Saturday, February 25, 2006

Chengdu, Sichuan, China

It took me 2 weeks but I have finally managed to leave Yunnan. I had to do a 40 hours Fun Run to do it due to snowstorms denying me access to the Trans-Himalayan Highway. This involved the Great Chinese Sleeper Bus with its great dampness and cold then a tremendously interesting hour or so trying to cross a vast industrial town to get to the train station in the dark wee hours with only the vague meanderings of some drunk guy in Lijiang who might have said that he thought bus 64 would take me there as guidelines. I eventually found the correct bus and got on a Great Chinese Hard Seat Train. Imagine taking the Tube at rush hour, imagine everyone is smoking, imagine that you have got to swallow some generously offered, but seriously disgusting, unidentified snacks and then imagine doing this for 15 hours. Sounds fun doesn't it?

The positive side of this “getting there is half the pain” stint is that I was treated to great scenery most of the time. Gorges, vast rivers, great mountains and loads of terraced agriculture were all on display except when passing the numerous industrial cities that litter China and produce the stuff we all buy. At night these become nightmarish scenes of fire belching smokestacks and neon lit heavy machinery. It was like getting a slide show of some dystopia out of a early thirties sci-fi novel.

So what have I been doing since my last post? In short I have one of the most popular backpacker trails in China. The Dali to Zhongian trip. Also known as the Shangri-la run.

The first stop was the town of Dali. This is an old and quaintly restored walled city that is a major attraction for domestic tourists. It had a weird Disney Does China feel about it and I strangely preferred the new town 20 kilometers away as the daily activity of an average Chinese burg still holds some fascination for me. Of note in Dali are the old women who try to sell ganja to you. Not just weird because of their age and quaint Dai costumes but also puzzling as all you have to do to get some of the local stuff is walk a few klicks out of the city and pick your own from the big bushes that dot the side of the road.

Next stop north was the UNESCO heritage site of Lijiang. Lijiang is what Chinese towns look like in Chinese cinema epics. Low houses with wooden facades slapped chaotically along a network of narrow canals and bridges. Also a domestic tourism hotspot but that was fun in itself as the main drag was alive with groups of waitresses in local costumes trying to outsing each other to attract the vast groups of drunk Chinese to their restaurants. To add to this fun you sometimes spot wax paper flowers with a candle in them floating down the stream as the more sober groups of women would buy and release them for good luck. Getting back to the guesthouse through the non-developed part of the Old Town after a drinking spree reminded me of waddling through the Petite France area of Strasbourg whilst drunk. I had to be slightly more alert as the cobbles were more slippery and there is a great lack of barriers to stop you falling into an icy cold stream.

I procrastinated more than I should in this pleasant place before moving on, northwards again, for some hiking at Tiger Leaping Gorge. It’s hard to put in words how great that was. I scrambled breathless (from the altitude, the hike and my fondness for ciggies) along a trail up on the mountains alongside the gorge pausing occasionally to look at the Wile E Coyote drops top my left. Frequently our little party of me, a Swiss couple and a Colombian guy (all much more used to hiking and altitude than me) faced the rush hour of long haired goats and packed mules that frequent the 2 foot wide trail. My legs were cramped and my feet were blistered but it was a fantastic 2 day hike in one of the most scenic spots in China

So how are the authorities living up to their role of curators of this marvel? By destroying it of course. Up on the ledge we heard what could have been thunder except that the sky was clear and the rumbles came across as slightly too sharp. This was the merry sound of dynamite blasting. Parts of this protected area are already used for marble quarrying but a lot of stuff is getting blown up in preparation for a new dam. The commie fondness for hydroelectrical projects and the some shady connections between the promoter and party bigwigs have ensured that Tiger Leaping Gorge might one day become Tiger Swimming Lake. This is one spot were I will be sad not smug to say that I was there before it got fucked up. 2008 will be the year of the Beijing Olympics and the year where the obliteration of the gorge begins. Twats.

After some DIY chiropody I continued north to the town of Zhongdian, highly inappropriately nicknamed Shangri La, a charmless town that sits on a beautiful plateau at over 3000 metres . Being dainty of foot I was reluctant for more hiking and discovered to my sorrow that that is the only reason to stay in Zhongdian. The only thing of note is that there are a lot of folk originating from Tibet around the place and amusing herds of cattle meandering along the town centre. Beyond that I found out that the nice (ie: scenic, dangerous and arduous) road to Chengdu was blocked and that beer at 10, 000 feet makes you drunk very quickly. On a grimmer note I was bemused at the amount of Tibetan schlock omni-present in backpacker haunts. Whether it be tea, steak, soup or clothing, all were stamped with the backpacker friendly tag of Tibetan. If the government is so bloody keen on promoting the appeal of Tibetan culture in bordering towns why are the morons putting so much effort in destroying it at its birthplace? Again; twats.

As I was getting all boisterous and political I decided to do a Fun Run to Chengdu. Chengdu is one of those big modern Chinese cities that can be dull if you don't have any interest in metamorphasizing societies. The only real attraction of the town is a Panda breeding centre. I made enquiries as I wanted to verify the urban legend that boffins had made special videos to get the male Pandas excited but I was told that Panda Porn was a myth and/or that they would certainly not let me see some. I am therefore reduced to strolling around the town for my cultural enlightenment.

One thing I noticed that was perhaps excessively symbolic of modern China was a great statue of Mao saluting a shopping complex that included McDonalds and a Cartier outlet. What also puzzled me was that the chubby boy was saluting in a open right hand, palm downwards fashion more reminiscent of German dictators than the standards leftie clenched left fist. As I said, maybe too symbolic.

So, no more Yunnan fun for me and, judging by the time left on my visa, very little Sichuan fun either. Time to head to Hong Kong as it apparently counts as an exit form China. Off to enjoy some more insanely spicy food before moving on to Chongqing.

Take care,



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear old felllow

this is a heck of a "post"

charming, well written, clever (too?)

But as usual, you're misssing the point of life...

three issues

drinking and eating (very) well

fucking active blonde women

world cup shortlist before world cup friendlies before world cup first round games before 1/8 finals games bafore quater finals games before semi finals games before final game bafore death



with all I maight give


Saturday, May 13, 2006 1:09:00 AM  

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