Lanzhou, Lanzhou, Lanzhou

I’m going to steal from Talk Talk China‘s comments section again. This time it’s a comment from Kimmor in a hilarious (but apparently earnest) description of the Chinese city of Lanzhou. I found this interesting because I was just talking with a Chinese co-worker from Gansu about Lanzhou (and yes, its noodles) the other day.

> Lanzhou, Lanzhou, Lanzhou. Was there for two weeks. When I returned to Guangzhou I deposited the suitcase (contents included) that I had taken with me into the dumpster before I even put the key into my apartment door. I remember thinking the day I arrived, “Wow, people here really like brown clothes.” Two days later I had joined the ranks of those sporting the brown from head to toe look. Imagine the duststorm we had this April in BJ. Now imagine it every day. Now imagine it an even more flourescent shade of yellow. Welcome to Lanzhou. Nothing redeeming about this city at all. No need to bring up the obvious, “What about the famous Lanzhou beef noodles???” They are great, ANYWHERE but Lanzhou. To eat beef noodles in Lanzhou involves opening your mouth. Opening your mouth in Lanzhou involves inhaling even more ochre-tinted-sulfuric kryptonite dust. Believe me, the Lanzhou beef noodles in your town are much better, even if your town is Wuhan. Wuhan is just like the Pittsburgh (US) of China. Lanzhou is like the…well, like the inside of your hepa-filter vacuum cleaner of China. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing extended stays in many of China’s “second tier” cities. I do really like China and always manage to find interesting things to see, do, buy or eat wherever I go, but Lanzhou gets the big N-O.

I might have to visit Lanzhou now just to verify this account…

Related: a similarly enthusaistic account of Zhuhai


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Maybe you had better take one of those Japanese face masks that they use to prevent the spread of colds. It would help keep you nose & your mouth clear / cleaner in Lanzhou. Eat some beef noodles before you leave so that you can compare.

  2. I was in Lanzhou last year – didn’t think it was anything like as bad as that description – the pollution wasn’t as bad as a lot of other places and the people were very friendly – we were there for less than a week and had three people desparate to wave us off at the bus station…maybe they were just envious we were leaving

  3. I had a completely different experience in Lanzhou. Yes, pollution, dust horrendous; noodles: AMAZING. I actually enjoyed the city, and seriously thought about settling there. One of these days I have to scan in my old photo albums into Flickr.

  4. I’ve been to Lanzhou several times whilst on trips to the west of China.

    I am 100% able to concur, that Lanzhou is the shittiest part of China, there is no where else worse. Its a shame that Lanzhou is practically the only city to go through on your way to Western China.

  5. Hmmm…Lanzhou, never been there. Probably won’t after this. But Zhuhai is an amazing, amazing place. Everyone should go there. It’s so much like Florida it’s scary. Palm trees everywhere. And the weather is good and the streets are fairly clean. It’s a wonderful place and I’m glad my friend going to China is going there first.

  6. Made me laugh out loud.

    When I visited Beijing and Nanjing I felt like my lungs were on fire, the pollution level in China’s cities is REALLY high, even for someone coming from Los Angeles. Lanzhou sounds…much worse!

  7. Da Xiangchang Says: July 15, 2006 at 9:07 am

    Hmmm, interesting. Haven’t been there, but would like to. (I need to seriously take a mammoth trip around China one of these days.) The ugliest city I’ve been to in China is probably Jingdezhen–a real craphole, but with nice vases. But then again, I was suffering from a colony of intestinal parasites during my stay there so I’m biased.

    Still, I wasn’t aware of how ugly America can be until I took a trip recently back east. I went to Buffalo and Rochester in NY state, and Richmond in Virginia. Oh, my Lord, these cities are the metropolitan equivalents of Helen Thomas. I’m surprised most of the people in those cities haven’t committed suicide.

  8. I went late June one year and it was fine. Really nice actually. Funny how going at just the right time can give one a completely distorted view of a place. No sand, no pollution, nice weather, mild temperatures, great. I know that most of the year it’s the exact opposite, but when I went it was sweet.

  9. schtickyrice Says: July 15, 2006 at 10:33 am

    beef noodles, honey dew melons, watermelon seeds, and one of China’s four great mosques…it really isn’t that bad at all.

  10. I feel obliged to speak up for Zhuhai, if only because I’m published in the 珠海特区薄: it’s not that bad. Seemed more than a bit bland, but it’s close to Macau, has awesome weather, a seemingly OK overall quality of Mandarin, and funny “a true hero gets his wife’s tubes tied”-style family planning banners of the kind that you hardly ever see anymore. 

    Lanzhou I’ve no firsthand experience with, but they’ve put out some pretty cool metal bands.

  11. No way is Lanzhou the shittiest part of China. That distinction belongs to Gulmud aka police state central. Lanzhou is alright for a day–seeing all the guys in skullcaps is fascinating.

  12. I’ve been to Lanzhou twice now, and I can confirm that is a shit city. The only reason to go there is to catch a bus to the Labrang Monastery in Xiahe or to get the train/bus to Xining in Qinghai. Speaking of which… why does Xining get such bad reviews? I was there a couple of months ago, and I thought it was great.

  13. xining is a total shithole. no reason to go there whatsoever, absolutely none. the only reason I did so is so I could say I’ve been in Qinghai. Should’ve spent an extra day in Lanzhou. Xiahe is a must, though.

  14. Worst place in China –> ZunHua, Hebei. North of Tangshan 60 km. I’ve been here almost as long as John, and to 30 or 40 places. This last year in ZunHua has been the worst.
    People are nice, but dirt, dust, pollution…..


  15. I’m currently attempting to throw some positive light on Lanzhou. If you’re planning on visiting and found yourself reading the description above with a sinking heart, you might be interested in visiting my website:


  16. Hey! I’m originally from Lanzhou and I am angered by this! It’s really not that bad! It’s a bit polluted because the mountains keep in all the smog from the oil refineries, but I don’t remember things being “fluorescent yellow” or anything as bad as in the description the last time I went back. Did he visit during a dust storm or something?

    Anyway, I pity you and your damned worthless foreigner tastebuds for not being able to distinguish between far superior authentic beef noodle soup from Lanzhou and the putrid cesspools of MSG, sugar, so-called “beef”, and God knows what else (rats? cats? bats? migrant workers from the countryside?) sold elsewhere by cooks who are actually Cantonese. If you don’t like our noble city where for centuries the Silk Road linked East and West, where the Yellow River carries forth the living blood of Chinese civilization, then damn you–I hope you get lung cancer from the polluted air that you inhaled while visiting (or get your nose stepped on by a camel while you try to wash off mustard from it in the Yellow River, as described in a not-so-nice rhyme mocking foreigners and their large noses told to children in Lanzhou!).

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