I am pretty sheltered, living in Beijing. I live in a neighborhood that has a whole lot of expats living in it. It is like Beijing’s version of Chinatown. Laoweiville. People are used to seeing foreigners all the time and DO NOT CARE. I love that about Beijing. There is no pandering, no one is trying to scam you. They leave you alone to go about your business on the streets.
But we are not in Beijing anymore… There had been a bit of warning. Some staring and surreptitious photography in Xi’an (read more about our stop in Xi’an here) but in Zhangye, a city in Gansu Province in the Northwest of China, the gloves came off.
We spent the day at the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009 and covers about 200 square miles. Maybe you have seen pictures of them? They are referred to as the Colored Mountain’s and the Rainbow Mountains. I am not sure if the sun wasn’t hitting them right or if the photos that I have seen were photo shopped but they weren’t as bright as I expected. I read that the blues and greens really come out right after rain but the weather had been picture perfect for days so we were out of luck. Darn you perfectly blue sky! Wait… They were still stunning and reminded me of the drive around the Badlands that I took with my husband and Grandmother last summer. That same sort of feel.
Cameras in our faces
There are four major sections and to prevent what I would imagine to be the world worst traffic jam you are only able to get to each in one of the steady stream of shuttle buses. Getting on one was more difficult than anticipated because lines in China have only the vaguest suggested meaning. As we sat on the bus we could see a little girl pointing us out to her family. It turned out that the when she got on the bus it was full and she had to sit with us. You have never seen a child so excited by a seatmate. I have never seen a child so excited and I am around hundreds of them every day and sometimes I have cookies. She was 8 years old and there with her 12 year old brother and parents and grandparents and…pretty much every one of her family members. We trudged up the first hill as she and her brother tried to speak with us in English (pretty successfully) and we tried to communicated in Chinese (that did not go so well) all the while her parents and grandparents were circling us and photographing us. I think that it might be a bit like what being a celebrity is like. Cameras in your face, people being weirdly excided by your presence, everyone noticing everything that you are doing ALL THE TIME. At the top of the hill we took a family portrait. Actually we took about 20.
A new routine
In some ways it because our new normal. Someone was taking our picture every few seconds. Sometimes they would ask. Sometimes they would just shove the camera in your face. There were the people who were subtle about it as we walked by and those that wanted to be. I do however notice when a person walking in from of me is taking a “selfie” and ends up pointing the camera at me. #IcanseeyourscreenBut you get used to it. There are several hundred people that have random pictures of me in their vacation photo albums, however.
Something about Nature
Manmade wonders are all impressive. They can touch on the history or the mindset of a culture. They can highlight human ingenuity. But when you bring things back to the natural world that is a whole different level. These hills are older than the Himalayas but caused by pretty much the same thing: India crashing into Asia. The colors can be seen in stripes that echo across the hills clearly highlighting the different mineral deposits that are the cause of the different colors. The landscape is Danxia made up of large boulders and steep cliffs together. This particular kind of landform is only found in China.
A Fairy Tale
While the masses of people (in Chinese it is a “mountain of people” instead of a “sea of people”) were slightly distracting once you get to a viewing space you are able to feel the isolation of the place. It feels like a fairy tale. A landscape that a young maiden would have to pass to fulfill her quest of bringing back golden peaches from the far side of the world to cure her father of a dread illness. Not that I gave the mountains a backstory or anything.
Tomorrow we are on to Jia Ya Guan Fortress and the Western end of the Wall as we continue on the Silk Road (click here if you would like to read more about the start of the trip)
Does anyone think that I am being overly sensitive about the whole picture thing?