Entry 2: Shanghai, World Expo
We later toured the Olympic park, built for the 2008 summer games, making the Vancouver 2010 winter Olympics (where we spent the month before coming to China) seem relatively small. My idea of big had to be revised again after visiting the World Expo in Shanghai (where I am now).
(that's the large bird's nest in the background)
Tracy, a native Beijinger and new friend, drove us north of Beijing a few hours where I was surprised to see a sign for a ski resort. We drove up into the mountains and hiked from the road 15 minutes to a section of ruins of what was once the Great Wall. Most of the stones now form the terraces where peasants grow their crops in the field below.
With the weather ski cold and snowy in Mongolia, and the Chinese so surprisingly warm and hospitable (at least the Northern Mandarin speaking ones) we decided to travel three more weeks in East China. Xian, a 12 hour journey west of Beijing was our first destination. Xian is the home of the Terracotta Warriors – only recently discovered in 1981 – a tomb (Mongol style) with clay replicas each detailing individual horses and humans. Thousands of them and no two replicas are alike. Within less than a year after the emperor’s death, the pissed off people enslaved to build the terracotta army, raided the tombs, treasures and smashed most of the statues, leaving the statues buried and undiscovered until the early eighties.
The following two days we hiked up to an area (Huang Shan), a Mountain with 5 sacred peaks and said to be the place where Lao Tze - easily the world’s greatest (philosopher) hung out. Incredibly steep stairs, hundreds of thousands of them, carved right out of the rock, were leading to impossible temples and caves perched on even more impossible cliff faces. (Reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, these steep rock paths are exactly like those described when Gollum leads Frodo and Sam to the spider’s lair.)
Since Lao Tze’s (ideas) are all direct references to his profound observations of nature, there is no culture barrier to understanding him. For those acquainted with nature (or themselves) will love Lao Tze. Lao Tze is the pressure release valve for individuals that are interested in knowing more about life than just standard dogma, such as Confucius propaganda. We Westerners have no equivalent release valve institution built into our system and this absence plays a big role in our insanity. After climbing each peak, light ran out and we began the descent down the mountain looking for a nice lama temple to sleep besides.
With very little sleeping options (all temples turned into store kiosks), the spot we chose to sleep that night was a small section roped off from the main path, but nonetheless used by people to relieve themselves. Sony had to wear a mask to help overcome the overwhelming stench of dried piss. All night the relentless push of hikers went passed us, those that noticed us, shined flashlights in our eyes. I give the Chinese tourists lots of credit though. Most are out of shape city folk that start the climb at 11 pm, reach the summit an hour before sunrise, nap for an hour, and then come back down. By doing this, they avoid the cost of paying the exorbitant price for a hotel room on the mountain.
Our next sight was the Longmen Caves, a super impressive cliff next to a river with thousands of Buddhas. Many of the heads decapitated as they are now a part of private/public collections throughout the Western world. The limestone rock was hewn by hand into large caverns and the Buddha carved in the surrounding walls. It must have been a great place to come contemplate life, but is now, just an “official historical cultural sight”(as decreed by the Chinese government) visited by hoards of Chinese on package tours with megaphone wielding tour guides.
We stayed in several towns, some totally off the tourist route. I am surprised places in China still exist where people never see foreigners.
These are the places where one does not need to worry about “tourist prices.” Of the many great massages we had, the cheapest a mere $1.25 for an hour long foot massage and meals for 50 cents. Mostly we eat steam buns with vegetables stuffed inside for 4 cents each.
I assumed all Chinese ate rice for every meal, but in one month, we only ate rice twice. Food in China is almost nothing of what you might find at a hole in wall in America – the food is tastier and more sanitary to boot. The Xian muslim night market, was my first introduction to the Uyghur- the mixed white/Chinese ethnic minority of the northwest China. Previously, the Uyghur had similar nomadic lifestyle to the present day Mongols. Locals took us around and the variety of street food was astonishing. We visited a very old but still active Mosque, and were there just in time to watch the men rush into the the main hall for prayer - women are prohibited from the inner chambers.