Tag Archives: China

Spring Fever (Nuits d’ivresse printaniere)



Spring Fever
is a 2009 film by Ye Lou; it is a Hong Kong-French coproduction. It was presented to the Cannes Festival of the same year and won the prize for best scenario. To be honest, I wonder if it won the prize more because it tackles a touchy subject (homosexuality in China) than for the film itself. I found it slow, boring, and a tad too long. And the lack of dialogue makes it painful. The story is simple: two men, one of them married, going with each other and slightly confused. A number of characters revolve around them, but I quickly lost track of who was who. Disappointing.

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The Equation of Love and Death (李米的猜想)


I have decided that contemporary French and Chinese movies have quite a bit in common. This includes people smoking all the time and yelling at each other every five minutes or so. There’s also a fair amount of drinking going on at times. I’ve just watched The Equation of Love and Death, a 2008 Chinese movie directed by Cao Baoping. In the film, the main character Li Mi, who is searching for her boyfriend who left her suddenly four years earlier, smokes and screams more than she breathes. Okay, this is a little exaggerated. And her life is not easy. She works as a taxi driver, showing every passenger a photo of her ex and asking them if they have seen him. A suicide will trigger a series of events, all interlinked, and leading her to her ex. Three stories are the backbone of the movie: Li Mi’s search for her boyfriend, the fate of two drug traffickers, and Li Mi’s boyfriend’s erratic behaviour. Gradually each story will run into each other, creating a web of connections and complexities. Life in Chinese cities is well pictured. This movie falls into the thriller/suspense category, and it’s quite okay. A bit grim, but Chinese movies are often like that, I think. I wish Li Mi would smoke and scream a little less, but I forgive her. Now, has anyone seen this movie and know where it was filmed? I got excited more than once because I seemed to recognise my beloved Kunming, in particular the pedestrian bridge at the crossing of Dong Feng Dong Lu (区东风东路) and Bai Ta Lu (白塔路). Can anyone confirm that?

I’m adding the trailer to this banter. Unfortunately it’s in Chinese and there are no subtitles, but you’ll see what I mean about the yelling! :-)

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Chengdu, Sichuan, China (成都,四川, 中国)


I was in Chengdu last weekend. First time in Sichuan. Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan and boasts 10 million inhabitants (14 million for the municipality)., a very important city of Western China. People speak Sichuanese, a dialect of Mandarin, and I found it really hard to understand it. The pronunciation in particular is not easy – and to be honest, they found it hard to understand me too at times! We had a wonderful time and were lucky to get perfect weather on the first day (the city has a reputation for rain). We went to visit the Panda Research and Breeding Centre, unique in the world. They breed pandas there and do amazingly well. You should visit the centre from July to December, which is the time pandas are born. Incredibly they are only a few centimetres long at birth. We were lucky to see a dozen or so three-week old pandas, sleeping happily in incubators. What a sight! They are gorgeous things, so cute we wanted to take one home! The whole park is stunning. Be warned, it’s better to visit early in the morning when the pandas are active.

We also went to visit Leshan’s Giant Buddha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, a two-hour drive from Chengdu. As it was Mid-Autumn Festival, the place was swarming with Chinese tourists and we had to queue for one and a half hours to get to the buddha, but it was worth the wait. In the past you used to be able to climb up on the left hand side, but now you go down on that side and walk back up on the other side. The buddha is 71 metre high and was built in the Tang Dynasty (618–907AD). Luckily, it was not damaged by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.


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Above there is Heaven, below there is Suhang… 上有天堂, 下有苏杭


There is an old Chinese saying that every Chinese person knows: “上有天堂, 下有苏杭”. This means “Above there is Heaven, below there is Suhang (Suzhou and Hangzhou).” (my translation). In other words, Suzhou and Hangzhou are heaven on earth. Um… I’m not so sure. Suzhou lies west of Shanghai, about 45 minutes by train, and it has been called “The Venice of the East”. Let’s be honest, it just doesn’t compare, even if it is an attractive place. Lots of canals, water, and old houses. But the Venetian atmosphere and magic isn’t there. As for Hangzhou, where I have just spent two weeks, it has become one of the most expensive places in China in terms of real estate. This is due to the presence of its West Lake (Xi Hu – 西湖), which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO only a few weeks ago. I’m not sure why. The lake is pretty, but not that amazing. Lots of lotus flowers. And lots of cars. Too many, in fact. There is a road that goes around the lake and which, to me, destroys the atmosphere. If you want to walk around the lake, you have to do so next to the road, which is very unpleasant. There are wooden boardwalks, but they are insufficient and crowded. The western side of the lake is more interesting, with small villages, tea culture and (somewhat) less cars. A more interesting place in Hangzhou, however, is the wetlands (Xi Xi Shi Di – 西溪国家湿地公园). They are in the middle of the city, and beautifully preserved: a maze of lakes and swampy areas, with meandering footpaths between them. You can also take a barge trip. Lots of birds and animals, and a world away from busy Hangzhou…

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Weekend in Shanghai


I hadn’t been to Shanghai in four years and was stunned by how much it has developed in so little time. We all know that China’s speed of development is staggering, but to see it with your own eyes is something else entirely. I have read that 30% of the world’s cranes can be found in Shanghai at the moment. I do not know if it is true, but it is certainly an indication of Shanghai’s dynamism. I found the streets much cleaner than they were last time, the city better organised, and some areas even quite pretty. The World Expo probably had a lot to do with it. Shanghai is a great city to visit for a day, a weekend or a week. Pudong and its futuristic buildings, the colonial Bund, the old city, the new suburbs, the French Concession or the markets, it’s all there for you to enjoy. My favourite restaurant is M on the Bund, as in Michelle, the Australian owner. A little pricey for Shanghai, but such a beautiful setting and such good food!

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Shaolin


Another very good surprise: Shaolin (released in January 2011 in Hong Kong), with nobody else than Jackie Chan and Andy Lau, and directed by Benny Chan!

China is plunged into strife with warlords fighting against each other to expand their power. One of them is Hao Jie, extremely succesful, dangerous and obnoxious. He despises everyone, including  the Shaolin masters who live in a nearby temple. He even goes as far as killing one of his enemies on their grounds. However, Hao soon finds himself compelled to take refuge it the very same monastery, a rival having killed his family and wanting him dead. This is a revelation for Ho, who finds a new meaning in life.  As civil unrest spreads and people increasingly suffer, the monks, under Ho’s impetus, decide to take action.

Chinese movies can be hit and miss, especially for Westerners, but this one is definitely a hit. The story is good, and for those who don’t like kung fu, there is not much of it – in fact, it really serves the story. The plot is made even more interesting by the numerous sub-plots: Ho’s love for his wife and child, and what happens to them; the enmity between Ho and his rival, a former subaltern; the meaning of live that Ho discovers in the temple; and the life of the poor and the peasants in those turbulent times. The story is complex, yet driven and simple to grasp. Images are beautiful, music is perfect. And as for the acting, no problem there. This is definitely one that I will be watching again in the near future. Don’t hesitate to do the same.

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Beijing Bicycle


Beijing Bicycle is a beautiful film about a 17 year old country boy who arrives in Beijing and finds work as a courier. He is given a bicycle by the company, which he is supposed to acquire after working a certain number of hours. Unfortunately his bicycle is stolen as he is about to finally own it and be in a position to make some money. This is the worst thing that could happen to him and he goes on a search for the thief. This is a stunning story about living in poverty in Beijing, teenagers growing up in a hostile environment, girls, class divisions, violence, and indifference. There is a level of desperation in the movie and it really makes you think about life and the under-privileged. Beautifully acted, with stunning music and great images, it was directed by Xiaoshuai Wang, and premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2001. It won the Jury Grand Prix. It was banned in Mainland China until 2004.

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Shangri-la / Zhongdian (Tibet) – 香格里拉/中甸(云南)


Shangri-la is located in a Tibetan county in northwestern Yunnan Province in southwest China, about 1,000 kilometres east of Lhasa. It is the capital of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, close to the Myanmar and India borders. In other words, quite a remote place, but well worth a visit! Shangri-la used to be called Zhongdian until 2001 when it was renamed after the fictional land of Shangri-La in the 1933 James Hilton‘s novel Lost Horizon, in an effort to promote tourism in the area. The local Tibetan population refers to it by the name Gyalthang. I have just spent a few days there, at the end of my stay in Yunnan, and I loved it! It is quite high in altitude (3,300 metres or 11,000 feet) so you often find yourself out of breath. In fact, you can take a cable car to Shika Snow Mountain, where there are everlasting snows; at 5,000 metres high (16,500 feet) you feel on top of the world, trust me! The area is mostly Tibetan. There are few Han Chinese and everyone speaks and writes Tibetan. Of course they also speak Mandarin, even if heavily accented at times. The people are delightful, polite, curious and very friendly. The  food is divine. Songzanlin monastery is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan, one of the famous monasteries in the Kang region. Construction of the monastery began in 1679 and was completed two years later. The monastery is composed of two lamaseries, and hosts 700 monks. A trip to the Pudacuo National Park is also worth a visit. There are two beautiful lakes that you can walk around, Shudu and Bita Hai lakes; at times the landscape reminded me of Alaska. Shangri-la is truly an enchanting place, so much so that I found it really hard to choose which pictures to post here!

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Street dancing in Shangri-la


One of the things I love about China is how people dance in public, mainly in the morning or in the evening. People gather in a park or in a public area, someone turns on the music, and sometimes up to a hundred people will dance together. There is usually someone who leads the group. What is fantastic, apart from the spectacle itself, is that the Chinese are not as self-conscious as most people are in the West: you will have people of all ages, males and females, young (sometimes very young!) and old dancing together. I can’t imagine many male Westerners doing the same thing. I was surprised to see that it also happens in Tibetan China, as was the case in Shangri-la last week. I am posting two short videos here to give you a taste of what it’s like.

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Tiger Leaping Gorge (Yunnan) – 虎跳峡(云南)


What a beautiful name! And what a beautiful place! The Tiger Leaping Gorge is a canyon on the Yangtze River, one of China’s longest rivers. The gorge is located near Tibet, where the river takes its source, about 60 km north of Lijiang. It is part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas World Heritage Site. Around 15 km in length, the gorge is located where the river passes between the 5,596 metre (18,360 foot)high Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the 5,396 metre (17,716 foot) high Haba Xueshan. The legend says that in order to escape from a hunter, a tiger jumped across the river at the narrowest point (30 metres). The gorge is supposed to be the world’s deepest river canyon. In any case, with 2,000 metres (6,600 feet) high cliff towering above your head, it feels very deep indeed… 

You can hike the entire gorge’s length. It takes two full days to do so, but if you prefer to take it easy, you can stop mid-way and go down until you reach the road, and from there either go back to Lijiang or continue to Shangri-la. The lower level trail has disappeared and been replaced by a bitumen road (unfortunately) which travels along the gorge. It allows access for tourists who just want to have a look at the rapids and are not interested in hiking. An observation platform has been built at the bottom; it offers little interest. The road has just opened but is not used much because of impressive rock falls (see photo below).

We drove round those rocks with our wheels only inches from the ravine… scary! However, the upper trail is still intact and is a paradise for hikers. You will hardly come across anyone except birds, goats and villagers. The landscape is stunning and the gorge impressive. High peaks tower over your head, and if you are lucky, the sun reflects in the snow above. In spring the area is covered with beautiful flowers. The air is pure (a bonus in China!) and the high altitude gives your heart an excellent workout. You can sleep in farms turned guest-houses, which offer delicious food and great company (practice your Chinese!). After hiking the gorge for two days, we felt on top of the world. We then continued our trip to Shangri-la, in Tibet, a mere 100 kilometres from the end of the gorge. Highly recommended!

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