You have undoubtably heard of the frantic pace of the progress in China in the past two decades. This is especially apparent when you visit some of the major coastal cities where the modernization began. These Chinese cities have all the classic neon glamour, glitz and modern convenience like any other major cities in the world.
However, China is still very much a land of contrasts. It is almost a treat now to see some of the ‘old’ local customs and flavours while wandering this vast country. So, it was dynamite when I came across these old fashion signage in Dunhuang in the western province of Gansu. The local businesses from restaurants to doctors use these cloth signage for branding. In my opinion, these huge red characters on plain white are way more effective in catching my attention than the dizzying blinking electronic neon signs.
China is the world’s largest producer and distributor of electric bicycles. Both its annual production and consumption account for more than 30 percent of the world’s total. Worldwide e-bike sales in 2010 estimated to be 24 million. About 300,000 in USA, about 700,000 in Europe, 1.2 million in India, Japan and Taiwan, and 21.6 million in China. If the trend continues (which is likely), then the Chinese demand will be 100 million by 2014. That’s a lot of e-bikes!
During my travels in China, the number one hazard can easily be the simple act of crossing the streets. Sometimes it is down right dangerous. Not only you have to navigate through the endless stream of speeding vehicles but also develop your spider sense of dodging the e-bikes.
I dubbed the e-bikes ‘silent killers’ the first night out after I arrived in Xian. They are literally everywhere. The e-bikers see no difference between driving on the roads or the pedestrian sidewalks. Unlike the old fashion bicycles, the e-bikes are silent and especially deadly at night if you happen to be on streets that are not well lit. Folks normally don’t turn their headlights on to conserve energy so not only you can’t hear them, you also can’t see them. I started using flashlights after way too many encounters with e-bikes on sidewalks during my nightly strolls.
The local governments are starting to develop traffic regulations and guidelines to curb the growth of the e-bikes on the roads. May be they can start with getting everyone to wear helmets.
Located 7 kilometres north of Dunhuang city, Mingsha Shan (Echoing-Sand Mountain) is part of the Gobi Desert region with an area spanning 200 square kilometres. The highest peak is 1715 metres above sea level. Mingsha Shan gets its name from the singing sound of people treading or slide on the surface of the sand. The sand mountains are formed by drifting dunes and the sands have five different colors of red, yellow, green, white and black.
There are various theories about the singing sand mechanism. It has been proposed that the sound frequency is controlled by the shear rate. Others have suggested that the frequency of vibration is related to the thickness of the dry surface layer of sand. The sound waves bounce back and forth between the surface of the dune and the surface of the moist layer, creating a resonance that increases the sound’s volume. The noise may be generated by friction between the grains or by the compression of air between them. (Wiki)
Sand dune tobaggoning
Besides strolling around or climbing the sand dunes in Mingsha Shan, one can always try a different kind of entertainment: sand tobogganing. It looks exciting enough but the thought of going down the steep dune on a wooden board with the camera gear on my back just did not appeal to me. I prefer the good old fashion way of hiking. As for the workers carrying the wooden boards up and down the dunes all day, it gives the word ‘grueling’ a whole new meaning. The man in the picture above had at least six boards on his back.
China’s rich operatic heritage started with Emperor Xuanzong in the Tang Dynasty (712-755 A.D.). Many of the features that characterize modern Chinese Opera developed in northern China, particularly Shanxi and Gansu Provinces. These included the use of certain set characters: Sheng - the man, Dan - the woman, Hua - painted face, and Chou - the clown.
Hua Dan (花旦) refers to lively, vivacious young female characters in Chinese Opera. The role of Hua Dan usually represents a cheerful, feisty and flirtatious young woman from lowly social status.
Costume for this role is vivid in design and colour. It consists of a jacket and trousers and a red handkerchief is carried to flutter in the actress’s hand. The character of Hua Dan focuses more on movements, speech and facial expressions. The makeup for this role is often bold and rich in colours.
Founded by Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty in 111 BC, Dunhuang served as a base for soldiers watching over Silk Road caravans. For centuries, Dunhuang was the last familiar stop for Chinese traders heading west, sometimes even going as far as the Roman Empire. This old desert town sits on the edge of the Gobi desert and it has witnessed centuries of cultural exchanges between east and west.
Dunhuang has a vibrant night market where locals and tourists can enjoy cold beer, lamb kebob and of course karaoke. This area in Dong Dajie also has numerous shops and stalls selling anything from local handicrafts to Tibetan horns and buddha statues.