China 1999 Part 2
China 1999 Part 2
|Click here for part 1|
|Tuesday August 31st|
Today our wake up call was scheduled for 7.30 and only 30 minutes later we had to put the suitcases outside again. After breakfast we went to visit the Longmen Caves. Not really natural caves, but human involvement sculptured thousands of Buddha statues in to the rock in all sorts and sizes. Quite impressive when you realise how much work must have gone into all that sculpturing, but still we're glad when we can go back to our airconditioned bus, because it's pretty hot today.
Because we have some spare time, we take an extra excursion to the old part of the city of Luoyang. Actually it is no more than one street, so maybe it is a piece of history that reminds of the 'old China' but we have seen comparable streets in Beijing and Xi'an. After our short visit to this old part of town we have lunch in some hotel's restaurant.
After lunch we visited a little village just outside of Luoyang where people live in holes underground, they are called the cave dwellers. The main reason these people live there is because of the natural cooling underground, it can be pretty hot here during the summer. In one of these houses lives an 87 year old lady, who has lived in the era when it was still customary to put the feet of little girls into tight bandages in order to keep there feet small. Indeed her feet were very small, in comparison I put my size 15 next to her foot and the group took a couple of pictures.
Our final destination for the day, is the Luoyang train station, from where we will take the night train to Nanjing. This trip takes about 15 hours. We have a lot of fun onboard, we have gathered with 8 people in a 4 person sleeping accommodation and talk about all kinds of stuff, but mainly we enjoy a fair amount of Tsingtao. Eventually we all get just a few hours of sleep because we have to wake up at 6 am again, just before our train arrives in Nanjing at 6.30. The soft sleepers are actually quite good, but still I wake up again at 5 am, so I decide to wash myself a bit, because at 6 o'clock it's probably gonna be pretty crowded at the only 3 sinks that are available for two cars. Later it appeared I was right about that.
|Wednesday September 1st|
Our train arrived right on schedule, that's really lesson our Dutch National Railservice, NS, could learn from the Chinese. At 6.45 we all stood outside the train station. We didn't sleep to bad, although the soft sleepers are a bit small for a group of, taller than average, Dutch people. But still we were a bit tired, so we were quite happy when we got another one and a half hours to rest after we had breakfast in the 5 star restaurant of the partly 3 and partly 5 star Mandarin Garden hotel. So we all toke a shower and lied down for a while. When the time came to assemble the group again, Rien and Fabienne didn't feel like joining in today's excursions. They would like to spend a day on their own. Earlier that morning we had spotted a McDonald's restaurant near the hotel, so the thought of a juicy Big Mac is probably what lured them away from the group. ;) Ping didn't have a problem with that, so Fabienne and Rien stayed behind.
First the bus took us to the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum. Sun Yat Sen was the first president of the Republic of China, after the emperor was dethroned in 1911. He only was president for a very short time, but because he was the first one, people still admire him. The mausoleum is located on top of a hill, to get there you have to take a 392 step stair, so that was quite an excercise. The mausoleum itself is not that impressive, all you can see is a replica of his coffin and a couple of statues. But the view from the top is very nice, so that makes it worth the climb.
After our stairclimbing excercise, the local guide thought we could use a little rest, and of course he knew just the place to do that: a fresh water oyster farm. It also happened to have a shop where we could take a look. Again, as far as I know, nobody bought anything, so I don't think the guide will get his commission.
Next stop was for lunch in the former mansion of Mei Ling. She was Dr. Sun Yat Sen's wife. Today she is 103 years old and lives somewhere on Hawaii. The food in the restaurant was not bad, but there were several fish dishes and I'm not particularly fond of that.
After lunch we got a chance to take a quick look around in the mansion and after that we went to see the Linggu Pagode. This nine story (nine again!), 60 meter high tower was built in the 1930's. I guess I didn't pay attention to our guide, because I have no idea what the function of the building was or still is. The view from above was nice though.
Our final excursion for today is a visit to the Yangtse River Bridge. This impressive 4 kilometer long marvel of Chinese engineering is a combined automobile and railway bridge. The Chinese are particularly proud of the bridge, because it was the first bridge of this magnitude that the Chinese engineers ever build on their own. In the past they got support from Russian engineers, but after tensions rose between the two countries in the sixties, they were forced to do it themselves.
Back in the hotel I met again with Fabienne and Rien. After dinner, the three of us went to the shopping streets near the hotel. This is where Fabienne and Rien already had spent the afternoon. They had bought cheap sunglasses, apparel and shoes. It was still quite busy in these streets, one reason being a market with a lot of streetvendors. I had a quick look around, but then had to return to the hotel because of stomach cramps and diarrhea. It turned out that a lot of groupmembers had the same experience that evening, so we all drank or ate something that was contaminated with some bacteria. Because Rien and Fabienne were also infected, it must have been something from the breakfast table. The most likely cause were the icecube chilled fruitjuices. You would expect those to be made with mineral water in a five star restaurant, but apparently they were not.
|Thursday September 2nd|
Another early rise day. This time the wake up call came at 7 o'clock. This was nescessary because our suitcases would take another train than ourselves. So at 7.30 the suitcases had to be outside the room. Again we had breakfast in the 5 star restaurant, but we stayed away from the fruit juices. Actually the 5 star breakfast wasn't any better or worse than other breakfasts we had so far, so it was more like a 5 star ambience.
In the morning we go to the Xuangwu park, a very lovely city park in Nanjing. The park is situated around a large lake, which actually is a part of the river. Inside the lake there are several islands with nice plant and tree arrangements. The islands are interconnected by bridges and a road. Besides all the trees in this park there are also a large amount of trees dispersed all over Nanjing. From 1949 and on, over 28 million trees have been planted, mainly to bring some shade in the very hot summers. Nanjing is called one of the three furnaces of China (I don't know which cities are the other two furnaces). Because of our tight schedule we already go for lunch at 10.45. Maybe it's because of the stomach trouble of last night, but I've had it with Chinese food for one day, so I only eat some French fries and steamed buns.
The remainder of the afternoon was spend in the train from Nanjing to Suzhou.
At 15.45 we arrive in Suzhou. Together with Hangzhou, where we will go tomorrow, the so called Paradises of China. That's certainly not because life is so great here, but because of all the beautiful gardens and canals that are all over the city. Before we go to our hotel we already get a little sampler of just that. We pay a visit to one of the city gates, which is situated at the edge of the Grand Canal that flows through the city. This canal is part of a huge canal that is over 1300 kilometers long. It was build many centuries ago, to connect the South of China with the emperor's cities in the North.
We stay in the Nan Ling hotel, again a very good hotel, although the airco is a bit noisy. At dinner the food turns out to be very good too. At last some different tastes and not too much fish, so that's great. Later tonight the organisation has planned a folklore show in the park behind the hotel, Rien en Fabienne go have a look, but I stay behind with a bad headache. Earlier that afternoon I had banged my head against the luggage rack in the bus and that was no success. By the way most groupmembers have caught a cold, it all started with just one or two people, but the airconditioning helped to spread the bacteria (or virus) to the rest of the group. It's the kind of cold were a bucket under your nose would be nice.
Our suitcases didn't arrive until 10.30pm. Apparently the shipping with the earlier train had failed because on the way from the Nanjing hotel to the trainstation two suitcases had popped open. So that was enough reason to completely cancel the shipment of the other about 40 something suitcases, with the earlier train.
Fabienne and Rien returned to the hotel room around 11.30pm. After the folklore show, which was pretty good, they took a riksja tour through the city. And after that, they went for a couple of drinks in a karaoke bar.
|Vrijdag 3 september|
This morning our wake up call came at 7.30. We had about half an hour to put the suitcases outside and about one and a half hours before the bus departs. After breakfast, which was pretty bad with dry bread and a couple of days old croissants, we leave to visit a silk factory.
It was quite interesting to see the silk production process, starting with a caterpillar cocoon and ending with a piece of silk cloth. Of course there was a factory store next to the factory, but this time we didn't mind. We had already planned to buy some silk products. I bought myself four silk neckties for only 8 dollars a piece and we also bought a couple of presents for our parents. Incidentally this factory store was actually quite cheap, all prices were fixed, so no need to bargain a deal.
After the visit to the silk factory we entered the bus again and went on our way to Tong Li. In Tong Li the main attraction is another beautiful garden, another fine example of Chinese craftsmanship. Tong Li itself is also a nice town. Lots of canals lined with trees and a lot of small shops in nicely maintained streets and last but not least: no pushy streetsellers. In all the other cities we visited so far, the streetsellers were so eager to get rid of their merchandise that eventually they would accept almost any bargain offer, but not here. In Tong Li they would rather not sell than give in to our low deal offers. At one o'clock we continue on our way and our first stop will be for lunch. Lunch is served in a brandnew hotel with a very luxuruous interior that wouldn't be out of place in some expensive hotel in Beverly Hills. The food itself is also very good. After lunch we continue our way to Hangzhou, which is another 150 kilometers away. On the road we get our share of near misses with oncoming traffic, but it doesn't scare us anymore, everybody is used to it by now.
|Zaterdag 4 september|
Our day starts with a boattrip on the beautiful and scenic West Lake. The weather is not so good, every now and then it starts to rains and the atmosphere is very humid. Humidity must be around 100% because every drop of sweat we produce simply refuses to evaporate. After the one hour boat trip, which takes us to the other side of the lake, we pay a visit to Huagang Park. We make a short stroll which takes about 45 minutes. Again it's raining so I'm glad I brought along my umbrella.
After our little walk, it's time for some tea. This time no ordinary tea house, but a real tea plantation. Around West Lake they produce the best green teas of China. After a small tour of the premises we get a nice glass of green tea a very good sales pitch from a salesman. He tries to explain why this is the best green tea and what benefits people have from drinking it on a regular bases. Apparently it protects against cancer and it helps to stay slim. All these benefits have their price, because the tea is far from cheap. For one kilo (2.2 lbs.) of tea they need to dry 4 kilos of leaves and that takes one employee about 8 hours. One can of 125 grams (4.6 ounces) costs 150 yuan, or about 18 dollars. Rien want to support the local economy and orders two cans of green tea, but then finds out he forgot his money in the hotel. Luckily he has some wealthy friends. :)
We had lunch in the Lily hotel. The local kitchen is again different from the ones we had so far, everything tastes very good. In the afternoon we pay a visit to the Lingyin temple. In this Buddhist temple one can find the largest Buddha statue of China, which is over 19 meters tall. The entire temple consists of three monumental buildings in a nice surrounding, but by now we have had it with all those temples, so we're glad when that's over.
Our local guide suggests the possibilty to order a massage when we return to the hotel. Fabienne thinks that's a great idea, so she volunteers. It's not a regular massage, but an accupressure massage, kind of like accupuncture. During Fabienne's massage, Rien and I go shopping in the K-mart like supermarket next to the hotel. In the supermarket the green tea is also quite expensive, so maybe the tea salesman was right when he said that the tea prices were set by the government. However in this supermarket there is a much larger selection of green teas, there are also cheaper ones. I buy two cans in a gift set at a price of 106 Yuan, about 13 dollars. So that's about a thrd of the price Rien payed this morning. When we return to the hotel the masseur is still working on Fabienne, so Rien and I decide to have a drink in the hotelbar before we have dinner. Half an hour later there's still no sign of Fabienne, so we decide to start the buffet dinner without her. Then finally after another 15 minutes Fabienne arrives. She really liked the massage, but she did get a headache from it.
Later that evening, at eight o'clock, we had to put the bags outside the room because we take an early morning train to Shanghai.
|Sunday September 5th|
Fabienne has second thoughts about yesterdays massage, because this morning she wakes up with a sore body. At least I'm glad I wasn't tempted to take one.
After breakfast we're going straight to the trainstation. The station is pretty close to the hotel, so it was probably just as fast if we had walked instead of taking the bus, but not every groupmember is as young and agile as we are, so we had no choice. Today we're taking the early train to Shanghai, a ride that will last for about two hours. As we enter the trainwagons, it appears that most of our reserved seats are taken by Chinese people. According to our guide this is not uncommon, but they will leave if you say the seats are reserved. And indeed they do, no problem whatsoever.
After a pleasant trainride we arrive in Shanghai around 11 o'clock. It's still quite early, but according to the our guide it's time for lunch again, so the first destination for our bus is some restaurant. The food is really excellent here, so despite the early hour we all eat a lot.
Because our hotel for the coming two days is located on the other side of town we're not going there yet after lunch. We will first have a look around Chinatown, which technically is probably all of Shanghai, but there is some old part of the city that is actually called Chinatown. It's a couple of streets with old restored Chinese buildings and a lot of shops. It's very busy with tourists, but it's worth to take a look around. We also visit the beautifull Yu Garden inside Chinatown.
After Chinatown it was on to the Bund, Shanghai's harbourfront boulevard along the river. On the Bund side of the river there are a lot of European styled buildings. That's because this part of Shanghai used to be a French colony. On the other side of the river is the new Pudong business center. Pudong is filled with highrise skyscrapers, which have all been build in the last five years. It gives Shanghai a really modern skyline, a bit like New York or Hong Kong. The main attraction, is the Oriental Pearl Tower, which is also China's highest building for the moment. This TV tower is 468 meters high.
After our short visit to the Bund we finally head to the hotel to check in and to have dinner. The three of us are the only people on the twelfth floor of the hotel. That's probably because we need a three person hotelroom. The rest of the group is staying on the ninth and tenth floors.
Tonight's optional excursion to the Oriental Pearl Tower is cancelled because of bad weather and bad visibility. The alternative is to visit an acrobatic show. After the past experiences with night entertainment we decide not to go. Instead we and some other group members go out for some shopping in a nearby warehouse. That turned out to be a very burocratic establishment if for some reason you decide to buy something. First of all you have to point out to a salesperson that you would like to buy something. Secondly the salesperson writes the item on a slip, which you have to take to a central cash register and then pay for it. After that you take the slip back to the salesperson and then you can pick up your item. So this is how they keep 1.3 billion people at work.
On our way back to the hotel we pass a little shop that sells video cds and DVDs. The video CDs are really cheap at 18 Yuan a piece (a little over $2). The DVDs aren't expensive either, they are only 45 yuan ($5.50). We're not sure whether these discs are genuine merchandise or whether they are illegal copies, but at least they are sold in the open in a regular store.
Back in the hotel we have a drink in the hotel bar. For the first time we pay more for a drink than in the Netherlands, one can of beer costs 24 Yuan ($3).
|Monday September 6th|
This morning we pay a visit to the Jade Buddha temple, yet another temple, but this one is kind of different from the ones before, because in this temple it is allowed to take pictures. So in our final temple visit of this roundtrip we can get some photos as souvenirs.
In our original itinerary we would have flown back to Beijing this afternoon and then from there on to Amsterdam the next morning. However a couple of weeks ago we got a letter from the travel agency which stated that we wouldn't fly back to Beijing, but instead we would fly back from Shanghai straight to Amsterdam. This flight would be carried out by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. This is really great, because we now have some more time to spend in Shanghai.
So after our visit to the Jade Buddha temple we had the choice to go shopping in Shanghai's most classy street, or to take a boattrip in Shanghai's harbour. Rien and I choose the latter and Fabienne went shopping. The boattrip was really interesting, we went a long way inside the harbour so it gave us a good overview of both the old Shanghai and the new Pudong business center. The boat travels up to the Yangpu bridge and then returns to the Bund, where we started. According to Fabienne shopping wasn't much fun, so we're glad that we went on the boattrip.
Today's lunch is a so called Mongolian Barbecue. When we arrive at the restaurant it appears that we have to wait some time before they have room to seat us. Luckily there 'happens' to be a souvenir shop next to the restaurant, so that's where they lead us. It all the same products again, jade, silk and cloisonne, so we quickly loose interest. After about 15 minutes we can finally enter the restaurant. To our surprise there are absolutely no Chinese customers, all tables are filled with European and North American tourists. With the barbecue you're supposed to walk along a buffet and fill up a bowl with all kinds of either porc, beef, chicken or deer meat and vegetables and then finish it of with a sauce. You then hand over your bowl to the cook, who is locked up inside a glass cage, and he will roast all the ingredients on a hot grill plate. After about one minute you get your cooked meal in another bowl and you can go back to your table to enjoy the food. I must say that it tasted really good.
After lunch we return to Shanghai's city center to do some more shopping. We visit a couple of huge stores, with about ten floors filled with all kinds of goods. The assortment is probably larger than many West European stores. I makes you wonder if China really is a communist country. On our way back to the bus we also come by a McDonalds, so Rien and I decide that it's time to treat ourselves to a delicious Big Mac menu. Fabienne is still in some shop, so she's not there to share the moment with us. It's strange that a Big Mac sometimes can taste so good, because in Holland I don't even like the Big Macs anymore.
When everyone is back in the bus, we discover that Fabienne is still missing, so we all have to wait another 10 minutes before she finally arrives. staan we toch zo'n 10 minuten te wachten.
We're now heading back to the hotel for our dinner. Apparently more people visited McDonald's because most of the food remains untouched. Which actually is a shame because it's excellent food. Right after dinner we have to go to our room to pack our suitcases and then put them outside the room. That's because tomorrow we will have to get up at 5 o'clock for our flight to Amsterdam.
Tonight's entertainment will finally bring us on top of the Oriental Pearl Tower. The 468 meters tall tower is China's highest building. The observation deck that we will visit is about halfway up the tower. It is possible to go even higher, but again there is a bit hazy weather, so it's no use.
The view on Shanghai from the observation deck is amazing. The "French" buildings along the Bund, on the other side of the river, are all illuminated with flood lights. And the other highrises next to the Oriental Pearl Tower are also very impressive at night. After about an hour we go back to streetlevel again and with the bus we make a city light tour of Shanghai. Shanghai by night is actually pretty quiet, it's hard to believe that there are over 16 million people in this city. The streets are less crowded than most Dutch cities at night.
After our return to the hotel we have another quick visit to the VideoCD store that we also visited yesterday. A couple of groupmembers also wanted to buy some discs for their sons, so we showed them the location. I also bought some more films.
|Tuesday September 7th|
As mentioned before, today's wake up call came at 5 o'clock. Since our suitcases were already gone we didn't need much time to vacate the hotelroom. Breakfast is served in the hotelbar, because at this early hour the restaurant isn't open yet. The breakfast selection is a couple of rolls and fruit juices, but that's alright, I'm not really hungry at this time.
After breakfast we check out of our hotel room and put some late postcards to friends and family in the mailbox and then we leave for the airport. En route to the airport we all thank our guide Ping. One of the groupmembers has prepared a speech to praise her leadership and after that he hands over a envelope with the tip.
When we arrive at the airport, our suitcases are already there, so we pick those up and form a line to check in. Ping has already said goodbye to us, because she has to pick up another Dutch group in Beijing later in the afternoon and her plane is leaving half an hour before ours.
After checking in our suitcases we have to go to immigration and customs. Ping arranged with Rien that he would take care of guiding the rest of the group in the right order along the immigration officer. Wang, our local guide in Beijing, had told us that we would probably get a stamp in our passport if we would say "Woo Ai Ni" (I love you) to the officer, but right now that seemed not such a good idea. First of all the officer was male and secondly we might get in trouble with immigration in the United States on our next visit. So we kept our mouths shut.
The flight to Amsterdam took well over 11 hours, but our seats were perfect this time, so we didn't mind. It makes a lot of difference whether you fly KLM or some other airline.
As we arrived at the luggage belts at Schiphol airport, we said goodbye to the rest of the group and we went in the direction of customs. We were expecting to picked out of the line, because that's what they usually do with flights from Asia, but there actually was no-one there at the counters. Not that it really would have been a problem, because we had nothing to declare, but it's hard to convince a customs officer that China really is that cheap and you therefore stay below the allowed tax exempt amount. But today it was easy. This also means the end of our roundtrip, so it's also time for Rien, Fabienne and I to say goodbye to each other. Rien went home with his parents and Fabienne and I with ours.
We really had a great time in China and I would recommend it to anyone. In this travelogue I am sometimes cynical about visiting yet another factory store or souvenir shop, but that's not criticism on China or its people. This was part of the arrangement by our travel agency. By introducing these commercial activities they could probably keep the price down. So don't let this scare you, it's just part of the experience.
|Click here for part 1|
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