Category Archives: Travel

Off to the eyot

Or, Blast from the Past.

For some time now I’ve been meaning to go back to 江尖公园, which is the island I can see from my window. I probably went over there about three years ago to have a look at the fake ancient street only to find that the money had apparently run out and the place was being left to slowly decay. A man was practising the flute there at the time.

Soon after my trip, the street was fenced off, and when the fencing was removed, I assumed that the work had been finished and had been filled with pretentious boutique shops populated by bored, low-achieving girls.

And thus I toddled off this afternoon to see what had been going on since I was last year. Answer? Nothing. The place remains an unoccupied shell apart from a functioning (?) restaurant. I could also hear some people, probably security guards, playing majiang in an upstairs room as I went through the entrance.

I then took a turn round to 县前三号, which is this group of three buildings which have been under construction for the past two years or so. Before they started on those, they built some buildings in what I’d describe as a sino-colonial style. I thought they might be small shops and restaurants, and the sales office for the project itself, but I’d never been over there.

What I found was that these were also shells of buildings. The entrances are boarded up, although all the windows are wide open. It seems to be a rather extravagant gesture, reminiscent of the mouldering buildings outside 大慈 in Chengdu, which had obviously been mothballed and which have now been demolished without ever recouping the money expended on them. Like 江尖公园 there was a restaurant, which does appear to be open, but that was all.

I had been chiding myself for not being inquisitive sooner, but all I found was the same oriental folly which was there on the previous occasion.

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A ripping holiday

Get ’em before they rot.

I had meant to keep the blog updated with my antics in New Zealand, but I just never got round to it.

The trip went smoothly, although I noted that instead of heading south from Shanghai, we headed east towards Korea and Japan and were obviously skirting the Diaoyu Islands. I had no problems being on time for the 9.00am flight to Christchurch, which was delayed because some Chinese person had missed the flight and they had to remove their bags.

The weather for the first week was brilliant once any morning cloud had dissipated. The skies were blue, the air was clear, and there was none of that carcinogenic haze which plagues China.

I got on with re-ripping all of my CDs at 320Kbps, which also meant editing them yet again, and in the end, to speed things up, I scanned album art where it was missing and track information where it was wrong or wanting. I could probably have scanned the CDs at the higher rate the first time, but I was unaware of such things.

I learnt that The Genteel Companion by Richard Harvey has now deteriorated so much that the final track can no longer be ripped, and even on my Dad’s CD player, the flaws are now audible. After some research on the matter, I find that the flaws in the CD are a consequence of ageing, although my oldest CD, which is about 30 years old, is still fine. Nonetheless, there may come a day when the CDs can neither be ripped nor played.

We went to Blenheim for a few days, where the weather remained clement. We stopped off at a seal colony near Kaikoura and watched the pups lolling around on the rocks.

In Blenheim, we went to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. At the moment, this covers machines from World War I, but will be expanding into the period between the wars and World War II. The museum contains some original planes (a 1913 Caproni CA 22) as well as working replicas such as a flight of Fokker Dr.1s (the triplane flown by Baron von Richthofen). Sir Peter “Hobbit” Jackson and companies he is involved with are responsible for the outstanding displays, which include a plane which has crashed in a tree, and the aftermath of the death of the Red Baron as souvenir hunters swarmed around the plane.

We also had a trip from Havelock out on the Greenshell Mussel Cruise. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to sea (if you count trips across Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong), and we had a very pleasant afternoon sailing out to a mussel farm. We got a lecture on mussel farming from the master of the boat, who explained the whole process of keeping the mussel gene pool chlorinated and getting them to grow on the lines which hang from the floats, each of which carries a tonne of mussels. After that, we ate mussels and drank wine before returning to Havelock.

The start of the following week saw autumn getting in some early practice. The weather turned grey, wet, and cold – colder than Chengdu, and only marginally better than Wuxi. It did eventually improve, and was turning rather nice again by the time I had to leave.

My Mum and Dad have acquired some monarch butterfly caterpillars from an unknown source. Monarchs have been quite rare, and the swan plants had about thirteen caterpillars altogether. The biggest of them have just started pupating, and the smaller ones should be ready to start in the next week or so.

This ended up being a clothes buying holiday with the acquisition of new shirts, a new pair of pyjamas, and a couple of new singlets. I looked for shoes, but couldn’t find anything quite right and think that I need to leave such matters for Hong Kong.

I did buy the 6th series of Dr Who, and the first part of the 7th. On my next visit to a DVD shop here, I’ll probably find both, but it’s too much of a lottery.

I’ve also managed to solve the speaker dock problem by chance. Mum has a Sony speaker dock which she can use to recharge and listen to music on her Walkman. I’ve had my Walkman connected to speakers via a cable, but have had to resort to charging the device every so often (typically at awkward moments). I bought a USB plug so that I wouldn’t lose one of the ports of my USB hub (and I’ve never been keen on using my laptop as a source of power for other devices). I’ve found that while I’m recharging my Walkman, I can still use it, which means that I’ve got the equivalent of a speaker dock without enjoying the expense of one.

The flight back to China was sufficiently empty for me to have a whole row to myself, although the arm rests didn’t go all the way up and the attachments for the seatbelts jammed into me at times.

Back here, I took the offer of a private car or would’ve been stuck at Pudong till 11.20am, and not home much before 2.00pm. It’s bad enough having to wait until around 10.00am, but would’ve been a nightmare after a twelve-hour flight to have been stuck at Pudong for about 5½ hours. I had thought the week of the Spring Festival was the second week of the holiday. If I’d known that New Year’s Day was Sunday, I perhaps would’ve returned home today instead.

In which Mr Bamboo breaks his land speed record

The train was so fast that it was in bed pleasuring my wife half an hour before I was.

Shanghai from the 43rd floor
Grey, gloomy Shanghai

I went to Shanghai yesterday for a workshop on IB assessment. As the picture shows, the view from the window was magnificently grey. It rained a little, but was mostly just dull and cold.

Some boy insisted on his mother sitting with him in the seat beside mine, and then knocked a plastic bag containing some horrible sticky drink off the tray table, causing it to go all over the floor of the carriage. It could’ve been worse. It might’ve been Shit 皇帝 from Guangzhou.

I was wondering what the speed of the train was, glanced up, and saw the display said 272kph. Before the end of the journey we’d hit 300kph, which is almost certainly the fastest I’ve ever travelled on land. I had no feeling that the train was going so fast, and even looking out of the window didn’t betray the actual speed. It could just as easily have been going at 80kph.

I see the recently famous nail house has gone. It’s demise seems to have been much more rapid than other instances of the same thing. We have one on the land on which the school wants to build a swimming pool, but no one seems to be in any rush to do anything about the situation. Perhaps someone had a word with the headmaster and explained how much swimming pools cost, and the impact that would have on his cut of the swag.

There have also been quite a few stories going around about the unhealthy condition of the nation’s youth. As I’ve said before, I always tell my lot to go and play outside, but very few of them move. Morning exercises are, by and large, a joke. In Fuzhou the students flopped about, but when it’s somewhere in the mid-thirties at 9.30am, flopping is about all anyone would want to do.

I also wonder how some of them stand up since they look like the poster boys for excruciating skinniness. In the days when I used to frequent school dining halls I noticed a lot of girls would perhaps eat a spoonful or two of something and abandon the rest. Mind you, they had probably also been scoffing nutrition-free snacks between classes.

Right, time to get on with my half-weekend.

At the start of the week

Update me.

I got back from Chengdu yesterday afternoon, where I’d been since last Tuesday. Internet access was intermittent at best: long periods of getting nowhere via my Internet helper were followed by short periods of access, which were enough to post some brief comment on Facebook before the connection was lost again. It was annoying and frustrating, and any idea I might’ve had about posting here had to go out of the window.

The flight to Chengdu went without a hitch. The city wasn’t completely grey and dismal while I was there, but to make up for that, it was utterly horrid yesterday with heavy cloud and dull haze, which eventually turned into rain (though not till after I’d departed).

I was on the noisy side of the hotel overlooking 滨江路 (or whatever the road is on the west side of 南大街; 锦里东路, which is a little odd because 锦里 is probably about a kilometre south of the river) where the traffic a.) never seems to stop and b.) seldom knows how to stay in lane.

The traffic in Chengdu is possibly worse than ever, and in places, cyclists are force to take rather circuitous routes to get about. It’s not longer possible to cross 人民南路 on the south side of Tianfu Square (from 西 to 东御街 [御 yù “imperial”]) without going south to the first intersection and doing a painfully slow U-turn there. It makes the driving in Wuxi look civilised.

I had some transport for the first time, a racing bike loaned to me by Linda’s best friend. It taught me that I’ve grown out of racing bikes and their cripplingly hard saddles, and their low-slung handlebars, which forced me to bend uncomfortably over the machine. On the other hand, it reminded me how much better narrow-gauge tyres are (which it had), and decent brakes (which it didn’t have).

Linda and I took a trip to Ikea where I bought some flannels, but had not intended to, and had a look at a chair for the study to get me off this kitchen chair. There’s now an Ikea in Wuxi, and a bus which goes out there, but I need to ask someone which number.

We went to High Fly for tea one night. The staff who were there in my day all seem to have gone, and the menu seems to have changed its focus to steak with pizza being reduced to an also-ran, it seemed to me.

On Friday, Linda and I went out to Raffles City, which has been under construction for about the past four years. The place is where the Sichuan (?) Museum of Culture had been when I first arrived in Chengdu. Raffles is, obviously, a Singaporean development, and contains the usual posh shops. It also has the first Mainland branch of Treat, which is actually part of the ParknShop empire. I knew the name was familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I’d seen it until I checked online. It is, of course, the supermarket at the end of the exit from the Kowloon Tong MTR station when you head to Festival Walk. It had a wide range of imported stuff, although the wines were on the stupidly expensive side.

Back in Wuxi, I found that M&G R1 pens have vanished from the shelves, including the red ones, which often linger after the black ones have gone. Still no sign of Nutella in Carrefour, but the Frico Gouda is back after an inexplicable absence.

Saw a white Audi R8 outside 远东百货 yesterday, and then a white Bentley Continental SuperSport on the side lane into Jinma. The only exceedingly expensive car I saw in Chengdu was a mid-blue Porsche cabrio.

The fun and games begin again tomorrow, but I could do with another week or month or so before then.

Posh hotel in the middle of nowhere

Or, The Start-of-Term Conference.

Yes, it’s that time of the year again when we get sent off to some exotic location and then have to sit around being professionally developed. This year we were sent off to the Crowne Plaza Hotel near the panda place north of Chengdu. The hotel was seriously posh. This was not one of those hotels where the lobby looks nice and the rooms are in a lower tax bracket. My bed was so wide that it was wider than a normal bed is long. The pillows were so soft that they ate my head. This was a bit of a nuisance.

From the window I could see a small village in the distance, but it all looked a little fake to me. The ridge of a hill came down from the left. Nearer to the hotel there was a fake church and down below me a swimming pool with a fake beach and a pavilion. The place was being advertised as a location for weddings. Part way down the hill was the word “Starkey” in large letters. This seemed to have something to do with some sort of charity event which was concurrent with our gathering. To the left were some housing units and to the right some blocks of flats, both of which seem to have been completed on the outside, but were lacking anything on the inside. Other buildings in the area were occupied.

Getting to the hotel provided some entertainment. The coach headed eastwards around the 3rd Ring Road from the airport and hit the turn-off to the 4th Ring Road where there are extensive roadworks. We already knew by this time that the driver wasn’t really sure where he was going, and we went slightly past the intersection before reversing into traffic to turn right. We went up the road and eventually found a big sign saying 保利198园 where we turned left and went into a car park which was clearly unused, drove around it, and went back out. Then we turned left again, but the driver decided sooner rather than later that he’d made another mistake, and we went back to the main road. We then saw a sign which indicated the hotel, and from the third turn, the hotel was visible.

The following evening as we came back from the conference dinner, another coach driver went quite a way down the second turn-off before deciding he’d taken a wrong turn. There was a second coach following him, too.

But it doesn’t stop there. The hotel ran a shuttle bus service to the city. When we came back the night before last, the driver seems to have headed up the other side of the roadworks I mentioned above only to get us stuck among a convoy of trucks carrying tonnes of soil to the site. They were all doing a dance, driving into some side lane to reverse to go into the site while the trucks which had already entered attempted to exit. The lane was too narrow, the entrance was too narrow (and probably should’ve been in a different place), and it was around midnight by the time we got back to the hotel. It was another instance of imperial efficiency.

However, it’s possible that the driver had found that there were delays on the other side of the site when he was heading to town and was trying an alternative route to speed things up. Didn’t work, but he probably didn’t know that.

The branch of the school out there, 石室北湖, is in the middle of nowhere. I feel sorry for any foreign teachers who might be sent there one day. Unlike the school in Tongzhou, the place isn’t in a proper town. There’s a small village on one side and some blocks of flats under construction a few hundred metres away, but apart from that, there seems to be little or nothing.

The only reason I could see for holding the conference in the middle of nowhere was the size of the auditorium. There were 280 of us this time, and there will be more next year. 石室 wouldn’t have the capacity to seat everyone, I think.

As I implied above, I did manage to get into town and see Linda, which was good. We were going to try meeting at the airport, but we would have had much less time than I would’ve liked.

Departing was a little bumpy. When I went to Chengdu, the woman at check-in here seemed to have problems with my passport, but said nothing about it and issued my boarding pass. The one at the airport in Chengdu revealed that my old passport number had been listed and I had to go to some other desk to get it changed to the new one. The question remains why the woman here allowed me through when the one in Chengdu didn’t.

There are now twenty-five of us here and we’re going to grow a bit more next year. Where we’re going to grow, I don’t know, but we barely have enough space now. I’m now officially schizophrenic being both A-level and IB, but not actually the latter, except I’m treated as if I am. Sort of.

Sunny, sunny again, and then…

Grey and hazy.

I returned to the Empire yesterday after a journey which involved rather a lot of inertia as I waited to resume my journey. For example, it took me seven hours to get home from the time the plane landed at Pudong. Four of those were simply waiting at the airport, first for the ticket office at the coach station to open at 8.30am and then for the first bus to Wuxi, which left at 10.10am. Unlike last year, I didn’t have a hotel room to which I could retreat, and I ended up almost falling asleep on the seats near arrived in Terminal 2 because there’s no seating along the paths between the two terminals, I didn’t fancy sitting around in the squalid waiting room. The other three hours were the journey to Wuxi, which is punctuated by a stop at Hongqiao to collect passengers from there.

Contrary to the forecast which I looked up on Baidu a couple of days ago, the weather was bright and sunny with barely a cloud to be seen. After New Zealand, of course, the air lacks that sparkling clarity. Even the temperature wasn’t so bad and it wasn’t until I did some shopping late yesterday afternoon that I recalled my thermal knickers and found that I didn’t need them.

That was yesterday. This morning, though, the forecast has been less amiss. It’s very, very grey and moderately hazy, and as I write, it could be any time o’clock.

As for the flight itself, there’s little worth mentioning. It was an overnighter, which meant that I spent a lot of the flight nodding off, tipping forwards, and waking up again. I need to find some way of strapping myself to the seat so that when I do nod, my head doesn’t tilt and the rest of me doesn’t try to tumble forwards. Actually, vertical straps would sort of do the trick although that leaves my rather wobbly head flapping about like a mad woman’s knickers on a clothes line in a force 9 gale.

I did have one weird dream, though. I was sitting on a chair in a room when a mortar bombardment began. It was so heavy that the chair and I were shaken several metres across the floor. The my wobbly head probably wobbled and I woke up. (As a side note, not unrelated to mortar bombardments, there has been a plethora of fireworks going off this morning. No sooner did one lengthy barrage end a couple of minutes ago, then a new one commenced. Lantern Festival today?)

Anyway, the washing has done, I’ve inflicted more trivia on the world, and there’s an empty drying frame out there which isn’t going to hang the washing out itself.

Woke up this mornin’

Well, a couple of mornings ago now.

The trip to New Zealand started early and dragged on. Iris had me booked on the 6.50am bus to Pudong, which arrived at the airport at about 9.30am, which was far too soon for my flight in the afternoon.

I ended up having lunch at Ajisen partly for something to do before I went through the departure area.

Our departure was fairly prompt and I did quite a bit of snoozing before spending the rest of the time watching recent episodes of Bing Bang Theory and Mr Sunshine. I’ve never seen the latter, which is another of those quirky workplace comedies from the US with a dash of Larry Sanders, but with learning and hugging.

I’m so used to large numbers of people at airports that the flight I’d booked from Auckland was later than it needed to have been. I should’ve booked an earlier flight if one had been available.

I snoozed on the plane to Christchurch because I was seriously tired again, and having got to Mum and Dad’s place, I snoozed for quite a bit of the afternoon, went to bed at my accustomed hour only to wake up at around the time I’d normally be off to bed in China. I eventually fell asleep after it started getting light and woke up at 10.00am yesterday morning.

I’ve already dealt with the main thing: a new laptop. I bought the Acer Aspire 5755G and have been installing software on it without any questions being asked. I had thought I’d get stern warnings about various things being installed on another machine. My attempts to get Office 2010 have failed. For some, I can’t access the website. Oh well, I’ll have to go to the shops and buy it. I could transfer Office 2007, but I want to keep that on my old machine.

Acrobat is also an issue because I think I’d have to install 7, then upgrade to 8, and then to 10, which would mean having to hook the oldest laptop to the Internet to deactivate and uninstall 7. I think I might just bite the bullet and buy 10 from scratch. Again, it’d be handy to have it on two machines.

So far the weather has been so nice. Nor’wester yesterday, and utterly clear so far today. Clouds? What are clouds?

Anyway, there are plans afoot and I must foot off.

Rehabilitating names

Out with 迎龙路, back in with 香榭街.

I’m coming back from Yamazaki at lunchtime minding everyone else’s business because they’re too dumb to mind their own when I see some idiot cyclist ride front of an electric scooter because the silly sod’s paying no attention.

This brought my attention to some council workers putting the finishing touches to the street sign near the south-east corner of the ground of the school. The street has now reverted to its original name, 香榭街. I don’t know whether that’s the whole street or just that end, and the rest is now called 迎龙路. Must try to remember to check tomorrow morning. (Checked eventually. The whole street has reverted to its original name.)

Anti-days

Anti-Saturday.

Theoretically, it’s Saturday, but in Irrational Universe World (aka China), it’s Thursday. I got back from Chengdu yesterday after a sojourn which seems all too brief.

Travel.

For the first time ever, the flights to and from Chengdu left on time. Seriously. I’ve got used to flights being delayed by at least half an hour and quite often far longer than that. I can only guess that the Men from the Ministry issued orders for the air traffic system to run like clockwork. In fact, the plane even managed to be early in both directions.

Accommodation.

I stayed in the usual place, which is handy for the centre of the city. Worst part: the bed, which was horribly hard and uncomfortable. If Hell has beds, they’d be like this. Second worst part: some bunch of complete plonkers thundering down the stairs (the lifts seemed to be working) shouting at the tops of their voices, which could then be heard wafting up from outside; the shrill woman who wanted to be let into a room but was too stupid to knock quietly. (All right, I admit that knocking quietly here is unlikely to have any sort of effect.)

We felt that I should stay in a different place next time where I’d also have access to a bike.

Transport.

Linda’s bike. I pedalled and she sat on the back, but I really do need a bike of my own. Linda did get me a card for using on the bus, which was rather handy to have. No need for a lot of small change.

Dining.

We had pizza at High Fly the first night. The place still needs to buy some decent knives because it’d be more effective to cut the pizza with a blunt rolling pin. We were disappointed with Ajisen where we had the clam noodles, which smelt really good and then turned out to be utterly bland. Tea at A Little Flavour, which is a Taiwanese-style restaurant was quite good and had a deal more flavour than the noodles at Ajisen.

We also went to an Italian restaurant in 远东百货 where we had calzone. Not quite as good as the fare from High Fly, but tasty; and the knives were better: I was sorely tempted to pinch one and take to High Fly to show them what a knife should look like.

We had lunch in the food court in 远东百货 that day. The 炸酱面 was excellent. The area offers a view of Tianfu Square, which I’ve never seen from an aerial vantage point. It looks like some grass had been laid down in parts of the square. The government offices to the left on the north side were swathed in green gauze, and the building to the west has gone altogether.

Places.

Went to the Foreign Languages Bookshop where I bought the Wordsworth translation of The Three Musketeers, which I haven’t read in a long time, and Wagner the Werewolf, a penny dreadful by George Reynolds. Linda looked for a dictionary of dance terms, but if there is such a thing, it’s probably part of a larger dictionary of, say, the performing arts.

Since 春熙路 was choked with rustic clowns, we decided to go to 大慈, where we arrived just in time to see some of the afternoon service. The congregation of women threaded their way through the rows of prayer cushions while they sang some Buddhist chant. The youngest woman I could see was probably in her fifties, and the average age was probably well over 60. We went and sat on one of the benches for a while enjoying the afternoon sunshine and watching the monks ride by on their electric scooters. (Well, one monk.)

After heading off on a bus in the wrong direction, we headed back into town where the 乡人 were clogging the bus stops so much that we walked to the new shopping mall near the dance school. The place is only partially complete with quite a few premises yet to be occupied. There’s an ice skating rink in the building which was being used, and up on the 4th floor are the car showrooms. We had a look at a new red-and-silver Audi A1, which is one of the few Audis I can afford to buy. Mind you, I’d still prefer a Citroen DS3.

Our destination the next day was Ikea because I needed to buy a couple of towels to replace two of mine. The place was so busy that cars were queuing to get into the car park and only being admitted as someone left.

We spent quite a bit of time in 远东百货 having a look round. I bought myself a 1:50 scale Silverlit Porsche GT3 which whizzes around and is frighteningly manoeuvrable. The supermarket downstairs is better than the one in our local 远东百货, but their Yamazaki has none of the things which makes ours special apart from the bread.

An afternoon out

What’s wrong with Live Writer?

I haven’t tried using Live Writer in ages, and thought I might see whether it still worked with the blog. The answer is that I can’t get through to WordPress. I wonder whether this is because when I try logging on to WP from the blog, I get an error message and whatever is behind that problem prevents me from posting with Live Writer.

While I used to think that my problem logging on was because of the petty-mindedness of the imperial government, it turns out that other people, who are on the far side of the Great Wall of Paranoia, have been having the same problem.

Anyway, I did go for my adventure eventually, having had a snooze and mucked around online first.

I mostly stuck to back streets, which preserve old Wuxi in all its ancient grubbiness. Behind 新光泽路 still lurks 古污秽街. I went down the street alongside the newish Wuxi Gymnasium where the grotty shops contrast with the new building across the road.

I was heading back round in this direction when who should I see at a nearby bus stop but Fred, who asked me if I had a key to the office because he’d been unable to get back in last night after class, and had had to leave all his kit in there. But that I should happen to turn up at the right moment was a complete coincidence.