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Changshu

October 26th, 2016

Changshu is a fun little day-trip from Suzhou. I went on a Sunday in between two weeks of working. It’s a small city about 50km northwest of Suzhou, and you can get there easily on a long distance bus which takes an hour. The name 常熟 is a bit funny: it means something like “often ripe”! Anyway there’s three principle attractions: a pagoda, a big hill, and a classical garden. There’s also a scenic lake a little way out of town but I didn’t have time to visit.

Aforementioned pagoda

Aforementioned pagoda

It’s quite a long walk from the bus station to the “cultural” area – maybe it would have been better to take a taxi. But anyway, this is the pagoda, called 方塔 or “square tower”, presumably because all the levels have a square shape rather than usual octagon shape. There are some surrounding gardens to wander around, but there are better classical gardens to visit in Suzhou, and indeed in Changshu.

You have to pay around 10元 extra for a going-up-the-pagoda ticket. I think I’ve written before about my disappointment in pagodas where you’re only allowed to go up to the third or fourth floor, but in this one you’re able to go to the very top! Though you can’t go outside above the fourth floor.

The next attraction I visited was the huge hill to the west of the city called Yushan 虞山.

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On top of the hill

The walk up to the top was surprisingly long and with little of interest apart from the old city walls. The view from the top was quite good though. The Wikipedia article claims there are “18 scenerys” that can be seen in the area. I don’t think I counted that many, but there’s some tombs, a large temple, and this observation rock.

The land around is all very flat, being in the plain south of the Yangtze river. The hill seems to be a bit of a geological oddity. It’s a shame the day was so hazy, otherwise you could probably see a very long way.

I took a taxi back down to the city because I couldn’t be bothered to walk, which turned out to be a good idea because the driver told me I ought to visit another attraction I had previously overlooked, 燕园 “Yan garden”.

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Yan garden

It’s another classical Chinese garden, but a very nice example of one. It was very quiet in the late afternoon, which made it peaceful to walk around. Best bit was this rock formation in the centre with little tunnels you can crouch through.

I took the scenic route back to the bus station, past these old houses next to a canal which are typical of the traditional architecture in the area.

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Heading back to the bus station

“Night Flower Garden” Lacks Flowers

October 22nd, 2016

So this is my fifth trip to Suzhou in the last 12 months and I thought I’d be scraping the barrel of sightseeing activities, but I spotted something new on my tourist map! The “Net Master Garden” that I visited in March has something called 夜花园 or “Night Flower Garden”. I thought maybe they would have some kind of special flower that only blossoms at night, but actually it was more of a cultural thing with dancing and music.

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There was a tour guided bit around various performances and then we were free to wander around. The lighting was very well done and atmospheric. It was also a really clear evening, and you can see the full moon below (it was mid-Autumn festival).

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Some of the traditional music was quite pleasant, like the group below, however I think the “opera” in the local dialect is something of an acquired taste. The older Chinese tourists seemed suitably impressed though.

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Shenzhen

October 17th, 2016

I stayed in Shenzhen for a week last month on another work trip. It’s my first time in that city, and actually I didn’t see a whole lot of it because the time was spent working and going to restaurants. But what I did see was very shiny and new. Probably because the whole city of 10 million people was just a tiny fishing village 30 years ago.

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This is the massive exhibition centre outside my hotel. The air quality here seems much better than the other big cities I’ve visited in China. I think this is because most of the industry is very high-tech and the cars you see on the street are all very modern.

Shenzhen is also famous for its electronics malls selling components of dubious quality. But sadly I didn’t get a chance to visit one this time.

Lamma Island

October 12th, 2016

I was in Hong Kong for a weekend last month before a work trip to Shenzhen. Besides playing a lot of Pokemon Go (I caught a wild Snorlax) I thought I should try going somewhere a little bit off the beaten track so I hopped on a boat to Lamma Island which is just south west of the main island.

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I walked for about four miles between the two main villages, which admittedly isn’t very far but it was really hot and humid. The scenery on the island is dominated by a huge coal power station which takes a bit of getting used to but I suppose fits with the urban/rural mishmash of the rest of Hong Kong.

Here’s a pro tip: in the village Sok Kwu Wan at the end of my route there’s a seafood restaurant called Lamma Rainbow where if you buy anything, even just a soup, they give you a voucher for a free ride back to the main island on their private boat. Not sure how the economics of that work, but the view from the boat was pretty good!

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Cholsey to Newbury

September 24th, 2016

Here’s a variant on a couple of walks I’ve done previously: a 24 mile jaunt from Cholsey near Didcot to Newbury along a bit of the Ridgeway and through the North Wessex Downs.

I’d really recommend it actually: scenery on the downs is lovely and the detour at the end avoided a boring trudge down the side of the road that blighted a previous adventure in these parts.

Here’s some happy looking pigs going out for a morning forage.

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And this is Donnington castle near Newbury. I didn’t get to spend long there as I was in a massive hurry to catch a train.

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Xcowsay 1.4

September 8th, 2016

Once upon a time I used this this blog to publish softwares of questionable utility, and if my analytics stats are anything to go by, I should have stuck to that. So today I’m proud to announce the release of… xcowsay 1.4!

This is just a rolling up of various minor tweaks over the past few years:

  • Fixed various usages of deprecated Gtk features
  • Allow values with quotes to be set in the config file
  • Fixed a crash when the -r option was used without a value
  • Added a --release option to close the window on mouse button release

Download it here or wait for it to appear in your distribution. Report any problems via the GitHub issue tracker.

Summertime Oslo

September 4th, 2016

I was over in Oslo for two days the week before last. Because everyone in the office there slacks off about 4pm I had some time in the evening to explore. That, and the sun never sets. 😯

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So I wandered around the area by the harbour and castle. I go to Oslo quite often but it’s been nearly seven years since I last went to this part of the city. The light was really lovely: I don’t know if this has to do with being so far north.

Some Pictures of Planes

August 31st, 2016

I went to the Eastbourne Airshow a few weekends ago with my mum. It’s a bit of a tradition: we’ve been to almost every one for the last 15 years or so. Here are some planes we saw!

Biplane

Biplane

Typhoon

Typhoon

Weird plane

Weird plane

Stunt plane

Stunt plane

Cambridge

August 27th, 2016

A few weeks ago I went to stay with a friend who lives in St Neots. Now, St Neots itself does not have a whole lot of attractions except a nature reserve and a pleasant market town centre, but it is close to Cambridge so I went there for the day on Sunday.

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I can’t remember the last time I went to Cambridge. Certainly not since I started this blog and perhaps not since I was a small child. Had some fun wandering around taking photos of the old buildings.

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I met up with another semi-local friend and went punting. Whilst fun and excellent upper body exercise, I don’t think it’s the career for me. At least I didn’t fall in or lose the pole.

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Beijing

August 23rd, 2016

Due to an unexpected hiccup at the factory I had to extend my trip by a week and so had a weekend to do some sightseeing. Now, this being my fourth visit to Suzhou I’ve done most of the attractions of the city and surrounding area, and plus there was a typhoon threatening to ruin my fun. So I decided to go for a more outlandish adventure and after work on Friday I hopped on the high speed train to Beijing.

I’ve written before about China’s awesome high speed train network but where else could I pay just £50 to travel 1100km in a mere five hours. It probably beats flying: with all the faff of getting to/from the airport, delays, etc. Plus the views are a lot better from the train.

I got to Beijing really late but I was staying near the station so that wasn’t a problem. Even that late it was over 30 degrees outside. Summer, it turns out, is not the high season for tourism.

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Saturday I went for the obvious top tourist attractions: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. At first I thought it would be fun to go see Chairman Mao – is mausoleum is in the centre of the photo above – but I didn’t want to queue for hours in the 35 degree heat with no shade.

Before I went I was worried about by the air pollution horror stories I’d heard and considered buying one of those fancy 3M face masks. But even though it looks quite hazy in the photos the air quality seemed better than Shanghai. Apparently it’s worse in the winter.

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The Forbidden Palace is soo big. By the time I’d done the central palaces, the six western palaces, and the six eastern palaces, I’d seen enough palaces. There was probably more to see but I was exhausted from the heat and it all got a bit samey after a while. Had dinner with a former colleague who lives there now.

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On Sunday I was really tempted to try going to the Great Wall. But it apparently takes over an hour and a half from the city and it was going to be crazy busy on a sunny Sunday. So instead I went to the Temple of Heaven which was quite interesting to wander around with an educational audio guide. Like the Forbidden Palace though, it was uncomfortably hot and almost totally lacking in shade. 😕