Monday, April 30, 2012

Chinese Road Construction

Imagine you left your comfortable westernized bubble. You're on a bus traveling in the Chinese back-country, en route to an unknown destination on a trip leg of known length. You're on the final day of a three day excursion, in which relaxation is tough for westerners. You haven't seen a fork since you left and you're even debating the merits of "squatty potties."

Then you pull of the expressway and you see this:

The road to Yaolin Wonderland was not present under construction. It was replaced with a bumpy 5mph off-road bus ride, sometimes through backyards. That didn't stop the bus parade as thousands of people crept their way through the town, to be "ooo'ed and ahhh'ed" in the cave.

I guess an attraction that hosts tens of thousands of people per day should have some decent infrastructure. I suppose that infrastructure needs to be fixed up from time to time. The price to pay is slight inconvenience now...reap the rewards later.

Daqishan National Forest

 Our weekend trip began early. Catching a 6:30am bus in Wuxi, we were on our way. In our current life, most information comes second hand via translation and we're never completely sure of what's going on. Much info is lost in translation, and everything is a little more fuzzy. Apparently we'll just have to get used to that feeling. Sometimes it works out good, because our first stop was a pleasant surprise...the best stop of the trip really.

We knew about being on the bus for 4.5 hours before making the first stop. We knew the first stop was at a national forest and we'd take a walk. We did not know that the "national forest" was a small mountain, and we were about to climb it.

In the crevice where two mountains meet, a trail was blazed along side a mountain stream. Our path was constructed with little thought about wheel chair accessibility...and seemingly little consideration for safety.

The result was a hike with much to see and exciting situations along the way. Our lives slightly more at risk than normal.

The pregnant lady slowed us down and the main group pulled away. Luckily Shayne wasn't the only expecting mother on this trip, and we played leap frog with the other....passing as they rested, being passed while we rested. Exchanging pleasant smiles at each encounter.

Wheelchair ramp?

This hand rail is the perfect height to trip over.

Shayne hugs the right hand side.

The mid-way point was marked by a "boulder jump" and a watermelon sale.

Near the top, there was a large dam upon which we could walk. We posted for this picture and told a friend to make sure the waterfall was visible in the background... an idea that was lost in translation. The waterfall is not visible as Clif's giant head is in the way.

The waterfall wasn't visible, but the picture was good enough that we didn't want to try again. Onward to the top, we were told it was just 10 more minutes....or was it 10 more meters? Either way, it was close.

Baby Gerke goes sightseeing in China

Clif standing ant the edge, close to certain death.

Shayne hugging the right hand side.

The final push was a series of super smooth granite stones arranged as steps. Moisture from low hanging clouds made each step dangerous...but that's how we roll, dangerously.

Here is a picture of Shayne at the top, where the trail ended within site of a waterfall. She went further than many not-pregnant friends. Isn't she awesome?

To get down we could either walk or take a roller-coaster type ride. The warning sign for the ride said "Be sure to apply brake while turning, so as to not flip your cart." After seeing the types of dangers that don't require a warning sign in China, we're not about to risk something dangerous enough to actually require a sign.

Instead we took the slow way and hoofed it. We saw a nice view (pictured above) and paused for a picture. Again we asked Clif's coworker to make sure we were on the right side of the picture and the valley filled the rest of the frame....what we got was a picture of Shayne and Clif next to a telephone pole, on a mountain. The valley perfectly obscured behind two white people.

It turns out Chinese people find white people more interesting than beautiful mountain scenes.... lesson learned.

Shayne on a China sized chair

Clif in a China sized hat

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Thousand Islet Lake

Qiandao Lake was the main attraction for our weekend "team-building" excursion. Clif's coworkers said it would be relaxing and scenic....sounded like it was just our style.

Qiandao Lake translates to English as Thousand Island Lake. It's a man-made reservoir and the dam left only the mountain peaks visible...demoted to islet status. We were scheduled for a boat tour to see three of them. We were expecting a relaxing trip to see China in it's natural state, what we got was a tourist trap filled to the brim with people.

They woke us up at 6am, gave us bright orange hats and lead us to see the first clue of things to come: the dock was crowded and there were 50-100 boats waiting. Each boat could hold at least 100 people.

The orange hats proved to be a life saver for us. If lost, it was easy to find our group of "friendlies." Clif couldn't fit his giant head into an Asian sized hat, but that didn't matter because the tour guide had no trouble keeping track of the only two white people around.

Our boat was among the first to leave, though just barely. Several more peeled from the shore and followed our wake to the first stop.

Our tour guide was skilled at rambling on for hours in Chinese on the loudspeaker, and she talked the entire time it took to hit island stop number one. We hit land and someone translated the guide's speech into two sentences: "This island is known for poisonous snakes and Thai boys that dress as women. Be back on the boat by 9:00am."

Now approaching: the island of drag queens and their reptilian friends.
I'll admit the translation had my mind spinning as we disembarked. I was trained at an early age how to watch the ground for snakes, and my eyes were spinning too.  And the I heard the beat... the Thai drag show was starting at the main stage. Outside were three pits filled with snakes, at one pit it was lunch time.

At this point we knew what we were up against. The feeling is becoming more and more familiar as our romantic ideas about Chinese culture shatter, one-by-one. We were now paying customers at a resort built to entertain.

It was important to remember our boat was number 5.

At 9:00, we reembarked and headed for island number two. The guide rambled on a little while in Chinese. She cut it short, and the translation was even shorter. "They'll try to sell you special cake, be here by 11:00."

At this stop we started to get lost in the fog of Chinese language. There was something going on, this island had a theme but it was vague for us. No one offered an explanation in English, so we just enjoyed the sights and declined to buy special cakes.

The second island seemed to be focused on a former mayor, who was well loved by the people. They built the temple in his honor...we think.

The third stop was actually three islands, connected by floating docks. The first island had an obvious theme of locks. From the boat, we could see a giant bottle opener...turns out it is a huge statue of a key.


The thing about this island, is they sold locks. You could purchase a lock and a little metal plaque. Scribe a wish onto the plaque and use the lock to leave it behind.

Everywhere on this island there were wishes. If a pad lock would fit, someone had fit one and the resulting chains of hanging locks were something worth seeing.

Year of the cock. Represent!
To cross to the next island, we had to cross some floating docks.  Inside the floating docks, they had some fish pens filled with gold fish and asian carp.

The next island on this stop had a guy holding a pet hawk and the statue pictured below.  People were totally engrossed with the writing on the wall behind the statue...we're not sure why but we know it was damn interesting.

And like all good tourist attractions, the boat dropped us off at a shopping area on the main land. Here you could buy fish in a bag or fish on a stick.

Not dried, not in a bag sticks

We were encouraged to buy some bagged fish, because that city is famous for fish..."it's quite good here."

We got back to hotel in time for a nap and feeling like Clif's work wasn't entirely truthful in promising a relaxing trip with natural scenes. Our legs were killing us and there was nothing natural about the islands.  None-the-less, the trip was fun and we saw some more of China.

We are happy to have had the opportunity to participate in the trip and see.