China is a fascinating place. By now i'm sure everyone knows that if you check into a small hotel in a farming village after a few too many Tsingtao's, by the time you stagger to your feet in the morning you'll find a new shopping mall blocking the view out your window. If you're like me though, you're trying to avoid the "overnight cities" and see the amazing landscape before they are overrun by Caterpillars. Don't get me wrong - i am not a hypocrite who would blame a developing country for doing exactly what we did in the US 50 years ago - i just want to see what it was like before they do it.
Having spent the past few months trekking the Burma road and then on to Tibet, i've discovered that China's megaton modernization is hitting the countryside hard - odd juxtapositions abound in this society where perfect cell phone reception and new 1st-world roads reach far into the most remote areas with dirt-hut villages.
Along my voyage I discovered an unexpected method for leveraging the infrastructure of the new china to get wonderful views of some of old china's most scenic areas. read on...
(photo below: Lugu Lake in northern Yunnan province. Imagine lake Tahoe 100 years ago before there were any condos, casinos, ski resorts or tourists)
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Step 1: OK LETS DO IT!
(1) find any of the thousands of gorgeous scenic areas in china. (hint: if you are in a city, try again)
(2) look for the huge cell phone tower. yes, there will be one there somewhere. if you aren't sure, check for the 15m high signage reading 'china telecom' or 'china unicom'.
(3) find the access road or trail. usually the towers are fairly easy to get to, since they had to get the kit there to build them.
(4) climb up one of the legs and onto the top of the metal box at the base
(5) the ladder will conveniently be right in front of you, just climb 30m up to the top.
(6) depending on the tower, 4-8 people can conveniently sit in the crows nest up top for a picnic. enjoy your stunning view of this most beautiful landscape, conveniently provided in all scenic (and non-scenic) places courtesy of the government of the people's republic.
(7) worried? at first i thought - 'surely there must be cameras and laser guided missiles pointed at this thing to make sure i dont touch it'. but then i figured maybe that was just my western mentality clouding up my thinking, so i asked a local what he thought about climbing the tower. of course he thought this was a rather strange idea, but he also did not have any concern or worry about doing it. that got me thinking...
Step 2: Further Thoughts on a 5000 Year Old Culture
so - why dont we have great viewing towers all over the US, courtesy of our wonderful telecoms giants? we can learn a lot about the chinese culture from this simple question:
(1) vandalism is uncommon in china. here in the US, if we plopped down a big tower like this, what would happen? hordes of unappreciated teenage vandals would swarm over its skeleton like ants on a dead mouse. they would engage in typical rebellious behavior like covering it in graffiti, throwing beer bottles off the top, whacking at those pointy antenna bits with a baseball bat, and the occasional jump-for-glory. result: any structure like this in the US is locked, shackled, and covered in razor wire to keep these roving bands of hoodlums at bay.
(2) the chinese are only interested in something if important people tell them it is interesting. here is a simple joke to illustrate:
Q: how do you stop all the chinese tourists from visiting the grand canyon?
A: remove the sign that says: "Grand Canyon: #1 scenic spot in America, take photo here"
result: no self-respecting chinese person would deign to even look at one of these towers, much less the surrounding scenery - they are so completely unimportant and uninteresting! they are too busy rushing home to watch the olympics 'we are ready' video.
(3) there are virtually no lawyers in china. here in the US, the telecoms can't plop down these towers because anywhere you might find it convenient to have cell phone reception would require them to pay $200m in land use charges, easements, etc. - and thats assuming they were even allowed to build the tower at all what with the residents associations suing them for loss of their pristine view, brain damage from microwaves, etc.