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!
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.
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.
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.
Pachinko parlors, a popular arcade game, are filled with smoke and mostly men, old and young.
Some interesting wares at Don Quijote, a massive local chain dollar store.
Michael navigates the Tokyo Metro map.
Bastardized Hello Kitty wall in Shinjuku.
Nakamise street, leading up to the entrance of Senso Ji.
A look back at the entrance to the main Meiji shrine.
Purikura, Japanese photo booths, are endless fun. A photoshoot to your favorite annoying popsong followed by 20 minutes of photoshopping!
A decaying lamp in Ueno’s Ameya Yokocho streets.
You can keep your Hello Kitty and eat her too.
The Playstation 1 on display at Sony Park.
SensoJi Shrine, the oldest Shinto shrine in Tokyo.
Ichiran’s delicious ramen, to be enjoyed in your own private booth.
A good spread of Tokyo denizens.
The singer greeting everyone at the entrance to Takeshita Street in Harajuku.
A panorama of the treetops in Yoyogi park.
A ramen kitchen serving 10 at a time.
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!