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James's Travel log

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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.

Log entries 21 - 30 of 117 Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Oct 02, 2008 02:00 PM Day 6 Wuxi Whirlwind

Day 6 Wuxi Whirlwind The bus picked us up and we went to a garden home that belonged to a former Wu Dynasty strategist. To undermine his nation's enemy, he sent his wife to live with that nation's leader (she was reputed to be one of the most beautiful women in China), in the hopes that she could distract him from running his country. She was so successful that they had a civil war and the threat ended.

Then the bug hit. Apparently something I ate in the past few days came back to haunt me. I spent half an hour in the bathroom (not pretty when it's a squat toilet). Fortunately, Jenn's dad had some pills for just such a problem and I popped some.

We went to a Tang Dynasty theme park / movie set, where I tried my hand at archery. It's much harder than it looks, and out of ten arrows, only four hit the target (one was almost a bulls-eye though). The park was filled with interesting buildings and cool movie sets.

We went to a pearl factory, where I spent most of the time in the toilet again, while Jenn shopped. While waiting outside, a boy came up to me and struck up a brief conversation, asking about Canada. Everyone else had lunch, but given how I felt (and how the food looked), I chose not to eat.

We then went to Turtle Island (after waiting almost an hour to board a ferry to get there). Located in the middle of a lake outside Wuxi, it was full Buddhist temples, statues of Buddha, a natural waterfall and a couple of pagodas. After a couple of hours, it was time to go back.

Then we took a quick bus ride back to the train station for a short ride to Nanjing.

Oct 01, 2008 02:00 PM Day 5 Suzhou – Venice of the East

Day 5  Suzhou – Venice of the East We got up and had breakfast, and then headed out into Suzhou. Our first stop was the Couple's Garden, a lovely little place surrounded by canals. Then we took a river cruise down what used to be a moat guarding Suzhou. Along the way, we saw a 1000 year old fortress and a variety of other local sights.

Then we docked and toured another silk factory, where we had another chance to buy silk bedding. We declined again and then the group went off for lunch, eating some local dishes; whitefish, silverfish and baby shrimp. I didn't have any shrimp, but the silverfish was excellent, with the whitefish being so-so.

After lunch we went to a popular Buddhist temple and explored that for about an hour. There was a moment of consternation when it appeared Lucas was lost, but we found him and his grandmother 20 minutes later (it was a big temple). Next we went to Tiger Hill, one of Suzhou's most popular tourist spots (at least that what a sign on the highway said). It is a massive, seven storey tall leaning tower sitting on top of a large hill dominates Suzhou's skyline. Rumour has it that a famous general was buried there with 3000 swords and is guarded by a tiger.

Next we went to one of Suzhou's two most famous gardens, the Lingering Garden (the other being the Garden of the Humble Administrator). We explored it for a couple of hours and saw rock formations, Chinese bonsai trees, koi ponds, and an opera demonstration. Next we went to the Shantang River Alley, a Chinese version of Venice (or maybe it's the other way around, given that Marco Polo called Suzhou one of the most beautiful cities in the world). It had shops and motorized gondola rides.

We were walking to the train station when a bus almost hit Jenn's father. He berated the driver and a bystander told her dad to be more careful. Jenn's dad told him to mind his own business, as did Grace. The bystander pushed Jenn's dad, so Grace shoved him back. I dropped by bag and moved to help. Then the bystander hit Grace in the face and took off. Jenn and I chased him for a block or so, but he ran across a busy road and we lost him. That was also the first day I chose to wear sandals. Had I worn my runners, I'm sure I could have caught that SOB. We went back to check on everyone and by this time, Grace had called the police. Jenn saw the assailant's buddy standing nearby, so, thinking quickly, she grabbed our camera and took several pictures of him. When the police came, they took a verbal report. We sent Jenn's parents and Lucas to the train station, while Jenn, Grace and myself went to file a formal report. They downloaded the pictures and took our statements, then one of the police officers drove us to the train station.

We took a quick train ride to Wuxi, our next destination, and got a quick ride to our hotel, which despite being in a dodgy part of town, was quite nice inside. After a quick dinner, we went to an internet cafe so I could do some homework and check email. After another two packs of cigarettes, we left and went back to the hotel to unwind.

All in all, the day was much better than the first. A nice relaxed pace with a break for lunch. Of course, it would have been even better had Jenn's father and sister not been attacked by some jerk...

Sep 30, 2008 02:00 PM Day 4 – Tour Hell

Day 4 – Tour Hell We got up at 5:30 am to get ready to go on a five day tour of some nearby cities. We took a cab to the train station and caught the train to our first stop, Hangzhou. On the train we ate some fruit and snacks. We arrived at 10 am and were met by our tour guide. We went to West Lake, a well known tourist destination. Again, because of the holidays, it was packed. We arrived and saw a museum dedicated to a former mayor of Hangzhou who had built some of the pavilions and gardens that made West Lake famous throughout China.

We wandered around the lake, seeing temples and gardens, and then hopped on a boat and were given a scenic tour of the lake. We stopped at an island in the middle that had a lovely garden on it, as well as a stone that supposedly would make you rich if you rubbed it (I of course did so just in case). Then it was back on the boat and off to the other side of the lake, where we saw another temple or two and a garden.

Then we walked to our bus and headed off to a tea farm (Hangzhou is one of China's green tea producing regions), where we had a 'tasting', not unlike a wine tasting in the Okanagan. Then we headed to a silk factory (Hangzhou's other well known product), where we learned how silk was made and were offered a chance to buy silk bedding. I later found out that the tour guide got a 20% kickback on everyone's purchases from the tea farm and silk factory (none of us bought anything at either place).

It was almost 6pm by this point and because we hadn't stopped for lunch, we were all famished. Next to the silk factory was Song City, a theme park based on the Song Dynasty. It was a little cheesy, but they had performers dressed up in period garb and demonstrations of Chinese opera and sword use. We found a couple food vendors and bought some, as all of us were very hungry. I had a ro jian mou, which is kind of like a Chinese pizza pocket, basically a bun cut in half stuffed with meat and veggies. Then we got back on the bus and headed back to Hangzhou. After two hours, we got on another bus for Suzhou, our next destination. That trip took another two hours, so we didn't check into our hotel (a real fleabag) until almost 11:30pm. Grace and Lucas were tired and went to bed, but Jenn, her parents and I went out and had a light dinner, then went back to the hotel and crashed.

Sep 29, 2008 02:00 PM Day 3 – Shanghai Noon

Day 3 – Shanghai Noon After sleeping the sleep of the damned, we woke up and had breakfast with everyone. Lucas was very upset that his Grandma was coming with Jenn, Grace and I to explore Shanghai. After a temper tantrum, we left and checked out Pudong, the new city. We took pictures of tons of amazing buildings and then got on a river cruise (Huangpo river), and took some more.

After that, we took a train under the river in the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel and emerged on the other side, where we walked and took even more pictures. We moved through the Bund, passing through a couple of street markets, where we grabbed some lamb shish kabobs (delicious) and made our way to Yanmin Temple. Jenn and I headed off to explore it while her sister and mother went shopping, having seen it several times before.

Much like Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Yuyuan Garden is an oasis in a city landscape. It was my first chance to see a Chinese garden, and they are vastly different from other gardens I had seen before. It had a series of amazing rock formations, with paths carved into them, that you could wander around, up and down. An intricate series of interconnected pools ran through the whole complex, under walls and through the rock formations. Of course, the ponds were liberally stocked with koi.

After an hour or two of exploring, we walked back towards the Bund and hit Nanjing Road, which, after 5 pm, was off limits to vehicles and filled with pedestrians. We met one of Jenn's friends from the MBA program and had dinner together. By this time it was already 8pm. I had wanted to go take some pictures of the Bund and Pudong at night, but the area was blocked off because of the huge crowds already there.

So instead, we headed back to Grace's condo. Due to the National Day holidays, the subways and buses were packed with people everywhere we went. After almost 2 hours, we made it back.

Sep 28, 2008 02:00 PM Day 2 – Qingdao, the German Hong Kong

Day 2 – Qingdao, the German Hong Kong We woke shortly before the tain got to Qingdao nd got ready to leave just in time. We made our way out of the train station and into the city. We took a cab to Bathing Beach No. 2 and explored the area on foot. The area above the beach was full of old homes from the late 19th/early 20th century, mostly owned by Europeans, and it was reflected in the architecture.

We stopped in for a tour of The Granite Castle. It was originally owned by a Russian dilpomat and cost less than a dollar ro explore. Chiang KaiShek lived there for a short while in the 1930s and its rooftop patio had a great view of Qingdao.

We explored the area on foot and then took a cab for a driving tour of Qingdao’s waterfront, stopping at local sights and taking pictures. Then our taxi driver took us to the CCTV tower (similar to the CN tower, but nowhere near as tall), where we took in Qingdao. It was foggy though and the view wasn’t all that great, although now and again, the sun poked its head out from behind the clouds.

Next, we followed one of our previous cabbies’ advice and headed to Laoshan, a well known mountain nearby, where Tsingtao supposedly gets the water from a spring for its beer (as do other companies for their products, like Lao Shan Cola). The drive was long and boring, and when we got to the temple, it wasn’t much better. Disappointed, we headed back to Qingdao for the 8th Annual International Beer Festival. Filled with booths from many of the world’s largest breweries, it seemed like nothing more than another way to sell beer. We watched some musical acts and local events, and then headed to the airport for our flight to Shanghai. This turned into the most dangerous cab ride I’ve ever taken.

Despite a local speed limit of 60 kmh, the driver was going 120 kmh at times and weaving in and out of traffic. He zoomed, veered and swerved past cars, buses and trucks, nearly hitting some of them! Jenn was terrified, while I pulled out my camera and shot a video of it. Awesome!

We got to the airport safe and sound and checked our bags in. We went to an internet cafe for a bit to check email. After smoking two packs of cigarettes (via second hand smoke), we left and had a quick bite to eat at the airport. We then got on our tiny plane (operated by Spirit Airlines – no I’ve never heard of them before either) and by the time the plane was in the air, both of us were fast asleep. We landed in Shanghai, collected our bags and were met by Jenn’s dad. We hopped in a cab and went to Grace’s (Jenn’s sister) condo. When we arrived, Jenn’s mom had cooked up a storm, so we took turns eating and showering and then went to sleep.

Sep 27, 2008 02:00 PM Day 1 - Travel to China

Day 1 - Travel to China We flew to Vancouver in the morning, and then got on an Air China flight in the early afternoon. After an uneventful flight, we landed in Beijing where Jenn’s former co-worker, Hong, picked us up. He took us to her parent’s condo in NW Beijing and we quickly washed up and re-packed a couple of bags for our trip south.

We went for dinner on our way to the train station. Jenn wanted me to try some of the dishes she usually makes at home and/or that we have in Edmonton. The sweet and sour pork was not as sweet or sour, and had a strong ketchup taste. The baby bok choi and mushroom dish she makes quite often was different too. The bok choi was just blanched and flavourles, while the mushrooms were flavoured with a oyster sauce. All in all, Jenn’s is better IMHO. We also had Peking Duck. It was much better than the dish I had had on my previous trip to China in 2001.

After dinner, Hong took us to a subway station and we headed for Beijing Train Station, where we were to take an overnight train to Qingdao (home of Tsingtao Beer company). After a ton of transfers, security checks and huge line-ups, we finally got on our train.

Jenn had tried to explain the concept of hard sleepers versus soft sleepers to me in Canada, but never having riden one, all I could think of was bunk beds. In China, hard sleepers are set up with three bunk beds, one on top of each other right to the roof, stacked along the wall in open cubicles, while soft sleepers are small cabins with only 4 beds, (two on each wall). For privacy/security reasons, we had wanted a soft sleepr, but due to the Chinese National Holiday, it wasn’t available.

The cubicle we shared had another family in it. They were very friendly and I didn’t seem to worried about getting robbed in my sleep. Each car had a security person who broadcast stops and ostensibly patrolled to prevent crime. She was also very friendly and gave Jenn some toilet paper (public restrooms in China generally don’t have any). Given that we were quite tired from our trip, both of us fell asleep a few seconds after our heads hit our pillows.

Nov 24, 2007 07:00 PM Day trip to Niagara

Day trip to Niagara Today was the Grey Cup, and while I would have liked going to see it, tickets were over $100 each, and Jenn wasn’t interested in watching a football game. Instead, she had set up a trip to Niagara Falls with the person who picked us up from the airport.

First we went to Nathan Philips Square and watched some children ice skate in front of Toronto’s city hall. Then we walked to the lakefront, to take a ferry to the Toronto Islands, which a person at a tourist booth said was quite similar to an expensive, guided boat tour. In reality, we would have taken a boat tour, but they were all finished for the year. I thought it rather surprising that someone hadn’t thought of opening for Grey Cup weekend. The ride was $3 each for a return trip, and once we left the dock, the view was excellent. The entire city could be seen. While it was a bit chilly outside, the ferry had a heated cabin where we could go to warm up.

We got back and stopped at a Pizza Pizza and had lunch. Our ride showed up and we headed off. On the way, we stopped at Fort George and explored. It was a restored fort from the War of 1812 era. Costumed performers walked around and explained life in the fort, as well as gave demonstrations. The best was a soldier firing an 1812-era musket. After that, we headed to Queenston Heights for a bit and explored a monument to Sir Isaac Brock, who prevented a determined US force from capturing a large part of Ontario.

Then it was on to Niagara Falls. We got there about 4pm and the sun was already setting, so we didn’t get a great look at them in the daytime. But the nighttime was still very beautiful, with spotlights of all colours trained on them, they turned into shimmering fountains or red, blue, yellow and green. Christmas decorations were out in full force too, as well as Zimmerman Fountain, which was spectacular at night.

Nov 23, 2007 07:00 PM My first Writing Conference

My first Writing Conference Today was the conference, so I spent the whole day at the seminar centre, pitching my screenplays over and over. There was a fair bit of interest, so that was great.

It wrapped up about 5pm and I headed off to meet up with Jenn, who was shopping her little heart out at Eaton Centre. The mall was decked out with Christmas decorations, a Santa and one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen indoors.

We did some more shopping and then had dinner. Both of us were pretty tired, so we watched a movie and then went back to the hotel.

Nov 22, 2007 07:00 PM More fun in Toronto

More fun in Toronto We wandered around Toronto again today, exploring the Harbourfront and Union Station and the rest of downtown, with stops at St. James Cathedral and Eaton Centre.

In the evening, I went off to the first day of the conference, where we had a mixer and a couple of seminars on pitching, writing and other topics. Afterwards, I hopped on the King Street trolley and headed back to Chinatown.

Nov 21, 2007 07:00 PM Exploring T/O

Exploring T/O We got up early today (well, early for a vacation), and headed out to see Toronto. We hopped on a street trolley and headed from Chinatown into the downtown core. We got off and walked around a bit, gazing at a couple of churches next to Eaton Centre that were over 100 years old. Then we walked down to the street to Union Station and without realizing it, had passed the Hockey Hall of Fame. We backtracked and found an entrance to a mall next to it, and then headed down into the basement.

The HHOF had hockey memorabilia from all over the world, ranging from the 1920s to the present. Wandering through its halls, there were also displays, both static and interactive, that bring the world of hockey to life, be it NHL, amateur and even hockey from around the globe, including Europe and Asia. It was very interesting to see displays about non-traditional hockey countries like Mexico, Australia and Israel.

Then we picked up a quick supper in the food court and headed off. It was only 5pm when we stepped outside, but nightfall had come and the CN Tower was lit up and looked magnificent. We walked the 5 blocks or so and went in. Jenn is scared of heights, so we only went to the lower observation deck, which was still over 60 stories above ground. The elevator was super fast and only took about 15 seconds to get there! The view was utterly amazing! Lights stretched out into the darkness seemingly forever. Traffic moved at a snail’s pace and other buildings looked like miniature toys.

We headed back to our hotel, where we dropped off goodies we had bought during the day, then headed right back out into Chinatown for supper. Almost right beside our hotel was a Chinese restaurant run by a fellow from central China. The food was unlike any Chinese food I had ever eaten, with no rice or noodles, just a variety of steamed buns and a burger-like food with beef and cilantro wedged between two pieces of flatbread. The food was great and it cost less than $20! Sadly, I can’t remember the name of the place, so I can’t pass it on…

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