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Beer in the Park

“While we were sober, three shared the fun;
Now we are drunk, each goes his way.
May we long share our odd, inanimate feast,
And meet at last on the Cloudy River of the sky.”
-Li Bai, Drinking Alone by Moonlight

This week marks the 61st anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. The National Day holiday is the second-longest holiday of the year after Spring Festival. When I moved to China in 2005, I arrived three weeks after the holiday. It wasn’t until the following year that I took a short break from Shenzhen for the national holiday. After seeing all the main sights the previous year, I decided to not go too far and ended up on a bus to Zhaoqing in Guangdong Province–it was almost another hour past Guangzhou.PBRpark

One of the more unusual sights to behold in Zhaoqing was the park in the center of the city around Star Lake. There was a dried up fountain that had an oversized can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, the same beer that is so popular with hipsters and was recently purchased by a Russian company. When I returned to Shenzhen, I discovered the reason for that giant PBR can; the beer is brewed in Zhaoqing for the Chinese market, which is a large market for the company.

After I departed China, PBR came out with a limited-edition brew for the Chinese market–a $44 dollar bottle of oak aged pissy beer. No matter what they did to “improve” upon the traditional PBR, I was certain that it would still cause a hangover before the bottle was empty.

Hiking the Highest Peak in Seoul

a trail of climbing stairsteps forks upstream.
Big ranges lurk behind these rugged little outcrops—
these spits of low ground rocky uplifts
          layered pinnacles aslant,
flurries of brushy cliffs receding,
far back and high above, vague peaks.
-Gary Snyder, “Endless Streams and Mountains”
First view of Bukhansan National Park

First view of Bukhansan National Park

I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit a national park that was so close. It still took about an hour to get to Bukhansan National Park from my apartment–the park is on the outskirts of the city and requires taking a 20-minute bus ride from the metro station. Nonetheless, I was determined to get to the park and hike, even if I did wake up a bit later than I should have. It was a good excuse to test out my new hiking shoes–my Columbia shoes were wearing thin and not capable of the occasionally slick rocky trails.

Getting to the park wasn’t as difficult as I thought it’d be. There was a tourist information booth just outside the station, and they gave me a list of buses I could take and told me where to get off. It helped that the bus announcements were also in English.bukhansan-stream

I wasn’t sure where I was going. I hoped that the trail signs in the park would be better than the ones at Yongmasan and Achasan. Fortunately, the signs were much better, though without a trail map it was a little more difficult deciding with trail to take. I was, again, lucky–I chose the trail that I wanted without actually knowing that it was the one (sometimes it pays to follow the crowd).

bukhansan3I figured it wouldn’t take long to follow the trail that claimed to be only 4.5 km (I’m not sure how they measure distance around here, but I’m fairly certain it shouldn’t take over two and a half hours to hike that far). It took a strenuous two and a half hours to hike up Baekundae, which at 2,744 ft is the highest peak in Seoul.

View from atop Baekundae

View from atop Baekundae

The more than 30 sq. mi. that encompasses Bukhansan was established as a national park in 1983. Its history dates back almost 2,000 years when the first fortress was built in the mountains. A nearly 6-mile defensive wall was constructed in the mountains, but was partly destroyed during the Korean War. According to some of the historic information posted along the trail, the region was used to discreetly move weaponry through the country–I can only imagine the difficulty of lugging all that equipment up the mountainside.

One of the gates through the fortification at Bukhansan (only about 1km from the summit of Baekundae)

One of the gates through the fortification at Bukhansan (only about 1km from the summit of Baekundae)

The mountains in Bukhansan National Park are beautiful. Rocky cliffs greet hikers as they wind their way up. On other peaks, I watched more adventurous visitors scale the rocky mountainsides–park rangers ensured that all rock climbers were fully prepared prior to attempting the climbs. I enjoy hiking, but I’m not up for rock climbing.

Those specks on the far mountaintop are people

Those specks on the far mountaintop are people

The main trails are well maintained–I doubt there’s a specific trail for those brave enough to scale the cliffs–and there are even stairs in some places (more worn and natural stairs are in other areas, but they can be a bit slippery).

It's not THAT steep

It’s not THAT steep

The trail leading to Baekundae started out fairly easy for the first hour, but gradually increased in difficulty. Toward the peak, it was a scramble up a near 70-degree slope. The way down is much more difficult, but there are ropes and cables that are firmly implanted in the rock to ensure that hikers don’t fall all the way down the mountainside.

Just roll me down the mountain instead

Just roll me down the mountain instead

The peak was crowded. Most hikers stopped there for a long rest and a picnic. I love that the Korean concept of appropriate hiking provisions includes bottles of soju, beer, and makgeolli. I enjoyed a beer from a convenience store when I returned to the town on my way back to the bus.

Nice place to lounge after a hike. Now, how do I get down?

Nice place to lounge after a hike. Now, how do I get down?

The only downside to the hike was the weather–the haze obscured the views that are still spectacular on such days. If I move back to Korea, I’ll have to take the hike again on a clear day. The air cleared up a bit as I reached the summit, so it turned out alright for the day.bukhansan4

My new hiking shoes held up quite well in Bukhansan–the lack of tread on my old pair would have probably meant my demise, or at least a broken bone or two. Had I arrived earlier in the day, I would’ve tacked on a few other short trails, but I was tired and hungry (the humidity didn’t help much). Despite only hiking for about five hours, my legs were quite sore the next day. Even after sitting down on the subway, it was rather difficult to stand up again (I also fell asleep on the train for a bit).

Independence Day in Seoul

As I previously noted, I had no real plan for a July 4th celebration in Seoul–I couldn’t seem to find any activities for the holiday. I settled on going out with a friend for a burger and beer in Noksapyeong, a trendy neighborhood near Itaewon filled primarily with non-Korean restaurants and brewpubs.

Spicy burger at Thunder Burger

Spicy burger at Thunder Burger

We settled on dinner at Thunder Burger–a small shop that offers a variety of hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries. It’s a no-frills establishment with only a few tables, but that also explains why the burgers only cost $5-7. While my friend went with the classic cheeseburger, I couldn’t pass up the chance to eat a spicy burger–it had sliced jalapenos and crushed chili peppers (it wasn’t overly spicy, but it had a decent kick to it).

I'm inclined to agree

I’m inclined to agree

After our meal, we headed down the road in search of Magpie, the lone brewpub I haven’t tried in the neighborhood. As we passed Magpie, we ended up at Room H, a rather simple bar that serves beer brewed by Korean brewery Weizenhaus. I’ve been to this place before, and their stout was the best dark beer I’ve had in Korea. This time around, I tried their hefeweizen, which was alright for a humid evening, but nothing special.

Weizenhaus Stout at Room H in Noksapyeong

Weizenhaus Stout at Room H in Noksapyeong

As we were finishing our drinks, we heard some loud noises outside. “Do I hear fireworks?” I said. Sure enough, we could see fireworks off in the distance–presumably from a US military base nearby. We finished our beers and walked up the pedestrian bridge just outside Room H for a better view of the fireworks. It was definitely a better view than I had last year in Boston, and the display was rather impressive.

4th of July fireworks in Seoul

4th of July fireworks in Seoul

The following day, I met up with other friends for some Korean barbecue and managed to introduce them to a quiet bar in Itaewon that serves Korean and imported microbrews (my one friend was a little upset that the visitor was introducing new watering holes to the locals).

Gen. MacArthur in Jayu Park

Gen. MacArthur in Jayu Park

To fill out the weekend, I headed to Incheon on Sunday. The city is of historical importance as the landing point for American forces during the Korean War. As part of my wandering through Incheon, I headed to Jayu (Freedom) Park, which is on a hill above Chinatown. Within the park is a statue to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who led US forces into Korea.

It turned out to be a pleasant July 4th weekend away from home. How do you usually celebrate national holidays while traveling abroad?

Into the Clouds in Taroko National Park, Taiwan

The first stop at Qingshui Cliff

The first stop at Qingshui Cliff

The highlight of my three-day trip to Hualien on Taiwan’s east coast was a trip through Taroko National Park. After asking about the weather forecast for Saturday and Sunday, I decided Saturday would be the best day to visit the park (Sunday turned out to be the day with sunny skies). The day started with watching mountains around Hualien disappear behind clouds and continued with light, intermittent rain and brief moments of sunshine.

My plan was to rent a motorbike in town and ride through the park on my own. Unfortunately, when I arrived at my hostel, I was told I needed an international driver’s license so I had to book a group tour instead. Later, as I talked with the owner of the hostel, I was told she could arrange a motorbike without the license, but it was already too late.taroko-gorge2

While riding a motorbike along the mountain roads would’ve given me a few more hours and fewer crowds, I probably would’ve missed out on some parts of the tour. It was also easier to get dropped off along the road and then meet the van further up as I walked to take pictures.

Entrance to Taroko National Park

Entrance to Taroko National Park

The only problem with taking a group tour through Taroko is that most of them are geared toward mainland Chinese tourists and follow the same route, which means that every stop is fairly crowded. Although I was on such a tour, my guide spoke fair enough English to point out some things to me–he also spoke to me in Chinese every now and then. Also, unlike other Chinese tours I’ve been on, this one never stopped for any shopping (of course, a few of the scenic stops had vendors, which is to be expected).taroko-gorge

The winding roads through Taroko Gorge provide beautiful scenery–the mountain forests and rocky cliffs along the coast are what attract so many tourists to the area.

Roads running through the mountainside

Roads running through the mountainside

The roads are carved out of the side of the mountains–there are some tunnels that are concrete, but most are unreinforced caves that look out into the gorge. It’s not easy to find a photo opportunity without tourists around, but I image it’s possible if you arrive early enough.taroko-road2

Along the road into the park, visitors are offered free helmets in case of falling rocks that appear to be rather common. Of course, for more than a small rock, the helmet will not protect you. Signs everywhere advise visitors to keep moving. If those signs weren’t ominous enough, the one before the first tunnel on the way to the Baiyang Trail and water curtain cave should be warning enough for some to not travel alone.taroko-warning

Aside from the caves and stop by the rushing river, there isn’t much along the Baiyang Trail. There was more after the water curtain cave, but it’s been closed for safety reasons (too many rocks falling from above). I managed to bring my camera into the cave underneath the poncho the tour provided, but it was difficult to get any decent photos without getting soaked. This is another reason so many people spend money on a GoPro.

Entrance to the water curtain cave

Entrance to the water curtain cave

Despite not stopping at more places, like the temples we passed, the tour stopped at a lot of the most photogenic spots in the national park. There were definitely advantages to taking the tour instead of the motorbike, but I’d still like to try riding through the area on my own.

This is reassuring

This is reassuring

I was warned to bring food along with me as there aren’t many restaurants or food vendors in Taroko National Park. The tour stopped for lunch at one of the few places with enough seating for tours. The food was mediocre and slightly overpriced, but the outdoor seating provided a great view of the mountains. I also had a pleasant time talking with a few members of my tour who happened to be mainland Chinese students studying in Taiwan–it was a great opportunity for me to brush up on my Mandarin.taroko-cave-bridge

 

If I head back to Taroko National Park, I’ll definitely rent a motorbike and head into the park well before the tours arrive. I really should see about getting that international driver’s license to make things a little easier.

YouBike on Taipei Riverside

It's a little heavy, but the YouBikes are comfortable for sightseeing

It’s a little heavy, but the YouBikes are comfortable for sightseeing

I’ve planning on using the YouBikes, Taipei’s public bike share, since my first week here. Unfortunately, unless you have a cellphone to connect to your EasyCard, you have to use a credit card to rent the bikes, which means you lose out on the free first half hour of use. So, I broke down and bought the cheapest smartphone I could find from Taiwan Mobile–this thing is so cheap that the camera is only 3 megapixels and doesn’t have a flash (I didn’t know such phones still existed).

I rented a bike from Linsen Park, which is just around the corner from my apartment. On Saturday I rode down the street and took a few turns off the main road. I found some new restaurants and shops that I would have to return to, including an American chain brewpub. I had no destination in mind Saturday, and ended up getting a little lost at times just because I didn’t care where I went. For around two hours on the bike, I paid about $1.

View from Rainbow Bridge

View from Rainbow Bridge

Sunday I made more of a plan. I was determined to go for a ride along the Keelung Riverside Park. This was a little more difficult than I expected–entrances to the park aren’t as easily recognizable or plentiful as I thought. There’s a high concrete wall around the park and only a few entrances–fortunately, I found one of them by the Rainbow Bridge, which was not as interesting as I had hoped.

On Rainbow Bridge

On Rainbow Bridge

From Rainbow Bridge, I rode out to Dazhi Bridge and crossed the river before making a return trip. There was some light rain and some strong wind, which made the ride a little less enjoyable. Had I found this route the previous day in all the bright sunshine, I would’ve been much happier (and more sunburned).

Taipei 101 from the opposite side of the Keelung River

Taipei 101 from the opposite side of the Keelung River

I had expected more trees in along the paths, but they might have obscured some of the photos. I was also surprised at the number of baseball fields in the area–and they were all being used. There was even a graffiti wall (there was a sign encouraging people to use it instead of defacing public property), which had some decent art.

Dazhi Bridge

Dazhi Bridge

According to the estimate from MapMyRide.com (the map doesn’t follow the roads/bike paths exactly), my ride on Sunday was a little more than 14.5 miles. I couldn’t calculate my ride from Saturday because I really don’t know where I was.

Yuanshan Hotel in the distance

Yuanshan Hotel in the distance

The YouBike is my new favorite way of seeing Taipei. They even have lights for riding at night and it’s common, and sometimes easier, to ride on the sidewalks. Traffic can get hectic, but I really didn’t have any problems with drivers like I used to have back home in NJ.

Protest Marches on in Taipei

The sunflower movement took to the streets on Sunday in Taipei

The sunflower movement took to the streets on Sunday in Taipei

After stopping by the protests at Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, I figured I probably wouldn’t see much more during my stay. I knew there were still protests going on around the government buildings–some professors are even holding classes for students at the protests.

Protesters marching down the street outside Peace Park

Protesters marching down the street outside Peace Park

Of course, it would help if I’d pay attention to announcements about such things going on in my current home.protest-march2

On Sunday I headed to Peace Park and the National Taiwan Museum for a day out. When I exited the train at NTU Hospital Station, I was surprised to see so many people–and why were all these others taking pictures at the station? As I exited the station I was surrounded by people in black shirts holding sunflowers (the symbol of the protest movement) and police.

The friendly Taipei police are ready to stop you from going anywhere

The friendly Taipei police are ready to stop you from going anywhere

Peace Park was mostly blocked off with intimidating temporary barbed wire barriers and police. Even some of the nearby streets were blocked off with the barriers.

Welcome to Peace Park

Welcome to Peace Park

After I was finished with the National Museum, I headed back to the station to see what more was going on with all the protesters. The crowd had grown significantly and they were marching down the main street.

Guess I won't have that relaxing walk through the park today

Guess I won’t have that relaxing walk through the park today

Estimates of the size of the crowd ran from 100,000 to 400,000 depending on which side of the argument you ask.

That can't be good for business

That can’t be good for business

Sayonara, Japan

Tomorrow morning I say goodbye to Tokyo and Japan for a while. I’ve already decided that I want to return when the weather warms up (I didn’t expect to stay this long and didn’t pack appropriate cold-weather clothes). I will head out for Vietnam for a few months–the first stop will be Hanoi, which is just going to be wet, according to weather reports. I have a free VPN set up to navigate around internet censorship, and I have a backup paid option just in case.

The view of Tokyo from Shinjuku Park

The view of Tokyo from Shinjuku Park

As much as I’m sure I’ll enjoy Vietnam (especially the food), I’m still glad my first stop on this journey was Japan. It’s not often that I make specific plans to return to one place, especially not to the same city, but such was my time here.

If anyone has a recommendation for my time in Vietnam, feel free to leave a comment. I haven’t planned much my trip yet, but I’ll have all next week during work hours to find exciting things to do.

Day at Yoyogi Park

yoyogi-park1After a full week of clouds and rain, the sun finally came out in Tokyo. This is  great considering my first week was filled with a potential strong typhoon that veered away from Tokyo rather late and an earthquake that scared the hell out of me after I just went to sleep on Friday night. Sunday was a great day to just relax and roam Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine. Fortunately, I didn’t have to navigate much of the Tokyo train system to get there as the Odakyu line by my apartment goes right to the park (I only had to change from the local to the express and back to local to save about 15 minutes of travel time).

Yoyogi Park was once the Olympic village in 1964, and the opposite side of the street from the park is still used for sports–you can even see the Yoyogi National Gymnasium. I started out on this side of the street because I wasn’t paying attention to the tourist maps (also, tourist maps are not always oriented with north up top, which confused me at first).

Yoyogi National Gymnasium

Yoyogi National Gymnasium

I arrived on Sunday with an event–there were bands and plenty of organizations around a band shell. Then I noticed a pedestrian mall with an organic farmers market.  As I was just starting my day of walking, I decided not to buy anything I couldn’t immediately eat.farmers-market

Unlike in the US, this farmers market also served alcohol. I found a stall selling Rhum, organic rum and liqueur made in the Mekong Delta region of Laos. The company owners spoke enough English to explain what their product was and how they started. And they gave me a few samples, which were impressive. For an organic spirit, they weren’t too expensive at a little more than $30. If I planned on staying in Japan long term, I would probably buy a bottle.rhum

As I crossed into Yoyogi Park, I encountered some sights that I was told I might encounter. In front of some large murals by the stairs were Japanese youths dressed in costumes posing and dancing in front of cameras. There were others without costumes dancing throughout the park as well. The first girl I saw dancing was only wearing lingerie.

Is it just before Halloween or is this just Japan?

Is it just before Halloween or is this just Japan?

Throughout the park I saw various groups of people–some playing guitars or drums, singers, joggers, yoga groups, etc. It’s a great place for people watching.yoyogi-park

I made my way through the park rather quickly so I could head for the Meiji Shrine. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken who passed away in 1912 and 1914, respectively. Emperor Meiji is credited with opening Japan to the outside world and introducing some western concepts and technology to the country.meiji-gate

100,000 trees were donated from around Japan and abroad to establish this lush forest that surrounds the shrine. The shrine was opened November 1, 1920.

Sake jars on the path to the shrine

Sake jars on the path to the shrine

Along the walk I saw a lot of Japanese families dressed for the occasion of visiting the shrine. Most of the children were dressed in traditional kimonos; some of the women were also in kimonos.meiji-tourists

The shrine and surrounding area was beautiful and would make for great photos if there weren’t so many people around. However, even with the large crowd, the atmosphere is quiet and polite–no need to fight one’s way through the crowd.

Inside Meiji Shrine

Inside Meiji Shrine

At the main shrine, I was fortunate enough to witness a wedding procession. Unfortunately, I’m not the type to crash a wedding–it doesn’t help that I’d have a hard time convincing everyone that I somehow know the bride and/or groom.meiji-wedding

After visiting the shrine, I walked along the paths to the Treasure Museum. The museum was not as impressive as the building itself, and photos are not allowed inside.

Treasure Museum

Treasure Museum

Of course, as I wasn’t paying attention to directions, I found myself on the opposite side of the park that I wanted to be on. After walking for almost four hours, I was tempted to just find the nearest train station and hang out for lunch in that area, but I decided to just head back through Yoyogi Park.

Is that meerkat on a leash?

Is that meerkat on a leash?

As I re-entered the park, I came across these little uncommon household pets (are they meerkats?). It wasn’t just one person with one of these critters; there were three people and at least five of the animals–two of them were in a baby carriage. I was told by an Australian tourist who also stopped for a photo that someone in the park had dogs dressed up as Mario and Luigi (I never found them).

I'm not sure what this was

I’m not sure what this was

I had planned to stay in the Shibuya area for dinner after my walk, but I was exhausted from a lot of walking, especially after my previous day’s journey of getting lost for five hours in narrow streets (that story will come soon). Visiting the restaurants and bars of Shibuya will have to wait for another day.

State Parks During a Government Shutdown

gov-shutdownDespite the government shutdown ruining a significant part of my short holiday plans, I managed to make the most of the situation. Unfortunately, it involved staying in a freeway-side motel that cost $200 more than I originally planned on spending for accommodation. I was looking forward to spending a significant amount of time in Pt. Reyes National Seashore, but ended up with a day in Mt. Tamalpais State Park and a drive along Route 1 and another road, which cut through part of Pt. Reyes.

From the trail in Mt. Tamalpais State Park

From the trail in Mt. Tamalpais State Park

The trip didn’t start out so well as I attempted to exit San Francisco airport via Hertz–it’s never a good sign when there are about 100 people in line and only a few people working. After an hour, I was told to go to my car, which did not actually exist; I was told my car was elsewhere. Upon reaching the exit in my rented Nissan Versa, I was told I had the wrong car–there were three parking space numbers on my receipt to add to the confusion. Fortunately, the woman working the gate reprocessed my reservation and I somehow saved $20, which was a pleasant surprise as I specifically requested the cheapest car they had.

Overlooking Stinson Beach

Overlooking Stinson Beach

My full day in the parks began early on Friday with a drive north of Route 1 and turn off on Panoramic Highway, which reconnects with Route 1. I stopped a few times along the road to take some pictures, which I ended up doing quite often throughout the day, until I found the parking lot of Mt. Tamalpais State Park.tamalpais

I paid my $8 to park for the day and asked the ranger for a trail route that wouldn’t take more than a few hours. In hindsight, I should’ve tried other trails as well–the park offered some of the best views of the day and was more interesting than the other park I stopped in.

Perfect placement for a park bench

Perfect placement for a park bench

My hike was supposed to take about an hour and a half, but was a bit longer because I took a wrong turn and didn’t notice for about 45 minutes, making the hike a bit more strenuous as well. I’m usually pretty good at reading maps, but trail maps aren’t in the same category.park-stairs

Mt. Tamalpais State Park is home to redwood trees and is adjacent to Muir Woods (I think there’s a trail that leads into Muir Woods). The mountain peak is 2,571 feet, but I didn’t manage to climb that. There are also bike and horse trails in the park.redwood-bridge

As I drove the winding roads, I decided to see how far into Pt. Reyes I could drive. There were signs for the lighthouse, and I wanted to find out if I could at least see it even if I could go in. All the turn offs from the main road were blocked with signs about the government shutdown. When I finally came to the end, I couldn’t see the lighthouse.

There are a lot of dairy farms along the coast

There are a lot of dairy farms along the coast

I met a German and Israeli couple at the end of the road. They didn’t understand the government shutdown and I explained how American politicians are just worthless idiots holding the country hostage out of simple greed and stupidity (though I added a bit of anger and profanity to my explanation). We were tempted to move the signs aside and drive further into the park–it’s not like there’s anyone working to actually stop us, right? Instead, we played good citizens and turned around. I told them to head to Mt. Tamalpais for some non-national park hiking.

The view before turning around because the government closed the road

The view before turning around because the government closed the road

Recalling the Rockies

Last night I got news from grad school classmates that Boulder, CO, was mostly under water. Flash floods turned Boulder Creek into a much more dangerous river–and some streets ended up resembling that same creek. I’m fairly certain that the first apartment I rented in the town is now flooded; the second apartment might also be under water.Rockies

Photos I’ve seen online from the Denver Post as well as those my friend posted to Facebook are rather frightening. Fortunately, the people I keep in touch with are all safe.rockies-winter_0002

I decided to go through my old photos, from before I owned a digital camera, and remember the days in the mountains. I couldn’t seem to find my photos from hikes up Mt. Sanitas, overlooking Boulder, but I did find plenty from days in Rocky Mountain National Park. These are all from separate trips: my first time in the park with my parents when I first moved to Boulder, an early spring drive into the park, and a rugged hike up 13,500 ft for which I was not quite prepared.rockies2_0003

For those readers living in the flooded areas of Colorado, I hope you stay safe. I miss the days of living in Boulder and hope to get back there.

End of Summer on the High Line

highline3To start my Labor Day weekend, I headed for a late afternoon walk on the High Line in New York. Since it opened shortly after I returned to the US in 2009, the High Line park has become my favorite spot in Manhattan–and I’m not the only person in the area who thinks it’s the best place in the city.

The old elevated train line that runs near the Hudson River provides great views of the New York skyline along with Jersey City and Hoboken across the way.

Great views of the Empire State Building along the way

Great views of the Empire State Building along the way

The overgrown vegetation on the walk from Gansevoort to 30th St. makes the High Line feel like an oasis away from the city, even though there are plenty of reminders that Manhattan surrounds you.highline-railway

Just past the Chelsea Market, there’s a great spot for New York street theater as the High Line crosses 10th Ave. Whenever I stop at this section of the park, I watch the people sitting and watching traffic flow below.

Best street theater in New York

Best street theater in New York

For those who want to enjoy a bit more than just the view, there are some food vendors and even a bar on the High Line (the bar was rather crowded when I walked by on Friday). There are also plenty of benches and lounge chairs to enjoy the weather and views.

The lawn is a great place to sit and read

The lawn is a great place to sit and read

Reflecting Again on Jiuzhaigou

There were just too many photos to choose from for my previous post on Jiuzhaigou National Park in northern Sichuan Province. If the weather had been better, I probably would’ve taken a hundred more.

Remember when I said that this photo in Boston was my favorite reflection picture? Well, it turns out that it’s just my favorite urban reflection. I forgot about this beautiful scene from Jiuzhaigou with the clear reflective water.jiuzhaigou_lake

I don’t recall which lake this is, but I’m sure it wasn’t Mirror Lake or Five-Color Lake with it’s millions of tourists. I’m sure this was one of the lakes away from the main road, which explains the lack of tourists. I’m still amazed at how clear the lakes in the park were.

Journey Through Jiuzhaigou

needleMtDuring my first May holiday in China, I headed to Sichuan Province–after a short stay in Chengdu, it was a long bus north to Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou, broken up by a brief stay in Songpan. I didn’t realize during the planning stage that early spring is not the best time to see Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou, as the snow hasn’t melted. The best times to visit are late spring and early fall–the photos from those times are even more impressive than what I got.

My companion and I caught a bus from Huanglong to the town of Jiuzhaigou–the woman taking ticket money gave my travel companion the number of a Tibetan who hosted tourists inside the park. It was a chilly ride through the mountains of northern Sichuan as a little rain and snow fell along the road. Exhausted from our hike through Huanglong, we stayed near the park entrance at the Jiuzhai Hotel–it had hot water for only a few hours that night for a shower and wasn’t overly comfortable. Sans comfort, we were enticed to wake up early enough to be some of the first people into the park the following morning.

First view of lakes outside Shuzheng Village

First view of lakes outside Shuzheng Village

The first day was rainy–the cold, light rain didn’t dampen the awe-inspiring views of nature. After more than six months living in Shenzhen, surrounded by millions of people, this was the most beautiful sight despite the rain. The low clouds surrounding the mountains gave Jiuzhaigou a more dream-like aura.

View from above Shuzheng Village

View from above Shuzheng Village

Tickets during the holidays were more expensive than other times of year and were only good for one day (usually they’re good for a few days). Fortunately, we were staying inside the park and didn’t need an extra ticket for the second day. Of course, staying inside the park is illegal, but rarely enforced. There are numerous houses throughout the park that are converted into small hotels–I assume the owners pay security to look the other way.villagestreet2

We stayed in the Tibetan village of Shuzheng–it’s the first major stop on the bus route through Jiuzhaigou. The building looked like a small apartment complex with a beautifully painted exterior. Inside the rooms were bare and equipped with a squat toilet. Unlike the hotels outside the park, this one had 24-hour hot water but no heat, which would’ve been nice in early May. Including a nice dinner it only cost us 100 yuan.

Tibetan woman spinning the prayer wheels

Tibetan woman spinning the prayer wheels

During dinner, I met a college student who grew up in Jiuzhaigou and was visiting her parents for the holiday. She told me that turning the region into a national park was good and bad–the children could now have an education, which took them away from the region to study in cities and it explained why I saw so few local children. She also said that the local lifestyle was forced to change–the Tibetans were no longer allowed to raise livestock, so all the food was brought from outside the park. But tourism brings in enough money for everyone to live comfortably.

Shuzheng Falls. I managed to avoid getting a photo of the crowds and their umbrellas

Shuzheng Falls. I managed to avoid getting a photo of the crowds and their umbrellas

We also met two young teachers from a music college in Chengdu who were on the same bus from Huanglong–they also took the phone number for the hotel from the woman on the bus. We traveled a while with them on the second day (until one forgot his camera on the bus and had to chase it down). One of them enjoyed singing Elvis songs, but didn’t understand the meaning–I tried to explain some, but it was difficult with his limited knowledge of English. They were entertaining for the evening since we weren’t allowed to exit the property to walk around the village after 8 pm.

Mirror Lake with some light rain

Mirror Lake with some light rain

The views of Jiuzhaigou are magnificent. At times, words fail to describe the beauty. It is like nothing I have ever seen or could ever have imagined. I could’ve sat and watched the rivers and mountains for hours.

How could anyone not love this view?

How could anyone not love this view?

Everywhere we looked there were pieces of Tibetan culture–brightly painted buildings, jinfan and longda sending prayers through the wind, and mills powered by the rivers (and some prayer wheels turned by the same flowing waters). It was at the temple in Shuzheng village that I was blessed by a Tibetan monk.

Channeling water to power to the prayer wheels

Channeling water to power the prayer wheels

On the second day, we learned how to avoid most of the tour crowds and enjoy the peaceful silence that nature provided. We also learned that the “eco-friendly” transportation was not as great as advertised–they were normal, diesel-powered buses fitted with better exhaust systems. Still, it is better than allowing private transportation through the park–I could only imagine the traffic if the regular holiday crowds could drive through.

Nuorilang Falls

Nuorilang Falls

There were plank bridges that led away from the main road that most tourists seemed to ignore–of course, that’s where I wanted to walk. Just a short walk away, the noise of the crowds and buses diminished, and we were left to enjoy the sounds of nature.

Panda Lake, but no pandas in sight

Panda Lake, but no pandas in sight

Story of a Bridge

This past weekend, Jersey City unveiled its new footbridge linking Liberty State Park with Jersey Ave. The old, worn, lopsided bridge was washed away by Hurricane Sandy. This new bridge came with a price tag of $800,000.

This bridge really cost $800,000 of taxpayer money

This bridge really cost $800,000 of taxpayer money

As you can see, this pre-made bridge looks like something you can buy at Home Depot. I understand that some work had to be done on the roadway to be able to install the bridge properly, but $800,000!? I don’t care if the federal government is picking up most of the tab. I’m still wondering who pocketed the other $700,000. Our mayor-elect is taking credit for the bridge, but doesn’t seem to care about the price tag.

Prior to being installed. It just sat there for a few weeks

Prior to being installed. It just sat there for a few weeks

Anyway, Memorial Day provided some great weather for a bike ride through the park. Of course, after a few days of rain and cold temperatures, everyone decided Monday was a great day to spend in the park. There was a lot of traffic. Not being one for crowds or really slow bike rides, I decided to cut my ride short and enjoy a little grilling.

Beautiful day to enjoy the park

Beautiful day to enjoy the park

I didn’t take any photos of my grilled dinner, but it was delicious. Marinated steak with dried chili peppers, mirin, soy sauce, grated ginger and garlic, and a little oil. Wonderful flavor and spice.LSP-skyline1

Waiting for Spring

The weather is finally starting to warm up around here. And by warm up, I mean that it’s no longer snowing and freezing. It makes me reminisce about spring trips in the past–not that I had too many.

My first big spring trip was to Sichuan Province during my first year in China. It was hot enough to wear shorts in Chengdu in the first week of May, but I need a warm coat when I headed for the Tibetan regions in the north. Even the rain and cooler temperatures in Jiuzhaigou didn’t dampen my spirits–the beauty of the landscape was well worth the trip in any weather.overlook_shuzheng

The best part of being in Jiuzhaigou was walking away from the main road to escape the crowds. Heading deep into Shuzheng village provided a great view.