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Celebrated my grandpa's birthday a few weeks ago at the KunLun Mountain Hotspring Resort.

The guys (dad, uncle, grandpa, bro) played majiang and the women (mom, aunt, me) went for the hotsprings 8D

We tried a few medicinal ones, the volcanic ash bath (basically it's like covering your whole body in sesame soup...took us a while to wash it all off...) then the milk and red wine springs.

I didn't really read what they're supposed to do for you though...

And then we had a big dinner where my bro proved he's a very very capable drinker (he downed nine cups of white wine in the 1-2 hours we were there Oo;). My dad and uncle were kinda not-so-capable drinkers...uncle was hallucinating earthquakes by the end of the meal XDDDD;

We first checked in to a suite room style building, but then my grandpa wanted to stay longer so we rented a rather large house for the second night. Ours was named 雨蝶庭 (Butterfly in the Rain). They had a automated majiang table available and the guys spent most of the rest of their stay playing majiang...again -__-

I brought along the cross-stitch portrait I was making for my grandpa's birthday. It says 寿 (long life), with a peach, a symbol of immortality. Didn't actually finish it on time for the birthday date (my grandpa celebrates his birthday by the lunar calendar), but here is a photo of it all framed and stuff:

Here's the cross stitch keychain thing I made for my Mom's new carkeys (red Peugeot):

Also, here's a photo of the mini-hot spring pool thing in the backyard of the house. It's not pure hot spring water, but it was pretty nice...

# # #

And then, since I'm leaving China on the 8th, one day before my birthday (on the solar calendar), the family decided to give me an early birthday dinner before I leave. Aunt and uncle bought me a cake with this adorable little panda sitting on top plus some moon cake ♥. Jeff got me a bottle of Coke Zero. Both can be seen in the photo:

The triangles on the sides are chocolate and the center is piled with fruits ♥

The panda tasted awful though >3>
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阆中(LangZhong): 张飞庙(ZhangFei Temple), 华光门(HuaGuang Tower), 贡院(Imperial Testing Grounds)
重庆(ChongQing): home

# # # chinese doorsteps are tall # # #

More photos of the courtyard I'm staying at. Here is a depiction of the typical courtyard. Ours has a similar layout, except with two courtyards (the second one connected behind the first). This Li family must have been very rich.
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# # # zhangfei's beef...and his temple # # #

ZhangFei, one of the sworn brothers of LiuBei, leader of the Shu Kingdom during the Three Kingdoms era, is buried in LangZhong. He also guarded the city for a long time.
Oh, and he was a cook. That's why there's beef named after him.
Anywhos, first stop today was the ZhangFei Temple. It wasn't particularly amazing really. Like most other temples I've visited, lots of incense (which I think I'm allergic to I swear) and commemorative statues.
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# # # climbing a tower is like climbing a ladder # # #

After the temple, we took a little boat downstream.
Turns out the Ancient City is kinda huge.
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Our next stop was to climb the HuaGuang Tower. Not sure exactly what the tower is for...maybe it's a lighthouse? Or a watchtower for the city?
The tower itself was really difficult to climb as the stairs are narrow and the steps are short.
# photo&videos # )
Not much else to the tower, it was fun for impromptu ladder-stairs climbing though.

# # # ancient tests are a billion times more painful # # #

Next stop was the Imperial Testing Grounds.
The Imperial Tests (or Chinese Civil Service Tests) happen every 3 years where young males from around the region gather to write exams that will be judged and sorted until the ones deemed most worthy are presented to the royal court. The highest prize to be won is the status of 状元/ZhuangYuan among other positions within the court. Of course this tended to only recruit people like-minded to the values in the exams into the imperial courts - and of course women were excluded.
This testing system is also the basis for civil service exams in other parts of Asia and Europe.
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I lost the photo for this next part, but exam takers were stuffed into small rooms of a dozen or so cubicles about only wide enough to sit a fully grown man. Each cubicle had wooden panels that serve as a desk during the daytime (when there's light to write the exam) and a "bed" during nighttime (when there's dim light and people take out their cheating clothes to cheat by moonlight).
They would then stay in their cubicles for like a week or something (there were pots for bathroom breaks in the rooms) until the testing period was over.

Some people spend a great deal of their lives taking the exam over and over again (since they come once very three years) hoping to get a position in the imperial court or, you know, rich.

I'm going to go ahead and skip the part where the tour guide helped cheat us out of like, 20yuan in the "temple of good luck" where exam takers came to pray for good fortune for their families or whatever before taking their exams.
Every Chinese tourist spot seems to have a "special prayer" stop where they take you to a room, tell you it's a good idea to buy some sort of magic luck charm, bow to a clay figure of some emperor or immortal, and then get your fortune told by a monk who smokes and tries to cheat even more money out of you (say...1000yuan) in the name of holy charity or something.

Aaaand I seem to have not skipped that rant after all. You have been warned.

What a despairing note to end my trip journal on...
At least I enjoyed most of it!

# 完 / THE END #
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阆中(LangZhong): 古城(Ancient City)

# # # china's only female emperor # # #

Forgot to mention this fun tidbit about GuangYuan, birthplace of China's only female emperor, 武则天 WuZeTian.
The phoenix, to the Chinese, is the "representative" of the female (usually women of power or brides), while the dragon represents the male (usually kings or grooms). On the day of her birth, it is said a phoenix circled once overhead and then flew to the Eastern Mountains. The mountain was then renamed to 凤凰山(Phoenix Mountain).
There is also a 凤凰楼(Phoenix Tower) that's closely related to her life:
When she was 14, WuZeTian was brought into the palace as a scholar; the tower had 14 levels.
After her benefactor's death, WuZeTian assumed the throne and ruled for 42 years; the tower is said to have been 42 meters tall.
Chinese are very superstitious people (at least, those who keep traditional beliefs/values), and often they see coincidences as fate. On the other hand, they may approximate things to make them coincidences, and thus "fate", one can never be sure.

In the front hall of the hotel we stayed at on Day 8, there was a decorated plate with an image of a Phoenix sitting on a 梧桐(Chinese parasol tree), surrounded by 牡丹(peonies), all symbols of women. Also, it is said that "if you plant a wutong tree outside your home, a phoenix will surely come".

We left GuangYuan without seeing any special attractions there though.

# # # good old old old days # # #

Next stop was the Ancient City of LangZhong, one of the four most well-preserved ancient cities in China.
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# # # majiang/mahjong # # #

Because there were some conveniently located majiang rooms near where we parked the car, we spent the last good hour or so of our day playing (without money of course).
Fortunately, we played daodaohu (the version where we don't need to count points and can win as long as all our sets are complete) so I didn't quite fail as much in counting points...
Oh! And it was an "automatic majiang table" as you will see behind the cut.
# photo&video # )

# # # little butterfly # # #

Our "hotel" for the night is actually a room in one of several 四合院(courtyard houses) in the Ancient City. This particular one belonged to the Li Family. These courtyards are also open for tourists to explore.
Our room was called 蝴蝶儿(Little Butterfly). It's fabulous (sorta).
# photo&video # )
There were also two blackbirds in cages in the open courtyard. They can also copy human voices. Dad really liked playing with them. So far, I've only heard them say 你好/Hello and 恭喜发财/Wish you good fortune in a SiChuan accent.

More photos of the courtyard tomorrow morning when it's less pitch black.
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汉中(HanZhong): 古栈道(Historical Army Path)
广元(GuangYuan): hotel

# # # morning of fail # # #

What a day for the red demon to visit me this month.
Today's main attraction was basically a climbing exercise and my haywire hormones + the scorching sun didn't help one bit.

# # # clay figurines and statues # # #

The Historical Army Path was supposed to be this mountain path that the armies of the Three Kingdoms era had forged as they crossed the mountains. There were little clay figures along the route to the Path that depict some of the events from the Three Kingdoms, like LiuBei visiting ZhuGeLiang three times to scout him as his advisor and some key battles/meetings.
There were also lots of statues (new ones built for the tourist site) of famous emperors and generals.
# photos # )

The actual Army Path was to be reached by climbing a couple million steps along the mountain and I really wasn't up for that much exercise while I'm cramping and overheating. So basically I gave up.

Instead, we walked over this really long drawbridge (labeled "Lover's Bridge"...though it was kinda too narrow for two average people to walk across side by side) and played by this pretty (artificially directed) waterfall that flows into the river the bridge hangs over. Dad and Jeff got down to the water's edge and started catching shrimp from under the rocks. Dad-2, Jeff-1.
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And then, another full afternoon of driving.

# # # more photos # # #

Updated my deviantART account with photos from the roadtrip. Mostly the lotus fields and the bee closeups so far.
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宝鸡(BaoJi): 嘉陵江源头(Source of JiaLing River)
凤县(FengXian): lunch
汉中(HanZhong): hotel

# # # waterfalls and bees # # #

Arms and legs were sore this morning from the boat-rowing and mud-stepping of yesterday.

Today's stop was going up the mountains near BaoJi to where the JiaLing River begins. Dad was particularly enthusiastic because the JiaLing River "ends" and merges with the Yellow River in ChongQing (where he lives), so he wants to see where it "starts".

The road up was pretty cool too because there were two "mini-waterfalls" that cross the road. Dad likes to refer to it as a free under-car wash.
First sightseeing area was the "first waterfall" from where the river begins. It pours over a 35m long slab of rock. The water's really cold, but unlike most other rivers we've seen, this one doesn't start from an ice cap (it's too hot there).
# photos # )

Main attraction was, of course, the actual "source"...which wasn't really the source.
It was more like a slab of stone that says "source of JiaLing River" beside a small branch of the source. Such a rip off.
Besides that though, there were lots of huge bees collecting honey and butterflies collecting pollen along the path to the source so I snapped a few macros (which aren't really HQ since I'm using a very basic digicam).
# photos # )

And then, the stairs of EPIC DOOM.
Basically there was this "sun watching" platform or something as the next stop, but parents gave up right away 'cause it was too high up. So Jeff and I climbed...and climbed...and climbed.
The lack of oxygen at that altitude didn't help at all.
The view wasn't really special either...maybe because it's supposed to be for watching sunrises/sunsets and we were there at...noon.
We counted afterwards...there were two hundred and eighty-seven steps.
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And then I slept for a few hours.

# # # phoenix: firebird or not? # # #

Woke up just as we entered FengXian (City of the Phoenix). Not exactly sure of why it's named that though...

Got into a heated debate on whether the "Chinese phoenix" was an actual bird, or if it is similar to the western myth of the fire bird. I swear I read somewhere that the fenghuang (Chinese name for "phoenix") was an ancient bird that really existed once. Then again I was probably 10 and my memory might have been compromised...

The city's gates had a really pretty hedge sculpture of a phoenix that Jeff snapped a photo of.
# photo # )
Ate lunch there. It was a really busy little town, there were decorations everywhere in preparation for Dragon Boat Races, and there are statues of the Twelve Zodiac Animals along it's main street (no photos of those, some were covered up).

Arrived in HanZhong pretty early (6PM) considering our usual arrival times (approx. 8-9PM).
This place is supposed to be the Motherland of the Han culture or something? So I'm expecting to see lot of relics tomorrow. Maybe.

Yay new journal layout!
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河阳(HeYang): 河阳斜塔 (Leaning Tower of HeYang)
洽川(QiaChuan): 黄河漂流(Yellow River Rafting)
宝鸡(BaoJi): hotel

# # # treasure chicken # # #

Before I say anything...just need to mention that the city I'm staying at tonight is called "Treasure Chicken"...that is fabulous.

# # # leaning tower of... # # #

First tourist site (and I use that term loosely) was the Leaning Tower of...HeYang.
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Not entirely epic.
It was just kinda...there.
Took pictures of Jeff posing with it...and the clock tower thing in front.

Kinda boring really, at least we didn't have to buy tickets (it seems every tourist attraction in China comes with an entrance price).

# # # rafting, mudbath and swallows # # #

Went "rafting" on the Yellow River today. I say that with quotes 'cause it's more like rowing a rubber boat down a really wide and extremely calm river...

Anywho, the Yellow River is supposedly the Mother River of China, along which our ancestors lived thousands of years ago. It's narrowed down a lot since then. The river water is actually yellow, I think due to the yellow soil that it carries from upstream (the aforementioned yellow mountains yesterday).

So basically rowed downstream for a bit and got off where some of the mud breaks the surface, like little stretches of muddy beaches in the middle of the lake. Some of the mud was extremely slippery since they're wet and there are rocks beneath them, but other parts are dry like sand, and the most fun parts are where they act like quicksand (quickmud?) and you sink down if you stand in one place for too long...especially in the parts that are covered by water. It looks vaguely like this (but we were more practical with our clothes and made sure not to sink that far).
Whole feet were covered in mud by the end of it...kinda like one of those mud spas for feet or something. In fact I still have some mud caked on my leg...

Ate lunch at a 农家乐/Farmer's Bed&Breakfast type place. The fish was delicious.
What was more interesting was that the particular house we went to had swallows. They put a cardboard box outside under their roof ledge as a makeshift nest (because in ancient times houses had roof beams where the swallows could make their own nests). The swallows are supposed to be a sign of good fortune, it's adorable seeing them perched on the string they set up beside the box...kinda like having swallows as pets minus the cage.
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# # # lotus fields and sunsets # # #

Also took lots of pictures of the lotus fields/farms near the river.
According to the locals, they only export the lotus roots. (pics to come later)

Spent most of rest of day driving (and me in particular, sleeping). Woke up in time to snap a few pictures of the sunset. The sun's pretty huge in this part of the world.

# photos # )
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山西-陕西(ShanXi-ShaanXi border): 壶口瀑布(HuKou Falls)
河京(HeJing): hotel

# # # mini book review # # #

Spent most of last night reading The Strangler. It's kinda addicting, a novel that's grabbed my attention hasn't happened for a few years now...The plot seems to be all over the place, but that's kinda refreshing since each brother is caught up in a different facet, facing their own's like reading separate stories following each brother (the demoted cop patrolling an area slated for demolition, the lawyer working on catching the serial killer, and the master thief dealing with the local mafia) that all somehow relate to a cumulative evil plan or something.
Each brother is also sorta equally suspicious for somehow being a "bad guy" since each has their quirks that is touched upon (gambler cop, lawyer with migranes/black outs, master thief that disappears on occasion and is detached from everything), but no details or clues are slapped in anyone's face.

# # # rocks (don't really) fall # # #

Today's roads were pretty dangerous, mostly since there's lots of construction going on and rocks were falling/hanging dangerously and roads are blocked by giant trucks.

And because I promised [personal profile] wingstodust photos of yellow soil:
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# # # donkey riding # # #

Today's main attraction was the HuKou Falls on the Yellow River that serves as the border between ShanXi and ShaanXi.

Got to ride a donkey around the rocky ledges (15yuan). Had to hold on to the saddle since the dude was leading, but it was really the hang of going uphill/vice versa after a few bumps though.
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Otherwise, not much to see except the yellow-soil mountains slowly transitioning into rocky ones.

# # # caves of death # # #

Mom was talking about how the old civilizations that lived in the area used to trap the elderly in caves (called 老人洞/Old People Caves) and leave them to starve to death once they become a burden to the family...

People now still live in some of the caves, or use them as storage for apples (apparently THE fruit of LuoChuan).
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西安(XiAn): foreign bookstore, 碑林 (Forest of Stone Engravings)
黄陵(HuangLing): 黄帝陵 (Emperor Huang's Grave)
洛川(LuoChuan): hotel

# # # boooooooks # # #

Felt like I had slept in today, but actually got up around 9AM. Hm.

Headed to the foreign/english book store and got 'The Strangler' by William Landay because I like stories with brothers...and it actually seems to have a promising mystery to it. As expected, the brother dynamics are really interesting and characters are well fleshed-out. Writing style is also kinda unique and not too pretentious.

Jeff got two volumes of the complete Sherlock Holmes stories. He is gonna have to share.

# # # ancient handwriting is just as bad # # #

Next, visited Forest of Stone Engravings (god English names sound so lame). It was a temple/gallery some emperor had set up to collect and display engraved stone tablets he's collected. Saw lots of interesting scripts people used to carve their poems/essays in.
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Bought a book with collections of what's carved on most of the tablets. Ended up buying a script brush too.
This has renewed my willingness to pick up/relearn Chinese...Traditional Chinese. I'm kinda masochistic like that.

Also took lots of pictures of the architecture for that wuxia story I'm working on writing/illustrating. ...knowing me it'll take me another 10 years to finish plotting it...
# photos # )

Jeff got his own personal stamp thing. His Chinese name is so gorgeous/special I'm still extremely envious.

# # # kthxbai # # #

Spent rest of today driving as well.

Was headed for the grave site of the first "Emperor" of China, 黄帝(HuangDi aka Yellow Emperor), but there were no good hotels and we ended up just taking two photos. Mom mentioned nothing was dug up for exhibition anyways so...

Staying at a hotel in LuoChuan instead. Not that much better but the bathrooms are passable at least.
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西安(XiAn): 兵马俑(Terracotta Warriors Exhibit), 半坡博物馆(BanPo Museum)

# # # china needs better street signs # # #

Got lost on the road today, Betty/Baity (nickname for GPS) wasn't updated and got us lost. Good thing Heity (nickname for Mom...this is a Chinese pun on black&white...) was there to help.

Had hotpot for lunch.
Mutton hotpot is yummy but I like beef better.

# # # three pits, a tiger, and an apron # # #

Went to Terracotta Warriors Exhibit first, had to walk uphill for a pretty long time...didn't bring umbrellas so basically got fried.

All three pits were all pretty interesting. Dad's been there for the 9th time.

First Pit was huge, the hole in the middle's apparently a tomb made by local people before the pit was discovered.
Most of the full statues seem to be replicas.
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It's actually quite magnificent, even though it was the product of a tyrant emperor enslaving half the peasant Chinese population for his own selfish needs.
To this day, many parts of the tomb still haven't been opened in fear of a) setting off the hundred-year-old traps and b) exposing the rest of the tomb to outside air (why most of the original terracotta statues have eroded).

Second Pit was smaller, most of them were tops of the wooden beams that have caved in...not much stuff to see. Seemed to have burial chambers, some broken statues.
There were also some "restored" statues that have been brought out of the pits that were put on display 'cause really, the second pit is pretty boring.
# photos # )
Also, here's a visual comparison for the ranks of each warrior, according to headgear and armor (from left: Cavalryman, Charioteer/Chariot Soldiers, High-ranking Officer).

Third Pit was smallest, contained statues of generals and acted as "command center".
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Bought two souveniers, a small toy tiger (like the traditional colorful ones I played with when I was a kid), and a red, embroided DuDou (Jeff calls it an apron).
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# # # fossils, kilns, and lonely birds # # #

Next, went to visit a museum for the ancient civilization living in the BanPo area 6000 years ago.

Lots of animal fossils in the second gallery and pottery in the first.
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The main museum housed an excavated settlement site with post holes and pits made for homes.
They also had a large moat running around the border of their settlement to keep other tribes from invading.
What I found most interesting was the ways they buried their dead: there were the typical "common" burials, jars for children, and then deviant burials with different positions, as well as homosexual group burials.

At the back of the exhibit was a small gallery for how their kilns looked and worked.
# photos # )
Found a peacock and large white rooster in the "large model village" (more like restaurant made to look like a village) out back. The birds must have been lonely in that deserted place (I think the rooster went to keep the peacock company under the bush it was hiding in as we left...adorable).

Took a bristlegrass with me ("dogtail grass" in Chinese) to play fake caterpillar.

# # # shoes # # #

Went out tonight to look for the foreign book shop for Jeff, but it closed before we got there. Went to the shoe store next to it to buy Jeff some new shoes instead.
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西安(XiAn): hotel

# # # holes and bridges # # #

Another day on the road, yay.
Passed lotsa holes in the mountains (hundreds?) and bridges (hundreds?).

Dead cockroach in the restaurant we stopped by at lunch for.
Mom learned to use "fail", it was adorable (especially when it applied to Jeff).

Invented new roadtrip game with Jeff's Magic Cards...but got carsick from reading off them...

# # # walls # # #

Really nice hotel tonight.

XiAn surrounded by (restored) ancient city walls, never got a good enough look though, always passing through but never stopping near it.

Clock Tower and Drum Tower in the middle of the city, one for announcing time, the other for boosting army morale.
# photos # )
And I am way too amused by my mother asking whether we should go up the city walls from the inside of the city or outside (it's a tourist stop now).
It would be quite useless to the city if people could just get up there from the outside, wouldn't you think? Heh.

Too tired to explore much tonight.
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重庆(ChongQing): home
镇巴(ZhenBa): hotel

# # # clouds # # #

Rode on a car all day. Passed loads of mountains, practically drove on clouds for those stretches of road.
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# # # numb-tongue # # #

Surprisingly ZhenBa had a pretty nice hotel.

Ate at a night market tonight, food was so spicy my mouth felt numb the entire time. Too bad the octopus tasted like a pile of nothing after getting rid of the peppers.
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