Recently in China April Category
Highway from Wuxi to Nanjing. Brand new.
Tourist place in Nanjing, like the one in Shanghai, but bigger, meaner.
Magazine stand within that tourist place.
A police box on the tourist street.
Later, after we were done with all the shopping, we went to visit the bowels of the bridge in Nanjing crossing that river I forgot the name of...
Me and Mao Zedong. <3 I'm a sucker for Communist memorabillia, and an article from the SCMP's Sunday Magazine on the following day made me want one of those Sun Yat-sen outfits worn by Mao and everyone else. Communist wares is our (overseas Chinese or Chinese culture enthusiasts) new sort of cool.
The next morning, they took us to the ultimate shopping center for tourists... It's like revisiting the bosses at the last level of a video game...
I bet it was jade they'd sell us, and I was right... until seeing the rest of the floor, plus second floor of building. >_> Furniture, books, crystal balls, lions, buddhas, and other luxury goods.
Books about Chiang Kai-shek?
Our tour leader, Pat-Pat, reading the guide's evaluation sheet. :D
Our bus driver (Chen "sifu"), who hails from Wuxi.
Mister Chan, roomate I was assigned to (for the snoring competition >_>).
Easiest-to-take immigration post (although there wasn't much to be seen), at the Nanjing airport.
Wuxi, some city that happens to be on our way from Suzhou to Nanjing. Second time there, but rarely deviate from the path taken on the last trip there. It's a "small" town, of course.
Guess what they tried to sell us there?
So I went for a walk... one commercial street nearby the earthware "research institute". One typical newspaper stand. In every country you go, they always look the same... In China, they're those cabins painted in green, overflowing with newspapers and magazines (but careful, no foreign newspapers, nor pr0n, you're in China).
So b/c I'm a geek, supermarkets are *the* thing to visit in every new city. Found this Chinese wine, grape wine, that is.
And there were also American chips. I guess it's because they're a relatively new thing in China, that Japanese chips have not already swamped the market (like in HK, where you won't be able to find any of those "slim" bags of brands like Lay's in your regular convenience store or Park 'n Shop).
中山路 (zhongshan road), crosses the center of Wuxi. It's the only city where the city centre is reachable on foot from the hotel we stayed at. The town centre looked like this in 2002, nothing comparable to what it looks like today. Maybe it's the night picture illusion, but I thought I could walk the whole commercial stretch in 10 minutes, and that crossing the streets wasn't such an adventure like this time. Was that the best example of how fast a pace China develops?
America's Fast Food 300-pound grandmother - you can see it everywhere you go - but it doesn't beat KFC in popularity.
This is Ah-Wai (by far the loudest of our tour members), his wife (to the left), and a nice waitress who spoke approximate Cantonese (learnt from karaoke-ing to Cantopop, I suppose). Along with our tour sub-group ("Tour B", Ah-Wai 老爺 calls it) of Table D from the back of the bus, we went searching for a restaurant post-9PM... Not Hong Kong, or even Shanghai, so everything is closed by 8:30PM in Wuxi.
Not quite the same one, but I bet the price is about the same. So, pearls, in Wuxi, on the shores of 太平 (Taiping) Lake.
Taiping Hu, one of the largest lakes in China.
The city of Suzhou.
I fail to understand the logic by which guided tours decide of the places to visit, but a residential complex? To show off how China is one country with plenty of contrasts... This is the side of a lake or river, nearby a brand new residential compound, probably aimed at the new middle-to-rich class and expats.
Me, (self-)posing. :D
Some bridge, which was not even the tourist attraction...
Don't be fooled, restaurant is rarely good with tours... So, my suggestion is to skip whatever he tour feeds you with, and grad something at a local chain/noodles restaurant. I would've fed myself with xiao long bao in Shanghai if all was up to me...
The next morning, streets of Suzhou bustling with activity...
Silk is one of the famous products of Suzhou (I don't know - I'm super gullible - I believe whatever the tour guide tells me). This is where the raw product, the silk worm cocoon is boiled and made into these basic fibers to be used for making the sheets to be used for making blankets, and the rest of the stuff.
If those people went to visit the Eastern Townships, they'd probably buy blankets made out of asbestos. But apparently silk blanket are Teh Good, and relatively cheap if you buy them directly from the Source(tm). I don't know. I told myself I wouldn't buy anything I didn't need... (Now you're talking about the dude who'd go and buy many times more expensive stuff like a laptop or one of those network walkmans he doesn't even need) So from China, I got... Chrysanthemum buds.
Sea of tourists...
Got to go for dinner with my aunt Brigitte and the kids. Too many pictures to process. There's still Suzhou, Wuxi and Nanjing. Suzhou is really nice to visit, and they showed us around the newly built/building residential areas for rich people on the side of the lake/river (not sure where it fits on a map). I believe it's the high-tech boom in the Suzhou area, with IBM and the rest establishing themselves in the vicinity.
We got to Hangzhou in the end of the afternoon, and the bus unloaded us in front of West Lake, on the city side. I remember that last time they were just starting to pretty up the lakefront.
A convenience store. I must've missed those Western-style convenience stores last time around. I'm not sure. Seems like I missed a lot of things. But knowing bits of Putonghua makes me braver. In each city, I went into those stores. They prove to be the best, most reliable buying places for food/drinks.
There was beer served at every meal... Very popular, and cheap in Asia. They serve it to you as if it were water (not yet as cheap as water, but still pretty close). Not particularly good too, the traditional "Chinese" beer is bland, but you start seeing beverages brewed by foreign companies (Interbrew, Budweiser, Suntory) which have a little bit more taste...
Another first time in China was to take the bus. It's almost becoming routine. While taxi is not expensive (about 20RMB, or 4CAD) to take you from our hotel to West Lake, it's only a yuan in bus (15 cents).
Streets of Hangzhou, capital of the Zhejiang province. Taken from the second floor of the bus I took from the suburb in the northeast of the city to downtown.
I couldn't resist, and had a McChicken, which I barely knew how to order (of course, every possible sandwich name is translated into hanzi). The chicken patty was kinda drier than its American counterpart. Have yet to eat in a McDonald's in HK, and so far that means I've been successful in trying new things.
To my surprise, there was an exhibit on calcography, in collaboration with Le Louvre museum in Paris, in a small new city museum on the side of West Lake, near the Hostelling International Youth Hostel (which I "bumped into" by chance - and happened to me again in Nanjing). The funny thing about that museum was that about everyone at the museum was taking pictures, with the flash even. o_O
It was a rainy day in Hangzhou, and I left the hotel without my umbrella. >_>
That night we went with people from the tour to have supper ("siu ye" as you say in Cantonese). It was a sort of fondue party, at a local chain called 九佰碗 (Nine Hundred Bowls), and never had such a good time with fondue. My guess is that in HK it's just too crowded to spend all the time you want in a place of such quality without ruining yourself, and that in Montreal you simply don't have those sort of places which taste as good (I'll have to try looking in Chinatown when I come back).
That one goes into my wallpaper collection. <3 I thought I was going to miss the West Lake cruise because I wandered on my own the day before, but apparently some shit happened, and they couldn't have a boat for themselves (it *is* one of the top tourist attractions in China, so you can imagine the masses of tourists at mid-day). Therefore we went in the morning, which is more calm, not that much calm, but anyways.
Brand new Pudong airport. If I'm correct, we didn't enter through that one last time. (Pudong means "East Bank")
The Magnetic Train between the airport and Pudong, or actually to a subway line towards the southwest of Pudong proper. There is actually not much near the station, I believe it's still farmland. But I give it 5 years, and you'll have a little suburb near it. The Maglev is of German design, and the only other Maglev I know of is in Nagoya, Japan, near the World Expo 2005 site. The Shanghai one is more "useful", as it isn't a sort of intracity monorail that stops at every station (spaced out like, um, metro stations), but which really goes the speed it was designed to run at (400-500kph).
They don't look so delicious like this, but since 2002, I've been craving for a big cheap bowl of these things. B/c in Montreal they charge you 5CAD for 4 of those (without the soup inside), and in HK, I think it's only about half the price... But in Shanghai, even in a tourist place, it's 8 freaking renminbi for 16 of them (that's about 1.20CAD)! The restaurant's (a counter too - and expect to wait 30 minutes at least) called "Nanxiang" in the "Old Town God's Temple" tourist spot.
Of course, Western food chains are everywhere...
Kentucky Fried Chicken is even more ubiquitous... And a success in China, including HK. It must be because of fried chicken and some sort of Chinese connection. They've rolls made with fried chicken, shallots and "hoi sin" sauce which taste just like like Peking Duck. :D
Nanjing Road (南京路) is probably the most famous commercial street of the city.
Me on the Bund with illuminated skycrapers of Pudong on the background.
The following morning, a photo of the Oriental Pearl Tower in Pudong.
Each tour guide (and book on Shanghai) will tell you that what started Shanghai off was its past as merchant port dominated by Western powers seeking to get a piece of China. "The Bund" is the name given to the West bank of the Hangpu river which runs through Shanghai where many big companies, etc, established their quarters. It's really one of the most cool places to visit in Shanghai (they gave us 20 minutes, and I used 15 of those to change my USD to RMB >_>). There are surely a lot of things I need to do in Shanghai, and I really dislike the fact that I stayed there for only 1 day... Will try to stay longer if I can find some company to spend that time with, hm.
I wrote something, but closed the window... Basically I tried elaborating about the tour I took last week. It's called the 華東 (huadong) tour, because, I think, it takes us to the region encompassing Shanghai and surroundings which is called that way. It retraces the step of my first trip to China. Start in Shanghai for one day, and then Hangzhou for two, and then Suzhou for one, Wuxi for one and finally Nanjing for one. Hangzhou, Suzhou and Shanghai form a triangle where Sz and Sh are closer to each other (with Hangzhou about 200km southwest of Shanghai, and Suzhou, 100 km to the northwest). Wuxi is on the way to Nanjing, towards the northwest.
A bit derogatory to China, and in fact, the country ceases not to impress me in how fast it develops into a modern nation. You may have to walk a while before managing to scratch off the golden polish, but indeed you might start believing all this is real.
Little things strike me, but for not having a companion to talk with by my side, it makes it absolutely hard to always remember about them. Hmm, well, this morning on BBC World (in Nanjing they've English channels - of course, it's a five-star hotel (Nanjing Grand Hotel) and it's a Japanese-Chinese joint venture) there was a physics professor, Michio Kaku, on the Hardtalk show, talking about the origins of the universe, the "bubble" multiverses theory...). And again, it stirs all sorts of things in my head - but not too much this time, since I'm in vacation after all.
And at the Nanjing shop, there were books about Chiang Kai-shek, not that it's anything new, since anything said about him are bad anyways. Not much about the Kuomingtang is good, over Wikipedia, it might or might not be trolling. I don't know. As an overseas Chinese, I've been taught that the Japanese are one evil of 20th Century China, and that the Nationalist Party is the other (and of course, the Communists are teh bad too, during the 1949-76 period anyways).
And enough political commentary, because I'm making no sense at all, just looking for a partner to discuss these stuffs with. And the rest I'll elaborate later tonight, or more likely tomorrow. Gotta relax and think about what I want to do next. Seems like I so want to go swimming, and watch Howl's Moving Castle.
I still cannot upload my pictures. This Internet Cafe at least didn't scan my passport. >_> I guess it's because they aren't in the Lonely Planet. Somewhere on a commercial street which I forgot the name, perpendicular to highway, on the street where the Suzhou City Hotel stands, 10 minutes walk towards "downtown".
I briefly heard about Benedict XVI this morning on BBC World, and of course the China Daily doesn't talk about it (even if it was yesterday's). No BBC World in the hotel room, only 15 channels of CCTV, plus another 15 of various Chinese channels. Oh, one English channel where they were interviewing some professor about "cross-straight" politics.
I cannot access news.bbc.co.uk. Hm?
In other news, the China versus Japan row is getting worse. It's taking the whole news front (but I watch BBC world, the rest of the TV repertoire at the Crown Plaza Hotel is CCTV besides a Korean channel, NHK and BBC World). I bought a China Daily, looking forward to see what they've to offer.
(Oh hey, I can read Slashdot, yea)
(I could probably SSH if I wanted to...)
I'm in Hangzhou, happily using the Internet at a "Pacific Internet Cafe". First thought it was the China version of the HK chain, but in fact is some shady Internet cafe on Jiefang Road a few blocks from the side of West Lake (Xihu) where locals play video games or surf the web. It's full, and we're like 3PM on a Monday afternoon (don't they have school too?).
Oh well, I've been walking on my own in the city of Hangzhou, one of those "small towns", which is still probably larger than Montreal in population. It's a nice city, still with plenty of trees like I remember it, and everything seems a bit newer. A version of the Shanghai Xintiandi opened on the shores of Xihu.