When i was a kid, i used to spend a lot of my time carefully scanning atlases and maps of the world. It was my passion, much before the one about videogames.
But China, the mid land (中国), was almost ignored. Maybe the strange names (i could not remember them) or maybe because i didn’t catch the culture, well, i had a lot of troubles.
In the late 2017 i started to study this language and i get some HSK examination certificate.
Speaking about linguistics, for example, historically the capital of China, 北京， is transliterated as Běijīng.
One of the first systems of romanization of oriental languages was Wade-Giles, from the name of who invented it: Thomas Wade (first professor of Chinese language at Cambridge) and Herbert Giles (who perfected the Wade system).
The names were “sharp”: what is now Běijīng, once it was Pechino. Hard as death. That’s because old local language (cantonese, Běijīnghuà, etc.) had different sound than today’s mandarine language.
Likewise Hong Kong would be Xiānggǎng (cantonese vs mandarine) and Shanghai beh, remained Shànghǎi (the “g” is not pronounced).
第一个东方语言罗马化系统之一是韦德 – 吉尔斯（Wade-Giles），由谁发明它的名字：托马斯韦德（剑桥大学第一任中文教授）和赫伯特吉尔斯（完善韦德系统）。
名字是“尖锐的”：现在北京，一旦它 Pechino 。很难死。那是因为古老的当地语言（广东话，北京市等）与今天的普通话有不同的声音。
14-30 August 2019; Civil Twilight: 06:01 – 20:13, Total 14:15
Flight cost to CSX: AR 740€ – 1 person
Average daily cost (VISA, flight, food, hotel, package tour): 130€/night
Average hotel cost: 40€/night
– no Google in China. Disaster
– Baidu is the alternative (it gives also the shop location inside a building). So you need a local SIM card (cheap and with a lot of GB). I choose 中国联通 (China Union – Zhōngguó liántōng).
– I also opened a bank account with ICBC. You need a SIM card and also need to go in a big branch. The little ones cannot open bank account for foreigners.
- 8.14-15: start from home at 10am, checking, of course, the presence of passport and some cash, Euro is well accepted all over the world and can be seen as an emergency banknote. The flight for Amsterdam takes 2h in the middle of the clouds. After only 30′ i’m in the big AIRBUS A330-300, reading a VERY good book, Antifragile of N.M.Taleb, a lebanese essayist. Caos can be used to your advantage. Maybe… i’m not sure. The flight is not so difficult to sustain. My 中文 is not to developed, even after 1 year of study. So i decide to use it anyway with hostess, with fluctuating results. Once in 北京, the day was just started. I tried to visit the 天安门 squared bui i failed: they accept only Yuan. Good. My trust in EUR starts to decrease. I can go on reading the book, and the 6h of stop pass quickly. At 4:30pm i’m in Changsha, the populous capital of Hunan, located on Xiang river. It’s hot and quite polluted. The smell is not of the best but it’s quite new as buildings and the food it’s tasty. My girlfriend is waiting for me outside of the airport, and together we go to out hotel, the 友谊宾馆 (Friendship Hotel), using the Maglev and metro. It’s in the centre of Changsha, on 黄兴中路. Full of shops, buildings and people. The dinner is with a group of friends living in that area, old 铭’s classmates. The place is the a tipical shrimps restaurant, called 靓靓蒸虾 (Jìng jìng zhēng xiā). Shrimps are delicious, among all the one with garlic.
- 8.16: Nice and expensive breakfast at 桃园眷村 (Táoyuán village, name of chain). One of the best i ever tried, look the picture abreast. Then, some bureaucratic activities (SIM card and bank account) and finally a good Hot pot (极鱻火锅 – Jí xiān huǒguō) in a place that i forgot.
In the afternoon we had a good visit at 火神廟 (Huǒ shén miào – Temple of the god fire) a traditional chinese religious building, devoted to the god of fire. It’s interesting that women must enter and exit with left foot, while men with the right one. In this temple, for each divine entity, it’s possible to kneel down and pray for wealth, health, etc.
In the afternoon i discovered a very good place where to have a snack: 妈妈茶
In the evening we ate in one of the biggest road in 长沙 with our friends and tasted a form of 米酒, a typical liquor. After we used 微信 in order to rent some bikes to have a ride in city centre. Our destination was the big statue of young Mao, but we failed to reach it because of road works. The city in the night lights up with a thousand colors.
- 8.17: In the early morning (i remember 长沙 is one of the Four Furnaces, 四大火炉) we started to climb 岳麓山, Mount Yuelu, famous for being place of meditation and study for 毛泽东. He resided in the Aiwan Pavilion, composing a poem, and studied in the local university. Noteworthy are also the Lushan Temple （麓山寺）, listed as a China’s most important temple in the buddhism of Han areas and the top Yunlu Peak, from which is possible to admire almost all 长沙. In the evening we ate in the airport and had the internal flight towards 兰州: the adventure begins.
- 8.18: I woke up with a lot of reminding about making a light breakfast in order not to have troubles later. I remember i ate 4 eggs and have 拉肚子 in the morning. But they were delicious. 我爱中国菜. Qinghai lake was the first stop: the biggest lake of China (same surface of Molise), is a salty and crystalline expanse of water. Currently it’s getting smaller. I saw for the first time a white yak and later we had a 康师傅泡面 in Jiangxigouxiang
- 8.19: In the second day we started in a quite cold morning, visiting the 茶卡盐湖 (Chá kǎ yánhú – Chaka Salt Lake), surrounded by interesting statues of salt representing historical figures, such as 成吉思汗 (Gengis Khan). From the bus stop to the end of the walk there are at least 2 kilometers and it was FULL of people. The chinese middle class is starting to spend in this kind of places their first holidays. Moving north east i tried the one i consider my favourite chinese food: 炕锅羊肉 (Kàng guō yángròu – scalded mutton in pot). In the photo is possible to see a colorful sequence of flags: The five vertical bands of the flag represent the five colors of the aura which Buddhists believe emanated from the body of the Buddha when he attained Enlightenment.
We slept in a town in the north border of 青海, 祁连县. Not all the hotel are available to the foreigners, but we found one in which i managed to sleep. It’s called the “little swiss” for the bright colors of fields during the daytime.
- 8.20: Do not trust what big G suggest as trace: from Qilian we moved towards the Qilian mountains, and we passed all using passes. Sometimes we were at 4000m, the highest altitude i ever reached! other people had some beginning of altitude sickness but nothing worrying. The colorful Zhangye National Geopark was waiting for us. I have also a panorama of this area. The layer shape of this area is the result of deposits of sandstone and other minerals that occurred in over 24 million years. Color are very vivid and the chinese photographer didn’t need to modify the pictures much to make it beautiful. Even if there were 30° the visit has been enjoyable.
From here to the city center of Zhangye the road wasn’t so much. We resided in an hotel very near to the center and went to have BBQ (烧烤 – Shāokǎo) with our companion and our trusted driver, 赵强， for all Zhàobro (老狼）. BBQ consists in several 豆腐 and meat skewered by a stick and cooked on the flam, with beer and some sauce. It’s quite amazing for me founding this town bigger than Turin in the middle of Gobi desert. People go out of home and stay in the road having dinner together and listening to some local street artist playing some song accompanied by a guitar.
- 8.21: I don’t remember very well where i slept the previous night. I remember only a lot of 铝铸造厂, the local aluminum foundries. In that day we visited the Jiayu Pass, the first frontier fortress at the west end of the Ming dynasty Great Wall. One of the better preserved part of the 长城. The external part looks very good, all seems to be planned in order to reiceve tourist (some part of Italy should take note…). The statue of general 冯胜 （FengSheng） riding the horse is at the very entrance. He was a Ming dinasty general and the founder of that fortress. The fortress itself it’s composed by 3 big watchtower, by which it was possible to sight the enemies (most mongolian tribes) with a lot of forewarming.
Here i met the first western people from many days… they were from Milan, and they lost themselves. I also bought a beautiful
The walk is quite long and it’s possible, for few 元, to ask for a ride to the local staff. In few minutes, passing from outside of the pass (having the possibility to make some pictures), it’s possible to get entrance, and maybe have lunch. In the afternoon we did the classical thing you can do in the Great Wall: walking on it. 9 km north of Jiayu Pass there’s a very well conserved section of the wall itself, the classical 3-5m wide. The sun made itself felt on the skin and we needed the umbrella. After 15′ of quite quickly walking we summited and we were rewarded by sight. Down in a hurry because we were on delay for the check-in in Dūnhuáng (敦煌), the last stop pf our visit. That evening we watched and interesting 写字 followed by a theatrical performance, 又见敦煌 (Yòu jiàn dūnhuáng – Dunhuang see you again!), a love story between a princess and a tribal prince taken prisoner during a journey in the desert. The stands were rotating, while the actors moved themself in 4 stages at 90° from each other. Good story, good mood and good temperature, in the night of Dunhuang. At the end of the show it was 10pm and we didn’t eat anything. The phenomenal chinese way of life come in our help: taxi booked on the app in 5′, and in 15′ food delivered to the hotel. When we arrived, it was just there, waiting for us.
- 8.22: In the early morning we left for the 莫高窟 (Mò gāo kū – Mogao Caves), a complex system of more than 400 temples, dug into the rock and representing one of the finest examples of Buddhist art. The guided tour could be followed in english or in chinese. The other group was just full, so i settled for the chinese version, with bad results. The internal side of the grottoes were very well conserved. The basic disposition was Buddha surrounded by one or more bodhisatva and apsaras. The particularity of flying apsaras is the color: during Yuan dinasty they have been painted in a strange green, a very special colour, famous in that area. Outside is very hot, inside it’s confortable. The tourist guide is very prepared. Rest area during the golden times of the silk road (from Han dinasty to beginning of XVIII sec.), after the decline has been found in Mogao caves a secret room full of ancient resources, in the beginning of XX sec.
In the early afternoon we left for 玉门关 (Yùménguān), the Jade gate, the most western door of 长城. Nowadays it’s little more than a ruin and this is the most western part also of my journey: Xinjiang is very near (20km) and it’s possible to see the first mountain of that province, still forbidden to the foreigner tourism. Maybe next year… It’s hot, my watch measured 45°. Also the hottest place i ever visited. You can feel the power and solitude of Gobi desert (“Gobi” is the mongolian name for “desert”, so it’s a pleonasm, like Sahara).
After that we had the time for a little nap (and some talk with 老蓝, with my poor chinese) before reaching the entrance of the oasis of Dunhuang: the city was the last oasis for travelers heading to the West, before the separation of the great road into two branches, necessary to avoid crossing the Taklamakan desert.
At the city’s end there’s a spring, called 月牙泉 (Yuèyá Quán, Spring of crescent moon), with a particular pavillion overlooking the lake. In the nearby there a very interesting (and expensive) activity: an helicopter tour. You can buy the ticket just near the starting platform, and it will cost around 100EUR/person. Despite of this, the scenery you’ll see above the desert dune will be fantastic, you can shot a lot of beautiful photo.
In the evening we had a good dinner in a 快菜 located in that area and resided in a hotel located in the central area. It’s funny to see how all these hotel are similar among them: big entrances and building, high ceilings and low prices. Breakfast always good.
- 8.23: The last day in the north part of Gansu started with a camel tour on the Mingsha Shan, the “little” mountains above Dunhuang, near the spring of the day before. The morning was quite cold but the camels were warm and helped us to substain the temperature until the first ray of sunshine. Long convoys of these animals start every 30′ from the dunes base and, in about 40′ reach the top, making you feel a little like the old merchants (or another of the various types of person you could have found on the silk road). A particularity i found of chinese girls is the attention (and quantity of time) they use for MAKING PHOTOS. 10′ before coming back by myself to the hotel (but where do i want to go…?) our troop was gathered in order to the transfer to Jiuquan, for taking an high speed train in Lanzhou–Xinjiang high-speed railway. A quick greeting to out driver (you’ll get better next time…), the average speed is 200-250 km/h so we arrive in around 4h to our starting place, 兰州, where we went to sleep early because we were all tired for the trip.
- 8.24: Waiting for the flight coming back to 湖南 we chose to visit a taoist temple， 白塔 (Bái tǎ, the white pagoda). After crossing the 中山桥 (Zhōngshān qiáo), the first bridge on yellow river, it’s possible to have an easy climb to the top of the hill with beautiful views of the bridge and the city.
The temple is a taoist break from Buddhist temples visited until now: it reveals how active Taoist practitioners are in China. No fee to enter. There is a brief English description of the history (temple was rebuilt after being destroyed during the Cultural Revolution) and religious relevance of the temple. Otherwise you are on your own to roam and check out all the deities to whom temple-goers pray. From two trees located in the first portion of the temple hang ribbons with the wishes of those who have come before you.
These 2 religions have different goals: For buddhism the main goal is eliminating mental suffering, for taoism to gain balance in life. The architecuter is mirror of those: in the 白塔 is possible to experiment a true peace. Anyway the number of buddhists is about 15 times compared to the number of taoists.
In the entrance there are the widespread “Chinese guardian lions”, a buddhism-origined pair of highly stylized lions (often one male with a ball and one female with a cub) which were thought to protect the building from harmful spiritual influences.
The plant symbol of the temple (an orchid tree, currently planted in that place) is also present in the flag of Hong Kong.
That has been the last step of the (quite long) tour in 甘肃, the flight to 长沙 took off at 1130am. The final part of that day would be spent in 郴州 (Chēnzhōu), a medium sized city at 2/5 of the path between 长沙 and 香港.
A good european coffee after long period without
All these movements were made with a lot of kind of transportations, but with only one group of people. Me, 我的女朋友艺铭，梓山, a little (big) man 10 yrs old and 慧, his mother. She just visited Italy in the spring of 2018, so i just know her. 我们在一起度过了愉快的时光。
Changsha and a wide part of 湖南 are Cfa like much of Italy (they’re hotter in summer because of local phenomena, like 焚风). In 甘肃-青海 i passed throught Dwa, Dwb, Dwc, BSk and BWk (hooooot but dry as the name suggests).