Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Xi'an, Part IV

So, climbing Hua Mountain was probably one of the most physically difficult things I have ever done – and we only climbed two peaks! Some people actually make it to all five peaks. However, it took us about four hours to complete the arduous task.

Hua Mountain is known for its extremely dangerous and difficult routes. Some trails are located precariously close to steep rock faces. Others require you to use chains to drag yourself up nearly vertical staircases. The most deadly paths were closed to the public.

We took a cable car to the top of North Peak.

Then we started climbing...

There’s me in the above picture! We started getting really high up…

I stopped taking many pictures because I was so tired and was only concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. My legs were really getting sore and stiff. I look exhausted in this picture, don’t I?

We finally arrived at the West Peak, 2,082 meters above sea level! It is only the third highest peak out of the five.

This probably wasn’t too safe, but I didn’t fall!

Then we had to hike all the way back to our original point because that was the only cable car station. I was inspired to keep going and not just sit down for a few hours by some of the people I saw. There was a fellow mountain climber whose arms ended at his elbows. How he managed those steep staircases, I can only imagine. Also, there were many poor peasants whose daily job consisted of lugging heavy cases of water bottles and souvenirs up the mountain to sell to tourists. I don’t know how they accomplish this but it is an amazingly laborious task. We spoke with a poor man who said it was his fifth day on the job and he had already run out of money to buy drinking water. People like him make me feel like I live a very spoiled life.

For example, each hotel we stayed at had a delicious, complete breakfast buffet.

At this five-star hotel, there was kimchi, rice porridge, cabbage, cherry tomatoes, and roasted radish.

This breakfast feast included 3 types of bread, steamed eggs, two mini (quail?) eggs, and veggies.

At this hotel, offerings included hardboiled eggs, pork buns, and cabbage.

Here we have a bowl of steamed eggs, a bowl of fried rice, steamed squash, and roasted cauliflower. You can bet I had seconds and thirds of that delectable squash!

I definitely will miss these breakfast foods when I’m back in the states!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Xi'an, Part III

The next day we went to see the famous Terracotta Warriors. This exhibit is probably what Xi’an is most well-known for. I saw more foreigners here than in any other place I have been to in China.

The warriors symbolize Emperor Qin’s force that guarded the capital. The warriors are located in 3 separate pits. The pits were never mentioned in any records and therefore it was not until 1974 that they were discovered by local farmers drilling a well. The pits were dug out and then enclosed into exhibition halls. They are known as the “Eight Wonder of the World.”

This is the first pit.

The first few rows of warriors have been completely excavated and rebuilt from hundreds of fragments. The later rows give you a better idea of what the condition the terracotta warriors were in when they were first dug out.

The pit is still in the process of being unearthed. Our tour guide said it may be fifty years before the complete set of warriors is ready for public display. There are supposed to be over 6000 warriors and horses in the pit.

In the afternoon we went to see the ancient royal baths of Huaqing palace during the Tang Dynasty. These are the only remaining royal baths in China.

During the Chinese Civil War in the 1930s, the leader of the Nationalists Chiang-Kaishek had his field headquarters here, where he strategized against the Communists. This was his office.

This was his reception room.

This Lotus Pool was built for Emperor Xuanzong in the year 747. It's ancient! There are also several other royal baths built for other princesses and emperors. They are all built from stone and as large as swimming pools.

At night we traveled to a hotel located at the bottom of the beautiful Hua Mountain with its five peaks. Stay tuned for a recap of our mountain climbing journey!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Xi’an, Part II

After visiting the residences of Mao Zedong and his fellow Communist leaders, we toured a museum in Yan’an dedicated to the Communist Revolution. The exhibits glorify the history of the Chinese Communist Party and its leader Mao.

Here is a showcase of Mao’s writings.

There were pictures and portraits of the Communist Party.

Here is the famous little horse that Mao rode. I think this might be its real preserved body!

I feel like the museum, while acknowledging the true actions of these historical figures, was very biased in its portrayal of history. For example, here is the explanation of the end of World War II below.

It doesn’t mention the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at all, which is surprising, since the atomic bombs were a huge reason for the Japanese surrender in World War II. Maybe something was lost in translation, since the English translation of the original Chinese paragraph isn’t very well done. Otherwise, the museum is sending a skewed message to its visitors.

That night we drove all the way back to Xi’an where we were able to try a specialty, translated as shredded pancake in lamb soup. The grand restaurant we ate at is apparently very famous for this dish and has served national heroes as well as foreign dignitaries. President Hu Jintao ate here once. Here is the tableware that he used.

So the famous dish requires a process, and starts like this: everyone is given a bowl and a hard flatbread, which I guess translates to pancake, even though it isn’t sweet and resembles a stale, thick piece of pita.

Then, one rips the bread into small pieces and places it in a bowl.

A waiter takes away all the bowls. A few minutes later, after the chef pours steaming hot lamp soup into the bowl, we receive our portions back. The hard chunks of bread are now softened in the savory soup, which includes noodles and shreds of meat.

I didn’t particularly enjoy the dish, but that was okay, since there were 21 more dishes served!

There were all kinds of food, including roasted lamb leg, pork buns, noodles, tofu, mantou, etc.
Needless to say, we were all stuffed at the end of the meal.

Xi’an, Part I

Sorry I’ve been gone for a few days, but I couldn’t skip the opportunity to travel with my uncle to Xi’an, a city surrounded by culture and history. This weeklong trip was part of my uncle’s annual conference for work. He is the editor of a publication for Hunan Central South University. After a daylong conference on Sunday, the fifty conference attendees arranged two tour buses and two tour guides to take us to local sites.

On the 1st day of the trip, we visited Hukou Waterfall, which is part of China’s Yellow River.

The tour guide kept warning us that the area was extremely dangerous. Each year people accidentally slip off the rocks and get pulled into the river.

Here is another portion of the magnificent falls.

We couldn’t resist the opportunity to take photos while wearing the traditional garb of the people in the area and riding a donkey.

It was really gorgeous; however, we had to ride the tour bus for about seven hours to get there. Actually, a good portion of our trip was spent in riding the bus. This was due to the distances between the attractions, rocky mountain roads, and the unpredictable traffic.

That night we arrived at Yan’an, home of the Chinese Communist Revolution. This city was the destination of Mao’s Long March. During the Chinese Civil War, Mao Zedong and his Red Army were pursued by the Guomingdang, otherwise known as the Nationalists. Mao made Yan’an his base during the war.

We visited the locations where Mao and the other famous leaders, such as Zhou Enlai and Liu Shaoqi, lived during the war. Their residences were carved out of mountainsides and were fairly simple, only containing the bare necessities.

The food here is in the northern-style, which means less spice in all the dishes and more wheat products as opposed to rice. Therefore, at all our meals we enjoyed steamed bread (mantou) and noodles. As usual, there were lots of fresh vegetables.

All of the meals were eaten family –style, so everyone got to try a variety of dishes.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Environmental Protection

As I mentioned before, my cousin’s work deals with the environment and carbon emissions. Her company deals with the Clean Development Mechanism under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The idea is that since developed countries, which have already caused their environmental impact through their earlier industrialization, should help developing countries as they struggle to maintain economic growth using sustainable methods.

Therefore, developed countries can play a role by funding alternative energy sources in developing countries. This aid counts as if the developed country itself cut down on its own carbon emissions. For example, a company in a developed country could fund the construction of a hydroelectric power station in China and therefore lower its own carbon emissions count. So far the U.S. has not signed onto this program so it is mostly European countries that participate along with the developing countries.

There are about 2000 such projects around the world. My cousin’s company works with about 29 of these projects. At work, my cousin deals directly with all the logistics, reports, and paperwork. She travels a lot to different sites in China. According to her, one such exchange takes at least one year because of all the bureaucratic work. It is also really stressful because her company only has about 10 employees. Still, she finds the job really meaningful.

Her fiancé is also in the field of environmental protection, though through a different aspect. He travels around the country to different factories to help them install and construct technology that removes some of the harmful chemicals in the air pollution such as sulfur dioxide

I’m not too familiar with the UNFCC or my cousin’s work so if you are interested you should definitely do some reading online, at, the homepage of the UNFCC,, for general information about the Clean Development Mechanism, or at my cousin’s company’s website,

Monday, June 21, 2010

Weekend in Changsha

My cousin, in her late twenties, invited me to crash over at her place in downtown Changsha for a weekend. It was the perfect timing as I had just returned from my trip from Zhangjiajie National Park and had a couple of days before leaving for Xi’an.

Currently she lives in the bustling city of Changsha with two other roommates in an apartment next to her workplace. She lives pretty much in the heart of the city, within easy reach of shops, restaurants, and public transportation. Her fiancé was also there during my visit. It was an interesting and fun experience hanging out with these young urban professionals.

On Friday night we went with her friends to a wonderful performance at a huge theater. It was a typical Chinese theatrical show that included acrobatics, audio/visual effects, singing, dancing, and a comedy routine. I took a few pictures before I was informed that cameras are not allowed. Oops!

We spent most of the day shopping on Saturday. I cannot believe how cheap the taxis here are. We rode for about fifteen minutes and paid the U.S. equivalent of $1.60. There was not even a starting fee.

For lunch we went to a restaurant with a very interesting specialty – bullfrog. Every single table had this steaming hot pot of spicy bullfrog. It actually tasted like chewy fish – not too bad! Only afterwards my lips were numb from the spiciness of the dish.

Dinner was much milder. We ordered simple foods such as mantou, soy milk, pumpkin soup. They were still really cheap – only about $1 per dish. I had to laugh at the translation of the pumpkin soup on the menu – they called it pumpkin “gruel.” Someone needs to teach the translator how to make the names of dishes sound more appetizing!

My cousin is always busy with work – right now she is doing some overtime on this Saturday night. Her job deals with carbon emissions, so it’s very comforting to know that there are people trying very hard to solve our environmental problems.