May 15, 2009

From Jiayuguan we continued east and stopped in the town of Zhangye.  The big attraction here is a temple that houses China’s largest reclining Buddha statue.

Around Town

Kids lining up for morning exercise at school:

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It’s normal enough to see kids doing exercise in school, but it’s far more interesting to see adults doing simple workouts like this in front of their stores.  We saw all kinds of staff (drug store clerks, bank staff, etc.) all standing in rows in front of their respective front doors doing very simple calisthenics.  I think the point is less to stay in shape as much as to display to the world how these employees work together as a team (AKA conform to communist ideals).

This was taken in the main town square.  It was a pretty impressive-looking pagoda, until we learned that it was most recently rebuilt in 1925; it’s always more impressive when old-looking buildings are actually old.

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We found that many Chinese cities have these exercise machines scattered in various public parks, and people of all ages actually make use of them:

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Next door to the Big Buddha temple there was an outdoor gallery of Chinese pottery.  The items on display were really outstanding, and the prices were correspondingly high.

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A lot of people get around Jiayuguan using electric scooters.  This is great for the environment, but it has one problem – these scooters are so damn quiet that a lot of time you don’t notice them approaching.

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We saw a lot of people (mostly men) sitting in outdoor cafes playing drinking games.  The game involved two people shouting words at each other and holding out their right hand with some number of fingers stretched.  We asked a few locals how this game works, but we never got a clear answer.  Many locals said that Chinese people are happy to play very simple games (e.g. rock-paper-scissors) as drinking games.

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Random note – in this part of China it’s pretty common to get a huge discount off the “rack rate” at hotels.  e.g. you might walk into a hotel and right there on the wall it says that the price is 140 yuan for a 2-person room, but you ask for the price and they say 80 yuan.  And if they don’t come out with the discount right away, all you need to do is flip through your phrase book and show them the word “discount”, and right away they’ll cut the price down.  On the other hand, we had no luck at all bargaining with taxi drivers, but, as it turned out, they tended to give us pretty fair prices, e.g. 5 yuan for a 10 minute ride.  This is all pretty different from other parts of the world we’ve been where you have little hope of bargaining a hotel down but where taxi drivers are some of the shadier types you’ll meet.

The Big Buddha

The big Buddha statue is housed in a temple complex called Dafo Si.  The statue itself is 34 meters long.  It has a wooden skeleton which is covered in clay.  It’s certainly big, but it’s dusty and somehow not as impressive as many of the smaller Buddhas we saw along the way.  Or maybe we were just Buddha’ed out.  I’m not sure.  Anyhow, if we could do it over again we would probably choose to skip this town and spend more time elsewhere in China.

Fancy gate at the entrance to the Dafo Si complex:

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Ah!  My nose!

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I thought I said “no grassiti!”

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Photography inside the big Buddha hall was not allowed, so instead I photographed a poster of the Buddha in the gift shop (in China, surprisingly, the store clerks never cared if we wanted to photograph a book or postcard).  The reflection makes it a little hard to see, but hopefully you get the idea:

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Bonus Shots

More fantastic mannequins…

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And one of our favorite spelling mistakes – Bikerchich.  We actually saw a Chinese girl wearing this shirt later on the  trip.  Awesome!  🙂

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In the News

It’s been a while since we caught up on news from around the world.  Here are some highlights from home:

  • Obama signed 96.7 billion dollars to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • His proposed bill to close Guantanamo failed, and for now Obama will keep the military tribunals running, though he will give more rights to defendants (e.g. disallow hearsay in trial)
  • The government is issuing money to save six major insurance companies, including Hartford and Lincoln.  These companies were clever enough to purchase enough equity in banks to declare themselves “bank holding companies”, which qualifies them for the money government set aside to save the banks.
  • Chrysler decided to shut down 1/4 of its dealerships (789 of them)

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