My mom has fallen into the Asian stereotype when it comes to cameras and phones: no pic, no proof. Therefore, all the pics, all the proof. Our recent trip to Berlin (my sister lives there; she visited her, and I skipped over from Chengdu) proved a conflict of lifestyle interest; as she tripped and stumbled across towns and attractions with the screen in front of her face, we became a bit impatient with the whole concept of ‘needing’ a picture. When she asked me to take photos with my camera, I became belligerent and refused– unless she posed like this.
Here is a series of my mother hopefully enjoying the view without a screen in front of her face!
A month or so back during the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, Dan and I slammed our weary laptops shut and got our moldy butts out of Chengdu into a bus barreling towards Yibin, a town saddled on the Min and Yangtze Rivers in southeastern Sichuan. Our destination? The steamy green sea of China’s oldest bamboo forest.
Our journey took all day: we bussed from Chengdu to Yibin, where an initially reluctant but friendly driver arranged by our hotel picked us up. Weaving through Yibin and Changning, we picked up and dropped off a few more passengers as we ventured south. It was dark out when I smelled the wet, clean air of trees, the river, and the bamboo-leaf covered soil of south China. I stuck my head out of the car at one point, when we seemed to be lost in the deepness of the dark; the twists and turns and sudden shine of our headlights in the thick of bamboo disoriented me, and I looked up and saw a river of stars above me, framed by the silhouette of bamboo. Weary after 5 hours on a sweaty bus and throwing our fate into the hands of our tired driver, we fell asleep to the dead quiet of a hotel settled deep in Shu’nan.
Our room didn’t have any windows (we had snagged the bargain room for Xiaoyao Valley Hotel on Ctrip before the rush of other Chinese families and couples looking for their own getaway) so we didn’t know what to expect, but when we awoke, the sun was boasting among blue skies, made bluer by the vivid green of bamboo. Since the area isn’t technically a national park (yet), the park’ is named a “scenic area”– businesses, restaurants, and hotels who had the foresight settled in the park to take advantage of travelers looking for a convenient and pretty affordable way to visit and absorb as much bamboo as possible.
We hired a driver for the day– a man with not a lot of teeth (the ones left in his mouth were orange from smoke) a thick Sichuan accent gutted each word, and with an unceremonious mumble, we set off.
The cablecar ride over the valley gave us a breathtaking scope of why they call it a ‘zhuhai’– ‘zhu’ is bamboo, ‘hai’ is sea. The bamboo almost looked like feathers, the delicate ends bending with the wind, tickling the air. If you relaxed your eyes even further, you started noticing the delicate ebb and flow of the bamboo– very psychedelic.
Upon more research, we discovered that this is an area in China that receives the least amount of sunlight: the bamboo breathes clouds into the air, so by the time we started our journey around 11AM, the sun receded behind the haze and fog of the forest.
We visited Longyin Temple. I liked how it wasn’t as well-maintained; it seemed much of the temple campus was abandoned, and the look of peeling paint and weeds bursting through the cement grounds was more exciting to explore than the usual tidiness of usual temples and monasteries.
My favorite experience at Shu’nan was a surprise: Tianbao Village is carved into the cliffside, and winds along the mountain above the zhuhai. Breathtaking views for miles, the caves and carvings offered a cool respite from the humidity of the haze.
Travel tips for Shunan Bamboo Park:
+ Don’t leave your ticket in your hotel room! At certain sights, you need it to ‘enter’ a site. It also has the best map for the sights in the actual park, so don’t lose it!
+ Find a hotel in the actual park to cut down on commute time — it takes awhile to get to the actual park gate from the edge of the bamboo forest.
+ Bring cash, cash, cash. There’s plenty of bamboo and other treats to eat, but WeChat, Alipay, or credit cards won’t help much.
Hiring a driver for a day is cheap and definitely worth your while (200RMB): the park is really big. To take full advantage of a day, plan the itinerary for maximum efficiency– weaving and turning amongst the roads across the park is dizzying and will get you carsick. It’s worth taking a look at the map on your ticket (it’s a bit difficult to find more information on the features in the park online), and doing a bit of research and planning to make the most out of the time and driver.
Take advantage of your hotel manager’s local connections— if you do end up in Yibin before arriving, they’ll be able to help you find the cheapest and most convenient way in (especially if you get there later at night– we arrived around 11:30PM).
If you’re coming from Chengdu, there *are* direct busses from Chengdu to Changning, the smaller town right outside the bamboo forest. From Changning, you can find a bus that costs only 25RMB to ride into most of the hotels/B&Bs in the park.
We stayed for two nights, spending a full day in the park. We got through most of the sights we wanted to see, and had time to return relatively early for a full dinner (that said, the humidity can be exhausting– so a full two days would probably be what I would recommend). Plan ahead and a day at the very least should be very satisfying.
Last but not least, we really wish we had brought our french press and coffee beans. Since hotels have hot water kettles, it would have been a welcome luxury if we had perked up faster in the morning, and the coffee will get you through the heat exhaustion when it gets really humid.
I would highly recommend this visit: while most well-known attractions in China are usually crowded and as busy as Times Square, this park was nice in that you *could* find yourself alone and in the quiet. A very welcome change and a rarity, especially in China.
Budget breakdown for two people:
Bus to Yibin: 130RMB X 2
Driver from Yibin to Changning to the hotel in the park: 150RMB
XIaoyao Valley Hotel for two nights (booked on CTrip): 476 RMB
Driver for a day: 200 RMB
Bus back to Yibin: 25 RMB X 2
Bus from Yibin back to Chengdu: 110RMB X2
Treats and Eats for all three days: ~ 200RMB X 2
Ticket into the Shunan Park: 110RMB
I had the opportunity to hitch along on a mini road trip with some Chinese friends during Chinese New Year. We headed to Danba, a Buddhist town hidden in a gorge in the mountains north of Chengdu, and hiked a little bit of the Four Sisters mountain– a stretch of a mountain range featuring four peaks, one of which is the glorious ‘older sister’.
The ride to Danba took around 8-10 hours, but the journey was a huge part of the experience. We wove in and on and through mountain peaks and valleys; passed many small Tibetan villages on the way, characterized by stone-stacked walls painted with Buddhist swastikas, conch shells, and the dark red cheeks of sunburnt and chill bitten denizens.
This was my first time out of the city. I drank in blue skies and the lush greenery; the rock formations of cliff sides floating precariously above us; the fresh, dizzying thin air in high altitudes. Much of China’s most stereotypical traits– as a nation, people, and country– stood out to me: the sheer scale of the mountains felt like a looming acceptance of fate, for who was I but a speck on this God-sized rock?; the opportunistic private 1 RMB restrooms for a family to make a buck on anyone’s bladders; dirt roads for miles lead to modern, paved roadways lined with silk flags for a breathtaking postcard picture. I remember driving through a dusty, deserted-looking town only to view on my left an incredible temple built on the side of a mountain/sheer cliff, facing a turquoise blue river.
The Four Sisters mountain is also quite impressive, the tallest of the Qionglai mountain range. The ‘bigger sister’ seems to glow in a permanent spotlight: while the ‘younger sister’ peaks are typical dark juts into the skyline, the largest peak shines on its own, the aggressive jag topped with snow reflecting the sunlight. When we started the hike from Rilong town, we were already at ~3000 meters above sea level. As someone who loves hiking, and regularly hikes when I’m home in Seattle, I didn’t expect it to be so difficult to climb a staircase– but the altitude is a real and formidable challenge. We didn’t hike *up any peak, but the base trail was peaceful, pleasant, and brought us to a beautiful viewpoint near the base of the mountain.
Tips before you visit:
Don’t be shy and embarrassed by the altitude struggle. Buy canisters of oxygen at any outdoor outpost (there are several in more populous backpacking towns), and drink lots of water.
Dress in layers, bring a hat. The sun is strong up there, but so is the wind.
You’ll be stuck in a car for awhile, weaving through gorges, valleys, peaks, and tunnels. Don’t forget to look up: you might see a herd of cows or goats, precariously perched, grazing as you pass on by.
Bring toilet paper. Also, most privately owned ‘rest stop’ toilets will cost 1 RMB.
You have your own style, darling ~ a casual attitude; no fucks given; all the lols.
My old New York room mate is a professional accordion player; when I hear accordion music, I think of him and his Tinder dates and his women, his cigarettes and Groucho Marx face; I think of New York, and his accordion music echoing in the subway, playing to himself and whatever mysteriously lucky red-headed devil leaning against the wall around the corner, getting sick from nostalgia as he reads tender emails from China.
I miss New York very much. I miss my friends. I miss being able to go to things I know I’ll have fun at, I miss the art & DIY scene..
New life with ***: *** is a monogamous person, so exploring that kind of intimacy is pretty new to me … he continually shows me what it looks, smells, and feels like to be in a healthy relationship; calls me out on my bullshit, down for bike adventures, and most romantically he’s been consistent in helping me find a good place to climb. The gyms here that are closest to me are are abysmal: dusty, grime-slicked holds that probably hold fossilized skin cells in the resin of pollution air that wafts in (the place is a cement shack on top of a roof top). What’s funny are the tires outside in front of the top-roping walls for people and (there are mostly pre pubescent boys taking climbing classes there) the kids to work out with. What is this, Rocky?
Many of the bouldering walls have no routes marked at all– it’s a haphazard mix of holds, and teachers use long pointer sticks to indicate which hold you’re supposed to try and grab next. The only clean/nicely matted bouldering walls we found are on the top floor of a mall, and pretty challenging for someone who hasn’t climbed in half a year. I feel like a blob. I am a blob. I am blobbified.
In any case, *** is the only thing between me and a blob drain. It surprises me how supportive he is in this search; sometimes, I feel like he’s doing so much for me to feel at home in Chengdu, which gives me a great ambivalent feeling balancing between love and fear.
In other news, Chinese clubs: you’ll be a star. There are plenty of clubs who give promotional table service to WHITE PEOPLE just for showing up. Because where there are white people, there comes expendable money. There is also a circle of young to older women: “Lao Wai Hunters”, which literally translated means “Foreign People Hunters”, but REALLY means “White Men Hunters”. It is not hard (*for white men) to get laid at one of these ex-pat clubs; in Sichuan the men tend to be a slim, willowy, short build, so the physical change is welcome and exotified to the spicy ladies of Chengdu. And they are certainly spicy: a common thing you might see on the street (day or night) is a girl verbally or physically abusing her boyfriend. They call this kind of man a “soft ear”: emasculated from the rest of his body, all he becomes is a funnel for abuse.
Just give me an overview of you cracking the whip at ****. Also, how is your own monogamous relationship with ****? Are you going to be a newly minted CEO with a newly minted fiancee? Are you terrified? What’s next in 2017 for THE **** ****?
I took a stroll around the block for some of the pictures of Chengdu’s alleyways. Other pictures are from a lovely Sunday trip through the Wang Jiang Lou, a park hosting a plethora of bamboo species, common, exotic, and rare.
Spending the New Year in Tokyo: if you’re Japanese/ a native Tokyo-ite, you’ll be packing up to visit home. Professionals don’t get too many holidays a year, and the new year is an acceptable time to go home and spend time with the family.
For foreigners, Tokyo becomes their playground. Visitors come to dance the night away in Tokyo’s amazing musical venues; to gorge themselves on sushi, ramen, soba, okonomiyaki, and shop the year’s sales. You’ll notice more Chinese, English, and South Asian tourists, but when it came time to pre-game and prepare to ring in the new year, the usually busy and bustling subways emptied out and left me to my journey back to the hotel.
It was a bizarre respite: Tokyo had been a constant buzz of activity, of embarrassing excuse me’s as I forgot to stay left, not right, up the stairs; of nodding my head and bowing slightly when I bumped into others, overwhelmed by lights, stairs, arrows, signs, crowds of people, other confused tourists.
I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Tokyo with my father and brother during this New Year. We sent 2016 on its way with bowls of hot ramen, sticky daifuku, and a whole lotta walking.
Here are some pictures of the trip– click for captions. For a comprehensive map of our travels during these five days, scroll down for the Google Map with categories for shopping, eating, sight seeing, free wifi, and more.
A ramen kitchen serving 10 at a time.
A look back at the entrance to the main Meiji shrine.
A decaying lamp in Ueno’s Ameya Yokocho streets.
Pachinko parlors, a popular arcade game, are filled with smoke and mostly men, old and young.
Michael navigates the Tokyo Metro map.
Nakamise street, leading up to the entrance of Senso Ji.
You can keep your Hello Kitty and eat her too.
SensoJi Shrine, the oldest Shinto shrine in Tokyo.
A good spread of Tokyo denizens.
The singer greeting everyone at the entrance to Takeshita Street in Harajuku.
The Playstation 1 on display at Sony Park.
Ichiran’s delicious ramen, to be enjoyed in your own private booth.
A panorama of the treetops in Yoyogi park.
Some interesting wares at Don Quijote, a massive local chain dollar store.
Purikura, Japanese photo booths, are endless fun. A photoshoot to your favorite annoying popsong followed by 20 minutes of photoshopping!
Bastardized Hello Kitty wall in Shinjuku.
To use this map yourself, take a look and toggle between the layers to hone in on what you need during your travels! Some quick travel tips:
_I used the Maps.Me app to navigate between wifi spots.
_Tokyo provides a free wifi for tourists for up to 14 days.
_Cash, cash cash– buy Yen before you arrive; the ATMs will rip you off.
_Buy discounted subway tickets in the airport before you get into the city to save boku bucks.
_Bring your passport with you for tax-free shopping!
I’ve decided the best Christmases are spent in a casual, warm climate.
I’m in Taiwan for a little bit/during the holidays. A 5 day trip to Tokyo to deliver me into 2017; I’ll be flying back to Chengdu, China from here a week after 2016 finally surrenders to time’s inevitable flow, and dies.
I cruised the streets of Dunhua today on one of those old bikes that work perfectly, the kind that is stuck on a low gear which isn’t so bad because it reminds you that you’re on vacation. No need to race traffic; just coast and feel the warm fingers of sunlight reach your neck between the cool, breezy shade of trees…
Visited VVG Bookstore, and next to it, VVG Pride– these stores are so well curated, it feels more like a museum when you’ve slid the red door closed behind you and face the shelves of strange, infinitely detailed memorabilia… books you’ve never heard of, you can imagine the shy, eccentric, talent behind the thoughtful vignettes (Invisible Cities), photography series (Cocks), spotting the odd elitist fashion/art mags (Kinfolk) that fit in with the intensely catalogued ambience.
VVG Pride boasts a window display of a “grocery” area. There are two extremely perfect zucchinis for sale, 100NT each; but the Francophile atmosphere justifies the cost of the poor squash no one will buy. Pride is a curation of lifestyle/home items with a focus on clothes, handmade patches, adorably vintage packaged needle sets, and soap from France. I like their awning outside the most: a classy navy with sculpturally broken white wicker chairs.
As I continue the cruise, I luxuriate in all the plant and foliage overcoming street corners, balconies, and barren walls.
Exhausted by inspiration and delight, I found myself at Homeys Cafe, a coffee shop on the second floor of the bustling streets of Dunhua neighborhood. Without friends, I am ushered into the Library room– a smaller, quieter area lined with books and wall side one-top seats, to sip tea in silence, murmur to myself quietly over my Chinese workbook, and think of the next phase of YAYCAKE : 2017.
In the meantime, I’ll continue collecting Empowered Lady portraits– send me suggestions of strong women you look up to. I’m trying to think outside the Melinda Gates/Ruth Bader Ginsberg box…