Fenghuang

mike’s reflections on china

In late January, my husband Mike traveled from Virginia to visit me here in China.  We went to Hunan province, where we visited Fenghuang and Zhangjiajie, and to Guangxi, where we visited Guilin and Yangshuo.  I was disappointed for him because we had horrible weather for nearly the whole time he was here.  His one and only experience of China was a rainy, fog-enshrouded, cold and gloomy one.  In his reflections below, you can see that despite our hardships, he managed to see the experience as a positive one.  This was more than I could say for myself, but then I’ve seen better days in China.

Mike eats dumplings at the Red Sign

Mike eats dumplings at the Red Sign

Here are Mike’s reflections, along with some of the photos he took.

——————————————————–

After Cathy decided to go to China to teach this year she suggested that I should plan on visiting and traveling with her on one of her breaks. My initial reaction was less than enthusiastic. My first inclination is to plan relaxing, stress-free, outdoorsy vacations away from crowds and the fast-paced life I deal with in the DC suburbs. After giving the idea some thought and talking more with Cathy, I committed, leaving the planning to her, providing feedback on trip options when asked. I am an avid reader, like Cathy, and have an interest in cultural anthropology and world history, which I get from a fictional and non-fictional perspective. In addition to having the opportunity to spend some time with my nomad wife, I would see firsthand how one in five people on our planet live.

a wedding in the streets of Fenghuang

a wedding in the streets of Fenghuang

I knew from the outset that this trip would be a challenge, starting and ending with the long time-zone crossing flights halfway around the globe. From Cathy’s early travel experiences in China I knew that our in-country travels would not be easy. Neither of us are much on tour groups, preferring the freedom to move about at our own pace, surrounded by local folks, being forced to figure things out on our own. That‘s half the adventure. The apprehension we felt every time we ventured out to our next destination was rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and relief upon arrival. I came with no expectations other than to relish the uniqueness of China. Cathy put a lot of time and energy into our itinerary, hoping to show me the picturesque and historic side of Guangxi and Hunan provinces. You seasoned travelers understand the tenuous balance between trying to visit as many places as possible within a tight time window and allowing oneself the time to soak in the essence of each layover, and recharge, before diving in to the next adventure. I felt like we achieved that balance.

Fenghuang

Fenghuang

Cathy was very honest on her blog in describing her disappointment with the cool damp weather during my visit. Besides yielding a series of fog shrouded photos for her blog, she was sad for me. I am sure that many travel bloggers portray only the positive aspects of their trips, which is not reality. You have to accept and learn to deal with weather and other circumstances that don’t go your way. I like how Cathy freely shares her personal frustrations in her blogs.

Yes, I would have enjoyed some clear sunny days, but I was so alert to the sights, sounds, smells and the way of life wherever we went that the weather had much less of an impact on me than Cathy. The mist encased quartz-sandstone pillars of Zhangjiajie and the limestone karsts of Yangshuo looked whimsical and mysterious. The one rainy day where we didn’t go trekking was spent lounging in bed reading and treating ourselves to a muscle relaxing massage. That was just what we needed, some down time to recover.

Zhangjiajie

Zhangjiajie

I was constantly fascinated by assorted modes of transportation, the unified flow of scooters, bikes and buses on the crowded streets and dusty rural roads, the lack of heat throughout, the family way of life in the shops, service bays, and eateries, the variety of critters and body parts offered on the menus, the placid acceptance of a quality of life that few westerners could imagine, the third world toilets, the often derelict trains and train stations, the rural communal hamlets we cycled through, the villagers laboring in the never-ending fields, and the general friendliness of the people we encountered.

I wanted to see where Cathy lived, where she worked, the students she taught, where she shopped and ate, how she traveled, the soul and spirit of the bustling cities, the steady march of the rural farms, so I could get a sense for the environment she moved about in during her life in Guangxi. Thankfully those impressions will now be with me for the rest of her stay in Nanning, sensory impressions catalogued and brought to mind as she shares with me her weekly recap on Skype. Instead of her face and the stories she tells in words, I will see much more.

The Yangshuo countryside during a rainy bike ride

The Yangshuo countryside during a rainy bike ride

There are so many memories and images that come to mind from our two-week excursion, all fascinating to me, many of which Cathy has already shared in her blog. Some of these memories can’t be captured by pictures and words. They were moments of interaction, on some level, with others, in a land where one feels so isolated, despite being surrounded by 1.3 billion people. The thirteen hour plane ride seated next to a mother and her young son from Mongolia on their return trip from studying at the international school in Miami, Florida, the respectful sharing of a small train compartment for twelve hours with two young strangers, the prideful smile on the face of our dumpling lady in Fenghuang who was thrilled to see us show up for breakfast three mornings in a row, the conversation with a young woman, employed in international sales, on our boat ride on Baofang Lake, the engaging conversation with Duco, the young Dutch backpacker, on our bus ride to Yangshuo, the family we traveled with on our Li river bamboo raft, and the many challenging interactions arising from the language barrier at every twist and turn.

the town of Yangshuo

the town of Yangshuo

In one of Cathy’s blogs about Alex’s time in China she mentions a tension-filled afternoon. This is to be expected, in less than ideal travel situations and close quarters, as individual expectations collide with circumstances and each other. I suppose the key to traveling with someone else, successfully, is to recognize that this will happen and what to do when it does happen. I think in Alex and Cathy’s case, space and time was all they needed, and by the evening they were fine. It was surprising to me given all of the traveling we did and the inclement weather we encountered that we didn’t really encounter any moments of tension. Perhaps I’ll chalk that up to my laid back nature; HA! Just joking Cathy, I know it takes two to make this happen.

In looking back on my two weeks in China, followed by Alex’s two weeks, followed by Cathy’s trip to Myanmar, I am amazed at Cathy’s stamina, especially in light of the cough she came down with on our trip. Both Alex and I were exhausted after our short journeys. I can’t even begin to imagine doing that for six weeks. Cathy is like the Energizer Bunny, she keeps going and going and going!!!

the Yangshuo countryside on the way back to Guilin

the Yangshuo countryside on the way back to Guilin

As I left China I realized that this was truly a once-in-a-life experience. It is an experience that for myself, and for Alex, will resurface in years to come as we put global events into perspective, as a result of having the opportunity to glimpse a way of life so different from our own. I am thankful for that opportunity.

Categories: Airplane, Asia, Baofeng Lake Scenic Spot, Bicycle tour, Bus, Changsha, China, Fenghuang, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Holidays, Hunan, Jishou, Li River, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Seven Star Tea Plantation, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Spring Festival, Train, Transportation, Travel, West Street, Wulingyuan Scenic Reserve, Xi Jie, Xianggong Hill, Yangshuo, Yangshuo River View Hotel, Zhangjiajie, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

a train to zhangjiajie & an afternoon at baofeng lake scenic spot

Friday, January 23:  Everyone should know by now my aversion to buses, especially those of the Chinese variety.  Usually I won’t submit to one over two hours long, opting for a train or a plane if possible.  Sometimes I’ll even pay a taxi an exorbitant sum just to avoid them.  In this case, we need to get back to Jishou this morning for a 10:48 train to Zhangjiajie, only about an hour’s bus ride, but I still don’t want to take the bus.  We decide we’ll pay for a taxi, directly from our hotel to Jishou.  I can’t remember the amount we pay, but whatever it is, it’s worth it.  Sometimes I don’t care about money and I will opt for comfort and convenience over all else.

We arrive at the Jishou train station and wait with the usual hordes to board.  This is not a fast train, but an older one that makes numerous stops along the way. I love the new comfortable bullet trains, but I couldn’t find one for this trip.  This one is due to arrive in Zhangjiajie at 12:33, but as it’s late to arrive in Jishou, it’s also late to arrive at our destination.

Me at the Jishou train station - photo taken by Mike

Me at the Jishou train station – photo taken by Mike

The seats on this one are a little cramped, with three seats facing another three seats.  These are called the hard seats and were the only option on this train.  The bullet trains have only two soft and larger comfortable seats on them, and they all face forward.  It seems every college student in Hunan province is on this one.  They all have the same break from school that I do.

Me on the train to Zhangjiajie - photo by Mike

Me on the train to Zhangjiajie – photo by Mike

Somehow, Angela, my student helper who bought these tickets for me, wasn’t able to get seats for Mike and I together.  However, he’s sitting behind me, back to back.

Mike's travel companions - photo by Mike

My facing travel companions – photo by Mike

Here’s a view of our whole car. Notice how everyone’s on their mobile phones.

Our train from Jishou to Zhangjiajie - photo by Mike

Our train from Jishou to Zhangjiajie – photo by Mike

And of course, we must have at least one picture of a Chinese train toilet.

The squat toilet on the train - photo by Mike

The squat toilet on the train – photo by Mike

Zhangjiajie must be a big destination because the train station here is sprawling and relatively new.  New buildings in China seem to always be large to accommodate the large crowds of people.

the train station at Zhangjiajie - photo by Mike

the train station at Zhangjiajie – photo by Mike

Mike was worried about heating in our hotels, as I told him that I’ve heard there is no heat generally in Chinese buildings south of the Yangtze River in China.  He asked me to book us a nice hotel in Zhangjiajie, so I booked the Hotel Pullman Zhangjiajie, which is a real treat.  It turns out we don’t encounter many heating problems in our hotels generally, but this one is exceptionally toasty.  Most of the older buildings have wall unit air-conditioners that double as heaters, but they’re not that warm unless you happen to be right under them.

Our room at the Hotel Pullman - photo by Mike

Our room at the Hotel Pullman – photo by Mike

We have a great view of the pool below, but of course it is too cold to enjoy a pool.

the view from our room - photo by Mike

the view from our room – photo by Mike

The best thing about the room is the bathtub.  I love a long hot soak, and am normally a daily bath taker when I’m at home in Virginia.  Sadly, I’ve had to give up my baths for the most part when I’ve lived abroad.  I also like that the folding doors open up to the rest of the room so you can have a bath with a view!

the view from the bathroom (with bathtub) - photo by Mike

the view from the bathroom (with bathtub) – photo by Mike

Since it’s late afternoon by the time we settle in and eat some outrageously expensive pasta for lunch at the hotel, we decide to visit Baofeng Lake Scenic Area, which will not be so time-consuming as the Wulingyuan Scenic Reserve (widely known as Zhangjiajie).  At the entrance, a sign states that senior citizens get a discount, and so I give the woman the reduced price for Mike, insisting that he’s a senior citizen.  She refuses to accept the reduced fee and keeps waving her hand back and forth emphatically: “NO!”  After going around and around about this, someone else comes to the rescue in our stand-off and states in broken English that this reduction is only for Chinese citizens.

When we enter the Scenic Area, there is a pedestrian-only road, and we walk uphill a long way until we see steps climbing up and up into the clouds.  It’s a very long walk up, with many stops to catch our breath along the way.

According to ChinaTravel.com: Baofeng Lake:  Baofeng Lake and the area immediately surrounding it offer pristinely beautiful natural scenery. Being located high up in the mountains, the lake catches some of the first and purest runoff water from the mountain peaks. Its height also guarantees an air freshness not found around lakes at lower altitudes. Baofeng Lake is bordered by lush green trees and shrub-clad stone peaks of various shapes that enclose the lake and give it a fairytale-like atmosphere. Indeed, Baofeng Lake is a reservoir, with a dam enclosing its waters, not for the purpose of power generation, but for the purpose of crop irrigation.

There’s a boat ride around the 2-kilometer lake, but we have to wait a bit for enough people to get on the boat.  Apparently, it’s the last one of the day.  So we wander around and check out the scenery, with the karst reflections on the water’s surface.

Me at Baofeng Lake Scenic Spot

Me at Baofeng Lake Scenic Spot

Baofeng Lake

Baofeng Lake

Mike at Baofeng Lake

Mike at Baofeng Lake

A Chinese woman, who is at the lake with her boyfriend, speaks excellent English and talks to us for some time about her business of exporting mostly to Middle Eastern countries. She also asks us a lot of questions about ourselves.  We ride on the same boat together.

The boat ride is actually quite short.  It’s overcast today, but tomorrow rain and fog are forecast, so I guess we should be happy with the non-leaking clouds.  It’s a little disappointing after our sunny but cold days in Fenghuang.

Baofeng Lake

Baofeng Lake

Karsts at Baofeng Lake

Karsts at Baofeng Lake

As we approach this little cottage, a woman in ethnic costume walks out on the porch and serenades us with a lovely melodic song.

Baofeng Lake

Baofeng Lake

a folk singer at Baofeng Lake

a folk singer at Baofeng Lake

All onboard give her a round of applause and we continue on our little boat ride.

The average depth of the lake is 72 meters, and as I stand near the edge of the boat to take pictures, the Chinese woman asks me if I’m not afraid to stand so close to the edge of the boat when the water is so deep.  I say to her that it doesn’t really matter about the depth of the water because I can swim.  Whether it’s 10 meters or 100 meters makes no difference.  I guess I don’t understand these kinds of fears.

Baofeng Lake

Baofeng Lake

Here’s the boat.

Our boat

Our boat

Baofeng Lake

Baofeng Lake

a boat on Baofeng Lake

a boat on Baofeng Lake

Baofeng Lake

Baofeng Lake

Baofeng Lake - photo taken by Mike

Baofeng Lake – photo taken by Mike

Karsts at Baofeng Lake - photo taken by Mike

Karsts at Baofeng Lake – photo taken by Mike

Baofeng Lake

Baofeng Lake

Baofeng Lake

Baofeng Lake

After our boat ride, we are deposited on another shore, and we walk down many flights of steps to the valley floor.  Here’s our view from above as we walk down.

the view from the top

the view from the top

We see this old set of steps that is no longer used.  It looks a little scary and precipitous!

some steep steps no longer used

some steep steps no longer used

At the bottom, we find a koi pond.

Koi in the pond

Koi in the pond

And a hanging bridge, which we walk over.  It is more scenic from below.

a bridge at the bottom of the mountain

a bridge at the bottom of the mountain

From the valley floor, we can see the karsts towering above us.

karsts

karsts

As well as a grove of bamboo.

Bamboo grove - photo taken by Mike

Bamboo grove – photo taken by Mike

We decide we will walk back to town, which turns out to be quite a long haul, especially after all the stair climbing and descending we did to get to Baofeng Hu.  We find a restaurant, where I use my WayGo app to read the all-Chinese menu and we order a meal of bok choy, eggs with scallions, rice and pickled radishes, accompanied by two tall beers.  As most people know already, I don’t have many choices in Chinese restaurants as the meat is all full of gristle, fat and bones.   These make me gag.

Our dinner: eggs and scallions and bok choy with rice

Our dinner: eggs and scallions and bok choy with rice

Mike at the restaurant

Mike at the restaurant

me enjoying our dinner after our long hike

me enjoying our dinner after our long hike

We drop by a convenience store to buy some water, orange juice and a box of some of my favorite chocolate mousse cake snacks.  We’re exhausted from our day of travel and our long uphill and downhill hike, so I take a long hot bath and we conk out early.  The forecast for tomorrow is still for rain and fog, but I keep foolishly hoping it will change just in time for us to explore the reserve.

Categories: Asia, Baofeng Lake Scenic Spot, China, Fenghuang, Hotel Pullman Zhangjiajie, Hunan, Jishou, Train, Transportation, Travel, Wulingyuan Scenic Reserve, Zhangjiajie | Tags: , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

a wandering-about day in fenghuang

Thursday, January 22:  Whenever I’m traveling, I so love the days that I don’t have to actually “travel.”  I savor those days when I wake up in a hotel, and at the end of a long day of exploring, I fall back to sleep in the same hotel.  Today is that kind of day, a non-transit day.  A day of settling in.  I’m in a town — today it’s Fenghuang — and I settle in for a bit.  I call that place my “home” and I get to know it on a more intimate level.

Not that I don’t move, mind you.  I’m always on the move.  I let myself linger for a bit in bed, but then I want to get out to explore.  Venturing about in a new place is the most thrilling part of travel.  

I get familiar with my neighborhood, and whatever gave me pleasure upon first discovery, I seek again.  In this case, it’s our neighborhood breakfast place.  It worked the first morning, so why not do it again?  We greet the Chinese cook as if we’re old friends, and eat our pork dumplings and boiled eggs, dipping them in soy sauce and green chilies.

me in our favorite breakfast place in Fenghuang

me in our favorite breakfast place in Fenghuang

Me with our breakfast cook

Me with our breakfast cook

Then we head out to explore again. I love the stilted buildings along the Tuo Jiang River and the tiled rooftops with their curlicue Phoenix corners.

Bridge of the Tuo Jiang River

Bridge of the Tuo Jiang River

We find a great view from the East Gate Tower, built in 1715, the year of Kang Xi in Qing Dynasty.

Rooftops of Fenghuang

Rooftops of Fenghuang

More rooftops

More rooftops

Rooftops of Fenghuang

Rooftops of Fenghuang

More rooftops

More rooftops

The Yang’s Ancestral Temple was originally built in 1836.  This temple has a wood-made courtyard with two floors, consisting of the gate, opera stage, corridors, main hall and subsidiary rooms. It showcases the local tradition and carving art of architecture.

According to Top China Travel: Yang Ancestral Memorial: the Yang family was the second largest family in Fenghuang Ancient Town. It is said that people with the family name “Yang” are descendents of the famous patriotic Yang family in the Song Dynasty. Yang Ancestral Memorial is the best preserved temple in Ancient Phoenix City.

 

The reason I have such a long holiday from work is that it’s the Spring Festival.  The actual Chinese New Year begins on February 18, but schools are out for over a month to celebrate the holiday. According to China Travel Guide: Chinese New Year (Spring Festival): Every family does a thorough house cleaning and purchases enough food, including fish, meat, roasted nuts and seeds, all kinds of candies and fruits, etc, for the festival period. Also, new clothes must be bought, especially for children. Red scrolls with complementary poetic couplets, one line on each side of the gate, are pasted at every gate. The Chinese character ‘Fu’ is pasted on the center of the door and paper-cut pictures adorn windows.
.

We pass the same fierce-looking character we saw yesterday.  I wouldn’t want to tangle with him.

Angry fellow

Fierce fellow

The geese have gotten off their perches in front of the restaurant and are stretching their legs.

Ducks on the loose

Geese on the loose

I love the cobbled streets and colorful signs.

Cobbled streets of the Ancient Town

Cobbled streets of the Ancient Town

And this character is a just a little bizarre.

smokin'

smokin’

We find lots of traditional red buildings, but I don’t know what they are.

red walls

red walls

temple

temple

more red walls

more red walls

There’s an ancient wall around the town, and a raised platform along its periphery.  We take a stroll along the edge.

Me stopping along the wall around the city

Me stopping along the wall around the city

We find a magical street with floating parasols.

Alley of parasols

Alley of parasols

Parasols

Parasols

And yet another fancy bridge across the river.

Bridge over the River

Bridge over the River

We walk to the west side of town where we find this fancy pedestrian bridge.

Bridge

Bridge

Walking across the bridge, we pass through a canopy of wonderful woodwork.

Woodwork inside the bridge

Woodwork inside the bridge

We head up a hill to a park where we see some elegant pavilion rooftops.

pretty pavilions

pretty pavilions

And stumble upon several groups of middle-aged women doing dance and exercise routines.

Dance time in the park

Dance time in the park

Heading back into town from the hilltop park, we see a view of the town from the opposite direction.

Looking over the River

Looking over the River

We drop in at the home of Xiong Xiling, a famous philanthropist who was the first premier of the Republic of China (1921-49) following the fall of the Manchu.

Curvaceous

Curvaceous

The home of Mr. Xiong Xiling

The home of Mr. Xiong Xiling

The home of Mr. Xiong Xiling

The home of Mr. Xiong Xiling

And we continue walking through the Ancient Town until we come to a large busy square with a big Phoenix as the centerpiece.

More red walls

More red walls

In the park with the Phoenix

In the park with the Phoenix

The Phoenix

The Phoenix

We have some lunch, which is not very good today: some bok choy and some kind of tofu that has a very strange texture.

Bok choy and strange textured tofu

Bok choy and strange textured tofu – photo by Mike

After lunch we walk back along the river toward our hotel, where we take a bit of a rest.

Reflections

Reflections

the waterfront

the waterfront

waterfront reflections

waterfront reflections

reflections in the Tuo Jiang River

reflections in the Tuo Jiang River

Two Chinese girls we meet along the river front - photo by Mike

Two Chinese girls we meet along the river front – photo by Mike

Everywhere you go in China, there are places that offer costumes to try on for photographs.   Here is one young woman posing in an ethnic costume along the river.

Girl in costume

Girl in costume

Mike says that when he used to live in Thailand, his parents told him it would bring him good luck if he could figure out how to get the balls out of the mouths of lions.   He and his sister Barbara used to try to do it, but of course never could.  He figures it was his parents’ way of keeping them occupied.  Here I have him pose trying to remove the ball.

Mike tries to remove the ball from the mouth of the lion

Mike tries to remove the ball from the mouth of the lion

Inside view

Inside view

After a bit of a rest we go exploring in a different part of the town.  We have no idea which direction to go!

Which direction?

Which direction?

Again, we find a restaurant sign refusing entry to Japanese and dogs!  In English, no less.

Another sign with anti-Japanese (and anti-dog) sentiments - this time in English

Another sign with anti-Japanese (and anti-dog) sentiments – this time in English – photo by Mike

I have tried to take photos of the ethnic Miao women several times with little success.  I got one decent portrait yesterday, but most of the time they refuse to let me photograph them, or they cover their faces when they see me about to take a picture.  This woman asks for some money when I ask her if I can take a photo.  I take out my wallet and give her something, but she wants more.  Then she takes the money and runs, refusing to pose for a photo.  I am really annoyed by this.

This lady took the money and ran

This lady took the money and ran

We pass through one of the gates to the old town.

Gate to the Ancient Town

Gate to the Ancient Town

In an area near the bridge, vendors offer costumes for people to try on for 10 yuan.  They don’t take the pictures; you pay them 10 yuan, you get the costume, and you can take your own pictures.  I tried on a girly costume when I was in the rice terraces at Ping’an, but I think this time it will be fun to try on a military costume.  This cracks me up!!  I thought it would be some Communist-looking costume, but instead it looks like some Russian military outfit!

Me in an army uniform.  Which army, I don't know!

Me in an army uniform. Which army, I don’t know!

Here are some Chinese folks posing with various costumes.

Chinese folks posing in costumes

Chinese folks posing in costumes

As the sun goes down, we go in search of a place to eat dinner, passing by this lantern-adorned building.

red lanterns

red lanterns

Here’s a KTV (Chinese karaoke) place near the bridge and the river.

KTV and the bridge over the Tuo Jiang

KTV and the bridge over the Tuo Jiang

Finally we stop for dinner at the Soul Cafe.  I’ve been very lackadaisical about keeping track of my meals on this trip, so I can’t even say what it was we ate.  I think it may have been pizza again. 🙂

Mike at Soul Cafe

Mike at Soul Cafe

Soul Cafe

Soul Cafe

 

Categories: Asia, China, East Gate Tower, Fenghuang, Hunan, Mr. Xiong Xiling's house, Travel, Tuo Jiang River, Yang's Ancestral Temple | Tags: , , , , , | 27 Comments

arrival in fenghuang: the phoenix ancient town

Wednesday, January 21:  We arrive in Jishou on our overnight train at about 6:30 a.m. and immediately are accosted by numerous taxi drivers trying to charge us unreasonable sums to take us to the bus station, where we need to catch an hour-long bus to Fenghuang.  One honest fellow points us down the street to the bus station, which is only a block away!  The station is barely a hole in the wall and we almost miss it as we walk down the street.  It’s the chaos pouring out onto the street and the large board listing the bus times that alert us to its location.  We try to buy a ticket for the bus but are sent out to the back, where we board a bus bound for Fenghuang.  A few moments after we’ve loaded our luggage under the bus, someone instructs us to get off that bus and onto another bus which is nearly full.  Buses don’t leave the station until full, so we’re lucky to be moved to the other bus, otherwise we would have had to wait awhile.  We drag our luggage out and move it to the new bus.  As we’re the last passengers to board, the bus immediately takes off.

In Fenghuang, there is no bus “station,” only a big parking lot.  There a solitary taxi driver is waiting and wants 20 yuan to take us to the Ancient Town. In Nanning, I pay a taxi driver about 15 yuan to take me through the congested city traffic from the Railway Station to the campus, and as I know Fenghuang is a small town, I tell the driver we’ll pay 15 yuan.  Of course when I say “tell,” I mean he’s showing me a 20 yuan bill, and I’m showing him a ten and a five. He refuses, so we in turn refuse his offer and walk toward the street, which is some distance from the parking lot.  I can see it will be a battle of wills.  He keeps following us and flailing his 20 yuan in our faces, and I keep shaking my head, insisting on only 15 yuan, and telling Mike that we’ll just pull our suitcases to the street.  This goes on, the hard-headed taxi driver, and hard-headed me, playing cat and mouse and refusing each other’s offers until finally the taxi driver relents and agrees to take us for 15 yuan. Just as I imagined, it isn’t far and it certainly isn’t even worth paying 15 yuan for the ride.  He drops us along the bank of the Tuo Jiang River, and points vaguely in a direction across the river and north.  Mike and I struggle down a steep muddy bank with our suitcases.  Fenghuang is a walking town, so the driver can’t drive us to the door of our hotel.

We cross a bridge over the river to the Ancient Town, which is spread out all along the river.  We have no idea how we will find our hotel, the Fenghuang Melody Inn.  Finally, we show the name in Chinese to a person walking along, and we are pointed in the right direction.  The hotel is right along the river.  Here’s our room with the view.

Our room at the Fenghuang Melody Inn

Our room at the Fenghuang Melody Inn

View of the Tuo Jiang River and Fenghuang from our hotel balcony

View of the Tuo Jiang River and Fenghuang from our hotel balcony

Tuo Jiang River

Tuo Jiang River

It’s early and we’re hungry, so we go out into the town immediately in search of breakfast and coffee. We find a cute coffee shop but it doesn’t serve food, so we move on to another one.

First stop: a coffee shop

First stop: a coffee shop

We find another coffee shop.  Neither does it serve food, but we stop anyway for a cup of coffee.

Me all bundled up in the coffee shop - Photo taken by Mike

Me all bundled up in the coffee shop – Photo taken by Mike

We had earlier passed a friendly lady serving up boiled eggs and dumplings, so after our coffee, we make our way back to her little hole-in-the-wall cafe.  We pass this enticing set on stairs on the way.

stairs beckon in the Ancient Town

stairs beckon in the Ancient Town

The smiling lady invites us into her cute little breakfast spot.  We order up some pork dumplings and boiled eggs and she gives us a paper bowl full of chopped green chilies.  We also put some soy sauce into another cup.  This is a surprisingly tasty breakfast.

Where we finally find some food

Where we finally find some food

Our breakfast: boiled eggs and pork dumplings dipped in chopped green chili

Our breakfast: boiled eggs and pork dumplings dipped in chopped green chili

After breakfast, we take a leisurely walk back to our hotel to take showers since there was no chance for showers on the overnight train.  Later, we go out to explore the town.

According to China Travel Guide: Phoenix Ancient Town (Fenghuang): ‘Fenghuang’ is Chinese for ‘Phoenix’, the mythical bird of good omen and longevity that is consumed by fire to be re-born again from the flames. Phoenix Ancient Town is so-called as legend has it that two of these fabulous birds flew over it and found the town so beautiful that they hovered there, reluctant to leave.

Ancient & modern

Ancient & modern

The town sits on the western boundary of Hunan Province and claims to being one of the two most beautiful towns in the whole of China; the other town is Chang Ting in Fujian Province.

preparing for the day

preparing for the day

The town has been modernized somewhat, with cute little businesses offering enticing goods for sale.  I’m especially mesmerized by the colorful lanterns, but I’m not about to buy anything on the first day of our travels.

lanterns beckon

lanterns beckon

People in the town are hard at work from early morning until late in the evening.  Most people carry things in baskets or on carts, as there is no room for cars on the cobbled streets.  Some people do drive their motorbikes through the streets though, keeping us pedestrians on our toes.

Hard at work in the streets of Fenghuang

Hard at work in the streets of Fenghuang

The Miao ethnic minority is predominantly settled here. The Miao women dress in traditional blue garments set off with a white scarf. They love also their silver jewelry especially during festivals.

a Miao woman

a Miao woman

We pass this little restaurant along the way.  In front are some ducks with signs on them in Chinese.  There are also a lot of chickens and other animals in cages out front, including a porcupine.  I guess if you want your meat fresh, you can get it here.

a cute restaurant...

a cute restaurant…

Some of my followers on Instagram tell me that the sign behind the ducks says “Japanese not welcome here.”  I guess this is a common sentiment here in Fenghuang as we also see some other signs saying the same thing in English.  It’s disturbing that the Chinese feel this way and state it so boldly on the fronts of their establishments.

with ducks wearing signs.  And apparently, I'm told, that says "Japanese not welcome here."

with ducks wearing signs. And apparently, I’m told, that says “Japanese not welcome here.”

Hangdog face

Hangdog face

Every time I see the shops with lanterns, I so want to stop and buy one, but I have no desire to carry one around for the next two weeks.

more colorful lanterns

more colorful lanterns

enticing lanterns

enticing lanterns

There are so many cute shops and restaurants that the town is quite charming and colorful.

Another cute restaurant

Another cute restaurant

I have no idea what this place is, but I find it intriguing that it says in English “Raise High the Roof Beam, Moses!”

Raise Up the Roof Beams, Moses

Raise Up the Roof Beams, Moses

We come across some kind of little temple but it has no sign in English telling what it is.  It has a cute courtyard with a tree holding red ribbon wishes for longevity and prosperity.  There are some images of who I believe to be Confucius.  In one room there seems to be a Buddha image, which I wasn’t allowed to photograph.

Continuing down the street, we come to this building with colorful and elaborate woodwork.

And there are games of various types being played everywhere.  Here is a game of Mahjong.  As you can see, everyone is bundled up against the cold.

Mahjong

Mahjong

Fenghuang was home to the writer Shen Congwen (1902-88) who contributed greatly to modern Chinese literature. Venerated by the local residents, the one time home and tomb of this famous writer have become tourist attractions.

Shadows in Shen Congwen's house

Shadows in Shen Congwen’s house

Shen Congwen's house

Shen Congwen’s house

We stop in at the Museum of Ancient Town, where we see buildings with ancient architecture and woodwork and fancy beds and other furnishings.

Then we simply wander around the town, admiring the rooftops with their phoenixes curled up at the edges.

Streets of the Ancient Town

Streets of the Ancient Town

Streets of Fenghuang

Streets of Fenghuang

We happen upon some kind of celebration coming joyfully down the street.

Celebration of some kind - Photo taken by Mike

Celebration of some kind – Photo taken by Mike

After a lunch of green beans with pork and scrambled eggs with tomatoes, we go back to the room to rest a little before going back out for the evening.  We walk along the Tuo Jiang River, which is very muddy and has a lot of construction and dredging going on due to severe flooding of the town in July 2014.

Along the Tuo Jiang River

Along the Tuo Jiang River

Bridge over the Tuo Jiang River

Bridge over the Tuo Jiang River

Buildings lining the river

Buildings lining the river

After we have a rest, we head to the Phoenix Cultural Scenic Spot.  We climb countless steps to reach the top, where we find delightful surprises, including views of the Ancient Town and the Tuo Jiang River.  According to a sign at the Scenic Spot, it is “the first scenic spot in China to fully experience the Chinese Phoenix culture, with a history of 8,000 years.  Original ancient buildings such as pavilions, terraces, palaces, columns, bridges and drums, which are full of elements of the Phoenix culture and theme locations, are embedded in it.

“The Phoenix Cultural Scenic Spot has accurately captured the 18 deities of the god bird, Phoenix, with a view to vividly present the profundity, mystery and beauty of the Phoenix culture of our Chinese nation.”

View of the rooftops of Fenghuang from the Phoenix Pedestal

View of the rooftops of Fenghuang from the Phoenix Pedestal

View of the Tuo Jiang River and Fenghuang from the Phoenix Pedestal

View of the Tuo Jiang River and Fenghuang from the Phoenix Pedestal

Near the pavilion below, we find the following sign: No craving, no scarifying!

Pavilion at the Phoenix Cultural Scenic Spot

Pavilion at the Phoenix Cultural Scenic Spot

Me at the Phoenix Cultural Scenic Spot

Me at the Phoenix Cultural Scenic Spot

At the entry to the wooden swing bridge below, we find a sign with lots of instructions:
50 people limit.  No Shaking!
Break Step, Avoid Covibration!
Row Wooden Path.  Watch Your Step!

Mike walks across the swinging bridge

Mike walks across the swinging bridge

Jiujiu Heaven Steps are 99 steps in total.  Again, according to a sign at the scenic spot: “Nine is the largest odd number, which represents the god Phoenix who lives high in the 9th heaven. The structure of the heaven steps is magnificent in order to present the stately atmosphere of being close to the heaven.  The heaven steps are flanked by 18 towering nanmu totem columns which are hard to reach.  Many species of 100 peculiar birds are popular in the Xiangchu Civil Society, 18 vivid birds with different forms are sculpted and are combined with classic Chines phoenix totems.”

The Jiujiu Heaven Steps

The Jiujiu Heaven Steps

Some of the 18 nanny totem columns as you approach the Phoenix

Some of the 18 nanny totem columns as you approach the Phoenix

The prototype of the 9.9 meter Phoenix Pedestal is “the Huzuolifeng (the tiger is seated with the Phoenix standing atop), an uncovered relic of the Chu State in the Warring States period. According to the ancient records, the people of the Chu Nation respected the Phoenix by performing the sacrificial ceremony and the Phoenix representing the god would rise and reach to the heaven. The copper sculpture of the Phoenix has a simple appearance and light weight, attempting to fly. The god — the Chinese ancient Phoenix — is a combination of three auspicious totems: tiger, Phoenix and deer.”

The Phoenix

The Phoenix

The Phoenix

The Phoenix

The Phoenix Fairy Tale is the “holy” Phoenix wish-making holy land. On a sign at the entrance to this charming and delightful area, I find the following: “One who has crossed the Wude Gate in Nanhua Shan has been purified by the five morals of Confucianism, namely Benevolence, Justice, Courtesy, Wisdom, and Trust, and is allowed to enter the forest to make wishes. The forest has five wish-making platforms surrounded by dozens of Chinese parasols used for hanging the Phoenix wish-making cards. After you clap your palms, close your eyes and purify your heart, the god Phoenix, together with the sun and moon, prays for the wishes of the common people.”

I am mesmerized by this magical area, with its parasols and woven straw bells containing wishes.  While there, a Chinese girl randomly asks me to pose with her.  She then asks Mike to do the same.  I wish I could read some of the wishes written here, but of course they’re all in Chinese.

The Phoenix Fairy Tale

The Phoenix Fairy Tale

We leave the Phoenix Fairy Tale and retrace our steps back past the Phoenix Pedestal.

One last glimpse of the Phoenix as the sun is setting

One last glimpse of the Phoenix as the sun is setting

Pavilion of the Phoenix

Pavilion of the Phoenix

Waning light at Fenghuang from the Phoenix Terrace

Waning light at Fenghuang from the Phoenix Terrace

After descending the mountain from the Phoenix Cultural Scenic Spot, we take a leisurely walk along the opposite side of the river as the sun goes down.  We stop in for beer and a pizza dinner at a cozy restaurant called Soul Too along the river.

View of stilted buildings from the other side of the Tuo Jiang River

View of stilted buildings from the other side of the Tuo Jiang River

Colorful business

Colorful business

bottle decoration

bottle decoration

After leaving the restaurant, it’s dark outside and the town is all lit up.  It’s quite lovely with its reflections in the river.  Because the river is so muddy due to all the dredging work, I find the town more beautiful at night than during the day.

Nighttime views of Fenghuang along the Tuo Jiang

Nighttime views of Fenghuang along the Tuo Jiang

Nighttime along the Tuo Jiang River

Nighttime along the Tuo Jiang River

Finally, we make a stop for another beer at Soul Cafe, where we hear a young Chinese lady singing some melodic and romantic Chinese folk tunes.  It’s a lovely end to our first day in Fenghuang.

A Chinese girl sings folksy songs in a cafe

A Chinese girl sings folksy songs in a cafe

Categories: Asia, Bus, China, Fenghuang, Fenghuang Melody Inn, Hunan, Jishou, Jiujiu Heaven Steps, Miao ethnic minority, Museum of Ancient Town, Phoenix, Phoenix Cultural Scenic Spot, Phoenix Fairy Tale, Phoenix Pedestal, Shen Congwen's house, Train, Transportation, Tuo Jiang River | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

A lot from Lydia

You can learn a lot from Lydia...(It's a song, not a promise.)

Ink Arts by Carol

My site for offering my alcohol ink arts

I see Beauty everyday

Blessed be the ones that see beauty where others see nothing

BOOKING IT

Debra's Excellent Adventures in Reading and Travel

Marsha Ingrao

Traveling & Blogging Near and Far

PIRAN CAFÉ

Notebooks from a trampfest. Travel tips, tales and images, online since 2006.

Word Wabbit

Wrestless Word Wrestler

Cardinal Guzman

Encyclopedia Miscellaneous - 'quality' blogging since August 2011

A Faraway Home

Stories and tips from home and far away

Pit's Fritztown News

A German Expat's Life in Fredericksburg/Texas

Under a Cornish Sky

inspired by the colours of the land, sea and sky of Cornwall

sloveniangirlabroad.wordpress.com/

A blog about expat life and travel adventures written by an Slovenian girl living in Switzerland

Let Me Bite That

Can I have a bite?

Running Stories by Jerry Lewis

Personal blog about running adventures

Finding NYC

exploring New York City one adventure at a time

The World according to Dina

Notes on Seeing, Reading & Writing, Living & Loving in The North

snippetsandsnaps

Potato Point and beyond

Storyshucker

A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

The Eye of a Thieving Magpie

My birdseye view of this crazy life - in words and pictures

renatemarie.wordpress.com/

A (Mostly) Solo Female Exploring the World

NYLON DAZE

From London to New York, living in an expat daze

Blue Hour Photo Workshops

Photography is a constant travel to new places

Travel Much?

Never cease to explore and tell!

Insanity at its best!

Yousuf Bawany's Blog

%d bloggers like this: