Pauna had decided that she would leave Shangri-La the following day after arriving. It is a mythical town brought to fame by James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon, where the people were said to be eternally happy and had found the fountain of youth, living longer than average people and hardly ageing. This is a fictional place of course, which was inspired by the North Yunnan town of Shangri-La. Anyway, sadly last year much of Shangri-La was destroyed by fire and hardly any hostels were open for business during the lie season. Pauna soon realised there was not much there for her to see, and that although construction was underway the town was not yet ready for an influx of tourist. So, she decided to join us on our flight, on Christmas Day to Chengdu.
We were glad to see her, and because it was a festive day we bought some Christmas hats and Ferraro rocher for the three of us to enjoy when we got to Chengdu.
When we arrived in Chengdu it was quite late at night, and the queue for the last shuttle bus was longer than volume of people the bus would hold. There were three of us though so we decided to get a taxi. We waited patiently in line for our chance to hop into a cab. We noticed some of the taxi drivers were being awfully picky with their fares, even rejecting people who approached them. Never before had I seen taxi drivers saying ‘no’ to people. When it was our chance to get a cab Pauna (who spoke Mandarin) tried to negotiate a fare with a female taxi driver. She said she couldn’t understand her and drove away. We approached another cab and the guy rudely put his window up, didn’t say a word and drove away from us. We had no idea what was happening. We tried again and the guy said it wasn’t the way he was going, rejected again! In the end Pauna had to speak to the security guard to get him to speak to a taxi driver and agree to take us as we were having no luck. Fortunately at this point a man agreed to take us with the meter on. Hallelujah!
Once again (like when we were in Vietnam) this would be nothing like an average Christmas with the Broadfoot and Wilson family. I was quite used to having everyone I loved around me, the heating would be on and the fire too, drinks of wine and Bailey’s would be flowing, everyone was in good spirits and there would be plenty of yummy food for everyone. I’d help with the food and pick my Dad and Granddad up from the pub. Seeing people I hadn’t seen for a while, laughing with them and nearly always drinking too much. I really enjoyed spending this time of year with the family, that’s what Christmas means to me. This was certainly different, but we tried our best to be as festive as possible in a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas. When we arrived at the hostel we left out bags in the room, put on our hats and went off into the night in search of an open restaurant. We ended up having very spicy Sichuan noodles and a bottle of Tsingtao beer for our Christmas meal. I missed home at this point.
It’s Boxing Day and the three of us were up early for Giant Panda Sanctuary. We could visit the sanctuary at any time of day but we wanted to see the pandas during feeding time at 9:30am, so this means getting up and out by 8:00am. The babies were so cute and playful. At one point a Chinese photographer entered the pen to get some photos of them. They began chasing the photographer who was dressed in a blue clinical suit. Every time he tried to take a photo they would chase him. The baby pandas were super clumsy, and their fur was wooly like a sheep’s wool. The adult pandas eat 25% of their body weight in bamboo everyday. That’s a lot of Bamboo!
I really loved seeing the pandas, even though it got very cramped at feeding time. There were people pushing and shoving to get to the front to take the perfect wildlife photo of the baby pandas. It was insane. Allan ended up shouting at a woman with her big SLR who pushed right to the front, poking people and prodding everyone to get to the front. It was really rude. Anyways, Allan shouted at her and she shouted back. In the end Allan began putting his hand up in front of her lens when she was trying to take photographs.
At night time the three of us went to watch the famous ‘Changing Faces’ Chinese opera. We didn’t really know what to expect, but found the whole experience really interesting. We watched the actors preparing their outfits and makeup, and then the opera began. It wasn’t just one show but consisted of a few mini shows, with the changing faces part at the end. It was quite fantastic the way they did it, change the faces of their costumes. It was lightning fast and there were at least a dozen different faces they switched between. Tomorrow we head to Jiuzhaigou.
We aimed to get 7:55 bus to Jiuzhaigou but there was one seat left when we got to the station. A woman approached us, she was using a walkie-talkie to communicate with someone. I always think a walkie-talkie makes a person look more official. She was dressed in a dark blue knee length puffa jacket with white polka dots. She was smart looking and well-presented. She said that she could arrange transport in a car to the national park for 200RMB each. It seemed a fair price, considering it would be 156RMB to get the bus, probably another 15RMB each to get the other bus station on top of the 10RMB we’d already paid. The three of us agreed and followed the woman to the car.
We ended up down a road next to the station outside a cafe. The woman told us our driver was inside and having his breakfast and for us to approach him when we were ready to leave. She pointed him out to us and left. We had some breakfast ‘Sui tai bao’ (vegetable bun) and watched the big tour buses drive down the road on their way to various destinations. Our guy came over to us and began talking to Pauna in mandarin. He was a pudgy little man with shrimp eyes, a brown woollen jumper, slacks and a confident demeanour. He chain smoked the whole time we were waiting. He said that it was another guy who would be taking us, and that he’d be here soon. So we waited. Then he told us he couldn’t collect us because his permit didn’t authorise him to work within the first ring road area, so another guy would take us to the car. After about 45 minutes of waiting we hopped into a taxi to take us to the car (we didn’t pay for this taxi). After a 20 minute taxi ride we arrived at the car, we were still waiting for one more person though, who had only just woke up! More waiting. We didn’t head off until about 10:00am, after all the rush in the morning too.
As we weaved through the mountainous valley roads the scenery resembled The Rockies in Canada. Snow capped peaks and tall thin pines. I was in the middle for the majority of the journey, the short straw of-course. You bash into both people aside you, there’s no head rest or anything to lean on. We arrived at Angelie Hostel in the village just outside the national park (500m away). It was cold in the lobby area, and I was worried I may not have brought enough layers with me.
We left a little later than planned. We had read that it was best to get to the park when it opened to avoid the massive crews of people. We arrived at about 9:00am, so the park had literally been open for half an hour but the place was littered with tourists! I just couldn’t believe this many people would be visiting the park on a Sunday, at 09:00am. Back home people would still be in bed, maybe even hungover. Yeah, It was hectic.
Our time in Juizhaigou was part of our training for EBC, so we planned on getting the bus to the most northern part of the park and hiking south. Little did we know that our plans would be jaded by nearly all footpaths being closed because of “fire season”. What a pile of crap! There was snow on the floor, how the hell could it be fire season?!? We came to the conclusion that they only had one sign and they used this all year round. Anyway, we had no choice but to get the shuttle bus from every single view point along the route. A bit annoying but we would still get to see everything.
Jiǔzhàigōu means ‘Nine Village Valley’ and refers to the nine Tibetan villages scattered in the parklands. According to Tibetan legend, Jiǔzhàigōu was created when a jealous devil caused the goddess Wunosemo to drop her magic mirror, a present from her lover the warlord god, Dage. The mirror dropped to the ground and shattered into 114 shimmering turquoise lakes.
The park was beautiful, even if it was the winter season. I could imagine how much more beautiful it would be in the spring when everything comes alive. Allan had his own agenda today, walking around the park and going off the beaten track. I spent most of the day with Pauna, chatting about life and dreams and all that jazz. We bumped into Allan at almost every viewpoint along the way, he was happy in his own world listening to music and climbing over barriers. On that note, I may have mentioned this before but no matter what you do here, in China, someone copies you. Pauna and I decided to climb over the fence and walk down the muddy slope to get a view of the frozen waterfall. This was not part of the wooden walkway route, so technically we shouldn’t be doing this, but we did anyway. Within a minute of us getting to the viewpoint, taking a photograph and turning around there were two middle-aged Chinese guys heading down the same way we came. As we passed them another younger Chinese guy had seen them, and was climbing over the wooden fence. So impressionable!
So, we got the bus from our hostel at 07:00 to go back to Chengdu. It would be a long 8 hours bus ride, but we could probably get some sleep on the way.
Some people are very easily amused! One Chinese woman on the bus put a hand print on the frosted window, another saw her and copied the act, another saw them and copied her too (this happens a lot of the time). If I bashed my head on the window people would copy me here!?!? Anyways, these weren’t young women, and the original hand printer went on to fill her window with hand prints, while the middle aged woman next to her added a print to the collection. Both then continued to take picture after picture on their smartphones of this childish artwork for over 20 minutes, searching for the best composition. I was astounded by this simplistic behaviour, but I suppose it entertained them for a lot of the journey as they began to add Chinese characters to the hand artwork, photographing again and again. I mentioned this to Pauna who said that “if they’d have came from the south of China to Juizhaigou for the first time, they may have never seen frost before”. This was a good point, and would explain their amazement at the frosted window and melted hand print. I suppose to me frost is something that happens every year of my life, and is in no way amazing.
Today we visited Le Shan to see the big Buddha. The big Buddha was built because the local people believed there was a water dragon flooding the area and causing havoc. There had been some very dangerous floods that had threatened lives and harvesting. After the Buddha was built the people believed the water dragon was captured and trapped within a pool for all eternity. The big Buddha protected them.
It was really amazing to see the Buddha from the top and to walk down the narrow steps at the side. Again, like a lot of tourist attractions in China, it was expensive for what it was (90¥ per person = £9). Nevertheless, it was amazing to see the eyes of the Buddha staring out over the river at the modern world. Would he approve?
We had some shopping to do before going to Lhasa, and we thought what better than The Global Centre mall. Officially the worlds biggest mall, it boasts a cinema, arcades, food hall, ice rink, water park and countless other western ways of occupying ones time. Surprisingly it was very, very empty. There was a section of the mall that specialised in Chinese food and sweets, this was very busy. All of the shops and restaurants were massively inflated western prices. The whole place was a perfect copy of an American mall, except in America this place would be heaving! Packed with people and full of atmosphere. Here it just didn’t fit, not enough people had this westernised stereotype ingrained into their culture yet. Maybe my generation and the one after me that will benefit from a place like this. Right now it was out of place and inaccessible to normal Chinese people. Only rich Chinese would pay these prices! We walked away unimpressed and empty-handed.
Tonight we were getting the train from Chengdu to Lhasa. It was New Years Eve so we planned to have a few cans of beer on the train. This train ride is the highest train journey in the world. We would be on the for almost two whole days before we arrived in Lhasa to begin our tour of Tibet.
Meanwhile, back at the hostel we were organising a few things, sending some emails and just pottering around the lobby area really, when a girl came in through the front door singing “I’m on top of the world looking down on creation….”. She saw us and carried on singing, approaching us. She had wild curly hair and a smile from ear to ear. She may have been drunk? Nevertheless, she did not care what people thought and was extremely excitable. Maybe a bit too excited. She told me she was elated because tonight she was going on a train to Tibet, the ‘top of the world’. I told her we would be on the same train. After I said this I instantly wished I’d kept quiet. Ok I realise that this statement makes me sound like an anti-social bitch, which I can be sometimes but tonight, on the train, all I wanted to do was chill, read and maybe work in my sketchbook . Things I’d been trying to do over the past few day but couldn’t because I was being social. Anyways, she was a bit mad too, harmless, but a bit like kid who’d ate too much sugar. Nevertheless, we chatted for a little bit about her plans and ours and as we left for the train we said goodbye.
It was a bloody good job we had a few copies of our Tibetan Travel Permit because we were asked about it so many times. When we collected our tickets from the ticket office we had to provide a copy, when we went through the first security section in the station we provided another copy. Once we got on the train the steward took a copy, asked us for the original, which we didn’t have, so we had to get her to call Woeser at the travel agency in Lhasa to confirm we were booked on a tour. It was insane how many times we were checked, and we were only going into another province.