Hong Kong

Hong Kong hiking- Braemar Hill


Hong Kong is covered with hills, and Hong Kong Island, where the main business and government offices are, is no different. It makes a very striking contrast when you have forested hills and skyscrapers juxtaposed with each other. Previously, I’ve posted about the Peak Lugard Road hike which provides the best urban sight from above in the world. Well, Braemar Hill, near North Point on the other side of the island, also provides fine urban views.
More specifically, these fine views can be seen atop a pile of boulders that form a vantage point called “hong xianglu feng” (紅香爐峰) in Chinese (according to Google Maps). What you see is on your left, Wan Chai and its distinctive Hong Kong Convention Center by the waterfront, and on your right, Kowloon. Further to the left or behind you are lush forested hills that make up Tai Tam Country Park. It was a bit hazy on the day I went there, so the views would be even better on a fine day. The dirt path to the boulders lies just off the main trail which is a concrete path.
The hike itself is not very hard, taking less than one and a half hours walking from the ground, though there are several trails that extend further south and towards higher hills. I headed up to Braemar Hill from Mount Parker Road which is several minutes’ walk west of Tai Koo MTR Station. There is an alternate route (I did it the opposite way from east to west).


It almost seems like skyscrapers grow on hills in HK

Nice view of a cruise ships and sailboats with Eastern Kowloon in the back

Black kite, Hong Kong’s most common bird of prey

Some kind of sailboat race or procession was going on 
   

The boulders from where you get the best views

The dirt path in the center, which is just off the main trail, leads to the boulders in the photo above.


It’s like you’re never far from a jungle of towers wherever you go in Hong Kong. This is at the beginning of the trail. 

 

China · China travel · Travel

Huangshan photo round-up

As we get set to move into the Year of the Rooster with Chinese New Year coming up on the weekend, enjoy this photo round-up from a CNY trip to Huangshan a few years ago. While it certainly wasn’t the best time to visit the mountain, it was still enjoyable enough.

The subject of countless paintings, photos and literary references, Huangshan is one of China’s most beautiful mountains, and it is not hard to see why. Despite not being able to hike around the paths at the top in full and having to share it with thousands of Chinese tourists, I was still able to experience some of the mountain’s beauty and magnificence.
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China · China travel · Travel

China travel- A Chinese New Year’s trip to Huangshan

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With Chinese New Year coming up in just a few weeks, it’s fitting I should finally write about my first Chinese New Year in China in 2014.

Back then in Beijing, I made a spontaneous decision one week in advance to travel to somewhere in the country, specifically Huangshan, one of China’s most famous mountains. In hindsight, it was a foolish decision and I learned my lesson not to travel to places at the exact same time as multitudes of Chinese. But, the trip was still kind of good. I didn’t go all the way to Anhui from Beijing just to visit Huangshan, but also Xidi and Hongcun, two grand old villages in the area that are also UNESCO World Heritage sites. Hongcun is especially beautiful, and scenes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were shot there.

I had long wanted to visit Huangshan, one of China’s most beautiful and famous mountains, its mist-covered slopes and pine trees a familiar image in countless photos and paintings. Its beauty has been paid tribute to in poems and ….. So when the New Year holiday came up and as I wasn’t going overseas, I decided to go to somewhere in China, thinking that the crowds would not be as bad as during the National Week in October (I was told this by at least one acquaintance as well). I deliberated between Shanxi (Pingyao and Datong) and Huangshan and the latter won out. However, I was going to spend several days in the area, which meant staying in Tunxi, a small town an hour away from Huangshan. Getting to Tunxi meant taking a high-speed train from Beijing to Nanjing, then taking a sleeper from there to Tunxi.

Situated in Central China, Anhui is probably best known, besides Huangshan, for being the setting of The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. Set in 1930s China, this novel follows the hard struggle of a peasant amid poverty, war and instability as he tries to move up in life. While China, and the province,  has long moved on from those terrible times, largely agricultural Anhui is still one of the country’s poorer provinces despite having rich neighbors like Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. Many migrant workers in the country, especially in Shanghai and Beijing (I also had a couple of colleagues and friends from there, though they weren’t migrant workers) hail from Anhui. However, Anhui is also the ancestral home of former Chinese President Hu Jintao and current Premier Li Keqiang.

But Anhui’s earthy reputation belies an interesting cultural heritage (Huizhou) that culminated in a distinct regional architectural style with black roofs and impressive wooden designs, which Xidi and Hongcun both feature some good examples of.

My trip was eventful even before it actually got underway because when I got into Nanjing, my favorite Chinese city actually, in the afternoon, I tried to find a bus to Tunxi but there wasn’t one since it was Chinese New Year. I then booked a ticket on a sleeper train but I had several hours to kill. As I wasn’t feeling to sightsee, I went to book a room at a nearby hotel. But what was supposedly a straightforward task turned out to be a jarring shock because I was turned away from several hotels because their system didn’t allow Hong Kongers (I’m one by virtue of birth and ID card) to book hourly rooms. I’d heard of similar experiences happening to Westerners when trying to book a regular room but I didn’t think this could happen to Hong Kongers as you know, being part of China. But finally I found one where the boss told his receptionist to let me stay, saying “it’s New Year, let him in,” displaying a fitting holiday generosity that was glaringly lacking from all the other hotels’ staff.

The train trip was straightforward and I got into the town in the morning, taking a taxi to my hotel, with the driver refusing to use the meter because “it’s New Year.” I went to the village of Xidi that first day, then went to Huangshan the next by a one-hour bus to Tangkou, a tourist village at the foot of the mountain. It seemed I arrived too late despite it being early afternoon, I learned that crowds would mean going up by cable car would take hours. My plan was to take the cable car up and hike around the paths on top because that was where the views were.

I had a decision to make – return to Tunxi and come back the next day bright and early, or stay in Tangkou for the night, thus paying extra for another hotel. I chose the latter because I wanted an early start. After I found a hotel, I took a walk through the village which provided some fantastic views of Huangshan from the ground. I did get that early start but apparently 6 am wasn’t early enough, because when I left my hotel at that time the next morning, I found the street filled with other tourists making their way to the car park to take the bus to Huangshan visitor center (from there, you then hike or take the cable car up the mountain). The car park itself was filled with people and the lines were crazy. Eventually I got into one and after what felt like an hour, got into a bus.
That felt like a relief, but it was temporary because when I arrived at the visitor center, I saw even more people than there were at the car park! When I approached the cable car station, the line was so long it started from the second floor or the station and extended downstairs and outside.

As before, my plan was to take the cable car up so I could hike around the top. With no choice now, I would have to hike to the top and hope I had enough time and energy to walk around the trails on the peak. As Huangshan is not that high, it took me about two and a half hours (fitter people can surely do it in less time), and while I was traveling solo, I was accompanied by dozens of Chinese. Some were in tour groups while others were with friends or family, and noone seemed to be hiking solo like me. Being in China, some of those folks just couldn’t keep quiet so there was a constant chorus of shouting, yelling, and throat-clearing, as well as music playing on little portable radios that some older hikers in China and Taiwan like using.

The nearer I reached the top, the better the views got and I was able to get a glimpse of the much vaunted peaks with clouds that Huangshan is famous for. It is a beautiful mountain up close, not just from afar, with its forested slopes and rocky granite peaks. Along the way, you’ll pass well-known rock formations and trees, such as the first photo on top, and these are even named, for example, “God Points Road” and “An Immortal Pointing the Way” (probably sounds better in Chinese).
But when I got to the top, I realized there was a lot of people there as well. I continued walking and got onto a trail, figuring the crowds would thin out along the mountaintop. But no, everywhere I went there were people, and the trails were so clogged, it was impossible to pass people. After continuing for over an hour, the sheer congestion meant I couldn’t make a circuit of the trail, and also I’d have to hurry back to the cable car station if I wanted to make it down by mid-afternoon. I hadn’t planned to stay another night in Tangkou as I wanted to get back to Tunxi.
I wish I had been able to hike around the paths on top and I feel I will return to do just that in future. Huangshan hasn’t seen the last of me yet!

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Lineup for the cable car at the foot of Huangshan, at 8 am. No way was I going to endure that, so I chose to hike up instead.
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The hike up was pleasant in some parts.

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The higher I got, the better the view as the mountaintop started appearing.
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There was a bit of the sea of clouds for which Huangshan is famous for.
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Lineup for the cable car at the top of Huangshan
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Perfect view of Huangshan from Tangkou
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Hong Kong

World’s best urban hike

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One really good thing about Hong Kong is that it is very hilly and a hiker’s paradise. Not many people may realize this because the main images of Hong Kong that always get shown are soaring skyscrapers and densely packed apartment towers. But from Lantau to Hong Kong Island to New Territories, these places are all covered by hilly terrain. The hills and mountains of Hong Kong and its concrete jungles are like worlds apart, except on Hong Kong Island, where there is one hike that combines the two and gives you the world’s best urban views from on high.

This would be the hike to the Peak along the Lugard Road trail, which I’ve done twice starting from my neighborhood, which required a lot of walking up steep and winding streets, and from Sai Ying Pun, closer to the route. Alternatively, you can go up to the Peak by taking the famous funicular tram or a bus, and then walk westwards. Either way, this trail provides a splendid view of Hong Kong Island’s array of corporate skyscrapers and apartment towers, the harbour, and the southern tip of bustling Kowloon across the body of water. On a good day, like the second time I went, you can look up north and see the hills where Kowloon ends and the New Territories begin in the distance.

The first time, in May, I meant to walk around upper Sheung Wan but when I realized it was close to a path to the Peak, I kept on walking until I reached it. Then I followed the trail, which actually is part of the Lungfu Shan Park, and took the southern route to the Peak which has nice views of the sea. It was actually quite hazy but the view was still quite good. After I reached the Peak, I took the northern route, the aforementioned Lugard Road trail, and then went back down. The second time, in mid-June, I went up from Sai Ying Pun, which is the district next to Sheung Wan, to the Lugard Road trail, reached the Peak, then turned around and went back to Sai Ying Pun. It was incredibly hot but the skies were so blue and the views amazing, so it was damn worth it.

Second hike (June)
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First hike (May)
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Starting from Sheung Wan
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One of Hong Kong’s many country parks, and probably its tiniest
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Southern part of Hong Kong Island, when hiking towards the Peak along the southern route

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Taking a break inside the Peak Tower, mostly for the air condition.
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China · China travel

Beijing travel- Xiangshan (Fragrant Hills)

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A lot of people probably don’t realize Beijing has mountains. This is because much of the city center is flat (and smog often obscures the views), but Beijing is actually ringed by mountains that extend from Haidian district all the way to the Great Wall and towards Hebei.
When I lived in Beijing, I only did two hikes near the city. Both were in Xiangshan (Fragrant Hills). Located in the northwestern part of the city in Haidian district, a little further beyond the old and new Summer Palaces, the 557-meter-tall Xiangshan is a decent, scenic choice for an outdoor outing. The whole place is a park, created all the way back in 1186, and was visited by emperors. At the foot of the hill are a garden, a Buddhist pagoda and Biyun Si (Temple of Azure Clouds), which features a large white stone pagoda called Vajrasana Pagoda. While Xiangshan isn’t too high, there is also a chair lift which I never took but I wish I did. The hill is nicely forested, though the path is a concrete stairway with little pavilions along the way. Interestingly, Biyun Si also has an exhibition dedicated to Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese political icon. This is because after Sun died in Beijing in 1925, his body was placed at the temple until being taken to Nanjing to be buried.

The first time I went there was in the afternoon and I only went halfway up the hill because I didn’t think I had enough time, but the second time I went up all the way. The summit was crowded with people, noisy and shouting and creating quite a commotion, as Chinese tend to do. On top, you can look onto urban Beijing but still feel that you are in a completely separate place, with forest and mountains all around you. You can even see the Summer Palace’s lake. I always intended to go back again, but given I lived all the way on the other side of the city, I never did.

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Continue reading “Beijing travel- Xiangshan (Fragrant Hills)”

Japan travel · Travel

Mt. Fuji photo roundup

Here are more photos of Mt. Fuji and Lake Kawaguchiko, which lies near the foot of the mountain.
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Almost as if I were soaring in the clouds
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Volcanic crater on the summit
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This is on the trail at the fifth station, where I started from
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Rock cairn on the summit
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Close to the top
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Looks like a grave  
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Heading down

Japan travel · Travel

Japan travel – Tateyama

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On my trip to Japan in 2013, between Kyoto and Tokyo, I stopped at Matsumoto. Now, Matsumoto is a nice town with a very impressive castle, but the main reason I stayed there was to go to nearby Tateyama, one of Japan’s holy mountains in the “Japan Alps.”

Tateyama features a giant dam and a scenic lake halfway to the top, which is surrounded by mountains. This route, called the Kurobe Tateyama Alpine Route, consists of a series of different modes of transportation – buses going through tunnels, cable car, and an uphill tram – which allow you to stop at certain points. At the highest stop Murodo, you can hike a couple of hours to the top of Tateyama or other mountains. Getting to Tateyama from Matsumoto first entailed taking a train to Shinano-Omachi station, then getting onto a shuttle bus to the Tateyama visitor center, where the actual alpine route started.
I’d gone to Tateyama many years before when I was in university as part of a tour group with my brother. Back then, we’d had to rush and we didn’t have much time to spend at each point, but I knew I wanted to come back.

This time, I was determined to get off at the top station and hike to the mountaintop, but unfortunately the weather didn’t play along. When I reached the dam, the sky was blue and calm though there were a few clouds. When I got out at the top station, the clouds had gotten thicker and there was slight rain. I walked around hoping the sky would clear, but instead it got worse. This was in late July but there was still some ice and hardened snow. I did go on the trail and passed numerous people coming down and I had to stop and go back when I could barely see up ahead.
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Starting off on the way up, as you can see here at Kurobe dam, the weather was fine.
Visitors can walk across the dam in the middle to the other side to continue the ascent to Tateyama.
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The top station has a wide “meadow” and a small lake as well as trails to get to several mountains including Tateyama.
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Starting off the actual hiking to the top of Tateyama
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Passed a lot of people coming down, including these schoolkids

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Going up, it looked good at one point but then the clouds came back again and it got really bad (see below).
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Coming back down, the weather was like this.
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One of the several forms of transport up and down the mountain
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A last look at the dam on the way back

The following photos are in random order:
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Saw these guys going down a slope from the cable car
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Probably the most amusing non-native English sign I’ve come across
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Field (rice maybe) on the way back to Matsumoto

Taiwan

The best views of Taipei

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One of the great things about Taipei is the amount of good hiking that’s possible because of the many hills and mountains that surround it. In the north, especially in Neihu where I used to live, there’re several hills/small mountains where you can enjoy splendid views. My favorite place in the city is the top of one of these hills actually – Jinmianshan. While it’s not very high, you can see all the way to Taipei 101 on the opposite side of the city, much of Neihu’s business district, as well as Dahu lake and Songshan airport.

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IMG_1734This is the exact same view as the third photo, but in 2012 which is why there’s this red-and-white electricity tower smack in the middle.

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DSC08483 This was on New Year’s Day 2011, right after the fireworks display at Taipei 101, on the left, finished.DSC01707The National Palace Museum seen from the opposite hillside.DSC01535

DSC03228aThe more challenging path to Jinmianshan where you clamber over boulders.

China · China travel · Travel

Huashan photo roundup 2

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This will be the final post on my visit to Huashan late last year. I’ve taken an embarrassingly long time to write and put up photos about it, so I’m finally done. I’ve still got my Luoyang and Shaolin Temple writeups to do, so those will come later. All these photos were taken on the second day I was on Huashan, and the sky really was that blue and clear.

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The view from North Peak, the lowest of Huashan’s five peaks.

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I never knew bare rock could look so good – neighboring mountains from South Peak. 

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On Cangling Ling (Green Dragon Ridge). See all the laborers along the left? One of them is carrying a door! 

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The cable car was in operation bright and early at 8.15 in the morning.

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“Mountain” of lucky locks. The red ribbons have messages about good fortune about different things like love or work.

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A look outside soon after sunrise, taken from my hotel.

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On the not-so-scenic Central Peak, which lies below and between South and East Peak.

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Three paths, three varying degrees of difficulty. I chose the middle one.

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A hermit cave, dating back over 800 years ago.

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Strays or employees’ pets, I’m not sure how these cats were here, but it was a cute sight.

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Walking down from Central Peak to South Peak, where the buildings are in the distance. 

China · China travel · Travel

Huashan- the second day

DSC01154 DSC01129 I woke up relatively early the next day on Huashan at about 6. I got up to just see the sun rise up through my dorm window but stupidly, was too lazy to take much photos. I went back to sleep a bit, but by 7.30 I was on my way out. I first climbed to the hilltop above the hotel, the real North Peak. There was a platform on the top where you could see a magnificent view of the rest of Huashan as well as the surrounding mountains and in the opposite direction, the city (Huayi) in the plains north of Huashan. I then set off towards Huashan, passing through the hotel courtyard which had a shrine. At the side futher down, the cable cars were already in motion, this being 8 am, a clear testament how industrious Chinese are and how seriously they take tourism, even at such a holy site as Huashan. The weather was brilliant on this new day. The sky was clear blue, a complete difference from the previous day which had been mostly gray and overcast. I was a little disappointed that there were to be no low cloud layers below the mountain, which I’d looked forward to from pictures of Huashan and Huangshan. There were hikers all around, despite it being morning, as well as porters carrying their heavy loads up the steep stairs. DSC01208 I headed to East Peak, the last major peak that I hadn’t gone to the previous day. Passing Gold Lock Pass, I turned left instead of right, and soon I reached a forested area. I climbed up to a long rocky ledge which somehow was East Peak. Unlike South, North, and West Peaks, there was no sign signifying this was East Peak. I soon came upon a hostel and temple, and further down I saw the distinct chess pavilion, which I recognized from photos I’d seen online, on a narrow ledge that was below. I’d wanted to go there, but I only realized at that point the only way to go there was through a risky climb down the cliff and across a narrow ledge. This was the Sparrow Hawk Steps, one of the two most dangerous points on Huashan, and you could only access it by paying 30RMB and using a harness and rope. I thought about it, but decided I’d rather just enjoy the mountain without risking my life. The other most dangerous point was the notorious Cliffside Plank Walk, which you can see on videos on Youtube, located near South Peak. Apparently the “walk” used to, literally, be walking along the cliff on a narrow wooden path while clinging on to iron chains against the cliff wall. Only one person could walk along this path, which had a cliff wall on one side and an open air and a 2,000m+ drop on the other. You can see why this is considered the most dangerous hike in the world by some people. Now, the authorities have ensured people can only do this walk with harnesses and pay a 30RMB fee, as with the previous precarious path. If people are going to risk their lives, better to make it safer and make a little money at the same time. A smart concept. Getting to the cliff walk was a little adventure too. You first pass through a small cavern before emerging onto a narrow path where only a metal chain attached to posts preventing you from falling off the cliff. If you want to actually do the cliff walk, you’d have to pass a gate, put on your harness and then climb down the cliff until you reached the cliff walk path. DSC03270 DSC03321 In betwen South Peak and East Peak, I went onto Central Peak, which was a shorter summit that was completed surrounded and in between the two other peaks. There were two abandoned buildings on it, otherwise there wasn’t much to see. I’d bumped into the Cantonese couple from my dorm while I was admiring the Chess pavilion on East Peak, and then again when I was heading down from South Peak. This second time, we were pretty happy to see each other again as we all knew it was the last time we’d meet. DSC03305 DSC03482 I reached my hostel on time to check out and take the cable car down by 3.00. I squeezed into the cable car with a family from Sichuan, which included a young lady in a nice short black dress which was absolutely the right kind of attire for visiting a holy mountain. I know they’re from Sichuan because of their language, which I’d asked them to be certain. I then took the shuttle bus to the visitor center, where I tried to locate the taxis outside. After about 5 minutes, screw it, I said, and called my driver from the previous day, Mr. Bao, who sped up the driveway because I was short on time. While taking me to Huashan high-speed rail station, I mentioned I worked in Taiwan. Mr. Bao reacted pleasantly to this, and told me he often read Taiwan news on the Internet. It’s censored in China so he’d have to “jump” the gov’t firewall (which is used in China to restrict Internet access to sensitive websites and content). We spoke a bit about democracy and the lack of it in China. We parted amiably and I got onto my train to Luoyang on time, where I was to get a pleasant shock onboard. DSC03460 DSC03303 DSC03301 Sign about the Cliff Walk. Apparently you can get your photo taken but by what I’m not sure since I didn’t go on it. The people are all wearing harnesses, which is basically the only thing keeping them from plunging thousands of feet into the valley below. DSC01156 DSC01239 Fir forest on the way to East Peak. DSC03478 A laborer carries a heavy load up this near-vertical staircase using just one hand to hold on, while a cleaner (guy in red) sweeps below. The cleaner then went up the staircase as well to sweep every step, whilst holding the dustpan at the same time! In other words, he walked up this staircase without holding on to anything.  DSC01147

Shrine that was above the North Peak hotel where I stayed in.