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Yangtze River - Guilin #2

China rivers holiday 4

Ghost City

The boat berthed in the night, and at 6am we accompanied other people who were likewise visiting the Ghost City. People without number were having an early morning nicotine fix of a Cancer Stick or 4. I’m all for natural selection, but not when it’s forced on someone else. The copious and constant clouds of smoke that added to the pollution were the hardest thing for me to handle. - Anyway, we went up some stone steps to the Ghost City. Our tour guide didn’t speak any English, so there was a fair bit of guessing of instructions and options. The Lonely Planet was only of limited value here.

Once in the complex, all the place-names were ‘Hell Bridge’ and ‘Damned Soul’s Valley’ etc. The city felt spiritually oppressive, too. We pr’d before we went, but it was still an unpleasant place to be in. Some of the architecture was quite nice, though. At the centre of the grounds is a building called ‘Ghost City’, which is mainly an amusement arcade. You walk through halls and various tight alleys that depict people being tortured in different ways. And what theme park would be complete without gruesome sound effects? It was usually a demon doing the torturing but there was always some watching, as Andrew pointed out. The evil males looked hideous, but the evil females always looked beautiful. What’s up with that? I soon had had enough, but the only way out was to keep going so that’s what we did. At one stage there was a ride, which we discovered shortly thereafter was a complete waste of both Y5 and 40 seconds.

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The other side of the complex housed a lovely chairlift and beautiful blue whitewashing on some old walls, which were much more enjoyable and interesting. Not losing the group was a focal point of the exercise and we succeeded with one exception.

At 9:30am we were back on the boat, at 10:00 having Second Breakfast (noodles) and at 10:30am I was snoozing pleasantly. For lunch we had more noodles and some tuna, which noodled me out for the next while. Noodles aren’t my favourite food at the best of times. They’re at the bottom of carbohydrate choice.

Black Dragon Waterfall

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In the afternoon we all assembled and went on buses to a Black Dragon Waterfall, somewhere inland from Wuling Pier. The bus ride took over an hour, and the ride back 50 mins. We were at the waterfall around 45 mins. The bus ride was very bumpy and hard on the tyres. It was not hard on the back because this time I made sure I sat properly. )

On the way, there was a loud band and the bus stopped suddenly. Someone inspected things and then we were continuing along our road, very slowly, and with great care not to blow the remaining wheel on that side (back, left). Some people quite upset at the apparent danger. It was fortunate the bus had rear tandem wheels, and it would’ve been a different matter had it been a front tyre. Andrew took a photo of the rent tyre.

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The waterfall fell in front of a cave and was beautiful and Ithillien-esque. We took some photos. It was unfortunate that there was a Buddha statue behind the cave; it seems as though people put them around every place where we thank G for His creation.

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On the road back to Wuzhou the ’survival of the biggest’ on the road was certainly in place. The bus went along country roads on whichever side of the road it wanted to, and signalled this by, when there was an upcoming blind corner, by beeping its horn a few times. At one point, Andrew was about to say something, when I exclaimed as I saw this: a car trying to overtake our bus and nearly getting cleaned up good and proper. At the last hemidemisemi-second the car dropped back, and in the next breath Andrew calmly continued from where he left of with what he started to say (something about the only building material used being concrete). We’d just seen a near-fatal accident, and all he does is pause while I panic, then continue as if nothing ever happened! I realised again that we were most certainly in China.

We decided to chance the on-board restaurant, and were pleasantly surprised by sweet and sour pork (very vinegary) and egg & tomato fry-up (with rice each). It was very nice and I’m currently refusing all attempts at noodles.

And back again

OK, we’ve made it back home after our wonderful trek across China. To complement the previous post, here’s the list of things we did subsequently:

  • Beijing (Summer Palace, Peking Duck, Art Gallery)
  • Dingshan (Ceramics museum, tea pots & ceramics)
  • Shanghai (Maglev, the Bund)

Still ticking

We’re most of the way through our trip across China now and it’s been an absolute blast. We’re currently in Beijing and are taking in all the sights on offer. Something that has been most suprising is the impovements made to the air quality and the general cleanliness of the city since our last visit. Most impressive.

The weather has been bitterly cold. On the upside it’s meant that tourist sights haven’t been crowded and there’s been the odd discount. Our coldest place was Datong, where the max and min temps were -5 and -17 degrees celsius respectively! It’s a glorious sunny -3 in Beijing at the moment.

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve taken in the following cities and major sights. There has been lots more but here’s a hit list. Photos to come once we return:

  • Shenzhen (where we live)
  • Hong Kong (New Year’s Eave in Tsim Sha Tsui, Po Lin Monastery)
  • Chengdu (Panda breeding centre)
  • Xian (Teracotta Warriors, Xian city wall, first Qin Emperor Mausoleum)
  • Pingyao (Historical city)
  • Taiyuan (Visit a Friend)
  • Datong (Hanging Monastery, Yungang Grottoes)
  • Beijing (Forbidden City, Mao’s Mausoleum, Tiananmen Square, Underground City, Great Wall, Beihai Park & frozen lake, Temple of Heaven, Food Night Market, markets… markets… markets…

Into the China heartland

A quick note to let everyone know that we’re currently enjoying a 3 week travelling holiday within China. So far we’ve flown to Chengdu and taken the train up to Xian.

Blogging might be a bit thin (i.e. practically nonexistant) over the next two weeks but we’ll do our best to share some of the wonderful sights and experiences once we return to Shenzhen.

The Wall

The view from the parking lot

"All in all it was all just bricks in the wall" - for all Pink Floyd fans out there ) .

Our bus tour took us to Badaling, the section of the great wall that is most frequented by tourists. As we approached we could see the watchtowers silhouetted against the hazy sky, then finally the rest of the wall came into view. 

 Across the valley The wall gate Looking back down

By this time it was mid-afternoon so the morning surge of tourists that usually come to this area had died down and we were able to explore relatively unimpeded. Others had told stories of horror congestion at Badaling so we were greatly relieved. The wall obviously takes very heavily traffic at Badaling, the heavily worn stones testifying to how many feet have walked along this section of it. This section of the wall has been completely renovated, so whilst it's not strictly original it gives a feel of what it would have been like hundreds of years ago.

Love locks Looking out across the mountains Left or right?

From the starting point we had 2 choices - going right and up the mountain ridge or going left and up, up, up the mountain ridge. We went with the latter. As we started to climb we went past this row of locks and ribbons on the wall. There is a myth that if a couple attached a padlock to the wall with a ribbon then their love will be locked together forever. There were a couple of shops making the most of this opportunity. There were also other people selling stuff along the way, like T-shirts, stamps with your name on them and other such touristy trinkets you'd expect to see at a place like this. Also purchasable was an obligatory certificate of proof that you climbed the Wall. 

Up, up, up!

It's a steep climb and somewhat hard going. The further up we went, the less & less old overweight tourists we saw yet we still managed to come across a Chinese woman battling with stilettos on the uneven stones (and between them) near the top of the climb. Reaching the top was worth the near-hour-long climb. Although it was hazy the mountains were still inspiring.

Looking back from the top Out from the tower The two of us again!

You can forget any notions that you may have about the wall being this perfectly formed X metres high by Y metres wide construction. It's rough, it twists and turns and it's forever changing as it winds its way across the always-changing landscape. In places it's 4 or 5 metres wide at the top, in others it's single-file only.

Near the start Wall detail Across the towers

Along the way we passed about 10 or so guard towers, each strategically located so that the wall between guard towers could be completely protected by the archers. A very nice little military strategy on the part of the designer ) . These guard towers were also used for communication by passing along different coloured smoke signals. Below is a face-signal poking out.


Gail poking out

The key significance of the wall is not it's height in any one location but the fact that it is continuous (as good as) over such an enormous length (over 6000km as originally built). Through mountains and valleys, through forests, through sand and clay, through rocks and stone, the wall just goes on and on. We were amazed at it for about 2km of it's length. Imagine that multiplied 3000 times over!

Up in the mountains On the way back down A defence tower

It was a quiet and subdued 2 hour bus ride back to Ti'anm*n square in Beijing. Everyone on the bus was clearly worn out from the day's activities. Once back in the city we hunted for anything that said "food and water" so we crashed in an RBT restaurant a little south of the square. Having deciding that we wanted the express route back to the hotel we took another of Beijing's cheap taxis to finish out the day.

A place named Ming

For our last whole day in Beijing we taxi'd and metro'd down to a place a little beyond the south west corner of Tiananmen square. Between 6:30am and 8:30am tourist coaches leave for a paltry fee of 50 Yuan. They all head out to one of a few different stretches of the great wall, stopping off at a bunch of different places along the way. 

We arrived at 8:10am and a quick conversation with the people at the bus park revealed that the last bus for the Simatai part of the wall had left at 8:00am, along with all the buses to everywhere except the most popular (but very busy and touristy) part of the wall at Badaling. After agreeing to this the man ushered us to his car. After a couple of confirmations as to what was happening we nervously agreed. Fortunately all he wanted to do was drive us back closer to the corner of Tiananmen square where the buses actually depart from. 

We were the only foreigners on our particular tour group so we were verbally on our own a lot of the time. Most of the hotels in Beijing run day tours to the wall so that's something we'd consider next time. Still, our tour was dirt cheap so we didn't mind so much.

Waxworks 1 Waxworks 2 Waxworks 3

Our first stop was the Beijing Shisanling Waxworks Palace of Ming Dynasty, about 1 hour north of Beijing. There was a particular waxworks creation from each of the 16 Ming emperors, each depicting a significant event during their respective reigns. Fortunately there were English description panels so that we could keep up. 

Emperor Dingling Tomb

Our next stop was the Ming tombs, where 13 of the 16 Ming dynasty emperor's were buried. Scattered through the mountains here the different emperors were buried. How successful and rich the dynasty was at the time is usually reflected in the lavishness of each tomb. Only the tombs of Changling and Dingling are open to the public. We entered the latter tomb only.

The main points of interest here were the Stone Bridge, the Soul Tower and the Underground palace (tomb). Originally discovered and excavated in about 1958, his tomb was laid out with three chambers in a line with 2 smaller chambers off to the side. The whole thing was constructed underground.

Wan Li’s entourage for the afterlife

To enter we went down about 10 flights of stairs and into the rear of one of the side chambers. Once inside we were presented with these massive interconnecting stone chambers. The centre rear chamber is where they found Wan Li's casket (Emperor Dingling), along with the caskets for his two empresses and 40 boxes of articles for the afterlife, all laid upon a marble slab. The originals have been removed and replaced with replicas. On the ground in front of the casket some people throw money. This is significant for the Chinese for those who trace their lineage back through the emperor. In China there is a lot of ancestor worship and the belief is that by brining your ancestors money (fake or real) then they can bring prosperity to your family in the present. And lets face it, an old emperor of China had more money than anyone else at the time!

Money offerings Central chamber Entryway

Lined up down the centre of the very middle chamber were 3 stone thrones, one for each of the empresses and one for the emperor. Finally, we exited out through the original diamond-shaped entry-way into the tombs. Once everything was in place and the emperor safely buried then this was bricked in. After ascending stairs to ground level there was a stone laid in the ground, a place holder showing where the original marker stone for the tomb was found. Apparently upon this stone was written the direction to go and how far to dig down and across to find the buried entryway to the tomb. A handy pointer, I'm sure.

Soul Pillar and Offerings jar Soul Pillar

Directly in front of the tomb was the Soul Pillar, quite an impressive obelisk looking thing with plenty of traditional Chinese writing and fine detailing only visible on closer inspection. Although the interiors of the tombs were not highly decorated there's this overriding feeling of thoroughness and completeness that seems to be missing from modern Chinese culture. So many different objects have precise physical alignment, matching fine decoration and artwork, ornate stone carvings and precise sequences of objects. I left the tomb feeling that China has sacrificed a huge part of who it was to become who it is today.

From here the bus took us to a Jade shop where we stayet wwwwaaaayyyy too long. It's typical of these sorts of organised tours - you inevitably end up spending a stint at a place where you're encouraged to buy stuff.

Er… lunch Touch-for-luck traditional statue

It was about 2:30pm when we finally left with the hunger pangs well and truly in full flight. We arrived at a restaurant and were ushered out the back to a large hall where there were large round tables and, at one end, a row of vats of food. Here the Chinese culture really took over and it was every man and woman for himself as everyone from young girls to 60+ year old women elbowed, barged and pushed their way in front of everyone else to try and get their food first. Some of the vats of food ran dry but they were eventually replenished. We sat down at the last remaining free chairs, pushed aside the pile of fish bones on the table and ate. I still have no idea how the same basic ingredients can result in such tasteless food, but when you're hungry, the quality of the food becomes less important.

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