Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wangcang, China

I have a student, Vivian, who lives in a suburb of Guangyuan, China, called Wangcang.  She invited Kirk and I to visit for the weekend, along with her roommate, Wendy.  We took the 4 hour bus ride from Chengdu and arrived in time for lunch with her parents.  Her father is a director in the local Communist Party and we were not allowed to photograph him.  They were very welcoming to us and we had a real China family experience.
Karen, Vivian's mother, Vivian and Wendy

Vivian's parents don't speak English, so we are always trying to get Vivian to translate for us.  She sometimes does!  We never know if what we are trying to say gets across.  After lunch (a local Chinese specialties feast), we went to the hotel to rest, another Chinese tradition, like a siesta.

The family has a 22-yr-old driver, actually a nephew, who usually drives, but Vivian's mother drove us out to visit her old home town, and home to the Fourth Front Red Army when the Communists organized here as they prepared for part of their Long March.

Many of the shops were closed up because this was still part of the Chinese New Year holiday, but the flags are all still out.

The carvings in the wooden panels on the walls and doors show Red Army soldiers.  The people here loved the Red Army because they took land from the landlords and gave it to the people, they taught the peasants to read, there was no pillaging, raping or killing, and they lived peaceably and shared all. 

Red Army Museum

The town has a traditional Red Army bread, so we had to try some.  It was pretty dry!

An important part of the Red Army social network was the Theater.  Every night, performances were given for training and promoting the Red Army agenda.  The museum showed clips from some of the performances and shows.
THE POSE for the theater, according to Vivian.  Here I'm on stage.

The musicians had some unique instruments.

 The Army was here from November 1934 to April, 1935, when they evacuated the town.  It was amazing to see how developed and prosperous the town became in that short time.  The locals welcomed them, as they were much more humane than the Kuomintang Nationalists at that time.

Vivian's mother took us down an alleyway to her childhood home where we met her parents.  Vivian's grandfather had joined as a volunteer in the Red Army when they were here.

Vivian, her mother, and her mother's parents.
We walked around the old town area with the town square monuments, sculptures and local folks.

Cabbage out to dry on the roof.

 Monuments to the Fourth Front Red Army.

The year of the Snake.  (See the little snake on the "window"?)  The banners on the posts and lintel of the front door (red, of course) are to drive away evil and bring good luck to the home in the new year.  I ponder where this tradition may have started....
More cabbage out to dry.

Every possible patch of ground has a small garden on it.  The vegetables all look so green and beautiful.  The Chinese almost never eat the vegetables fresh, however.  Everything is cooked or dried. 

As usual, I love to stop and say hello to the children.  Grandparents always encourage their little ones to say hello to the "foreigners".

This little doll has CURLY hair!!  So cute (and rare in China!)

After another meal with Vivian's parents in a private restaurant dining room complete with a TV to watch the soaps and a private WC, we went to try a Chinese staple in evening entertainment--KTV.

The entrance is covered in brightly-colored lights and looks like a posh Las Vegas night club.  These karaoke bars are very popular in China and you see one on every street.  It's not like karaoke in the US, though.  Everyone has a private room and you order food and drinks which are delivered to you.  Then you queue up your songs on the big-screen TV, eat, drink, and sit on the couch to sing.


They had me go first, and I stood in front to sing, but apparently, you're just supposed to sit on the couch.  Everyone took turns singing, even Kirk and Vivian's mother.  We were quite full from dinner, but the food kept coming and we gorged ourselves!

People had seen us go into our room, and soon we saw camera phones being held up to the small window in the door taking pictures of us.  Everyone wants a photo of the foreigners!  KTV was another China experience we had been wanting to try, and it didn't disappoint!

The next morning, our young driver sped like Mario Andretti up the canyon where we visited the Cangwang Gorges Geological and Ecological Resort.  WE WERE TERRIFIED!!  I just knew my children would never find my body or know what happened to me.  The roads are narrow with no guardrails, curving around mountain cliffs, and the driver would honk, as if that would stop the trucks from being in the center of the road.  We slid back and forth in our seats, praying constantly.  Fortunately, Vivian got VERY carsick which taught our young driver a lesson.  Our ride back down wasn't so harrowing.  That was truly the most frightening thing we've done in China.

This truck went off the treacherous road and is still waiting to be salvaged!
Once we got to the park, though, we had a thoroughly enjoyable 4-hour hike through some of the most beautiful country we've yet seen.

This outcrop looks like a large boot.

Imagine driving down this road at 70 mph! I shudder when I see it.

Placing a stick between rocks in a "rock shelf" is another "good luck" activity for the Chinese.

Lovely waterfall and clear, clean pool!

This area is called "the slot".  The gorge is so narrow here.
Look how clear this pool is!

 The highlight of the hike was the Qianlong Dragon Eighteen Ponds, or Eighteen Dragon Pools, or however you want to translate it.  It's a series of pools running into each other that made the "namers" think of a giant dragon.  There are two rocks that look like his eyes wedged inside the cavern.

The ramp at the left is man-made so you can get down inside the cavern.

Eighteen Dragon Pools

 This was really so beautiful, and the smooth rocks made it look like you could just float down from one to the next like Slide Rock in Sedona.  We didn't try that, though it was tempting.

We next hiked down the Longtan Gorge to the beautiful Longtan Waterfall.  Stairs, always stairs, on Chinese mountains.

 This is the Fairy Pool.

Who knew we'd find the "Celestial Valley" in China?
The blossoming trees were so beautiful!

We saw some animal life along the way.  There was a herd of wild mountain goats, and Vivian came running back to us as we were behind them on the path crying, "We can't go this way!  There is some animals blocking our path!"
Vivian is terrified of wild animals, so I had to go ahead to try to shoo the cow and her calf away.  They weren't very willing to move, so I told the girls to just walk quietly and don't run.  It was more than they could handle, but fortunately, the cattle were placid.
Look at Vivian's poor frightened face as she RAN past!

It was a long hike with lots of stairs and after four hours, I was pretty tired.  Wendy had worn high-heeled wedged shoes the whole walk.  I felt sorry for her!

Our ride back down the canyon was much slower, so we were able to enjoy the views along the way.

The beautiful yellow rapeseed (canola) plant colors the terraced hillsides.  Also, the white-blossomed fruit trees show spring in the air.
Is this Switzerland?
Although farmers are on the lowest class on the totem pole in China, and no one wants to look like a "peasant", the homes on the hillside are large and spacious, and the beautiful mountains would be a lovely back yard.  Multiple generations live in the homes, but they aren't crowded together like the apartments in town.

Back in town, we saw more fun sights.

This row of shoe shiners are lined up on the sidewalk, waiting for customers.
Just Do It?

There are no more rickshaws pulled by coolies, except at the tourist streets, but the modern bicycle version is popular in many towns.

We went to an obligatory Hot Pot dinner (you haven't been to Sichuan province if you haven't had Hot Pot), where bubbling, flavored broth and oil is in the center of the table and all sorts of vegetables, meats, fish and other unknown foods are dumped in, extracted with chopsticks, dipped in more oil and spices and consumed.  Everyone eats out of the same pot.  I tried duck blood.  Yeah, I couldn't believe it either.  It actually didn't taste too bad, but knowing what it was didn't help.  Kirk had gotten food poisoning the day before we came to Wangcang, and the unusual foods here didn't help him recover.  He tried to look like he was eating, while hiding things in his napkin.  After dinner, we were invited to Vivian's paternal grandparent's home where we were served more snacks and taught to play mahjong.  Vivian's parents play every day.  We ate sunflower seeds and sugar cane, and the custom is to spit the shells and fibers onto the floor.  Kirk said, "Who cleans it up?"  Vivian said, "Grandma will."  The mahjong table is electronic and it sorts and sets up the tiles, pushing them up through a trap door around the edges.  Then the dice is rolled by an electronic gadget, and when the game is over, the center circle of the table rises up as everyone shoves their tiles into the inside of the table for them to be sorted while a second set arises out of the trap door.  It's quite something.  It plays sort of like Rummikub.  Vivian's father saw I was learning to play and said it would be a contest between China and America.  When I won, I started singing "O Say Can You See".  They didn't get it.  Because it was the last day of the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year, we were served the traditional glutinous rice balls, a sweet, gooey dessert with a fruit-flavored center.  They tasted better than some "desserts" we've tried in China.  We were the only ones eating, though, so I wondered if no one else like them!

After a farewell lunch the next day, we went to see the ancient Buddhist Temple in town.  You are supposed to close your eyes and walk towards the character on the wall until you touch it, for good luck, of course.

 The temple was built into the side of a cliff, and you can see the niches in the rock with Buddhist statutes. 

Notice the dragon and the phoenix carved around the posts. 

Vivian was going back to Chengdu after having spent the holiday at home, so she packed up and her parents came with us to the bus station to say goodbye.  They handed us a couple of Chinese knots with bags of good luck and prosperity hanging on them as a souvenir.  What a fun experience to spend the weekend with this lovely Chinese family and see into the everyday lives of a Chinese family.


  1. We like glutinous rice balls:-) That Mahjong table sounds crazy!

  2. What breathtaking sights you are seeing and amazing experiences you are having. I am in awe! I never had ANY interest in traveling to China before, but now I am dying to go. I would love to do something like what you two are doing when we get to that stage in life (kids out of the house!)