East China

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Iíve only been once to China, for three months, as part of a journey of half a year, from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, and China to Pakistan.

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Anecdote

After South East China (Kunming, Dali and Lijiang), near Birma (Myanmar), I went by bus to the north, to a small city where I could get on the train to Chendu, that same night. I waited at the only counter, which was unoccupied. After a few hours, the railway clerk opened the counter, and I wanted to order. A few Chinese behind me stretched their arms behind me, placed money to the desk and got their ticket. Now I learned that in china you should never show youíre angy, so with my cutest smile I grabbed a few of these stretched arms and squeezed them to pulp. Cheeky little bastards. It worked wonderfully well, and they accepted their defeat, as Iím taller than most Chinese by tenths of inches.

So I got myself a hard sleeper, thatís a seat in the train on which you can also sleep in case youíre that desperate. There are three layers with wooden planks, all with a very thin layer of soft cushion. The bottom one is always occupied by people sitting on them, so you canít sleep there. The middle one can easily be mugged, so I prefer the top one. The bad thing there is that youíre very close to the fan, whilst there is no on/off switch for the fan. Removing the carbon brushes always helps. I used my backpack as cushion, which feels kind of hard, hence the name hard sleeper. Donít ever forget your earplugs, as the Chinese on the bottom plank continue their shouting games (stone, paper, scissors or something).

My first impression of Chengdu isnít overwhelming, When youíve seen one big Chinese city, youíve seen all three thousand of them. So I left straight to Xiían, the city of the first emperor Qin Shi Huang, with his terracotta army. The train passed long stretches of impressive rice fields, very green and beautifully made.


In Xiían, the first thing I did was to buy a ticket to China. Itís quite easy to get a hotel, but buying a train ticket is something else. At the station they told me to go to the center, to the tourist office, about an hour walk unless you want to try the bus. The next morning I went to that office, and there were many counters with big lists of destinations above them. All in Chinese, of course. Now I know this trick how to get around in China: of course you have your good map with you (Bartholomew, for example). Now also buy a local map, with all names in Chinese. Compare locations and learn how to write the first part of the city name you want to go to. For example: the Chinese name of Beijing starts with a reversed ďtĒ, followed by a normal ďtĒ. Search for that sign on the list of destinations, and you found your counter.

After the usual long wait, the woman behind the counter insisted that she couldnít help me, and that I had to buy the ticket at the train station. I walked back, only to find out that I could not buy a ticket at the railway station, so I returned to the tourist office. Meanwhile a heavy rain poured pure misery over me, and I arrived at the office, soaked till my underwear. A woman behind a different counter with different destinations recognized me, and sold me the ticket I wanted out of pity. Even for Chinese these habbits of not helping must be harsh. I got the ticket for local price, which is 40% off. I never understood why tourists have to pay more in a country where everyone is equal. Anyway, another miserable day.


Xiían is a big city with millions of people, like so many Chinese cities. The old center has a massive wall around it, to form a 5 x 5 km wall. Very impressive. I also visited the goose pagoda, but the highlight was the terracotta army. Some thirty years ago a farmer was digging a well, and stuck a terracotta head. There was a complete terracotta soldier attached, and next to it another one. Eventually, thousands were found, all waiting for instructions from the first emperor, whoís buried some 15 km from here. Every statue has its own expression, its own style of clothing and armaments. Cavalery and chariots present as well, and all soldiers were armed with spears and swords which are still sharp till this very moment. Also with metallurgy, the Chinese were far ahead of their time. No one dared to excavate the first emperor himself, out of respect but also because itís known that his grave is protected by automatic bows which are believed to be set to life.

I went to Banpo by bike. Banpo is a 10.000 year old settlement, and was definitely worth the trip. Local people mainly admired the drowned people in plastic coffins, only a few hundred of years old. What does that have to do with Banpo? Yet thatís the interest of the locals. Horror show.

After Xiían I went to Beijing, also known as Peking. In the waiting hall there were hundreds of people waiting for the train, binomially distributed of the hall. After half an hour, everyone was sitting opposed to me, staring at this monkey. A woman even kicked her kid, when it didnít respond to her advice to observe the freak, being me.


Beijing is a very special city and a blend of various styles. The center is kind of modern, and is surrounded by districts with this special countrystyle atmosphere. Other parts look a lot like modern Russian high rise compounds. The center is even feeling American influences, like the first Kentucky Fried Chicken in China, next to the square of heavenly peace (Tian An Men square).

Initially I didnít had much of luck with my youth hostel. The woman at the reception wanted me to sign in and show my passport even before I had a chance to check the room out. My passport was on my body under my T-shirt, so I thought it was better to get the passport on the room. No way Jose, she repeated that I had to show my passport now. Eventually I told her that I wouldnít strip for her. Then she told me the hotel was fully booked, but she could call a taxi if I wanted. Yes, letís do that and go to a really nice hotel.


In Beijing I went twice to the forbidden city, the palace of the emperors is so big it truly is a city. The first time I took my walkman, and listened to the soundtrack of the ďlast emperorĒ whilst I was wandering around the royal rooms. The second time I rented the cassette player with Peter Ustinov explaining me interesting details in a way that resembled National Geographic.

The Summer Palace is also worth visiting. The mother of the last emperor Pu Ji insisted on having a lake with a boat. She spent half a years budget of the navy to have her lake dug out, and a marble boat constructed. No wonder dr. Sun Yat Sen could start a revolution to overthrow the emperor. The summer palace is a marvel indeed, where the forbidden city definitely needs some maintenance and reconstruction even. All is decorated in a magnificent style, even the roof tiles roof tiles have got beautiful figurines of gods and dragons, every panel is detailed to extremacy, and even at greater distance its proportions are impressive whilst in delicate balance.


After Beijing I went to the Chinese Wall. This is truly colossal. Recently they found more parts of the wall, deep in the middle of the Gobi desert. Local commerce is reducing the ambience for a bit, but climbing that thing is special. The wall follows the mountains and hills, and goes from hilltop to hilltop. Itís not one wall, actually, but a series of walls. Thus it was easy to predict where the Mongol enemy would tried to enter China. It was not only constructed for itís defense, but also to get rid of the surplus of soldiers. The first emperor finally ended a very long war between seven rivaling states, and there was no further need for the millions of soldiers. The construction of the wall, and particularly the harsh conditions to build it, reduced the surplus of labor as planned. This planning was unbelievable. The architect / general who designed an important gate and garrison city, ordered a certain number of bricks. Experts advised him to buy a few tons in surplus, because thereís always some loss. He ordered one stone extra. When the garrison city was ready, the constructor had one spare stone left, as calculated. The general had this stone placed above the main gate, to show his capabilities


After the wall I went to Hohhot (pronounce Kgohkgoht), the capital of Inner Mongolia. That looked more like a small boring city without many Mongolians at all. The Han Chinese are very good with outnumbering the locals. The Mongolians have a beautiful way of writing, resembling millipeds doing a handstand whilst juggling. After Hohhot by train to Lanzhou, crossing the Gobi desert.




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Background

Northeast China

Forested mountains surrounding a broad fertile plain characterize Northeast China. This region encompasses Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning provinces at the far northeastern tip of the country. On the west is the Da Hinggan Ling (Greater Khingan Range), mountains about 1,000 m (about 3,000 ft) in elevation, with peaks rising to 1,400 m (4,500 ft). The range slopes gradually to the west, but its eastern flank slopes steeply to the broad Dongbei Pingyuan (Northeast China Plain). The low mountains and hills of the Xiao Hinggan Ling (Lesser Khingan Range) rise from the plainís northern edge and extend southeast toward the mountains of the Changbai Shan, which enclose the plain on the east.

Northeast Chinaís forested mountains and hills provide significant timber resources. The black soils that cover much of the central plain create some of Chinaís most fertile agricultural land. Mineral resources are also significant, with notable petroleum, coal, and iron reserves. The Liaodong Peninsula, extending to the south, is noteworthy for its good natural harbors. At the tip of the peninsula is Dalian, Northeast Chinaís principal seaport.

North China

North China lies between the Mongolian Steppe on the north and the Yangtze River Basin on the south. It stretches west from the Bo Hai gulf and the Yellow Sea to the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Administratively, North China includes Beijing and Tianjin municipalities; Shandong and Shanxi provinces; most of Hebei, Henan, and Shaanxi provinces; and portions of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and of Jiangsu, Anhui, and Gansu provinces.

Humans have lived in the agriculturally rich region of North China for thousands of years and have greatly impacted the landscape, which has been extensively terraced and cultivated. Both human impact and erosion can be seen on the Huangtu Gaoyuan (Loess Plateau) in the northwest. Formed by the accumulation of fine windblown silt known as loess, this once level plateau has become cut by vertical-walled valleys, numerous gullies, and sunken roads. East of the Huangtu Gaoyuan are northeast-trending mountain ranges with elevations of about 1,000 m (about 3,000 ft). The Great Wall lies on the northern ridges of these mountains and marks the regionís traditional northern border. South and east of the mountains lies the Huabei Pingyuan (North China Plain), the largest flat lowland area in China. To the east is the Shandong Plateau on the Shandong Peninsula, consisting of two distinct areas of mountains flanked by rolling hills. The rocky coast of the peninsula provides some good natural harbors.

Fertile soils derived from loess cover the Huabei Pingyuan, which contains almost no native vegetation, having been cleared for cultivation centuries ago. Level basins between the mountains have also been converted for agricultural purposes. However, where humans have not cleared the land for agriculture or development, forests of mostly deciduous trees can be found. Coniferous forests thrive at higher elevations, and mountaintops have shrubby alpine meadows. North China contains the countryís main coal reserves, and important petroleum deposits lie offshore in the Bo Hai gulf

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