Friday, March 30, 2012

Xianshi Ancient Town and Shenhai Salt Well

Day-tripping from Zigong to Xianshi is easy. We walked for about 30 minutes to the Zigong Train Station. Just west of the station, buses to Xianshi (2.5 RMB pp) leave from almost right under a sign that says "Xianshi 11 kms". The end-of-the-line is at the top of the Xianshi Old Street.

Xiasnshi has spruced itself up for tourists and is building a river walk. Highlights are the 2 old guild halls, each with a temple and stage, that are bisected by a street instead of being inside compound walls. Neat! The guild halls are almost adjacent and both face the river. And no admission fees for any of the attractions.

Heading back to the top of the Old Street, we took the bus back to the train station and walked home, taking a pesdetrain tunnel that was full of posters explaining what to do during a nuclear attack. Hmmm.

After a quick lunch of boiled corn-on-the-cob, salted duck eggs, and oranges, we rode bus #35 east about 8 stops to the Shenhai Salt Well, admission 22 RMB pp. This well is over 100 years old, reaches 3000 ft deep, and still produces salt, mainly as a working museum. The wooden winch is idle except when energetic tourists give is a spin. The water buffalo have long been retired, replaced by a modern motor.

Salt brine is not pumped out of the well. A steel rope lowers a slim tube, about 4 inches in diameter and 30 feet long, that fills with brine. The tube is then winched up to the surface and the brine discharged into a tank. The brine is then transfer to the rendering house where it is boiled down into salt crystals.

The vats of salt brine are boiled over flames powered by the natural gas that also comes out of the well. At one point in the process soybean paste is used to draw off impurities. The Shenhai Well is well worth a visit.

After the well, we rode bus #35 4 stops west to a site with 4 more wells; none are working but they are in pretty good shape with derricks intact. At least one wooden winch survives as well. We poked around a bit. Having just visited a working well, we knew what to look for. The government owns the site and it looks like it will be developed for tourism as rubbish has been removed, and a distillery has been thrown out of one of the buildings.

Guild Hall Stage - Xianshi.

Old street.

Woman carries a child on the street that bisects the guild hall.

The wedding banquet will fill the street. At back is the "tunnel" through the guild hall.

The kitchen for the wedding banquet spills out onto the riverside path.

Shenhai Salt Well.

The old wooden Winch.

Wellhead and brine tube.

Boiling down the brine looks to be a mellow job.

The brine tube is dangling from the derrick (left). The brine rendering house in at right.

Three non-producing salt wells.

Capped and idle.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Fu Shun Confucius Temple

Fu Shun is located about 25 km south of Zigong and features China's Number Two Confucius Temple.

We rode bus #35 to the bus station, and took the Fu Shun "Medium" bus for 10 RMB each. The bus passed the Zigong High Tech Business Incubator on the way out of town, and we headed down the highway about 20 kms to Fu Shun.

The bus dropped us off several kilometers east of the bus station at its final stop which is near the Oil Well monument (and traffic circle of sorts). This was good as we then had a short walk east on Wen Miao Road to the Confucius Temple. Arriving, we were at first disheartened to see the ticket price was 40 RMB, then relieved to hear from the ticket seller that the price increase would go into effect when all the tickets printed "10 元" had been sold. Whew! It's a cool temple but 40 RMB? Hmmm.

Having recently seen 2 other cool Confucius Temples in FengQing and Huize, we had to rank this one as the most impressive, especially with its red gate, statues of Master Kong and disciples, and the size and patina of the buildings.

After wandering around the Old Town, we took a ferry across the river to an old mansion, now a school. Returned and toured a couple of Buddhist Temples with images carved into a cliff, checked out West Lake, and returned to Zigong. Nice outing!

Confucius Temple Gate with bridge and pool in front.


The woman in front of Sun-Ling was showing us the way to the ferry which is just ahead.

Old mansion, now part of a school.

Buddhist image cut into the cliff.

Fu Shun locals hanging out at West Lake.

They turn on the lights at night in Zigong.

Rongxian Giant Buddha

Day trip to Rongxian: We ride city bus #1 to the bus station and buy 2 x 14 = 28 RMB tickets on the 9:55 express bus to Rongxian, which takes about an hour.

Walking out of the Rongxian bus station it's no trouble finding the town's main attraction, the 2nd largest Buddha Image in the world (the largest is just down the road at Leshan); there are several large signs featuring a Buddha's head pointing the way.

Arriving at the ticket window we find to our surprise that the ticket price is 60 RMB per person for all non-residents, almost $10, much more than the 8 RMB we expected from our research; so we punted, and enjoyed the "for free" views (see photos below). The price for locals is 10 RMB, that seems a bit high as well. Sigh. I guess the tour groups will pay up though.

We stood around for awhile at the entrance and watched a family of five visiting a friend in Rongxian also punt. No wonder. 60 x 5 - 300 RMB, about $45.

On to the Number Two Buddha across the river which is a temple that features many Buddha images carved out of a cliff. Entrance fee 1 RMB; and we had the vegetarian lunch for 4 RMB each. Then after trying and failing to find anything old in the Old Town, we climbed up to the Pagoda, then returned to Zigong.

Full disclosure: We saw the Giant Buddha at Leshan in 2004. See photo way below.

View of Rongxian Giant Buddha from ticket gate.
Giant Buddha - Rongxian, Sichuan, China

And from the Parking Lot.
Giant Buddha - Rongxian, Sichuan, China

John washing our the lunch dishes at the Number Two Buddha Temple.
I wash our lunch dishes - Rongxian, Sichuan, China

Pagoda - Rongxian, Sichuan, China

John and Leshan Giant Buddha (Dafo) in 2004 as seen from a boat in the Min River.
Leshan Giant Buddha - Sichuan, China

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sanduozhai City Wall

With an early 8:10AM departure from Yibin Station, we upgraded ourselves to soft seat for the 90-minute trip to Zigong and enjoyed our coffee and pastries on the train.

After losing a day due to more stomach troubles and a change of hotels, we made a day trip from Zigong to SanDuoZhai and enjoyed the spring weather, flowering trees, local food, and splendid old sandstone city walls.

Note to fellow travelers: To get from Zigong to SanDuoZhai, take city bus #35 (from near the Holiday Hotel or the Bus Station) to the Dinosaur Museum stop, then at the same stop, take a SanDuoZhai bus (signed 三多寨; 2.5 yuan per person) to SanDuoZhai. Get off at the last stop, which is about 100 meters inside the South Gate. There is a map in Chinese only just outside the South Gate. Return by doing the reverse.

Breakfast on the train.
Soft Seat - Yibin to Zigong, Sichuan, China

Hard to not spot the Dinosaur Museum where we changed buses.
Dinosaur Museum - Zigong, Sichuan, China

Flowering pear trees and rapeseed.

Trying the local specialty: tofu and rice.

Inside the city wall. Beautiful sandstone.

And from the outside

Sun-Ling on top of the wall next to the parapet and embrasures.

Another view of the top of the wall, the parapet and embrasures.

View from West Gate.

The East Gate.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Back on the Train

And it's back on the train from Zhaotong, Yunnan to Yibin, Sichuan; one of those slow trains which stops often on the single-tracked line to let faster passenger and freight trains pass. After we complained about a group of smokers, the conductor led us to an empty car at the far end of the train. Cool. Quiet is good as John was up in the middle of the previous night with "stomach troubles".

A few folks came on the car at the first stop; Zhaotong North. They had bought apples and chicks in Zhaotong and were taking them home. A few hours later the car was taken over by a large group returning from an outing. They shouted and scurried to put their unfrozen, just purchased sacks of meat next to open windows, then somewhat settled down to the usual pastimes: sleeping, playing cards, and eating sunflower seeds, punctuated by occasional shouting. You are never alone for long in China. Haha.

Located at the confluence of major rivers and with a busy downtown right where the rivers meet, Yibin reminded me of Pittsburgh, PA and Chongqinq, China. One day we walked around the city center checking out the temples, churches, old guild halls, and the rivers. The Art Deco Clock Tower, built in 1938 is one of the most impressive Art Deco monuments we've ever seen. Wow!

The next day we day-tripped 20 kms downriver by bus to Li Zhuang Ancient Town, famous for its distilled liquor and old quarter. Also Shanghai's Tongji University relocated here from 1940 to 1946 during the Japanese occupation of Eastern China. Judging from the number of restaurants and snack stalls and souvenir shops, Li Zhuang must get many tourists on holidays, but not the day we were there.

The empty car.

Chicks in the square boxes and apples in the baskets.

Heading to Sichuan.

The Jinsha River in Yibin.

The confluence of the Min River (left - clear) and the Jinsha River (right- brown) to form the Yangtze.

Facade of one of the Catholic Churches with mosaic tile work that is also seen on Guild Halls and Buddhist temples in this area.

The other Catholic Church. Btw, both Catholic churches were "open" when we walked by as are most Catholic churches around the world, but rarely in China.

The Art Deco Clock tower - 1938.

Rain ready moto-taxis.

Li Zhuang photos:

Card game in an old Li Zhuang courtyard.

Guild Hall Stage.

A vat at a distillery. I had a taste of the finished product - smooth!

Temple cupola with mosaic tiles.

Old Town - Li Zhuang

Blooming turnips on both sides of the Yangtze River at Li Zhuang

Octagonal Pavilion outside Li Zhuang.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

From Aguascalientes, there is a very convenient direct flight to Cancun.  Since the wedding is at a private beach south of Playa del Carmen,...