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china Travel

SIMATAI, TREEKING ON THE GREAT WALL

Nothing better than a good walk on a Sunday morning. Well, for me every day was “Sundays,” but Sunday was even more Sunday. In the morning before taking the tour bus, I went from the hostel to a luxury hotel a five minute walk to clean my bowels in a decent bathroom. I entered a bathroom that had the “western style” sign affixed to the door, long live the “throne”! There was also the “Chinese style”, but i wasn’t used to “doing things” crouching over a hole in the ground. Phew, that was quite a relief!!! I left the hotel with a slight smile of happiness on my face. Certain things are priceless, and happiness is one of them!

The Great Wall of China is truly an impressive work! You don’t see where it starts or where it ends, it snaking through the top of the endless mountains. It was built, repaired and rebuilt during various phases and dynasties, began in the 5th century BC and the last part to be built was in the sixteenth century, that is, over 2,000 years. The purpose was to protect against northern raids, each emperor emphasized in certain part of the Wall, which extends non-continuously from the northeast to the northwest of the country for 6400km, having some ramifications.

Qin Shi Huang Di, the emperor who unified China in 221 BC, placed great emphasis on the construction of the Wall. Later other dynasties (Han, Wei, Qi, Sui) continued the work, the last part being built in the Ming dynasty in the 14th century. As the Wall passes through various lands and types of soil, various types of materials were employed, such as stones, wood, clay, straw and bricks. An estimated 1 million people were employed, including soldiers, prisoners, slaves and widows, and about 200,000 people would have died during construction. It was seen as a symbol of tyranny, which consumed the wealth of the nation and the lives of the damned.

I took a tour with other “gringos” that took three hours by bus to get to the part of the Great Wall known as Simatai (120km from Beijing), as there are several stretches to get to know. Simatai is the most appreciated part of the Wall by adventurous backpackers and less known to traditional tourists for requiring greater fitness and being further away from Beijing. I chose this excerpt following the recommendation of another Canadian backpacker I met at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan, and for not wanting all the local crowd getting in the way of my photos and walking. Backpackers always exchange important information and ideas. Most tourists end up going to the stretch of Badaling, by a sound coincidence is the hottest, having been restored and being possible to reach with public bus. Other excerpts include Mutianyu, Juyongguan, Jinshanling, Jiankou, Huanghua, etc… this only in the Beijing region.

I walked for four hours, it was a very strenuous walk between “ups” and “downs” and the “zigzags” of the mountain. They were 30 towers traveled, the first 15 were the most difficult, only climbing up, then it was easy from the second half to the end. Some parts were in the original state, without restoration and in ruins. The view was fantastic, the weather was warm and without rain. Another dream come true! I took great pictures. The bus dropped us off at the entrance to the first tower and picked us up near the thirtieth tower.

The return, as expected the bad driver of the bus decided to hit another bus, no surprise to me, glad it was not serious. The bus drivers here drive like crazy, have a habit of ringing the annoying horn every three seconds and making very dangerous overtaking. I was in such a bad mood with such incompetence and for not being able to sleep on the bus. In China there are a few driving schools, who knows it is not a promising market for investments!

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china Travel

THE FORBIDDEN CITY AND THE SQUARE OF HEAVENLY PEACE

Today was a day of great wandering!

The Imperial Palace, known as “The Forbidden City” is really impressive! There was a lot to see, I got very tired, it’s a real little town inside the walls. There was also both very, very many tourists and many Chinese. At the entrance there was a large portrait of Mao Zedong, the great dictator of Chinese communism, hero to many and tyrant to others, founder of Maoism, far-left communism.

During the five centuries of operation it housed fourteen emperors of the Ming dynasty and ten of the Qing dynasty until 1912, portrayed in the excellent film “The Last Emperor” (Emperor Puyi). The complex has 800 buildings and almost 9,000 rooms in its 720 km² enclosed within the walls. The palace took 14 years to build and employed 200,000 workers, ending in 1420 A.D. It has a museum and several treasures, rich in architectural, cultural and artistic details. It is the largest palace in the world and was listed by UNESCO in 1987.

Tiananmen Square was also huge and full of Chinese, I had never seen so many in my life!!! It is right in front of the Forbidden City, just crossing an avenue of twelve or fourteen lanes. In the Square or surrounding it are statues, museums, monuments, memorials and a plaque counting down to the Olympics in Beijing 2008.

The largest square in the world, ironically called the 40-acre Tiananmen Square, was the scene of the massacre of Chinese intellectuals, students and workers in peaceful protests for democracy, against corruption, inflation and unemployment between April and June 1989, during a visit by Russian President Mikhail Gorbatchev. Of course, other protests were taking place in parallel in other major cities in China. No one knows for sure how many were cowardly killed by the tanks and machine guns of the Chinese military, which by the way, were divided, some were sympathizers to the movement, because the government omits and manipulates information, estimates range from three hundred to ten thousand dead. Many innocent people are imprisoned to this day. At the time, some Chinese communities in Europe, Canada and the U.S., as well as Taiwan and Hong Kong, also joined the protests.

I also went to a “cool little park”, the 70 hectares Beihai Park, north of the Forbidden City, the park had a lake, a temple, a Tibetan white pagoda and three islets.

At night, in Wang Fu Jing I only had the courage to eat the seahorse skewer, by the way tasteless and dull, had no meat only bones. I ate another skewer too, I think it was sparrow, with head and everything!

Here in China it’s all very dirty, the “Chinese” has no notion of hygiene and education, spit, burp and fart without fear of being judgement, besides leaving the filthy city of garbage, manage to be rude, stupid and super rude. Bathrooms… no comments, worse than you can possibly imagine! And because of the 2008 Olympics, the government is running etiquette and education programs so as not to shock foreigners. Traffic is chaotic, car does not respect pedestrian, nor two or three-wheeled vehicles and vice versa, red sign here means that the car can walk, but the pedestrian take care! One should look in all directions to cross the street, as car comes in the opposite direction, front, back, sides and diagonals. A real adventure! Pedestrian signs here are merely ornamental.

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china Travel

BEIJING, THE CAPITAL OF THE NORTH

After two weeks in Japan, I left Tokyo for Osaka. I took all Nippon Airways (ANA) flight NH141 from 07:35, one hour long. After another hour of connection in Osaka and three hours of flight, I arrived in Beijing at noon. From the airport to Central Railway Station in downtown, I took a bus for RMB 16 (USD 2) and went straight to the hostel. Before I got a little lost walking through the giant city blocks and dragging the weight of my luggage, which wasted a lot of time. After all, as I did not trust the Chinese, I avoided taking one of the many rickshaws who insistently tried to sell their services by the door of the bus. The taxi from the airport would leave for RMB 100 to RMB 120 (from USD 13 to USD 15).

I confess that I was a little shocked to see so much poverty, beggars and other poor people trying to make a living selling little things at the train station. Even knowing this fact before coming to China, witnessing was somewhat disgusted, after all they were my compatriots, even though they did not have much bond, the origins are the same. In Brazil, Asians aren’t usually that poor.

The hostels and most things in China are cheap. After through research on the internet had chosen the district of Dongcheng (pronounced “don-tchen”, the final “g” is always silent) east of the Forbidden City. The location of the hostel looked good, next to tourist attractions and shops, the accesses were all on foot, eventually subway or bus.

The New Dragon Hostel left for RMB 40 per night (USD 5.13) plus USD 2 reservation. It took a lot of work to choose this hostel.

Compared to Japan everything here was very cheap, and even compared to Brazil. My dollar yielded a lot here, USD 1 was worth almost RMB 8 (called Yuan or Remimbi, the “people’s money”). But unlike Japan, there are thousands of Chinese in the streets, instead of Japanese! Imagine that almost everywhere in China is like walking on the packed Rua 25 de Março in downtown São Paulo.

At night I went for a walk on the famous Wang Fu Jing Avenue, a boardwalk where shops and a night market full of exotic foods, such as scorpion skewers, locusts, seahorses, snakeskin, centipede, sparrow, cocoons, etc. That night I had no courage to eat these things, who knows in another day, after all I had to satisfy my anxiety and curiosity, it was a matter of “tourist honor”.

Beijing, which means “Capital of the North” is the current capital of China, and was for more than 800 years capital of several dynasties, was spelled Peking, but the pronunciation in Chinese-Mandarin is the same. It is one of the former capitals of China, being the second most populous city in China, with 15 millions inhabitants, behind Shanghai, which will host the 2008 Olympics. It is also a city full of history and culture, as well as being the political center of the fastest growing nation in the world today. It is located northeast of China 1 hour from the coast. In Beijing the buildings are modern, tall and beautiful, their architecture mixes concepts from the West with the East.

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china Travel

CHINA: An Introduction

Capital: BEIJING

Political System: Socialist Republic

Economy: 2nd largest economic power in GDP

Population: 1.4 billion, 1st most populous country in the world

Religions: Atheism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam and others

Facts and curiosities:

China (中國 “Zhong Guo”), means “Empire of the Center”, is famous for the Great Wall, which can NOT be seen from the Moon (but at a certain distance from space), and for numerous “pirate” products that can be seen on street vendors throughout this planet. It has thirty-three regions: twenty-two provinces, five autonomous regions, four municipalities and two special administrative regions.

It has one of the oldest and most developed cultures of the past. Its history is marked by countless civil wars and external wars, dominations, conquests and defeats, unifications and reunifications. It has 56 ethnic groups, the Hans being the most numerous. Abortion is widely practiced (estimated at 20 million per year), as well as female infanticide. The people are rude and have no notion of hygiene (in my point of view). It is the 4th largest territorial nation (or 3rd, depending on how it counts some disputed areas with India, Russia and Taiwan), behind Russia, Canada and the USA, it has an area similar to that of the USA.

Separatist states: Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang (or East Turkistan, or even Uighur).

The best known Chinese inventions are: compass, gunpowder, paper, printing, silk, umbrella, porcelain, pasta, ice cream.

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china

Tulou 土樓, the Earthen Building in China

Hukeng in Yongding County, southwest of Fujian (China), is almost on the border with Guangdong Province. The region is famous for its old buildings, still habitable, called “Tu Lou” or clay buildings. They are sets of “apartments”, made of clay, stone and wood, with a perimeter in the circular shape, some squares, built on the edge of streams and rivers. Dated between 100 and 700 years ago, in the region there are some twenty thousand of these houses, the largest fit a thousand people with six hundred rooms, from three to four floors. In the past they were built with the defensive function. Some shapes have half-moon, half-square, oval and pentagonal perimeters.

“Tu Lou” are built by the Han subgroup known as Hakka, which means “guest”. The culture here is basically subsistence, here they live as if they were stuck in time, they have their own customs and language. I don’t understand Hakka at all. In the center of the condominium, animals such as chickens, ducks and pigs are raised, and the plantations are outside, as are the bathrooms. Depending on the construction, in the center there is a temple where ceremonies and weddings are held. The largest group even had a school. The kitchens are typically located on the first floor, the bedrooms are located on the other floors and there are windows to the outside. There is only a single entrance and exit door or main gate, which at night was always closed.

The region began to be explored for tourism after American satellites discovered the buildings and thought they were missile silos. Progress has progressed fast here, talking to locals in their 30s and 40s, they say the region was totally isolated, with no car, horse, electricity, telephone, running water and rare bicycles. The roads are recent with less than five years old, the reservoir was only two years old. Telephone and electricity are a little older, between five and ten years. It was a very poor region, but with the arrival of tourism – an important factor – life has improved a lot for the locals.

Some Hakkas keep their faces turned against tourists, after all, nobody likes to have their houses invaded all the time to take pictures. But there are many who are very hospitable, unlike most Chinese, who are rude and just want to make money from tourists. Hakkas are kind – but children don’t like taking pictures very much.

From the balcony of my room I had the view of a “Tu Lou”, right in front, which was also an option to stay, but without a shower and a very rustic room. I have decided to stay another night here. As far as I know, I was the first Brazilian to appear here. My friend and I took a motorcycle-taxi ride to see more houses in this interior. We have passed by bucolic landscapes and have seen peasants and farmers working. We also have seen many houses today and have entered some, although similar, each one has its own peculiarity.

I have seen how they made dry persimmon, first peel them one by one manually, then let them dry for a long time, knead them to stay flat and let them dry a little longer, all very artisan and slow. Women peeled hundreds a day. The region smelled of rotting bark in the bush. A sachet that should be about twenty units cost only RMB 4 or USD 0.50 – in Beijing it cost five times more.

This region exceeded my expectations! In fact, I didn’t even plan to come here, because I had never heard of these buildings. Fujian is a province full of contrasts. China’s coastal cities are well developed while those in the countryside live isolated from civilization.

See more details and enjoy the video below:

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china

BingLing Temple (炳灵寺) China

This place is hard to get to but worth the effort! It is so remote the only way to get there is by boat but the beautiful cliffs, Yellow river, and Buddhas (carved right into the cliffs!) make me want to go again and again. 


There are hundreds of stone statues throughout the 100+ caves. There is a bit of walking so be sure to wear comfortable shoes but there weren’t as many stairs as I had expected so that was a plus.


Further Information

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bingling_Temple

https://goo.gl/maps/X9EzAV7G8m76VP8S6

https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/gansu/lanzhou/bingling.htm

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china

Star Ferry, Hong Kong

The Morning Star boat by Star Ferry

What can you get in New York for $0.35? No much. Well, despite being just as expensive as New York (ref), this ferry trip and tourist attraction in only costs HKD$2.70.

The boats run every few minutes from 6:30 to 23:30 making it more convenient that most subways. Plus, the view is wonderful on the ride – especially at night.

If you come to Hong Kong this is a must-see!

More information can be found on the Star Ferry website.