April 27, 2010

Halloween in Zhujaiyo

Nothing beats spending Halloween in an ancient village. Zhujaiyo is a sleepy town where the only sound you can hear at night are the howls of stray dogs and the only light comes from the night sky. Separated from Jinan, the largest nearby city, by several bus transfers over several hours, Zhujayio is not a tourist hot spot and remains largely as it did hundreds of years ago. After arriving Saturday afternoon and deciding between two of the home stays available for visitors, my Argentinian travel buddy and I wandered through the narrow pathways and bridges of the village. A group of day trippers from Jinan invited us to join them for dinner. We were midway through our meal when the power went off. Candles and portable heaters were brought in, but the lights soon returned. The Argentinian chatted with them in Chinese as I happily munched on some fried scorpions.

The next day we ventured to the top of a nearby hill. The temple at the top provided a complete view of Zhujaiyo's several hundred homes tightly clustered together. While the interior of the town is still inhabited by an aging population of locals, the deserted fringes feature ramshackle buildings with caved in roofs and decaying walls. Eminently walkable, we covered the rest of the nooks and crannies of the town before lunch time. The chicken we ordered was brought to us three times - (1) alive, (2) skinned, and (3) ready to eat.


"How do do?" - inquiry by Chinese day tripper upon seeing foreigners in his midst

April 14, 2010

Military Museum

"I am arrived. Waiting you the gate." read the text message from an ex-colleague of mine. I hurried towards the entrance of the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution after exiting its namesake subway station on Line 1 of the Beijing underground. She had already picked up a pair of tickets, so we walked into the main hall filled with rockets, guns, swords, Chinese drivers, and other weapons of death and destruction.

To the left and right of the Hall of Weapons were two hangars. One side featured aircraft, both Chinese and foreign. The other side showcased tanks, armored personnel carriers, and anti-aircraft weaponry. A large statue of Mao was in the lobby. Adjacent wings had exhibits on the Agrarian Revolutionary War, the War to Resist Japanese Aggression, the War for the Liberation of China, and the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea. A couple of hours were needed to browse the large collection of military memorabilia in its entirety.


“Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.”
~ Sun Tzu ~

April 12, 2010

Tiger Leaping Gorge

During the ten day long October national holidays, I left the urban jungle of Beijing behind and ventured into the wilderness. I found myself trekking through Tiger Leaping Gorge, the most breathtaking canyon on the Yangtze River. Too treacherous to be navigated by boat, the rapids are best enjoyed from solid ground. With 2000 meter cliffs on each side, Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest canyons on the planet. The river beneath narrows to 25 meters at one point, and legend has it that a tiger jumped across the gorge to escape a hunter at this very location.

The nearest city to the gorge is Lijiang and the nearest town is Qiaotou. At the Lijiang bus station, I found the schedule unfavourable and decided to hire a vehicle to Qiaotou instead. It was costly, so I waited until another traveler joined me so we could split the fare. A fellow named Fangyuan was up to the challenge. His friends had decided to relax back in Lijiang, while he was keen to see the sheer cliffs of Tiger Leaping Gorge. We took the low road, passing goats, driving through waterfalls, and experiencing occasional engine failure as our vehicle had a hard time navigating through the rock slide prone area.

Without any assistance from the government, the locals have created a path down to the river. They charge a maintenance fee and have set up stalls every few hundred meters down the arduous trail selling refreshments. As we made our descent, it started raining heavily. The stall keepers wisely packed up and hurried back to the top. I got separated from Fangyuan, and we took alternate routes. I arrived back at the summit and waited for him to return, observing a suit clad villager chase down a chicken with a knife in the meantime. As I shivered in my wet clothes, I heard someone call out for me. Fangyuan had returned with the driver! At Qiaotou we went our different ways. He went back to Lijiang to rejoin his buddies, while I caught the last bus to Shangri La.


Tiger, tiger, burning bright   
In the forests of the night,   
What immortal hand or eye   
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

~ William Blake ~

April 08, 2010

Peking Opera

For several hundred years, the opera has captivated audiences in Beijing. A friend of mine was performing in one staged by an amateur troupe in the student area of Wudaokou. All the performers work or study during the week, but find time each weekend to practice one of the city's oldest art forms. When she invited me to attend I readily accepted. It was my first opera of any kind so I did not know what to expect.

Front row seats were reserved for me. I was commended for staying awake for the duration of the four hour extravaganza that featured singing, dancing, extensive makeup, and elaborate costumes. My friend's mother was also in attendance, along with many senior citizens. After the performance was over I delighted the performers by taking photos with them. The mother commented that I only posed for pictures with pretty young girls. The daughter gave me a frown.


"I don't mind what language an opera is sung in so long as it is a language I don't understand." ~ Edward Appleton

April 06, 2010

ARNABanged: Hitting the Road

They say that Chinese people do not know how to drive. It's not true. At least one does. He drove right into me.

I was standing in the middle of a crosswalk in front of Beijing's Workers Stadium, waiting for oncoming traffic in one direction to stop flowing so I could get to the other side. The locals have as much respect for pedestrian crossings as they do for intellectual property rights, so the crosswalk marking on the road does not mean anything. I looked back to see a red car coming directly at me from behind. A split second later I was in flight, my body performing a grotesque pirouette before making contact with the pavement.

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I scraped myself off the surface of the road, glaring at my attacker as I got up. He had gotten out of his car and was sheepishly looking at me. His mother popped out of the passenger side holding a fluffy pet dog. Suddenly, the driver ran past me into the middle of the street. My phone had taken a slightly different trajectory than I, and was moments away from being crushed. He grabbed my cellphone, narrowly escaping another violent collision with an oncoming vehicle himself. He handed me my phone and I got in his car and drove off, dialing my friends for assistance.


“If you wish to avoid foreign collision, you had better abandon the ocean.”
~ Henry Clay ~