The Stuff of Paintings

I made my way to the western Hunan national park area of Zhangjiajie at just the right time, two weeks after the Spring Festival, in the middle of the February lull.  The fabled towering cliffs, deep canyons, silent caves, and crystal clear lakes, along with the fancy new tourist infrastructure like the world’s longest glass bottom bridge across the Zhangjiajie canyon, drew record numbers of domestic tourists this year.  I had many of the spots nearly to myself, however.

 

Journey to the West: Qinghai, China

The blue skies, and huge fluffy white clouds towering above the almost-barren first steps of the great Tibetan plateau didn’t stop amazing me the entire time I was in Qinghai, in the west of China.  Sure, it was only a long weekend, but what a striking;ly different place from Beijing.  Hardly enough to purge Beijing from my lungs and skin, let alone my spirit… but interacting with Chinese people who are not directly invested in the business or government happenings in the capital is an important experience that I don’t have nearly enough.

By Qinghai Lake, the largest inland lake in the Middle Kingdom.

Blue skies of Qinghai, China
Blue skies of Qinghai, China

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A lot of Tibetan and other cultures and religions represented in Qinghai.

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This Happened in Beijing

On lazy Saturday mornings, when the weather suits a bike ride, I sometimes find myself heading to the center of Beijing to see the newest exhibit at the National Gallery.  While one needs a degree of tolerance for the sucking up to the Communist party that seems to be required of all public institutions in Beijing these days, there is also, quite often, some genuinely good, or at least fun, artworks. And some of the art from China’s recent history is interesting as well, such as the current exhibit on the first picture books in China, which were commissioned by the Communist party during the Japanese resistance days.

Beijing Chess Night

A girl from Beijing went to Indiana to study law, and while she didn’t finish her degree, she did perfect her English, and she fell in love with chess. After coming back to China, and her home town Beijing, she tapped into the already thriving chess scene and founded Beijing Chess. On a spring Saturday evening, a good deal of planning bore fruit with the success of the first “Beijing Chess Night.” Young protégés, rising stars and expats from around the world mingled and tried their hands against a Chinese grand master, who is ranked among the global chess elite.

The grand master played up to twenty games at once for five hours straight!

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Sichuan Spice

Of course, no China travel is complete without indulging in the places “特色“, or specialties.

 

 

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Fresh mountain greens and pickled peppers, fried bamboo shoots, chicken boiled in Sichuan chilis.

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Sichuan special 豆花 and  豆脑, soft tofu in different forms, very soft and delicious. More fresh mountain greens and pickles. In Emei town, at the food of Mt. Emei.
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A small shop on the steep path up Mt. Emei. The old woman waiting patiently for hungry passer-byers disappeared behind the small building long enough for me to hear the abrupt “squawk” that heralded the end of lunch’s free roaming life… a few minutes later, this delicious chicken, sour bamboo and chili dish arrived.

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The famous 水煮鱼,fish filet boiled in wonderful 花椒 numbing peppers and chili.

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In the smaller city of Yibin, fish slices and chili of all sorts.

IMG_2415The wonderful selection of fresh veggies, pickles, and dumplings and buns. 20 RMB for a plate, all you can fit on it!

 

People of Sichuan Province

The Chinese New Year this year, welcoming the year of the Sheep, was a great opportunity to get out of the capital city, Beijing, and see the holiday from a very different perspective. Not only is the Province of Sichuan ethnically different, with many more ethnic minorities, including a very large Tibetan population, but the practice of religion is much more widespread, the history is quite distinct from that of Beijing, the landscape and climate are incredibly different, and, perhaps above all else, it is simply not as urban and the attitude of most of the people I encountered reflected that.

Everyone was so busy either being a tourist or doing their own holiday thing, that it was a great opportunity for me to watch people, and simply be a more or less ignored observer.

So, a “People of Sichuan” series.
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The New Year events, such as the light and lantern festival, and the traditional performances, attract people from all walks of life. The festivals seem to be held in parks, temples, or other such public spaces.

Biking is, indeed, a fairly common form of transportation in dense urban areas, such as downtown Chengdu, the provincial capital.

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A fairly universal characteristic of Chinese cities is the virtual armies of orange clad public employees sweeping the streets.
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This group of young monks seemed to be on a sort of pilgrimage to see, and pray to, the giant Buddha at Leshan. Sichuan People (2) (800x533)

Playing cards where three rivers join in the city of Yibin.Sichuan People (3) (800x533)

Fruit seller at the night market, the night before New Year’s Eve, Yibin. Sichuan People (5) (800x533)

A Buddhist nun preparing for that evening’s New Year celebration at the temple. Sichuan People (6) (800x533)

A team of chefs, members of the minority from Xinjiang, famous for their lamb kabobs. Sichuan People (7) (800x533)

Hanging out at People’s Park at the heart of Chengdu.
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Maintaining public order, on Segway. Sichuan People (9) (800x533)

People’s Park, Chengdu. Sichuan People (10) (800x533)

New Year’s Day celebration and performances at Wuhou Temple, Chengdu.Sichuan People (11) (800x533) Sichuan People (12) (800x533) Sichuan People (13) (800x533) Sichuan People (16) (800x533) Sichuan People (17) (800x533) Sichuan People (18) (533x800) Sichuan People (19) (800x533) Sichuan People (20) (800x533) Sichuan People (21) (533x800)

Mt. Emei, Sichuan

OK, so the pictures uploaded in reverse order… but you get the idea. The temple at the “Golden Peak” sits at over 3,000 meters. The map said I hiked over 15 kilometers from the base to the top… my legs sure felt like it. I stayed at a hotel near the summit and hiked up the next morning for the sunrise.

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The climate in this part of Sichuan is very humid, even in February, and although it wasn’t particularly cold, the wet air made it easy to get a chill.

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Above the clouds on Mt. Emei.

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Locals wandered the streets of Emei Town outside the park selling pairs of small steel spikes that hikers could tie on the bottom of their shoes. I bought a pair, assuming it was just a tourist thing. But it turns out they were completely necessary once I approached the summit, where the snow had packed down on the stone stairs, becoming a virtual ice slide.

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The predawn hike up the final few kilometers was completely worth it, as the sun rose up and across the mountains, illuminating the sea of clouds below.

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Monkeys in the monestary. Emei mountain has several old Buddhist monestaries that perch on its cliffs. It also has an abundance of monkeys that have grown far too bold as local tourists throw food at them.

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The week before the Chinese New Year holiday, there were probably fewer fellow hikers than at any other time of the year.

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