Slow train to Chengdu 成都的临客:

Slow train to Chengdu

成都的临客

 CITS (China’s official travel agency’s description of an L Train 临客)

“L – Temporary Train In Chinese: LinKe (临客)
L trains operate only during the peak travel season, such as the Chinese Spring Festival and the National Holiday. These trains are not listed in the official fixed train schedule. It is not advised to take L-trains if you have other options as they are known to be relatively slow and regularly subject to delays”.

“46 hours”. I doubted my Chinese at that moment, but the ticket seller repeated the departure and arrival times, there was no mistake. Bagging next day hard sleeper tickets from Beijing to Chengdu can be a taxing experience at the best of times, but in early August, you’ve got about as much chance as winning the lottery. Unless … unless, of course, you are willing to take the slow train 临客 , or L Train as it is known in China!

We got two middle berths, which are the best, as during the day you can escape the crowded lower berths, where everyone sits, and they have more space than the often claustrophobic upper berths.

Pandemonium broke out when the gates were opened at Beijing West Station 北京西站 to allow the passengers on. Those without reservation ran frantically, pushing and shoving the old and weak out of the way, to grab one of those precious seats. It was a simple case of survival of the fittest; get a seat or stand for 46 hours.

With a reservation in our hands, we took a more leisurely stroll to the train. Unfortunately, we found a family, consisting of two adults and 5 unruly children (not sure how that is possible in one-child China), occupying the 4 other berths above and below us.

Continue reading “Slow train to Chengdu 成都的临客:”

Easy Cleaning In the Shanghai Museum: 上海博物馆 : Photo of the Week

Easy Cleaning In the Shanghai Museum

上海博物馆

I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I saw this guy just squat down on the moving escalators and begin cleaning the side panels as he was carried down through the floors of Shanghai’s swanky Museum.

Easy Cleaning in the Shanghai Museum (click to enlarge)

  It certainly was efficient.

Luzhi 甪直 An Authentic Canal Town (more or less):

Luzhi 甪直

The best day trip from Suzhou 苏州

the world's most beautiful bridge Luzhi 甪直 An Authentic Canal Town
Luzhi Bridge 甪直镇

The Jiangnan 江南 Region

Luzhi 甪直 is an Authentic Canal Town (more or less): I say more or less because even the least touristy Jiangnan towns have many tourists trappings such as hawkers and tacky souvenirs. However, Luzhi is still pretty authentic on a week day out of season.

I love Jiangnan Towns

I have a nostalgic hankering for Jiangnan towns (Jiangnan 江南 means south of the Yangtse River).

cormorants in Luzhi 甪直 An Authentic Canal Town
Luzhi 甪直镇

I suppose this feeling comes from our first visit to Suzhou and Hangzhou in 1990, when we made an amazing trip along the Grand Canal on a local boat, on the now discontinued service between those two towns.

THE BEST DAY TRIP FROM SUZHOU  苏州 Luzhi 甪直 An Authentic Canal Town
Luzhi 甪直镇

There was something dreamlike about the mishmash of canals, white buildings, eave roofs, arched bridges and winding cobbled lanes.

THE BEST DAY TRIP FROM SUZHOU  苏州 Luzhi 甪直 An Authentic Canal Town
Luzhi Bridges (click on photo to enlarge)

Old Jiangnan River Towns before Mass tourism

In 1990, the Jiangnan towns provided a glimpse into old world China. Back then, local residents still occupied the ancient buildings that lined the canals, and it was possible to stroll the waterfronts and savor a community ambience that had probably existed for centuries.

THE BEST DAY TRIP FROM SUZHOU  苏州 Luzhi 甪直 An Authentic Canal Town
Luzhi 甪直镇 Old adverts

The onslaught of mass domestic tourism in the 2000’s and the crass commercialism that comes with it has unfortunately put an abrupt end to that picturesque way of life (picturesque for the western traveler at least).

THE BEST DAY TRIP FROM SUZHOU  苏州 Luzhi 甪直 An Authentic Canal Town
Luzhi 甪直镇 Amazing Jiangnan Architecture

Beautiful Architecture

Even until the late 199os, mega cities such as Suzhou, still pocessed a warren of ancient streets where time seemed to have stood still. From the kitchens of beautiful white-washed houses with their decorated doorways and stunning courtyards, smells of garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil wafted out. People lived and worked on the canals as had their ancestors. I can remember spending hours on the bridges watching the river traffic and river markets.

THE BEST DAY TRIP FROM SUZHOU  苏州 Luzhi 甪直 An Authentic Canal Town
Luzhi Boats (click to enlarge)

In modern day Suzhou, any trace of the past community life along the canals has all but disappeared. Now,plush restaurants, bars and hotels have sprung up near the historic sites to cater for mass tourism. in and around the surrounding small historic towns, much of what was local, has been given over to tourism and converted the towns into theme parks and places to buy souvenirs.

THE BEST DAY TRIP FROM SUZHOU  苏州 Luzhi 甪直 An Authentic Canal Town
canal boats
Luzhi 甪直镇 No customers

Many Jiangnan towns have undergone seismic changes. Local residents have been evicted from their houses and moved to housing complexes on the outskirts or even further afield. A new breed of entrepreneurs has filled their places setting up shops, restaurants, discos or hotels.

THE BEST DAY TRIP FROM SUZHOU  苏州 Luzhi 甪直 An Authentic Canal Town canal boats
Luzhi 甪直镇 rowers looking for the tourists

Jiangnan River towns and Tourism

You only have to visit pretty but touristy towns of Zhouzhuang and Wuzhen to understand what I am talking about. Improvements in transport and the proximity of the historic towns to huge population centers such as Shanghai, Nanjing and Hangzhou make many of the Jiangnan towns weekend playgrounds for city dwellers.

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Xiahe夏河: 1990 From our Diary: Final Report of our 5 Part Review of Xiahe

Xiahe 夏河: November 1990 From our Diary

Gansu province, China

PREVIOUS ARTICLES: 1 Xiahe revisited 2 Xiahe & the Labrang Monastery 3 Excursions from Xiahe 4 Xiahe; a Reflection

Introduction

This is the final part of our travel report on Xiahe and the Labrang Monastery in China’s Gansu Province. The article is an unedited extract from the diary that Margie kept during our two year trip around Asia and the Middle East. The trip began in Lahore, Pakistan in early October 1990. By late November 1990 we had reached Xiahe.  Though we have now visited Xiahe 3 times (see previous articles), it was our first visit that really stood out, probably because  we hadn’t really experienced Tibetan culture before.

Xiahe old photos 1990
Xiahe Monks 1990

Wednesday 21/11/ 1990 (Lanzhou to Xiahe)

We have to get up early to catch the 7.30 bus to Xiahe; the only one of the day. The scenery gradually becomes more and more interesting. The whole morning we have been driving through a winter landscape of soft brown, reddish and yellowish shades. Every available scrap of land is being used: all the mountains have been terraced and divided into tiny vegetable plots, while the fields are used to grow potatoes, cereals and barley. There are haystacks everywhere and corns on the cob on every roof, drying. The villages, of a pinkish-brown hue, form an indistinguishable part of the landscape.

Xiahe old photos 1990

Looking out of the bus window, we can see many non-Chinese people, walking along the road. Most of them closely resemble Uyghur people, and they are wearing greatcoats, animal skins and furs, as well as heavy leather boots. The majority seem to be Muslims, judging by the white skull caps of the men and the black velvet and lace headscarves of the women. Many of the men also wear the large, round, horn-rimmed sunglasses that seem to be typical around here.

We stop for lunch just outside Linxia, a large Muslim market town, situated atop a reddish loess plateau. We can see lots of yaks milling about; as well as a whole pile of severed yak heads lying in a cart. Apart from yaks, there is a busy traffic of donkeys, pony’s and bicycles. Lunch, of course, consists of Continue reading “Xiahe夏河: 1990 From our Diary: Final Report of our 5 Part Review of Xiahe”

Songpan’s Amazing Festival

Location: Songpan 松潘 / Sichuan Province / China

People watching in Songpan 松潘

People watching Songpan Songpan's Amazing Festival
Hui and Tibetans watching the Songpan Festival

Songpan’s amazing festival takes place in the walled town of Songpan. The town is the gateway to the scenic heaven of Jiuzhaigou 九寨沟 and wild horse treks to Ice Mountain雪玉顶. Songpan is also a destination in itself.  It`s a pleasant town with plenty of old architecture, local life and some fantastic tea houses.

Songpan People watching
What are they Watching? See next weeks photos

Songpan’s Amazing Festival Passing Through

When we passed through in 2004 we were lucky enough to stumble upon a huge festival where the local Muslim Hui and Tibetan Qiang minorities were celebrating their local culture and dressed in their finest clothes. Joining them were a host of Chinese Communist Party Bigwigs, including the then vice-president, Zeng Qinghong.

Songpan's Amazing Festival Songpan People watching
Muslim Hui enjoying the Songpan Festival

The residents of the entire town and surrounding villages turned out to see the festival. This small group of photos captures them enjoying the moment. Next week’s Photo of the Week will show what they were watching.

songpan festival
Having a rest in the Songpan Festival

For large people photos and Songpan Practicalities see below. Continue reading “Songpan’s Amazing Festival”

Excursions from Xiahe

 Xiahe Part 1
Xiahe Part 2

Part 3: Excursions From Xiahe

Bajiao Walled Village 八角 / Ganjia Grasslands 甘加草原 / Trakhar Gompa / Tsyway Bon Temple/ 

Excursions from Xiahe

Excursions from Xiahe; there are so many, here are just a few. Once you have seen all there is to see in Xiahe, you should go and explore the grasslands. Though some of the areas nearest to town have become quite commercial, there is still plenty of scope for exploring.

Excursions from Xiahe
Stupa over the Ganjia Grasslands

We went on a great day trip, for which we hire a car through our hotel. At first, the price of 400 Yuan for half a day’s sightseeing seems a bit steep. However, when our vehicle appears, a shiny, brand-new black Sedan, driven by a sleek young Tibetan guy with shoulder- length hair, a golden tooth and lots of big rings, we are quick to appreciate the difference between this car, and any old taxi.

Excursions from Xiahe
Monasteries and stunning scenery await the traveller on the Ganjia Grasslands

We drive out of Xiahe, which takes so much longer now that there are traffic lights and lots more traffic, and head towards Tongren. Immediately, and almost imperceptible, we start climbing and before we know it, we Continue reading “Excursions from Xiahe”

Xiahe & The Labrang (or Labuleng) Monastery (part 2)

Labrang (or Labuleng) Monastery

Labrang Monastery

Part 2

Click here for part one

Despite many of the changes taking place in Xiahe,  mentioned in the previous article, don’t be put you off from visiting. Xiahe, and in particular its monastery, is still a fascinating place; though you might want to get there quick!

Labrang Monastery
Labrang Monastery

The Labrang Monastery

Temple in the Labrang Monastery

Start your first visit with the obligatory guided tour around some of the main temples and halls. These days, there are English-speaking guides and our 2011 guide was truly excellent; a great improvement on the 2004 one. He tells us, among other things, that he learnt all his English in Xining and that he is a second-year philosophy student. Apparently, the monks studying philosophy have to pass 13 levels of knowledge, the equivalent of 13 years’ of study.

Xiahe Monks

He says that many of the younger monks find it quite difficult to be Continue reading “Xiahe & The Labrang (or Labuleng) Monastery (part 2)”

Nuodeng 诺邓 (The Oldest Bai Village in China – or so they say)

Nuodeng 诺邓

(What to see, where to stay and how to get there)


There are few places like Nuodeng 诺邓 remaining in China. Local tourist propaganda calls it the ‘thousand – year – old village’ and while this may be an exaggeration, there is no denying that this spectacular hamlet of ancient Ming and Qing dynasty houses and flagstone streets is unique.

Old-house-Nuodeng

Not a single modern eyesore blights picture perfect Nuodeng. Add to this the fact that hordes of screaming tourists and tacky souvenir stalls are conspicuous by their absence, and you get the China of your dreams.

Like Heijing 黑井 and Shaxi 沙溪, Nuodeng was once an important stopover on the salt route, but those glory days have long passed, and only a few salt wells at the entrance to the village are a sign of times gone by. Today, Nuodeng’s residents, members of the Bai ethnic group, earn their livelihoods tilling the fields on the steep slopes of the surrounding hills.

Old Bai Man

Although during our visit it seemed most residents preferred to while  away their time chatting and smoking pipes in small groups on the steps of the two main squares, contributing to sleepy Nuodeng´s atmosphere of a Continue reading “Nuodeng 诺邓 (The Oldest Bai Village in China – or so they say)”

Radio Programme on Daoism

Daoist Kongdong Shan Gansu Province

Anybody who shares my love of Chinese history will find this BBC radio programme on Daoism, In our Time, presented by Melvyn Bragg, absolutely fascinating.  One of the professors on the programme is one of my old professors from SOAS (The London School of Oriental and African Studies).

Click below to hear the programme.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00wlgbg/In_Our_Time_Daoism

Click below to read the introduction to the programme.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00wlgbg

Kongdong Shan

More on Kongdong Shan

Yunlong 云龙 and Taijitu 太极图

Location: Yunlong 云龙

China, Yunnan province, 150 kilometres Northwest of Dali.


Having arrived safely in Yunlong after a long and somewhat eventful journey from Xiaguan (Dali City), we set about visiting the sights and exploring the town, which to be honest doesn’t take very long, as there is precious little to see or do.

It’s not an unpleasant place, but definitely a little dull. There’s a nice area by the river for strolling and Continue reading “Yunlong 云龙 and Taijitu 太极图”