May 17, 2009

From Lanzhou we took the train south towards Chengdu, but we got off a little earlier, at a town called Jiangyou.  We read that this town has a mountain where you can see martial arts masters doing amazing stunts.  Also, it’s a little bit closer to the place we were planning to visit next – Jiuzhaigou.

The train ride from Lanzhou was pretty long.  We took off in the evening and we arrived after lunch the next day.  But we had “hard sleeper” bunks and we were pretty comfortable.  On the train we met a couple of Kiwi gals, Lydia and Kristen.  Lydia spent a few years teaching English in China, and now took up a job doing software QA for an American company in Chengdu.  Kristen still runs the same school where Lydia was previously teaching English.  These two were sleeping in a bunk area a few doors down from us, and they shared that space with three Chinese guys who were ready to party.  At night we all sat around in their bunk space drinking one beer after another and eating peanuts.  I think the guys were hoping to mac on the girls, but they drank so much that they passed out before lights-out at 10 PM 🙂  Anyhow, it was a good time.

Kristen and Lydia looking fine the morning after; their bunk-mates were still asleep:

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Our first meal in Jiangyou was in this random eatery.  When we ordered a noodle dish, this guy went to work making the noodles fresh.  He took basic dough and starting cutting and re-cutting it with his hands, like a game of cats cradle, until he had angle-hair thick noodles.  The whole process took him 15 seconds and looked like a magic trick.  By the way, notice his white cap – this guy is Muslim.  There are quite a few Muslims around this part of China.

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After lunch we dropped off our things in the hotel and rushed to see this martial arts place before the sun went down.

The place is called Doutuan Shan, and here’s what our Rough Guide says about it:

In a grove behind Yunyan Si (a temple), you’ll find racks of spiky weapons and a forest of three-meter-high wooden posts, atop which you can watch kung-fu stylist Luo Kun performing his high-speed boxing routines five times daily.

And about the chasm separating the twin peaks of the mountain:

Every twenty minues, Taoist monks cross from here to a tiny pavilion on the adjacent peak, using a chain bridge slung over the fifty-meter-deep chasm and performing acrobatics as they go – you won’t begrudge them their safety rope.

That’s what we read, and that was the reason we went there.  In the end we didn’t find the martial arts we were hoping to see.  There was no boxing routine nor a forest of three-meter-high wooden posts, and the chain walking routine was kind of a dud.

But the visit turned out to be spectacularly worthwhile for another reason.  It turns out that Doutuan Shan is pretty close to the epicenter of the huge 2008 earthquake in Wenchuan (further southwest in Sichuan).  It experienced some major damange, and, unlike the bigger tourist attractions, it hasn’t been fully restored.  So, we had a chance to see the incredible damage that an earthquake can do, many kilometers from its center.

By the way, we were hoping to visit the actual epicenter in Wenchuan.  We saw a ceremony on TV commemorating the 1-year anniversary of the earthquake.  Hu Jintao made a speech and placed flowers at a memorial.  The memorial had a statue of a broken clock with its hands showing the time the quake took place (or was it the date? we forget).  Behind the memorial you could see the majority of the city still full of half-broken buildings leaning every which way.  I guess the engineers managed to secure a big enough area around the epicenter for the ceremony to take place, but the rest of the city was still off-limits.  Anyhow, it looked like it would be an interesting place to visit and pay our respects, for the same reason that people choose to visit ground zero in New York.  But we later heard that it’s difficult to visit Wenchuan – you have to apply for a special permit and it takes a while to get it – so we dropped the whole idea.

OK, on with the photos…

The twin-peaks of Doutuan Shan.  You can see some scaffolding and cranes between them, used in the reconstruction effort:

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A lying Buddha statue that survived the quake unscathed:

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Charms hanging near the Buddha:

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First sign of destruction – a stone decoration from one of the rooftops broke and slipped part-way down:

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A major sign of destruction – this giant boulder fell from on high and tore the stone path to pieces.  Notice the sign says “5-12”, the date of the earthquake (May 12, 2008).  We saw a lot of these 5-12’s around, similar to the way you see a lot of 9-11’s in the US:

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The steps leading up to the summit were totally warped:

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Close-up of the bridge, now out of commission:

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The bridge leads to this shrine which was totally flattened:

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Here I am at the summit with this chain-walking monk.  He wanted 100 yuan to perform his tricks, which we thought was too much, so we let it go.  But he didn’t mind posing with me for a shot, free of charge:

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After we descended from the peak we saw him up above doing his routine.  I guess the group that came after us decided to fork over the money.  They were local tourists, so we have to wonder if he charged them less.  Anyhow, we’re glad we didn’t pay the money because the performance was kind of lame.  The guy made extensive use of the helper cable, and he didn’t do any particularly fancy acrobatics, no jumps or anything like that:

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Bonus Shot

We saw this graffiti on several buildings in town.  Toni said that this sign stands for “condemned”, i.e. buildings to be town down.  We’re not sure if the government wanted to replace them because they were unsafe, earthquake-wise, or just because they wanted to redo a portion of the city (it’s China, they can relocate people and businesses at will).

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