A Travellerspoint blog


China at Play

semi-overcast 14 °C

We’ve been in China a few weeks now and one thing is clear – the Chinese are not easing ahead of the West; they are racing ahead. They are not rebuilding their country; they are building a new world – a glittering world of glass spires and mega-cities. Yet, for many who’ve joined the rat race, it may appear that the yoke of communism has merely been supplanted by the shackles of consumerism, and it is easy to believe that in their quest for the Western good life they no longer have time to stop and smell the orange blossoms. However, if that were true we wouldn’t have had to fight our way through huge throngs of locals with the time to sample the tourist sights of their country. Despite the fact that it is mid-November, the hotels, restaurants, trains and planes have been packed with Chinese tourists intent on enjoying themselves. So, after battling the crowded hotspots of Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai and Suzhou, we visited the city of Hangzhou – a supposedly peaceful oasis of just 7 million people – in search of a little tranquility.
Here at the city’s picturesque lakefront we found the quiet side of China where tourists and locals meet for moments of Zen, and we were moved to a little poetry.

As the dawn lifts the shutters of night a pagoda emerges slowly through the mist…
The fisherman’s boat waits patiently for her master amidst the lotus fronds…
A calligrapher pens his promenade poems with water so the warming sun can send them skywards to his ancestors...
An old Diabolo player displays a long forgotten art with a teenage agility…
An erhu fiddler sweetens the morning air with just two strings…
…while sword dancers chase away the spirits of the night…
…and fan dancers waft in sweet air from the misty mountains…
The noonday sun brings out the crowds, but as dusk falls the singers croon praises to the rising moon…
…and the twilight brings out the dancers for whom life in Hangzhou is just a waltz in the park…
But enough of all this peace and tranquility, we still have a long way to go in our quest for the real China. Next stop Xiamen – a reportedly quaint seaside resort just eight hundred kilometres south; a short hop on a fast train.(if we can get tickets).

Posted by Hawkson 19:18 Archived in China Comments (3)

Back to the Future - Part 2

sunny 13 °C

Moviegoers will recall that Marty McFly time travelled in a DeLorean sports car at precisely eighty eight miles per hour in Back to the Future but we did better than that earlier in the week when we zoomed back in time at three hundred kilometres an hour on this bullet train from Shanghai to the ancient garden city of Suzhou...
We sprinted the 100 kilometres in just 23 minutes and were surprised to see that there wasn't enough room to slip a sheet of rice paper between the two cities as we sped from one to the other. Shanghai's twenty million inhabitants have spilled over the surrounding countryside and collided with Suzhou's six million souls in a continuous sea of suburban sprawl. There are more people living in this mega-urban area than in the whole of Canada, however, at the core of Suzhou's factories and conglomerations of highrises, the old city centre is still an oasis of gardens and charming canalside houses. It's not Venice - not even close - but it does have some pleasant features...
This is the 16th century garden of the Humble Administrator and, despite the crush of tourists, we managed to get a few shots of its more tranquil corners...

Water is a major element of the Yangtze River delta and, in the past, a network of canals were the highways of this region. Suzhou's canals are no longer used for commercial transport, although the garbage is still collected by boat...
The peaceful canals are now the preserve of tourist boats...
Suzhou has far more tourists than is good for it and, even though we visited on one of its quietest days, we constantly found ourselves in the spotlight. Wherever we go we are politely asked if we would mind being photographed with mum, dad or the kids. There are few foreigners here at present and we obviously stick out - especially James who, to the average Chinaman, is a grey-bearded monster. One young lady delighted in getting this photo of the monster with her father and grandfather...
Our last stop in Shanghai took us to the top of one of the world's tallest buildings. This is the Shanghai World Financial Centre which rises nearly half a kilometre above the city...
And here's the view from the observation deck a hundred floors up...
Now we are heading south again at 300 kph to Hangzhou - another 'quiet little' place of just seven million people.
Here's some food for thought - The U.S. is considering building its first high speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco, (and possibly even as far as Seattle), by 2018. While China will have sixteen thousand kilometres of high speed train lines by 2014!

Posted by Hawkson 05:51 Archived in China Comments (1)

Back to the Future - Part 1

sunny 18 °C

Close your eyes and imagine the future, when skyscrapers will soar effortlessly into the sky; when swift modern subways will whisk you smoothly between ultra-modern shopping malls; when sleek trains will fly you from the city to the futuristic airport at more than 400 kilometres an hour; when super capacitor electric buses will slip silently and cleanly along elevated flyovers and through streets teeming with electric motorbikes – now come to Shanghai and open your eyes to the future…
None of these sky-high towers existed 25 years ago…
Twelve lane highways like this keep the traffic flowing through the heart of the city…
While the squeaky clean spacious airport in Shanghai is a picture of functional perfection…
And this is the train that flew us the 40 kilometres to the airport in just 8 minutes...
Yes, dear blog reader, this MagLev train actually flies above the track on a cushion of magnetism and can zoom along at an astounding 450 kilometres an hour. However, since a high speed train crash in China earlier this year all trains are temporarily restricted to a measly 300 kms an hour. We crawled along at just 301!

The future is already here in this part of China and on the surface the Chinese are light years ahead of us. Canada seems quaint and old-fashioned – even archaic - in comparison. But whenever we find ourselves marveling at the futuristic architecture and technology here we only need to walk around the corner to get slammed back into the past. Beneath the gleaming glass towers the narrow backstreets are cluttered with the everyday stuff of life overflowing from the tiny shops and cramped one-room apartments…
When the laundry gets too much for the family’s line there is always the public park…
For many life here is lived on the streets, and the city’s open spaces are full of people playing mah-jongg and practicing tai-chi, while street vendors and delivery men struggle with inhuman loads on clapped out bikes…
We still have a lot to explore in Shanghai but in the meantime here's the answers to the Beijing quiz. The signs are:- No vendors allowed: Slow Down: Falling hazard, and postcards are on their way to the winners. However, the puzzlers continue – our hotel swimming pool has an expensively engraved plaque warning that sufferers of “Venereal disease, acute sand holes and intestinal infections such as mental disorders” are not allowed.

Posted by Hawkson 05:40 Archived in China Comments (4)

Lost in Translation

sunny 15 °C
View Through Siberia to China and Beyond on Hawkson's travel map.

We are dining out in Shanghai tonight at a restaurant that relied on Google to translate the menu, but we are a bit stumped with some of the dishes and would value your help before we order. For instance: What about this?
And what about the following:

Or any of the following delicious sounding morsels:-
Brown sweet old duck soup pointed flat
Shrimp seed and the big
Brine door cavity

And here's some more...

And there are also its cousins:-
Sweet halogen bad duck tongue
Fragrance crab clamp
JinNiang bad yellow corvinci
Five fang lent the drunken chicken
Three wire spring rolls

We couldn't make this out at all...

Or these:-
Sweet canceled the black bears shrimp goo
Bacon evaporate hairy crabs

And what on earth is...

Dry heating daming shrimp
Born fried irrigation with described it
Three fresh stewed leg muscles
Bad fish slipped
Hot boil in water for a while cows shutter
Palace with blasting

It looks like we will have to stick with the - Food bravery riches and honour bag with fried rice again!

P.S. Joking aside - we found all the above, and more, on one menu. Luckily for us there were pictures.

Posted by Hawkson 05:32 Archived in China Tagged food Comments (5)

Chinese Take-Out?

rain 18 °C

Lovers of Chinese food will just love the food in China, and everyday can be a culinary adventure, especially when the menu offers such intriguing items as…
Most restaurants have no English menu and there are few waiters who can say more than “Hello”, but fortunately Sheila has a good smattering of Mandarin and we have easily managed to get what we want.
It is no exaggeration to say that we could eat very well in China on $10 Cdn.(£6.50) each a day, although there is a considerable price difference between establishments primarily catering to the locals and those attracting finicky foreign tourists. We are not finicky and we enjoy the experience of eating like the locals so, for example, for $5 each we had: spicy lamb kebabs, noodles with peanut sauce, some strange (but nice) vegetables, exquisite custard tarts, and both beer and endless lemon/ginger/honey tea.
Eating on the street can be a whole lot cheaper, but much more exciting, although we can’t help wondering if some of the foods are just intended to freak out foreign tourists. These are live scorpions waiting to be toasted…
Snakes, snails and spread-eagled frogs are common…
As are locusts, centipedes and starfish…
Though we wonder who would really want to eat tiny week-old barbecued ducks…
Peking Duck is a must for any visitor to Beijing and for just $15 a head we had a whole Peking Duck dinner, complete with wafer-thin pancakes, in an upscale Beijing restaurant…
The supermarkets offer a Pandora’s Box of both unrecognizable and everyday products, including many straight off the shelf in Safeway or Waitrose, and prices are about 30% of what we pay at home. We are used to seeing tanks of live lobsters and crabs in Canada, but the Chinese love to make eye contact with most of their food before they eat it so it is common to find numerous kinds of live fish, crayfish, terrapins, turtles and frogs.
The range and quality of food on offer in both restaurants and stores is impressive and we have been struck by the cleanliness. Even most street vendors wear plastic gloves, hair nets or hats, and some even wear facemasks…
Good food is everywhere here, but this ad-hoc cabbage market in Beijing took Sheila back to the 1980s when everyone stocked up on cabbages to get them through the lean winter months…
Cabbages are still popular, and incredibly cheap, but most Chinese have everything they want today – including some of the biggest radishes in the world…
We are now in Shanghai collecting recipes for our next Chinese New Year dinner, but James is worried that he won't be able to get live scorpions or snakes at home.

Posted by Hawkson 17:57 Archived in China Tagged food Comments (5)

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