DAZU & CHENGDU

CHINA BLOG 10

Saturday May 28, 2016

Our Victoria Cruise ended almost a week ago. (Yes, I know. I’m behinder than ever with this blog – but I’m past caring. And don’t worry, I’ll get to the end eventually, without skipping anything important. I promise.)  We disembarked (with more trumpet blasts) after breakfast in Chongqing … watched skinny porters carry our bags (four at a time, on the end of bendy poles, balanced across their shoulders!) up a zillion dockside steps to our waiting coach … then followed ourselves. This huge 2000-year-old city (once a walled fortress, built on the hills above two rivers) boasts a population, in the Greater Chongqing area, of 30 million. Staggering eh?

Our focus, however, was not the city, but some famous rock carvings at Dazu – a couple of hours’ drive away. These superb Buddhist cave sculptures, dating from the Tang dynasty (9th century) to the Song dynasty (13th century), are scattered in their thousands along a meandering valley, protected from the weather under overhangs and in grottos. The remarkable carvings have won World Heritage protection “for the light that they shed on everyday life in China during this period”.

Next morning, we were off again – this time to the impressive, modern capital of the Sichuan Province. Chengdu, (pop 13 million) is also listed as a World Heritage Site, and is famous for its fabulous food (served in 37,000 restaurants), its laid-back locals, its relaxing tea-house culture, and its best-known residents: the pandas! (Chengdu’s the only place in the world where wild pandas live.)

We paused for an impromptu farm-stop on the way to Chengdu (and got chased back up the muddy track by some grumpy geese) … visited a museum of long-buried bronze artefacts once we got there … watched local practitioners de-waxing willing ears on the city streets … and took in a show featuring Chinese opera (plus other novel acts).

Needless to say, our tour of the Giant Panda Breeding Centre (they had red pandas as well as their big black-&-white cousins) was accompanied by lots of oohing and aahing and aren’t-they-cute-ing. As a result, grandkids all over New Zealand can expect to receive the required soft cuddly toys once their Mad Midlife grandparents arrive home!

STILL TO COME: We enjoy a couple of very busy days in Xi’an: long-time-ago Chinese capital … kick-off point for the ancient Silk Road during the Ming Era … and home of the astonishing 2000-year-old Terracotta Warriors! A knock-your-socks-off wonder, be warned …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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YANGTZE CRUISING – DAY #3

CHINA BLOG 09

Thursday May 26, 2016

At some point (it’s hard to tell where, because this vast river just keeps flowing, from one to the other) we entered the last, shortest, narrowest and most dramatic of the impressive Three Gorges – the Qutang Gorge. The rain had stopped, the sun was playing peekaboo through the clouds, and (as we’d done each morning on the cruise) we interrupted our upstream-sailing – this time with a shore excursion to Shibaozhai: a 12-story, 18th century wooden pagoda that hugs its way up a large rock rising abruptly out of the river.

It was erected by Emperor Qianlong – and is an architectural wonder, having been built entirely without nails. When the Three Gorges Dam finally opened for business, the rising river levels were soon lapping at the base of the temple – so the Chinese government built a wall around Shibaozhai, adding a long swing-bridge to connect the new island with the town (especially in winter, when the river’s at its highest and the surrounding land is all underwater).

We wobbled across that self-same bridge, hiked past the ‘hello’ stalls, then grunted and groaned our way up the pagoda for some birds-eye views.

In the afternoon, for something a little different, we drove to one of many relocation towns built for the nearly-two-million people who had to be moved as a result of the Yangtze’s rising tides. We spent a pleasant half hour in the home of a very gentlemanly Chinese grandfather who answered our questions (through an interpreter) about what life was like now for him and his family.

Then, en-route back to the Lianna, we took a detour-by-foot through a real, fair-dinkum Yangtze River food market – jam-packed with local meat-&-veg shoppers (plus a footpath-dentist!) who seemed to find the presence of 23 Kiwi tourists something of a novelty.

That evening, back on board, some of us played dress-up … and, for a few moments, looked the part of Emperor and Empress. Good fun!

STILL TO COME: Our Yangtze Cruise comes to an end, and we head off in search of some famous rock carvings – and some even more famous oh-so-cute panda bears! Just wait until you see the pix …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.)

YANGTZE CRUISING – DAY #2

CHINA BLOG 08

Wednesday May 25, 2016

It was still misty/cloudy/rainy through our second full day on the Victoria Lianna – but it didn’t deter us intrepid Kiwis as we squeezed along under soaring peaks and looming rock-faces … floated past bridges and caves and river-barges and hanging coffins and ancient river towns and jutting pagodas … and fisher-folk in sampans trying to tempt the crew with their dried fish and shrimps … and went ashore here and there for more memorable sightseeing.

Come morning, we enjoyed a ferry-boat excursion up the smaller gorge of the Shennong Stream, where we climbed several flights of wet steps in our raincoats and brollies to watch a classy, colourful song-&-dance show featuring local customs and costumes.

Later, back on ship, we entered the Wu Gorge, known for its quiet beauty, swirling currents, forest-covered mountains, and moss-smothered cliffs that are so sheer the sun barely penetrates. Finally, we tied up to an anchored barge, trekked ashore, wandered through a fish market, and clambered up many more flights of wet steps to an ancient temple complex, White Emperor City, dating back to 25 AD.

In a nation with a 5000-year-old history, 25 AD is not that long ago, of course …

STILL TO COME: Day #3 on the Victoria Lianna – featuring the Qutang Gorge, the Shibaozhai Pagoda, and a relocation village, built to rehouse families above the rising waters of the Yangtze – so stay tuned, d’ya hear?

PEOPLE-NEWS:

George got nominated today for our ‘Mary Poppins’ Award – after renting a nice big umbrella from the hotel for 100 yuan, then leaving the stupid thing on the bus while we went exploring in the drizzly rain.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.)

YANGTZE CRUISING – DAY #1

CHINA BLOG 07

Tuesday May 24, 2016

Time flies when you’re having fun. (Or, as I prefer to say it, time’s fun when you’re having flies. Incidentally, we’ve not seen any flies to speak of in the places we’ve visited so far, even local markets where raw meat is openly on display. Could possibly have something to do with Chairman Mao having launched an all-out attack on flies during his Cultural Revolution back in the 70s. That’s my theory, for what it’s worth …)

Anyway, it was almost a week ago that we flew to Yichang on the shores of the Yangtze – Asia’s greatest and China’s longest river – then drove in the dark to the nearby port of Maoping where our cruise ship, the mv Victoria Lianna was docked. We were trumpeted aboard by the welcoming crew and shown to our cabins. Then at some stage in the night (we must’ve been asleep) the ship motored out into the current.

Our much anticipated Yangtze Cruise was underway!

For thousands of years the Yangtze has served as the main highway into China’s vast interior – which is where we were heading. And, when we woke for breakfast next morning, the Lianna was sailing through the Xiling Gorge (the longest and deepest of the famous Three Gorges, renowned for its grand rapids and odd rock formations).

We stopped soon after, were ferried ashore by small boat, then trekked for an hour or two up this beautiful river valley, made all the more beautiful and mysterious by the light misty rain. We followed our guide along wooden walkways, under gorgeous drooping/dripping greenery, past waterfalls and weird sculptures, over stone bridges. I got the chance to ride in a coolie-chair – then we all got the chance to meet some local tribal folk (the Tujia), catch a glimpse of life in canyon-land, witness a mock-marriage, and spot of troop of Yangtze monkeys.

That afternoon, following lunch back on board ship, we parked-up again – this time for a visit to the huge Three Gorges Dam: the world’s biggest construction project and the world’s largest power-producing facility. The sheer scale of this hydro-electric monster blew our minds – well, it would’ve if the rain hadn’t got heavy, making it hard to see anything much in the grey murk! But, with the help of a scale-model at the tourist centre, we got the general idea. Then, once we resumed cruising, we got up close, very close actually, as we passed through the five massive shipping locks.

That took about four hours, it did, by which stage we were ready for dinner (in the ship’s ‘Executive Restaurant’, set aside for our group and a handful of stray Poms) – wrapped up by some costumed cultural dancing by the crew.

STILL TO COME: Day #2 on the Victoria Lianna – featuring the Wu Gorge, the Shennong Stream and the ancient White Emperor City – don’t miss it, whatever you do!

PEOPLE-NEWS:

  • Four confused Kiwis got to share our ‘Breaking & Entering’ Award for trying to get into the wrong rooms in the latest of many hotels we’ve already stayed in. Tony & Barbara sought very determinedly to open the door to room 802, before remembering that theirs was room 716. And Grant and Catherine actually walked into what they thought was their room on the 8th floor, puzzled as to why the door was open and even more puzzled as to what two others from our group were doing inside, sitting on their bed! Oh dear …
  • Bob received our ‘Dumpling’ Award – for murdering an innocent pork bun at our Sichuan restaurant a couple of nights ago. By the time Bob had finished digging his sticky dumpling out of the basket with his wildly wielded chopsticks, the puffy white delicacy was slashed, mashed and totally unrecognisable.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.)

DAZZLINGLY SHANGHAI …

CHINA BLOG 06

Saturday May 21, 2016

China (as we’ve seen again and again) is crammed with contrasts. I mean, on the one hand you’ve got peasant farmers ploughing rice paddy fields with water buffalos, and zillions of ‘hello people’ begging you to buy the souvenir junk that litters their rickety stalls – yet on the other hand, you’ve got technological marvels, architectural wonders, and glittering bridges, motorways and cities that match anything the western world can show you.

Shanghai is one such place. Once known as ‘Paris of the East’, China’s grandest and most wealthy city started life just a few hundred years ago as a fishing village on the estuary of the Yangtze River. Today it’s a dazzling modern showpiece with a colourful colonial history plus a fascinating mix of eastern and western cultures.

Amongst Shanghai’s neck-craning skyscrapers are some spectacular giants – including the world’s second-tallest tower. And a few days ago (seems like a month ago!) we Mad Midlife Kiwis went to the TOP of this thing (well, nearly the top).

I’m still in catch-up mode (remember?) … so let me get to the point.

The group spent Tuesday exploring Shanghai – starting with the Yu Gardens (typifying the traditional Chinese sense of beauty and symbolism) … the Jade Buddha Temple Nanjing Road (world famous for shop-shop-shopping) … and the Bund (the bustling waterfront that was once a centre for expatriates). That night we enjoyed a double-treat: a yummy Dim-Sum Dinner (a local specialty), followed by a truly blow-your-mind Acrobatics Show! (Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos, so you’ve just gonna have to imagine it – sorry.)

Next day, those who could stomach it rode the world’s fasted elevator up-up-up to the world’s highest observation tower perched on the 122nd floor of the curvy-shaped Shanghai Tower (just five floors from the very top). It took us just 55 seconds to get there (it felt like we were weightless)! And the views from the top? Well, you be the judge …

However, Shanghai had one more surprise saved up. What really got us oohing-&-aahing was the stunning eyeful we got later that night when they turned the city’s lights on. Just check this out … and decide now that you’re gonna come with us next time we do China!

STILL TO COME: We board our Victoria Cruises river-boat and begin a four-day sail up the mighty Yangtze – the main highway, for thousands of years, into China’s vast interior. So put on your lifejacket and join us …

PEOPLE-NEWS:

  • Les claimed his second quacky yellow duck – with our ‘Lost in Translation’ Award. Les thought our local guide in Dazu was offering to take us to see ‘stock cars’, and he got all excited. But she was actually taking us to see was ‘rock carvings’

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.)