Coming next: The Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Welcome to the Bamboo Sea near Yibin in Sichuan Province. Our next article looks back on a magical day in this mysterious sea of bamboo
Coming next: The Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Enjoy these photos taken at Laomeng Market August 2oo6. If you have been recently, tells us how it has changed.
Laomeng Sunday Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan: Five minorities at One Market
Five minorities at One Market
Laomeng Sunday Market, five minorities at One Market, that is what we were promised. The hotel owner in Yuanyang had told us to get there early, as many of the hill tribe people have to walk all the way back and the market starts breaking up at around noon.
Laomeng Sunday Market: Arrival
So we got to Laomeng at about 8.30, where we were among the first to arrive. We walked once round the town and had a look at the few stalls already set up by a small number of colourfully dressed Miao ladies and some older Yi women.
Most of them seemed as curious about us, as we were about them. By the time we got back to our starting point, dozens of vans, carts and other vehicles had already arrived, unloading hundreds of passengers and all kinds of goods.
They brought with them a kaleidoscopic mix of colours, as ladies from the Hani, Yao, Yi, Miao and Black Thai ethnic groups spilled out from the back and descended upon the market for a few hours of frenzied buying and selling.
For the next 3 hours we were treated to a visual feast that left us drained and out of film. Our driver had filled us in on some of the intricacies of the local costumes, so we were more or less able to distinguish between the women from the different ethnic groups. However, The men on the other hand were fairly indistinguishable, wearing pretty much the same peasant clothes and large wide-brimmed hats.
The Miao 苗族 at Laomeng Sunday Market
Firstly, the Miao. The most colourful group are the Miao. The women of this ethnic group wear short, pleated skirts in electrifying colours such as bright orange, turquoise, yellow, pink or neon green.
The skirts are held in place by tight, embroidered belts and further embellished by lavishly decorated aprons, worn at the back (to protect their clothes when they are carrying loads, or sitting down on their haunches).
Their lower legs are covered by leggings, usually black, although the trendiest young ladies can wear coloured ones, adorned with dangling pieces of silver, or coins. Their outfits are completed by a final, embroidered strip of cloth, wound around the head as a kind of turban, peaking at the front.
Given the vibrant nature of their attire, it isn’t surprising that their Vietnamese relations are known as the Flower Hmong.
The Yao 瑶族 at Laomeng Sunday Market
Secondly, the Yao. In stark contrast with the Miao, the Yao are probably the most fascinating to look at. Their all-black outfits of loose, flowing tunics and trousers, topped by incredible black boxed hats (resembling a Fez) lend them at once a forbidding and mysterious aspect.
The stern black of their costume is only livened up by tresses of fuchsia coloured wool, pinned to the front of the ladies’ tunics, and the heavy silver earrings and necklaces they wear. The proud Yao ladies stride through the crowds mostly unsmiling and they are reluctant to have their pictures taken.
The Hani 哈尼族 at Laomeng Sunday Market
Thirdly, the Hani. Hani women also tend to wear a tunic or jacket over trousers, like the Yao, though their tunics are shorter and tighter. And like the Miao, they wear a protective apron at the back.
Their colours are subdued, blue and black are the favourites, but some green and petrol- blue can be seen too. If a Hani lady’s headdress is very colourful and decorated, this means that she is single. On the other hand, if her jacket is decorated with silver coins, she is married.
The Yi 彝族 at Laomeng Sunday Market
Forth the Yi, The Yi ladies are almost as colourful as the Miao, but they wear trousers, not skirts. On top, they wear brightly coloured jackets, often with short sleeves. The colours can vary, but light blue, pink, yellow and mauve appeared to be all the rage.
The top part of the jacket is covered with a semi- circle made of embroidered flowers. At the back, instead of an apron, they tend to wear two embroidered lozenge-shaped appendages.
Black Thai 壮族 at Laomeng Sunday Market
Finally, the Black Thai were the least in evidence and dressed very simply in black, as their name suggests. Their ladies wore straight black skirts and short-sleeved blouses.
As to location, the market spreads out all over the town, which is small enough to be explored thoroughly in a couple of hours. Like most markets in China, each area or street is dedicated to a different product.
The square given over to vegetables and fruit is one of the highlights, with colourful ethnic women squatting down behind their wares, mostly small piles of exotic-looking vegetables, herbs or spices, spread out on a piece of cloth.
Purchases in this section are usually wrapped up in banana leaves.
Another, larger square combines meat and simple food stalls with stands selling clothes, cloth, wool and other items necessary for sewing, embroidering or knitting. The latter are particularly popular with the younger ladies.
Lunch is a simple affair, with stalls selling noodle dishes with plenty of meat, vegetables and spicies.
On the outskirts of town, there are corners dedicated to selling chickens, piglets, or watch dogs.
It’s a great place to watch and take photos as well, because once the market is in full swing, nobody will pay much attention to you, even though you may be the only foreigner in town, which is what happened to us.
Don’t come to this market looking for souvenirs; there are few things for sale that would interest tourists, which should hopefully keep tour groups away. We had a look at one of the colourful Miao skirts and were a bit taken aback by its price: although it was handmade and weighed a tonne, we thought that 300Yuan was a bit steep.
True to our landlord’s prediction, by midday the market began to wind down and the vehicles filled up again with their multi-coloured cargo.
As we were driving away, we could see lines of people heading off into the forest and up the mountain paths, back to their villages.
Laomeng is situated in the south of Yunnan, not far from the Vietnamese border. As the town lies in a river valley, the climate is hot and humid and the surrounding countryside is extremely green and fertile, allowing for two rice harvests a year.
Regarding its ethnic composition, Laomeng straddles two prefectures, Yuanyang and Jinpin. Of these, Yuanyang is home to many Hani and Yi who tend and cultivate the stunning rice terraces the area is famous for, while Jingpin is home to the Miao, Black Thai and Yao.
The first two live low down near the rivers, in the sub-tropical fertile lands, while the Yao dominate the high mountain areas and ridges and therefore the poorer lands.
As for Laomeng town, there are a couple of basic hotels, small eateries and shops, but not much more, and the buildings are definitely on the drab side.
However, the market converts the town into festival of colours and sounds and it would probably make a good base for exploring the area.
Coming and Going:
From Yuanyang there are plenty of mini buses to Laomeng. The journey can take more than 2 hours, depending on how many passengers the bus stops to pick up and drop off.
You can hire a minivan for about 150 Yuan to take you to the market and back, including several hours waiting time. Buses from Laomeng also go to Jingpin and surrounding villages.
Click here for Jianshui near Laomeng
Next week we’ll be publishing an updated article on Laomeng Market.
The incredible market near the Yuanyang Rice terraces.
Various ethnic minorites buying and selling at Laomeng Market
The Sakyamuni statue, sculpted at the height of the Silk Road’s importance during the Tang Dynasty, is approached by climbing a temple lined trail on Daxiangshan 大像山
The Giant Moustached Buddha at Daxiang Shan Gangu 甘谷 Arriving.
The Giant Moustached Buddha at Daxiang Shan 大像山 Gangu 甘谷 is Situated in Eastern Gansu 甘肃省 province. However, on arrival at Gangu 甘谷 you will quickly discover that this is not one of China’s most attractive towns: truth be told it’s pretty ugly.
However, if you are in Tianshui 天水 visiting Maiji Shan and have a day to spare, the large 23 meter moustached statue of Sakyamuni a few kilometers outside Gangu is well worth visiting and can be easily combined with a trip to the beautiful Water Curtain Caves near Luomen.
The Giant Moustached Buddha or Sakyamuni statue
The Sakyamuni statue, sculpted at the height of the Silk Road’s importance during the Tang Dynasty, is approached by climbing a temple lined trail on Daxiangshan 大像山.
While none of the temples are spectacular, they are quiet and peaceful. You and a handful of pilgrims will be the only people on the trail even in the middle of August. The statue itself is quite special.
The colours are vibrant and the decorations surrounding it unique. But what stands out is the blue moustache, something almost unseen in the rest of China. There are some good views towards the rising Loess Plateau as you climb the trail.
You can get to Gangu from Tianshui 天水 by train in just over an hour. The convenient K377 leaves Tianshui station in Beidao 北道 at 8.32 and costs 13 hard seat (buy your ticket the night before, there were plenty of seats available).
Alternatively you can take one of the frequent buses from Tianshui’s twin town Qincheng 秦城.
I’d recommend combining a visit to Gangu with the Water Curtain Caves (Shuiliandong 水帘洞) near Luomen 洛门 some 60 km away.
Hiring a taxi for the best part of a day from in front of Gangu train station costs 200 Yuan after a little bargaining. However, I don’t recommend visiting The Water Curtain Caves until restoration work has finished sometime next year (read the next posting).
One curious feature of the statue is that when you see it close up, the face of the giant Buddha has a contented expression. However, Seen from a distance, he looks quite miserable.
The Water Cutain Caves nearby:
Photo five of the Muslim Hui community in Lhasa taken in the Muslim quarter outside the Great Mosque: Qing Zhen Da Si 清真大寺
One of Tibet`s most traditional towns. You’ll find fantastic architecture, amazing back streets and lots of cows.
Gyantse and the Kumbum are the beating heart of Tibet and Tibetan culture. We visited Gyantse on a three-day trip by mini-van that also included Shalu monastery and the town of Shigatse. We reached Gyantse after a long eight-hour ride, made even longer by our detour to see Yamdrok-Tso Lake.
From the Kamba-La Pass at 4794 metres, there are spectacular views over the turquoise waters of the lake. However, due to road works (expected to be finished next year), it wasn’t possible to continue along the old road to Gyantse, so we had to turn back and rejoin the new road.
The final part of the journey took us through fertile and idyllic fields, full of grazing animals and harvesting farmers.
Approaching Gyantse and seeing the Fort
The approach to Gyantse is truly spectacular: the ruins of the fortress, the Dzong, destroyed by Younghusband and his British troops, set on a steep, rocky hill, stand out against the azure sky and the golden roofs of the monastery gleam in the sun.
Gyantse itself is rather more prosaic; it is basically a scruffy one-street town (2007: has expanded now) with an interesting, traditional Tibetan quarter.
We had just enough time to visit the Pelkhor Chöde Monastery complex, situated dramatically at the foot of the barren mountains and surrounded by a brown wall.
Gyantse’s highlight is the Kumbum, an 8 storey chorten, topped by a golden roof and umbrella, apparently the best- preserved structure of this kind in Tibet.
The 8 floors contain 108 chapels, all covered in frescoes and many holding statues. The outside is painted a dazzling white and decorated with colourful stucco, as well as four huge pairs of eyes, which survey the surrounding countryside.
Though most of the frescoes are hidden in darkness and many are damaged, we managed to make out some frightening demons, adorned with necklaces of skulls, fine many-armed Buddhas and delicate maidens.
The chapels which are set at the corners are the best, as they are two storeys’ high and contain a variety of large statues.
On the sixth floor we emerged onto an open platform, level with the painted eyes, from which we could observe the other monastic buildings, the walls, the mountains, as well as the Tibetan old town.
The next day we visited the old fortress, or Dzong, and explored the Tibetan quarter.
As we mentioned before, most of the Dzong is in ruins; thanks to Younghusband and his men who came riding in from Sikkim to ‘open’ Tibet to trade… They are, however, quite atmospheric ruins. One of the highlights is a grey memorial stone with the curious inscription ‘Jump off the cliff’.
However, this isn’t an exhortation to visitors, but rather a commemoration of an act of bravery committed by the outnumbered defenders.
Gyantse Old Town
The old Tibetan quarter, lying at the foot of the fortress, is another gem that takes you right back in time.
Along the main street, there are placid cows chewing the cud in front of every household, while pigs and sheep rummage around in the gutters.
People gather at the communal pumps to draw water, wash their clothes, hair or rinse dyed strings of sheep’s wool.
Inside the traditional stone houses, Tibetan ladies work the heavy wooden looms to weave cloth or colourful Tibetan carpets.
A peaceful, mellow village ambience reigns and life continues, unhurriedly, as it always has done.
We stayed at the Jianzang hotel which lies on the main street of the modern part of town (Yingxiong Nanlu) and is certainly one of the nicest places we stayed at in the whole of Tibet, or even China. The hotel is embellished with bright, colourful murals and lovely potted plants and flowers, while rooms are large, clean and comfy. We paid 180 Yuan for a double with bathroom, though there were cheaper rooms and dorms as well. The hotel also has its own rooftop restaurant and staff are very friendly.
You will have no trouble finding several places to eat along the same main street. The Yak bar and restaurant, for which you have to go upstairs, is a pleasant, laid-back place with Tibetan sofas and low tables, specialising in western-style food such as chips, pizzas and burgers. There is a large Chinese restaurant, a few doors away and identified by a green sign, where we had an excellent meal.
Tongren is a great off the beaten track destination in China’s Qinghai Province. There is great scenery, Tibetan culture, and the opportunity to watch the world’s best thangkas being painted in front of your eyes.
A thangka is a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala. Thangkas are traditionally kept unframed and rolled up when not on display. (Wikipedia)
Tongren 同仁 Qinghai Province 青海省
People say that the Thangka Painters of Tongren are the best in the world. Here is how we visited them and saw them make their master pieces.
Xiahe to Tongren
The early morning bus, packed to bursting point with predominantly Tibetan passengers whose clothes exude a penetrating smell of yak butter, climbs cumbersomely out of the monastic town of Xiahe and up onto the wide open grasslands that separate the provinces of Gansu and Qinghai.
Up there, everything is wetness, emptiness and desolation; the sodden yaks and horses look decidedly miserable, but resigned.
The Tibetan Grasslands
The only sign of human existence are the roaming Tibetan nomads wrapped tightly in their fur-lined greatcoats, their faces swaddled in scarves, their cheeks red and chapped by the biting wind, the rudimentary settlements and the odd small monastic town, which somehow manage to survive in this harsh but stunning landscape.
On approaching Qinghai province, huge snow-capped mountains loom in the distance, forming a daunting barrier between the two provinces, and this was only September. Suddenly, when it looks as if our poor old bus will have to scale those giants, the road drops into a dry and barren valley, where herds of goats and yaks often block the way.
Arrival in Tongren
At the bottom of the valley, along the river, the barrenness gives way to fertile farming land, dotted with neat and prosperous farms and white Stupas. The climate has undergone a dramatic change too and we can see people harvesting everywhere under a warm autumn sun. After about 30 minutes of this rural bliss, the bus rolls into Tongren, a neat and organised modern town.
Like most Tibetan towns in Sichuan and Gansu, Tongren is made up of two virtually separate towns; the modern one, housing most businesses, shops and hotels, and the monastic one, centred around the temples.
In most cases, this separation also marks the division between the Chinese and Tibetan populations. However, the authorities in Tongren seem to have avoided this kind of cultural apartheid and they have managed to incorporate a large part of its Tibetan population into the modern town
(the modern town has expanded dramatically in recent years).
Longwu Si 隆务寺
The Longwu Si, or monastery complex, of Tongren is only a short stroll away from the modern centre.
It’s surprisingly large, perhaps as big as Xiahe, but we have it all to ourselves. You can spend a good few hours wandering about this atmospheric place.
The temples are a mixed bunch of old and new as the complex, having suffered extensive damage during the Cultural Revolution, is currently undergoing some massive restoration.
Scenes from the Buddhist Hell
Highlights are the gruesome paintings and carvings of scenes from hell, vividly depicted skulls, heads with the eyes popping out, fearsome monsters, demons and such, which decorate some of the oldest temples. Click here for more gruesome photos of Longwu si.
And on a more spiritual note, the small footprints and soft round dents, worn into the wooden floor in front of a particularly venerated Buddha statue by an elderly lama prostrating himself thousands of times…
The Tangkha Painters of Wutun Si 五屯寺
Although the Longwu Si on its own warrants a visit, the main reason for coming to Tongren is to see the Tangkha painters at work in the village of Sangkeshan, some 10 kilometres out of town, and particular in the Wutong and Gouma Monasteries.
Tangkha’s are Tibetan paintings, mostly of a religious nature, and usually mounted on embroidered and decorated pieces of brocade.
The Tangkha painters of Tongren are rated as the best in the Tibetan world and their art, known as Repkong Art (Repkong being the Tibetan name for Tongren), can be found in the monasteries of Lhasa, Xiahe and many other great Tibetan monastic towns.
Some of the painters are monks, others are laymen, but they work together in teams, completing orders from far and wide.
Making Thangkas for various Monasteries
On the day of our visit, some painters at Wutong were working on a large piece for a monastery on Wutai Shan (one of the Holy Mountains of Buddhism), while others were completing an order for the Ta’er Si temple near Xining, the capital of Qinghai province.
Meanwhile, some of their colleagues at Gouma were finishing a Tangkha for the Yushu monastery, in the remote northern part of Qinghai province.
Buying Thangkas in Tongren
Apart from offering you a chance to see the painters and their apprentices at work, and to buy one of their smaller pieces, both monasteries are well worth having a look around.
The main hall of Wutun Si 五屯寺is a splendid affair which houses three large golden statues, dressed in colourful embroidered robes, as well as many valuable paintings.
The monk showing us around explains how they managed to save these paintings during the Cultural Revolution by turning the wooden panes around, hiding the valuable paintings at the back and displaying some newer, relatively worthless ones for the Red Guards to destroy!
Other prominent features of the Hall are the fierce dragons coiling their bodies around the pillars and the heavy entrance doors, exquisitely restored and decorated in red and gold by a trembling octogenarian monk with his glasses tied to his head.
As we had already witnessed at Longwu, renovation, restoration and even expansion are at full swing at the Wutun Si monastery 五屯寺: a new Stupa is being erected, as well as a new temple hall.
A group of workers is busy assembling the central clay sculpture, which has not been painted yet either.
This whole process of temple renovation and revival is evident all over China; on the one hand many people are returning to their former beliefs, while on the other hand the government once more tolerates Buddhism and even encourages the restorations, as another way of obtaining tourist revenue.
The likewise brand-new and shiny Stupa just outside Gomar Gompa, a few kilometres away on the other side of the valley, is a colourful multi-tiered structure that stands out against the barren hills.
Up close, you can appreciate the intricate decorations in bright red, blue, green and yellow colours.
The monastic buildings are right behind the Stupa and if you wander around its quiet streets for a bit, you are most likely to be invited into one of the intimate courtyards where the painters work.
Other Products Made in Tongren
Besides Thangkas, the monks, artists and artesans of Tongren also produce clay sculptures, as well as hand-sewn cloth wall-hangings and cloth frames for the paintings.
Some of these wall-hangings are made up of countless, brightly coloured cloth circles that are held together not only by sewing, but with the help of glue and staples as well.
One of the best places to witness the creation of these curious pieces is the Nian Tou monastery, a few kilometres outside Tongren.
In the Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, all around Tongren County, there are many other remote monasteries, some of them only accessible with a four-wheel drive vehicle. Locals even told us about a monastery, some 40kms away, supposedly inhabited by a sect of long-haired monks! Whether this story is true or not, the area most certainly has plenty of places left to explore.
Where to Stay and Eat:
We stayed at Huang Nan Binguan, an old but cosy hotel set in a shady courtyard, where we paid 100 Yuan for a slightly worn, but clean double. Incidentally, the new Huang Nan, a glass-fronted dark monstrosity on the main road, is infinitely worse than its older counterpart. There are several other, cheaper options in town too.
For food , try the “Sha Guo” restaurant a few doors down from the hotel. A “Sha Guo” is a delicious clay pot soup, which can have many different ingredients, such as meat, fish, vegetables and eggs. Washed down with a couple of cold beers, they make for a satisfying and filling meal after a long day sightseeing.
Hiring a taxi to take you out to Wutun Si 五屯寺 monastery costs about 10 Yuan. Getting between the various monasteries, or back into town, there are plenty of mini-vans plying the route.
Coming and going:
In 2004 (was still the same in 2012), there was one bus a day leaving Xiahe at 7.30, plus another one with a similar timetable coming from the other direction. Leaving from Xiahe, it may be a good idea to book a day in advance, as our bus was absolutely packed. The journey takes about 5 hours and the scenery on the way is spectacular. Beware that the weather can be cold and treacherous; we even had snow in early September.
Moving on, there are numerous buses leaving for Xining throughout the day. The journey, which is fairly boring, takes between 5 and 6 hours.
Visit Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao. An amazing temple where in winter you can visit the place without another tourist in sight. That is if you can bear minus 10º.
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺 Pingyao
Shuānglín Si Temple Pingyao at half past 9 in the morning. When we get out at the Shuanglin Temple (Shuānglín Sì or 双林寺), we’re in for a bit of a shock: though sunny, it’s bitterly cold! Our breath’s coming out in large white clouds and the thermometer has plummeted to minus 10º.
With one of those great Chinese understatements, our driver concedes that it’s yidian leng (a bit chilly)! On the positive side, this means we have the temple almost entirely to ourselves.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site Since 1997
The ancient and venerable temple complex – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997 – is renowned for its over 2,000 painted clay sculptures, made by skillful craftsmen from the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties (12th to 19th century). Though once painted in vivid colours, many of the sculptures have since faded to red, earthy hues.
From the outside, the temple complex appears rather like a fortress, as it is surrounded by a high compound wall with a gate. Once inside, there are ten halls to explore, set around three courtyards.
The Fantastic Sculptures
The first Hall is guarded by fierce warriors. The sunlight, slanting through the protective bars that surround them, hits their orange clay faces and distorts them into frightening grimaces.
In fact, all the sculptures are arranged behind bars, against backdrops of swirling water or clouds, mountains, gnarled trees, towers, buildings and other decorative elements.
Bring a Torch!
Unfortunately, this makes it more difficult to fully appreciate them in the dusty half-light of the halls. We wish we’d brought a torch!
The sculptural themes focus on representations of the Buddha, Bodhisattvas (divine persons who have attainedEnlightenment, but postpone Nirvana in order to help others reach salvation), Arhats (Buddhists, especially monks or nuns who have achieved enlightenment and at death pass to Nirvana), Warrior Guards, Heavenly Generals, but also some common people.
There is even a statue of the husband and wife who took care of the temple during the Cultural Revolution.
The Arhat Hall (Luohan Ting or 罗汉厅)
One of the halls to look out for is the Arhat Hall (Luohan Ting or 罗汉厅), with its 18 life-like and somewhat sinister Arhats, whose black- glass eyes seem to follow you around the room.
Don’t miss the Bodhisattva Hall (Pusa Ting or 菩萨厅),with the sculpture of a young, attractive, female Bodhisattva, with twenty arms and many more hands, dressed in richly decorated clothing.
Hall of a Thousand Buddhas
Last but not least, the many inhabitants of the Hall of a Thousand Buddhas, one of whom is seated on a coiled dragon, are considered masterpieces of Ming dynasty Buddhist sculpture.
At the back of the last Hall, we climb up onto the compound wall in an attempt to find out where the music we’ve been hearing is coming from.
The school and the Slaughter House
Turns out, there is a primary school right behind the temple and all the little kids are made to run around the schoolyard before class. Frozen as we are, we could do with a bit of running ourselves! And then there were the poor pigs; off to the slaughter house, just outside this spiritual and peaceful place.
For more on Pingyao click Below:
Some old photos of Suzhou 苏州 taken in 1990 and found during the Coronavirus lockdown.
Suzhou as it was in 1990/ 苏州 1990年
Looking through Old Photos of Suzhou
Suzhou has Changed and changed a lot in 30 years. Lockdown has at least given me time to dig out my old photos from the store room and start to play around with them. It’s also given me plenty of time to reflect on the many ways in which life has changed.
It’s well known that Madrid was particularly badly hit by Covid 19 and while the first lockdown was brutally hard on everyone, a second one seems just around the corner.
It was against this depressing background that I turned to the photos we had taken during our 1990/91 trip to China. Nearly 6 months of hard and fascinating travel, which turned me into a China freak and changed my life too.
Our First Trip to China 1990
The trip started by crossing over the Karakorum Pass into China on a clapped out traders’ bus from Pakistan and eventually leaving China from Guangzhou on the gambling ferry to Macao, which has long since ceased to exist.
Sometime in late December we found ourselves in Suzhou. I recently came across our photos from that time in and around Suzhou and on the Grand Canal. Some of these had never been posted. So here they are.
The Photos Could have been Better
I don’t want to make too many excuses about the quality of the photos; however, the camera we used was a rusty piece of crap and we also made the mistake of having them developed in China (1991). I have tried to restore them the best I can.
So how has Suzhou changed? The somewhat deteriorated photos show that Suzhou was once a real, working water town. The barges came right into the town’s central waterways. Many of Suzhou’s trading markets actually took place on sampans on the canals.
Returning to Suzhou 2005
When we returned to Suzhou in 2005, all the river traffic had been moved away from the city center to the main artery of Grand Canal, several kilometers outside of town.
In 1990, the city’s canals were also a transport hub providing local transport to people from outlying villages. Part of the fun of being in Suzhou at that time was siting on one of the many bridges watching the over-crowded ferries shuttling people to and fro.
You could also still take passenger boats from Suzhou to loads of destinations along the Grand Canal, including the day long journey to Hangzhou, which we took. These have all now been discontinued.
In 2005, the only boats working on the inner-city canals were used for clearing weeds and rubbish thrown into them by the hordes of tourists.
Suzhou has changed so much since then that any remnants of what we saw in 1990 are almost impossible to find.
In 2005, there were still a few canals that retained some of their old world ambience and charm, but speculators were moving in fast and locals were being evicted apace.
New boutique hotels, upmarket restaurants and discos were replacing canal side markets, corner shops and teahouses. A whole way of life was being obliterated.
Of course, Suzhou’s fate is by no means unique! The transformation that started happening there in the early 2000s, began here in Madrid around 2016, with the advent of Airbnb and the ‘Disneyfication’ of Madrid’s historical center.
Ironically, it took a pandemic to give Madrid back to the locals, albeit in a much reduced and depressed form!
We can only wonder what the effects of Covid 19 will be on mass tourism around the globe…
Even the great protector can’t be protected
Giant Buddha at Leshan 乐山大佛
Even the great protector can’t be protected. The Great Buddha statue (Leshan Dafo 乐山大佛), just outside Leshan in China’s south western province of Sichuan, was carved out of the cliffs in the 8th century at the confluence of three rivers.
His purpose was look over and protect the fishermen from drowning in the turbulent waters and defend the population against flooding.
Now, it is the local population flooding to the aid of the Giant Buddha by using sand bags to protect him from rising flood waters.
Not since 1949 have the flood waters reached the magnificent statue’s enormous feet.
This is another a recent video from Leshan showing the dramatic scenes of the flood waters reaching the base of his feet.
Click below to see the video.
It appears that for now that the situation has stabilized with flood waters receding and passing their highest levels, but with more rain to come, we can only keep our fingers crossed.
The photos are from our 2001 trip to Leshan. We visited the Giant Buddha after climbing nearby Éméi shān 峨眉山.