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August 26th, 2010

China launches pilot low-carbon campaign

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

 

After the failure of last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen to deliver a legally binding global agreement on carbon emissions, the world’s countries have been left to come up with their own plans to reduce carbon emissions as much as they want (or don’t want).

China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), which creates the economic and social policies guiding China’s rapid development, recently announced the launch of an experimental low-carbon program aimed at five provinces and eight cities.

The provinces – Shaanxi, Yunnan, Guangdong, Liaoning and Hubei – and cities – Chongqing, Hangzhou, Guiyang, Tianjin, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Nanchang and Baoding – will research and develop their own low-carbon plans with an emphasis on moving toward lower-carbon industry. The plan will reportedly also focus on promoting low-carbon consumption.

It’s encouraging to see real attention being paid to reducing carbon emissions, but it is impossible to tell at this point what impact this program may have on China’s greenhouse gas emissions.

While China – and the rest of the world – figures out how to deal with its carbon issues, WildChina already offers a way for clients to offset their carbon footprint via our partnership with Climate Action.  To learn more about how to make your travel in China more sustainable by funding clean energy, please visit our introduction to carbon footprint offsets.

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Photo credit:  Tips on Energy Saving

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February 4th, 2010

Revisiting “China’s Magic Melting Mountain”: A frank look at tourism in Yunnan

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

When reading Orville Schell’s recent article in Conde Nast Traveler, “China’s Magic Melting Mountain,” readers might notice that the destinations in Yunnan he describes seem rather, well, touristy.

Schell is quick to outline the realities of these tourist meccas. Of Mt. Kawagebo, he writes:

“A distant rooster crows, and the sun bursts into full flame over the ridge. As if some switch were thrown to make them artificially glow from within, the mountains’ peaks become tinted with gold and orange. The Chinese tourists around me begin clicking away on their cameras with the intensity of tail gunners whose bomber squadron has suddenly come under attack.”

On Lijiang, Schell is even less forgiving; he calls it a “high-kitsch carnival of Naxi minority culture.”

 

Lijiang: unforgettable Naxi minority town, or simply a playground for mass tourism?

Comments such as these beg the question: if Yunnan’s Lijiang and Mt. Kawagebo are so kitschy and crowded, then what is the point of visiting them? And, from a potential client’s point of view, why is WildChina still visiting these areas? Don’t they promote “experiencing China differently?”

We, too, have often debated the issue of historical and culture value versus tourist developments and influx in these areas. In the spring and summer of 2009, we wrote a few blog posts on the issue. Our April 14, 2009 blog post, entitled “What We’re Reading: NYTimes Goes to Yunnan,” addresses the struggles of preserving the uniqueness of such a popular destination on our trips:

“For operators like WildChina, it’s always a balancing act to manage sustainable development of a site while promoting its appeal to future travelers. On one hand, you might want to keep small places a secret so that they retain that je ne sais quo that made the place so appealing in the first place. On the other, you want to promote these amazing places and tell everyone about them so that they can share your experience.”

Three days later, we explained our philosophy regarding responsible tourism:

“For WildChina, our goal of responsible travel includes providing travelers a greater understanding of local cultural and environmental issues… It means visiting Songzanlin Monastery, also referred to by Jenkins, but having monks guide us through areas normally off-limits and having tea with a top lama in his private chambers. And it means visiting local families in surrounding Tibetan villages, like Hamagu, where World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is working to build support for sustainable tourism as an alternative source of income to logging.”

We at WildChina realize that as more tourists flood these areas, some aspects of local culture and environment are inevitably compromised. However, despite these realities, we strongly believe that we are still able to give our guests a unique travel and cultural experience.

How do we accomplish this? We travel away from the crowds. We engage in people-to-people meetings and interactions so that our travelers experience daily Chinese life. We offer once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, such as meeting with a Bimo shaman (see our Chinese Treasures itinerary). In smaller, more intimate Naxi villages nearby, we take our guests to local markets and community performances by village elders. It is through these personalized experiences and intimate looks at life in Yunnan that we are able to customize our travelers’ experiences and maintain the wonder of local cultures for our guests.

It’s also important to consider why these sites have become as touristic as they are. Why do thousands flock to Yunnan each year? There is clearly a reason why: Yunnan is one of the most diverse areas of China. Lijiang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an absolute must-see; Mt. Kawagebo is a spectacular and breathtaking sacred Tibetan mountain. While we cannot and do not deny that mass tourism does have negative effects upon these areas, the tourist culture in this area reflects the reality of Chinese domestic travel, and, for the reasons mentioned above, is justified.

Orville Schell does not sugarcoat his opinions of Lijiang, Mt. Kawagebo, and the current tourist climate in China. But he is still writing about them. Why? Because regardless of the tourists visiting these sites, they are still simply remarkable.

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We invite you to join us in our ongoing rethinking of tourism in China. If you have something to say about this topic, please leave a comment, or email Alex at alex.grieves@wildchina.com. We’d love to hear from you.

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November 24th, 2009

China Scholar Orville Schell: Why Choose WildChina?

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

For those of us who’ve spent years studying China, Orville Schell is a very familiar name. His books, like The China Reader: The Reform Era, are widely read by students and policymakers alike, and his talks on behalf of the Asia Society’s China Green project are attended by many with an interest in China’s environmental issues.

So we were all thrilled when Orville, who has been to China countless times, not only chose to travel with WildChina to study the effect of climate change on glaciers, but also provided us with rave reviews about his trip to Lijiang and Shangri-La.

Here, in his own words, Orville explains what he sees as the WildChina difference:

“Why choose WildChina? Well, I think WildChina is quite skilled at sculpting trips for people who have specific interests. So, if in fact you’re a bird watcher, a glacier watcher, a river watcher, a minorities watcher – whatever your poison is, they seem to have the ability to highlight that.

I haven’t done many trips like this – but to go to a place like Yunnan and in a week to see a lot, you really do need someone to organize it. You need drivers who know what they’re doing, and cars and land rovers that can go on very rough roads and over landslides.

You want to be with people who you trust, not some crazy cab driver you’ve never met. So it was reassuring to have good drivers, good guides, and to be able to stop in at local people’s houses that these guides knew…and we had a Tibetan guide and a Chinese guide – both very familiar with the area and extremely fun to be around and very much a part of our group – not bored people who couldn’t wait to get off the bus and get everybody back on the plane…and that, I think, made the trip incomparably more meaningful and interesting for us.

I’m not a big tour joiner, frankly, and that would probably be a good reason to have WildChina organize your trips so that it wouldn’t be like a tour. It would be more things you wanted to do, not you fitting into their tour—but them making the tour fit your needs.”

Many thanks to Orville for these kind words! Be sure to view the video on our home page for stunning footage captured during Orville’s trip to Yunnan.

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November 18th, 2009

Asia Society Video: On Thinner Ice

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

There’s a breathtaking video on the Asia Society’s website right now that documents the effects that the melting of Himalayan glaciers will have on the 2 billion people who live in Asia. The video talks about glaciers as “the canary in the coal mine” for climate change, and urges China and the US (the two biggest contributors to global warming) to take decisive action.

One of the directors of the Asia Society, Orville Schell (featured in the video) traveled with WildChina this past spring to research glaciers in Yunnan. It was an amazing trip, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the participants to learn about climate change in Yunnan first-hand. There’s also a video of this trip featuring Orville Schell on our homepage now, which you can see here.

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October 6th, 2009

Environmental Changes in Yunnan

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Climate change often seems like an abstract concept to many of us. But as renowned China scholar Orville Schell writes in “The Thaw at the Roof of the World,” his recent New York Times op-ed, the effects of global warming can be clearly seen in a part of China close to WildChina’s heart: Yunnan province in the southwest.

WildChina recently ran a trip for Orville and a few of his friends from the Asia Society to Yunnan and the Tibetan Plateau so that they could examine these environmental changes up close. As he writes, most people visit Yunnan’s majestic Jade Dragon Snow Mountain for the beautiful views — unaware that the mountain’s Baishui Glacier No. 1 has receded 830 feet over the last 20 years due to climate change. While in the short run, the melting of the glacier will result in plenty of water, in the long run, it will in fact result in water scarcity – a serious issue, given that the glaciers on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain feed water into the uppear reaches of the Yangtze River, a major water resource for much of China.

Given that water resources are already dwindling worldwide, it’s no wonder that conservationists are drawing more and more attention to the pressing need to solve the climate change problem.  It certainly becomes much less abstract when you think about the people and lives that will be hugely affected, for the worse, by the environmental changes.

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