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Yangtze River - Guilin #4

Qu Yuan Temple

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This morning we sailed past Wu Gorge and visited Qu Yuan Temple. Qu Yuan was a poet, political figure, reformer, diplomat and all-round Good Guy. The Dragon Boat Festival is a celebration in honour of him. He lived 476 BC - 221 BC. Below is a photo of one of his poems. It can apparently be read at least 2 different ways, then spiralling in from the outside, with the conclusion being the right hand vertical line. In any language that’s a pretty accomplished literary feat. To do justice to it would require a Chinese speaker.

Qu Yuan’s temple has apparently been restored a few times in latter dynasties. It looked very nice and we took a few photos. The mozzies thought it was very nice, too. The walls of the buildings were hung and painted with many of Qu’s works. After the viewing of the temple, we took part in a Dragon Boat race: one paddle each, no dunking / splashing. ) That was very fun. I’m sure the traditional rowers didn’t wear orange vests. There was a second boat which we raced. I’m not sure which boat won in the end. )

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There was a performance of Minority singing, dancing and playing a reed instrument very similar to an oboe (not a sheng or sona). The whole thing was way too loud. I had my fingers in my ears for all of it. With the digit muting it was very nice to listen to. There was some admirable male singing. But why the Chinese must have all performances so very loud is beyond my comprehension. The costumes were beautiful.

Yangtze River - Guilin #3

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This morning marked the start of the 3 gorges, which was photographed copiously. If the Chinese ever need to recreate Wuzhong onwards, there will be plenty of information to call upon. We were photographed too, being the only foreigners on the boat. Another boat that took the tour at the same time as us (there were quite a few of them) was predominantly of foreigners.

Andrew said that he gets the impression that the Chinese people stop smiling as soon as their face turns away from you. This is unlike other cultures, where the connection that 2 strangers make when they talk to each other seems to last a short time after they part.

Whatever the Chinese do, they do in a rush and then move on to something else. This is so true. For the first section of the gorge, everyone was outside taking pictures but afterwards it was practically deserted for the rest of the trip. This suited us fine, and we enjoyed time together outside, passing through gorges from the back of the boat.

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Funny story: At the back of the boat there are 3 levels of balconies; all offset. One man above threw the tea leaves from his drinking canister into the river, but some dripped onto a lady below. She had tea and tea-leaves in her hair and on her clothes. She was not happy.

For lunch we patronised the restaurant again, and had chilli pork and bok choy with mushroom bits in it. I’ve taken a liking to the chilli dishes, which is pretty unusual for me. These tend to be a bit on the sweet side, but that could just be a foreigner-menu thing (ie an English menu).

Going, Going, Gone

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The theme song from the trip has been Gone, by Switchfoot. This is because we’ve seen many 175m signs, and buildings below them. The family in the above photo can hardly ignore the fate of their house.

After lunch we joined everyone else on the ship and went on a ‘Mini 3-Gorges tour. We saw the Mini 3-Gorges from a ’small boat’ (only 250 people), and the first leg of the trip took 1 1/2 hours. And what do the Chinese do when they’re bored? That’s right, they smoke. Then then they smoke some more. Some people very kindly went outside to smoke, but not everyone was that thoughtful. We couldn’t stay outside to avoid it; it started drizzling then raining for just about the whole day. We were exceptionally glad of our goretex and spray jackets, as Andrew would’ve become far wetter without his. Mine had a bit of a hood. Neither of us had brollies on us, though we brought them. We’ll keep them on us tomorrow, though. )

After the 1 1/2 hours we all disembarked and transferred to small traditional-type boats, with a guy in front wearing an appropriate hat and top. He sang a few call-and-response songs, which we joined. He then handed out keyrings (2 to us) to everyone, went up the front and sang a few more songs. Then he came up the boat and asked everyone for Y5 for the keyring. He had to be joking!! But no, he wasn’t. He most definitely wasn’t, so I handed back the keyrings with pleasure. I object to something seeming seeming like a freebee then not being one, most strongly. It’s not the first time it’s happened in this part of the country. It seems to be the local way of ripping people off. (

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Did I mention the cigarette smoke? It’s really quite disgusting, foul, putrid, revolting, and bad manners.

Incidentally I seem to be a little more at home with the social norms and customs than Andrew, ie, you do what you want and ignore everyone else. With the exception of the smoke.

Doorless loos/ squats are normal now. On the smaller boat there were 2 open squats with a small glass partition between them. It must have been for show because I couldn’t think of any practical purpose for it. While I was using one there were a pair of feet pointing at me, about 2 feet away, belonging to a waiting patron. I hadn’t realised how hard it is to do your business when someone is waiting for you to finish. ) I’d like to assume that she wasn’t looking at me. I certainly wasn’t looking at her.

In the afternoon a native Chongching girl sat next to us. I thought she was Japanese because she had white, clear skin. She turned the fish she was eating over, too, which meant at least she was not from the south of China. She systematically, carefully and methodically ate the fish, then wiped her hands with a wet-wipe. She then cleaned her camera thoroughly with a soft cloth. Andrew thought she was from Taiwan. Anyway, she was an English major at University, and was pleasant and enjoyable to talk to. While we spoke to her, 2 kids (originally seated behind us) kept on waving rattling percussion toys in her face. Persistently. Their Grandma didn’t do anything about it but looked on benevolently. We’re used to this type of behaviour in children, now. The girl was travelling independently in China (unusual for a girl), and was frustrated at the short annual leave her company had. She said that she’d rather work less and travel more, and have fewer comforts in life than the opposite (much work, many comforts, no travel), which characterises most Chinese. I thought that was a good way of describing the Chinese work-ethic. If you think about it, Australians really are a travelling bunch at heart, for the most of us.

Sunken City

We went to see a Sunken City; recreated, of course, above the waterline. I’m sure the original was replete with people trying to sell things of limited worth and value, as this one was. And no actual life going on. There wasn’t much to see. The architecture was nice though. The city wasn’t finished though and some areas were off-limits. Andrew thought it was: unfinished, unprofessional and a bit comical. Fair enough. It was also raining, which put a damper on things. We bought 2 small potatoes on a stick (Y1), and 2 pancakes with egg inside with chilli seasoning (Y2) each. They were just the thing on a cold, wet afternoon.

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Getting on and off the boat was an intensely pushy experience. No-one pushes like the Chinese (unless it’s the Indians, according to travellers who’ve been to India). It was an enjoyable day, but we were also glad when we returned to the main boat at about 7pm to get warm and dry. We were given a ticket each to some sort of evening performance, but at the end of a cold, wet day didn’t feel the need to redeem it. Six hours with other Chinese was enough today.

I think I might be fighting some bug at the moment. Either that, or it could just be the excessive smoky air we’ve been breathing for the last few days. I’ve very much valued our private room; somewhere we can relatively escape from other people smoking. I feel dizzy every so often because of it. I’m sure we can even distinguish between the brands of the evil sticks now.

Yangtze River - Guilin #1

Yangtze River Cruise 19/4/08

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We flew out of Shenzhen to Chongching without much drama at all. Though there’s a typhoon due to hit near Hong Kong sometime in the next 24 hours, the weather was only slightly turbulent. The food with China Air is very good.

Once off the plane, we got on the local equivalent of the A330 City-Airport bus (Y15pp) and went to the bus depot where we got a taxi. It was starting to rain, too. At the other end there was a slight drama. We had an address written down in Chinese characters for the driver, but had to get someone else to help us find the place. We were very grateful towards a map-seller for his kindness.

Arriving at the destination, we finally met Amy, with whom I’ve corresponded via a dozen emails. She was helpful and talked as fast in real life as she did on the phone.

Chongching is very hilly and there’s barely a lasting flat surface amongst it. It’s a bit like Hong Kong in that respect. It is also one of the 4 ‘furnace cities’ in China, but since March is just near the beginning of the hot season, the weather is not too oppressive yet.

While we were at the tourist office, there was a screeching of brakes outside, then a loud thump. A man had been hit by a car and come off his scooter. In a short time a lot of people gathered around, and there was no obvious blood or anything on the ground so the man was probably ok. On the other hand, he hadn’t moved the whole time, which suggests he was less than ok. When we saw the spot he fell a few hours later, there was only a little bit of car fluid left on the ground, and no marks of anyone.

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Andrew and I bought some noodles, fruit, tinned tuna and chips for our few days on the boat (who knows what the food would be like?), and then continued along the street to the cable car.

We’d been planning to have Sichuan hotpot in Chongqing. The hotpot place was pretty much deserted, since it was only 5pm, but we were hungry and they were not about to turn away hungry guests since the doors were open. ) We had a ‘half-half’ pot, which is benign on the outer and chilli in the middle. According to our faithful LP, the chillis they use for the hot pot here are ‘more lethal’ than the ones used in Chengdu. We were given a bowl of oil and vinegar and MSG salt in which to dip our chilified things. It was really necessary. The chilli effect on the tongue was cumulative and so tea needed some time taken over it, to both chilify and dechillifiy.

At tea I’d previously brought out my Mandarin phrasebook, becasue you never know when you’ll need it, and a bold waitress asked to have a look. She then spent the best part of the next hour writing down phrases that she needed for her work. )

There’s a cable car that crosses the river, which we had a look at and a ride on. Y3 return, just over the river and back again, which gave us a great view of the… er… yeah… hmmm. There were 2 cars running. Incidentally we’re around the middle of China, so the obvious staring at the foreigners has started again.

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When Andrew and I were crossing the road, he nearly walked into the path of an oncoming bus. He later said that the bus was going slowly and was turning uphill, but it still gave me a shock. In general, the traffic here is more crazy than down south. There are more near-misses around here than I’m used to.

We were taken for a bit of a ride on the boat. We’d originally booked a 2nd class room, which is 4 people per room. After being there for 2 minutes our guide told us that we must go to another room, which turned out to be a first class room. We settled down. Half an hour later he came to us demanding payment of an additional Y1000 because it was first class. By this time we were tired and un-packed and so, in time-honoured Chinese tradition, bargained a deal to stay. Over the next few days we really appreciated it as a respite from everyone else, many of whom were smoking heavily.

Departing Chongching at night was impressive (see lead photo) but we left on the boat too early in the evening to truly appreciate it’s night time splendour. Most of the buildings were still looming grey, just starting to take on their night-time illuminated hue.

Nikko, Japan

Nikko famous bridge

Whilst Andrew and Mark VDB went to work in Japan, having to look at really boring things like electronics and huge plasma or LCD TV screens or whatever they are and talk to engineers, I could escape and take a closer look at nature. Most specifically, I wanted to go and see Nikko, which is reputed to have amazing beauty, mountains and wild mushrooms; often at once. Unfortunately for Andrew our travelling schedule didn’t really accommodate travelling north of Tokyo, so it was a day-trip, just for one.

Nikko leaf Nikko hut Nikko walker

Without question Nikko was my favourite place in Japan. As a location it was most beautiful. There were mountains, streams of water, large rocks, more greenery than I’d seen in China and to top it all, amazingly fresh air. It was like being in Tasmania. There was also a distinct lack of people, which, after Tokyo, was to be revelled in.

Nikko monk statues

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Getting to Nikko was more time-consuming than not, but a good book enabled the (almost) 3 hours one-way trip to go past like a Shinkansen, and after 3 trains I was there. I’d intended to go to the botanic gardens, but though I got off at the right place, I think I walked the wrong way, but had a wonderful day anyway. On the other hand, the walk may be part of the Botanic Gardens.

Nikko Bridge Nikko stream Nikko family shrines

Since Nikko is best described by photos, I’ve included many. Apologies to those on dial-up.

Nikko Sunset

Fine dining

Xiao Wang’s

One of the finest restaurants we ate at in Beijing was Xiao Wang's family restaurant. It's located out in the eastern side of the CBD in the area that's being called the new CBD. After walking quite a way from the hotel past the restaurant we managed to figure out from a local that it was back the way we came and on the right hand side. Sure enough, after a bit of hunting around we found it, lurking down a side street.

 Sitting down to dinner Xiao Wang’s Sign

Many restaurants in Beijing sell a style of Peking Duck so we tried that here. Rich and tasty, yum yum! They also had these deep fried spare ribs with pepper salt that were simply delectable. We tried a whole pile of other things, including dishes catering for our vegetarian Indian colleague. I can't remember them all, I just remember it being thoroughly scrumptious! Highly recommended for anyone contemplating a trip to Beijing. 

Construction Zone

There was plenty of construction and demolition going on whilst we were in Beijing. In all kinds of places things were going up and down, to get things ship-shape for the Olympics, no doubt.

CCTV tower

One of the most unusual constructions is the new headquarters for CCTV, the largest TV network in China. It will be formed by joining two towers at the top but with two sections that meet at right angles rather than a basic straight bridge. This essentially means that a large portion of the building's mass is not directly over the foundations of the towers. Here's it's current progress. Follow the link to see what it'll look like once completed. I'm sure it was a nightmare getting the design right.

Demolition 1 Demolition 2 Construction

China construction zones can be so crazy. Often there's power lines, piles of rubble and all kinds of danger going on. This truck loaded with concrete reinforcing rods from a demolition just next to a power transformer was a classic example. 

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