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Entries about sichuan

Sichuan Provincial

We head to the hills; to the ancient Tibetian border area

sunny 32 °C

The airport, where we await our delayed flight, is heaving with several officials broadcasting messages using megaphones, an overhead speaker system blaring and families shouting across each other in strong, flat, nasal Mandarin. It is a crazily loud space and a stark contrast to the quite city-centre parks, where LED signs inform of the decibel ratings to ensure peace.

I've been reading about Mao and the cultural revolution (1960's), and cannot get my head around these people and how they suffered under a nut-job of a tyrant who declared that stamp collecting, flowers, dancing, singing, sport, writing, poetry, (except his own) nice clothes and having long hair (to name a few), were bourgeois, and so to be drummed out through violence. He stated that lawns were capitalist and so all grass must be removed. Thousands were forced (as punishment) to literally pluck grass from parks and lawns across the country. During a famine of his making (he took the farmers from the fields to make steel - over 30,000,000 people starved to death) he decided that sparrows were eating the seeds and must be annihilated. Citizens were ordered to make loud noise near trees so that the sparrows would not land, and would die of exhaustion! How, did a country like this go from being dominated by peasant farmers, through that terrible time and into this modern, educated, wealthy society? I look at India and my (probably Western) view of the poverty, the antiquated thinking, and the injustice that seems rife there, and am utterly struck by the contrast. China is so shockingly sophisticated.

In spite of a thick free-thinking veneer, there is still obvious control here. All books, films, websites etc are vetted by the government, and although you are given control to set the air conditioning temperature in your hotel room, it does not budge from 24C. Access to media is much better than expected, but by no means open. The Seven O'Clock News is a study in propaganda, where terrible things happen in other parts of the world, but all is good and right in China. The people say that if they live a good life, they will go to the Seven O'clock News when they die! The government has just released the growth statistics for the past quarter, and as expected, things are just getting better. Yet those we speak to say that they are noticing a downturn. House prices are rocketing in spite of the huge numbers of uninhabited 'ghost cities', the cost of living is rising and development is slowing. I can see why the world economy is nervous - these guys do things in such a big way that they set the agenda.

It was during the terrible famine under Mao that the people ate everything that swam, walked or flew (sadly, including children which were dried and sold as 'rabbit'). Some of the eating habits remain - some curious selections for our dinner last night: Blood and Guts Soup, Pork Face with Mushrooms, or Pickled Rabbit's Head (ew, they have the pointiest, boniest little toothy skulls with bits of marinated flesh sticking to the cheeks). We went for the safety of Kung Pao Chicken (a hugely famous dish from this area), which is considered pretty light-weight on the heat scale. Attached photo shows the remaining pile of chilli we were unable to finish.

We've spent the last couple of days in the stunning mountainous area of Sichuan Province. In spite of being almost in the centre of China, this is the ancient border of Tibet (Tang Dynasty, 8th C). The influence is unmistakeable -- a different language, different food and architecture, and there are Tibetan prayer flags everywhere. The people refer to themselves as Tibetan and the Chinese as Chinese! (They also actually look Tibetan). It is happiness to be back in Yak country (I am utterly smitten with them, and they are very tasty too!). We have walked through the stunning National Parks that are extraordinarily beautiful. They say it is a place for all seasons, and it is undeniable when you see images of the stunning 'on fire' Autumn colours, the icy white of snow and frozen waterfalls in Winter, and the soft pinks and whites of wild Rhododendron, Azalea and Roses (they come from this area) in Spring. Our photos cannot do justice to the grandeur of the mountains, the rich turquoise clarity of the water, or the forests which are dominated by the dusky blue of fur trees, interspersed with lacy green silver birch and aspen, and the graceful drape of the clustered white flowers of butterfly bushes. There used to be panda here too, but when they opened the park to the public, the 40,000 visitors per day proved too much for them.

The park crowds are a beast in of themselves. There were only 24,000 people on the day we visited, yet the queue jumping, the pushing to get on and off buses (note to self: be sure to push on before letting others off), and those walking several abreast on narrow pathways was enough to drive us mad. Everyone uses umbrellas to keep their skin as white as possible, and most of them are at Tony's eye height. The obliviousness to others is quite striking. Driving in these mountainous areas is also a bit of a challenge. Rear view and side mirrors are not used (often blocked off with curtains) and drivers rely on other cars to toot at them if they are getting in the way. The horn is also used to tell pedestrians to get off the road, as an indicator, and to show that the vehicle will not be giving way at that sign!

En-route now to Xian and the Terracotta Warriors. Our 11.00am flight left at 10.45am, and T is amusing himself reading adverts about Soy Sauce flavoured Liquor...

T-shirt of the day: Off-line is the new cool.
(NB: there is an ongoing T-shirt popularity battle here between Paul Frank and Mickey Mouse. Although we are seriously unsure of why such old fodder is popular, we suspect Paul Frank is winning...As there is no explanation for this, it shall remain a mystery)

Posted by 2kiwisontour 01:53 Archived in China Tagged sichuan huanglong Comments (0)

Yangtze River to Sichuan

China's most important waterway

overcast 33 °C

We are gliding up the Yangtze River on a 'Five Star' three-day cruise. The water is strong and yellow from a heavy sediment load, and mist dominates the morning landscape. The musty smell of mildew pervades every inch of the boat's faded golden glory. The carpet is slightly better than most we have seen (we were told that the hotels are just so busy that it is not possible to clean them!), however one has to stand in the shower to open or close the bathroom door, which then grazes the loo seat, and our 'hi de hi' river guide is driving us mad with phone calls to make sure we heard each of his many announcements over the speaker system that rips through each cabin. He even came in to our cabin and turned it back on just as I had figured out how to turn it off!

We pay Western price for everything, including the tours (we get a significantly higher charge and a different coloured ticket to all the others; so much for blending in...). So much energy is invested into relentlessly ripping off all others that it is actually unpleasant. Somehow it is easier to accept such corruption in places where folks really are struggling, but everyone here has the latest iPhone, air conditioning and there are Porches, Mazaratti, and McLarens galore on the roads (along with an exact replica of a Range Rover Evoque renamed the Land Wing). In protest of our unfair treatment, Tony has rigged a beer cooling system using the air conditioner, so that we don't have to be victim to the price gouging at the bar. "That'll teach the clever little fucks" he announced proudly.

We have been to see the ancient 'hanging coffins' of one of the fifty-five small tribal groups within China. We were careful to follow all instructions and slipped as carefully as we could on the stone steps. It is still a mystery how the coffins were placed high on inaccessible cliffs, down precipitous gorges over 2000 years ago. Also incredibly mystifying, is how they have full cell-phone coverage in such places when, at home, ours cuts out in our living room.

Sailed passed the Longevity Village, located in impossibly high and steep terrain. Access from the river valley is through a natural cave system that extends 8 km into the mountain. There are ~200 residents remaining, with an average age of 86. Scientists have been perplexed how these folks live for so long without any modern conveniences - little things like running water and electricity. Turns out that their diet is very high in selenium, which happens to be the mineral missing from NZ soils. So if you want to stick around for a bit, start downing selenium!

China truly is a swarm of humanity, all of them smoking, sneezing, eating, coughing, and hoicking. The volume at which they interact is mind-numbingly loud - at one stage our guide was standing next to us, speaking to just us two (the only round-eyes on the boat), and had her microphone on full noise! At the train station or park a family or group will sit on the few spare seats around you, and proceed to yell across to each other, often waving their arms across your face to accentuate the flat, nasal sounds of shouted Manderin. Yet these noisy hoards are indeed very clever.

An impressive dam on the Yangtze is made even more impressive with outdoor escalators, cooled by a simple water system, to carry tourists to the top. Temperatures hit 50C here, so the black hand rails would otherwise be too hot to touch. The sheer scale on which they do things is unparalleled. Massive bridges span remote gorges to create road transport links, a complex system of bullet train tracks are being erected to link the cities (which they are also building in astounding numbers and with stunningly bold architecture) and dozens of tunnels are being dug through mountains. In this area the dams raised the water level by over 90 metres and forced the relocation of over 1,000,000 people. History, animal life, and thousands of years of tradition were literally swept away by the waters. Noah got nothing on dese folks!

English is now taught in all schools, so many of the young ones run up to us and try to practise their rudimentary language skills. Occasionally, we strike someone who's English is surprisingly good. Like the other night when Tony changed his mind about ordering rice with our meal and communicated this several time to the waiter in his usual generic Asian accent.... "No ri, no ri, no ri". The waiter finally responded, "Yeah, I got that"! In spite of his charm, we are minor celebrities in many of the places we go. Wherever possible we wander off usual tourist trail, and try to stay and eat in local spots. Correspondingly the staff, management and folks on the street want to have their picture taken with us, which is a tad disconcerting given that we have been on the road for a month now, and are in dire need of a hose down.

Have been to see the pandas -- indescribably cute to see them sleeping in the 'staffie' pose, and visited a massive dig that is unearthing the Chengdu township that was here 3000 years ago. Stunning pottery, gold and jade works, and lots of ivory from ancient elephants that once roamed here.

T- shirt(s) of the day: "Whoops, apocalypse"; 4 year old wearing "I dream of sex" and a cool young dude with images of several hipster beards on a t-shirt that read "Also care about what has the fecundity" (WTF???)
And for Riley: Clothes have no gender

Last note -- they may be hugely innovative and clever, but NZ is still missing from many of the maps!

Posted by 2kiwisontour 05:14 Archived in China Tagged panda sichuan chengdu yangtze_river Comments (0)

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