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Archive for May, 2008

Yangtze River - Guilin #3

China rivers holiday 12

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 #2

China rivers holiday 4

Ghost City

The boat berthed in the night, and at 6am we accompanied other people who were likewise visiting the Ghost City. People without number were having an early morning nicotine fix of a Cancer Stick or 4. I’m all for natural selection, but not when it’s forced on someone else. The copious and constant clouds of smoke that added to the pollution were the hardest thing for me to handle. - Anyway, we went up some stone steps to the Ghost City. Our tour guide didn’t speak any English, so there was a fair bit of guessing of instructions and options. The Lonely Planet was only of limited value here.

Once in the complex, all the place-names were ‘Hell Bridge’ and ‘Damned Soul’s Valley’ etc. The city felt spiritually oppressive, too. We pr’d before we went, but it was still an unpleasant place to be in. Some of the architecture was quite nice, though. At the centre of the grounds is a building called ‘Ghost City’, which is mainly an amusement arcade. You walk through halls and various tight alleys that depict people being tortured in different ways. And what theme park would be complete without gruesome sound effects? It was usually a demon doing the torturing but there was always some watching, as Andrew pointed out. The evil males looked hideous, but the evil females always looked beautiful. What’s up with that? I soon had had enough, but the only way out was to keep going so that’s what we did. At one stage there was a ride, which we discovered shortly thereafter was a complete waste of both Y5 and 40 seconds.

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The other side of the complex housed a lovely chairlift and beautiful blue whitewashing on some old walls, which were much more enjoyable and interesting. Not losing the group was a focal point of the exercise and we succeeded with one exception.

At 9:30am we were back on the boat, at 10:00 having Second Breakfast (noodles) and at 10:30am I was snoozing pleasantly. For lunch we had more noodles and some tuna, which noodled me out for the next while. Noodles aren’t my favourite food at the best of times. They’re at the bottom of carbohydrate choice.

Black Dragon Waterfall

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In the afternoon we all assembled and went on buses to a Black Dragon Waterfall, somewhere inland from Wuling Pier. The bus ride took over an hour, and the ride back 50 mins. We were at the waterfall around 45 mins. The bus ride was very bumpy and hard on the tyres. It was not hard on the back because this time I made sure I sat properly. )

On the way, there was a loud band and the bus stopped suddenly. Someone inspected things and then we were continuing along our road, very slowly, and with great care not to blow the remaining wheel on that side (back, left). Some people quite upset at the apparent danger. It was fortunate the bus had rear tandem wheels, and it would’ve been a different matter had it been a front tyre. Andrew took a photo of the rent tyre.

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The waterfall fell in front of a cave and was beautiful and Ithillien-esque. We took some photos. It was unfortunate that there was a Buddha statue behind the cave; it seems as though people put them around every place where we thank G for His creation.

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On the road back to Wuzhou the ’survival of the biggest’ on the road was certainly in place. The bus went along country roads on whichever side of the road it wanted to, and signalled this by, when there was an upcoming blind corner, by beeping its horn a few times. At one point, Andrew was about to say something, when I exclaimed as I saw this: a car trying to overtake our bus and nearly getting cleaned up good and proper. At the last hemidemisemi-second the car dropped back, and in the next breath Andrew calmly continued from where he left of with what he started to say (something about the only building material used being concrete). We’d just seen a near-fatal accident, and all he does is pause while I panic, then continue as if nothing ever happened! I realised again that we were most certainly in China.

We decided to chance the on-board restaurant, and were pleasantly surprised by sweet and sour pork (very vinegary) and egg & tomato fry-up (with rice each). It was very nice and I’m currently refusing all attempts at noodles.

Yangtze River - Guilin #1

Yangtze River Cruise 19/4/08

China rivers holiday 2

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.

Getting excited!

You know you’re getting excited about returning to Australia when…

  • You take over cooking duties at a BBQ (admittedly on a 21st floor balcony)
  • You are not alarmed by the falling sky - it always seems to bounce back into place
  • You take an interest in Australian news stories
  • You’re interested in what changes have been made in the latest budget
  • You start saying “Please talk to X, they’re responsible for that now.” rather than dealing with problems yourself
  • You look forward to no longer starting emails with “there seems to be some miscommunication here”
  • Your concentration levels at work vary more frequently than a diabetics blood sugar level
  • You start making last visits to places and restaurants you like
  • You start working out what to buy before you go
  • You know the RMB : AU$ exchange rate to 5 decimal places (6.69287:1 today)
  • You start to not replace things at home when they run out
  • You start giving away or throwing out things that aren’t taking the long journey home
  • You write the remaining weeks on tiles in the kitchen with a whiteboard marker, one tile per week
  • You reminisce about the delightful summer rains, where you don’t mind getting wet
  • You hope for just one more blinding thunderstorm
  • You imagine the bliss of sleeping in a bedroom that is both dark and quiet
  • You look at your ailing dilapidated Metro card and think ‘She’ll be right’
  • You realise that, when talking with Australians, your accent has changed slightly
  • You start mentally planning what to take on the plane - more than a month in advance
  • You start researching on-line replacement items for things you sold before leaving Australia
  • You start bracing for how expensive everything is going to be
  • You make a mental decision to ‘From brain Chinglish put out’
  • Your wife uses the word ‘Bonza’ in an email

3 Days of National Mourning

China blocked TV


Yesterday, today and tomorrow are 3 national days of mourning. It’s all a little bit weird. We’ve never really experienced national days of mourning before that I can recall. All the ‘entertainment’ channels on the TV (Discovery, National Geographic + movie channels) have been blocked as part of the Mourning Days.

Yesterday at 2:28pm there was 2 mins silence in the office buildings. At Andrew’s work everyone stood in silence, and outside the apartment all the cars stopped where they were and tooted their horns for that time. I hadn’t received the memo about it all, so looked out the window at the noise to see the traffic on Shennan Dong Road completely unmoving. I thought it might have been caused by an accident, but all cars had stopped. It was like seeing a moment in time captured in front of your eyes.

The above photo is of the TV screen on a blocked channel. I’ve written it out below:

Dear subscribers, According to an announcement of the State Council of People’s Republic of China, May 19 to May 21, 2008 are national mourning days. In order to express our heartfelt condolences for the victims of the disastrous earthquake in Wenchuan, Sichuan Province, we will suspend the relay of overseas channels with limited landing rights that contain entertainment programmes during the above period. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation. 2008 /5/ 19


Don’t ask, just do

Political Sign Shenzhen

When was the last time you saw a political slogan splashed across a billboard? Just another component of the intriguing Chinese psyche.

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