Tag Archives: travel

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.

So the foreigner really did make a mistake

The quirks of the imperial mafia.

Well, as we all know, Gu Kailai got away with murder as the punters ex­pected she probably would. Much as I deplore the culture of whacking people in this country, it would seem that premeditated murder should have got Gu dragged off to some distant field and her brains splattered all over it. As for the defence, I’d assume that Neil Heywood as an Old China Hand would’ve known better than to threaten anyone in Bo Xilai’s family. Will we ever know the truth or come close to it?

Meanwhile all those fat little Asian babies continue their infantile squab­bles about some rocks in the South China Sea. It seems to me that none of them have any clear and unequivocal claim to this particular piece of water since, I expect, they will’ve all been criss-crossing it for centuries.

I’ve been reading stories about some foreigner in Zhengzhou nearly caus­ing a riot by allegedly slapping and spitting on some Chinese woman for bumping into his car. No details about the man himself, but foreigners driving cars here are relatively rare, and in all my time in the Empire, I can only recall ever having seen one, which was in Tiananmen Square in Bei­jing not too long after I arrived. As for his behaviour, if he did indeed assault the woman, he was asking for trouble.

According to the LA Times, there have been changes to the requirements for tourist visas for China. The one which has me scratching my head is the “letter of invitation”, which, the article says, should come from a duly authorised tourism unit. It sounds like the Empire is trying to force tourists to go on package tours rather than just turn up and wander about where they please: more stage management to keep people away from the warts? It would appear to make it difficult for foreigners principally coming here to visit family members or friends. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the im­ple­mentation of these new rules and regulations is haphazard, though. Back in 2005, the Chinese Embassy in London proved to be a monstrous pain in the arse for me because they were still working on the old system after a new one had been introduced.

Qingcheng Shan and Dujiangyan

Daoists and irrigation.

The school asked if we wanted to go along on the trip to Qingcheng Shan (青城山) and Dujiangyan (都江堰) which had been arranged for the visiting American teachers. The two places, which are about 40km north-west of Chengdu, are quite close to each other.

Qingcheng Shan is a complex of Daoists temples, halls and pavilions set on a heavily wooded mountain. These are pictures of Jianfu Palace (建福宫) which is down at the bottom of the hill, and its front gate.

Jianfu Gong Jianfu Gong, front gate

We then went up a wooded path to Lake Yuecheng (月城湖) which is named after a hill called the City of Ghosts (鬼城) or Moon City Mountain. We crossed the lake on the ferry…

Qingcheng Shan Lake Yuecheng and the ferry to the cable car

…to get the cable car (well, ski lift) to the top of the mountain where we walked up to Shangqing Palace (上清宫).

The cable car to the top of the mountain Shangqing Palace

Shangqing Palace was built during the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) and rebuilt during the Qing Dynasty. (And probably refurbished some time in the past ten years or so.)

Shangqing Palace Shangqing Palace

And that was as much of the whole thing as we saw, which was a pity because there’s a lot more to Qingcheng Shan than just this. It’s the sort of place where you could spend three or four days at least, two days on each side of the mountain.

We then went to Dujiangyan (堰 yàn “weir, dam”), where we were led around by an English-speaking guide. The place is an irrigation scheme which allowed for the area around Chengdu to be irrigated and protected from flooding. The park around the actual project also comes with some Daoist temples. The idea was to control the amount, direction and speed of the water by cutting additional channels alongside the existing river and adding spillways for when the river reached a certain height.

The River Min, Dujiangyan djy003

In the foreground of the left-hand picture above and roughly in the centre of the right-hand picture (note the spillway extending off to the left), the riverbed is about 30m deep as part of the scheme to control the speed of the river and the amount of silt in the river. In ancient times, the Chinese used structures like this to block the river so that they could clear out the previous year’s detritus.

A wood and stone weir, Dujiangyan

The tripods would then be demolished so that the whole structure would then break down. 

The river is called the Min (岷 Mín) which I thought might be the source of the Min Jiang (闽江; Mǐn Jiāng) that flows through Fuzhou; but different characters and different tones.

Once again, we only saw part of the whole complex for which you’d need to devote at least half a day.

As you can see from the pictures, the day was quite misty, although just after we had lunch the sun almost appeared through the relentless blanket of grey clouds. I also need to stick my lens hood on the camera and leave it there because I’m still getting a lot of ghosting on some shots where there’s a strong contrast between light and dark, or light is shining from above. It seems that the automatic adjustment on the camera doesn’t cope well with such conditions.

An accident on the way to Qingcheng Shan

We saw the aftermath of two accidents on the way to Qingcheng Shan. In one, a truck carrying a load of flour had toppled over. I wouldn’t be surprised if the truck had been overloaded. In the other, some motorcyclist had been hit by a car and had obviously been injured. 

Finally, another Chinglish moment. This plaque was dotted around the grounds of Qingcheng Shan.

Did Du Fu really write this?

The error is “split” for “spit” (唾 tuò). I can’t help but wonder whether Du Fu really wrote this. It’d be a bit like finding that Alexander Pope had written a poem extolling snot. I investigate. Huh. It seems he really did write those lines. The poem is about 丈人山 (Zhàngrén Shān), which is on the right-hand side of the cable car as you go up the mountain. The whole poem, for those of you who can read Chinese, is

五古·丈人山
自为青城客,不唾青城地。为爱丈人山,丹梯近幽意。
丈人祠西佳气浓,缘云拟住最高峰。扫除白发黄精在,
君看他时冰雪容。(
Website.)

The green sheep of the family

That’s the Way it is.

I thought I’d take a trip to 青羊宫 (Qīngyáng Gōng; Qingyang Palace) this afternoon. It was a fairly brief trip partly because the grounds are small; partly because I’ve seen all that sort of thing before; and partly because the batteries of my camera were dying as I’ve been expecting them to for about three days now.

Qingyang Palace is a Daoist temple and, like Wenshu, a working temple. There were plenty of people lighting candles and praying (“Please don’t let me get put on Double Regulations.”). The original temple dates from the Zhou Dynasty, which means that it might be between 2200 and 3100 years old. During the Tang Dynasty, one emperor retreated there during an insurrection, after which he had the place renovated. It seems to have taken a battering during the Ming Dynasty before Kangxi reconstructed it.

This is a shot from the gate with Hunyuan Hall in the background. That was rebuilt in the late 19th century by Emperor Guangxu.

qingyang001

Beyond Hunyuan Hall is the Eight Trigram Pavilion. This was rebuilt by on two occasions, once by Tongzhi and once by Guangxu.

qingyang002

Behind the Eight Trigram Pavilion is the Hall of Three Purities which was rebuilt during Kangxi’s reign about 30 years before he got round to Wenshu in 1697. Every time someone donated money to the temple, one of the monks would hit the bell with a hammer. I assume that the bell was the Bell of the World of Darkness which is one of several Ming Dynasty relics in the hall.

qingyang004

The Hall of the Goddess Doumu is the only Ming Dynasty style building in the complex.

qingyang005

This is the Hall of the Jade Emperor which was built in the early to mid 19th century. The girl in the dark blue-green outfit was shaking a container full of sticks as she knelt before the shrine.

qingyang006

Past the Hall of the Jade Emperor is the Hall of the Tang Emperor, although Kangxi was behind this one. The hall includes an effigy of the first Tang emperor

qingyang007

After this point you then swing right and pass the Hall of the Two Immortals (another of Kangxi’s dating from 1695; I did say he was behind the building in the previous picture), the Hall of Patriarch Lü Dongbin, and this gate – reverse (slightly wonky shot; oops!)

qingyang008

and obverse from 文化公园 which is just next door.

qingyang009

I also took a brief turn around the park which included another monument to a group of martyrs, this time the No. 12 Bridge Martyrs from 1949. The park itself is dominated by tearooms which are absolutely everywhere you go. There’s also an amusement park and a boating lake.

Well, that’s the last post from me until,er, whenever.

When the sun shines in Chengdu

Gentlemen of leisure visit Dufu’s Thatched Cottage.

Yes, it’s true. Another sunny day in Chengdu accompanied by your actual blue sky. I decided to take a trip to 杜甫草堂 (Dùfǔ Cǎo Táng). Dufu (712-770) is one of China’s greatest poets and lived during the Tang Dynasty. He came to Chengdu to escape from conflict in another part of the country. As seems to be typical, he tried to get an official position, but when he did, it was only at a low level because of the machinations of some despicable bureaucrat. He got bored with the job which was, no doubt, unworthy of someone with Dufu’s talents.

Here’s the man himself.

dufu001

Those are my legs reflected in the bronze. Steady, ladies. I know they’re sexy, but try to calm yourselves. You’ll notice that the beard is a slightly different colour from the rest of him because of the Chinese mania for touching bits of statues for good luck.

This is the replica of Dufu’s cottage. From what I could tell from various exhibits (with limited info in English), the complex became more and more extensive, although I’m not sure whether this was in Dufu’s time or, as seems more likely, after it.

dufu002

Actually, there’s a museum near the North Gate which displays a dig from which Tang Dynasty artifacts were unexpectedly uncovered in the course of building work. The find was quite important because there are apparently not a lot of remains from the Tang Dynasty (apart from the Politburo; sorry, couldn’t resist).

dufu003

One of the things they unearthed in the course of the dig was this stone tablet, the inscription on which includes a date of 687AD. Well, the Chinese equivalent of such a date.

dufu004

In the south-east corner of the grounds is 万佛楼 (Wàn Fó Lóu; Ten Thousand Buddha Building). It’s built on the site of an earlier pagoda, but it’s been shifted slightly so that you can see the base of the original columns which have been preserved under glass at the bottom of the building.

dufu005

While I was in the building, I managed to snap this bird sitting on one of the roof ridges a moment before it flitted away.

dufu006

Overall, Dufu’s Cottage is a very picturesque garden with features such as a red-walled path overarched with green bamboo.

dufu007

Or this pleasant waterside pavilion.

dufu008

Or this pavilion with a stele with an inscription from a Tang Dynasty noble called Prince Guo (which features on a mouse mat I believe I bought in Changzhou).

dufu009

Or ponds full of lilies.

dufu010

There are quite a few displays in the place including one building with pictures of various Chinese leaders from Mao to Jiang Zemin who had visited Dufu’s Cottage. Deng Xiaoping said that if you visited Chengdu without visiting Dufu’s Cottage, then you weren’t visiting the place at all. Curiously, there were examples of calligraphy by various Party boys on display, only some of which were clearly identified. Either the staff don’t know who produced the calligraphy, or they don’t want to say for some reason, but I noted that the ill-fated Liu Shaoqi was among those who dropped by. So was French president Jacques Chirac.

I tried to do a circuit of the place, but got slightly lost in the middle. Nonetheless, I managed, somehow, to see most of the grounds. I note that once again, like the map they hand out at Wuhou, the map of Dufu’s Thatched Cottage is in Chinese, Japanese and Korean. In fact on this map, there’s not a scrap of English.

So, if you’re ever in Chengdu and have 2½ to 3 hours to spare, then this place is worth a visit. (Now if the Sichuan Tourist Board would pay me an advertising fee…)

Wenshu Yuan

The things I do when it’s fine and sunny.

It was fine and sunny today. Here’s a picture to prove it. The camera never lies. Much.

Sunshine and blue sky in Chengdu

I went to 文殊院 (Wénshū Yuán; Wenshu Monastery). Here’s a picture to prove that. Entrance fee, ¥5. Nope, I’m not exaggerating.

Wenshu Yuan, Hall of Three Saints

The Hall of Three Saints is on the left, while on the right in the background is a place where you could get fresh flowers, presumably for offerings. The Hall was first built in 1697 during the reign of Emperor Kangxi, and renovated in 1815. This is a working temple complete with monks and a vegetarian restaurant.

Behind the Hall of Three Saints is Sakyamuni Hall. The original building was also erected in 1697, but was renovated in 1741 during the reign of Qianlong, and expanded in the early 19th century. The gate to the hall was shut, but everybody was touching the rounded 福 character on the boss. The old woman and her granddaughter were kind of typical of the people there. Old or young, but not so many in between.

Wenshu Yuan, Sakyamuni Hall

Behind Sakyamuni Hall was the Dharma Preaching Hall. It also dates from 1697 and was, like the others, renovated early in the 19th century.

Wenshu Yuan, Dharma Preaching Hall

The Tripitaka Pavilion is at the back of the complex. Again, it dates from 1697 and was renovated in the early 19th century. In the courtyard before it, a man was busy consulting Buddha – loudly on his mobile.

Wenshu Yuan, Tripitaka Pavilion

To the west of these buildings is a garden with a Long Life Pond, which is full of terrapins either lazing around in the limpid green waters or sunning themselves on rocks or each other.

Terrapins in Long Life Pool

Beyond the garden to the north of the halls is the monastery library which is of far more recent date than the rest of the complex.

Wenshu Yuan, the monastery library

To the east of the main complex of buildings is the Thousand Buddha Peace Pagoda where, as you can see in the picture, people were making offerings, and also circling the pagoda. If the guy who was doing the praying before the pagoda was hoping for a girl in short shorts, he was in luck. She’d just walked up behind him.

Wenshu Yuan, Thousand Buddha Peace Pagoda

It’s not an especially big monastery, but it’s in the middle of an urban development area (i.e., tourist trap). I ran into an American who said that he’s been there six months earlier when they were still building the shops on the other side of the road from the monastery.

There were a number of foreigners strolling around the place, which reminds me. As I was heading up the road past 人民西路, I saw this hugely fat foreigner. I know I’ve seen a fair few lard-arsed foreigners in this city, but this guy was massive sideways. I just hope that the über漂亮 Chinese girl behind him was merely embarking on the long trek to get by Mr Tun-Belly, because if there was some sort of close personal association between them, it’d turn a Christian normal in a moment.

Wuhou Memorial Temple

The Tomb of Liu Bei.

I went to Wuhou Memorial Temple this afternoon and took a turn around the grounds for a couple of hours. Today had started wet, and it was raining very, very slightly when I went off this afternoon, but it started to clear and hazy sunshine didn’t so much break through as ooze. The greyness and the dampness made for what I felt was a typical scene in a Chinese garden, the light being bright, but casting no shadows.

The temple itself was first built in AD 223 and has been open ever since (barring Cultural Revolutions, I expect). Certainly been open for business because there was no lack of shops selling souvenirs.

We start with a picture of Jianxin Hall (荐馨堂) which is at the end of the avenue along the west side of Wuhou. This is the tomb of Zhuge Liang (aka Kongming), the great strategist who features prominently in the story of The Three Kingdoms.

jianxintang

South-west of this is the lake, beside which is the romantically named Lamei Wood (腊梅林; làméi means “wintersweet”; I learn from further research that wintersweet is a variety of flower, although now is not the time of year when you might see it).

lake

Past there, you enter the area where Liu Bei’s tomb (the tumulus where he’s buried) is. You pass through this gate

gate

and can walk around the burial mound itself, which, as you can see from the pic­ture, is overgrown with plants and trees.

mound

The wall that surrounds it is like the echoing wall at Tiantan in Beijing. I could hear the people at the gate in the picture above much sooner than I could see them. On the other side of the wall from this a quiet bonsai garden.

bonsai

Anyway, I’m sure you’re dying to see Liu Bei’s effigy, and here it is.

liubei

There are quite a number of effigies in the complex, some of which are purportedly about 400 years old or so, although I’m a little sceptical that they’re originals. The most recent ones, as far as I saw, date from the mid-19th century.

This is the temple next to Jinli, which you can see through the gate. It’s actually the temple in honour of the oath sworn by Liu Bei, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu in the peach garden.

peachtemple

And here are the effigies of the boys inside. Zhang Fei was loyal, but a drunkard, and his brutal treatment of his men after Lord Guan was executed led to his assassination. Guan Yu was a greater fighter, but was captured and executed by Sun Quan of the Southlands.

beifeiyu

And thus I amused myself for the afternoon.

You just can’t keep me away from the place

Back to Hong Kong.

I went into CAAC in town and bought a ticket for Hong Kong. I’m off at the end of the month and back mid August. I need to get away from the Mainland for a bit.

Meanwhile, I’m on the overcrowded-as-usual No. 20, and eventually manage to make my way to the back of the bus. But as I’m squeezing my way down the aisle, I see this guy wearing a pair of trousers with ANUS on the pockets sewn to the trouser legs. If the opportunity had presented itself, I would’ve got out my dictionary and shown him exactly what the word meant, but the bus was too crowded for social niceties or English lessons.

I guess in China trousers can be a load of old arse.

42­° yesterday and 41° at the moment. Hong Kong could be a little cooler, but I suspect that I’ll return with tales of incessant rain.

Hong Kong IV

22.01.06 – Outward bound

I had thought that I was going to be standing on a train stuffed to the windows with migrant workers because my ticket had “No seat” on it, but I was directed to carriage 3 where there were plenty of seats. When I got to Nanjing, I got a taxi to the Friendship Hotel, only for the driver to eventually tell me that there’s a Metro system there. Must be very new because it’s not in the latest edition of the Lonely Planet China guide. It would’ve taken me to my destination for about ¥3. As I saw today, construction is obviously about to start on Line 2, but at the moment, the Metro is a single north-south line.

The Friendship Hotel is near the centre of the city and was offering a special deal of ¥188 a night. Of course, the place is, like all Friendship Hotels in this country, a bit seedy. It also has it’s comic relief. In the bathroom in each room are various things you can buy in case you need them. This included a pair of knickers. On the back of the box it said in English “Uncomplimentary”, although the Chinese said, “Not gift item”. I wouldn’t have called this pair of knickers so much uncomplimentary as unflattering.

You always forget something. This year it was a pencil for doing sudoku puzzles. But I outdid myself and took something completely useless – my bike pump, which has been in the side pocket of my rucksack all term. I also took two towels because last year I took none and needed them. This time the guest house supplied them. I could’ve done with the extra space in my suitcase.

It was nice to be in Nanjing and away from this horrible rural backwater. I bought a copy of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) from the Jinling Hotel. First time I’d seen the SCMP since June last year.


23.01.06 – Arrival in Hong Kong

I’d already tried scouting out the location of the stop for the bus to Nanjing Airport, but couldn’t find it. I did find a bus station nearby. I went over to the Sheraton and was told that the station for the airport bus was on Zhongshan Nanlu. I tried to get a taxi there, but the driver seemed to think it was an enormous joke for me not to want him to take me to the airport for a lot more money than being ferried to the bus station and catching the bus would’ve cost. So I walked, only to find that the airport bus was based at the corner of Zhongshan Nanlu and Shengzhou Lu, which was not a brief stroll. But I got the bus to the airport which is an hour outside of Nanjing.

Fortunately, I’d given myself plenty of time to get to the airport, where I talked with a guy from Hainan Island who was at university in Nanjing and heading home for the Spring Festival. He wanted to practise his English which was actually pretty good.

The trip to Hong Kong was uneventful. The plane wasn’t full and I had a spare seat next to me. I blasted through immigration and baggage claim in about five minutes flat, charged up my Octopus card, and was off to town. I ended up in the Lee Garden Guesthouse on Cameron Road. I was on the 8th floor (lucky number), although the view was non-existent.

I went off to Ka Ka Lok for tea where Charlie Chuckles is still fronting the place with a cheery smile and a witty remark for all his customers. This one is an Olympic gold medallist in seriousness. Anyway, I hadn’t had fish ‘n’ chips for so long.


24.01.06 – I think I read about that

I went to have breakfast at Dai Pai Dong on Canton Road only to find that it’d gone. I think I read something about that in the SCMP last year. I went to Delifrance instead, but after that, I had ordinary breakfast cereal in my room each morning.

As usual when I get to Hong Kong, I only have the haziest recollection of where anything is. I tried to find Swindon Books, but couldn’t at first. I tried to find Cosmos Books on the Island and ended up in M&S instead. Don’t ask me how.


25.01.06 – This time I found it

I eventually found both Swindon Books (Lock Road, Kowloon) and Cosmos Books (Johnston Road, Hong Kong Island; turn right out Exit A3 from Wan Chai station). I had lunch in the Southorn [sic!] Playground and watched some old Chinese guy effortlessly dropping a basketball shot after shot through the hoop. The kids here could learn a thing or two from him.

I headed to Page One in Festival Walk near Kowloon Tong. I bought The Tale of Genji because I’d been thinking that apart from some manga, I’ve never read anything Japanese. This is, of course, the classic Japanese novel.

I went for a wander around the south east quarter of Kowloon Peninsula. It’s not a part that most tourists would visit. As I was passing the harbour, I heard a splash and saw that some men working on one of the barges had chucked a dog tied to a rope into the water and let it swim around before hauling it back on board. I got a couple of pictures of that. I’m not sure whether the dog thought it was a bit of a lark or the men were giving it a bath.

When I got back to the hotel, I had a call from my friend Brigid who taught with me in Beijing last year. She now has a job teaching English in Hong Kong, although it’s at a school for deaf kids. Actually, that particular school (number of students: forty-seven) is probably going to be closed down, but Brigid will be transferred to another school in the same programme.

Brigid was also having medical problems. Just before she left New Zealand, a pain developed in her left leg and was giving her serious grief by the time she got off the plane. She eventually learnt that she had a damaged cartilage in her knee which is going to need surgery to repair. If things had gone according to plan, she should’ve had a Hong Kong ID which would’ve meant that she could’ve applied for medical insurance to cover the costs of diagnosis and treatment. But she needed to go to Macau or Shenzhen so that she could then enter HK “properly”; and then get insurance so that she could get it treated.


26.01.06 – She has views

I went to see Brigid who’s living in the Island Resort complex in Chai Wan. She’s on the 59th floor of her building and has some great views when the weather is clear. We had lunch and went to Ikea because her flat was only partly furnished and she needed some more stuff for it.

It’d been in the news that Chris Penn had died. The Standard, which is HK’s evening English-language paper, said he was 40. In the SCMP he was 43. Actually, The Standard was right. I would’ve guessed the SCMP was right, but only because I thought he was older than me.


27.01.06 – Opening at midday

I tried to find my way to the computer markets in Mong Kok, but couldn’t find them. Second year running that’s happened. I find that Hong Kong lacks distinctive landmarks when you’re navigating you’re way around the place and trying to find something that isn’t well sign-posted (or the sign is only in Chinese). It didn’t matter because I then remembered that the Mong Kok computer market doesn’t open until midday.

So I went to the computer market in Wan Chai instead. I can find that. I got a copy of Quake IV. If the vendor hadn’t asked if there was anything else I wanted, I would’ve overlooked Civ IV.


28.01.06 – Rain

It rained. Apart from obligatory foraging forays, I stayed in most of the day. It didn’t hurt because my feet had taken a fair pounding since Nanjing and needed to be rested.


29.01.06 – Xinnian Kwaile! (Kong Hei Fat Choi!)

It was nice and clear by the time I got up. I wandered around Tsim Sha Tsui taking random photographs. I thought about going to the Peak because the day was so clear, but by the time I got to the Terminus, there was a lengthy queue. As usual, all the Indonesian and Filipino maids had gathered in and around Chater Square. Their high-pitched voices were really noticeable.

I was going to meet Brigid and her friend Alison to see the New Year’s Day parade, but Brigid had to pull out because her leg was causing her so much pain. I went along with Alison and her son, Nick, to watch the parade. I got some pictures, but unless the marchers stood relatively still, they’re horribly blurred. This was also the night that I caught a cold off someone.


30.01.06 – Shek O

I went to Shek O (Stone Bay) which is the easternmost beach on Hong Kong Island. It’s quite small and although the town is clearly a bit downmarket, the area is otherwise some very expensive houses surrounding a golf course. There were a lot of expats about. It was another nice day and there were people swimming; even some Chinese, which surprised me because although Hong Kong really does have winter, it’s nowhere near as cold as the mainland; yet they dress as if it is.

I then wandered up the road to Big Wave Bay which was more of the same with surfers. I think they must’ve been having a class, because there wasn’t a lot of surfing being done.

That evening I went with Brigid, Alison, and Nick to Cafe Deco which is a restaurant up the Peak overlooking the harbour. We watched the fireworks. although a tree and a couple of tall buildings obscured the view. But it was very clear night and the pictures came out about as well as could be expected.


31.01.06 – Take a number and wait

When I went for tea, Kowloon seemed so crowded that I went over to the Island. I went to a Pizza Hut in Wan Chai where I arrived just in time to avoid more crowds of people. I was seated at a table for four, but got the staff to move me to a table for two so that some of the people waiting could get a seat. Aren’t I too kind?

I bought Martin Booth’s book Gweilo which is about his childhood when he first lived in Hong Kong. He wrote it just before he died in 2004. I was tempted to buy it while I was home last year. Hong Kong back in the late 40s and early 50s sounded much like China today. Where I live, it’s still about 1953. While Booth and his mother got involved with the locals, his father never fitted in. He was an alcoholic with a severe inferiority complex.

I also bought David Bowie’s Scary Monsters album which I’d been meaning to buy for years, but I’d never seen it on special before. Good thing too because now that I’ve heard it, I find there are only two decent songs and the rest are Bowie squeaking and gibbering cacophonically at different pitches.


01.02.06 – Washing day

Yeah, that was about the high point of the day. By now, the cold was driving me mad.


02.02.06 – A den of vice and iniquity

As a consequence of reading about Martin Booth’s adventures in Kowloon Walled City, I decided to go to Kowloon Walled City Park. The city was originally the last remaining outpost of Qing Dynasty China after Kowloon Peninsula was ceded in perpetuity. Chinese officials abandoned it at the end of the 19th century and it became a kind of Nomansland which seems to have fallen under the control of the Triads. By the 1960s it was a kind of high-rise slum. It was finally demolished, with the agreement of the Chinese government in the mid 90s and turned into a park.

There’s some archaeology on display near the south gate, including the stone plaque which has some Chinese characters carved onto it. There was a section for bonsai trees, and a Crape Myrtle walk. I mention the latter, because the flats next to the area I’m in are called Ziwei Yuan – Crape Myrtle Gardens. Although I’m sure the buildings aren’t original, one or two have been rebuilt where they were in the original walled city.

Afterwards, I took a walk in Kowloon City. It was rather quiet because a lot of the shops were closed for the Spring Festival. But even if they’d been open, the place seemed rather dead. Everything seems to pass it by. I think that was where I found a KFC with a mainland menu. The KFCs in Kowloon have what I’d describe as a more cosmopolitan menu. The mainland menu used to come with chips and Pepsi. It now comes with coleslaw and some sickly sweet fruit drink.

I went to the Heritage Museum in Tai Wai to see the Silk Road Exhibition. It included some texts in various languages, some textiles (including one that was about 2500 years old), various artifacts, and two mummies, both Caucasian in origin. I think it was in last Saturday’s Post that there was an article saying that not as many people had been to the exhibition as had been expected. But the article also suggested that the advertising for exhibitions in Hong Kong tends to be a bit generic. I think I saw the advert for it at Admiralty Metro Station.


03.02.06 – You guys are so stupid

Nanny banned Memoirs of a Geisha on the mainland because she was worried that mainland audiences might not be able to contain their enthusiasm [Don’t you mean ‘outrage’? –ed.] at seeing Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li playing Japanese characters. On this occasion, the ban is kind of saying that mainlanders are just too thick to be able to watch this film without reacting stupidly. It’s not actually being banned because it’s subversive or mentions all those T-words that give Nanny palpitations.

I bought my sister a couple of things for her birthday, including a bookmark with her name in Chinese characters. I was curious to know how the first and third characters were pronounced, and went to Swindon Books to look them up in a dictionary. To my surprise, the range of Chinese-English dictionaries was pitiful. It’s much better here on the mainland. Eventually, one of the shop assistants helped me, and found the characters in a reprint of a Qing Dynasty dictionary. The first character, , means “fine jade” and is in my big dictionary. The third character, tàn, which is a personal name, isn’t in the dictionary at all, but is, apparently, a personal name. On the bookmark, it’s meaning was given as “sentimental”, but the first character was translated as “fairyland”.


04.02.06 – Age concern

That morning as I went to Wellcome (a supermarket chain in Hong Kong) to buy a box of breakfast cereal, I saw a girl who must’ve been in her early twenties wearing a sweatshirt with the slogan “Sexy Senior Citizen”. Don’t worry kid, you’ll get there eventually.

I had lunch with Brigid at Pacific Coffee in Central before we headed to Harbour City in Kowloon and then went to Kowloon Tong where she signed up for medical insurance. We then had afternoon tea at the Pacific Coffee in Festival Walk, but had problems finding a seat. The place was huge, but the back part was full of students studying. The place wasn’t exactly conducive to such an activity because it was rather noisy.


05.02.06 – That bloody cold

Yeah, it was still giving me grief. I went to see Brigid again. This time we went in search of a pharmacy for the medicine she’d been prescribed for her leg. At a medical centre in the Island Resort complex, she was told that the pills would cost HK$600 (c. £45). None of the other local pharmacies even had the stuff. We had dinner in the restaurant next to MacDonald’s. The wine was allegedly a Shiraz, but I was sceptical. The staff were unnecessarily obsequious and it felt a little embarrassing.

I made a start on Rachel de Woskin’s book, Foreign Babes in Beijing. That was another one I read in about a day. I think the book is probably more interesting if you haven’t lived in Beijing. De Woskin was one of Beijing’s Happy Valley crowd. Although I’m sure the events she narrates really happened, the tale falls out a little too readily. PR job (yawn) and role in some dreadful TV series (faux glamour); a hunky Chinese boyfriend (doomed romance); a death (tragedy); a change of scene (abrupt dénouement). It just lends itself to a film.


06.02.06 – Through a haze brownly

When I first visited Hong Kong, I went up the Peak the first or second day I was there and had never been back until this year. For the past two years the weather hasn’t been conducive to another trip up there. But once the morning cloud had burnt off, the weather during the week of the Spring Festival was brilliant. I decided it was time for another daytime visit to the Peak. There weren’t as many people waiting to get on the tram as there had been on New Year’s Day, and the view was probably clearer than my first visit there.

The really noticeable thing about Kowloon this year was the peskiness of the Indian tailors in Tsim Sha Tsui. Usually, they bother the white folks, but never to the extent they did this year. There really was a concerted effort to get people to buy an overpriced suit that probably wouldn’t last to the door of the shop. In Gweilo, Martin Booth comments that Chinese tailors would never tout for business because they know their suits are better quality. I have my genuine fake Armani from the Silk Market in Beijing.

But this peskiness also extended to the massage parlours. The building I was staying in had a massage parlour downstairs. From the afternoon onwards, someone always stood outside the door trying to get anyone and everyone to have a massage. Even although I’d been in and out of the building for two weeks, whoever was working the door insisted on asking if I wanted a massage. But this evening, the girl who was doing the pestering completely surprised me by saying, “Hi”.


07.02.06 – Half way up the escalator

Hong Kong claims to have the world’s longest escalator running from Connaught Road through Central to Mid-Levels. I was curious to see this feat of modern engineering, but found that it’s a series of separate escalators rather than one long one. It actually runs through a rather quiet part of Central. There are one or two interesting views to be had from it, including further reminders that Hong Kong isn’t all shiny and new, and that there are some dilapidated buildings there.

By now, Brigid’s leg had reached a crisis point and the likelihood of an operation seemed to become remoter and remoter. Luckily, her local hospital is one of the best in the Territory and because of the urgency of the condition, she’s having the op. done sooner rather than later. How much is it going to cost? HK$200 (c. £15) as opposed to HK$20,000 (c. £1500) to have it done privately. As you can imagine, she was enormously relieved.


08.02.03 – Nanjing II

I grabbed a copy of Monday’s Guardian when I got to the airport. I hadn’t seen this new format. Very inky, I have to say. Anyway, I’m back to the Grauniad Online; there’ll be no more South China Morning Post for some time.

I passed through Nanjing Airport quite quickly, and got the bus back, arriving at the Friendship Hotel about mid afternoon. This time I was on the 11th floor (i.e., 10th) looking south, I think. I’d heard that there’d been snow on the mainland, although it’d mostly gone apart from a little remaining on some roofs and piles of snow dotted about here and there.

It was a little bit of a relief to get away from Hong Kong because the place can be quite intense, especially in Tsim Sha Tsui with such a large number of people packed into such a small geographical area.


09.02.03 – Tickets

I took the Metro to Nanjing Station and bought a ticket to return home today. I got on the 9.26am train, although I think if I’d known what the N515 meant, I would’ve opted for one of the T trains.

I went to Pizza Hut for tea, but there was a queue outside. After I ordered, dessert and beer more or less arrived simultaneously, and the pizza some time later.


10.02.03 – Homeward bound

The N515 turned out to be a double-decker train and somewhat packed. Fortunately I had a seat and there was just enough space for my suitcase not to be half blocking the aisle. It wouldn’t have fitted on the luggage rack even if there’d been room. I’m not sure I could’ve lifted it that high. When I went to Hong Kong, it was just under 14kg. When I came back, it was just over 20kg.

As I was walking across the platform to the carriage, one of my pupils came up to me. He was heading back to school. We arrived in Changzhou about half an hour later than expected, and got the bus back here.

End of the story, but not quite the end of the holiday. In previous years, I haven’t minded returning to Beijing, but this year, I have to admit that I minded coming back here. Hong Kong was a reminder that I’m not a small town boy, and it’s about time I moved on from China. My suitcase was so heavy because of all the books that I brought back with me (about 15 to 20). Changzhou doesn’t have a Foreign Languages Bookshop and none of the hotels, as far as I’m currently aware, have the South China Morning Post. This isn’t even an interesting place to be. Even if I stay with the programme for another year, I have no intentional of spending a second year here. Now if only I could get a sensible job in Hong Kong.

Suzhou

Could things have been more inauspicious?
It was raining yesterday morning and got worse as I headed into the station. The trip to Suzhou was nice and fast, but when I went to buy a return ticket, I had to come back today on the 10.52am train.
The weather in Suzhou was about the same as Changzhou. I got a motorised three-wheeler from the station, but it seems that the driver only had a vague idea where he meant to be going and was possibly semi-literate. I had written Suzhou Middle School in characters along with the address. The driver stopped a couple of times to have a look at the address again.
Fiona was waiting at the gate, but things were getting worse. She wasn’t feeling well and the loo in her flat was blocked.
I dumped my stuff and went for a wander up Shiquan Street which seems to be Suzhou’s equivalent of Sanlitun. As I was wandering round, the weather improved, but it was very humid and hazy.
When I got back to the flat, we watched Flightplan with Jodie Foster as the hysterical mother with the missing child that could not be found. She stormed up and down the plane like a prima donna who’d read Parenting Skills for the 21st Century: Secrets of the Soccer Mums. I thought she was a pain and the movie unnecessarily po-faced.
I had tea at Pizza Hut (deep sea eel pizza), but it started raining as I was going there.
Didn’t sleep well last night because I got buzzed and bitten by a mosquito – five times. (This is not to say that other bites won’t manifest themselves. Sometimes there’s a delayed reaction.)
This morning I didn’t have much time before I had to depart, so I went in search of a copy of the South China Morning Post. Fiona recommended the Bamboo Grove Hotel where there was one copy of yesterday’s left. Hurrah! By the time I got back to the school, the workers were still messing around with the plumbing. There seemed to be nothing wrong, but the water was still only draining from the loo very slowly.
I left not long afterwards for the short trip back to Changzhou. I need to go back to Suzhou when the weather’s better (and Fiona), and also to spend much more time there.
19.06.13. Changed the caregory of the post and added tags.