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.
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.
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.
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. 😕
August 14th, 2016
I seem to be visiting China every few months at the moment. Which good for accumulating air miles but since I always go to the same area finding new things to do at the weekend is becoming harder. So on the Sunday after my arrival in Shanghai, slightly jet-lagged, I went to a museum seldom visited by foreigners: the Memorial of the Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China.
In the exhibit you learn all about the evils of the colonial powers and the heroic deeds of the revolutionaries throwing off the shackles of bourgeois oppression. There’s also lots of spots where you can have your photo taken with revolutionary leaders. Actually, the exhibit is surprisingly educational, and has information boards in English.
This is a diorama of the aforementioned First National Congress, which took place in the building which now houses the museum.
Afterwards I went to the Shanghai Propaganda Art Museum. Now I’m a bit of a fan of the communist propaganda poster, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The museum is quite small and hidden in the basement of residential tower block which is difficult to find, but still definitely worth a visit. Not allowed to take photos though.
August 8th, 2016
I found this little probably-not-genuine Tintin book on a stall in Jixi Longchuan a few months ago. The original story is obviously “Tintin in Tibet” but the Chinese title – which I read as 柛校的“雪人” – was initially a bit of a mystery. 雪人 literally “snow-man” is clear enough, but what is 柛校? The only unhelpful thing my dictionary has to say about 柛 is its unicode code point. Inside, it turns out the actual title is 神秘的“雪人” or “mysterious snowman” and I’d been confused by the font. And there was me thinking I’d found an interesting investigative blog post topic. 🙁
Tintin’s name in Chinese is 丁丁 “ding-ding” which incidentally also seems to be Tinky Winky’s Chinese name as well.
The dialogue is an incey bit beyond my reading level at the moment, but it’s somewhat understandable. Better than my failed attempt to read Doraemon anyway.
July 31st, 2016
A hot and sunny summer day meant it was definitely time to go adventuring in the Chilterns. So last Saturday I set of a not particularly adventurous adventure from Henley to Wallingford and back again.
This is a lush meadow heading out of Henley. So many flowers and bugs!
I’ve visited Wallingford a couple of times in the past. It’s a pleasant market town just over the Thames south of Oxford. It’s most interesting features are the bridge, ruined castle, and this, the town hall. A local pub was having a “lure party”. I guess this is to do with Pokemon Go and not fishing.
It was so hot that I completely ran out of water on the return trip to Henley. Luckily I managed to find a stranger to fill up my bottle. The dryness and the ripening crops do make the fields a nice yellow colour though.
July 24th, 2016
I’ve been decorating my home recently! These two oil paintings I bought on canvases from some student art market. The framer was a bit snooty about the quality, and actually I paid more to get them framed than the paintings cost originally, but they liven up the walls and I’m no art critic…
This one is a painting on rice paper I bought when I was in China back in April. Again I got it framed separately back in the UK. The lady in the shop didn’t speak English and my Chinese isn’t great, but I gathered it’s a painting of Suzhou in autumn by a local man who is old, famous, and blind. Hanging in my hallway now: looks really good.
July 12th, 2016
I had one last day in Shanghai after my holiday before flying back home. I arrived really early on the overnight train, so I had a great opportunity to beat the queue and go up the Oriental Pearl Tower which I had shunned before.
I went to the “middle” globe (which is actually quite near the top). You can pay extra to go to the very top globe but I doubt the view is much better and it is a lot more. The view is quite good, despite the smog. On one side you can see all the old colonial buildings and on the other all the modern skyscrapers.
Underneath the middle global is this exciting glass-floored observation gallery. It was a bit unsettling actually. Although I managed to venture onto the glass to take a few photos of my feet.
The tower definitely looks better lit up by night. The grey-tower on grey-smog look during the day isn’t great.
June 30th, 2016
Back to holiday blogging! This time I’m visiting another traditional village in Anhui called Hongcun (宏村).
If it looks vaguely familiar it’s because it’s often used as a film set. Most notably for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. This scene with the bridge reflecting on the lake is a favourite among Chinese artists.
The village was designed during the Ming and Qing dynasties along Feng Shui principles. The layout is supposed to resemble the entrails of an ox with the lakes representing different organs and the little flowing streams, like the one on the right here, representing the intestines.
Below is “half moon lake”. This represents the stomach and the little streams flow away from it. It’s really photogenic, even on a cloudy day.
In addition to the water features there is the usual array of houses and temples to wander around. The school house is particularly good. People actually still live here: I met a really friendly lady who had a shop selling tea she grew on here farm, and there’s a couple of other interesting shops dotted around.
To get there I took the bus from the main bus station in Tunxi. It took an hour and a half but was clean and the view from the bus when it got off the main road was amazing. There seems to be some confusing and contradictory transport information online: I went in May 2016 and the busses left every hour at half past and returned on the hour until 5pm. You can buy the return ticket when you board the bus in the car park, but you need to buy the outgoing ticket from the office in the bus station.
The bus stops at a couple of other “scenic villages” on the way. There wasn’t enough time to check them out, but they didn’t look as impressive as Hongcun.
June 29th, 2016
I tried to escape the post-Brexit gloom on Sunday by going for a little walk from near High Wycombe to Gerrards Cross. Was pleasant enough, if uneventful. There are a lot of very nice houses, or rather mansions, in this area.
I haven’t been doing very well with adventuring this year. A combination of a hectic house move and travelling a lot for work. Never mind, the upside of post-Brexit recession unemployment will be more time to explore!
June 28th, 2016
Qiyun Shan (齐云山) is one of the Four Sacred Mountains of Taoism and about 30 minutes drive or 45 minutes bus ride from where I was staying in Tunxi. The name means something like “level-with-clouds mountain”. Although it wasn’t raining when I arrived, I was ominously the only passenger on the bus up to the entrance. Just as I got off the most almighty downpour started, the like of which I have never seen before. I was trapped inside the little tourist information building for nearly an hour and a half before it eased off enough to go outside. That afternoon I found out it had been, even for China, an unusually extreme amount of rain because a number of roads and rivers had flooded.
Being a holy mountain you’d expect lots of temples and you wouldn’t be disappointed. There’s a village too to explore but was utterly deserted. I think it made for some atmospheric photos though.
I didn’t dare hike up to the summit because there’d been several lightning strikes and the path looked a bit slippery and treacherous. On a nicer day it might be fun to walk from the summit back down to the base as there are several attractions part way down the mountain I didn’t visit. But sadly I’m unlikely to have an opportunity to go back. Maybe one of you readers will though!
June 26th, 2016
Due to a catastrophic lack of forward planning I’d only planned one day out on my trip to Anhui and figured I’d leave the rest to happenstance. The guidebook mentioned this placed called Jixi Longchuan (绩溪龙川) was worth a visit. So I set about trying to get there.
The great thing about China is that if there’s no train to the place you want to go you can just wait a year or two and they’ll build a high speed rail line for you. The guidebook suggested taking a 1.5 hour bus, but a quick search on Ctrip reveals you can now take the train! The taxi driver told me this new “North” station was only built last year. It’s suitably shiny and rather empty.
After a bit of a fail where I bought a ticket for the wrong day on Ctrip (I managed to salvage it by explaining how I’d 买错了), I rode the high speed train for a whole fifteen minutes to Jixi.
This was also a mistake as Jixi Longchuan (scenic spot) is not actually in Jixi (industrial town seldom visited by foreigners). But whatever, the 30 minute taxi ride to the right place was so cheap it didn’t really matter.
The scenery out here is gorgeous. I think it’s my first proper outing to the Chinese countryside. Some older people in the fields planting rice.
The attraction here is another well preserved old village you pay a nominal fee to wander around. I like these places a lot, as you might have gathered, and there’s a few more to blog about later in the week.
The “long” 龙 in Longchuan means “dragon” and refers to the snaking line of pebbles down the walkway on one side of the river. The other side is supposed to be a phoenix. Not sure what a “chuan” 川 is but it’s the same character as in Sichuan (四川) – something to do with rivers or plains. Another little factoid: the village used to be a centre of paper making and has a small exhibition on it.
At the other end of the village is this river which you can wander along and admire the curiously shaped mountains.
There’s maybe 2-3 hours exploring to be had and afterwards I caught the bus back to Jixi. Here’s the train pulling in. The evening was lovely. Unfortunately, it was the last rain free day of that week. 🙁