Tag: "China"

Alternative ski destinations and culture shock on the slopes

So the other day Sharon wrote about some ski chalets, including catered ski chalets in la Rosiere. I’ve only been to ski resorts in Korea, but I hear they can be pretty different from ski resorts in Europe or North America.

First, artificial snow is the norm in Korea. It’s normal to go to a ski resort and find only artificial snow. Many skiers prefer natural powder snow to crunchy and damp man-made snow. I’m not sure if that’s because skiers are used to natural powder or if there really is a significant difference.

Second, the mountains in South Korea are relatively low. The four resorts hosting events for the 2018 Winter Olympics are 700-1500 meters above sea level. The terrain is not as steep as many Americans would expect.

Third, even though the terrain is not above the tree line, tree skiing is not an option. Chain fences line all the slopes

Fourth, much attention was paid to entertaining non-skiers. Typical attractions include water parks and shopping centers. The government owned High 1 Resort has a casino (the only casino in Korea in which Koreans are allowed to play – all other casinos are for foreigners only).

I’m not sure these cultural differences will last forever. Korea may try to westernize in advance of the 2018 Winter Olympics to Alpensia Resort in Pyeongchang and three other resorts all within half an hour (including the High 1 Resort mentioned above). Although I don’t think they’ll be importing natural snow or changing the incline of their mountains.

So given the many possible cultural differences, I searched the web for ski culture shock and similar terms. I found a few interesting things I’d like to share with you now.

Japan

Unlike Korea, Japan is known for natural powder. Also, if you check out the video below around 2:30, you’ll see trees, which would be off limits in Korea.

Kashmir India

This video seems to show untouched snow, white and powdery. Skiing through forest looks amazing. Then around 2 minutes in, very close to the end of the video, there’s a shot where the skiers are on a road. They pass a truck going the other way. Maybe that’s where the culture shock mentioned in the video title comes from. I can’t imagine skiers and vehicles sharing the road.

China

Long slopes and slow lifts. They interview tourists who say the skiing in this Chinese resort is comparable to America, Canada, and Swedish skiing.

And I believe the Atlai Mountains are also in China. If someone wanted a really different ski experience, they might try skiing uphill (or down) with a single pole.

In conclusion, it seems there are a lot of different ski experiences to be had in Asia. From resorts to country skiing, lots of culture awaits skiers willing to travel. Where would you go for a ski holiday?

What would be the focus of your Chinese holiday?

I was taking a look at a couple of cruise itineraries and I thought it was pretty interesting that one revolves around the cruise while the other itinerary involves a lot of flying and driving in addition to the cruising. So when planning a China holiday with a Yangtze River cruise, would you want the cruise to be the main focus of the holiday?

For an example itinerary, I’ve summarized one called “Grand Yangtze” – this is one that involves a little more cruising than some of the other tour itineraries.

Day 1: Shanghai

Visit Yu Gardens and the Old Town. Then head to the Shanghai Museum. Walk along the Bund and admire the colonial architecture. Check out the 1920’s style Shikumen buildings in the Xintiandi area. In the evening there is a cruise, this one on the Huangpu River.

Days 2-10: Yangtze River Cruise

The cruise and shore excursions include the ancient capital of Nanjing to visit the Dr Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum and the memorial to Nanjing’s Second World War victims. Also, Mt Jiuhua, a sacred Buddhist mountain with great natural scenery. Then there’s Wuhan for the Hubei Provincial Museum. Next comes the largest dam in the world, Three Gorges Dam. Then cruise through Wu Gorge & Qutang Gorge to reach the temples and statues of Fengdu Ghost City.

Days 11-12: Giant Pandas

Drive to Chengdu. Visit the famous Panda Conservation Centre. The pandas are active at 9:00 am (gotta have a healthy breakfast) so try to arrive early. Then fly to Xian, China’s former ancient capital.

Day 13: Terracotta Warriors

Visit one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century – the Terracotta Warriors. Brush up on your history of the Qin Dynasty before going in order to really appreciate these guys.

Day 15 : Explore Xian

Stroll through Xian’s Muslim Quarter to explore the Islamic food market. Here you’ll find countless shops and food stalls. Plan on a slow walk through the area as shop owners work to persuade you that you want what they have. Later, fly to Beijing.

Day 16 : Beijing

Stroll through Tienanmen Square, past Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum to the treasure-filled Forbidden City. Beijing (also Peking) boasts three millennia worth of history and has been the political center of China for about eight centuries. Beijing has lots of culture (it’s the last of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China) and people (over 21 million) so you won’t run out of things to do or people to see.

Day 17 : Great Wall of China

Walk on the Great Wall and tour the Summer Palace. The Great Wall is probably best-loved by hikers – it’s a very scenic hike and you won’t get lost.

If you check out the itinerary for “Magnificent China” – I won’t summarize that one here – you’ll see a few of the same stops including the Terracotta Warriors, Panda Conservation Centre, Beijing, and Shanghai. But you’ll also see some differences because you spend less time cruising the Yantze. This allows you to see some different but also very cool attractions like the world’s largest stone-carved Buddhist statue, the Grand Buddha of Leshan. So which itinerary do you like?

A Trip to China – In the Eye of the Beholder

I am reluctant to recommend China as a travel destination. There are plenty of great places to see in Asia (Malaysia, Nepal, and Thailand spring to mind), but I don’t consider China one of them. For the haven’t-been-but-am-really-curious sorts, I would recommend reading a travel narrative about the country before booking a flight. Peter Hessler’s Country Driving is probably a good choice. Rob Gifford’s China Road is very balanced, which some people, for some reason, find important. Paul Theroux’s Riding the Iron Rooster and Colin Thubron’s Behind the Wall are excellent but dated (from the 1980s), yet still relevant. But if you’ve read those books and are still undeterred, and if I had to come up with a China itinerary, I’d come up with one that looks like the following.

To get a travel visa for China, your best option is Hong Kong. Hong Kong is fantastic, pulsing with energy, light, sound, and color. A trip up Victoria Peak is a must and the territory has a surprising amount of natural scenery. The New Territories, for instance, are quite striking and a good place to go if you’re suffering from neon overload. From Hong Kong, travel by ferry to the former Portuguese enclave of Macau, where you can spend a day eating almond cookies and inspecting colonial buildings. Next, hop on the bus to Guangzhou, a monster of a metropolis. Be sure to visit its Qing Ping Market to discover why the Chinese say they eat anything with four legs except a table. Deep-fried starfish-kebab anyone?

Now that you’ve seen a big brassy Chinese city (and, with a handful of exceptions, they’re all the same), make your way east by train through the limestone-knolled south. Scenic Yangshuo, a town in the countryside, is a decent spot, and Dali Old Town, in Yunnan Province, is touristy but pretty – but what you really want to do is get a travel permit for Tibet. You can do this in tiny Zhongdian in Yunnan province.

Lhasa won’t disappoint. In fact, a jaunt around Tibet would likely be more rewarding than one around any other Chinese “province.” Patrick French’s Tibet, Tibet makes for good background reading. So does Ma Jian’s Stick Out Your Tongue. The Potala Palace is unforgettable. So is the Barkhor, the neighborhood that houses the frenetic Jokhang Temple. A lot of Westerners hire a driver to take them to Nampsto Lake. Take into consideration altitude sickness.

Done marveling at the creamy zeniths and the yaks and nomads on the rooftop of the world, you can fly anywhere. I would fly to Bali, Indonesia, but if you’re still not finished with China then I’d suggest a flight to China’s most interesting city, Beijing.

What sets Beijing apart is that it still retains a sense of traditional culture. Nanjing is China’s most handsome city and Shanghai is its biggest and brightest, but from a cultural perspective, neither compete with the capital. Yes, “Peking” is heavily polluted, heavily policed, and has heavy traffic, but it’s easy to navigate, features fine restaurants, and is still culturally authentic – it has a traditional atmosphere which most municipal governments have bulldozed. There are the well-known attractions (Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace), but more engaging are the hutong or traditional alleys with their fortress-like courtyard homes and their portly, smudgy lanterns. Walking around the hutong on a bright winter’s day, or at night, is like stepping back in time. You gain an understanding of how people live, much more enlightening than observing honking thoroughfares or inspecting one of the burg’s dire museums. An exceptional guidebook is The Rough Guide to Beijing by Simon Lewis.

I suppose you’ll want to go to the Great Wall. Everyone does. But there’s no such thing as the Great Wall – it’s just an idea, a myth; and the walls north of Beijing are probably younger than you are. But a visit still makes for a fun day trip, and the surrounding mountains are pleasant to gaze it. Don’t go in for a tour that includes a trip to (Cousin Li’s) Jade Factory or the Ming Tombs. There’s nothing to see at the Ming Tombs. Just go to “the wall” (and back). To learn more about “the Great Wall,” read John Man’s The Great Wall.

My final China recommendation (and, yes, I realize I haven’t included Jiuzhaigou Valley, Xian, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Qingdao, or a dozen other oft-touted spots) is Harbin during the Ice Festival. To my way of thinking, wandering around a sooty and frozen Chinese city filled with old Russian buildings and marked by the taint of industry is infinitely more stimulating – or at least genuine – than clicking pictures of the Terracotta Warriors, Shanghai’s lights, or inert pandas behind bars in awful Chengdu. But I’m a bit different, not to mention biased. Living in Taiwan for a decade will do that to you.

Troy Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World.

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