Tuesday, October 21, 2008


As part of the National Holiday, I went to Putuoshan for a couple days. It was the second part of the trip after going to Ningbo. The actual trip took place over two weeks ago, but unfortunately it seems I am perpetually behind on the blog. From Ningbo, you can take a short bus ride to the sea port and from there take a high speed boat ride to Putuoshan. The boat ride was pretty cool and I was surprised how fast such a large boat was going. Because we weren't able to get tickets to leave Ningbo as early as we hoped and because the whole trip took around 3.5 - 4 hours, we didn't arrive in Putuoshan until the afternoon. Since it was the National Holiday weekend, there were tons of people coming and going when we first arrived. Also, the prices for hotels, food, etc. were all inflated because of the influx of tourists, but that's to be expected anywhere during the heavy tourist season. We ended up staying in an old fisherman's housing area that had been converted into a few hotel rooms. It was relatively nice and provided an opportunity to stay near to a bunch of locals. Putuoshan is an island with a sacred Buddhist mountain peak in the center of the island. As such, there are a lot of Buddhist temples and statues on the island. Being an island, it also has a couple nice beaches. After the long and hot travel from Ningbo, we wanted to go for a swim in the ocean to cool down. So after settling into our hotel, we set out to the ocean. When we got to the beach, we noticed that nobody was really swimming in the water, but we weren't really sure why. I said what the heck and started running into the water with plans to jump into the oncoming waves. After a few seconds, however, a Chinese lifeguard came running over and started yelling at us to get out. At first I thought that maybe since the island was a sacred Buddhist island they didn't want people in swimming suits running around, but then I looked at the lifeguard and thought that his long t-shirt and speedo combination hardly left anything to the imagination. It turns out that the "fierce" waves were too dangerous to allow people to swim. I have seen waves larger than that on Lake Michigan and was pretty disappointed we weren't able to swim. The beach, however, was very beautiful and it was nice to sit and relax as the sun went down.
Hundred Step Beach
Hundred Step Beach
Hundred Step Beach
Dangerous Waves
The next day we went to a lot of the sites on the island. The first area we visited was around the Puji Temple. There were a lot of people around, but the temple and surrounding area were nice.
Puji Temple Area
Puji Temple Area
Puji Temple Area
We then went to a smaller temple that was on the edge of the island near the ocean. The temple itself was just ok, but the view was spectacular. The weather this day of the trip was perfect and the clouds and blue skies provided some of the best views we had.
People Worshipping at Temple
Ocean View
Boats in Harbor
Ocean View Beautiful Day
The next site we went to was the Guan Yin Statue. It is a large statue of Guan Yin, who according to wikipedia is the Chinese Bodhisattva of Compassion. It is probably the coolest site on the island, in my opinion, and there are great views of the statue from a distance and up close.
Guan Yin Statue
Guan Yin Statue
Guan Yin Statue
Guan Yin Statue
The whole area and temple around the Guan Yin statue was very impressive and beautiful. They had several inner areas to visit and a lot of large murals that were very elaborately carved, drawn, or decorated. The view of the rest of the island from the statue area was also amazing.
Inner Mural
Outside Mural
View from Guan Yin Statue
Most of the people who go to Putuoshan seem to be there to worship and aren't casual tourists like myself. At all of the temples and sites on the island there are areas for people to worship, give offerings, and everything seems to be held sacred. The offerings came in the form of money, food, snacks, and even large containers of what seemed like oil for cooking. I assume that the Buddhist monks on the island use the offerings to maintain the island and for their own personal living expenses, but I'm not sure. To worship, people will light these incense sticks and wave them a few times in all 4 general directions. Then, they will kneel and bow towards a statue or some object of worship. To be honest, I am not sure of the meaning or significance of the different actions, but I thought the worship was interesting and hopefully nobody is offended that I am posting some pictures of it.
Area of Worship
Lighting the Incense
Waving the Incense
After the Guan Yin statue, we took some shuttles to the opposite side of the island to take a tram up to the peak of Putuoshan, or Mount Putuo.
Cute Kids in the Cable Car
View from Tram
On the peak of Mount Putuo, there were of course several temples to see and also great views of the island.
Temple at Mount Putuo
View of Putuoshan and Neighboring Islands
View of Putuoshan and Neighboring Islands
After seeing everything from the peak, we hiked down the mountain. There was another temple at the bottom and a nice surrounding area.
Temple Area
After that temple, we went to a different beach than we had gone to the first day. The sun was just starting to go down and oh, did I mention that it was absolutely gorgeous this day? It was really spectacular and even though the pictures are amazing, they don't fully capture how beautiful it truly was.
One thing I failed to mention before was the food in Putuoshan. Being an island, there was some excellent seafood available. There were a lot of small restaurants in the village area where we were staying. All the restaurants had plastic containers full of fish, crabs, shrimp, etc. that were still alive and you could walk over and choose which ones you wanted. When you selected a fish, they would scoop it out with a net and then grab the fish by the tale and smack its head on the ground. If that didn't suffice, sometimes they would smack the fish one more time with a flat wood stick not too different than the wooden paddles frats use for pledges. I'm not saying that that isn't efficient, I'm just saying I don't really want to see my dinner brutally murdered 15 minutes before I eat it. Regardless, the fish were all really fresh and delicious. The only problem was that, as with most meat in China, the fish were served whole so you had to deal with all the bones and other things. Usually the flavor and sauces they used were really good and I really liked the food.
Fresh Fish!
Fish Dish
Crab Anyone?
The final morning in Putuoshan we did a quick trip to a "cave". I put cave in quotes because the main cave was closed for construction and the only other caved turned out to be not a real cave. It was just a 4-meter recess in the side of a mountain where some holy person lived for awhile. What a ripoff, just kidding. Truthfully, after seeing so many temples at Putuoshan, I was ready for a change of scenery, so I was disappointed to not see the main cave. The views from the cave area, though, were beautiful, as most of the Putuoshan area is.
Temple near Cave
The Giving of Gifts
The "Cave"
The Closed Cave Area
View from Cave Area
The trip to Putuoshan was definitely a unique experience from my previous travels. It was interesting to see some Buddhist religious sites up close and see the people worshipping. I felt like a bit of an outsider, though, both as a foreigner and as someone who was just a casual tourist snapping pictures instead of worshipping. Overall, though, it was a great experience and the weather and scenery were incredible. Here are some more photos of Putuoshan: http://picasaweb.google.com/wallred10/Putuoshan#

Friday, October 10, 2008

Haircut in China

It has been a long time coming, but I finally decided to get a haircut. This is something I had somewhat been dreading since the final results of the haircut could prove to be disastrous.  Some of the hairstyles that are done for some Chinese guys are not conducive for a white guy with a receding hairline.  Case in point:
In order to prepare for the haircut, I had my Chinese tutor give me a short lesson on what I needed to say to get my haircut the way I want it, and also to prepare for the way haircuts work in China.  It seems that getting a haircut in China is a lot more of a production than going to a simple barber in the US. One of the interesting things about living in another country and not fully speaking the local language is that even a mundane task like getting a haircut can be a lot of work and somewhat of an adventure.  
After memorizing the lines I needed to say, I went to a hair salon.  I told them I wanted a haircut, then they led me to a chair, after which a girl wearing a surgical mask came over. The first thing that happens is that they shampoo your hair, which in and of itself isn't different from what I'm used to. However, the shampooing is a hybrid shampooing and scalp massage, which lasts around 15-30 minutes or so. 
After they washed out all the shampoo from my hair, I thought it was time for the haircut. Once again, I was wrong. After the shampooing, they basically do an upper body massage.  They massage your scalp, face, shoulders, arms, hands, upper back, etc. At one point, they even cleaned my ears using a Q-tip, although I wasn't that comfortable with how far they were putting it in my ear.  I wish I could have enjoyed the massage more, but I had the burning fear in my stomach of the upcoming haircut. I'm not sure why I was so nervous, but that detracted from the overall experience for sure.
After around an hour from when I first went into the salon, they finally got around to cutting my hair. I said my lines without any problem and the haircut turned out to be ok.  It's not exactly like a haircut I might get back home, but it got the job done.  It was also pretty cheap, all things considered.  It was around $6 for the haircut and all the extra stuff.
Witness the Haircut
Maybe a little too short around the ears?
So, the haircut ended up not being too bad and everything worked out ok. I was hoping this post would be funnier than it turned out, because in real life it was pretty funny to me.  Somethings are just hard to describe I suppose, but you all still read the article anyway.  And once you've read something, you can't unread it.


Recently, there was the National Day holiday in China. For National Day, most people in China get off work for 3 or 4 days and many do some traveling. As can be imagined, things can get pretty crowded during this holiday. Despite the traveling crowds and since Hangzhou is such a tourist city for Chinese people and is supposed to be ridiculously crowded during this time, I figured it would be best to do some traveling of my own. For the break, I went to some of the other main cities or tourist attractions in Zhejiang province, of which Hangzhou is the capital.
Just a Few People Waiting at the Bus Station
The first place I went to on my trip was Ningbo. Ningbo is a major port city and a good stopping point on the way to Putuoshan, which is the main tourist attraction I was after. In many ways, Ningbo is a typical modernizing Chinese city. It has plenty of modern high rises, skyscrapers, a nice shopping district, and some historical tourist sites. It also has some western influence due its involvement in the Opium Wars. As a port city, there is great seafood for relatively cheap available as well.
Thai seafood curry in China? Count me in!
One of the first things that happened upon arriving in Ningbo was that I was approached by a man with a pet monkey. For a few RMB, I was able to see the monkey up close, see it do a few tricks, and hold its hand for a little bit. I've never been that close to a monkey before and now I want one for a pet. I did feel bad for the monkey, though, since it seemed like its master probably abused it a little. I think I picked up on the abuse when the master hit the monkey with his stick right in front of me, but maybe that was just to show the monkey who's the boss.
Love at First Sight
The main tourist attraction in Ningbo is the Tianyi Library. It is supposed to be the oldest standing library in China. It has some old books and Chinese characters written on walls, as well as some nice gardens.
Chinese Writing
Tianyi Library Garden Tianyi Library Garden Tianyi Library Tianyi Library
Ningbo also has a small lake, but it's nothing compared to West Lake in Hangzhou. It was nice to take a break from walking around near the lake, though.
Ningbo Moon Lake
The other main thing in Ningbo is the Tianyi Square, which is basically a big shopping district. Most of the shops were very modern and there were a lot of expensive stores selling western clothing, electronics, etc. Near the shopping district there is also an old Portuguese Catholic church. This was the first time I've seen anything like that in China and it was pretty interesting to see a church that could easily pass for something you'd see somewhere in Europe. That is, if you disregard the Chinese restaurant located on the main floor of the church.
Ningbo Street
Tianyi Square
Portuguese Catholic Church
Inside Portuguese Catholic Church
Near the Tianyi Square there were people playing in these large floating balls on a man-made pond in the shopping area. I've never seen anything like that before and I thought it was pretty cool. Unfortunately, I didn't get to try it out.
People Playing on the Water
Tianyi Shopping Area
Tianyi Square
I was only in Ningbo for one day, but overall I thought it was a nice city. It isn't that great as a tourist city, but as a city to live in it is probably pretty good. Good restaurants, shops, clean, and cheap. After Ningbo, I went to Putuoshan, which is an island with mountains and a lot of holy Buddhist sites. I'll post more about that on a future blog post, so stay tuned. For more pics, check out: http://picasaweb.google.com/wallred10/Ningbo#