We are picked up at 7.30 sharp by Sue Lin in his shiny black car and leave Beijing via a four-lane road, lined with old trees. The road looks innocent and pleasant enough, but apparently people get killed here everyday. Although Sue Lin is a good driver, we ourselves experience a couple of near misses, due to the crazy manoeuvres of other vehicles.
It’s supposed to be only 60 kilometres to the village, but it takes us more than two hours. We have to stop and ask for directions a couple of times and once we even have to backtrack a bit. We don’t mind at all, because the scenery is absolutely gorgeous; we are surrounded by those dark, rolling mountains that I remember from my first visit to the Wall, so many years ago.
In fact, our route takes us quite close to Mutianyu. From time to time we can actually see crumbly bits of the Wall, running along the tops of the hills. At the foot of the mountains there are fields of corn, wheat and beans, and small villages. There is a busy traffic of donkeys and carts because this is September and the harvest is in full swing. We are in the middle of the real, rural China, we have seen so little of on this trip, and so close to Beijing as well!
Our journey ends at the refreshment stall of an incredible old lady who whips out a copy of ‘Lonely Planet’ and explains all the pros and cons of the two possible routes. She proudly shows us her collection of photos, taken by and with foreign visitors.
Apart from selling drinks, snacks and film, she also keeps the most amazing toilet: it’s a concrete box, open to the air and entirely without doors, so that you have to climb over the wall to get in, or out. Most importantly, it’s clean, airy and quite pleasant.
Earlier this year, Madrid’s barrio of Usera; a gritty, slightly run-down area, and home to a totally authentic Chinatown, was turned into a riot of color and boomed with the sound of South American music as Spain’s Bolivian community danced up Calle Dolores Barranco, one of the main arteries in Usera, and the beating heart of Madrid’s Chinese Community.
Only a few weeks before the Bolivian parade, thousands of Madrileños (people who live in Madrid) had lined the same street to watch Madrid’s Chinese community celebrate Chinese New Year and welcomed in the year of the Pig. It appears that the two communities are going to battle it out every year to see who can put on the best show in Calle Dolores Barranco (both parades were pretty good).
I must admit, though I am a great Sinophile, I think the Bolivians edged it this year with a display of extravagance and vibrant music that lasted three hours compared to the much shorter Chinese New Year Parade. I am sure the Chinese comunity are going to up the ante at next year’s New Year parade.
For people who don’t know Madrid; Usera is a District south of the Manzanares River that cuts through the city. It’s quite close to the historic center and near the hotly promoted Madrid Rio green area. This area was created by putting the enourmous ring road, the M30, underground and building a park above it. In the last decade Usera has become home to thousands of people from China.
They have created a Chinatown were any Chinese citizen could probably live without ever having to venture any further out into Madrid. All services and whims that a Chinese person would want are catered for so that they need not feel they have left China.
There are numerous streets where nearly all business signs are in Mandarin characters. From restaurants, supermarkets and hair salons to real estate businesses, lawyer’s offices, and churches, the presence of the Chinese community is everywhere. Unlike other Chinatowns in Europe, such as London’s Chinatown which is more orientated to tourism, the Chinese community in Usera, live, work and have their businesses in this area.
Usera is also home to a large Latin American population, especially from Columbia, Ecuador and Bolivia. This year, the Bolivians put on a fantastic show with their colorful carnival parade. The festival was called FIACBOL, Carnaval Boliviano en Madrid 2019. In 2018 the FIACBOL parade took place in the Paseo de la Castellana, one of Madrid’s main streets.
More recently young Madridleños have begun moving into the area as rising rents and house prices have pushed younger people further from the city center
And yes, the word gentrification is being banded around and there are rumors that Calle Dolores Barranco could be pedestrianized in order to make way for a touristy Chinatown. The neighbours are not impressed. Calle dolores Barranco is a busy commercial street where people live and make a living from small businesses. The last thing that the street needs is to be turned into a gaudy tourist trap. Let it be and keep it authentic.
If you missed this year’s parade but fancy seeing traditional Bolivian and other South American dancing just go along to Parque Pradolongo, the fourth biggest park in Madrid, every Saturday and Sunday afternoon and you’ll be treated to quite a show.
This park is where Madrid’s Latin population practices their traditional dances. A visit to Pradolongo makes for a great off- the – beaten track excursion when visiting Madrid.
You can finish the excursion off with a fantastic meal in one of the many fabulous Chinese restaurants in Usera, where every culinary corner of China is represented.
This photo was taken in 2004 on the road from Litang 理塘 in Sichuan Province to Batang on the border with Tibet.
The photo is a harbringer of the changes that were about to come to this area of Sichuan. In the photo there are traditonal Tibetan nomads herding their Yaks. Behind them a brand new car that was about to drive them off the road.
We have wanted to visit Fanjingshan, the sacred mountain in Guizhou province on the border with Hunan province, for many years. Unfortunately, we never had the time when we were in Guizhou. Last summer one of my students, Maria Vioque and her partner, visited and climbed Fanjingshan and here is their review and photos.
Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve梵净山
Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. According to the Chinese Tourism rating system for places of interest in China, this sacred mountain for Chinese Buddhism has an AAAAA rating (the highest score).
Just climbing up the infinite steps and walking through the lush green forest was an experience in itself, but better to get some tips in advance if you want to enjoy this unforgettable spiritual experience properly.
Starting the Ascent
On arrival, it is necessary to buy two tickets to get into the Fanjingshan Nature Reserve; one to enter the park and another one for the shuttle bus (approx 100 CNY both) to the entrance.
It’s easy to feel dizzy and a little carsick on the shuttle bus as it wizzes up the narrow zigzagging road with hairpin bends, but the amazing landscape and the delightful river flowing by the side of the road make the discomfort all worthwhile. Continue reading “Fanjingshan Guizhou Province:梵净山”
If you would like to see one of China’s greatest Buddhist sites without the hordes, then turn up at the Longmen caves – 13 kilometers south of Luoyang – in the late afternoon and you’ll have them almost to yourself.
Arriving at around 16.30 is a a good option. This will give you about 2 hours to explore the site before you are chased out by guards anxious to go home.
Take bus number 81 from the train station, or a taxi if you are in a hurry.
Accommodation: We can’t really recommend anywhere to stay in Luoyang. We spent one night at a 7 Day Inn opposite the train station. The place was cheap, but also a bit of agrimy dump. In 2002, when we first visited Luoyang, there seemed to be far better accommodation options. You are probably better off staying in the city centre.
Eating:There are a few decent places to eat around the train station, or you could try the heavily restored old town for traditional snacks.
Arriving: We arrived in Luoyang from Jincheng 晋城市(Shanxi Province). There is some dramatic scenery on the way as you drop down from the Shanxi plateau to the Yellow river plain.
Leaving: We took the high speed train to Xian 西安. Next day tickets were easy to get hold of even in August. However, the high speed train station is quite a long distance from the city center and the old railway station. You’ll need to take a bus or a taxi and allow yourself plenty of time.
This photo shows a local Cantonese fishing in the part of the Pearl River 珠江 that separates Guangzhou City广州 from Shamian Island 沙面岛。The back-drop is Shamian Island’s imposing colonial architecture. It could almost be Paris.