Tag Archives: Anhui

Toilet Trouble in Tunxi

Tunxi (Huangshan City) was my first experience of small-town China. Whilst our stay in Tunxi was pleasant, I can’t say that we have any plans to return. It is a transit town, which survives on its proximity to Huangshan National Park and the UNESCO listed Huizhou villages. It’s grim, grey and well… small. For a few hours in the late afternoon / evening it’s tolerable, but any longer – and I imagine most big city types or non-Chinese would be itching to escape.

Seeing Tunxi made us incredibly grateful for living in a major Chinese city (with all their pollution, congestion and noise), and for not living in a small-Chinese town – which for us, would be a miserable existence. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that too much, and I can now fully understand why so many young rural Chinese are moving into the major cities.

My biggest concern in Huangshan was well, the toilets were not so good. There were no Western toilets, which came as a shock, for everywhere I’ve been in Asia I’ve always been able to scout out a Western toilet. Not in Huangshan. In our two and a half years in Asia, I have still never had to use a squat toilet for anything more than a Jimmy Riddle (Despite several scares), and I am very proud of this fact. It is my intention for this to remain the case for as long as possible, e.g. forever.

Now we all know China isn’t too keen on a lot of Western things, unless it can make money from them, but I passionately believe there is no disputing the superiority of Western style, Thomas Crapper inspired, toilets, over the traditional Chinese squatter. I can understand them not wanting to import democracy, Facebook and human rights, but toilets? Come on CCP, you need to make more of an effort to encourage their construction and increase their usage. Western toilets are not going to threaten the security of the Chinese nation, or undermine the authority of the Chinese Communist Party. I promise you. I challenge anybody to suggest otherwise. Quite the contrary actually, I strongly believe they would benefit the Chinese population, much the same way they have the South Korean and Japanese people.

Bog standard Chinese toilet

We cut short our stay in Huangshan City to one night. Why? It was cold, gloomy and there wasn’t a lot to do. The UNESCO listed villages were expensive (£10 entry pp), full of tour groups and didn’t really capture the imagination. They were pretty, but it was miserable outside and crowded. We only visited Hongcun, supposedly the best one (along with Xidi). We had planned to visit some smaller villages the next day, but changed our minds for the aforementioned reasons.

Another key reason?

I was confident I’d be able to hold my bowel movements for the rest of the day, but couldn’t guarantee I’d be able to do so for the next two (given it had already been over a day since the last motion), and would therefore put myself at great risk of losing my “squat toilet virginity”. Now I know critics will say, “you are living and travelling in China so it is only a matter of time before you do” and tragically I have to concede they are probably right. But the truth is, I wasn’t, and I’m not, ready to lose it yet. I didn’t want to have my squat toilet virginity taken from me, here in Anhui, on this cold, gloomy February morning in a grim little Chinese village surrounded by dozens of DSLR camera-toting Chinese tour groups when I haven’t even eaten anything dodgy.

So if / when the time comes, I have always envisioned it to be a more romantic affair, somewhere on the Silk Road, perhaps in far off Xinjiang or Qinghai, having eaten a delicious greasy, under-cooked lamb kebab from a Uighur shepherd, on a glorious summer’s day at a remote (service / bus / train) station set against the backdrop of the mighty Pamir Mountains, the scorching Taklamakan desert, or the wilderness of the Tibetan Plateau. Not in tourist central Hongcun or Huangshan on a gloomy winters day because I’m staring constipation in the face.

So please Chinese government officials, in the unlikely event you are reading this, or ever read this – please try to encourage the use and construction of Western style toilets in densely populated, developed Eastern China so that I, and other intrepid westerners like me, may be able to realise our dream and not suffer the indignity and cruelty of losing our “ST-V Plates” at a supermarket in Beijing, a tourist village in Anhui or a restaurant in Nanjing.

Also, if the toilets had been better in Anhui, perhaps I wouldn’t have cut short our stay, and spent a little more money there!

Final edit – The irony of all this is, had we stayed in Huangshan an extra night I would have inevitably lost my “ST-V” Plates”, as the two days of holding it caught up with me when we arrived back to Nanjing, in quite spectacular fashion, as I sat here writing this. Thank goodness we went home when we did, and I continue to cling to my “ST-V Plates” for a little while longer.

And finally, here are some actual pictures from Hongcun…

hongcun ducks hanging hongcun garden tour groups famous hongcun bridgeamelia and I kung fu hongcun

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An Anhui Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year. The largest annual human migration in the world. An estimated 200 million people travel across China back to their home town or village, in time for the start of the festival. The country basically closes, much in the same way the UK does over Christmas.

Travelling to work last Friday morning felt like we were in a scene from 28 Days Later (A post apocalyptic zombie horror movie), I had never seen the roads so deserted, almost everybody had gone. If only it could be like that every day I thought… Sadly, soon it will be back to reality when all the ‘migrant workers’ return to Nanjing over the next few days.

Anyway, it being Chinese New Year meant we had a week off. Our friends, colleagues, every internet travel website we read, told us that travel in China during Chinese New Year would be a kind of travel purgatory. Just don’t even bother, most of them said. A lot of expats escape to warmer climes (e.g Thailand, Philippines), but a lot have also stayed at home for various different reasons. Most were not keen on internal travel in China.

Transport can be somewhat crowded during the holiday season
Transport can be somewhat crowded during the holiday season

For Amelia and I, we have only been in China for six months. Apart from Nanjing, we have only been to Beijing and Shanghai. Interesting places they may be, but we want to see the REAL China – the rural bits, the places that few westerners get to see. With China being a massive country and all that, and only a week off during the middle of winter, and us refusing to take the risk of travelling too far for fear of getting stranded during the travel chaos, there wasn’t exactly an abundance of options, shall we say. In the end, we settled on a trip to our neighbouring province, Anhui. Our destination to be Huangshan Mountain, arguably the most famous mountain in China (apparently), and some pretty looking little UNESCO World Heritage Listed Huizhou Villages nearby that we had found out about on the internet.

We arrived in Huangshan around 5am on New Years Day. The constant boom of fireworks was relentless, even as dawn was breaking. I thanked my lucky stars we had been on a sleeper train all night, for we would have had quite a battle to actually sleep had we stayed in our Nanjing apartment. Fireworks on Chinese New Year in China make our Guy Fawkes Night celebrations look tame. There are no concerns about noise pollution, even less so health and safety – with fireworks being let off, pretty much everywhere, by everyone. It’s spectacular to say the least, although it gets a little tiring after a while, as everybody it seems has bought the same box of fireworks.Beijing-fireworks-007

Anyway, back to our trip to Anhui. We arrived to the foot of Huangshan Mountain shortly before 8am. There are three main ways up to the top of Huangshan, first of all, and by far the most popular – is the cable car. Most Chinese take the cable car; for us, as young, relatively fit, and healthy youngsters taking a cable car up a mountain is cheating, and inexcusable unless you are stretched for time, disabled, or morbidly obese (in which case the exercise would probably be of benefit). For us at least, hiking to the top of a mountain is significantly more rewarding and satisfying, and a lot more fun. You can hike up from the East or West Gate. The East Gate is the most popular trail to start walking from, as it offers the quickest way up on foot. The West Gate route, we had read, was significantly more picturesque but also longer than that from the East. As we were starting early, and the weather forecast was clear and sunny for the first day, but cloud and drizzle for the second, we decided to plan on doing the lion’s share of hiking on the first day – as being stuck on a mountain on a cloudy, rainy day doesn’t usually make for a great day out.

The weather was bitterly cold, for the area had been hit by a cold snap and snow in recent days. We had come prepared fortunately, and the wintery conditions were to prove a marvellous blessing. The scenery on our ascent won’t be forgotten in a hurry – tall dramatic granite rock-faces towered over dense snow-blanketed forest, as frozen streams cut their way through the valley. We looked out across a landscape of mountainous peaks sneaking out from a mysterious, eerie mist which had descended around them. What a glorious start to the day.huangshan mist and snow icicles huangshan huangshan winter scenery huangshan winter scenery 2 huangshan winter view

What’s more, we didn’t see another soul for the first two-three hours, and were able to enjoy this picturesque winter setting, in total tranquillity. The Chinese Tour Groups which would inevitably be waiting for us along the summit trails, would not be ruining this moment or place for us.

As we continued our ascent, the views became more spectacular. To my delight, there were not hordes of Chinese Tour Groups walking along the summit trails, we certainly weren’t alone, but it was extremely civilised and pleasant.

After lunch, a wild monkey (yes, wild – I didn’t know they still had wild animals in Eastern China either!) came and said hello to us. He climbed down, literally inches away from us – larger than most monkey’s I’ve seen, and was quite happy to pose for a photograph!huangshan monkey

Our legs started to tire as morning gave way to afternoon, and snow gave way to ice under the glare of the midday sun. We plodded on, making slow progress as the stairwells snaked up, down and through the mountain. The views were spellbinding, and built up to a glorious finale for us at “Flying Rock ”. James Cameron (The movie director) said that Huangshan was the inspiration for the spectacular mountain scenery in his mega-blockbuster Avatar, now we can see why.huangshan avatar mountains huangshan avatar panoramic

The less said about our over-priced, over-rated, unfriendly and unwelcoming hotel we stayed in (Paiyunlou Hotel), the better. We thought about getting up for the sunrise before we went to bed, but we thought “nehhh” and slept for twelve and a half hours instead. It was an epic sleep to round off an epic day.

We woke up feeling fresh as daisies, enjoying noodles and steamed buns for breakfast before starting our descent.  The weather forecast was correct, it was certainly gloomy. We found ourselves close to the cable car terminus, there were a lot of people here, and tour groups. “AHHHHHHHH, let’s get out of here”, so we did – fleeing from the tour groups and tourist traps as fast as we could. We walked past supposedly “the most beautiful view in Huangshan National Park” according the sign, but couldn’t see anything except for cloud.

We descended via the East steps, which was rather brutal on our knees and thighs, but a good workout for our muscles nonetheless. Three hours later, we were down – and heading to Tunxi (Huangshan City) via KFC.

For the benefit of other travellers – We played a blinder by ascending the Western steps on the first day, and descending via the East steps. To any prospective travellers out there, they are much nicer than the Eastern steps, significantly quieter, and you don’t need to be an Olympic athlete to walk up them. Plan according to the weather forecast, but if it’s going to be clear on one day – make sure you see the Western steps. If you plan well and get lucky with the weather (like we did) – it’s a magnificent place.