Hello! Yes I know it’s been over two weeks since my last post, but I went on a trip with Peter (a fellow teacher) to Sichuan and Chongqing (the spice capital of China) because we found out we didn’t have to teach for another two weeks. This post long, but worth reading if you have time.
We decided to jump on a plane right away because it was the cheapest flight, so we got on a bus just after sundown to catch a 9 pm flight. Our plane touched down in Chengdu and we hailed a cab. The cab ride was very reminiscent of an illegal street race. After not understanding a single word the cab driver said and burning some rubber at various street corners in the oncoming lanes, we arrived at our Hostel in Chengdu, Sichuan at 1 or 2 am.
Man that bastard cab driver knew how to drive.
The next day, we walked 14 km or so all around Chengdu. We saw some temples, a Mao Statue at the center of the city, had some dumplings at a teahouse in a park, and just generally enjoyed the scenery of the
city. After lunch we got roped in off the street to this elementary school’s first day celebration. This older woman who taught Chinese there convinced us that if we just came in and watched the celebration for 10 minutes the students would be very excited… seemed pretty harmless. So, watching the celebration turned into sitting at the head table up in front of several hundred students with the headmaster, vice-headmaster, and some administrative people we were introduced to in a rapid-fire fashion. Sitting at the head table then turned into speaking in front of the mass of students and being interviewed by some students on the local news after the celebration (In Mandarin)! To top it all off, Peter and I got offered teaching jobs at the elementary school!
We “regretfully had to decline” because of our contracts at Anhui University of Technology.
That night I got a lot drunker than I would have expected at the bar of the hostel. I was hanging with some weary travelers: two Frenchmen, A Scott, Two Brits, an Israeli, a Swede, a Russian, and a Canadian. Somehow a guitar came into my possession, so I played a few folk songs with
a coin as a pick … and for some reason people kept buying me beer. Sometimes being a musician is a curse… haha.
The 3rd day, we went to go see the pandas at the Panda Natural Reserve outside of Chengdu. The reserve was a bunch of big giant pandas lying around eating or sleeping. All this time I thought they would be this amazing spectacle, but they really are just big lazy creatures. We also saw some red pandas, which are pretty similar to raccoons or foxes, but SO CUTE. Then we went back and I took a nap. Must’ve been all those pandas… they put a sleep spell on me (or all the booze that was pushed down my throat). After the nap, we went to see the Sichuan Opera, which was quite hilariously pleasant. They had everything from shadow puppets to solo musical performances to heavily costumed opera to comedy skits.
The 4th day we took off with a German (Mattias) we had met at the panda nature reserve to Leshan and Emei Shan. Mattias had been studying abroad in Singapore, Malaysia for the last year and was towards the end of his two-month-long travels.
At Leshan, there’s the largest stone carved Buddha in the world. This thing is one giant mother. After head to toe, we headed out of the park area to hail a cab towards Emei Shan. We haggled with a few cab drivers passing by for a fairly cheap fare and all of them drove off. After the 3rd or so, a man approached us and asked where we were going. He offered us a ride for 60 yuan (which was 40 less than we had been trying for) because he was already taking two couples to Emei Shan and had 3 open seats in his van. One of the couples was from Beijing (xiao mei and Jerry?!) and the other couple was a Frenchman (David) and a China woman (Alex) who lived in San Fran working at HP and IBM, respectively. The van driver helped us get another van driver while we were in Emei city to get close to the summit of Emei Shan. We got dropped off around a height of 2400m and Alex helped us get a really decent price for a hotel room (with electric blankets!![one has to haggle at Chinese hotels because listed price is
different than the actual]). We hiked down 500 vertical m and back up to our hotel with our newfound friends.
Emei Shan is a 3079m tall mountain peak with more than a dozen temples at different peaks on the way down. Most of our time there, the mountains were surrounded with a hazy mystical fog. It was quite beautiful and mysterious.
The next morning we got up at 5:30 to ride a cable car to the summit in hopes of seeing the sunrise. Man do Chinese people love cueing. They were all lined up in this arbitrary spot (that was not the ticket office) before the ticket office opened. Then after that, there was a cue to get into the waiting room… hilarious… Anyways, at the top of the Mt. there are several gold temples and a giant golden temple made of four connected elephants. The feeling you get while you’re up there is quite amazing. It was strong enough that I considered converting to Buddhism for a moment. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the sunrise because it was so misty.
We then started hiking down from the top (not taking the cable car back down)
with our eventual destination 2300 vertical m lower (not to mention some small peaks to go up and down in between). We ran into some monkeys after hiking a few km who were being fed and obsessively photographed (I immediately proceeded to do the latter) by a mass of Chinese people. The monkeys turned out to be a bit more aggressive than I had originally thought. If there were any visible bottles of water or snacks, they were hungrily sought by these human-like creatures. It was an incredible amount of fun watching the Chinese watch monkeys and watching monkeys in the process. The moment anyone would turn their back to one, monkeys would climb on shoulders, pull hair, steal water/food, or just simply grab and poke.
We then continued our descent and ran into more monkeys at the Elephant Bathing Pool (the first temple we encountered). One of which looked like a temple guardian, as she scurried atop the roof in the mist.
24 km, 2000 vertical m, 7 temples, dozens of monkeys, and tens of thousands of steps later… we arrived at Qingyin Pavilion. This place basically looked like it was right out of Tolkien’s mind (Rivendel
CalligraphyOld man practicing calligraphy with a water brush on a walkway in Chengdu.
to be precise). The temple overlooks the convergence of two river valleys and has bridges to a few small overlooking pavilions. As you continue along the riverside trail, the river continues to widen to around 100 m or so. There are a few ancient looking bridges you can cross to the other side. We stayed at the monastery that night and had some delightful vegetarian food made by a monk.
The next day we set out for a 10 km hike out to the base of Emei Shan. After getting into Emei city, we said goodbye to Mattias who headed back for Chengdu. Peter and I were heading out to Pingle, this new town that was made with old style Chinese architecture. We found a town that was pretty close to Pingle on our map and hopped on a bus to Ya’an. Our plan was to hail a cab from Ya’an to Pingle, but every time we hailed a cab they said they didn’t know where it was or wouldn’t take us there. So we hitched a cab to Bifengxia a closer town which turned out to be far more desolate than Ya’an. This driver picked us up in
his truck back to Ya’an and he dropped us off at the bus station, where this lady offered us a room to stay overnight. Thinking that she was working for a hotel we asked if we could see the room and were led to her apartment. Her husband was very insistent that we stay there and showed us a photo album of people who had stayed there! So, we stayed the night and he showed us to the bus station and got us to Qionglai (which was actually close to Pingle!). He made sure that the bus driver would show us how to get to Pingle from Qionglai. So in Qionglai we got directed to a 7 seat van that eventually got packed in with 12 people.
After arriving in Pingle, we wandered around the streets and saw some of the outlying rural area. We had lunch by the river, which runs through the middle of the town. After lunch while we were strolling around, a man asked if we wanted a ride around the bamboo forest for 100 yuan. We drove up through the valley and the forest had a several Buddha carved into the mountainside. We got
out a few times to hike around in the valley and it was gorgeous! We then headed back to Chengdu to stay for the night.
The 7th day, we took off on a fast train for Chongqing. Only on a Chinese train would they assign tickets without seats. We sat on top of our bags in between the cars next to some people chain smoking, puffing smoke over the conveniently placed no smoking sign.
Chongqing is located between two rivers and is known as the spiciness of its food. And we thought Sichuan was spicy, whoooo-eee! The first night we went to eat hotpot with some people we met at our hostel. Hotpot is a communal meal with a big pot of broth in the middle of the table. The pot of broth is placed in the indentation of the table that contains a gas stove to heat the broth. You can get varying levels of spiciness for the broth. Then you order a number of items to put into the broth and they bring them out on place. You throw in any of these items into the broth to allow them to cook and then fish them
We ordered half spicy/half non-spicy broth and a festive amount of items. As soon as the broth was brought out and the gas was turned on, the spicy side boiled like the red seas of hell! Anything that was placed into that boiling hell was mouth-numbingly spicy and I know they dumbed down the spice because we were foreigners. I’m sure a several bites of some crab, cabbage, beef, or potatoes that had been stewing in the red liquid could kill an infant. It certainly clears up your sinuses though!
After hotpot we wondered down to the riverside and took the cable car across the Yangzi River. Chongqing really lights up at night and the cable car had a great scenic view of the city.
The 8th day we took off for an old market area of Chongqing that existed on the hillside bordering the river. We walked around the market area snacking along the way and made our way to a temple overlooks the old market and the river. While visiting the temple we were given incense. You bow three times with incense praying to Buddha, Buddhism, and the upholders
of the religion, respectively. Then, one places their three sticks of incense to burn their prayers to the gods.
Later in the evening, we went for a walk along a pedestrian road in the middle of town. It was really well lit up and busy with Chinese people who were eager to buy food from the many street stores. The street was filled with smells of spicy barbequed lamb, boiled sesame seed and sugar dumplings, and other savory foods. The food was all at a great price too (there was a reason it was busy).
The next morning we headed back to Ma’anshan.
I guess now its time for me to actually start teaching classes now. I’m quite eager to meet my students, but had quite the last minute excellent adventure.
I’ll post in a few days with some pictures from Nanjing and some areas around Ma’anshan that I forgot to post before leaving for Sichuan.
Greg in China
I'll be in Ma'anshan, Anhui, China for the next year teaching English and hopefully traveling a fair bit during off time.
Feel free to get in touch:
Foreign Affairs Office
attn: Greg Merrell
59 Hudong Rd
Anhui University of Technology
Ma'anshan, Anhui, China 243000
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For centuries China stood as a leading civilization, outpacing the rest of the world in the arts and sciences, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the country was beset by civil unrest, major famines, military defeats, and foreign occupation. A...more info