A Travellerspoint blog

July 2011

A Relaxing Blue Sky & River Adventure

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya,

Jilin, Jilin! New York, New York! Jilin is the only city in China that shares the same name as its province but somehow I doubt if it will get a song written after it.

Strangely though, for a city that really doesn’t have much to offer I ended up staying five nights. Maybe it was the heat and the delicious food to be found, or maybe it was the clear blue skies that reminded me of home. Either of which the girls in tiny denim shorts and high heels definitely had something to do with it as Jilin’s female population are some of the most beautiful in all of China.

The city lies in the middle and southern part in Jilin province and in the mountainous area of Changbai Mountain but the city itself is built on the Songliao Plain.

For most, winter is definitely the time to come to the city for the ski slopes at Songhua Lake and also those at the famous Beidahu Ski Area which hosted the 2007 Asian Winter Games. Like Harbin city, but not as famous, in January Jilin also holds its annual Ice Lantern Festival. One other thing winter lovers will get to see that I didn’t is the spectacular and peculiar phenomenon of needle like frost covering the trees along the Songhua River which is caused by steam rising from the waters.

Being a summer man, I’d rather upload a photo from the internet of such things! In Manchurian dialect the city is named 'City Along The River.

Flanked by a waterfront promenade lined with pine and willow trees, the Songhua River cuts through the middle of Jilin making for an easy navigational landmark. For a modern city known to be predominantly industrial, Jilin has a surprising number of large parks, possibly the city's best feature. In spring and summer, pack a picnic lunch and take a walk through Qingnian Park which takes you along the Songhua River and then head south across Jilin Bridge over to Century Square and Jiangnan Park (also the winter location of the Ice Lantern Festival).

Other than that, just eat, eat, eat as even I was surprised as to how many awesome restaurants and street side night BBQ’s this city had to offer and yes given the chance I’d visit here again over many cities I have been to…love this city!

<u>History</u>

Jilin was established as a fort city in 1673 to keep out foreign and domestic invaders. While it was established in the fear of attack, the city remained relatively peaceful until World War II when it suffered heavy damages and was looted by Russian troops. After the Communist victory, Jilin's fortunes improved as the city transformed itself into an industrial powerhouse. Today it specialises in the manufacturing of chemicals, pharmaceuticals and machines, as well as electricity from its hydroelectric power plant.

The city itself has few tourist attractions, but there are a couple odd little gems.

<u>Confucius Temple (Wen Miao)</u>

Temples dedicated to Confucius were built so that the great Sage would bestow good luck on hopefuls taking the Huikao which was the notoriously difficult imperial examinations. This quiet temple, set in three court yards is the largest Confucius temple in Manchuria and supposedly the second largest in the world and was originally built in 1736. It includes an exhibition on the Qing Dynasty imperial examination system along with a glorious Confucius sculpture in front of the main buildings.

<u>Catholic Church </u>

Jilin’s most distinctive building is also its main landmark, built in 1917 in Gothic style it was completely ransacked during the Cultural Revolution and had its doors closed until 1980. It is an active church with a few dedicated nuns and a convent next door and believe me, during the summer months it’s a great place to escape not only the contemporary modern money-oriented city for a time but also the heat. The interior design is similar to that of churches built throughout Scandinavia during the early 20th century.

<u>Beishan Park </u>

Found to the north west of the city Beishan Park is an awesome place to spend the entire day. It is not only leafy but it also has several lakes along with several small mountains where you can easily fill in many hours peacefully walking around and also scattered throughout the park can be found several temples.

<u>Jiangnan Park & Century Square </u>

If you are into skating, then found just south of Jilin Bridge is the place for you and as most usually travel without their skates or skateboard, then luckily there are both for hire. During the summer months you can take a dip in the free riverside swimming pool and for those that care about &#8216;those who love animals’, also visit the tiny animal sanctuary. It really isn’t anything special for most of us but your entry fee (think of it as a donation) goes to keeping it open along with feeding the birds etc.

Beers N Noodles toya…..shane ___________________________________________________________

The soundtrack to this entry was by Cream The album was &#8216;Gold & Greatest Hits’ ____________________________________________________________

A Relaxing Blue Sky Adventure

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Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Such a Wonderful City to Eat Korean & Relax In

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya,

Changbai Mountain National Park. Did I have a great time there?

Upon leaving Yanji I had a ticket to Baihe town which is the hub for the Northern Section of the park. After almost five hours of some of the most splendid scenery I’ve seen this summers 'Beers N Noodles’ Adventure we arrived at the turn off that would have taken me to Baihe town. Here though we joined a large line of vehicles waiting in a massive line up to continue their journey to Changbai Mountain, after finding out that I was the only one on the bus going there and that due to a car accident there would be a two to three hour wait I asked the rest of the bus;

Where are you all going? They answered that they were heading to Yanji.

I figured that as I’ve only mainly read &#8216;baddish things’ by foreigners about their visit to Changbaishan when it comes to being totally ripped off, litter, impatience and then being totally ripped off again I figured, hey I’m going with you guys and after another six hours we arrived at Yanji’s long distance bus station. I then headed around to the train station area where I met a Bell Hop at one of the very expensive hotels and after chatting for a few minutes he took me to his friends Korean Style Guesthouse where I got a room for around six Aussie dollars a night.

I spent the next three days and four nights in total bliss and confusion.

There was no English, nor was there any Pinyin (Chinese English, kind of thing) as all signs were in both Korean and Chinese characters. I slept, I read, I walked but mostly I ate and ate and ate at both Korean and Xinjiang Provinces’ Muslim eateries along with finding several fantastic and vibrant night markets.

In the main park there was even a small zoo where the deer ate fairy floss.

What I also found was a wonderful small city that was filled to the brim with some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever thrown my pack amongst and clicked my chop sticks with. So if you every find yourself on a North Korean Border Adventure or in the Korean Yanbian Autonomous Region (as I’m sure many of you will in the future..haha) then don’t be shy, drop in for some Pibimbap (rice mixed with assorted vegetables along a choice of meat and kimchee all in a stone pot along with a soup), sample the local brew and snack your way along the city’s main night market.

Maybe while you’re at the market, go ahead and buy something you know won’t work the following day as it’s all a part of the adventure!

<u>Now For a Bit on Yanji</u>

Yanji, also known as Yeon'gil from its Korean name, is the seat of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in eastern Jilin province, Northeast China. Its population is approximately four hundred thousand of which a large section is ethnic Korean and it is also a busy hub of transport and trade between China and North Korea. Yanji and its areas were largely unpopulated until the 1800s when Qing Dynasty rulers began to encourage migration there as an effort to stem encroaching Russian expansion.

<u>International Incidents</u>

The North Korean military detonated its second nuclear test in May 2009 close to the Chinese border and the blast set off an earthquake of magnitude 4.5 with an epicenter very close to Yanji. The mutual goodwill of the Chinese and Korean populations in the region was put under severe strain as many in Yanji expressed newfound feelings of dismay and insecurity regarding their North Korean neighbors.

A South Korean pastor, The Reverend Kim Dong Shik, was kidnapped in Yanji in January 2000, one of numerous well-publicised North Korean abductions of South Koreans: a suspect of mixed Korean-Chinese descent, said to have been trained in Pyongyang, was arrested and charged with the crime in December of 2004.

Yanji was the start point of an international dispute in 2009 when two American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained by North Korean border guards when, after leaving Yanji, they overstepped the nearby demarcation line. The two were freed only after intervention at the highest level, by former US President Clinton.

Yanji is often described as more of a Korean, rather than Chinese, community.

Two all-Korean television channels are produced locally and others can be freely received from both North and South Korea. Korean cuisine is highly popular and available everywhere and an annual Korean folk festival takes place each September featuring traditional Korean music, dance, painting, and sports.

<u>Crossing The Border (LP)</u>

Every year thousands of North Koreans slip across the border to China, either on their own, aided by relatives, or aided by people smugglers and Christian groups. Some return to the DPRK after earning more money than they ever could at home, the lucky few move on to South Korea, but an estimated one hundred thousand are stuck in the Korean autonomous Region where they live a precarious paperless existence.

In recent years women have made up the majority of the escapees and their situation is especially difficult. Some end up sold as wives to local farmers, others can be found living a dismal existence as prostitutes in the karaoke (KTV) joints in towns like Yanji. The plight, and that of other North Korean refugees, draws almost no attention to us in western countries.

Beers N Noodles toya…..shane ___________________________________________________________

The soundtrack to this entry was by Kid Rock The album was &#8216;Rockin Roll Jesus’ ____________________________________________________________

Wonderful Yanji City

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Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Last Weeks Ji'an Adventures with Suijun

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya,

The North Korean border has been an interesting and fun adventure. But now I’m over it…well, not actually 'over it’ over it or I’d be locked up.

I’ve had an awesome time this week with Suiyun and her son Suihong but sadly there comes a time for some good things to simply just move on. This week she’s taken me to a couple of caves (or in Chinese lime covered holes), to a very out of the way military border crossing known as the Roaring Tiger Sentry Post, the new Museum and the Wunu &#8216;Five Ladies Mountain Park’ along with more Korean style Beer & BBQ joints set along the river border.

This side, full of festive fun, lights and neon’s. The other side, simply dark and sleeping.

Ji'an is a city is found on the border with North Korea in southern Jilin Province and many people may think there is nothing much worthwhile to see and do in the town for tourists but there is actually is enough to stay for several days. With the mountainous surroundings and the nearby Democratic People's Republic of Korea there is more than enough nightly Beers & Korean BBQ stalls to make it worthy of a visit.

As I wrote in my last blog Ji'an is one of China's major three main ports to the Korea Peninsular along with being one of the main ancient Koguryo Kingdoms so it has countless tombs and sites along with being a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In 37BC, the Chinese northern ethnic minority people of Kogury set up its regime in the middle reaches of the Yalu River and the Hunjiang River valley. In 3AD the Koguryo moved its capital to Guonei (today's Ji'an downtown) which served as capital for the Koguryo regime for four hundred and twenty five years and from what I believe they then moved onto North Koreas capital Pyongyang, but that is something I am uncertain of. It has abundant forest resources which include the rare tree species the purple pine along with famous herbal medicines such as Changbai Mountain ginseng.

Did I also mention more than four thousand years of history!

<u>Ji’ans Ancient City Wall</u>

Built from stone, in a large square layout and though now it is more than an eye sore, Ji’an still does have its ancient city wall which has been well preserved. It can be followed throughout parts of the city but I must admit for much of my time in Ji’an I simply thought the parts I first walked past were unused land and very much like an over grown parking lot. There is so much more this city could do with its walls and as both Chinese and foreign tourists alike are attracted to such things so maybe a bit of weeding and a bit of care would be a good thing. I’m not sure if it is the right thing to think, but I am thinking some Korean style BBQ stalls set up in the city proper parts would be a huge added attraction to the city.

<u>Korean Food & BBQ</u>

As Ji’an is situated near the North Korean border, you can sample both Korean and Korean influence food. The restaurant Xingang Shuishang Canting (which means &#8216;New Harbour Floating Restaurant’) is situated right on the river, serves delicious dishes and the tables face North Korea.

There's a small family run local restaurant at the southwest corner of Shengli Xilu and Dongsheng Jie selling delicious Korean cold noodles and bibimbap is a great choice and the bibimbap with squid is awesome! The restaurant also specialises in dog meat just in case Fido is on your menu!

<u>Wunu &#8216;Five Ladies’ Mountain Park</u>

Five Ladies Mountain is found in the enchanting Laoling Mountains, twenty one kilometers from Ji'an city. There are twenty six mountain peaks, seventeen are over one thousand meters above sea level, with the highest being over one thousand three hundred and the lowest six hundred and fifty.

The park is divided into ten scenic areas, eight are open to tourists.

The eight hundred and twenty meter Wunu Mountain has immense significance as the birthplace of the ancient Koguryo civilisation. The peak (outside the town of Huanren) was the first capital of the Koguryo, a Korean dynasty that ruled parts of the region from 37BC to AD668 and visitors can tour the partially excavated &#8216;Wunu Mountain City’. After a steep forty five minute climb to the mountain top, you can walk through the ruins of the town. There’s not too much to see, but the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys are worth the hike up alone.

<u>Ji’an Museum</u>

No longer found on Yingbin Road, the museum is now housed in Ji’ans river side Peoples Park and houses more than eleven thousand historical relics which show Gaojuli State's rich exquisite, unique culture.

Beers N Noodles toya…..shane ___________________________________________________________

The soundtrack to this entry was by Bjork The album was &#8216;Post’ ____________________________________________________________

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Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Beautiful Koguryo Tomb & Border Adventures

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya,

Stunning bus rides. We've all had them.

For those of you who haven't, book a flight to Dandong and after checking out the border grab a ticket to Ji'an city in Jilin Province and nearly seven hours later you will have joined all of us who have sat hour after hour with our faces glued to the window unable to tear ourselves away just in case we miss something that somehow could be even more mind blowing that what is already passing by.

After looking at the map I expected to travel via freeway.

Thankfully though the entire journey was on a small river side road lined with huge rolling green mountains either side that wound its way through lush valleys and along grassy plains, all the way snaking along the North Korean border collecting and dropping off ancient slow moving rural village folk along the way.

Ji'an City, located in the southeast of Jilin Province, lies opposite to the DPRK (North Korea) with the Yalu River running in between; it borders Liaoning Province to the southwest and is one of China's three major ports that are opened to Korea.

After already spending four days here I can assure you that the area is extremely beautiful and the city is so small that it could easily be called a town. This is definitely not the type of place that most foreigners add to their itineraries when visiting China as it is so far off the main travel routes and let's be honest, who's ever heard of the Koguryo People or cares enough about them to bother. However, it really is an amazing place and 99.99% of foreigners here are Koreans as they believe that this area is the birthplace of their culture. Here ancient tombs and pyramids of some of the rulers of the Koguryo Empire can be found and the area has a bit of a 'Valley of the Kings' feel about it.

It is much different than I expected yet so much more. The tombs look like they could be from Mayan or Aztec history. Oh and before continuing on about meeting a beautiful girl let's talk about steps.

Not stairs just those dainty and harmless weenie single steps that you find along a footpath. The ones that if you step on a doggie bomb in the park you try to scrap it off on these prior to looking for a puddle or pond.

Did I say harmless.

The night before leaving Dandong there I was doing the tourist thing taking photos along the river and obviously I forgot to remind myself that I can't do two things at once ie: take a photo and move, and as I was humming and haring about my shot I took a step back and to the right and somehow managed to almost fall backwards into a steep canyon that was easily about two centimeters deep yet somehow survived. The entire incident was so earth shattering that no one around me even noticed, yet I came out of it with an entire gammy right leg, painful lower back. Now found baby stepping my way through life.

The first few days after arriving to help rest my leg I slept or read until lunch time and then walked to a few of the closest tombs and around parts of the city. Nights have been spent having Beer & BBQ around from my hotel where several nights ago I met a wonderful lady named Suiyun and her son Suihong. As Suihong is attending Middle School summer classes, that has left her free most of the day to walk, take North Korean border boat rides and the evenings have been spent eating BBQ and drinking too much beer far too late at several of the Korean style restaurants and roadside eateries.

It's a hard job to live my life my friends. Someone has to do it and thankfully it might as well be me!

<u>The Koguryo Kingdom and History</u>

The Koguryo Kingdom (37 BC - AD 668.) is believed to be the longest regime founded by an ethnic minority people in northeast China and it played a big role in the development of Northeast Asia. Though the kingdom collapsed over one thousand three hundred years ago, relics of the kingdom remain in good condition. They include its capital city, fortifications, royal tombs and steles in today's Ji'an City and neighboring Huanren County.

Koguryo had two cities, Guonei and Wandu both of which are located on plains.

Its capital was originally built in Huanren in 37 BC, and then called Wunu Mountain City. In AD 3, it was moved to Ji'an and named Guonei by the second Koguryo ruler. Taking advantage of the local natural environment, the imperial cities developed their defense works with unique ethnic features, setting a good example in China's architectural history.

Guonei City's perimeter measures two thousand seven hundred and forty meters and many relics have been unearthed from it which includes jade earrings, twenty gold plated arrowheads and large amounts of tiles with different kinds of decorative patterns. The most famous relic in Ji'an is the Haotaiwang Stele which was erected over one thousand five hundred years ago and experts believe it shows the impact of Chinese culture on the Koguryo who did not have their own written language by the time.

Wandu City, on the mountain top some two and a half kilometers north of Guonei City, has seven city gates, forming the main defensive system in the region. It was built in AD198, destroyed in AD342 and the city had served as a garrison city and twice as the provisional capital city.

Murals have been found in over one hundred tombs of the Koguryo Kingdom, of which over thirty are scattered in Jilin Province and nearly seventy in North Korea. The murals were drawn on stone walls covered with lime and are rich in historical content, including lives of the noble families, such as feasting, dancing and drama etc. Some of the earlier murals portray palaces, water wells, soldiers, maids, cattle and dogs, flowers and grass and the sun and the moon and after the introduction of Buddhism into China, the designs of lotus began to appear in tomb murals.

<u>Tomb & Stele of King Haotaiwang</u>

Carved out of an entire breccias tuff over one thousand five hundred years ago, the stele in front of the tomb of Hao Tai (AD374 to 412) the nineteenth king of the Koguryo State, is found four kilometers east of Ji'an City. The stele is inscribed with one thousand seven hundred and seventy five Chinese characters in official script with the Kings accomplishments. It stands nearly six and a half meters high, nearly two meters wide and bares inscriptions on all sides both horizontally and vertically.

<u>Generals Tomb</u>

Set in beautiful mountains four kilometers from Ji'an city is one of the largest pyramid like structures in the region. The twelve meter tall General's Tomb was built during the fourth century for an unknown Koguryo ruler and the smaller tomb found nearby is the resting place of his wife.

<u>Wunu 'Five Ladies' Mountain Park</u>

Five Ladies Mountain is found in the enchanting Laoling Mountains, twenty one kilometers from Ji'an city. There are twenty six mountain peaks, seventeen are over one thousand meters above sea level, with the highest being over one thousand three hundred and the lowest six hundred and fifty.

The park is divided into ten scenic areas and eight are open to tourists.

The eight hundred and twenty meter Wunu Mountain has immense significance as the birthplace of the ancient Koguryo Civilisation. The peak (outside the town of Huanren) was the first capital of the Koguryo, a Korean dynasty that ruled parts of the region from 37BC to AD668 and visitors can tour the partially excavated 'Wunu Mountain City'. After a steep forty five minute climb to the mountain top, you can walk through the ruins of the town. There's not too much to see, but the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys are worth the hike up alone.

Beers N Noodles toya.....shane ___________________________________________________________

The soundtrack to this entry was by the Meat Puppets The album was 'Too High to Die' ____________________________________________________________

Koguryo Tomb &#38;amp; Border Adventures

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Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Tiger Mountain, Where The Great Wall Begins

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya,

The Great Wall of China.

How many people do you know who have been to China twice, spent a total of nearly seven years and have never been to China’s greatest draw card? I’ve known people who have been here for two days and have seen The Great Wall, but I guess it’s all about the little things in between that count.

Besides it being the beginning of my North Korean Border Adventure, the main thing I wanted to see here in Dandong was Hushan Changcheng, or in English the Tiger Mountain Great Wall. This morning I leapt out of bed like a child on Christmas morning and almost ran to the bus station where I found that there was no longer a 'city’ bus provided. Now tourists have to wait for a small bus that leaves once every hour or two (that leaves from just outside the bus station gate) or catch a taxi. Thankfully not long after I found the gate the bus arrived and believe me, even though he was speeding, this day we just couldn’t go fast enough!

Once I arrived I was almost jumping up and down!

Snaking its way through the mountain side, linked by fortifications was the Great Wall of China, but not only that, this is where it actually begins. The day was hot and in the distance where parts of the wall steeply climbed to the mountain tops my thoughts were of ancient Chinese soldiers who had to have been not only giants to man this, also athletes worthy of the Roman games.

When I reached this section of the wall I actually found that it would have been impossible for such athletic giants to man these parts and when Pigmy’s on Red bull came to mind a small laugh escaped. I tried to explain this to the two girls I was walking with but gave up as they didn’t know who Pigmy’s were and I didn’t know the Chinese word for Red bull. At the end of the wall due to angry rain clouds looming in the distance they decided to make their way back along the wall and not visit the museum. Though small it’s worth the ten Yuan ticket price especially when it’s raining more than all the tears in Days of Our Lives and General Hospital put together.

But maybe not as much as the Bollywood Indian versions.

Once the tears had stopped I decided to make my way back along the track that follows the Yalu River and offers down to earth views of the farmland and villages across the border in the reclusive hermit kingdom. This little adventure had me climbing almost vertical rock faces using only the handrails and small Smurf Like steps to reach the top. There was also a suspension bridge or two that were obviously built by the Dodgy Brothers and then a few board walks. At the end there were river boat touts offering both slow and fast boat rides but as no-one else wanted to I sadly had to give both a miss instead of forking out for the entire boat with a single wallet.

&#8216;A point called Yibukua (one step across), marks an extremely narrow part of the river between the two countries. Close up, the border fence on the DPRK side looks like a less than effective barrier, but don’t try to test it as a gun toting soldier may suddenly appear’

After reading the above in the Lonely Planet I was expecting a &#8216;Manned’ border but there wasn’t a single soldier to be found sneakily hiding behind a bush or in a rubbish bin waiting for wiley North Koreans to try and swim across to enjoy a life of Chinese Beers N Noodles!

Today another dream came true! These beers are for me! Yes, all of them!

<u>Hushan Great Wall, Dandong, Liaoning</u>

The Hushan Great Wall, lying on the Yalu River, twenty kilometers from Dandong City in Liaoning Province facing North Korea across the river, was built to strengthen the frontier defense during Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and was the eastern starting point of the ten thousand mile Great Wall. However, due to the collapse of many parts of its structure, people forgot about it and believed the Shanhaiguan Pass near Beijing in Hebei Province to be the eastern most point of the Wall. The excavation of six hundred meters of ruins in 1989 found that the wall actually began much further to the east than Hebei. In 1992 the government invested a huge amount of money to restore this section of the Wall which was completed in 2000.

Beers N Noodles toya…..shane ___________________________________________________________

The soundtrack to this entry was by Neil Young The album was &#8216;Broken Arrow’ ____________________________________________________________

Tiger Mountain Great Wall Adventure

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Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)