they don't use green peppers rather they use actual peppers that are green...when they told me that I gave up...in the end they rustled something up....although it was overpriced, it was hot and thawed us out....

Jiuzhaighou....the nature reserve....otherwise known as fairlyland....how does one describe such an enchanted place? Perhaps one doesn't! Going through it I thought of the House of Elrond in the "Lord of the Rings" but words, photographs or pictures cannot reflect the awesome beauty of this pristine alpine valley. It is beyond any beauty I have experienced. We have been on the road now for three weeks and all the Chinese people say that Yangshuo is China's most beautiful place. Perhaps they have never been in Jiuzhaigou! It is now the beginning of winter and there is snow on the ground and on the mountains.....the cold winds chilled us to the bone but the crystal clear lakes, the thundrous 300 meter wide waterfalls, the gushing rivers and the pine tree forests all astound and amaze. Perhaps there are places like this elsewhere on Earth but I have not seen them.

We spent two amazing days exploring this valley and walking along the rivers and it was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. Today Queenie said that in these surroundings she has drawn closer to God. Looking at this valley it is impossible not to believe in a majestic, wonderful and beautiful creator who in His heart must have beauty as an immutable attribute.

The name Jiuzhaigou means "nine village gulley" and named after the nine Tibetan villages that are in the park. The Tibetans here continue to practise Buddhism and there prayer wheels are in some places driven by the waters of the river. Their prayer flags are scattered on the windswept rivers and cold, multi-colored lakes. Their villages dot the landscape. It is truly an amazing place. Today we visited one of the villages and had tea in a traditional Tibetan home. It was an interesting experience.

While in one of the villages, we stopped in for a cup of afternoon Tibetan tea. We both thought it was delicious. The tea house on the inside was very colorful and very warm when compared to outside. It was a wonderful place to have a break and the last stop in this fascinating place.

Once again credit must be given to the authorities for the preservation and organization of this pristine wilderness. While most places in China are being torn up to stimulate the rapid economic growth of modern China, this place is, with the exception of the road that goes through it and the wooden walkways that carve their way through the valley, is pretty much untouched by man. They have people cleaning the paths and guys with swimming pool nets cleaning out the lakes (big job considering that some lakes are 19000m2). To continue to preserve the park no visitors are allowed to stay in the park.

Sadly, because the tourist season is over, many of the walkways were closed off so we were forced onto the road. But it is a trade off: you either come in the tourist season with over 10000 people a day entering the park, or come in the off season when there are only 1000 people a day. Well, we came when we had time: which was now! And it was one of the best decisions we (actually Queenie) made.

It was during our walks through the rivers and lakes of this park that a startling cultural difference between the Chinese and westerners came to mind. It was a difference that I have been aware of for a while but it is something that is most observable in a natural place like Jiuzhaigou. Usually when Westerners go out into nature they enjoy the peace and quiet (communing with nature). Walking through the nature reserve I enjoyed getting away from the people and walking quietly along the paths so I could see the birdlife and perhaps catch a glimpse of a squirrel foraging on the forest floor. Yet, when the Chinese people came along the road, they came full of banter, laughter and with faces lit up with sheer joy. Of course at their arrival all wildlife disappeared and I was left a little irritated but then Queenie reminded me that the Chinese love to be "Re Nau" wherever they go. There is no literal translation of this into English but it is a combination of being vibrant, exultant and generally very jovial all at the same time (I guess that it is the best way to describe it). The Chinese love to be Re Nau in nature too and although they chase the wild life away and disturb the peace and tranquility of they environment, they seem to have a damn good time doing it. All power to them and sometimes I must remember that I am a guest in their country! (Even so, I did get to see a squirrel)

Well, to end the Jiuzhaigou saga I must admit that it is the first time I have ever been in snow (Queenie has) but I have never really gone to snowy places....yesterday I threw my first snowball at my long suffering wife and today I made a bad attempt at making a snowman...well, the snow wasn't the sticky kind so we couldn't really configure large snowballs so my snowman became a contorted snow head....mmm....but I am still proud of it...the full man/woman/person is coming soon.....I hope....

This then is the end of this update. Tomorrow we will head back South to Songpan, then go to Zoige and after that Langmusi and Xiahe in Eastern Gansu province. These are Tibetan towns and Xiahe is the next biggest Tibetan buddhist center outside of Lhasa. After that we will head to Lanzhou then fly to Beijing I think....until the next time, take care all.


China Travelogue 4: Lijiang to Chengdu

This Post: Lijiang --> Chengdu

Dear All,

We are now in Chengdu where we have spent a delightful few days. We flew into Chengdu on Friday night and will leave tomorrow when we got to the Jiuzhaigou nature reserve in Northern Sichuan.

Lijiang was okay I guess but the number of tourists in the old town made it feel so cramped that it wasn't very enjoyable. The family inn we stayed in was quite good. The family that ran the place were especially helpful in arranging trips for us and giving us excellent travel advice.

The highlight of the whole Lijiang part was the ascent to 4680m. What a breathtaking cable car ride. It only takes you to 4600m and you have to walk the rest of the way. What a tiring walk. I have never been in anything like it. It was a bit freaky when the cable car stopped because of high winds but that is just part of the deal. The top of the mountain was freezing (about -5) there was snow on the ground and yes I nearly landed on my butt when I slipped on the ice. At the highest point there was some crazy girl wearing only a t-shirt for some pictures.....I thought she was nuts. We were wearing four layers of clothes and still cold because of the wind.

At the top of the mountain is a beautiful glacier. It is the first glacier I have seen and it was a special sight. The thing about glaciers though is that they move very slowly so you have spend a while (a few thousand years I guess) to see it go about 1mm.

Before we went up the mountain we were taken to a local Naxi worship site. Set in the plains beneath the mountains on a dead, windswept landscape, it was certainly something unique. On the ground the ancient Naxi people had carved their interpretation of the cycle of life onto a slate on the ground. According to their beliefs, if one is a bad person when you die you die. Thats it! If you are not bad but not good you land up in hell where you have to climb nine mountains after which you are gruesomely tortured (according to your sins) and then reborn. There are six cycles of life. Once you finally have a righteous life you become a buddha in Heaven where you do not really do much except meditate. I told the guide that I thought that there were more activities in hell (mountain climbing and torture) but she thought I was nuts, had a good laugh and agreed. She was an excellent guide. She also said to me that the Naxi people do not eat lamb or beef. I asked her if she does and she said "Of course." The video below shows a small part of the burial grounds.

Our driver on the day was also quite interesting. She had travelled to many countries as a representative of the Naxi minority group. As a representative she was obliged to sing and dance and show her culture off. The only disappointing thing was that on the way back she hit some farmers dog and evidently broke its leg. I wanted her to stop the car so we could take the dog to a vet but she refused. Poor dog, I hope its okay. She told us that in China you only get fined if you kill a consumable animal (e.g. chicken, cow, or sheep). I guess in Guangdong you would also get fined for knocking over dogs and cats and mice and rats and.......(in Guangdong they eat everything)

The next day was pretty mellow. We hung in Lijiang and ran into the Dutch couple we had previously met in Dali. We went to a beautiful park in the afternoon. The entrance fee was RMB60 but when we arrived there was no one in the gate so we managed to get in for free. That was brilliant. The park itself was stunning with beautiful lakes where you can see the mountains, trees and pagodas reflected in the lake. Late that evening we flew into Chengdu where we met Michael who was to be our driver and guide that night and two days later.

The first day in Chengdu we met up with one of our Chinese Teacher's (Jenny) friends Sun Yi Yi. What a delightful person. She does research in a Chinese medicine company and her whole family are Chinese Medicine Doctors. That day we hung out in the people's park in Chengdu, we went to Du Fu's (a famous Chinese poets) house and then went to eat in the most disgusting yet most vibrant and alive restaurant I have eaten in in a long time. The food and the beer was good too. It was a hot pot but the way it was done (Chengdu style) was fantastic.

On Saturday we also met an American girl who was working on an interesting wild life project as a volunteer helping to save endangered species on the Tibetan plateau. It is the first convservation project I have heard of in China and it seems like a fantastic endeavour. It seems that with the rapid economic growth of China roads have been built all over the show and many of these roads in Western Tibet have slice through the migration paths of many of the antelope that live there. The long distance truck drivers have been filmed driving over these endangered species so this group of people, when the animals are crossing the road, stand in the middle of the road to stop the trucks. They are also trying to raise awareness and get more people involved on the ground. It is an excellent project and I do hope they succeed and are successful.

Day two in Chengdu saw us meeting Michael again as he took us to the Panda research base. Michael is an interesting character who studied Chinese literature at College. He asked many questions about the Taiwan issue and Taiwanese people's perception of the situation. After explaining it to him best we could I asked him what he thought of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. His response was that the situation was peaceful and that he did not understand why foreigners spent so much time and attention on this issue. I then told him the same is true for Taiwan: in terms of reality it very much acts as an independent country and that not so much time and attention should be spent on this issue. He thought that was a strange viewpoint and still insisted that Taiwan was a part of China.....heh heh heh.......

The Panda Base was AMAZING. We donated USD100 to the center and I could get to hold a panda....it was one of the best experiences I have had in China. If any of you come to Chengdu, you need to got there. The entrance fee is only RMB30 (less than USD4.00) but what a worthwhile experience. I honestly wish I could be that happy eating bamboo. The zoo's in China are generally very inhuman but this place was a wonderful place for these special creatures to live. And the work done there is amazing. I really have to say that on this the Chinese government has got it right.

While we were at the Panda Base a TV crew from the local station decided to interview me when they found out I knew a little Chinese. Of course, me being the cluts I am I forgot how to speak Chinese.

We also got to see red pandas. I had never heard of them before but they are also interesting little creatures that are much smaller than the giant panda and are far more lively.

At the Panda base we met Shan, a Taiwnese guy who lived in Johannesburg for 16-years and is now moving back to Taiwan. I am sure to hook up with him in Taipei.

After the Panda base we went to watch "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." It is the best one so far but the movies are becoming darker and scarier. I do recommend it though as it was a good film in its own right and the adaptation is excellent. After Harry Potter we had dinner, a foot massage and then bed.

Today has been fairly mellow. We went to the Sichuan University Museum. Aparently it is the best Museum in West and South China with 40,000 artifacts. The museum was really interesting but the National Palace Museum in Taipei is still the best for Chinese artifacts. The cultural revolution resulted in the destruction of much of China's past and so sadly, on the mainland it is hard to find excellent Museums. But once again, at least they are trying.

Well anyway, today is going to be the last hot day (8C) for a while. Tomorrow we will arrive in Jiuzhaigou after a 10 hour bus raid and the weather will be a fair to mild -8C - 4C....sounds like swimming weather to me. After that I have absolutely NO idea where to go. We are getting to the end of the route we had planned so if anyone has any brilliant ideas of where to go then let us know. We could go east to Xian and then work our way up to Beijing along the old silk road or go down the Yangtze river to Nanjing. Or we could head North East into Gansu province and make for the Hexi corridor and head for Dun Huang (if you have seen th Michelle Yeoh movie the Medallion you will know all about Dun Huang) and the Mogoa caves....Decisions, decisions....

Anyway, until I am thawed out and able to write again stay well and stay safe everyone....


China Travelogue 3: Kunming to Lijiang

This Post: Kunming --> Dali --> Lijiang

So here I am behind a computer screen in the middle of a backpacker haven in Lijiang. We arrived in Dali on Sunday after spending three nights in Kunming and came to Lijiang today.

Kunming, as Chinese cities go, is a rather nice place and, given a choice, I would choose to live there as opposed to Shenzhen. The weather is moderate, the people nice and the air clean. The roads are big and all the motorcycles are electric. True, there does not seem to be much to do in Kunming, but there are some interesting sites nearby.

On Saturday we went to the big lake just outside Kunming, but it was a little cold so we went back into town, Queenie had a massage and I just had a nap. We then had lunch, a rest and didn't do much more. That evening we went to an outdoor shop to buy some warmer clothes for the colder climates of northern Yunan. At the store we met a most interesting person, Kathy, from Australia. We later had the opportunity to have coffee with her.

Kathy has travelled the whole world and told us many interesting stories. She worked as a tour guide in Africa and knows my hometown of Durban fairly well. It was a really interesting conversation. Perhaps the most amazing story was how she was told to leave Norway on a days notice and get to Uganda to lead a tour group during the Ebola outbreak a few years ago. Kathy being Kathy jumped to it and went to lead the tour.

Sunday saw us get on a bus for Dali. At the first tollbridge we saw a dead guy lying on the ground a family trying to lynch the driver who had killed their family member. There were five policeman trying to prevent the lynching and they were getting quite a hiding too. The whole affair was very sad.

Dali is in North West of Yunan, South East of Tibet. The landscapes on the road were magnificent. The sky seems so close to earth. Sometimes you feel you can reach out and touch the clouds. It is just so beautiful. As usual, on the way we saw many small villages with dispossesed people. Many of these villages did not even have roads going into them. One wonders how the people survive.

After arriving in Dali we needed to take another bus from the old town to the new town. Of course the bus nearly had a crash and killed the lot of us...heh heh heh....well it wasn't that funny but we survived. The locals told us that it happens a lot but the drivers never learn and change. It sounds a lot like the taxi drivers in South Africa.

Dali is a quaint little town that still has an old city wall with city gates. Unfortunately, once you enter the town all the shops are tourist shops and you are surrounded by hordes of tour groups. But walking through the old town is still quite quaint and the view of Erhai Lake from our hotel room was stunning.

Monday saw us take up with a dutch couple. We went on a boat ride on Erhai lake to a small island in the middle. The boat ride was relaxing and we all had a really good time. The dutch couple told us a lot about the social strife that currently exists in Europe between the families of migrant laborers and the Europeans. Their is a lot of angst between the lot of them and the solutions are not apparent.

Monday night, after dinner, Queenie and I had a pleasant conversation with the host of the guesthouse we were staying in. John comes from the minority Bai group. His parents are peasant farmers and he explained to me the daily challenges they face. He also described how he had to start cooking meals for the family at age 8 and how during the harvest season he and his siblings have to return to the fields to help bring in the harvest. John explained that although the situation had improved dramatically over the last 10-years, most of China was still poor.

John described how some of the Lisu minority group in Lijung prefecture do not even have money for clothes and how they make their clothes out of tree bark and leaves. He was also deeply saddened at the death of the minority cultures describing how the girls in the villages were now refusing to wear traditional outfits.

On Tuesday Queenie and I went up the mountain at the back of old Dali town. We bought chairlift tickets at the hotel but our driver took us to the cable car (we couldn't use our tickets). We bought new tickets and once we reached the top of the cable car we went for a "short" walk. One kilometer became two, two became, three, three became ten. YES, we walked 10-km. The walk had spectacular views of the basin in which Erhai lake and Dali are situated and the path took us deep in the gulleys that ran down the mountains. No picture or words can describe the beauty of that place. At the end of 10-km we found the chairlift and could use the original tickets.

We had lunch under a waterfall where we met an Irishman name Martin who is trying to get back home from East Timor without taking an airplane (an interesting concept). He is trying to make it home before Christmas so he needs our prayers. In the evening I had a beer and a long chat with him. He explained a lot about contemporary Irish politics: Another interesting and detailed conversation.

Today we came to Lijiang. A famous 800 year old town with cobbled streets and canals running through the village. Unfortunately, all the old houses have now been converted in restaurants, shops or guesthouses and the town is filled with thousands of tourists. It is very disappointing but the town is still quaint.

Lijiang's elevation is 2400m (Johannesburg is 1700m) so we are quite high up. Tomorrow we are going to the top of a mountain that is over 4000m high. It will be cold as the temperature in Lijiang is about 5C.

I leave you with a final thought: This afternoon we were looking into the canals that go through Lijiang and watching the fish trying to swim upstream. If they stopped swimming they would be swept all the way downstream and start againg. Queenie looked at me and said that is what life is, swimming upstream....so all of you keep on swimming....


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