Tags: beautiful place


Sea of Bamboo

Sarah had heard of a very interesting place for sight-seeing from this guy she met when she, Matt, and Laura went touring on the Chang Jiang. This guy whom we've nicknamed "The Judge" lived in a town called Wubin, which was near a fairly large forest of bamboo. We decided to go on a day-trip to this Sea of Bamboo, which is apparently famous for providing some of the pretty scenery in one of Zhang Yimou's movies (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). We were told by The Judge that it'd take only two hours to get from Chengdu to Wubin, but one of the ticket sellers at the bus depot said it was more like three or four, which was fine with our schedule.

So, we took the bus, which always provides a lot of writing material. In fact, most of the oddities that happened on this trip involved buses.

First of all, we attracted a lot of attention of course. It wouldn't be a normal trip in Sichuan without being under the constant (and often slack-jawed) observation of our fellow passengers.

And from what I myself observed, human beings weren't the only passengers on that bus. After an hour or so into the trip, my seatmate Laura (yes, the Bug Girl... or rather, the Anti-Bug Girl) hit me and squeaked. Before I could voice the objection that was on the tip of my tongue, she pointed at my backpack on my lap and started what I can only describe as whisper-shrieking: "Get it off! Get it off!!!"

I looked at my bag and saw what I thought was a brown beetle cheerfully strolling around on my bag as if it were a park, and I promptly brushed the intruder off into the aisle. Louder whisper-shrieking ensued: "KILL it!!!"

Now, I'd like you to know that Laura is one of the most independent people I know, and is a little on the adventurous side. She is able to keep calm under most conditions, but if an ant crosses her path she gets squeamish, which means she'd probably provide a lot of entertainment at picnics and camping excursions. It was certainly amusing enough to witness her freak out on the bus.

Anyway, I squashed Laura's Bane since I was sitting in the aisle seat and then tried to go on with life. A little while later I turned around to reply to something Matt had said when I noticed another one of those brown bugs sitting quite cozily on the side of his headrest, probably about three inches from his ear.

Then I looked at what all was behind Matt's headrest, as well as behind Deborah's, Sarah's, and our TA's as everyone but Laura and me were sitting in the very back row of seats on the bus. I really had no idea how I missed this sight when I boarded, but crammed between the headrests and the rear window of the bus was what some people might consider a trash heap or almost a compost pile; layers of food wrappers, orange peels, soda bottles, peanut shells, and lots of other delights.

And that was when I saw a baby of the species crawling up the back window.

Yes, definitely Laura's Bane.

"I think this bus is infested with roaches," I quietly said to Laura.

"Don't say that!!!"

"Why not? I'm warning you in case one starts crawling on your bag."

"Well," she chuckled nervously, "a couple of roaches doesn't constitute an infestation!"

Au contraire!  For every single one you see, five zillion more are behind a wall or under the sink planning an invasion. I pointed out the following logic to her: the sighting of the baby bug, assuming the roaches haven't imposed a one-egg policy on themselves, means eggs. Eggs mean nest. Nest means habitation. Habitation means... yeah, infestation.

We started hearing another disagreement coming from behind us regarding the time it was taking us to get to the bamboo forest as Sarah called The Judge, and then the TA started asking other passengers questions, and this was when we got the news that though we had already been on the road for about four hours, it would take almost another two hours to get to the forest and the only ride from the forest that would take us back to Chengdu would leave fifteen minutes after we'd get there.

Did you catch that? Drive over five hours to browse a large bamboo forest for fifteen minutes and then drive five more hours back to Chengdu?

The bus had pulled off at a rest stop and basically everyone got off the bus except for the Yanks in the back as we were busily discussing our options. At one point my attention, along with Laura's, strayed to this kid from the local rest stop that for some reason decided to board the bus and was staring at us while standing in the aisle smoking a cigarette. By the word "kid" you might think I'm talking about a sixteen-year-old, but this fella hadn't even hit puberty yet - he looked about eight years old. As he turned to leave we noticed he had a baby strapped to his back.

It was such an odd sight it took a couple of minutes for us to realize what we saw.

Our group did finally solve the puzzle of how we were going to get home that night and made it into the bamboo forest, which was very pretty and quiet. Some farmers lived around the area, so it wasn't deserted. We eventually trekked along one of their paths that went up a hill and then through one of their neighborhoods. It was very refreshing to be out of the city.

Unfortunately, we had this constant shadow trailing us everywhere as one man smelled an opportunity to make money and could not stop trying to pressure us into giving us a tour of the forest in his vehicle. Knowing very well by now how the Chinese do their touring, we decided to go our own way... and he decided to follow / tag along. He reminded me of Gollum.

As for the trip home, we caught a "fast bus" (meaning a six hour drive done in four) back to Chengdu. One passenger near me smoked one cigarette right after another which left me pining for a window I could actually open. Just as I was about to fall asleep I realized a bug was crawling on the curtain of the window I was sitting next to, and then realized it was... yeah, a cockroach.

And I had originally decided this trip was how I was going to celebrate my birthday. Funny, I don't think I had invited cockroaches and Gollum to the party...

Anyway, click on the thumbnails below to view the pictures I took. Enjoy!





JZG: The Big Snow

Well, the snow wasn’t very “big” at Huanglong, but it was wonderful.

When I woke up the final time (I woke up at least three times, not due to the cold this time but due to our roommate’s snoring. I actually considered risking some sort of international fiasco just to throw something at her to make her roll over and stop snoring. No, I didn’t actually throw anything. Don’t worry; I was very well-behaved on this trip) I knew it was going to be cold. From what I heard, I expected really frigid conditions, so I basically wore all the clothes I brought with me. I didn’t want to bother with the breakfast they provided, so I drank some instant coffee that I had brought with me and hauled bum to the bus.

Deborah informed me once I had boarded that our fellow passengers were not very pleased with our tour guide because they thought he cheated them. The scenario’s like this: the Tibetans eat yak. Han Chinese want to be “educated” in things Tibetan; Chinese want to try yak meat. Tibetans and tour guides sense a way to make big bucks. Tour guide offers big meat at big bucks. Chinese pay tour guide big bucks. Chinese expect big meat, but waitress implies otherwise when it arrives: “Here’s your la – oops, your yak meat.”

In case you missed it, the waitress gave the customers reason to doubt they got what they paid for. So, it seems, they had gotten LAMB meat instead of yak.

I’m surprised they didn’t beat up the tour guide.

The bus ride was only a few hours, and one of the first things I noticed as we were getting higher in altitude was that it was snowing, which made me excited as I really love snow.

The time we got off the bus was during the snow’s intermission. We were met with a dilemma: we were given only two or three hours to walk around the park. This seemed unfair to me at the time, but after hearing other people’s experiences with Chinese tours, today’s two or three hours of wandering was generous, and yesterday’s six hours or so of looking around was flat out miraculous; some friends who went on a Chinese tour of the Three Gorges along the Yangzi River had only ten minutes to have a look at the different scenic stops, and that was actually after haggling for time:

Tour Guide: Okay, we’re here. You have only five minutes before you need to get back on the bus.

Laura, etc: Only FIVE minutes? You’re kidding!

Tour Guide: (impatient sigh) Fine! Ten minutes! But ONLY ten minutes!

So, you see, we apparently had a fairly generous tour guide, which was a good thing considering he might’ve cheated almost everyone with the whole yak meat incident.

Two hours though are just not enough to walk up the entire length of Huanglong.

Huanglong, by the way, is in a mountain valley. The translation of it is “Yellow Dragon,” referring to the shape and color of the ancient mineral deposits as it “flows” down the valley, which is actually still going on. There were signs everywhere saying in Chingrish the equivalent of: “Please don’t step off the path or touch the scenery – it will take about a century for the damage you’ve done to be naturally repaired.”

To actually see the Huanglong valley, you have to walk up a mountain, which can take about two hours, or so I’ve heard. Since we were a little short on time, we decided to take the easy way up – via gondola – which took twenty minutes or so.

Even after going to Jiuzhaigou, Huanglong seemed absolutely surreal. And the snow made everything seem beyond terrestrial as all you could see in the sky were snow clouds and… snow.

I cannot think of anything to compare to the pool formations of Huanglong to give you an idea of what it’s like standing there looking at it or walking through it. Definitely, I can say that these pools were many beautiful colors. Most of them were fairly small, perhaps the size of a Jacuzzi.

It was very strange seeing vegetation growing in these pools. Again, this seemed just beautifully surreal, and I cannot seem to come up with an apt description of what this park was like.

I am very glad I'm in Sichuan.


JZG: The Big Day

After ten hours or so on the bus, they decided we ought to leave for breakfast the next morning at about 6AM after waking up at 5:30.


I didn’t sleep very well anyway. I woke up at least three times last night, and each time I was freezing because my hair hadn’t dried thoroughly and I had been sleeping next to a window. No heater, either. From the feel of things, I knew I had to wear layers for the day, not to mention make sure to keep moving to generate some warmth.

Unfortunately, I had to wear pretty much everything I brought with me, and we still had two days left of passing slowpokes on boardwalks, avoiding getting poked in the eye by umbrellas used by women who want to be as “white” as possible to shield themselves from the sun (more about that in a later entry), and touring around in a stuffy bus.

Before we resumed our tour, we went to breakfast. A fan of toast and jam or simple cereal and fruit for breakfast, it was difficult to come up with enough appetite for spicy tofu and white rice porridge. I had a little bit of the porridge, but I knew that if I continued to eat when I didn’t have the appetite, I’d end up feeling sick later, so I stopped after a very small amount. Don’t worry; I brought some of my own food.

We hopped onto the bus and left for Jiuzhaigou National Park.

Thought I was there already, did you? =P

Nope. The “Igloo Inn” was two hours away from JNP.

As the bus rolled through the town, I looked at all the shops and carts lining the streets loaded with goodies meant for tourists; tourist towns, by the way, don’t only exist in the US. I would not recommend buying much from either variety, as some objects, such as the shawls, appeared to be mass-produced and there were duplicates of each shawl everywhere. I’ve even seen the exact designs and colors in Chengdu.

It amazed me though when I looked at Tibetan art and jewelry at how close it resembles art and jewelry of the American Indians of the plains and southwest. A common theme is silver and turquoise in their jewelry, which I could have easily mistaken for American Indian designs, and like the jingle dresses of some American Indian tribes, the women’s dresses had silver decorations that clinked as they moved.

A variety of familiar decorations hung from the walls of some shops. There were the painted skulls of yaks, which reminded me a lot of buffalo and cattle skull wall-decorations. They even had round painted shields of leather. Paintings on canvas were also hanging on the walls, and the style and representations of those reminded me of those of southwest tribes.

There were also other symbols in common, usually painted on homes, such as the backwards swastika (I don’t remember the term for a backwards swastika, but it represents peace, harmony, and order; the swastika represents chaos and anarchy), which was also a Navajo (a southwestern tribe) symbol, I believe.

Generally, the Tibetans look different from the Han Chinese. First of all, they’re taller – I’ve seen Tibetan men over six feet tall while I’ve been able to look many Han Chinese men square in the eyes. Their faces seem more angular with prominent cheekbones, and many of them have a nice blush to their cheeks that just doesn’t seem to happen for the Hans. Their eyes also seem narrower.

To bottom-line it and give you an idea of what they’re like, based on the dancing, their dress, their singing, their customs, their designs, and to a certain extent their bone structure, I’d say that culturally, the Tibetans are kind of in between Russians and American Indians. True, someone might have gotten the idea for some of the familiar Wild West-looking merchandise when visiting the States, but other things seemed too well-established to have been an idea that originated elsewhere.

And like visiting Yosemite or Agate Beach, I was going to visit the ancestral homeland of these local people.

When we got off the bus, we had to walk to the entrance of the park because the government only allowed vehicles that run on electricity to enter the park so that the area would not become so polluted. I certainly give the government kudos for that, and, considering the trouble Yosemite has had in the past, and perhaps other American national parks, I think the US government should do something similar – or at least just allow 2003 Honda Civics into the parks…

As we walked up to the visitors’ center, someone was singing a Tibetan song over a sound system. No instruments, just clear, lovely singing. It really matched the mood of the park, which was quiet and calm.

Until they started the tape and the guy launched into a karaoke song!!! Deborah groaned and remarked on how the mood of the area had been ruined by the karaoke music, which I absolutely agreed with.

It was rather crowded because everyone else had the same idea of how to spend their national holiday as we did. The weather was pretty nice, and the air was definitely very fresh, since the government is really clamping down on pollutants in the area, even tobacco smoke; there’s a pretty hefty fine for smoking in the area: 500 RMB / 63 USD.

That might not seem like that much of a fine compared to some fines in America, but first of all, the Chinese in general don’t earn very much money, and second, that’s still a pretty expensive cigarette.

The park didn’t have railings along most of the boardwalks / trails, so I was sure to be careful carrying my unbalanced backpack while walking around the slower people, trying to avoid any sort of incident which would cause me to fall into what was sure to be very cold water and accidentally defacing an “international” monument or ruining an alleged 10 million year old ecosystem.

Though many scientists come to the area to explore the hows and wherefores of this park’s various ecosystems and the intriguing hues of the lakes, I’d be rather hard-pressed to look at it as simply a science experiment. In a way, I wouldn’t mind becoming a biologist, botanist, geologist, etc just to get a deeper look (and an extended stay) of the area.

And those of us with at least semi-analytical minds tend to become amateurs in these fields when it comes to places like this. Deborah and I were talking over why the lakes are so blue / green, and based on the reddish soil in the area, and we’re guessing there’s plenty of copper in the earth. In fact, the higher you go in the area, the redder the soil becomes, and JNP is at a decently high altitude.

Whatever the cause, it’s absolutely gorgeous, and we took our time oohing and aahing over interesting vistas as we walked along the path.

We passed by many smaller waterfalls and came to a split in the path. The way to the left went down, which said something about Reed Lake, and the way to the right went up, which mentioned something about Double Dragon Lake, Tiger Lake, Pearl Shoal, and lots of other fun sounding names. We noticed everyone was headed towards the Double Dragon Lake et. al. and hardly anyone was headed towards Reed Lake, so we made our choice.

Robert Frost would’ve been very proud of us. We escaped the crowd and walked the path to Reed Lake, and the choice to avoid the crowd was very rewarding. For having such a simple-sounding name, the lake was gorgeous, and there was hardly a soul along the path around it.

We supposed that the reason the place was practically deserted was because of its name; admit it, “Reed Lake” doesn’t sound very interesting, especially in comparison to places that have names like “Double Dragon.” It actually sounds downright boring, maybe even a little overwhelmed or polluted with reeds.

Far from it:

Do you see how absolutely clear the water is?

These are just a few pictures in my collection, by the way. You’ll see many more later.

Anyway, after Reed Lake, we decided to turn around and see if Double Dragon Lake et. al. lived up to their fancy names. Some of them did, some of them didn’t. Some places we couldn’t quite understand what was so notable about them: “Why are those people taking pictures next to a swamp?”… especially when there are beautiful waterfalls and lakes that are a lot more attractive.

We tried to do most of our touring in the less crowded places. The Chinese tour differently than Americans do. In scenic spots in the US, in the west at least, some parks can have many people without having a crowded atmosphere because Americans don’t necessarily travel huge packs; they may travel by families or by caravans of friends, but it’s not as if there are swarms of Americans that zero in on certain spots. This might be because Americans really like space and that generally they love to discover new and rare things so they don’t follow crowds so much.

The Chinese on the other hand don’t have pioneering in their DNA at all. I believe I’ve said something like this before, in my entry about Mt Qingcheng when some of our hosts tried to stop me from going down a path a little bit just to take only ONE picture. This lack of an exploration gene is evident in the way they tour places… in packs!

Seriously, if they see one or two people staring at something, they’ll come and gather around those two people to see what they’re staring at. Deborah and I almost utilized (abused, really) this idea when we realized a lot of heads were blocking our view of the vistas and we were sorely tempted to create a diversion by doing the staring thing, but we behaved ourselves.

The day was absolutely awesome, and our time at JNP ended with the most fantastic view of the entire park. The ride up there was pretty interesting too, as two little kids who found me fascinating were arguing over who was going to say “hello” to me first.

“You say it first!” the little girl said.

“No, you say it first!” insisted the boy.

This spiel repeated about three or four times, ending each time with the little girl turning to me with her mouth open prepared to say “hello” when she’d suddenly become very shy and whip back around to face the little boy.

“Fine! You say ‘hi’ and I say ‘lo’!”

I thought about making the situation easier for them by saying hello first, in Chinese, but I suppose I didn’t want to surprise them like that. These kids were already very nervous.

At one point, the little girl’s mother sat down beside her and spoke with her for a minute. The mother then turned to me and said in very good English, “Hello, my daughter would like to say something to you.”

She nudged her daughter and the little girl turned to me and made it as far as “Ha…” before she got shy again. She succeeded the second time, and was very cute as she replied sweetly in English, “I’m fine, thank you!” after I asked after her well-being.

We stopped off at another vista and looked around as the two kids, who obviously were less fearful of talking to me now that they knew I don’t eat small children, kept shouting “HELLO!” to me as they ran around.

We waited a few minutes, then hopped onto another bus, which took us to another vista.

I honestly thought we were just transferring buses until we came to a sign referring to another lake. We had time to kill, so why not?

Whoever built the walkway leading to the lake was a genius, though I doubt it was on purpose. We couldn’t see the lake because of all the trees, and when the walkway turned abruptly to the right, I was suddenly devoid of my faculty of speech.

I was looking down upon this:

It was called the Five Color Lake. Basically, the Chinese name anything that is supremely colorful as Five Color Something, but for once this was an absolute understatement, and there is no need to describe exactly how beautiful it is.

The one thing I can say is that it seemed to be lethally beautiful, as nothing was living in it, and I only saw one bird fly PAST it. Except for the trees around it, the lake held no life, at least none that could be seen without a microscope.

Regardless, we were still in awe, as were the other people who stumbled upon it the same way we did. We knew when someone new came upon the scene as we heard shouts of various derivatives of “WOW!!!” coming from above our heads.

At that point, we started heading back to the entrance of the park. We were very content with the order of events of that day, with that gorgeous lake ending our JNP experience. Such an amazing way to end the adventure.

We had had eight hours to look around JNP. I’m so glad it wasn’t two hours or the like, as we wouldn’t have been able to see as much as we did. If you come to Sichuan, make it a point to visit JNP. Especially if you love places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, or Crater Lake… Just don’t take the Chinese tour.

Here’s one reason why: the lodging. There’s now a Sheraton Hotel outside JNP. I don’t know the exact quality of it, but I’m sure it’s better than the hotel room we stayed at after visiting JNP.

It was pretty late when we got to the hotel, but the rest of the group was ready and willing to eat dinner. I had absolutely NO appetite for more of the same food I had earlier, so I stayed in the room to munch and take a shower. You know, I wish I HAD stayed at the Sheraton, because again there was a hot water curfew, again there was no heater in the room, and again I was the one who slept by a window that wasn’t sealed properly.

Believe me, at this point, all that was going on in my head was: “It’s just one night here, maybe the next one will be better. You only have two more nights to go and then you’ll be in your own bed, comfy, clean, and warm.” Besides, I had Huanglong to look forward to.

But still… That’s STRIKE TWO for Chinese tour groups.

Couldn't resist adding one more picture from my collection:

Now let me see a show of hands of who wants to come to China!!!