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September 29th, 2010

Return to the Three Gorges

By: WildChina | Categories: Environment, On the Road

At WildChina we take pride in showing people unseen corners of the country, but sometimes we like to visit the places that everyone else goes, places that we typically don’t take clients, just to see what we might be missing.

One recent evening we hopped onto a Chinese cruise boat to head down the Yangtze through the Three Gorges, something we hadn’t done since the flooding of the formerly magnificent gorges a couple years back.

Unfortunately, the trip was as disappointing as we feared it would be.

We boarded in Wanzhou, a few hours down the road from Chongqing, and checked into our first-class cabin, which had two clean beds, a squatty toilet and a nonfunctional shower head.

Our first scenic spot to check out was Zhang Fei Temple, or actually, the new Zhang Fei Temple, as the original was submerged a couple of years ago. It was hard not to sigh when thinking back to what the temple had once looked like, much further down the side of the mountain upon which we were standing.

Back on board, we decided to head up to the top deck and were a bit surprised to be stopped by boat staff asking us to pay 40 yuan for a two-day pass, just for the top deck, which was the only place to sit and enjoy the outdoors. We paid and ascended the stairs, discovering a deck with people, chairs and little else.

After grabbing a high-backed dining chair, we propped our head up and looked at the moon and stars for a very relaxing hour or so before heading downstairs to sleep.

The following day featured a few nice sights, especially the Wu Gorge, but it was hard not to think about how much more spectacular it had been before the Three Gorges Dam had been built.

The second night, our boat was moored for the entire evening, the engine idling noisily, making it difficult to sleep soundly. In fact, we calculated that by the time the trip was over the following afternoon, our boat had been moored about 70 percent of the time.

It was less of a cruise and more of a series of stops where we were being encouraged to buy things. Especially when we got to the Three Gorges Dam, which, despite being an impressive engineering feat, felt a bit like it had been built primarily to sell tour packages and souvenirs.

Why go on a stale trip like this? Partly to keep our finger on the pulse of the development of tourism in China and to check up on what used to be one of our favorite China journeys, but mainly to reinforce why we exist: to offer an alternative to fast-food style tourism on the mainland.

After flying out of rapidly developing but the generally characterless city of Yichang, we were travel-weary, feeling like we had drained our batteries rather than recharge them. This, we realized, was the main difference between most travel in China and WildChina journeys: our trips are aimed at rejuvenating and inspiring, not controlling the client and squeezing every cent possible from their wallet.


Photo credit: Globe Images

Tags: Environment Three Gorges Three Gorges Dam wild China WildChina WildChina travel Yangtze River .

August 31st, 2010

Slow Food Saturday: A green approach to food in Beijing

By: Alex G | Categories: Chinese Culture, Dining Experiences in China, Environment

Is China becoming a ‘Fast Food Nation’?

Just two decades ago, most people in China ate relatively low-fat meals and regularly rode their bicycles to get around. Obesity was extremely rare.

Fast forward to today: more and more people eat greasy street food or fast food such as KFC and McDonald’s and fewer have the time or energy to get some exercise. The result: China now has 19 million clinically obese citizens, with that number growing by 30 to 50 percent each year, according to a recent PBS report (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2010/06/reporters-notebook-obesity-rising-in-china.html).


A group of food-conscious individuals is hoping to promote the idea of healthier eating habits this weekend in Beijing, with Slow Food Saturday at The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu.

What is “Slow Food,” exactly? According to the Slow Food Saturday website:”Slow Food is about the heritage of food, about its tradition and culture, and about connecting with friends over delicious tastes. The Slow Food movement advocates preserving cultural cuisine, and in doing so preserving local foods, farming and ways of life. Slow Food is the antithesis to large-scale commercial food production and today’s fast-food culture. Slow Food brings back the joy in eating, and encourages us to connect over food.”

The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu, one of our preferred hotels in Beijing and a winner of our Best of China Awards 2010, has been a local pioneer in championing Slow Food for its clients and local community residents. As a sustainable tourism enterprise that offers dining, lodging, and meeting solutions in unique settings just an hour from downtown Beijing, the boutique hotel has redeployed existing buildings to new uses, created local jobs, supported other local businesses, grown their own vegetables and fruits while procuring other foods locally and made almost everything fresh and homemade on their premises.

This Saturday, September 4, in conjunction with the Slow Food Beijing Convivium, The Schoolhouse will put on a day of food, cooking, biking and more in the neighboring Great Wall International Cultural Villages of Mutianyu, Beigou, Xinying, and Tianxianyu to celebrate cooking, sustainable practices, and local communities. For a full schedule and activities, visit their website (http://www.slowfoodsaturday.org).

Event details: Slow Food Saturday

Date: Saturday, September 4th, 2010 from 10:30 am onward

Location: Mutianyu, Beigou, Xinying, and Tianxianyu Villages (Starting from The Roadhouse (restaurant at The Schoolhouse), just north of the Mutianyu roundabout)


Photo credit: Cyber Force

For more information, contact info[at]slowfoodsaturday[dot]org.

Tags: Beijing China Environment Slow Food Slow Food Saturday sustainable development The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu travel travel to China wild China WildChina WildChina travel .

November 24th, 2009

China Scholar Orville Schell: Why Choose WildChina?

By: Anita | Categories: In the News, WildChina Experts

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.

Tags: Asia Society china green climate change Environment glaciers Lijiang orville schell Shangri-la the china reader wild China WildChina WildChina travel Yunnan .

October 6th, 2009

Environmental Changes in Yunnan

By: Anita | Categories: China News

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.

Tags: Asia Society baishui glacier climate change Environment glaciers Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Lijiang new york times NY Times NYT orville schell tibetan plateau wild China WildChina WildChina travel Yangtze River Yunnan .

April 17th, 2009

What We’re Reading: NatGeo in Shangri-La

By: Anita | Categories: WildChina Experts

Yunnan continues to be an inspiration for interesting commentary, with National Geographic‘s May 2009 issue featuring a piece on Shangri-la (Zhongdian). Mark Jenkins explores this “complicated” and “confounding” Tibetan town in southwest China and the competing visions for its future. Will tourism and development invariably lead this area to lose all of its mythical and spiritual qualities?

As Jenkins notes, “tourism saved the place” after the Chinese government banned commercial logging in 1998; but that, in turn, has led to the commercialization of Tibetan culture. This trend — seen in many other hidden gems in the developing world — is certainly troubling. But as travelers, that doesn’t automatically mean we should stop visiting such places, which still have a lot to teach us about traditional lifestyles and choices.

True, like Jenkins, you might be disappointed by the presence of tourist shops or the jarring sight of a young Buddhist pilgrim listening to music blaring from an MP3 player. But as he also found, a visit to the greater Shangri-La area can offer great insight into Yunnan’s stunning biodiversity and its ethnic minorities.

For WildChina, our goal of responsible travel includes providing travelers a greater understanding of local cultural and environmental issues. Put into practice, that means visiting the Three Parallel Rivers area, the UNESCO World Heritage site referenced in the article, with academic experts who can tell us about community and government efforts to tackle issues like environmental degradation and surging energy demands.

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.

The NatGeo piece is a good reminder to us that we might not always like what economic development brings, but that as travelers, we can play a part in how cultural and environmental heritage is appreciated and preserved.

Tags: biodiversity Buddhism energy Environment ethnic minorities lama national geographic responsible travel river Shangri-la Songzanlin Monastery sustainable tourism Three Rivers Tibet UNESCO villages wild China WildChina WildChina travel World Heritage WWF Yunnan Zhongdian .


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