A Travellerspoint blog

Beijing - Round 1

Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

semi-overcast 35 °C
View 2010 Jul - Made in China on sue_v's travel map.

Arrived in Beijing to more heat, humidity and smog, got ripped-off by taxi who dropped me off in the middle of the city - and there I was lost, hot and bothered. Not a good introduction to the Capital. Fortunately things improved that evening when I met up with the rest of the group that I would be touring with. It was good to share experiences that were so foreign to all of us.

Beijing - Great Wall

Beijing - Great Wall

Random journal entries:

18 July 10
‘Train pulls into the station at 7h15 instead of 11h30 – I only realise that I should get off when everyone leaves my cabin. I have slept the whole way! I have also developed a cold with a blocked nose and must have snored during the evening too – poor cabinmates!’

‘Once again there is no guide at train station. I text Sunny and get the Pinyin address for the hostel. Two shopkeepers at the bookstore assist me with the translation for the taxi driver. The taxi driver forces me to phone the hostel twice, he then drive me to the wrong set of traffic lights forcing me to get out of his taxi and almost riding off with my luggage in the boot, and with no indication of which direction to walk. I walk around trying to find street names and find myself lost in China – with my luggage. Moedeloos I sit and recoup at a Chinese pavilion and look aimlessly at the road map that has no road names for the smaller roads – useless. After a few minutes pass by I see two freshly showered backpackers walking past on the other side of the road and realise they must have just come from their hostel! I jump-up and walk in that direction to find the street I’m looking a mere 20m from where I was sitting!’

‘Not feeling well and fall asleep quickly in the hostel room with the AC on.’

’Walking down the road I find a quiet alley and escape the crowds. Quickly my mind wanders and it’s so nice to see the ‘real’ roads of the hutong away from the tourist zones and really understand the state of the city. I remember I still need tissues for TP. I step into the first shop with plastic covers over the door - signalling AC in my mind – and ask the shop assistant for tissues. He looks at me questioningly and enacts a sneeze thinking he doesn’t understand. I start looking around thinking I’ll find it myself and I notice shocked that there are dildos and sex toys – I have just walked in a sex shop! Laughing – I step outside hoping no-one has seen me! More observant I walk down the road further and see loads of doors with plastic covers and looking through them I can clearly see the cheap sex toys – hehe!’

‘Beijing is colourless: a grey skyline, with grey buildings and grey roads. Every now and then there is a building with a splash of colour, an attempt to give the place some funk. As I walk around, I am quite disappointed and feel like I have seen better representation of China in Shanghai, Suzhou and Nanjing. Hopefully it will get better the further I explore. Grey China Blues….’

‘My walk takes me past Zara and I go inside to cool down in the AC. There is a 50% sale and some people go crazy, frantically grabbing clothes – I get caught up too! Makes me feel so much better! Credit card is swiped and as I walk out with my new dress and sunglasses the guilty conscience kicks in…’

‘I meet the other people on the tour: James, Hannah and Rob. They’ve travelled together from Shanghai to Beijing and a followed a more intense version of my tour. We all go to dinner with Illian the tour guide. Just to explain a basic dinner in China: Cold dishes – slimy fungi (mushroom); thinly sliced cucumber, tofu and slimy noodles; celery & water lilies (bitter taster); Warm dishes – roasted tofu; little meatball-type in a sweet sauce…and rice. We order lamb kebabs from the street vendor braai-ing next to our table. Y1 each, not bad!’

19 July 10
‘Wake-up and for got my normal breakfast run: walk and buy ‘yogi-sip’ and a peach from a vendor. ‘

‘The hostel is on a pedestrian road which is nice because it’s less noisy and you can walk around without being too concerned about the scooters and cars. There are still bikes though… Foreigners flock to the hostel’s restaurant which serves western food, hot chocolate and beer tubes.’

‘We set off for the Great Wall and the clouds are low – everything is still grey. (The weather report says it is 87% humidity level!) The driving is shocking!! I put on my ipod and close my eyes instead of stressing!’

‘I climb the mountain and imagine the epic views of the orchids which we passed en route, but unfortunately visibility is too poor… It is very misty and the clouds are low on the mountain and on over the Wall. The humidity and the steep gradient makes me sopping wet from sweating! I get to the top of the mountain stairs and step onto the Great Wall of China! I understand the metaphor of the dragon’s back as the wall spirals over the mountain, up and down, and up and down. I walk and climb the uneven stairs – marvelling at the ancient bricks, thinking about the peasant who built it, the rich emperor who demanded it and the soldiers who patrolled it. A crazy feat, accomplished so long ago!’

Beijing - Great Wall

Beijing - Great Wall

‘Sweating, I reach the end of the Wall where there is a barricade that displays a sign – no further because it is Wild Wall. The others are there and we sit down and enjoy our Subway sandwich and cooldrinks. The view is incredible with Wall and its towers peaking through the mist – what a site! I will always think of the Great Wall when eating a Subway sandwich from now on!’

Beijing - Great Wall & Group

Beijing - Great Wall & Group

‘An unnatural cold wind blows through the gaps in the Wall and I stand facing it head-on. It is so refreshing and cools me down. I can see the rainfall line as it approaches. The downpour is anticipated. The six of us find shelter in one of the Towers and watch the rain. Stuck in the rain on the Great Wall – how lovely!’

‘Stop at a traditional Eastern Medicine institute and a lady professor inspects us. I estimate her age at fifty. She checks our pulse, looks at our nailbeds and complexions and inspects our tongues. She notes that my liver is not healthy and informs me this can cause anxiety and depression. She quotes a prescription of medicine, but it’s over $60 and I turn it down. I have taken noted and I will look into it when I get back home.’

‘We go to the restaurant next door to the hostel for dinner and Illian orders us Peking Duck and a few other dishes before leaving us (he is vegetarian). Three porcelain dishes in the shape of a duck arrive at our table – one with skin, one with skin and meat and one with only meat. Additionally we get pancakes, cucumber, spring onions and bean sauce to make a little mini duck pancake wrap. The bones of the ducks are used as stock to make duck soup that arrives five minutes later – divine!’

‘Hannah suggests we go to the Lake Area they cycled past the day before, and after a quick shower, we head out in two taxis. Hundreds of brightly lit bars surround the Lake in a Randburg Waterfront style. In every single bar a Chinese band sings and jams with a confidence that is really not their normal characteristic. It is fun to see this side of a normally quite reserved nation. Different singing styles emerge with some preferring rock or folk or rap or jazz or their own terrible variation. We enjoy an over-priced beer and then head to the hostel for a cheaper drink there. Buggered after a long day out! ‘

20 July 10
‘Tiananmen Square is large and hostile. The sun beats down on us as we march forth towards Chairman Mao’s large portrait. The square is very busy: tourists queuing, people flying kites and kids playing games. The majority are oblivious of the July 1989 massacre where an estimated 3000 Chinese students were shot dead by their own military after martial law had been declared. Tina explains that the event is not talked about and propaganda material used to portray a better picture to the public.’

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Beijing - Chairman Mao

Beijing - Chairman Mao

‘The Forbidden City is colossal! I have started using my expired student card and am saving a few Yuan at the museums. We buy an audio-guide which provides additional information to what is displayed on the plaques. The crowds are maddening. They shove for pictures of the emperor’s chair, to gain extra shade or to get a good position to stare at us foreigners. The documentary I watched before I came on Discovery Channel helps me a lot to understand the layout and history of the place and I am glad I had watched it. I get a photograph of the “cricket-cage” wall towers.’

‘The imperial garden is a bit down-trodden and unkept. There is however magnificent pagodas and pavilions, stunning old cypress and pine trees and spectacular rock formations on display. I snap away happily. The place resembles a Disneyland of cultural relics.’

‘Tina takes us to a local noodle restaurant for lunch. This place would be shut-down immediately by any western health inspector. The kitchen is at the doorway – a few large stainless steel pots and a large cauldron of noodles. The dining area consists of greasy plastic tables, with manky plastic table cloths and mismatched plastic chairs. All the tables are occupied by locals and it’s obvious that it is a popular spot for lunch. The noodles are DIVINE with spicy meat and soup and a bunch of coriander herbs on the top – very interesting mixture of flavours.’

Posted by sue_v 08:18 Archived in China Comments (0)

Nanjing Bleeding

Sunny guiding me through rainy Nanjing

semi-overcast 32 °C
View 2010 Jul - Made in China on sue_v's travel map.

I arrive in Nanjing train station on time and am met by Sunny a guide with not a lot of smiles or words. She is dressed casually in Espirit denim skirt and T-shirt with wedge high heels. This will be her uniform for the next two days, really impressive considering the walking tours we under-take. I have a very negative pre-perception about Nanjing & am not happy with my revised itinery to spend two days there, actually I don't know a lot about this place though. After two days visiting local tourist sites, eating local food with Sunny and riding the public busses I am really surprised by the city and actually find it a pleasant place! Part of the reason for this is the cozy hostel I stay in: Jasmine. It's close to the Nanjing Normal University and I enjoy strolling around the area and the campus on my first night. The next day Sunny and I explore the city on foot and eat nice snacks and meals along the way. On my second day I go to the Zhongshan Mountain National Park alone and spend over 5 hours walking around there - it is extremely humid and extremely busy at the major sites - there is a lot of space to find a bit of privacy though. I do not climb purple mountain or walk over the Yangtze bridge and so I will have to return to the city one day! :)

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My random journal entries:

15 Jul. 10
‘Have had a crappy day – fourth day in. Went for a nice walk tonight in the streets of Nanjing – found the university campus and it was so lovely and quiet – not many people and no tooting scooters and cars, watched some students play basketball and some kids play Frisbee with their dad. Carried on walking and found a night market, started negotiating for a pair of men’s shoes (no girls shoes over size 6 here!), but got put off when an old man tried on the same pair. Got back to the hostel and went to use the internet and the place was so full – completely feel out of my comfort zone. I will have to learn to be more approachable. The hostel is absolutely lovely, like a cosy oasis – glad I’m staying two nights!’

16 Jul. 10
’Woke up to heavy rain, so I sent a text to Sunny to come an hour later and swap my schedule around. Lay-in reading my book and took a leisurely stroll to find some breakfast – found muffins and hard pancakes freshly baked on the street and some fruit – heaven!’

‘The Nanjng Massacre Museum of the Japanese Invasion was my first stop on our bus/walk tour of Nanjing. A few people warned me against this museum as is quite upsetting. 300, 000 Chinese were brutally killed by Japanese soldiers after Japan gained control of the city on 1939/12/13. Personally, I thought the museum had far too much information and relics and it was not easy to gain a quick understanding of the event. The space used is huge and don’t really understand why there was so much open space. The open excavation of skeletons in the museum is a bit disrespectful especially with the cheesy, dramatic music in the background – a very mellow-dramatic vibe.’

‘Sunny got excited and cracked a smile for the first of two times during the day when we passed the best sesame cake shop in Nanjing. A small street bakery. Yummy taste with a sweet liquid black interior, reminds me a bit of halva. Oh ja, the second time she cracked a smile, was when she thought I’d complimented her on her English, which I hadn’t – oops.’

‘Did miles of walking today…really should not have worn flip-flops.’

‘Had the strangest dinner at Confucius Temple: Pastry dumplings wrapped in what tastes like bully-beef that you dip in soya sauce & a sweet brown pudding (looks like Matabela pap) with lumps, oh – not lumps – red-kidney beans and white mothball-looking beans. Really tasted good, but I was ravenous, as I started to fill-up it tasted worse and worse. Pray my tummy will deal with this Y10 meal!

‘The hunt for a genuine jade bracelet has begun!’

17 Jul.10
‘Nanjing really has been a pleasant surprise with tree-lined streets and a small CBD with Zhongshan Mountain National Park bordering the East of the city – a very comfortable city to settle into.’

‘Was dropped off at the scenic area of Dr Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum at 11h00. Crazy heat with unbearable humidity. Wore a tight top and sweated through it the whole day. Definitely better to visit tourist sights early morning or late afternoon in this heat! Saturday crowds did not help – like a pilgrimage the masses make their way up the gothic structured stairway. Fans being waved to generate an artificial breeze, nothing seductive about it. When the summit is reached we start the walk around the tomb, shoe-to-shoe we shuffle along. A board signalling no photography is completely ignored by the trigger-happy Chinese. Another board signalling ‘For your Safety, please que in an orderly fashion’ is obviously misinterpreted. The experience is ruined by the heat, crowds and sickly sesame oil smell of sweat.’

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‘The babies wear no nappies in China, just a slit in their pants and they let their mom’s know when they ba. Sitting outside recovering from the Mausoleum and waving my fan, a lady comes running with a baby to the tree next to me and lets the baby hover over the roots while he shits – feel like I can’t escape the bodily waste of the masses.’

‘Seeking refuge from the crowds I escape to the music arena, a lovely, plain arena built with the assistance of donor funds from American Born Chines (ABC’s). Britney Spears bellows from the speakers and thousands of white doves flit around pest-like in search of food, but only receiving flashes from cameras!’

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‘I get lost in the forest and silence and the coolness created by the tree cover. Little surprises awaits one – like hidden pavilions, stone bridges and Communist-style statues. The crickets make an absurd noise in certain areas, but I forgive them as it still sounds better then the hooters of the cars and the screaming crowds.’

‘I have found my Chinese Secret Garden – a pavilion in a secluded corner of the Emperor of the Ming Dynasty’s Tomb. The tomb is actually spread over a massive area with a sacred pathway over a kilometre long leading to a Golden Water Bridge, an outer wall, then an inner wall and then the final fabulous rectangular citadel. I eat my lunch, drink my juice and enjoy the quiet! A couple join me and the man sings to his girlfriend. Lazily I move my fan to break the humidity and fall asleep borrowing his lullaby. When I wake up they are gone.’

‘People stare an uncomfortable amount of time at you in this country – without an expression of lust, anger, curiosity – more similar to one flipping through the TV-stations and pausing because they have found something mildly interesting to watch.’

‘A girl aged 11 hugs her mom at the bus station, even though she is still young she is already as tall as her short mother. Her head falls comfortable on her the nape of her mom’s neck and her mom has kind eyes and is haggling her about something. It reminds me of my mom! Sunny explains that she wants to speak to me, but she is too shy and her mom is trying to coerce her into coming up to me. I break the ice and greet her and ask her how she is doing. She replies in practised English and I complement her on her pink spectacles and ask her age. Their bus arrives and she runs off with her mom. Sunny explains that this is a common problem, everyone is trying to learn English in China, but they are too self-conscience to speak to foreigners and practice what they’ve learned. I wish more of them would come up to me and practise instead of just staring….’

‘I meet a Chinese Jo’burger on the bus today. Her name is Lisa and she is visiting her 93 year-old father in Nanjing. She recognizes my SA driver’s license when I open my purse and asks me if I am South African. She is completely shocked to find a South African girl travelling by herself in China! WE swop numbers and she says I am to call her if there is any trouble and to call her when I’m back to chat about my experiences on my trip. She warns me about the late night bag snatchers I Nanjing – you gotta love a Jo’burger!’

'We have a last dinner at a cafe. Shortly after taking a pic of the divine noodles a bug crawls through my food! Eew!'

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‘The Nanjing train station is the same standard as any international airport. The train is brand new and smells clean with nice duvets and pillows – once again I am pleasantly surprised. A lady with a 2year-old girl joins our cabin. The girl says her English nurse rhymes before going to bed. She is soooo adorable!’

Posted by sue_v 09:35 Archived in China Comments (0)

Brand-new Shanghai

From SWC Fever in Johannesburg to Expo Fever in Shanghai

rain
View 2010 Jul - Made in China on sue_v's travel map.

After a third change in my itinery, I only have two night in Shanghai. I therefore do not have enough time to go to the Expo. Every local on my trip who hears I was in Shanghai immediately inquires if I went to the Expo and shakes their head disappointingly when I answer I didn't go. None-the-less, the que's were reported to be 6-7hours long and I am not such a patient person. My friend Chris, from Lugu Lake sums it up in a later e-mail:

"You wil regret not to go there but you will more regret going there."


Besides missing the Expo, I loved Shanghai - an easy city to navigate, very modern and brand-new! There are millions of people, but as in any other major city in the world, they are not a bother and have a mission of their own. July is obviously the wrong-time of the year to go, but I was lucky with periodic light showers bringing down the humidity and temperature.

My random journal entries:

12 Jul. 10
‘Decide on taking the bus to town instead of the Meglev as the bus has a more direct route to the hostel and the allowed me to see the outskirts of Shanghai. The air is unbelievably humid and the sky is hazy. My first sight of the infamous Chinese smog!’

‘Yuang, my dorm-mate takes me to dinner – my first Chinse meal. Everyone told me about the Chinese food and the exotic ingredients they used – I never expected to find it all on one menu: bullfrog, turtles, eel, pig’s ears, duck feet, tripe of all sources, shark fin and…abalone. I request the price from the waitress – Y488/500g. We stick to tofo, beef and eggplant. Sesame tea is served free throughout the meal.’

‘As many pictures that I have seen of The Bund and the Shanghai PuDong sky-line – I was still awe-struck by the site. They light up all the buildings at night and there are millions and millions of Chinese tourists taking pictures of the scene.’

The Bund

The Bund

The Bund

The Bund

13 Jul. 10
‘As incredibly important and inspiring visits to museum as a child can be for a person, kids running around, screaming and being generally naughty in the Shanghai Museum can be irritating. This is enhanced by them starting a game of trying to photograph the ‘tall-white girl’ – bless their souls!’

‘Following the Shanghai walking tour print-out from the Times, I head off in the pouring rain to Xintiandin – the 44 Stanley of Shanghai – to enjoy soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung. I’m so proud of myself that I find the district in the rain, find the restaurant in the rain and am able to order the famous dumplings. Gloating, I pop the dumpling in my mouth and the boiling hot soup scolds my mouth. The waitress seeing my ignorance rushes over to the table and hands me a laminated “how to eat a soup dumpling for dummies” complete with pictures. I laugh out loud!’

Dumplings @ Din Tai Fung

Dumplings @ Din Tai Fung

‘Lady Luck was with me today – as despite the rain and my hour snooze past the alarm – I manage to miss all the tourist ques.’

‘On the way to Elindi’s Alleys we pop into a food market. I am amazed at the different types , sizes and textures of vegetables, but as we move deeper in we also see live chicken an live fish being prepared for the butcher’s knife , the eel squeeling around big plastic bowls , the toads, the bullfrogs, the vrot eggs…and the cat – hopefully just a neighbourhood stray. Best to leave!’

‘Two South African girls enjoying a bottle of Australian red wine on the top-floor of the Hyatt in Shanghai, China – Cheers!’

‘Two South African girls reminiscing over ‘good’ times at Hatfield Square, drinking Springbokkies in a pub called Windows (ironic as it is in a dungeon) which looks a lot like infamous Dropzone – Csheerss!’

Posted by sue_v 23:21 Archived in China Comments (0)

Doha International Airport

An end to the SWC fever...

After a comfortable 8hr flight from Jhb to Doha, Qatar, I arrived at a very hot, very busy Doha International Airport. I intended to relax, have a drink and watch the finals of the Soccer World Cup (just as every other proudly South African citizen would be doing) before my connecting flight departed at 1am. I was so disappointed to discover that the airport had no televisions, except for one television in a business class lounge that could only be viewed in a long thin corridor that was crammed with soccer supporters. A very long match with me standing with a heavy ruck-sack on my tippy toes. The flight got called early and I missed the extra time, instead waiting in a crowded bus with the doors locked while the cabin was being loaded with goods - frustration!


SWC Final

SWC Final

My random journal entries:

11 Jul. 10
Airports are not for the faint hearted: the sharp florescent lights and monotonous public announcer; the smells ranging from expensive perfumes and colognes to stinky shoes and cheap plastic chairs; the mixture of people from unknown origins on their way to unknown destinations.

Posted by sue_v 23:08 Archived in Qatar Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

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