Day 3: Whole day in Lanzhou

September 3, 2019

We were grateful for the whole day that was reserved for Lanzhou, if only for not having to pack our luggage early in the morning. The hotel offered a modest but adequate breakfast. There was something for me as well, apart from the porridge that I simply cannot get through my throat. Part of my typical breakfast ritual during trips in China is bringing a sachet of instant coffee with me, to wash down the steamed bread (mantou), eggs, and other items that do eat.

Along the Yellow River

Lanzhou is located in the Yellow River valley and has grown meandering along its banks. We wanted to stroll along the River and from the reception desk we had learned that we could best take the bus to a spot further upstream and then leisurely walk back. So, we got on the bus around 8:30 am. Another benefit of going by bus, apart from the cheap RMB 1 per person fare, was that we could see several faces of the city during the relatively long ride.

The stroll was indeed worth the bus ride. The first thing that struck me was the rapid flow of the river. We had seen another part of the river the day before, but from high above, so I was unable to get an impression of the flow.

The river was also shallow, as it is from beginning to end. As a result, you don’t see any larger vessels than small tourist boats on the Yellow River. Or . . . rafts. You can hire a place on a raft and not a wooden one, but one made from sheep skins. None of our group was adventurous enough to try it.

A feature to see is the old iron bridge, built by German engineers in 1907.

Coffee and shopping

As our team members were indulging in taking tons of pictures again, my wife and I left them at a certain moment to find a Starbucks to feed other own indulgences: coffee and then find some shopping streets. The former is easy nowadays, with the aid of the unsurpassable Amap app. It beats Google Maps and its Chinese equivalent Baidu Map in detail and convenience. We have used Amap for navigation during this entire trip.

We like to drink coffee anyway and a side benefit is that while enjoying your brew you can watch the diverse people passing by the window.

Back on the street, we looked around for the best way to proceed (read: with the best shopping potential), when we saw a sign directing us to an underground shopping area. These are often long stretches of small shops which we prefer over large department stores. This area was indeed long, it went on forever, all underground. Lanzhou winters are long and cold, so it makes sense to construct such large underground entertainment areas.

When we were in the open air again, we realized how far we had walked from one end to another. We walked towards a bus stop that Amap had indicated, but took a small detour into a local book store. Once we exited the store, we decided to hail a cab to get back to the hotel and rest for the next group activity: climbing Lanshan.

Lanshan

Lanshan is a mountain park overseeing the entire city. We took a bus again to Wuquan Square, which turned out to be quite a tourist trap. However, we appreciated one of the services offered: privately run minibuses to bring you to the top of the mountain. It was too high to climb for people of our age and the total cable car fee would be close to that of hiring a minibus. That decision was easy to make. A bonus of taking the bus was that we could get off at the Glass Veranda, about half way the mountain.

The view from there was probably even more spectacular than from the mountain top. Attentive readers may also notice that Lanzhou is not a small city, although Chinese parlance counts it as a second-tier city.

Back at the hotel we had dinner in the same restaurant as the previous day. We were too tired to roam the vicinity for another place and had to prepare for the following day on the road.

Religion

In Lanzhou, we had our first experience of how religion was woven into the fabric of local society. Already at the end of the previous day, while driving into the city, I noted women with hijabs. My first guess was that these were visitors from nearby Muslim regions (see Day 4). However, this day, I saw many more.

Moreover, while strolling along the Yellow River, I saw a huge mosque on the other side.

I immediately took a picture, believing it was THE Mosque of Lanzhou. That proved wrong. That day I saw several smaller and larger, older and modern, mosques. Moreover, all of them were marked by crescent moons, as you can see. The Western media reports about mosques being torn down or having the crescent moon taken off are obviously wrong.

In the shopping street near the book store, I also saw a huge protestant church, the Shanzishi Church, built in 1921 by British missionaries.

Don’t let the cross fool you; Chinese protestant churches also have crosses, but ‘protestant’ is clearly indicated on the plaque at the door. Lanzhou is located on the ancient Silk Road and therefore a mix of cultures: traders from Persia and Central Asia.

I want to go back to Lanzhou in the near future and stay there for a week, staying in a good hotel, seeing all quarters of the city and making a few one-day tours to areas around Lanzhou.

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Published by Peter Peverelli

I am passionate about many things, but the top three are: China, food and human organizing processes. I started learning Chinese when I was 14, spontaneously. In the end this resulted into a PhD in Arts (Leiden University; 1986), 10 years of working and living experience in China as a representative of a Dutch firm and a marriage with a Chinese partner (1984). During my work in a company (Gist-brocades, now part of DSM) and as an independent consultant, I became fascinated with organization theory. This has led to a second PhD in Business Administration (Erasmus University Rotterdam; 2001). I am currently combining both interests in a long-term research project studying Chinese entrepreneurship, with a number of Chinese partners. From the day I joined the company, I picked up an interest in food, not just the final product, but also how it is produced, with an emphasis on ingredients and formulation. Once more combining that interest with my China passion, I became an avid student of the cultural and societal function of food. In this blog, I hope to blend all those ingredients into a savoury soup about China, the Chinese food industry and how the organization of that industry differs from the West.

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