Thursday, September 30, 2010

Time for a Vacation

When we arrived in Shanghai, we had 3 weeks to find friends and figure out where we would visit for the National Holiday. Little did we know, everyone else in China would also have this week off, which meant that plane ticket prices were high, hotels were booked, and we would find crowds everywhere we went. So Triana, Matt and I decided we would explore some places around Shanghai, ranging from 1hr to 12 hrs away (yes, in a country as big as China that can be considered "around" Shanghai). After my weekend trips in Ecuador, I realized how much I prefer nature hikes to museums, so we’ve decided to organize our trip around finding bamboo forests & waterfalls, while at the same time exploring the culture of ancient towns. And thus, this is where I’ll be this week…

On Saturday October 2nd, we leave for Xitang, an ancient town with architecture dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasty. It is famous for its cobbled streets, old buildings, bridges arching over canals (104 in total), and rowing boats. And it just so happens that it is in the final sequence of Mission Impossible III.

On Sunday we’ll head to Hangzhou for two days. Hangzhou has known centuries of wealth and high culture, profiting from the region's famous silks and teas. Hangzhou grew in political importance during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279 AD). Marco Polo marveled that it was "the most beautiful and elegant place in the world。" A popular Chinese saying boasts "above there is heaven, below there is Hangzhou.“ The imperial court's patronage boosted Hangzhou's importance as a commercial hub and brought China's best scholars, artists and poets to the city. Our plan is to rent some bikes so we can get the see the entire beauty of the town.

Then, we’ll be heading to the bamboo forest in Anji, where we’ll stay in a Mountain Clan house with a fabulous little lady for 45 kuai (about $7) a night. Anji has become China's largest bamboo growing garden in terms of the growing area and the number of bamboo species. We’re looking to hike, go zip lining, explore the waterfalls, and eat/drink everything bamboo – that means anything from munching on bamboo shoots to tasting bamboo beer. I’ve heard it’s one of the best things you’ll get here.

This picture reminds me of one the Windows backgrounds - I now know where it came from

October 7 we head to Huangshan, or the Yellow Mountain. There’s a poem that roughly translates to: “If you’ve seen the 5 sacred mountains in China (五岳), you don’t need to see any others. If you’ve seen the Yellow Mountain, you don’t need to see the 5 sacred mountains” –doesn’t sound as great the original poem, but the point is that this is the most beautiful spot we could find. We plan to spend one night on the top of the mountain so we can watch the sunrise in the morning before heading to our cultural component of our trip.

From Huangshan, we leave the nature trails behind us to go explore “real” China. We’ll stay in Tunxi and take day trips to Hongcun and Xidi, World UNESCO heritage sites. With a history of over 900 years, Xidi Village is segmented by over 40 ancient winding and narrow lanes which are paved with bluestones. Hongcun has been described as “a village in a Chinese painting.” Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was also filmed here.

With only a week to explore six places, we’re hoping our language skills are good enough to buy bus and train tickets, check into hotels, and explore each town. We’ll see how it goes and hope we won't get lost...I’ll be returning after a 12 hour overnight train on October 10th!

Until then,