Huanghua Cheng 黄花城 Walking the Wild Wall: 2001


From our Diary 

Monday 24 September, 2001.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

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.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

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.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

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.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

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.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

The views from here are stunning: there is a very steep piece of Wall right in front of us, and a reservoir on the other side. Something that looks like a Continue reading “Huanghua Cheng 黄花城 Walking the Wild Wall: 2001”

Photo of the Week: The Nujiang Valley 怒江峡谷

This photo taken in 2010 of the breath-taking scenery along the Nujiang Valley 怒江峡谷,near Bingzhongluo  丙中洛 in south west Yunnan.

For more on our trip to The Nujiang Valley click the numbers: 1 2 3 4

Bolivia Invades China (town)

Bolivia Invades China


China Town Usera Madrid IMG_20190210_115953_1Download

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.


Bolivians In Usera

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).


Bolivians dancing up Calle Dolores Barranco, Usera Madrid

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.


Bolivian Dancer in Usera, Madrid,

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.

Gongs and Drums. Calle Dolores Barranco Usera, Madrid

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.

Chinese New Year Usera, Madrid

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.

Taiqi students Chinese New Year Usera, Madrid

The two main streets are Manuela Usera and Dolores Barranco. These two streets are intersected by many much smaller streets that undulate between them. Basically, from Calle Olvido, closer to the river, until almost Calle Mariano Vela near the park, Olof Palma.

Guizhou Fish, Sabor Sichuan, Usera, Madrid

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.

Bolivians dancing up Calle Dolores Barranco, Usera Madrid

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

Chinese Lanterns floating on the lake in Pradolongo Park Usera, Madrid

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.

Sichuan Spicy Sweet Patato Noodles: Sabor Sichuan, Usera, Madrid

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.

Bolivians dancing up Calle Dolores Barranco, Usera Madrid

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.

Bolivians dancing up Calle Dolores Barranco, Usera 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.

Spicy prawns in the Restuarant Jin Lai Usera
Bolivian dancers in Calle Dolores Barranco Usera Madrid

Photo of the Week: Yuanyang Market 元阳市场

This Photo was taken in Yuanyang Market 元阳市场 Yunnan Province 云南省 in 2006.

It shows a women from the Hani minority 哈尼族 knitting while waiting to sell peanuts

Hani Minority 哈尼族 Peanut seller Yuanyang market 元阳市场 2006

Photo of the Week: Old and New in Litang 理塘

This photo was taken in 2004 on the road from Litang 理塘 in Sichuan Province to Batang on the border with Tibet.

The old and the new: Litang理塘 2004

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.

Tibetan Nomads Litang 2004
Tibetan Nomads Litang 2004

Fanjingshan Guizhou Province:梵净山


Guizhou Province贵州省


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

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:

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.

Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve梵净山

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”

Longmen Caves 龙门石窟: Luoyang 洛阳市

Longmen Caves龙门石窟

Without the hordes


Longmen Caves 龙门石窟:

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.

Longmen Caves 龙门石窟:

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.

Longmen Caves 龙门石窟:

Take bus number 81 from the train station, or a taxi if you are in a hurry.

Longmen Caves 龙门石窟:

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 a grimy 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.

Longmen Caves 龙门石窟:

 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.

Longmen Caves 龙门石窟:

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.

Longmen Caves 龙门石窟:

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.

Photo of the Week:Fishing on Shamian island:钓鱼在 沙面岛

Fishing on Shamian island: 钓鱼在 沙面岛

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.

Fisherman on Shamian Island Canton

For more information on Shamian Island click here: Shamian Island

Faces of Chong’an Market 重安市场的本地人

Faces of Chong’an Market


Guizhou Province 贵州省

This post is a continuation of a post from a few months ago. While the previous post focused on the market at Chong’an and the ambience, these photos focus on the the people. I hope you enjoy them. There are some classic characters from rural China. The two main ethnic groups are Miao and Gejia.

Chong’an Market local men watching the world go by.

Lighting up and having a smoke

Miao lady Shopping in the muddy streets


Business seems slow for the fish trap seller

Gejia Lady inspecting the produce

Happy shopper

A little bit of Cupping while shopping

Continue reading “Faces of Chong’an Market 重安市场的本地人”