11 Sep 2004
|Chengde (pronounced Churng-duh):
I am here in Chengde because it is where the Qing Dynasty Emperors use to go to get away from the heat in Beijing, as it is in the mouintans north towards Mongolia (which is why the food, etc is Mongolian). Like the Summer Palace in Beijing except more so. And whilst here, they used to do all the normal stuff that you need huge palaces and gardens for. One of the things they used to do was meet with bigknobs from far flung parts of the Empire, and to make them feel at home, they built them huge temples in their local style, especially the Tibetans and Mongolians who were a very important part of China then. So there is a version of the Potala in Lhasa, a version of the Panchen Lama's place in Tibet, a Mongolian temple (my fave, but few pics), etc. All can also be seen in 3D as such on the World Heritage web-site.
They also built a huge park for themselves - called the Mountain Resort - with all the usual grand and beautiful Chinese stuff which I will see tomorrow, though I have already noticed from outside (it is very big) that it has a few mountains in it.
Anyway, my Lonely Planet told me that a good way to see the outlying temples was on a pushbike, so in a spirit of adventure and ignoring the fact I haven't ridden a bike since before Shea was born, I booked one last night.
Well, this morning I found out I couldn't get a sleeper train or bus that would bypass Beijing, and I couldn't get tickets for past Beijing from anywhere but Beijing (though I am not convinced of either of these points). So back to Beijing again, which is OK, I'm not in a hurry.
Anyway, the bike was very old and ratchety, no gears or front brake, but did the job, and all in all it was rather good fun. Even got a breeze for the first time, the traffic here is nothing like Beijing, and the cars stay out of the cycle lanes...mostly. So I rode the several miles around four of best of the outlying temples.
The first one, a Mongolian one was my favourite, very beautiful, very chilled, but tragedy struck! One of my memory cards packed up when I had ridden to the next monastery, with all my pics of the first one, except for two which you can see and a photo as the screensaver on my mobile. Curses! It was too hot to walk up to Club Rock, though it did look very impressive from a distance (see relevant pic).
And then I won't go on about the rest, except to say that being the Tibetan end of Buddhism, there were lots of statues and pictures of luridly coloured and multi-armed demons having sex. I did lose my baseball cap at one of the temples, so need to get some head protection tonight or I will fry tomorrow. But I got home in one piece and really enjoyed riding my crappy old bike around.
(Addendum the next day): I met this Dutch couple also trying to bypass Beijing but with no Mandarin to discuss the matter. Later we had dinner together. They told me this amusing tale of when they tried to order some chicken with no bones and just got the bones, all smashed up sharp and dangerous. Spookily similar to what I got served, though mine had feet and other bits I normally don't eat, but hey, I was hungry! (Though I drew the line at the claws.)
Afterwards we came across some dragon and lion dancing which was cool, though not as good as in kung-fu films, and playing some big Japanese type drums too. And then I wondered off to buy another hat which was good fun, and worked out that what I thought were brothels were karaoke bars. I don't know if I said, but like our kids aspire to be Americans, trendy Chinese kids aspire to aspire to be Japanese, same haircuts, obsession with anime and manga, etc. Anyway, as I was wondering home through the city (popn. 1,000,000) there was these musicians playing traditional Chinese music under some pavillion, while people took turns to sing. It was amazing, though one of those times where it would have been nice to have someoone to share it with.
Next day off to explore the Mountain Resort. It was early, and all over the place were people doing amazing stuff. There were groups of musicians and singers all over this very large park, e.g. people doing martial arts, etc. Loads of women doing sword stuff, mostly older women, and guys doing some quite intense tai-chi/kung-fu, and loads of stuff I had never even seen before, but looked very powerful and impressive. I left them behind and walked up into the hills and wandered around the pine forests for a few hours, resting in hill-top pavillions, etc.
And where to next? I am about to go to the bus station to try and get a bus back to Beijing, and from there? There are two main directions I want to go, so whichever is easiest, or I can at least get someone to understand!
Addendum II: Killing time in Beijing Railway Station that evening:
Well, I was rather proud of myself. My hotel said there was no way I could get a train today at all, but as the bus station was next to the train station, I thought I would try. All in Mandarin, worked well for once, and I got to try a new class of train travel, soft seat, which is a hell of a lot better than hard seat (I just got offered an overnight to Tai'An on that and refused). Air-conditioning the whole way, big comfortable seats, and carriage half empty! I just kicked back and looked at the fabulous mountain views, etc, and listened to my Mandarin CDs and planned the next steps.
Really there were two main choices, which would dictate how I spent the next fortnight, and it all came down to availablity when I tried to get tickets at Beijing Railway Station. No joy on Pingyao - or so they said - but then they also said I would have to go hard-seat overnight to Tai'An (repressed memories resufacing of that 13 hour third class overnight train journey in Pakistan). Whilst I was waiting around to try to get a ticket for tomorrow instead - resigned to another day in Beijing - she 'found' a hard sleeper to Tai'An which leaves in about two hours, hence I am on the net again. Hard sleeper is a new experience, so we will have to wait to see what that involves.
Updates may be a while now, as I am going to Tai'An to climb the holy mountain of Tai Shan, and hopefully see the sunrise there (together with a thousand Chinese Tourists, no doubt). Mind you, there may well be internet there, it seems to be everywhere else. And then to Qufu, home of Confucious and things Confucian. Did you know his family lived in the same house (which I shall visit) for 2,500 years, 77 generations of them. Amazing!
After that, I can't make up my mind about several places near Shanghai, I shall think about it, got plenty of time though still.