Enjoying Jiuzhai Valley Nat'l Park crowds & all!

Trip Start Jul 22, 2011
Trip End Aug 12, 2011

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What I did
Zang Mi Tibetan Music & Dance Show

Flag of China  , Sichuan,
Saturday, July 30, 2011


How to pronounce the name of this national park eluded me during the trip planning.   Now that we're here, I finally can say it without feeling self conscious – here it is phonetically – zhu zhai go.  Just as I’ve become more familiar with the sound of Mandarin, I am further developing a habit of approaching everything we do with open eyes and ears because most everything is different from what I might expect.  This is actually one of the reasons I love to travel because it wakes me up out of my habitual routines and thought patterns that I have at home. 

So, here we are on our first overlook at Jiuzhai Park, and there is this pristine Long Lake with the calm surface broken by the wind that adds a texture to its surface in a zig zag shape, mountains as far as I can see in the distance and clouds resting over their tops.   I am trying to take a photo of this beautiful scene, but I can’t get the composition I like without people in it.  What’s wrong with this picture?  After some irritation, I realize that this is either a Photoshop project to extract the people or I need to recognize that both the natural beauty and the other tourists are the attraction here.  I decide to go with the flow and not try to block out the people but to enjoy both.  We are richly rewarded with special moments.

Regardless of our governments, people are friendly and warm.  It seems that the Chinese form of tourism is very social.  We join in the festive environment overlooking Long Lake taking photos of each other, observing others taking photos or sitting on rocks and snacking and we pass comments to a few.   One of the next lakes has a concession that rents Tibetan costumes and young women are snapping photos of themselves.  Before we know it we are asked to join the photos and we make our way from one group to another that wants us in their photos.  We ask Helen, our guide, to take our photo at the same time so you can see some of the beaming smiles and beautiful dresses.   We asked Helen why people wanted us in their photos.  She thought it was because we seemed "qin qie" which translates into amiable or kind.  We get more expert in the gentle art of good-natured pushing and shoving to get into the shuttle buses. At one of these experiences, a young woman strikes up a conversation in English with Harvey.  Amy is a studying polymers at a Chengdu University.   She is 19 years old, speaks English very well, loves science and is quite interesting.  Amy ends up joining us for the day and we enjoy her company, learning about her life and aspirations.  One of the first things we learn about Amy is that she thinks that some of the tall soldiers are very handsome.  This does not mean that she is interested in them.  She simply thinks that they are nice to look at.  She thinks it is a pity that the men who are more interesting don’t look like the soldiers.  She has a brother attending MIT, and she hopes to go to the US for graduate school.

When it comes time for lunch we invite Amy to join us.  There are a variety of dining options, but of course since we are Americans our tour company had arranged for us to go to the most comfortable dining room.  This is a buffet with a nice assortment of foods.  Sometimes we need a little explanation of what we are about to eat.

After lunch Amy continues to wander with us, getting on and off the bus at the same stops.  Whatever her originals plans may have been apparently she feels that observing the Americans is as much fun as observing the scenery.    

As westerners, it’s not possible to blend in and look like a local.  So when we see other foreigners we always say “hello”.  This group of four from New Zealand and Australia were the only others we saw this day.  Their guide is Tibetan and his family are nomads in the area over a nearby mountain. He learned to speak English at a school run by Americans in the mountains.  He works the tourist season as a tour guide.  His guests were vibrant and we actually were able to goad the New Zealander into doing the Hakka for us!  The other Chinese tourists in our immediate area must have thought we were crazy with his gesticulations and our full belly laughs.  It is unusual for Chinese to show affection publically, holding hands or embracing.  When we would ask our guide to take our photo at a particularly scenic spot, others would stop to watch.  It wasn’t unusual for others to take our photo – I guess either we or our embraces were unusual enough!  At one point during the day Harvey says to me “I feel like an ambassador”.

In Juizhai Valley, there are 114 lakes, 17 waterfall groups and 47 springs.  We see just a few today.  The blue and green colored lakes and fast flowing waterfalls elude description.  Take a look at our photos that provide a hint of the natural beauty of this landscape.

The tourist infrastructure is on a grand scale to allow mass tourism yet preserves the environment.  There is a modern two-lane road through the valley where shuttle buses stop at the scenic spots.  Most people seem to get off the bus at their desired spot, look around, take a short walk and then get on the bus to their next choice of stop.  It is also possible to take the bus to a stop and walk as much as you want, and then pick up a bus along the route at a bus stop.  All the walkways are on a wooden boardwalk.  We didn’t once walk on actual dirt.  This is probably a good thing considering the fragile environment and the number of people who pass through here daily.  It did give us pause to reflect on the amount of effort and manpower it must have taken to build these miles and miles of boardwalks. 

Our guide told us that there are 220 species of birds, but we had our eyes on the scenery and the people and didn’t really notice them.  Sorry, our birding friends, we don’t have one bird photo.  There are 27 protected endangered species that include the Giant Panda, Sichuan golden monkey and Asiatic black bear but they are at a higher elevation away from the hoards of people.  It’s good to know that they are in a protected area as this is a World Heritage Area.  The Chinese government has done a beautiful job of protecting the area yet providing for mass tourism.

Jiuzhai Valley, known in Chinese as Jiuzhaigou means “Nine Village Valley” and is named after the nine Tibetan villages scattered throughout the park.  Tibetan people have lived in this region for thousands of years.  In the evening, we attend the Zang Mi Tibetan Music and Dance Show.  Full of choreographed group dancing and Tibetan music worked around the loose theme of a person’s life from youth to death, we absorbed the rhythms and collective efforts that it must take to live in this harsh but beautiful region.   You can hear some of the music in the video.  There is a general hub bub in the audience during the show.  Tour groups come in late and leave early to avoid the rush and traffic jam in front of the theatre.  People talk during the show and children sit on their parent’s laps.  We see one man who took our photo earlier in the day; our guide Helen had given her email address to him so he could send us the photo.  Tonight we gave him our card (in English) that we had with us.  He passed the card to everyone in his family – I guess it was a sensation in English characters.

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