May 25, 2010

Last Bus to Shangri-La

Darkness had encroached by the time I arrived in Shangri-La on the last bus of the day. I was completely soaked from my rain filled adventure in Tiger Leaping Gorge. My backpack was ripped beyond repair. Shivering with cold, I walked in to town holding my damaged rucksack and wet articles of clothing in my arms. Although the temperature was several degrees above zero, I could feel the Himalayan chill permeating my rain ravaged body. My first order of business was bargaining with the local shopkeepers for a coat to replace my wet one. I negotiated from a position of weakness, but still walked away with a satisfactorily priced jacket with the words 'Jack Wolfskin' emblazoned upon it. The old town consists of only a few streets, so I found my hostel with relative ease and dropped off my few remaining belongings there. I filled my stomach with some yak meat at a Tibetan diner and called it a night.

The next morning I rose early, purchased a backpack, and wandered the streets. It dawned on me that Shangri-La resembled a movie set more than an actual town, with saloons, shops selling trinkets, and Tibetan temples alternating in an almost predictable fashion. In fact, the town I was in had been known as Zhongdian until 2001. It was renamed after the mythical Shangri La from James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon to attract more tourists. The modern day Shangri La still has a certain charm to it, and I enjoyed my few days there before heading off to Dali.


"I think I'm going to like it here." ~ Robert Conway, Lost Horizon

May 24, 2010

Naval Gazing

China has a rich seafaring history, reaching its pinnacle 600 years ago during the Ming Dynasty. Under the leadership of the legendary admiral Zheng He, a fleet of 300 vessels and 30,000 men ruled the seven seas. Soon after the emperor curbed maritime activites for reasons unbeknownst. China did not become a naval power again until recent times. Tracing the history of the Chinese People's Navy from 1949 to present day, the Qingdao Naval Musuem has a comprehensive collection of warships, airplanes, and tanks. It also boasts the only Chinese military submarine that regular citizens can go inside of.


"Yellow River over blue water." ~ Roderick MacFarquhar

May 10, 2010

Sporting Beijing

Beijing has established itself as a major sporting city after hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics. It is an important strategic stop in the circuits of the world's premier professional sporting organizations as they seek to enhance their popularity in the largely untapped Chinese market. I went to a variety of tournaments and exhibitions in the calendar year, witnessing:

  • Michael Schumacher edge out Jenson Button and David Coulthard in the Race of Champions which pits racers from different motoring backgrounds against each other in the Bird's Nest;
  • Lazio beat fan favourites Inter Milan in the Italian Super Cup final in the same cavernous venue;
  • Novak Dokovic, Andy Roddick, and Svetlana Kuznetsova smash forehands in the National Tennis Center in the frequently rain delayed finals of the China Open;
  • West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspurs, and Hull City of the English Premier League battle the local Beijing Gouan team for the right to hoist the Barclays Asia Trophy at Workers Stadium

"I always turn to the sports section first.  The sports page records people's accomplishments; the front page has nothing but man's failures." ~ Earl Warren

May 04, 2010

The Dragon's Backbone

Several rain filled days in Guilin and Yangshou gave way to sunshine as I stood at the top of a hill in Longsheng. The view in front of me had remained largely the same for the past 800 years, when the first rice terraces were constructed in the area. It was apparent why the region was known as the Dragon's Backbone. Rays of light shimmered against the terraced fields, twisting from atop the hill and down over 500 meters to the river below.

The climb up through several villages had been grueling under the afternoon heat. I drank some plum juice to quench my thirst. After having bamboo chicken for lunch in a minority village, I had followed a well marked path to the top of the rice terraces. The prettiest of the village belles were dressed up in traditional livery and dotted the path with great frequency, selling refreshments and charging visitors for taking photos with them. I became disoriented on the way down and took a roundabout route to the bottom where a bus awaited to take me back to Yangshuo.


"Better to strive and climb, And never reach your goal, Than to drift along with time - An aimless, worthless soul, Aye better to climb and fall Or sow, though the yield be small, Than to throw away day after day And never strive at all."
- Grace B. Hinkey -

May 03, 2010

Uttara Kannada

Uttara Kannada is a region within the Indian state of Karnataka. Bordering Goa, quieter versions of its famed beaches dot the coastline of Uttara Kannada. Some of my relatives were living in the seaside town of Karwar, the administrative headquearters of the district. I went to visit as I was working nearby in Bangalore. On the coast of the Arabian Sea, Karwar's natural harbour made it an historically important port. Arab, Dutch, Portuguese, French, and British seafarers all anchored here in the past.

Apart from Karwar, other popular attractions we visited in the area were Gokarna and Jog Falls. An important temple town for Hindus, Gokarna is also a popular hangout for dreadlocked hippies. Some temples did not allow foreigners to enter, incurring my wrath and upsetting my stomach. The road to Jog Falls was long and winding, further burdening my intestines. The multiple streams of Jog Falls plunge directly downwards for over 250 meters, making it the highest untiered waterfall in India. I had recovered from my stomach ache but Jog Falls was not yet at full strength, awaiting the heavy rains of the monsoon season to increase its flow of water.


Famed Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore visited Karwar when he was 22 years old, the same age I was when I set foot on its sandy shores:
"The sea beach of Karwar is certainly a fit place in which to realize that the beauty of nature is not a mirage of the imagination, but reflects the joy of the infinite and thus draws us to lose ourselves in it. Where the universe is expressing itself in the magic of its laws it may not be strange if we miss its infinitude; but where the heart gets into immediate touch with immensity in the beauty of the meanest of things, is any room left for argument?"