Ma’er kang (马尔康)

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Home alone in Chengdu last weekend so I packed my backpack to do some travelling. I visited the Zhuokeji (卓克基) Tibetan village, a few km east from Ma’er kang (Barkam).

Zhuokeji

Zhuokeji means supremacy in Tibetan language. originally build in 1286, it housed the regions highest official for politics, economy and martial power.

Every room has a story, opera, guest rooms, execution hall, one notable conference room as the red army and Mao Zedong stayed here for a week in 1935.

After the visit, I wandered around town with it’s beautiful bridge and hillside alleyways and found the Dandalun Temple.

Hilltop picnic

Outside again, I passed a group of villagers, calling me over. The group – a mom with four years old twins, a CPC army soldier, an engineer and a yak cow farmer – all early thirties, old friends enjoying the summer day outside.

They treated me to some raw spicy yak meat (delicious), and local green veggies dishes. And lots of Chinese lukewarm beer.

I didn’t want to overstay but they were just so cheerful, hospitable, patient and interesting. There is a pride of their cultural heritage, they sang traditional songs, dance, which they learned directly from their parents, and they tried teaching me some of their native language. (See below).

When they asked me to sing one of my cultures songs, I could only think of the Dutch kids song “Berend Botje”. Yep, sang that, no dance though.

Whilst connected to their past heritage, all are connected as anyone else about international pop, news, sport culture. It’s not one or the other.

rGyalrong Tibetan language

Learned some ‘Jiarong’ (Zang) or rGyalrong (Tibetan: རྒྱལ་རོང). I’m by no means a linguistic, but I do want to archive and share my hosts teachings.

  • Me – N’ah*
  • You – Cho
  • Nice to meet you – Cho dé mo
  • Really nice to meet you – N’áh dé mo
  • I love you – N’áh cho gah
  • Cheers – da ghi de lech

* Compared to Mandarin Chinese, has more tones. This one is compressed and hard. There is a hard (not rolling) “N’áh!”

Notes for those who travel here

  1. Get details of taxi taxi proposed a fixed fee of 30 RMB from ma’er kang to Zhuokeji. On the way back ~9PM it was more difficult to find a taxi, I had to ask around to call a taxi to pick me up. Next time I would get their details on the way up
  • Sleeping in street? Reading up in blogs on Ma’er kang, i read a post from 2012 with someone saying there are no hotels for foreigners. It would be too cold for sleeping in the the fields, so just pay a local for sleepover but run if police comes ” (link). No such thing. I checked with 康嘉绒大酒店 hotel and it was no problem.
  • Ngawa? Another is that most people, well at least myself naively associated this region with Tibetan Ngawa Town, which was still another 275km away and too far for this weekend’s journey.

Zigong dinosaur museum

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We visited the dinosaur museum in southern Sichuan. This was on our bucket list for a while as our kids love everything dinosaur related. The museum is a three hour drive from Chengdu in Zigong.

There are three areas in the museum, first is an exhibition hall with whole dinosaur skeleton fossils, with the Tianfuensis with has a 20 meters long body. There were a lot of skeletons in one place, you didn’t know where to look. All of them from the Sichuan region.

Second was the burial site, which explains the first findings and the process of excavation. And lastly there were tons of fossils on display.

They also put some moving dinosaurs on the hills for kids.

World Earth Day, Camping in Andaman

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A twenty minute drive past Dujianyan train station is Andaman park. We joined QSI school on a camping trip.

Andaman is supposed to host the only organic lodges in China. Sleeping in these adult sized tree houses must be an experience is expensive. Andaman quickly seemed like a weekend park for the elite. Just recently they changed strategy, adding a couple of camping sites, and a hostel in order to receive more visitors.

The park features a lot of activities in nature, mountain biking, horse riding, archery. Everything is band new, and the staff is nice and attentive, clearly they knew we were coming and wanted us to have a great time.

We were received on Saturday morning by a friendly host called John. He also took us on a hike through the forest. After lunch we got to explore the rest of the park, my wife tried zip lining and we all went to a trampoline park. It’s like a heaven for kids, they are all bouncing around.

Then we had a barbeque. As it was earth day, the power went off at eight pm, there was live music and a bonfire.

During the party I met Dino, a Brazilian and the architect and builder of the ‘adventure park’. After setting up zip lining and rock climbing, he proceeded with a miniature version these activities but then for kids.

This was the second time sleeping in a tent but last time Mia was really a baby. This time she is older, just hanging around the tent with a pocket light provided heaps of fun. Our little one slept surprisingly well in the tent. We slept later then usual and were awoken early by the birds.

We immediately tried the kids adventure park that Dino made. First Kids need to wear helmets, gear, the works. They get all dressed up and whilst tethered, walk down the track. Starting low and going up about two meters eventually. The grand finish is a zip line down. Zooom! Mia gained a lot of confidence walking that track today.

Andaman was really a great family trip. Not only a first camping experience, we also experienced a lot of nature (saw frogs, gekko’s) and enjoyed clean air. For Chengdu residents I would surely recommend! More info on the event and Andaman here: http://www.pailixiang.com/m/album_ia63171808.html?from=groupmessage

Pujiang (蒲江) flower garden and ceramic village

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In Chengdu’s hot summer days, there is nothing much to do but sit inside a building or at the pool. Since this early spring weather is still really nice, we – compared to last posts, I am traveling with the family – are in Pujiang! (蒲江县), visiting a flower garden.

Coloured fields of flowers welcomed us, the little ones enjoyed running around the fields of flowers. Further into the park there was a play yard and a model village showing how people used to live in this area. There is an important ‘stone elephant temple’ currently completely being reconstructed but somehow in use at the same time.

The Stone Elephant Lake, Shixiang Lake, (保利石象湖景) is a lush quiet green area, a nice change of environment from the city. We rented a boat to rest our legs, the ride offered some great sceneries and was a nice variation for all the busy walking paths in the flower garden.

In hindsight, this flower park probably has had tulips earlier in season, we had high expectations, as the website showed fields of tulips. However as the flowerpark is combined with the stone elephant lake it was still definitely worth visiting for a day trip.

We spent the night in a nearby hotel in Pujiang. As there was not much to do in Pujiang besides the lake and golf, we visited moon valley ‘mingyue valley’ (明月) a bit far at 30km west.

We rented bikes at the information center right at to main gate and enjoyed cycling through the tea field hills, I spotted some white crane birds and many other birds.

The road is one big loop around the villages, with here and there a touristic activity like ceramic workshops, museums and coffee shops.

We visited a restaurant and a stamp museum. If we would have had more time, I would have liked the kids to try the ceramic workshop.

Pujian is about to have a functioning train station, I suspect this area will develop a lot. For now it’s being developed.

For elephant lake, Tickets were 100 RMB for both the stone elephant lake and the flower garden. Boat was 60 RMB per person. Nice for a visit but our expectations were too high.

Moon valley bike renting was 10 RMB. It’s unusually quiet area. Might be nice to sleep over next time to have more time.

The four girl mountain (四姑娘山)

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I visited the four sister mountains, 220 km west of Chengdu. Taking the earliest bus from Chengdu Chadianzi Bus Station (茶店子汽车站). The conventional long distance bus from Chengdu to Xiaojin offers some amazing sceneries.

The bus goes to the mining town of Xiaojin, I asked the driver to drop me off at Shuangqiao Valley (双桥沟), which is about five kilometer from the town of Rilong (日隆镇) where I was going to spend the night. As I never visited this place before, I planned it out on the mercy of blog posts of other travelers and crossing fingers. Shuangqiao Valley (双桥沟) is a bit more touristy and with a road, so I knew i could easily get back. I wanted to play it safe and not ascend a mountain as it was already early afternoon.

After drop off I looked around and there was no one around me. And quiet. The park was open, just not busy. Entrance was 120 CNY, with small tour buses departing every twenty minutes. It’s basically a 30km long road with a walking platform here and there. As it was offseason, the walking paths were snowed under and under construction. At one point I was crossing the water to find the bridge was gone, so I had to go back a bit.

The four girl mountain (四姑娘山) at an elevation of 6,250 m is the second highest in Sichuan. From this Shuangqiao Valley, you can see them well, but also Mount Abi 5,694 m, Seerdengpu 5592m, and the eagle crag at 5300 m.

The bus dropped us of at the furthest point and we walked around for a bit. There was a friendly group from Chengdu and we kept bumping into each other. As we walked in a group, we took the bus, which was driving back to the starting point, but now stopping at four other points of interest. After the second stop, although having fun, I realized the bus tour was going a bit fast for me as it was still relatively early, so I decided to alight and walk back up instead.

In retrospect, that was a good call. I enjoyed many sceneries at my own pace. I walked until it started snowing and getting dark. I had to wave a bus down to get to Rilong (日隆镇), a town at an elevation of 3,160m, on the way I found decent hotel online, walked in and bumped into that same group from early afternoon again. Small world! We had dinner and beers together before calling it a night. They were indeed planning to ascend a mountain the next day.

The hotel room didn’t had heating so it was a hot shower and straight to bed for me. Outside, it kept on snowing and I listened to the crackling fire on the sidewalk. Zzzz

At dawn, I took the courtesy to check myself out and unlock the front door, it had snowed overnight and it was a beautiful but slippery slope to town.

The bus was something I worried about as the town doesn’t have a bus stop, fortunately, a store owner making a quick 10 CNY called and confirmed the bus was on time, and stopped as expected. I felt at ease and could enjoy the winter wonder land. For a weekend trip it was a bit rushed. I would have liked to stay a bit longer and explore the other valleys. I would recommend staying at least two nights, also to get acclimated a bit.

Side note: The tallest is Mount Gongga (贡嘎山). which I visited last year. I have to say that due to the many more magnificent views by the four girl mountains, I would recommend a visit to the four girl mountain (四姑娘山)

Luobozhai village (萝卜寨)

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Did you hear about the “goulash effect” that Tim Ferris mentioned in a recent podcast? He travelled Eastern Europe and tried to avoid tourist traps by having authentic conversations with locals. Some sincere interest gets a long way and is usually followed by “Why are you asking for restaurant recommendations, come meet my family and eat some authentic Goulash!” Today I had an unintended Chinese version of that. I had lunch in the home of a really warm friendly Chinese family of four generations in the mountainous region of Wenchuan 汶川. I wanted to get out of the city, so I set my alarm at 5 AM and took the bus from Chengdu Chadianzi Bus Station to Wenchuan (汶川). The pick for this spot was because it’s a direction out of Chengdu I didn’t had the chance to visit before.

Taken from a driving bus…

Mountains: here we come!

Whilst reading up in the bus, I discovered this was the epicenter of the 2008 ‘Sichuan earthquake’. Now, ten years later, completed rebuilding is plenty and tourists from Chengdu can explore this area in a day trip due the the new highway. My destination was:

“Luobozhai village (萝卜寨) which is a high village about 30 minutes by hired van or taxi on a turn off from the Songpan/Jiuzhaigou road going north from Wenchuan. It is in a marvellous location on a small plateau near the top of a mountain and has a stunning view of the main Min River valley. The original village was badly damaged in the earthquake but parts are being re-built and a new section of Luobozhai has been built above the old site.” (2018, wikitravel)

After arriving I could not find a community bus within half an hour so I broke my own rule and accepted a strangers offer to drive me up, a 36 year old, who called Luobozai his hometown. We agreed on a price and we drove up in his old Buick with loud Chinese Techno, whilst his six year old son was bouncing trough the back of the car.

Luobozhai, a (rebuild after the quake) stone and clay wall city with an open water arrogation system, was quiet. I saw only seven local people and two tourists during my entire exploration in the village.

I didn’t take pictures of collapsed buildings but this vegetable garden is typical for the town.

Following the signs, we arrived at the canyon. The view is just so grand I sometimes had to get used to the perspective.

My six year old new friend was posing on this scary rock.

Then the driver offered to show me to his family, a little further up the mountain. He showed me the acres of lemon trees and the whole town seemed to be up and about tending to the trees (spraying some insect repellant and trimming branches). There was a water fall that allowed us to climb the face of the mountain a bit.

We just hang out and relaxed with the view. On our way back to the family, I was greeted by three grannies, one of which was a stunning 96 years old. They were hanging out in the sun doing handicrafts, asking and laughing for the foreigner to sit with them.

I also played hide an seek with the ever growing group of kids, and some could fancy some English like “how are you”. Then it was close to noon and I got invited for a modest lunch in their home.

Typical Chinese house, with a side kitchen and open fire for heating. (Smells like charcoal inside)

It was just chit chat with his bigger brother. Us men ate first, and after we were drinking a beer in the sun, the kids were eating. I got to explain that in my home country, I’m from a fruit area as well, and that my country has no mountains. I found myself with this really friendly warm and curious family. I decided to take it easy and slow and enjoy their hospitality, not to race away for the next tourist hotspot. It made me think of the ‘Goulash approach’. Too often as a tourist you just follow the signs and not really meet the locals. This was a sincere experience.

When we headed back down to Wenchuan, I received walnuts and beans home too, and we split ways.

Before going home, I wanted to visit the large red Qiang museum with more background on the disastrous earthquake photos. I wasn’t living in China at that time but seeing the photos of so many man made buildings and bridges shaken to collapse was really shocking. Over 70.000 people died, and a million were homeless. The Richter 7.9 earth quake was so powerful it was felt in nearby countries and as far away as both Beijing and Shanghai—1,500 km (930 mi) and 1,700 km (1,060 mi) away—where office buildings swayed with the tremor. For this small town, buildings could only survive the quake if they could withstand a quake with Richter 11.

I noticed that everyone in this town has a P.R.C. flag hanging at their house, no wonder as this town has was destroyed by the quake and rebuild by the P.R.C. and international relief organisations. The Chinese president came to visit just two weeks ago to commemorate the decade passing after the quake. Soon after I took the bus back home. Hopefully to come back here some other time.

Winter Olympics in Korea

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We visited the winter Olympics in Korea over the last two weeks. Very special: My whole family came over from The Netherlands, and we met at the Incheon airport. The Olympics are in Pyeongchang, a remote town on the East side of the country. With the new high-speed train we arrived within two hours (while streaming the opening of the Olympics on my laptop via Wi-Fi), where we met my in-laws in PyeongChang. Another special moment; the last time we were all together like this was at our wedding eight years ago.

Residing at a beautiful location on a twenty minute drive from PyeongChang. We stayed at a presbytery. You read that right. With the overbooked hotels, we found this place via-via and were the only visitors in this serene place. The priest was very nice and also enjoyed watching the Olympics. The place provided a tranquil place in the mountain, a nice base to retreat after the busy Olympics. pyeongchang_house.JPG PyeongChang is one of the least polluted areas in the country, and we enjoyed clear blue skies for almost the entire trip. Besides that, it had just snowed so we could also have some fun with the kids. niceweather.jpg

Although it was sunny, it was very windy time to time. The Dutch TV did a joke where they put all complaining journalists clips after each other: “It’s so cold in PyeongChang!” it was time to time about -10 Celsius and hard winds made it feel really cold. What do you expect, it’s a winter Olympics! However, with the kids we had to reduce outside exposure. Our visit to the Olympic stadium was cut short as it just wasn’t fun outside. olympic_stadium.JPG

For the events our family visited a stadium almost daily. Mostly speed skating, but we also checked ice hockey, skiing and figure skating. Most of the events were in Gangneung, it was convenient that we could borrow the priests van and drive back and forth. The schedule was hectic. Matches would take up to 11pm and the next morning another event was waiting for us.

The Olympics Speed skating is far from PyeongChang at Gangneung, a city at the sea side. This Olympic park hosted the speed skating, ice hockey, figure skating and curling. Furthermore there were some pavilions like the Team Korea pavilion, and the Tokyo Olympics display.

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We spend a lot of our time inside the ‘Gangneung Oval’, the speed skating track. It was clear the organisation had to get used to hosting the speed skating. In the beginning of the week, they had volunteers request the audience not to make too much noise. (hah!) An error that was quickly corrected, soon the Koreans visitors were the noisiest of them all. During break times, they organised activities like Kpop bands and kiss-cams, a different time filling then we are used to in The Netherlands, nice to experience.

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The Dutch teams did very well, especially in the first weeks. It was fun seeing them win. Of course we also visited the Holland Heineken House – where the athletes are cheered by (mostly) the Dutch visitors, and were interviewed by Dutch TV a couple of times, which was funny. netherlands_speed_skate_pyeongchang.JPG interview.jpg

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Koreader on both ereader and phone

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When my Kindle e reader broke a few weeks ago, I found the most close thing to a FOSS replacement: the Kobo, with a customized starter to run an alternative reader called Koreader. It runs on many ereaders and supports many file formats.

This morning I discovered that Koreader also runs on my Lineage phone, and that there is a free online syncing service to keep all syncing devices on the same page.

I’m incredibly excited about this feature, not only can I enjoy books from my new e-reader, I can keep on reading on my phone during short idle times here and there.

Oneplus phone left and ereader kobo right, both literally on the same page at all times.

A glimpse of yunnan

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We visited Yunnan, the mountainous province in far south-west of China, between Sichuan, Tibet and Burma. We enjoyed the Tibetan towns but kept hiking to a minimum with our toddlers.

Travel; We made one mistake though, we flew from Chengdu to Deqen (shangri-la airport) and after a few days took the bus downhill to Lijiang and again a bus back up the mountain to Deqen on the way out. That last bus-ride was unnecessary, a next time I would fly to Lijiang, acclimate to the elevation and then drive to Deqen and fly back to Chengdu from there. It’s also more impressive to drive up the mountain range instead of going down. We overlooked as we didn’t expect Lijiang to have it’s own airport. However, Shangrila airport is interesting as it does not have any taxiways requiring planes landing there to turn 180° and backtaxi over the lane to the terminal building.

Deqen; high and rural. Out of the plane, we took a taxi to Deqen, a nearby town in the Tibetan mountain range. Its a valley surrounded by green mountain tops. It felt a bit like time stood still here. Besides that, the sun sends this really bright-white light, making all colors vibrant (those Tibetan flags really stand out). You can see farmers work the land and cows, digs and horses roam free. There are no fences. The weather in September was mild, clouds, rain and sunshine rapidly exchanged. (Rainbows!) No wonder they nicknamed this place Shangri-la. Its a large but not overly touristic town with at it’s heart a touristic ‘old town’.

At 3300m deqen is certainly not the most elevated settlement in the world but I definitely felt light headed the first day -after walking up a few stairs you feel a bit light headed so I decided to take it easy and just have a coffee in the old town. I met friendly locals and travelers from all corners of China. The Deqen temple offers a nice view over the town. Its prime dish is yak based. Yak hotpot, yak yoghurt, yak fried rice.

We also visited the Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery which is home for 700 Tibetan monks. Walking the hundreds of steps up you smell the incense. The monastery is positioned on a hill surrounded by mountains The main Hall features a high ceiling, We were allowed to attend a praying ceremony with about a hundred monks. With the hypnotizing deep throat singing, and rhythmic drums with a deep resonating horn blowing it was quite a spectacle. The monks were friendly but preferred not to be photographed – must get old fast with all the tourists visiting.
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As a day-trip we visited the Balagazong mountain range. We took a tourbus down and again 40 min up. The view on top, standing at a Tibetan temple is magnificent. Looking down you see the birds below you fly around, afterwards we walked upstream the river. We were just wondering how they build the km’s long bridge next to the steep rock.

Lijiang; After Shangri La we drove to Lijiang, at 2300m. We explored the old town which is huge, but way more commercial then Shangri La. It must have been a nice place few decades ago but now it’s mostly shops and clubs. It was a very nice place to be though! Our hotel was in an area full of traditional Chinese architecture (they rebuilt the city after earthquake but you can spot some traditional buildings) with coffee shops inside. We spend the first day at the dragon lake and walked down into the old down center. We took a cab to the lake and We took a stroller for the baby but it was unusable on the rocky tiles, so I carried them around. When the sun sets, the town becomes beautifully alighted with red lanterns. We had a guided walk by one of the local Naxi people.

We rode eight km bike ride to Baisha Village 白沙 over a four lane car road so is was slightly disturbing but the the tranquil town was worth it. We visited the palace which featured the ancient scrolls and even older case paintings from the paleo times, roots of the original Naxi writing.

After the palace we walked around town. It was sunny and grannies were selling fruits and joking with us. At one point we passed and met Dr. Ho’s in his clinic, a 96 year old, who has a mysterious herb tea would cure many ailments and he shared stories and happiness with us. We then had a meal at ‘baisha times’ restaurant in the town which had the best yak-butter tea I ever tasted.

imageWe then cycled back – on a quiet road! to Lijiang and in the evenings we enjoyed the many street food and hotpot places.

I’m writing this on the way back home. We really enjoyed Yunnan and would like to come back some time. Perhaps visit Kunming and Dali. But I also wouldn’t mind to go to the same places. China is a diverse and large country, would love to see more of the other provinces too.

More than just a bicycle

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Got my two year old a bicycle with training wheels. It’s a great investment so far. She talks about it every time and every day after work, we both take our bike’s out of our hallway and cycle around the compound.
It’s more than only simple paddling, this bike is a vehicle (pardon the pun) to so much more with a toddler:
  1. Basic directions (left/right/straight/stop etc)
  2. Spatial awareness
  3. Weather and day/night awareness
  4. Interaction with the neighbors
  5. Basic badassery -> Every time she gets stuck I resist my urge to help, I just give examples and make sure to give a high five once she overcomes the problem.