Anthony's Interesting Times 2004 travel blog

Sandstone columns, Wulingyuan National Park

Hazy columns

The Five Fingers

Six Wonders Pagoda, Yellowstone Village

Wulingyuan sandstone columns

Wulingyuan Forest Reserve

Autumn colours and column

Rock Column

Chinese impressionism

View from the Corridor in the Cliff

Even more columns!

Scary rock bridge - 1000 metre drop

Forest dwelling

An early night last night after the usual phone conversation rejecting a prostitute. There were no budget places in Anshun, so I had to stay mid-range again, though I did blag a free breakfast. I am beginning to think this country is full of prostitutes. This view was not helped by the fact that my (I thought pretty respectable) hotel had an hourly rate charge. Can you believe it!

Well here I finally am settled into the Zhangjiajie Scenic Area, and what a time getting here. 24 hours of non-stop travelling involving one train (thankfully succesfully upgraded to hard sleeper), four buses, one pillion motorbike ride with all my luggage, three rows (two started by me), and great swathes of Chinese countryside never before seen by Europeans.

The problem is really a language problem, I have some but not enough. I have a few times shared with forigners the experience that this is sometimes worse than no language, as people assume you understood all that they said.

The crux of the problem was that I was trying to get to Zhangjiaje, and people were telling me the next stage of how to get there, whereas I assumed that stage was a complete one.

As a result I found myself at 4 am this morning on a train platform that did not look or feel right (I was too tired to respect my intuition as I should have done). I was in fact at least three hundred miles short of where I thought I was, and this place was actually meant to be a point to change trains (for another one seven hours later). So after much and unclear discussion with very helpful people on a very early minibus outside, I set off into some pretty industrial countryside, cement and brick factories and the like. Not very 'Scenic', I thought.

However, it gave me a lot of time to listen to my favourite Chinese CD, which you hear everywhere here (and I do mean everywhere). When I can get someone to tell me his name, I will, but he is like a Chinese Cheb Khaled, sort of Central Asian sounds meets Anthemic Rock. Powerful stuff, though the only bit I can understand, in the most popular (and poignant) one, is the rather good line "Wo bu hue ningbai" - I can't understand. I am sure you all know the feeling.

The final bus journey should have been an hour. After two hours of cement dust and sooty chimneys, more thorough questioning of fellow passengers clarified where we in fact were. So rather than turn back I ambitiously continued across country in a series of minibuses, though on the plus side, the scenery improved dramatically and was really rather fab, though I kept falling asleep and missing it.

In the process I made a leap forward in reading Chinese characters (very helpful with timetables, etc). Accordingly, I thought I was being really clever, when I finally arrived in Zhangjiaje City Bus Station, and instead of getting a bus to Zhangjiajie Village, as I was going to, I saw (in Chinese as it were) that there was a bus for the Scenic Area itself, and got that instead. And then rowed with motorcyclists at the other end about how much it was to give me a lift to my chosen hotel. Turns out they were more on the right track than me, as I again wasn't where I thought I was, as the main entrance had moved! So after 30 minutes rolling around bumpy mountain roads with all my luggage around me on a motorbike pillion, I finally made it, though there were disagreements about the price of said trip. And I am having difficulties already getting a train ticket for the next stage, to the Shaolin Temple.

Day 2: Changed rooms for various reasons, and then into the City to get my train ticket myself. On the minibus was this Tiaju Girl. They are the majority minority round here, several million of them, and they all seem to all be short and cuddly, as opposed to the usual Chinese slimness, though this one wasn't wearing the colouful pyjamas all the rest seem to.

Anyway, she wanted to practice her English, part of her plan to make something of herself and escape life as a waitress, etc. Luckily for me this involved helping me buy my train ticket. I could have probably managed it myself, but would have had difficulty getting there and back, as we came into a new bus station, and the buses had stopped for the day by the time I wanted to go back.

I think I now have a hard sleeper direct all the way to Zhengzhou (Jeng-Joe) near the Shaolin Temple. I say 'think' because of what happened yesterday, and because there is a symbol I have never seen before in the space where it normally says which bunk you have, though I had emphasised the middle one. I hope to God it is as I expect, as this is a 25 or 30 hour journey depending on who you ask.

So back and into the National Park/Forest Reserve of Wulingshan/Wulingyuan. It seems to have more names than a runaway Nazi. Interestingly, my thumbprint was scanned digitally into my two day ticket card, a procedure I suggest be introduced into Britain's National Parks.

Today I only explored a small bit in the South-West corner, but it was stunning. I know I keep saying this, but this may be the most amazing scenery I have seen in China yet. Enormous sandstone columns rise out of a sub-tropical forest of bamboos, pines and palms. As usual, atmospheric conditions prevented panoramic shots, but I hope the ones here give some idea at least. I took a cable car up one of the larger columns, walked around the top, and then walked down amongst the columns and forests. Excellent, and not too many Chinese tourists either.

Anyway, more about the Chinese sex industry now. First of all, I should say, I was pleasantly suprised that even though I am in a mid-range hotel, there was no prostitute activity last night. Perhaps this place is too small I thought, can't be more than a thousand people in the whole village, even if it is a tourist village.

When I got back to my hotel after the internet, I was talking to the reception about the heating. It is cold at night here at 6,000 feet, and believe it or not the entire hotel only has one set of controls for the aircon/heating in each room. In the course of this conversation it transpires that the phone number prominently dislayed by my bed is not reception, but that of the in-house massage service (my not realising this causing much merriment. Good job I didn't ring up yesterday when the shower kept going cold). This put a whole new light on the Chinese leisure industry, and the impact of an unbridled free market in a formerly Communist but nevertheless deeply sexist country.

It also turns out the reason why it was so quiet was only because the Chinese hadn't got here for the weekend, which they did last night. The hotel was full of drunk Chinese men (Chinese men get very drunk indeed, worse than Brits). The place appeared to be full of prostitutes, at least four knocked on my door directly rather than even phoning - nothing like the straightforward approach. My Mandarin doesn't run to firm and clear but caring rejections, but after a while I stopped caring and just shooed them away and shut the door in their faces.

Day three: All the 'action' seemed to have calmed down by about 10. Chinese get up early, eat early, and get drunk and go to bed early, which actually is quite a lot like me.

Spent the whole day in the park today. Saw my friend from yesterday - Peng-Xun - who also works on the gate of the park, where my digital thumbprint succesfully matched this morning's thumb. There seems to be two kinds of Chiniese work patterns. They either have several jobs and work very long hours, or they have Communist non-jobs, where they actually do bugger all. I'm sure we have all known people like that.

I walked pretty much non-stop for about ten hours, with some time out for gawping at the awesome scenery, and wondering just how many kilometres that sheer drop is. At least this time I could read my Chinese map and it was accurate, but unfortunately it did not have any contours. As a result my chosen route took me from the bottom to the top (about two kms) and down again at least three times. On the very good side though, not only did I have some awesome views, but I had them virtually all to myself, as I was off the tourist trail. It was incredible, though a bit of a shock when I hit the tourists again (hell of a lot of Japanese for some reason).

When I was eating tonight in this little backstreet place I quite like (there never seems to be anyone there but the really nice family whose place it is - they have a really cute toddler) I was talking about all the walking I had done today and the guy kept suggesting a massage from someone he knew (just over a quid) to ease my aching legs, etc. No sirree Bob! I am off back to my room to disconnect the phone, turn the light off, and read under the covers. Those zombie prostitutes won't get me!

Day 4: And they didn't, all was quiet.

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