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LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY — James Cameron admits he based the mountains in his new blockbuster, Avalon, on the landscapes seen in many places in China. The tourism authority in Zhangjiajie 张家界 has made the connection explicit — it has just renamed a peak “Hallelujah Mountain” after a key locale in the movie.

The karst spire was once known as “South Pillar of the Heaven” (南天一柱), or “Pillar between Heaven and Earth” (乾坤柱).South Pillar of Heaven It lies within the National Forest Park, a world heritage site visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists — mostly Chinese, Korean and Japanese so far — each year.

And yes, when I saw the movie I said to myself, “Damn. It looks like Zhangjiajie!” You can see my photos on Picasaweb to see what I mean.

So, Avatar fans here’s the lowdown on the National Forest Park in Zhangjiajie. The quickest way to get there is by air from Beijing — one-way airfares are about 900 RMB (about $130) but sometimes you can get cheaper fares. Entry to the park itself is 248 RMB ($36) for a two-day pass. You will need both days, because the park is both big and worth a leisurely visit. Bring water to drink and food to snack on, but DO NOT carry it in a white plastic grocery bag. The local monkeys will literally try to steal the food from the bags. Use a backpack instead. The monkeys aren’t good with zippers … yet.

You can find accommodations just outside the park for very reasonable prices. There are lower priced hotels in the city, but you have to factor in the hour-long bus or taxi ride between downtown and the park. Being just outside the gate is much more convenient.

Meanwhile, some theaters in China have pulled the 2D version of Avatar to make way for Confucius, starring Chow Yun Fat, prompting allegations that the state media authority is railroading the foreign-made movie out of theaters in favor of the domestic variety. Officials, however, say the 2D version is drawing less at the box office than the 3D flick, which justifies the switch.

Sounds like protectionism to me.

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