Monday, March 23, 2009

Xiang Gang! - Day 1



After a few recent gig to Chongqing and various semester-starting meetings at SCCM, I finally have time to embark on the final chapter of my Chinese New Year trip. Guandong province's Hong Kong was our last stop before heading back to Sichuan this last february. We arrived in the morning and stayed for four nights, so the next four blogs should be a good guide if you want to get the most out of a five-day trip to Hong Kong.

Day 1
Because we entered Hong Kong from the mainland, there was an immigration process before we came into the city. Even though Hong Kong is officially part of China, there still is a different government, currency and language than the mainland. Therefore, before we took the train from Shenzhen to Kowloon we had to go through security checks, fill out immigration cards and wait in long lines before entering seemingly, another Chinese city. We got through customs and were in Hong Kong! Well, it was technically Kowloon, but you could consider Kowloon the peninsula half of Hong Kong. We bought MTR (Hong Kong's subway/metro) tickets at an computerized kiosk, waited about ten minutes for the next train, and we were off to find the Panda Hotel in the Tseun Wan district.

Hong Kong's hotels are much more expensive than mainland China. My advice is to do your homework and shop on the internet first. I was able to book the Panda,a four star hotel for only 400 hong kong dollars per night. We checked into our posh Norther Kowloon hotel, and we were off in the hotel shuttle to Tsim Sha Tsui then MTR to Hong Kong island. On the island we strolled around Central, checking out some cheap clothing shops, then ate at one at one of Hong Kong's famous diner-style restaurants.

The Peak was our first tourist trap of our Hong Kong experience. Hong Kong's Peak is located at the top of a small mountain where they have built a wok-shaped tower so you can get a view of the famous Hong Kong skyline. That area was also home to many junk shops, restaurants and a Madame Toussaud's Wax Museum. I thought it would be interesting to go to a wax museum featuring Chinese celebrities, so we planned ahead and bought discount tickets in the taobao.com (Chinese e-bay). I was impressed with the wax museum because it not only contained every Chinese celebrity in the last century (including a life-sized Yao Ming) but also had respresentations of most Western celebrities. We purused the shops and ate a small meal at Burger King (I hadn't seen one of those in a LONG time!)after that, is was about dusk, so we headed up five of six escalators to the top of the tower to check out the city lights. As you can see from the first picture in this blog, the view was pretty breath-taking. If walked around to the back of the Wok, you could also see huge houses on the hill, probably owned by Hong Kong movie stars we guessed.

The first day was a success. We checked into our hotel, learned the MTR system, saw most of Hong Kong island, including the Peak and wax museum. Coming up next...Lantau Island, home of the Big Buddha!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Shenzhen


Continuing my Chinese New Year trip, port-city Shenzhen was my next stop. It really was just a 'stop' because we flew there from Kunming enroute to Hong Kong. After shopping around for air tickets, we found it much cheaper to fly into Shenzhen, then take the train into Hong Kong. Not only did we save money, but got a chance to see another Chinese city.

Shenzhen the capitol of the Guandong province in Southern China. It's a moderate sized Chinese city (about 8.6 million people) and the second busiest ports behind Shanghai. As we drove into the city to find our hotel, I was first impressed by the towering skyscapers. Compared to where I live in Chengdu, the architects focused more on beauty rather than efficiency in their buildings.

Because I was in Shenzhen for only one night, I didn't have much time to see much of the city or surroundings, but I did get to eat the seafood. We took a taxi to the 乐园路 (le yuan road) and found a street lined with seafood restaurants. Each restaurant had an area outside the entrance with tanks filled with seafood of your wildest imagination. Pictured are just a couple items available. We also saw various sizes of shrimp, crabs, fish, some things I've never seen before and one place had live snakes. We couldn't eat everything, so we chose some shrimp, oysters and weird tube-worms things. Pretty tasty!

Stay tuned because next stop...Hong Kong!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Luoping & Nine Dragon Waterfall (罗平和九龙瀑布


Nearing the end of my time in the Yunnan province,we took a three hour train ride from Kunming to the farming town of Luoping. I was excited for this place because it contained the reason I wanted to go to Yunnan in the first place. Last year National Geographic magazine came out with a special issue featuring China. There was a picture inside with vast grasslands with sharp mountains poking out randomly. I had never seen anything like this in America and immediately wanted to visit the place in the caption.



The city of Luoping itself was not so accomidating. It was definitely a farming town, as we saw abandoned shops converted to grain and feed storage. Finding a decent hotel was the next almost impossible task. After holding our breath in the first few places we found a newly remodeled hotel for the bargain price of 80元/night. The next morning, after a breakfast of ersi we boarded a bus going to the rumoured natural spot. One vehicle change, endless potholed roads and a couple hours later, we were dropped off at what seemed like the exact spot where they took the photos for National Geographic. Unfortunately, this time of year the fog hangs in the valley until the afternoon, so my pictures didn't turn out so great. Still, the fields with limestone peaks jutting out were something you can only find here. We paid a couple 9 year old guids one rmb each to lead us to one of the peaks to get a better look. It was even more cloudy at the top of the small mountain, but the view of the patchwork farmlands was still very beautiful.

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Our next stop on the Luoping tour was the Nine-Dragon Waterfall. By this time (around 12pm) the sun was out and starting to warm up. The area was a national park and it seemed this time of year most people had gone back to work as it was barren of tourists. The Nine-Dragon Waterfall got it's name from the nine different falls. However, as explained to us by the bamboo raft operator, there are actually ten now (due to natural causes). I found this place interesting because after the Nine Dragons, you can keep following a path to numerous falls behind it. If you get hungry along the way, you can find vendor selling local foods along the paths. I tried the pickled radish and local noodles; not bad. Luoping and the Nine-Dragon Waterfall are definitely a must see if travelling to the Yunnan province.

Stay tuned as we're off to Shenzhen and Hong Kong for the last leg of my journies.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Kunming - Part 5 - Cultural Diversity




As mentioned in my previous blog entry, the Yunnan province is a very culturally diverse place. Because it borders three countries (Burma, Laos and Vietnam) it's not surprising that Yunnan is home to numerous ethnic minorities. According to Yunnan Nationalities Museum, China is home to more than fifty minorities and Yunnan has a little bit of everybody! Just for perspective, most (over 1 billion) of the Chinese you see are descendants of the Han people. The other minorities include the Zhuang, Hui, Can, Naxi, Dai and the list goes on (for the other fifty or so ethnicities). Kunming celebrates all of the minorities in the Nationalties Museum and Minority Park across the street.

The Museum, which sounds boring, really was quite interesting. You get a chance to explore the costumes, art, architecture, history, lifestyle and most importantly, musical instruments of China's people. What I liked most about the Museum (besides the instrument exhibit) was the fact that at 10am, we were the only people in the museum! After paying the student rate of 10元 for admission, we were free to roam the grounds, uninterrupted and free from the shrieks of the unsupervised children.

The affiliated Minority Park was a little more spendy than the museum (70元/person) but don't forget your student ID to get 50% off. This place was more of a tourist destination as there were junk shops everywhere and people following you, asking you to dress up like one of the races and take overpriced photos. However, it was still an enjoyable place. 26 of the Chinese minorities were represented with actual reproductions of ancient villages and buildings. If you're lucky, you can catch a performance in the local style. When we stopped for some cross-bridge noodles (过桥米先) we were treated to a Naxi-style song and dance. After that, we wandered around the park to each of the villages. The only problem we faced was that because we waited until about 1pm to enter the park, we didn't have enough time to visit all 26 villages. By the time we made it to the Tibetan village, they were closing down. Fortunately, we caught the zip-line ride before they went home. That was the best 15元 I spent all day.


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Friday, February 27, 2009

Kunming - Part 4 - 翠湖 Green Lake

Today, there aren't many places you can enjoy art in the raw. When I went to Kunming's Green Lake (翠湖), I found it thriving with music and dance. As you enter you are met by billboards and line of junk shops. Don't dismiss this place on first impressions; just across the bridge and a short walk to the right you can find public traditional dance classes, music of every Chinese ethnicity performed on local instruents, local tasty snack foods and crowds of Kunming's diverse people.


After a brief lesson in Naxi dancing we passed a little comedic performance with live singing and erhu playing. Under a pavillion was a group of musicians accompanying a couple dancers and a vocalist. Understand that most of these performers are part of the older community in Kunming. The music and dance they perform is mainly passed down by rote; from family to family...and it's amazing! Throughout the park, there was at least twenty small ensembles. In these little bands, you can find all types of instruments from those made in Yunnan, to Western instruements to those found as far North as Xinjiang. And the best part about this park is that it's all free!


Towards the center of the park we found a vendor selling sheet music. This music was all written in numbers and Chinese rhythm notation. This seemed like the place to go if you were interested in studying Chinese folk music. The music was all photocopied in small plastic binders and only cost 2-10元 depending on how many pieces were in the collection. After moving on to the next performance I notivced a group of people set up behind the venue with music stands but no instruements. We asked what they were doing and they responded: “just following along!" Sounds like something I could do after I retire.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kunming - Part 3 - Stone Forest


The Yunnan province is a geologically special place in the world. Besides having amazing places like the Tiger Leaping Gorge, you can also find a unique limestone formation known as Karst. About two hours drive from Kunming is home to a significant outcropping of Karst. Here, known as the Stone Forest, you can find all four different formations of limestone Karst including: sword,



Like most national parks in China (this one protected by UNESCO) you can find English-speaking guides. Our's name was George and for the few hours we poked around the park, I was lucky enough to hear all about the geological, historical and mythical aspects of the Stone Forest. I found it interesting the local village was in the process of being relocated. George said this was due to the tourist's complaints of the 'terrible smells'. He also explained that over 15,000 km of Yunnan's topography contains Karst formations and was considered in ancient times to be one the natural wonders of the world. Today, although beautiful, the park has become an over-crowded tourist destination. So, if you don't mind wading through people and waiting in lines to take pictures in front of the famous formations, you'll have a great time! George explained that the park's popularity is one of the reasons that Yunnan keeps the air so clean. The revenue created by the millions of visitors each year is one of the reasons this province keeps factories away.











As we wandered through the winding maze of limestone we admired the names given to the famous formations. There was the Sword, Kissing-Birds, Elephant, Tom and Jerry, and Pair of Shoes formations. Surpisingly, they represented the names pretty well (except the sword rock which was broken in the last earthquake. There were certain places where the stone surface was perculiarily shiny. George explained that these were places that were rumored to give certain luck when touched. For example, if you able to jump and touch a certain rock, you would grow taller. Another place, if your neck was able to fit through, you would become rich. I hope that one come true.

At one of the resting points, we were able to watch part of a show put on by locals. Check out the video as they perform a song and dance in the traditional style.


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Monday, February 23, 2009

Kunming - Part 2 - Light Festival


Today's addition to my Kunming adventure comes the night of the Chinese New Year (Jan. 26th) and takes place in Kunming's park/carnival. On new year's day, we spent most of the day visiting relatives and non-stop eating. That evening we went to Kunming's famous lantern-style light festival. For only 30元/person it was pretty nice. They constructed a collection of scenes and characters depicting famous Chinese historical icons...in lantern style. There was everything from old style lanterns to Dragons and even Ultra Man made. Now, these weren't the traditional lanterns with a candle or oil burning wicks inside, they were definitely lit with modern light bulbs. Due to China's energy problems, it was advertised that this year, all of the light bulbs were changed to halogen to help with the environment. The show was quite long, it lead all they way until the ride section of the park(maybe a 3km or so). When Even though by that time is was around 10pm, the midway and rides were open. It was quite busy that night as people probably had the same idea as us to take a break from the family. We played a couple money-stealing games and rode one ride before calling it a night and walking back through the lanterns enjoying them one more time.


Check out my flickr site for more pics!