All of my readers must have guessed by now that China is and will always be my favorite destination in the world, and this was a banner year where I was able to visit three times. For all of you who wonder why and where did I go, let me remind you China is a big country and there are thousands of years of historical sites to visit as well as scenic vistas. This fall trip was to visit China’s National Parks of Jiuzhaigou and Zhangjiajie as arranged by my favorite tour leader, Frank Chang, proprietor of Santa Clara’s China Stix Restaurant, Air Travel International, and group organizer Antonia Tu.
Our tour of Jiuzhaigou started by visiting a local Tibetan family in their village for lunch. Although rather commercialized, as the family hosted many groups of tourists in their large complex of rooms simultaneously, the young people did sing for us besides telling us of the history and culture of the Tibetan people in a most sincere manner. Set in Sichuan Province, Jiuzhaigou is a 35 kilometer long valley consisting of three main valleys. With well-protected virgin forest land and 108 clear lakes, it is about 150,000 acres of scenic wonders. Most fascinating to the thousands of visitors of mostly Chinese natives or visitors from other Asian countries, are the clear turquoise blue lakes seen in the park. Everywhere there are small ponds, flowing rivers or breathtaking waterfalls which China has made accessible with a series of walkways, shuttle buses and paths to the different sites. There is a lot of walking to see the specific scenic points, but Chang had hired a private van to transport us from one point to another, a much needed vehicle which I recommend to any of you going to the park.
A short flight to Chengdu brings us to the Chengdu Giant Panda Research and Breeding Center where Janet Wang, Barbara Why and I experience holding a baby panda who weighed about 50 lbs, much to our surprise. We also saw day and weeks old baby pandas still in incubators. Near Chengdu is the famous Leshan Giant Buddha, the largest carved stone Buddha in the world which we view from a boat on the river. Built in 713 –803 AD, it took over 90 years to complete and in 1992 was named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. At night a spectacular Vegas type show is presented to busloads of tourists where over 80 performers perform on the large moving stage simultaneously in lavish costumes. At the end of the show, the audience is encouraged to come on stage to join a dancing friendship circle while the back wall of the stage disappears and miraculously we are suddenly outside the theatre on the street pushed along by the mob.
A 2-hour plane ride drops us down to Zhangjiajie in Hunan Province so Calvin could be in his element with his love for spicy foods. By boat, Norman Tu and Wilford Low enjoyed investigating the famed Yellow Dragon Cave, considered the longest cave in Asia that was supposed to be the home of yellow dragons and spirits. It was discovered in 1984 but not opened for visitors until 1992. . Yuanjiajie is a multitude of peaks arising from a deep valley. A series of gondolas carried us to vista points among the high cliffs and tall spires rising upward.
Rising over 4500 feet, Tianmen Mountain is considered the “soul”of Zhangjiajie, and we take a 30 minute gondola ride taking us sometimes over 20 stories high to look down on lush valleys and a winding roadway below, that has 99 turns in its pathway. Riding with a skillful bus driver down that winding road was another of China’s unique experiences. Next we go to see Heavens Gate Arch on top, where it was reported once that German planes flew through the giant opening. The heartiest of our group, Sang and Janet Wang, Tom and Joanne Tanabe, Ira Wong and Calvin Wong, climbed the 999 steps up to the famous archway, while the rest of us cheered them from below.
The quaint 1000 year-old village of Fenghuang is a wonderful example of how China was in the past with its interesting street scenes of natives in their daily lives. The Mao minority people occupied this simple town surrounded by mountains. We took an evening boat ride in the river running right through town, enjoying the brightly lit buildings that were built on simple wooden stilts above the water. Ornate silver headdresses and necklaces were once worn by the Mao people with their traditional colorful dress, and the ladies of our group, Nancy Mar, Frances Quoin and Beverly Low enjoyed posing in the Mao costumes for their photo memory books.
Our last countryside visit was to a poor working Mao village surrounded by rice fields where people still lived in mud-brick homes with goats and cows meandering through the dirt roads of the village. New buildings and a school, however, were being built with money sent home by the village men who had gone away to the cities for work, leaving the women to tend to the farms and rice fields. This gave us a realistic picture of how China is slowly changing with its people able to improve their living conditions through the growing work economy.
Our final stop was to Beijing which is a beehive of capitalistic activity, a quagmire of cars going every direction, and streets filled with well-dressed natives with cell phones held up to their ears. Every time I return to China, I see change in the landscape, the cities, and mainly in the attitudes and ambitions of the people. From the first time I entered China in 1976 when it was just emerging from a Mao dictatorship where the outside world had been closed to the people in a communist country —- to now in 2011, – just 35 years later – what a change I have been able to witness in this land of my roots. History has been made in the changes and progress China has gone through in this short time, and I expect it to continue changing unbelievably in the next 35 years, and only wish I could be here to witness it.