Monday, February 22, 2010

The Most Beautiful Village in China

posted by Alan
click on the pictures to see them full-sized
click on the link at the bottom to see a full photo album

So our goal for this trip was adventure, rugged travelling and incredible scenery and that's exactly what we got. The 20 hour train ride to Hunan was brightened by some good conversation, new Chinese friends and a constant barrage of New Years Eve firework displays in the countryside as we rode by. It was a pretty unique experience. It was Myself, Daisy and our friends Beverly(NJ) and Nikita(Clifton, NJ by way of Jamaica).

Part 1 - Pandora

We took the train directly to the city of Zhang Jia Jie (张家界), a mid sized city in Western Hunan province that is surrounded by mountain ranges and is host to the famous Zhang Jia Jie National Forest Park. Our plan was to find our hostel tucked away inside the park and spend two days exploring the trails and ridiculously shaped mountains. Yes, these are the mountains that the Hallelujah Mountains of Pandora from the movie Avatar were inspired by. Looking at the peaks from above with a layer of fog and mist, it really did look like the mountains were floating just like in the movie. It was a great few days of extreme cold, no running water and mountain hiking.

Part 2 - The Village
After two nights on the mountain, we packed our bags and made the journey from ZJJ to a place that we found only mentioned on a few online travel blogs. Described as "the most beautiful village in china" and "a scene from a fairy tale," the scenery just became more and more amazing as our bus made its way through the Hunan countryside. Buildings and people gave way to distant mountains and layers of green farming terraces. The village of De Hang(德 夯)is a Miao minority village built into a mountain valley and is a true hidden treasure of China. It's a farming town of about 500 people and numerous cows, chickens, ducks and pigs roaming around. Without a doubt, the most quaint, beautiful and peaceful place I've been to in China.

We checked into our family run guest house and spent four days trekking mountain trails, eating local Hunanese food, enjoying the quaintness of the village and getting to know the locals. Daisy couldn't stop saying how much she loved being there while playing with the local children and their fireworks, dodging cows and their droppings and really relaxing. We were even "treated" to the annual Chinese New Year festival that brought 10,000 people from all over Hunan to the village for the day to eat, play games and celebrate their traditional Miao culture.

On our final night in De Hang, we went to our favorite little restaurant for dinner where we were now friends with the owners. As we were eating, we heard what sounded like a movie playing from the village square. We were also wondering why there we no kids running around. We finished eating and walked over to the square, where someone had set up a large screen and the locals were watching the new movie 'Confucious' starring Chow Yun Fat. Of the incredible things we saw on this trip, the scene in the picture below was my favorite. I realized that while the natural wonders of this earth are awe-inspiring, its the people of and the communities that we build that are the most lasting. What the people in that village have is true community and it was beautiful and heartwarming to see.

So, we're back in the Hai after a tiring, cold, dirty (none of us showered the entire trip) and totally satisfying trip. As Beverly put it, it made her "fall in love all over again with rural China, reading, and train travel."

If you'd like to hear more about our trip, feel free to ask us anytime, or you can just take a look at the pictures (fully captioned!) here: HUNAN 2010 PICTURE ALBUM

Response to comments:
Lin - Pictures are there for ur viewing pleasure. Why live vicariously? Come back to Asia.
Eric - which eric is this? And yes, we were in Pandora.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Hunan for the Holidays

posted by Alan
click on pictures to see them full size

So you might have seen Daisy's gmail status this past week, which read "like the week before Christmas." Chinese New Year is easily the biggest holiday of the year here. For the past week, people have been busy preparing to travel back to their hometowns to spend the week with their families. For those of us that don't have family out here, this week means travel time. For the last Golden Week (there are three in China) in October, we went international to Malaysia. And just a few weeks ago, we made a trip overseas back home to New York. For this Golden Week, we wanted to do something IN China. We were looking for something not too touristy and a little off the beaten path. When outsiders think of China, it seems that people tend to think of pollution, crowds and chaos. Unfortunately, the natural beauty of this country is often overlooked. And there is ALOT of it.
DeHang, "The Most Beautiful Village in China"

We decided on a trip to Hunan province, located towards the southern coast of central China. Our first stop will be to Zhang Jia Jie National Forest Park, famous for its jagged, scenic mountains. So scenic, that one of the peaks was officially renamed after the mountains in Avatar. We'll spend a few days hiking and backpacking around the park before we head to the mountain village of DeHang, described by one travel blog as 'the most beautiful village in China.' It's been described as the real life version of those Chinese scroll paintings. We'll stay in guesthouses with the locals and eat spicy Hunanese food. I can't wait to get back to rural China. All it will take is a 20 hour train ride. Check back next week for pictures and stories.

Zhang Jia Jie National Forest Park

i DO wish that we could be here for the opening night's festivities of Chinese New Year. We've been told that the entire city is impressively lit up with fireworks until 4 or 5 AM and the streets are covered in the red fireworks paper. And if you refer back to this or this blog post, you'll remember that we have an ideal view for the spectacle. Even as I type this, I can hear and see fireworks exploding and its the night BEFORE Chinese New Years Eve. All around the city there are tables set up with massive fireworks for sale. It is truly a pyromaniacs dream.

This guy has some big plans; fireworks and DVD's (right downstairs from our apartment too)

Well, whatever you're celebrating this weekend (Chinese New Year, Valentine's, NBA All Star Weekend, birthday (Happy Birthday Kaitlyn!), Winter Olympics) we wish we could celebrate it with you wherever you are. One thing I learned in all of my travels is that building relationships, family and sharing joy with people you love is universal.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


posted by Alan
click on pictures to see them full size

Daisy left her board and gear back in the States because she figured she wouldn't get a chance to use it over here in China. They have snowboarding in China in a few select places up north, but it's not even close to a regular activity over here. So imagine our surprise to learn about the Indoor Ski/Snowboard Slope that is in Shanghai.

An outside and inside view of "Mount Shanghai"

We met up with our friends Zach, Krystle(Arizona) and Rachel(ATL)and headed 45 minutes south of the center of the city to a 14-story structure called the YinQiXing Indoor Skiing Site. For about $22 USD, you get boots, board and snowsuit rental and all u can board for 2 hours. This includes the "lift." We all opted to skip the teletubbie-like snow suits and just go in our regular clothes.

We were warned about the grossness of the boots, which were confirmed when we walked into the rental area and u just pick your own boots off the shelf. This means that when people are finished, they just take them off and put them back ON the shelf. So ur boots might have just been worn and put back on the shelf. In a stroke of genius, we came prepared with garbage bags, which we wrapped around our feet before sticking them in the boots. U also just select ur own board off the rack. It slowly went from trying to find a good one, to finding an acceptable one, to just finding one that fits ur boots and finally, just finding one that fits and isn't broken. A process that took about 45 minutes. Thank goodness our time card doesn't start until we get on the slope.

Walking into the slope area is quite the revelation. There was so much to take in that it was hard to process all at once. From the fake christmas trees, to the salt-like fake snow, to the dozens of people decked out in yellow and purple snowsuits at the bottom of the hill, it was definitely a thrilling experience. And THEN we get to "The Lift."

The lift was a revolving string of long retractable poles that went straight up the slope. It never stops and you have to grab one as it passes, hitch it between your legs and let it drag you up to the top of the slope. All you need to do is keep your balance. I went first, and after a few seconds of flopping around on the floor like a dying fish while holding onto the pole as it dragged me up the slope, i managed to get on my feet and got the hang of the lift. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the rest of us. Rachel and her low center of gravity and Daisy both managed to figure it out after awhile, but The Lift still owns Zach. High comedy watching Zach try to get on the lift.

DZ giving up on the lift and just walking up the slope; Top of the Mountain; Rachel on the "lift"

Overall, it was fun just being on a board with friends. The boarding itself is just ok. The "snow" was soft and sandlike, but did simulate the feeling of boarding. Falling was painless because the snow didn't pack. The run took about 8 seconds to get down the slope and about 4 minutes to get back up. There WAS one jump that looks kind of fun. But like i said, overall, it was a fun experience and I'd go again just to hang out and have some fun with friends.

Response to comments:
Kristen - Don't get me wrong, I don't mind Five Guys at all. They just opened a Carl's Jr. here in Shanghai though. That'll have to do for now.