China
Jiangxi

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  • Day19

    Travelling East to Jiujiang

    September 15 in China ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    Probably the most stressful day we've had on the trip so far, but we were expecting it and prepared for it. The issues had started a fair way in advance, as we'd only had limited options for booking trains thanks to sellouts and the like. And although the high speed trains run like clockwork (delays are very uncommon, Zhangjiajie is only connected via slow trains, which don't run at all on time. We weren't aware of this when we booked our tickets: a slow train from Zhangjiajie to Changsha, a fast train from Changsha South to Nanchang, and then another fast train from Nanchang to Jiujiang.

    The biggest problem was that our slow train (#1) was arriving at Changsha, while the fast train (#2) was leaving from Changsha South. We'd left ourselves an hour for the transfer, but it meant getting across the city and through both train stations smoothly. The high-speed stations are more like airports than stations and can be absolutely colossal, but we made ourselves as prepared as possible.

    The first step was fine, as we left our hotel and caught the slow train in Zhangjiajie, though we both felt nervous as the train lumbered its way through the countryside for four hours. We were at the doors and ready to go as the train finally got to Changsha, and had a slight break of luck as our door was right next to the stairs down from the platform - we didn't have to run half a kilometre along the platform first.

    Ran through the station and across the concourse, Amazing Race-style, to where we knew the metro station entrance was. Downstairs and quickly through the machines to buy our tickets before getting another break of luck and jumping straight on a train. The metro here only runs every six minutes, so just missing one would've been a big delay.

    So far so good.

    Positioned ourselves on the subway train to where we knew the escalators would be (every station has a standardised design), then ran up the escalators through the metro and into the high speed rail station. Shoved through the ID inspection queue (I just went straight to the front saying "wan de, wan de" / "late, late"), then shoved through the x-ray machine queue as well.

    Ran up the next escalators as well, where of course our train was at the furthest possible platform. So we half-ran and half jogged across the entire concourse and shoved through a few more lines. The gates were still open (the platform entrances are closed five minutes prior to departure) and we'd made it, with a couple of minutes to spare.

    Missing the train wouldn't have been a complete disaster, we would've had to reschedule a few trains, but it would probably mean arriving at our destination around midnight! Ironically, we were only on the fast train for an hour before a 90 minute "layover" at the next station, before another two hour train.

    As it was, we arrived in Jiujiang at about 6pm after a fairly stressful day. Our "train station" hotel turned out to be about 20 minutes walk from the station, though at least there was a nice park to walk through, complete with old people doing tai chi. Hotel was quite nice and modern, though very Chinese as it stunk of cigarettes and we occasionally had hookers' business cards shoved under the door - apparently this is quite common in Chinese business hotels!
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  • Day20

    Lushan National Park

    September 16 in China ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    Today's agenda was another World Heritage site, the main reason we'd come to Jiujiang where clearly Western tourists were as rare as actual aliens. We got an early morning bus up to the site, which is a mountain range just behind the city. Although it's an impressive landscape that has inspired Chinese poets and artists for centuries, it's also home to a large collection of villas built by European colonialists in the 19th century.

    The trip up was about 90 minutes and very winding, but eventually we got there. The sites up top are a bit spread out and you need to catch various shuttle buses between them. We made our first stop Five Old Men Peak, a mountain with five stone pinnacles that apparently looked a bit like old men arguing. Or talking, I can't remember (and in China it's hard to tell).

    We climbed the first two over about an hour, but the going looked like getting tougher so we turned back after enjoying the view. Hungry, we headed back to the main town which felt a bit like Disneyland, and grabbed some lunch at a Dico's (Japanese fast food chain).

    Then hopped on a bus to the western side, where we visited the mirror lake, a nice pavilion, and the flower path which again was an inspiration to Chinese poets. Rather than wait for a bus we took a cross-country shortcut to see some of the villas which were nice but mostly closed off. It's interesting because Chinese houses tend to be very functional rather than artistic, so seeing ornately designed houses was quite interesting.

    Most impressive was Meilu Villa, which was previously owned by Chiang Kai-shek (leader of the Nationalist party during the Republic of China period), and then later owned by Zhou Enlai, one of Mao's chief advisors who eventually became Premier.

    There was also a large building where the Lushan Conference took place in 1959, where Mao and his bigwigs agreed on and started implementing the Great Leap Forward. Even though Mao's legacy these days is officially "70% good 30% bad", it was interesting to see people wandering around the site with clear religious reverence. Millions died during the Great Leap Forward which was a complete failure and a disaster, so it's not exactly something to celebrate.

    Having seen enough, we caught the bus back down into Jiujiang and I slept the whole way - coming down with a cold. Noodles for dinner again before retreating to the hotel room.
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  • Day37

    Arrival to Wuyuan

    October 12, 2017 in China ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    We were met by Ed, Selina and Snowy at the train station. The time had finally come for our worldpackers mapping gig and we had no idea what to expect. As soon as we met the two of them they were welcoming, friendly, helpful and a font of knowledge for all things China from both a Chinese and foreigner's point of view. Ed we knew before was from the UK but surprisingly was from beaconsfield, a stone's throw away from Watford, and was familiar with our neck of the woods and immediately had a home connection which we later found out he was really happy to have had. Selina was his wife who was from another village in Wuyuan and they'd met in Shanghai, fallen in love, bought Skywells and after 2 years and a lot of hard work hosted a couple of travellers with a knack for maps.

    On our way to Skywells I learnt that Wuyuan was actually a county and not a village like I'd believed and that there were a lot of villages in the area (maybe just not as pretty as theirs!). We'd arrived in the "big smoke" as Ed described it, Wuyuan town, the county capital and had what is considered a small population of 300,000. Bearing in mind we were now 4 hours away from Shanghai by high speed rail in the middle of rurual China and there's still a lot of people.

    Our new home for the next 17 nights was in a little village call Yancun (pronounced yan-soon) within the Sixi-Yancun Scenic Area. This is a protected historical area with an entrance fee of 60rmb to both Yancun and Sixi because they showcases original building creeatted during the Qing dynasty - medieval China. Skywells itself was almost falling down when the guys decided to buy and renovate it, some parts of the building being 250 years old! Well a very quick briefing session had, we were about to see this wonderful place for the first time...
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  • Day53

    Skywells

    October 28, 2017 in China ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    We pulled up in the car park, got out and immediately could see buildings that were so fricking cool!! They could literally have been taken straight out of a picture book! Tall with a faded white after centuries of use, bit of plaster falling down or missing, uneven limestone slabs for paving, huge limestone blocks for doorways, paintings or drawings directly on top of them, and my personal favourite the roofs. The roofs were all tiled just as I'd imagined them in my head but better because I was actually seeing it lol. Every single building was tiled with the corners of each roof curling upwards towards the sky. It was stunning. Our walk to Skywells led through what's seemed like a maze of small alleyways village dogs, children, crops and confounded villagers who either smiled at us as we said "nihao" with a knowing smile, a joke they all seemed to share, or a pure blank face completely devoid of expression.

    I didn't even realise we had reached the place until I almost walked into the back of Ed and he led us in through the garden gate. Such a contrast to the village, we walked into a very spacious courtyard with an "English" style garden to our right and a sleek, modern room in front made of glass. This was the restaurant and as we were told later was the new and only addition they made to the original structure to facilitate the space they needed to feed people. To our left was Skywells proper and it was a big place! 3 storeys high with 14 rooms, this old merchants house turned boutique inn was awesome. We dumped our stuff and Ed took us in a little tour.

    He told us how it had taken approx 2 years from when they bought to open for business. Everything that they could have been kept during the renovation they used which was surprisingly a lot. Ed explained this is because a lot of the material was made from very large sections of very hard wood and has stood the test of time along with limestone which is as solid as rock! Wood carvings are everywhere and all of them are original and authentic, apart from some headless men who had the faces removed during the revolution and so they had their own wood carver who uses exclusively traditional methods restore them to what he thinks they should have been as well as design and replace any sections that needed to be. The carving is so intricate it's astounding and that it has been so we'll preserved and now will continue to be is very special.

    All construction used traditional methods whenever possible and so alot of beams I could see are kept in with 3 or 4 wooden legs and that's it! Walking around the place felt like stepping back in time but with modern amenities. On the wall next to the reception were fading Chinese characters written by red guards in ink during the revolution which I found fascinating proclamating this house for the party and for Mao. Ed and Selina decided to keep it rather than scrub it off as a reminder of the past, though its still very much a part of today, and because they'll be gone in a few more years anyway.

    Ed showed us the main cross beam that used to be in the house, now converted into the reception counter, depicting the story of the rich family who had first built Skywells, who they were, where they'd come from and their aspirations whilst the family was in this house. Being a merchant in China meant you had money and so this family was rich but was at the bottom rung of society because of their profession. For the common people living in imperial China Mandarins were seen in the highest social standing followed by soldiers, then farmers, then the artisan class and finally businessmen. The reason for this is because business did not provide any essential services to the community and so their place in the social heirachy reflected that. Making money for yourself was contemptible when it wasn't being distributed into the community. So approx 250 years ago this family had all the money but we're shunned by society and lived out to the countryside away from the cities because they weren't allowed in "the club" and built Skywells, this giant mansion for their descendants to inherit. A way to improve ones respect in polite society is to become a government official and so the aspiration of the family was to induct as many of their children into this profession and by doing so increase the family name's reputation and respect in the process. Fast forward 200 years or so and say hello to the PRC. The communist party who deem you unworthy for not sharing your wealth around, confiscate your money kick you out onto the street and move in 5 families to share the same roof, your old roof. And so ends the ballad of the merchant's family. Not such a happy ending but that's life. Anyway Ed and Selina had their own one carved to replace the old, rotten one telling their story of love from a distant land. Very intricate and very beautiful, no doubt with a much happier ending 😁.

    Of course there are there is the namesake as well. Skywells. There are 3 of them and for each one I could of looked up for hours, seeing the sky framed by such beautiful woodwork...its inspired me to have a Skywell in the future! Each Skywell as well as being pleasing to the eyes serves a deeper purpose. In China collecting and retaining water in the house is considered to be important as it symbic of collecting and retaining wealth. So each of the Skywells (and in fact all the tiled roofs in Yancun once I knew what I was looking at) were finished with tile drippers to direct the water into large pot, a gutter set into the ground or a fish pool so that when it rained no water was wasted. It rained while we were there for 2 or 3 nights and despite the weather the scene and sound was peaceful to experience. The other namesake is a Chinese poem that I can't remember the details for too well but talks about the melancholy of autumn and has numerous descriptions about wind in the trees, a big house, roaming the wilds, things like that...very apt for Skywells.

    This place was incredible, literally felt like a dream come true to live in a place like this, a village like this and it was all free!!! Couldn't believe it. This was our home for the next 16 days. #winning.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Jiangxi Sheng, Jiangxi, Province de Jiangxi, 江西

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