Say It Ain’t So

Oh, the sad , sad , horrible act of trading the long term for the short term. Putting a quick infusion of cash over the preservation of nature, and the long term enjoyment of life.

Please, please , say it ain’t so Shanghai!

Via Shanghaiist:

Tensions between development and environment look set to define this century. In Shanghai, the municipal government is currently wrestling with the temptation to hand Chongming island – described as the city’s “last virgin territory” – over to the developers.
The island lies at the mouth of the Yangtze river and is well known for its unspoilt natural beauty. It has large swathes of wetland that millions of migrating birds rest and recuperate on every year. The island is already populated but remains relatively rural, undeveloped, and distinctly low-rise. A fifth of its area – 300 square kilometres – has already been turned into the Dongtan wetlands nature reserve.
The official line of the local government is that the environment of the island will come first if (i.e. ‘when’) it is developed. They have recently released new plans proposing to build a Chongming ‘eco-city’ that will only have ‘environmentally friendly industries’ on it. The island has already been connected with new bridges and tunnels but officials insist that any developments that arise from these vastly improved transport links will be limited.
However, privately, the South China Morning Post reports, municipal authorities are considering turning the island over to the developers. The temptation to do so must be very great. Recently Shanghai’s economy has been performing relatively poorly, and last year the mayor said that it would have to find new ways to drive its growth. Selling the island’s land to developers would make a lot of quick bucks. The island is huge – over 1,400 square kilometres (China’s third largest) – far, far bigger than Hong Kong island (80.5 sq km) and more similar in size to all of Hong Kong’s territories combined (1,104 sq km). This represents a lot of undeveloped land and the Post reports how officials privately refer to it as the “Long Island in the East” (comparing it to New York’s relatively developed Long Island). They are also increasingly keen on the idea of developing it into a special zone where gambling is allowed, similar to Macau.
At the moment the island remains an excellent destination for a peaceful day-trip from busy Shanghai.

I love Chongming! I don’t want to see it become overly developed with brass , rude drivers beeping angrily , almost killing pedestrians, and emitting noxious fumes into the air. I love the tranquility and peace of the island. I had planned to make it my summer weekend destination spot for many a year to come.

Dongping Forest Park

The last four weekends I’ve visited the four forest parks in Shanghai : SheShan , GongQing , BinJiang , and now DongPing Forest Park. I fell in love twice and ate some BBQ in this latest journey. What better way to enjoy the tail-end of summer? Already the nights have turned chilly , and the humidity has been dispelled with crispness. Mmmm , almost hoodie weather!

DongPing forest park is the hardest to get to , the furthest away from the city center , the most expensive (by far) , but I like it the best. It just about captures the real forest vibe I’ve been searching for , the skies are blue , the air is fresh , plus the bus ride to get there is long but has some pretty cool parts to it.

The forest park is located in the center of Chongming Island. It’s easy to forget just how long the island is. From the Eastern part with the connecting bridge to the middle port town of Nanmen is about an hour. Add this time in with the metro ride to the bus , and the following connecting bus ride from the port town to the park and travel time from my house is hitting about 3 hours. Yikes. I can make it to other cities in China via bullet train in much less time. Working in the park’s favor is that for a minimal fee you can pitch a tent and sleep overnight , there is a huge central fire pit available for the highely overpriced fee of 500rmb but with enough people throwing down it would be okay.

The gamut of entertainment from the electrical boat rentals , to the water ball rolling , grass skiing , and paintball are all available here. I didn’t do any of these , and instead choose to barbecue , and take in the nature. The nature part is awesome! So not Shanghai. Tall pine trees that stretch on and on , and after 5 o’clock there was a not a soul around. 20 minutes walking around in trees without seeing a person is pretty much the antithesis of my China experience. More please!

Earlier I mentioned falling in love.

First is Stubbs

I coaxed her out of the woods to discover a missing tail! Looked like it had been somewhat recently lost and healed. I tried to give her food but she just wanted a scratch.

The next time was with Wild Goldfish

It took her a bit to get her to come out from her bamboo grove but after I started petting her she wouldn’t let me leave. AFter walking away , her cries brought me back 3 times before I could bring myself to leave.

In between meeting these two kitties , the wild BBQ cats entertained me. Immediately after people are finished and leave the grill , the cats move in. A group of 5 moved in and made off with every scrap of food possible. I spied a cat waiting in the bushes for me to finish , and I made the move to give her some food. She ran off , and I discovered she had already been devouring an uneaten fish on a skewer.

Yea , I ignored the ziplines , paintball , and rollercoasters to play with a bunch of cats.

This park is seriously great. I will be back , and next time I’m bringing a tent and “roughing” like this group.

The three-hour trip is do-able for a day trip but I would recommend staying overnight. If tents aren’t your style there are plenty of hotels in the port towns , and country-style farm stays everywhere else.

To get to the park :

1. Take the metro to line 6 JuFeng Lu

2. Just outside the metro is a bus station , hop on the NanMen 南门 bus (18 rmb each way).

3. A 9 kilometer underwater tunnel , and a nearly as long bridge ride later , plus an hour on the island travel and you will arrive by the NanMen travel bus station. Walk a bit forward from where the bus stops and you will see the 远客站 or bus station。

4. Hop on the NanDong Xian 南东线 and tell the conductor you are going to 森林公园 senlingongyuan。 Ta da you made it!

For return trips the last bus back from the park leaves at 7 , there are plenty of illegal taxi guys to negotiate a price with if you miss the bus , but expect to pay a premium , and the last bus back to Shanghai from NanMen leaves at 9.

Now that I’ve made it to all the forest parks of Shanghai , what next?

I’ve been scouting google maps and have located plenty of forest parks in nearby cities ! This will last until the winter settles in. Then it’s mad DVD time.

The True BinJiang Forest Park Experience

I finally made it back to BinJiang Forest Park. The first time I went was with 130 or so kindergarten kids. A fun time but not exactly optimal for seeing the park and finding a peaceful little patch of woods for myself.

Like the rest of Shanghai’s forest parks, it’s a long ways away from the city center. This journey requires a trip out to the northern most stop of Line 6. I’ve never had any occasion to use Line 6 until now. Somewhere along the journey the subway emerges from the underground and we are rewarded with amazing views of crappy buildings , smoke stacks , shipping containers , and a brand new shiny customs and tax building. Awesome! It all makes sense really , as we are headed to the GangCheng ( Harbor City) metro station.

The park is situated at the confluence of the Yangtze and Huangpu River. It’s on the opposite side of the Huangpu as the previous Paotaiwan Park post

On the car ride from the metro stop ( there is a bus but we weren’t quite sure where the stop was and got a good deal from an illegal taxi) the driver pointed out previous fortifications and cannon mount points to defend against attacking Japanese. Driving through the area it seemed a bit suspect there was a park nearby. BinJiang is a vast green oasis tucked inbetween shipping and industry. It’s a windy road to the park , passing big rigs , rundown restaurants, laughable laundromats, and shady accommodations. If I hadn’t have been there before , I might have gotten a little nervous the driver was taking us for a ride.

This park is a little more nature orientated than Gongqing Forest Park but still features an outdoor laser tag arena , BBQ zone , and has the standard kids rollercoaster with accompanying pirate ship ride currently under construction.

The park is split into different regions including “Ecological Forest Zone” , “Wetlands Area” “Coastal Viewing ” ,”a 7 acre Azalea Garden” , “Eastern Park Zone , and “BBQ”!. Heading out on foot will take a while to totally wander across the park , and may take more than a day’s trip to totally explore all the side paths . I really love the Ecological Forest Zone with the wooden boardwalks that meander into the Wetlands Area. It’s the most peaceful and secluded I’ve ever been to in Shanghai. Definitely more foresty than the other parks. I’ve yet to make it to the Chongming Island Dongping Forest Park , and that may be the final contender for king of Shanghai parks.

We started with a spicy squid and duck breakfast in a lovely flowered area. (Anyone sensing a pattern with my weekend breakfasts yet?).

After, we wandered through the Wetlands and Ecological Forest zone.

Shanghai?

We learned about the science that goes on in the parks to created such a blissed out experience.

And visited the not-so-pretty coastline view.

At this point the clouds were rolling in and we saught shelter in a pavilion in the woods.

The heavens rained down and we zoned out in this pavilion for an hour without seeing a single soul . We were all wasted on those previously mentioned free ions. Wheeeee!

After the rains stopped , it was time to grab some food and rent a tandem bicycle.

We explored the rest of the park , and while veering off on some stone paths that we probably shouldn’t have been riding on , we lost traction on the slippy stones and had an awesome crash.

Then the saw this monster crawling through the grass!

After the bike time was up ( don’t be a minute late or its a 50% charge on the next hour) (Whatever happened to Socialism?) we decided it was time to head back to the city. We will definitely be back. Hopefully we can drag a bunch of friends and chip in together to rent one of the popular BBQ pits. Hooo rah!

The best part is that this is the 120 hectacre stage 1 of the park. Stage 3 is expected to have 300 acres. YESSSSS! Who knows when it will be done but I’ll most likely still be here!

Shanghai’s “Mountain” – SheShan

I have been itching to travel somewhere , to get out of Shanghai for a weekend , but the double whammy of trying to making sure I have enough RMB to have fun in Vietnam and stupid weekend errands have kept me within a couple of blocks radius of my house for the blessed 2 day break. (no further West than Shanghai Brewery , no further East than XinTianDi , no further South than Zhaojiabang Rd , and no further North than HuaiHaiZhong Rd. )

The combination of frugalness and convenience led to SheShan (佘山) or She’s (not the same as English – shhuuuuhh-) Mountain. Frugalness liking the free entrance and convenience liking the appropriately named SheShan Metro Stop. Mountain is more of a misnomer really , as it stands a towering 90 (18% of Shanghai’s current tallest building -Shanghai World Financial Center-) meters over the surrounding alluvial plains. I thought it was the highest natural elevation in Shanghai until a Google search gave that to the 130 meter tall peak of the uninhabited island Dajinshan.

We visited the Eastern and Western parts of the SheShan Forest Park area. There is more to do in the surrounding environs with several high-class hotel resorts , a golf course, and the adjacent Happy Valley Amusement Park. With those things all costing the big bucks , we stuck to the park.

Waiting in a huge line for a death trap? Ehhhhhhh.

I had visited the Eastern part of the park with the Flying Dutchman , Pan, waaay back in the distant mists of 2 years ago , but it was time to head back.

The Eastern part of the park is one of the closest places to nature as you can get in Shanghai. It is a peaceful , easy, stroll through bamboo thickets to get to the peak. There are several good places for grabbing a peak at the outlying countryside. There is even Fragrant Buddha Spring brought to you by Pepsi-Cola©!

Nothing says Zen like crappy speakers blasting “relaxing” music and an ice-cold can of PEPSI©!
Wanna be a big-bellied Buddha? Two words. Sugar calories!

All jokes aside, the Eastern part of the park is really nice.

On to the West!

It starts out bizarrely enough , with a free ticket given to you at the booth which you then have to scan through the turnstiles to enter. This is where the previous post came from.

Another strange thing about this part of the park is the Roman Catholic Basilica chilling on the very peak alongside a Jesuit Astronomy Observatory. Apparently this church was one of the most important in Asia in the early 1900s with pilgrims from all across Asia visiting. The church was heavily damaged during the Cultural Revolution but has since been restored , and is now an active Church. Visitation is free.

The Observatory, on the other hand , costs a measly 12 rmb (little under $2USD) for admission. The museum is totally not worth it but the view from the top of the Observatory is. I was incredibly surprised to spot the Shanghai World Financial Center along with the JinMao Tower (current 2 tallest buildings in Shanghai) from the top! These buildings are approximately 35 kilometers away!

All-in-all it’s a great trip if you live in Shanghai and need to break the monotony of concrete with some bamboo. It’s definitely not a come to Shanghai just to see it attraction but if you spend enough time here you should see it.

Being out the burbs of Shanghai there aren’t too many foreigners and that leads to some funny things.

Funny things kids said

1. (In Chinese) Whoooaa! I see a foreigner!
2. (In English after he pretended to shotgun blast his dad off a ledge) Headshot!
3. (No Language) A shocked lingering quadruple take stare.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the world’s deepest gorges. So named because due to legend a tiger leaped across the gorge to flee a pursuing hunter. The Yangzte River (or Jinsha river as it is known locally) flows–and in some places rushes down rapids– in between the two towering mountain ranges of 5,596 meter Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and 5,396 meter Haba Snow Mountain. Both sets of mountains are aptly named with majestic snow capped peaks. I didn’t see any Jade Dragons but hey it’s China they gotta be lurking somewhere in those vast ranges. There are two paths you can choose to take through the gorge. The first is the trekking high path ,23 km long, which winds through the diverse terrain. The trail snakes through verdant forests , goes along precipes–which loom thousands of meters above the ground–, climbs steep hills,passes by guesthouses, meanders through calm farmland , and at one point runs underneath a thundering waterfall. In short this is one of the best hikes through some of the most diverse terrain that China has to offer. The low path is just a road alongside the river. True it does offer many great views of the river , gives more of a sense of being in a gorge, and is a bit less strenuous (but the high path isn’t kick your ass then kick you while you’re down tough) but really c’mon people just climb the high path! At one point the high and low paths converge near a guesthouse and then you can take a short path down to the riverside.

The area is populated by the Naxi minority group. They make their living off of grain , tourism , and selling ganja to foreign hikers. The gorge is a very famous spot and an absolute must do in Yunnan province. It came very close to being lost forever as the government was pushing to dam it up and irreversibly damage the gorge but thankfully wiser heads prevailed and it’s safe.

The first stop in Tiger Leaping Gorge is a disembarkment from the bus to purchase tickets and then we were off to a guesthouse to deposit our bags. Something like 5 or 10 rmb to store our bags (no way were we hiking with all that stuff) grab a bite to eat, and play with the little newborn puppies. The next goal was to find the start of the high trail. I love the directions on the internet , ” From the ticket office, walk along the road till you reach the school gate. Stay on the road, following the schools grey-white wall till its end where painted arrows point up an embankment at the beginning of the trek.” Don’t worry it’s pretty easy to find and once actually on the path there are constant blue and yellow arrow signs pointing out which direction to go. Along the path there are occasionally entrenprenuers who have set up shop catering to hiker’s needs. Cries of Apple!, Water!, ring out through the day. And if that fails to elicit any response the next cry is “Ganja!” to try and attract the hiker’s interest. At around two hours into the hike we found the Naxi family guesthouse. We stopped for some incredible mint tea and said farewell to our Canadian hiking buddies we had met with earlier that day. The next stop was at a Jia you zhen (literally Add Oil Station) to buy some peaches. Looking at the table laid out with goods I noticed bags of herb on the table , haha right out in the open like that, with a hilarious English advertisement. Try the best Naxi smoke , it was give you an exhilirating and uplifting feeling that will leave you feeling floaty alll day. Some elaborate description seemingly best fit to be in California and Amsterdam , not on this dark green seedy little bag. Some hiker was obviously asked to provide an English advertisement. I tried to snap a photo but the lady wouldn’t let me. So I settled for a picture of the robot made from Red Bull cans instead haha.

Continuing on at about the 5 hour mark we passed the Tea House Guesthouse and at 6:30 we finally made it to the Halfway House Guesthouse. We were running out of daylight and getting very tired of walking and made it just in time! I recommend staying at one of these guesthouses if you don’t have enough time to make it to the next guesthouse about 2.5 hours away. The path after this goes underneath a waterfall and then descends down a rocky and rough path. It can be quite dangerous to undertake this in the dark so carefull!

The Halfway house is huge and can be noisy at times but it’s a good place. Extremely cheap food and beer did well to recharge us. This guesthouse also has an awesome toilet! The sign (in Chinese) proudly proclaims “The Best Toilet Under the Sky!” This may not be true as it’s a not too clean (but not too dirty) squatter trough but the view from the toilet is perhaps the best view from a toilet ever. As you do your business you can peer out at the clouds swirling over the majestic snow capped mountain peaks while the river thunders along beneath. Pretty incredible. Later at night on the balcony overlooking the gorge (underlooking the mountain haha)I was chatting with some American hikers we had met earlier in the day. One my newfound friends said that he had one perfect word to describe the scene. It was “Mordor” Thinking of Mt.Doom and looking at the scene I couldn’t help but wish I had a sword , some magic potions, and was brutally slaying orcs while trying to save Middle Earth. The grandeur of the view, the exhiliration of the climb, and maybe a little bit of Gandalf’s special mix all swirled together and had me thinking maybe I really was in Lord of The Rings. Nothing this cool could possibly be on Earth , right? Oh , wait a second, LOTR took place in New Zealand that’s right haha.

The next day we set out and eventually came to an amazing waterfall. The waterfall roars down from the mountains above and rushes right across the path. You must pick your way through the ice cold mountain water to get to other dry path again. This made for some great pictures and a nice spot to cool off and relax for a while. After about 2.5 hours total the high path descended down and met the low path. A guesthouse is located here as well as a path to reach the river. You can go further on through the Gorge to eventually reach the end village of Daju but our hike ended here. There are plenty of maps with the trails leading onwards and I’m sure it would be cool to go the rest of the way but the part we just did was the most recommended part. We were pretty tired , my leg was aching, and our stomachs were still a bit off from the explosive good times of three nights ago. So we called it quits and organized a trip back to the starting point in Qiaotou to grab our bags and hopped the evening bus to Shangrila!

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!

Kunming

Kunming is the provincial capital of Yunnan province and the region’s main transportation, education, and commercial hub. It is the main point of entry for travelers to Yunnan and it boasts bus, train , and airplane connections to all the Southeast Asian countries. It also served as a major hub in WWII and was the terminus of the infamous Burma Road. It’s also a big city with 6.9 million people or so and has some of the typical gray Chinese cityscape but it’s also surrounded by some fantastic nature. It’s been nicknamed the “Spring City” for its fantastic weather. The city is situated in a subtropical zone but is 1800 meters above sea level. This helps temperatures warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Average daily highs in December are around 60F 15C and high temperatures in the peak of summer are an excellent 75F 24C with little humidity. Stepping off the airplane into this weather was incredible after the muggy Beijing.

I got in pretty late at night (due to the cheaper flights leaving either late or way too early) and hopped in a 25 RMB taxi to the incredible Cloudland Hostel. I highly recommend this if you are heading to Kunming. Chill laid back groovy interior , nice muzak , a cool bar on the inside stocked with big bottles of Beer Lao , Dali beer and others (but those were the most important by far don’t worry about the rest). This hostel is also four stories with a nice sundeck on the roof! The other hostel in town , Hump Hostel, was pretty nice too but I really really liked Cloudland , go there!

The first full day in town was pretty relaxed. I rented a bicycle for 30 RMB for the day and just cruised around the streets of Kunming. I went up to the pretty nice CuiHu Park , which has a large lake , paddle boat rental , some restaurants , the town water pump museum , and is overall a nice relaxing area. Just north of the park is Yunnan University. I went to campus just to check things out and found a Chinese dreadhead! One day into Yunnan and already I’ve found one! After walking about on campus I rode my bike to the central plaza in Kunming , Jinbi Plaza , and walked around in the area looking at the vendors and restaurants. I stopped in at the Brothers Jiang restaurant to sample the local dish ,过桥米线 Guo Qiao Mi Xian (Over the bridge rice noodles). A pot of steaming chicken broth is brought out and then one proceeds to pour in their raw veggies , meat , egg , and noodles. Let it cook for a little bit and then enjoy! I got the seafood version and it was exquisite. After the meal I went back to the hostel to read a book and as so often happens in China was approached by some Chinese university students who wanted to hang out. We made plans to play some Badminton at their university the next day and then I was off to  drink some BeerLao! ( One of the finest macro-lagers in Asia I’d say) and hit the hay early.

The next day my friend Olivia was due in from Shanghai at 4pm so I just sunned on the rooftop with my book , Tai-Pan – James Clavell , you should definitely check out his Asian series. Great and very very long (mostly weighing in at over 1000 pages in paperback editions) which satisfies my book cravings. My friend Olivia arrived at the hostel and then it was immediately off to rent bicycles and cycle to Dianchi (Lake Dian) with our new found friends. Lake Dian lies at the feet of the Western Mountains and is a nice place to cruise on bikes and take in the scenery. After we went to a local restaurant and ordered a ridiculous amount of food. Olivia and myself are used to Shanghai prices so after seeing 6RMB per plate of veggie dishes we assumed they would be small and ordered a lot of them , much to our surprise each less than $1 USD dish was huge. We sat for a good part of two hours not wanting to waste any of the great food. After gorging and almost entering a food coma , it was back on the bicycles to cycle to Yunnan University Lake Campus to play some badminton. I haven’t played sports in forever and it was quite fun. I was reminded of University soo much , just riding around bicycles through campus , and hanging out at the sports complex , made me quite nostalgic for Kent State.

The next we rose early to take the long and convoluted journey out to the JiuXiang Karst caves. It involved taking city buses to the Eastern bus station , an intercity bus to YiLiang city and then finally one final bus to JiuXiang. The path was quite spectacular and wound through the mountains and we passed over a bridge near a dam and I swear this bridge was 200 meters tall. At point through we passed near a factory settlement that was belching noxious gases and the town was just dirty and smelled horrible , I felt terrible for the people I saw walking around without masks and the children playing outside , children who probably have never lived without that awful smell. I think after around 4 or 5 hours we arrived to the 20 square kilometer park area.

The first attraction after arrival was a quite journey in a small boat with rowers going down a river through a tight rift in the stone with towering rock walls on both sides. After this we descended down into the caves with the roaring river right beside. The caves themselves are lit up in Chinese fashion , think multi-colored lights everywhere. This effect in the cave was great and one of the best attractions was the area titled Fairy Goddess Palace. Once you arrive in the area you will see why it’s called that. Another great site was the naturally formed “Rice Paddy” stone formation. It really looks like a paddy with its series of pools that descend down the rock wall. After emerging from the caves you took a quick little cable car ride back to the main area. We had a bunch of spicy fried stinky tofu. This version of stinky tofu wasn’t bad but I do admit it takes some getting used too and I prefer the non-smelly version. After dinner it was time for the long and arduous bus rides back to Kunming.

Our last day in Kunming , July 2nd , we again headed for Lake Dian and from there took a city bus to the Western Mountains (XiShan 西山)。 This area has a walk through the forested sides of the mountain (although it’s just a road with beeping , smoke emitting cars for a while until you the ticket area). We choose to foot power our way through this. On the way up you can opt to check out a view temples that are probably worth visiting but after a year and a half in China I’ve felt I’ve seen enough temples,  after a while they all become the same. The hike up offers some gorgeous views of Lake Dian and the urban area sprawling out after that. These mountains aren’t too tall thankfully and we made it up and down successfully after a few hours. After hopping a bus back to town we grabbed our things and went out to the train station for our overnight sleeper train to Dali!!