Two Year Review

I was looking at a calendar today and realized that it was exactly two years ago that I first arrived in Beijing.  This is one of the first pictures that I took.  Upon returning home, I wrote this post to capture the feelings of those first steps on this far side of the world.  Strange to look back on that trip and reexamine how I felt.  Enjoy-

Arriving in Beijing

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Night Rider, Chaoyang District.

This fuzzy one looks better than it’s sharp counterpart.  It feels more like Beijing.

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Outside my Building, Dongzhimen District

This is the building I live in, as seen at night.  The beijing haze gives the light pollution in the sky a turbo charge.

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Photo of the Day – The First

I have a huge number of photos that will never find their way into a post, simply because they don’t have much of a story.  I’m going to try and line a bunch up-  To start, this is a picture taken on the edge of the third ring road.  I have wanted to take this shot for a long time, and finally got a chance this evening.

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Questions and Answers : Beijing Traffic

Another frequently asked question about life in China has to do with travel in Beijing.  A huge number of people connect some notion of bad traffic with life in this city.   Take a look at the pictures below and judge for yourself.

These two pictures are taken facing opposite sides of a bridge that I cross every day on my way to work.  Every day, the road looks like this, and not just at night.  To go further, there are five other roads just like this (the huge rings that you can see on Google Maps), and all of them are just as crowded.

Have a question about China or living here?  Send an email or leave a comment, and I will answer your query!

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My House

There has only ever been one place where I really felt I was home, and I have missed it every day since I left.  I don’t think I could explain the conflict in this if I tried.

A number of people have asked to see what my apartment looks like-  It still doesn’t quite feel right, but hey, I think its pretty good.  We are almost at the center of the city.

If ever you have question about what it is like living in China, just ask, I will continue to answer some of the questions that I hear from time to time.  Enjoy-

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Lijiang by Day

Lijiang was the final stop on my Southern Tour, and though I was excited to be visiting one of the major tourist destination of China, my body and mind were both showing the signs of exhaustion. Two weeks of travel isn’t so long, but the the level of physical activity that I had been doing each day seemed to finally be catching up. My legs hurt, my knees hurt, and for the life of me I couldn’t stay focused on anything that I tried to do. Nonetheless, the trip went on.

The Lijiang Old Town in known around China for it’s ancient feel and excellent climate. I felt like I was living in a set from the Lord of the Rings. It was significantly colder here than I had expected, especially after the perfect temperature that I found while traveling in Dali. Lijiang sits at 2600 meters elevation, so I shouldn’t have been caught so off guard by the frost that covered the rooftops when I went out on my first early morning walk. After spending so many months in the claustrophobic cloud that is Beijing, it was great to be in a place where the air felt crisp and didn’t make my lungs burn.

The Old Town is a preserved ancient village in the center of a larger city. It is closed to vehicle traffic, which is a nice change from almost everywhere else that I have been. All of the streets are paved with the same ancient stone slabs that have been used for hundreds of years prior.  Years of weather and millions of footsteps have polished them glass-smooth and they are deadly slippery, even when they aren’t wet.

When people speak of Lijiang and the surrounding region, they almost always talk about the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, a towering peak just outside of the city that stands high enough to remain snow capped year round. Although I never ended up climbing this one, I was very happy to have many clear days of viewing from a distance. Sitting completely on it’s own in a large valley, it has a very unique look, and I immediately saw why people have been drawn to it for so many years. Just to the opposite side of this mountain sits the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge, frequently, albeit erroneously, touted as the deepest gorge in the world. Once again, I hear it is amazing, but I just didn’t have the time or reason to go on this particular trip.

On one of the days, I climbed to the top of Elephant Hill, a relatively small foothill just outside of the Old Town. On my way up, I pushed past groups of young Chinese students, huffing through the thin air and encouraging one another not to give up. I would periodically pass a group of much older Chinese, all of whom looked as though they were suffering. Many people get off of the plane and go directly into this kind of activity, something which I strongly discourage.  2600 meters isn’t crazy high, but it is enough to make you feel very ill if you haven’t taken a day at a slower pace. Then again, we have things to see!

At the top of the hill there is a two story tower that provides a great view up the length of the valley.  I climbed up and took a moment to catch my breath.  Way down below, I could see a road that I would soon be following by bike, and tried to imagine what it would be like. Out in the distance I could see the base of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. If I followed it up, I could see the start of changes in the growth zones, then the arrival of rock and snow. I tried to imagine the people standing on the platform high up near the top. There is a chairlift that goes up this mountain, but from where I was you couldn’t see any of it. No people, no chairlift, no tourist center- From a distance, it was untouched.

I have always liked the way in which elevation appears to manipulate the scale of the world below you. Things always seem to be more accessible, more within reach. Between the base of the mountain and where I was standing there are at least eight villages, but from the top of the hill I had no sense of how much space there was in this valley below me.   An inspection of the map would show that it is about 20 kilometers from this vantage point to the entrance to the mountain. There is some great beauty in the way the elevation simplifies the world. From the top, I have always felt that the places down below make much more sense.

The next day I rented a bike and began my ride toward some of the villages as part of a project that I was working on. I began this journey on the road that I had observed from the hill the previous day. It was a fantastically long ribbon of pavement, and I was immediately reminded of a drive I once took through a high pass in the Rocky Mountains. Even as a kid, I was enthralled by the idea that I was in a valley in the mountains, a field in the sky. I rode at a much more relaxed pace than I had done a few days before, and spent much time looking at my surroundings. There wasn’t much traffic, and almost all of what passed me where tour buses. I could see the road way out in the distance where it climbed a hill and then disappeared, and found myself caught with severe wanderlust. I hope to return here and ride this road to it’s end, at least someday.

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Stories from the Dark

After Dali, I made my way Northwest to Lijiang, a tourist hot spot.  I had a few adventures and a whole number of pictures from Lijiang, but those will be included in an upcoming post.  For now, I wanted to share a single photo that I took while I was on the trip.  I almost forgot about it, which is funny as it is easily within my top five favorites that I have ever taken.

I was walking through one of Lijiang’s street after spending the day exploring.  There are very few lights in certain parts of the Lijiang old town, and, at times, it can be almost completely dark.  As I found my way back toward my hostel, I passed by this small shop and took a picture in almost complete darkness.  I wasn’t sure if it would turn out any good, but I proved to be most interesting.

It is, by no means, the clearest photo that I have taken, but I could care less.  When I took the picture, I did not see the fantastic details that exist in the background, the pictures of musicians and performers who were obviously collected by the metalworker who used the desk.  It is a small piece of the secret lives of Chinese, a foot inside of a world that I don’t have much knowledge of.  I have spent much time wondering who these mystery people are, these images within a picture.  I’d like to think that I will never find out.

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Streets of Dali

Somewhere between the hike up Cangshan and the bike ride around the lake, my body began to fall apart. It was just too much for the legs to handle, and by that evening I was feeling like I was attached to blocks of lead. These thousand pound jello logs were causing me significant misery, especially since I wanted to go out and get some good photos of a night on Dali’s Old Town streets.

Dali is famous for its marble (the word for marble in Chinese translates directly as ‘Dali Stone’), and specializes in numerous decorative items made from small pieces of the rock. A walk on the street will show you any number of stores selling carved seals, statues and a variety of craftspeople working in the open air, hoping to draw people in to their shops. I didn’t stay out for very long, but I did get a few pictures of some of these craftspeople and the things they make. Dali was a very relaxing city, and it reminded me of Key West. There is a significant foreign artist population that lives in this small area, and it was a place that I could picture living. Unlike Key West, however, tourism has completely gone to the heads of the people living in the region, and I think it will be no time before it is no longer a place that I would find appealing. When Tourism develops too quickly, it seems that all of the old culture is pushed out. The beauty of Key West, as I see it, is that it has successfully embraced it’s tourism market but avoided loosing the beauty which drew tourists in the first place. In China, it is quite the opposite. Tourism tends to bring development which ruins whatever appeal a place had.

Across the lake, I could see huge sections of development, all hotels and waterfront condominiums. It is a terrible thing to have happen to such a nice place, and a trend that is occurring in many locations across China. The arrival of tourism brings many good things to a previously quiet region, but the consequences of it’s arrival are very obvious and are rarely balanced with the good that they brought in the first place. Tourism is a blessing and a curse, and a bizarre phenomenon.

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My Daily Commute

Terrible Picture, but you get the idea-

I get on the bus almost every day, and for the most part I do so at the same time, and yet it is very difficult to predict how crowded the bus will be.  This is due, in part, to fluctuations in traffic and unpredictable spacing between one bus and another.  It is not atypical for one bus to be immediately followed by another of the same number.   When I say immediately, I mean that the both arrive at the station at the same time.  The hilarity of it all is that even if two buses do arrive simultaneously, almost everyone will fight to get on the first bus, and the second vehicle almost always remains spacious.

There are other occasions, however, where buses seem to be few and far between.  This is always a test for the nerves, standing and watching the crowd of passage hungry people grow around you.  Even the oldest of Chinese are fully capable of pushing you out of the way when it comes to getting on the bus during rush hour.  On the day that I took this picture, the bus was especially bad, but this kind of situation happens at least once a week.  If the bus is more than 10 minutes late, you are doomed.

The bus is an excellent place to observe the greater Chinese populace and their social habits.  It is a large enough topic that it deserves a post of it’s own, which I will hopefully write in the coming days.

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