This is an ongoing, rambling project that should be finished the day after I die. Until then, feel free to read about some of my zany adventures, both in Canada and in other places.
Oct 12, 2008 06:00 PM Day 16 Exploring Tianjin
We got up early to take a train to Tianjin today. Jenn had studied there and wanted to go back and visit. We had breakfast and were out the door just after 8:30. It took us more than 2 hours to get to the train station, but we finally made it there just after 11am. We hopped on a train to Tianjin. It was reminiscent of Japan’s bullet trains and was clean, fast and affordable. It took only 30 minutes and we were in Tianjin!
Our first stop was Goubouli, a famous steamed bun restaurant. We went in, where there was a pretty long line and ordered 2 dozen buns. It was fairly expensive (80 RMB), but they were fantastic. Fresh, hot, and juicy, filled with pork and veggies, they were the best steamed buns I’d ever had, despite being on the small side.
We wandered around the shopping area it was in afterwards, heading for a bus stop, looking at the odd mix of 100 year old buildings and modern glass and brass ones. We got to the bus stop and found out that none of the buses there went to our destination, so we hopped in a cab and took off. The cab took us to an elevated train station (recently built for the Olympics) and we hopped on. After 30 minutes, we got to the end of the line and we were still a ways from our next stop, Daguko, so we had to take another taxi. The taxi drove and drove and after almost an hour, we got there.
Daguko was a fort built over 150 years ago to protect Tianjin from invasion. Located on a peninsula jutting out into the sea, it was very far from Tianjin, at least 10 KM, maybe more. The area around it was a huge construction zone, with trucks cranes and a lot of dust. It was attacked by the British and French in the 1860s and captured, as part of their attack on China. After that conflict, the Chinese repaired it. It was attacked again in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion and almost totally destroyed, being captured by a force from the Eight Allied Nations. That war left the Chinese weak and poor and it was never rebuilt.
When we got there, it was little more than a small hill, topped with crumbling battlements and some old rusting cannons. Nearby was a modern Chinese military base, with a radar dish and troops patrolling the perimeter. My guess is that little base performs the same duties Daguko once did, although no weapons were visible. My guess is it is an early warning station of some sort.
Tianijn was also home to a museum, located on an old Russian aircraft carrier. Given that it had taken us almost two hours to get to Daguko (it was almost 4pm by the time we got there), and it was very far away, we decided to skip it. Oh well, next time I guess.
After that, we got back in our taxi and headed back into Tianjin. We got dropped off in the old section of Tianjin, where much like Qingdao, there were a lot of old turn of the century buildings. We took pictures and started looking for dinner. We stumbled upon the same shopping area that had Goubouli in it, but we were at the far southern end of it. We stopped and ate dinner in a little cafeteria type place and then headed north.
Jenn had wanted a special snack that Tainjin was well known for (salty cracker twists is the best I can describe them), so I convinced her to keep on walking, as the store was next to Goubouli. We found it and then bought some. It was already 8pm, so we hopped in a cab. We thought about staying overnight, but figured we would decide once we got to the train station. We got there and tickets for the next train were available, so we hopped on it and were back in Beijing in another 30 minutes or so. Then we began our trek back across the city to the condo, arriving just after 11 pm.
Oct 11, 2008 06:00 PM Day 15 Summer Palace
We slept in again today and took our sweet time getting ready to go out. By the time we had breakfast, it was almost 11am. We hopped on a bus and headed to the Summer Palace. It took almost an hour, but we finally got there, arriving a block from the east entrance.
We got the basic admission ticket (30 RMB) after debating the pros and cons of getting the extended one, which allowed admission to several special sites inside. We did however, rent an audio guide so we could learn about the different spots in the Summer Palace. We walked inside and saw the first extra sight we hadn’t gotten admission to, Suzhou Street, which looked a lot like the Shantang River Alley in Suzhou. Having seen the real deal, we weren’t disappointed at all,especially when Jenn told me that most of the shops there were bars or souvenir shops.
We climbed what felt like 1000 stairs and finally made it up the hill and into the grounds. Along the way, we saw the Beamless Hall and a Buddhist temple, built in the Tibetan style. After that we explored the Beamless Hall, and then it was down the other side of the hill.
At the bottom was the Long Corridor, a covered walkway probably a kilometer in length. At the end of it, we saw a building that housed one of China’s very first telephones. It was installed to allow the Empress to command troops in the Beijing area in the event of invasion. We skirted the lake and had a light lunch at the Heralding Spring Pavilion, a little gazebo built on a small island. Then we examined a hall where the Empress kept her son under house arrest after he tried to reform the government (and was betrayed by several other conspirators). We walked down the shoreline and under the
Then we stopped at the Grand Pavilion for a quick rest. We crossed the 17 Arch Bridge and explored the Dragon King Temple on Nanhu. There were some spectacular views of the lake and buildings around the Summer Palace. Before we knew it, it was 5pm and time to go.
After we left the Summer Palace, we walked for about 15 minutes, looking for the bus stop that would take us home. We finally found it and got on a bus after a short wait. We rode it to a shopping area near the condo and got off. We went to a Carrefour (a French department store), where Jenn and I bought some pots and houseware for her parents. Then we went to the grocery store and bought some snacks for the next week (including some of Jenn’s favourites).
Oct 10, 2008 06:00 PM Day 14 Exploring Beijing
Today was the first, really relaxing day of our whole trip. We got up about 9:30 and had a light breakfast. Jenn’s former co-worker Chien came over and we gave her some small gifts and stuff she had wanted from Canada. Then we hopped on a bus and headed to one of their favourite restaurants. They ordered some really spicy seafood for themselves, and some pork and chicken for me. All in all, it was really good. The coolest thing though, was that the restaurant was run by the People’s Liberation Army.
After that, we headed back to the condo to drop off the leftovers and then headed downtown. We stopped a few blocks from Tiananmen Square and went the biggest book store in Beijing. It was huge, seven or eight stories tall. The English books were in the basement, and we went down there to look for Chinese folk tales. We found some but the prices were outrageous, so we didn’t buy anything. On our way to the bus station, Jenn and Chien bought skewers of haw dipped in sugar for 3 RMB each. They were excellent, a little tart, with just a hint of sweetness.
Then we hopped on a bus and headed to Tiananmen Square. By the time we got there (6pm), it was already getting dark, so we wandered around. Unfortunately, I had forgotten the camera because I was showing some of our weddings pictures to Chien. The lights around Tiananmen Square and Xianmen Street were fantastic. After an hour or so, we hopped on a bus and headed to Wangfujing, a popular shopping area. We browsed in some shops and walked to the Donghumen Night Market at about 9pm, where we decided to grab a bite to eat. The night market had all sorts of different food, from all over China. They had all sorts of food, including a wide variety of deep fried insects. Jenn had some spicy food and I had a ro jian mou and some fried ice cream.
Then it was back on a series of buses to get back to the condo.
Oct 09, 2008 06:00 PM Day 13 Back to Beijing
Today we had only a half day of touring because we had a flight back to Beijing at 4pm. We got to sleep in and then headed to see the city wall. Unlike Nanjing's, Xi'an's city wall is fully intact. On top, you can rent a bike and travel it's entire length. During the National Holiday, the Xi'an Marathon is run atop the walls. The southern gate has a variety of implements of war located nearby, from catapults to barriers to stop intruders to nasty spiked logs for dropping on the heads of invaders.
The southern gate also has a Feng Shui museum at the top of it, and because it was open that day (it is only open 72 days per year), we were able to get a tour and lesson on Feng Shui. The director showed us around and explained a variety of terms and methodologies. He showed us examples of good Feng Shui and bad Feng Shui.
Then we headed to Dalian City Square, where we saw a fountain that shot water into the air, timed to music, kind of like the one at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. I wonder which one was built first…
Then we went and explored central Xi’an. We saw the Drum Tower, Bell Tower and a street well-known in Xi’an for its collection of Msulim shops and restaurants. We had a quick bite at one place (peanut/sesame noodles and some lamb skewers) and then went to the airport to catch our flight to Beijing.
The flight was short and uneventful and we landed in Beijing about 6pm. We hopped on a shuttle bus and headed into Beijing. Along the way, we passed Olympic Park and the Water Cube was all lit up. Sadly, we passed too quickly to get a picture of it.
Then we got dropped off and headed to Jenn’s parent’s condo. We got there, had a quick dinner and unpacked from our trip.
Oct 08, 2008 06:00 PM Day 12 Ming Dynasty Madness
Our first stop today was the Xianyang Museum. It had a large collection of Tang Dynasty Terra Cotta warriors. They big difference from the Xi’an Terra Cottas is size. Xi’an were built life size, while the Tang Dynasty ones were much smaller, about 2 feet tall, or about the size of a child’s doll.
After that, we headed to the Qianling Tomb, where Emperor Zhi Li was buried. His consort, the first Empress of China, Zetian Wu is also buried here. The tomb is amazing. Hundreds of giant statues, magnificent pillars, a paved road, you name it, the tomb has it. After that, we went to the tomb of their son, Prince Yide. He was not buried with his parents because he was believed to have been involved in a plot against the Empress.
After that, we headed to the Huang Tumin Qing theme park. It is built to resemble a similar prison of sorts built for the slaves who built Emperor Zhi Li’s tomb. The custom at the time was to kill everyone who worked on the tomb, to prevent people from learning of its whereabouts. The Empress, however, took pity on the workers and instead built a walled town with no exits for them to live in. They had room to grow enough to feed themselves and survive, but could not escape. Much of it was built underground, and due to poor airflow, bad smells like rotten food and flatulence take up to three days to dissipate.
Our final stop was a famous Buddhist Monastery (Famen), where it is claimed to have a finger bone from the founder of Buddhism. The monastery had a massive 5-6 storey tall pagoda, under which is stored the remains of the founder.
We got dropped off downtown again tonight and found a place specializing in ro jian mou. They were cheap (3 RMB each) and as big as my hand. Truly awesome! Then we hopped in a cab and rode around the city walls, taking some night pics.
Oct 07, 2008 06:00 PM Day 11 Mount Hua
Today we went to Huashan (Mt. Hua), one of China's most famous mountains. We got picked up at about 8 am, to do the two hour drive to the mountain. We drove and drove through the Chinese countryside for what seemed like forever. Then, we turned off the highway and onto local roads. We drove through a village located next to a massive nuclear power plant and to an abandoned gas station, we were able to buy rain suits, gloves, and snacks if we wanted. We bought the gloves and rain suits just in case. I went to the toilet, which was literally just a hole in the ground, with no running water. The smell was worse than death.
Then we went to a Chinese herbal medicine factory, where once again, we were given a chance to buy stuff. We declined and ate our packed lunch. A few others did the same, but most people ate a local, over-priced restaurant.
Then we began the trek up the mountain. We took a bus into the park at the base of the mountain, and then walked a kilometre or so to the gondola, which would take us most of the way up. The other alternative was taking the “Soldier's Path”, a steep staircase carved into the mountainside. Having only a few hours, we chose the gondola.
We got on and it quickly climbed up into the clouds. Jenn, who is terrified of heights, was quite scared. Given that it was quite rickety, I'll admit I was apprehensive at times too, especially when it just stopped out of the blue in the middle of a cloud bank.
In about 10 minutes, our car broke out of the clouds and into brilliant sunshine. The top of the mountain was clear. We got out of the gondola and began our hike. In most places, a staircase had been cut and poles planted into the side, with a heavy chain running between the poles. The chain wasn't stainless steel and was very rusty, so it was a good thing that we bought gloves at the bottom of the mountain.
We had been told to dress warm, so Jenn wore a sweater, a jacket and pants, while I, not having any of the above, wore shorts and a t-shirt. With the sunshine, it was quite warm, probably higher than 20 Celsius. Jenn shed her sweater and jacket and we began exploring. Along the way, a Chinese woman told her husband that I was setting a good example (wearing shorts and t-shirt) for him and that the next time they came back, he should do the same.
Our first stop was the North Peak (1617 m). We took some pictures and then headed to Black Dragon Ridge. It was a pathway carved into a ridge with a 1500 m drop off on either side, with only one flimsy guardrail. It was incredibly unnerving. After we finished that, the clouds descended/rose up and blanketed the mountainside, obscuring our view.
Apparently, the view from the West Peak was the best, but given that we had to climb a 70 degree staircase in the clouds, neither of us were too sure about going that far. We explored the area around Black Dragon Ridge and found a Buddhist Temple tucked away in a corner, where we stopped to rest. We climbed another, smaller 70 degree staircase and afterwards, neither one of us were all that interested in continuing. We had some snacks and rested, then decided to go back down. Given that we only had one hour, it seemed reasonable. It took us most of that time to make our way back down the mountain and we got back to our bus with only a few minutes to spare. In the end, it didn't make a difference, as two other couples took far too long and didn't get back until almost 6pm (we had been told the bus was leaving at 5:30).
We got dropped off in ‘downtown’ Xi’an, where we went to the Fortune & Prosperity Restaurant, which had been in business for over 100 years. It served a variety of local specialties, including ro jian mou and po jian mou (a soup with lamb and bits of the na’an-like bread (used in ro jian mou). The ro jian mou was really spicy, and the soup was okay, except we had made the bread pieces (we had to tear them up ourselves by hand) too big, so they didn’t cook all the way and it tasted kind of gross. Jenn, however, loved it. We also had some noodles covered in a peanut/sesame sauce (kind of like satay). Now that was good. We took some pics of the buildings around and bought a cool kite. Then it was back to the hotel for a good night’s rest.
Oct 06, 2008 06:00 PM Day 10 Xi'an – Terrific Terra Cotta Warriors
The day started out rainy and with a visit to yet another Chinese garden. This one, however was unique. This one also had natural hot springs, and as such was favoured by past Emperors (and his concubines) as a place to relax and unwind. It also featured prominently in the 1937 Xi'an Incident, when Chiang Kai-Shek's second in command kidnapped him and coerced him into temporarily allying with the Communists to repel invading Japanese forces.
Our next stop was to a jade factory/store, which is a well-known product produced in Xi'an. Jenn bought herself a lovely little bracelet and I picked up a couple cool little jade dragons.
We went to another factory, this one run by the PLA. It specialized in recycling old weapons of war. We bought a set of knives made from old army tanks and a pair of binoculars made from an old artillery cannon.
For lunch, we stopped at a place that had both Western and Chinese cuisine. Jenn & I both had soup with beef and handmade wheat noodles (I watched him make it), as well as some ro jian mou (the Chinese pizza pockets) stuffed with pork. Excellent!
Then it was onto the main attraction of the day, the world famous Terra Cotta Warriors. We explored all three pits. Pit Three is the largest (at least as large as a football field) and has by far the most soldiers (almost 10,000). Pit One is full of generals and the regimental band. They have barely begun excavating Pit Two (almost as large as Pit Three) and it is still largely intact. Out of an estimated 10,600 warriors found, only ONE has been found fully intact (a kneeling archer). All of the rest have required some sort of painstakingly fine repair, much like Humpty Dumpty.
After that, we went to a museum on the first Qin Emperor (the founder of China). We didn't finish until almost 5 pm. We went back into Xi'an and instead of going to the hotel or some dodgy restaurant, the guide had mentioned a chance to see the Shaanxi Opera & Dance Troupe, which had performed for foreign dignitaries and in foreign countries. It was a bit pricey (400 RMB), but also included dinner. When we got there, the guide had secured us seats on the balcony and I was surprised by the large numbers of foreigners in the audience. The food was a variety of 18 different kinds of dumplings, as well as other local fare. It was quite good, but there wasn't much of it. The singing and dancing were, however, spectacular!
Oct 05, 2008 06:00 PM Day 9 Off to Xi'an
Today was a travel day. We got up and packed to go to Xi'an. On our way to the airport, we stopped at Grace's office and had lunch with her. Then we caught a shuttle bus right to the airport. When we checked in, we found out we were flying Shanghai Airlines, which meant more frequent flyer miles! Pudong Airport was also new, clean and very nice!
The flight was comfortable and only a couple hours long. Xi'an Airport was a stereotypical Communist-era concrete monstrosity, likely built during Mao's reign. We got a ride into Xi'an, checked into our hotel. We had dinner and then explored the area around our hotel, finding nothing of note.
Oct 04, 2008 06:00 PM Day 8 Yangzhou Garden paradise
We got up early and had breakfast. Given my gastro-intestinal problems, I ate only bread, a hard boiled egg, and water. We got on the bus and I survived the 2 hour bus ride to Hangzhou. On the way, we passed over the Yangtze River bridge, the longest in China (nearly 6 km long). Built in 1960 after the Russians and Chinese broke diplomatic ties, it is covered in patriotic statues and quite impressive.
Our first stop was Slender West Lake, a knock-off of Hangzhou's lake of the same name. It was filled with kitsch (boats shaped like dragons and swans) and culture (beautiful bridges and buildings). Slender West Lake had been one of the Qing Emperor's playgrounds, and many buildings there had been used by him exclusively.
Given my digestive problems, Jenn's father suggested I eat at McDonald's, instead of having Chinese food with everyone at lunch. Conveniently, one was located right beside the entrance to the park. Jenn bought me a Big Mac and I ate it. Surprisingly, the fat and goop didn't affect me one bit. Who'd have thought McDonald's would be good for me? Of course, I missed out on a lunch composed of local specialties...
Then we went to another garden built in the traditional Chinese fashion. Honestly, I can't remember the name, but it was interesting like all the rest we visited previously.
Next was a garden built during the late Qing Dynasty (late 1890s). The owner also lived there and had installed all sorts of Western conveniences, like lights, telephones, fireplaces, and electric fans, as well as traditional Chinese architecture. I have to admit it was one ofthe most interesting gardens we'd seen on the whole trip so far.
We got back on the bus and drove back to Nanjing, where we got dropped off at the train station. We caught a really slow train to Shanghai (over 4 hours long) and got back just after midnight. The buses and subways were no longer running, so we took a taxi back to Grace's condo.
Oct 03, 2008 06:00 PM Day 7 Nanjing
We got up and went out to explore Nanjing. Our first stop was the Heaven Dynasty Palace. Inside was a huge statue of Confucius, as well as several famous dragons from Chinese folklore.
Next stop was Zhonghua Gate and what remained of the Ming City Wall. When first built, it was the largest city wall in the world, over 33 km in length! Today, only about two thirds of it is still standing. Zhonghua Gate itself had four separate gates and a room to garrison 3000 soldiers.
Next to Zhonghua Gate was the Grand Canal. When it was built about 1500 years ago, it was 1800 km long and linked Beijing and Shanghai, stopping in many cities in between. It was very important to commerce in China. These days, it is only about 1100 km long. However, given that it is only 3 m deep in places and covered by old stone bridges in many places, it value to commerce is neglible.
Our next stop was a tea pot factory. Again we were given an opportunity to buy a fancy teapot. We didn't, but Jenn's sister did.
After lunch, we went to a Buddhist temple. According to a monk there, I will be rich soon (time to buy some lotto tickets) and Jennifer is being blocked by someone and needed to burn some incense and pray to change her luck.
Our final stop in Nanjing was Sun Yat-sen Memorial. Jenn's family wasn't interested, but Jenn and I were, so we paid the extra 80 RMB and began the trek to the top. After 392 steps, we visited his tomb. Along the way, we discovered that my birthday is the same as Sun Yat-sen's (November 12th). The view from the top was pretty good considering it had been raining off and on all day long and the clouds were very low.
Then it was back to the hotel for dinner. Jenn's sister had reserved a private dining room and as I was feeling much better, I joined them. The food was delicious, but the virus returned with a vengeance that night and I spent most of the evening in the bathroom.
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