Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hiking Club: Wuqiao

 This week we took Hiking Club to a mountain behind Three Gorges Medical College. There we rendezvoused with Maivy's (another PCV) Hiking Club. Her club was to guide us around the mountain in their backyard. Collaboration on our secondary projects has been infinitely beneficial for our students and us PCVs. In a word, I just want to express how fortunate I am to be in a city with such great PCVs. 

Our bus crossing the Yangzi River into Wuqiao (Five Bridges). The bus ride from our college to TGMC is approximately 30 minutes. 

Walking the road to the mountain. This was our third hiking trip and on it we encountered the most difficult challenge of running a hiking club. In the morning there was a torrential rain.  

For the first half of the day I thought I was going to have to cancel our trip, but to my surprise, even with Wanzhou's tropical steam bath humidity, much of the water dried before noon. Carelessly, I had not fully realized this reality until the morning, but Hiking Club is entirely dependent on the weather. Weather gods are the worst contingency. With temperatures leveling at 105F and with 100% humidity in the summer, I will have to figure out a way to accommodate these conditions. 

 Stopping to test the rocks for bouldering. If there wasn't rainwater flowing though half of the holds there would be potential :)

Maivy (decked out in white) and students. Most of Maivy's students are studying to become nurses. 

 Cow under sky

I swear, this country has the most available antitheses in the world

 One benefit of the rain is that it clears the air pollution. Nature cleansing itself to unveil its own beauty . . . who knew Nature could be so romantic haha

 Cow family

 View of Wanzhou city from Wuqiao

Approaching the Yangzi River

 Asian camouflage ;)

Two thousand years ago the Sichuan/Chongqing region was called Yizhou and was known as the Kingdom of Shu. To most of the ancient Chinese this region was somewhat of a mystery. Getting to Yizhou by land or water was impossibly difficult. Before paved roads the craggy mountainous terrain made overland travel impermissible and the complex river systems daunting even for expert mariners. 

The revered scholar-emissary of Shu, Zhang Song, described the region to the emissary, Yang Xiu of Jingzhou (Hubei Province region) at a parley in 220 AD: "its area exceeds thirty thousand li [an ancient form of Chinese measurement, about a third of a mile]. Cocks crow and dogs bark everywhere, for the common folk are ceaselessly active. The fields are fertile and the soil productive, and neither flood nor drought plagues us. Thus, the state is wealthy and its people prosper, enjoying in due season the delights of music and song. No place under heaven can produce such mountains of goods." In my opinion, this description of the region is still accurate. 

Appropriately named, this region was called the Riverlands. In the picture below you can see the Yangzi river in its might. Larger than the US's Mississippi River, the Yangzi River is formed by collected runoff water from Tibetian/Qinghai glaciers in the far west and empties into the Pacific via Shanghai. 

 In the ancient times a slur for a person from Sichuan/Chongqing was 'river-rat.' In Chinese, the word  Shu is a homonym of the word for rat. 

 With Wanzhou being the second largest city in Chongqing Province, it is impossible for the city to be free from industry. Although Wanzhou's greatest source of economy comes through ports, we do have a surplus of chemical factories that sit in the north and south districts. The city has made efforts to place the factories behind mountains and tucked away in Yangzi River tributaries, but the air pollution is unavoidable 

Old men fishing at a pond. Despite the morning rain, Hiking Club trip #3 was a total success. Our students got to make new friends, new ground was explored, laughter, exercise, and most importantly a safe English speaking environment was provided for our students and used exhaustively. I can't yet tell what it is, but there is something truly good happening here. A huge thanks to Maivy and her students for hosting us. Come to Wanzhou and we will show you around. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tomb Sweeping Festival: Climbing in Dali, Yunnan Province

Every year during the first week of April many Chinese people celebrate Tomb Sweeping Festival (清明节). Yes, the nationally observed holiday is as literal as it's title. Families clean their ancestors' graves and present offerings such as food and joss money. The significance of the holiday, I fear too simply, is to venerate and remember their ancestors. Anybody who has spent time around Chinese people in China will know that family is everything to them. This unreciprocal dedication of children-to-parents is contributed to Confucius's 2000 year old pillar of filial piety. There is an ancient story to exemplify this maxim. 
Shun (舜) is credited as one of the first three founders of China's first dynasty, Xia (2100BC-1600BC), and is regarded by the Confucians for his supreme virtue and humanity. One day Shun's father commits a crime. Shun faces a moral and civil dilemma: turn is father over to the government or say silent. Law or family. Shun puts his father on his back and runs away. This 4000 year old story still rings true in China today. I hope this example increases the significance of Tomb Sweeping Festival for the reader. 
Since the festival is observed by the Chinese government we PCVs had a nice little holiday.
With four days total Libby, Gabby (site mate), and I decided to go climbing in Dali, Yunnan Province. Yunnan is located in the SW corner of China (see map) and the weather is almost never unpleasant. Sunshine, cool breezes, lush, and mountainous. There is a good reason Yunnan is one of China's most popular tourist regions. For the past five years, members of ClimbDali have been working on making the city China's second most popular climbing destination by bolting over a hundred sport routes and putting up dozens of bouldering problems. Even though we never ended up meeting the climbing developers, I have to say they have done an excellent job.

With only four days to climb all of our scheduling had to be airtight and movements swift. After teaching two morning classes my site mate and I hopped onto a 4 hour bus from Wanzhou to Chongqing proper. An hour on the subway, rendezvoused with Libby, and then an 1.5 hour plane to Lijiang, Yunnan. Spent the night in Lijiang. From Lijiang we took a 1.5 hour train to Dali. Car to Shuanglang town on the NE end of Erhai Lake. Dropped our bags at a Rongyi hostel and headed immediately out to Shuanglang Softcore crag. After dodging through small alleyways filled with leathery faced old people, smoking pipes and cigarettes, their hands stained with the colors of decades of rural labor and red earth, shoeless children with dirty faces, we made it to the path that led the crags. 

Crag One: Shuanglang Softcore

 The walk to Shuanglang Softcore looks more like Mexico than China

It started raining pretty hard on our way to the crag. Hiking up wet rock on a precipice is never fun

 A top section of wall protrudes just enough to protect the lower section from the rain. So we climbed

Then the rain cleared. Gabby leading 'River of Poo' (5.10d)

Me chillin on 'River of Poo.' I am sitting at the crux. Inside those black cavities there are a bunch of small animal bones. After two separate days of attempts we never ended up getting to the end of the river. I believe 5.10d is our difficulty ceiling

 Gabby leading 'If you Bolt it, they will come' (5.9+). This route is said to be the most interesting at the Shuanglang crags and of the many routes we climbed it proved so. Great route!!

 Libby cleaning 'Table Score' (5.7) I crushed on lead ;)

 Yep, Erhai Lake(洱海). We learned that the 'Er' in Erhai is the same 'er' in Pu'er tea(普洱茶). We think the 'Er' symbolizes this region of Yunnan.

 Sunsets over Erhai make all the traveling worthwhile

 -Days Two and Three at Softcore
The day of Tomb Sweeping Festival. Based on the emotions coming from the cemetery, Tomb Sweeping Festival is not sad, but one that encourages joyous celebration. 

 Peasants observing from the hills

White and orange. Sky, plants, and wind 

Libby on 'Cactus Pants' (5.8) 

Gabby on 'Cactus Pants'

Back on 'If you Bolt them, they will come' 

 Homunculus Cloud ;)

Erhai Lake  

 Me leading 'Stairmaster' (5.9)

Cacti everywhere. I accidentally kicked one and spent five minutes pulling spines out of the top of my foot

These dried flowers are hard and toll like small bells with staccato in the wind 

 It got so hot by day three that we had to shade our provisions 
 My 'Princess Mononoke antlers'

A great sight to see us off 

 Crag Two: Shimenguan (石门关)
 Shimenguan is about an hour drive outside of Dali. Although peasants still live inside Shimenguan, it is a protected national park of China. Shimenguan is marked by its massive gorge, massive boulders, priceless walnut trees, and serene river. 

 This water comes directly from the gorge mountains. There is no pollution in the area, no farming or human habitation up river from here. You can swim in this pool and the locals say the water is safe to drink. 

Climbing is not allowed in the gorge on the right. The crags that have been developed are on the left. With the bludgeoning heat, heavy gear, loose footing, overgrown thorny path, and the large amounts of pollen and burs this may have been the roughest yet shortest hike I have made in China. Bushwhacking. 

Libby leading 'BB Kuen Kuen Chu' (5.8)

 Me hanging out in the only available shade at the crag

 It was so hot we had to stop climbing. In case you were wondering, rocker-hands are in in China. 

 The water was to cold to swim in, so...

This was the first time I had the chance to experiment with small rapids and shutter speed. If I had a tripod these pictures would have been much better. I think these are the best of the lot. 

 A man naps in the gorge. 
For our trip only being four days long it was an excellent one. I am really happy that we decided to go. This was my second time in Dali and even though my time in China is limited I would go again, climbing or not. 
In a word. Living in a Chinese city is rough in its own way. The poor environment leaves people jaded. For, I think it is vital that one travels out to places like Yunnan to remind them of the great serenity that China still has to offer. Traveling to the big cities, the industrial monsters will only reinforce the notions, impressions, feelings, and inferences that cause people to despise China. If you plan on traveling in China I ask you to please skip the big cities. Do hard research and see the small things in the rural areas, you will be surprised what they have to offer. The places in the middle of nowhere are difficult to get out to but always worth it. Remember, traveling is about the process: what is in between point A and wherever point B may be. 

Libby opening a melon with the back end of a pen a the airport :) Love the Peace Corps