Highlights of the 2005 China Trip : Chengdu, Jiu Zhai Gou, Huang Long, Qing Cheng Shan, Le Shan, Emei Shan, Beijing and Shanghai
After three weeks in China, our Tai Chi group had plenty of exciting experiences and memorie s of an ancient culture endeavouring to embrace the modern world. The first leg of our tour took us to Chengdu, capital of the Sichuan Province. Sichuan is an ancient city presiding over the prosperous farmland basin that feeds a large proportion of China. It is a land of huge mountain ranges and powerful rivers. On our journey to Jiu Zhai Gou (named after the nine Tibetan villages in the ravine, also called fairyland on earth), we left the plains for the glorious mountains. Words cannot describe the feeling of seeing the towering mountain ranges that seem to go on forever – mountains that seems to touch the sky and then descend down into breathtakingly deep ravines. It was a mind expanding experience. There is a certain power that exudes from these mountains. No wonder the sages went to the mountains for enlightenment!
Accommodation at Jiu Zhai Gou,
Our accommodation in Jiu Zhai Gou was a recently built hotel complex, constructed out from stones by the Qiang people who are experts in building with stones. The complex looks like a Tibetan style village with a castle like appearance. It is truly beautiful. Surrounded by snow capped mountains, we felt we were in Shangrila. Most of us felt like just staying there for the rest of the trip and it would have been easy to do. The village has an array of restaurants and gift shops. At night, it is lit by millions of fairy lights.
During the day, we visited the famous iridescent lakes and waterfalls. Due to the high level of calcium in the water, little plant and animal life survives. This creates perfect conditions for the water to reflect the deep blues and greens of the surrounding environment. The pristine beauty of these mountains and lakes reminds us of the importance of protecting our natural environments.
When our local tour guide, John, mentioned that there was a show on that night in our hotel complex, we all thought that it might be just a few locals singing and dancing. We were in for a surprise! It was a show on a scale larger than the Lion King or Swan Lake, probably more a combination of the two. There were hundreds of dancers (some in traditional costume and some dressed as animals), a dozen horsemen, laser lighting and the biggest stage I’ve ever seen. Thousands of people packed the auditorium to enjoy a truly spectacular event. It was one of the greatest productions that many of us had ever seen.
Jiu Zhai Gou, Sichuan Province
From Jiu Zhai Gou, we journeyed to the Huang Long (Yellow Dragon) mountain range. At a height close to 5,000 metres above sea level, we were all feeling the high altitude. It was another spectacular climb, seeing the trail of white calcium terrace pools and snow capped mountains.
From Huang Long to the Mao County, we had a five and a half hour drive ahead of us. It was a perilous road with breathtaking views. Our driver, whom we called Master Chen, was certainly a master in his driving skills. He was an ex-army driver who regularly drove to Tibet. As part of his driver training, he used to practise driving a truck on railway tracks. He also had to practise going down mountains without using the brakes and finish the course within a specified time.
Our next mountain stop was Qing Cheng Shan (literally means green city mountain). It is a sea of thick green trees and bamboos. We trained with Taoist Master Liu. He talked about the importance of regular training and how Taoism began in these mountains. Master Liu’s students demonstrated Sword and Horse Tail Whip forms. Our group performed the Hun Yuan Tai Chi and some of our Wu Dao Gong martial arts training.
Le Shan Buddha, Sichuan Province
On the way to Emei Shan, we stopped off at Le Shan, the home of the largest stone Buddha. It is the tallest stone statue in the world, 71 metres in height. It took 90 years to complete, from 713-803A.D. The Buddha statue was carved from the stone cliffs that overlook the river. The Buddha was strategically carved at that point in the river to prevent boating accidents. Many mishaps had occurred previously on this stretch of the river. According to records, since the Buddha arrived on the scene, travelling along this part of the river has been much safer.
Our next stop was Emei Shan, one of the sacred Buddhist mountains. Up on Emei, the mists were rolling in, so we couldn’t see the gorges below to appreciate the height of the mountain. On the way up to the mountain, there were monkeys and a rich variety of plant life. Back down in the Emei Village, we enjoyed pancakes with chocolate sauce and coffee at the famous Teddy Bear Café. Seven year old Oliver thought this was our best treat so far. Many of us agreed.
In Beijing, we trained with Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang, founder of the Hun Yuan Tai Chi system. Students soon understood the reason he is called a grandmaster. At 77 years old, Grandmaster Feng is very strong and full of energy. He effortlessly demonstrated martial applications of movements with the students. It was a great opportunity to meet and train with a high level expert. It helped students understand the more subtle aspects of the art and gave us a sense of the grandmaster’s energy.
The final leg of our tour was Shanghai where we experienced the brightness of China’s biggest and most modern city. Shanghai does manage to blend the old with the new. The Peace Hotel, Yu Garden and the French district are fine examples. In Shanghai, we had fabulous seafood banquets in a restaurant where waiters and waitresses wear roller skates.
The Spectacular Show at Jiu Zhai Gou
I feel that what I’ve written doesn’t do justice to the wonderful experience that we had on this trip. Jiu Zhai Gou was simply magical and the area truly deserves the reputation that it has. Every day was an adventure. There are so many memories and I haven’t even talked about the giant pandas that we saw at the eco-park in Chengdu. Travelling in China certainly broadens one’s perspective on life. It is always amazing to see that the Chinese don’t even blink an eye over things that stress us. We all agreed that this was truly an unforgettable holiday. Some of us can’t wait to see more of China again in the future!
– Chief Instructor Brett Wagland
Although I had some idea of what to expect and had done some reading before I left, this year’s China trip wildly exceeded my most optimistic expectations.
Just seeing Chengdu was a surprise. It’s a large city, but not nearly as far along the way to “westernisation” as Beijing or Shanghai. There are completely chaotic roads, non-existent road rules, bicycles everywhere and people carrying everything from ladders to glass doors on their bikes. Regardless of the time of day, the streets were crowded with people, whether socialising, singing, practising ballroom dancing or doing Tai Chi. The vibrancy of the city defies description.
Sichuan is famous for its spicy food, and certainly didn’t disappoint. Even after being asked to tone down the amount of spice (on account of the foreigners), there was more than one desperate grab for a tea cup over dinner. The food quality was amazing; no matter where we ate, whether a high-end tourist restaurant, or a place on the side of the road half way up a mountain, the food was fresh, tasty, and always different. This trip was one of the first times I’d tasted good Chinese food free of western influence, and since returning it’s the thing I miss most.
After a few days in Chengdu, we headed up into the mountains on the border of the province (near Tibet) in the company of “Master” Chen (a bus driver with no fear and the skill to back it up). The scale of the mountains was astounding (there’s certainly nothing comparable in Australia), and the scenery (along with the driving) was enough to make an 8 hour bus ride interesting all the way.
Photos can only give a vague impression of the beauty of Huang Long and Jiu Zhai Gou. One look is all you need to understand why temples and monasteries were built at these sites. One of the tour guides mentioned a saying, “Don’t go to Jui Zhai Gou when you’re young”, the implication being you would never want to leave. It’s easy to understand why.
Accommodation at Jiu Zhai Gou
While near Jiu Zhai Gou, we stayed at a hotel fashioned after a traditional Tibetan village, with dozens of three and four storey buildings, each with a large roof-top terrace. Doing Tai Chi on the roof as the sun rose over the snow capped mountains on the edge of the valley was an exhilarating experience. At an altitude of about 12,000 feet, it also left you a little out of breath.
The remainder of our time in Sichuan was a blur of mountains, temples and martial arts schools which needs photos to do it justice. After our final night in Emei (involving chocolate banana pancakes at a sidewalk cafe, followed by a trip to the hot springs), we headed back to Chengdu before flying out to Beijing.
Beijing gave us the chance to settle down in one place for a while, start our shopping, and see the sights for which China is famous (Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Great Wall). We were lucky enough to enjoy dinner with Grandmaster Feng and his daughter, and to train with them most mornings. It is always a great experience to see people with such a high level of skill first hand, and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity.
Towards the end of our time in Beijing, we got the chance to try a lunch at the Old Beijing Noodle House, an event upon which Brett insisted, but our tour guide held reservations. The lunch was raucous, messy, suffused with some of the harshest fire water (50% alcohol) I’ve tasted and one of the best meals of the trip.
The Nuorilang Falls, Jiu Zhai Gou – the widest waterfalls in the world
The markets provided the most enjoyable shopping of the trip. Never before had I seen shopkeepers dragging customers back to their store while slowly lowering their prices. If you so much as looked at an item, they had no intention of letting you leave without buying. While initially intimidating, bargaining turns out to be great fun (culminating in accusations of “You bargain like you’re Chinese!”).
Shanghai showed a very different face of China. The city is much more commercially developed and very densely populated, with high rises everywhere. The architecture is impressive, with every building quite unique and distinctive. While impressive during the day time, when seen from the river at night, it’s truly beautiful.
The China trip is an experience I am not going to forget in the near future, and after being back for a month, I still miss the food, the environment and the people. I’m sure I’ll be heading back some time in the future.
The highlights of the trip for me were definitely in the first half of the trip. Getting to see giant pandas up close was a real treat. The crystal clear lakes of Jiu Zhia Gou and the rock pools at Huang Long were so amazing that even the photos do not do them justice.
Our stay at the Jiu Zhai Gou Tibetan village was excellent. We stayed under snow capped mountains on the first night, followed by a visit to the magnificent clear lakes the next day in near summer weather.
The experience of meeting Master Liu at Qing Cheng Shan was very interesting. His school and style have a very long tradition with a strong grounding in Taoism. Their style is very snake-like and their Tai Chi form is very elegant to watch. The trek up the mountain, and the thousands of steps, was well worth it.
Practising Tai Chi with the
Founder of the Hun Yuan system,
Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang (1928- ), in Beijing
We got to perform for the local Tourism Minister with the Emei Martial Arts school. Initially, it looked like we might get rained out, but the performance was moved to a local, covered basketball court. Both the Tai Chi and martial arts students did the Academy proud with their performances, and we left a lasting impression.
The training sessions in Beijing with the Hun Yuan group were a real eye-opener. We had the privilege of training with Grandmaster Feng, his daughter Ms Feng as well as Master Feng’s senior disciple, Chen Xiang. Seeing the same form expressed in such different ways really gives one an appreciation of its depth.
The coloured pools at Huang Long were outstandingly beautiful. Although I didn’t make it to the top of the walk, because breathing at that altitude was a lot of work, I still feel that I saw the beauty of the pools near the beginning, and have a lot of photos to remind me. Although the crowds were dense at Jiu Zhai Gou and Huang Long, they were very well managed by means of good walkways and plenty of buses, so we could still see and enjoy the wonderful scenery.
The Huang Long Pools, Sichuan Province
It was a great surprise to see such a wonderful show at the hotel auditorium at Jiu Zhai Gou: it was professional and polished to the highest degree, and our guide had somehow managed to get us the best seats, at the front near the enormous stage. We couldn’t understand the language but it didn’t matter. The story was simple and beautifully illustrated in brilliantly costumed dance and song and aerobatics, with fabulous lighting. At the end, the huge doors at the back of the stage opened and we walked across the stage and out into the cold night air, high and remote from the big cities. It was a night to remember.
The monastery on Qing Cheng Shan was a beautiful place, and I enjoyed the quiet interview we had with Master Liu, drinking tea and looking out over the forest from a beautiful room decorated with intricate carvings and lattice work.
On a less exotic level, I enjoyed the bus rides through the big cities, looking at the brilliant neon signs which somehow seem much more interesting when they are in Chinese script, and also appreciating the immense energy of millions of people getting to and from work by bus, bicycle, taxi and on foot. I was impressed with the fresh farm produce which appeared everywhere, even in the middle of the biggest cities. Building work in Beijing seemed to continue through the night. The city will be thoroughly ready for the Olympics in 2008.
Little did I know how vast Jiu Zhai Gou would be – unimaginable thousands of metres in height, covered with trees and rivers running wild in between. I am not a mountain climber but I feel as if I have climbed thousands of stairs. I was too tired to look sometimes but I had to open my eyes to make sure I didn’t miss this beautiful panorama. For days and miles, our driver diligently took us through this dream world – breathtaking waterfalls over the mountain rocky walls. Surrounded by all this, I was overwhelmed at times.
Du Jiang Yan Wier – ancient irrigation system, Sichuan Province
I was very impressed by the Du Jiang Yan irrigation system which lies on the Minjiang River. It was built 2,200 years ago under Li Bin, the governor of the Shu Prefecture in Qin Dynasty. “How clever is that!” The man power needed would have been enormous, which China has in abundance.
In one of the mountain towns, we had a mushroom feast for lunch. I have never seen so many shapes, sizes and colours of mushrooms. They were fresh and yummy. I nearly overate.
My favourite city is Beijing because it has kept its old city charm. There are lots of bikes. It seems chaotic but it works. Chinese sure like their lights in the city – like flower shapes spiralling on a pole (there are 12 rows in some of them and lots of light bulbs). Streets so wide and long that you can’t see the end. What do you call them – avenues, roads or parades?
I have really enjoyed my China trip! Thank you Fontane and Brett for organising it.
On our second day in China we flew from Guangzhou to Chengdu. After a banquet lunch, we went to visit the Panda
Pandas at the eco-park in Chengdu
Eco-park which is only about 10km from the city centre. Even though the distance was short, it took nearly an hour to get to the park. Our tour started with the panda museum which showed the genealogy of all the pandas in the park. Various aspects of the scientific research into the breeding of the giant pandas were displayed. The eco-park has been set up with international cooperation to try and help preserve the giant pandas which are a threatened species. A short film about the captive breeding program outlined the difficulties involved in ensuring the survival of the tiny, rat size day old pandas to maturity. The new born pandas are pink, blind and almost hairless and can easily be squashed by their huge mothers. More spectacular than the film, many giant pandas could be seen in open range enclosures. Pandas at different stages of development from juveniles to mature adults could be seen at play in their separate enclosures. Breeding pairs however did not look so happy in their concrete floored houses. Apart from the giant pandas the park was also home to a large group of red pandas, four red capped cranes and many large colorful butterflies.
Incense at the Taoist Green Ram (Qing Yang) Temple, Chengdu
The next day we visited the Temple of the Green Ram. This temple was different to any of those visited last year. The central octagonal temple had one of the eight trigrams (ba gua) depicted per side. Each of the corner pillars had eighty one dragons entwined around it. The temple is home to the three treasures: golden incense, the Green Ram and the Emperor’s symbol of happiness. The golden incense is unique to this temple and must be handled and lit in a special way so that your wish would be granted when it was placed in an incense burner. The Green Ram is a composite of all of the Chinese animals and to bring good fortune you rubbed the part of the animal of your birth year.
After lunch we had a two and a half hour bus trip to Jiang You. We found out that our bus driver had been an army driver and learnt to drive a lorry on railway tracks. He had also driven supplies on a regular basis to Tibet over winding mountain roads. He was totally fearless and any challenge by any other vehicle on the road was met with an immediate response. The offending vehicle had to be overtaken irrespective of the situation on the road. Arriving in an unfamiliar town, our driver stopped and asked directions at the edge of the town and a lone motorcycle policeman with red flashing light, escorted us through the centre of town to our hotel.
On the Way toJiu Zhai Gou
We were up early as we had a minimum of six hours travelling to reach our next destination. It was drizzling lightly as we set off through some very spectacular mountain scenery. The road wound along a very large river, through a tunnel and followed another river, always climbing upwards. Many hydro power stations were seen. The river diverted to one side and through a turbine before continuing. A new power station necessitated a detour of the road around the dam site, a task the driver easily managed even though the detour looked like a four wheel drive track. There were many places where the road surface had been damaged by land slips as the bedding planes of the country rock were tilted nearly vertical. As a consequence, we were not able to travel as fast as expected and we stopped at a place for lunch called Pingwu where the local mushrooms were a speciality. At Pingwu we saw our first of many road side stalls where Tibetan handicrafts such as weaving, beads and silverware could be purchased.
After many more hours of driving on winding roads and another long tunnel we arrived in Jiu Zhai Gou county, a new town which is the administrative centre of the region. The narrow road turned into a four lane highway for a few kilometres. Passing through the town, the road climbed for many hours till we passed under an archway which announced that we had entered Jiu Zhai Gou special region. The view from the top of the range was spectacular and the road could be seen winding its way down below with its many hairpin bends. The altitude of the mountain pass we had just driven through was between 3,500 and 4,000 metres. After another two and a half hours of winding downhill, following another river through spectacularly steep limestone hills, we arrived at our destination, Jarpo. Jarpo is a complex of buildings based on an ancient Tibetan village at an altitude of 3,200 meters. This was only the start of an amazing adventure in the high country of Sichuan.
On leaving China after our 2003 trip, my main thought was “how soon can I get back?” – a feat finally achieved in 2005
Red Panda at the eco-park in Chengdu
and my son and I were not disappointed. The major difference this time was the twelve days spent touring the spectacular sights in the mountainous regions north of Chengdu in Sichuan Province – definitely a highlight. Our first taste of Sichuan cuisine in Chengdu was a pleasant surprise – quite spicy and yes, hot, and but for one later exception, most enjoyable. Under the always-misty skies of the capital, we visited the Taoist Green Ram Temple with its beautiful gardens and central eight-sided pagoda, incredibly built without nails or pegs. It was great to finally see giant pandas “in the flesh” at the eco-park and watch Oliver and Jaden cuddling the red ones.
The scenery at Jiu Zhai Gou and Huang Long was unique. The remarkable blue green colour and clarity of the Jiu Zhai Gou lakes, the waterfalls, Tibetan villages and surrounding mountains and the colours of the ponds at Huang Long, were all worth the long hours in the bus and (in some places), the hundreds of steps we climbed to reach them. The Du Jiang Yan Weir was amazing. This vast irrigation system, conceived and built in 250 BC by Li Bin, is still in use today and has played a major role in making the Chengdu Plain one of the most fertile regions in China.
At Qing Cheng Shan, we climbed again to reach the Tian Shi Temple and met Master Liu. He talked to us about Taoist religion and philosophy and Zhang Dao Ling, the founder of Taoism at Qing Cheng Shan, who planted the now 1800-year-old Ginkgo tree, which continues to thrive in the temple grounds. On our boat trip at Le Shan, being confronted with the staggering size of the giant statue of Buddha made one feel miniscule in comparison. I’m glad we didn’t have to climb the rather scary looking zigzag staircase at its side!
Having worked our way by bus, foot and cable car to the second highest peak of Mt Emei, we were prevented from experiencing the views when the clouds closed in around us and the rain began falling. We did see and feed the cheeky Buddha monkeys (named because of their fat tummies) on the way up. At the base of the mountain we walked through the halls and attractive gardens of Bao Guo Temple, containing a 3.5m tall porcelain Buddha and many rare trees and plants. Later that night, pancakes with chocolate and bananas was our “western fix” and a fun meal that was enjoyed by all of us at the Teddy Bear Café.
The demonstrations at the Emei Martial Arts School, having been initially washed out by rain, were transferred to a local undercover basketball court. The talented staff and students of the School performed some amazing feats, after which our group performed the Hun Yuan 24 and some martial arts forms.
Beijing and Shanghai are still forging ahead with many new buildings at a frantic pace – Beijing in particular preparing for the 2008 Olympic Games. The Forbidden City and the whole of the Temple of Heaven were undergoing renovations and parts of both were shrouded in scaffolding and green shade cloth preventing entry. Although the misty weather, courtesy of recent typhoons, limited visibility at distance, we still enjoyed revisiting many sights and seeing new ones. Peking Man relics, Marco Polo Bridge, the Great Wall at Ba Da Ling and the Yu Garden are each impressive in their own right and the shopping is always great fun. I don’t know that my bargaining skills have improved any, however.
- Very early morning Tai Chi on the roof top at Jui Zhai Paradise Resort under the snow capped mountain, and also at Emei Shan Hotel on a circular wooden-decked stage over a flat calm lake, surrounded by misty mountains – magic!
- The driving skills of “Master” Chen, our bus driver in Sichuan Province – hair-raising!!
- Brett & Brett – both look good on a yak.
- The Chinese peoples’ fascination with 7-year-old Oliver’s fair colouring and his stoic endurance of much patting, stroking and shaking hands.
- John’s enviable ability to eat anything and everything with enthusiasm and no after effects.
- Walking through the back streets of towns and gaining a glimpse of local life.
- Ingrid’s bargaining skills!
- Tai Chi sessions with Grandmaster Feng and Ms Feng in the Temple of Earth and Temple of Heaven parks.
- Our Peking Duck dinner combined with Andrew’s birthday party – much local ‘firewater’ consumed (and much cake)!
- Lunch at the Old Beijing Noodle House – 12 inch long ribs and noodles with a mind of their own. More firewater and Andrew’s and Jaden’s faces after “tossing-back” some – hilarious!!
- John running back down the Great Wall at Ba Da Ling to break his own record from 2004. We thought something nasty had happened to Ingrid!
- The extremely crowded shopping area outside Yu Garden on National Day Weekend. Thank goodness Andrew is tall!
- Many thanks to Fontane and Brett for another magnificent trip and to the rest of the group whose company we enjoyed.
Jiu Zhai Gou
Since I arrived back from the China trip, people have constantly asked me “how was it?” I still haven’t been able to find a suitable answer without talking for more than an hour, and even then I feel I haven’t done justice to the experience. When I first heard about this trip, it was something that immediately interested me because I’ve always wanted to go to China. It was a bonus to know that it was with the Tai Chi Academy and that we would be able to visit many places and meet many people that we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
The first half of the trip was spent travelling in the western Sichuan Province of China right up to the Tibetan plateau. We went to some amazing places like the Nine Tibetan Villages (Jiu Zhai Gou) where we stayed in what everyone liked to call a “New Old” traditionally built Tibetan village hotel. It was so amazing. I can’t begin to describe it in words without some photos to show people. Even then, it doesn’t capture the snow peaked mountains that we were at the base of, or the clear crisp air we breathed, the so friendly Tibetan people we met. It’s really something you have to see and experience yourself. While we spent a lot of time on the bus in the first part of the trip travelling from one place to the other, every part of the bus trip was just as amazing as the places we visited. The scenery was unbelievable, and the driver had the best driving kung fu I’ve ever seen!
Some of the mountains we visited were so big that the mountains we have here in Australia really don’t compare. And the temples built at the summits of these mountains were so intricate you have to wonder how they got the materials all the way up there. The people are amazing, so happy and content with life whereever we went. I was so awe struck by the people, the culture and the land. There were so many points on the trip where I was so overwhelmed with emotions that it was hard to talk as there was a large lump in my throat.
Jiu Zhai Gou
My highlights of the trip were seeing panda bears and getting to hold and hand feed a red panda, climbing for 2 hours to reach the summit of 5 amazing mountains, seeing Beijing and the amazing shopping there, the Shanghai river cruise by night and definitely visiting the Nine Tibetan Villages.
One thing I definitely can say, China is a land of so many contrasts and amazing mystery. Some of the places we went to were so mind bogglingly beautiful that you could almost see into the past and understand how China developed such a rich and ancient culture. Yet at the same time, at these picturesque places there would be hundreds of Chinese tourists on their mobile phones.
A big thanks to Fontane for organising everything for everyone on the trip. Thanks to Brett for teaching us Tai Chi along the way and sharing his knowledge of China with everyone. Also a special thanks to Vincent (our national tour guide), John (our Chengdu tour guide) and Master Chen (our bus driver in Sichuan). I will definitely be going again in the future! All I can definitely say about the trip: If you can, you just have to go and see and experience the world of China.
- Turbulent racing rivers
- Gnarled ancient trees
- Peaceful mountain energy
- Street sweepers with mobile phones
- Circles of sumptuous food
- Climbing – precision brickwork, gnome steps, goliath steps
- City traffic – seemingly chaotic, workable system
- Extensive tree planting
- Cycles of history – conquer, control, rebel
- Exploring the limits of limited language
- Curiosity at foreign Tai Chi-ers
- Tai Chi serenaded by opera singers and revolutionary choristers
- Increasingly discerning eyes when watching Tai Chi
- Paradoxes – ancient temples with digital photo opportunities
- Gratitude for drinkable tap water
- Insightful dialogue with masters
- Joke punch lines lost in translation
- Overwhelming holiday crowds
- 23 days without a major decision to make
- Greater understanding of what and how to practise
Entrance to the Auditorium of the Show at Jiu Zhai Gou