China 2009

This trip was organized with Chasseurs d'eclipses, specializing in eclipse hunts. We went in July, obviously for the 2009 total eclipse, and the weather was unsurprisingly hot and very humid. As for the trip itself, let's just say that, even more than any other organized trip, in China they take "organized" to a whole new level. I know some people who have backpacked through there, but I never did, so I will relate my experience just as I lived it, that is to say very guided.

We first visited Hong Kong. Just the road from the airport to downtown HK made you feel on another, more futuristic planet. Thin and tall buildings next to nature, extreme poverty next to extreme riches. The view from Victoria Peak lets you admire the metallic forest at your feet.

Then we entered the curiously named Repulse Bay, the chic and European neighborhood, named for the locals repulsing pirates in the good ol' days. And then the guide invited us for the first of many visits to state shops. After that, the bus took us to the Jumbo Restaurant, site of a James Bond scene, where we had a tour of the house boats before actually going to a "typical" Chinese restaurant. And when we finally had time for ourselves, we realized how much of a "gigantic mall" HK, and Kowloon particularly, really is. But when night comes, the daylight architecture treasures become rivals in ever changing lights playing and reflecting on the river.
photo courtesy of SV

The second day led us to Guangzhou, which provided us with the first typical image of China: pointy hats, bi or tricycle converted as heavy loaded vehicles, and construction sites... construction sites everywhere. The guide made us walk into a market selling terrible remedies, such as scorpions, kitties, snakes, turtles, ants, various animal penises... before going to a restaurant proudly showing his menu in huge jars containing snakes, frogs and other delicacies. Guangzhou is not the capital of Chinese gastronomy for nothing! Thankfully, our menu was thought for European palates...

Day three was for me the real beginning of the Chinese trip. We took the plane from Guangzhou to Guiling, and we saw the first karstic rocks... Instead of metallic structure, here the skyscrapers are signed by Nature.

Then we took the bus to Yangshuo, which is even more breathtaking, as it is more lost in Nature, and the peaks can be seen more closely from the paddy fields.

The next day, the travel agency took us on a cruise on the Li Jiang river, which was truly mystical, with the morning fog as a surprise guest.

The same day, we came back to Guilin and then took the plane to Xi'an, for the terracotta army, which was stunning. It's not specially beautiful, but the amount of work behind it just blows your mind. It all seems as if a magic spell binds these soldiers in this terracotta form, and that it can disappear at any moment. Really impressive, all the more when you know that they still need 30 more years to dig them all out!

photo courtesy of SV

After this long day, we took the night train to Beijing, which was rather comfortable, but of course, it was first of four classes.
Upon arrival, we were welcomed by the rain, but that didn't stop our guides from following our very tight schedule. First, Confucius Temple, then the Lhamas temple, where we could learn about the distinctions between the chinese buddhism and the tibetan buddhism (small and great vehicle buddhism respectively).
We then went to the Tian'an Men square, where there were not many people thanks to the rain, and the Beijing Opera, so "avant-garde". And after dinner, we went to a chinese theater, with face-painted dancers and acrobats. It really was an experience I advice to anyone.

photo courtesy of SV

The next day was one of the big days. We started the morning with the Ming Tomb, in a highly Feng Shui positive valley thought by Emperor Yong Le. For Feng Shui followers, a river is flowing at the center of the valley, wind is always present, and two hills make the border of the valley, one shaped as a tiger ready to jump to its prey, the second one shaped as a Dragon waving in the sky. 

photo courtesy of SV

And the afternoon was... the Great Wall!

There really is no word for it. You see it so often on pictures, with every angle, but nothing compares to actually walking the same path as some of the bravest warriors in history. Now, tourists like us are the new invaders, but there it is. I don't think "Wall", even the greatest of all, is enough to describe this masterpiece. 

The next day another masterpiece awaited us: the Forbidden City

Unfortunately, it was on a Sunday, and you litterally had to battle with elbows and knees to see something through the wall of Chinese visitors. Fifteen years it took them to build this wonder, and we can only visit 30% of it, which is already a lot. It is not the only thing to sightsee, though, especially the Summer Temple, where our guide told us about Empress Ci'Xi, mean and extremely cunning woman, who did everything to retain the power. 

photo courtesy of SV

After this beauty from the past, we were guided to the Olympics site. The Bird's Nest and the Cube are formidably original, they could not have been born anywhere else than on this extravagant capital city, which artistically links Imperial, Communist and Post-modern eras.

Our next step before the eclipse was Suzhou, which with a Venice vibe and 9 UNESCO Heritage Sites is clearly worth it. Everything about these different places is zen, from the Civil Servant Park to traditional houses. 
photo courtesy of SV

I will not talk about the eclipse site, which was a seaside city with no interest, and I will directly skip to the Oh so trendy Shanghai, with its Bund, its site for the World Expo 2010 - at that time still under construction, Nanjin Road, and its characteristic buildings. Shanghai is the economical capital of the People's Republic of China, but you can clearly say that it is also its international gate. It's buzzing with activity all day - and night - long, and I think it was nice to finish with this.

So there was my experience of China. It was the firt time I was confronted with a completely different view of the world than the one I was born in. This bulldozer lifted by billions of people keeps going forward without questioning the colateral damages, moved by a philosophy shaped over millenia, that we Eurpeans cannot grasp entirely. It is the heritage of one of the most prolific empire in the world and one of the most drastic regime in human history. So even though this trip gave us the image of China that its government wanted us to have, it is easy to have your own opinion, based on little details or winding through octopuss cities... 

Even though I wasn't really motivated by China as a touristic country, I'm really glad I took this trip, because it made me learn something new about the world. That's why I advice people to go there.

What is YOUR experience of China? Do you have places other than the ones listed above that seem iconic to you?

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