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Archive for April, 2008

After an early start we said goodbye to Dave and De, and took the Maglev out to airport. For Andrew the novelty still hadn’t worn off, and it was a great experience. Especially when it went around the corners; it tipped slightly to the side each time. We were both quite tired, as you are at the end of a big holiday of being out and about, but really glad to have experienced it. Especially with Dave and De. If you’re going to be spending 3 weeks with a couple, you can’t do much better. ) We all really enjoyed the time together, seeing what the big world of China has to offer.

Home again 1

One last note on the coming home front. We flew home then dumped all the washing in the middle of the floor, separate from the normal washing. Everything smelled like coal dust, sulphur, and dirt. Most of the clothes needed two goes through the washing machine to get all the grit out, and quite a few things needed to be hand-washed. If you have any foreign friends, then introducing them to the wonders of Eucalyptus oil is a worthy thing to do. )


Shangai rainy day

The day and a half that we spent in Shanghai was less than exciting, unfortunately. We were all looking forward to doing something in the warmer weather (5*C), but the weather, though warmer, was uninviting. It drizzled all day. All Day. We had moved from our serious cold-weather gear to mild cold-weather and rain-proof gear. Hoping for it to stop was quite in vain.

Shanghai fun is extra

Unfortunately the things we wanted to do were just about all outside, with the exception of going to the top of the Jinmao Tower, and that would’ve been pointless because it was all clouded in. So we viewed The Bund (the river) then went under it in the ‘History of the Earth’ tunnel, which provided much amusement for Dave and De. It was the same, very corny 3 minutes of ‘the history of rivers including a section on the afterlife’, complete with flashing lights and music.

We then went to the base of the Pearl Tower (the one with the ball on it that you can see from The Bund), and bought some supplies for the last day or so (De and Dave were also heading on a warmer weather stop before they went back to Australia).

Shanghai maglev

One thing we could do, regardless of the weather, was go for a ride on the Maglev train to the airport and back. It has a top speed of 430kph and the 30km journey is all over in 7 minutes. Low flying, very cool.

Shanghai museum guards

A trip to the Shanghai Museum looked the most appealing out of everything, and we made our way towards it. Alas, we were denied entry by the teeming hordes (well, quite a few of them anyway) of Public Bureau of Security guards. They were standing out the front of the museum, in clusters around the museum grounds, there were at least 20 in every single subway exit (eg Exit C1, C2, C3), in minivans next to the museum and they were only the ones in uniform.

Shanghai museum

Being curious and somewhat nosy, I donned my best ‘Hi, I’m a foreigner be nice to me’ smile, and approached some people who were talking to one of the guards. A few of them looked likely candidates for English, being University age, so I politely asked why we couldn’t go in. They said it was ‘Closed because of accidents’. From the context it wasn’t clear whether it was closed because there were going to be accidents, or there had been accidents. They didn’t say any more, so I thanked them and went back to the others.

Shanghai museum Andrew

Andrew took some surreptitious photos. There was nothing reported in any newspaper over the next few days. I wasn’t really expecting anything, but you never know. It did provide a good topic of conversation for the rainy afternoon. Maybe someone had been Shanghaied (please all insert a roll of the eyebrows over a bad pun ) ).

Suitably amused we jammed into a tiny corner in a Starbucks for a thaw and a drink. We were all feeling suitably tired from 3 weeks of travelling so we had a quiet night. The two of us went to a local noodle chilli shop for tea, just around the corner from our hotel, before catching an Australian Open final and retiring early for lots of Z’s.

Teapot museum

We took the overnight train from Beijing to Wuxi. We’re getting quite used to these; they’re not bad at all! I think they’ve got their newest trains running on this popular route. At Wuxi we had a dumpling and noodle breakfast, parked our gear at the train station, caught a bus to DingShan then another minibus to YiXing. It was all a bit weird. We only had a day to spend around here (evening 2 hour train to Shanghai), and since De and I especially wanted to see the teapot museum, that’s where we went.

YiXing teapot museum

The information in the Lonely Planet inferred that the Teapot Museum and markets were easy to see, but not obvious, because we went past them on the minibus, so had to walk back for a few minutes. The markets they were referring to are probably open on the weekend. We did find some small shops that were market-ish, where Andrew assisted in the bargaining process (not a friendly experience if you’re not used to it), and we all went home satisfactorily.

YiXing teapot giant ceramic

Tea and teapots are one of the most enjoyable things of China, for me, so I wasn’t sorry to spend such a day. I was only sorry that we couldn’t take them all home.

YiXing teapot ice

One of the merits of Dingshan is that its Chinese characters are easy to remember. Even so, after Yixing we had a few hours to kill there, before the bus back to Wuxi. We were quite cold (again) and went in search of a coffee shop. Or a tea shop. Or any shop that sold hot drinks where we could sit down. Coming back on the bus, we saw 2 coffee shops, so walked in the direction of one of them. At the door we then went up quite a few stairs. At the top of the stairs was an opulent meal-room for a restaurant.

DingShan sundae

The coffees were the most expensive things we bought all trip, as far as food goes, but most appreciated when all you want to do is sit down with a warm drink. ) In defiance of the weather, the room was heated enough that I was quite comfortable and no longer required a hot drink to warm up with. So I got something that escaped from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

We rounded out the day with a 200kph 1 hour train ride into Shanghai. We had the location of the hotel in Shanghai on the map but the taxi driver conveniently drove past it (on an adjacent street) and refused to go back, insisting that he had to keep driving. In the end we demanded that he stop where he was, we got out and walked back to our hotel for a well-earned kip.

Summer Palace

Beijing summer 5

Yesterday the worst of the cold broke and I was quickly and steadily getting better. Today when I went outside, the thing I’d been waiting for for a long time was finally here. It was snowing!! It snowed very lightly at first then got heavier and heavier as the morning progressed. We were quite used to the cold by now (as used to it as we were going to get), and it wasn’t as gut-wrenchingly cold as previous days.

The snow gradually covered the greyness with whitishness and then white, as we made our way to the Summer Palace. In winter. Oh, the irony. At least it wasn’t ‘Oh, the crowds’ like it would’ve been in the summer. There were some stone steps that were more slippery than… something very slippery?

Beijing summer 2 Beijing summer 3 Beijing summer 6

The joy of the snow gave everyone extra energy, I think. Snow crystals really do have six pointy bits to them, and many of them are different to each other in structure. It was funny to see the snow indiscriminately covering the statues and everything that had been restored and painted. The photos of the snow are quite beautiful.

Beijing summer 1

We walked across the frozen Lake, which was forbidden but we didn’t realise this until we climbed up over the fence on the other side, where the sign indicating this was located. There were some huge cracks in the ice of the lake, but they didn’t go all the way through the very thick surface.

Beijing summer 7 Beijing summer 12 Beijing summer 11

There was a monastery up the top of the Summer Palace (lead photo), because a luxury residence is always so incomplete without one ) , and this was my favourite viewing platform of the whole Palace. It was high enough to look back over the Palace. Despite everything man-made, which was lovely to look at, you couldn’t get over the fact that a far greater Maker was covering it with snow more beautiful than anything a hand could possibly make.

It was around here, or a few days beforehand that De and Dave discovered the wonder of hand driers for instant warmth of hands and gloves. )

Beijing summer 8 Beijing summer 9 Beijing summer 10

Contrary to Dave’s belief, Mr Newman does not smell like cat food. We deleted this scene of snow-graffiti from the bin before departing, lest the sensibilities of bin-cover enthusiasts be offended.

Beijing summer 13 Beijing summer 14 Beijing summer 15

We exited the Summer Palace and took a taxi back into the centre of Beijing. The taxi driver was really keen to talk to Andrew using a bit of Mandarin, which was fun for a while.  On the way we became stuck in a traffic jam which was fine… except for De’s pressing need for some feminine facilities. Our driver successfully got out of the jam and found a public loo and potential disaster was averted.

In the centre of Beijing we feasted on the world-renowned Peking Duck at a flash restaurant in the centre of the city, which was most tasty.  After tea we tried to get a taxi back to our hostel but this was futile, except for one dodgy looking guy who tried to rip us off. In the end we hot-footed it the whole way back to our hostel, desperately short on time. We caught a bus to the train station, raced all over the train station frantically searching for our elusive train and finally flopped down in the nicest soft sleeper car we had the whole trip. Look-sury!

Beijing museum wall

The next day I slept the whole day. Andrew went to some guard tower and took photos of that. De and Dave went to the Great Wall. They went to an un-restored section and had a fantastic time.

Beijing museum

Andrew went exploring by himself and took a few photos. He discovered a Ming Dynasty Wall relic. This turned out to be one of the corner guard towers of the traditional city wall. The tower had been restored and a short length of the wall. After that, the wall had been left in it’s un-restored state.

Beijing museum “vandalism”

There were a few funny sights to be seen still. The text near the wall reads “In 1900 the Allied forces of the Eight Powers invaded Beijing. The Qing troops and Boxing Movement soldiers fought with them. On August 14 the tower was taken over. This is the criminal evidence left by the American and Russian invaders.” Next to it were a few scorings of names and dates in the stone. Obviously criminal evidence.

Beijing forbidden activities

Quite a lot seems to be forbidden in this part of the woods…

Beijing museum canon

Some canons have been left over from the days when the wall was in use.

Beijing museum clothing

Uncovered clothing items in the museum.

Beijing hotel facade

A crazy hotel façade on the way back to the hostel.

Bell Tower and Drum Tower

We went to the drum and Bell towers. They were tall and overlooked a fair portion of the city. Also, with the decrease of pollution for the Olympics, we could see a respectable distance. At the Bell tower, there was a story of a girl. See here for full details. In brief, the bell casting was failing because the Ancestors were unhappy. The Emperor was getting jumpy and they were on their last try before all metal-worker were to be artificially shortened. The bell-castor’s daughter realised this, and saw that the time and weather conditions meant that the Ancestors were grumpy. So to appease them she jumped into the vat. The sacrifice apparently did the job because the bell was cast, the Emperor kept his head and everyone else was allowed to keep theirs, too. There are slightly different versions, of course, but this is the version written beside the bell.

Beijing Bell 1 Beijing Bell 2 Beijing Bell 4

The Legend of Kung Fu

Beijing Kungfu 1

In the evening we went to see The Legend of Kung Fu. or The Shaolin Warriors. We had heard that it was very worthwhile viewing. It was a little different to the Acrobats of a previous night, in that there were many more people there, and it was held in a cinema. There were lots of school kids on excursion.

Beijing Kungfu 2 Beijing Kungfu 3 Beijing Kungfu 4

(The following is only my understanding of the plot, so please don’t take it as Law.) The performance traced the story of one particular young monk, who was enrolled at the Monastery. He tried his best but couldn’t seem to grasp the spirit of Kung Fu. He got into trouble with the Master monks. He fell in love and when this was discovered was thrown out of the monastery. He lost his way for a while and drank. He had basic martial arts knowledge by that time. He snuck in and read the Secret Readings, that most monks weren’t allowed to see. He put away the bottle and the woman. He looked at animals for inspiration and sought to find where their ‘raw energy’ came from and how he could get it for himself . He found it through meditation. He developed his own style of Kung Fu and beat the Masters, so becoming a Master himself.

The visual display was less impressive than the Beijing Acrobatics display, although I wouldn’t go to the stake over this. If I were interested in martial arts like so many young Chinese children, then it would’ve been even more impressive. But we had a good time, and it was very entertaining. If anything, I would’ve chosen to have a little more outright displays of Kung Fu (there was a big section where the monk and woman were flying through the air on wires that was a little too protracted, in my opinion). A very enjoyable evening was had by all, though.

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