AlbertaTime returns to China:
Apr. 8 -13: Luoyang, Longmen Grottoes, Guioliang Tunnel, & Zhengzhou
My first night in Luoyang had not been a success. It may have been just my room in the establishment but -- unlike the otherwise always very adequate, and mostly even quite nice --- rooms I've had before and since in China both times now, this place smelled awful, had almost zero heat and was so obviously mouldy and damp that I thought health was at risk...and it had crappy internet service.
That last bit sealed it. The fact that the staff of the place were young, ultra helpful, polite and exceptionally friendly wasn't near enough to make me want to stay more than a few hours overnight, so far too early in the morning I got up, and as soon as it was a reasonable hour, I begged off the remaining nights. I then booked another hotel.
It was a cool and gray day but better outside than inside at that place, and I had a few hours to kill before check in time at better digs (and they were). So I went walking.
Here's where I was walking. First a few blocks on this very urban street...
...then turning a corner and down a few blocks of this quite busy but mainly pedestrian and bicycle side street...
...then around another corner and over a few blocks to this narrower street where it was still somewhat busy...
...then finally around another corner to this again wide but much less busy street. It was quite quiet there and oddly reminded me of something like an old western town...
I was on that street, and had just finished a short conversation in halting Chinese and halting English with the owner of a small neighbourhood watch and jewellery shop. (I'd asked if -- among the fakes and cheap quartz offerings -- he might have some old VCMs laying about from earlier times. The seller was very friendly but the answer was nope, he didn't have any.)
As I left the store, I was approached by this gentleman. In very basic and rudimentary but polite English (at about same very poor level of my Putonghua), he asked if I might like to accompany him to his home for tea as I was a foreigner and he wished to show me welcome. Plus, he indicated, he liked that I knew about the old watches and he had some history to show me.
His entire manner was obviously not dangerous. He was very gracious in fact, so we walked together to his home down the street and then into this narrower alley as he described to me a bit about the history of the neighbourhood...
...We then stopped here at his home:
He explained that his home was over 200 years old and as we went inside I was struck by the simplicity of his life. I saw a neat and spotlessly clean but very spare bedroom on the left, a second orderly room that was his work area on the right, and between them only a single chest with teapot and some cupboard area. That was really it, except for three simple chairs and a table, and a small third room bare of any furniture except a cupboard, with a few items of art on the wall, floor and window sill.
That was it, at least in what I gather was his section. I didn't see anything like a heater, and certainly nothing like an air conditioner.
He then began to show me the art, which he explained was either of his own crafting as a now mainly retired calligrapher and woodworker, or that were gifts from friends, and that the pieces were not for sale, but he thought I might like to see them.
He was right and here's some examples:
Following the time we spent looking at his art, he introduced me to his brother and then made us tea. The very close relationship they had was immediately apparent.
We spent the next hour using our smattering knowledge of each other's language and a translator app on my phone and a phrase book, to learn about each other, sometimes with some success, other times with no success at all except mutual laughter or quizzical shakes of the head.
He also wrote his name and address on an envelope, but I'll have to get it translated when I get home because he couldn't write any English, and I can't read near enough relevant Chinese.
In other words, the morning turned from cold and frustrating to fascinating, friendly, confusing, informative, illuminating, challenging and utterly memorable.
After about an hour, I explained that I had things to attend to and that I must leave, so we said our goodbyes at the door of his home...
...but not before his request and my promise to write him when I get home. It's a promise I'll gladly keep.
April 8th and 9th
This next part details a fresh start in Luoyang in a different part of the city, with a better hotel (and a pinch of watch content)...
...and a beautiful spring day in the midst of Luoyang's annual spring Peony Festival. I decided to take a good stroll through the park across the street from the hotel before I killed Bucket List destination #1 for this trip: the Longmen Grottoes. (note: the guy in the camo is just a private company parking lot guard for the hotel. He's armed with a pencil and paper and I'm quite sure the most dangerous action he's seen at the hotel is poor parking).
These photos were taken between 9 and about 10:30 in the morning and I gather this is a pretty usual spring weekday morning at this Luoyang neighbourhood park, just folks taking a morning stroll or getting some exercise. Nothing appeared organized except that probably one of the dancers had brought a decent but certainly not pro-quality portable music system.
Keep in mind that nothing that's happening in this park in these photos is a part of the Peony Festival event. The prominent activities for that were taking place elsewhere in the city and I didn't have the time in the city to explore that. Instead, I just visited the park and Longmen, and the park photos are pretty much just day-to-day for this time of year. I asked.
Since yesterday's weather had been so poor, I made up my mind to get to the Longmen Grottoes in case the weather got bad again (which it didn't...but still), so I went back to the hotel, grabbed my cameras and took a cab to the Longmen Grottoes entrance.
Before reading further, I'll suggest that to put the rest of this post in historical perspective, it might be an idea to take a quick read of the Wiki on Longmen (but tldr: as many as 100,000 statues of varying sizes within 1,400 caves, started in AD 493.).
To put things in physical perspective, I'll suggest you first -- even if you don't read the Wiki -- click on this hi-res panorama shot of Longmen that I didn't take. It's the best single shot of the Grottoes I've ever seen and the one that convinced me to visit the site).
Anyways, here are my shots in no particular order, taken on the Grotto side and across the river...
It was a day of a lot of walking and a lot of climbing, but the Longmen site is a fascinating, scenic place with very worthwhile statues and other curiosities not available to be seen without some arduous climbing, especially high on the less traveled eastern side away from the main western section.
You'll notice I included one photo taken with a youngster; I wish I had a quarter for every time I got asked to pose with someone that day...probably happened about 30 times. "Foreigners" are scarce in Luoyang, and many people seem to want proof they can keep that they actually saw one :-). I'm very OK with that, and accepted every request.
And here's the watch content: from the AMCHPR collection: How I learned about Longmen -- a 1980s or 90s Mudan commemorative of the Longmen Grottoes.
April 11/2013 - the Guoliang Tunnel and Village (dial-up *very* beware!)
I arrived in Zhengzhou by train April 10th and had arranged to meet with an English speaking guide named "Sky" (Sky Han, available through Synotrip) ) and Haisong, our driver, the next day, April 11th.
Unlike most of the time when I go it alone, or with friends, I chose to use a guide since I knew no one in this area and because transportation from Zhengzhou to Guoliang is a bit complicated...and because it would also take more than two hours even direct by car from Zhengzhou, going through Xinxiang (pop: 5.7 million) to further complicate things and that's if I knew the way, and I didn't :-)
(more on Zhengzhou in the next section).
Getting a guide was a very good decision. Sky and Haisong were a treat to deal with and helped make the trip as fascinating as it was. In the following shots, Sky is wearing the jacket and the driver has the checked shirt. I don't know why Sky is so serious looking in the shots; he's hilarious and great fun to be around. So is Haisong. (More photos of Sky and Haisong later...)
The day was hot and dry and I was informed this was a couple of weeks before an expected rainy season.
Here, as far as I can glean, is the story behind the tunnel:
In 1972, the Chinese government decided _not_ to spend millions of dollars making a tunnel that would replace a precarious mountain path used to connect Guoliang (high up the cliffs) to other villages and towns lower in the valley as it would assist only about 300 residents of Guoliang Village. So some villagers decided to build a connecting tunnel and roadway themselves.
As far as I can find out, 13 villagers started the project and not all of them survived (among other things, because they were unskilled amateurs using explosives) but five years later, the 4/5 mile tunnel was completed and opened on May 1, 1977. It's two cars wide, quite steep and the exposed windows were used to expel rubble which can still be seen on the valley floor below the tunnel.
Anyways, about 4 years ago, moderator Soviet at WatchuSeek pointed me to photos of the place...and changed my life. (Thank you, Zhang!)
So here's my photographic attempt to convey why I wanted/needed to go there: photo overload of the tunnel, the village and the surroundings -- including stepped terraces for corn growing, right up to the ravine/cliff edge in places -- taken all day April 11th/2013 and shown in no particular order...
Here's a few more photos of Sky and Haisong.
Again, I can't say enough about what a pleasure it was to deal with these folks (now friends). If you need a guide, I recommend Sky (and the driver, Haisong) very highly. Sky can be reached through Synotrip. I thought their rates were very fair and well worth every penny.
The last two photos of me and Haisong are just for fun.
All day long he and I played a game about who could get the other in "rabbit ears" with our peace sign/victory fingers. I got one of him, and the second photo here is me narrowly avoiding getting caught while we were both fooling around at the top of a few hundred foot high viewpoint with Sky using my camera's zoom to shoot from a ways away.
Sky sent me this next photo and it's pretty obvious that I got caught -- or we caught each other -- early on while in the tunnel. I love this photo because it so clearly shows how much fun we were having :-)
...and that's one more destination checked off the Bucket List. . I was in shock after seeing the tunnel photos that Soviet pointed me to; I'm even more in shock after seeing Guoliangcun up close and personal. It's an astonishing place..
April 12th Zhengzhou (& another dial-up warning)
From here on is about my second day in Zhengzhou (the day after my Guoliang visit/April 11th) -- again spent with Sky, my guide (and with some of the time spent with Haisong and Sky's very friendly father, Yuchen, who is about my age, as well).
The plan was very loose, just a "stroll with no schedule" around downtown Zhengzhou (city details at link), a city of roughly 10 million people. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, nicely warm and dry...and a great day for sightseeing.
We started off wandering...
...loosely headed towards Zhengzhou's much smaller-than-Beijing's "Panjiayuan-style" antique/flea market...
...where I bought two watches, a Shanghai 7120/746 and a gold-tone Baoshihua, neither high value, but neither high cost, and both horological souvenirs of my trip to Zhengzhou's flea market (neither made in Zhengzhou, mind you; they're both products of Shanghai factories). The watch photos are "hotel room" shots, so please excuse the photography.
Following the market trip, Sky, Haisong, and Sky's father Yuchen and I walked to one of Zhengzhou's landmarks: the Erqi Tower near the center of downtown...
...then had a tasty noodles and tomato lunch at a nearby restaurant. Afterwards, Sky and I headed off alone through town...
...to the Zhengzhou City Center People's Park where we did our best to enjoy the day like everyone else :-)
...including, we hopped on a very tall ferris wheel since there's a pretty good size amusement rides area inside the Park (and I'm very much getting over my fear of heights ) ...
...and also grabbed a ride on one of the park's battery powered rental boats...
The highlight of the day for me, though was a period of about a half hour early on in the visit to the park. Sky and I sat down on our way through a playground area on our way to the Ferris wheel so I could take some shots.
A couple of young schoolchildren quickly approached me, asking questions in quite good English, like where I was from and what was my name, and so on. The kids were evidently on a schoolday trip to the park. Within seconds, though, we were both surrounded, with the kids asking questions in English or Chinese with Sky answering in Chinese and me answering in English.
Here's a shot of me surrounded by the kids and a shot of just the kids:
And if you're ever wondering why things seem so generally clean even with all the people in these cities, this is one of the most common sights in the country at any time of day, from the busiest street to the least crowded, a veritable army of workers, alone and in groups, wielding various sorts of brooms and litter grabbers:
Before I end this section: a quick blurb about what will rank as one of the most surprising -- and enjoyable -- minutes of my life. It didn't fit elsewhere, so here it is...
It happened the early evening the day before I went to Guoliang, April 10th. I was exploring along a street near my hotel, taking photos like these...
...When I heard a startling, very abrupt rush of noise erupt beside and just behind me...a whole bunch of people suddenly yelling and cheering and shouting, so much so that foot traffic on the street stopped dead with everybody looking at the source, so I turned to find out what was happening.
Evidently _I_ was what happening.
It was a busload of mostly students who had spotted a foreigner!!!. They were pretty much all cheering and waving , smiling and laughing, and shouting "hello!" and "ni hao!" and "laowai!" (ina wonderfully friendly tone) at the top of their lungs and...and I'm quite sure the bus driver hates me every time he visits his audiologist now.
I can't describe the noise except that it was very very loud, very shrill like only the sound of many boisterous yelling teenagers can be, 100% friendly and quite astonishing...
It's fun stuff being a foreign visitor in China :-)
Next: Shijiazhuang, including a return visit to Cangyanshan, then Tianjin...