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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Great Wall (part 2)

We revisited the Great Wall on Saturday, and I'm a little happier with the pictures I got from this time around. It's the same section of wall. Hopefully at some point I'll get to see a section that is less renovated and more remote.

The interiors of the towers are like small mazes, riddled
with corridors and stairways.

Monday, October 8, 2012

And Back Again

This is part 2 of my update related to my week long travel through Hunan province. Let's start off with some pictures of my favorite place, Phoenix Old Town (Fenghuang). I described it a little in the previous post.

Busy street in Fenghuang, many of the shop owners live in
apartments built right on top of their shops.

Fenghuang canal at night.

We ducked under here to get out of the rain, and had
some of Hunan's famed spicy food.

Fenghuang is the Chinese word for Phoenix. This is the statue
in the middle of the main square.

Thought the visit was brief, I fell in love with the place. I'll be back for a more thorough exploration the first chance I get. After we departed the Phoenix Old Town, the next stop for us was the main attraction of the trip, ZhangJiaJie. Famed for its unique mountainous landscape of steep towers of rock, which was one of the locations of the world that inspired the design of the floating mountain region in James Cameron’s Avatar. We started at 5am to get there early and beat the crowds, and the first several hours climbing up to the top were sublime. However once we got to the top of the hike around noon, all of the tourists who took the busses to the top were their to meet us and it quickly became a storm of people, bargaining, and unfortunately trash was sprawled all over the area. Despite all of this, the place was beautiful and I believe that if it weren’t the National Holiday, the place wouldn’t be such a zoo. We ended the day by taking the world’s largest outdoor elevator from the top of one of those rock towers down to its base. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of the elevator or the amazing place it spit us out at, because of both the rain and the rush we were in at that point. 

The ZhangJiaJie landscape

The final stop for us was a Traditional Chinese museum, and an art museum that specialized in paintings made of sand, which were phenomenal. If there was one thing that never ceases to amaze me in China, it's their beautiful and variant forms of art. And their food. So that makes two things.

Another example of a preserved traditional chinese area, with
industrialization happening right outside its walls.

This whole thing was within a frame. The tools, stone, and wooden doors
were built onto the canvas with the painting in middle, made of sand adhered to the canvas.
The red tags on the door read "long live the Communist Party and Chairman Mao"

You can see the texture that the sand creates on the dome

Once again, made entirely of colored sand. Pretty unreal huh?

That was the conclusion of the trip with the tour group. We stayed one extra day in the city of ZhangJiaJie while the rest of the group went back home via train. During that day we walked the city streets and generally took it easy. I ate bat on a skewer, which was delicious. I felt attached to many of the people I traveled with after the week I had spent with them in Hunan province, talking about China and life here. Some I could even call friends. During my time in China I've met so many kind people, with seemingly infinite patience in teaching me their language and culture, and an easy going willingness to help in any way they can.
3 Chinese children I got to know along the trip. All 3 of them are learning
English as a second language, and at 7 years old can speak it very well.

My buddy Kevin, son of Rambo. 

Heading back home was a 26 hour train ride. As usual we made conversation easily with the Chinese people near our bunks. Some spoke great english, some spoke none at all and our interactions were done through simple Mandarin, friendly gestures, and card games. I learned much during this last week, about traveling within China and about the people of this country. I have positive impressions of both, and look forward to my next trip.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Out for Air

It's been a while since I last posted some info on what I've been up to. Apologies to those that were waiting. The first half of the last couple weeks was a little too routine to post anything significant, and the last half was too hectic and busy to find time to post anything. The reason for that is, we all had a week off of school for the Chinese Mid Autumn Festival and the Chinese National Holiday. Since this is the only holiday we get during the semester, myself and a few friends made it our mission to travel somewhere far away from our increasingly comfortable life in Beijing. We ended up going to ZhangJiaJie, and stopping by several places along the way including ChangSha, Mao Zhedong's hometown, and Phoenix Old Town. We traveled with a tour group, for several reasons. Though I'm always looking to get away from big tourist crowds, this holiday is a nationwide event that puts billions of people on the move all at once. It's tradition that during the national holiday everybody returns to their hometowns to see their family. The sheer volume of people that travel during this week makes train and plane tickets very hard to come by, and finding hotel accommodations are equally as challenging. With these things in mind we set out with a tour group.

It turned out to be a great time, and we were able to befriend several of the chinese families that were in our group. Usually they were the ones that could speak some english, as they would often help us translate information throughout the day to get around. Among the ones I became friendliest with was a man whose english name was Rambo, and his wife and son. There is also an english speaking Chinese student named Angel whose father is a goofy demeanor government officer. Many Chinese use the holiday period to do some touring of their own. Seeing foreigners on vacation, at least in our experience, was a rarity.

I'm sitting in my hotel room now and my return train trip is in several hours. It will be over 20 hours of travel time straight to Beijing. Here something of a walk through of the trip, and looking back now I'm regretful of missing some pictures of a few things, but I'll do my best to fill you in with words.

The hard sleeper train we took to ChangSha

Our den. My bed was the highest bunk on the right.

The train ride was 15 hours long. We passed the time playing cards, eating snacks almost constantly, a little bit of homework, reading... We made friends with the group of Chinese people in the den next to us. We shared food at dinner time and eventually they were feeding me as much of their rice liquor as I dared to take.

Upon arrival and meeting up with the group, the first stop was Mao Zhedong's hometown and the school he attended. There were more effigies of the famous leader than I could count, he was literally everywhere.

A bust of the young Mao Zhedong, over 40 meters high and 80 meters wide

After getting a fair share of nationalism, we heading out for what would become my favorite leg of the trip, The Phoenix Old Town. On the way there the massive amounts of traffic going in and out of the city caused a huge traffic jam. It was bad enough that the tour guide decided it would be more effective for everyone to just grab their luggage and walk the remaining several miles to the hotel. It was raining. But my saying that visiting this place was my favorite part of the trip wasn’t sarcasm. The city was everything I would hope from a hub of preserved Chinese culture and architecture. It had a very unique character, the native people often spoke their own dialect of Chinese making them completely unintelligible unless they wanted to be understood, and the architecture and design of the town was unreal. Unfortunately we were only there for a very short time, but if I ever get the chance I’ll be back.

Ill finish this post soon, but as of now I'm getting kicked out of the hotel and I have to get moving towards the train station. Expect this to be finished within 48 hours. The best is yet to come!