Thursday, October 28, 2010

Back in Red China

I just got back to Red China from pink Hong Kong, and am writing this from a pretty decent internet cafe in Shenzhen. In fact, I think this is the same net cafe I used when I was in Shenzhen for a couple hours five years ago. It looks a bit different but the location is pretty much the same. I came into Shenzhen today to buy my train tickets to Guilin, and I'm gonna stay here for a night before heading back to HK with Conor, who's flying in from Xinjiang tomorrow. If he makes it out alive!
The trip with my parents was great. They just flew back to San Francisco this morning. Tibet was really cool, and Hong Kong was a good place to let my body recover from the high altitude, dry air and harsh wind of pretty much two weeks on the Tibetan plateau. Also I didn't mention earlier but prior to meeting my parents when I was in northeastern Sichuan I was pretty damn sick. I'm finally over that too. So I'm back and good to go for another few weeks of travel, before finally packing it in and heading back to Beijing.
There's not much to report specifically about the last couple days. Hong Kong is the same as ever, or so it seems. I'll have to compare my photos of the skyline from five years ago to the ones I just took to see if anything really changed. Otherwise it's the same swank, fun, expensive place.
Conor has a line on an unfurnished apartment we can stay at for the next couple days, but unless we can steal some wireless I'll probably be incommunicado for a week or so. So until then, keep on rocking in the free world. I'll do my best in semi-free Hong Kong.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A short missive from Tibet

I'm gonna keep this real short, since I have other things to do (sleep), and we've only been here for a couple days. The short of it is: it's pretty awesome here. No matter what the average Chinese person tells you, it is not cold in Tibet in late October. As far as I can tell, it's warmer in central Tibet than it is in Beijing right now, and it is definitely warmer than where I was in northeastern Sichuan. The days have been clear and beautiful, like a postcard. Of course it's a bit chilly on top of the passes, but what do you expect at 4900 meters (16,000 ft)?
So I met my parents on the train in Lanzhou, and had a nice relaxing ride into Lhasa. We spent two nights in Lhasa then took a long drive through spectacular scenery to Shigatse, where we are right now. I came here expecting more of the same from my Qinghai/Sichuan travels this fall, but the scale of the landscape really makes it feel like you're on the roof of the world, and there's a certain energy that reinforces that you're at the center of Tibetan Buddhism and culture. These things are missing from other Tibetan areas in China, despite their own goings on. What Tibet also has, unfortunately, is loads of tourists (not as bad as July-September, I hear), and a ridiculous permitting system that since 2008 requires all foreigners to be on guided tours at all times. These things I could do without.
Look for lots of pictures once I get back to Beijing!

Monday, October 18, 2010

On my way out of Sichuan

Sorry it's been a while since I've written. I meant to do a pre-trip post before leaving Beijing but grad school apps and some very important DVDs got in the way. So now I'm well into the second trip of the fall, doing a short little trek from Chengdu up to Lanzhou, where I'll meet my parents on the train to Lhasa. From there it's a couple days in Hong Kong, then a trip starting from Guilin up through eastern Guizhou, through Hunan to probably Wuhan, where I'll catch a cruise up the Yangtze through the Three Gorges to Chongqing. Then I'll probably just head back to Beijing.
Right now I'm in Langmusi, a small town on the border of Sichuan and Gansu provinces, through pretty much everything seems to be on the Sichuan side. It's a lovely little place, though pretty backpackery. I think they have done some major road road improvements between here and Lanzhou since I was in the area previously in 2005, since you can get here easily in a day, so the place is (or was) full of weekend warriors from Lanzhou. Now, it being Monday, it's quieted down a bit. Of course there are some other foreigners here, including the requisite Israelis. Once I head to Lanzhou I probably won't be back to Sichuan for a long time. I'm Sichuaned out.
My trip so far was pretty breakneck, from Chengdu to Songpan, then from Songpan skipping through Zoige to Langmusi. The trip to Songpan was rather horrid. It was supposed to take eight hours, and to a certain extent it did, but the road was closed right in front of us at one point for road work for 10 hours! So I became very familiar with a little village sightly north of Wenchuan. Wenchuan, by the way, the epicenter of a major earthquake in 2008, is mostly rebuilt, but you can still see the damage done to the natural environment. Whole mountainsides basically crumbled down into the rivers.
Zoige was a bizarre place that seems to be booming, I think because it is also now only a day's drive from Lanzhou and it has a bit more of that high plains scenery that draws tourists. But it is now totally skipped by most western travellers, cause there's nothing really to do there and you no longer have to stay overnight on this popular through route. It's a bit like Sershu, but more Chinese people and fewer mangy dogs.
That's it for now. I'll try to get a post up from Tibet, but if not there definitely from Hong Kong.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Pictures post!

Clicking on any picture will bring you through to the full gallery, where there are lots more pictures of yaks.

Landscape outside Xining

Monastery in Tongren

Obligatory prayer flag shot

Thangka painting under development

4000+ meter high plains between Xining and Yushu

Main street in Yushu. The buildings are all condemned, everybody lives and works out of these tents

Typical scene in Yushu

Find the hidden Mao!

Outside Yushu

Monastery festival in Sershu (outside Shiqu, confusing I know) in Sichuan

New housing development in Sichuan

Piss-break panorama on Sichuan-Tibet Highway between Shiqu and Ganzi

View of Chola Mountain and Sichuan-Tibet Highway

Prayer flag banners in grove outside Ganzi

In hills outside Ganzi

The author, outside Ganzi

Outside Ganzi

Bus breakdown on way to Danba


Stone watchtowers outside Danba

Close-up of one of the stone watchtowers

Danba panorama

"Care for the interior of the bus, please throw your garbage out the window!"

Back in lowland Sichuan, along Dadu River below Kangding

"Working" (playing Mahjong) in Chengdu

"Out of order" bathroom on Qingcheng Mountain outside Chengdu

Nameless gray city in Hubei on way back to Beijing

Friday, October 01, 2010

Beijing Traffic Signs

I have been meaning to take pictures of and make a post about these traffic signs for a while, but since I don't own a camera, it was hard for me to take them. Also life just always gets in the way of everything, and by life, I mean my laziness.

In theory I know what this traffic sign means. I think it means don't drive down this street or don't park on this street, but since I saw cars parked on the street with this sign, I don't really know. Maybe it just means don't park under this sign, because there were no cars directly underneath the sign, just around it.

I know what this sign means. No left turn. However, knowing how people drive in this capitol, I am pretty sure it is never obeyed, and I don’t just say that because I was recently hit by a car.

Now, this sign, I have no idea what this sign means. This sign could mean anything. I should ask Golze because he has his Chinese driver’s license. I think it means no car bombs or it means no shooting flames out of the back of your car. I think the former because I mostly see it around embassies and office buildings.
This is just a view from my apartment window of Chaoyang Park and Solana. Unfortunately, Beijing doesn’t have enough of those clear blue sky days, and also unfortunately, summer has ended and autumn has arrived, so no more green park to look at, just the barren wasteland of East Beijing. And by barren wasteland, I mean all the high rise buildings off in the distance.