China

AirportA comfortable overnight flight with Air New Zealand. The Chief Purser, Wayne, was very friendly and helpful giving us some notes with a selection of useful words, restaurants and places of interest.  It's been some time since we flew on New Zealand's own airline and we were favourably impressed. There lie flat seats really do lie flat, with your head, feet and bum all at the same level, more than you can say for Malaysian or Thai where flat they may be but you end up in a crumpled heap at the footrest. I'd fly NZ again although the price would need to be more competitive.

Shanghai airport is HUGE and on our arrival pretty deserted. The pilot described the weather as foggy but I have a suspicion that the murk we see is entirely or at least partially man made. Formalities completed the first hurdle was would we actually be met by someone from Sinoway travel or was it just a well manufactured internet scam? Add a comment

Read more: Day 1 - Arrival

Priceless jade monstosityA great nights sleep despite the jet lag sadly followed by a standard hotel breakfast. Looks great but the reality is disappointing, in the hoteliers world presentation is more important than taste but it's still better than the Sheraton.

by the ten o'clock pick up time the overnight rain ceased completely with the bonus that the temperature was at a far more comfortable level too. First stop was the euphonically named Jade Buddha Temple, an active monastery where they have not one but two large Jade Buddhas. More interestingly there was a buddhist service in progress, not a richly festive as the Tibetan version but still pretty interesting. Our visit culminated(?) in a tea tasting and Mary bought a large packet of an unpleasant tasting herbal infusion claimed have healing properties that with luck will languish in the pantry for some time before being discarded unopened.

Next stop an 'Arts and Crafts Centre' where I, having a nose for this sort of thing, spotted 'retail' at the first object, a Jade carving the size of an automatic washing machine, with a price tag in excess of two million NZ dollars. I was in the wrong place but Mary loved it.

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Read more: Shanghai

Silk WormsUnsurprisingly up early and another skirmish with the hotel breakfast, no real improvement except a smaller crowd.  We've packed one suitcase to leave at the hotel for collection when we return to Shanghai and tried to limit what we take with us. I'm not sure how successful this will be but the thermals are clearly 'not required on voyage'.

Bella has arranged to pick us up at 11 and take us to a silk 'factory' thence to the airport. A bit more forethought would have had us change his to something more interesting but that's really only hindsight.

The silk factory was as anticipated interesting but predominantly a retail opportunity, We bought a useful silk quilt and an even more useful parasol (not silk). Don't ask, I have no idea. Add a comment

Read more: Peking Duck

Forbidden City with 11Breakfast was shared with a couple from Wisconsin (and his mother) who have been living in Shanghai. they gave us some interesting information about the Communist regime here and their repression of information.  30,000 staff dedicated to censoring email and the like if they are to be believed.

Promptly at 9:30 Ling Ling collected us on a lovely sunny day for our first stop at Tiananmen Square. Hard to believe the scale of the place and the sad fact the locals demolished one of the gates of the Forbidden City to build a horrible monument to the unlamented Chairman Mao. There has been little consideration to the retention of  old stuff until very recently.

Today included visits to the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven, both wonderful World Heritage areas about which much has been written about far more eloquently than I can. Neither were what I was expecting and both were really quite eye opening. Ling Ling managed to slip on the steps at the Temple of Heaven and fell firmly on her bottom unfortunately she bruised both ankles in the process which rather slowed her down. Add a comment

Read more: Around Beijing

Ling Ling Goes FishingNot quite such a fine day but pleasantly warm if not the greatest visibility as you can see from the picture of the 'birdcage' (the new Olympic stadium).

First stop was another factory (read shop). This will be the last one but made some sort of copper lacquer ware the name of which was French but eludes me for the moment. The shop has a vast array of the stuff complete with christmas trees and Santas, very nasty. I hope we'll decline any more shops.

The Ming Tombs are the last resting places of the Ming Emperors. The 'Sprit Way' leading up to the tombs is pretty impressive but the tomb we saw (Chang Ling) while impressive ,is a bit dull after the  Forbidden City. Worth a look if you're nearby, the main feature however is the Great Wall. Add a comment

Read more: It's a Great Wall

PandaFor whatever reason the air conditioning in our room determined that we are not warm enough. Perhaps the steam from the laundry has frozen it up or something. In any case the night was warm. Too warm. That taken with the extra beer and herself sawing timber made sleep difficult.

Eventually morning came with another hotel breakfast and yet more packing. Packing and hotel breakfasts are two of the unavoidable downsides of travel. Cooler, overcast and much clearer today which is a real win for our programme.

Rather touchingly Ling Ling had a small pendant as a gift for us, with the ideograph for peace on one side and happiness on the reverse. She has been an excellent guide and we have thoughily enjoyed her sense of humour and knowledge. Se have promised to send her some photos.

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Read more: More Beijing

ugly man Most of the day was to be spend driving from Taiyuan  to Pingyao and visiting sites along the way. Mostly a clear day but despite the air conditioning the car was uncomfortably hot.

First the Jinci Temple, set in splendid grounds there is a huge amount of work going on to extend the gardens. We saw the oldest bridge in China, (read, a new bridge more or less in the style of the oldest bridge which used to stand here but probably wasn't made of concrete), a 3,000 year old tree (LP says 1,000, you choose) and a splendid old pavilion. David's pretty good but does tend to draw it out a little.

A better lunch than yesterday at a large complex with fish in tanks, indoor fountains and streams and Heaven knows what else catering to locals.

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Read more: Temples!

Hotel CourtyardThe power failed sometime in the night and this would not have been a problem however it seems that the water supply requires electricity. Luckily shortly before we were due to check out some power was restored, not apparently enough for the internet to work so we could send email to the family but enough for a shower and and urgent flush of the loo....

Pingyao is a walled town and the walls are as far as we could tell complete, note the usual caveat that these walls have been extensively 'repaired' applies. We walked around the top of the wall from the North gate to the East getting a splendid view over the town including what appeared to be a very nasty prison.

From there there were several temples (Taoist and Confucius) a 'city of hell', another Buddhist the old city Hall (I think), the first bank in China and several businessman's houses. I could be wrong about any or all of these and to tell the truth there is a great similarity between them. With tired legs it gets progressively harder to maintain an interested appearance :) Add a comment

Read more: Pingyao

Time passes slowlyMy survey of bogs on Chinese trains reveals that they are little better than in my earlier survey of Indian trains although they are cleaner I guess, no shit up the walls anyway. Both are best avoided or at least pee standing up (my choice on this occasion). Who would want to be a worker on the railway track.....

David was wrong about the attendants on the train, he said they would come around and make up the bed. They kept themselves to themselves and looked stern whenever I went past. I left them well alone. Add a comment

Read more: Xian

The warriors are in he backgroundWendy is a bit sharp I've decided. On the way to the Terracotta Warriors she took us to see “how they were made”. Turned out to be another factory (a shop) for warrior replicas, lacquered tables and screens and heaven knows what else. A modest size warrior, under half size, would cost you only $NZ 1,000 to have delivered to your home. One for each gate post perhaps? Have one to hang umbrellas on? No? I thought not.

The actual exhibition is on a huge scale and has a 'wow' factor when you first go into the building. Truly it is well deserving of the title “Eighth wonder of the world” but where does that leave the Great Wall? Ninth? They have both got to be on your list things you must see. Add a comment

Read more: Terracotta Army

New FriendsWe rather think That the Hyatt have got the recipe a bit better than the others although the air conditioning did not cope well with drying the laundry. There's a bag of mildly moist t-shirts and under-shorts in my bag, luckily the Hyatt still provide plastic bags for guest use (China has just banned free give away bags)

A moderately early pick up at 9am so we can see the Great Mosque and Bell Tower in the centre of town before we leave for the airport. Wendy tells us that serving large tea mugs is a sign of respect as big is better and so old tourists like us get them, I'm a bit unconvinced myself. She also tells us she's going to take our advice and get married at Chinese New Year in the spring.

There's a small alley leading to the mosque with vast numbers of street vendor stalls which opens onto the mosque. Very Chinese in style it's well worth a visit. Outside on the street a water cart passed playing 'Happy Birthday' while spraying cyclists and pedestrians with water intended presumably to damp the ubiquitous dust. Add a comment

Read more: New Friends

Yao LadyWe are going to the Long Ji Rice Terraces today, these are at least two and a half hours distant in the mini van. The road is, shall we say, tortuous, the standard of driving is pretty rubbish and there are no seat-belts visible in the back of this transport either. Best not to be too frightened of heights either.

After our pick up at 8:30 Julie had a go at selling us an acrobatic show for tonight. Tempting as it looked we declined, there were more people spinning on silk streamers and that was more than enough for me.

All that said the Long Ji Terraces are as good as the Terracotta Warriors and the Great Wall. The villages, paths, irrigation, terraces and buildings are all very reminiscent of Nepal, even the people have striking similarities. Whatever, this is another great place to visit. Add a comment

Read more: Guilin

Mary and JulieMary has had an entertaining night with the bathroom, it's unlikely to have been last nights dinner as I seem to be ok at this stage but we were a little late coming downstairs as we have a fair idea of what the loo on the boat will be like.

I though we had been told that the boat would pick us up opposite the hotel but actually we were taken some 20 plus minutes out of town to a large, we'll call it a port for want of a better name. Needless to say you can buy all sorts of stuff there, including according to Juli, naff electronics and dodgy memory cards. These latter she suggests you avoid as they are likely to have been relabelled.

She also warned us that prices on the boat for extras such as books, food and drinks should be avoided, advice we took. Our advice would also be to be prepared to minimise lunch, it's not one of the great experiences and I suspect much use is made of river water in the catering, despite Juli's assurances it didn't look so clean to me. The loos are also an unrewarding experience and one could lead to another I'd bet. Add a comment

Read more: Yangshuo


We don the bagsThe rain has stopped and breakfast at the Paradise would have been fine had we not had to share it with a party of American College kids. Someone should warn them before they leave the US that the rest of the world does not really want to hear their views of bargaining, vegetables and college life. If they want to share them with each other that's fine but please - not so loud.

Just outside the hotel we were provided with bicycles (BMX for me, ladies no gear for Mary) and we wobbled off down the road. Given the manic way they drive around Yangshuo (and the rest of China) this is probably not one of the all time safe activities we have undertaken. Unlike 'Bungee Jumping' you could easily get killed. Apparently a lot of the rental bikes are seriously inferior models and many tourists have problems with the bikes themselves and being charged for 'damage' when bits break.

None the less we gradually got the hang of the bikes and Juli led us out into the so, so scenic countryside with the vast rocks (hills? mountains?) called karsts rising nearly vertically out of the paddy fields. About now the rain started mildly and we donned our emergency raincoats (thin plastic bags) and carried on.
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Read more: Bicycles

431kph on boardThe only remaining event is the trip to the airport on the `maglev' train. This thing just accelerates and accelerates to an indicated 430KPH covering 30km in eight minutes. I've no idea how this converts to mile per hours, suffice it to say the speed blows your socks off.  At one point it runs parallel with the motorway and the cars look like they are standing still (actually they may well be).

Beyond that it's an airport and the usual tedium of travel (we hope) Add a comment