21/01/17 – Come Alive in the Neon Lights


The folks at UNESCO likely had a collective heart attack when they saw this, but IMO the prospect of having a strobe light on top of the world’s second largest Buddha is so, so awesome.

Today, January 21st, marks exactly one full week until Chinese New Year, the Spring Festival, the Year of the Rooster (or as they really like to emphasize on signboards in the North, the Year of the Cock), and a week and a day before China’s rail system is completely flooded with delays as folks scramble to get back out to the east coast from their hometowns across the country. Thankfully, we’ll be back in Beijing by that point.

In the meantime, the folks in Rongxian are welcoming their own back home, including a few from the East Coast and one as far afield as the University of Brisbane, with their first annual Chinese Lantern Festival (which he just translates as Festival of Lights, not to be confused with the Indic festival of Diwali). This has all been organized by De Ge, the supervisor of all the archaeological and heritage sites in Rongxian County, who has acted as both our chaperone but also as a bit of a father figure – he threatened to take me to the hospital yesterday if my shivers didn’t get any better, but thankfully they did and I spent half my day today standing on top of a giant Buddha (I’ll explain what I mean by that in the next entry).

Trip Distance 21-01-17.PNG
Rongxian is at the very bottom of the map. Also, I realized I hadn’t posted anything on our route for a while.

Since there are very few places in small Chinese towns (and by small I mean 500,000 people – remember, scale) with open spaces, De Ge essentially had to create one from nothing. During the Maoist Period, CCP officials built an enormous factory on the ancient site of Longdong, a monastery of rock-cut niches affiliated with the giant Buddha up the hill, but it was abandoned during the 1970s and turned into a rubbish heap for household waste from the surrounding neighborhood.

Niches at Longdong. I attempted to make a 3D model of these ones last summer that nearly set my computer on fire.

In just three months, De Ge organized the clearing and paving of the former factory site, and my first interaction with him, following a day of traveling from Chengdu to Rongxian on a loud bus, was him showing us excitedly the completed result. However, for the purposes of not completely boring my audience, I’m not posting a photo of a grey two-acre-large piece of cement. Instead, I’ll show you what he did with it:

An installation made completely out of terracotta pots by a local artist…
…turns into a giant neon disco ball at night.

Essentially, he turned a gunky factory into a parking lot into a theme park. And he did it all in only three months!

And they somehow got all that decoration up onto the side of a sheer cliff face – not bad sir, not bad.

Rongxian’s first Chinese Lantern Festival, which marks the fifteenth day following Chinese New Year as the final day of Spring Festival celebrations, began nearly three weeks ago, which is often common due to the number of light and firework exhibitions that might occur throughout the month. Rongxian’s festival grounds now have a capacity for 20,000 people, and while De Ge expected no more than 2,000 to show up per night in its first year, there were over 4,000 people who attended the night we were invited to tour with him.

And every part of the Giant Buddha and Longdong site are completely lit up with decoration, creating an incredibly kitsch, yet absolutely insanely fun, light-and-sound experience walking through 1400-year-old history combined with the ADD of a 10-year-old with an iPad. Take a look!

Yep, that’s a 36 meter Buddha with bright-green neon lights flying out of its forehead.
Looking down on the gatehouse.
I feel like they did this just to make the heritage people happy.
Welcome to Neon City!
Jellyfish on the ceiling!
So cheesy but so fun!
This though, this was really beautiful…


Speaking of which, as I’ve mentioned I have two very good, lifelong friends named Matt and Natalie who recently got engaged. Their engagement party is tonight back in Toronto, and as a token of appreciation for Matt making me one of his groomsmen, I decided to record them a congratulatory message. This message comes from the Dunhuang sand dune fields about a week ago, and I’ll just leave it up here to end this entry:

Andrew Harris

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