China: Land Of Contrasts
Huge China is a country of contrasts. It consists of several climatic zones, there you can find a noisy city full of glass skyscrapers and smog, but also the traditional mountain village with mud houses and rice plantations.
With the help of fabled Silk Road to Europe has always been filtered through only a few from the Chinese Confucian wisdom and still stay in China when you feel like a different planet. Peoples Republic of China, the world's most populous nation, exists in its present form since 1949, when the government took over the Communist Party of China. Two years later, China annexed Tibet.
Today, China is adjacent to 14 countries and its area of 9,600,000 km² is the third largest country in the world. So here you can experience almost all types of weather. Extreme icy Himalayan mountain landscape, which is coming from the world's tallest mountain Mount Everest, the Tibetan plateau turns, a bit farther north year by year spreading deserts and in southern China for a change, you can bathe in the sea and enjoy beautiful white beaches. Thanks to the massive economic development the Chinese landscape begins to solve serious environmental problems.
Many Chinese specifics stems from the fact, that in China there are more than 50 Chinese ethnic groups and there live 1, 3 billion people. Indeed, today land of China was inhabited two million years ago, the first unified state and with it the authority of the emperor was then in 221 BC, China has rapidly become a major power and around the 12th century was one of the most advanced civilizations ever. China gave to the world gunpowder, paper, porcelain, compass or silk that ancient Chinese can handle the have 4500 years already.
The old Chinese empire has long been the world for itself and the time ran quite differently. Today is no different - not only that China uses its own calendar with animal motifs, plus there is also valid time for whole country, so in all time zones in China is midnight at the same time. This results as the fact that somewhere the sun comes up at noon. But if you follow the traditional Chinese religions - Confucianism, then you can´t be surprised by a similar thing.
Author: Viola Kratochvílová, partner of travel agency Eso Travel. Enjoy holiday in China.
Photo: ESO travel
When we purchased the tickets that we guarantee that we will be able to leave the Zhangjiajie National Park, we did not protest when we found a complete state of affairs: a printed inscription in characters wu-cuo quite clearly said that most likely during the way we sit.
We decided to give the park another chance and start from the other end - from the south. We also fulfilled our commitment to avoid the stairs, so we walked along the river.
Our first impressions of the Zhangjiajie National Park were not positive from the first moments we were there. Positive impressions, however, were not following. At the entrance we met a woman who insisted on offering us an amazing hotel accommodation in the park at a price that we even had to haggle areas not favored by tourists.
After a nine hour train ride we got to the station in Guiyang, capital of Guizhou Province. What was our surprise when we tried to beat a hot gust of fresh air as Chungking! You can not say, although it would not be hot, but there was a gentle breeze, and overall was a lot more comfortable.
We just reinforced our opinion that it is difficult to find how you can get where you need to go. The IN thing right now is the mien-c' face concept. We have something similar in the Czech Republic as well. Long story short – you don’t want to loose your face in front of others.
K625 train from Chengdu to Chongqing was relatively ... interesting means of transport. But since it was turned on only every other light, and because we were tired to death, we just passed the seat (unusually empty, endured a few most determined). Nerozhlíželi we left nor right, because ignorance is sometimes the key to success, and we slept fitfully.
We both knew Chengdu quite well, so after a thorough sleep we went to a bamboo park at the university where I studied. Refreshed by a sweet watermelon we set ourselves another goal: the mosque to the west of Tiananmen Square.
The path to Sung-Pan lasted about three hours. As soon as we got off the bus, we realized that we were in a an area superpacked with tourists. While the night was still far, we were worrying about overpriced accommodaiton.
Lao-pan of our hotel (if you dare to call it hotel) promised that the bus heading to our following destination, Zhuo-er-kai (a town known as Zoige), departs at 7 o’clock in the morning
It seemed that weather wanted to reward us for what we bore on the other day. So we woke up in beautiful morning. Also, we found out that somebody dig up the main street in the village. So we had to jump over many of the new holes on the road.
A bus trip went relatively fast, sky became clear and we had a view of vast land before us. More and more we submerged between high mountains covered with grass and nimble goats.
After our visit of Labrang monastery we were falling asleep, in rain, and in rain we were waking up. We were also quite glad that we had abandoned our initial goal to sleep on steppe under sky.
It is hot. We sit in a bus crammed by a window and we are trying to breath fresh air. The freeway changes to a dusty road with many bumps. Bumped we got off the bus for a short visit in Linxia town.
As we decided upon a plate of la-mien soup. So we did. Right in the morning we got on a city bus going to the Xiang River. As soon as we got off the bus, we saw our destination - Tung-Chou. Because it is a real island, the only access road goes along the river.
On the following day, around seven o’clock in the morning we got to Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi. It has very rich history.
Even local policeman knew of our arrival. So we could safely roam the city. A relatively small community of Hui live in the city. We like them not only for their culture but also for their kind attitude. So we went to the streets to see their mosques.
Despite the title looks promising there wont be a long description of my acting career. As we promised to the elderly, we came on the following day to another “rehearsal”.
After registration troubles in the office, I managed to go through the rest of the week pretty well. I did not have to worry about the housing. Gradually, I was getting to know my new roommate and our new pets – cockroaches.
At the airport, I get in the bus heading to my university. There are always traffic jam in Beijing. I have a lot of time to think. How it was back then. I had already settled, bought several necessities to get by… and then I just had been waiting for my roommates to show up.
I am waiting for tickets to get from the Beijing Airport. I have to just sit in a right bus. An hour later I am on place. I am really curious about my new place, campus and its surroundings. I have to remember my first campus in Chengdu two years earlier.
A queue to get a round stamp seems infinite. Next I have to just pick up my baggage, get on a bus that would take me from the airport and get at the campus. Everything according to the plan. Only with some extra time in queues or in Beijing traffic jams. Two years ago in Chengdu, if my memory is right, it was not that easy...
Previous day in Chu-fu, sadly, in comparison to places that we've visited was not that interesting. Maybe if around the tomb of the great Confucius did not stand crowds of Chinese eager to make photos and if for passing the cemetery of the Kchung family was not required admission 40 yuans, the overall impression would be a little bit better.
While browsing in the diary, I found this note: "Qufu, arrival around 00:00." I remember that moment too well. It was quite cold, pitch black, and right at the exit of the station greedy taxi drivers came to us. Matter of principle had to be rejected. Then, however, had no choice but to hope that they were wrong and that you can get accommodation in and around the station ...
Although, I was about to tell you how we lost accommodation in Heze, I should mention our train trip as well. We sat in a slightly crowded carriage and talked in Czech, which of course attracted the attention of our fellow travelers. In contrast, a bunch of us sat constantly laughing gentlemen who were watching us a lot, and finally dared to ask where it actually are.
Another day spent in Kaifeng was very spirituality. At first, we visited five mosques, because in Kaifeng there is a large community of Chinese Muslims. We were surprised also neglected half-ruined church, where making of wedding photography took place. We finished the entire circuit in a Buddhist temple.
We loved Kaifeng from the very beginning. Well, not actually, no. Because I was snorted over the fact that they even hadn’t swept up the room when the previous guests left.
Bozhou said good bye in style. We went to temple Mu-lan cch'. It is a temple dedicated to the memory of famous Chinese heroin, Mulan. Perhaps some of you have heard her name in the Ballad of Mulan. Until the present, Mulan is an example of traditional Chinese son/daughter devotion (siao in Chinese).
Our sleep that night, although intermittent, but still quite refreshing, so we did not hesitate and early morning set off to explore other monuments in Bozhou. Silently we hoped that the sooner we get up, the less heat will accompany us.
Way to Bozhou appeared to be pretty funny thing. Unlike trains, bus transporatation does not have schedules on the Internet. Perhaps because, as I was told, buses are private.
Another road was ahead of us, it was from Ping-liang in Gansu Province to Tianshui. The name of the latter means literally “sky – water “(天水). This was the very first thought we had when we jumped to a puddle right when we got off the bus.
It was already evening and when we left our accommodation and set out to the Labrang monastery. It is one of the six main monasteries of the Gelugpa sect, a Tibet Buddhist sect, known also as “the yellow caps sect.”
To leave the province of Qinghai and thus few days of life in the past, sometimes the century before, it was the more sensitive nature really hard. Local on many places the virgin nature, proud mountain ranges, deep green valleys, vast dry plains, miniature boxes, herds of yaks and colourful mix of nationalities, often pristine civilizations us captivated, amazed, left imprint on the hearts.
Classical Chinese carpets have described Marco Polo in his travelogues, but till today in the world are still not too much to seen and know little about them. I look forward to our visit carpet factories in the province of Qinghai, Xining on the outskirts of the city, to widen my horizons. The lives of local workers I try to plug deeply into the subconscious and try to see the beauty around.
Again our bus is going on the new highway, which I'd read that it was probably built for only one reason - to make available the Tibetan Buddhist monastery Ta'er. And really, this time not waiting for us any boneshaker dirt road and conveniently parked outside the gates of a large complex at the foot of greenish mountains.
Qinghai Province fascinates me at every step, or rather at every kilometre. A mixture of Buddhism and Muslim world humbly exist together is incredibly interesting phenomenon, especially for journalists from far, accelerated, often impersonal and intolerant Europe. This time we are heading into the valley that lies in Rebkong area, the centre of Tibetan art in the province.
The third day we devoured spell of western China and the knowledge that we have somewhere "behind" Tibet is our "ugly," said attractive. There, under the auspices of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, certainly can´t go, but Tibetan culture we meet at every step.
Our bus finally stops at the end of a long, dirt track, in which about an hour ago has changed as if by magic a modern six-lane highway. My worries we will finish up on the roof, fortunately not materialized, we drove past woods and gouged out before us, football pitch right and green has left. Everything was dominated by ground shabby, battered gray building - school.
Morning view from hotel window in Xining reveals a breathtaking backdrop. The city is surrounded by high mountains, over which the sun shines and I'm really looking forward for today's trip, which has sometimes copied the former trade artery between Asia and Europe - the Silk Road. The fact that I wet my feet in the Yellow River, it is still like science fiction.
Beijing is for us concentration of paradoxes. Endless skyscrapers, luxury living residences, shops of all tech brands on one side and then thousands of artifacts, ancient Chinese culture. We are interested in both of it, but the traditional one is but much more interesting.
World media today proclaims that the Chinese state television CCTV triumphantly finished its job and officially opened a new headquarters in Beijing. The futuristic-looking building that should symbolizes the emergence of China on the world stage, journalists dubbed it - thanks to the remarkable shape for her grace in the world called the Chinese "Great boxers."
Finally Beijing. Our journalistic team has battled a series of security checks and we find ourselves in an endless airport lounge. The feeling that the local crowd have to absorb us was not correct. Then we see a smiling Chinese lady and in minutes everyone sit in a luxury air-conditioned bus.
Ancient city of Xian, or Si-an is about 3000 years old. It is one of the most important places throughout Chinese history, since it is here that housed 11 Chinese imperial dynasties. At the time when Beijing was a mere village, golden Si - an shone by bright colours of temples, wide boulevards and architectural excesses.
The survey od most polluted towns of the Earth, where the life of hundred of thousands or, better to say, millions of inhabitants, could be threatened with critical levels of harmful matters of poisonous smog, undrinkable water or total pollution of life environment, which could not be imagined at all in our country.
The second day in Shanghai. I slept great, the apartment from Chinese Ministry in one of the most modern hotels in Pchu - tung district, hardly compares to the most luxury holiday model.
Till the start of the World's Expo remains less than 11 months. Here in Shanghai the word Expo is inflected to suffer. Sky blue mascot of Hainan - pao exhibition more than a year before the outbreak this exhibition´s madhouse smiles from windows, posters, winks from light boards, and I decided to bring one teddy home.
The Great Wall of China. The Long Wall. The Endless Wall. There are many names for the same wall, the wall that everybody knows wherever he/she lives. If you are Chinese, it is THE wall. You are proud of it because it is a national symbol. As Mao Zedong once said: “Who never got on the Great Wall of China is no man.” Or Chinese.
„Waky, waky! We are in Pingliang!“ It takes a while for one to realize that this is not just a dream but that a Chinese conductor tries to tell you that it is about time to leave your warm bed in the carriage for you arrived in your destination.
As it has been already said in the previous article, Yinchuan is the capital of Ningxia, an autonomous region of the Hui people. Long story short, the Hui people are Chinese Muslims and you may recognize them at first glance for men as well as women wear typical hats.
Beijing – Datong– Hohhot... and Yinchuan was supposed to follow. As we were amazed that we managed to get some tickets, we didn’t examine it.
Profane language and pornography shouldn’t be on the Internet. We would certainly agree with that if only this wasn’t just a cover for endless clutch of the Chinese Internet censorship. Under the cover of a protection of national cultural heritage, and public interest and prosperity the Chinese government tries to hide its rough cleansing.
If we set off to China it is almost imposible to miss out its capital - Beijing. Beijing is full of traces of history but Beijing also lives in the present and future in every of its wide avenues and narrow streets. Beijing is full of fabulous food, noisy traffic... And so on and on. Where would you look for peaceful moments in busy metropolis?
We all got used to all these superlatives surrounding China. I wouldn’t exaggerate if I said that she achieved some primacy every week.
We had many formal meetings during our journey in China with government officials or top managements of some companies that tried to make themselves more visible through us, European journalists. In a hurry after these precisely scheduled meetings I always gathered prepared business cards and carefully placed them to my notes.
We have all this Christmas martyrdom behind us, more or less. New Year’s eve after-effects are the past now and everyday life came back again. Far in the east of our planet the holiday season is getting to its peak.
Walks and rides in Shanghai are an infinite fount of learning unknown and different no matter where it is. I manage to sit down and observe rush around me for half an hour on one very busy avenue.
To move on the other side of Euroasia is nothing easy for those who don’t know how. Especially when they are going to have a personal contact with a Chinese family, business partners, or politicians and officials. For such a stay it is good to make some little preparations, otherwise you will experience more than one faux pas.
In China, people drink really everything you can think of. Everyday drink is inherent tea, whether green or black, fermented or semi-fermented. Water and hundreds of species of non-alcoholic beverages are part of food as well as beer or very popular traditional rice wine. On the tables of local "higher" classes but there are also wine from grapes, until recently marginalized drink.
The first ever Chinese word that I learned, and it still did not forget, is the "pi-jo". If you seem familiar, you are right - though vastly different languages, for favourite golden-coloured brew has phonetically very similar name as Czech and many other Slavic languages. Drinking beer is a hobby that is definitely common with the Chinese.
We are in Shanghai, in a metropolis shrouded by hundreds of "firsts" that is, in the largest Chinese city. One "the best" there certainly lacks – the historic one. Shanghai, unlike many other Chinese cities has relatively short history, after the Middle Ages, you won´t find any foot mark.
Our regular article-serial about interesting matters, curiosities and remarkable places of Czech Republic and Slovakia will accompany you also in 2011. Nevertheless, our interest will be, starting from today, surpass the borders of our Republic, trying to present you interesting information about places which could be, with its exceptionality, worth to be mentioned in the articles.
If you would like to have a stop in a locality, where the time is passing in another rate of speed, where everyday hunt for activity and stress do not have any chance, so, you arrived to the right spot. It is Yangshuo, small Chinese town, situated in nature karst along Li and Yulong rivers.