May 31, 2010

Karst Country

It was a gloomy day, but spirits were high as we set sail on the Li River. On the bus to the ferry terminal, I had met two Spaniards and an American who were also on their way from Guilin to the sleepy riverside town of Yangshuo. Dozens of Chinese tourists joined us for the cruise before returning to the big city the same day, while we remained behind in tiny Yangshuo. Midway through the cruise I spotted two men on a bamboo raft approaching our ferry. I thought they were pirates and prepared myself accordingly. They had actually come to sell souvenirs to the ship's passengers.

A large tributary of the Yangtze, the Li River is famous for its karst formations. The jagged peaks line the river, each bend revealing scenery more spectacular than the previous. Karsts are formed over thousands of years, as rainwater combines with carbon dioxide to dissolve bedrock into intricate patterns. The Li River is spectacular enough to warrant a place among China's currency hall of fame, appearing on the back of the 20 RMB note.


“If my ship sails from sight, it doesn't mean my journey ends, it simply means the river bends.” ~ John Enoch Powell

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 -