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.

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