Monthly Archive for June, 2006

Back in Canada!

We’re in Vancoobner now. Flight seemed relatively quick and peaceful, despite the large number of babies around us. Not like the flight to China, where one baby cried his fool head off the entire time.

Most wonderful words we will never hear; “For your comfort and convenience, this flight is supplied with screaming-brat-sized doses of Thorazine.”

Waiting to clear customs now, hopefully in time to make our connection to Toronto.

Well, we missed our flight. We’re on standby now for the next flight, which is unfortunately pretty full already. The flight after this one is open, though.

When this happened to Sabrina returning from her last trip to China, they lost all her luggage.

China day 21: Homeward bound

Today we return to Canada.

Packed up all of our stuff. Always seems like you go home with more than you came with, even when you deliberately avoid loading up on touristy knick-knacks.

Sabrina’s parents came over. Her dad cooked us a nice lunch of noodles with fried egg, mean and veggies.

Taxied to airport, and now here we wait.

Cleared outgoing customs, which asks a bunch of questions that are none of their damn business. Characteristic of a control-addicted government. Much like the US in that way.

They wanted to know if we were taking any radio communication equipment out of the country. Of course we. So is everybody who carries a cell-phone. I guess that’s not what they’re asking about, really, so said no.

Cleared security. Among the prohibited items: dry ice (I guess one might make pop-bottle bombs, not that they would no much more than scare people), and “magnetized materials”. Of course I’m carrying magnetized materials. Credit cards. Cassette tapes. The flaps in my Blackberry holster are secured with little rare-earth magnets. What exactly are they really concerned about? How can you crash a plane with a magnet, anyway?

Anyway, we’re aboard now, about to pull awat from the gate. Surrounded by babies… a very bad sign for the coming 12 hours. 🙁

Gotta go. Next time I write will be in Canada.

China day 20

Up at 6am to prepare to go.

Took a shuttle bus to the airport. Along the way, observed another difference in the Chinese way: you commonly see little Mom-and-Pop type shops selling some surprising things. Very industrial things. In Canada, you would never see a tiny shop with a 10 foot frontage selling industrial products like ball-bearings, large valves, etc. That is the domain of major regional distribution centres, small shops could never hope to compete on either selection or price.

But the Western way seems to on its way here, perhaps unfortunately. I have seen Walmart in China. But I wonder… in Canada, Walmart is known as ‘Your Source for Cheap Chinese Plastic Crap’; what is it known as here?

At the airport, we stopped for some of the most expensive coffee I’ve ever had. $4 (dollars, not Yuan) for a small cup of instant coffee. Real coffee was double that, I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction. Insane.

Flight back to Shanghai was smooth, no delays. China Easter Airline seems to have their act together much better than Hainan Air.

Settlied back at our place in Shanghai, and hauling luggage back up six floors again. After getting things under control their, headed over to Sabrina’s parent’s place. While they talked over some things, I browsed Wikipedia on my Blackberry, at slow GPRS rates, filling in gaps in my knowledge of Chinese history.

Then went out for dinner at a Cantonese restaurant in another huge Shanghai shopping mall.

Then home to sleep. Tomorrow, we leave for Canada.

China day 19

Woke up at the crack of noon. Decided to see the two Goose Pagodas, Small and Large. The Small Goose was within walking range, so we set off.

Stopped on the way at a nice restaurant, had handmade noodles, steamed buns. Continued walk to Small Goose.

Small Goose Pagoda was in an inactive Buddhist temple complex, all the buildings converted into shops. Nobody burns incense sticks here, no monks wag disapproving fingers at you if you photograph the Buddhas. There are no Buddhas.

I just accidentally typed “Buddhasm”. Definition: The feeling you get when you finally achieve enlightment.

Quite a climb up, on progressively narrower and steeper steps, before emerging on what is currently the roof. The original top levels of the pagoda were lost in earthquakes.

Walked around the temple area. There are quite a number of stone sculptures on square columns sticking out of the ground. Got photos of some of the more interesting ones.

From there taxied to the Large Goose Pagoda. This one is much larger, and seems to be a little bit active. There were a few monks about, but not many Buddhist devotees. An interesting display of the life of the original Buddha in a series of carved panels around the room.

From the Pagoda, one can see a park next door with a large fountain area, the size of a football field, where people run about and frollick in the water jets. And from a courtyard in from of the Pagoda area, people fly kites.

Taxied back to the Bell Tower from here, and went to a shopping mall across the street, where Sabrina bought a pair of shoes.

China has many stores selling luxury goods, Prada bags, Swiss watches. I even see billboards advertising Ferraris. You’d never see that in Canada, there just aren’t enough potential buyers to make it worthwhile.

But then, you see all sort of weird billboards here. I’ve seen billboards advertising oil-drilling equipment. 99.9999% of people who see that billboard are never, ever, going to buy oil-drilling equipment. The people who do buy such equipment would presumably make their choice based on considerations much more exhaustive than a billboard. So why do they bother?

The gap between rich and poor here is staggering, and the rich can afford to have very expensive tastes. Outside the shops, beggars with no legs paddle themselves about on wheelie boards. In some places, the beggars are surprisingly persistent, blocking your path. But you can’t give them anything, because you’ll be mobbed by them if you do. You can’t help them all, there are just too many.

Went back to the hotel for a rest, before setting out for dinner. We returned to the same restaurant where we had lunch, had some dim-sum type goodies.

Then back to the hotel to sleep. Tomorrow we get up early again to fly back to Shangai. The trip draws quckly to its conclusion.

China day 18

Woke up early, but there was some confusion about the time. We were supposed to leave at 7:30, so we set a wake-up call for 7:00. The call came, and I got up, but Sabrina said it was only 6:30. I figured she had changed the wake-up call time. But then the tour guide called us at 7:00, saying he was here. I figured he had arrived early and could wait a little while.

Then we discovered that the clocks in the room were all 30 minutes slow for some reason, and we had to really boogie.

We met the driver in the lobby and boarded the bus. Gathered up a bunch more tourists, and hit the road. We had an Australian couple, a Swedish couple, an Chinese-American mother, and her thoroughly-banana young daughter, an older Japanese man and his Chinese wife (they were living in Vietnam), and another Asian couple.

The tour took us to five interesting locations, plus one tourist trap. The interesting locations were 1) the site of the “Xi’An Incident”; 2) Lin Tong town museum; 3) Hua Qing Chi hot springs; 4) a reproduction of the underground tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang; 5) the terracotta warriors; 6) the tomb of Qin Shi Huang. The tourist trap was a government-run jade shop.

We were all somewhat surprised to find that tickets to the attractions were not included in the cost of the tour. Apparently that covered only the cost of the bus and guide. He collected a couple hundred per person from us all to cover all the tickets required. We somewhat suspected that that would leave some profit for him, since he was probably going to get some kind of group rate.

The Xi’An Incident took place in 1934. At the time, the Japanese were invading China (the tour guide took great pains at this point to avoid alienating the Japanese tourist.) Chiang Kai-shek had refused many times to help the Communists fight the Japanese, preferring instead to fight the Communists. In a nighttime raid, the Communists attacked his home near Xi’An, to take him prisoner. He heard gunfire, snuck out, and climbed the side of the mountain nearby, and hid in a cave. But the Communists searched the mountainside, and found him. He was taken prisoner, and convinced/forced to agree to join their fight against Japanese invaders. Exactly how this whole scheme convinced him to help is not clear to me. Unfortunately for Chiang Kai-shek, fighting off the Japanese left his army so weakened when it was done that the Communists walked all over them and took over the country.

The cave where he hid is now a tourist attraction, though honestly it’s not a bit of history that will greatly interest most foreigners. The cave is up a very steep cleft in the rock, reaching it requires a difficult climb. There are some chains secured to the rock face to help. But with two lines of climbers (some going up, some going down) in the narrow space, it still seemed pretty dangerous. We didn’t try it. This is one of those tourist attractions that would not last a day in Canada, safety or liability worries would shut it down.

The next stop was Lin Tong town museum. It features some Terracotta warriors, some other broze artifacts. One of the main attractions, of interest to Buddhists, is some relics of a famous old monk, some pieces of bone. But really all there is to see is a small sprinkling of little bits, surprisingly clear for bone. They looked like bits of glass or plastic, really.

The next stop, Hua Qing Chi hot springs, is built around a mountain hot spring. A Qing Dynasty prince built a bath here for his favourite concubine, said to be the most beautiful woman ever in China. Other baths were built for the emperor himself, princes, and officials… a whole lot of baths. Most are now in ruins. The site is being renovated with a whole lot of modern embellishments.

There is a fountain (supposedly) supplied by the hot spring. For ¥0.50, you can wash your hands in the waters, which are supposed to have age-reversing properties. The guide says the water has 31 different minerals in it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a very typical number for spring waters.

From there we moved on to an indoor reproduction of the underground tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. The actual tomb site would be seen later on in the tour, but the tomb itself is not open to visitors yet.

The ceiling of the tomb was painted with the stars. And the floor was decorated with a 3-D scale map of China, as it was after Qin united the warring kingdoms. The rivers in the model had been filled with mercury. But in the thosands of years since, it leaked out, contaminating the soil in the area. The contaminated soil is, I think, how the tomb was discovered. And it’s probably also the reason why it remains closed to the public.

The next stop was the one that everybody comes to see, the world-famous terracotta warriors. And army buried in the ground about 1.5km away from the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. After Qin Shi Huang’s death, a peasant revolt overthrew his son and ended his dynasty. But in my opinion, it came too late.

Aside from his debateably-valuable contribution of uniting China, he was also an insane tyrant. Thousands died making his Great Wall for him. After his tomb and the terracotta army were completed, he had all those who had laboured on them, over 720,000 people, killed. Just to keep the secret of their location. Why the people did not revolt at that time and tear the madman to pieces is quite beyond my understanding. They waited until he died naturally, and then overthrew his son. And then they broke into the chamber of the terracotta warriors (apparently the secret got out anyway), and smashed them all up. Then the thousands of years passed, and the terracotta warriors were lost.

They were rediscovered in 1974 by a farmer digging a well. The farmer is still alive, and sits behind a desk signing copies of books about the warriors. He is referred to as the “director” of the facility, but I’m sure that’s just an honourary title.

The chambers of the warriors are still actively being excavated. Large buildings, like aircraft hangars, have been constructed over the three pits where terracotta warriors have been found. The excavation is very slow and cautious. Most of the excavation has only reached the remains of the wooden beams that covered the halls of the warriors. Thousands of them remain buried. They have delayed excavating the remaining warriors, until they find a way to preserve their colours. The warriors were originally painted very brightly, but the paints faded very quickly after they were exposed to air and light.

The final stop was the tomb of Qin Shi Huang himself. This site was quite large. There were small tour busses that could carry us around, but the guide said they would cost us an extra ¥20/person. Having been nickel-and-dimed for extra fees all day long, we declined. One other couple also declined, preferring to climb the stairs to the summit themselves.

After the others all left, we overheard another tour guide negotiate a rate for his group of ¥8/person. Our guide probably got a similar rate, and pocketted ¥12/person. Quite a scam he’s got going on.

Sabrina and I just walked a circuit around the hill in which the tomb is located. The site supposedly includes a mass grave of the 720,000 labourers that Qin Shi Huang had killed after his tomb was completed. And the place where a large bronze chariot had been discovered in the ground. And a few other things. But there’s really little to be seen here: it’s all grown over. And Qin’s tomb itself is not open to visitors. So basically the place is just a big park, nothing to see.

After we returned to the hotel, we rested for a while, then set out for dinner. We went to a dumpling restaurant across the road which feautures a “dumpling banquet”: 14 different kinds of dumpling, one of each. They were all delicious, and some quite wonderful to look at too. But pork-filled dumplings always give me the most spectacularly malodorous burps for some reason.

Went home for a long sleep, with no reason to get up early in the morning. Such bliss.