Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Can You Say, "Vanquish?"

One of the vocabulary words in my English class was the word "vanquish", as in "The Hulk vanquished his enemies!"  Well, that is exactly what happened to our neighborhood train ticket office!  We used to buy our train tickets here up until a couple of weeks ago... now not even the building is left standing; just a pile of rubble!
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After awhile, some workers came to sift through the remains to find any recyclable parts; bricks, bits of metal, etc.; anything that can be reused!
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Speaking of the word "vanquish", our rabbit has gotten HUGE!  He vanquishes rabbit food, vegetables and water at an alarming rate!  He is getting much faster, stronger and harder to catch, too!  Look at those FEET!

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Here's Jack and Sophie with our friend Amir; he had been teaching underprivileged children how to speak English near the Tibetan border which he loved.  His contract ended, so now he's shopping around for more opportunities in Hangzhou.  He is so good with children and our kids love him!
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Peter's computer was also nearly "vanquished".  During the last major construction, the indoor portion of the air conditioning unit was moved to the opposite side of the boys' room over the desk.  Somehow it wasn't hooked up properly and excreted over a liter of water while it cooled their room overnight.  Normally this wouldn't be much of a problem, except Peter's laptop was the recipient of the deluge!  We dried it out carefully during the warm day.  Tonight, we crossed our fingers and pressed the power button.  Miraculously, it appears unharmed! Whew!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Tunxi Ink and Tea

It was so nice to sleep in on Sunday morning after spending all day on Yellow Mountain!  We couldn't sleep too late, however because there was apparently construction on the floor above us which started at 8am.  At least we were afforded an early enough start to be on the street by 9!

Our first stop was the Old Town to get something to eat.  We spied this pork shank drying in the morning sun.  Not what we had in mind!  Here's Jack also looking a bit out of place with his blond hair in this foreign scene!

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This woman was selling vegetables from her cart.  A nice selection, but a bit inconvenient for the 7 of us.Yellow Mountain 057

Jack, again, being a good sport as not one, but 3 separate girls asked for their pictures with him!
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Yellow Mountain 065After breakfast, we went to the Tunxi Ink Factory - a famous place for buying ink products, ink stones and other art supplies.  We were told not to buy ink stones in the tourist old town areas because they might not really be stone, or they might be too porous and absorb the ink too quickly.  Sue spent about $100 US for an ink stone that she was very happy with! 

The man below is in the process of making black ink.  It takes 12 ingredients, and each ingredient by itself is also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, so theoretically it is non-toxic :). 
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Meanwhile, I was outside watching the kids, when a photography/art tour came by.  One of the photographers used the great ploy of giving candy to Sophie so she would stand their and pose for him and the rest of their entourage.
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Here they are, all snapping away at the kids...
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... and here are the kids posing for them!
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The photography group moved on, but Sophie was still standing there, wondering if she could get another chocolate just for being cute!
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After the ink is dried, it is formed into blocks, and this woman is lettering the ink stick with gold paint.
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The finished ink sticks, ready for shipment!
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Next, it was off to the tea store.  Anhui province is very famous in China for several different types of tea (Green teas and Black teas) so we went to a tea store for a tasting.  Here are Anita and Rebecca helping out with Sophie.
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Some interesting shutters on this old building...
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... and here we are at the tea store having a tasting.  We asked the taxi driver to wait, so he came in and tasted with us!  A down-home affair!
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Anita and I, waiting to be served our next round of tea.
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In all, we tried 2 different green teas, which cost about 1280 yuan per 1/2 kilo, or about $180 US per pound! We also tried some delicious black tea (they call it RED tea here).  I was surprised that the boys REALLY got into tasting the various types of teas!
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Jack, trying some delicious chrysanthemum tea.  His favorite!
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We tried 2 different types of chrysanthemum teas, yellow and white.  We preferred the yellow chrysanthemum teas.  We bought some of each to take home.  It was wonderful to have them all explained to us and to sample each one!
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Finally, we hopped on the bus for the 3 hour trip back to Hangzhou very satisfied with our Yellow Mountain trip.  If you haven't seen the Yellow Mountain pictures yet... keep reading!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Trek on Yellow Mountain

Yellow Mountain (Huang Shan) is a spectacular range of 76 peaks that has been a tourist attraction for 1200 years!  Countless painters and poets have trudged around the range, bestowing the peaks with names such as "Nine Dragons", "Ox Nose", and "Fairy Capital". 

To hike to the top takes about 3 hours, and then once you're on top there are several hours of trails, which are all granite staircases.  There are THOUSANDS of stairs that traverse the peaks, up, and down and UP and DOWN!

Rather than get tired out schlepping three kids to the top of the mountain, we opted for the easier solution - an 8 minute ride up 3700 meters in a beautiful Swiss-made cable car, which boasts to be the longest cable car in Asia.

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Very rugged terrain passed by beside us as we climbed the mountain by cable car, which we were so thankful for!
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The five of us among the peaks of Huang Shan, ready for several hours of stair climbing!
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The regulations for this scenic area were also posted in English, of course telling us not to enjoy the views while walking, and don't flirt with the monkeys.  Cute!
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It's so nice to get up into the mountains, away from all of the crowds...  WAIT!  Who are all of these people??  Yes, even the high mountains in China have crowds!  Since it is Saturday, there are SO many people.
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Wu Pei Zheng "Rebecca", and Qiu Dan Ling "Anita" accompanied us on this trip and both of them were SO helpful in reading signs and carrying and coaxing Sophie on more than 5 hours of stairs!
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Now that it's almost May, we can really feel the weather beginning to change.  Today was a gorgeous day of about 75 degrees at the top of the mountain.  Sue, Peter and Jack are enjoying the views...

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Peter and Jack mounted this peak while I stayed on the peak several hundred meters away and took a picture of them.  LEFT: They're on the peak, a little SPECK on the top right of the peak.  RIGHT:  Zoomed in to the little viewing platform they were standing on.
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... an example of one of the many sharp peaks at Huang Shan.
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Many of the chain barricades that protect visitors from thousands of feet of free-fall are adorned with padlocks.  The lock is inscribed with the names of lovers, and locked to the chain to "lock away their love".  Then they throw the key into the abyss, so that their love is locked together forever.
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Everything on top is done by manual labor.  These three men are hoisting this slab of granite to make a new bench.
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There are several hotels on top of the mountain and EVERYTHING is brought up by porters from the gondolas to the mountain peaks.  These porters make 40 quai (about $6 US) per DAY for carrying these heavy loads up thousands of stairs.  The long stick that protrudes from the shoulder brace can be rotated downwards so that the load can be supported while the porter rests. If you think you're having a hard day, think of these guys who do this EVERY day!

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A good example of the "umbrella" trees which are so prevalent here. Yellow Mountain 216

A look across the Huang Shan range's rugged terrain.
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This peak is called "Flower Blooming on Brush Tip", because it resembles a hand holding a calligraphy brush.  According to the signs, this peak was formed about 1200 million years ago.
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Peter and Jack try their hand at being porters.  Sophie is the lucky one who gets to ride!
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Whenever we got away from the bathrooms, Sophie would declare that she had to Pee Pee!  Here's Sue helping her take care of business next to the "trail" aka excruciating number of stairs!
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LEFT: A great view on top of the world (or bottom, if you're from the U.S.), and RIGHT: a very small sample of the stairs upon stairs upon stairs!
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Posing for a picture with our friends and guides, "Anita" and "Rebecca".
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Another porter, carrying dirty laundry down from one of the hotels.

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Carrying food and provisions back UP to one of the hotels.  All of the 5 or so hotels that are up here were all built from materials hauled up on these guys' backs; including furnishings, grand pianos and building supplies!
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This guy's job is to carry up Westerner's luggage.  If you ever come to Yellow Mountain, think of these guys and remember to pack LIGHT! 
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LEFT: A peek through the peaks, and RIGHT: Jack and Sophie find a refreshing mountain stream.

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Fabulous views.  However we had to hold onto Sophie constantly as there were precarious drop-offs at every turn.
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Of course ours were the only American boys up there, so everyone wanted their pictures with them.  They were such good sports to pose when people asked!
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Some teenagers getting their pictures with Sue and Peter.
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Sue wanted her picture with this good-natured guard who was there to discourage any horse-play near the edge.
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We continued our hike to the next peak, and had to wait behind this group of four porters who were carrying up a new hot water heater.  About every 50 meters they would set it down and rest.  What a laborious day for them!
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We stopped for a rest on yet another mountain peak - hundreds of more stairs tackled!  We were now getting pretty tired and we couldn't imagine doing this hike while carrying a water heater!
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LEFT: We made Sophie sit as much as possible so that she wouldn't run off of an edge some place, and RIGHT: "Anita" holding tightly onto Sophie for us. She was such a big help!
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Sue and Rebecca surveying the world.
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Anita and Tim coaxing Sophie up the next staircase!
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More rugged mountain views.  It's getting later in the day now, and a bit more hazy.  We're also worried about getting back to the cable car in time, which closes at 5pm, and we have no idea how long it will take us to climb all of the stairs to get there, even though it is only about 4 KM away.

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This rock on top of "Flying Hope" peak has a special meaning.  If you come touch it 3 times, then when you descend, marriage is imminent.  "Rebecca" went up and touched the rock.  What is she hoping for??
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... and here's Rebecca who touched the rock 3 times.  Good luck Rebecca!
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The boys found a nice resting spot with a vista between the mountains.
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A bystander took this picture of our intrepid troupe.
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Sophie waited while we took another look at the map.  Now we were starting to get more worried that we wouldn't make it back to the cable car in time, which meant hiking DOWN the mountain for another 3 or 4 hours, mostly in the dark!
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In the center of this picture, one of the hotels perched among the high cliffs.
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Since time was getting short, I hoisted Sophie up on my shoulder for the thousandth time and MADE TRACKS!  the trail was getting very crowded now (LEFT), so we had to bulldoze our way through mountains of Chinese, but I WASN"T GOING TO MISS that cable car!  My strategy was to sing loudly with Sophie, "Up the hill we go, up the hill we go, under the trees, through the Chinese, up the hill we go!" The Chinese people would turn and stare at us and magically part as their jaws dropped open.  You can see (RIGHT) how crowded the trail was!
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Peter, enjoying a view and a 3 minute rest break, then FORWARD-HO to the cable car!
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Finally we made it to the cable car and OMIGAWD look at the line!  At least we were in it though, so we were reasonably sure we'd get a ride back down the mountain.
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Standing in line, admiring the beautiful views.  There is little concept of personal space in China.  The guy behind me was standing so close to  me his whole body was touching mine.  I was expecting a marriage proposal from him at any moment!  I tried to focus on the view.
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Finally, here we are at the FRONT of the line.  What a relief to know we'll get a ride down the mountain!
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We started hiking about 8am, and by the time we got into the gondola it was about 5:30, so we were all hungry and tired.  After dismounting the cable car, it was a 30 minute SCARY bus ride back to the entrance,and then another 45 minutes by cab back to town.  We had left our hotel at 6am, and we arrived back around 9pm after a very full day.  Everyone's legs ached - but guess who had the most energy???  Sophie of course!  Even though she walked most of the way, her nuclear powered internal engine was still going strong!

Overall it was a wonderful and memorable day!