A Travellerspoint blog

China

China: the good stuff

semi-overcast 21 °C

As promised, the good side of China, at least our experience there.

We were pleased to find that the people were markedly friendlier than on our previous trip. We got smiles and unsolicited help aplenty. One lady even drove me around a busy city to find a post office that dealt in sending international mail before taking me back to where we started and giving me a present of a (rather ugly) Chinese mask.

The desert and mountain landscapes in the far West were amazing. We did a 3-day bike ride along the Karakoram Highway, a place that had been somewhat mystical to me before, somewhere far away, I wasn't sure where, and never thought I would see. We started up near the Pakistani border, skirted alongside the Tajik border for a while before dropping down into Kashgar. It was 320km, which was crazy hard work, in endless headwinds, at high altitudes, made even more difficult by the fact neither of us had been on a bike for 5 months! The landscape was barren, massive and sand coloured. We spent the days cycling around the two biggest mountians I have ever seen - 7,719m and 7,546m. Dotting the scene were two-humped camels and yaks.

Karakoram Highway

Karakoram Highway

The food was tasty, a welcome change from the endless tomato and cucumber salad of Central Asia.

Sichuan BBQ. Loving the street food

Sichuan BBQ. Loving the street food

Despite Hanification, Kashgar still retains a uniquenss about it, another worldliness. So old, surrounded by desert, in the middle of nowhere. Women dress colourfully, including an array of headscarves. The mens' faces are weathered, the old with long white or grey beards, always wearing a light oversized shirt and their boxy little hat. It has always been a city of crafts and in among the rubble of what is left of the old town, blacksmiths, carpenters, seamstresses all work away in the front of their small workshops.

Craftmen at work. Getting your wok fixed. Kashgar

Craftmen at work. Getting your wok fixed. Kashgar

Uighur men selling grapes. Kashgar

Uighur men selling grapes. Kashgar

It was wonderful to see the world slowly move from desert to the tropics. The landscapes were beautiful (when not interferred with by man) and changed considerably, especially when compared to how far we would travel in the 'Stans before seeing a difference. It tooks us 78 hours by bus and train to cross the desert, moving away from the borders of Central Asia. Up into cold and green Tibetan plateaus before going down into the rice paddies and banana trees of the tropics.

Tibetan countryside, Gansu Province

Tibetan countryside, Gansu Province

It was cool to see the different cultures within China, in particular for us the Tibetans and the Uighurs. Strikingly different cultures, beliefs and ways of life to Han Chinese, and each other. Interesting trying to get our heads around how they can all be living together in just one country.

Monk and Tibetan women spinning prayer wheels

Monk and Tibetan women spinning prayer wheels

Last, but of course not least, the pandas, you've gotta love the pandas. They are adorable slobs that don't wipe the food from their chin and don't do much other than eat and sleep. Their babies are only c.150 grams at birth, which is smaller than their poos!

Panda slobs!

Panda slobs!

Posted by chrisgulik 00:19 Archived in China Comments (2)

Destructive progress

China

overcast 21 °C

This was our second trip to China, a somewhat inevitable necessity on an overland trip like ours as most other routes across the world are blocked for various reasons. We decided this time to travel to some more remote corners of the country, the more ethnically diverse and therefore less Han China (92% of Chinese are ethnically Han). This would take more time and effort. And sadly we were not rewarded. We were too late. Everywhere we went the bulldozers had beaten us. Old towns, cities even, were being demolished in the name of progress, replaced with identi-kit concrete structures as-seen-all-over-China. History and cultural diversity is currently being whipped out, cultural (Han) hegemony is being established in its place. It makes for boring and depressing travel.

The old street knocked down, the new being built. Langmusi

The old street knocked down, the new being built. Langmusi

One example. We visited Kashgar in the far west, covered in a film of dust from the demolished homes. It is an ancient city, was a pivotal point on the Silk Route and until recent times had a majority population of the Uighur people. They have long been fighting for their independence from China, China fighting back to keep the territory. One of China's tactics is to try and Han-ify the region aka, colonise it. In a country with a one-child policy, Han Chinese who move to Kashgar are rewarded for doing so with permission to have multiple children. They also get their first 3 years there tax free and their relocation costs paid for them. The result, Han are now the majority in the region - there are 8,000 new arrivals every day. This has created some serious civil unrest and now there are riot police 24/7 on the main street corners in town because uprisings against the Han and local government are common.

Just a little bit of old Kashgar still standing... not for long

Just a little bit of old Kashgar still standing... not for long

Moving on from destruction it's hard not to be taken-aback by the propaganda. The Uighur Mosques and Tibetan Monasteries we visited were littered with information boards re-writing history to show the 'friendship' and 'harmony' of the locals with the Han. We also got to witness some serious modern day government-led enciting of hatred. While we were in China the Japanese government bought the Diaoyu Islands from the current Japanese owners. China has disputed Japanese ownership of these remote, uninhabited islands since WWII and this new transaction really riled them up. It proved to be a great opportunity for the government to stir up some nationalism.

Every news channel and news paper headlined the story. As we sat in a restaurant with the news on we watched locals roar their distaste and approval to scenes of Chinese school children practising for air raids - as if the Japanese were about to invade, this then cut to footage of the Japanese actually invading back in 1930. Such scenes, and aggravating language being used by the government big wigs led to some nasty reactions. Japanese manufacturing plants and stores in China were closed because of sabotage, riots took over the streets with Japanese flags being burnt, in a bus station of a national park we saw a bus stickered with a Chinese flag with the hand written slogan 'F*!k Japan & the Philippines'. It was an intense reaction to a small issue (still ongoing more than a month later), building on a hate of a common enemy that has been cultivated by the leadership for 80 years.

Racial hatred

Racial hatred

Just a few examples of what's not to like about China. It wasn't all bad of course and I will write a whole separate blog on the good. Still, I wouldn't say it was a fun place to travel nor a highlight of the trip. I will take from it an interesting insight into a different place (a future superpower??). I'm glad I'm not Chinese. And perhaps the world has a little to fear from a government who can so easily stir up the hate of a billion people and turn it into violence.

The new surrounds and dwarfs the old. Langmusi

The new surrounds and dwarfs the old. Langmusi

Posted by chrisgulik 09:53 Archived in China Comments (0)

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