Braving the Golden Week Crowds in Beijing

October 8, 2017 at 1:17 pm (China, Travel, Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

IMG_5602Every time I got asked what I was doing for October break, people would look at me as if I was crazy.  They didn’t mean to but it is a well known fact that Golden Week is a ridiculous time to be travelling within China.  Basically everyone gets time off so the big tourist destinations are SWAMPED.  Check out some photos here.

It wasn’t an ideal choice, but it made the most sense with my old school friend Erica visiting China.  Luckily for me, my good friends Tim, Lukman and their son Banyu decided to join our Beijing adventure.  They were lured to Beijing with the idea of camping on the Great Wall.  Tim needed my encouragement, support and crazy positiveness… I needed his organisation, booking and Chinese language skills.  It was a match made in heaven and resulted in a memorable trip.

35D6C3F7-5246-4CB4-8B74-C348ADF3CAFF-535-0000004BD62C6FEB_tmpWe caught the overnight train from Suzhou to Beijing and then met up with Erica.  Most of our first day was spent organising accommodation after our Airbnb fell through but in the afternoon he headed to the Hutongs for a casual stroll around the area.  There was a lovely community atmosphere and we loved peeking behind the distinctive red doors into the hidden courtyards.  I wish we had had more light to explore as it’s definitely somewhere I would like to wander through again!

I really enjoyed meeting Tim’s friend Amelie.  They met while teaching French in Beijing many years ago.  She fell in love, married and is now running a beautiful children’s clothing line Tang’ Roulou here in China.  Her clothes are a lovely mix of western and Asian styles and I can’t wait to see how cute my niece looks in the summer dresses I bought her.  Nearly everything she had for little girls I would wear myself, such a pity she doesn’t make adult sizes!  It was interesting hearing her talk about her business and the market here in China and internationally.

IMG_5617Since we were in Beijing, I was determined to have Peking duck so we had it for the first nights dinner.  Under Amelie’s recommendation, we went to a very local restaurant where we were the only foreigners.  We over ordered but had a wonderful meal and I was able to tick it off my bucket list.

My beautiful friend Judy had helped me organise last minute tickets to the Forbidden City for the next day.  As of October 1st (i.e. last Sunday) all tickets had to be purchased online.  This is clearly explained on their website in English but low and behold, when you click to order tickets EVERYTHING is in Chinese.  I know it’s called the Forbidden City because it was off limits for 500 years, punishable by death… but why are they making it so difficult for non Chinese speakers to visit?  The site is limited to 80, 000 people a day.  Can you imagine?  But with Golden Week we didn’t want to miss out so we were really lucky Judy was able to help and that there were even tickets left.

IMG_5635We were prepared for the crowds so off we trotted with Banyu in tow.  He had decided he wanted to join us and as he’s just under 1.2m he gets free entrance.  The crowds were nowhere near as bad as we had anticipated.  Granted, getting out of the subway was crazy and there was no way we were going to brave the crowds at Tiananmen Square but once we actually got into the Forbidden City it was fine.  It’s the biggest palace complex in the world so we never really felt like we were in a throng of people.

The enormity of the complex was really something.  It just kept going on and on.  The initial courtyard alone can hold over 100,000 people.  As we walked around, we had to keep explaining to Banyu why there was a throne in every room!  We particularly enjoyed the Hall of Literary Glory as we were able to actually enter the hall and see the amazing painting on the wooden ceiling and the beautiful ceramic floor tiles.  It houses an impressive ceramic collection which was also interesting.  We also liked the Clock Exhibition Hall located in the Hall for Ancestral Worship, where we even found clocks made in Suzhou!

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time for anything else in Beijing because of our camping plans.  Its a big city with a rich history… I will just have to come back!

xoxo

P.s  More photos?

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Keeping Busy in Suzhou

October 3, 2017 at 1:32 pm (China) (, , , )

So when I was sitting down to write about my latest adventures, I seriously didn’t think I had much to write about.  Life feels like it has been ticking over as per usual.  I go to work, I do my fitness, I catch up with friends… yet when I looked through my photos I realised that as per usual I have been a busy little bee.

I’ve been lucky enough to have two visitors since coming back.  Both came to Suzhou for a business trip and managed to squeeze a catch up with me.  Seeing familiar faces, especially here, is really important and it was so much fun showing them my city.  For both visits we basically used the same itinerary.  We visited ‘The Humble Administrator’s Garden”, walked down Ping Jian Lieu and ate dumplings.  Simon also got to help with transporting a new furniture item which was very amusing.

I’ve been doing a few random running events lately.  On my return to China I participated in a 5km Neon run which basically just had us running three times around a shopping mall in the blistering heat.  To be honest, I didn’t even bother doing the third lap!  Thorsten, Olli and I completed a really cool 10km night run in Wuxi that was very challenging.   The path was off the beaten track and included three quite steep climbs but it was a very rewarding run.  There were times when I could see nobody in front or behind me, just me and nature in the middle of one of the most populated countries in the world.  It was really something.  Last weekend I headed to Shanghai for the Colour Run.  It was heaps of fun, particularly because we had Banyu with us and he was seriously having the time of his life.  You should have seen his face when he crossed the finish line and got his first ever medal… PRICELESS!

I had a great night out at the White Party a few weeks ago.  We were bussed to a mystery location and danced the night away.  Dress code was white and it was lots of fun going shopping and getting dressed up.

Of course I have also been busy hashing.  We went on a lovely beach getaway hash (God I miss the beach) and two runs based here around Suzhou.  As per usual, it was great to get away from the bustle of the city and to explore more about Suzhou.  All four were quite different so I have experienced Suzhou old town, a local lake, a mountain range and the beach near Ningbo.

In other adventures, I survived Grade 5 camp, went to a Chinese Tea Ceremony with my teaching team, hosted Banyu’s birthday party, cheered the Tigers on during the AFL Grand Final and FINALLY managed to register my e-bike.  (Only took me over a year and a couple of scary policeman to get me to do it!)

So yes, I am keeping busy and very much looking forward to my holiday in Beijng!

xoxo

P.s  More photos?

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Part Five – Tiger Leaping Gorge

August 14, 2017 at 8:56 pm (China, Travel) ()

Day Eighteen

It was a relief to finally go walking in an area that was not stone paved!  Tiger Leaping Gorge took us through the wilderness on steep and crooked paths with the earth below our feet.  This river gorge is one of the deepest river canyons in the world with 3,790 meters from the river to the mountain peak.

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I struggled up the first incline but quickly got into the swing of things and thoroughly enjoyed the leisurely pace.  We were followed up by locals trying to convince us that horse back riding was the way to go.  They were quite persistent even when it was obvious that neither mum or I were having a bar of it.  We bought a snickers from a man and his hut perched on a lonely turn and were offered Chinese ‘marijuana’ at another makeshift stall.

IMG_2271We stayed the night at the Tea Horse Guest House and were allowed to have dinner in the family room away from the other Chinese guests.  It was cosy and warm with a big fire, and not quite as loud.  We got to share their Naxi style potato pancake, and much to my delight, home brewed Baijiu served from a big plastic canister.  It doesn’t get much more authentic than that!

Day Nineteen

IMG_5037We continued our walk taking in the scenery in our stride.  We have both done more spectacular walks in the past, but there was something truly wonderful about being out in the nature and walking far from other people here in China.  To our absolute wonder it didn’t rain THE WHOLE walk.  As a result, we were rewarded with some beautiful views of the gorge and surrounding landscape.

IMG_5041We stopped on our way out of the gorge at the place where the tiger supposedly leapt over the river.  Our tour guide said that normally they didn’t stop there unless the tourists insist but this time it was him insisting!  Even our driver came down to have a look at the thrashing river.  The power was quite something and well worth the ridiculous amount of stairs.  If a tiger really did jump over the gorge via a rock, I cannot tell you… we couldn’t even see the rock due to the amount of water.  At least all the rain we experienced helped us to see the river at its mightiest.

Day Twenty

We travelled back to Shanghai via plane and then braved the crazy train station and managed to get ourselves back to Suzhou.  Our last day of travel was spent having a lovely dinner with my little German family.  I’m glad mum got the chance to meet Oliver, Thorsten and Doris, and I finally got to meet Oliver’s wife Elke too.  They are such a big part of my Suzhou life and I am looking froward to another fun filled adventure seeking year with them!

xoxo

P.s  More photos?

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Part Four – Lijian

July 12, 2017 at 9:13 pm (China, Travel) (, , )

Day Fifteen

We arrived in Lijian, the final major town of our trip, at six am much relieved to find out that we could check straight into our hotel. Our room has its own lounge area and even includes an electric mahjong table. This would perhaps be useful if one of us knew how to play! Mum had a play around with it and managed to get the pieces out but now can’t work out how to get them in. The lounge room has been useful for setting up our laundry room though even if most of it is taken up by the special table.

The first stop of the day was at Shùhé Old Town, a former stop on the Tea Horse Road. The Tea Horse Road linked southwest China with Tibet and was equally as important as the Silk Road for trade, ideas and religions.

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Shùhé was nicer than expected. Often these towns are very touristy but this one wasn’t too busy and you could see glimpses of people’s real lives among the tourist banter. We saw families eating lunch together in their shop and people washing their hair in the street. The town is a maze of cobbled pathways and we enjoyed venturing down hidden alley ways away from the bustle of the town. We couldn’t get over the amount of people getting their wedding photos taken either. It sure is a big industry here in China.

We then moved on to the Ancient town in Lijian, which is conveniently located walking distance from our electric mahjong table. After an earthquake in 1996, the town had to be rebuilt. Luckily UNESCO decided to support the construction and since 1997 the old town has heritage status. This has been done with an eye for attracting Chinese tourists and actual examples of the old architecture are far and few between; A notion we have noticed everywhere on our travels as a result of the Cultural Revolution.

When not full of tourists, the town is lovely to walk through. It centers around the market square, with streets intersecting around it to form the character for the family name Mu. Interestingly, Lijian was one of the only cities that never had a wall in China. This was because if you put a box (aka wall) around the Mu family name meaning wood the character becomes ‘hard pressed.’ Mu did not want to bring this misfortune onto his family!

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The famous entrance to Lijian old town with a tourist posing in a traditional Islamic Tibetan outfit

The city really is a maze, which we found out first hand when we managed to get lost! Our walk took us to some of the more  hidden and quiet parts of the town, which we also found more enjoyable. In particular we saw local people using the three pool water system. These are three  pools of water connected to each other, the top one is used for drinking water, the second for washing vegetables and the third for washing clothes. It’s amazing seeing things like this still in use today.

Day Sixteen

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been travelling for over two weeks and today was our first temple visit. Our trip to the Jade Peak Monastery was both quiet and chilled. Established in 1776, this red hat monastry seemed rather inactive but very colorful with many prayer wheels we enjoyed spinning. Mum particularly liked the monk on his mobile phone while praying.

Our next Ancient Town visit was to Baisha, where frescoes from the 15th and 16th century can still be seen. These were saved during the Cultural Revolution by putting big pictures of Mao in front of them and more amusingly by using the space for keeping pigs. Unlike frescoes in Europe, these incorporated different religions into the one artwork.

IMG_4924An unscheduled side stop at the government run Naxi embroidery center was very interesting. This center trains local people to become embroidery teachers who then go back into the Naxi community and teach the farmers. Some of the work in the display room was phenomenal. Mum has always had a soft spot for needlework and she added to her collection with two beautiful pieces.

After lunch we headed to the Impressions of Lijian cultural show. We didn’t even realise this show was a part of the itinerary! The show was performed in the pouring rain (apparently they even perform when it snows) and showcased Naxi culture and many of the traditional clothing of the ethnic minority groups of the area.

The show was choreographed by the same man who choreographed the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony and the sheer size and amount of performers was mind boggling. They even had horses as part of the show. In Naxi culture it is the woman who is the boss. She basically did everything and made all the decisions. Interestingly, women would choose who to bed with and if this resulted in a child the man was only required to support her while he contiued to live under her roof. The men were responsible for entertaining through sing and dance therefore all the dancing was performed by the men.

On that note, in China it is not unusual to see people dancing in public squares. We came across this in Lijian and Kunming too but what makes it different in these places to what I see in Suzhou, is that they often dance in circles. The other thing I had noted was the involvement of younger Chinese men. This was shown in the performance and it was interesting for us to see it as part of the Cultural show after seeing it randomly in the streets.

To finish the day we took a cable car up to Spring Meadow. If the weather had been better, we would have been able to see the snowy peaks of Snow Jade Mountain… Instead we saw rain and cloud once again. We could see the glacial river below though, which we walked along afterwards.

Spring Meadow was beautiful. It surprises you, as you emerge from the forest with a background of waterfalls complete with mountain goats! Suddenly, somewhere in the middle of China, we both felt a sense of deja vue and a longing for the Swiss Alps.

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Day Seventeen

Rain, rain go away come again another DAY. Preferably when I’m not traveling. I kid you not, it rained ALL morning. Perfect time for emailing, updating the blog and organising our gear which was located all over our tiny two hotel rooms.

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We did venture out for a walk around Black Dragon Pool Park and through the old town again. We tried flower cakes made with rose petals and bought some souvenirs. We also saw the locals dancing again and I even had a go! An easy and relaxed day before we head to Tiger Leaping Gorge tomorrow.

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Part Three – Kunming

July 5, 2017 at 1:50 pm (China, Travel) (, )

Day Thirteen

We were completely on our own in Kunming… No guide, no plans, no suggestions. Thank God for the internet and Apple maps! This is the way both mum and I prefer to travel and I think that was reflected in the fun and varied day we had.

Green Lake Park was our first destination. We caught the bus directly from our hotel and then wandered around the park. It truly was beautiful and it was lovely to see people out and about even though it was raining. (Surprise surprise!) The lotus ponds were of particular interest, as was the original pump room for the city. The locals here had access to running water from the park in 1917.

IMG_2088After an amazing tea break (best black tea I’ve had in China) we caught a baby bus to Chuàng Kù. Lonely Planet claimed that we would find a small collection of art galleries showcasing modern Chinese artists and photographers. We did not. We did find the cafe they spoke about and enjoyed a drink and a croissant while watching some ladies attempt hip hop dancing. Not exactly the most coordinated bunch, but man they were having fun.

We negotiated the buses again and this time caught a double decker to the Yúnnán Nationalities Museum. Not only was this museum free, but it was also highly interesting. Twenty-five different ethnic minorities live in Yúnnán and many aspects of their culture including art, musical instruments and clothing are displayed in the museum. The exhibits had English translations and the colorful costumes in particular were well displayed. Over my time as a traveler, I’ve visited many such museums and this one really struck me as being informative, we’ll set out and worthwhile.

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Fascinating shadow puppetry

On our way back to the hotel we passed a Wal-Mart and I remembered that I still had Wal-Mart vouchers that needed spending. Wal-Mart in Suzhou closed down before I managed to spend the welcome vouchers my school gave me when I arrived a year ago. So mum and I went on a mission to Wal-Mart to eradicate the vouchers once and for all. We soon found out that I had 320RMB to spend. (Much more than I expected)

It was quite an amusing experience going to Wal-Mart and trying to find enough sensible things to use up the vouchers, especially as we’re in the middle of a trip! Mum chose some chopsticks and moisturiser, I found some baby chopsticks for my niece Mya and I finally managed to pick up some new electric toothbrush heads. The left over money was spent on snacks and water for the rest of the trip.

Day Fourteen

After some varied internet research, we decided to go on an unguided adventure to the Stone Forest. This seemed to be the place to visit as a day trip from Kunming and the information we found on the internet suggested it was doable even if all the websites had conflicting information.

We managed the public bus to the Eastern Bus Station easily and only had a little trouble navigating buying a ticket and finding the correct bus. We also sat on the bus for thirty minutes waiting for it to fill up.

Our research had told us that we should be on the bus for about two hours and there was not much else we could do except wait. Of course waiting also then included a traffic jam! By this time we were both getting bit nervous. We had a train to catch at 21:05 and at the rate we were moving we were worried we might have to arrive, buy a ticket and go straight back again. This was particularly because we weren’t sure if our bus was going to take us directly to the Stone Forest or to Shilin, where we would have to get a separate tourist bus to the scenic area.

Luckily we arrived at the Stone Forest and had just enough time to go visit. We were well glad that we did. This karst landscape is not only spectacular but also aptly named. We felt like the only two people exploring as we trampled along narrow pathways, through cramped arch ways and beside mysterious rocky formations.

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The park is a geologists dream and amazingly well signposted with interesting information in English. We enjoyed the loop to Lions Pavilion in the Bushao section as well as the walk to the Ancient Cliffy Painting. (Love the name) There was much to explore and we would have spent much more time and walked not so fast if we could have. Unfortunately the traffic jam and piffpaphing around yesterday morning denied us the chance.

In case you too are thinking of going to the Stone Forest from Kunming, I hope you find the below run down of use:

IMG_4871Public bus to the Eastern Bus Station 2RMB
Bus to Stone Forest 34RMB (Go to ticket booth, ask for Stone Forest, no signs in English for buying ticket)
Bus left Kunming at 10:30
Bus arrived 13:13 (including traffic jam – we think this cost us an hour)
Price for entry 175RMB
Price for electric car (3km from entrance) 25RMB
Public bus back to Kunming 34RMB
Bus left Stone Forest 16:02
Bus arrived Kunming at 17:29
Public bus to the hotel 2RMB

Cost of trip for one person: 270RMB

Experience: Priceless

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