My Last Days in China

[UPDATE: I am removing the pictures from these posts, as they were slowing down my site.]
I wanted to get down some recollections of my aborted trip through South China before they start to fade.

We literally fled Beijing on April 27, when rumors were flying about an imminent sealing off of the entire Chinese capital due to SARS. This is me reading, all alone, at the Great Wall a couple of days before our exodus.

The first stop was the ancient Chinese capital of Xi’An, which was basically an obscure backwater until, in 1974, a peasant farmer unearthed what was perhaps the most astounding archeological find of the century. Under his fields was buried the vast tomb of an ancient emperor who wanted to be buried with an army of life-size terra-cotta soldiers, more than 6,000 in all, each one with a different face and clothing.

As with virtually every tourist attraction we visited, we had the entire place to ourselves. I wasn’t ready for what we saw at this site: the size of the tomb is so huge, you cannot see from one end of it to the other. And the army of warriors is so massive, each of the kiln-baked figures so beautiful and lifelike, that you have to be overwhelmed. Hopefully this photo captures a bit of the magic.

Next we were on to Guilin, referred to in all the guidebooks as simply one of the most beautiful places on earth. The terrain of this region is generally flat, but it is dotted with grandiose limestone mountains that suddenly rise sheer out of the flat countryside and soar upwards at near-90-degree angles, creating a scenic wonder that almost looks man-made. It’s as though they were placed there with an ice-cream scoop, one here, one there. Some are covered in lush vegetation, others are gray and stark. They do not have sharp peaks; most are rounded, almost oval; others culminate in plateaus. These photos can’t do it any justice but are the best I can do:

The highlight of this trip was the boat ride from Guilin to the enchanted town of Yangshuo, four hours up the Li River. This trip cannot be described in words. The limestone constructions are so spectacular and the surrounding scenery so gorgeous they create a fairy-tale quality to the excursion.

We were supposed to move on to Yunnan, the highlight of the trip. Two full weeks were to be spent exploring the Tibet border and Lijiang and Dali and Kunming, and everything was paid for in advance. When we heard the roads were actually being blocked to keep tourists out and that our hotels had been closed, we knew it was time to get out, the sooner the better.

The only problem here in Bangkok right now is the oppressive heat, and much of the day is spent trying to get out of the sun. Still, it’s always a haven for me, and
after so many weeks of insanity in SARS-decimated Beijing, a haven is just what I need.

The Discussion: One Comment

Abundance, like want, ruins many.

April 19, 2005 @ 1:30 am | Comment

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