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An easy one this week, to spur creative answers and get good stories. One reader writes:

I have not had a clue in a long while regarding this contest (I was close regarding the Norway VFYW). but this one speaks to me as Malaysia … met my wife there and went back there for the birth of both of our kids (in Ampang). Owing to the nature of foliage in the background, it may be near Cheras in Kuala Lumpur.

Another writes:

We lived in Okinawa from 1969 to 1970 and this street scene is typical of the narrow, paved streets of the business district of any of the cities. The area where we lived was called Kadena Circle because it was near Kadena AFB. I’ll guess that this may be in Naha because that is probably still the largest and best-known city on the island.

Another:

From my Taiwanese partner: Definitely not Taiwan – somewhere in southern China. The exuberant foliage and misty fog in the background indicates the country must be humid. The lack of people on the street indicates it must be in a remote area. This is a very generic southern China country look. Two of the sign boards say ‘hotel’, so it is very likely a tourist place. Fenghuang is very touristic. I want to guess it as “Fenghuang county, Hu-nan province” because I like Fenghuang. Of course, I may be wrong since it does not have the authentic Chinese old look of Fenghuang.

Another:

The guy balancing himself on top of that chair was a wonderful detail of this photo!

Another:

The greenery in the background, the relatively unpolluted air, and the relatively quiet streets says countryside China.  I’ve been there – Yangshuo!

Another:

Ciqikou, Sichuan Province, China? This is my first time submitting a guess … I’m not 100% sure about the city (although the building styles seem to match), but fairly certain about the province. Being able to read the signs helped a little, though not too much, as the smaller characters are a bit blurry.

Another:

The phone number on the awning matches a hotel and restaurant in the ancient town of Shangli, about 26km north of Ya’an, in China’s Sichuan province. The rest is misadventures in Google Translate, which renders the street address as No. 8 Fingers Road – and the hotel, wonderfully, as “Educated youth on the farm in the inn.”

Hundreds of readers correctly answered Shangli. Another:

I’ve read the Dish at least twice a day since 2008 but haven’t ever entered the contest until I saw the phone number on the sign, which probably means it’s too easy…

Another:

Finally, a VFYW that is right up my alley.

Being able to understand Chinese characters is always a big help. Searches on the phone numbers in the photo got me to Ya’an City in Sichuan Province, China, and searches on the street signs eventually led me to the main street of Shangli Old Town, which is under the jurisdiction of Ya’an. (If I’m wrong, please don’t publish this on your website, because I’ll feel like an idiot.)

Another sends an aerial shot:

Moz-screenshot-1

Another:

I have never entered a VYFW contest before on account of my general geographic ignorance, but, as soon as I saw this one, I knew that I at least had to try. The Chinese characters were a dead giveaway that this picture was taken in China, and the style of the buildings, along with the verdant  mountains in the background, suggested a province in the south.  As I attempted to get a more precise reading on the location, I noticed that the banner on the building in the foreground – and the building was very clearly a hotel, the Zhiqing Inn (????) – had a telephone number on it: (0851) 2316581.

The area code 0851 is associated with the Ya'anYa’an (??) metropolitan area in Sichuan Province. Googling the number itself led me to the exact address of the aforementioned inn: 8 Five Fingers Road (???), located in the town of Shangli (??).  It is apparently one of the “ten ancient towns” of Sichuan and was a stop on the Silk Road, which would explain the need for tourist accommodations. Google Maps Street View sadly doesn’t work in these rather remote corners of the world, but, surprisingly, I was able to find Zhiqing Inn when I zoomed in far enough.  I’ve circled it and the neighbouring building, which is also a guesthouse, on the attached screenshot and marked the approximate place where this picture might have been taken.

Another:

If it’s not Shangli, it could be Sanye Ancient Town. My friend Eddie is responsible for this guess and should receive the prize if correct. He called the owner of the hostel across the street from where the picture was taken. Here’s the email conversation:

Me: Know where this picture was taken? It’s a contest so feel free to submit on your own or we can brainstorm. These pictures are frequently misleading, as in I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a Chinatown in another country. That said, the store fronts and the people sitting leisurely in front of them are too Chinese to be anywhere but China. The streets are surprisingly clean, however, and the fresh wood finishing reminds me of a tourist town. I see a phone number on an awning. Recognize the area code? I think those are giant bamboo in the background.

Eddie: Yep I just checked the Area Code, it’s actually in Ya’an Prefecture in Sichuan where I did my fieldwork last year.  I thought I recognized the number.  It’s definitely a tourist town, I’d have to do a little more work to figure it out, but gotta jump in the shower.  That’s kind of fun though!

Eddie:  ^_^ I just called the owner of that hostel, and figured out that it’s Sanye Ancient Town in Ya’an…problem is that it could also be Shangli Ancient Town…hard to pick it out with Skype and the ??? [Sichuan dialect]?There actually is a ??? [Shangli town] so that might be it!  Best of luck!

Another:

I considered calling the hotel and asking them what was directly across the street, but I imagined I wasn’t going to be the only reader to do that and I wondered if I could sort it out just through online research. A similarly named hotel does show up on Google maps, but I thought I might have better luck in Chinese. I found a few rough maps of the area that featured tourist attractions or hotels, but not the detailed street map I was hoping for.

Finally, I resorted to scanning the Google Image hits on Shanglizhen, and came across a photo that looked quite similar from a blog posting that featured travel pics from a visit to Shangli. Placed side-by-side, I could see that it was taken just down the street, and across the river, from this week’s photo. And it featured that huge waterwheel, which I’d seen in other photos while browsing:

Shanglizhen 2

I also went back to a tourist map from the Shangli visitors’ website and located the waterwheel on that map, which again confirmed this location but with no further detail:

Shanglizhen 4

So, in the end, I’ll resort to a Google-based guess – that the photographer was standing on a floor above the Bencaotang Drug Store that appears across the street from the Zhiqing kezhan in Google Maps. Given all the clues in this photo, I imagine lots of readers will get it spot on, down to the room. But it’s delightful to get close for once. Thanks for all the fun.

Another:

I do not have the strong skills of deduction that your more talented VFYW readers have, although I know that just listing the city isn’t going to cut it. I am up against pros here. I do, however, speak Chinese, so I decided to just call the restaurant/hotel underneath the big red sign on the far right (the Zhi Qing Ke Zhan) and ask for the address of the building across the street from them. They were not happy to give this to me (maybe some other VFYW people were bothering them?), but I successfully gathered more information about the area. I am not sure my Chinese is good enough to explain your game to them, so I didn’t try when I called them. Also it was during lunchtime, so maybe they were busy.

I wonder if the humble shop owners shown in this picture are aware that their small shop has now been seen by millions of people around the world.

Another:

I cannot believe I spent a good two hours trying to figure this out on a lovely Saturday afternoon. Being mentioned as “another” in the last VFYW contest, I was determined! I used every tool that Google has ever created, but needless to say I started off with the phone number on the sign that is visible across the street (which I think is a youth hostel called Zhiqing Nongjiale). And after all that, I have no idea if this is even close but I believe this photo is taken from the 3rd Floor of Hanjia Guesthouse on Yashang Road, Yucheng, Ya’an, Sichuan, China. If I managed to guess this correctly, I am pretty sure lots of Dish readers will get it right, but I will keep my fingers crossed!

Another:

I guess you heeded all the requests for an easier one, the legible phone number across the street was a huge boost. Here is a view from street level about halfway between the above and where the contest photo was taken from (photo credit to David and Jessie of Chengdu.) I can’t believe I spent two hours looking for the exact street on a map, since I have already won a window book.

Another:

Here are some photos from inside one of the rooms. The pattern on the window seems to match the pattern on the hotel’s third floor window, but it’s such a common design in China that the window design doesn’t tell us much. Here‘s another photo, from down the street, looking toward the same hotel, up the street on the left. That’s about it – the Google Earth resolution isn’t good enough to track down the building, and I can’t find a photo from the hotel across the street, so I’ll leave it there.

More Flickr photos here.  A view from inside the inn:

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Another

Here‘s a website to a patron’s review of the establishment. According to the linked review, Shangliguzhen is a town of cultural significance known for its enchanting vistas, including old-fashioned bridges and groves of ancient trees and pruned bamboo. Once an important remounting station, Shangli cultivates the image of being a gathering place for merchants, similar to how it was in the Ming and Qing dynasties – it was, after all, known as “The Silk Road of the South” (??????).

Another:

One of the reasons I love this game is for the “armchair travel” experiences.  I’d never heard of Shangli, but it’s now on my bucket list.

Another provides plentiful detail:

NPR covered the ancient city’s attraction to urban Chinese tourists. Intriguingly, across the river, there is a “Fairy Cave” – not the only place in Sichuan so marked. The ancient town Shangli (fortunately preserved from damage in the Sichuan earthquake) seems to be, by far, the bigger local tourist attraction, in the immediate vicinity of this spot. People love to photograph the Two Immortals or Double Immortals bridge, a Qing Dynasty construction of the same age as our nation (1776). The ancient city’s Noodleman is celebrated in HTML and YouTube:

Another:

“Zhiqing Nongjia” refers to the sending of youth to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. According to the “Moral Landscape in a Sichuan Mountain Village,” a digital ethnography project at UNC Charlotte:

The city of Ya’an was the scene of most of the stories told about the factionalism and armed struggle of the Cultural Revolution– colorful stories of bank robberies, pistol packing motorcycle gangs, snipers, barricades, and home-made artillery– and it apparently attracted a number of adventurous men from the countryside like Wu Wenzhong. But although some factions were nominally based in the countryside (e.g. the “Red Peasant Army”), Xiakou, like most other villages, remained relatively quiet. In fact, the countryside became a kind of safe haven for some city dwellers. While locals claim that only those who participated became targets, and average people were generally able to avoid the shooting and violence, they also say that the factionalism had its way of entangling even those who wished to stay out. If someone was accosted on the road and asked which faction he was in, claiming to be of no faction was considered an indication of intolerable political apathy. Everybody was pressured to become a member of a faction.

Of all the hundreds of entries, the following reader had the most accurate answer combined with most previous correct guesses, so he wins this week:

This week’s contest was kind of like a tractor pull.  It started out easy with the phone number then got harder and harder with the poor resolution of Google Maps and Earth, no detailed maps anywhere, and ultimately a failure to find a photo of the building from which the contest picture was taken.  But we soldiered on with a diverse team stretching from Texas, to Washington, D.C., to Buffalo, New York, and ultimately to China (the home of one of our top agents who once won 2nd place in an English speaking contest in college).

This is a scene on Yashang Rd. (Ya‘an>Shangli), or Old North Road, in Shangli, VFYW 8-13-2011 labeled2 Sichuan, China.  It is the newer part of Shangli, across the river from the ancient Shangli Old Town.  The photo was probably taken from the 3rd floor of the “Han Jia Ying Bin Kezhan” (Han Family Guest Welcoming Guesthouse).  The first sign across the street to the right says Ziquing Kezhan (Guesthouse.)  Ziquing literally means “educated youth” but it refers to the “sent down youth”, like the ones sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.  In this particular case, I have been told it is probably just being used as a name.  The Red Army came up this road in 1934-1935 on their Long March.

The next sign to the left, or north, is another Han Jia Kezhan, or Han Family Guesthouse.  And I understand there are more in the area.  This is not a Han family franchise however but rather refers to a very old and influential family in the area dating back to the Qing Dynasty, 1644-1912.  There are a number of Han family mansions that have been converted into museums as well as one local government building.

Next to that is the Chen Yiquan Health Station, most likely a health clinic for local people. Further up the street in the blue building is the Sichuan Salt Chain Store.  According to a blogger I found, there are a lot of stores like this in China and they really do sell salt.  I’m not sure if the salt panic in China reached this far after the Japanese earthquake but this is the type of store that would have had their shelves cleared due to the false rumor that iodized salt could protect one from the feared radioactive clouds.  Perhaps that is why the door is closed.  Everyone is stocked up on salt. But perhaps as important as any of the local attractions to a day tourist is the public toilet, the path to which is located just a few steps south down Yashang road from the Ziquing Guesthouse.

From the reader who submitted the photo:

It was taken from the third floor (room 214, if I recall) of a hostel with no English name in the cute little village of Shangli in Sichuan, China. Because there are probably a fair number of places called “Shangli” (or perhaps zero places), it’s the next town after the Bifengxia Panda Reserve – if you take the road from Ya’an (two hours south of Chengdu) to the Reserve but instead of turning left at Bifeng Gorge you go straight, you’ll hit Shangli in about half an hour. This hostel would be the first building in town on your left using those directions. The village is best known for a very inauthentic “ancient marketplace” on an island in the middle of the village’s river, but if you cross the river, walk down the road, and then hike the corn fields past the pagoda for about ten minutes, you’ll come across a fascinating and vibrant modern village, complete with its own poultry market.

(Archive)