A Travellerspoint blog

Hong Kong

Efficiency, Glitz & Views Galore

Hong Kong, how to describe it? At once stunning views from every direction, a 21st century metropolis slick and modern chock full of amenities, with a public transportation system to die for. Perhaps the Octopus card sums it up. One puchases this card in any amount of HK$ which can be used on buses, the subway, ferries, trams, in 7 Elevens, and for vending machines and in many stores. You put a deposit on it so if you go over you won't hold up the line. The deposit is returned when you turn in the card. Hopping on and off any form of transport is quick and easy. With 7 million people in Hong Kong, efficiency is important. The buses are all giant double decker affairs with great seating. They are an easy way to do some informal sight seeing. We took a bus out to Stanley one day and up to The Peak another. Both trips were breathtaking literally. The climbs up incredible curving steep inclines afforded spectacular views of the bays, coasts and islands.
Hong Kong from its earliest days was a commercial hub and today it is pretty over the top. People queue behind velvet ropes to get into Louis Vuitton and Gucci in the evening. Can't imagine what it is like during the day. American and European brands are everywhere. We scored some goat cheese and wine at Marks & Spencer and were thrilled to have it. Shopping mall/centers are everywhere often tucked behind facades of older buildings. I may have nightmares of being lost in a sea of gleaming white porcelain tile floors with escalators going in all directions.IMG_0897.jpg

Posted by annhcrowley 02:57 Comments (0)

Conveyances

Rolling in China is a whole new ballgame

We have been blessed with three marvelous drivers during our two weeks in Peixian, and it is a good thing. Mr. Zhu picked us up in Nanjing and got us here safely. He didn't panic when the right rear tire blew out and we barely swerved. He change the tire in a flash---a bit of a challenge with 6 teachers' luggage in the van. He never seemed irritated or upset. He just said" he ha he " over and over as he motioned us on and off the van. We learned he had been a driver for 30 years....private ownership of vehicles is relatively recent and only common in the last few years. On subsequent trips with him we began calling him the RENAISSANCE MAN--he loves history, was a better guide than those who spoke English and shared his enthusiasm about the places with us, surmounting language barriers left and right.
Mr. Meng is a young very fit fellow, always dresses in black and white mostly Adidas long shorts and tops. He drives a shiny black 4 door Chevy. Mr. Li is our other everyday driver, a bit older, sometimes in shorts, mostly in dark slacks and collared shirts. They come each morning and eat breakfast at the hotel and ferry us to school. They bring us back to the hotel at 11:30 and back to school by 1:00. At the end of class around 3:00 they bring us back. ( sometimes after class they ferry us elsewhere to sights etc.)
Driving in China is not a pretty picture---sitting in the front seat is terrifying. The only people who need a driving license are car and truck drivers. They comprise about 20 per cent of the vehicles on the road. On a normal route to or from school the road has 2 lanes going each way. It is not unusual to see a vehicle wanting to pass to cross over all 4 lanes going tha absolute wrong direction. Diagonal driving is pretty normal. People turn left or right from any lane crossing oncoming and ongoing traffic. Motor scooters, electric bikes, various carts and contraptions seem to have no rules. Pedestrians do not have the right of way. The noise is amazing. people honk, toot, ding, or lay on the horn if they want to warn you, if they want to avoid hitting you, if they want to pass or say hello, if they want to turn in front of you or behind you,if they are approaching an intersection, if they are in an intersection, if they want the light to turn green. Some vehicles are not able to go as fast as a car. They do not ever stay on the right hand side of the road. Sometimes they are in the middle or the left side. sometimes they straddle a few lanes..which sends cars and taxis across oncoming traffic and back again. All three of our drivers exhibit classic "Grace under Pressure". They must have ice water in teir veins. They have enriched our stay here in Peixian in ways they could not ever fathom. It has been so wonderful to be greeted by smiling faces, genuine hospitality, and super remarkable driving skills each and everyday.
I've uploaded a number of pictures of unique conveyances in Peixian.
Posted by annhcrowley 08:59 Comments (0)

WRONG AGAIN

'Cultural Backwater', reread as 2300 years of rich history...

Prior to setting out for Peixian, our efforts through the internet and guidebooks gave us little beyond the local delicacy being dog. The vast history of China staggers the American mind, our knowledge deficit is pretty incredible. Our first revelation came in the form of learning about Liu Bang, born in Peizian. Who you say...actually the man was, a commoner, who fought against the Qin Dynasty and became the first Emperor of the Han Dynasty (206 BC) There is a beautiful Han House Museum here and every two years Liu families from around the world gather here to honor his memory. The Han Dynasty did much to unify the empire and promote Confucuian education. We have the marvelous good fortune to have a young woman, Lan, in our class who is our informal tour guide and translator.
We did know that Qufu, the home, birthplace and burial place of Confucius(551-479 BC) was in Shandong, the province north of us. Saturday at 5:30 a.m. ten of us headed north, Lan, 5 teachers, 3 administrators and our driver. What a day, crowds, Chinese guides all using headset micrphones, in stone enclosures, it was a blur of sights and sounds. Confucius temple was a sprawling complex with the largest collection of inscribed Stelae in China. There were massive gates, columns, pavillions, courtyards, stunning painted ceilings, and giant stone tortoises, roofs with beautiful tiles and gargoyle like figures were everywhere. Despite the crowds, the tone of the place was serene, looking at the 1300 year old Ginkgo tree left one speechless.
Adjacent to the temple area is the Confucius mansions, the most sumptuous, aristocratic lodgings in China where Confucius' descendants, the Kong family, were enobled and wielded great power from the Han Dynasty through the Qing Dynasty which ended in 1911.
Our last stop in Qufu was Confucius forest, where Confucius, his sons and his descendants over the last 2000 years are buried. One hundred thousand trees make this massive park/cemetary seem like a step back in time. IMG_0713.jpgIMG_0703.jpg
On Sunday, we were heading to Xuzhou only an hour away from Peixian to see 'important sights'. Truth be told we were still pretty overwhelmed with the Confucius expedition, but gamely off we went at 8:00 a.m. Xuzhou is not even listed in the Lonely Planet so we were flying pretty blind. Someone had mentioned museums or a tomb. We pull up at a building right next to a rocky bluff. Our driver, a true Renaissance man was most excited and in his very distinctive voice was motioning us to hustle along with repeated "hallo,hallo,hallo"
We had arrived at the Guishan Tomb, without a doubt the most incredible place I have ever seen. It was built in the 2nd century BC for Liu Zhu and his wife. The incredible thing is it was accidentally discovered by some quarry workers in 1981. It is a massive structure that almost hollows out the whole hill. It was started in 127 BC and took 13 years to complete. There are two parallel entrances into 83 meter long tunnels. They are so precisely designed that less than 5 millimeters of difference exists between the two. An entire drainage system was built and the interior rooms include an antechamber, treasure room, instrument room, garage room, stable, coffin rooms for he and his wife, separate kitchens, and a wc. The undergroound area covers 700 square meters. Massive stone blocks were fitted into the entrance passageways to protect the tomb. Following the discovery, the artifacts from the tomb were moved to the climate controlled Jade Musem in Xuzhou where we went in the afternoon. Next to the Tomb they discovered a beautiful garden area which was excavated and rebuilt. All in all it was a most amazing day. A late lunch at a Mao restaurant complete with revolutionary artwork capped off the day.IMG_0749.jpg

Posted by annhcrowley 06:51 Comments (0)

The Purple Mountain

A trek back in time

Saurday we headed back to Nanjing. After a quick lunch, we boldly went down to the main street and hailed a cab, after having someone at the hotel write out the Chinese characters for our destination. Nanjing is a beautiful city with tree lined avenues and dramatic modern architecture side by side. The Purple Mountain is the location of Sun Yat Sen's Mausoleum, and a number of other historic sites. It is like a giant nature reserve. Our taxi dropped us off and we headed first to the Mausoleum. It is an awe inspiring sight sitting at the top of 392 steps. As we approached, the rains came---probably a good thing as the steam off the massive stone steps was like a sauna. We whipped out our umbrellas and began the long walk to where the steps start. It was a massive walkway lined with towering pine trees, many braced with large metal posts. On this very large walkway, one did not have to be reminded that China has 1.3 billion people. The rains increased in intensity complete with giant thunder and lightning. We began the climb, I bailed after about 200 steps, Brianna made it to the top.
As we made our way down we thought surely a cold beer would taste good. In some designated areas there are shops and vendors of various sorts,mostly souvenirs. When at last we found a beverage place of course all the outdoor seating was in the pouring rain. We, however, were on the verge of heatstroke so we went in to buy our beers. A kind woman took pity on us and pulled out a couple of little stools in her shop. So there we perched enjoying a cool one. We of course were soaked to the skin.
Next we hopped the 5yuan shuttle bus to the beamless hall and LInjj]u temple. Again a beautiful walkway was lined with dense forest. We came upon a giant stone tortoise dating from the Ming dynasty. No one knows what it symbolizes or why. At this point we notice there are no other people around. The rains chased many off the mountain and the area we were in did charge an entrance fee. It was amazing. All we could think of was this is how China must have been 1,000 years ago. The mist rose in the forest and it was so still. When we got to the temple there were a few people, pretty much all worshippers. One family lit massive sticks of incense. They were about 6 feet tall, wrapped in cellophane with inscriptions and 5 inches in diameter. Brianna bought some bundles of incense, the first she lit at the wrong end, the second broke in two, the last three worked quite well. This monastery is active so there were monks in light gray and mustard yellow outfits,one sporting mustard yellow Crocs instead of the little cloth monk shoes. Their laundry was hung out drying under the eaves.
The various buildings and rooms had massive golden Buddhas or gods, we felt a bit ignorant as we had literally no clue about the various statues. The very old architecture and reverent feeling with the prayer trees and incense wafting in the air was juxtaposed with a bit of kitsch in many of the rooms. Fake flowers, capiz shell like colorful lamps, occasionally gold lame type cloth drapes on some of the gods, lots of lotus shaped candles in bright colors and all manner of seemingly random (although probably not) decorative items. Photographs are not allowed inside so will have to leave it to our memories.
After about four hours we made a very long hike down the mountain part way until we could find a taxi. The upper reaches were a massive traffic jam of tour buses---the road is narrow and it was chaos. During the entire day we again were the only westerners in sight.
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Posted by annhcrowley 07:22 Comments (0)

ON A QUEST

To print seven pictures

As our time in Yizheng was drawing to a close, Brianna and I wanted to do something for our hosts to show our appreciation for all the kindnesses they have shown. Gifts are always a tricky business particularly in a different culture. We had some photos from our time here with our hosts and thought perhaps photographs of us together with them would be a nice gesture. We selected a few and put them on a
USB memory stick. (I have my netbook with me) Then in class I asked one of my students to write out in Chinese characters our request to make prints of the seven pictures on the USB.
Clutching the slip of paper we set out after class to find somewhere that might be able to do this. It was very hot and we walked for quite awhile. We stopped in a couple of places that seemed to have a computer, no luck. Then we came upon a little shop that had 3 computers. The woman was very nice she was in the middle of a project on her machine, she tried to start the others to no avail. She then left her store with us in tow and took us about a block to another fellow. He could not help us either.
Undaunted, but fading fast, Brianna pulled out our 'go to' energy saver --a small bag of almonds--and we proceeded on. Then we came to what looked like an actual internet cafe---oops--not exactly---seems it was some sort of online gambling establishment perhaps---the haze of cigarette smoke was thick--there were only men in there and they all seemed very intent playing poker or something. The proprietor, however, took our slip of paper, told his assistant something and motioned us outside. We followed him, he kept the paper pointed for us to proceed and ran to get on his motorcycle. He rode very slowly and we followed for a couple of blocks. He was still holding the paper my student had written out. When we reached a huge intersection (6 lanes of crazy traffic each way), he pointed across the street. We thought he meant for us to go and we'd find a place. Not exactly. He proceeded to lead us against the flow of traffic in the street--then indicated we should slip through the metal traffic barrier while he had to ride up half a block and make a u-turn. We did manage to get across the six lanes
to the otherside and there he was patiently waiting. He proceeded into the pedestrian area of some sort of shopping complex. After a short way he got off his motorcycle and walked into a shop. A fellow was sitting at his desk, a 7 or 8 year old girl was having a rest on a small camp bed. Our guide said something to the fellow. He had his daughter hop up and go out to locate her mother who was somewhere nearby.
Soon the mother and daughter came back. Our guide showed her the note and she understood. She sat down at the desk popped our USB into the computer and we were in business. She printed page size black and white copies and we were thrilled--not the glossy prints we had envisioned but pretty terrific just the same. She charged a few cents and we were done. We said XieXie endlessly. Our guide said good-bye and rolled off on his motorcycle.
As we headed back to the hotel, we kept thinking, seriously--did this guy just leave his business for almost an hour to help us get seven pictures printed? Pretty Amazing...only in China.IMG_0318.jpg

Posted by annhcrowley 06:50 Comments (0)

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