Man on the Moon Hill

To get a birds-eye view of Yangshuo’s picturesque scenery, I hiked up a hill a few miles south of the county’s bustling center.

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Moon Hill.

The hill is known for its natural arch, and the Chinese call it Yueliang shan (月亮山), which literally translates into moon mountain. Sections of the 1,250-foot hike to the arch are steep, but the trail is paved with concrete steps. Continue reading

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Sitting on top of the world — almost

On my last day in Shangri-La, I hiked to the top of a hill overlooking the city. The incline wasn’t steep, but every 20 paces or so I had to stop to catch my breath. The city has an altitude of 3,200 meters, and my body still hadn’t completely adjusted to the elevation.

Along the hike, I passed several tombs that had been dug into the hillside. Some were very elaborate, with sculptures of lions and carvings of people dressed in ethnic attire. I assume families chose this spot as their loved ones’ final resting place because of the view. From the hill you can see a giant golden prayer wheel – the largest in the world – and rows of mountain peaks that grow taller as you look farther into the horizon. Continue reading

Awestruck in Dali’s Old Town

Dali is so beautiful that it can be downright dangerous.

I was riding a bike through the city’s Old Town, taking in the scenery and historic architecture, but not the giant pothole that lay in front of me. The next thing I saw was concrete.

Fortunately, I landed left knee first, and suffered only a few bruises. I hobbled to a nearby pharmacy and, using broken Chinese and a little point and grimace, described what I needed. I felt embarrassed, but if any Chinese city is going send me head over heels I’m glad it was Dali. Continue reading

Small town PRC

By the time the sun set in Anxi, the only noise I could hear outside was the crow of a lone rooster. The streets near the home where I was staying were empty. The skies were dark, lit up only by stars peeking out from the clouds blowing overhead.

It reminded me of home.

I come from a small town in Eastern Kentucky. Small as in population 6,000. Anxi, population 1 million, is a “small” place too, according to the family I stayed with. Continue reading

Sweating in style

In the summer of 2010, while taking a stroll around Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, I saw dozens of couples posing for wedding pictures. The skies were clear, and it was sweltering hot. I’m guessing it was around 95 degrees. The men were sweating through their tuxedos, and the women were having trouble keeping their hairdos in place. Continue reading

Even the blue, blue grass of home isn’t idyllic

The Chinese characters for America are 美国 (meiguo), which literally mean “beautiful country.”

Whoever came up with this translation knew what they were talking about. After spending more than 14 months in Beijing, every day in my hometown of Morehead, Kentucky, feels like one of those dreamy scenes from a Claude Monet painting. Dark green grass. Rolling hills. Sunsets you can get lost in.

I took all these things for granted when I lived here. People would ask me about my hometown and I’d usually say something like, “It’s small, has only one McDonald’s and nowhere to shop.” I talked a lot about the things Morehead didn’t have, which – I now realize – is what makes it great. Continue reading

Where emperors galloped

I went to Chengde on a whim, and it turned out to be the best city I had never heard of. My mother and brother were visiting Beijing from Kentucky, and I wanted to take them somewhere outside the Chinese capital so they could experience a different part of the country.

I picked Chengde because it was close and had a lot of history. During the Qing (1644-1911), China’s last dynasty, it served as a getaway for the royal family. Situated 250 kilometers northeast of Beijing, Chengde with its rolling mountains and thick forests provided a cool and scenic escape from the capital’s blistering hot summers and flat landscape.

Pule Temple, with downtown Chengde in the distance.

This pagoda, located inside the imperial summer resort, houses a statue of the Buddha.

We went in the fall, when the leaves had turned brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange. Chengde’s main historical site is Bishu Shanzhuang, an imperial summer resort that began construction in 1703. Admission was pricey – 120 RMB ($19) – twice what it costs to tour the Forbidden City in Beijing. But the resort’s impressive mountain lookouts justified the expense. Continue reading