Travels Through China, 1987

By Don Chesnut
Copyright by Don Chesnut, 2018 [chesnut<at>uky.edu]


I attended the XI International Carboniferous Congress in Beijing, China in 1987. The congress meets every four years somewhere around the globe and is partly sponsored by UNESCO. It is a meeting to gather the world's scientists who investigate the geology and paleontology of the Carboniferous Period. I was accompanied by my wife and by my parents. My father (Don Sr.) had been stationed in China at the end of World War II and loved the Chinese people (see his photographs). I thought it would be interesting to see China through my father's eyes. In preparation I studied Mandarin for two years at my university. The following is our account of the trip. The photographs were taken by me and my father. Some of the slides are out of order because they were not numbered.


18 August 1987, Tuesday

We drove from London to Erlanger, Kentucky together and stayed at the Howard Johnson's Airport Hotel.

19 August, Wednesday

We caught the hotel shuttle to the Cincinnati International Airport and took Northwestern flight NW-1207 to Memphis. From Memphis we took the NW-991 flight to Seattle and stayed at the Nendel's Motor Inn.

20 August, Thursday

Mid-day we caught NW-7 flight to Tokyo. Our plans went awry from there. After several hours of flying we heard some screaming and crying. It was coming from a young lady about 14 in age. She was with a group of other young teenagers. The stewards were attending to her but she kept screaming. It appeared to be some sort of medical condition. After several minutes of this, the captain announced that we had a change in plan and were making an emergency landing in Anchorage, Alaska. We were too heavy with fuel to land so the captain released most of our fuel over the ocean, which took awhile. Meanwhile, it was determined that the young lady was having a panic attack, she had never flown before. However, at that point, we didn't have enought fuel to make it to Tokyo so we landed at Anchorage. There, we refueled and took off for Tokyo again.

21 August, Friday

We arrived at Tokyo many hours later than we were supposed to. We missed our connection to Beijing. At evening we were taken by bus to a nice hotel in Narita. Our rooms and meals were provided by the airlines. We all had lots of sushi.

22 August, Saturday

We were taken back to the airport and caught a plane to Beijing. By the time we arrived, the field trip that we were supposed to take had already left for Taiyuan, Shānxi Province. As it turned out, there were several geologists on this flight that had been on the same Northwestern flight from Seattle and we had all missed the start of our field trip.

Eventually, we were taken to the train station and boarded the train to Taiyuan. We were accompanied by a Chinese university student, Li, who helped us along the way. It turned out to be a very scenic journey.

Upon arrival at Taiyuan (Wikipedia entry), we were taken to the Yingze Hotel where we met with the other participants of the field trip. We had only missed the introductory briefing about the trip. [Note: Taiyuan and most of this field trip are in Shānxi Province (Wikipedia entry), whereas Xian and the last of the field trip are in Shănxi Province (Wikipedia entry). The words are spelled the same in Romance languages (i.e. in Pinyin romanization), but their tones are different, Shānxi has a high pitch, whereas Shănxi has a dipping pitch.]
That night we all ate together at the hotel banquet room. The Chinese leaders and graduate students couldn't believe that I could speak Mandarin (although, not well). For the rest of the trip, they asked me to sit at their table, which I did. I often got to sit next to local dignitaries as well. My two-year struggle to learn Mandarin paid off.

23 August, Sunday

This field trip, Excursion 1: Taiyuan-Lingchuan is one of many field trips offered before the actual Congress. The guidebook is "Carboniferous and Permian Stratigraphy in Shanxi," by Hu et al, 1987, Beijing. We will be looking at two basins, the first was the West Hill (Xishan) basin west of Taiyuan, the second will be Laojingou basin in Lingchuan County in southern Shānxi Province.

After breakfast we loaded onto the fieldtrip bus and headed to the Qiligou section in the Xishan basin.

For lunch we had a picnic in the field.

After lunch we continued our look at the Qiligou section and then the Xiedaogou section.

In late afternoon, we headed back to our hotel in Taiyuan and had another banquet dinner in the hotel.

24 August, Monday

After breakfast we headed for the Xishan basin again to look at the Shihhotse and Shihchienfeng formations.

We returned to the hotel for lunch. After lunch we boarded our field trip bus and went to Jinci Park (Wikipedia entry), an old temple complex centered around the Jin Springs. We toured the park and took lots of photographs.

In the evening we had a banquet dinner at the hotel.

25 August, Tuesday

After an early breakfast, we boarded our field trip bus and headed for Lingchuan in southern Shānxi Province.

We had lunch with the 114th Team of Shanxi Coal Geology and Exploration and spent the early afternoon meeting with the team.

We checked into the Lingchuan Hotel and saw crowds of people waiting to see us on the other side of the compound fence.

Later in the afternoon we were escorted to a temple complex in downtown Lingchuan. We were not allowed to take photographs. Thousands of people were cordoned off, they were all there to see us foreigners. This was not a tourist destination and we were probably the first "outside-country people" they had seen. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but we felt like rock stars. Everywhere we went in China, we had crowds that would form around us. It was unnerving at first, but all you would have to say is Ni hao and they would all smile and show friendly faces.

After the tour we went back to the hotel and had a dinner banquet.

26 August, Wednesday

After our breakfast we boarded out field trip bus and drove into the countryside to the Laojingou section. We spent the morning looking at the outcrops in this area.

We went back to the hotel for lunch.

In the afternoon we went back to another area of the Laojingou section.

We went back to the hotel and had a very fancy banquet. They had intricately carved turnips(?) and they gave one to my Mom (she left it in her room).

27 August, Thursday

After an early-morning breakfast we boarded our field trip bus and headed for the city of Luoyang, the City of Peonies (Wikipedia entry), in Henan Province.

We checked in to the Luoyang Hotel and had lunch there.

After lunch, we went to see the famous stone carvings at Longmen Grottoes (Dragon Gate grottoes, Wikipedia entry).

Then we had dinner at the hotel, cleaned up a bit and the boarded our overnight train to Xian, Shănxi Province (not Shānxi Province).

28 August, Friday

In the morning we arrived in Xian. We had breakfast at Northwest University. That morning we visited the famous Terracotta Army (Wikipedia entry) of emperor Qin Shi Huang (Wikipedia entry)(Qin Shi Huang Bing Ma Yong Bo Wu Guan). Photographs were not permitted in the pits—one German lady found out the hard way, her film was ripped out of her camera by guards—so we didn't take photographs. We did take photographs in the museum.

We had lunch at Lingtong. After lunch our group visited the Banpo Museum (Wikipedia entry) and the Shănxi Provincial Museum (Wikipedia entry), but my father was not feeling well, so he visited a local doctor. He felt better the next day.

We had a banquet dinner at Northwest University.

29 August, Saturday

After breakfast we visited the Institute of Geology and Exploration CCMRI, Ministry of Coal Industry, and had discussions. We also did some sightseeing around Xian including Huaqing Hot Springs (Wikipedia entry) where Chiang Kai Shek was captured by Maoist troops.

For lunch we visited the famous Jiao Zi Restaurant on Jiefang Road. This restaurant makes jiaozi (Wikipedia entry) also known as dianxin (or dimsum, Wikipedia entry) and here, we were offered 35 different types. I ate one of each type and I was stuffed. They were delicious and worth it.

That afternoon we flew from Xian to Beijing on CACC-1202, ending our field trip. We checked into the Friendship Hotel in Beijing, the Congress hotel.

30 August, Sunday

After breakfast we went to the Beijing Science Hall for registration for the congress. Here, we got all of our tickets for excursions and invitations for banquests, etc. After registration, we toured the Forbidden City (Wikipedia entry). Dad remembers the Forbidden City after WWII and said that it was empty of people and completely run down then. He also remembered large walls that ran down the street; now they are all gone.

After the Forbidden City, we went to the Temple of Heaven (Wikipedia entry).

31 August, Monday

At 8:30 we went to the Opening Ceremony of the Congress in the Great Hall of the People (Wikipedia entry).

That afternoon, I attended the academic sessions, while Anne and my parents went on a tour of the Fragrent Hills and other sights.

That evening we attended the Buffet Reception at the Northeast Dining Hall of the Friendship Hotel.

1 September, Tuesday

After breakfast, I once again attended academic sessions and my family toured a Children's Center, Tian An Men Square (Wikipedia entry), and other sights.

2 September, Wednesday

Today, there were no academic sessions, so we visited the Great Wall (Wikipedia entry) at Badaling (Wikipedia entry), the Summer Palace (Wikipedia entry), and then the Ming Tombs (Wikipedia entry).

That evening we all attended the Cultural Performances.

3 September, Thursday

Today I attended the academic sessions. Anne, Mom, and Dad went to the Beijing Zoo and other sights.

4 September, Friday

Once again, I attended the academic sessions. I presented several papers, but I don't remember which days I presented them. My family went to the Lama Temple and several other sights.

That night we attended the Closing Banquet at the Kun Lun Hotel.

5 September, Saturday

Today we start Excursion 5: Carboniferous and Permian Stratigraphy in Guizhou, Wei, et al, Beijing, 1987. However, plans have been changed and instead of starting in Guilin, Guangxi Province, we are running the field trip almost backwards and flying into Guiyang, Guizhou Province. Because our printed materials showed the original plans, I will have to try to reconstruct our actual itinerary from memory. Guizhou Province (Wikipedia entry) is a poor Semi-Autonomous region made up of a variety of minorities.

After landing in Guiyang, we boarded our field trip bus and headed to Anshun (Wikipedia entry). We saw lots of interesting sights along the way. We passed several butcher stands with dogs tied up next to the stands. Half carcasses of dogs could be seen hanging from the stands. Dog, cat, and snake are popular delicacies here.

During the entire field trip, we traveled through karst topography (Wikipedia entry), that is topography influenced by dissolution, usually of limestone. In Kentucky we have large areas of sinkhole plains, a type of karst. Mammoth Cave is in one. Here in Guizhou and Guangxi the karst topography was a type known as pinnacle karst (or Kegelkarst). Furthermore, along the Li River (Lijiang) near Guilin, the karst pinnacles were so extreme that the term, tower karst is used to describe it.


That night at dinner, I mentioned to the medical doctor that accompanied us that I was feeling a little ill. My Mandarin wasn't good enough to elaborate.

6 September, Sunday

After breakfast, most of us waited while they loaded the field trip bus with the day's supplies. My family elected to go on a smaller excursion to see the local sights. The doctor came up to me and held my arm and led me onto the bus. I sat down and he took my temperature. Meanwhile the other participants also got on the bus and watched as the doctor dealt with me. Next he felt my pulse and looked at his watch. Then he turned his back to me and started getting out some equipment. I couldn't see what it was, but Walt Manger said, "Chesnut, if I were you, I'd start getting worried now. He's getting out a bunch of needles!" Everone was turned around to look at me and the doctor. Next, the doctor got out two fairly small needles with working ends about a third of an inch long (but with longer handles). He swabbed them with alcohol and then wiped the excess alcohol off with his fingers. He inserted the first one at the lower corner of my nose. I couldn't really feel anything, the needles were so fine. When he got to the place he wanted, he slowly twirled the needles. I could feel sort of an electrical pulse, it was a nerve he had gotten to. He left the needle there and put the next one on the other corner of my nose, doing exactly the same as the first. Then he got out two longer needles, working ends about one inch long (handles about two inches long). He put my hands on my knees, palm down, and put the needle into the joint where my thumb meets my wrist and then twirled the needle just like the others. And he proceeded to do the same with the fourth needle. Then he rolled my pant legs up over my knee and got out two very long needles with working ends about three inches long (not counting the handle). The other participants were wide-eyed. I couldn't imagine where he wanted to put that needle, I thought perhaps my calf muscle had enought flesh for it. But no, the needle went straight into my knee between my knee cap and my lower leg, not where I'd want to put a needle. He went deep with the needle and when he got about where he wanted, he looked up at my eyes for a reaction. When he got to the deep nerve, I nodded my head and he stopped, twirled the needle like the others. He did the same with the sixth needle. He went back to his seat and waited. Meanwhile I had these six antennae sticking out of me while the staff carried supplies through the bus. I was afraid the staff would hit the needles and jam them further into my body, so I tried to protect them with my hands and tried to stand. When I did this, I could feel the needles flex in my leg. After a few minutes he came back to me. He gave each needle another twirl and then took them out in the order that he had put them in. I was finally relieved. He brought me a cup of hot tea and threw in a couple of large pills. For the rest of the day, he observed me like a hawk. A couple of hours later, we had a meeting with some of the local officials and were offered tea. I got my cup and sat down, but before I could take a sip, the doctor came running over and dropped another couple of pills in my cup. He was very attentive. For the entire rest of the trip, no one else got sick. I think it was because of the cure. Decades later, a Japanese colleague of mine, Tetsuo, said he vividly remembered the acupunture on the bus!

Anyway, we proceeded along a very picturesque landscape of pinnacle karst. I took lots of photographs. We stopped to examine the Bianping Section of Pennsylvanian and Early Permian limestones.

After a day in the field, we returned to our hotel in Anshun. It was a beautiful setting close to a lake surrounded by pinnacle karst hills. We gathered for our group dinner. We had a variety of dishes, most with a sauce or gravy. The next day I found out that we had eaten dog, cat, snake, and carp. I would never have known if they hadn't told me.

7 September, Monday

After breakfast we headed out for a cave tour at the Longgong Cave (Dragon Palace cave, VisitOurChina website), and then Huangguoshu Falls (Wikipedia entry), one of the largest in China. At the falls, we saw many of the Miao people (Wikipedia entry), a minority group.

8 September, Tuesday

Today we did field studies in the Dushan and Duyun areas.

At night we had our field trip closing banquet. During the banquet a young lady poured very strong miaotai/maotai whiskey (baijiu or white spirits)(Wikipedia entry) down our throats as she sang a high-pitched song as part of a ceremony.

We spent the night at our hotel in Duyun.

9 September, Wednesday

We took an overnight train trip from Duyun, Guizhou Province to Guilin, Guangxi Province.

10 September, Thursday

We took the famous riverboat trip down the Lijiang (Li River, Wikipedia entry) and saw lots of tower karst (see my comments about karst under 5 September above). We took a lot of photographs.

11 September, Friday

We flew from Guilin to Guangzhou (Canton) and stayed at a hotel there.

12 September, Saturday

We took the train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong.

13 September, Sunday

We spent the day taking tours of the Hong Kong-Kowloon areas.

14 September, Monday

We walked around Hong Kong and did some shopping.

15 September, Tuesday

We flew on Northwestern NW-18 to Tokyo, then NW-12 to Detroit (crossing the international dateline and repeating the day), and finally NW-176 to Cincinnati and then back to home.