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In Xanadu, with Kublai Khan 和忽必烈汗在元上都

Mention the word Xanadu and what pops immediately into your head?

If you say ‘Kubla Khan, Mongol Empire, and ST Coleridge’ then I absolutely take my hat off to you. Read no further.

However, if like me, your first spontaneous thoughts on hearing the word ‘Xanadu’ are
Olivia Newton John, purple and mint-green legwarmers, and rollerskating, then read on, you may learn a thing or two.

I always thought Xanadu was a mythical, magical place, the kind of place people wrote poems about while intoxicated by opium, poems which other people read and were then inspired to write even more fanciful poems and songs and movies. I never for a second considered it might be a real place.

Imagine my surprise then, when during a moment of intense and uncharacteristic scrutiny of the map this week I noticed a small dot marked ‘Ruins of Xanadu’ not more than sixty kilometres from our current position on the road between Ulanhot and Hohhot. Really? Xanadu was a real place? In Inner Mongolia? With ruins to prove it?

We decided immediately we had to go and see Xanadu, whatever was left of it.  After all, it would only delay us for three or four hours on our onward trip to catch the Naadam Festival of Mongolian sports in Gegentala.

On the map it is marked as Shangdu 上都, its proper name, built in 1252 as the opulent summer palace of the great Kublai Khan, grandson of Ghengis, leader of the Mongols and Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty and all of China. 

Every July Kublai Khan’s court would decamp to Shangdu to spend the hot summer months in the cool grassland meadows, and this annual pilgrimage continued for one hundred or so glorious and legendary years until 1369 when Shangdu was burnt to the ground by the Ming Army. 

(That last sentence makes it sound like I actually know who the Ming Army were and why they were inclined to burn things down. I don’t. Copied it straight from the interweb. I’m hoping on our travels I might come across the Ming Army ruins, and then I can enlighten you.)

By all contemporary accounts it was an extraordinary place deserving all its mystery and fame. The best descriptions of it in the west come from the recollections of Marco Polo, who visited in 1275 and wrote of:


‘….a city called Chandu, which was built by the Khan now reigning. There is at this place a very fine marble Palace, the rooms of which are all gilt and painted with figures of men and beasts and birds, and with a variety of trees and flowers, all executed with such exquisite art that you regard them with delight and astonishment.

Round this Palace a wall is built,inclosing a compass of 16 miles, and inside the Park there are fountains and rivers and brooks, and beautiful meadows, with all kinds of wild animals (excluding such as are of ferocious nature), which the Emperor has procured.
 
The Khan himself goes every week to see his birds sitting in mew, and sometimes he rides through the park with a leopard behind him on his horse’s croup; and then if he sees any animal that takes his fancy, he slips his leopard at it, and the game when taken is made over to feed the hawks in mew. This he does for diversion.’



From Shangdu Marco Polo derived Chandu, which in 1614 became an even more romantic sounding Xandu, transformed by a fanciful English clergyman – Samual Purchas – who had never visited the place but wrote a detailed description in his book ‘Purchas’s Pilgrimage’, based on Marco Polo’s writings.

It’s worth reading Purchas’ account, if only for the remarkable association it has with Coleridge’s later poem:


‘In Xandu did Cublai Can build a stately Pallace, encompassing sixteen miles of plaine ground with a wall, wherein are fertile Meddowes, pleasant Springs, delightfull streames, and all sorts of beasts of chase and game, and in the middest thereof a sumpuous house of pleasure, which may be moved from place to place.’


Samual Taylor Coleridge, the Romantic poet, had likewise never visited Shangdu but imagined it in a fantastical opium-inspired dream that occurred when he fell asleep while reading Purchas’s Pilgrimage. Purchas’s words echo in the opening lines of his famous 1797 poem Kubla Khan below.

Coleridge, like many who wake feverish from dreams filled with inspiration, claimed he would have written hundreds more lines of the poem if he hadn’t been disturbed by a visitor ‘on business from Porlock’ who ruined his chances of getting it all down on paper. 


Kubla Khan
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And here were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

There’s much, much more which you can read here.

And what of Xanadu today?

Well, the road to Xanadu was rough and long. Our side trip to Xanadu eventually cost us twenty four hours, and because of it we almost missed Naadam altogether.

You see, Xanadu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site just four weeks ago, and in a headlong rush to prepare it for the thousands of daily visitors who will come to see it, every road leading into Xanadu is closed so it can be rerouted or upgraded, leaving only a donkey track to drive along for sixty kilometres at donkey speed.


At times the donkey track, pitted with potholes the size of cow, widens into a broad expanse of mud, deep pockets of water and intertwining side tracks, which seems to inspire a wild episode of off-road rally driving in the vehicles around us as everyone spreads out onto nearby fields in the faint hope of overtaking the car/minibus/6 tonne truck in front. It’s complete mayhem. 

Soon after we’re all nose-to-tail again on the donkey track, having the bones shaken out of our bodies and the teeth shaken out of our heads by the endless bumps and ruts.

My husband, patient driver that he is, is heard to mutter darkly that Xanadu ‘better be a bloody good ruin’ under his breath.


When finally you arrive you can see why Kublai Khan chose this site. A broad expanse of flat meadow is circled by distant low mountains, and overhead reaches a vast blue sky. You pass along a long narrow road surrounded by fields of orange and white wildflowers before arriving at the outer gates of the former summer palace of the immense Kublai Kahn.


What remains now are the ruined outlines of the city walls, outer and inner, where 100,000 lived at the city’s peak. There is some evidence of the glory that once was – a single golden marble pillar carved all over with dragons, and the foundations of what would once have been a grand pavilion.






Now you must use your imagination, standing where Marco Polo and Kublai Khan met, and rebuild the fantastic and awe-inspiring palace in your mind as you stand under the enormous blue sky and look out over Kublai Khan’s meadows, gazing north, south, east and west over his empire.






和忽必烈汗在元上都


我一直认为元上都是一个神秘奇幻的地方,这里的人们抒写出令人沉醉的诗歌,别人从这些诗歌中汲取灵感从而创作出更富有幻想色彩的诗歌和影片。我从不认为元上都是一个真实存在的地方。

当我在乌兰浩特和呼和浩特间的公路上,看到地图上显示元上都遗址就在离我六十公里不到的地方时,你想象得到我有多惊讶。是真的吗?元上都是一个真实的地方吗?的确有遗迹证明它的存在吗?


我们马上决定不论那里还留下什么,我们都得去看看。毕竟,只要绕道三四个小时就到了,不会影响我们赶去葛根塔拉草原参加那达慕大会的行程。
我错得太离谱了!这趟顺道旅程花了我们二十四小时,而且我们还差点错过了那达慕大会。

元上都在四周前才被联合国教科文组织列为世界遗产,很明显,当地匆忙准备着迎接即将到来的日均几千人的客流量,所有通往元上都的道路都被关闭整修,只剩下一条仅能单向行驶的骡道,我们以骡子的速度,行驶了六十公里。

抵达目的地时,由于之前三小时的颠簸,我们浑身骨头散架,上下齿也不住打颤,你会经过一段被桔子林和白色的野花包围的狭窄的道路,之后你会到达元朝开国皇帝,成吉思汗的孙子——伟大的忽必烈汗昔日的夏季行宫。

宫殿始建于1252年,马可波罗于1275年拜访了此地,并将其描绘成一座绿草如茵,遍地珍奇异兽的公园,还是一个由大理石建造的绘有人类、走兽、飞禽以及无数树木鲜花的镀金宫殿,建造精妙绝伦,令人赞叹不已。

现今遗留下来的是城市的外城墙,在这城墙的内外城市鼎盛期的人口达到了100,000。有些证据能证明曾经的辉煌——一根雕满龙的金色大理石柱,以及曾是巨型大厅的地基。

现在你必须发挥想象力在你的头脑中创造一个无与伦比的令人叹为观止的宫殿,就站在蔚蓝的苍穹下,极目远眺忽必烈汗的大草原,凝视你延绵四方的帝国。



Ruins of Xanadu

Known as Yuanshangdu 元上都 Relic Site, Inner Mongolia

Approximately 460km from Beijing, and 260km from Xilinhot

Co-ordinates: Lat 42.338777 Long 116.193498

Reached by heading east from Zhenglanqi township on the S308 and turning left onto the X517 (total 25km). Can also be reached by heading west from Duolun village (37km).


Site open 7 days
Admission: 30 yuan adults, children free, electric car from carpark area to site 10 yuan per person.

The Secret Life of Inner Mongolian Beekeepers 内蒙古的养蜂人

The first thing we did after setting off from Aershan was to get hopelessly lost. We hadn’t counted on having no mobile phone reception or 3G signal this far north, depriving us of our Googlemaps lifeline and leaving us to find our way on our own, just us and our massively inadequate maps. I also asked a lot of local goat herders and shepherds for directions. 
I have exactly five maps for this area, three of them issued in China and very detailed, yet we’ve still failed to find many roads that exist in black and white on the map but not in reality, and failed to drive on roads that do exist but are now being diverted and upgraded. We’ve also driven right across pristine areas of blank map where no roads exist at all, except that we’re actually speeding down a new four lane highway built since our hopelessly primitive Chinese GPS was last programmed and our maps were last printed a year ago. We once drove on water for twenty kilometres, all four tonnes of us a pulsing blue dot hovering elegantly above the waves, but our wheels firmly hugging a thirty kilometre long bridge. Things move fast in China, and maps just can’t keep up.

So of course we did get utterly and completely lost, and had some minor domestic map-reading issues, and spent twenty fruitless minutes near the crest of a hill in the rain trying vainly to pick up a phone signal….but it did mean we met the Inner Mongolian beekeepers, which was very, very cool.

Lin Ming De and his wife Wang Gui Qin keep bees in a field of brilliant yellow rapeseed right where Inner Mongolia and Mongolia proper meet.  We’ve seen many itinerant beekeepers camped near flowering fields since arriving in Inner Mongolia, but something else set these beekeepers apart and made us stop immediately. They were living in a homemade RV.
Lin met us still in his beekeepers straw hat, the net rolled up over the brim. His large spectacles reflected the sunlight and he wore a cream shirt tucked into tightly belted cream trousers that were way too big.
Bees were everywhere, from the forty beehive boxes standing just south of the field and right next to his truck. He waved us in to sit on tiny stools under the outside awning, took off his hat and set to rolling a cigarette from a little pink and white cardboard box full of flaky fragrant tobacco.

Wang Gui Qin, seemingly glad of company other than bees and her husband, fussed over the children and made us a glass of honey water to drink from their freshly harvested flower honey, and brought us small sweet melons to eat.
She told us this was their first summer in the fields – Lin Ming De’s family had been looking after bees since 1959 in Ulanhot, but when the farmer nearby invited them to camp for the summer next to the rapeseed in order to help fertilize the flowers with their bees, they jumped at the chance.
So far, they were enjoying this more relaxing life. The move meant they were closer to their two daughters and their grandchildren, and their days were easy and slow. Wang Gui Qin felt so good she had given up taking her blood pressure tablets, although she did ask me to check her blood pressure with an old sphygmomanometer she kept inside the truck. 140/90. Not bad.

Let me explain a little about their home-made campervan. It was a regular old two tonne truck, painted light blue, and converted for living and travelling. Lin Ming De had replaced all the wall panels with wooden ones and installed heavy plastic ‘windows’ that could be propped open to catch the breeze. The back tray of the truck was permanently unfolded as an entry to the living area, with a long plank leading up to the back door. 
Inside was a comfortable double bed, and a small kitchen with a gas cooker. What didn’t fit inside, including two birds in their birdcage, was stored outside underneath the truck and guarded by the dog.
Lin Ming De told me it had taken him one month to convert the truck into a fangche. He was very proud of it.
It was extraordinary to think they had travelled two hundred kilometres with forty full beehive boxes stacked in the back to get to their current location.

Wang Gui Qin, hospitable and kind, made delicious egg noodles for us for lunch, and we drank more glasses of sweet honey water. The price of such honey? Wang Gui Qin had a nasty bee sting on her face, but she said she was used to it after so many years. She pressed two bottles of their wonderful honey into my hands as we left.
The people of the countryside here in Inner Mongolia have been so kind, welcoming and generous to us, and these bee keepers were no exception. We parted friends, nomads of different kinds, travelling in different directions. I hope one day we might meet again.
内蒙古的养蜂人

我们从阿尔山出发,首当其冲遇到的情况就是,我们迷路了。我们没料到在偏远的北方既没有3G网络,也没有手机信号。如此一来我们就要自己找路了,或是利用我们手中各式各样繁杂的地图,或是询问当地的牧羊人。

我们理所当然地迷路了,不得不原路返回,然后碰上了一场暴雨……但我们遇见了内蒙古的养蜂人,酷极了!

林明德和他的太太王桂琴在五岔沟附近的田野上养蜂。自从我们抵达内蒙古后,一路上看到许多养蜂人宿营在处于花期的田地上。但是他们彼此互相独立,而我们一见到他们也会立即止步,因为他们住在自制的房车上!

林看见我们时仍带着他的养蜂人的帽子,帽沿卷着网格纱。他带着反射日光的大眼镜,穿着淡黄色的衬衫,衬衫的下摆紧紧地束在同样淡黄色的裤子里,看上去身形真魁梧。
一片油菜花地的南边架着四十个蜂房,蜜蜂漫天飞舞。林像我们挥手示意让我们去房车外的帐篷里坐。

让我先解释一下他的房车。这是一辆普通的载重两吨的卡车,刷成了淡蓝色,变成了居住、旅行两用车。卡车尾部一直开着作为入口通往里面的生活区,生活区里有张很舒服的床,窗户由厚厚的塑料制成,还有一个配有煤气炉的小厨房。生活区了装不下的东西包括装在笼子里的鸟等等,都储藏在外面,位于车体的下方,由狗看守着。

林明德告诉我他花了一个月的时间将卡车改装成房车,他特别以此为豪。

他的妻子告诉我们这是他们第一次在田野里过夏天。林明德的家族从1959年起就在乌兰浩特照看蜜蜂,但当附近的农民邀请他们夏天到油菜地附近宿营,以让蜜蜂为其授粉时,他们欣然答应了。
到目前为止,他们很享受这种轻松的生活。他们搬家意味着他们离两个女儿和外甥们更近,他们的日子惬意而悠闲。

王桂琴热情好客,午饭为我们做了可口的鸡蛋面,我们喝了好几杯新鲜蜂蜜调制的甜蜂蜜水。这样的蜂蜜价值几许呢?有一只调皮的蜜蜂蜇了王桂琴的脸一下,但是她却说这么多年来她已经习惯了。我们临走时,她硬塞了两瓶他们超赞的蜂蜜给我。

此处内蒙古乡间的人们对我们是如此的亲切、热情和慷慨,这些养蜂人当然也不例外。我们挥别了朋友,不同的游牧部落的朋友,向着不同的方向旅行。我希望有一天我们能再次见面。


Pure Air and Pastel Fairytales: Aershan, Inner Mongolia 内蒙古和阿尔山

There’s something about the air in Inner Mongolia I can’t quite put my finger on. It makes everything clearer and brighter, it makes colours more intense, it makes food taste more delicious, and it turns your skin a deep nut brown. It has qualities no other air in the world seems to possess. It makes you sleep better, with pleasant dreams, and awake refreshed. It is in fact better than any kind of medicine or tonic and I highly recommend breathing it for several days just to experience its mysterious benefits for yourself.

After twenty long days on the road and more than 3500km from Shanghai we passed into Inner Mongolia, a place I have long dreamed of visiting. I’m not entirely sure what I expected to find, since most of my inner images of Inner Mongolia are, on reflection, from Mongolia, the country that is the cup to Inner Mongolia’s saucer. 


In my mind’s eye I see nomadic herders featured in The Song of the Weeping Camel – a 2004 documentary, and I see a small pile of photographs from a friend who visited Mongolia more than twenty years ago. From the former I remember nothing but desert, and from the latter, an overwhelming sense of green. Could either of these be remotely like Inner Mongolia?

As it turns out, green is everywhere. Entering Inner Mongolia via the border town of Ulanhot we drive immediately north towards A’ershan, some 250km away. A’ershan (on some maps written as Arxan) has hot springs, and I’ve seen a photograph of the town taken from a meadow full of flowers. It sounds interesting and fanciful, and lacking any better plans we decide to visit. This is the joy of having your own wheels – on nothing more than half a whim you can go anywhere you want.

The road – sometimes dirt, often potholed, occasionally smooth and fast – meanders through valleys between rolling green hills, with fields of coloured wildflowers – pink, white, yellow and purple – everywhere you look.  On the hillsides flocks of white sheep and goats, tended by shepherds, roam feeding on the sweet green grass. Clusters of small red-brick farmhouses nestle between the soft folds of the hills. 
Winding rivers with rocky beds and clear cold water line the valleys beside the roads, shaded by groups of trees. It’s beautiful, and you want to drive with the windows open and the wonderful air, warm and smelling of summer, filling your lungs.

So when, hours later, we drive into A’ershan, the town comes as a complete surprise. It’s a busy place with a wonderful quirky European feel, a popular destination for travellers in this north-east part of Inner Mongolia, and has the added attraction of famous hot springs, but it warps my mind completely. 

The long broad streets (well, just one long broad street actually, bisecting the town) is lined with ornate pink, gray and peach sherbet coloured buildings with wedding cake white trimming, tourists and locals alike making the most of the warm summer evenings by promenading after dinner, Italian style. Behind the town the velvety green hills roll on and on in endless waves.


Those not walking take a turn in one of many horse-drawn carriages clipping smartly down the street past the China Post building in the late afternoon light, white spokes spinning as the top-hatted driver urges the horses on.

I’m feeling quite dislocated now – I have mental images of the Sound of Music, several Walt Disney fairytales, and Switzerland in summer mashing together in my head and I need to constantly remind myself that I’m in China. China. Adding to the confusion, the local souvenir shops are doing a brisk trade in his and hers taxidermied deer, and all of a sudden I’m mentally in Braemar Castle, Scotland, where every room is graced with a handsome pair of stuffed deer. 

Perhaps this is all one giant surreal movie set, and we’re all extras. It’s entirely possible, I decide. At the end of the street a giant futuristic sculpture marks the town’s one and only roundabout, manned by a starched policewoman standing on a red and white striped pedestal and wearing a navy pillbox hat and doing a great job of keeping the horse-drawn carriages and promenaders in order.

I would like to have stayed longer in A’ershan, soak in the hot springs and visit all the pastel buildings, but Inner Mongolia’s biggest festival, Naadam, is calling us from 1600km away. We better get going!

内蒙古和阿尔山
内蒙古的空气中有种物质我无法描绘出来。它让所有的事物都更为纯净和透亮,它让更加美味,它把你的肤色变成深棕色。它拥有世界上其他地方的空气都未拥有的品质。它让你带着好梦睡得更香,醒来后则神清气爽。事实上,它比任何药品或补品都更有效,我强烈推荐你来这里呼吸几天亲自体会一下其中的好处。
在历经了二十天的旅途,行驶了3500多公里,我们终于抵达了我梦寐以求的地方——内蒙古。取道乌兰浩特,我们马上向北,抵达了阿尔山。这就是我从上海风尘仆仆赶来要看的内蒙古。
道路蜿蜒于连绵青山的山谷间,其间有成片的彩色野花——粉的、白的、黄的、紫的——充斥着你的眼帘。山边是成群的绵羊和山羊,在牧羊人的引导下,悠闲地漫步于青山绿水间享受着香甜的青草。
山间清冽的泉水流入道路旁岩石组成的小河中,河边树影婆娑。太美了,你只想打开车窗,让美妙的空气,以及夏日温暖的气息填满整个心肺。
阿尔山位于内蒙古的东北部,深受游客的喜爱,尤其是她热情似火的春天。她是一座有着欧洲氛围的美丽又离奇的繁忙小镇——多彩的建筑物让我想起德国和瑞士山间的农舍,而夏季的夜晚每个人在主干道上散步则颇具意大利风情。
阿尔山的人们很友好,这里洋溢着假日的气氛,我们很想在这里多呆一阵子,但是前方有更多精彩——我们只有不到一周的时间驱车赶往葛根塔拉大草原的那达慕大会。我希望您能和我们一路探访内蒙古!

Shenyang, City of Dumplings and Dreams 沈阳:一座饺子和梦想的城市

They say you should avoid coming to Shenyang at all, if possible, because it’s a massively polluted industrialized dump in the middle of the far north east of China, with little to recommend it other than the departures gate at the airport where at least you know you have a chance of leaving (either a greater or lesser chance, depending on which Chinese airline you’ve had the misfortune to choose).  
But if visiting Shenyang is unavoidable – as it was for us while the campervan spent two days and a night being fine-tuned at the mechanic’s workshop, before being exposed to the road perils of Inner Mongolia – then you shouldn’t miss Laobian Dumplings, those dumplings of long history and deserved fame.
Perhaps because my expectations of Shenyang were so low, the city totally and utterly surprised me. It had buzz, it had bravado, and it had a lot going for it. I liked it, although I realize I am alone in the world in saying this, even among people who live there.
The Shenyang I found was an exciting city outgrowing itself so fast the outer ring road had just become the inner ring road and the inner ring road had just been converted into a high-speed flyover zooming between luxury shopping centres. Banks were so plentifully crowded cheek by jowl on every city block it was clear everyone must be filthy rich and in need of a place to store their lucre, and indeed when the locals went out shopping it wasn’t for milk or bread, but for large electrical appliances and whole apartment blocks. The place was booming.
Luckily for us, the boom times seemed not to have affected the local food culture too much, because according to everyone I spoke to the most popular restaurant in Shenyang is hands down a cheap-as-chips dumpling den, Laobian Dumpling.
Laobian makes it into Lonely Planet China, usually a sure sign that this is somewhere you don’t want to eat. Suspicious, I also searched Dianping, the everyman’s guide to what’s good to eat (all in Chinese, I’m improving on that front) who confirmed that this was indeed a very good and very popular spot. (The other thing I love about Dianping is that it lists the most frequently recommended dishes of any restaurant so you have some idea of what to look out for when you’re presented with one of those biblical Chinese menus.)

Ooooooo!-long tea. Why? Read on. 
Laobian (“Old Bian”) dumplings have been around since 1829, started by Bian Fu who by all accounts was a true dumpling master, and continued by Bian Degui (1856 – 1942) who, according to the company’s own history ‘was good at absorbing others’ merits to make up his own shortcomings’. No love lost there then. Despite this Laobian Dumpling went from strength to strength and now offers ‘more than one hundred kinds of dumpling.’ You can see why I had to visit.
The restaurant is a bustling but plain three storys, each one packed to the brim with hungry diners. The only nod to fanciness is the Bian dragon logo on the teapots and cups, and the cheery red outfits of the waiters and waitresses.
You can choose individual dumplings form the main dumpling menu, including mandarin duck dumplings, exotic perilla leaf dumplings, wild vegetable dumplings, or even sharkfin dumplings if you’re feeling politically incorrect, or just avoid all the confusion and treat yourself to a set course dumpling feast.

Then began our own dumpling feast with the famed ‘Ice Dumplings’ (28 yuan), steamed jiaozi filled with scallions, tiny shrimp, pine nuts and rich tofu, then placed in a shallow pan and fried in a thin layer of batter and turned out upside-down onto the plate so the crunchy lacey fried batter forms a visually stunning effect. These were amazingly good – crispy at first bite with a soft, finely diced filling.

The regular jiaozi were simple boiled dumplings with a pork and vegetable filling, made much more interesting paired with  the roasted smoked chili flakes and minced garlic provided on the table.

For a little novelty I also ordered a single crab ‘dumpling’ (15 yuan) but the waiter wouldn’t have it, telling me each one was no bigger than his thumbnail. So I ordered two. They were so gorgeous with their little black sesame seed eyes on stalks and tiny, tiny claws, but they did taste of nothing more than dumpling dough.

Our final basket of dumplings were mandarin duck (20 yuan for ten), a rich combination of dark, finely chopped duck meat and herbs, stir-fried together first before being added to the dumplings making them rich and satisfying.
The only low point in this dumpling extravaganza came with the bill when I discovered our pot of oolong tea had cost 158 yuan, in contrast with the dumplings, all fifty-two of them combined costing only 70 yuan. 
Tea prices, like wine in other parts of the world, can be staggeringly steep in Chinese restaurants, and like the novice who tells the waiter ‘Bring me a bottle of red!’ without asking the price, I had done the same thing with tea. The waiter had simply chosen the best and most expensive sachet of tea on my behalf. It was great tea, but I would have liked to know how great it was so I could savour it a bit more.
沈阳:一座饺子和梦想的城市
有人说你应该尽可能离沈阳远点,因为那是一座位于东北地区中部的污染严重的工业城市,完全不值得去。
但是当沈阳避无可避时——因为在我们的房车要在进内蒙古前进修理厂待两天,那么你就不能错过老边饺子馆。

虽然我也搜索了点评网确认过,但我见过的每个人都说老边是沈阳最受欢迎最有名的饭店。(作为一个不能读懂很多汉字的外国人,我最喜欢点评网的地方在于,它列出每个饭店点菜率最高的菜肴,这样你面对一份菜品众多的菜单时才不至于手足无措。)

老边始建于1829年,创始人是边福,一位纯粹的饺子大师。老边饺子馆现在供应超过一百种饺子。你能明白为何我必须得去见识一下。

饺子馆生意很好,挤满了饥饿的食客。你可以按照个人口味根据饺子菜单进行选择,其中包括鸳鸯饺子,奇特的紫苏叶饺子,野菜饺子,甚至还有鱼翅饺子。

有名的“冰花饺子”(28元)拉开了我们的饺子盛宴。把包着大葱,小虾仁,松仁和香浓豆腐的蒸饺排放在一个平底锅里,在一层面糊上煎炸,然后翻过来倒在盘子里。这些饺子看起来很漂亮,一口咬下去香脆得不可思议,切得很细致的蔬菜馅儿却分外松软。

常规的饺子就是包着猪肉和蔬菜的水饺,配上烤红辣椒末和大蒜末更让人垂涎欲滴。

出于一丝猎奇心理,我又点了一道纯蟹肉饺子(每个15元),但是服务员告诉我每个饺子都没有他的拇指指甲大。所以我点了两个,有黑芝麻眼睛和超小爪子的蟹肉饺子是那么的精致可爱。

 我们点的最后一份饺子是鸳鸯饺子(2010个),将精细切好的鸭肉丁和草本植物油炸后包进饺子,口感浓郁,让人欲罢不能。

 饺子宴唯一美中不足的是,账单上的一壶乌龙茶价值158元,与饺子形成鲜明对比的是,五十二只饺子仅花费了70元。

在中国的饭店里,茶的价格差距很大,就好像世界其他地方的葡萄酒的价格一样。犹如一个新手对服务员说“给我一瓶红酒”且不问价格,我在点茶时也做了同样的事情。服务员为我选了最好最贵的茶袋。茶确实是好茶,但我更希望知道它有多好,这样我才能更好地品味一下。吃一堑长一智。

可能由于我对沈阳的期望值很低,所以这座城市给了我十足的惊喜,她有活力,有冒险精神,不断进取。我喜欢沈阳!
Laobian Dumpling 老边饺子馆

Laobian Jiaozi Guan
208 Zhong Jie, Shen He District

老边饺子馆
沈河区中街208号

Open seven days from early until late 
+86 24 24865369

The China Road Trip so far (in case you missed any):
My Year of Maximum China – in which the PLAN is hatched
The China Road Trip – A Progress Report in which obstacle start to present themselves…
Finding the Great Chinese Campervan – the vehicle is found! but the price will be negotiated endlessly for two more months
See How Easily You Can Camp in China! – the test drive weekend and surviving marital discord on the road
The China Road Trip Begins! – Where We’ll be Going, and When
Lian Island and the Art of the Perfect Beach Wedding Photograph – beach hideaway in northern Jiangsu Province
The Campground That Almost Was…..because you can’t win ’em all
Clinging to a Cliff Under the Great Wall – Northern Tianjin Province

Clinging to a Cliff Under the Great Wall

After the debacle of the Chinese camping ground that really wasn’t, we had three major problems:

1. No water left and nowhere to fill up

2. Nearly two weeks’ worth of dirty washing – for four people, that’s a lot of unclean clothes

3. The area surrounding the campsite included a magnificent stretch of the Great Wall (known as Huangyaguan – yellow cliff mountain pass), a river, some caves, and extraordinary beauty. We weren’t ready to leave and had planned on staying several days.

I can’t say just how helpful Mr Googlemaps has been on this trip, and that’s how we found the Dongshan (East Mountain) Hotel, perched high up on a precipitously steep hillside underneath the Great Wall itself.

The winding switchback road all the way to the top proved a huge effort for the van, but apparently practically none for the punchy little two-stroke engines of the trayback tricycles laden with peaches overtaking us on the steeper sections. Peach and apricot trees heavy with fruit seemed to be the only thing holding the mountain together, terraced in climbing rows.
The Dongshan Hotel, the van, and yes, our washing
The Hotel is located through the entrance gates to this section of the Great Wall, so if you haven’t already purchased a ticket you’ll need to buy one in order to stay there.

Calling the Dongshan a hotel may have stretched the truth slightly – the hotel reception, in a temporary tin shed in the car park, apparently also serves as the local police station. Inside, two policemen sitting on a vinyl sofa and smoking heavily, are interrogating a skinny male suspect about a robbery of something yellow. A car? A handbag? A pair of sneakers? Through the thick local dialect it’s about all I can make out. Still, he doesn’t look that worried, leaning back languidly on the opposite sofa and tapping the ash from his cigarette into a plastic ashtray. It’s all very Columbo, circa 1974.

The check in procedure involves a lot of carbon paper and forms in triplicate (“Make sure you use the correct form for foreign guests!” barks one of the police officers to the receptionist, before he goes straight back into questioning) and then we were shown to our rooms.

The long low building of the hotel is guarded by a pair of terracotta warriors with swords, just to ward off…something or other. The eaves are painted with scenes of the mountains and the wall, in local traditional style and through the flycreen curtained front door are eight rooms in all, identically furnished with three closely spaced single beds, a  television, a kettle, and a tiled bathroom with cold running water and a tank you can plug in to heat water. If you touch the edge of the tank by mistake it gives you a small electric shock, and this initially worried me quite a deal, but as long as you touch only the outlet hose of the tank you’re fine. And we all really, really wanted hot showers.
The real treat of the Dongshan is the location, and the ability to walk along the wall at any time during your stay – dawn, dusk or midnight if the moon is full and the mood takes you.

Huangyaguan is a stunningly beautiful section of the Great Wall with a history of more than 1400 years – the wall unscrolls down mountain cliffs on both sides of a deep river chasm, meeting in the middle over a bridge like ‘two dragons drinking from a stream’. It’s unforgettable in scale and magnificence and I hope you can get there to see it someday. 

黄崖关
在野外露营时,有时你需要在某地作个短暂的停留,洗洗刷刷,补充电力,这样才能下载照片,发邮件,以及处理所有你在路上所不能做的事情。

我们在蓟县下营镇山野运动基地露营地待了一个晚上之后,还不准备离开这个被陡峭的山峰环绕的美丽乡村,不准备离开在日出和日落时分会散发出绚丽玫红色泽的层层叠叠的花岗岩,不准备离开黄崖关长城——不想离开所有这些我们期待去探索的地方。

由于道路陡峭狭窄且山间风大,此处尚无合适的露营地,也无处停放一辆庞大的房车!同时也无处装满我们的水箱,所以我们决定在山上正处于长城保护圈内的东山旅馆借宿两晚。

旅馆设施简单,提供干净的床单和自来水,这些正是我们所需要的!旅馆真正的亮点是它的地址,你可以在停留于此的任何时间漫步于长城之上——黎明,黄昏或是满月时的半夜。

黄崖关拥有1400多年的历史,是极为壮丽的一段长城,城墙沿山蜿蜒于一道河流的两边,立于其间的桥上望去,犹如两条在河边饮水的巨龙。如此景象令人难以忘怀!

明天我们将一路往东向海岸和大海进发——也许在那里我们也能看到长城。
The newly restored section of the wall meets the ‘old wall’ made from the local gold-coloured granite high up on the western wall.

Huangyaguan (Yellow Cliff Mountain Pass) Great Wall
Northern Tianjin Province
The Wall is accessible in two sections, the popular and easy to get to Western Wall where tour buses arrive from Beijing or Tianjin (both around three hours), and the less accessible but equally stunning Eastern Wall which you can get to via minivan, horseback or three-wheel tricycle, all available in the Western Wall carpark.
Adults 65 yuan
Children 35 yuan
Children under 1.2m free
Parking 10 yuan
Dongshan Hotel

Co-ordinates Lat 40.245314°  Long 117.454871°
All rooms are triples with their own bathroom but rates depend on the number of occupants. Meals not included.
Singles 100yuan/night
Doubles 200yuan/night
Triples 300yuan/night
Discounts available.
There is no food available at the top of the mountain but the Dongshan is happy to open their restaurant – overlooking a lotus pond – for guests. Dinner for four people including a variety of local dishes and soup around 100 yuan in total.

The Campground That Almost Was…

In my fantasy world, away from the brutal practicalities of everyday life on the road – camping by the roadside, cold showers in a space the size of a broom closet, sleeping in a too-short bed, wearing dubiously dirty clothes because the clean ones have run out – I imagine us occasionally driving to a real life camping ground where stunning natural beauty sits side by side with toilet and shower facilities, running water, and maybe even mains power. Maybe.
But a dream it remains, because proper camping grounds are in very short supply in China. My good friend JW, who helped enormously with the Chinese language research for this trip (and translates these posts) spent two full weeks compiling a list of Chinese camping grounds for us, then calling them one by one to ensure they were still in operation. 

I won’t labor over the details, but suffice to say that the official list (the one you’ll find on the Ministry of Tourism website) and the actual list differ a great deal, perhaps because there were many camping grounds that accepted hefty government tourism subsidies to open up then closed down a short time later. 

I’ll just tell you how many were on the short list – fourteen camping grounds, in all of China. One for every 93 million people. Not so many huh?
Many of them are clustered around Beijing’s outskirts, but there is one in the area we’re traveling in right now as we head north towards Inner Mongolia, so we decided to make a detour to northern Tianjin Province to stay in it, right next to a remote and mountainous section of the Great Wall – it sounded perfect. I thought we might even meet some like-minded Chinese campers!
I looked on their website and was thrilled by mains power! water! and something that looked like a homemade RV! JW called ahead for us the day before and confirmed. No reservation needed.
Pick the bought one!
The anticipation of staying somewhere actually legal where we didn’t have to worry about being moved on in the middle of the night, spurred us on to a mammoth eight hour day of driving through a fierce storm that saw most other vehcles pull off the highway. Not us. We pushed on. We had a camping ground to get to.

Finally, around dark, we arrived at the tiny winding mountain road of the campground’s address, but somehow missed the entrance the first and second times we drove past. There was a black and yellow bar boomgate across the driveway and the sign on the gateway was a little overgrown. Small nagging worries needled me.

We opened the boomgate ourselves and drove in. The whole place seemed a little low on the maintenance side and there were no other campers at all, but we pulled into a bay with its own electricity and water box just as the caretaker arrived.

“Hello! What are you doing here?” he asked. As if he didn’t already know!

“We’re travelling! We’d like to camp here for the night!” we said. 

“You know we’re closed down? We don’t have any power or water. But you can stay overnight if you really want to.”

CLOSED DOWN? Like, NOT OPEN?? And NO POWER and NO WATER???

Somehow JW had failed to mention this in her text message. I read it again. “Ucan go to the campsite directly, free now, and is not a site for rv but parking is okay.”

I seem to have glossed over the important parts of that message when it first arrived, particulary the ‘is not a site for rv’ bit. I tend to ignore bits of information that don’t fit with my perception of any given sitution, it’s a dreadful flaw and now it had come back to bite me. I guess that’s why I had interpreted ‘free now‘ to mean ‘plenty of space’, rather than ‘free of charge because with no electricity, water or facilities we can hardly make you pay.’ Bugger. Bug-ger.

After having a quiet little weep to myself I looked around me. The kids were running about having a ball and making as much noise as they wanted. It had stopped raining. We were in one of the most beautiful locations imaginable – a natural amphitheatre in the cradle of a ring of pink granite mountains now glowing orange in the light of sunset. It was stunning.

So the electricity box was fake, and the water taps were all dry, and the camping ground was falling apart from neglect. So what. We had a private peaceful spot to sleep and there would be other camping grounds to visit in other places. A whole twelve others to be exact.

Morning brought sun and clear blue skies and we set out to explore our surrounds. The campsite had been glorious until quite recently with an attached Mountain Sports Centre complete with obstacle course, groves of apricot trees, a camping field, a picnic terrace overlooking the valley, a rope bridge and small huts. A terrible shame it closed down, but like all businesses there has to be money in it, and clearly camping hasn’t yet reached that stage in China.

Luckily we’re on a mission to change all that!
Looking a bit overgrown since the last photo.

Giant rock-climbing wall and massive skate ramp to keep you busy when you’re bored with blowing up the air mattress

The tent camping field, lush, level, and ringed with trees.

And the rusting home-made RV, up on bricks, forever in the same spot

The entrance – just in case you ever decide to make a visit.
黄崖关长城
在历经了十一天驾车从一个野外宿营地到另一个野外宿营地的旅程之后,我们终于准备在第一个真正意义上的露营基地——天津市蓟县下营镇山野运动基地露营地停留几天,基地位于天津北部,紧挨着黄崖关长城。我曾期待见到一些中国的露营者并从他们那里获得一些水电等可靠资源,同时写点什么。
当我们风尘仆仆驾车八小时后,最后一小时是在一场暴雨中行驶,我们最终发现露营基地是在一条狭窄的乡间小路尽头。四周有苹果园、桃园、杏园和梅园,风景秀丽,岑峦叠嶂,苍翠欲滴。让我们大为失望的是露营地已经停业了,但守卫很友善,他允许我们在那里过夜。太失望了!
清晨时分此处的美景变得清晰起来——我们处在被群山环绕的小山谷中。
我们花了一整天沿着黄崖关长城攀阶而行。我敢肯定你一定同意:景色美得让人窒息!!

Campsite Notes: Northern Tianjin Jixian Village Mountain Sports Ground

The campground is technically available for overnight ‘parking’ although the caretaker turned a blind eye to outdoor cooking and other camping activities. We weren’t charged for our overnight stay, but it was made clear this was one night only.


Name: Tianjin shi Ji xian Xiaying zhen Shanye Yundong jidi campsite
天津市蓟县山野基地露 
Address: Jixian Xiayingzhen Qianganjian cun
蓟县前干村 
Co-ordinates: Lat  40.227401° Long 117.429789°
Water: nil
Electricity: nil
Public Facilities: nil
Quietness: High echo factor. Evening karaoke session in neighbouring valley crystal clear
Nearest water/groceries: Jixian Village <2km
Outlook: In the cradle of a ring of mountains. Unbelievably beautiful.

Ten Must-Try Foods in Shandong 山东美食探险


Insect eating alert! Do not proceed past Number 8 if you’d prefer not to think about deep-fried crunchy things. Keep going all the way to Number 10 if you’re OK with that.

Insects aside, we survived our first week of camping and from the beaches of Qingdao to the rocky mountain of Tai Shan and Qufu, birthplace of Confucius, Shandong Province has some great eats and is considered one of China’s Great Eight Cuisines, also known as lu cai. I’ve eaten some incredibly delicious and some incredibly challenging dishes this week, yours to share. 


Restaurant dishes 餐厅菜肴


1. Seafood 海鲜 hǎixiān

Since Shandong forms part of China’s east coast, fresh seafood is in overwhelming abundance. In Qingdao you can eat at a seafood restaurant, choosing your fish, clams or shrimp with care from the rows of tanks outside, or you can get an impressive choice at the fish market and take it to a nearby restaurant for cooking in any style.
Shandong seafood dishes tend to bring out the sweet clean flavour of the seafood without overpowering sauces, as in these shrimp fried with garlic and a little chili, and these tiny clams.

海鲜

由于山东省地处中国的东海岸,新鲜的海产资源很丰富。在青岛你可以选择去一家海鲜餐厅就餐,从餐厅外的水箱里选择自己喜爱的鱼、蛤蜊和虾,或者可以去水产市场进行一次难忘的购物然后拿到附近的餐馆让他们加工。

山东海鲜菜肴通常不使用呛人的,如蒜爆大虾和蛤蜊中的调料,就烹调出海鲜纯净的甜味,



2. Slow-Braised Fragrant Spiced Pork 香辣肉丝 xiāng là ròu sī 
With meat literally falling off the pork bones, we tried a tiny neighbourhood restaurant full of hungry diners for our first lunch in Qingdao, and this was their specialty dish. Slow cooked, fragrant, tender and so, so delicious with star anise and specks of numbing sichuan peppers in the juices. Bones were being sucked clean at tables all around us.



香辣肉丝  四川辣味猪肉条

这是一道我们在青岛一家很小的家常菜饭馆吃的超人气菜肴,用的食材是去骨猪肉,饭馆里挤满了饥饿的食客。香气四溢,口感嫩滑,太太太好吃了!



3.  Three Fresh Flavours Tendon 三鲜烧蹄筋sān xiān shāo tí jīn 

As foreigners who don’t read Chinese that well this dish was very unfamiliar to us and we spent the whole dinner trying to identify the long white pieces with the slightly chewy, spongy texture.

“It’s some kind of mushroom” said one daughter, not very confidently.
“I think it’s squid…or something…” said the second.
I thought the pieces were made of slightly chewy sticky rice.

The other components of the dish were easy to see – plump shrimp, squid, and clams. Finally we asked the waitress to tell us what the mystery ingredient was.

“Beef tendon!” she said. Well, that was certainly a surprise to us.


三鲜烧蹄筋

作为外国人,阅读中文的能力有限,所以这道菜对我们来说有点难懂,我们花了整个晚餐的时间试图确认,那白白的有点海绵质感的长条究竟是什么。

“它是一种蘑菇.”我的一个女儿如是说。

“我觉得它是鱿鱼……或者类似的……”第二个女儿说。

我觉得那些长条是用稍许耐嚼的糯米做的。

这道菜的其他原料很容易辨别——虾仁,鱿鱼,蛤蜊。最后我们向服务员求证这个神秘的原料。

“牛筋!”她告诉了我们。好吧,真是一个惊喜!



4. Confucius Tofu: 孔夫子豆腐 Kǒngfūzi Dòufu 

Like many things in the overcrowded, overpriced and over-touristed town of Qufu, the food has only very tangential and suspect connections to Confucius – Kongfu. There was Confucius Duck, Confucius Soup and Confucius Fruit Platter.

 We did try the Confucius Tofu – cubes of smoked tofu stir-fried with mushrooms and green peppers, and it was very passable too. But worthy of the world’s greatest sage? I don’t think so.
 

孔夫子豆腐

在人潮汹涌,价格虚高,游客集中的曲阜市,食物就像很多别的事物一样,与孔老夫子有着十分牵强和令人怀疑的联系。我们的确尝试了“孔夫子豆腐”——几片油炸腌豆腐和蘑菇及青椒,味道差强人意。但是否配得上世界上最伟大的圣人呢?我可不同意。



5. Nine Coil Large Intestine 九曲大肠 jiǔqū dàcháng

Sometimes, though not often, I wish I didn’t feel compelled to eat something I’d really rather not eat just for the sake of being able to write about it afterwards. Intestine is not high on my list of favorite foods but in Shandong they love it. So I had them cook some up for me in a street market last night in Qufu, and it was really very good with a strong taste of sausage – I guess that tells you a lot about what goes into making sausages.




Street Food 路边小吃

6. Corn Cakes With Fried fish 玉米糕 Yùmǐ Gāo 

Corn grows in every single field in Shandong, and freshly steamed corn cobs are a popular street snack.  This was a little different though – soft corn cakes made from either yellow or black corn fried on a griddle, and served with tiny crispy fried fish.  Winning combination!

玉米糕

山东的农田到处都生长着玉米,热腾腾的玉米面满馒头是人气很高的路边小吃。但是这里有点不同,平锅里炸着松软的玉米糕,配以炸得松脆的很小的鱼。美妙的组合!



7. Boiled Peanuts 水煮花生 shuǐzhǔ huāshēng

Peanuts are plentiful in Shandong and most meals are accompanied by a plate of boiled or fried peanuts. Here they’re mixed with boiled edamame and served as a cold appetiser. I love the texture of these – soft but still with some bite.

水煮花生

花生在山东也很常见,很多时候人们用一盘水煮花生或油炸花生佐餐。这里的人们将花生和盐水毛豆同煮,当成一道冷盘开胃菜。


8. Crisp-fried Cakes 煎包 jiān bāo 

Little fried parcels filled with chopped scallions and vermicelli noodles, these are just the right size for when mid-morning hunger hits.


煎包

包着葱末和粉丝的油炸小团。



9. Fried Grasshoppers  炸蚂蚱 zhá màzhà

I just closed my eyes and popped one gingerly into my mouth. There was some salt, and a deal of lightweight crunch with very little substance and no aftertaste. And an audience of several interested fellow diners crowded around the table, who really wanted to know what I thought of their local specialty. 

I’d eaten insects before, but never grasshoppers, so it was a bit early to form a considered opinion – although when the waitress asked if I’d like to take the remainder of the plate away with me I politely declined. One of the grasshoppers escaped during the cooking and sat on the table watching us eat his cooked friends, which was distasteful and insensitive of him.


炸蝗虫

我是闭着眼睛迅速把它丢进嘴里的。我人生中第一只蝗虫!有点咸,在嘴里嘎吱嘎吱作响。有一只蝗虫在烹调时逃开了,就坐在桌子上看着我们吃它被烹调好的朋友。




10. Deep-fried Golden Cicadas   zhá jīnchán

This local Shandong specialty is hugely popular. My husband loves eating them every time he comes to Jin’an on business and he was keen for me to try them too. I managed one, mostly by imagining I was eating eating deep-fried shrimp instead of cicada nymphs and that helped, but I didn’t have seconds. 


炸金蝉

这种山东当地特色人气超旺。蝉蛹快速炸后十分松脆。


Home Cooked Dishes 家常菜


After just over a week on the road I’m slowly getting into a rhythm with cooking. Part of the process has been getting to know what food I can buy fresh in the small villages we pass through, many without shops. This always turns out to be whatever is in peak season – long snake beans, juicy red tomatoes, and some things completely new to me like these broad flat hairy beans.

I just asked the farmer I bought them from how to cook them – “sliced finely and fried with garlic and lots of lajiao!” she told me, and she was right – they were delicious.




经过一周的旅途,我渐渐适应了烹调的节奏。我获得了一些窍门,哪些食物可以在小村庄现买新鲜的,时令季蔬果都可以买到新鲜的。长豇豆,多汁的红番茄和一些我完全不知道的东西比如这些宽宽平平又多毛的豆类(扁豆)。

我向一位农民请教如何烧这些菜——“切成均匀的薄片,和大蒜,许多辣椒一起炒!”她是这样告诉我的,她是对的——这些菜非常好吃!




Eaten any other memorable Shandong dishes? Tonight I tried Dezhou’s famous roast chicken, which falls tenderly off the bone at the slightest tremble. 
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Lian Island, and the Art of the Perfect Beach Wedding Photograph

The beach makes my heart sing. The smell of the salt water, the burn of the hot sand getting hotter and hotter with every step as you dance across the sand to the closest shade, then the feeling of complete freedom as you dive under the water, salt water stinging your eyes.

In the last forty years of my life I have never gone more than three weeks without a visit to the beach, and I mistakenly thought China with its long eastern coastline would have plenty to choose from, but much of the coast is beach-less river delta where rivers widen dramatically to meet the sea over a broad flat tidal expanse of mud. Not ideal for swimming.

When I began to plan our trip I desperately wanted to find a beach, somewhere beautiful and not crowded. I asked around, I consulted maps and guidebooks, but other than the beaches of Qingdao (too crowded) and the beaches of Hainan Island (too far south, and inaccessible without a plane or boat) I drew a blank.
Wasting time one day last week I opened Google Earth and scrolled randomly up and down the east coast, just looking and hoping. Near the town of Lianyungang in Jiangsu province (a place I’d never heard of) was a small island connected to the mainland by what looked like a causeway. As I zoomed in I felt building excitement –  the island had two perfect crescents of sand separated by lush green hills, and other than a small resort development at one end appeared largely uninhabited. Even more promisingly I could see rows of beach umbrellas lining the smaller beach. Yes!

Lian Island turned out to be even better in reality – a laidback seaside world. The island’s entry road is lined with little shops selling retro shell souvenirs line and rows of fresh seafood restaurants, fronted by outdoor tanks of live fish, shrimp, molluscs and crayfish just waiting for customers to come along and choose their own catch of the day. Bypass these if you’re not hungry and drive past the fishing harbour to the island’s northern side where an exquisite small cove called Suma Wan awaits, the lush green jungle tangled with vines and flowers tumbling down the hills to the blue sea. Peacocks wander in and out of the gardens, occasionally showing magnificent plumage and calling their distinctive call through the jungle.

Bookending the beach are two rocky promontories topped with traditional Chinese pavilions. I often forgot where I was as I swam out to deep water, unti I looked up and saw the gracefully upturned eaves in the distance.

The beach itself is perfect – a sheltered cove with fine, shell-strewn sand and lines of thatched beach umbrellas. The only major oversight as far as I can see is the distinct lack of a cocktail bar, but other than that you can keep yourself busy with water bicycling, tumbling around on the water in an inflatable hamster wheel, jetski touring, or just floating around with a fluorescent life preserver around your middle.

What strikes me is that swimming is not a skill possessed by most Chinese visitors to the beach, hardly surprising given China’s massive internal land mass, far from oceans. Mao though, famously swam every day when able in rivers, the ocean, or lakes.
The unfamiliarity with swimming becomes clear from people’s dress – most are wearing bathers bought from the small shop on the beach, and a quite a few are swimming either fully clothed or in their underwear. Adults and children alikeare protected from the waist deep dead calm water by wearing life preservers or clinging to the floating guide ropes in the water. 
The few who can swim do so ostentatiously, dressed in full and proper Olympic swimming kit – short, close-fitting trunks, bathing cap, goggles and nose clip. They go out just deep enough for everyone to see they know what’s what and with great sense of purpose swim a few strokes in no particular direction, then emerge striding from the water. 
It’s a lovely relaxing day, everyone is enjoying themselves in the sun….and then the brides and grooms arrive, all fifty-eight of them, over the next few hours.
江苏省连岛——海滩露营

我的家乡澳大利亚,最让我怀念的事物之一就是海滩。在我人生过去的四十年的岁月中,我最多三个星期就要去海滩一次,而我误以为中国拥有绵长的东海岸当然也拥有很多海滩,但事实上大多数海岸是海滩稀少的广阔无垠的三角洲。

当我开始计划我们的旅行时,我十分迫切地想找到一处美丽但不拥挤的海滩。我四处询问,借助于地图和旅游指南,但是除了青岛的海滩(非常拥挤)和海南岛(位于遥远的南方,且必须搭乘飞机或船才能到达),我一无所获。

上周某一天我为了消磨时间打开谷歌地图随便浏览了一下东海岸,无意中发现,靠近 江苏省连云港市有一个小岛。随着我将画面推近,不由得有一丝兴奋——岛上有两处沙滩,中间隔着郁郁葱葱的小山,而且仅有一小部分得到了开发,在另一头则大部分无人居住。更令我充满希望的是哪里有成排的沙滩阳伞。太棒了!

连岛与大陆由中国最长的长堤连接在一起,当你通过长堤时你就会进入一个悠闲的海边世界。进岛公路上卖贝壳纪念品的小商店零次栉比,成排的海鲜饭店提供自家当日捕捞的成箱的鱼类,贝类和虾类水箱被放在室外供客人自行挑选。

途经这些,如果你尚不觉得饥饿,可以驶过捕鱼码头开往小岛的北边,那里有一处精致的小海湾在静候您的光临,郁郁葱葱的丛林沿山蜿蜒融入蓝色的海洋。孔雀们在花园中闲庭信步,时不时展开美丽的尾巴,引得周围的人们欣喜不已。

海滩被设为游泳场所,这个地方有干净清凉的水,柔软的沙子,并且为每一个人都准备了充分的活动——独木舟、快艇、水上摩托或者就在水中悠闲地呆着放松。

很搞笑的是,当我们都很努力地要把我们苍白凄凉的皮肤晒成古铜色的时候,我们身旁的中国游客们从头到脚都裹得严严实,还打着伞来保护他们美丽的白色肌肤免受日光侵扰。当我 今晚躺在这儿,皮肤被晒得又红又烫时,我倒是也希望自己能有白白的肌肤。


Beach Wedding Photography, Chinese Style

The clutch of brides, more beatiful than the white peacocks roaming the beachside gardens, spill out of a minivan in full wedding regalia, long white dresses sweeping the ground, hair arranged in sleek black chignons topped with dramatic headpieces crusted with flowers and pearls, and ears heavy with long pearl and diamante drops. 

Their eyes, heavily rimmed with kohl, turn towards us oddly dressed foreigners in our swimming costumes and towels as if to question the suitability of our attire for attending the beach, and then with one long sweep they scoop up the trailing trains of their dresses over their arms, revealing scuffed plastic Crocs and cutoff denim shorts. The illusion dissolves immediately.
We follow them down the wooden stairs, all six bridal couples accompanied by a brace of photographers, assistants, make-up artists and gophers carrying assorted props – bags of fake floral bouquets, rainbow-coloured windmills, a violin in a case, a red and white life buoy, and six reflector screens covered in foil.
The Chinese wedding photography industry is a mysterious country of its own, with its own government and bylaws, its own ethnic factions, and its own currency and festivals. Couples enter into this land through the portal of glittering shops with names like Paris and LoveWedding, where they sit for days with wedding consultants poring over style books to decide on the style of wedding they would like, the only irony being there is no wedding and they’re not actually married. 
The actual wedding, compared to the splendor of the wedding photography, will be a drab affair months later involving five hundred guests in a fancy Chinese restaurant surrounded by life-size images of the couple as they appeared in their wedding dream, as realized by those magician photographers on a memorable day in the distant past.
Like all magicians, there is a great deal of smoke and mirrors involved in the transformation of a pair of short-sighted graphic designers from Lianyungang into a romantic beachside vision of true love. Here’s how it’s done.
The wedding dresses are made of machine-washable synthetic, one size fits all, and are fastened with bulldog cips at the back if you’re on the small side, or an infinitely expandable corsetry lacing if you’re not. The grooms, in white suits with ruffled shirts and enormous collars chosen to match the wedding dress, look stiff and uncomfortable as they’re directed into position. But the suits are completely wrinkle-free.

The make-up, lavishly applied to both bride and groom, is made from heat, sun and sand-resistant polymers that probably last for days afterwards on your skin.

Props are chosen, poses are positioned, and then the couple strip down to their underwear right there on the beach and change into Bridal Ensemble Number Two, usually a brightly coloured version of Bridal Ensemble Number One. And the whole scene is repeated in blazing technicolour polyester.

After watching this magic for two whole days and more than forty couples on Suma Wan’s tiny and now very crowded beach I have realised there are five standard poses in any Magic Beach Wedding photography set:

1.  The Standard – bride and groom side by side at the shore line, dress draped artfully on the sand. Variations include props placed artfully on the draped dress, such as dried starfish or the jaunty red and white life preserver.
2. The Distance Shot – often the groom stands behind the bride, facing away but looking back wistfully at her over his shoulder
3. The Happy-Go-Lucky shot – this involves hands in the air, or kicking water, or jumping simultaneoulsy. It doesn’t usually involve a group of swimmers and four other couples in various stages of dress/undress, as shown here.
4. The Groom Solo Shot – embracing married life, as it were.
5. The Novelty Shot. This involves the couple bringing something of their own personalities to the scene – crazy glasses, funny hats, or in this case a pair of bunny hand puppets. I know, I know – you wish you’d thought of this for your wedding photos too.

So there you have it, Chinese wedding photography for the uninitiated. Dusk falls, golden hour is over and the couples traipse in a straggling column back up the steps. The dresses and suits have been stuffed tightly into bags for washing.
At last, the beach is empty and the only sign of the photographic love fest that has just taken place is a lone pair of false eyelashes, marooned on the sand.

Suma Bay Eco Park
suma gang shengtai yuan
苏马港生态园
Admission: Adults 50 yuan, Children 25 yuan, Vehicles 15 yuan
Open daily 9am-6pm
Beachside overnight cabins available for rent
小贴士:
连岛有两个公共海滩。大的海滩(入场费50元)最靠近长堤。小的海滩,——苏马湾,在岛的北边,可以搭乘小公交或者私人小车前往。
苏马湾:大人50元,1.3米以下儿童25元,轿车15元。
海滩活动100-200元。


Campsite Notes: Lian Dao

We camped in the small secluded carpark just west of the Suma Bay Eco Park ticket office and entrance – the park closes at 6pm so the nearby carpark is empty at night. Between 7pm and 8.30am next day there were no other cars.
We considered overstaying closing time within the park itself but all the suitable parking sites have CCTV cameras so it seemed likely we would be moved on by the staff as they left for the day.

Co-ordinates: Lat  34.757590° Long 119.492593°
Water: nil
Electricity: nil 
Public Facilities: nil
Quietness: Crickets and breezes
Nearest water/groceries: Liandao village, at the entry road to the island (limited supplies)
Outlook: overlooks ocean


The China Road Trip Begins! Where We’ll be Going, and When.

Our first Chinese fuel station stop yesterday reinforced that our just-commenced China Road Trip will be no ordinary kind of travel, and there will be no blending quietly into the landscape as we’d hoped. People of China, thank you for your intense interest in our vehicle and our journey- we’ve only just begun and it’s absolutely heartwarming. 
For those readers who are new here, let me introduce ourselves and our plans (for those of you who already know us, skip ahead!). We’re an Australian family who have lived in Shanghai for the last three years and loved every minute, but our longing for a great adventure means for the next six months our home will be one on wheels – a campervan with its own beds, kitchen and even a miniature bathroom.
Our dream has always been to see all of China, every last gorgeous and wild corner of it, from the coast to the interior and everything in between, so over the next half year we will circumnavigate China roughly anti-clockwise, beginning and ending in Shanghai. 
Our Travel Plans

Mr Google Maps has been a good friend to us so far and I’ve no reason to doubt him when he says it will be 18,941km from start to end. what Mr Google Maps doesn’t now is that I’m navigating, my maps are all in Chinese, and I seize the chance to take a detour if one presents itself, especially if it involves good food or large and bulky antiques. So maybe make that 20,000km. Or even 25,000.
So here’s our trip in a nutshell. I felt really good about sitting down for this last five minutes with the Google Route Planner and making a plan. It’s the first time I’ve seen what exists in my head on paper, so to speak. (Please don’t tell my husband because he thinks I’ve had a day-by-day itinerary planned out for months, but I’m only giving it to him a day at a time so it will be a surprise.) 
The summer months will see us head north then west, and during the winter months we’ll travel to the warmer climes of the south and east.
The northward leg for the next few weeks will take us to Inner Mongolia and the fabled Naadam horse festival of the nomadic Mongolian grassland peoples, then west along the path of the ancient Silk Road through some of the most remote desert in China to the trading oasis of Kashgar. Kashgar is nestled in a corner of China bordering on five other countries including Afghanistan and Pakistan. We were there last year too, and can’t wait to return.
From far western China we’ll travel south and east through Yunnan, a land filled with colourful peoples belonging to China’s many ethnic minorities, and some of the most extraordinary natural beauty and biologic diversity in China, then eastwards across Guizhou Province, China’s poorest but arguably its most unspoilt and interesting province where tall green hills rise up from narrow river valleys dotted with villages belonging to the Miao people. We will visit during their lusheng traditional music festival in winter to see the magnificent costumes and traditions of a people whose lives have changed little in the last five hundred years.
Lastly, our journey will bring us via the traditional roundhouses of Fujian Province back to Shanghai.
Our First Night

Crossing the mighty Yangtze. Colour of sky and water identical.

I wish I could tell you our first night was idyllic, quiet and magical and we all communed with nature. 
Actually, due to an unexpected late departure from Shanghai we drove like maniacs for five hours due north, crossing the Yangtze near Nantong and traversing hour after hour of flat wall-to-wall farms without a single suitable camping site anywhere among the rows of corn and the rice paddies. The sky was dense and humid, darkened by the smoke from frequent burning off in fields.
Around nightfall Google Earth (my other friend) helped me find a little river bordered by stands of trees (it looked like a perfect, quiet spot), where we parked in the mud next to a decrepit gravel dredging crane and right on top of the town dump. The sweet smell of rotting garbage was matched only by the thousands of flies and the stench from the duck farm across the water. My first step out of the van squelched ankle deep into a pile of manure. Love nature. Love camping. 
Luckily, tonight I’m 500 kilometres from Shanghai overlooking the ocean, high on a hill. Darkness has fallen and when the clouds part I can see real, actual stars – lots of them, and high behind me a lighthouse casts its regular radial beam. Tomorrow I’m going to swim in the ocean, but tonight I’m happy to listen to its sound and feel the cool clean breezes blowing.

Follow Along…. 

I hope you’ll follow along on our journey with us – thanks to my wonderful friend and translator JW, Chinese language posts will appear every Monday and Thursday. If I wrote it in Chinese, believe me, you wouldn’t want to read it.

To be up with all the daily news and gossip on our travels you can follow us on:
Twitter @nanchanglu
Weibo @nanchanglu






你们好!

请允许我向这里的新读者介绍一下我们。我们是过去三年居住在上海的澳大利亚家庭,我们深深爱着在上海度过的每一分钟,但我们渴望在未来的六个月尝试一次伟大的探险:我们把家安在了车轮上——一辆拥有卧室、厨房甚至迷你浴室的房车

我们梦想看遍全中国,从沿海到内陆的每一处迷人而又野趣盎然的角落。

在未来的半年时间里,我们将逆时针大致环游中国,旅程从上海开始并回到上海。夏季你们将看到我们一路向北,然后往西行,冬季我们将向暖和的南部和东部推进。

在接下来的几周里,我们将去内蒙古领略极富盛名的蒙古草原游牧民族的那达慕大会,随后将一路往西沿着丝绸之路穿过中国最大沙漠的一部分最后抵达喀什的贸易绿洲。喀什踞于中国一隅,在那里中国与阿富汗、巴基斯坦等五国接壤。我们去年曾在喀什,现在已然迫不及待地想再次回到那里。

从中国的西部边远地区我们将往南部和东部旅行,穿越云南,一片聚居着多民族的五彩斑斓人们的土地,一片拥有最不可思议自然美景和生物多样性的土地。随后我们将向东行驶穿越贵州省,中国最贫穷却毫无争议地是最未被景点化、最有意思的地区,那里苗族村寨点缀于蜿蜒河谷间的青葱峻岭中。我们将在冬天去参观苗族的芦笙节,去欣赏绚丽的服饰以及那里的人们保留了五百年几乎未曾改变的传统。

我希望您能与我们同行——在我的朋友兼翻译的帮助下,每周日及周四将会发布中文版的游记。

如果您想知道我们每天的旅行见闻,请关注:


开心大冒险!