China

Xi'an: The sights and the sounds

Written by Tyler Cole | 31 March 2011

 

I had some videos of Xi'an lingering that I finally put together (this is the link the original Xi'an post). So here it is:

 

Xi'an: The sights and the sounds from Tyler Cole on Vimeo.

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Beijing: +1 for clean air

Written by Tyler Cole | 29 March 2011

 

dogAfter finishing going down the Yangtze River and visiting Zhangjiajie Park, I hopped on a direct train to Beijing. I had a pretty standard visit there and made the rounds at all of the tourist sites, including Tian’anmen Square, The Forbidden City, The Great Wall (a bit outside Beijing), etc.

The most exciting thing that happened in any of these places was in Tian’anmen Square when I hopped on a trash can to get an elevated view and police cars and foot officers rushed up to surround me and followed me the rest of the time I was in the square. If you aren’t familiar, Tian’anmen was the site of massive pro-democracy student protests in 1989 that ended in massacre, so the “People’s Square” is in reality the government’s square and you can’t even get in without a security check. There are also massive flood lights positioned over the huge square in case they need to spot any miscreants.

As I’ve commented previously, I had become wary

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Zhangjiajie Park: The polluted version of the movie Avatar

Written by Tyler Cole | 19 March 2011

zhang

 

Both Foo and I were interested in making a trip to Zhangjiajie Park, renowned in China as “the real life Avatar” (like, the movie) due to the massive natural pillars that jut up from the park and an entrance fee to match it (~$40). We were tired from cruising down the Yangtze but also tantalized by the photos that we saw of the park, so we agreed to a tour that would take care of all of the logistics to the park and overnight for only about $15 more than if were we to do it alone as figured from Foo’s Lonely Planet. We never should have done it, and it just reinforced my aversion to tours.

Our first mistake was assuming that the same company that did the boat trip also did the trip to Zhangjiajie, which was not the case. We also assumed that they described the trip in an honest, straightforward manner, which was definitely not the case. Even double confirming in my terrible Mandarin didn’t help. It started off well when we were personally picked up in Yichang and given our train tickets, but after that it was pretty much downhill.

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Cruising down the Yangtze River and Three Gorges

Written by Tyler Cole | 19 March 2011

 

gorgeWith a last minute look at train schedules and finding just the right night train from Chengdu to Chongqing, I took off with Foo, a 26 year old Scottish guy I had met in Xi’an, to find a cheap boat down the Yangtze River. Foo’s full name was Fioonlaugh or something like that, which he shortened, and we decided to meet up further south to do the boat trip together. The Yangtze (chang jiang) is the most important river in China, along with the Yellow River, and is renowned for its Three Gorges which rise up around the river (which starts in Tibet). It has also been the center of controversy over the Three Gorges Dam, which was where the boat trip would end. To build the dam, the largest in the world and a massive source of hydroelectric energy, the Chinese government instituted forced migrations of millions of people and aroused an expected outcry. The Chinese government unsurprising prevailed and finished the dam in 2006.

We were both wary about being trapped on a 3rd class Chinese tourist boat alone with chain-smoking, elderly Chinese tourists, so we met again in Chengdu

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Chengdu, Sichuan: Hotpot, pandas, and ear cleaning

Written by Tyler Cole | 19 March 2011

hotpotWithout much clue about what there actually was in Chengdu (capital of Sichuan province) besides a panda reserve, I bought a train ticket there from Xi’an figuring it was worth a look. The first day there I met a Chinese couple in the hostel and we went out for traditional Sichuanese hotpot, or huoguo, which consists of a fiery, boiling, oily liquid to which you add whatever sort of assorted foods you order. Not being able to read Chinese, I left it to the couple I was with; we ended up getting rabbit kidney, beef cutlets, lotus root (still not sure what it is), lamb cutlets, a few types of mushrooms and vegetables, and a particular kind of small fish that only lives in rice paddies.

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Hua Mountain: Cold, scary, and beautiful

Written by Tyler Cole | 07 March 2011

 

huaWanting to get away from the cities and smog, I took an overnight trip to Huashan, or Hua Mountain, a few hours away from Xi’an (click for my post there) by bus. It was apparently a central place for Daoism (maybe still is?) and was dotted with temples and other holy sites over its five main peaks. Nowadays it is catered toward the tourist and has food shacks and souvenir shops that are fed by the cable car that skips about 85% of the ascent.

 

I decided to hike all the way up from the town below to save some cash, but the vast majority of tourists (mostly Chinese) chose to take the cable car. I held a fair bit of unnecessary resentment after going up the frequently terrifying and exhausting climb only to see hoards of other tourists gliding effortlessly off the cable car. Even at the low altitudes of the ascent, many of the steep, carved steps were covered with ice and snow on slick granite and

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