Archive: July, 2012

Jiuzhaigou National Park, Sichuan Province, China (中国四川省九寨沟)

By some magical combination of geological forces, this park has some of the most pristinely beautiful mountain water I’ve ever seen. Not thinking about cross-cultural interpretations of “national park” I blew into Northern Sichuan with high expectations.

Jiuzhaigou translates as nine village valley, a bit of an homage to the nine Tibetan villages allowed to stand after the park’s founding. This is a major difference between the park systems of China and Western countries’, which kick out the local residents out (as if there’s something unnatural about people living off the land).

Somehow forgetting that I was in China for a spell, I snapped back to reality when I stepped in line with hundreds of people waiting to get in.

Another major difference between Chinese parks and Western parks (at least from my experience), is that you’ll have to spend a lot of time around a lot of people. At least we were able to save about a hundred kuai (about $15 USD) by skipping the initial bus ride (which everyone in the picture above was waiting for). Foregoing the lift from the bus means a 10k walk which is really nice, and quite fast since it’s on wooden planks for most of the path. The best part of walking: reaching the midpoint of the park grants free access to the busses going up and downhill.

However you get into the park, reaching the Colourful Pool makes it all worthwhile.

Traveling here in mid-summer was really nice, but if I ever come back it’ll have to be during Autumn, when the park’s colorful glory shines through.

To get here we took a bus from Chengdu to the park for around 75 kuai. Mostly nice and easy, except for the psychotic bus driver who didn’t want to pull over for many bathroom breaks on the 10 hour ride.

Hiking the Meili Snow Mountains, Deqin, China (中国云南省梅里雪山)

As I hacked up the last pieces of phlegm from living in a major Chinese metropolitan city for the last 10 months, I was astonished by how blue the sky was. You probably laugh at me for this, but Chinese cities consist of one color primarily: gray. The ground, buildings and even the sky embody the same lifeless reflection. Coming out of the world’s most polluted cities and back into the natural world I love is an indescribable joy.

At around 9,000 feet above sea level and 28 and half degrees above the equator, the Mingyong glacier is simultaneously China’s lowest and most southerly glacier. This makes for a wonderfully biodiverse hike.

The lower stretches move through temperate forest.

Found a nice spot to frame the clashing ecosystems.

Feeling the mountain gods inside the basin and seeing a massive glacier up close (as well as snow for the first time in over a year) was well worth the 20km hike in.

The Meili Snow Mountains are an impressive range of three 6,000m (20,000+ feet) peaks in Northwestern Yunnan Province. If you want to go, Kunming is the usual jumping off point. I chose to stop in Lijiang (although it isn’t worth more than the sight of its copy-paste stores in a phony imitation of old Chinese architecture), Shangri-La, and Deqin. From Deqin it’s easy to catch a small bus (30 kuai) to Xidang, with the option of going on to the Yubeng Hot Springs.

We chose to make this our base for 30 kuai a night, and 10 kuai a night to leave the big bags. From here we hiked into the Yubeng River Valley and back into an expanding Tibetan town to stay another night (25 kuai). There’s also supposed to be be an amazing hike to a massive waterfall back here, so it’s probably worth staying in the village for two nights.

Eats & Drinks
If you stay at the local guesthouse in Yubeng Hot Springs, they can fire up any type of food you negotiate at okay prices. For the hike, you’ll have to stock yourself up. You can always resupply at the tea houses along the trail. If you have room though, you’ll do best to stock supplies beforehand because the guesthouse and teahouses sell at slightly marked up prices.

Exploring Wild China: Northwestern Yunnan Province (中国云南省)

I felt a spiritual sigh of relief leaving Guangzhou after teaching in English in China for the last 10 months. The jungles of concrete, glass and steel have been forsaken for plant life, open spaces and a sky whose (unpolluted) clouds open to reveal the blue skies I used to take for granted. We’re at the edge of China’s Wild Western Frontier (or the WWF as I like to think of it in honor of the Chinese government blocking the World Wildlife Fund’s website).

The amount of air displaced by the mountains of Northwestern Yunnan inspires that same sense of awe when thinking of the impermanent forces of the underworld, but here we can see these forces embodied. In terms of vertical scale, this land would even cause my beloved Rocky Mountains to quiver, and we’re only at the foothills of the Himalayas.

As in any “blank spaces” on the map slated for development, even a casual observer such as myself can see an obvious shift occurring here. Although it’s outside the demarcated Tibetan territory, this is still Tibetan country, faced with an influx of official Chinese language, values and authority. The dirt roads under construction for full-scale highway development serve as a reminder of the changes the market’s bringing here very soon.

Of course the market generates money, but I can only hope the locals have a chance to direct the development happening around them and to keep the new money from straying too far from home. Knowing the way these processes usually work, I fear that won’t the case here. On these bumpy mountain passes the thought of a painful end from the truck’s or mountain’s mechanical failure is never far from mind, but somehow that seems less pertinent right now.

Culture Shock in China

Any Westerner’s first visit to China’s gonna be met with shock. Simply put Chinese society is fairly chaotic, especially when compared to orderly Asian societies like Hong Kong and Singapore.

Books and school had taught me that the most important feature of ancient Chinese life (when Confucianism was strong) was the concept of yielding to one another, to nature and even the way of the Universe. The death of this notion is nowhere more obvious than in modern Chinese traffic. If a Chinese car, motorcycle or person has even a remote chance of making it, they’re going for it, and it’s up to you to get out of the way.

Traffic’s only the beginning. If you’re thinking of coming to China, here’s a list of the other ways your Western sentimentalities will be shocked:

Staring (outside of the most major cities) at foreigners is likely the first thing you’ll notice. China’s only been open to the world for about the last 40 years, so you’ll be served up as a visual barbeque. It’s usually not a hostile stare, but one that’s so consistent you can feel it cutting through you core. Don’t even try to stare back, because they won’t budge.

Spitting is out of control. The street, supermarkets, restaurants, elevators, hotel lobbies and busses are all fair game for a deep, lung-hackin’ loogy. Prepare to hear peoples’ attempts to pull their lungs out their nasal cavities when hockiin’ a loog.

The volume of Chinese voices is never regulated for others. And they can be damn LOUD when they feel the need. Bring earplugs for long bus and train rides!

Random HELLO’s! and picture-taking are probably the most common interaction between foreigners and Chinese. I’ll admit that I thought it was kind of endearing at first, but now I try bolt any other direction of these annoyances. I guess what really turned me off was all the sneaky picture-taking when my head was turned the other way.

Chaos in “lines” is another blaring feature of life in China. There’s no discernible concept of let’s stand in line and give each other space, particularly in bus and train lines where you’ll be mercilessly pushed and shoved (even by old ladies) if you aren’t ready. Best advice: sharpen your elbows and unleash a fury when it’s time to go.

Sanitation’s on a whole ‘nother level in China. Here it’s ok to throw your trash on the ground or take a piss in the street. You’ll probably even see a baby or two dumping out a load while the parent holds their assless chaps over the gutter. Also try not to be surprised the first time someone sneezes directly on you.

Polution will be a major concern for any foreign traveler to China. The air quality of many Chinese cities is actually hazardous to human health. Besides being overused in several regions, water is reportedly causing serious health problems for local Chinese residents. Finally soil erosion has reached such a severe level in Manchuria (the Northeastern region) that it could ultimately eliminate agricultural prospects in the region forever. China’s at a turning point whereby it could become a world leader in environmental policy, but if the Chinese Communist Party continues running its current course it could wind up facing environmental disasters on a scale never seen before.

Violence, to end on a sort of positive note, is pretty minimal in China. It’s more common to see people shouting horrific obscenities at full volume (and remember, they are LOUD) than to actually see a fight. And in my experience if they start swinging, expect to see the type of punches that cats throw at each other. It seems like violence has found its home as a mantelpiece under drinking. Turning down a drink is unthinkably embarrassing, so expect to see hordes of Chinese men rolling around in their own piles of baijiu (a common, absurdly fowl-smelling rice liquor) at 9pm on Friday and Saturday nights.

Hopefully this little list can help prospective Sino travelers. Once you’ve dealt with the initial shock of these behaviors they start to become funny in a bewildering sort of way.

Welcome to China 欢迎到中国

The dragon has finally awoken from its slumber and is ready to shake the earth. It’s a civilization pretending to be a country, and the longest running history behind it. The land has seen around a dozen major dynasties over the last 3,000+ years, rising and falling between periods of imperial splendor and centuries’ long feudal warfare along the way.

The closed-off, xenophobic attitudes of the 19th and 20th centuries have at last been cast aside. The rest of the world has no choice but to deal with a resurgent, supremely confident nation that owes its success to nothing besides itself. The most significant features of mainland Chinese societies today are neck-breaking change and contradiction. The oldest generation still upholds traditional Chinese values, while the new generation’s views of tradition are obscured by market-driven consumerism.

The classic image of misty mountains and rice terraces popularized in silk rolls and movies is still a reality in many parts of the country.

But a previously unfathomable urbanization is turning much of the eastern half of China into a seemingly endless array of crowded cities.

When you take a trip to China (and I heartily encourage everyone to visit this fascinating place), you’ll have to start preparing for Culture Shock in China.

Macau (Photos)

A short visit to the former Portuguese Colony that’s finally met China in the 21st century

Hong Kong (Photos)

Taken over several visits to “Asia’s World City”

What is the Good Life?

A basic requirement for most people is access to basic necessities like food, shelter, water and clothing. It makes me sad to say nearly 2 billion people live without these basics today. For that reason I continually try to remind myself of how fortunate I am because it’s too damn hard to be happy if you’re cold or hungry.

If you’re lucky enough to have these securities, focus on the people, places and things that make you happy. Flip the coin and take a look at the negatives (they are after-all just as much a part of life as anything). Reflect on the darker sides of life, how they relate to you, and how you can put ‘em to good use. Forget about chasing gold because it’s only gonna wear you down. Look instead toward life’s experiences that set your soul on fire. You’ve gotta live in the creative explosion of your abilities combined. Sharpen your Trinity (the mental, physical and spiritual), seek guidance through virtuous living, and foster healthy relationships with people and the land.

Cultures stewed in market economies tell the myth that a heartless commitment to a job justifies stifling your creativity. I wanna turn this story inside out with a simple question: Is the purpose of life to slave for material goods or to foster holistic self-awareness and genuine happiness? The answer’s obvious, but taking that next step on your path towards the Good Life isn’t always so clear. Although the early steps of the path often cause anxiety, don’t despair because the search is one of the most mysterious and beautiful experiences of life. During your search you’ll discover that the Good Life has always been inside, and the only blockade stopping it from coming out was you. Drop your barriers and you’ll find the power and independence of honest self-expression.

My Vietnam Travel Map

Wonderful north to south trip in Vietnam, January 2012

Meet Dave

Meet DaveUnfulfilled by consumer lifestyles, I left on a really slow trip around the world. As a 3rd eye traveler on the New American Dream, my aim is to inspire and cultivate conscious living along the way....Read More...

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People say that what we are all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think this is what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.
Joseph Campbell



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