Sunday, May 28, 2006
Huangshan - 黄山 (Yellow Mountain)
“五岳归来不看山, 黄山归来不看岳”
听说如果去过黄山,其他的山就不用去了,因为黄山非常漂亮。
上个周末我们去爬黄山了。 黄山真得很美。那儿有很多奇怪的石头和松树。 每块奇怪的石头都有一个故事. 此外还有很多石头长得像人手或是像手机,像鱼,像龙等。我觉得它们像是从天上掉下来的. 因为黄山的土壤营养不够丰富,黄山的树长得很慢。 每棵树都有一千年左右的历史了。在山顶我们住了一个晚上,因为我们想看日落和日出。第二天因为别的人太累了,只有我们三个去爬了天都峰--黄山最陡的山峰。 真难爬! 有时候我以为我爬不到山顶了,因为我有一点恐高征. 但是最后我登上了最高点,真得很值得一爬,因为那儿的风景真的非常漂亮啊! 如果有云海,我觉得更美的风景。爬完以后我们非常累, 浑身酸痛. 即使如此,如果你来中国, 我还是建议你一定要去黄山.

They say once you visit Huangshan, you do not have to visit any other mountain because it is that beautiful. Huangshan is not one of the five "wu yue" great mountains in China; nevertheless, the mountain is magnificent and beautiful. The Chinese quote above roughly translate to: "you won't want to visit any other mountains after seeing wu yue but you won't wish to see even wu yue after returning from Mt. Huangshan."

The mountain is reknown for the strange trees that grows on the precarious cliffs and the strang rock formations. The famous tree above is called the Stretching Forward Pine Tree and is over a hundred years old. Due to the relatively poor soil conditions, trees grow very slowly so a three foot tall tree could very well be around 100 years old. The trees do not grow upright but instead in all sort of crooked directions and the branches usually only grown on one side. The roots of these trees are many times longer than the trunk for added support and have adapted very well to the stressful conditions.

Open up your imagination and you will see that many stones will resemble a figure of some sort--they look like people, animals, birds, and other objects. The above picture looks like a hand while another rock looks like a cellphone. As well, each rock has a story associated with it, as if the gods themselves strategically placed these stones on display.

If you ever see a picture of a Chinese mountain with clouds surrounding the mountains in a "Sea of clouds" or 云海, it can very well be huangshan. The weekend we went was clear, not a cloud in sight so we didn't get to see and feel the cloud sea. It's a shame really but at least it was comfortable. The guide told us that such fine weather is hard to come by at Huangshan--only in a few days per year that it is this clear.

Drawn to the majestic Huangshan, five of us joined a tour to see if the above quote is true. It was surely beautiful and awe inspiring. I can't put it to words as how pretty the rocks, the trees and the scenery is so you better go see for yourself. We took the cable car 2/3 up the peak. Yes, we were lazy but the cable car itself was an adventure in itself as it sometimes swing wildly forward and the scenery you see on the way up is a prelude of what's more to come. The cable car does not reach the peak so a three hour hike was required to reach the tallest peak, also where our hotels were situated. Along the way we would stop at strategic locations to take pictures--Do Not step back, so the guide told the group. It would be an interesting picture though:D The stairs to the peak was relatively easy but nevertheless tiring especially when dealing with the heat and crowds. Oh, as well as the porters who carries up to 100kg of stuff up and down the mountain. Taking supplies up the mountain by cable car costs too much so there are a number of porters carrying supplies up and down the mountain--one guy was carrying a 27" TV. As a bonus, we got to see UN Chief Annan Kofi who happened to be visiting the mountain as well that weekend. He waved to us as I was being shoved aside by his security staff--the nerve of them.

The hotel we stayed in was far from a five start hotel--let's just say it can't even compete with some hostels. It wasn't a big deal since we would only be staying there for less than seven hours as we have to wake up early to watch the sunrise. Watched the sunset while eating our dry rations. Nice and relaxing until it got a little chilly. Next day around 4am, a mass of tourists hiked to the peak to watch the sunrise. It was as if the gods themselves were goning to show up--kind of like a cult following.

No show...but the sunrise was pretty. Time to leave and hike back down, but before that we had to conquer something first: Heaven Capital Peak (天都峰), at 1810m it is not the highest peak but it is the steepest. Apparently, a tourist from Taiwan perished just a month before and the trail is often closed due to its dangers. From our group, only three of us attempted the climb. It was damn steep! At certain points, I was on all fours and was kind of concerned I would be blown off the stairs. The only thing to hold on to is a rustic chain, rope or rocks in the shape of handles. Once near the peak, you have to cross the Carp's Backbone (鲤鱼背) which is a narrow rock ridge with straight drops on both sides. The rope handles are so low that you can easily miss it and along with a misstep, you can very well be swimming with the carps. Added to the dangers, by the time you reach the Backbone, you are so tired that it is very possible to take a misstep. As they say, no pain, no gain. How true because the view from the peak is quite beautiful. As well, we experienced a mini-cloud sea.

The locks on the rope are just that, locks with people's names written on it. It supposed to be a promised or something of symbolism...or just to say, 'I've been to Huangshan!' The locks are everywhere on Huangshan, not just at the peak.

The rest of the trip down was not very eventful. You can see how steep some of these stairs can get from the last picture. Kim had a tougher problem climbing down than climbing up. Amy was jumping down the stairs like a rabbit. I was just walking leisurely down taking pictures of their expressions.

Huangshan is a definitely must, highly recommended. I will check out Huashan, a wu yue mountain, in the summer to see if the quote stands.

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posted by Y> @ 5:16 AM   1 comments
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Simatai Great Wall - 司马台长城
在我小的侯我有两个梦想。 其中一个是爬中国的长城。 我七年去前去过一次长城, 但是我不太满意。因为我跟旅游团去的,我们没有很多时间爬长城, 欣赏景色。所以我们只去了八达岭。那儿人太多了, 而且那里的长城已经被重新修过。 我不太喜欢。
这个“五一”长假我又去了北京, 但是这次是我自己去长城的, 我去了别的地方, 叫司马台。 因为我是“五一”最后一天去司马台的, 人不太多,不拥挤。我可以安静地爬长城和拍风景照。司马台有一部分修复过,但是也有很多烽火台没有修复。从那儿, 你可以看到一些历史的遗迹。 中国古代的建筑师很聪明,他们建造的长城和周围的景色都非常漂亮。遗憾的是最高的烽火台关了。如果可以爬上去, 我可以看到更美的风景。
我对这次旅行很满意。如果有一天我可以爬全部的长城, 我当然想试试。

Visiting the Great Wall was always on top of my list of priorities. Climbing the whole wall--7200km--is almost impossible due to the fact that many parts of the great wall has suffered from nature's wrath, not to mention a few dozen wars. Sections of the wall around Beijing has been restored for the benefit of the people and government coffers. Two of the most famous--Badaling (八达岭)and Mutianyu(慕田峪) --are where all the tourists head off to because these sections are closests to Beijing and has been restored to their past beauty. Having been to Badaling seven years ago and not very satisfied due to the number of tourists and the new brick work, I ventured over to simatai instead. Really, I wanted to head off to Huanghuacheng (黄华长城) but I heard that most of the wall has been closed off because it's crumbling apart. Simatai has been restored somewhat with railings and such, as well a cable car to take you 2/3 of the way up. I took the cable car but it was really a waste because there is a nice paved road that will take you up to the wall--don't bother with the cable car if you do visit. However, most buses will only give you around 3-4 hours to discover so if you want to spend more time on the wall, take that into consideration.

Simatai was outstanding, period. Words cannot describe the beauty and my feelings. The beauty of the wall, in my opinion, was beyond that of Badaling. Because this section of the wall sits on top of a high hill/cliff, the scenery is magnificent. Due to the relative lack of people, I was able to sit on the wall peacefully and reflect. Also, I was finally able to take photos without having heads in the way. It was too bad that the wall leading to the highest point was blocked and guarded off due to the obvious dangers--many have perished climbing the sectioned off part of the wall. I am sure those turrets would be so much more glorious. Parts of the wall sports a 60 degree climb so it gets a little tiring and dangerous at times. I figure MTB these parts will not be of the best interest. The Chinese were simply amazing back in the day to built something like this.

Although not the most visited of the Great Wall sections, there are many hawkers targeting tourists. One lady followed me up to the wall and kept on following me trying to sell me a book. Saying no didn't work nor did trying to walk faster. Eventually, I caved in and bought the book since I wanted to buy a photographic book of the Great Wall and I wanted peace.

This section of the Great Wall is a definite must if you like to see the original wall and to stay away from tour groups. I am finally satisfied and joyous I made the long trip to simatai.

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posted by Y> @ 3:08 AM   0 comments
Saturday, May 13, 2006
Beijing (北京)
Less than 24 hours of flying back from Qingdao, I had to tavel up to Beijing to meet up with my cousin and Naila. During "wuyi" holidays, you'd be lucky to buy tickets of your choice so I had to settle with the slow local train to Beijing--21 hours! The train ticket I bought was a "hard" sleeping berth so I was able to "sleep" during the ride. Each section has six beds, three bunks on each side--this was like a prison. The price varies according to which bunk you buy--the bottom bunk is the most expensive and the top bunk the cheapest. The bottom bunk becomes a communal bench during the day and it's not as safe for your belongings. The top bunk is cramped but probably the safest. I had the middle bunk and had little complaints except for the fact I cannot sit up. Along the corridor, there are seats where you can sit. The sleeping car I was in had no A/C and was quite cramped. When the train stops, it is like a oven! For some reason, the train stopped at around midnight for one hour--it was so hot and stuffy! Eventually, the train started to move and shortly afterwards, I passed out. The food costs a lot and it's far from good so many people bring their own food, usually instant noodles. There is a hot water tank that runs on coal for your drinking and food preparation purposes. All in all, it wasn't so bad but I'd probably go insane if it was any longer. On my way back, I was able to buy the express train ticket back to Suzhou which is only a12 hour ride:D It costed almost twice as much--300Y compared to 170Y--but it was worth it. The express train has real food, A/C, airplane-like service, much cleaner and new...oh, and FAST (it's non-stop and travels at 160km/hr compared to 140km/hr.)

Finally made it to Beijing in one piece, my cousin took me to Peking University. The campus was huge and in some ways pretty. After walking around for a bit and saving some tadpoles left for dead, we went for some Peking duck--we are in Beijing so it's a must, right? It was good, probably the best Peking duck I ever had.

The next day I met up with Naila, my Korean friend whom I have not seen for over two years! We went to Summer Palace together (颐和园) and it was packed! Wuyi strikes again:P The huge garden was basically a playground for the royal family. Usually one could spend a whole day to discover the garden but we got bored after two hours. My cousin took us around Beijing for some shopping and eating--so nice of him. We went to "laowai" for some Yunnan food. This area is a happening place especially at night. One can see Chinese people, old and young, dancing the night away by the lake. On one side, there are fancy bars blaring music from your local bands. By "Wangfujing", the shopping district for your upscale wares, are small stalls that sells your delectable yummy snacks, like scorpions, silk worms, grasshoppers, seahorses and various intestines of various animals. The scropion on this skewer was still squirming:)

Not far away is Silk Alley (秀水市场.) Here you can find anything fake, from your Nike shoes to your Gucci wallets. Name it and you can probably find it faked. I bought a backpack here for 60Y. The lady wanted 340Y but I didn't want to buy it--no real need for one. I tried walking away but she kept on pulling on my arm so eventually, I got it for 60Y. They say the starting price for anything at these places is 1/10 of the asking price.

Beijing 2008 Olympics. Yah. Celebration. Do not go to Beijing during that time. Tian'anmen Square is closed off at night--the reasons for this is obvious.

The air quality is far from perfect as you can see. Blue sky? hmmm...maybe beyond the haze. It's probably like smoking a pack a day. Call it population control or progress, you decide:P

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posted by Y> @ 5:03 PM   0 comments
Friday, May 12, 2006
Qingdao (青岛)
During "wuyi" holidays, I went went to Qingdao with some classmates and friends. Because we joined a "ducky" tour, we didn't have much time to personally explore the city; nevertheless, we did get to visit the tourist spots and savour the local cuisine. As many will know, Qingdao (or Tsingdao) is most famous in the world for their beer. We got to visit the brewery and of course taste tested their beer; however, they do have other types of beer besides the typical pilsner we get back home, like a dark and lite beer. I didn't get the chance to try either but I am hoping I can find it here in Suzhou because you all know how I love my dark ales. Apparently, the secret to their beer is the water from laoshan.

Wuyi holidays or Labour day is really only three days long (Monday - Wednesday.) What they do here is that you have to work/study the weekend before the holidays--yes, that means we had class on the weekend too. For that price, we get Thrusday and Friday off so that makes it a seven day long holiday. During this holiday, everybody either goes home or on vacation so the trains, buses, and everything is super busy. Qingdao ain't a popular vacation spot this time of year but sometimes it did appear that everybody in the country was there. The best time to visit Qingdao is in August for their beer festival:D:D:D

Qingdao will be host to the 2008 Beijing Olympics sailing event as you are constantly reminded in almost every corner of the city. The city hosts a few large beaches but nothing really special in my opinion as I have seen nicer beaches in Brasil. Nevertheless, the coastal city is a pretty city with many German archectiture still alive from the German occupation in the late 1800s. However, as cleaniness goes, it doesn't compare to Suzhou but typical of a Chinese city.
Many a times, you will see groups of brides and grooms strolling along gardens and in this case, the beach. They go in groups to take pictures for their photo albums. As foreigners, we find this quite strange to see so many wedding couples in one spot but it is very common here in China.

One of their main attraction is Laoshan (崂山) . It's not a tall mountain but many people go to visit. It is said that once you climb laoshan, you will have good health or something along those lines. Usually, climbing moutains in China doesn't mean that you have to bring your ice pick or whatever mountaineering equipment you happen to have. They usually have stairs built along the side of the mountains, so it's really just a really really long stair climb. However, it isn't like climbing the CN Tower as the stairs are steep and sometimes treacherous. Laoshan was relatively easy though. The water from laoshan is suppose to be a little sweet but I did not taste it so I wouldn't know. When one reaches the waterfall near the top of the mountain, you see many people washing their feet at the base of the falls--one of the many reasons why I didn't want to try laoshan water. Not only do they make beer from laoshan water, they also have bottle water and a cola named after the mountain--laoshan cola (崂山可乐) which has a ginger taste to it. At the base of the mountain, the street stalls offer many fried seafoods, mostly squids and fish. It is good.

Being a costal city, we were able to sample their seafood. The picture to the left is a sea cockroach or 'lai niao xia' (濑尿虾). We sampled many other seafoods, but this is one of the weirder ones. The taxi driver recommended us to a smallish seafood restaurant. In China seafood restaurants, you pick the seafood of your choice from either a basket or a tank and they will cook or do whatever you want with it. After we picked the fish we wanted and after the waitress smashed the fish on the ground a few times to knock it out, the plate to the right was produced. They made sashimi (刺身) from the fish. The fish was good but the dipping was horrible--it was a mix of wasabi and vinegar. Next time we'll have to bring our own wasabi and soya sauce.

Some of the best foods offer in China are street stalls that are lined up along many streets. They are cheap but good. This dude was making a fried bun with meat filling--xi'an rou jia mo (西安肉夹馍). It was really good but too bad I was too full to eat the whole bun as I had a big dinner beforehand.

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posted by Y> @ 8:59 AM   0 comments
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