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 traveled 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. 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. 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. Luobozai, 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.

 

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

Their 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.

 

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.
imageAs 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.

 

 

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.

On the roof of the world

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Slept in the small town of Luding, where life is simple and slow.

Slept in the small town of Luding, where life is simple and slow.

Well… close to… I visited Hailuoguo glacier park today, about 600km southwest of Chengdu and got an astounding view of mountains up to 7500m. The largest was Gonga mountain (贡嘎山). As a Dutchman (we have one ‘hill’ at 300m) I might be easily impressed but it was truly epic. Alhough most recommended to go to the hotspring, really enjoyed the views so I spent up the mountain from morning until the maximum time for descending. The pictures tell it all, the mountain wasn’t easily photographed, size and clouds and all…

I was so happy! Maybe it was the lack of oxygen...

A garden full of Dutch flowers in Pengzhou

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The Dutch business support office invited me to the opening of the’Dutch flower garden’ in Pengzhou, just north of chengdu. Since I had nothing better to do during Chinese new years, most people go to family, it seemed a nicely timed activity. “Penhzhou is famous for pollution”, a college said the day before I left. Turns out there is a huge petrochemical factory just one hour drive out of chengdu. But the garden was a two hour drive, and in a rural area so I want too worried about the air. image

Upon arrival, we checked in at a ‘spa resort’ which was paid with compliments of the Pengzhou government, and went straight to a (fish hotpot) dinner prepared for us. We also made dumplings. imageThe were some government representatives from China and Florists and gardeners from Holland. I sat down with the ‘dutch table’s with florists, gardeners and a flower bulb distributor. A company from Rotterdam had been the first to start distributing the Dutch grown tulip bulbs since 2006, right now the are about 20 to 30 gardens in China fully equipped with Dutch flowers. imageThe Dutch flower industry exports 5 billion euro’s, this garden with 1.8 million flowers for 5 cents a piece represents just a percentage of that. Then the gardener’s from Holland design the garden which is made with the local team. Florists help with the decoration. imageThe evening was ended with fireworks around 8pm, and after that we watched more fireworks from the outdoor spa. (Special to sit in a spa with 5 other Dutch people on New year’s evening, was cool to see fireworks all around us)
imageThe next day marked the big event. There were so many people, mostly locals who came out this new year’s day to see the opening ceremony. Since I did not attribute a thing to the park, I felt strange to take the’VIP’ seat in front of the stage, together with the group from the night before. After some shows, there was an opening ceremony and speeches from the main people involved in the project. We then got the tour of the park, including an already lush greenhouse, but I decided to break away from the group and explore the park for myself. It is a huge park, which is amazing because it only took two months to build! I’m definitively visiting the park again in spring once the flowers are out!

The largest Buddha in the world

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buddhaWe visited the giant Buddha in Leshan, just a two hour busride away from the Xinnanmen busterminal in Chengdu.

The giant Buddha is the largest stone Buddha in the world. Construction started 1300 years ago, in an attempt to calm the junction of two rivers at which the Buddha is positioned.

Most tourists decide to ascent the stairs but we took the boat and enjoyed the view for a bit.

 

Company outing with Dr. Panda at BaiHuaTan

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untitled2The Dr. Panda team keeps growing so it was time to do some activities together. Last Saturday we gathered at the Baihuatan park. We started with a nice barbecue. It was a ‘xiaokao’ barbeque where you could get all the food you wanted from a nearby freezer, and could prepare it yourself. We ate way more then we planned to but it was fun. Once established, the team could pick what they wanted to do themselves. Some went cycling, others turned to the Mahjong tables, to laser-gaming. I started with cycling but the busy roads felt dangerous. (some cycled for the first time) so we turned inwards at an unintended horsetrail. act2It was fun getting offroad and exploring the neighborhood. After which we had some beers in the sun whilst playing a game. After an hour or so, we went for lasergaming. After a packed afternoon, we still had one more activity and that was an amazing buffet at the Sofitel. I liked the grill but some just jumped when the saw the deserts. A great day!

Moving to Chengdu completed

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movingWhen we moved to Chengdu during the early summer on this year, we carried only the most critical with us and shipped the rest of our belongings with a moving company. Our stuff took way longer then expected to arrive at our house in China. I estimated the shipment to take at most 50 days but it turned out to be exactly 125 days to arrive. Unpacking the stuff yesterday felt almost like we send ourselves a time capsule, I forgot about a lot of our possessions over time. So what went wrong? Basically the paperwork were not in order and the Shanghai agent messed up on a few parts. To be clear, our moving company ‘Passies’ orchestrated things to their best intent and I don’t think they are to blame at all. They picked up the shipment and packed it in a wooden crate as promised. Shipment to Shanghai went smoothly, then we experienced a problem. My China residence permit was one day short to fall in the category to be allowed to import household goods. Yes, my residence permit was only 364 days long and I needed one which is 365 days! One day short triggered a lot of paperwork and visits to customs service. During the time the appointed agent was very unclear about the steps ahead, this was very frustrating. We started getting worried that our goods would be stranded in the Shanghai harbor forever. News came out that there are hundreds of containers from expats were stranded as the law was just changed recently. In terms of the paperwork for the import; Once the legal hoops were jumped and things were arranged, things should have been in control again but the appointed Shanghai agent BridgeRelo arranged a very unprofessional courier service. Not only were they not able to give any ETA, they also supposedly experienced car trouble in Anhui province (?), leading to us waiting for days to hear anything. But finally I got the call yesterday. So now we finally feel at home in Chengdu, with all our fall/winter clothes and my bike etc. Someone told me, in China things sometimes look bleak but with patience and diligence problems are always solved in the end. We are very happily unpacking at the moment!

Hunting for bugs at Dr. Panda

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How do you launch an iOS game with confidence? When we approached the end of this #drpanda production, which was built with diligent coding and even more diligent professional testers, we threw a ‘bughunting’ party and the whole company + spouces joined in playing the game all evening long in trade of delicous pizza. The QA team set it up and kept great score of the valid and not so valid bugs. They even gave a price to the person who found the most bugs, which were surprisingly little. The winner found three bugs in the game after playing for a very long time. The next day we solved all of them already and have improved further. Generally, a ‘bughunt’ is a nice and fun way to involve and prepare to get ready!

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Exploring Chengdu

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nationaldaysChina celebrates it’s national days with a week vacation so we decided to use days exploring Chengdu. So far we have visited the ‘bamboo park’ (wangjianglou park) where we ate a spicy lunch next to the water side. The next day we visited the Chengdu temple of marquis which features a touristic but nice street full of night snacks. We then went to people’s park, dubbed the noisiest park in the world. The heat of the summer kept us indoors, but we finally started exploring our new city.

 

Mia finally saw some real panda’s!

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Sit down at a random corner in Chengdu (city of the panda) and you’ll probably spot a (non real) panda within 5 minutes. Inflatable panda’s, trucks with panda’s on them, statue of panda’s,  Dr. Panda and souvenirs.

It was getting awkward that still after a few months, we didn’t see any real pandas! A dear colleague couldn’t bare it anymore and offered to take us along to the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Base. So on the early Saturday morning we drove off to the north east of the city to the panda base. Upon gazing the animal, my 1.5 yr old daughter simply froze with her mouth open. It was a wonderful expression. Now… you have to imagine what this ment for my daughter as she loves Panda’s. Being surrounded by that many panda’s left and right, just made her repeat the same word over and over! I stopped counting at the 50th “PANDA!” – I estimate she said that word at least 200 times. At the end of the day when we where home and all was done, she dozed off quickly. I bet she dreamed of panda’s.

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