Archive: August, 2012

Shanghai’s Charging Wall Street Bull

As I traveled through the streets of Shanghai, Marco and I came to the sorry realization that the areas of China that we like tend to have a lack of what we consider Chinese characteristics. For instance, are the streets piss-free and less dense than a brick of lead? Do the buildings lack the soulless architecture of China’s communist era? Do the restaurants serve food that isn’t soaked in oil?

We found such an area in Shanghai’s French Concession, a nice blend of greenery and French buildings.

As we continued looking for non-Chineseness in The Bund, the viewing platform of China’s financial bastion Pudong, we came across Arturo Di Modica’s Charging Bull.

As the original artist of Wall Street’s Charging Bull, Di Modica took the liberty to make China’s version “redder, younger and stronger.”

A writer for the Wall Street Journal blogged about the trend of stroking the bull’s junk for good luck.

I’ve got a better idea, and this is apparently a different growing trend as well: take a picture of kicking that bull in the nuts. Forget about receiving good luck from the bull, I’d rather wish it and everything it represents a reproductive apocalypse.

Qingdao International Beer Festival, China (中国青岛国际啤酒节)

Compared to festivals in the west, the International Qingdao Beer Festival looks like a joke when you first walk in. As you work your way into the tents you’ll see some kind of gross distortion of of festivals back home: bad food, horrible music, Chinese dancing and hyperconsumerism (cars on stage?).

But after you grab the first mug and realize all the beer is on Chinese guys who want nothing better than to toast you, it’s all good.

And there’s plenty of chances to meet all kinds of weirdo’s.

We stayed at the Kaiyue International Youth Hostel, one of the best hostels I’ve ever seen, for 55 kuai a night. Their address is 31号 Jining Road Shinan, Qingdao, Shandong China, 266000 and phone number is +86 532 6665 3920

To get to the festival, you can take Bus 5 (1 kuai) to Taidong and then take Bus 104 (2 or 3 kuai) to the other side of the city. Ask for Pijiujie (Beer Street). Total travel time to the festival is about an hour. The festival opens at 8:30am and starts closing down around 10:30pm. You’ll have to take a taxi back to Zhongshan. Get the meter running and it costs around 45 kuai to get back to Kaiyue.

And for some random entertainment, watch this guy fold in half and puff a cig with his feet:

Heaven Lake at Changbaishan, Jilin Province, China (中国吉林長白山天池)

This is another tempting but mostly unrewarding destination in China. The pictures of Heaven Lake were enticing enough to draw me all the way to the fairly remote border region with North Korea. The time and money it took to get here though made the disappointing reality of the park all the more painful.

Catching a snap and feeling the serenity of this scene is what drove me to the park.

But those rewards were eclipsed in my mind by the long hours on trains, busses and vans for this sight: another tightly-controlled play-corral for the Chinese masses.

The beauty of the landscape at Changbaishan and the novelty of seeing North Korea on the other side of the lake make it a place of interest. But the remoteness, expenses and the rules of the park that even block its visitors from taking a small hike are all hard pills to swallow.

To get here I took an overnight train from Beijing to Changchun and then another overnight train to Songjianghe for 110 kuai, hard sleeper. From Songjianghe you can access the Western slope of the mountain and Changbaishan Canyon, an easy 40 minute hike. Busses (around 45 kuai) and trains (11 kuai, hard seat) run between Songjianghe and Baihe, where you can access the Northern slope. To get to the park in Baihe, take the circular route city bus (1 kuai) and ask for the stop at the Changbaishan Bus. This bus costs around 15 kuai. You can stop before the park for access to the 68m waterfall that runs off Heaven Lake, and also hot springs where vendors boil eggs in the water for sale. In between the park’s entrance and the waterfall turnoff is a 30 minute walk to the Underground Forest, a crater filled with trees. The park’s admission fee is 100 kuai, 75 kuai for students. Busses to the other areas of each slope are included in the admission, but the vans to the top of the corralled Heaven Lake viewing area cost another 80 kuai return.

Hike the Great Wall at Jinshanling (中国北京金山岭长城)

Most people hoping to see the Great Wall go to Badaling. Those who go there have to stand in lines shoulder to shoulder just to get a chance to see an overcrowded section of the wall that was actually built in 1985. A much better option is to hike the Wall from Jinshanling to Simatai, a distance of about 10km. Jinshanling has restored sections at the beginning of the hike, but towards the end deteriorates to some of its original condition. Seeing this section of the old wall was one of my absolute favorite things of my trip through China.

Especially after 5pm you’re very unlikely to see other people at Jinshanling.

Unfortunately Simatai has been closed since June 2010, but rumor has it that it will reopen sometime soon. In light of this, you can still hike to the west end of Jinshanling and return the same way.

To get here, we took a bus from the Beijing Long Distance Bus Station to Miyun for 15 kuai. Watch out for the guys who come on the bus and snag confused foreigners to try and sell expensive rides to the Wall. In Miyun you can find another small bus station, where Bus 26 will take you to Gubeikou, from where you’ll need to hire one more short taxi to Jinshanling. We were lucky enough to meet a couple of other travelers in Miyun and we all decided to hire a van all the way to Jinshanling for 150 kuai.

Ice Cave, Shanxi Province, China (中国山西冰洞)

Shanxi’s Ice Cave is an overall big letdown. Between being far out of the way, expensive to get to and expensive to get inside, it only deserves mention as a warning. It’s fairly neat that this is a cave full of ice so close to the desert, but there’s no real compulsion to go here other than to take a nice photo and leave.

To get here we took a poorly planned option, a taxi from Datong. Expect to pay around 3 to 400 kuai. Tickets are 120 kuai, 60 kuai for students.

Yungang Grottoes, Shanxi Province, China (中国山西云冈石窟)

As the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386 to 534) took control over northern China, they adopted Buddhism as the state religion after its arrival to the region over the Northern Silk Road. During the late 5th and early 6th centuries, around 51,000 total carvings were made into these grottoes.

After local uprisings stopped the carvings in 525, the forces of erosion immediately set in on the sensitive sandstone.

However, various restoration efforts since the 11th century have been able to preserve many of the finer carvings and statues.

To get here, we took an overnight train from Xi’an to Datong, 16.5 hours, 225 kuai for a hard sleeper. To get to the grottoes from within Datong, go to the Xinkaili Bus Station and take Bus 3 all the way to the end of the line for 1.5 kuai. The tickets to get inside the park cost 150 kuai, 75 kuai for students.

Xi’an’s Terracotta Warriors, Shaanxi Province, China (中国陕西兵馬俑)

The first Emperor of the Qin Dynasty (Qin Shihuang, 259-210 BC) couldn’t pass into the afterlife without an army, so he had around 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots and 670 horses created in a factory-style production for the occasion of his great gig in the sky. Its currently believed that workers at different sites used eight different molds which were later laden with clay to create individual facial features.

The details and uniqueness of the figures are incredible.

The Terracotta warriors and figures are life-sized, and vary in height and style according to their military rank. Most of them originally held real weapons, which were later stolen or simply rotted away, although some of the weapons have survived. Some swords for instance were coated in chromium oxide (an alloy unknown to Europe until the 18th century), and not only survived but still hold a sharp edge 2,000 years later.

There are three main pits, the largest and most surprising of which is Pit 1.

Of course a lot of people will label me a fool for calling this a mostly non-essential stop in China, but I guess it all depends on what you’re looking for in your travels. If you’re a history buff or archeology nut then this is a must-do. But my prerogative while traveling China quickly changed with the revelation “to get the hell outta the cities.” I kept repeating to myself and all those annoyed around me that the west is the best. China’s Wild Western Frontier is a much different, friendlier experience than the one found in the urban pits of humanity of China’s eastern half.

Regardless, it’s pretty easy to get here on a train from most of China. When walking out of the train station you’ll obviously sail through the inflated foreigner taxi offers and then turn left. Go into the parking lot at the opposite end of the building and jump into bus 306 (there are many of them in the lot). Pay 7 kuai inside the bus for a one-way ticket. Outside the bus just follow the crowd toward the museum and buy your tickets for 150 kuai, 75 kuai for students.

Shapotou National Park, Ningxia Province, China (中国宁夏沙坡头)

The Desert Research Centre was built near Zhongwei to protect the trans-Asia railroad from the constantly-shifting desert and to stabilize the area’s agricultural development. Shapotou National Park was built nearby for some fun in the desert.

The desert’s scenery is without a doubt amazing.

This is a major desert with massive dunes.

Once inside the park there’s various things to do. Some are fun like driving a dune buggy or an ATV. Others aren’t so cool like riding a chairlift up the dunes or a crappy little raft down the Yellow River. After the 150 kuai entrance fee is paid, each of these other activities are really expensive as well. If you wanna do the activities inside be sure to bring several hundred kuai extra. If you want to hike around the dunes, that’s free of charge, and most likely nobody will stop you from doing so.

To get there, we took an overnight hard sleeper from Lanzhou to Zhongwei for 100 kuai. It wasn’t the best option since we got there around 4 in the morning, but we saved some money on lodging for that night. From the train station, a taxi to Shapotou is around 40 kuai. It’s possible to camp in or near the park, which I would recommend because we couldn’t find any hostels and the hotels were quite expensive.

Searching for the Good Life

With the inspiration of reason and emotion we’re led on a remarkable odyssey for happiness and the Good Life. This quest, the marvelous gift of our minds, is practically unseen anywhere else.

Many people think they’ve found good living with diversions like recreational drugs, senseless entertainment, and materialistic fantasies. It’s a horrific shame to see the neutralization of our minds’ endowments. Although these distractions aren’t evil in their own right, their indulgence inevitably caps creativity.

Committing to these distractions is a guaranteed course against self-fulfillment and genuine happiness. An important step on the drive for genuine happiness is to see beyond these empty vices.

The next step is to recognize the relativity of most social norms. Many of these values function to create economic stability, and don’t reflect universal, absolute moral mandates. The only mandates you should feel are your own. Never lose sight of the primacy of yourself.

Immediately drop the cultural blinders that create a craving for social status. Since the apex of economic productivity is fame and fortune, it’s important to recognize their futility when it comes to happiness. Obsessing over status and ego isn’t a part of this odyssey. Only take the journey when you’re ready to do it for yourself.

Clean living is never boisterous, so I choose to share my thoughts with the hope of inspiring even a handful of others to share their experiences, to inspire me. A happy life is the biggest of lives to live, but it’s rarely lived alone. Like all things, individuality has to be put on balance with community. Let’s trade the power of ideas and watch that insurmountable power of community as it grows.

For a little background music for the search, have a listen to ‘Searching’ by Blackalicious.

For more inspiration check out the song ‘Push’ by Common Market. With masterful lyricsm they illustrate how the same energy of the social pressures that hold us back can be turned around to break a path towards true freedom.

Common Market – Push

The smooth delivery of Common Market’s activist messages is unparalleled in the world of music. This song tells us to recognize our right to push back against the pressure to conform to societies’ uglier norms. You can’t fully live the Good Life before making this battle.

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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