Skewers Skewers and More Skewers at Taiyuan’s Food Street

Photo of the week presents:
Join the crowds and pig out on great snacks at Taiyuan’s Food Street 太原食品街

Taiyuan Food Street 太原食品街

Passing through Taiyuan for a night or two? Taiyuan’s food street 太原食品街 is a great way to spend the evening. Great snacks, cheap beer and tasty desserts await the adventurous.

Taiyuan Food Street 太原食品街

You won’t have it all to yourself; most of Taiyuan’s population will be there with you.

Taiyuan Food Street 太原食品街

Our favorite: Grilled Squid in a spicy chili sauce.

Taiyuan Food Street 太原食品街

To drink: Cold draft beer by the litre.

Taiyuan Food Street 太原食品街

Juhua Dao 菊花岛: The Island of Fishing Nets

Fishing nets Juhua Island 菊花岛 Juhua Dao

The one thing you notice when you visit Juhua Island 菊花岛, 9 kilometers off the Liaoning Coast near the walled town of Xingcheng 兴城, are the fishing nets.

Mending nets Juhua Island 菊花岛 Juhua Dao

They are everywhere; and it seems that the entire population of Juhua Dao 菊花岛 dediate their time to fixing them.

Mending nets Juhua Island 菊花岛 Juhua Dao

Walking around the island You’ll find yourself tripping over the nets and any photo you take, the nets will find a way of appearing in your photo. Here are just a few of the ones we took.

Fishing nets Juhua Island 菊花岛 Juhua Dao

In the coming weeks we’ll be adding some more photos of the island’s other attraction. The political slogans painted on the walls of the fishermen’s houses like the ones you see at the back of the photo above.

Mending nets Juhua Island 菊花岛 Juhua Dao
Mending nets Juhua Island 菊花岛 Juhua Dao
Colourful Chinese Fishing Boats Juhua Island 菊花岛 Juhua Dao
Mending nets Juhua Island 菊花岛 Juhua Dao

The Great Wall on Water: Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Photo of the week presents the Great Wall at Jiumenkou 九门口长城 in Liaoning Province. One of the only parts of the Great Wall to be have been built over a river.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

The Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城 is a majestic sight, one of only a few parts of the Great Wall 长城 to have been  built across a river. It stands on the isolated border between the northern provinces of Liaoning 辽宁省 and Hebei 河北省 and close to the ancient garrison town of Shanhaiguan 山海关.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

For history buffs Jiumenkou Great Wall is a must. Don’t be put off by the tourist facilities that have been set up to accommodate Chinese tour groups. Hang around a while and any crowds will disappear. We recommend going for a walk up either side of the valley to explore some fascinating unrestored remnants of the wall and wait for the groups to go; you’ll soon have the place to yourself.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Here is the account of our visit taken from the dairy Margie Keeps:

On our previous day at Shanhaiguan we agreed with a lady taxi driver on 150 yuan for the two sites; the Great Wall at Jiumenkou, and the Great Wall at the edge of the sea.

Abandoned Watchtowers Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Though supposedly only 15 kilometers from Shanhaiguan, it takes us almost 45 minutes to reach the site, along a narrow, winding and climbing road. Above us are the remote and abandoned watchtowers perched dramatically on the jagged mountains.

Abandoned Watchtowers Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

These lonely towers were once the most important defense positions of the Chinese empire. It was in this area where the marauding northern tribes would try to break through and enter the Middle Kingdom. And it is where the Manchus pored over the wall and into China to overthrow the Ming Dynasty and start the Qing Dynasty.

Abandoned Wall Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Now, the watchtowers stand abandoned, their purpose for existing rendered obsolete. However, for the visitor, they are a majestic sight.

Abandoned Watchtowers Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

When we get to Jiumenkou, we find a parking lot, visitors’ reception area and other bits and bobs. Of course, visiting a ‘bridge’ is never just that in China, of course they have developed the site.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Well, this time I can only say that they have done a great job! The restored bridge section near the river is stunning and beautifully reflected in the clear water of the river.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

To the left, there is quite a long stretch of restored wall, winding its way up the forested hillside, up to two or three watchtowers, while on the right we can see a glorious unrestored section; its crumbling walls and fading watchtowers stretching as far as the eye can see.

Unrestored Great wall at Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

It`s really interesting to be able to see both versions, restored and un restored, at the same time.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

We get our tickets and climb on to the bridge first and walk across it: it’s a curious, angular or pointy structure, with interior courtyards and tunnels as well.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Looking down from the wall, you can see straight into a small farmers’ village, dedicated almost exclusively to apple orchards all around the wall, with many of the apples individually wrapped in brown paper bags. Can you imagine how time consuming that must be?

There are ladies with baskets, hawking apples all over the place. The village of one story white-tile houses looks messy – as they all do- but not poor. The apples must sell well. And what a glorious location: imagine having the Great Wall running past your back garden …..

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

On the right at the far end the wall is blocked, so you can’t clamber up the unrestored bit. We therefore turn left and start climbing: it’s very steep at times, but the wall is broad And well maintained; unscary.

With each turn, or ascent of a watchtower, the views change and we can make out yet another watchtower, or stretch of wall in the distance! It really is a magnificent sight and we have gorgeous blue skies to go with it as well.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Halfway-up, a peasant lady has actually set up an apple and refreshments stall in her orchard, right by the wall and she is doing a brisk trade, flogging apples and bottles of water over the wall.

Apple seller on Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Closer to the top I notice a young couple stuffing pieces of handkerchief down the back of their little daughter’s shoes.

Everone is taking Photos Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

The poor thing obviously has blisters, so I offer them some plasters. They then take pictures with me. It’s all quite companionable.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Round about watchtower 3 the restored wall becomes less and less restored and eventually peters out. A sign tells people to stop, though a couple of Chinese men have ignored this and climbed up the mountain to very end of the wall anyway; leaving their rather annoyed companions to wait for them.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

We head back and obtain a couple of beers from a little stand down below, which we drink on a shady bench, looking over the bridge and the crumbling wall.

It would be total bliss if it were not for the blaring music and tourists dressing up in emperor and empress costumes and/ or taking selfies. However, the setting is beautiful and nothing can spoil that!

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

As our driver had predicted we have spent over two hours here, having a very good look around, and are now ready to move on.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

There are other things here, such as an aviary with ‘rare foul’, but we don’t want to waste time trying to find it. It time for our next destination: Old Dragon Head, this is where the Great Wall once met the sea.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang 麻塘革家寨的斗牛: Guizhou Province

From Our Diary presents Bullfighting in the Gejia 革家 village of Matang: Guizhou Province

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

The day we visited Matang was a big day for the village. It was the culmination of the five-day annual bullfighting festival, an event held to commemorate the day that rebel leader Zhang Xiumei met his end at the hands of the Imperial troops in August 1873.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Luckily, bullfighting in China isn’t as bloody as in Spain: basically, two buffalo are incited to fight each other by crashing their heads together, until one decides he has had enough and runs away. However, the bulls do get injured and sometimes fatally and that is why we decided to make our exit before that actual fighting got underway.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

The Matang festival is a pretty big event and loads of buses from Kaili and all the  nearby towns and villages had already begun arriving when we got to the arena, a huge sand- pit about 2 kilometres from the village.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

People were getting there early to obtain a good place and with 2 hours to go before the first fight, space was already at a premium. Whole clans of Miao and Gejia sat precariously on the high slopes, overlooking the bullfighting arena.

Gejia spectators 革家人

Meanwhile, the owners of the star buffalos were proudly displaying their huge, well-groomed, shiny beasts to impress the onlookers.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

I’ve always looked upon water buffalo as quite docile creatures, but having seen some of these monsters and their aggressive manners, I have come to change my mind.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Heavy drinking and gambling is part and parcel of any local minority event and this was no exception: shady- looking types with Al Capone hats and cigarettes dangling from the corners of their mouths stood near the buffalo, waving big wads of hundred Yuan notes.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Many of the punters had that glazed look of one glass (or bottle) of Baijiu (Rice wine) too many. Thieves and pickpockets were also out for a day of rich pickings. However, one unfortunate thief was discovered and pursued by an angry mob who cornered him and gave him a pretty heavy thrashing.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

He was spared any further damage by the timely intervention of the truncheon- wielding Military Police, who appeared from nowhere to separate the culprit from his assailants; their truncheons indiscriminately whacking anything in the way.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Though the fighting buffalo were well looked-after and pampered, the Gejia don’t seem to hold their dogs in equally high esteem. When it came to food, it was dog, dog and more dog.

Dog Hot Pot

Fried, grilled and most popular in a hot pot, dog meat was everywhere. Live animals, waiting to have their throats slit, huddled pathetically together near the pools of blood from their departed brothers and sisters, aware of the fate that was about to befall them.

Dog Hot Pot

Dead dogs lined the road side, under the blaze of blow torches blasting their skin off, and cauldrons full of dog parts bubbled away with the smell of chillies and Sichuan pepper.

Dog Hot Pot

Hoards of people gathered around the improvised hot pots, gnawing away contentedly on bits of canine flesh. Not really a place for a dog-loving vegetarian like myself. 

Practicalities:

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Coming and Going

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Matang is about an hour from Kaili’s local bus station (not the main bus station). Buses don’t go directly to the village, but drop you at a turn- off from where it is a two- kilometre walk. Any of the regular buses going to Chong’an or Huangping will drop you there. When returning, just get back to the main road and flag down any passing bus.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Accommodation:

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Villagers were putting the final touches to a wooden guesthouse near the entrance. Some fancy toilet buildings were already standing.

Food:

Dog hot pot.

What to eat at Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang 麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Photo of the week: Luzhi 甪直镇

The best day trip from Suzhou

Luzhi 甪直镇

ONE OF CHINA’S PRETTIEST AND LEAST OVER DEVELOPED JIANGNAN CANAL TOWNS.

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Luzhi 甪直镇
Luzhi 甪直镇

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

From our diary: August 2003

Anshun 安顺 is a medium sized city in the western part of the Chinese province of Guizhou.
Having a spot of Lunch at Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

China has changed so much and so rapidly over the last twenty years that trying to make sense of what has been happening can be almost impossible. In such a short space of time China has been catapulted from a largely agrarian society into a modern industrial and high tech country. While pockets of old China remain, evidence of modernization reaches even the most remote corner.

Trader with weighing tools Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

The Chinese have a saying: If the old doesn’t go, the new won’t come ( 旧的不去,新的不来, jiù de bù qù , xīn de bù lái ). Nowhere is this saying more appropriate than when used to describe the virtual disappearance of the Sunday Farmers Market in Anshun; a quirky barometer to show just how far and fast China has changed.

Poor horse: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

just over a decade ago hordes of peasants, farmers and merchants, who made make up a vast array of a jack of all trades, would descend upon the Sunday market in Anshun in their thousands to sell their wares and ply their goods:

Fish net seller: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Some would produce their wares on the spot; basket makers, tobacco pipe craftsmen, chili sauce grinders all jostled for space with sellers of human hair, street dentists and Taoist soothsayers.

Hair seller: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Professional pickpockets took advantage of non-too street wise peasants from the countryside to relieve them of their hard earned profits.

Dentist: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

It was organized bedlam that now, due to modernization, has been reduced to a few dilapidated streets and left waiting for the final death knell.

Traders:Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Below is our account from our diary of the first of our three visits to Anshun’s Sunday Market 安顺星期七农民市场. Some of the photos are from our later visits in 2005 and 2007.

Anshun 2003 安顺星期七农民市场

Pipe smaker:Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

The receptionist looked at us with a puzzled expression and asked: “What market?”.

Pipe smoker: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

“The Sunday market”, I replied, almost in despair, in my faltering Chinese. My spoken Chinese tends to lose a lot of its coherence when the reply to a question is not at all what I’m expecting.

Farmer: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

“There are some good shops near the bus station, all the tourists go there”, she insisted.

“No not those; we have already seen those”, I responded.

Household goods seller:Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

“Oh I don’t know. There is a  local market where all the villagers come to buy and sell their products, but you wouldn’t be interested in that one; there are no souvenirs, or anything else for foreigners to buy”.

More Pipe smoking: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

“Yes, that’s the one!”. I could have given her a hug. “How do we get there?”

Location.

Street Scene:Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

The city of Anshun, a mere two-hour bus ride away from Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, is a pretty ordinary modern town.

Chilli Crushers: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Nowadays, its new concrete buildings are encroaching relentlessly upon the few remaining pockets of old wooden architecture.

Peasants: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

However, we had been told that Anshun’s Sunday market was well worth seeing and, as it turned out, we were not disappointed.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Compressed into the north-western part of town, the market mostly follows one long street, spilling over into side streets and small squares.

Basket weaver Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

All goods are rigorously divided into sections: there is a square for vegetables and chillies, an alley dedicated to tobacco and pipes, a hairdressers’ and dentists’ corner, streets full of artisans, another square where carpenters work on wooden and wicker furniture, etc. etc.

Buying bamboopoles:Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Fascinating artisans.

Watching the artisans at work is fascinating, especially now that so many of the old trades have become redundant and have almost disappeared from the modern cities.

Here, you can still observe street dentists extracting a tooth, see people having their bodies cupped, or watch a bearded sage selling ancient Taoist tracts.

Taoist Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

You can try and guess which of the five bamboo poles that the farmer is carefully inspecting and testing, he will eventually buy. Marvel at how quickly the wicker workers can put together a chair or a basket.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Encourage groups of young men pounding mounds of chillies into a pulp. Work out how much that mass of human hair, lying on a set of portable scales, might be worth.

Broom seller:Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Finally, you might also catch a professional pickpocket at work, using a giant pair of tongs to extract a purse or wallet from his unsuspecting victims.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

A sea of blue.

Bouyi Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

However fascinating the artisans are, the real highlight of this market are the people. Anshun is the heartland of the Bouyi ethnic group, whose origins are Thai, and who are related to Guangxi’s Zhuang nationality.

Sellers in the rain Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Many of the Bouyi, as well as a few Miao, come to the market, dressed in their Sunday finest, for a few hours of hectic buying and selling.

Choosing the right bamboo pole Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Most of the women wear indigo blue tunics over baggy black trousers and aprons. On their heads they wear black or white headscarves, folded into small turbans.

Trendy Minorities Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

A few of the younger Bouyi girls wear brighter colours, such as turquoise or light-green, and combine their traditional clothes with high-heeled shoes, creating quite a stylish and fashionable look.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

The older men tend to dress in blue Mao jackets and cloth caps. Many of them have distinguished long grey wispy beards and smoke elongated and extravagantly carved pipes.

Hairdresser Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Try and find a quiet spot from which to observe this blue-grey sea of shoppers and traders, pushing and shoving their way through the jam-packed, narrow streets.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Most of the time you will pass unnoticed, as the people are so engrossed in their shopping; other times you might become the actual focus of attention, as many of the Bouyi from further afield have rarely seen foreigners.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

What to eat

Horse chao Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Food at the Sunday market is not that appetising: fiery dog- meat hot pots and other such local specialities very much dominate the menu.  It might be worth waiting for the excellent daily night market to set up its stalls to enjoy a decent meal.

Spice Seller Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

What to buy

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Finally, as far as shopping is concerned, our receptionist was right: apart from the delicately carved tobacco pipes and rustic wicker products the market hasn’t got much to tempt travellers with.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

If you really want to buy something in Anshun, you are better off going to the shops on Nanhua Lu, next to the bus station.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Here you can find a good selection of Batiks, a Bouyi and Miao speciality, such as wall hangings, table cloths, ethnic jackets and bags at a fraction of the price you will be charged in touristy places such as Kunming or Dali, or around Beijing’s Houhai lake.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Other Anshun Attractions

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

The countryside surrounding Anshun is dotted with Karst Mountains, jutting out the ground, with the medieval, stone villages of the Bouyi nestled in between. Some of these, such as Shitou Zhai and Tianlong, have become tourist attractions in their own right and can easily be visited by bus.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Moreover, some 64 kilometres from Anshun is Guizhou’s number one tourist site and China’s most famous waterfall, Huangguoshu. In full flood the waterfall is a spectacular sight, while the surrounding area, with other, smaller falls and little villages, offers wonderful opportunities for walking and exploring.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Practicalities:

Coming and going:

Basket sellers Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Anshun is easily reached by frequent buses from Guiyang. It is also on the Guiyang – Kunming train line. Moreover, buses link Anshun to the interesting town of Xingyi (starting point for exploring the Maling Canyon) and other destinations in the remote western part of Guizhou.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Update; Anshun is now connect by high-speed trains to various parts of China.

Places to stay:

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

In recent years, Anshun has been put firmly on the Chinese tourist trail, not for the market but because of the waterfalls, and hotel prices have risen accordingly.

Bamboo pole anybody? Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Bear in mind that at weekends and especially during the summer months the city can get quite full and finding a reasonably priced room may take a while. Most of the hotels that feature in the popular guidebooks seem to be eternally full.

Fruit and eel sellers Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

We stayed at the clean, bright and friendly Huayou Binguan n Tashan Xilu (tel. 322 6020) , excellent value for 150 Yuan. The hotel is in the centre of town, to the left of the roundabout on Tashan Donglu. Unfortunately, it was completely full on our last visit.

Teeth for sale: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

In 2007 we really had a hard time finding a room. Eventually we were pointed to the huge Fu Yun Hotel, right next to the bus station on Guihuang Gonglu lu. Light, airy rooms, arranged around an atrium, were 210 Yuan, a modest breakfast included. Staff were extremely friendly.

Anshun’s special reed pipes. Now very expensive Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Other cheap options that may have vacancies are the Ruo Fei Binguan on Nanhua Lu, and the Anju Binguan next to the train station.

Places to eat in Anshun:

For photos of Anshun night Market click here on Shitou Zhai and scroll down.

More pipes Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

There are restaurants all over town, but nothing beats the night market. Try one of the many tents, where you can roll your own pancakes with an incredible selection of cold vegetables, pickles and noodles. The hot pots are good too, though they are not for those with a weak stomach. The food is spicy enough in Guizhou to rival any of its neighbouring provinces, such as Sichuan or Hunan. 

Garlic Seller Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

For vegetarians there is a real treat, something that seems unique to Anshun: at the top end of Gufu Jie there are two tents that specialise in vegetable pancakes. For 4 Yuan you get ten small pancakes that you can stuff with any of the vegetable fillings, meticulously prepared and attractively laid out on plates. Sauces and chilli are provided for dipping.

Old man in the rain Anshun marlket Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

The Hair Seller of Anshun: Photo of the Week

Hair seller Anshun Sunday Market 安顺市场 卖头发的农民

Not so long ago Anshun’s Sunday Market was one of the biggest, most vibrant and exotic in China. Kilometers of streets filled with farmers, traders, ethnic minorities, craftsmen and a gaggle of pockpockets. These days the market is a mere shadow of its former self and is restricted to a few delapidated streets.

These photos were taken in 2003 and show the hair seller at the market.

Hair seller Anshun Sunday Market 安顺市场 卖头发的农民

His bags are full of human hair that are sold in small bundles mostly to women who attach it to their own hair, either to cover thinning or to make it look longer. The bundles are sold by weight.

Hair seller Anshun Sunday Market 安顺市场 卖头发的农民

We will be re-posting our article about Anshun’s Sunday Market market very soon. Article now posted.

Shalu Monastery 夏鲁寺: Tibet: From our Diary

This an updated version of the article and photos of Shalu Monastery that we published on the old holachina.com web-site. Since 2009 Shalu Monastery has undergone massive restoration so it may be quite different from when we were there.

Shalu Monastery: August 2007

Amazing flaying Murals in Shalu Monastery Tibet

We visited the monastery of Shalu 夏鲁寺 on the second day of our excursion, as a  side trip on the way from Gyantse to Shigatse. Shalu was actually off limits to foreigners and we didn’t have it listed on our permit. Our excursion was a spur of the moment decision.

However, our Tibetan driver nonchantly said there would be no problem. And hey this was 2007! Travelling in Tibet hadn’t been so relaxed and open for decades.

Inside Shalu Monastery

The talk among travellers in China in 2007 was that very soon foreigners wouldn’t need permits to travel around Tibet anymore; such was the optimism due to the up and coming Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Flaying murals in Shalu Monastery

Little did people know that within a few months, all the good intentions the Chinese authorities had about opening up Tibet would be shattered by the riots in Lhasa and Tibet would be closed to foreigners for quite a while. Even now (2019), Tibet is still nowhere near as open as it was back then in 2007.

The village of Shalu Tibet

Getting to Shalu Monastery

About 20 kilometres before Shigatse, our van turned left off the main road and went onto a bumpy track full of potholes and puddles.

Tibetan Farmer in the fields near Shalu Monastery

We passed sturdy farmhouses, some of them still under construction, and large fields full of grazing yaks. Wheat was being grown everywhere and the whole area looked quite prosperous.

Tibetan Farmer in the fields near Shalu Monastery

The monastery of Shalu was the seat of the Bu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, named after its founder Buton Rinchendrub, a famous 14th century scholar.

Welome to Shalu Monastery

The original Shalu Monastery was destroyed by an earthquake in 1329, but it was rebuilt by Buton in 1333 under the patronage of the Chinese Mongolian emperor of the Yuan dynasty.

Shalu Monastery

Many Han Chinese artisans and Newari artists from Nepal participated in its reconstruction, giving it its distinctive architectural style, exemplified by the green-tiled arched roof and steep eaves of the central hall, the Shalu Lakhang.

Shalu Monastery

Apart from the architecture and the many large statues of important religious figures, what mostly grabbed our attention were the incredible murals.

Murals in Shalu Monastery

Like in Samye, the tall walls that go behind the main altar are covered from top to bottom by amazing paintings, dimly lit by an occasional light bulb.

Murals in Shalu Monastery

Apart from the usual, slightly repetitive, Buddha figures, there are many exquisite and exotic scenes of a non-spiritual nature, such as caravans of distinctly Arabic-looking merchants leading camels, slim Indian-looking courtiers at play, or beautiful young ladies.

Murals in Shalu Monastery

The murals in the side chapels, attributed to Nepali painters, mostly depict large elegant Buddhas in lotus position, demons and many-armed gods, surrounded by floral motifs. Given their shining state, they must have been retouched recently.

Murals in Shalu Monastery

Not all the murals were so beneign. Gruesome scenes of animals and humans being flayed or disembowled also lined the walls.

Flaying murals in Shalu Monastery
Flaying murals in Shalu Monastery

During our exploration, friendly monks unlocked most of the smaller, side and upper storey chapels for us, allowing us to appreciate the treasures inside, such as ancient statues and thankas.

Statue in Shalu Monastery

The sight of all these precious objects and paintings, clearly venerated by the monks, gave us a real sense of ancient history and tradition.

The Library Shalu Monastery

The monks lead us into the library which is normally kept firmly under lock and key. The collection of manuscripts and scrolls at Shalu is huge and very important for Tibetan Buddhism. Then, as we came out of the library we bumped into a young German who was staying at the monastery studying Buddhism and learning Tibetan. How on earth did he manage to get a permit to do that in Shalu?

Curious local kids Shalu village

Shalu Village

Shalu village is completely traditional as well, it’s a warren of towering white-washed houses, protected by walls and intersected by narrow muddy lanes.

Muddy streets in Shalu village

Interestingly, while we were exploring, the Shigatse – Shalu bus, an old battered vehicle, turned up, showing us that this is another excursion you could easily do on your own.

Locals washing clothes in Shalu village

Getting there and Away

Mural Shalu Monastery

We had hired a Car and driver in Lhasa to go to Gyanste and Shigatse. Shalu Village lies somewhere between the two towns. As mentioned above, we saw local buses from Shigastse arrivng in Shalu. The only problem will be permits, and whether under stricter control the authorites will turn a blind eye to foreigners visiting Shalu.

Street in Shalu village

Accommodation:

The monks in Shalu told us that they had some guest rooms. However, we just visited on a day trip and stayed in Gyantse and Shigatse.

Gyantse Practicalities

Over view of Kumbun and Gyantse

In Gyantse we stayed at the Jianzang hotel which lies on the main street of the modern part of town (Yingxiong Nanlu) and is certainly one of the nicest places we stayed at in the whole of Tibet, or even China. The hotel is embellished with bright, colourful murals and lovely potted plants and flowers, while rooms are large, clean and comfy. We paid 180 Yuan for a double with bathroom, though there were cheaper rooms and dorms as well. The hotel also has its own rooftop restaurant and staff are very friendly.

Adam being mobbed by kids in Shalu

Food:

You will have no trouble finding several places to eat along the same main street. The Yak bar and restaurant, for which you have to go upstairs, is a pleasant, laid-back place with Tibetan sofas and low tables, specialising in western-style food such as chips, pizzas and burgers. We decided to give the guidebook-recommended Zhuang Yuan a miss after one look at their menu, outraged at the idea of paying nearly 30 Yuan for a portion of chips.

Gyantse Fort

Instead, we walked into a large Chinese restaurant, a few doors away and identified by a green sign, where we had an excellent meal.

Shigatse Practicalities

Monks At a festival in Shigatse

We stayed at the Shigatse Post Hotel, a new-ish place (2007) right opposite the posh Shigatse Hotel, down Shanghai Lu. Our double room was painted and furnished in Tibetan style, complete with thankas and white ceremonial scarves, all very bright and clean; good value for 180 Yuan.

Monks At a festival in Shigatse

Going down Shanghai Lu towards the centre we found plenty of food, though restaurants were mostly of the simple, snack food variety. A ten-minute walk from the hotel will take you to the night market.

Photo of the Week: Pep talk for Chefs in Kunming

Kunming, Yunnan Province. Catering staff receive a motivational pep talk from their boss.

Chefs and waiters recieving a pep talk but not paying much attention
After receiving a telling off Chefs and staff stand to attention
Chefs and waiting staff chilling out after the pep talk

Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店: Zhejiang style 浙菜 cooking in the heart of Madrid’s Chinatown Usera

Authentic Zhejiang style 浙菜 restaurant in Madrid

Seabass Stew in Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

Lao Tou (Zhejiang Restuarant)

All Finished! Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

One of the most popular restaurants in Madrid’s Chinatown in the neighbourhood of Usera, Lao Tou, is an homage to the cuisine of Zhejiang 浙菜, known as Zhècài. Zhejiang is the birth place of the majority of the Chinese community living in Madrid (and Spain).

Salt and Pepper deep fried Prawns Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

Not only is Lao Tou popular with the Chinese residents in Madrid, it is also increasingly frequented by curious Madrileños and Chinese tourists visiting the capital.

Sauteed Chinese greens Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

What makes the restaurant special?

Firstly, the ambience: Lao Tou is boisterous, noisy and chaotic. The combination of Chinese and Spanish having a good time means that noise decibels go through the roof. Added to the animated conversations of the clientele is the clanging and banging made by the to-ing and fro-ing of the waiters as they bring a constant stream of dishes and drinks from the kitchen and bar. And to cap it all, there is the hiss of the wok and the sound of metal hitting metal as the chefs stir the food in the woks with their spatulas.

Cold Fish Cake 鱼饼 in slices (Pastel de Pescado) Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

Then there is the food. Anyone following our blog will know that we love spicy food and our favourite Chinese cuisine comes from Sichuan and Hunan, called Chuāncài 川菜 and Xiāngcài  湘菜 respectively. Zhejiang Cuisine is very different. Rather than using a lot of spice, the aim of Zhejiang cooking is to concentrate on the natural flavours of the ingredients, using only a few spices to enhance the taste. Not much oil is used and the flavours are fresh. 

Razor fish 蛏子 (navajas) Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

Most of the Chinese community in Madrid come from Qingtian, a town close to the huge, commercial city of Wenzhou in the south of Zhejiang Province. As this area is near the border with Fujian Province, there is a lot of influence from Fujian Cuisine 闽菜, known as Mǐncài. 闽菜. Mǐncài uses a lot of seafood and fish and that is what makes Lao Tou such a great restaurant.

Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

Fresh Spanish seafood, cooked in 浙菜; Zhècài /闽菜; Mǐncài style makes for a real treat. Great fish: seabass and turbot. Wonderful shellfish: clams, razor fish and cockles, to name just a few. For carnivores there is also a huge selection of offal, cold and hot, as well as chicken, duck and pork specialities.

The Dishes:

Here are some of the cold dishes we started with.

Wa wa cai 娃娃菜 (Verdura adobada, Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店 )

Wa wa cai 娃娃菜 (Verdura adobada, Spanish translation): a cold dish of pickled cabbage hearts, slightly salty with a tinge of sweetness and a crunchy texture. I’d never had it before and neither had I heard of it, but it’s delicious!

Wa wa cai 娃娃菜 (Verdura adobada, Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店 )

As it’s not on the menu, you have to point to it in the glass cabinet between the bar and the kitchen.

Cold Fish Cake 鱼饼 in slices (Pastel de Pescado, Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店 )

Cold Fish Cake 鱼饼 in slices (Pastel de Pescado): tasty slices of cold fish with garlic and ginger, accompanied by a light soy sauce. It has a great texture too!

Cold dried and roasted fish 黄鱼 (secado de pescado) Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

Cold dried and roasted fish 黄鱼 (secado de pescado): a really tasty fish that comes off the bone easily.

Pickled Turnip 萝卜条 Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

Pickled Turnip 萝卜条 (nabo encurtido) : similar to the pickled cabbage hearts; crunchy and delicious.

Jellyfish salad 海蛰头 (ensalada de medusa) Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

Jellyfish salad 海蛰头 (ensalada de medusa): a generous portion and excellent taste . However, the jellyfish could have been more tender and less chewy. This is usually one of our favourite Chinese cold starters, but this one was a little disappointing.

Cucumber salad 凉拌黄黄瓜 (ensalada de pepino),Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

The other classic cold dishes on the menu include cucumber salad, tofu with black eggs (one hundred, or one thousand year old eggs) and fried shrimps with fresh coriander, among others. For adventurous meat eaters there are duck’s feet 鸭爪, tongues 鸭舌 or a whole head 鸭头 and veal tripe 牛百叶.

Mains:

Clams 蛤蜊 (almejas) Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

The star dish of Lao Tou seems to be steamed fish head (I think it is hake). We haven’t tried it yet. Nearly everybody else in the restaurant was ordering it, but Margie isn’t so keen on fish head, so we went for other options.

Razor fish 蛏子 (navajas) Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

The razor fish 蛏子 (navajas)  and clams 蛤蜊 (almejas) were  fresh and tender and delicately cooked in soy sauce with spring onions and ginger. Most importantly, there was no sand in the razor fish.

Clams 蛤蜊 (almejas) Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

However, the cockles 蚶 (berberechos) cooked in Shaoxing wine (Huangjiu 黄酒) were the icing on the cake: fresh, succulent and imbibed with the flavor of the wine.

Cockles 蚶 (berberechos) Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

We also had a huge, mildly spicy pot of fresh seabass鲈鱼 (lubina), which was beautifully presented. The slices of fish were very tender and almost boneless; it could have been a bit spicier for our liking, but – as I said – that’s not really what Zhejiang style’s about. The restaurant does a similar dish with congealed blood.

Seabass Stew in Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

Don’t miss out on the salt and pepper deep fried prawns 椒盐虾: great texture and great taste!

Salt and Pepper deep fried Prawns Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

Finally, there is a good selection of vegetables as well. I’d recommend the sautéed Mange Tout 荷兰豆 and if you are feeling adventurous, give the Chinese Yucca 山药 a chance, or the Jiao Bai (Sun) 茭白(笋), a type of crispy water bamboo.

Jiao Bai (Sun) 茭白(笋) Lao Tou Restaurant 老头浙菜饭店

They also do Okra Qiū kuí 秋葵 Chinese style, in a thick, sticky sauce。

All in all, Lao Tou comes highly recommended. At the weekend you may well have to wait at the bar before you get one of the coveted tables.