Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Beijing (again)

So after a whistle stop tour of Shijiazhuang which included dining at a fine restuarant and getting mightily drunk for free in Mazzo Club Clare and I moved on to Beijing, which will be both of our last stops in China.

Unfortunately Clare has been a little ill whilst we have been here- probably something to do with the "fine restuarant" we went to the other night in my city or the amount of vodka she drank in Mazzo. I'm tended to go with some sort of tummy upset from the food though as I'm sure that not even Girl hangovers can last two days.

Because of Clare being ill we have postponed the trip to the wall until tomorrow. Today we looked around Tian Amen Square for a while and then had the worlds quickest visit to the Forbidden City- Clare felt really ill within about 5 minutes so I brough her back to the hostel to sleep.

Tonight If she feels better then we will go to The Beijing Opera which is something I've wanted to go and see a few times when i've been in Beijing and hopefully tomorrow she will be well enough to go trekking on the wall-but we shall see.

All my other Friends are here at the moment. Dave has returned to China for some reason and brought Chris (my replacement), Meredith,Hilary,Becky,Brock,Wallace, Renea,Kavitha and Zack is coming tomorrow. So if Clare is well enough on the last night we will be able to go out and have a few farewell drinks.

Lets Keep our Fingers Crossed!

UPDATE: Unfortuantely Clare never really recovered from her illness until late on on Wednesday. We got up all ready to go to the Wall and even got dressed but Clare really wasn't well enough, she wanted to go but I didn't think a 4 hour trek would be the right thing for her to do in her state. The wall will be there for another time.

The last night in China Clare and I went for Beijing Duck in a restuarant quite near to the hostel. The duck was lovely and you had absolutely loads of it- we had a medium (i think) duck between the two of us and seeing as Clare was still ill it meant that I got to have most of it to myself! Yum Yum Yum. Afterwards we met up with the others who had gone to one of the restuarants that we often go to and then went back to the bar for a few drinks. They went out to Browns for a big night out but Clare and I needed to get up early for the flight the next day so we called it an early night. In the morning we got up and said goodbye to everyone one last time - except for dave and Chris who had already left for the Shiz- and then made our way to the airport to fly home.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


Clare and I were both excited when we got to Chengdu. We knew that at least one day would be spent at the Panda sanctuary but apart from that we had little else planned- although we knew that there were plenty of options; Horse Trekking and Boat Trips up the Yangtze being 2 of the main examples.

We were a little dissapointed when we got to the hostel then and found out that the shortest trip up the Yangtze was 4 days, which we could still do but because you were "going up the Yangtze" you ended up nowhere near Chengdu. Not ideal when your flying out of there on your 4th morning at 7.45am. The horse trekking was also a no-go the shortest trek was 2 days long but once again it took one day to get there and one day to get back.So we were left with a few other options and we ended up doing things that I think we both enjoyed equally as much as we would have done had we had gone on the other excursions.

On the first morning we went to the Panda Breeding sanctuary. Panda's get up early and are only really active in the morning before they have digested half their body weight in Bamboo. So this required us to get up early in order to get to the sanctuary as it opened. I think we go their spot on 8 "o" clock and we walked in as the gates swung open. I had previously seen some pandas at Beijing Zoo but they were enclosed in small concrete rooms with not much to do and did not appear to be very friendly at all- I had been hugely disappointed. Here however the pandas had huge enclosures to roam in and had trees to climb on and swings to play on and of course loads upon loads of bamboo to eat. The centre has about 60 pandas (there are only something like 1200 in the world) a mix between the smaller red pandas-which more resemble raccoons-and the huge black and white bears that have become the icon for the World Wildlife Fund.

We had a great time at the sanctuary and saw loads of pandas-and took far to many photos. We saw one panda approach and start fighting with another which was actualyl quite funny, and we also some less than 100 day old pandas that looked like tiny fluff balls and were terribly cute as they flung themselves around the trees and the bushes. We were able to have our photos taken with both the Red Pandas and the Older Black and White Pandas. The Red Pandas were very sweet and happy sat in our hands as we fed them. Clare said that she preferred them to the more usual pandas. The Other panda was sat on a Chair in front of us eating as we stroked them whilst the enclosure keeper took our photo- we had to be careful not to alarm the bear and at one point I was told off for getting a little over enthusistic! By this time the park was getting really busy so we were very glad to have gone there in the morning when it was quiet-else we might not have had these opportunities.

We decided that with our spare days we would climb a moutain. Mount Emei is 3,099 km above ground level (some 10,000 feet) and is one of the 4 sacred Buddhist mountains in China. We were told that it would take us around two days to complete the climb to the top. We got to Emei at around 12 and eventually made our way to the entrance of the mountain after an hour- even that took quite some walking and I was wondering whether we would be cut out for the whole journey! We were following our map quite carefully and making good progress when after about 3 hours we were tempted by the offer of a lift to the next way point.We accepted. But instead of taking us to where we were meant to be going we were punished for our attempting to cheat and taken to a different way point which was actually half way back down the hill. This coupled with us getting lost and confused on a few seperate occaisions lead to us making less progress on the first day than planned.

After 5 hours of trekking we reach Wannilan Monastary and this is where we stayed the night.It very cheap to stay there and they also prepared cheap and delicious food. It was cool to be staying there overnight and when the monastry was dark and empty it was a far different feeling from how it was during the day with the crowds. We were woken at about 8am by the chanting monks and started walking again at about 9am. On the second day we walked for 9 hours in total through sun, cloud, mist and snow which was all just about incident free- apart from the monkeys!

We had been warned about the monkeys at various points along the way.On the map there were 4 locations where Monkeys were marked by a happy smiling little monkey face but we hadn't seen any up to about 4pm on the second day. Chinese people constantly warned us about the monkeys and tried selling us sticks with reach to beat them off with but I didn't think it was necessary seeing as we hadn't seen any yet. We bumped into a chinese tourist however who informed us that at one particular point the monkeys did get rather vicious and would try jumping at you and try to scratch your face. At this point I decided it would be wise to buy a walking stick-just in case I needed to beat a live monkey off Clare. As we approached the monkey area we met another chinese couple and asked them about the monkeys. They said that there were hundreds in the next section. At this point Clare looked rather unhappy and probably would have asked to go home if it were not for the fact that we were 2000km up a mountain. But they insisted that the monkeys were happy and friendly and went on to show us some pictures of them posing with their simian friends.

We left them and walked around the corner. We were feeling a little happier when out of the mist came a huge monkey just sat in the middle of the path staring at us. Clare immediately yelled out and grabbed my arm shaking and screamed "hit it, hit it". I hit the walking stick on the ground in front of the monkey which made him leer at us a little. I admit at this point I was thinking that I may need a change of pants. But we gradually managed to walk our way around the monkey and up the path. At this point we realised that they were everywhere. Above us, below us, to the side and that there really was no escaping them so we decided to walk as possible to the next check point to get away from them.

After the monkeys we cheated for the second time and caught the short cable car to the top of the mountain. The weather at the top was superb. Bright warm sunshine and quite amazing when you considered the snow and cold wind we encountered below. As the cable car emereged from the cloud into the sunshine the Chinese tourists gave an excited squeel! Lonely Planet and the map said there was cheap accomodation on the summit and we had planned to stay there and watch the sun rise in the morning. However the cheap accomodation was not to be found and instead we ended up staying in a scabby chinese hotel room which stank and had no windows and paid 400 Yuan for the privelledge! We woke up in the morning to see the sun rise but instead were greeted by a snow storm so packed up our belongings and made our way back down the mountain to the nearest coach park to catch a bus to ground level. The trip down was incident free apart from one fairly spectacular slip from me which easily would have earnt me £250 on "you've been framed"-where's the camcorder when you need it!

On the way back from Mount Emei we called into nearby Le Shan to see the World's Biggest Buddha statue. As it was a sunday by now and also a public holiday the national park around the statue was heaving so we had to queue up to see the staute. This took about an hour and didn't really leave much time to see much of the rest of the park which was a shame. The statue was cool. Just a massive buddha really- pretty does what is says on the tin. Can't say that I was that amazed or overawed by it but I am glad to be able to say that I've seen it.

After that we caught our bus back to Chengdu and tomorrow we go to Shijiazhuang where Clare will see how I have been living for the last 6 months!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bullet Train

Now you can call me a "train spotting loser geek" all you like but one of the most exciting parts of Shanghai was the train ride to and from Shanghai Pudong Airport. The trip is made on the Magnetic Levitation train line and the train reaches top speeds of 431 Kmh (267 Kmh). It only takes 2 minutes to reach 350 Kmh and the whole journey from Longyan Station to the airport which is 30 kilometres only lasts 7 minutes.

The experience was quite fantastic and watching the speedo raise from 0 to 431 Kmh was quite exciting. As you reached the top speed the whole train started to shake and when you turned corners it was wiered as you were on an angle and thats stange when there isn't anything connecting you to the ground. Quite unerving.

I know that China is working on a high speed track connecting Beijing to Shanghai and Hong Kong but imagine if all trains in China (and the world) were this fast. It really would be fantastic. We could have gone from the Shiz to Beijing in Under an hour! Peterborough to Leeds would take less than half an hour! Superb!

I was going to place a video of the rise from 0 to 431Kmh but its a bit like watching paint dry so i've just put in a few photos instead.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


So after five and a half months of emails, text messages and frustrating internet phones, Clare and I have fiinally been reunited. It was a great but nervous feeling meeting up with her in Shanghai airport and I could not wait to see her again. I really did appreciate the fact that she was flying half way across the wolrd to see me, when she could have just waited 2 weeks for me to get home.

Because of flying in on the 16th we were kind of stuck in Shanghai for a few days. Chinese New Year was on the 17th and transport in and out of Shanghai around was a nightmare. So we were staying until the 20th and then heading off to Chengdu by plane in search of pandas.

Chinese New Year was a strange one. I was expecting huge street parties with performers dressed up as dragons, live music and opera and a huge amount of people celebrating in the open. What we got was basically 48 hours of constant explosions as the whole of China seemed to be letting off fireworks and igniting fire crackers. Somewhat different to our New Year when we go out get drunk and celebrate with our mates. 95% of the Chinese stay in at home and watch the CCTV New Years Countdown and Variety show whilst enjoying a meal with their family. Spring Festival is so important as it may be the only time in the year that people return home to their family homes and so this overshadows the actual passing of new year for many people. Clare was quie lagged from her flight the previous day so we were not up for much any way but we eventually managed to find a restuarant (so much was closed due to New Year) and had a nice meal then came home and tried to sleep through all the explosions-most of which seemed to be coming from right outside of our window, as per normal in China!

On the other days we visited the old town of Shanghai and we saw a few temples and a nunnery- Clare was dissappointed that it was not like the one from "A Sound of Music" I think. The old town was hugely busy due to Spring Festival but it was interesting to walk through the old streets and see how amazingly different it was from the modern Shanghai that everyone pictures n their minds.

The weather we had during the days in Shanghai was not great and often you could not see the tops of the huge sky scrapers as they dissappeared behind a cloud of smog and fog, but at night the city looked amazing. On our last night we had a walk down the Bund and marvelled at the magnificent buidlings and the plethora of colours every where. We took the "Bund Experience" sight seeing tunnel to the other side and then went to the top of the 4th Tallest Building - The Jin Mao Tower 421 Meters Above Gorund Level-in the world in order to get a proper view of the surrounding area. It was fantastic but just as fantastic and twice as nauseating was the view from the top of the 86th floor in the adjacent hotel as you looked down the open stair way all the way to the bottom- my head spins just thinking of it now!

We also looked around the Shanghai museum-which was quite interesting but pretty like most other museums in China with an "amazing" collection of Jade, Porcelain and China- and spent time walking around the Peoples Square area. The only problem that we had was that the hostel that we stayed in was not really a hostel but more of a hotel. The rooms were fantastic but there was no bar and no communal area and even more of a problem was that it was some distance out of whre you really wanted to be so we had to catch loads of buses, taxis and tubes.

I think we both enjoyed our time in Shanghai, as I said above it would have been better if we were more central and had more people our age to go out with, but at the same time I think it was nice for Clare and I just to be able to catch up with one another again.

Next Place: Chengdu!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Chilling Lake Side

After the bright lights of big city Nanjing I made my way (by soft seater train no less) to Hangzhou, "the most beautiful city in China" the television advert would have you believe. Hostel was located right on the edge of the lake and was the first hostel so far where there was a majority of travellers rather than Chinese. In fact it was so good that I was even sharing my room with an english boy by the name of Chris. Couple this with the fact that we later met up with heather who I met in Suzhou, Jarrod (her aussie mate) and 2 English girls- Sophie and Bea- we ended up having quite a decent little group for meals,going out and drinking.

Whilst Hangzhou is beautiful there isn't a terrible lot to do there apart from looking at the lake, taking a boat trip on the lake, walking around the lake or hiring a bike to ride around the lake. Take the huge lake out of Hangzhou and it's pretty much the same as anyother Chinese city: temples, bell towers and pagodas. But with the weather being warm and sunny I was quite happy to spend my time relaxing by the lake and enjoying the fine scenary- and when I got bored I went on a fruitless quest to try and buy some shorts. The Chinese seemed to think I was made for suggesting such an idea in spring time.

The First day was spent on a boat trip of the West Lake. Once again I was lucky enough to make friends with a Chinese couple who didn't mind me tagging along with them in exchange for them getting to practice their English with me. After seeing what the lake had to offer and the various islands on the lake we visited the huge pagoda at the side of the lake. Now, whilst most pagodas in China have been rebuilt most of them try to hide this fact. Not this one. This had huge glass elevators and escalators running up and down the pagoda, had computer information points telling you the story of the pagoda and (like many things in China) had parts that were made of plastic! The fact that this pagoda was so unashamedly modern was quite refreshing and the fact that it was probably more commercialised than the Eifel Tower was better than it trying to be something that it wasn't.

The other days were spent relaxing by the lake and catching up with books and the interent. One day the Sophie, Bea and I hired bikes and rode around the whole lake. Which was good fun but at the same time frustrating as so much of the path around the lake was out of bounds to bikes. We got pretty frustrated as police man after police man told us off for cycling and we couldn't help but wonder why so many people recommended cycling this route if you couldn't actually cycle by the bloddy lake. Still it was enjoyable cycling in the sunshine and it was a fun way to spend a few hours.

The last night in Hangzhou (Valentines Night) the group of us all met up for a meal at a resturant the girls had seen on the Lake. We then went to a German Bar which was giving away free beer for Valentines for one whole hour. The bar brewed its own beer and had 2 or 3 different types coming in small, medium and large. Jarrod lead the way in the man states managing to pile away around1 every 10 minutes for the duration of the free period. I was next managing an impressive 4 large beers and I think Chris gave up at 3-but after those we will feeling quite hammered. We then headed onto SOS which is the main night club in Hangzhou and after that the night starts getting a bit shady, but I do remember Chris dissappearing for an awfully long time and then re-appearing just as we were all congregating to go home- wierd!

Next Stop Shanghai and time to meet up with Clare again!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Now in Nanjing

So on to Naning. The Birth place of the People's Republic of China after the People's liberation army ended the rule of the Republic of China in 1949 and also the setting for the Najing massacre where 0ver 300,000 Chinese were tortued were killed by the Japanese in 1937. I'd never really understood why the Chinese disliked the Japanese quite so much, I mean we get on with the German's alright nowadays, but after visiting Nanjing and reading about the history of the place and quite how terrible the Japanese were to the defence-less Chinese pepole and how the Japanese Government refuse to admit that they did anything wrong, I am started to understand a little more. BUT I still think it's shocking that people (including the young generations) can still hate a country for something that happened so long ago.

Travelling by bus turned out to be rather enjoyable. Id i'd known how good they were I would have stopped stressing about trains long ago and caught them instead. You have a massive seat with adjustable head rests and much more leg room than a train, you have air con over your head, there are no people standing up in the aisles or trying to take your seat everytime you stand up, and you can store all your luggage safely underneath the bus rather than precarioulsly over your own head.

The only down side of the bus was getting off. Getting off any method of transport in a new city is always frustrating as the usual flock of taxi vultures descend upon you, all trying to lure you into their tiny cars to rip you off; but Nanjing was particularly bad. As I stepped off the bus with my huge bags it just started raining- this being only the 4th or 5th instance of rain in my whole time in China. Therefore my need for a taxi was more urgent than if it was sunny. I went with one or two of the aformentioned "vultures" and just got annoyed with them as they lead me to their non-existent taxi's and then tried quoting me ridiculous prices (such as 100yuan) to take me on a journey that I knew could not be that far.

This is when the problems started. I tried showing a legitimate taxi driver the hostel address.But it was in Pinyin rather than signs and he reckoned he couldn't understand it so I tried phoning the hostel- number not recognised. I was in trouble. So I phoned the hostel in Suzhou and asked them to direct the taxi. I got in 3 and they all refused to take me; "wrong direction" "dinner time" "too busy" were their responses. At this point the rain was really coming down and I was getting majorly soaked and also majorly pissed off. After another 15 or so minutes I managed to get in another taxi, the 5th attempt, and this time I just told the driver to drive to get the metre up, when we had gone so far I rang the hostel and got them to direct her. It was too late by then for her to refuse and so finally I arrived-albeit it a little more stressed out than planned-at my hostel and the price of the taxi was only 18 yuan! Far better than the vultures reckoned!

The hostel was cool. Far more of a usual backpackers hostel than in Suzhou and it was set in the heart of the touristy Fuzimiao district. Due to the hostel being busy they could only offer me a 4 bed room-which I didn't mind as it had ensuite bathroom and for the first night I had the whole room to myself!

Whilst checking into the hostel I bumped into Chris-who I had met in Suzhou-and so we agreed to go out to dinner that night (when we refused to eat the ducks head we were served and then refused to pay a large percent of the bill) and then meet up to explore tomorrow. We went to the Heavenly Kingdom Museum, The Nanjing Massacre Memorial-which was shut, and also some Ming Tombs at Purple Hill. The Tombs were expensive and quite boring. I'd already been to some in Beijing at the Badaling Wall and unlike these in Beijing you could actually go down into the tombs-here you just had to stare at the mound from the outside. So I couldn't really see the point.

That evening I went out with Some friends of Nancy's from University. They took me out for a nice chinese meal and we agreed to meet up the next day so they could show me more of the sites of Nanjing. We visited Ji Ming Temple and also the Heavenly Kingdom Palace-which was huge and took a good 3 hours to look around and was home to a lot of interesting history on how the Republic of China was formed in Nanjingin 1947. They also managed to lend me another friends bike and took me on a quick tour of the citie's 3 university campuses-which are supposed to be among the best in China.

The rest of the time in Nanjing was spent exploring the huge city centre and deciding whether I would have preferred to have lived here or the shiz. In the end I think najing won-basically because of it's excellent metro and the warner cinema village. On the last night I bumped into a Chinese guy who had lived with an Englishman at University and been taught how to swear like a "true brit". So we enjoyed a good night out with plenty of drink and I marvelled at cockney swear words that I hadn't heard for a good 5 months. It all made getting up at 6am for the train the next morning quite difficult indeed!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


So after spending three and a half days in Suzhou I'm moving on to Nanjing. Thought I'd take advantage of the hostels "basically free" internet to keep everyone updated.

I've really enjoyed my time in Suzhou. I think the great weather has helped- been able to walk around in T-Shirt Sleaves for the first time in ages and wish I'd brought shorts instead of thermal bottoms - but also the town is so green and clean that it has a real european feeling. Add to that the fact that it's a water town and has some beatufiul canals and scenary and you'll start to appreciate why I like the place.

Whilst I've been here I've done some pretty interesting things. Suzhou is famous for it's fine example of Chinese gardens. So I've taken in both "The Master of the Nets Garden" and "The Humble Administrators' Garden". Whislt there are a few others in the city, they are all quite similar so I think 2 is quite enough. I also went and walked around the Pan Ling Scenic Area and climbed the huge pagoda that they have there which gives a fine view of the city. The scenic area was very beautiful and was very interesting to walk around and look at.

The nights have been quite lonely as I've been the only westerner staying in my hostel really but the days have gone quickly as there is a lot to do. Another day I went to Tiger Hill which is a huge garden reserve with a pagoda at it's centre. I was impressed by the park but was annoyed as you couldn't go up the pagoda which would have given a great view of the city. I couldn't see the point of the park having this famous pagoda if you couldn't go up the bloody thing.

Yesterday I went to ZhaoZhang - about 1 hour on the bus - which is billed as "China's No.1 Old Water City". I managed to meet a nice chinese couple on the bus who directed me on how to walk to the old town from the bus stop and then didn't mind me walking with them around the place. It was about six pound to get in and none of us werer eally sure if it was worth it. It was great fun walking around the old town, exploring the old passages and walkways whilst taking in some refreshing clean air, but it was annoying that the whole place has been turned into shops and bars for Chinese Tourists. I think the scenary in Suzhou was equally as beautiful in places (and free to see) and wish that I had gone to Tong Li instead which is supposed to be a less touristy version of this place. But still, it was a enjoyable day and I enjoyed meeting some chinese people who were not trying to con me and came away with two new friends.;

So i'm going to catch the bus at about 3pm but being in China I need to turn up quite a bit early and battle for a ticket- wish me luck!

Next stop: Nanjing

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Going Solo...

Today marks my first day of going it alone in China. Yesterday I left Dave in Beijing and hopped on the Z85 Overnight Train headed for Suzhou. The journey was reasonably uneventful- apart from a chinese man asking me to put my shoes back on because my feet smelt and spilling the contents of my pot noodle on myself.

The train was quite comfortable and despite only having a "hard" sleeper I had a good nights kip- there was even a western toilet on the train. The Journey was well timed as the train departed at 7.30pm so after a few hours of playing PSP I then watched the Royle Family and ate my pot noodle- well what was left of it. Then I read my book for an hour and went to sleep about 11pm.

The train arrived in Suzhou at about 7am. It's quite a scary feeling getting off a train by yourself in a city you don't know, and where you don't have a clue where your going. Leaving the train station all I had was the phone number and name of the hostel where I was staing at, but after a little initial confusion with the taxi we managed to find the hostel OK.

First impressions of Suzhou are good. My bed wasn't ready when I arrived so I headed out at 8.30am for a few hours to scope out the city and get some breakfast. It's a lot greener than anywwhere I have been in China before and whilst it may not live up completely to having the title "the Venice of China" the lakes running through the city are certainly beautiful.

I will spend 2/3 days here- maybe 3- then head onto Nanjing by bus.Where a friend of Nancy's will show me around I hope as my friend Matt (that I met in Beijing) is on his own vacation in Kunming. I think I will spend another 3 days in Nanjing before travelling by train to Hangzhou. Hangzhou is meant to be the "most beautiful city" in China so I'm looking forward to going there- think I spend 4 or 5 days there before moving on to Shanghai. In Shanghai I will meet Clare and we will spend CHinese New Year there before moving on to Chengdu on the 20th Februrary. In Chengdu we will go to a Panda sanctuary and visit the huge Buddha they have at Le Shan before going a Yangtze River cruise (if not too expesive). On the 25th we make the short flight back up to Shijiazhuang so I can show Clare where I have lived all this time and then the next day we will get the train to Beijing where we will go to the Great Wall and Temple of Heaven- as well as doing some shopping I expect. Hopefully in Beijing we can meet up with Dave and the other's for one last goodbye.

Then it's time for me to come home!