Moment of the Day- Bicycles

The blossoming of spring’s great weather and the move closer to work has brought me into the world of commuting by bike. I used to zoom all over campus back at Kent State and now I do the same in Shanghai.

It’s about a 20 minute ride or so to get to work and now living in the French concession I have a ton of different bars/cafes/cool places to go within a 15/20 minute ride (many are much closer).

Riding a bike in a city like Shanghai takes a certain level of concentration , awareness, and an inner-Zen state to keep from going insane. Cars , motorbikes, pedestrians, and other bicycles zoom by at all points. People step out onto the curb without looking , riders come the wrong way right at you down a one way bike lane , motorbikes race by on the sidewalks , and the traffic rules are generally ignored. At all times the air is thick with the honking of horns indicating imminent death.

Everyday , it seems, I witness a minor clash , small collision , bump , tap , etc. In my two years of being a pedestrian here I have born witness to a few more severe crashes. I’m waiting for it to happen to me.

Rule #1 for staying alive in traffic is Assume everyone around you is a complete idiot and will not hesitate to cut across 4 lanes of bike traffic without even looking . Assume that everyone is capable of stopping right in front of you in the middle of the bike with no indication and will then sit there and block everyone for no reason at anytime.

If you expect the absolute insane to happen at any time you are on the road to survival.

Yesterday’s moment of the day occurred at an intersection of Sinan  Rd and JianGuo Xi Lu.

I was pedaling slowly along approaching the intersection. An older lady was riding in front of me. She had a cute little girl on the back of the bike and I was laughing at the little girl. She was looking all around in amazement and smiling. I was just thinking of how cute she was while they stopped at the crossing ahead. All of a sudden a guy on an electric china post bike accelerated down the sidewalk onto the road and ran right into the side of the lady’s bike. ( She was in the middle of the zebra lines). It wasn’t a hard crash and the look of shock on her face was priceless. In slow motion she lost her balance and gracefully tipped over. She managed to get a foot on the ground so the bike didn’t completely smash to the ground. The lady wasn’t hurt at all and the little girl stoically took it in silence. A few people rush over to grab the little girl and make sure the lady was ok. The guy on the electric bike said sorry the best he could and he was trying to keep the laughter off his face.  The people who rushed over to help were also trying very hard not to bust out laughing. The only person who didn’t find it amusing was the bike rider herself. The helpful pedestrians pointed out that she was indeed in the crossing for the traffic from the other direction.

Funny Times.

Wusongkou Paotaiwan Wetland Park

Yes , yes , I know , sorry for the disjointed posts lately. The summer of travels is being intersected by weekend trips. Sorry no more on Laos yet but today I’m featuring an awesome little get-a-way way off in the outskirts of Shanghai.

If the weather is nice and you are itching to get out of the city center consider a trip to Wusongkou Paotaiwan Wetland Park (吴淞口炮台湾湿地公园). This park is way out in the boonies , Baoshan District, and is well worth the trip. One can take Metro Line 3 waayy up north to almost the last stop , ShuiChan Lu (水产路), and a hop a quick taxi ride, walk a bit, or figure out which bus to take. If you can read Chinese the name of this street gives a little clue about the locale. ShuiChan literally means water production. This park is located by the confluence of the mighty Yangzte and Huangpu rivers , nearby to the Pacific Ocean.

The park has great views out over the water and one can even see nearby Chongming Island from the coast. It’s hard to forget you are in the city in Shanghai and the park is no exception. Sitting out in the waters are many derelict barges , fishing ships, cargo boats, etc but it doesn’t ruin the scene. A very cool looking ferry terminal is also viewable from the park , it sits like some alien amphibious landing vessel.

The park has migratory waterfowl , a nearly 2km long coastal walk , boat rentals for paddling through the marshes , open green spaces for picnics and setting up tents, bike rentals, winding tree-lined paths, and cannons. Yes, cannons! Due to the strategic location ( entrance to two major rivers from the ocean) fortifications have been around since the Ming Dynasty. The park name means Wusong River(another name for the Huangpu river) mouth fort bay wetlands park. A central area features some WWII age batteries and some even earlier cannons. This area may be of interest for WWII buffs because several battles for the liberation of Shanghai from the Japanese were fought here.

There are also people but it doesn’t get as crowded as other Shanghai locations due to the distance away from the center. On a gorgeous October Sunday there weren’t enough people to detract from my enjoyment of the park.

Now I did say the metro is probably the most convenient way to get there besides a personal car but on a gorgeous fall day that’s just not for me. We tinkered a little bit with google maps and plotted out a bike ride there! It’s about 30 km (each way!) and took about 2 , 2.5 hours each way. I could make it faster but we were taking it slow and enjoying the way and also got a little bit lost. If you use google maps beware as it seemed like the road we needed intersected with the road we were taking when it fact it was a bridge over the road. A bit confusing but we eventually found our way there.

I like nothing more than exploring via bicycle and pedaling my way through the city really helps me get a sense of place , a feel for the way, and is all around pleasurable. Especially when the sun warms bare skin and the cool breeze blows through and keeps the sweat level down.

Keep it real y’all. I’ll leave everyone with some pics!


Lugu Lake

After a bit in Lijiang I was all ready to move onto to Tiger Leaping Gorge. Ever since reading about the gorge 4 or so years ago I have been waiting to go. But Olivia had other plans. She informed me that Lugu Lake was a must visit in Yunnan and if you leave Yunnan without going here you are missing out.

“Hmmf but I’ve never heard of this , aren’t you ready to go to Tiger Leaping Gorge yet??”

“No we are going to Lugu Lake and by the way, it’s about a 7 or 8 hour bus ride via unpaved bumpy mountain roads”

“行” (or OK , was pretty much all I could muster)

And with that we were purchasing our tickets and getting ready to go. Lugu lake is only 200km (120mi) from Lijiang giving the hint that the roads indeed are foul.

Lugu Lake is a gorgeous alpine freshwater lake located snug in between mountains. It is situated at around 2600m (8900ft) above sea-level. The lake is surrounded by pine forests and is one of the deepest freshwater lakes in China (#2 actually). This lake is uncontaminated and retains all of its natural splendor. Small villages dot the shore along with beaches , coves, a marshland, along with several islands inhabiting the interior. Half of the lake lies in Yunnan province and the other is in Sichuan. Geologists say the lake was created from a fault way back in history and water was trapped therefor forming the lake . Legend says that the lake was created from the tears of a rather promiscuous goddess who accidentally caused one of her many male god suitors to stay through the night hence losing his immortality. Pearls were thrown into the water which today are the water azaleas which bloom in the lake. You can believe whichever one you want. The lake is primarily inhabitied by minority groups , the main one being the Mosuo people.

The Musuo people are an interesting study as they remain one of the few matriarchal societies in the world. They are sometimes known as the Amazons of the Orient.

From Wikipedia

“Azu marriage is the way of living of the Mosuo people, and Azu in the local Mosuo language means “intimate sweet heart”. It is a convenient arrangement in which the partners come and go as they like. Three types of Azu marriages have been mentioned namely, the “travelling marriage,” which is marriage without cohabitation; and the second type is the marriage with cohabitation that have developed into deep feelings after living under “travelling marriage” practice; they then live together and raise children as a family. The third type of marriage, which is linked to the history of Mongolian people occupying Lugu Lake who inculcated the practice of monogamous marriage among the Mosuo people, is called as “One on one marriage.” However, in all the three types of marriages, women have the rightful ownership of land, houses and full rights to the children born to them. The children carry their mother’s family name and pay greatest respect to their mothers who in turn enjoy high social status.”

To actually make it to Lugu Lake first one must take a 3-4 hour bus ride to Ninglang county and then switch over to shuttle van/cars run by enterprising locals. Apparently a new road was constructed saving a ton of time but was contracted out to bad companies using crappy materials and after a year or two of use has been pretty severely weathered and has huge cracks and potholes(craters) so now the bus drivers still use the unpaved dirt road. This made trying to read the book “Shangrila” quite difficult.

Upon arrival at the bus station we found a shuttle van which held 9 passengers and the driver. Great not only do we have  another 4 hour bumpy ride ahead of us but now we are super cramped in a dingy van too. Oh yea and one more thing , for a small part of the ride I have to lay in the far back trunk space and hide underneath clothes and various assorted packages. Wait , what?? That’s right! Admission into the pack area costs 80rmb for non-locals and while Olivia looks local with her suntan and brightly colored clothes I will never be able to pass myself of as a local. The blond hair , green-blue eyes, big nose , and white skin make sure of that.

Three bumpy hours later we stopped in the middle of the (road?) and it was time for me to hide in back. We rode for about 20 minutes and then a stop again. Mission accomplished! This little game of human smuggling brought much amusement to all the other passengers in the van and once we were through the ticket gate/checkpoint I thought it was kinda funny also. Never participated in human smuggling before , cool.

Now that I could see again I gazed out upon the pine forests and mountains , after a bit more driving we caught our first glimpse of the lake. Beautiful , absolutely beautiful. At some points along the “road” we could also see rustic log cabins set amongst crop fields. My first sighting of log cabins in China! Looked just like a picture of the classic log cabins the settlers and frontiersmen built-in the U.S.  As we got closer and started to descend towards the lake we drove on some very treacherous slopes. Mud mud mud, steep slopes, and no railings make for a scared me. There were some construction projects, some bridges were being built to eliminate some of the crazy sloping turns and farther on the road was being paved. At long last we hopped out of our shuttle van and walked down the down to the village of Lige where we would be staying at and the shuttle van continued on its journey on a different junction towards the other lakeside villages. This village was the largest and most developed for tourism but there weren’t that many people during this time. Most of the buildings (but not that many buildings in total) here were geared towards the tourist industry , all were inns , hostels, restaurants , or bars. We checked into the hostel and then took a night stroll. The lights from the restaurants and lights on the path played on the surface of the water as went around. The rustic setting , fresh clean mountain air , lack of crowds such as in Dali and Lijiang, all combined to leave me content (even after that bus ride!) As we wandered around we also noticed an abundance of outdoor grills where you order food and then cook it yourself on a grill laid above burning wood. Wow this is gonna be awesome! Also there are very few foreign visitors( I was one of two) , at least when we were there. I ,myself, was somewhat of a tourist attration.

The next day we decided to rent bicycles and go for a ride by the lake. This ended up turning into a day long 56km (36mi) loop around the lake. The arduous trip around Erhai lake hadn’t beaten us down enough , bring it on lakes! It was a pleasant ride on open road (a few other bicylists) that wound along the shore and passed through small villages , a slightly bigger town ( you can tell by the cobblestone road) and alongside “The Walking Marriage Bridge”. After passing the bridge we made a stop for some street food. Grilled duck eggs , fried praying mantises, and some amazing clams or oysters grilled in their own shells with spices and cilantro. One of the most amazing street food meals I have ever eaten. We were surrounded by the village children while eating this meal and they were so cute running around being all shy when I would look at them or try to snap a photo. It took around 5 hours total to ride around the lake and we returned pleasantly tired and in need of a huge meal. We went to a really cool place called Zhaxi house or something like that. The Zhaxi house is a restaurant (self grill) and inn that also serve a pretty decent homebrew called Musuo beer , a strong alcohol made from corn, and we ended up moving from the hostel to this place. Cooler environment and more amenities than the local hostel. So I recommend the Zhaxi house , if it’s not called that just look for an older guy and his handsome son in a cowboy hat and people outside self-grilling.

After a relaxing day we talked to the owner about making it back to Lijiang. He made a call and we were booked on one of the buses headed back to Lijiang the next morning. It was a pretty uneventful bus ride back to Lijiang but Olivs started to feel a little sick. Upon making it back to Lijiang she informed me a next day bus ride to Tiger Leaping Gorge was not possible. I set out to find myself some food and returned to Panba hostel to watch some DVD’s. I started watching Dexter with an older American guy and immediately fell in love (with the DVD not the guy!!!!). But then not too long afterwards I got a rumbling in my tummy that slowly built as the night went on. I set out to the bathroom later and immediately unleashed my entire stomach contents into the toilet. It was seriously bad , like the Niagara falls but then as soon as that part was taken care of , I felt a rumbling of another kind. Immediately following I had liquid gold out the other end. As soon as I felt that was over I stood up and immediately had to throw up again and then more liquid gold. This repeated in a hellish nightmare cycle for pretty the whole night and the hostel bathroom become my new 12 hour home. Hmm let’s think back to the culprit, oh yes those wonderfully delicious clams (or oysters) from the day before. Wow that was first time I’d gotten food poisoning from street food in my 1.5 year stay here. Ouch! The next day was spent resting (watching more Dexter) and then finally the day after it was time to set out for Qiaotou and Tiger Leaping Gorge!

Cycling Around Erhai Lake

Ah glorious Erhai Lake! The lake is a clear deep shade of blue , the sun shines down warming me and glistens on the surface of the slow-moving lake. The skies are blue with huge puffy cumulus clouds hovering in the air unlike the typical blue to gray gradient so commonly found in Shanghai’s skies. I am utterly content and without the stresses of work and city life. This is why I’m alive , to enjoy moments such as this!

Erhai Lake is the 7th largest freshwater lake in China and the second largest highland lake besides the previously mentioned Dian Lake in Kunming. It’s definitely a very large lake stretching about 42 kilometers long and 4 kilometers wide making a large oval shape. Can’t quite match up to what I’m used too living by the Great Lakes in Ohio but hey it’s big enough. It was any bigger I’m not sure I’d be down for the challenge of riding around the lake in 2 days (or even attempting the challenge).

I highly recommend biking by the lake , you don’t have to be as extreme as us but just hop on a bike and make a short journey to one of the adjourning villages along the lakeside. Xizhou and Zhoucheng villages are both not too far away from Old Town and can easily be managed (there and back) in a leisurely day trip.

On the western side of the lake one can ride on the paved road that runs along the lake. This side is easy to ride upon and is also pretty flat, traffic isn’t too heavy either. Up near the northernmost point of the lake the route turns to bumpy harsh dirt roads. Get a bike with a good seat because this can inflict some damage on the butt. The eastern side of the path as well as being bumpy dirt also has some hill climbing (up and down) to do. There seems to be a lot of construction and preparation to pave the road though so perhaps it will be a little more easy-going my next time around.

There are supposed to be 17 different villages scattered around the lake , a few temples, and some small islands to visit. Some of the villages were just mere outposts with nothing more than a few buildings and a store but others were worth stopping by for a little visit. Some villages of note we encountered were Xizhou , Zhoucheng, Wase. The islands looked pretty cool and would probably be worth visiting but we were a little occupied with the whole bike riding thing.

Starting out felt so good just riding the bicycles and cruising along the highway but after about an hour and a half or so I noticed a warm feeling spreading over my body. Uh-oh the temperature may not be all that hot but the sun is still blazing down. Remember to pack some sunblock because many of the little villages don’t sell any. It took a long time and checking at many stores along the way to find some and by that time the damage had been done. I was absolutely roasted. Ouch!

The first stop at a village was at Xizhou. Xizhou is a pleasant little town that reminded me of an old Western town with dirt streets and a little bit of tumbleweed tossed in for good measure. We also found our first hemp plant growing in the wilds , the wilds being alongside the only busy road into town. This village sold many of the tie dye tapestries to be found in Old Town but at cheaper prices. The village fruit, vegetable , and household goods market was nice to check out as well. Olivia bargained for one of the traditional cone-shaped farmers hats. We also stopped in for a fried bread with meat concoction that was amazing.

Pulling out onto the road our next stop was in Zhoucheng. Zhoucheng is especially known as the region’s main tie-dye producing town. We followed old ladies in traditional red Bai clothes to their warehouse like store with tons of clothes. I never go clothes shopping but I ended up picking up 3 very cool shirts. Be warned though bargain very very hard. At first the shirt and vest I liked were 260rmb total but we (read Olivia) managed to barter it down to 160RMB including a dress and a scarf. I hate bargaining and traveling with her made me extremely happy haha. When Chinese bargain together it may seem like each party gets extremely angry and that they are fighting but fear not it’s all business. The boss goes away happily making some money and the buyer goes away thinking they got a good deal (if your bargaining skills are good or just have no idea of how much things are actually worth).

After leaving Zhoucheng, with bags considerably heavier than when we arrived, the next major stop was in Wase. We passed through a few other little villages but didn’t really stay , there wasn’t much to see or do. I’m sure there were some other attractions to check out along the way but by this point we had covered more than 40 km (25miles) and the road had petered out into dirt. We were starting to get sore , cranky , were severely burnt, and exhausted ( I believe Wase to be approaching 70km from Old Town). The “fun” bike ride was starting to turn into something a little more arduous. Wase in itself doesn’t have too much but we stopped because it was getting dark and our bodies could go no further. We found a hotel (I think it was THE hotel of Wase) and got a room with two beds for 40 rmb , nice! After ditching the bags we lugged our broken bodies over to the pier and hung with the local villagers as they swam in the water. We watched a surreal sunset over the lake and saw as the sun slowly disappeared behind the mountains leaving a purple hue to the sky. As the sun set the stars and moon emerged from their hiding places. Wow! I could finally see stars again, something that doesn’t happen too often in Shanghai. Pretty neon lights and skyscrapers are the replacement for the stars. After a bit we went back into town to grab some BBQ and retired to our rooms.

The next day just happened to be the local market day. On the weekends a big market assembles in the town square and people from the mountains come into town to sell their vegetables and fruits and pick up on provisions. The sleepy little town gets transformed a bit and the market is huge and bustling. Worth it to go check it out. Leaving the town we were a little bit less than overjoyed to think we still had about half the lake or so ahead of us. Looking back on it we may have had more than half the lake to go due to the winding path and the ins and outs of weaving around the various coves , bays , and rock outcropping that just back out . Many more turns compared to the straight western side.

Basically we just cruised and cruised and cruised and cruised ( you get the point) , taking pictures of some huge wild hemp plants ,sometimes thinking to ourselves “I will never ride a bike again as long as I live” this is definitely not true as I love biking but yea we were battered. Made a quick stop in XiaGuan (New Dali) for some of my favorite street food I’ve had in China. Due to the proximity of ErHai lake these vendors were set up with a smorgasboard of tasty fresh seafood treats. We watched fisherman come up to the vendors with nets full of squirmy sea critters. 3rmb (less than fifty US cents) for a stick of small crabs! In addition they also had full fish on sticks , an awesome grilled shrimp cake , tiny lobsters , shrimp, fried potatoes , and all of it washed down with a (or a few) tall Dali beers. Ah yes life was good again as the aches slowly receded into the background. One of the vendors mentioned that how tomorrow one of the county big wigs was rolling through so the police informed the vendors (unlicensed vendors) that tomorrow they shouldn’t be around. I like how that kind of thing works. The police are fine with the vendors , as was I on that day!, and just want the locals to make some money. I don’t care if the vendors have paid their dues , their tax, to the (rich) man in charge.

After XiaGuan we had one final small stretch on the highway to go and we would finally be back in Old Town. As the kilometers ticked away we got happier and happier. Back in town we didn’t do much of anything , ate some food and just relaxed. That was all I was hoping for! The next day we would be taking a train to Lijiang! More to come soon!

Dali – China’s Hippie Hangout

If you arrive in Dali via train know that you aren’t arriving in the Dali you expect. Where are the ancient buildings and the cobblestone roads? Where are the countless restaurants, bars, and bike rental shops? Visitors to Dali are looking for the Old Town but the train pulls up into New Town aka Xiaguan. Don’t fall prey to the hordes of touts laying in wait for the train to pull up and fares to pour out. You can hop on bus #8 to go to Old Town for a mere 2rmb. If money is no object for you and you grimace at the mere thought of brushing your tooth over less than a gold and marble sink than hop in a car with one of the touts. Ok , ok it isn’t really that bad but make sure you barter a bit first , don’t ruin it for the rest of us! The battle for the bus can be kind of intense though. There is no place to line up and everyone just kind of assembles into a mass and the buses will pull up into different places in the parking lot and then the whole aggregation of people will push, shove, and generally be insanely irritating. Not even the police officer yelling (in Chinese) “don’t push don’t push!!!!” seems to have an effect. I don’t condone pushing people to advance your position in line but if others are pushing (especially trying to butt in when you are clearly in front trying to get onto the bus) then f*** it , push them and don’t let them cut!!

After about 20 or 30 minutes we finally saw the ancient protective stone walls of the Old Town and disembarked from the bus. I could already see the attraction of the Old Town. Tree lined cobblestone streets, old 2 story house architecture , a wide arrange of restaurants , bars, and coffee shops. The setting of the Old Town is also perfect. Large mountains (Canshan, Cang mountains) look up to the west of the town with quite dramatic clouds looming over the top never moving just lurking ominously. To the east of town a few kilometers away separated by some farmland is the big Erhai Lake. Some temples and monasteries also lay nestled in the mountains. 7 years ago my current roommate studied Kung Fu in one of these monasteries. I believe it cost something like $50 USD a week for accommodation , all meals, and training. Expect things to have changed since then but perhaps a great deal may still be found for all you martial arts enthusiasts out there.

There are plenty of guesthouses all over Dali so don’t worry about finding accommodations just pop in to check them out and find one that suits you. Dali has some of the cheapest accommodations in China so again don’t worry. Some highly recommended ones include the Jade Roo and the Jade Emu, I heard people talking about 5 Elements , but I stayed at (and loved) Dali’s Hump Hostel. This is run and owned by artists and features amazing murals painted on nearly all available wall space. I think Simonster would be in heaven here. They also have a music room / bar on the second floor that people can just go into and play with the instruments set up there. Some nights they feature bands and other nights its open mic time. Amazing place with huge rooms!

For now though, we hopped on some horses led by a guide (guesthouse arrangements) for a journey to Zhonghe temple and from there we planned to walk up into the Cang mountains. This was Olivia’s first ever horseback ride and she was thrilled , I’ve been horses a few times so perhaps the novelty has worn off a bit and also probably due in part to my stubborn horse never listening and always bending down to eat and trying to go down the wrong path, but I had a lukewarm enthusiasm for the trip. At the Zhonghe temple we got off and left the guide to play Mahjong for the day. We hiked up into the mountains and found a cool guesthouse. Can’t remember the name (writing this post about 2 months after the fact) but if you are really looking to get away from it all try to find this place and stay there. Located up in the mountains with a beautiful view of Old Town and the lake, there are absolutely no people around , a true getaway spot.

We hiked on the Emerald Belt or Cloud Traveller’s Path , a well-built stone pathway that cuts along the mountain side . This is a nice easy path to walk with little change in elevation and stunning scenery. While walking we found numerous species of flowers growing and I found plenty of occasions to munch on some wild raspberries. Depending on the way you go you can find an ice cold rushing mountain spring to relax by and dip your feet in or you can encounter a series of mountain pools , 7 Dragon Maidens pools, along the path you can also find the Phoenix Eye cave. After being cooped up in Shanghai for the last 6 months this was amazing for me. Wild berries , pine forests, mountains , clean cold streams, wow! Just like my trip to the Philippines , I was happy when I finally got out of the madness of Metro Manila and relaxed in the pristine forests around the village of Sagada.

Coming back into town that night on the street corner next to our hostel was a bongo circle , a frickin’ bongo circle!! This really cemented Dali as the hippie spot in China. And guess what! There wasn’t a single foreigner in this circle of dreadheaded kids wearing colorful clothes clutching guitar beating the night away on bongos. An interesting appropriation of culture to be sure. I’m sure Nixon and Mao are both turning in their graves. Oh yea before I forget , walking around the markets yields a treasure trove of hand crafted tie dye tapestries and shirts. While walking around you will even hear whispered out calls of Ganja Ganja from old red clad Bai women. Wow indeed! A quick note though according to wikitravel Dali used to be a hot spot for the green but it seems like these days one should exercise caution. I didn’t partake but be cautious if you plan on it.

Dali is also a very artsy place. During the daytime you can find local art students painting the relaxing streets and can also find some cool spray paint up on the walls. Be sure to check out waterfall street as well!

The next day we arose fairly early and rented bikes in the insane notion of trying to ride around ErHai Lake. Stay tuned , the next episode will be the ErHai Lake villages! Those pictures from last post are acting kind funky when I view the site from China. So I’ll go back to the gallery style of posting. How do they work for everyone else?

Wikitravel’s guide to Dali is extremely thourough give it a look see to learn more about Dali or to help plan a trip there!