Elephant No. 13: Nanjing 

As well as trying to find elephants from different places around the world, I have also been on the look out for elephants of different media. Obviously a real, live elephant hits the bulls-eye, but they aren’t always a readily available elephant viewing option, while the most common denominator is definitely the elephant statue – there’s no shortage of them in China. But I rather liked this oil painting of an elephant in the Nanjing Museum, the work of Chinese artist Su Tianci (1922-1906), with its thoughtful expression among the pink blossoms.  (more…)

Elephant No. 12: Emei 

Last week we went to climb one of China’s four sacred mountains, Mt. Emei. The climb lasted two days, and by two days, I mean two days of walking up steps pretty much all the way – not quite the mountain stroll I had been envisaging but we were rewarded with some of the most stunning views that I have ever seen, through misty clouds and over dramatic forested peaks. We also combined our climb with staying in two Buddhist temples, one in Baoguo village at the foot of the mountain, and one perched on a crag half way up. This latter temple, Xixiangchi, was a particularly special experience, with nothing connecting it to the outside apart from a path of steps leading upwards, and another leading downwards. There were steep drops on either side, and when the cloud came up, all we could see was whiteness stretching in either direction. It was also a great place to watch a sunrise over the mountains, if slightly blurry-eyed from a night of less than excellent sleep in hard temple beds!  (more…)

One month away

Today marks one month since I left London, on Saturday the 4th July. It’s strange because in some ways it feels like it has all gone past in the blink of an eye – and surely it was only yesterday that I was sitting in the garden in Stockwell having a delicious breakfast before leaving? The longest I had ever been away before this trip is 5 weeks, to Peru; now, a month doesn’t feel nearly long enough to visit anywhere at all, so I’m even more glad that I’ve managed to find this 6 months (and possibly more) to go travelling.  (more…)

Pandas of Chengdu

Possibly the highlight of our trip so far, we came to Chengdu to see the pandas and we were not disappointed: we had one glorious, panda-filled day.    These pandas are part of China’s flagship panda breeding programme, which aims to boost the number of giant pandas in captivity before starting reintroduction programmes into the wild. As such, we learnt more than we were expecting to about the various methods that the vets have for impregnating the pandas – the vets being rather keener than the pandas for this to happen!  (more…)

Transport and travel

Usually, I love travelling by train or bus when abroad, particularly if I can nab a forwards-facing window seat, plug in some music, and watch the world go by outside. There’s something more satisfying about getting from A to B while still seeing everything between the two out the window, not just disappearing underground or into a plane and then popping out somewhere different with no conception of where you have actually travelled to or from.  Often, too, you get a glimpse from the window of everyday life in a country that you wouldn’t otherwise see as a tourist – I especially remember setting out from Beijing on the Trans-Siberian railway with my family many years ago and watching with great curiosity groups of old men practising tai chi at dawn in deserted patches of ground in various grey suburbs, and indeed many of my favourite travel memories involve the trains (or, less frequently, the buses) I took along the way, even if it’s just watching the fields speeding past under an afternoon sun. I used to find travelling by plane pretty exciting as well as a child, but alas no more – the spate of recent air accidents in the news has me feeling terrified rather than thrilled everytime I step through those strange curved oblong doors, and I tend to spend most of the flight trying not to think about how ludicrous it is to travel up in what is essentially a tin box high in the sky…  (more…)