Archives for category: traveling

I mentioned before how fortunate I was to be able to go on vacation with a Chinese family because I got to see things a westerner normally wouldn’t be exposed to. A major example of this was a detour we took on the way home from the mountain, stopping at the site of the 2008 Chengdu earthquake. Spring’s uncles claimed we had friends who perished in the disaster and paid a little bribe in order to get us access to the damage site (this is pretty common practice in China, though perhaps morally foggy from western standpoint). Rather than rebuild where the town had been destroyed, the entire town was relocated and rebuilt a few miles away, leaving the old city a ghost town. Foreigners are literally forbidden from visiting this place, so David put his hat on me and told me to keep the car window rolled up and my head down til we got in.

chengdu earthquake
chengdu earthquake

Once inside the gates, we parked the cars and were able to walk around the streets of the deserted city. It was like walking into the post apocalypse. It felt heavy and sad, and even Spring’s normally clowning relatives were quiet as we walked around, taking it all in. The rubble was swept out of the roads and roped off, with memorial signs placed periodically with portraits of the dead. David explained a few of the plaques to me, like a school where most of the teachers and students were killed and the survivors had to tear up curtains from the top floors to make an escape rope.

chengdu earthquake
This is the school.

chengdu earthquake
chengdu earthquake
chengdu earthquake

It was getting dark and we had seen enough. Somewhat subdued, we piled into the cars as a mournful drizzle started up, ushering us out of the ghostly place. Exhausted from our long day (and for me the emotional stress of the earthquake), we were only too glad to leave, and much of the ride home was spent in silence.

chengdu earthquake
chengdu earthquake
chengdu earthquake


We woke up at 5 am to “skip tickets” to the famous mountain and ancient gate of Sichuan. We hiked up a muddy hill in the dark. Some things cameras are useless for capturing. Spring’s cousin pointed out how the mountain range in the distance looked like the silhouette of a face looking up. The moon was a fingernail clipping at its brow. We came out at dawn on the stairs leading up to the famous gate, the whole sight to ourselves.
the gate of Sichuan early in the AM
mighty sichuan!
Mighty mighty Sichuan! They say in ancient times, a single man could defend against an army of a thousand at this strategic entrance into ancient Su.

Thank God for skipping tickets, because later that afternoon after we hiked around the whole mountain, we came up the other side of this same gate. Here is the view of the same deserted ravine steps from the top of the fortress:
later that day at the gate

We spent the morning hiking around the mountain, climbing steep stairs up into stunning vistas.
we walked up those stairs
climbin the mountain
like from a poem

Spring’s relatives are silly and fun, and even though we couldn’t really communicate on a deep level, we shared some laughs.
spring's aunt and uncle
very thoughtful

Towards the peak, we ended up with this view:
the real misty mountain

And then some of us did this:
that was fun.
post zipline euphoria

It was incredible! The closest to flying I’ll probably ever get. It wasn’t scary at all, it was peaceful, and so amazing to look down and see the ravine beneath my dangling feet. Years from now when I think back and miss the best things China has to offer, in my dreams I’ll send my soul souring through these same clouds with these same wonderful people waiting for me on the other side.

So let me give some background: David and Spring are two Chinese English teachers in Chengdu who have become a part of my family over the past few years. They participated in a teacher exchange with my mom’s student teachers when she was an instructor at GSU. My mom met them when she took a group of teachers to China and stayed with David. Next year, they came to Atlanta where I met them, and last summer I got my first taste of China when my mother and I attended their wedding. David calls my mom his American mom and he is my Chinese brother (gege!). It was only natural to spend my National Holiday vacation visiting them.

During these last few days, my acquisition of Chinese language and customs was put on hyper speed and I was exposed to a lot of interesting aspects of their culture, some wonderful and some frustrating.

As is their way, they made me part of the family which I liked and gave me TOO MUCH which I didn’t. I could not open my wallet the whole time and was in fact made a bit uncomfortable by the lengths they went to for my comfort! In my Western mindset, I want to be able to visit people I know well and am close to on an informal level. I want to crash on their couch and go with the flow and not have a big deal made over me. Impossible. My first night, Spring and David pick me up at the airport to take me to a HOTEL to sleep in a HOTEL ROOM… by myself… which he paid for…. all because his mother was worried I wouldn’t get a good night sleep the eve of our drive into the mountains.
my lonely hotel room
Me in my personal private hotel room haha.

The next day, we joined up with Spring’s relatives, forming a three car caravan packed with 15 of us in total. There were Spring’s parents, her aunts and uncles, and her cousins all along for the ride.

A Chinese custom I am having to adapt to: no solid plans. I like this because it matches well with my natural disposition of tardiness and overall up-in-the-airness, and it allows for breathing room in itineraries and unexpected adventures. For instance, on impulse we stopped at a famous temple we were passing on our route.
Spring and me at the temple

Temples here are like part religious site, part tourist trap. ANYthing the Chinese can charge admission to, you better believe they’ll be charging admission to. This includes religious places. It was an interesting combination at this temple; on the one hand, it was crowded with people snapping photos, on the other, people were shouldering each other aside to light candles and incense and pray at the altars. The Chinese buddhist faith kind of reminds me of Catholicism in a way, especially the medieval Catholic trend of purchasing religious merit. In these Chinese temples, you pay to pray. The more you pay, the more potent the prayer. Like patron saints, there are different buddhas and bodhisattvas particular to different kinds of wishes. David spoke skeptically about this, saying “if you have an exam, you shouldn’t study, you should come here and pay for good grades” rolling his eyes. But a lot of Spring’s relatives are believers, and Spring in her own way also participates in the tradition although maybe not with religious fervor.


You can buy the different candles and incenses at the temple store. The bigger more expensive ones are more spiritually potent, of course.

part religious site, part tourist site.

wishing tree
wishing tree
Wishing tree. You write your wish on the red string then throw it up as high as you can. Of course, you pay a fee for this.

David, being the master tour guide that he is and explaining EVERYTHINGGGG.

pretty temple roofs

Spring said she was praying for a son
Spring, praying for a son (but I think she really wants a daughter :~))

At every turn, there is a stunning statue or relic, and at every other turn, a little something to buy or spend money on. It’s a fascinating combination of spiritual faith and consumerism.

I quite enjoyed this sidetrip as it was a uniquely Chinese experience I couldn’t have gotten if I were on my own. I was the only westerner there (as with many of the things we did on our trip), and it was one of the ways I was grateful to be made part of the family and for the breeziness with which Chinese people change plans and forego schedules.

The other side of this double edged sword I experienced at the end of the day, when we finally got into the mountains and were tired and cold and hungry. No reservations were made at any of the inns we were planning on staying at. They were all full. And it was hectic and stressful figuring our where we would all sleep, but somehow it always seems to work out and we found some spare rooms in local people’s houses above their restaurants and tofu stands.

the little mountain place we stayed at

Stay tuned for tales of “skipping tickets” at 5am and daring cable flights through the clouds!

Got to the airport. Wearing my comfortable batwing blouse and biker shorts, with some slightly less comfortable nude heels. And of course, you can’t travel to China without a string of pearls.

My besties came along to see me off ❤

Had some unusual Korean food on the plane.

Best of all, I didn’t have to share my row of seats with anyone! Stretched out with my tea, complimentary paper sandals, and a book of Chinese poetry from my aunt.

So far so good! Now just have to fly to Shanghai, then from Shanghai to Guilin.