Tag Archives: fake

Pingyao and Mianshan

Oh my god…real China…not the new fake version. Lets not be silly here…there are still lots of new shiny and plastic things…but the place has some real about it. The city walls are weathered, with bricks missing, the walls are not gun barrel straight but curve with the natural landscape, the buildings are old and while the street surface is newly repaved the rest of the place is relatively like it once may have been. Some of the buildings have been renovated but most have not. The renovated buildings now contain the trinket shops, bars and restaurants but just a street back and the world gets very real.

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Pingyao has many tourist buildings, temples and sights contained within the city walls and have sensibly made the decision to include them all in a one off entry price which is valid for three days. You can (mostly) walk the 6.5 kilometre lap around the city walls but get stuck at one section due to renovation and  have to backtrack to the south gate. This added quite a bit extra onto our hike in the sun but amazingly a cold beer fixed all of this once we stopped. Part of the town is commercialised and hugely overpriced while two doors down you will find a place that is authentic and very cheap.

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We went to some temples etc around the city and hit some restaurants along the way before heading off on an organised tour run by the hostel to the Mianshan Mountain area. This too is an area that is incredibly real and authentic…immediately followed by the now ubiquitous Chinese sideshow. An hour or so drive out of town you reach one of the most naturally stunning areas that has simultaneously had added to it trashy statues and theme park style attractions.  Stunning natural waterfalls and pools in the river have had statues of dogs squirting water from their mouths…large ponds have inflatable boats etc for kids to crash into each other while being overlooked by two large shiny dragons that have inexplicably been perched atop the waterfall.

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The Mianshan Mountain area contains dozens of Buddhist and Taoist temples, many built more than 1,000 years ago… alas they sit atop steep staircases. So to visit and admire the sights you will walk a lot and climb  some serious stairs. Intermittently there are chair lifts, elevators and cable cars to help you out but if you want to see things there is no way to avoid the climbing and hiking. I used the services of these aids every chance I got paying a small price to avoid obscene exertion…my wife on the other hand…wanted to walk the stairs. The main instance involved me sitting in a cable car and waving while Jill and others in the group did a 40 minute stair climb up a mountain (about 2000 stairs).

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Having climbed to the top of some of these peaks and walking along the ridge between peaks (the whole area stretches for about 12 kilometres) you often find yourselves high on the mountain with temples perched ever further up with ridiculous stair climbs still to do. Stairs bolted to the sides of cliffs, poking out of walls above rivers with chains to hang onto so as to avoid falling in. Needless to say Jill has become the stair queen while I chant what is quickly turning into my regular theme “I f$*#en hate stairs”.

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Mianshan is stunningly beautiful but offensively themeparked. The old temples are lovely but you really have to work the stairs to get to them, the nature is fantastic but has been partially spoilt by the Chinese need to make things new and shiny. Concrete water buffalos, frogs, rabbits, deer, dragons and crocodiles were all part of what you will find while traversing a pretty mountain stream cascading over natural waterfalls.

For all the plastic China that is here…Pingyao is one of the most authentic Chinese towns that we have come across. There has been renovation (as there must be) and some of it has been in keeping with that which once was..while other bits has been to the taste of the Chinese tourist. We have been told that every Chinese town reinvents itself every 8-10 years so everything will change. The preservation of the historical elements will hopefully be done in keeping with the original…otherwise China runs the risk of turning itself into a Disney style theme park within a generation.

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Lanzhou and Jiayuguan

Having left the minority areas we got back into China proper. Lanzhou is in Gansu province in the north west of China and is the province with the westernmost point of the Great Wall. We are getting close to having seen the majority of China and now have the northern strip and we plan on (generally) following the Great Wall to where it meets the ocean.

We have been in tiny cities for over a month now and I have really not been enjoying them. The prices for everything have been high, the services available have been poor and the English has been virtually nonexistent. We got into Lanzhou and found a night market around the corner where we could have 2 main meals with rice and the equivalent of 8 stubbies for under $15. There is still minorities and very little English but the food is great and cheap.

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We headed to the museum and spent time checking out the Silk Road exhibition which was truly fascinating. Some very cool maps of the olden trade routes, and a great way to get your head around the spread of cultures and civilisation. Then off on the cable car up the mountain for some aerial shots and a look at the pagodas etc. the cable car sets off from the banks of the (very inappropriately named) yellow river… it is interesting to see what passes for a beach in China.

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Jiayuguan is the westernmost fort of the Great Wall of China and is at the end of a torturous 8 hr train ride from Lanzhou. But the key attractions are the Jiayuguan Fort, the Overhanging Wall, and the First Beacon which are all a simple 1 yuan (18 cent)bus ride from town and a taxi. The place had been renovated to within an inch of its life and was obscenely fake. This is a typically Chinese phenomena whereby a renovation puts in things that were never there or leaves out bits that were meant to be there…our first exposure to this was on the three gorges tour but it is a common theme throughout China.

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The absolute kicker to the fakeness was the installation of a jousting field into the fort and a concrete camel caravan running alongside the renovated wall of the overhanging section. There were sections where the old part of the wall could be seen and it was really interesting. The fort and wall is adjacent to the Gobi Desert so you could photograph from the newly renovated wall across the Gobi desert which in itself is pretty cool. Alas on the other side of the wall was the hire of camel rides (actual camels…not the concrete versions) and quad bikes…so you could belt around the desert making obscene amounts of noise and tearing up the natural environment.

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If you can ignore the added bits the place is quite stunning…the original wall was fascinating, the renovation had it been done authentically would have been great the only real detractor was the out of context additions which are clearly just grabs for the tourist dollar. Whilst walking around you could see the construction going on to build additional elements such as pagodas and temples etc. I am glad we came when we did as I have a fear that in 5-10 years time this place will more closely resemble a theme park.

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On a positive note…as part of the admission fee there is the Great Wall Museum which is fantastic. It does not have the usual nationalistic rhetoric but rather has the facts of the great wall, its construction, make up, fortifications etc. The museum was the best part. The next best thing was the photographs lining the path towards the Fort. There was a strip of about 100 metres that contained historical and current photographs of the same sections of the great wall. Some of these had been renovated, some had remained untouched. Some of the renovations had been done in line with what was originally there while others included the “additions” such as were found in the Fort.

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Some of the photos and artists drawings dated right back to the 1800s while others were just the more recent (2004 to 2007) history photos. But any way you look at it these photos of what it once was, were without a doubt the highlight of an enjoyable if not a little contrived day.