Sunday, June 29, 2014

Last weekend in Chengdu

This has been my last weekend in Chengdu (I'll be in the country another 6 weeks still, just not in Chengdu).  Classes with the study abroad program ended on Friday.  I learned a fair bit of Chinese, though I'm not sure how long I will remember it.  I'd say that it is definitely a language that if you don't use it, you lose it quickly.

Some thoughts on the study abroad part of my China adventure:

  • My biggest recommendation for students considering a study abroad trip is don't take too many classes.  Getting out into the city and surroundings on your own will teach you as much about the culture and language as a classroom will, and maybe more.  I actually dropped down to 3 credits (from 6 at the start) so that I could explore more.  At the beginning, I felt like all I was doing was studying.  Having only 3 credits in a 5 week timeframe was plenty.  That was still 9 hours of class per week plus homework.    
  • Don't hangout with the other English speaking students exclusively.  It's easy to do and certainly more comfortable, but ask yourself if that's really why you came to another country to study.  Get out and try interacting with the locals a bit, even if you can only speak a little bit of the local language.
  • Try to break out of the pattern many college students have at home (go to class, do homework, sleep all day, party all night).  Again, is this why you're in a foreign country?  Maybe stay awake during the day and see where you live, ride the bus, go to local sites...and then sleep at night....  
Now, on to my adventures from yesterday!  I went to see the DuJiangYan Irrigation Project built about 2000 years ago and still in use today (though it has definitely been modernized as you'll probably notice in the pictures).  It involved a 40 minute train ride (I had the adventure of buying the ticket for that on Thursday), and then a bus ride to get there.  

Outside the train station that morning.  First task - figure out where to go in!  Second task, figure out where to go so you end up on the right train!  I succeeded in both of these, with a bit of following people and a little luck.  Top speed of the train I rode was 198 km/hr (about 123 mph).

The map of the whole place.  Besides Chinese and English, there was a lot of German on this particular map.

The rules.  If only people would follow them....

A cool bridge over one of the canals just outside the entrance gate.

Walking through some nice gardens.  Unfortunately, it rained for more than half the time I was there.

The rain didn't slow down the crowds.  All of the umbrellas are a bit problematic for me though - I'm a bit taller than most Chinese and their umbrellas tend to be right at eye/face level for me and I have to watch out to not get smacked by one.

A manmade island on the left of the photo.
The water was really moving fast.  I don't think it was very deep though.

A channel on the other side of the manmade island.

A suspension bridge for pedestrians.  
Lots of pretty flowers everywhere.

I climbed up to all the temples in the picture (well, except for the tall one at the top where I got within sight of the bottom of it and they wanted more money to continue).

Stairs and more stairs....
A view from one of the temples, looking back down at the suspension bridge.

I have no idea what this says, probably something enlightening, but I thought all the decorations along the top of the roof were cool.

That's all for this little trip.  Next stop - Lhasa.  I'm flying there tomorrow morning.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Solo trip to Leshan and Emei Shan part 2

Part 2 of the solo trip....

After I finished at the giant buddha, I bought another bus ticket and went to the town nearest to Emei Shan, where I stayed overnight in a hotel.  The next morning, I got up early and started walking in an attempt to climb to the top.  I started from the very bottom with the aim of walking all the way to the top and back over 3 days.  It's about 24 miles and about 8300 ft of elevation gain to go up (and then you have to come back down).

The cool trail map...which leaves out a LOT of details and, as I discovered, is NOT to scale.  But it is pretty to look at!

The first temple, Baoguo

Also at the first temple

And then this started.  And they kept going and going and going.  Every now and then, just for a nice change, they'd go down.  Which means that you are going to have to go up even more to get to the top.  :-(

Some nice views along the way

There were some lovely rest areas too (this one was conveniently located where it was flat and I didn't need a rest)
The intended final destination is that mountain way in the background.  Uh, oh, that's a long way...and a lot more steps to go up.

This is Qingyin Pavilion, about 8 miles in for me.  Most of the people here took a bus and then walked maybe a mile.
The guys in the green vests will carry you in a sedan chair for a price.

Wannian Temple is just up there.  I decided not to go up any extra steps, so I turned right here to continue on my way to the top.  This is about 9 or 10 miles into my journey.

The top of the Wannian Temple is the gold looking circle in the middle of this photo.

And this is Xixin Temple where I spent the night.  Altogether I probably went about 13 miles or so, almost all stairs.  I was exhausted.  My adventures weren't exactly over though.

Beautiful view from the temple.  I started the day in the town at the bottom.

This was the room I spent the night in with 10 older Chinese women who between them knew one word of English - hello.  If you count beds, you will notice that there are not 11 beds, there are 7.  Think of it as a big slumber party.  They were nice enough to give me my own bed where I didn't have to share.  What I didn't know is that it was next to the chamberpots they would use many times overnight.  That was an interesting night....  I didn't get much sleep because they would turn on the lights when they needed to use the 'facilities.'

The next morning, they were up at 5:30am and then sat and chatted loudly while continually telling me to go back to sleep.  That didn't happen, as much as I would have liked a bit more sleep.  My legs were jello from the day before, but I started heading uphill again, in an attempt to see if I could make it.  I got about an hour further up the mountain and had to make the tough decision to give up.  It took me another 3+ hours of climbing down stairs to get to the previous temple where there was a cable car to a bus to get off the mountain altogether.  It wasn't my first choice, but by then my legs were shaking with every step.  So...I bailed and went all the way home.

Altogether I made it about halfway up elevation-wise, and over halfway up distance-wise, but the mountain (or really, I should say the stairs) defeated me.

Solo trip to Leshan and Emei Shan part 1

Last weekend we had a free weekend and I took a big solo trip to see the giant Buddha in Leshan and to attempt to climb a Buddhist mountain called Emei Shan.  First, I took the city bus to the long-distance bus station (then had to wander around for 30 minutes to actually find it...).  Had to buy a ticket on my own.  I planned ahead and had the destination written out to show them.  Here's what a typical bus ticket looks like. If you know a little bit of Chinese, they aren't too hard to decipher (and if you're one of those folks, you'll probably quickly be able to figure out that this is a different bus ticket than my trip from Chengdu to Leshan).

After riding about 2 hours, I got to Leshan, and then changed to a local city bus to get to the giant buddha.  Lest you think my Chinese skills are awesome, I should probably mention that I knew ahead of time which bus to take and how much it would cost....  I have not been terribly spontaneous here with my travel, even within Chengdu, mostly because of the language.  But if you plan things out pretty well, it's not so bad!

This was my first glimpse of the Buddha.  It's about 233 feet tall and carved into the side of a cliff next to a river.  Once at the top, you can then go down a narrow staircase to see the full height of it.  That would have been more fun if there hadn't been at least 4 billion people there pushing and shoving the whole time.  Welcome to China.  
First you wait in line for a long time.

And you are reminded 'not to parabolic' (which I think would be more correctly translated as 'don't throw trash off the edge.'
Then you take the obligatory selfie (and somehow it looks like not very many people around me - not sure how I pulled that off!)

And start down the stairs
The bottom is waaay down there.  You are looking at his chest on the left, his left arm in the middle, and a little bit of a foot on the right of the photo.

And here are the stairs - actually pretty wide through here - they got narrower later on.

You can view it from a boat too.

A hand (and really narrow stairs!)

Here's a good view of the stairs I just came down.

And a view of the Buddha looking back up.
Buddha's right foot with a person for scale.

Lots of religious stuff going on down here.

When you are done at the bottom, you get to climb back up by a much less interesting staircase and then go behind the top of the head.

Apparently there are standard poses you must use in Chinese photos.  One is holding your arm out like you are giving the object (in this case, the buddha) a hug?  For photos of just people, the peace sign seems to be required.  

There's an interesting temple at the top also.

Inside the temple.  I'm not sure if I was allowed to take the photo or not, but the bit that interested me was that apparently this icon likes Oreo cookies.  If you look on the table where the flowers are, there's a blue package of them left as an offering.