Huanglong – A place so special it was alien

The first thing I did when I got to Jiuzhaigou valley was align myself to this lovely couple from Israel and follow them around like a third-wheel stalker.

Over dinner, after finishing our rather large mains, Liron looks at her boyfriend Tom and says ‘Im still hungry’. Tom immediately starts sifting through the menu ‘ What else should we order?’

I knew then that these were my people.

The next morning on the dot of 8am we make the 3 hour trip to Huanglong through the light rain, to the entry of the 3800 metre high scenic walk, along a well-built and positioned wooden path, to witness these amazing natural wonders – Connected lakes of all sizes high up in the mountains, with limestone borders that hold such a concentrated calcium content that the water is always clear from algae leaving only the most wonderous shades of blue.

I was walking slightly ahead of Liron and Tom, and within seconds of our beginning I hear the loud and heavy thud of someone falling. I turn around to find Tom lying on his side like a seal in shock, and an embarrassed Liron simply stating ‘He tried to do singing in the rain dancing..’

I love these two.

In 2 hours we endure thousands of steps and a high altitude, with each scenic stop competing in beauty with the next, until we finally reach the peak like step defeating champions, and are rewarded with the most magical display of colourful lakes so beautiful that it looked man-made! Or Alien! Either way it was out of this world!!

Needless to say, the view turned me into a loved up snap happy tourist for 5 hours.

Anyone who visits China, must not miss out on the World heritage listed connected pools of Huanglong.

Tips on how to catch public transport in China – The perilous bus ride to get to Heaven

I heard through the grapevine that in China, at a place called Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong there is the most beautiful scenery on Earth, and having worn in my traveling feet in the last 30 days, I did something I would have never done a month ago – I spontaneously decided to make the 12 hour trip to Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong by public China bus, by myself, without having booked any accommodation on the other end or knowing what I would do. This may seem like a small feat for some, but this was a massive deal for me, especially because it was China, and China aint no walk in the park. Most travellers I have encountered leave China to the last leg of their journey so they can warm up to it..

Must do’s when catching public transport in China.

1) ALWAYS find out what the numbers on your ticket mean – For example, the bus ticket has 3 sets of numbers; the date of departure, terminal number, and seat number. The date was obvious, and I had a 50% chance of getting the bus terminal number right, luckily, if you do happen to be in the unlucky 50%, the friendly ticket collector will inform you of your incorrect decision by publicly, and loudly, refusing you entry onto the wrong bus.

2) Make sure your iPod is fully charged – Public transport is noisy, with the people in the bus chatting away and the sound of traffic and horns beeping every 5 seconds, which is every time an accident is avoided.

3) If you need to pee – If it’s not an official toilet stop, make sure that the bus driver is aware that you have gotten off the bus, so he doesn’t start driving off without you but with all of your belongings, leaving you no choice but to run after the bus while still zipping up your jeans yelling with your arms waving about for him to stop.

4) Help people help you – Make sure early on that everybody knows that you can’t speak chinese and that you have no idea when to get off, and that you are their responsibility.

And finally,

5) Sleep though the scary parts – if you can.

Even though the bus route went high up through the mountains on sometimes unfinished windy narrow roads, past guard rails which had obviously been broken through a number of accidents, with rocks and stones falling from the mountains hitting or narrowly missing the bus, on roads that have been weakened and are crumbling from the rain, all of which was like a horror movie while ‘Stir it up’ by Bob Marly was playing on my iPod as background music in what felt like the scene in which Tiara dies.. Considering all of this, it was the most thrilling, scenic, FUN bus ride ever!

The Tibetan prayer wheel experience

I’ve been visiting this Tibetan cafe in Chengdu, not ony because I love their momo’s ( Tibetan dumplings), but also because the owners have always been so warm and friendly, and I’ve taken a particular liking to the owners mother who sits in the cafe all day, everyday.

I love old people – They can sleep anywhere, and they’ll talk to anyone, even if you don’t understand them.

So when it was translated to the old lady (I’ll call her Grandma) that I haven’t been able to sleep for the past three nights, she immediately gives me some prayer beads, and a tiny portable prayer wheel, and said something I imagine was ‘ That’ll sort you out.’

This morning, after my first night of rest since arriving in Chengdu, I excitedly went to visit Grandma to tell her the good news, bringing with me the tiny prayer wheel to help demonstrate my story. However, while I was motioning how I used the prayer wheel and that I was able to get to sleep, she got really agitated and started saying a whole lot of stuff to me, hands flying about excitedly while she seem to communicate something of real importance.

Her daughter came over to help translate the message which was ‘You must not (demonstrates). Devil. You must like this (demonstrates the difference), good.’

In essence, you have to swing the prayer wheel around clockwise for your prayers to be heard by God. If you swing the prayer wheel anti-clockwise, which seemed natural to me, you’re praying to the devil (yikes!)

So the prayers and scriptures that rest inside my tiny prayer wheel were said backwards to the devil resulting in a great nights sleep.

Mark – Let me know if our bad tenant has started paying rent?

Kidding! From now on I’m going to pray clockwise 🙂

Tea picking for T?

The act of drinking tea, and Tea houses are a valuable part of the Chinese culture, so I decided to enjoy an afternoon of visiting an old-school chinese town called Ling Pe and experience the highly recommended art of tea picking.

Accompanying me on this tour are 2 German men, Bernard and Christoph, and a couple from the UK, Helen and Ed.

Our Chinese driver, who can speak only chinese, takes us to Liz’s Courthouse, which accommodates a lush green tea plantation up on a hill surrounded by bamboo forests with an amazing view over the countryside. He begins informing and instructing us on how to pick a good tea leaf as we all got to work.

Priding myself on being the kind of person who appreciates all sorts of cultural activities and has a keen interest for a vast range of topics, I listen intently with the ears of a dedicated student and went about my tea picking with a forced enthusiasm.

Unexpectedly, after my initial questions (How do you harvest? Is this green tea? How much do you sell it for? and Can you smoke it?) and after 5 minutes of practical, I found myself getting distracted, the mosquito’s were bugging me. I wondered fearfully if there were any venemous snakes or spiders lurking near my feet? I was irritated that my trekking shoes were getting extremely muddy.

T, thinking – Ok, you’re not getting into the experience, just calm down and try to see the joy in it that everyone else can. Be one with nature. It’s like meditating, just breathe and do the activity. Be one with the picking. Yoga zen yoga zen yoga zen..tolerance tolerance tolerance… (Tummy growls) God, I’m STARVING!

I shamefully and disappointedly admitted to myself that I had no interest in the activity and was completely and utterly BORED, and starving because I was bored. I was done pretending to be a happy tea picking hippy and could have easily learnt this from television as I flicked past the tea harvesting channel.

I broke the (supposedly) tranquil silence and ask Bernard, who I admired for his ability to speak 4 languages and the fact that he was in China to perform as a musician at a charity event, to ask the driver how long more did we have to do this for and, more importantly, when was lunch going to be served?

Bernhard – ‘Now. He must have heard your prayers’

T – ‘I started praying an hour ago’

Bernhard, laughing – ‘I know, 20 minutes would have been enough’

T, smiling but thinking – More like 2 seconds.

What I have learnt about myself? I enjoy drinking the tea that other people skilfully cultivate and harvest. And that learning to meditate in India could go either way, but if I can master it, will be an extremely handy skill to have.

Beware of the Sichuan hotpot

One of the first things I did in Chengdu was seek out the famous Sichuan hotpot at the recommended ChongQing QinMa Hotpot Restaurant.

This Sichuan meal is a broth of stock, oils, spring onion, Sichuan peppers with lots of chillies boiling in a hotpot usually resting centre of the dining table, while additional ingredients such as tender beef, shrimp dumplings, noodles and veggies are thrown into the boil during the course of the seating.

First bite – OMG. Delicious! Yum!

Second bite – Hot searing pain in my mouth.. But I like it.

Third bite – Everything taste like metal.

Fourth bite – My mouth has reached a numb nirvana.

I end the meal fully aware of a low burning heat that accompanies my gut out of the restaurant. The sensation intensifies during my walk through Chengdu town, and strangely creeps closer to the point of volcanic eruption with each passing hour.

My body was still hosting this inferno at 4am that morning, and my internal organs were so inflamed that I was wondering if I could still have children(?)

In hindsight, when the waitress asked me how I wanted my hotpot – Mild, Medium, or Hot – requesting ‘HOT HOT’ was way too ambitious.

What not to do before flying out of Beijing.

1) Go out drinking til 6am in the morning, only getting a couple of hours sleep

2) Pack the night before but end up being unorganised anyway due to waking up late in a panic

3) Leave unfinished book at the hotel. Don’t have time to say goodbye to any friends made.

4) Jump into a cab without eating something first to help fight off the intense nausea

5) Break out in cold sweats in plane wondering why everyone’s staring.

6) Land in Chengdu looking like a monster panda with makeup smeared all over face, scaring the little boy who was waiting for me at the airport to lead me to my hotel transfer.

Last night in Beijing!

Jess (not her real name) identity will remain private for the personal albums

It started with an innocent dinner with Jess at this fabulous restaurant called Dali.

Dali, a modern chinese restaurant with a hint of thai fusion (spice wise), is hidden in the back streets of the hutongs and was hands down the best food I’ve ever had in Beijing. If it wasn’t for Jess, a friend of a friend who is a Beijing local (and an exceptionally wonderful lady), I would have never experience the delicate explosion of tastes that each serving camouflaged through its simple and clean appearance. It was like a colourful fireworks display in my mouth – definitely a happy seat wiggle moment.

After dinner we hit Kokomo, a rooftop bar in Sunlitan which caters to the expat community, and 6 Mohitos later we’re making plans for me to learn Mandarin and move to Beijing, or for Jess to move to Sydney, or go to Europe together. I was really enjoying talking to a Chinese national who is really proud of her country, agrees with the one party, and is passionate about what their government does for the people (which we don’t see a lot of overseas). It’s hard for an outsider to completely understand what it must have been like for China in the past 30 years since they open their doors, and even harder to understand what it would have been like through the cultural revolution the ten years prior. I’ve come to really appreciate the history, the culture, the values, and surprisingly the language, which in the beginning of my trip sounded harsh, like everyone was shouting at each other, and now I find it so fascinating.

We were joined by a young american boy, an expat working in Beijing as a professional football player, and an army of french men.

American over-tanned footballer, without introducing himself – so where do you girls live?

T – ‘I’m just passing through, Jess is from here’

American over-tanned footballer to Jess – Can I have your number? hands over mobile. (To T) I’d ask for yours too but you’re just passing through. (smooth)

Jess – ‘you’ve got the key lock on.’ (hands phone back)

Jess to the table but aimed at this cute french man‘bottoms up!’ then skulls her 10th mohito (we’ve also had about four beers in between)

T – this is going to turn ugly

15 minutes later, Jess throws up on the cute french mans knee. The bar staff, used to this kind of thing, comes out with a bucket of water and quickly washes away the evidence, this process of spewing and cleaning repeats 4 times.

T – ‘Honey, its time to go home’

Somehow, like a cat, I always find my way home, and this proves true even in a foreign country, blind drunk, at 6am in the morning.

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