Holiday horror stories abound as all of China goes on vacation

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BEIJING -- There’s no Mandarin word for “staycation,” but after this week’s holiday horror stories -– daylong traffic jams, heaps of trash and restaurateurs gouging customers -- the concept may take off here soon.

China is halfway through Golden Week, the fall vacation period that starts with National Day on Oct. 1 and sees most businesses, schools and government offices shut down as people venture forth to enjoy some of the majesty of the Middle Kingdom. But when hundreds of millions of tourists head for the same scenic sites, the result can be anything but relaxing. 

The Forbidden City in Beijing attracted 182,000 visitors Tuesday, its highest attendance day ever. A day earlier, the Mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen in Nanjing saw 215,000 people pass through its gates -– 10 times the load of a typical busy day. The Terra Cotta Warrior museum in Xian reported 90,000 visitors over three days, up 25% from last year.  

"We saw absolutely nothing but people's heads," 42-year-old Guo Zhijun of Henan province told the China Daily after visiting the Forbidden City. "We wanted our 11-year-old son to learn something from the trip, but we only ended up exhausted."

The Great Wall and many other sites were similarly packed, thanks in part to a waiver of highway tolls that encouraged drivers to hit the roads. That contributed to extreme congestion. 

On Wednesday, thousands of cars jammed two 12-mile winding mountain roads in the Lushan Mountain area of Jiangxi province. Nearby, on Tuesday, thousands of tourists were stuck on Shanqing Mountain until past dark as traffic coming down the slope gridlocked. Atop Mt. Huashan, about 620 miles southwest of Beijing and not far from Xian, hundreds of police were called in to rescue tourists stranded Tuesday after an overloaded cable car system broke down.

Many of those stuck sent out messages on microblogs, including a man from Beijing named Chen Shaojia who posted a series of desperate pleas from Mt. Huashan starting at 9:47 p.m.

“Tens of thousands of people are stuck here,” he wrote on Sina Weibo. “There is no explanation from authorities, they won’t reimburse us for our tickets. Now we can’t go home, and we can’t spend the night. My mom has leg problems. I need help to get my mom off this mountain. I will give you lots of money, I beseech someone to come help!”

A few minutes later, he wrote: “Help, help, please hurry up! We are cold, hungry, exhausted, and my phone is running out of battery.” By 10:30, he was reporting that he was carrying his mother downhill on his back, and tourists had smashed into stores. “Where are the police? It is so chaotic here,” he wrote. “Everyone is going out of their mind. There is no security or basic safety.” (The next day, he posted an update thanking strangers for helping him make it home.)

Some sightseers complained that once they arrived at their destinations, they found inflated prices. A man with the surname Zhou vacationing in Lianyungang city in Jiangsu province said he was shocked after ordering a plate of seafood chow mein to find the waiter asking for 165 renminbi, or $26.

“When the bill came, I said what is this? I have never eaten such expensive chow mein in my life,” he told China Radio International. Eventually, he was able to haggle the check down to about $10.

Trash was another problem. The official New China News Agency reported that on Sunday that 50 tons of garbage were found along a two-mile stretch of beach in Sanya, in southern Hainan province. The same day, eight tons were collected in Tiananmen Square. 

The main headline on the news agency’s Chinese-language website for much of Tuesday was an editorial bemoaning litterbugs, lamenting the lack of “civility literacy” among the populace and encouraging the nation to “strive to shape a healthy, civilized, progressive image of the Chinese people.”

Still, in a country where leisure travel -– and the means to do it –- is a relatively recent development, many sightseers were enjoying their trips. 

On Thursday in Beijing, Oleander Gao and nine friends and family members, including her 60-year-old mother and her 75-year-old uncle, were taking a break under some trees on Changan Avenue near Tiananmen Square. The clan had ridden a train 12 hours from Shaanxi province to the capital to visit famous sites such as the Forbidden City.

Getting around with her elderly relatives was tough because it was hard to find places to sit and rest, said Gao, who herself is pregnant. But the journey was worth it, she said -- especially because her uncle, a farmer, had never visited the capital.

“It’s good here, very good,” he said, smiling broadly. “There are lots of people, but it’s OK.”

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-- Julie Makinen. Nicole Liu in The Times Beijing bureau contributed.

Photo: Oleander Gao, third from right, traveled to Beijing with  nine friends and family members, including her 60-year-old mother and her 75-year-old uncle, a farmer from Shaanxi province who had never visited the capital before. Credit: Julie Makinen/Los Angeles Times

 
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