Today we’re reintroducing the first three images in a series of free desktop wallpaper (desktop background images), with more to come in the near future. The photos used for our wallpaper were all taken by CIT partners and representatives.

Click on the wallpaper image to display a full-sized image, then right-click on it and choose an option
such as “Set As Desktop Background” or “Save As…” to save it on your computer.

View of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak
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Crepuscular Rays at Lijiang’s Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Yunnan
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Vivid Green Algae in the Water at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
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In a previous post [to be re-posted in expanded form soon], I mentioned China’s “economic miracle.” The most miraculous thing about it is that it has not (so far) been accompanied by crippling social instability or insurmountable problems. However, the costs of this revolution are also quite real and multifaceted. One of these costs is the rapid loss of China’s traditional culture, including the environments in which this traditional culture was born and has thrived. Although the government is making efforts to preserve the most important examples of its cultural heritage (especially sites that are of value to the tourism industry), in many places old buildings and other manifestations of China’s historical legacy are being destroyed wholesale in favor of rapid modernization.

In Shanghai, for example, vast tracts of the city filled with traditional buildings are being razed and replaced with new high-rise buildings. Though they provide people with cleaner, more comfortable, more modern living and working environments, these new buildings seem to result in a much more isolated and less intimate community atmosphere than the traditional neighborhoods that the majority of Shanghai’s population used to live in. These neighborhoods were built around a style of house called “shíkùmén,” or “stone gates,” which over time often became extremely crowded as they were subdivided into smaller units.

Shanghai - shikumen doors - 250 x 188 Shanghai - shikumen laundry and furniture - 250 x 188
Shikumen doors
(photo by CIT)
Laundry and furniture in a shikumen lane
(photo by CIT)

When I first visited my wife’s grandmother’s neighborhood nine years ago, my impression of these shikumen was that they were usually dirty and unbelievably cramped, and that no one who lived in them could have any privacy whatsoever, or even real comfort. Some of them, in fact, reminded me of rabbit warrens or bunkers of some sort, with ladders, steep stairways, and narrow, dimly-lit hallways connecting their cramped rooms. They were definitely not the kind of place I could see myself ever getting used to.

Shanghai - shikumen residents 1 - 250 x 188 Shanghai - shikumen propaganda 1 - 250 x 188
Shikumen residents
(photo by CIT)
“Humankind has only one planet
Everybody attend to the population problem”

(photo by CIT)
Shanghai - shikumen kitten - 250 x 188 Shanghai - shikumen kitten closeup - 250 x 188
Tiny kitten on a shikumen ledge
(photo by CIT)
A shikumen haiku: Kitten on the edge
Small patch of urban ledge-grass
Precarious life

After having spent some time there and having observed the residents’ lifestyle, however, I came to see the other side of life in the shikumen: the sense of intimacy, interconnectedness, and community responsibility that they fostered, especially given the fact that the same families have often inhabited these houses for generations. For someone who had grown up in such a place, the shikumen way of life would no doubt seem natural and comfortable in a way that life in one of the newer buildings could probably never be. With activities like washing clothes and playing chess often done outside, in the small lanes on which these houses are located, neighbors inevitably interact every day and come to know one another well. In Shanghai’s newer buildings, on the other hand, neighbors often don’t seem to know each other, and they have little incentive to get to know each other, because they’re all comfortably shut away and don’t have to interact. I’ll admit that, yes, I too would much rather live in one of these comfortable new units, which are much more like the apartments many Americans are used to living in. But l can’t help feeling that the disappearance of the shikumen and the resulting fragmentation of Shanghai’s communities has a tragic side as well.

This, then, is a tribute to Shanghai’s shikumen, in the form of these photos I took during a 2007 visit to my wife’s grandmother’s neighborhood. It’s entirely possible that in the next few years these homes, too, and with them a great deal of history, will disappear.

Shanghai - shikumen skyscraper 2 - 267 x 200 Shanghai - shikumen propaganda 2 - 150 x 200
Looming skyscraper in the haze:
Better than the shikumen?

(photo by CIT)
More increasingly rare
propaganda: “Proposal for
establishing a safe family”

(photo by CIT)
Shanghai - shikumen residents 2 - 267 x 200 Shanghai - shikumen skyscraper 1 - 150 x 200
Shikumen residents:
A disappearing way of life

(photo by CIT)
The face of change
(photo by CIT)
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A curving shikumen lane
(photo by CIT)
Shikumen walls
(photo by CIT)

Applying for a China Visa: Do’s and Don’ts

For a more serious take on applying for a visa and a checklist of the items we need to help you apply, see our China Visa Application Information page.

DON’T try to express your interest in China by doing an impression of Kung Fu Panda while singing “Kung Fu Fighting.”

Kung Fu Panda - small - 180 x 200
What’s cute in a cartoon will get
you creamed in a consulate.

DO allow China International Travel CA to save those of you who live in the San Francisco consulate’s jurisdiction a lot of time and trouble for a modest service fee of $20. We’ve helped many, many clients with their China visas, and we can ensure that everything will go smoothly. We’ll be glad to answer any questions you have about the application, submit and pick up everything for you, and make sure your freshly stamped passport gets back to you safe and sound with its “new visa smell” intact. All of our contact info can be found here.

DON’T talk loudly while waiting in line about how much you like Sharon Stone. She’s not exactly popular over there.

Insulting the victims of a natural disaster:
not Sharon’s best career move.

DO make sure you go to the right consulate, depending on where you live. Chinese consulates will only issue visas to people living in their jurisdiction.

DON’T stage a “laugh mob” in the consulate lobby in a misguided attempt to create good vibes and brighten everyone’s day.

Laughter may be the best medicine, but an overdose
might kill your chances of getting a China visa.

DO check the links on China Visa Application Information page to make sure you have updated information from the consulate website about everything you need to apply.

DON’T try to give yourself “Chinese cred” by rocking a Fu Manchu look. To someone from China, it doesn’t project the coolness you might think it does.

“Yellow peril” stereotypes are NOT the way to make
a good impression at the Chinese consulate.

DO apply for a twelve-month multiple-entry China visa, since it costs the same as a single-entry visa for U.S. citizens anyway. You never know—if you take one of our tours, you might find yourself traveling to China again very soon.

Although you can request same-day service if you’re in a desperate situation (but check with your local consulate to be sure), DON’T wait until the day before your trip to apply for your China visa. You never know when your application might be held up for some unforeseeable reason.

DO make sure your passport has six months of validity remaining and at least one blank visa page when you apply.

DON’T look scary…or try too hard not to look scary. Just play it cool and natural, man. Or if that’s too difficult, just let the professionals at CIT handle it for you.

Who is less likely to be granted a visa: a victim of demonic possession, or Stuart Smalley?

Photos of Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) and Shanghai, China

Beijing + Jiangnan + Yellow Mountain
15-Day Tour (CITS15)

Looking for a unique way to spend your Christmas this year? Get away from all of America’s commercialized Christmas craziness and spend your holiday season in China! Enjoy all of these tour features for the low, all-inclusive price of only $1899:

  • Visit many of the favorite destinations of China travelers: Beijing, Suzhou, Wuxi, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Yellow Mountain (Huangshan), and Shanghai
  • Witness the grandeur of Yellow Mountain firsthand
  • Indulge in the comfort of deluxe 4-star hotels for the entire trip
  • Relax in your Huangshan hotel‘s extensive hot springs
  • Enjoy two free days in Shanghai to visit friends and family or explore this fascinating city independently
  • Avoid wasting your time with a frustrating, ultra-cheap shopping tour: A limited, reasonable number of well-chosen shopping stops
  • Escape the holiday madness and have a relaxing vacation

Open or download a PDF version of the tour itinerary to find out more!

Please note: As a limited-departure discount tour, CITS15 will be conducted in Chinese, and the tour guide may not be fully proficient in English.

The majestic peaks and unique pine trees of Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), China The sea of clouds and snow-covered mountain scenery of Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), China, in winter
Enter the fairytale world of Yellow Mountain,
the inspiration for countless poems and paintings
A winter wonderland: snowy peaks
and Huangshan’s sea of clouds

If you would like to see more spectacular photos of Yellow Mountain, please visit our Huangshan Photo Gallery.

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