Place: The city of Jinghong, Xishuangbanna Prefecture, southwestern Yunnan Province
Featured: Splashing, spraying and dousing each other with water
The annual Water Splashing Festival of the Dai ethnic minority falls during the New Year celebrations of the Dai Calendar. It is the most important festival observed by the Dai ethnic people of Xishuangbanna Prefecture, and, similar to neighboring Thailand’s Songkran Festival, it involves three days of celebrations that include sincere, yet light-hearted religious rituals that invariably end in merrymaking, where everyone ends up getting splashed, sprayed or doused with water.
During the first two days of the festival, a dragon boat race is held to ring out the old year (the first day of the festival) and to ring in the new (the second day of the festival). The third day, the climax of the festival, is reserved for water splashing. On that day, the Dai people put on their newest and best clothes, then assemble at the local Buddhist temple, where the monks chant Buddhist sciptures. Afterward, a symbolic water splashing ritual is enacted whereby a Buddhist statue, with pomp and ceremony, is first coaxed out of the temple to the courtyard, then is splashed with water. This important ritual is called ‘Bathing the Buddha’.
The completion of the ‘Bathing the Buddha’ ritual serves as the signal that encourages ordinary mortals to themselves engage in mutual water splashing. Accordingly, people flock to the streets with pots, pans, bottles, or whatever, where they uninhibitedly splash, spray and douse each other with water, with the same gusto with which Westerners engage in a good snowball free-for-all.
The Water Splashing ceremony, however, is more than just good-natured fun; it also contains a religious element: water is regarded by the Dai as a symbol, firstly, of religious purity, but also of goodwill among people. Therefore, splashing a fellow human being with water during the Water Splashing Festival, whether a close neighbor or a fellow villager – or even a stranger – is an expression of the desire for good luck and prosperity to that person.
For the tourist interested in interacting directly with the Dai ethnic minority of Xishangbanna Prefecture in an informal and fun-filled manner, the annual Water Splashing Festival that takes place in the month of April is the perfect occasion. China Highlights offers a special tour to the city of Jinghong each year to coincide with the Dai ethinic minority’s annual Water Splashing Festival.
Featured: Thousands of select exhibits by Chinese and international photographers
The Pingyao International Photography Festival, held in the ancient section of the city of Pingyao in Shanxi Province, is not only an event for photographers of all skill levels, from the neophyte to the seasoned photographer, it is also a rare event for those simply interested in photography, including both curiosity-driven local residents and tourists from far and wide, both within and without China.
During the festival, Pingyao’s old town, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site since 1997, becomes one large, indoor and open-air photo gallery, with photo exhibits from professional and amateur photographers from every continent, representing upwards of fifty countries on average, and including the works of many renowned Chinese and international photographers.
The festival is organized around a chosen central theme each year. Under the umbrella, as it were, of the chosen overarching theme, the exhibition is divided into a number of sub-themes, usually 4-5 such sub-themes. To facilitate these subdivisions, the exhibits – some of which may be large montages – are situated in each its physical area, though in some cases (if the subdivision is very large), a single subdivision may be divided into two or more physical areas, so as to create more space for the large crowds that attend this popular annual festival, which is China’s preeminent photography exhibition. Within each subdivision, there are further subdivisions for works from China, works from Europe, North America, etc.
In addition, a number of academic activities – from forums to conferences to training courses to special workshops – are staged in conjunction with the festival. A special feature of Pingyao International Photography Festival, for photographers, is that the arrangers of the festival maintain a staff of twenty some professional photographers to greet newcomers and show them around. Not surprisingly, the festival is a place of great buzz and excitement for the photographer especially.
Pingyao International Photography Festival has been running for less than ten years and just seems to get bigger and better for each year, attracting the works of increasing numbers of serious photographers from around the world, as well as from renowned and lesser renowned photographers from the four corners of China itself.
Another curious thing about the Pingyao International Photography Festival is that it is ‘art observing art’ in the sense that the photographers who attend it are as busy clicking away during the festival as on any professional assignment – indeed, some of the montages have concerned aspects of previous festivals. As indicated, the festival gets larger each year. For example, the number of photos on exhibit during the recently completed (2009) festival was of such a magnitude that it would have taken at least three days to even have had a brief glimpse of each of them, much less study them in detail.
For those interested in this unique annual photo festival, UME Travel has put together a special a festival tour package that will appeal to the photographer and the photo aficionado alike. If you are interested, just contact me.
The ostensible goal of the annual Luoyang Peony Festival is to celebrate the beauty and charm of the peony, a flowering shrub belonging to the genus Paeonia, the only genus, in fact, within the flowering plant family, Paeoniaceae. The broader goal with the festival is to promote the widespread cultivation of this beautiful plant, and, indirectly, to promote cultural exchange among peoples the world over, through a shared interest.
Time of Peony Culture Festival
Date: Annually, April 15th – 25th, open daily during the period from 8 AM to 5 PM
Each year from mid-April to mid-May, the peonies in the garden in Mongshan Town are in full bloom, generally reaching their peak during the period April 15th-25th, which is the date set for the annual festival. From mid-April to mid-May each year, the garden is awash with colorful flowers – mostly reds mixed with whites, yellows and purples – set against a background of thick, vibrant, dark green leaves, like a myriad of precious stones set in bright, shiny rings.
Where is the Peony Culture Festival Held
Venue: Luoyang International Peony Garden, Mongshan Town, Luoyang, Henan Province
The venue of the annual Luoyang Peony Festival is Luoyang International Peony Garden, located in the town of Mongshan on the outskirts of Luoyang, and situated across the street, as it were, from Luoyang Ancient Tomb Museum, the “street” in question being the highway that leads from the city of Luoyang proper to Luoyang Airport.
Luoyang International Peony Garden covers an area of roughly 1/3 sq km (1/8 sq mi), an area which is planted with over 400 peony varieties, many of which are native to countries beyond China’s borders, a deliberate aim of the garden and the festival, given Luoyang International Peony Garden’s broader objective.
The Luoyang Peony Festival is very popular among Chinese tourists and peony lovers around the world. During the holiday season, the hotel room quickly filled up and the price rose accordingly. If you care, please avoid this time or choose to go to other places to enjoy the scenery; if you especially want to see this beautiful scene, then try it. Traveling out, the last thing you can’t leave is regret, isn’t it?
The city of Golmud, a treasure basin of oil and minerals, including an abundance of salt (there are 20 salt lakes surrounding the city, some large, some small) and natural gas and oil reserves, as well as reserves of precious metals and precious stones, is the second-largest city in Qinghai Province. Golmud lies on the southern edge – roughly midway, east to west – of the Qaidam Basin, a large depression that lies south-southeast of, and almost adjacent to, the much larger depression, the Tarim Basin of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang, for short). The two basins are separated by a thin mountainous strip of the Kunlun Mountains as they trail eastward (this phenomenon is called a yardang – see below), while the main expanse of the Kunlun Mountain range in this part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau skirts first south, then back north, or around the Qaidam Basin, continuing on eastward into the northwestern corner of Qinghai Province.
A Bustling Industrial City: Golmud’s Economic Base
The area around Golmud, as indicated, is blessed with extensive natural resources, which has led to the development of a chemical industry in Golmud which, among other things, produces magnesium, potassium and salt, prime components in the manufacture of artificial fertilizer. In fact, nearby Qarham Salt Lake supplies China’s largest production facility, located on the outskirts of Golmud, for fertilizer as well as for separately produced magnesium, potassium and salt for other industrial and consumer oriented purposes. Thanks partly to the fertilizer of Golmud (and partly to a special tree-planting initiative), the seemingly inexorable march of the Taklamakan and Gobi deserts has been arrested in many places, and in some instances, has been reversed. The more than 20 salt lakes in the area have earned Golmud the nickname of “China’s Salt Lake City”, as in the famous city of the same name located in the U.S. state of Utah.
Golmud, and the Qaidam Basin in general, are rich in deposits of coal and oil, as well as in natural gas. For example, Golmud’s natural gas reserves have been estimated at a trillion cubic meters. The city is also home to an oil refinery and various related petrochemical industries. In addition, this uniques treasure basin is rich in copper, gold, lead and zinc, as well as in jade and other precious stones.
An Emerging Cultural City
Golmud’s rocket-like industrial growth would inevitably provide the economic wherewithal to also grow the city as a cultural center, and this process has only just begun. The area around Golmud is no stranger to culture, however, as the ancient cities that ringed the Qaidam Basin, as an “upland” area to the Silk Road trade route (one route of the Silk Road followed the southern rim of the Tarim Basin just north of the aforementioned yardang – a yardang is an irregular ridge with a sharp crest barely separating two deep, round-bottomed troughs that have been carved out by wind erosion; in this case, the Tarim Basin to the north and the Qaidam Basin to the south). Moreover, the ancient city of Dunhuang (think of the grotto art of the Han (BCE 206 – CE 220) Dynasty period), which was a major stopping-off point on the Silk Road, lies only about 450 km northeast, as the crow flies, of Golmud.
Golmud is a modern city with a modern housing and transportation network, and with a budding education and cultural environment, thanks to the city’s rapid economic success. Already Golmud is the second-largest city in the province, and continues to expand as it prospers, branching out in other economic areas such as tourism, and, in time, the city is set to also become a major educational center for the region. Golmud is also a major hub on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which connects Qinghai Province (the cities of Xining and Golmud) to Tibet Autonomous Region (the city of Lhasa).
There are 25 ethnic minorities living in the greater admistrative region of Golmud, whereof Tibetans are the largest such group, followed by the Tu, the Hui, the Salar and the Mongols, while the Han Chinese majority group dominates. The area offers several other highlights such as Wangzhang Salt Bridge, the headwaters of the famous Changjiang (Yangtze) River, Tangula Mountain Pass in the Tangula region of the city, Geladandong Snow Mountain, Plateau Wild Animal Park, and the aforementioned yardang, a thin sliver of mountain range that has been all but covered in sand, with only the crest showing.
The weather pattern of Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, aka Dali, is defined by its latitudinal and topographical features. Firstly, because Dali lies on a low latitude in the northern hemisphere (it lies at a latitude of 25 degrees N, circa, only 1.5 degrees above the Tropic of Cancer at 23.5 degrees N) it tends to have a warm, subtropical monsoon climate, but because it is situated on a high plateau, it tends to be cooler than more low-lying regions, such as neighboring Kunming, about 315 km (195 mi) to the east. Therefore Dali has a relatively temperate climate year round, with no extremes in summer or in winter.
In fact, as is true of most of Yunnan Province except for mountainous terrain, the daily temperature variation tends to be greater than the seasonal variation in temperature, which calls for layered clothing, or jackets and sweaters early in the morning and again during the evening. The climate of Dali is generally characterized as a subtropical highland monsoon climate, with lots of sunshine and fresh air. In fact, quite a lot of both – and especially the latter – given that the city is located on a flat plateau between a mountain range (the Cangshan Mountains to the west) and a large lake (Lake Erhai to the east), creating a natural wind tunnel, Dali gets a great deal of wind, year round. In fact, like the city of Chicago in the U.S., which is also located nearby a large lake (Lake Michigan) and therefore gets a lot of wind year round, Dali is nicknamed “Windy City”.
The best time to visit Dali is from March to June when springtime is in full swing and all of nature seems to be in the process of rebirth, as it were.
Chengdu provides a lot of convenient shopping places to tourists who are from different provinces or countries, offering a wide range of Chinese and Tibet-style “souvenir items” appeared from traditional Chengdu (Shu) brocades and embroidery to great splendid art objects (mostly replicas, some antique), and more traditional Chinese ornaments and souvenirs.
Brocades – usually silk brocades – are one of the most popular “souvenir items” among tourists, as they are not only typically Chinese, but also have high their own value. The Shu brocade style was regarded as the age-old brocade style developed over the aeons in the Chengdu area. The Shu brocade style is one of the four famous and legend brocade styles in China, the other three being Hunan, Cantonese and Su brocade styles.
Popular art objects include: silk prints with literary, landscape and calligraphic motifs; bamboo and ivory carvings; porcelain; and jade. Popular ornaments include Tibetan-style jewelry items such as highly colorful beaded bracelets and necklaces (sometimes also worn as a head adornment), tassels and more traditional jewelry such as earrings, pendants and bracelets made of precious metals such as gold, silver and copper. Souvenir items range from postcards and key-ring trinkets to the aforementioned art objects such as wood and ivory carvings, etc.
Shu Brocades and Embroidery
Shu brocade has a long history dating back to the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty; In that era, the Shu brocade, as a Silk Road trade commodity, was sold by haberdashery merchants in shops in Japan to the north and in shops as far away as and Baghdad, Damascus and Constantinople to the west. Shu brocades were – and are still – richly colorful and complex in pattern. Shu embroidery – then as now – is used to embellish such familiar items as quilt covers, pillow cases, articles of clothing, women’s shoes, and a host of other articles of both practical and non-practical, or artistic, use, such as tapestries.
Shu brocades and embroidery can be found in the shops of Chengdu that specialize in such items – For example, in the Hongqi Shopping Store chain, one of which stores is located on Shudu Street, the other on Zongfu Street – with prices as low as 300 Yuan (roughly $44 USD). Shu brocades and embroidery can also be found at the Shu Brocade Academy in Chengdu, located at 1 Caotang East Road, which also serves as a historical exhibition dedicated to the history and art of brocade weaving in Chengdu.
Regarding of how the academy came into, it is an interesting story in itself. In the early 1990s, the last remaining silk brocade factory in Chengdu closed its doors, due to falling demand (the once-stable Japanese market even dried up). A few years later, a local entrepreneur, bemoaning the loss of this last vestige of an ancient Chinese cultural institution, purchased the defunct factory, hired a limited staff, and tied the factory to an academy, or museum, dedicated to preserving the history and art of brocade weaving in Chengdu.
Thus the Shu Brocade Academy in Chengdu is part museum, part commercial enterprise. Thanks to the exposure to foreign markets that tourism has indirectly provided and orders from abroad, the production of brocades has picked up due to increased demand (yet another good reason for you to pay a visit to the Shu Brocade Academy when in Chengdu, then tell your local haberdasher about it when you get back home).
The Shu Brocade Academy in Chengdu preserves ancient brocade-weaving patterns, techniques and designs new ones. They have some wonderful old looms on display, and the attached brocade and embroidery factory has a boutique that offers everything from tiny souvenirs to large, beautiful brocades as well as some magnificent, hand-woven brocade articles that simply can’t be woven by machine.
Art Objects – Replicas & Antiques
Chengdu offers a large range of art objects, including silk prints (various motifs from human figures to landscapes to pure calligraphy), replicas of ancient Imperial era rubbings (of coins, seals, etc.), carvings (wood, bamboo and ivory) and replicas of Imperial era porcelain as well as jade and agate figurines, mask, etc. In some shops one might be lucky enough to run across a genuine antique exemplar of these items.
Chinese and Tibetan-Style Ornaments, Souvenirs & Other Handicrafts
There are many Tibetan-style ornaments & souvenir gift shops concentrated near Wuhou Temple. These offer unique beaded jewelry items such as highly colorful bracelets and necklaces – including a special variant that is wound around one’s head as a distinctive and colorful adornment – tassels, and more traditional jewelry items such as earrings, pendants and bracelets made of gold, silver and copper. There are souvenir & handicraft gift shops concentrated near Lotus Pond that sell more traditional Chinese gift items ranging from trinkets to carvings to brocades.
If you need to pick up gift items for several friends back home but do not wish to fill up your luggage with heavy and/or bulky items, then either of these shopping areas, as well as the Shu Brocade Academy (the latter have many small brocade articles that weigh hardly anything and fold away to nothing) and the Hongqi Shopping Stores mentioned above, are ideal places to look.
Longqing Gorge, located about 80 km (50 mi) northwest of Beijing, and sometimes referred to as the “Little Three Gorges” (As in the three gorges of the Three Gorges Dam project), is named after Emperor Longqing of the Ming (1368-1644) Dynasty, during whose reign (1567-1572), the Great Wall had been penetrated by a Mongol force under the command of the Altan Khan, reaching Beijing itself, though the emperor managed to repulse the khan’s army. Later, the emperor, seek to neutralize the Mongol threat by peaceful means, signed a trade and security pact what one might today call with Altan Khan whereby the khan purchased silk from China in exchange for horses. Peace ensued.
Today, Longqing Gorge, confidently shaded between two tall mountain peaks, is known mainly as the venue for the annual Beijing Longqing Gorge Ice & Snow Festival where, among other things related to snow and ice, massive blocks of ice are sculpted into all kinds of interesting, beautiful and sometimes spectacular shapes, including representations of animals (including the dragons in mythical), human figures and lanterns. There is a number of fixtures among the ice-art works, such as the Peacock Welcoming Springtime (Kongqueyingchun), the Soaring Dragon (Longteng), the Smiling Face (Xinchunxiaokaiyan) and Nature’s Annual Revival (Wangxianggengxin). Besides the ice sculptures that can be admired here, there are fireworks ceremonies, folk dancing, and pageants. In addition, there are other nearby ice sports activities separate from the sculptural exhibits, such as ice fishing.
The Beijing Longqing Gorge Ice & Snow Festival, which, at night, is illuminated by a flood of colorful lights, is held each year from the 15th of January through the 29th of February. During the rest of the winter season, the area is closed to tourists, but opens for the summer-autumn season (April 10th to November 15th), where the gorge is known for, among other things, its bungee jumps.
If you are at Longqing Gorge during the summer-autumn season, don’t forget to have a look at the nearby Kangxi Grasslands, named after the Qing (1644-1911) Dynasty emperor, Emperor Kangxi, who reigned from 1661-1722. And of course, regardless of when you visit Longqing Gorge, you absolutely must visit the Great Wall at Badaling.