The Yangtze River
The name Yangtze—derived from the name of the ancient fiefdom of Yang—has been applied to the river mainly by those in the West. Chang Jiang (“Long River”) is the name used in China, although it also is called Da Jiang (“Great River”) or, simply, Jiang (“[The] River”). The Yangtze is the most important river of China. It is the country’s principal waterway, and its basin is China’s great granary and contains nearly one-third of the national population.
What more can you say? It’s “the river”. A source of power, water and transportation, it is also a source of livelihood and way of life for many people.
X is not as uncommon in Chinese as it is in English, but it’s still hard to come up with an X is for… topic.
Xi’an, a city in central China, was an ancient capital. Now famous for the terracotta warriors, who are there because Xi’an was that ancient capital. Because of the warriors it is on the Western tourist track.
I went to Xi’an with my dad, about four years ago, after a cruise up the Yangtze in an attempt to see all of the main “must see” locations, never dreaming that I would wind up coming to China as frequently as I have. We hired a car and guide for the full day we spent seeing Xi’an. It worked out well but I do not recall which company it was.
The day was rather grey and rainy so it wasn’t spectacular…and traveling with Dad can be a bit limiting since he can’t walk very far and isn’t interested in the same things I am. But we hit a few of the highlights of the city.
We saw the terracotta warriors:
the great goose pavilion:
and the city walls:
The symbol of China more than any other is the Great Wall. It winds its way along the tops of mountains. It has a fascinating history, if only because it has so much history. A History of the Great Wall of China Ebook by Luo Zhewen gives a better idea than any attempt I might make to paraphrase it. It was provided by WildGreatWall.com, the outfit through which I arranged our hike from Jiankou, where the wall has not been restored, to Mutianyu, where it has been. If you like to hike I strongly recommend that hike, although the hike up to the wall is a bit challenging. I’ve used WildGreatWall.com three times and they have all been good experiences. Here are some pictures from the hike we took earlier this month:
Myth busting: The great wall is not visible from space. It is too narrow to be seen from even a low earth orbit. Here is a view from a plane:
It seems like every city/area/town in China has something that is special to it. In Weifang it’s kites and paper cut art work. In Shouguang it’s vegetables.
The annual “High-Tech International Vegetable Expo” is in full swing right now. It is an event like no other in my experience. Seattle’s Garden show in February is one, not quite comparable event. In Shouguang the displays are made up of vegetables, not flowers. The displays are much, much larger. Also, there are eleven large greenhouses of displays and vendor exhibits.
Some are artful:
Some are more scientific, like this display of plant cloning:
…and this area where they demonstrate vertical systems that could even work in an apartment:
…and this area where they demonstrated aqua culture and integrating it with living spaces:
Some were not really about vegetables, maybe “vegetation”, all-be-it interesting, would be more accurate for this display of desert plants (typical of displays they had for several climates):
…and the orchids:
Vendors ranged from selling candy and toothbrushes, to plants and vegetable, to tractors and irrigation systems.
All in all a rather exhilarating, but also exhausting day.
I love the train system in China.
High Speed Trains
The ultra modern high speed trains are a great way to get around this huge country. Because airports are so often pretty far from the center of cities the time savings getting to and from an airport combined with having to be there a couple of hours early can make the train comparable. Also the prices are much better.
Busy Beijing Nan Station is the terminus for the high speed trains to the south and east of Beijing (including those to Shanghai). It is a busy and bustling place that can be confusing, but there are announcements in English and the signs alternate between Chinese characters and English so a few minutes of study can get you oriented. My main faux pas is figuring out which ticket line to stand in. I give myself extra time and have always managed.
- It is very rare for the actual seller of tickets to have any English so have your destination written out in Chinese.
- You can also look up your desired train times on-line and have a train number as well. Ctrip’s website can help you with it. It is possible to buy tickets online and pick them up at the station, you have to present your passport, but I haven’t bought train tickets through Ctrip so I can’t vouch for how that works (maybe on my next trip). The trains do fill up so it is good to have a couple of options in mind.
- Figure out where you need to be and start watching the board over the gate so you know when boarding starts. It takes a few minutes to get to the platform and some cars are a bit of a hoof along the platform, so its best to be in the first surge of folks to have time to figure out where you need to go and get there without rushing, or trying to make your way with luggage through a moving train.
In addition to the high speed trains there is the old local trains, which are very inexpensive, less posh and take much longer. They are also not a smoke free environment. But they are how a lot of Chinese people travel so you get a genuine experience.
Local trains have seats.
The ones going longer distances have sleepers, hard and soft, I’ve never taken a soft sleeper but my son and I traveled from Weifang to Taishan on a hard sleeper. It was about 4 hours (a high speed train would be less than 2 hours).
The experience of getting up to and down from the second level with just a nub of a foot hold while the train was moving was not really my cup of tea, so I sat on a fold out seat in the aisle-way and looked out of the grimy window the second half of the trip (F.Y.I. they do not have western style toilets on the older trains). While I’m not unhappy that I had the experience I would generally choose not to repeat it…no way I could do the third level.
Food is very important in China; I think I mentioned earlier that Chinese people will greet you with “have you eaten?” (ni chi le ma). A wide variety of food is available from vendors on the street, some with just a bicycle that is their little stall. Many offerings are freshly cooked.
I appreciate that there are often things like fresh fruit, corn on the cob or baked sweet potatoes available instead of just the deep fried and sugary options we get at fairs in the States (they have those as well).
At the vegetable expo this spring we got noodles that were made, by hand, after we ordered. (Yes, this belongs in my “N is for…” but it hadn’t happened yet.)
It can be a little intimidating to take the plunge and order and I confess that I still prefer to have someone fluent in Chinese with me when I order street food. But, since many stalls just make one thing, one can often just point and shoot. (Although I wouldn’t recommend it if you have food allergies).
Ordering is a good way to interact with Chinese people, both the vendors and the other customers. Choose one or two key phrases to learn when ordering; for example if you’re vegetarian learn to say: wo bu chi rou (woe boo chir row) or, better for understanding, write it out: 我不吃肉. I’ve learned what is for me a key phrase “bu la” (not spicy hot).
Once you’ve learned your phrases go for it!!
Looking down on rooftops is something that often gives me a sense of where I am. Here are views from the highest point in Beijing:
The classic tiled curved roof lines show up somewhere in almost every rooftop picture I take in China. The Forbidden City probably has the highest density of them, but they are pretty common in other places as well. They are reserved for (or, perhaps, best preserved as) the roofs of temples and the homes of the wealthy. However, more modern buildings, such as hotels, will also have them to attract attention.
The shape, in older, traditional buildings, comes from the dougong construction method:
On the older tile roofs there will often be figures that are called “guardians”.
The more guardians the more important the building. The most important building in China, the Hall of Supreme Harmony has eleven.
All other buildings have ten or fewer.
The reason why these are chosen is that they are tourist destinations for Chinese tourists, not ones on a typical tour of China. Even though they are oriented toward tourists, they are not oriented toward “western” tourists and give some insight into what Chinese people look for and value in their time off.
Qingdao is a seaside city where people come to “play”, in Chinese as in English this means to relax and have fun. Because of it’s location Qingdao is not as hot in the summer and tends to have better air quality than many of the cities nearby. It is on the fast train line and people from Shandong can get there in a couple of hours, making it popular for long weekends (many, if not most, Chinese people work six days a week so a trip is only practical on long weekends).
Food is a big part of life in China. In Qingdao that means seafood.
Qingdao is a pretty seaside
town city. It reminds me a bit of San Francisco: seaside, interesting architecture…and of course beer, a gift from the Germans who occupied the area for a time.
Qufu is famous as the hometown of Confucius. Chinese people come here to appreciate and learn about their culture. It is not generally oriented to the foreign tourist. It is usually “done” in a combination with Taishan in two days. Starting with Qufu in the morning and winding up watching the sunrise at the top of Taishan the next morning.
Since that isn’t my style I went to each as it’s own place. Arriving in Qufu in late afternoon, after the tour groups had departed for Tai’an it was quiet and relaxed, like a stage after the performance is over.
By contrast, the city officially opens with a performance of song and dance at 8:00 am.
Qufu’s main attraction is the “three Kongs”: Kong Miao, the Confucius Temple; Kong Fu the “mansion” which is where the extended family lived; and Kong Lin, lin means forest, but it is also an extensive cemetary. Kong is the Confucius family name.