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rkkwan's Live Report from Sichuan, China, Winter 2009

rkkwan's Live Report from Sichuan, China, Winter 2009

Dec 29th, 2009, 08:02 AM
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rkkwan's Live Report from Sichuan, China, Winter 2009

My parents and I are once again visiting schools helped built by Sower Action 苗圃行動 of Hong Kong in rural Sichuan this winter. Same place as we went 2 years ago, Butuo 布拖 County in the Sichuan Liangshan Yi Autonomous Perfecture 四川凉山彝族自治州. My very lengthy and detailed trip report from that last adventure can be find here:

http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...stmas-2007.cfm

The actual visit to Butuo will be shorter this time, but we will spend a few days in Chengdu 成都 afterwards for sightseeing.

12/29/09 Tuesday
New way from Hong Kong to Shenzhen Airport

Our flight from Shenzhen (SZX) to Chengdu (CTU) would depart at 10:50a. We wouldn't make it if we took either the ChinaLink or CTS direct buses from Wan Chai (we were staying in Causeway Bay) to SZX via the Shenzhen Bay Crossing. We could take a connection bus through Huanggang, or we could take the ChinaLink across the harbor from the Elements Mall. But none of these are ideal.

But then I found out there's a new shared van service from Wan Chai and Jordan to SZX. They use comfortable 5-passenger Toyota Alphards, and charge HK$180 per person (or HK$340 roundtrip). Which is only $70 more each way than the direct ChinaLink bus. But it's a lot faster, and most important of all, we didn't have to get off the van at all at the border. Super convenient.

Our van arrived at the Wan Chai CTS office right at 7:00a. Health and immigration forms were provided to be filled. Besides the 3 of us, there was another passenger. Then we crossed the harbor to the other pickup spot at the BP International Hotel on Austin Road in Jordan. No one to pick up for that 5th seat, and we departed in the rain at around 7:25a from there.

Arrived at the HK border control at 7:57a with no wait. 7:59a at the Chinese border with short wait. Cleared the crossing at 8:03a and arrived SZX Terminal 2 at 8:39a despite traffic in Shekou and more traffic on the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Expressway due to a wreck.

This is a fabulous service. No website, but the company name is 粵利佳. You can prebook tickets from the China Travel Service (CTS) Hong Kong's website.
rkkwan is offline  
Dec 29th, 2009, 08:30 AM
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ZH9923 SZX-CTU

Shenzhen Airlines now have check-in kiosks in Terminal 2, but we have luggage to check, so have to wait until 9:21a for manual check-in. I looked for a place to buy a Chinese SIM card, but all the shops there were for higher-priced items. 7-Eleven only has refills, but no fresh cards.

SZX was pretty quiet on this Tuesday after Christmas. Short lines through security. The Chinese turn the sensitivity knob on their metal detectors to 11, so expect to be waned. We found that something like an Octopus card (with RFID chip) or HKID card (with smart chip) or the foil wrap of condom is enough to set the detector off.

Our flight would depart from Bus Gate 48. There is free wifi in the waiting area and a Starbucks. Quite civilized. Tall latte costs 25RMB, which is about the same as in Hong Kong or the US.

2 buses were used to take us to our plane. Door closed at 11:03a (scheduled 10:50a), but probably due to fog in the Chengdu area, we didn't take off until 11:41a. The flight was operated with B-6589, a 3-month old Airbus A320. Flight time was a long 2:19. There was no explanation from the flight deck - in fact, I've never heard any announcement from Chinese pilots; all announcement are by the chief purser. I am pretty sure we were circling CTU for a while to wait for landing slot.

A lunch was served with choice of beef & noodles, or curry chicken & rice. Pack of perserved radish, pack of dry apple and pack of papaya as well. Best part was the fresh mandarin orange.

I came to realize that Chinese flight attendants were simply hired to look pretty and to hand out food and drinks. Hand out, not serve. They only came back once to pick up the trays. Since many passengers haven't finished their lunch at that time, they just left the trays on the floor! In fact, the floor of the 3-month old aircraft looked like a baseball stadium after 9-innings. Trays, peanut shells, everything. Freaking ridiculous.

But back to flight attendants. At least 10 pages were spent on photos of their FAs posing as fashion models, and another 2 pages for similar stuff in their shopping catalog. The FAs on our flights wore almost knee-high boots during boarding and arrival, and switched to more regular heels for the in-flight "service".

Anyways, at least we got a gate at CTU, though in the old "intra-Sichuan" terminal. It was a long 500 meter walk to the baggage claim in the new terminal. We were over 1.5 hours late.
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Dec 29th, 2009, 08:50 AM
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Ray-keep it coming. I love your description of the flight attendants. Good to know we don't have a monopoly on the ridiculous.
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Dec 29th, 2009, 09:16 AM
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3U8643 CTU-XIC

We were met by Fang Ming at the Chengdu airport. She's the Sowers Action worker who went to Butuo with us 2 years ago. Now she's been promoted to the manager of Sowers' Chengdu office, focusing mostly on projects in the 512 earthquake area. She'd go to Butuo with us again this time.

Funniest thing happened. We had to walk outside (luckily, sunny and quite warm in Chengdu, unlike rainy and cold HK) back to the old intra-Sichuan terminal for check-in at Sichuan Airlines. And after going through security and being waned, we went back to the exact same gate that we arrived at, C-18.

I was quite pleased that Fang Ming booked us on Sichuan Airlines (3U) for our flight to Xichang 西昌 (XIC) rather than Air China. 3U now uses new A320s on the CTU-XIC route (I saw their CRJ two years ago), and I get to pick up another new airline for my FlightMemory. Yeah.

They didn't start boarding our full 4:30p flight until 4:20p, but incredibly, they were able to close the door at 4:35p. Chinese flyers are so eager to get to their seats it takes half the time to board than in the US. Our 46-minute flight arrived just a few minutes late. No jetway at XIC, and baggage claim is the apron area between the plane and the airport exit. Pretty funny. Weather was beautiful here in Xichang. Clear and cool, but not too cold.
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Dec 29th, 2009, 09:38 AM
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Xichang

We were picked up by the Butuo party secretariat that's based in Xichang. We went straight to dinner at a restaurant specialized in "pot-steamed soups" or "dun". Name of restaurant is Gao Ma Dun Pin 高妈炖品. Each of us had a pot of soup with wild mushrooms and chicken. Fabulous. And the other dishes are also awesome, especially a beef noodles. 100x better than the one I had on the plane. Dinner was about 250RMB for the 5 of us.

We then checked in to the Tian Xi Flowers & Moon Hotel 天喜花月酒店. It is a fairly new hotel with a very large garden. It was already dark but I'll check it out the garden tomorrow. My mom immediately complained about the shower with water leaking out everywhere. But at least it's clean with nicely working heat and most important of all - free ethernet. And even more impressive is the ethernet cable. I guess none of the previous guests have bothered to steal it...

---

This is it for now. Heading to rural Butuo tomorrow, and then on the train back to Chengdu on New Year's Eve. Hopefully, I can get internet access after we get to Chengdu in a few days and I'll update this thread then.

Reporting live, from Xichang, China. Local time 2:38a, 12/30/09.
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Dec 29th, 2009, 09:45 AM
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Oh, I forgot the most exciting event of the day. While waiting for luggage in Xichang, I realized my phone was gone. We had no problem heading back to the plane, but the crew and security wouldn't let me go up to the plane to look for it. Instead, one of the crew searched for it, and then after confirming the make and model of my new phone (a Nokia 5800), they handed it back to me.

I put it in the seat pocket after turning it off, like I always did, but anxious to get off the flight and start taking pictures, I didn't check the pocket before getting off the plane. My mom thought I was pickpocked while getting off the plane. I have a little more confidence in humanity.

---

Saw another interesting item. At the Shenzhen airport, there were a few working displays of 3D Television. No funny glasses required, and they actually work. I haven't seen any yet in the US or Hong Kong.
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Dec 29th, 2009, 10:31 AM
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Enjoying your report, Ray. Are you trying to make us grateful for the minimal "service" we get on US airlines?
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Dec 29th, 2009, 11:39 AM
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Thanks Ray for the details of your report. Stellar as usual. Sounds like your family is having fun.

Gung Hey Fat Choy!
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Dec 29th, 2009, 12:32 PM
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Looking forward to more!

"Chinese flyers are so eager to get to their seats" - I noticed the same with trains and boats, doesn't matter that they have reserved seats.
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Dec 29th, 2009, 01:57 PM
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yk
 
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Each of us had a pot of soup with wild mushrooms and chicken. Fabulous. And the other dishes are also awesome, especially a beef noodles.

That sounds so darn good, esp for us in Boston where it's 15F out with windchill ~ 0F!
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Dec 29th, 2009, 05:30 PM
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fabulous report....signing off at 9:29P
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Jan 25th, 2010, 08:00 PM
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Hi, I guess my report is not so "live" anymore. Sorry about that. No internet for a couple of nights in Butuo and on the train; and then just too tired back at Chengdu to post. Or after I return to Hong Kong, or during the first two weeks I've been back on L.A.

December 30, 2009
Xichang (西昌) to Butuo (布拖)

We started late because the sun rises late in winter in western China (the whole country uses Beijing's time zone), and the highway over the mountain pass could be icy. So, we first toured the beautiful garden associated with our hotel for free. Admission is 20RMB otherwise. The garden is brand new, but with beautiful plants and a collection of interesting stones from around the area. It's a perfect place for wedding pictures.

Breakfast is at a little shop what sells the Yunnan "Cross-Bridge" vermicelli (云南 过桥米线). 7RMB for regular bowl, 12RMB "deluxe".

We finally left Xichang at 9:30 in beautiful weather, unlike 2 years ago with ice and frost. The Provincial Highway S307 was clear with little traffic. We climbed from about 5,000ft at Xichang over the pass at about 10,600ft to Zhaojiao (昭觉) county. The elevation change is similar to getting up from Denver over one of the high passes in the Colorado Rockies. After going through some villages and towns at around 7,000ft, we turned off to the County Road X05 and over a low pass to Butuo (at around 7,800ft), arriving at 12:20p. Including a stop for fuel/bathroom and another for pictures, it took just under 3 hours for the 70-mile trip.

We went straight to the no-name restaurant at the Department of Food Supply (we also had dinner there once 2 years ago). Meeting us were some familiar faces - the Communist Youth League secretariat Cai (蔡书记), the deputy education chief, etc. It was nice to see them again.
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Jan 26th, 2010, 05:30 PM
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yk
 
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How was the vermicelli? Is it a lot better than the dried stuff you can buy at grocery stores?
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Jan 26th, 2010, 07:02 PM
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The vermicelli? Well, it's the stuff they put in it that's special, not really about the noodles. A lot of different vegetables and wild mushrooms, and quail eggs, etc...
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Jan 26th, 2010, 08:02 PM
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Wuyi (乌依)

Wuyi is about 25mi/40km south of the Butuo county seat, at an elevation of about 8,200ft. We visited that village 2 years ago on a very cold day, and that school was overly crowded at that time. For example, 6 teachers shared a dorm room. They were asking Sowers Action for help to build a new classroom buildings, and our family foundation ended up paying for part of it. It was completed quickly, and is already in use. We were there to inspect it.

It took just about an hour to get there, much quicker than before, because about half that trip - down the main county road - is now paved! That was quite an improvement over 2 years ago, and I'll tell more about the differences we saw. But anyways, Wuyi was the most remote of the five schools we'd visit this time, with the other four closer to the county seat.

The 2.5-storey building was pretty well built, and the government has provided it with new desks and chairs for the students. Huge improvement over last time. Yet, even though it's only an hour (and 25 miles) from the county seat, we could clearly tell the inferiority of the principal and teachers in this remote village, compared to the other schools. The principal of the school - a Yi minority, like almost all of the teachers and every student - has problem communicating in putonghua with my parents. Some teachers were using the library as their dorm, and on the balcony were hundreds of nicely stacked beer bottles (to be sold/recycled). In a school!
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Jan 26th, 2010, 10:16 PM
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Laguo 拉果

2nd school we visited was at Laguo, only about 7km back on the same road to Wuyi. We stayed for a long time and had lunch here 2 years ago. At that time we saw some issues with the concrete of the classroom building during construction, and had to take lots of photos and even call Hong Kong to talk to some engineers. Well, two years later, this L-shaped 2.5-story building had been completed a while and being used. The building was in fairly good shape, but like Wuyi, this school doesn't seem to be very well run either. From these visits, we realized that teacher training is a major issue in this part of China where most of the teachers there are Yi minority with low qualifications and it's extremely hard to recruit better teachers to go there.

But there are definitely improvements over our visit two years ago, even in these two schools, and not just about the new buildings. This time, every student has his own desk and chair. Each has pencil and their text book. The students seem to be more interested in learning than last time, even if the teachers didn't seem more interested in teaching. Basketball courts actually have hoops and students actually have balls to shoot. Even though the lab equipment in the labs still aren't being used, at least the computers and the DVD/VCD players are. And some of the teachers actually have their own PCs, which I didn't see at all last time.

And because of the nice weather, we could really admire the scenery in at these two townships. They are absolutely magnificent. The main villages (and the schools) are perched on a slope at around 8,200ft, and we could see the 10,000+ft mountains in the next county about 10 miles away. But in between is a deep valley that drains into the large Jinshajiang River, at around 2,000ft above sea level. So it's a sharp drop of 6,000ft, but of terraced fields. There are actually villages in this township right down to the river - none of which have roads. Fascinating.

Butuo 布拖

After visiting these two schools, we went back to the county seat of Butuo for dinner. We went to a restaurant specialized in traditional Yi food, called 彝家乐. Most of the food we had tried before 2 years ago, but we still like it.

We checked into the same, one-and-only, Butuo Hotel as two years ago. That's a bad sign as most hotels in China deteriorate pretty quickly, and this hotel was pretty horrible already 2 years ago. Well, we found out that all the lamp shades in the room are gone now. And my electronic keycard would't open my room door. [But that's not really an issue, as there's an attendant on each floor that's around 24/7, and she would open the door for me with her master card each time].

But the more important stuff seem to have improved. The heaters work slightly better than last time, and the hot water is really hot (at least in my room). There was no internet access.

Afterwards, we went to the apartment of Mr. Cai, the Communist Youth League secretariat. He prepared some open-fire BBQ, Yi-style, for us. Bunch of local vegetables like yams, as well as various strange meat pieces - pig's ear, etc. We did it on the roof of his apartment - it was a pretty chilly evening, with temperature around -3C/26F; but it was fun to sit around the fire and chat. And of course, we could see the stars very well. Apparently, that's an extraordinary experience for the volunteers from Hong Kong, as one cannot see stars in Hong Kong at all.
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Jan 27th, 2010, 04:26 AM
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Fantastic report, Raymond -- thanks!

Are Laguo and Butuo in or near the areas in Sichuan affected by the earthquake of a couple years ago?
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Jan 27th, 2010, 06:37 AM
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rizzuto - No, Butuot is about 350 miles southwest of Chengdu. Not affected by the earthquake at all. But later on in the trip, we'll visit Dujianyan that's northwest of Chengdu and I'll report what I see there.
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Jan 27th, 2010, 09:08 AM
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yk
 
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Nice report; looking forward to the rest.
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Jan 27th, 2010, 09:22 AM
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Wonderful report -- thanks.
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