Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Zhangjiajie National Park (Day 1)

To begin my adventure to Zhangjiajie (stands for Zhang Family Homeland), my Changsha assistant Li Ya Lun and I went to the bus station to meet up with our tour, which was called Golden Phoenix Tours.  We were to board a bus with about 20-25 other people who would accompany us on the tour.  The bus left on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. and the seating was very similar to what you would find on an airplane, so it was very cramped for an oversized American such as myself.   The trip took about 5 hours and I passed the time by watching a movie on my Nook color.  The Chinese generally don’t have gadgets besides their phones (which are usually iPhones), so they kept looking over to see what I was watching.  Despite our language differences, I think we all agreed that the movie was dumb (Whiteout with Kate Beckinsale).  I wanted to read a bit too, but the bus was unusually bumpy for some reason and it was very difficult to read or sleep. 

We arrived at a small town outside of Zhangjiajie called Wulingyuan.  It was 12:30 a.m. and we simply got the keys to our rooms.  Thankfully, the tour package pays for everyone to have their own room and their own bathroom.  For some reason, I pictured us sleeping on a dirt floor and sharing a communal bathroom.  To my surprise, the room was actually just fine, apart from the usual squatter toilet and a lack of air conditioning, it was pretty comfortable.  The pictures will show that I was being a baby for no reason and that the accommodations were quite good.  Because I was so excited about finally being in Zhangjiajie, I could not get to sleep until about 1:30 a.m.

Our wakeup call was at 6:00 a.m. because we were to all eat breakfast together at 6:30 before heading off to the park.  When I went down to eat, I was a little disappointed that we all were to sit around a large table.  To be honest, I have quite enjoyed the social eating experience with the people in Changsha that I’ve gotten to know well, but it was difficult to eat with these strangers.  My Chinese is pretty terrible and telling people my name, where I am from, what I am doing in Changsha, and that I have five children pretty much exhausts what I am able to communicate and then the conversation just dies.  Plus, they would often just stare at me awkwardly and it can be uncomfortable in an eating situation.  One part I particularly don’t enjoy is when someone says something in Chinese, then they all look over at me (so I know it’s about me), and then they all laugh.  I kept asking Ya Lun what they would say and sometimes she would tell me and other times she would not.  On a couple of occasions, she told me that they were guessing by my size how much I could eat.  Another time, Ya Lun simply told me that one of the older men had given me a nickname and it was “the red kid.”  I never thought I was red before, but he had traveled from Northern China and was very dark skinned.   Also, those who know me well know that I don’t really like to eat breakfast (except for the rare occasions my father-in-law is cooking bacon).  I especially don’t want to eat anything at 6:30 a.m. when my stomach is still unsettled.  But, custom dictated that we all eat together so I fought to get some rice porridge, a hard boiled egg, and some mantou (bread rolls) down.

After breakfast, we went to the main gate of the park and faced a huge line to get on the buses.  The bussing system in Zhangjiajie is surprisingly good for how many people they accommodate every day.  Apparently 28,000 people go through there every day and hundreds of buses take them to different spots in the park.  Our first destination was the Bailong Elevator (stands for Hundred Dragons Elevator), which is well known for being the world’s tallest outdoor elevator.  I thought the elevator was really impressive.  I did think before I got there that it wasn’t full enclosed, but it is.  My children are nervous to go up in it next year, but I think they will feel safe.  It was almost like an indoor elevator in every way, except for the phenomenal views of the outside.  Also, it goes to the top (about 1,070 feet) in about 45 seconds, so it’s quick..  The tour guide kept bragging that it was the world’s tallest outdoor elevator AND the world’s heaviest elevator.  I don’t know why, but I found that to be disturbing and could not stop thinking about how this was a record I did not really want it to hold.  When we got to the top, the views were extraordinary.  I’m not sure how to describe how I felt, but it was nothing I had ever seen before.  I have always appreciated things that are big in scope.  Maybe it’s a spiritual thing because I’m always in awe of the sheer greatness of some of God’s creations.  For this reason, my favorite national park has always been Zion.  I love to climb Angel’s Landing and look down at the valley floor.  I got the same feeling from seeing these giant pillars of quartzite sandstone and it was really breathtaking. 

I do have to take issue with the way the tour guide kept moving us along too quickly.  I wanted to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, and she kept herding us forward.  I was clearly the straggler and she was frustrated because I kept stopping to take pictures.  But, I didn’t care.  This was my opportunity to see something I have always wanted to see and she wasn’t going to stop me.  I’m sure the tour was very helpful for the native Chinese people, but I couldn’t tell what she was saying and Ya Lun got tired of translating for me after a while.  The beauty speaks for itself though, right?  For pretty much the rest of the day, we kept traversing the different peaks and I really enjoyed seeing the different formations.  One thing I did not really expect was the amount of stairs that were built into these mountain peaks.  I’ve run three half marathons in my life and to this point they had been my most challenging physical accomplishments.  I would have to say, though, that hiking up and down these mountains was the most physically taxing thing I’ve ever done.  I got to a point where I could not go down a set of steps without my legs giving out on me.  At first I thought I was the only one, but I looked around and many people were having great difficulty.  When we finally descended the mountain completely, one of the guides predicted that we had walked down about 10,000 stairs.

I arrived back at my hotel room about 8:30 p.m. and fell asleep within just a few minutes. That's pretty early for me, but I was wiped out.  The next day, we were scheduled to start at the same time and to see some more beautiful locations.  Little did I know it would rain the entire day.  That was quite an adventure as well and I’ll save that for the next blog.  I hope you enjoy the pictures I took of day one in Zhangjiajie.  

My room.  Not bad, eh? 
Another squatter!  Come on...!  

View from my hotel window.  The shingles reminded me of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.  

One of the streets in the small town of Wulingyuan outside of the park.

This building is the entrance to the park.  I asked Ya Lun what the significance is of this building.  She said, "There is none.  They built it so that it would look Chinese."  Nice!

The lady in the pink is our tour guide.  There are many touring groups in Zhangjiajie, so we all had to wear pins to identify us and she had this flag with her all the time.

A view of the Bailong Elevator.

A great view of a few peaks from the bottom just before getting on the elevator.

I like this picture because it shows the elevators.  There are three of them and they are double deckers.  

I hate to let my handsome face detract from the beauty of the mountains.  Sorry everyone!

I never thought I would say this, but I kind of agree that the one child policy is a good idea.  

This is one of many Avatar posters in the park.  You better believe they are milking this for every penny.  They even renamed one of the mountain peaks Avatar Mountain in 2010.  

Inside the elevator.  I tried to get in first, but I'm new at the pushing and shoving thing.  These guys in front of me were old pros.  

I took this as soon as I exited the elevator.  I like that you can get a sense of the height by looking at the buses below.  

What is there to write.  Just beautiful.

No two peaks look exactly alike.  Really interesting shapes.  

I didn't realize I had worn my Yellowstone shirt until I got to the park.  Then I thought, "Am I trying to show everyone what a world traveler I am?"  I felt a little foolish.  

I included this one because this bridge was very wobbly despite its sturdy appearance.  Once all these people got on, some teenagers started rocking it back and forth and the people started to scream.  They all ran to the other side as fast as they could.  The trees make it look like it is not high up, but the height is pretty frightening.  

I took many pictures of signs that I thought had interesting or unusual English translations of the Chinese.  

One of my favorite peaks.

This is the same peak as the previous picture, but I could fit it all in one frame.  

I like this one too.

I took this shot mostly to get a sense of the vegetation growing on these peaks.  I'm kind of impressed with these trees that they just grow right out of the top of this rock.  However, with this much humidity, I guess you can grow anything on anything.  

This is the largest natural bridge in the entire world.  

I found this romantic.  Since 1982, people have been coming here and putting locks (many in heart shapes) to signify their unbreakable love for each other.  You better believe I'm going to pick one out for Stacie and I.

The guy in the yellow climbing the mountain is notorious in this area.  They call him the "The Human Spiderman."

Not my favorite.  I've been spoiled lately I guess.

Somewhere on the mountain, we got to see a reenactment of a wedding ritual.  The draped area is the bed where the couple will consummate their love.  She is veiled because the man is not allowed to see his bride until they married. The guy on the right is a reluctant volunteer.  When they asked for volunteers, about 50 Chinese people pointed at me.  I flatly refused, so they took this guy. 

Bees!  Run!

This man had a really fun routine where the monkeys would do tricks.  One of the tricks included him throwing knives to them  and they would catch them.

Close up of the monkey.  I couldn't get too close because I was warned they bite and have diseases.  I think that's probably with wild monkeys, but I didn't want to take any chances.  I would have loved to see a wild monkey, though.  

Beautiful Chinese tea house on top of the mountain.

View from the very top of the tea house.  

Such lush vegetation.

Primadonna! You can pay these guys to carry you up or down the mountain.  It's your choice.  Ya Lun told me I probably didn't want to do it because they charge by weight.  I'm so sick of people talking about my weight.  I'm normal and they are all 100 pounds UNDER weight as far as I'm concerned.  

All I need is some blue skin and I'm your next big movie star.  Sign me up, James Cameron. I'm ready for Avatar 2!


  1. How awesome! I just wish you had some kind of big-guy entourage to deal with all the rude Chinese comments, it makes me mad!

  2. I could so beat up four of these Chinese guys at one time, but I want to be a respectful.

  3. I had a few Korean roommates, and they would comment on my weight all the time as well. I think it's just normal for them. Kevin, by American standards you are no where near fat. While the Chinese might not know that, at least you do.