Monday, October 15, 2007

Beijing-Chengdu-Huanglong-Jiuzhaigou

I'm currently writing in an internet bar in Jiuzhaigou, in Northern Sichuan province, where I've spent the last 3 days. It's a truly spectacular area but I'll get onto that later. (Update - I wrote this a few days ago and am now in Chengdu, about to fly to Lijiang in Yunnan. Blogging has been difficult.)

On Sunday I flew into Chengdu for the start of my journey after a rather tired 5am start. I'd heard good reports about the laid-back lifestyle in Chengdu and so was looking forward to relaxing after a hectic few months in Beijing. As I took the bus from the airport I was a rather disappointed. Despire the addition of more greenery Chengdu seemed to be constructed of the same concrete blocks, cars and crowds that I see everyday in Beijing, accompanied by the same grey sky and smell of pollution. Getting off the bus I wasn't entirely sure where I was in the city though I knew that I needed to get to Renmin park, nearby which my couchsurfing host lived. I was wearing a heavy backpack (mostly books and camera kit) but was happy to wonder round the area till I found someone who could tell me where I should be heading. The sounds of Sichuan hua (the local dialect) drifted over me reminding me of how I felt in Beijing two years ago. There are in fact enough similarities to regular mandarin that I could pick up a little of the local goings on.

I asked a young couple at a traffic lights if they knew where the park was and they told me that they were heading that way and could walk me there. I'm now no longer convinced that they actually were heading that way as I've learnt how friendly the Sichuanese are. It was a 15 minute walk in which time we chatted casually, pushing the limits of my Chinese. I was given their numbers and told that any time I needed any help I could give them a ring. They dropped me off at the park and I quickly found myself a little noodle shop where I shed my many bags and got myself a fine bowl of beef noodles. I ate slowly, taking in the looks of those around me staring at the strange sweaty laowai with the big nose and the big book on China, which I was casually consulting. I sent a text to my couchsurfer to see if it was good to head to his place to dump my things but got no immediate reply.

I made my way into the park to take a wonder around and quickly found myself sat at the oldest teahouse in the city, an outdoor but covered area where people were sitting, playing cards, reading the paper, having arguments, massages and their ears cleaned out, all while drinking tea which was constantly refilled by the house fuwuyuan. I got myself some bitter green tea and sat to wait for the text and watch the locals. Soon a couple of women passed by, one with a camera similar to my own which I took a glance at. She came over and introduced herself saying that she was a photography student and had studied for several months in Bolton. I invited the two to sit down and we spent the next few hours chatting about photography, the local area, travels in China and teahouses in Bolton (her major interest was photographing people in tea houses around the world).

With no reply to the text I tried phoning my host but was greeted with a message saying that the phone was no longer in operation. This left me with no way of contacting him and nowhere to stay, so I asked for some advice from those around me and was directed to a relatively cheap hotel a few minutes walk away.

By this time I felt homeless, yet completely at home, the friendliness of the locals and the completely relaxed atmosphere masking the concrete jungle that it was all set in. Finding the hotel I booked myself in, settled my bags and went out for a walk around the area. Finding a night market I marvelled at the chillis and cuts of meat and got myself a bag of zhi er gen (stinking fish grass) and some local snacks for later. A nearby restaurant saw my first taste of genuine sichuan mapo dofu which was excedingly numbing (packed with Sichuan pepper) but very tasty.

Sated and happy I headed back to the hotel and got a reasonable night's sleep, despite the muzak piped in the corridor directly outside my room.

Early the next morning I was off again and took the plane the forty minutes to Jiuzhaigou, with no plans other than to see the sights which I'd read and heard much about and knew were not too many hours from the airport. As we descended, the tops of the mountains poked through the cloud line and the scenerey slowly opened itself to our view. This looked to be a spectacular place and I haven't been disappointed. I found a local bus which would first take me to huanglong, another scenic destination with calcified pools set in a large valley patched with wooded areas. The 2 hour bus ride to the site was spectacular as we wound our way up the mountain rodes and it was wonderful to finally be breathing some unpolluted air, the first since January where I spent a week ill at a conference set at a ski resort in Korea. The only problem with this pure air was there wasn't enough of the damn stuff. At over 10000 feet the air was thin and trekking up to the valley I found myself struggling to catch my breath. The elderly carried around portable oxygen cannisters which they would regularly puff from as I wheezed and ached.

-------

I'll post photos of Huanglong and of my next few spectacular days trekking the Jiuzhaigou valley when they are organised back home. I'll also continue with tales of spending days without meeting another English speaker, eating brain hotpot, having my ears cleaned out and more when I get a chance. It's been a wonderful trip so far and the last few days spent in Chengdu has entirely made me forget that I'm in another Chinese concrete jungle....

-------

I've been continuing, when possible to add blog posts of note from other blogs into the tab in the top left of this one, of which there have been many. In particular, go and vote for Shelley at Retrospectacle for the student blogging scholarship. Shelley and I started blogging at about the same time and she is one of the most diverse, entertaining and informative bloggers on Scienceblogs - well worth both a read and a vote.

1 comment:

René Meyer said...

Jon, you make me really jealous. I am sitting here in Munich, with alot of work today, though weather is good, but I would like to have the freedom you now got. Enjoy your trip to Sichuan, and the food :-)