A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Squareface

Huang Shan Expedition

China's Beautiful Yellow Mountain (It's not yellow at all) Anhui Province: Huang Shan

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View Shanghai - HuangShan on Squareface's travel map.


"Of all the notable mountains in China, Mount Huangshan, to be found in the south of Anhui province, is probably the most famous. Originally known as Mt. Yishan it was renamed Mt. Huangshan in 747 AD in recognition of the legendary Huang Di, who was the reputed ancestor of the Chinese people and who made magic pills for immortality here."

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Even if you take the cable car up Huang Shan, be prepared to spend around 5 hours climbing up and down, admiring the beauty of the various peaks.

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This cable car can apparently hold 101 persons.

Although the ascent might be tough on your legs, especially the knees when you have to descend on steep slope before ascending again, it will be worth it, as the view is really like a canvas.
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The satisfied look of having climbed up and down several peaks.

This expedition didn't allow me the chance to marvel at the sea of clouds nor the burst of radiance at sunrise though.

More pictures at Squareface's Shots.

Posted by Squareface 07:38 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Yunnan -- Lijiang - Shangri-la - Lijiang - Dali - Kunming

Sam & Squareface share their first experience with snow...as well as bad stomach conditions (vomitting and diarrhoea for a few days)

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Sunday - Wednesday, 5-8 November 2006
Above sea level: 2200m-3380m-4100m-descend

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Yangtze River, first bend (长江第一湾)

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Tiger-leaping Gorge (虎跳峡)

As the altitude got higher (from 2200m - 3380m), somehow something in Sam's system snapped, and she started vomitting. At every single stop, and in the midst of every journey, she had a plastic bag in hand.

I was so scared.

She couldn't seem to stop puking, even after using her supposedly trustworthy remedy of drinking coke. The tourguide, the coach driver, and our fellow tourists could only look with sympathy as the two of us ran to the nearest drains everytime the bus reached some tourist destination. Sam ran to puke, whilst I ran to provide the napkins.

It was very stuffy in the bus, and the coach driver claimed that there's a policy that they cannot open the windows when driving up to Shangri-la. Other tourists refused to swap seats with us because they didn't want to end up like Sam, so it was a busload of happy faces with the exception of a black face (mine) and a frozen grimaced expression (Sam).

After several stops along the way to Shangri-la to view sights that we didn't have the mood (nor physique) to appreciate, we finally made it to the hotel. Heaters were not available until December, so we had to make do with the electric blanket. It was very cold.

I asked the tourguide whether I could take away my dinner, only to be rudely rejected and pushed to eat dinner at the hotel restaurant. I said I had food and walked off. She wanted to save on the refund, I bet (you can get a refund if you don't take their meals, but she claimed I couldn't this time round because it was a deal with the hotel). I went back to the room and woke Sam up to remove her contact lenses. Received a very bad attitude for that, so naturally after being so pissed and yet helpless, I went out of the hotel area to smoke and look at the scenery as it got darker.

After sitting there simply looking into the distance and watching minimal traffic go by, I approached a small shop to buy 2 instant noodle cups, just in case Sam felt like eating, I thought.

The shopkeeper was a great guy, and I relieved my frustrations over the bitchy tourguide on him. I also discussed about the lack of an open mind with some of the tourmates, as they kept talking about how they miss their various food back home when they've only been on the road for how many days?! Sheesh. Anyway, the shopkeeper and I talked about various things, a little about the Cultural Revolution and Buddhism (he wore a badge of the present Buddha on his chest) over the 云烟 cigarettes I gave him and the 石林 cigarettes he offered. I couldn't be more thankful when he gave me a little salt wrapped in tissue to mix with water for Sam. He said it was a good remedy for adverse altitiude reactions. He also gave me a pair of chopsticks to eat my instant noodles with, which I returned him the next day with a thank you note: 扎西德勒(zha xi de lei) (thank you, in tibetan (藏语)). Sam and I managed to wave at him the next day as we departed Shangri-la for Lijiang. I'm truly thankful to him for lifting my spirits that night. :)

I had thoughts of taking a flight back if Sam was still unwell, but Sam seemed to feel better after a night's sleep, and fortunately so!

Because it snowed in Shangri-la! We went higher in altitude, from 3380m to about 4100m! Sam and I were geared with oxygen containers that really wasn't that necessary.
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Tibetan (藏族) culture allows a man to wed several wives, as well as a woman to wed several husbands! The bride should be given either a knife (刀) or a 天珠, so it serves household practicality than our usual useless gold stuff, huh.

After visiting a Tibetan temple, where you have to step in with your left foot first, and exit with your right foot first, it was my turn to react to high altitude. I puked after eating, puked on the bus, puked on the grass, etc. If I were to make the same trip, I think I would be able to remember the places where I left a bit of myself haha. I recall the worse was in front of Dali train station. I didn't know my body could convulse in such a manner to force everything out from my system.

While leaving the mountainous region I wondered if the natives there knew what exists on the other side of it. Hmm.

We met the Taiwanese couple again that night in Lijiang Old Street and learnt that the Taiwanese guy was also suffering from altitude effects. Phew. We weren't alone in this.

Memories of the remaining of Lijiang is a bit blurry because I was ill, but I do recall that we were fortunate to see Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (玉龙雪山) having snow at it's summit, because it was actually too early to be seeing snow (but these days the world is having abnormal weather, 天气反常). There was some sort of ally between the tour companies and the coach drivers because the coach drivers kept convincing us to tell the tourguide to explore route B instead of A (in a secretive way), and since Sam and I hopped from one tour group to another, it was clear that it was a conspiracy since all the coach drivers said the same thing.

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Anyway, after reaching Dali, Sam and I took our refund for dinner and headed to the only KFC in town, and boy did it smell good. I had diarrhoea thrice within an hour though.

I felt like a monkey climbing up to the 3rd-tiered bed, but that was to be my nest for the 8-hour train ride from Dali back to Kunming. I made sure that Sam was the last person I looked at that night and the first person I looked at on my birthday morning (she was sleeping on the 1st-tier though). heh.

After we got off the train and was walking on the platform, we realized we forgot one more bag and I ran to retrieve it. I had to ask the train inspector to open the door for me, and luckily I managed to get our bag back. It wasn't found under the table where we left it though, it was placed below the beds. Our biscuits and instant noodles were gone, but Sam's sunglasses (the most valuable thing in the bag) was saved.

Although the last leg of the tour was filled with Sam and me unfilling our stomachs, it was a trip worth making. At first we hated the Chinese tourists we travelled with after being separated from the Taiwanese couple, but I realized actually they're the ones who made the trip interesting sometimes. Like how they fussed over how we were the first to see “2006年香格里拉第一场雪”. Sometimes it's in those exclamations.

And I saw a colourful China.

More pictures at Squareface's Shots.

Posted by Squareface 20:48 Archived in China Comments (0)

Yunnan -- Lijiang

Sam & Squareface takes in China where colour is more prevalent

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Saturday, 4 November 2006, 2200m above sea level

Breakfast was the same fare again – fried dough fritters (youtiao), porridge, spicy noodles, soya bean drink, and hard-boiled eggs. Having overslept, we had to gobble down the above items within 10 minutes.
The thing about tour packages that is worthy of hate is the deliberate stopovers at tourguide-gets-commission shopping places. There were 2 stopovers selling jade and silver. Fortunately the 2nd shopping area was not as isolated so we made use of the opportunity to check out the area surrounding it, and ate some barbequed food. I tried yak meat! Not fantastic. Yak meat is tough to chew on. After the torturous wait for tourists who relent to buying things from these places, we headed for Lijiang.

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Me with yak meat and Sam happy with bbq tofu.

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Bugs! To be eaten!

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Sam being at home with the chopper

Lijiang Old Streets (丽江古街) was touristy, but had more flavour than Dali’s Old Town. The shops sell plenty of ethnic stuff, and the streets emitted a fusion of the new and old. A sense of tranquillity, and yet, vibrancy. The little river that is a trademark of this place was lined with plenty of little cafes, restaurants, and an abundance of hostels.
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The majority of the inhabitants of Lijiang are from the naxi nationality, and thus have a different dialect.
女人(a woman): 胖金妹 (pang jin mei)
男人(a man): 胖金哥 (pang jin ge)
Women are considered as adults at a young age of 13, and do the chores and marry a husband (娶老公) whilst the husband gets married (嫁给老婆). Fat and dark-skinned women are beautiful in their culture, as that signifies that she’s healthy.
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We were to part with the tour group since we were the odd couple (in more ways than one) who wanted to go up to Shangri-la whilst the rest of them were only intending to go to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (玉龙雪山). Dinner with the Shanghainese trio and the Taiwanese couple (the Singaporean guys left upon arrival at Lijiang) gave me some socializing training. The Shanghainese man treated us to one bottle of Guizhou’s white wine, which leaves a fire from your mouth all the way to your stomach and beyond. Nevertheless, one cannot reject a toast and an offering of a cigarette, so there you have it. Beer/Wine is customary in social occasions, but I didn’t expect to be doing this whilst on a tour. Contact numbers were exchanged and words were given to meet up back in Shanghai. The Taiwanese guy was really sweet. When he knew it was my birthday a couple of days later, he went out of the restaurant and got me a bunch of lollipops to represent flowers since he couldn’t find neither flowers nor a cake.

Later on that night Sam and I met the Taiwanese couple for drinks in one of the cafes, and they bought me a birthday cake! Weirdly designed, but an incredibly sweet gesture. So I had an early celebration with my lover, 2 new friends, and 2 strangers (had to share our booth with them), with red wine and popcorn.
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More pictures at Squareface's Shots.

Posted by Squareface 20:37 Archived in China Comments (0)

Yunnan -- Dali

Sam & Squareface takes in China where colour is more prevalent

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Friday, 3 November 2006

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After approximately 8 hours on the little cramped space (I slept very soundly though), I was awoken to a familiar Chinese tune and the usual squawking of Chinese middle-aged women. There was a long queue of people using the toilets and sinks (they’re enthusiastic about brushing their teeth!), so I just chewed some Wrigley’s gum(!). The announcements kept telling us to hurry up at the toilets, and the train came to a halt. I still don’t understand why trains cannot pull in at stations if there are people in the loo. Do they dislodge the sewerage somewhere before the station?

Dali train station was teeming with tourists and their respective tour guides. All the tour guides were dressed in Bai ethnic costumes and holding boards with their tourists’ names on them. Sam and I had to walk 2 rounds around them before we finally spotted my name. The thing about joining scattered tourists coming from various different places at different timings is that we were part of the unfortunate ones that had to wait for others. Another thing about being part of scattered tourists is that we can be reallocated to another group almost immediately. Apparently the bus was too small to accommodate all of us so we were to join another group. Quite fortunately too, since we met a Taiwanese couple, and 3 Singaporean dudes, and became kakis for every meal after that. Sam and I were pretty chummy with the Taiwanese couple since we could complain about others with our Minnan dialect.

In a tour group of 47, we were then led unto a coach and proceeded with our journey for the day. We were to tour Dali the whole day before we can check into the hotel in the evening.

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Some useful information was made known to us on the coach. The Bais are allowed to have up to 2 kids per couple. In Dali alone, inhabitants comprise of 23 of China’s minority groups. The Han ethnic group, who are the majority in the major cities of China, are the minority in Dali, and in Yunnan province. The Bai take much pride in their ethnic costume, as they have to sew them themselves. The colour white is auspicious, which explains why most of them chose it for their own costumes. The headdresses they wear have significant meaning, as with the rest of the jewellery-free ethnic attire. In their culture, singing to each other signifies courtship. And when in courtship, girls will ask the guys what they can offer her. A jade bangle is compulsory for the groom to collect the bride. Putting the jade bangle on a girl is a gesture representing “ever after” (一生一世). The in-laws judge whether the groom is worth marrying their daughter when they look at the craftsmanship of the jade bangle. Moreover, it is customary to have a matchmaker for every marriage. Only a man above 40 years old of high status, and have both elders and children, qualifies to be a matchmaker. Women are called jin hua (金花), whilst men are called ah peng ge(阿彭哥). They supposedly get offended if you were to address them as Miss (小姐) or Mister (先生). Below are a couple of other useful phrases:
你好 (How do you do):ni(1) qiu 1)
谢谢你 (Thank you): na(3) wei(3) ni(1), which sounds like 难为你
吃饭 (Eat): gang(4) fan(4)
吹牛 (commonly known as to boast): 聊天 (to chat)
苹果: pi(4) gu(3) (sounds like the mandarin phrase for buttocks)

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The old town of Dali (大理古城) is very commercialized with all the items in the shops targeted at tourists. Not much inspiration for Squareface there.

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The 3 pagodas of Dali (三塔) is one of the 24 historic monuments under protection. In China or in the world, I’m not too sure. It has maintained its original outlook, just that surrounding greenery was added. It was built in the Tang dynasty, and undergoes maintenance once a year. In 1925, there was an earthquake that caused one of the smaller pagodas to tilt slightly, thus the leaning pagoda of Dali. The pagodas were built using cement and glutinous rice, the same ingredients as in The Great Wall of China.

Dali has an affinity with rocks, and they are seen everywhere. When there were no refrigerators in the past, stone tables were used to provide the freezing effect. Although rocks were prevalent, Dali’s scenery actually comprises mainly of the wind, flowers, snow, and the moon (风、花、雪、月).

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Butterfly Springs (蝴蝶泉) was mildly scenic with a pond, and the encounter with the enclosed butterfly area reminded me of Butterfly Park in Cameron Highlands. The only highlight of this place was perhaps getting to interact with butterflies in the enclosure, whilst the rest of the place were mainly for photo-taking, with many touts holding costumes for tourists to take shots in. The so-called butterfly spring itself was insignificant.

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Erhai Lake (洱海) was thus named because the lake looks like a river from a bird’s eye view. It is a lake, but because it was the first water body used for transportation of goods and appeared very big to the Bais back then, they called it “Ear sea” and the name stuck. A fresh water lake, the residents use the water for consumption. Thus, the lake is protected, as can be seen from the absence of fishing boats.

We sat on a ferry to comb the lake, and were entertained with a cultural Bai performance, which concluded with the tasting of 3 teas. The first was bitter, the second was sweet, and the third was sort of a fusion. “一苦,二甜,三回味”.

After the 4-hour ferry ride (stopped over an uninteresting island called 风情岛), we rested for the day at a 2-star hotel that had hot water and television, but no hair dryer (not even at the concierge counter). Anyway, I stained my jeans so Sam and I took a cab to their shopping street, which was 5 minutes away, and the cab ride cost only 5RMB!

More pictures at Squareface's Shots.

Posted by Squareface 20:05 Archived in China Comments (0)

Yunnan -- Kunming

Sam & Squareface takes in China where colour is more prevalent

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View Yunnan on Squareface's travel map.

Thursday, 2 November 2006


Shanghai - Yunnan

I expected better from China Airlines. The meal provided on the aeroplane was not appetizing at all. I saw many other passengers taking a bite or two only to close the boxes too.

Nevertheless, I'm contentedly grateful for the smooth journey, and we reached Kunming as scheduled.

Whilst Sam went to collect our bags from the conveyor, I approached the "tourist information" counter in hope of getting a ticket directly to Lijiang. As usual I got swayed by the glib tongues of Chinese women, who convinced me that my planned route of exploring Yunnan was going to be very costly and even dangerous. I left the counter after she insulted my attempt at backpacking and walked out to a rather deserted arrival hall. You see, I spent a long time haggling with the woman at the counter, while everyone had already filed out and were received by their respective hosts. It was too obvious that Sam and I were blur tourists and was surprisingly only approached by one honeyed-tongue. She was not in the position to negotiate the price, but she offered us a free ride to the city as long as we were willing to talk it over. Sure!

In the 6-seater van, we were introduced into some interesting facts of Kunming, with the most useful information being that the airport was barely 10 minutes from the city centre (In Shanghai, it takes about 40-60 minutes from the international airport to the city centre, which is why I was all for the free ride). Kunming is said to be the only city to have its airport so close to the city centre.

Anyway, after compromising on the best price we could get, we sauntered around the area since our night train to Dali was scheduled for the evening. My original plan was to travel from Kunming – Lijiang – Shangri-la, and back. I did not want to include Dali, but all tour packages include it because it’s sorta on the way to Lijiang. The tour package definitely costs less than if we were to poke around on our own, and Sam was quite sceptical about my plans too.

We sampled 过桥米线, the trademark delicacy of Kunming, or Yunnan in general. A big bowl of hot soup was placed on our table, followed by a bowl of noodles, and then many small plates of various meat – beef, lamb, and I have no idea what else. The waiter cracked an egg and deposited it into the soup and left. Having Chinese features, it’s common that the Chinese take us as one of them and expect us to know all their habits, antics, and idiosyncrasies. After observing what other people did, and then confirming it with the waiter, we first placed the noodles into the soup, and then proceeded to place the dishes of the variety of meat into the supposedly boiling soup (no bubbles whatsoever). Not bad, and maybe it’s good to be ignorant of what I was chewing on.

With toxic waste in us all the way from Shanghai, we resorted to using a 20-cent-per-entry doorless drained toilet found at the back of a big mobile phone sales centre. We took turns to guard our cubicles of course, and tried to avoid the many bare asses all around us. Although I had the urge to “do big business” (or as the Chinese would say “do a number 2”), I simply cannot perform when above a drain. We managed to use toilets at 2 rather luxurious hotels after that, walking more comfortably thereafter.

We continued to wander the streets of the city and tried out many different snacks from roadside stalls. We didn’t want to risk missing our train so we didn’t go further than the city area.

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So after plodding around in the same circle, we decided to sit and observe some young girls who were begging for money. We saw them being chased away by the police, but they merely made slow motions to pack up but continued sitting there after the police left. There were about 3-5 such girls positioned about 3 metres apart on the same street, ranging from 7-12 years old, trying to get money from strangers by sitting on the pavement with boards with pleas for money for school, whilst these girls lay down on the pavement doing school work. The police officers came back and started to demand that they pack up at once, and that’s when Sam and I saw that the girls huddled together in a corner, all attired in a similar fashion. When we first saw one girl, and then two, we thought they were separate cases. However, when we saw them all together, then we started contemplating whether it was a case of a coalition. There is hearsay that many of these children beggars are “hired” and eventually the money that they have obtained will not end up in their hands. Ditto some handicapped beggars.

When we went back to the travel agency to get our train tickets for the 8pm train, we were then informed that our train leaves at 10pm instead, and it was only 6pm. The waiting time was spent with us watching these travel agents playing games on the computer in the office, and negotiating prices for other customers.

We were lucky we had a 4-bunk carriage, which we had to share with 2 men. I slept on the cramped upper bunk, and had to muffle my laughter when I saw the guy on upper bunk next to mine practically distorting his big physique to that little space. Sometimes it’s very convenient to be relatively small in size. :)

More pictures at Squareface's Shots

Posted by Squareface 19:40 Archived in China Comments (0)

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