China: Part 1

I'm back after two hectic weeks trampling through the hazardous, polluted streets of 6 cities (including one  that's questionably located) in China, each famed for its individuality in history and each as unique from one another as the myriad dialects, minority groups and political ideals that make China such an interesting yet depressing country.

My journey started one day late from Vancouver due to some timing problems with Air Canada (oh, Canada!) and we ended up having to take away a day from our Beijing tour. The gist of the trip was basically to go on a rampage of Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Chengdu, Guilin and Shanghai - all in 14 days including a boat ride and 5 domestic flights. If you couple that with the fact that people in China are crazy nutcase suicidal erratic drivers with absolutely no regard for traffic regulations (ironic, no?), completely disastrous bathroom conditions and insufferable pollution, it's pretty much a recipe for a holiday trip that is guaranteed to end with a few immobile days in bed nursing a cough and a cold.

Anyhow, since my last trip to Beijing about 9 years ago, things have changed remarkably. There are much more cars, air quality has spiralled insanely out of control and where there were once ancient streets and private houses are now massive apartment blocks and mega malls. American fast food chains ala KFC, McDonald's and Pizza Hut have sprouted on every street corner and mobile phones are more likely a daily essential than bicycles.



 

The obvious tourist-y things to do in Beijing include taking a picture of Chairman Mao at Tiananmen Square, visiting the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace, hiking along the Great Wall, and strolling through the 'hutongs' (old houses) and night markets. The night market is a great place to sample some exotic insects e.g. scorpions and silkworms, although I would highly advise against it if you're get easily queasy like me =P. On the other hand, I'm quite amused to report that fast food chains have also infiltrated the old defense system of Far East - you can now easily order a turkey sandwich with easy mayo from the top of the Great Wall via Subway.



From Beijing we continued on to Xian to pay the semi-excavated Terracotta Warriors a visit. The sheer size of the mausoleum is amazing, each of 8000 warriors have different physical characteristics modeled after real soldiers. It's a little bit chilling to think about how much effort and lives were put into building tombs and projects for ancient kings; about 800, 000 people at any one time were reported to have worked on the tomb over 40 years. While I am quite upset at the rate environmental degradation in the name of progress in modern China, I am actually glad that humanity has moved towards a less cruel ways of constructing things.



On the fifth day we flew to Tibet. The sights were incredible, from the majestic mountains to the exquisite Buddhist temple carvings to the colorfully dressed local Tibetans. Lhasa was perhaps my favorite place that we visited on the trip even though the hotel was pretty nasty and the bathrooms treacherously disease-plagued. Our guide told us stories about summers with the warmest temperatures on record, of yaks that had to move higher up into the mountains because their thick coats could not withstand the heat, and of water intensive vegetable farming brought in from across China. Local Tibetans cannot leave the city proper without some form of approval by the Chinese government and even to obtain a travel permit, it involves some sort of bribery and bureaucracy. In some weird way, it felt to me that I was watching a final curtain call of a greatly produced movie, a masterpiece that was fleetingly close to finishing and that once it was over, there will never be another quite like it.




This photo below is one of my favorite from the trip to Lhasa. It captures the very essence of modern life in Tibet. Kids are now more fluent in Mandarin than in Tibetan due to compulsory Chinese schooling , and yet for all the colonisation and urbanization China brings, these two boys are still here playing with primitive soldier figurines on the street outside a laundromat on a school day.


In Part 2, I'll be visiting Chengdu, Guilin, Yangshuo county, and Shanghai!

4 comments :

  1. Sounds like quite a trip - I'm greatly intrigued by your description of Tibet and I think I need to visit before it completely transforms. I feel like that about most parts of China actually.

    I thoroughly enjoyed my visit of Beijing in 2006 because it was the Lunar New Year, and the city was quiet, and very few cars. The weather was so clear and smog-free! And the Temple of Heaven was just incredible. Can't wait to hear about the rest of your trip!

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  2. Wow, what an awesome trip! Lhasa looks incredible! I lived in Beijing back in 1999 and have not been back since. I bet I wouldn't even recognize it now! The air quality was already pretty bad back then that I can't even imagine what it would be like now.

    Looking forward to more pics and stories from your trip!

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  4. Amazing. It must've been so breathtaking to see all of this in person.

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