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Langde Miao Village

March 24th, 2017

Here’s another Miao village, called 郎德 “LangDe”, but it’s a lot smaller and quieter than XiJiang which I visited the previous day. Really it’s more of a hamlet.

According to the Lonely Planet guidebook you can only reach here by taking the 凯里 Kaili to 雷山 Leishan bus and hopping off on the main road at the “lower” village and then walking 2km up the valley to the “upper” village. This isn’t true as there’s a local hourly minibus that goes direct to the village from the same bus station in Kaili and takes a very picturesque, if mildly terrifying, back country route through the mountains. The return schedule isn’t clear and is possibly just “when the driver feels like it”, but I certainly managed to get one back around 16:30.

凯里 Kaili was the town where I was staying these few days, by the way. There’s not a lot in the town itself, but the transport links are good, there’s some interesting night markets, and a free “minorities museum” for rainy afternoons.

You can hike up the mountain behind the village via an incredibly steep and slippery path. The scenery looked almost alpine, apart from all those 梯田 terraced fields.

Some of the houses have been turned into museums, including one full of weapons used by a 19th century revolutionary warlord, one Yang DaLu according to the information panel, who apparently wasn’t famous enough to make it onto the English language Wikipedia.

There didn’t seem to be any restaurants, or at least none that were open in the winter, but luckily I made friends with this slightly batty old lady who made me some kind of hotpot lunch for 50元. Unfortunately she also forced me to drink a whole cup of her homemade 米酒, which is a sort of lethal rice wine, from a large tank in her living room – despite my protests of “我快醉了!”. I refused to buy a bottle. Anyway I managed to escape and decided to walk off my slight tipsiness by exploring down the river valley towards the lower village.

This is halfway down the landscaped path between the two villages. The lower village is on the main road and a bit more modern but the bridge over the river is very elegant.

Xijiang Miao Village

March 22nd, 2017

So one of the tourist highlights of Guizhou is visiting the collection of traditional ethnic minority villages in the province. There’s rather a lot so I picked one area 黔东南 “Qiandongnan” as a base and spent a few days travelling around and exploring by bus. 西江寨 “XiJiang village” is today’s stop, and probably one of the more famous of these villages, inhabited by the 苗 “Miao” nationality. 寨 “zhài” can be our word of the day and it means “stockaded village”, you see it in all the place names in this area.

The main street of the village along this river feels a bit touristy and a little too shiny. But it’s all very picturesque. If you head higher up the mountain it starts to become a bit more authentic, and people don’t seem to mind you wandering around peering at their houses. I tried chatting to some of them but their accent was pretty impenetrable, and my Mandarin isn’t great to start with.

In the afternoon I went for a walk in the countryside nearby. All around are these rice terraces. Lonely Planet suggested you could get to another village by walking up over the top of the mountain and into the next valley but the guidebook directions were almost uselessly vague and the upper levels of the terraces were difficult to navigate so I gave up. I did notice however that all the rice paddies seemed a bit… dead. I thought gloomily that maybe all the villages had given up traditional farming to live off the tourism money, but a Chinese friend said it was probably because it’s winter and not the rice growing season so they were off doing other work. This seemed to be supported by the massive amount of construction work going on, I guess they have to spend that hefty village entry fee on something.

Guiyang

March 16th, 2017

Done with work now it’s time to go adventuring! Actually this happened a few weeks ago, I’ve just been very lacklustre updating this blog. I’ve done a lot of exploring around the Suzhou area so I thought I’d like to try somewhere a bit different so this time I took a flight to Guizhou province in the south.

Guiyang 贵阳 is the capital of Guizhou. The 贵 “gui” bit means “expensive” which is presumably a joke because everything here is really cheap. It’s the first place I’ve been in China where prices regularly have the decimal point in them.

The city doesn’t have a whole lot of tourist attractions but the main one is this called Jiaxu Pavillion in the centre of town. It’s free to get in to which is nice, and there’s a temple on the opposite bank which is pleasant to wander around.

The area around the river is quite modern, the Chinese government investing a lot of money in developing the south west at the moment. But the rest of the city feels a bit more “traditional”.

On the second day I wasn’t really sure what to do. I thought about going to an ancient village that the guidebook mentioned but lack of time and poor planning on my part meant I had to give up on that. So instead I went to a “mountain park” 黔灵公园 more or less at random, which was actually a really good choice!

The park is just on the edge of the city and very busy on a Sunday morning. There’s a whole bunch of attractions including a temple and a zoo with some rather sad looking bears and tigers. But the best thing is the hordes of wild monkeys who are everywhere and not at all afraid of humans.

In fact they seem to be a kind of pest as there was a guy with a sling – presumably in an official capacity – flinging stones at them to keep them off the paths.

Lingering Garden

February 14th, 2017

Woo, came back to Suzhou again! For the sixth time. But luckily I’ve still got a few tourists attractions left to visit. So this afternoon, very jet-lagged, I went for a wander around 留园 “Lingering Garden”. Which I saw proclaimed by a random billboard as one of the “top four gardens in China”. Woo!

The centerpiece is the lake with rocks and pavilions which looks a lot like the other gardens I’ve been to, but this is definitely one of the better examples. And it was very peaceful to wander around in the spring sunshine. Also lots of artists there painting the traditional scenes.

Last spring when I was here the cherry blossom trees were beautiful. This time it seems I’m a few weeks too early. 🙁

Alcatraz

February 10th, 2017

On my last day in San Francisco my flight was in the evening so a colleague and I took the opportunity to visit the second most famous tourist attraction, Alcatraz.

Lots of websites say you need to pre-book up to three months in advance, but evidently this doesn’t apply in January as we just turned up at the dock and bought tickets for the first ferry of the day. The trip across the bay was very scenic, with great views of the city and the island and the bridge in the distance.

We didn’t have an awful lot of time on the island so couldn’t do the guided tour, but the audio tour was pretty good. And we got to see all the cells and facilities and escape shafts and so on some half-decent narration.

Quite a few people told us, we “absolutely must see the sea lions!”, which are in an the harbour area where the ferry docks. What a waste of time. It was some captive sea lions lazing on a wooden pontoon in an enclosed pool. Maybe I was missing something.

Twin Peaks

February 5th, 2017

I had a really hectic week in SF working 12 hour days for our product’s launch (even on Sunday!). So after it was over I felt justified slacking off for the afternoon to go exploring. If you were curious why I spent the last few years travelling to Asia all the time, here’s the thing we (finally) launched! (video) (sales blurb)

I walked from my hotel in a slightly seedy downtown area called “the Tenderloin” to the city’s highest point called Twin Peaks. San Francisco has an alarming number of homeless people – you can see some of them hanging out in the first photo below – which I didn’t really expect.

Walking up the hill

Above a certain point the view really opened out and you could see all the way across the city to the Golden Gate bridge. The Twin Peaks area is easy to locate from anywhere owing to the massive radio antenna on the top.

Panorama from Twin Peaks

I made it to the viewing area at the top just before sunset and made this panorama. On the other side you can see right out over the Pacific. I hung around until it got dark and cold then I summoned an Uber to ride back down. That being the thing to do in SF.

San Francisco

January 30th, 2017

I’m in Trumpland at the moment as some kind of tech support for the launch of our new product. On Saturday we had a free day to do some sightseeing.

I always imagined California was warm and sunny all year round but this is sadly untrue. At the weekend it was cold and wet and grey. Obviously the number one attraction is the bridge, so a group of us walked there from the downtown area. The neighbourhood around our hotel was decidedly dodgy, but the hilly residential area near the bridge had some very nice houses. Although there were no shops or other amenities to be found.

Pink house

Everyone else’s photos of the Golden Gate bridge have blue sky or the iconic fog, so I suppose my grey clouds must be somewhat unique. It was still very impressive to look at.

Golden Gate Bridge

Just underneath the bridge is an old fort called Fort Point that you can climb up on top of to get some really good views. This used to form a triangle of fortifications with Alcatraz and another fort across the bay.

Fort Point

Seafront Sunset

December 31st, 2016

Coming back from visiting my gran on Wednesday I saw this epic sunset on Hastings seafront.

Notice that the pier is now rebuilt! So proud to be a shareholder. 😀 Hope they can put some more stuff on it though.

Mince Pie Results

December 25th, 2016

Yes I know it’s Christmas already but it’s not too late to share the results of our office mince pie survey.

In all 24 pies were sampled: a record! The best is Riverford organic pies but the Waitrose “all butter” and M&S “star” pies are decent too. Stock up now!

Some Pigs and a Sunset

December 18th, 2016

Last Sunday I was feeling a little bit ill so didn’t feel like going for a full blown adventure. Instead I went for a walk along the Thames from Westminster to Greenwich. At the start it was packed with tourists and a bit annoying, but it soon thinned out and was quite pleasant.

Surrey Docks farm

About halfway I stumbled across Surrey Docks farm which is a fun little free city farm with some very cute piggies. I suddenly remembered I’d been there before, back in 2010 according to this blog.

Royal Naval college

The evening light in Greenwich was really good, and then we had this fantastic sunset. I took the boat back to the city centre which turned out to be a great idea as I took a lot of photos like this one.

Epic sunset

I keep recommending the “Thames Clipper” service to colleagues who visit London: it’s fast, cheap (you can use an Oyster card), and frequent – so much better than the tourist boats. They should give me some commission…