Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beijing, part 2: Old Summer Palace

Beijing was ten degrees Celsius cooler than Shanghai, thankfully. Rain, though.

Left turners are more prone to cut off those with the right-of-way in Beijing than Shanghai, but maybe that's based on an insufficient amount of data.

I'm not used to foreign countries being so large. It felt strange to travel so far and not need to change currencies.

Chunyu picked us up at the airport and took us back to his apartment. We met his wife, son, and three cats. They live on the east side of Beijing, in Tongzhou. 22:00. I was still tired, but it felt better to be safely tucked away from the others from the airport and expressway. Safely in family's home.

The next morning, Chunlin's other brother, Jason/Yuzhou, picked us up for sightseeing.

Maybe it was just because it was a gray Monday morning, but there seemed to be more depressed people in Beijing than Shanghai. More overweight people, too.

The bamboo scaffolding of the south was replaced by timber and lumber in the north. Steel is still clamped together the same way, though.

Jason drove us through the decrepit and booming suburbs. It was his girlfriend's car, because only certain license plates are allowed into the city on certain days. We listened to a Jack Johnson cd that she had left in the player.

q24 - Che Takes a Ride
She had a Che Guevara "doll" on the dashboard of her car. Ah, the heroes of a communist country.

q2 - Building in Chaoyang

q3 - Buildings in Chaoyang

We stopped for a few minutes at Jason's office so he could introduce us to his boss. Mr Zhang, ni hao zai jian. Busy man. Jason is the COO of an online school company. Their brochure needs better English proofreading. Office in a business district in the northwest corner, near the Third Ring Road. Hard to keep track.

My original plan for the day was to go to the Forbidden City. Since Jason had taken the day off work, we changed the plan to a drive to the Great Wall. I asked to stop by the Ming Tombs on the way. Slight translation problem. The Ming Tombs aren't called the Ming Tombs in Chinese, but the Old Summer Palace is called Yuan Ming Yuan. Therefore, Jason spent an hour driving around the northern suburbs of Beijing looking for the Old Summer Palace when I was wondering why we weren't getting on an expressway and leaving the city far behind.

Despite driving around town for hours, we hadn't seen anything yet. I was ready for lunch, trapped in the back seat.

Since we were at the Old Summer Palace, we decided to see it, anyhow. It had sounded interesting when I first read about it, but I had dropped it off the itinerary to make room for other stuff.

Jason stayed with the car as Chunlin and I entered the gardens.
q5 - Yuánmíng Yuán East Entrance

q7 - Chunlin in Yuánmíng Yuán

It was good to be out of the traffic and seeing something for a change.

A big park with piles of stones and some ponds. These are the ruins of the imperial retreat before the French and British destroyed it back in the 1800s.
q11 - Great Fountain Ruins at Old Summer Palace

q14 - Old Summer Palace Dragon

q15 - Mark at Hall of the Calm Sea - Ch

q21 - Xieqiqu

q17 - Chunlin at the Garden of Yellow Flowers
A big stone maze is the dominant standing structure. It was rebuilt, actually.

q18 - Garden of Yellow Flowers Pavilion
It was easy to wend through if you follow the tour guides.

q20 - Across the Maze

It was cool out, yet I was still sticky hot if there wasn't a breeze.

My Forbidden City plan was gone. Our Great Wall plan was gone. 1:30. Time for lunch.
q22 - Spicy Lunch

More photos of the Old Summer Palace on flickr, as I'm sure you guessed.

Beijing, part 1: Welcome to China

Our day began at 4:45 p.m.

A couple hours later, the flight attendants woke us up just after three o'clock, as we entered China. One hour behind schedule.

h1 - Finally to China!

Nothing but clouds below since Alaska. A breakfast/dinner later, the clouds parted to reveal a patchwork of fields. The pervasive grid in the US is rather unique in the world. Here, small areas are gridded, but no more than a few square miles together.

h2 - Yin Yang Field

The Chinese Customs' logo is a key crossed with the medical snakes-around-a-staff symbol. Gatekeepers of health.

The flight attendant told us that most of the plane would be transferring to Shanghai, so we didn't need to worry about being so late. They wouldn't leave without us.

h3 - Beijing Cleared Neighborhood

h4 - Landing in Beijing

Chunlin was quite tired. So was I, a bit. Perhaps the excitement of being in a new country gave me some adrenaline.

h6 - China Eastern Takeoff

Beijing has the best smog in the world.
h5 - Beijing Sun

We met with Chunlin's younger brother, Chunyu. We gave him some duty-free cigarettes we had just bought, plus a few gifts from the rest of the family. Suddenly we were travelling lighter. He gave us a cellphone and cash.

We said our goodbyes and hurry hurry hurried 'cross the Beijing Airport. We arrived at gate A12 ten minutes before our plane was supposed to leave. No, no. It's delayed. They still needed to deplane. Then why did none of the departure boards bother to mention this?!

It only took ten minutes to load our plane. 737. Blue seats. 7:05, pulled back from the gate. It was finally starting to get dark outside. We'd been in daylight since the day before.

Summer's Gone

Where, oh where has my summer gone?
It's autumn now, or so it seems.

Where, oh where has my summer gone?
Winter is just around the corner.

Where, oh where has my summer gone?
Little went as planned.

Where, oh where has my summer gone?
There's always next year...

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Other Seattle vs. L.A. Game This Weekend

The Seattle Storm are taking on the L.A. Sparks tomorrow in game 2 of their playoff series, up 1-0.

Tonight, though, is another Seattle vs. Los Angeles professional game with championship ramifications. The Seattle Mist are playing the L.A. Temptation in ShoWare Arena in Kent in a women's football game. There's only four games left in the season and it's all tied up because ... there's only four games total in the season!

And you thought the WNBA had short seasons...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Anhui, part 10: To Tunxi and Beyond

Huangshan may have seemed crowded and noisy, when comparing to other mountain hikes, but it was downright peaceful when compared to the nearby town of Tangkou. Honking horns and revving motors. Back to the real China.

And now... a snake oil salesman.
l133 - Snake-Oil Salesman
Seriously. Why did we let ourselves get roped into this? Hungry, tired, in need of a shower -- and the tour locks us in a room with a snake oil salesman.

When it seemed the agony would never end, Chunlin got a phone call. It was a tour guide from our group. Get on the minibus now to go to Tunxi! Okay! We barely had time to be glad that he remembered her phone number as we raced out the door.

A brief stop at the hotel to get our stuff, then away we went.

Three English speakers were on the bus, from Hong Kong. I didn't hear them speak any Chinese. The woman said she was originally from London, so maybe they all were. They were very tired. Huangshan wasn't nearly as relaxing as they needed.

Many nice houses along the highway between Huangshan and Tunxi. Are they Potemkin villages for the tourists?

Construction construction construction. Hotels, highways, powerlines, office buildings, apartment buildings. Oxen wading through the muddy fields...

Farmers and families filling huge bags of tea leaves, carrying them up the road -- on a motorcycle, bicycle, or shoulders.

Back to Huangshan City (new name for Tunxi). 150,000 population, but as dense as New York City. More efficient that way? It's the Chinese way -- up, not out. Even in the countryside, the farmhouses are narrow, three-story affairs.

From the bus drop-off near the hotels, we caught a pedicab to the train station.
l135 - Túnxī Traffic

l134 - Chunlin on a Túnxī Pedicab

We arrived with plenty of time before our departure.

The locals were very friendly -- trying to sell us something, always. Friendly still after we told them "bu yao" (I don't want it) or bought something. They would sit and chat with us and wait for their next sale.

We took a pedicab ride to the bank to get cash for the train and Expo tickets. Then we spent 20 yuan to use a nearby hotel room briefly to shower. We felt much better after that!

Then to the market for foodstuffs. No baozi (steamed dumplings) in the evening. Sorry. But some pancakes, water (three yuan for 1.5 L!), and tissues. Tiny kitten at the shop in the market. Cute.

Eventually, on the train. Middle-level bunks, but we had the compartment to ourselves for a while. I finally started to cool off.
l136 - On the Train Again

As the train departed, a couple from the next compartment moved into the bunks below us, since we were quieter than the neighbors above them. At the next stop (while we tried to sleep) the ticketholders for the bunks below us showed up; a heated exchange ensued. Eventually the conductor convinced the new arrivals to take the bunks the bunk-hoppers had vacated. The new arrivals weren't happy because the folks above them were still yammering away.

We drifted off to sleep again as the train rolled down the tracks, leaving Huangshan and Anhui far behind.

Anhui, part 9: Down Huangshan

l110 - Old Trail
I wonder how recently that platform was the trail through this section... A little worse for wear now. Luckily we had a concrete trail to walk upon.

We caught sight of the Jade Screen cable car, but instead of being able to go down to it, we had to go up and around.

l111 - Jade Screen Lotus Stamens Junction
Hurry hurry hurry. We still need to see the Welcoming Tree before we leave!

l113 - Stairs Up to Farewell Pine

We skipped the shortcut down to the cable car station so we could head over to the Jade Screen Hotel area.

l115 - The Writing on the Wall
Lots of (apparently) famous sayings were carved into the cliff.

l117 - Snack Bar!
Lots of (apparently) happy people milled about.

Nearby is the Welcoming Pine. Just another tree, if you ask me, but it's hard to get to and/or take a photo of, so everyone clambers to get to it and take a photo.

A few raindrops fell from the sky, but not enough to get the umbrella hawkers excited.

We doubled back toward Lotus Peak on a lower trail, the cable car in sight again.
l119 - Lotus Peak and Yùpíng Telpher

We paused for a rest at the junction with the trail that goes up toward Lotus Peak and avoids the Jade Screen Hotel and Welcoming Pine. 'Twas limited traffic on that route, so the stairs made for good seating.
l121 - Lotus Peak Shortcut

Finally, we got to the cable car station. Wait in line.

l123 - Yùpíng Cable Car Passing Lotus Stamens Peak
Down down down into the forest.

l125 - Passing the Cliffs

We disembarked at Mercy Light Station, a short walk from Mercy Light Temple. We had a timetable to keep, so we couldn't stop. We needed to get to our bus.
l126 - Mercy Light Temple

Our bus wasn't waiting there, though. Another 1200 meters, but what was that to us, after all the walking that day? We'd only be a little later than expected.

All steps, down down down.
l127 - Chunlin and Friends on Mercy Light Trail
Still with some from our tour group. I couldn't walk as slow as them on the stairs, so I spent a lot of time looking back up...

We passed Ren-Shaped Falls, which looked a bit dry and missing one leg.
l129 - Rén-Shaped Falls
"Ren" is the Chinese character for "person," which looks a lot like an inverted V or a capital lambda. I think this is just the left branch of it.

l132 - Chunlin and Confucius

l131 - Yìrán Pavilion over Peach Blossom Creek

Down down down the stairs. Keep walking. We arrived at the hot springs area, which has several hotels and more under construction. 550 mL of water for sale for 3 yuan, then 2 yuan. The 10-yuan bottle from Lotus Pavilion was long gone. Hot hiking, even downhill.

Finally on the bus. Cool a/c breeze on my face. Ahhhhh...

What a hike!

More photos on flickr.

Anhui, part 8: Around the Lotus

l80 - Mark near Gleam of Sky - Ch

Our long day of hiking the paved trails at Huangshan continued. We passed the Gleam of Sky -- a steep staircase up a narrow chasm -- but didn't go up. That would require us to either circle back the way we'd just came or climb to the top of Lotus Peak.

l85 - Gleam of Sky
Do you see the people? They're climbing the Gleam of Sky stairs.

l82 - Blossoms below Turtle Peak

l87 - Up to Lotus Pavilion

Soon we were near the bottom of the Ladder on the Clouds, which we had viewed from afar earlier. It's another long, steep staircase. Naturally, men with sedan chairs waited for clients.
l86 - Need a Lift?

We chose to walk.

l89 - To the Ladder on the Clouds

l90 - Mark and Chunlin at the Bottom of the Cloud Ladder

Up up up, we went. Only now, looking back at the photographs, do I realize that we lost the last little bit of blue sky that day while we had our noses pointed at the ground.

l92 - Trees on Lotus Cliffs

Eventually, we reached Lotus Pavilion, whereupon we sat down with a hundred other people and finished the last of our water. Still thirsty, we broke down and bought a 550-mL bottle for ten yuan (about ten times the price of water in the grocery store the night before).

Lotus Pavilion would have been a nice place to rest, if not for the constant tour guides. Why must they always be so loud? As soon as one left, another arrived and started yelling into his or her microphone. They got to be too much for me, and so we left.

Around the side of Lotus Peak at a viewpoint, I noticed something on the cliff above us...
l94 - Do You Feel Like You're Being Watched?

We stayed with a good portion of our tour group (the ones we'd met the day before) through this section of trail.
l97 - No One Wants to Go Up

l98 - Shān
The Chinese character is "shan," which means "mountain." Presumably they labeled the rock so you'd know you were looking at a mountain...?

After crossing through the gap between Lotus Peak and Lotus Stamens Peak, we caught sight of Heavenly Capital Peak once more.
l100 - Chunlin and Heavenly Capital Peak

But most people looked at the big rock known as Lotus Stamens Peak.
l103 - Cliff of Lotus Stamens Peak

Nearing the end of our journey, our pace quickened, but that didn't stop me from taking a lot of photos.
l105 - Descent

l106 - Through the Pines to Heavenly Capital Peak

I've got more scenic photos on flickr, as one might expect.