Noilly Prattle: May 2017

Sunday, May 28, 2017

China 2017: 10 – monkeyshines

     We made our third excursion into the Wulingyuan Park by taxi to the eastern entrance, a real taxi for 10 yuan. Being a Monday the weekend crowds had thinned out—there was only one group tour when we went through the gate. We were getting used to the routine of taking the park buses and getting to a desired destination by pointing it out to the bus driver on the map and getting a nod.

the view from the top
       The destination for our third and final day into the park was the 326 m (1070 ft) Bailong Elevator 百龍電梯 – “Hundred Dragons Sky Lift” (billed as the world's tallest outdoor elevator) in which you glide up the side of the cliff face in glass enclosed cars. There are three double-deck cars that can carry 48 passengers each that take about 2 minutes to make the 326 m climb, not counting how long you may have to wait for a car. We were fortunate and didn't have to wait very long either going up or down. 

Video from inside:

Video from outside:

     After getting off the elevator on the mesa top a road leads to another bus stop that takes you to a spectacular paved walking path along the cliff top with great views of various sized hoodoos, deep canyons and cliffs eroded by eons of weathering.

Who's looking at who?

       I am particularly fascinated by monkeys since they often behave in ways that resemble human behavior. It was a big treat for me, therefore, to see lots of wild monkeys that make their home in the park and are accustomed to getting food from people eager to feed them—or stealing food from others not so eager to feed them. One particularly aggressive male ripped off a bag of oranges from a young woman who was taking photos of her boyfriend while said monkey put on quite a show struggling to get the peel off one particularly stubborn orange while giving me the evil eye.


Her Imperial Highness

      The clifftop path was long and winding. One older woman had the right idea; like an empress she got herself carried in a sedan chair. The path eventually led to an amazing 50-meter thick natural rock bridge connecting the main mesa to an adjacent hoodoo. There is a temple built on the top of the hoodoo. The trail and steps up to the temple and around the hoodoo top are lined with thousands of red streamers creating a very colorful red pattern amid the surrounding greenery. The streamers are bought by visitors to the temple for good luck and prosperity in life and tied to fence posts, tree branches or any convenient appendage to hang them from. There was a very interesting tree formation (without red ribbons) growing out of the rock set against a background of cliff face that resembled a man about to step off into infinity. Can you find him in the photo below left?

good bye cruel world

a souvenir?
       We were pretty tired and hungry but browsed around a souvenir shop before getting to the bus stop to the Bailong Elevator. Happily, there was a KFC restaurant for lunch and fortification since we had to walk another 300 meters to get the bus back to the Bailong Elevator. 

        Back at the Maosao Inn, we arranged for a car to drive us to Fenghuang for 1000 yuan, a little pricey by Chinese standards but reasonable enough by our Japanese ones. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

China 2017: 9 – conned for $2.90

the view from down below

the monorail train
     After a trip to the long distance bus terminal to get information on buses to Fenghuang (the next stop on our itinerary 236 km south of Zhangjiajie) we returned to Wulingyuan Park to take the monorail train to a different area of the park from yesterday's cable car. 

      While looking for a taxi in front of our hotel and old van rumbled by in front of us, abruptly stopped and backed up in front of us. There was a man driving and a woman and young girl sitting in the back seat leaving the middle seats empty. The man offered to give us a ride so I asked "how much?" in my best Chinese (duō shǎo qián). It must have sounded right because he showed me one finger (1 yuan). So we jumped in the car and bowed and smiled at the family.

       We rather naively thought that 1 yuan was rather cheap so I offered him a 10 yuan note (about $1.45) when we finally arrived at the Eastern Gate after a rather circuitous route getting there. (We knew the town well enough by now to know that we were being taken for a ride.) Instead of happily taking the 10 yuan note, he showed me two fingers with one hand and pointedly pointed at the 10 yuan note with the other. Conned again! The taxi fare to the park is only 10 yuan. The woman and girl were half smirking  and half giggling in the back seat and I almost laughed myself and gave the dude his 20 yuan. Oh well, the family looked rather needy so we chalked it up to charity and another lesson in being conned when you aren't alert.

nice views from the monorail train,
riverbed (not visible) on the left
       The park entrance wasn't crowded and since it was later in the day and we already had a 4-day pass we didn't have to by a ticket and proceeded directly to the entrance gate and soon got a bus to the monorail stop. The monorail is about 1.7 km long near a river bed and, consequently is lower than the high vantage views from the summit of the previous day's cable car. The scenery from the train looked more interesting than yesterday's. Towering tree-crowned hoodoos blossoming all around.
monorail and parallel footpath
at the monorail terminus
    After getting off the little green and white train we walked a little farther along a paved trail before returning to the monorail terminal and, instead of riding back, walked down a footpath that parallels the monorail track. Some interesting rock formations along the path included an “Old Man Gathering Herbs” and a “Forefinger” nicely back-lit by the afternoon sun. A couple wild monkeys performed their antics with oranges tossed to them for the entertainment of their descendants.

best advice I've seen in a long while

strange formation "Old man gathering herbs" 
Can you guess which shape it is? 

the "Old man"
the "Forefinger" or whatever
touch the sun

kissing cousins

       Talked to a staff guy at the hotel about the possibility of hiring a car to drive to Fenghuang. It's pricier than the bus but worth it for the convenience of not having to deal with hard to find hotels and language problems getting out of difficult situations, i.e., being lost. We shall see.

Monday, May 15, 2017

China 2017: 8 – on our own in Wulingyuan

Hallelujah Mts.
from Avatar
from the James Cameron film Avatar
     Xi'an was all about ancient history in the oldest capital city in Dynastic China. It was an urban experience. In contrast, the next phase of our journey in China took us to the “wilderness” experience of the Xhangjiajie National Forest within the Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area. You probably never heard of “Zhangjiajie” or “Wulingyuan” but if you've seen James Cameron's 2009 film Avatar you may have have seen parts of them. The films floating "Hallelujah Mountains" were inspired in part by the karst limestone formations that can be seen in the Wulingyuan Scenic Area.

Wulingyuan Scenic Area

hand drawn map of  the
Wulingyuan Scenic Area
waiting for the bus - East Gate in background
       On our second day in Wulingyuan, armed with our beautiful hand drawn map of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area, we ventured into our first unguided trek in the park; flagged a taxi in front of the hotel and took it to the eastern entrance gate for 10 yuan. The crowds were unbelievable, seemingly thousands of people in tour groups merging on the entrance. We got to the ticket windows easily enough since only the group leaders lined up to buy bulk tickets, so it didn't take very long to get our two tickets. Long lines were queued up to get onto the buses that travel all around the park to various points of interest. We boarded one going to the cable car station to the Tianzi Mountains.

queue on the stairs
       There was another horrendous queue on the stairs leading up to the cable car boarding platform—took half an hour or more to reach it. On reaching the summit and alighting from the cable car the scenery was lovely. There was some snow on the ground and icy tree branches glistened in the sunlight. We walked around the area which has karst limestone rock formations resembling the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, Utah but with trees growing on top and out of the cracks and crevices in the rock. A popular point of interest was a massive bulky looking statue commemorating a famous general of the Chinese Civil War era. 

beautiful view from the cable car summit

hoodoo like karst limestone pillar formations

statue of a civil war general

children are called 宝宝 [bao-bao] in Chinese;
actual meaning is "double treasure"

free buses travel all around the park 

       We had planned to go back down along walking trails to a monorail station about 5 km away, but were unable to find the right path. The paved paths were not well marked and had only a few confusing direction signs. We met two young women who had walked up from the monorail who said it had taken them more than three hours. Disappointed, we finally had to backtrack up to the cable car summit station and rode back down. The loading platform was much less crowded than in the morning. So was the bus we took back to the eastern gate. We could have walked the couple kilometers back to Wulingyuan but were a little tired and grabbed a taxi back to the hotel.

beef noodles
       We were famished after all that trekking in the park. The previous evening we had been surprised to see a restaurant with Arabic writing on its sign. We discovered that it was a noodle shop run by a Muslim family and heard that the food was very good and so, decided to try it. We ordered beef and noodles, stir fried beef and vegetable and a hot Chinese vegetable called chingensai in Japanese. Everything was delicious. 

stir-fried beef and vegetables

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

China 2017: 7 – late flight to Zhangjiajie

Wild Goose Pagoda

Wild Goose Pagoda
bas relief stonework - body is jade
bas relief wood carving
    Since we had a latish (20:00) flight to Zhangjiajie we decided to combine a little more sightseeing in Xi'an with the ride to the airport. So we arranged for a taxi to take us to the Wild Goose Pagoda (a well-known Xi'an landmark) before driving us to the airport in time for our 8:00pm flight. The Wild Goose Pagoda is a Buddhist Temple founded in the 8th Century. I was mostly impressed by the many bas relief carvings in wood and stone, particularly jade.

      After checking in at Xi'an Airport we had some time before boarding and found a Burger King, so we succumbed to the junk food urge before boarding our flight to Zhangjiajie.


our room in the Maosao Inn
      We arrived in Zhangjiajie at 21:45 and were met at the airport by a pre-arranged car and driver and drove to the Maosao Inn in Wulingyuan. The drive seemed endless (although it took only about an hour) through rain-dark streets and a climbing winding 2-lane road up to the town of Wulingyuan just outside the Zhangjiajie National Forest. The staff waiting in the empty lobby had limited English so we felt a bit like strangers in a strange land. Our room, however, was spacious and clean with a somewhat rough-hewn decor. The hot bath was very relaxing and the amenities seemed to work properly. The heater, though, was not able to get the room much above 19C.

      We had a mini crisis in the morning—a feeling of being unequal to a daunting task type panic attack--anxiety and paranoia about being able to get anything done with limited resources of language, knowledge of wilderness areas, etc., where to eat . . .  Finally plucking up our courage (and empty stomachs) we decided to go for it and emerged from the warm womb of our room. Fortunately, there was a new staff guy at the desk who spoke enough English to communicate about where to get some breakfast, restaurants, market, bank, park entrance, where to hail a taxi, etc., and got a photo copy of a simple map of the town to get around.

makeshift breakfast from bakery items
      Reassured and armed with our new knowledge we put together a few things from a bakery (breakfast place), had “breakfast” and walked a couple kilometers to the park entrance. The scenery of the karst mountains along the way suggested the kind of scenes we might see within the National Forest. Our intention was to try and arrange a tour but nobody at the ticket windows spoke English and we couldn't make ourselves understood, but we bought a very good site map of the park and a 3-day pass and decided that we would attempt some trips by ourselves into the park using the shuttle buses available within the park free with the entrance tickets.
karst limestone mountain formation 
      In the evening we decided to go out for dinner and explore the older part of Wulingyuan town. The restaurant scene in downtown Wulingyuan was less than exciting and we settled for a local noodle shop then strolled around the lively old town. It was colorfully lit in the evening and vibrant with people doing the things that people do in the evening: eating in restaurants, strolling around the streets, chatting in groups, some doing group dances similar to those we saw in Dali and Li Jiang in Yunnan last year.

      By then we had familiarized ourselves with the hotel and oriented ourselves within the town of Wulingyuan and the mini crisis of the morning proved to be as evanescent as a soap bubble and we looked forward to our first trek in the Zhangjiajie National Forest—or maybe it could be called the "Hallelujah Mountains"!