LongShen and Yangshuo

I must apologize for the delay in posting. For the last couple of days in China, I did not have internet access and thus, it was impossible to post anything. When I got home, things got a little crazy and with the holidays upon us, well, I forgot to post my latest blog. So, here it is, two weeks late, my final blog about my trip:

After a very stressful flight, I made it to Guilin and eventually up to Long Sheng. We only stayed one night in Guilin but I could have stayed a couple more days. Not only was the weather amazing – 65 degrees in December – the city was just fun. There were little shops everywhere, every type of restaurant you could imagine, a cute little park, a river running through the city (clean enough that you could swim in it, a rare sight in China) and the people were incredibly nice. I really wish we could have stayed longer. The next day; however, we took a bus up (and hiked up) to the mountains to spend a couple of days in Long Sheng. The hike was difficult; although, I don’t think it would have been as bad had I not been carrying twenty extra pounds of luggage. I suppose that is my own fault though,  for being too stubborn to let anyone help me or pay one of the locals to carry it. Needless to say, when I got to our hotel, I collapsed. I think that has to be one of the hardest hikes I have been on but in my defense, it was all stairs.

Long Sheng is a mountain village of sorts. There are about ten different ethnic minorities that live in these mountains, all with their own dress and customs. I am not sure what group we were living with but they made beautiful clothes, scarves and purses. They also had their own style of dress that I have never seen before. The ladies all wore head dresses that dictated their marital status and whether or not they had children. They were all very nice despite constantly trying to sell us things. The only attraction in Long Sheng, other than the diverse culture, was the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces. The rice terraces span across about 16,310 acres and run from the valley, which is about 900ft above sea level, to the mountains, which is about 4000ft above sea level.  It is said that in this part of the country, where there is soil, there is a terrace. As beautiful as this place was, I have to say that there was not a lot to do. You could hike around and/or talk to the locals but that was about it. I hiked around for a few hours but the all the hiking, like the hike up, consisted of stairs. After being in China for this long, I think I  have developed a slight aversion to stairs. I am almost dreading coming home for the mere fact that my apartment is on the second story. Please, no more stairs! I might have to install an escalator…

Our next stop and probably my favorite place to visit was Yangshuo. This had to be the most relaxing part of the entire two week trip. We went river drifting, shopped, ate good food, and basically just relaxed. Yangshuo seemed to be the place to go for international travelers. There were restaurants and people from every corner of the globe.  I met people from Australia, Great Brittan, USA, and Eastern Europe. The bakery next door to our hotel was owned by a woman from Belgium who came to Yangshuo, fell in love with the place, stayed and opened up a bakery.  It was a cultural melting pot. I am glad this was the last city of the two week study trip.

Back to Beijing I go, where the weather is 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily, I will only be there for a couple days before it is time to go home.

Until next time,

Ashley

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Chengdu

12/6

Made it to Chengdu! Chengdu is the home of pandas and spicy food. I got a lesson in just how spicy it was my first night there. We went to a hot pot restaurant which was apparently famous for its food. The food was absolutely delicious (although having a giant fish head looking at you from the hot pot you were putting your food in was a little off putting at first). I, however, was at the non-spicy table. Knowing that I was in the cradle of the spicy food, I figured I would be ridiculed by friends and family for not at least trying the spicy food, so I did. I cannot even describe the level of fire that lit my mouth on the first bite. Within seconds, my tongue went numb, my lips were burning and my eyes were starting to tear up. Don’t get me wrong, there was flavor to the spice but I was so overwhelmed by the heat that it was hard to find enjoyment in eating it. One look at the people who were sitting at the spicy table would warn anyone away. They were sweating profusely. Their faces were apple red with heat. Their noses were running and their eyes were watering. At one point, some peoples’ lips started to bleed. Why someone would put themselves through that, I don’t know. What I found to be the most interesting experience of the night was watching the locals eat the same food we were eating. They were shoveling it in as if there was no spice at all. I would not be surprise if their dishes were even spicier than ours. Who knows if they even have taste buds left.  I don’t know how they do it.

The rest of our time in Chengdu was spent at two locations: the Leshan Giant Buddha and the Panda Research Base. The Leshan Giant Buddha is a sitting statue of Maitreya. You can look up pictures online for yourself but let me tell you, this statue is massive. What I found interesting was that the Buddha has a drainage system. This system is made up of hidden gutters scattered throughout the head, the arms, behind the ears and in the clothes. The point is to displace rainwater and keep the inner parts dry. Since the project was finished in 803 A.D., I assume this drainage system must work well as the Buddha seems to have been preserved really well.

Our second location, as I mentioned, was the Panda Research Base. I think this was one of the places I was most excited to visit. I mean, come on, an entire zoo-like facility filled with pandas! What is better than that? At the facility, there were both giant pandas and lesser pandas, known to us as red pandas. The red panda looks very similar to a raccoon only with different coloring. They were awfully cute. The verdict is still out as to whether red pandas or giant pandas are cuter. We got to watch the red pandas play but I got to see a giant panda walking on two legs, apparently a rare occasion. Apparently giant pandas are lazy by nature so the fact that one of them stood on two legs for us was a special treat. One thing I did not know was that pandas are very territorial. This is why most of the pandas were in separate cages. I use the term cages loosely though as they were more like small jungles in which the pandas could roam. Being as lazy as they are, I doubt they really wander the full extent of their land. One thing I know about pandas is that they are super cute! I really wanted to take one home with me but the facility told me no. I can wish though, right?

Well, that’s it for Chengdu. Next stop Guilin!

Until next time,

Ashley

Xi’an

12/1

Well I can happily say that I made it safe and sound to Xi’an. We took the bullet train on Saturday from Luoyang to Xi’an. Although I slept off and on, I did see the speedometer reach 200kmph which is roughly 124mph. Pretty fast, huh? Xi’an is an interesting place to say the least. I suppose I had a preconceived idea of what Xi’an was going to look like before I got here because I was absolutely shocked when we walked out of the train station and into a city that looked exactly like Beijing. In fact, other than the historical background of Xi’an, I call it a mini Beijing. The traffic was horrific (in fact, our bus driver hit a moped, another bus and came close to hitting a pedestrian all while trying to get us to our hotel.) Compared to Luoyang, the hotel is a lot cleaner and a lot nicer.

We didn’t do much on our first day other than wander over to the Great Mosque. It was right smack in the middle of a giant shopping center (yes, I went shopping again). It was an interesting blend of Chinese architecture and Islamic architecture. It was kind of weird to see Islamic writing on Chinese style pagodas. We did not spend a lot of time there because we had dinner reservations to get to.

Our second day in Xi’an was spent visiting the Terracotta Warriors and visiting the City Wall. The Terracotta warriors are the one thing I wanted to see above all else during my trip to China and now I have seen them. I can go home happy. The detail on the each soldier is amazing. If I didn’t know better, I could have sworn that the soldiers were real people encased in stone. No two faces have been unearthed that have been the same, there were over one hundred thousand bronze weapons found, some of which are still sharp and probably usable, and there were two bronze horse drawn carriages found. It is astounding to think that over 2,200 years ago, the Chinese people were creating such a detailed and magnificent burial site. I suppose it also shows the dedication of the people to their emperor. Much like the Egyptians made the pyramids for their fallen pharaohs  this burial site was made for the first emperor of China. Walking into the pits was like walking back in time. I am so happy that I got to see the 兵马杨 (Terracotta Warriors).

Our next stop was the City Wall. It was apparently the oldest and most intact city wall in China and one of the largest and most complete ancient military defense systems in the world. It was cool that I got to see this historical place but had I not known the history beforehand, I probably would have just said “oh look at the pretty wall that looks like every other wall in China.” Sad to say, there was really nothing spectacular about it except its history.

Now we move onto Chengdu. I am a little apprehensive about going to Chengdu as it is in the Sichuan Province; the Sichuan province is known for their spicy food, so we will see how that goes….

Until Next Time,

Ashley

Luoyang

11/30

First city of the travel trip:

Today we arrived in Luoyang, Henan after an overnight train trip from Beijing. The train ride went just fine other than our train had a tendency to stop and start suddenly making sleeping quite an interesting experience. Before I go on about my day, let me first give you a little background about Luoyang. The city was named after the river that it borders, the Luo River. It was the capital city of China for 13 dynasties and is still considered the birthplace of history and culture for China. Many emperors resided here as the mountain that sits next to the town looks like it has a dragon sitting upon the ridge. As emperors believed that they were decedents of dragons, they figured that the safest place for them to live was next to a dragon. Apparently, if you fly over the city of Luoyang, it will look like the head of a dragon. Although the capital of China has since moved to Beijing, Luoyang still remains a city of great significance and it is said that if you want to truly understand Chinese history, you have to take a trip to Luoyang.

After arriving at our hotel and having a quick breakfast, we headed off to see the White Horse Temple. This was the first Buddhist temple ever built in China. According to many historians, this temple is the birthplace of Buddhism in China. It was a relatively small temple compared to the places we have been before and thus, we did not spend a lot of time there. We were; however, encouraged to light incense.  I felt slightly nervous considering I had no clue what I was supposed to do; I did not want to anger Buddha. One other interesting note about the temple was the contrast between modern China and ancient China. Inside the gate was peaceful. It was quiet. It felt like I had stepped into another world.  Yet, right outside of the gate there was a buzzing market place.

Leaving the White Horse Temple, we made our way to the Shaolin temple. This is the very temple where the Shaolin monks come from. It is considered the birthplace of martial arts in China. We got to watch a martial art show which was amazing. There were kids who looked no older than seven who were performing the most amazing acts. Not only did they show us martial arts moves, they did ‘tricks’ for lack of a better word to show off their skills. One man broke a medal bar with his head, one man threw a dart through a piece of glass (without breaking it) and popped a balloon on the other side and finally, another man climbed upon a structure that looked as if it had a spear in the center, balanced himself upon the spear and spun. It was incredible. The entire show was incredible. These men come to the temple at a young age and train for years. We got the opportunity to watch them practice and it was amazing to hear how much work these kids put into their martial arts training.

The next day we moved on to the Longmen Grottoes. Although I do not know the significance of this place, the sheer size of this home of worship is amazing. The Grottoes is a large cliff face in which many caves have been carved out. Within each cave there are representations of Buddha. There are many different sized caves and many different sized and shaped Buddhas. It is estimated that there are over 110,000 Buddhas carved into this wall and over 2000 caves. The absolute awe that I felt when I arrived  cannot not be put into words. I would highly recommend popping on the internet and looking at some pictures for yourself. Although it will not be as awe-inspiring as it was in real life, perhaps you can get a sense of the wonderment I felt when I got to see this amazing place.

Next stop, Xi’an. Happy December everyone!

Until next time,

Ashley