Sunday, April 22, 2012

Yongchuan History X

Today on Tea Mountain we learned that it's not really called Tea Mountain and why Yongchuan is called Yongchuan, all by accident. 

Then we saw this baffling sign...

 ...and I managed to take this bizarre picture of some trees.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Songji Ancient Town

Spring continues here in YC and we spent the weekend exploring a few things that we had heard about here and there. First of all, I've been experimenting with making some less garish HDR pictures. I'd been wanting to get a photo that looked like what my eyes see from our apartment window in the evening light... but somehow it always just came out looking like a grubby bunch of concrete buildings. Finally, with the help of some clear sky and HDR processing the full beauty (?) of suburban Yongchuan as seen in my brain can be revealed:

It looks like this in my brain, if not in reality
On Friday we learned that the circus had quite literally come to town. Entertainment is pretty scarce around here, so we went to check it out. Sadly my fears of doped-up ferocious animals being interfered with for our viewing pleasure were founded and China really is the land that animal rights forgot. On the positive side, the acrobats performed some death-defying (literally) feats high above the concrete floor on bamboo poles and swinging metal contraptions. The only animal act that I didn't feel so bad about was the small-monkey-doing-a-handstand-on-an-elderly-goat-balancing-on-a-podium trick. That's a new one to me.

That's entertainment.
I'd read about Songji town on someone's blog (see, they can be useful) and we finally got around to visiting on Sunday. A couple of hours country-road bike riding got us there and we found what we were looking for without too much trouble. Since the original blogger's visit in 2009 things have moved on a bit and there were quite a few signs (in English!) to tell us what we were looking at.

A Songji tractor. Different to a Chelsea tractor.
Water street
More HDR fun with some roof tiles
Whilst getting on with the usual struggle of ordering some food in a street restaurant, we heard the welcome words "Can I help you?". This is how we met "Tremor", a young college instructor from Yongchuan who was keen to practice his English with us. In a deal that I still don't understand, he paid for our lunch in return for him helping us order it. We chatted for a while and walked together with his students down to the town beach (of sorts) on the Yangtze. Whilst the Mother River isn't the cleanest, people were enjoying paddling in the fast flowing shallows, flying kites, and watching the ships race by in the current. The sun had come out and we enjoyed a very springlike ride back to Yonchuan, through the sprouting rice fields.

Beach boy
Spring sprouting

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Emei Shan

We took he bus after school to Chengdu and stayed in the handily located (near the bus station and Subway sandwiches) Traffic Hostel. The hostel has had a few renovations since we stayed a few months ago and really looks like a trendy hostel anywhere in the world. Sometimes you can forget you're in China even when you're still there. Early the next morning we walked over to the bus station to see if there were tickets for the for us on the first bus to Emei. Suddenly we were very much back in China eating spicy noodles for breakfast. After two and a half hours on the bus from Chengdu we arrived in Emei and luckily tagged onto a group of (non foreigner) tourists headed for the mountain in the bus. We had the usual out-of-Yongchuan novelty of seeing a few other foreigners among the throngs of Chinese tourists admiring the fake concrete historical relics at the start of the trail.

The trail to Emei Shan's Golden Summit boasts 3200m of climbing over only 25km of distance. The entire route was on stone or concrete steps... definitely the longest staircase I've ever set our to climb and enough to put the Grouse Grind to shame. Out plan was to get as far as we could in he day and stay in a monastery within reach of the summit for the next morning.

The route started winding up through the bamboo forest with the peace punctuated wherever there was easy road access to the trail. As we've come to expect, there was no shortage of opportunities to buy drinks, noodles, cigarettes, beer, and stuffed monkey souvenirs wherever there were people to buy them. Soon enough we came to the "Monkey Fun Zone" where cheerful wild macaques will steal your camera and water bottle. Luckily we had been warned about this feature of the mountain and the cool spring weather and early-season lack of junk food to steal left the monkeys fairly relaxed. One of them was having a pretty good go at tearing down a "restricted access" sign from a tree though.

Leaving the anarchist monkey behind we headed up through the changing forest into cooler temperatures and some dramatic views. The sections of trail away from he road were peaceful and we came across snack stands every kilometer or so that were either abandoned or has their proprietor engrossed in a TV soap opera or playing cards. My favorite was the Hard Wok Cafe which boasted commanding views of the valley below. We made do with peanut butter and apple sandwiches from our stash. Cheapskates.

By around five in the afternoon it has started to drizzle and the temperature was dropping fast. My legs had climbed quite enough steps for the day so we stopped at the Elephant Washing Pool temple for he night. The night in the temple was the highlight of the weekend for me as we ate some veggie monk-food and then escaped the cold under the thick blankets in our ancient dorm. We were both asleep by seven. We woke up early to the sound of the gong, and then the chanting of the monks. Wanting to get out early we skipped monk-breakfast and ate the rest of our supplies. It was just getting light outside as we climbed away from our home for the night and eerie clouds swirled around the surrounding peaks.

Our early start got us onto the final slog up to the summit before the full horror of the tourist machine had time to swing into action. I can imagine this last 500m climb is a complete zoo in the summer as it's accessible. A road and cable car and has wall-to-wall souvenir shops and snack stands almost the whole way. Luckily most of them were closed. The summit rewarded us with a selection of concrete elephants and a lot of gold and white paint. There is of course a selection of hotels and restaurants up there too to separate the public from their cash. We took our summit photos and headed down through the throng of fresh tourists climbing up.

Some complex bus-bus-taxi-bus travel arrangements had us back on route for Yongchuan.  Luckily we still had time to enjoy those not-available at home delicacies of a Subway sandwich and McDonalds coffee. A perfect weekend in China...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Millions of peaches, peaches for me.

Springtime in Yonngchuan means it's time to drive your SUV up Cucumber Hill (a graded 2A national scenic spot - don't you know?) and take a picture of yourself standing next to some peach blossoms with your iPhone. We don't have an iPhone or an SUV, but decided to swim against the flow and join ranks with the few plucky students who ride bikes up there. Luckily I do have an old-fashioned picture-taking apparatus that doesn't work as a phone, so we were able to record our achivements and share them on the internet... just not whilst driving.  
There's blossom in them there hills


YC sunset
A tourist posing on his bicycle
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Jiangjin and Youxi by bike

Spring has sprung in Yongchuan, so before the temperature rises to 38 degrees and the sky is obscured by smog we've been scouring Google Earth for places to visit by bike. This weekend we tackled some lumpy but relatively quiet country roads that led us to the surprisingly nice town of Jiangjin for the night. On the way we found the last remnants of a nice old Chinese town on the banks of the Yangtze called Youxi which appears to be rapidly turning into a load of ugly apartment buildings. After causing a spectacle as we walked through town looking foreign and a long night's sleep in a bargain-priced hotel (sadly the in-house bowling alley was not working) we road back to Yongchuan. Here are some pictures...

Old-skool farmhouse

Another wonky old farm with strange plants drying outside

Patchwork fields

Boats on the Yangtze at Youxi

A door to a forgotten past, or just a door?

The old and the new in Youxi

Along with plastic gnomes, I'm enjoying collecting
pictures of ugly town-square sculptures in China

SUV driver of tomorrow

A more luxurious farm

It can't be China without some black smoke