Archives for the month of: July, 2012

We caught a taxi to our hotel and were given a room on the 27th floor. My ears popped in the lift and I had the feeling of vertigo being up so high. The fan for the airconditioner wasn’t working well and Maurice felt claustrophobic and spend a couple of hours in the Lobby in the middle of the night where it was cooler. The hotel was very appologetic and upgraded us to an even nicer room on the 23rd floor where we could also open the window if we wanted to.  A lott of the skyscapers in China have some windows that can be opened.

Three cities in this region -Yichang, Chongqing and Fujian are known as the “furnace of China” for the temperatures that go up to 43degrees in Summer with 90-95% humidity. This we experienced in Yichang which was a much poorer looking city and the air was oppressively still and it was extremely hot and humid.

The weather when we were in Chongqing however was warm with a lot of rain. We had to be careful as most of the umbrella spokes were at our eye level. In the lobby of the hotel they had a nifty machine that the bellboys thrust wet umbrellas into and they emerged with plastic wrapping. The hotel umbrellas were even better as they had a concertina type plastic covering which covered the umbrella when it was down and disappeared into itself when it was up.

 Chongqing district houses 33,000,000 people and everywhere you look either side of the river there are high rise appartment buildings, shops and spaghetti junctions and a lot of traffic.

The divide between poor and rich is more evident in Chongqing with a lot of men standing around the street corners with poles and their ropes ready to cart goods about the city’s pedestrian area. Jiefangbei which is an enormous shopping pedestrian area has only top of the range Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Armani and every other big brand name stores not only in large shops but in the many multi storey buildings. There are also countless department stores like “Parksons” with very expensive men’s and women’s clothing. In other areas there are inexpensive local markets where the clothing is not good quality but there is not much in between of reasonable quality and price.

The fashions on the street never cease to amaze us. A lot of the girls are obviously wearing expensive clothing and the latest form of footware – manily high platform shoes but they are not at all co-ordinated and the dresses are something that in the west would only be worn at night.

We have had an interesting time looking at the various goods available in the department stores and we found that things like stainless steel kettles and pressure cookers and other electrical goods are so much cheaper than in Australia and the range of products is staggering although with over a billion people and an every increasing middle class for them it is normal to have such a variety of goods and in such supply. Most Chinese carry thermos type insulated containers for their tea and there are whole shops dedicated to these in every shape, colour and size.

In Chongqing the next form of transport down from the taxi which carry one or two people are cute red little fibreglass vehicles. In the other cities they are usually made of aluminium with some kind of cloth covering.

We made the most of the day (as it poured non stop) by catching the underground which also became a monorail above ground to an enormous pedestrianish! area (I say “ish” as it looked like a pedestrian area all nicely paved with clocktowers in the middle of the square but every so often a car, bus or motorbike would be honking for you to move aside).

We went into a large department like store which housed many floors of every kind of mobile phone, tablet and computer. My second phone which I used for local calls had died and Maurice wanted a tablet which he could use to send his emails, surf the internet and read his books.

We found a booth where the three people staffing it were very friendly but had little English so we muddled through with google translator on their computer and a touch of English and Mandarin. We ended up buying both items at a reasonably reduced cost from their original quoted price and much cheaper than Australia and the the owner even accompanied me to the bank to get money. Maurice had been out in the rain and was unsuccessful after trying three banks which only took “Union pay” cards.

Many people on the street spoke more English here and were very willing to help us. The next day we ended up coming out of the subway by a different exit (there were at least six around that station )and everything in sight was foreign so I showed a guy coming towards us the shop’s card. He was very helpful and insisted on calling the shop as he didn’t know where it was and then accompanied us to the main square where I got my bearings. The owner of the shop had already come out to meet us as this chap had arranged that with him unbeknown to us. We thanked the man profusely and were really touched by his going out of his way to help us.

We found a place to get our laundry done and I found an alterations place in the department store to have some trousers altered (for $1). A nice receptionist from the hotel showed us down the road to where we could buy tickets for the fast train to Chengdu. We remembered the passports this time in order to be able to buy the tickets.

We went to another area in Chongqing called Chaotianmen which is full of department stores and little shops. We found the only mid range department store that we had seen. It consisted of about 8 floors – one whole floor was dedicated to lingerie. It would have supplied the whole of Australia!

We bought Maurice a very good travel bag which will replace the one he had – the old one went to a deserving person on the street who was going through the rubbish bins. The Chaotianmen district contrasted sharply to the very upmarket pedestrian area not far away.  It was a much poorer looking district generally.

There are the men and some women with their poles and ropes waiting for a load to carry looked exhausted and if they had no work they were fast asleep leaning against a post or a building. On the next corner were the motorbike couriers grouped together waiting for business.

The subway here is excellent as with all the subways that we have found here in China and they are always adding to the original lines or digging up vast tracts of the street to install new lines.

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The four night, three day trip was wonderful. 

On board there were a Wendy Wu tour group of 42 Australians and a few English tourists as well as many Chinese tourists and about 10 Americans. Wendy Wu herself, her family and her board members were also on board and were very friendly.

The older American slideshowcruise director who lived in the Phillipines was very efficient and the rest of the staff who were Chinese were very professional and friendly at the same time.

The crew kept telling us that we were so lucky as the weather was perfect and we had blue skies and not much river mist or pollution around the interesting sites which is somewhat uncommon according to them. The scenery for much of the trip was beautiful with lush crops growing up the mountainsides and sheer cliffs and it was wonderful to watch the busy river traffic of everything from small fishing boats to large barges carrying Western Australian Iron Ore and large cargo vessels. There was some pollution around the chemical factories but there was in the main a lot of lush green vegetation and trees in between.

There were also a lot of pylons for rail and bridges being constructed along the way.

The first day we visited the Three tribes gorge which was beautiful. We could have done without the locals who make a lot of noise and do a re-enactment of days gone by but the Chinese tourists who also could understand what was being shouted enjoyed it. We would have preferred to just enjoy the scenery in peace. Many, many mainly Chinese tour groups went before and after us with tour leaders with microphones and load voices.

The second day we were taken to see the Three Gorges Dam which was spectacular and an incredibly large project which was completed in 2009.. It was very hot and humid. Near dusk an into the night we went through the five locks to go further upstream which was an amazing experience. It only took 8 minutes to fill the lock and move along to the next one.

The Chinese are also building a boat lift which will lift boats up to 3tonnes up and over the dam wall. The scale of the project is unbelievable.

We travelled the second day through the second gorge and we had a trip on small sampans down through the lesser three gorges which consisted of some sheer cliffs and narrower water ways which were also beautiful. We were shown the location of some “hanging coffins” from centuries ago which had been somehow suspended and placed inside the caves or along the cliff walls. You could see some remains of the coffins in a couple of places.

The local guides showed us where their old villages had been and where they were now relocated to further up the mountainsides. It is amazing to see the large cities and towns that have been built in the space of 10-15years. Upstream we were also shown various islands which are really tops of mountains that are totally covered by water after the winter season.

We also did a couple of optional outings to temples and pagodas which involved many hundreds of steps. This helped work off the three meals a day that we had on the boat.

The food was excellent and we had a good choice of western and Chinese food. The Chinese do eat all combinations of food together. A piece of banana followed by some noodles followed by some creme caramel followed by some fish. It doesn’t seem to bother them to eat sweet and savoury at the same time.

The accommodation was extremely comfortable and all rooms had a balcony where you could sit and enjoy the scenery or alternatively there was a rooftop area and other areas from which to see the views up and down the river.

I went to an afternoon lesson of Mahjong which I really enjoyed and would like to pursue when we are in our fixed abode again. We were also shown an automatic Mahjong table which at a push of a button delivers all the tiles neatly up onto the table and the pieces have a magnetic strip inside them and are automatically shuffled below the table – an incredible invention which allows people to lose or make money in a faster fashion.

We met some lovely people on board – Roz and Margaret from Sydney and a mad Irish midwife from Geraldton who had her obligatory two bottles of red wine a night and the English director for Wendy Wu tours who we will look up in London when we get there. Everybody was very friendly and most people made an effort to chat to other passengers which made for a nice atmosphere.

In China as in India, Maurice is always easy to spot with his white hair as 99% of the older men dye their hair black (and most of the women too) but on the cruise there were quite a lot of silver/white haired men. I with a bit of a hangover and a head cold came up behind Maurice at the breakfast buffet and put my arm around his waist to see what he was taking only it wasn’t Maurice but an Englishman called Stan. He said something to the effect of “have a good day too” but I was so embarrassed that I disappeared quickly!

We were sorry to leave the cruise in Chongqing on the 5th day. We had been lucky with the previous days’ weather and it was raining as we left the boat to a very scratchy small brass band who started up every time someone stepped on the gangplank to leave the ship. It was like something out of a movie.

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The next day the 20th June we caught an all day train from Xi’an to Yichang – the starting point for our Yangtze cruise. We left at 8.50 and got to the Ramada at Yichang at 1am. We haggled for a taxi and got to the hotel at 1.30am. The internet being very hit and miss when I was booking hotels sometimes it worked and sometimes I had to repeat the steps. The receptionist said to us that we had booked a small bed. I didn’t know what she meant until Maurice spotted that I had only put 1 adult in the booking and therefore it was 1 single bed. They were lovely and upgraded us without any penalty so we stayed in a luxurious room and relaxed, had a leisurely bath and Maurice did a bit of ironing. The ironing board was made for midgets so he had to kneel to do it.

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We could board the river boat after 6pm and we happened on our first woman taxi driver. She took a back way over many potholes and only dropped us at the top of the road to the boat. It was pouring with rain and we were very wet by the time we boarded the boat.

I must say that I am very happy with my little Nokia N9 with its 8mexapixel camera. All of the shots from the train were at speed and through not very clean windows.

 

Either side of the entire road from the outskirts of Xian to the Qian Tombs were nut trees – almonds and walnuts and thousands of bits of plastic or paper tied to the trees to keep the birds away and as we got closer there were orchards of plum, apricot and peach trees. There were many locals selling these at the site.

The Tang Dynasty’s Qianling mausoleum site is incredibly impressive with thousands of steps to the top of the hill and then a very long walkway up to 61 statues of headless figures. Along the walkway are many statues dotted along both sides. The case with most of the important burial sites is that the actual tombs are further away so that the grave robbers could not find them. This didn’t work for all of them. The tombs of Emperor Tang Gaozong and the only Chinese Empress WuZetian are not open but tombs of Princess Yongtai, Prince Yide and Prince Zhanghuai are open to the public and are about 3kms away.

As usual there are no signs in English other than “watch your step” ticket office” and take care of your belongings” but anything useful like a few signs telling you where you are and where you go to the tombs are nowhere to be found in anything but characters – good if you know Chinese or Japanese. A lot of people can say hello but after that there are bland looks even at the ticket counters and tourist information booths.

After we had climbed to where the monuments and wonderful statues stood and had a look around, we had more than an hour to kill before the bus left for Xi’an so we found out from a little private taxi man where the tombs were located and agreed on a price for an hour to take us there. We managed in the time to make our way down to three tombs and see where they were intered and the many frescos on the walls which were replicas as some of the originals were in the Shaanxi museum. The tombs however were interesting to see and one in particular was vast with antichambers with life sized figures of the court. In the neighbouring museum were hundreds of pottery figurines of people and animals and all sorts of utensils and useful items used in their daily life which were buried with them.

On the monday we got up early and caught the bus to the Qian Tombs which is about 85kms out of town. We had the slowest, safest bus driver on record. There was no traffic but he took over 2hours to get there on mainly good highway. The long distance buses usually only depart when they are full so as we were some of the first to arrive we had an hour’s wait but we have learnt patience here in China where everyone stands in queues for hours. 

We waited until Tuesday to catch the local bus for $1 out about 35kms to Qin Shihuang’s mausoleum site museum which house the Terracotta warriors. The internet and the tourist office told us that the site opens at 8am so we got up early and got out there about 7.40am. The brass plaque above the ticket office stated 8.30am and it didn’t open until then when we got the first tickets. There is almost a small town of eateries and souvenir shops including life size terracotta warriors before you actually reach the ticket office. It is about a 15min walk or short mini bus ride to the gates. There there are four large impressive buildings housing pits 1,2,3 and the museum. Qin Shihuang who ordered the whole construction and artifacts made really wanted to outdo everyone in Chinese history and he obviously wanted to be well prepared for his afterlife as it is the most impressive collection of its kind and size covering 56kms in total area. It took 38years to complete with about 750,000 workers. The main pit and second pit are very large and the third pit quite a bit smaller. They will be excavating for a long time and they estimate somewhere between 6000-8000 warriors, horses, chariots, bronze sculptures of rare animals etc will eventually be found. Qin Shihuang also had 166 of his retinue plus horses with chariots buried alive with him when he was intered! Even some of the more insignificant prime ministers or princes had thousands of items buried with them.

We were lucky to have the all the pits virtually to ourselves before being inundated with tour groups which were in the main Chinese. The videos and artifacts in the museum were very interesting but the noise level there with all the tour groups was starting to get very loud by the time we left.

We walked up to the road and hailed the bus to take us back to Xi’an where we had some washing to do in the well equiped laundy at the appartments and I had an excellent pedicure and manicure which cost a total of $20. We want to take advantage of this value in China where they do an excellent job as it won’t be the same price I know in Dubai or Europe!

We bought a duck to eat one day and enjyed it so much that we bought another one the next day. They are roasted with spices and the shopkeeper chops it up for you.

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We got to our lovely serviced appartment which was spacious and it was handy to have a kitchen and fridge for a few days. We bought some lovely fruit – nice cherries for $5 a kilo and plums and nectarines.

The train station in Xi’an is chaotic but we managed to get a taxi quickly. We again stayed in the old city which is enclosed by a very wide city wall with four main gates. The city has been well planned with very wide boulevards. We stayed in a nice quiet area close to the very impressive drum tower and right behind it was the muslim quarter which consisted of thousands of litlle restaurants, food stalls and shops selling souvenirs, art work and dried fruit of every kind.  We had some delicious beef and spicy chicken skewers and tasty cold noodles.

The muslims here were nearly all wiped out in a rebellion in the 1870’s. The muslim men all wear little white caps but there are only a small number of women who cover their head at all and then they are more ornate pieces that only cover the back of their heads.

We caught a bus the first evening to the white goose pagoda which is in a lovely large park and they have a very large area with water jets and fountains and we joined the other thousands of Chinese tourists and locals to watch the music fountain. It covered a large area but we both preferred the more co-ordinated and beautiful music fountain at West Lake in Hangzhou.

The next day we climbed up many steps again to walk on top of the old city wall and went 1//4 of the way around it from the west gate and along the wall to the south gate. It was about 35degrees but nice and dry to there weren’t many other people up there and we chose lunchtime again to avoid the crowds.

On the Sunday we went to visit the Shaanxi museum and caught a local bus there. It wasn’t open as there was a widespread power outage in the city so we decided to take our lunchh and have it in the park by the white goose pagoda. We went for a long walk and found in front of the pagoda a very wide long boulevard with beautiful bronze groups of statues and small fountains along the centre. It all looked fairly new and there was an enormous housing project on both sides of the road under construction but low rise (only about 5storeys) with each building with a chinese style roof. Along the boulevard there was an art museum, concert hall, cinema complex and large department stores.We then made our way back to the museum so see if it was open. There was a moderate sized queue at the museum and we couldn’t understand why as you do not need to pay to go into the museum BUT you need to have a ticket. We arrived there at 1210pm and there was a queue in front of the ticket office. They close for lunch so we have a 50minute wait until 1pm (we weren’t going to come back) until they opened up, looked at our ID. We wrote the ID numbers down on a piece of paper and then could go into the museum. All the while there were officials standing at the gate to take your tickets while the others were at lunch. We just couldn’t figure it out! After all that the museum was mainly showing primitive artifacts and some later ceramics and artifacts from the Tang and Qing dynasties whereas i found the Shanghai museum was far more varied and interesting.

I remember at Expo in Shanghai two years ago that people had a 4-5hour wait for some of the pavillions!

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Our train tickets arrived at the University the previous night – China train tickets have a very efficient system and they are easy to communicate with via email so you can book your sectors online, pay for them and they courier them out to wherever you specify. They also give you an emergency phone number in case the tickets are not there waiting for you.

I was sorry to leave Hangzhou where I felt at home and where I made so many friends and enjoyed my Mandarin course in December. It was nice to be able to show Maurice where I had lived for the month before moving to Beijing.

The 24hr trip to Xi’an on the train started off at 11am and was the clearest day it had been since we got to Hangzhou. The air had been very polluted the previous two days.

You see first hand travelling on the train how much manufacturing and production is done for the 1.2billion locals and for all over the world here in China. I know they get very bad press for the pollution however we wouldn’t be able to afford the vast array of products we take for granted if the production was in our own country.

I know the labour force is vast and costs are low here but the locals also have to put up with the pollution and they realize that the pollution is damaging their country so they are doing things to try and ease the effects by millions of electic vehicles – buses, cars and bikes and scooters, solar systems on new and old buildings and the greening of so many areas as well as the electification and upgrade of their entire train network plus the increase of energy efficient fast trains and the installation of subways with electric trains in most major cities. You can see that over the last 40years the Chinese have been increasing their standard of living and its very evident in their ever growing middle class.

We really enjoy the train travel and we are well serviced with food and drink if we want it with carts going up and down the corridors and cleaners emptying the bins and the restaurant car next door. I don’t know if China train tickets did that specially but we have had the restaurant car next door on all of our long trips so far.

We passed through Hefei which is a huge manufacturing centre and we have never seen anything like the concentration of high rise housing already there and also under construction. It was a city of about 9million and it seemed that they were going to house another few million! There was an enormous port and large barges going up and down the river.

For most of the night we could smell smoke and see the hundreds of lines of fires burning off the stubble after the rice had been harvested. As we got closer to Xi’an there was a long limestone mountain range and along the way were hundreds of rice paddies where the rice had been harvested and they were burning off the stubble. They went for kilometers and you could smell the smoke in the train and see the fires in the night miles away. There were also hundred of rows of hot houses and crops of every kind.

It was an interesting 24hour train trip and the train personnel all stand to attention at each coach and then when they get on the train they face the door and stand to attentnion until the station disappears. They were very efficient and helpful staff. They take your paper ticket away and give you a hard plastic generic one and then give you back your ticket when you leave train.

The English signs always amuse us – The sign in the toilet stated “please flush tap to clear closet pot”.

We shared our compartment with a lovely man – Mr LI – with my basic Mandarin and the Pleco translator we understood that he was either a mine manager or owned the mine that he was going to in Urumqi in the far north east which was a two day trip for him from his home in Hangzhou. He was really friendly and must have been well to do as he had two children ($6300 for a second child) and he showed us pictures of them. He bought Maurice a beer later in the evening and shared his lychees and some delicious round blood red small fruit which tasted a bit like mulberries and red wine. Maurice was clever and put “another beer” into his Pleco translator wanting to know if Mr Li wanted another beer. Well Mr Li thought Maurice wanted another one and they almost had a fight trying to get out to buy the beer. Mr Li insisted on going and brought back two beers for Maurice which he didn’t want so we left them on the train for him the next day.

Our other companion was a nice lady who got off in the middle of the night and she insisted on us having some of her watermelon and she chatted to us as well asking the usual questions – “where are you from, why are you in China, are you here on your own, how old are you (not considered rude here in China). They all give Maurice and me fewer years so we are not unhappy!

My tonal pronounciation is getting better. They expect me to always to come out with English so shouting does help then they listen! The pleco helps with vocabulary too.

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At lunchtime the next day we headed back on a very comfortable bus for the 4hour trip back to Hangzhou to stay for a week. The weather had improved and it was warm and very humid. We ate at the cafeteria and we visited my nice hairdresser and made appointments for us both before we leave Hangzhou. There is so much to see in Hangzhou and I wanted to show Maurice as much as I could but we only had a few days instead of the month that I had in December.

We made an appointment and met up with one of my teachers Xie Xin who is 25 and like a little doll. She was telling us that she spent a year in Edinborough and had a lot of trouble coming to grips with the Scottish accents!

Her English is very good and she chose a very popular restaurant which served many Hangzhou specialties like beef and fish stew, a wonderful eggplant dish (our favourite) and a special fried sweet potato dish. It was all delicious and with tea the total was $12. The restaurant seated many hundreds of people and she told us that it was good that we got there early as the last time there was a 3hour wait.

We caught buses and walked many kilometres all over the city and around the West Lake which was beautiful with all trees and bushes flowering and thousands of lotus plants with enormous leaves although most plants were about a week away from flowering.

We visited Hu Xueyan’s house (another poor person!) who was a famous pharmacist and who in the 1870’s built a very beautiful house with many pavillions and ponds and gardens. It is now a museum. At floor height there is a large plank of wood covering the doorway that you have to step over. These are so the evil spirits cannot enter the house.

We visited a few Starbucks to have an OK coffee but they had the best wi-fi connections. We do miss our Australian coffees!

I took Maurice to see “Impressions on West Lake” a nightly spectacular show that I had seen with my mate Salim in December. The story is a simple one but it takes place on the lake on a platform which comes up from under the water (where boats move around during the day) to a few centimetres underneath the water. The show is a spectacle of lighting and sound with beautiful music and they light up the surrounding trees on the edge of the lake in a variety of colours and then the lights come on in the middle of the lake with the hundreds of performers drumming or waving enormous feathers or throwing water in time which represented the ocean etc – hard to describe but an amazing spectacle.

There are also huge hydraulics which come up from the lake to about 30metres into the air and sprays of water fall from them.

Some of the show takes place from a traditional two storey boat built for the show. At least

the water would not have been as cold for the performers (some of whom were wearing wellington boots) as when we saw the show December.

They have many pontoons full of lighting for the show moored in an obscure part of the lake which they move into position every night as well as the grandstands which are stacked in a corner during the day so people can walk around that section of the lake and in no time they are all set up for the thousands of people that watch the performance every night.

We also made it to the Silk Museum which had been closed for renovations in December. The story of the silkworm and the techniques of making silk and the displays of silk costumes and old clothing from hundreds of years ago and the various fashions of Cheong sam’s over the last century was really worth seeing. There was also a map and story of the silk route which was very interesting. I decided I wanted to have a go at colouring a printed design. I missed out doing this as a child! I think its done mainly for children but there was no one else there at the time. There were many designs and I chose a koi pattern. The two little ladies there were very helpful with suggestions of colours and ironed the hanky to finish it off.

The next day we headed out of the city into the hills to the tea museum. We wandered around the tea plantation and then through the lovely gardens when one of the staff came running behind us and stopped to ask us if we wanted a tea tasting. We went along and with

their usual tradition we tasted a lychee/black tea which was so delicious we bought some, pu’er tea, oolong tea and another black tea. The pu’er tea is fermented and came in hard cake that looked like a cowpat! The girl said that they always pour off the first tea and then make the tea from the second pouring. It was lunch time again so we were the only ones there which made it very pleasant. We then walked part of the way back to town and then caught a taxi back to the university as it got very humid. All over China there are giant magnolia (grandiflora) trees with the most fragrant and large blooms lining streets and in parks and gardens.

From the tea museum we went to the Lifeng pagoda which was burnt down by the Japanese centuries ago leaving only the brick inner structure. They have done a wonderful job of reconstructing this pagoda which overlooks all of West Lake (on an unpolluted day!) It is an amazing feat with large steel girders holding the pagoda up and they even installed a very long escalator to take you to the base of the pagoda and then inside lifts to the various levels.

That night we bought the most delicious chicken (the thigh bone was visible!) skewers and unleavened bread from the halal BBQ stand in the university which is constructed and deconstructed every night. The university has about 20,000 students and many dormitories with balconies full of washing most of the time. Some of the students that had graduated had their group pictures taken in front of the statue of Mao or in front of the main gate with some of them throwing their mortar boards in the air.

It has been warm but very humid every day but the nights have been lovely and balmy with just short sleeves – wonderful!

Maurice had a haircut and I had a hair colour, trim and blow dry with my mate the hairdresser and the whole lot only cost us $30.

We said goodbye to our lovely waitress in the cafeteria who looked after me in December and who looked after us both this time and we happened to meet up with her while waiting for our taxi to the station the next morning. It is people like that and other helpful, friendly people that make our trip so lovely. Even if there isn’t much communication you get the sentiment.

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We went back to Hangzhou on the 5th June for a night. We caught a bus back to the university where we were staying. The bus drivers have a very hard job and have to keep their wits about them all the time. There are many dedicated bus lanes which helps but otherwise they have to contend with cars and other vehicles cutting in front of them all the time. There are designated lanes but they all change lanes constantly. Our poor bus driver had someone cut in front of him and he just touched the vehicle which suffered very little damage but within seconds there were two policemen there and we had to all get off the bus and walk to the next bus stop while the bus driver had to get out of the bus and sort it out with the police and the other driver. We felt sorry for him. There are quite a number of female bus drivers and some of the buses are decorated with plastic flowers in vases and draped around the windows!

They are very cheap – any long journey around town cost 50cents and any short journeys are between 20 and 30cents.

In the morning Maurice had the first fitting of his plate. We were the first appointment for the fitting at 8am which went well and then we headed off to the west bus station for the 3 1/2 hour bus trip to Tangkou and then a change of bus for a slightly hairy 20minute bus ride a bit further up Huangshan (yellow mountain) to our hotel which was very nice and the loud sound on entering the room was a waterfall and the river not far from our window behind some trees. It had been raining and was very misty over the mountain but it was humid so it wasn’t cold.

The scenery on the way was varied again – beautiful hills of conifers and waving bamboo and then towns with large appartment blocks and ever ongoing construction. There were many tunnels through the mountains, some over 2kms long.

The staff at the hotel were all lovely and helpful and only one really spoke some English. We ate for 2nights at the hotel as it was a long way to anywhere else and our cute little waiter when he brought out a dish would say “eat happy” We couldn’t correct him as he was so enthusiastic saying it an anything that we asked for he would reply “later” and bring it straight away. The first night we were there we ordered an eggplant dish and green vegetable and and a delicious beef noodle dish and rice. There was enough for six people and we felt sorry that we couldn’t do it all justice but there was just no way. We were savvy enough the second night to not order so many dishes.

Huangshan mountain covers an enormous area with scores of peaks, some rock and others with beautiful green vegetation and trees covering them. We caught another bus (about 20minutes) to a cableway further again up the mountain. No where in the literature was anything said about the entrance fees at the cableways accepting only cash and only Chinese credit cards – not foreign ones. After a bit of a panic as we didn’t have an enough cash, the girl behing the counter wanted Maurice to take his hat off and asked his age.

Luckily we had his Aussie driver’s licence and that brought the entrance ticket and cable car fare down to what I had in cash. That was fine for going up but I didn’t have enough to get back down on the other cable way so we had to factor in a further almost perpendicular climb up to a hotel where an ATM could be found. When we got there it wouldn’t accept a couple of cards and we breathed a big sigh of relief when we could access one of Maurice’s credit cards. We did speak to other Chinese tourists who also did not realize that they needed so much cash so we weren’t the only ones.

I was sad for Maurice that there was so much mist that we couldn’t see much at all but I was glad as I really don’t like heights and climbing on the side of the cliffs was a bit much for me so I clung to the side of the mountain. It does however look spectacular in photos and a friend had recommended that we not miss it so we did enjoy the experience. It was just unfortunate that the 2days we were there was very misty and while we were climbing the thousands of steps up and down the peaks back to another cableway it poured with rain twice and we got drenched. There was nowhere to escape the rain and there were many Chinese tourists ahead of us and behind us. They all had their yellow raincoats so were easy to spot all over the mountain side following the obligatory guide with microphine, loud voice and flag!

We covered about 8kms of steps in about 4hours. It was slow going and our calf muscles definately felt it the next day as a lot the steps were very steep. I don’t like cable cars either but it was a relief to get to the other cable way further down the mountain for the trip back to the bus station. The signage and the distances shown on the way were not very accurate so we kept asking the tour guides who knew the place well as we really didn’t want to do thousands more steps than necessary. The many scores of peaks that we should have seen have wonderful names like “Immortal walking on stilts” and “Service station of Grand Canyon”, “Double cats catching the Mouse” and “Beginning to believe peak”.

We were glad to catch the bus back to the hotel and get out of our wet clothes and shoes and have a hot shower. We did suffer a bit from headaches from the altitude but drank plenty of water and took it easy when we got back. Some other poor unsuspecting Chinese tourists who were not as fit had to resort to being carried for various sections of the mountain on a sedan chair made of bamboo which flexed every time the two men carrying it moved. The men carrying them had some stamina but I don’t think I would have liked to be held up high bobbing up an down! We also saw workmen carrying rocks and gas cylindes on shoulder poles up the many steps to where they were working. They were fit but also had to stop along the way if they had heavy loads. They also had to contend with all the tourists along the way. There are scores of buses just travelling up and down the mountain every day and we were told that we were extremely lucky with our timing as as of the 8th of June over 9million students would have just finished their university entrance exams for 7 million university positions and that they would all be travelling somewhere (including yellow mountain) in the coming days – phew!

The kilometres of steps and tunnels and concrete railings made to look like gnarled wood which cover the many peaks of the mountain are an incredible feat of construction.

We left the next morning with very sore calf muscles and wished we had more time to visit the beautiful hot springs at 42degrees up the road.

We caught two buses to Tunxi which is about an hour from Huangshan. We stayed at a very traditional hotel “The Old Street Hotel ” in the old city and enjoyed walking on flat ground around the traditional old streets. We finished the last of our bottle of whisky and felt decidedly better and then had another delicious meal. There was only a menu in Chinese characters and there were only locals eating there so we thought it would be good. The manager was very good and took us to the fridges to show us what we could choose to eat.

The Chinese place great emphasis on food. They love the hundreds of snacks that you can get all over the city from steamed buns, jidanbing (a wonderful egg pancake)cooked corn, tofu and meat on sticks. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you eat in the cafeteria or in a nice restaurant, the food comes out as it is cooked so you might get beef with green chilli followed by ice cream and cherries and then seafood with noodles following that. If you wait for rice it might be the last thing that comes out! We have not been eating any dessert so it hasn’t bothered us.

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The next day we ventured to the bus station and to Zhou Zhuang and Tongli about an hour and a half away, two smaller canal towns which were interesting to see and you could see how many of the previous generations of Chinese lived in these towns.  Unfortunately the toilet facilities in some of the older rural towns and in some of the out of the way train stations are interesting to say the least with troughs and some partitions if you are lucky. There is no room for modesty and even in some of the facilities where there are doors people don’t always close them! These contrast sharply with the automatic, seat warmed toilets in the more upmarket hotels.  One Chinese woman tried to disuade me from using the one in Zhou Zhang at the station but sometimes youu don’t have that option.

 The many shops along the narrow streets are structured twoards the tourist but do show how traditional arts and crafts were handcrafted. Along the way there are major contructions of very upmarket gated communities and all along the highway there are kilometres of sculptured bushes and trees planted in beautiful formations. Just as well they have thousands of workers dedicated to topiarying? the bushes!

We had our best coffee yet at a lovely coffee shop where the counter was made up of multi coloured small books all stacked on top of each other. Very effective.

We went into a few of the historical houses in the area as well which are all large with beautiful gardens and large white rock formations which they all love. We think they are ugly! One garden in particular had bamboo groves all around it and when they rustle in the wind they have a really cooling effect and sound lovely.

It was nice to stroll down the canals. There are a lot of small bridges dotted along the canals and we read a sign that said that in your 66year you should walk over the 3 bridges in Tongli to remain young and agile. Maurice managed only walked over two of them so no hope for him!

We are still stared at a bit but most people smile back when you smile at them. When Maurice takes of his hat in the bus and people see his white hair he usually gets a seat and conversely if we give our seats to an older Chinese person they beam at us or say in very good English “thank you very much”.

There are an incomprehensible number of appartment high rise blocks being built or newly built and lower rise buildings by the thousand as well in every city. They usually build a commercial park and then appartments opposite the park and a shopping complex nearby.

It is just hard to get our minds around the scale of construction here in China.

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Our taxi driver from the train station in Suzhou was just gorgeous. He didn’t know exactly where our hotel was, so when we were near he just stopped the taxi right on a corner, jumped out of the car and ran down the street and out of view. He came back a few minutes later chuckling away and took us straight to the door.

Old Suzhou where we are staying is a very historic city which has a canal around the old part of the city and although there are 10 million inhabitants and we were staying in a busy shopping area it was very quiet at night. The canals around the city were built before the Vencie canals and the buildings surrounding them are all low rise and a lot of the area is pedestrian so it also has a nice atmosphere. The excellent hotel that we stayed in “the hotel Soul” was really funky with really amazing lifts. There was a spaceship design with moving views of earth, moon etc. Another lift had a TV showing Chairman mao’s speeches and the third one had terracotta warriors in picture form and etched in glass. The restaurant in which had breakfast could have been in Paris with its decor and photographs.

We had a lovely stroll around the pedestrian areas which were lit up at night like “times square” with thousands of people strolling around. You have to watch the traffic all the time as the bicycles, motorbikes, electric bikes and scooters come from all directions even if you are in the pedestrian area or on the footpath. We walked along the road a lot of the time in single file as many othersw did as the footpaths were covered by all of the bikes and motorbikes and scooters.

The next day we went to the “Humble Administrator’s garden” which is now a museum and is definatley not humble! He was a very wealthy person and the garden consists of his house and pavillions from which to view the lovely gardens and it covers over 5 hectares. There is also a beautiful large bonsai garden at theh back of the property.

We have only seen a handful of foreign tourists but many Chinese tourists in groups with a tour leader complete with flag and loud hailer which they don’t need. My old Italian friend told me that I didn’t need to learn Mandarin – I only needed to shout! True in many cases. What we think is a fully blown argument by a couple of a few people is just a normal conversation which in most cases is extremely loud. We have only witnessed a couple of domestics – one in Laos in front of a dwelling to which all of the neighbours looked on and one in Suzhou in the middle of the pedestrian area which attracted a large crowd. In both instances the husbands were being balled out by their wives and we got the feeling that they were saying they were lazy good for nothings by the shouting and arm waving!

We planned our tourist location visits around lunch time when a lot of the Chinese tourists were in restaurants or as we were on our own we could get ahead of any group we found. In the brochure about Suzhou it stated that over 2.5 million foreigners visit Suzhou a year and over 70 million Chinese tourists visit the city! It is a very affluent city with an enormous number of jewellery shops and gold shops. Some of the diamond rings in the window were worth over $500,000! The women wear the strangest mixtures of fashions during the day. Lots of tulle and chiffon dresses, long and short, and very mismatched clothing and footwear! There were also a huge number of boutiques (with western like prices )and mobile phone shops by the dozen but most of the restaurants were very reasonably priced. We splurged the other night and went to an upmarket restaurant and had four dishes, a large beer and a pot of tea for $17.

The manager was very helpful and helped us with the menu as there were no pictures only a menu in characters.

We also visited the Suzhou Museum which was very modern architecturally but housed beautiful old artifacts, porcelain, calligraphy and paintings. The pictures show a couple of very small glass bottles which were painted in minute detail from the inside! Amazing.

It was a very interesting museum. The porcelain child on all fours was a pillow and a very hard one at that. We then headed to the North Temple Pagoda which dates from the 1100’s. We climbed up to the third level as our feet which had been walking for 6 1/2 hours couldn’t take much more. The view showed us the low rise old town and then the thousands of high rise buildings on the outskirts of the old town. We then walked back via the Suzhou park which is very large and on the Sunday there were thousands of people dancing, singing and listening to performers of every kind. Some were good and some were terrible but they all drew a large crowd.

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It was about 25 degrees but quite humid and no rain for our whole stay.