“With true friends… even water drunk together is sweet enough.” – Chinese Proverb
Today was my first day entering Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, today I walked for over 6 hours in 33 degrees weather, today I experienced Bailong Elevator (the world’s tallest full-exposure outdoor lift), today I saw a bus nearly explode, today I interacted with international tourists for research, today I spent a full day getting to know my incredible roommate, today I watched traditional Chinese theatre of dance and acrobatics featuring Hunan myth and culture, and today… today was my birthday*!
*My posts regarding my travel in Zhangjiajie, China are mainly re-written words from my journal. I didn’t have access to my blog and many other sites (because of Internet censorship in China), so the time stamp on these posts are several weeks dated.
I was very grateful to have the opportunity to celebrate my birthday in China. This is my fifth birthday away from home, spent abroad and physically far from family and friends in Canada. I hadn’t told anyone here it was my birthday, I was just happy to be working alongside my new friends. While I don’t regret any decision to be abroad and I am proud of the sacrifices I’ve made to be traveling, of course birthday’s are a little bit harder than most days.
Our first stop in the National Park was the Bailong Elevator, literally translated Hundred Dragons Elevator, is a 1,070 feet (330 m) high lift was said to be the world’s tallest full-exposure outdoor lift, tallest double-deck sightseeing elevator, and the fastest passenger elevator with the biggest capacity.
If you’re visiting in the summer (busiest months) be prepared to line up for several hours. There is a small admission fee, be prepared to pay additional fees throughout the park after paying the main park admission fee. There is an extra charge to maintain these attractions while the admission fee is distributed to conversation of the park and bus facilities.
You start out by lining up outside, then the line takes you downstairs to a cool underground platform where you board the elevator (warning: there’s extra pushing and shoving for the best view out of the elevator). Then once you’ve entered the elevator, you accelerate up from the basement for what feels like a long time… then suddenly light burst and the elevator is filled with ‘WOW’s and ‘aaaah’s. You try to take in the scenery that blurs pasts you.
While the elevator ride itself is really neat, it’s being transported to a world above some of the towering sandstone peaks of the UNESCO World Heritage that make the experience worthwhile.
Some moments move quickly and I find myself looking back over my shoulder and wondering where did time go?! How has it been 365 days since I turned 21. Other times I find time pausing and suddenly I can take in everything around me and listen to all the thoughts in my head. After what felt like a crazy 48 hours of travel and settling into Zhangjiajie, I found peace and time momentarily pause as I looked out into the sea of trees, mountains and peaks.
But my peace was short-lived as there’s always something exciting happening. As I was eating a cucumber (yes, there were popular snacks being sold eaten like corn on the cob) I witness a bus blow out a cloud of smoke and Chinese passengers run out of the halted vehicle. We were worried it might blow up but it was just a large puff of smoke. Thankfully no one was injured, just another day in Zhangjiajie.
We continued on a busy walking route to explore some of nature’s wonders. At this point it was almost the end of our full day in the park. I was exhausted at this point and I probably could have crawled into bed and called it a day but we had an evening show to attend.
In the evening, we hopped on a motorcycle and made our way to “Charming Western Hunan Grand Theatre”, located in the Wuligyuan district. It is the oldest theatre in Zhangjiajie City. The show we were invited to watch was called “Charming Xiangxi”. The show featured dancing, singing, acrobatics and impressive set changes. Each rountine was tied to history or culture of Hunan (the province in China where Zhangjiajie and Changsha (capital) is located).
The show featured different minority cultures including the Miao nationality (most unique dance art in China) and the unique customs of Tujia people.
After the show we went out for food and drinks. At night, the streets of Zhangjiajie are full of vendors selling barbecue and local snacks (such as smelly tofu and grilled meats). The group suggested meeting at a local bar to end the night.
When I arrived at the bar I was surprised that all the group members were present. We were all enjoying the music by the band when suddenly they started signing and playing happy birthday. This wasn’t a coincidence was it?! Then one of my friends brings a large cake with a candle towards me. I was in shock and almost in tears, overwhelmed by the group’s kind gesture. This was one of the most thoughtful gifts I could have received on my birthday. This group which I had only just started to get to know was kind enough to celebrate with me.
The rest of the night was cake eating, game playing, and story sharing. There was no where I was more grateful to be! Thank you for your kind thoughts and making today extra special.