Monthly Archive for May, 2006

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China day 11: Planes, delays and hotels

Woke up with cold moved to final phase: the lingering cough, sometimes accompanied by a coughing-induced headache. So far, the headache has not come. Knock on wood.

Packed out stuff for the trip to Beijing. The flight is not until 7pm, so we had some time to kill. Took a taxi downtown to eat and shop. Went to a hot-pot place, which I found quite enjoyable.

Then shopping. Sabrina bought an umbrella. I looked again for camera gear, but could only find consumer stuff, nothing pro, or even “prosumer”.

Returned home to get our bags, and then taxid to the airport. This flight is from the other older airport in Shanghai. Security proved to be much more lax than I’m accustomed to these days. I like it.

The plane was quite late to depart, about an hour. And now, with the flight just over half done, we’ve been forced to land in Jinan, due to bad weather in Beijing. It remains to be seen whether we will get to Beijing today.

12:30am. After sitting on the ground for hours, remainder of flight cancelled. Beijing airport is closed now. We have to stay in a hotel in Jinan. Sucks. But better than sitting in the plane all night.

1:37am. A bus came, and took us to the terminal. We’ve been here for 15 mins now. Apparently no hotel has been arranged yet, and they don’t know when the next flight will be. Maybe we’ll be spending the night here. We just sit and wait. The guy that was sitting beside us has been very upset, and making quite a spectacle of himself.

2:30am. They got us a hotel. Bus is here to take us.

3:30am. The hotel was a long drive away. Man. Checking in now.

3:45am. Sleep, at last. Must wake up for breakfast and 8, and return to airport at 8:30. Sucks.

China day 10

Starting yesterday, we’ve been having problems with our Blackberries. Our SIMs keep getting rejected. Don’t know what’s up with that.

I did not sleep well last night, the sore throat that started in Hangzhou developed into a full-fledged cold. I’ve spent most of today under a lot of blankets sweating my ass off. This is supposed to help. Sabrina made me ginger congee too, which cranked the sweating up to a high level.

So far, still sick.

Spent most of today in bed, working on the laptop, reading or sleeping.

Sabrina went out for groceries and tickets to Beijing for tomorrow. When she came back, she had a traditional Chinese cold remedy. It made a dark brown tea, about the colouir of Coke. But tasted like licorice, not nearly as bad as Sabrina led me to expect. That cranked the sweat back up before bed.

China day 9

Breakfast buffet in the hotel again.

Hot, humid and raining today. Fortunately, we just need to taxi to the train station, nowhere else to go.

At the train station, waiting room for the train was packed, we could only stand. Considering the hour wait, Sabrina went to look for a better option. She found a room upstairs with comfy leather chairs and hot tea, which only required another dollar to get in. The cheapest upgrade to first class I’ve ever seen. Needless to say, we took it.

Train ride back to Shanghai was uneventful.

We relaxed for a while back in the apartment in Shanghai, and did some laundry. Later, we went to Sabrina’s sister’s place for dinner with the family.

Then shopping in one of the smaller malls in Shanghai (but still huge). Two floors of women’s clothing, shoes and jewellry. Then two floors of men’s wear, children, and some other stuff. Then a floor of food and high-tech stuff. Top floor was my favourite, with lots of stores selling high-end audiophile stereo gear.

When we tired of that, we left for home. But I suggested we stop for tea. I had a ginger and date tea, which is supposedly good for my cold. We also had a dessert snack consisting of a mountain of shaved ice with a core of custard and red beans spilling down the sides. The whole thing really does look like a volcano, and is very good. Yet another cool Chinese dish that I wish was available in Canada.

Then home to sleep.

China day 8

Checked out of the hotel this morning. We left our bags in the care of the concierge, so we could do a little more sight-seeing.

Took a series of trips on motorized boats to visit some quaint little islands in West Lake. The first island was a very small one featuring a pagoda. The second island, named Three Pools Reflecting the Moon, was much larger, and had three very still pools of water, lotus flowers, and gardens. Final stop was a park on the shore way down the lake. We saw peacocks here.

Took a tourist train back to our part of town, via a very long causeway across the lake. We took a taxi to a train ticket office to get our tickets back to Shanghai, but the train was full. Not even standing room. This was probably because it’s Sunday, so people are returning for work. We decided to just stay in HangZhou for one more night.

Returned to the hotel and rebooked our room. At this point, Sabrina had a bit of a headache, probably from all the noise of the city. So, she lay down for a nap, while I read.

Later we went for dinner. Dinner today was a bit of a disappointment. We just sniffed out a place that looked promising from outside, but it didn’t turn out to be very good. We sat on a patio on an upper floor within view of the lake, which was cool. But there were lots of fruitflies, which kept landing on the food. We had Szechuan-style green beans (a constant favourite of mine), picked cabbage, some kind of seasoned corned beef, and sliced fish in tradition Szechuan hot sauce. Oh, and Sabrina had a big pile of snails (disgusting.) The fish in hot sauce, which we have often at China Legend, was not very good. Fish was all bony. Between the bony fish, and fruit flies landing on the food all the time, it was not a spectacular experience.

After that, we walked across to the lake shore. Found a spot to photograph a panorama series of the lake at night (handheld, I never did get the tripod). Then retreated to some tables for beer (Corona this time, enough with the weak local beer), and a milkshake.

Returned to hotel to sleep.

China day 7

Awoke in pleasant bed in hotel room. Down to one of the hotel restaurants, the Chinese one, which is on two floors of the hotel. We get a private room here. Cool.

Another huge menu, full of stuff I wouldn’t eat. But there’s so much in the menu, that Sabrina never seems to have a problem finding some truly delicious things for us.

Sliced lotus root, stuffed with sticky rice, a regional specialty. Marinated bean curd cakes. Crispy bean curd skin rolls (rather like phyllo). Pork with steamed bun baskets (Dongpuo pork, another regional specialty). Steamed green leaves with sauce. Beef strips in spicy soup (inspired by a Szechuan dish that we eat often in Waterloo, but it’s very tame here in HangZhou.)

All excellent. I’m amazed how restaurants here can have fresh ingredients in stock all the time for such a huge array of dishes. And they come out so fast after you order. Always with a wonderful presentation too. All of this for ¥112, under $20. A meal fit for an emperor.

Amazingly, we managed to finish most of it.

Today we’ll be heading to LinYing area, which features a large number of Buddhist statues carved into the rock faces of a mountain named ‘Peak Flying From Afar’, because the mountain was said to have flown here from India, and one of China’s major Buddhist temples.

Another white-knuckle taxi ride brought us to LinYing. Very crowded with tourist groups, the vast majority of them Chinese.

The first sight is a group of caves, with walls and ceilings featuring carvings of buddhas (called louhan in Mandarin). The caves like to drip water onto expensive things like cameras. And tour guides like to use megaphones in your ear in the enclosed space.

After the caves, there are a number of buddhas carved on rock faces around the mountain. These can be reached by a network of narrow treacherous stone steps carved into the mountainside. As if narrow and treacherous was not bad enough, they also feature heavy pedestrian traffic running in both directions, which leads to some tight squeezes with a nasty drop on one side. The whole deal would last about a day in Canada before it was shut down for emergency safety upgrades.

It is considered good luck to touch the hand of these buddhas. Women touch with their right hands, men with their left. The touches of millions of people have polished the hands of the buddhas smooth, revealing veining like marble. Rocks along the path have also been worn smooth from serving as handholds.

We found ourselves on a path that seemed to be heading further up the Peak Flying From Afar. We kept following it, very tiring in the heat. Had to stop a couple times to rest. But eventually found ourselves at the top. Not much there, just an outcropping of rocks, and some characters carved. And refreshment vendors, probably making some good coin.

When we got back down, we crossed a stream and went into the temple complex itself. This a fairly large and fully-operational Buddhist temple. There are many temple buildings as you move up the valley wall.

One of them was the Hall of 500 Louhan, containing 500 sculptures of minor buddhas. They all start to look the same after a while, but some still stand out. Like the one with the really, really long left arm. Or the guy who pulls open his chest, and there’s another guy living inside him, kinda like the character in Total Recall. Sabrina was trying to find ones that looked like me.

At many of the temples, people would hold burning incense in their hands and bow in the four compass directions. Had to be careful of these people, lest they light one’s hair on fire. That would make a smell much less pleasing to the Buddha than the incense.

When we finished the temples, we headed to the exit and caught a taxi back to the hotel. We intended to stop only briefly, but fell asleep instead, so tired from climbing the mountain.

After a nap, we ended the night by walking down to the lakeshore again for a drink.

In Shanghai and HangZhou, the sidewalks always have a lane of tiles that have raised ridges on them. These are so blind people can feel their way along. At hazards or changes in direction, the ridges turn to bumps, which feel different under the feet. It seems like a clever system, but unfortunately a blind person following these will almost certainly be killed the first time he tries to cross an intersection. Even with traffic lights and perfect vision, you have to watch your ass every step.

Stopped at a store to see if I could find a small tripod, which would let me do a nice panorama of the lights around the lake. No tripod to be found, but did see a lot of cool high-tech stuff. Inductive cooking surfaces that look like they belong on the Enterprise. Some things I took to be high-tech dishwashers, but are actually dish sanitizers. They use UV light to sterilize your dishes. I guess nobody uses dishwashers here, because it’s cheaper to hire a servant to do it.

Spent the last couple hours drinking beer and tea on the lake shore. All the local beers here seem to be the same very pale yellow as I had at LauWaiLau restaurant yesterday. And similarly low alcohol, around 2% by volume. I guess that’s just the local style. I don’t care for it all that much, really.

I think I might be catching a cold. That would suck.