Sunday, September 25, 2011

Saturday Temple Hike

The weather in Beijing has been gorgious all week: blue skies and little pollution.

(Pollution counts for PM2.5 particles were around 60, which is low for here, but not so low if you compare it to these current levels in the U.S.)

To enjoy the weather, last Saturday we went on a hike in the Pinggu area, which is about 30 minutes east of us.

There are lots of beautiful nature areas around Beijing, but finding a good hike can sometimes be a challenge. There are not that many trails that are marked or mapped, and if a trail is actually in my hiking book it is quite possible you can not actually find the right spot (directions and road signage rarely agree), or the trail or park is inexplicably closed.

(This really happened to us: One time we drove for over an hour to find a certain hike around a reservoir, only to discover that the whole area around the lake was closed for construction. I had actually searched a bit online and--while my Chinese reading skills admittedly are extremely poor--I had not found any information on this multi-year construction project.)

In the case of Pinggu, we actually had found the spot before but had run out of time, so we now came back to compete our mission: hike up to the temple at the top.

The temple at the top.
Paul and Carter--neighbor, colleague and friend--actually made there all the way.

The boys and I taking a rest. The hike started with A LOT of stairs going up.

Simon dressed like Anna.

After the stairs, the path levels out and you just have an easy stroll around the mountains. We--women and children--could not go to the temple because the path to the left was too dangerous (or just absent really) to take, so we turned right and curved around the valley. After an hour or so of easy walking the trail went down into the valley, back to the hotel. The guys, meanwhile, ploughed their way through the bushes and made it to the temple.

Thomas dressed like Katrina.

Anna dressed like Anna; Katrina dressed like Katrina.

 Another view of the temple. (From the people who did not actually get there.)

Sometimes the trail (and people) were a bit hard to see.

The parking lot of the hotel where we started the hike. We had a bit of a weird experience in that someone from the hotel (in suit and nice shoes, mind you) followed us all the way on our hike. At first we thought he didn't want us to go through the hotel backyard to get to the trail, but later it seemed more like he was worried about our safety. Or perhaps some weird combination of the two.

Halloween is coming!

Pinggu city in the distance.

Local wildlife.

Thomas' photo smile.

Simon chased a bunch of lizzards to take pictures.

Yet another shot of the temple.

At the end of the hike. The trail puts you right back at the hotel. A few hotel staff are playing badminton during their break.

How to Draw a Panda in 10 Easy Steps-by Simon

1. Take a piece of paper.

2. Make an "open nine."

3. Turn your paper.

4. Draw the eyes.

5. Draw the nose.

6. Make two dots for the ears.

7. Draw one leg.

8. Draw the other leg. This one goes across the body.

9. Draw the hind leg.

10. Draw four claws on each paw. Your panda is finished!

If you want to make your panda happy, draw a line of rectangles for the bamboo.

Add lines on top of the bamboo sections.

Add branches with leaves. Each branch has three leaves.

Draw more branches and leaves.

Give your panda an extra bamboo plant. Then sit back and admire your work. 

Here's the artist himself.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Riding into the National Geographic: With the Tibettan Nomads in Gansu

Now that school and work has started again and regular life has taken over, it almost seems a dream that back in August we stayed a night in a tent with the Tibettan nomads in Gansu. (This was on the same vacation that we visited Guilin, Xi'an, and Qinghai Lake.)

While it was actually pretty rough--bitterly cold and high elevation--it was incredibly special. Just riding into the rolling hills around Langmusi, I felt like I was arriving in a National Geographic picture. The fields were green with white mountains in the background and the hills were dotted with yaks. And our guides, who spoke Tibettan (funny to realize that Chinese was now our common language!) were extremely nice and hospitable.

The landscape. Of course the pictures doesn't really do it justice :-)

Inside the tent with our new friends.

Still in the tent. After a day of riding, we were all so hungry and tired. The food--rice with veggies--was delicious, though not everyone was awake when dinner was served!

Pretty in pink in the valley. The white tent on the left is a typical yurt where the nomads sleep. We slept in a tent just like that. (In fact, the owners of our tent went to sleep with the neighbors to make some room for the eight of us.) The most exciting thing about the night was that we couldn't go to the bathroom (read: pee in the field) by ourselves because the guard dogs were on the loose. If we had to go, we had to wake up one of our guides. Luckily it wasn't necessary!

The horses on which we arrived.
One of our guides taking care of our horses.
A new generation of nomads.
Also the new generation of nomads.

Staying warm during a break.

Only Happy When it Rains

There is so little rain in Beijing that when it rains just a drop, Thomas gets out all the good gear:

We're all always very happy when it rains. Not just because it doesn't happen a whole lot--though in Summer quite a bit more than in the Fall and Winter--but also because it cleans up the sky and usually means the next day will be nice and non-polluted.

Rain is also generated artificially here. I can't really tell how often the rain is induced or just natural, but it is quite a common thing here. Just the fact that there is a Beijing Weather Modification Office shows how serious the approach is. Apparently China is in the lead with using silver iodide, loaded on rockets, to seed clouds and create rain. (See for example this BBC article or this article in How Stuff Works.)

The technique is used apparently to fight droughts, decrease bad dust storms and pollution, and lower summer temperatures (to decrease energy consumption for air conditioning), but it also seems to me it is used a lot to create nice weather and reduce pollution for important national holidays. (You can for example reliably plan an outdoor event on October 1, China's National Day.)

Because I don't have any picturs of cloud seeding (though this Wikipedia page shows some), I'll just show a few more pictures of the guy who is so happy in the rain...

Busy in the play ground behind our house.

Very fast with the chop sticks.

Putting up his best smile for a picture.

At the art show.

Too tired to read!