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Lost, late and just plain lucky

Hangzhou, China

overcast 22 °C

Our first mission of the day was to go get hard sleeper train tickets to Guilin from the Train Ticketing Office. It was a nice 20 minute walk from the place we were staying. We passed a university with a large billboard of Yao Ming, a famous Chinese NBA player, on the front of it. It was easy to find the train booking office as the sign was in English. Unlike the sign, the lady working there didn’t speak a word of English. Luckily we came prepared with Sarah’s Mandarin book and a note written out by a helpful Chinese person. We booked two hard sleeper tickets from Hangzhou to Guilin for 6:53 p.m, thinking that that would give us plenty of time to explore for the day and get to the train station early.

We were feeling pretty good after we booked our tickets, so we decided to pick up some treats from a local convince store for our 18 hour train ride. We would later discover that they were all expired, as most of the junk food is in China. We made our way to the metro to spend one last day in West Lake.
We now set our focus on trying to find some bikes to rent. There was certainly no shortage, but we wanted to find bikes close to the lake. After we decided which bikes we wanted to ride for the day, we headed off to find the Tiger Springs.

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About an hour later we discovered we had went too far and made it to a pagoda we didn’t intend to see. We decided since we biked all the way here, we might as well climb it. The original pagoda had long since been burned down and many attempts at rebuilding it had met the same fate. The pagoda we climbed had been rebuilt from the ground up in the mid 1990s, and had about 8 levels. From the top we got a bird’s eye view of the polluted and smoggy Hangzhou.

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After climbing down we tried to grab some lunch. We found a restaurant that looked promising, armed with the mandarin book, we attempted to order. All seemed to go well until we received our food. They placed two meat dishes in front of us and a large bowl of rice. I only ordered small chicken plate and Sarah had ordered a vegetable dish, which never came. We tried to explain to them but after some arguing between the cooks and the waitress they just took away one plate and Sarah didn’t get to eat lunch that day aside from a bowl of rice. We did snack on some expired Oreos though. They were okay. We would need the energy for the bike ride.

We made it to Dreaming of the Tiger Spring Temple area shortly after leaving our disappointing lunch. We locked up the bikes and away we went to explore the springs and temples. As we entered, we were greeted by a very nice pond with some large Crane statues and decorations hanging from the trees. Again, there were some nice temples to view and large incense burners everywhere. The area was also the burial site of the monk Jigong. After some exploring we discovered the main attraction, a scene chiseled out of the stone of a man lying down dreaming of tigers across the spring. We checked the time and decided we should head back so we time to get to the train station. We finished taking our photos and hopped on our bikes to head back to the city.

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What should have took us only 15-20 minutes, ended up taking just over an hour. An hour we really didn’t have. We had little trouble navigating the city for the last few days, but today we just couldn’t figure which way was up today, even with our not so helpful English tourist map. After much frustration and feeling almost helpless, we were pointed in the right direction by a security guard when we asked where the metro was.
We finally made it to the bike rental place, only to find that the man that rented us the bikes was no longer there. We tried to return them to the man that was there, but after looking at our receipt he said it was from a shop 1 block over. Having been down that block only just minutes earlier, we knew there was nothing down there. Thinking we were getting scammed for our 200 RMB deposit, we walked up and down the street trying to spot the guy that rented us the bikes. Luckily, he ran up to us a few minutes later with our deposit. Running very short on time, we began sprinting to the metro to make it back to pick up our belongings.

We had become pros at using the metro systems in China, so we got to our hostel quite quickly. We loaded up and bolted to metro one last time to make it the train station. Time kept ticking by and as we went to leave the metro, for the first time, Sarah’s metro pass decided not to work and we had to find an agent to help us out. We made a mad dash to the train station once she was let through.

With less than 5 minutes to spare in a large and unfamiliar train station, we ran as hard as we could with 40 pounds of gear strapped to our tired bodies in what we hoped was the right direction. We got our passports and tickets checked – the woman waving us through without even checking mine after noticing the time on the ticket -- and made the final dash to the end of the terminal. Of course our gate was the very last one there. It was like someone had planned out just how to make us sweat one more time in Hangzhou down to the last detail.

They had already stopped boarding our train, and were preparing to board the next train. Fearing we had already missed it, we ran to the front of the line waving our tickets and asking “Guilin?”. I’m sure we looked comical to everyone who arrived well in advance for their train. Out of pure luck, our train had not left yet and the staff rushed us through. Within a couple minutes of boarding the train, it began moving. We threw our bags under the bottom bunk and collapsed from exhaustion. We both slept very well that night under nice soft comforters.

Posted by Sarah.M 03:20 Archived in China Tagged temple train metro china bike lost hangzhou vegetarian Comments (2)

Hangzhou

Visit to West Lake

overcast

Our next stop was Hangzhou, a city not too far from Shanghai. The ride to the train station had far more apartment complexes than we imagined, both new and falling apart. Shanghai was still huge and seemingly never ending. We were fortunate to stumble across another foreigner from Rochester, New York. He was living in Shanghai and studying Chinese. With his help, we all got cheap tickets to Hangzhou. He even told off the Chinese man who, like most other locals here, tried to cut us in line. It seems to be a universal thing to do here and since we didn't speak Chinese, we were never able to comment on it.

The train ride to Hangzhou made it hard to tell where Shanghai ended and the other cities began. The buildings crawled along the countryside the whole two hours we spent on the train. We met some Chinese students who were also studying English and chatted for a bit. Our American friend spent the whole ride speaking to Chinese to a woman across from us. We really envied those language skills.

Our arrival in Hangzhou was pretty painless. The metro was right beside the train station and ran nearly identical to the way the Shanghai one had. The place we were staying was only two stops away and easy enough to find.

From there we went to West Lake, one of China's budding tourism locations that won some awards. I had pictured a quaint lake that we could bike around, explore and relax. A bit like Clear Lake in Manitoba. I had not thought about just how many people lived in China.
We took the metro there and again English signs helped us find exactly where we needed to go. The riverwalk was packed with Chinese people and the occasional foreigners. They walked in every which direction, stopped for photos and occupied most of the space. There were even street performers doing karaoke or dancing. The lake was also huge and not manageable in a short afternoon stint.

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We stopped for supper at a restaurant with a Lotus theme. I thought it would be fun to try the veggie dish with lotus seeds. It was, except the expensive dish was the size of a side and left me hungry. Ryan wasn't a big fan of his chicken dish either. We stopped at Burger King to fill up on a burger for him and fries for me.

After that we caught a musical fountain show, which was essentially a laser show better suited to the 80s when simple computer generated graphics were impressive and played to a soundtrack of Simply the Best and some techno. We made it through without laughing, but needed to leave after a few songs. The galloping unicorns, rotary telephones and animated people were not what we expected.

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The following day we stopped at V N Go for some delicious prepackaged baked goods, red bean filled buns and cold cross buns. We scarfed them down before our metro train arrived. A few stops down, we found a new way to West Lake. We couldn't decide on bikes or bus so we did neither and walked the riverwalk for quite some time. We passed some beautiful pavilions, lots of lily pads and a temple or two in the distance.

Ryan was quite the celebrity. A Chinese man handed him his baby to take a picture of the three of us. Some confused baby is going to grow up wondering why he has a picture with some random white couple. After that, a group of university students wanted to capture our smiles in exchange for cool buttons so, again we complied.

We then crossed a bridge to one of many islands on West Lake which featured many museums and temples. Our first stop on the island was a museum that featured modern local art. A painting of various Chinese masks reminded us of Folklorama where they quizzed us on the different meanings of them. We couldn't remember much but the painting was nice.

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Next, we went to the Hangzhou museum which had more pottery and ceramics. We were going to be certified experts pretty darn soon at this rate. Hangzhou was in Zhejiang province which played a key role in China's long history and their Neolithic pottery went back at least 7,000 years, when rice cultivation first began. Hangzhou was one of the ancient capitals of China around the 10th century. Many of the pieces were similar to those we saw in the Shanghai museum.

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There were plenty of rebuilt temples from different dynasty periods and a few ruins among them. We went to General Yue Fei's tomb. He was considered a hero in Chinese culture because his actions serving in the military showed his unwavering dedication to his country. When his mother died, he requested a leave but got called back several times. His actions also represented a loyalty to his mother, another revered Chinese ideal. He was executed along with his son under not so solid orders, but years later he was considered a hero. The tomb featured some memorial pagodas and statues of him and his son. The tombs were gravestones engraved with Chinese characters.

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We continued our walk slightly uphill past some botanical gardens with an impressive looking landscaping. One of the bushes even looked like a spider. But we wanted to make it to the final destination so we didn't stop.

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At the Feilai Feng Scenic Area, we found a vegetarian restaurant much to our delight. As we walked around, we realized all the tables were full. We figured once we visited the temple, the place would have cleared out a bit so we grabbed a snack and bought our tickets to the scenic area.
We went inside to Flying Peak, limestone grottoes with hundreds of statues from previous millenniums carved into them from Buddhist figures to animals, to people. There were some tucked inside the caves and others featured on the outside to enjoy from afar. The whole experience was really neat as long as we took care not to bump our heads. Without signs to guide us we also walked high up to a peak where a stone with some red Chinese writing sat, not our happiest moment as we had expected more with that calf-burning climb.

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We visited a few more temples, Taoguang, and a monastery that were both quite a hike up from where we started. The monastery was bright yellow and had plenty of greenery and arched doorways with pillars to support the inner wall and offering a nice view of the courtyards. The statues inside were golden and were male or female Buddhist figures, with brightly coloured prayer pillows below. People would bring in their incense here too.
The final temple, Lingyin Temple, required an entrance fee. We figured since we came all this way and the whole complex was named after this one. They gave us three complimentary incense sticks each and we had quite the time lighting them. Every other person there had their own lighter or a friend with a lighter. We stood around awkwardly until Ryan decided to try and ask some people. One girl who must have been watching us came up and offered us one and some help to get the stick lit. Everyone around would raised their incense to the temple, then their forehead, and bow to pray one time in each direction. Then they place the incense stick in a large black metal ceremonial censer.

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We went into the main temple and monks in yellow and red, dual-coloured, robes were in prayer. The Chinese people were praying with them as well. They also prayed in different directions, reciting the prayer. The temple itself had many large golden statues, quite impressive. We went through the other buildings as well, a study area as well as a memorial hall where hundreds of statues of monks sat just above eye level. They had a variety of facial expressions, poses and accessories, even a monkey. It was a bit creepy as it felt like at any minute they would all jump down and surround us, but maybe that was just my crazy imagination.

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We went back to find the vegetarian restaurant closed so we hopped on a very crowded bus and headed back toward the metro. Thankfully we made it off that bus on time as movement was severely restricted. Every time I thought there couldn't be more people added to the bus, there were.
We found supper at a tasty ramen noodle restaurant that had pretty spectacular mushrooms and both meals were wonderfully filling. Ryan quite enjoyed his fried rice and chicken. My veggie ramen was great along with the sweet lychee juice, with real lychee pieces. It was a good end to the day. We would definitely be stopping for lunch the following day.

Posted by Sarah.M 17:59 Archived in China Tagged temple metro tomb pagoda hangzhou west_lake ramen lingyin_temple Comments (0)

Shanghai

overcast 14 °C

We arrived in Shanghai safe and sound. Our flights were delightfully empty. I've actually never seen so few people on a flight even on those bound to Winnipeg (just kidding guys) or those really expensive ones in Laos. They fed us meal after meal of food that was pretty good. Ryan had a healthy or perhaps unhealthy supply of Ginger Ale (he's not too impressed with this statement) and I was loving the orange juice. We took the metro to our hostel, which almost went by without a hitch until the train we were on started going backwards and we realized that listening to the announcements on the train probably would have been a good call. We jumped off and rectified the situation quickly. The only thing we lost were about twenty minutes and our seats on the metro. Luckily, there were maps posted and bi-lingual announcements in Chinese and English.

China is cleaner than we expected with only the occasional sewage smell. It felt pretty safe finding our way to the hostel and one man offered to help us with our printed bilingual map. We'd rather walk around here at night than downtown Winnipeg. Lots of skyscrapers and commercialism. Our hostel is pretty nice with a pond in the front and western toilets. Our room is a bit on the smaller side but the common area is pretty big and the beds comfortable.

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Day one we went to visit the Shanghai Museum in People's Square. The metro line was quite handy. We bought ourselves some day passes and tackled the metro lines at rush hour. This was no feat for the faint-hearted. The lines and crowds were always moving and in a rush. We squished into the trains and hardly made it out at our stop in time. People move in lines like traffic and leaving the popular path is quite tricky. There's quite a bit of bumping and pushing that goes on as everyone is in a rush, except us and the people sleeping in the subway halls. We got our first authentic Shanghai experience out of the way.

People's Square is a beautiful park, quite large and well kept. There were city workers dressed in blue uniforms sweeping the leaves that fell on the paths, quite the commitment to cleanliness. We sat on a bench to enjoy some Chinese oranges from the market. Less than a dollar for four large ones. They were delicious to eat in the park and a few people stopped to take our pictures. We must have been looking great!

The Museum containing thousands of artifacts from Chinese history was free to enter. It had four levels. We started with the Buddhist and religious statues section which was interesting as it spanned several dynasties and showed changes from when Indian Buddhism became more prevalent in the society as well as a bit of influence from Middle Eastern areas. We went up to ceramics and pottery next, a whole adventure on its own. It started around 6,000 B.C. and developed from there. Some of the kilns they had reached impressive temperatures of 1300 degrees Celsius considering the time period. The pieces ranged from pots to statues to bowls. As time progressed, people would add different elements such as copper, cobalt, and iron to give the clay colour and finish with glaze to protect them from the elements.

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We also saw exhibits on calligraphy, painting, furniture, minority tribe artifacts, and bronze. The paintings mainly had a natural theme and you could tell that the ruling dynasty had a fair bit of influence over the preferences of style and subject. The bronze exhibit revealed an interesting insight into Chinese culture. We all knew about Chinese food being important and the other 40% of the bronze pieces included wine vessels. There at least nine different Chinese words to describe the different types of wine vessels and their functions. Many were extremely large to store large quantities of wine. There were also some knives and swords to add some diversity to the collection, but the overall theme was still food and drink.

We attempted to find lunch after that, extremely sleep deprived and hungry. We wandered off down a nearby street and didn't find many restaurants that I thought I could find a vegetarian meal at. There were pet shops and apartments though. Ryan was excited to see the buckets full of small turtles laying out in the street.

Venturing back to the mall, we found a restaurant called Tomato Girl Rice Flour Noodles (some things must not translate that well). It had some sort of vegetarian option, gross tofu noodles and some sort of pickled greens or seaweeds or mystery item I managed to eat without gagging. Ryan had a flavourless chicken noodle bowl with a nifty spoon. He found the noodles hard to eat with chopsticks, slippery guys. The upside is that we didn't get food poisoning and the mango juice was alright.

Next, we visited the Yuyuan Gardens with our handy dandy metro passes (and student cards for a fifty percent discount). They featured classic Chinese architecture with slopped roofs, clay shingles, and ornamental decorations. Most of them were redwood coloured. We went through countless archways and passages to explore the extensive garden grounds. There were plenty of large fish in the ponds and greenery everywhere, including willow trees! The garden was built during the Ming Dynasty in the 16th century.

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On the trip there and back, we went through a heavily commercial area where we were asked several times to buy watches, wheelies and other trinkets. We were in a hurry to get out of there and over to the Bund boardwalk. The Bund was a skyline view of modern Shanghai's skyscrapers. The sun was going down, with the pollution masking the sunset. We walked the long river walk and took many pictures along the way. At 5:30, the Oriental Pearl Tower with two round spheres lit up in vibrant blue. Half an hour later a few other buildings lit up too and the Oriental Pearl Tower began to flash different colours in the chilly night sky.

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We discovered some vibrant cow sculptures on the way back with some more living walls, adorned with colourful flowers. We got a little lost trying to find the metro back, but made it eventually. Back in our neighbourhood, I got 'I don't eat meat' written down in Chinese so we could explore the area and find some supper. We found a nearby restaurant and had a delicious meal. Ryan had Spicy, crispy beef with interesting star-like peppers and I had eggplant, potato and peppers in a strong garlic sauce.

Day two we took off to Zhu jia jiao, an ancient town outside of Shanghai with some reputable buildings. The bus ride there was easy enough once a man on the street helped us find the right bus at the stop and talked to the driver. He was very kind. The bus ride was longer than we expected and had some interesting sights. There were clusters of high-rise apartment buildings in the industrial areas, likely servicing the countless factories in the area making everything from car parts, to perfume, to clothing. The shear numbers of these apartments were overwhelming just to imagine a fraction of the area where the world's products are produced. There were quite a few trees along the roads as well.

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The town, we figured we could find on our own. We tried to follow the signs and did end up on a bridge after passing schools, fruit vendors, and back alleys of people's homes. The bridge was not the ancient one people would travel to visit, but we looked down the river and backtracked our steps. Once we arrived in the area, it was obvious that it was the right place. The architecture was similar to what we had seen at Yuyuan Garden's yesterday and there were ample vendors selling everything you could want and more.

The town had many canals and bridges. Small boats could be rented to travel the canals, hand paddled by a local driver. We opted just to take it in on foot. There were many red lanterns hanging from the rooftops as well. We found Kenzi Garden and paid the admission. Inside was a large garden similar to the one we saw yesterday but with some impressive rock caves, pavilions and a bamboo forest. It was quite large as well and worth the admission price. Very picturesque.

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Next we tracked down the post office, the next item on our admission scavenger hunt. It was neat with blue cloth hanging in the entryway. Apparently their mail system has been around for thousands of years and envied by visiting cultures. We sat down to canal-side lunch afterwards. To celebrate Ryan finding a bamboo forest, I thought we should eat some, since it's so tasty! The teriyaki flavour was rich and flavourful. We also had some spicy bean curd which was not as well received. I didn't mind it, but the tofu-like texture can be off putting. Plus it's hard to eat with the chop sticks.

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We had two more stops on our hunt, the humanist museum, mainly modern looking art of various figures in the local area. We didn't quite get the name, but the art was very beautiful. I mistook the firefighting painting for a happy festival and Ryan ad a laugh at my expense. Next was the pharmacy, a quite stop as the woman inside seemed to want us to leave before we had even arrived. Maybe it was just the language barrier.

Our ride back was hectic, lots of horn blasting and fast driving on the bus. I'm surprised there weren't any accidents. We managed to find our stop alright with a little help and made our way.

(Sorry half the pictures are sideways: we're still learning on this blog platform and my computer doesn't want to save them properly for some reason.)

Posted by Sarah.M 16:46 Archived in China Tagged temples food metro china shanghai bamboo bund Comments (0)

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