Posts Tagged ‘China’

Chinese Bridge Hangzhou

Chinese Bridge Hangzhou

After leaving Hong Kong, our journey led straight to the East of China, with an involuntary stopover in Guangzhou where we were stuck for the night due to unavailability of trains (yet if not for these circumstances we would have never had the pleasure of residing in a funky hotel with golden curtains and a purple sparkling sink!!!).

Temples in Hangzhou

Temples in Hangzhou

Our first stop in the East was Hangzhou, known China-wide for its picturesque lake surrounded by gardens, temples and pavillions. We spent a few days walking and cycling in the area. We strolled along causeways that traverse the lake, lined by willow trees, visited the many beautiful Chinese parks (and admired the lotus plants growing in the water everywhere- and yes, it is true what they say about the lotus effect) and paid a visit to the national Chinese tea museum (tea tasting included). Now we are truly up to date on this national beverage, from its origins in Yunnan province to present day preparation and varieties.

Card player in a park

Card player in a park

Our next stop was Shanghai, with its 19 million inhabitants the largest city we have been to on this trip. And yes, it is big, but a well developed and efficient metro network makes it easy to navigate. We walked a fair bit, taking in everything from the historical 19th and early 20th century buildings along the riverfront to the fancy shopping and dining districts. The contrast between the epicenter of business in town with all its mighty skyscrapers could not be more marked when compared to what remains of old Shanghai (and that is precious little….). Think 500 m high monsters of steel as opposed to winding alleyways with ramshackle houses and street eateries; polished malls and fast food chains rather than fresh produce markets and bric a brac shops with their goods spilling out onto the road.

World Financial Center Shanghai

World Financial Center Shanghai

Old Man ignoring the pace of the city

Old Man ignoring the pace of the city

Shanghai Skyline

Shanghai Skyline

One evening, we ascended one of the immense towers, having a drink on the 91st floor of the Shanghai World Financial Center. The bar is part of the Hyatt Hotel (the rooms are all located between floors 87 and 90- pretty impressive views if the smog allows).

View from the 91st floor of the World Financial Center

View from the 91st floor of the World Financial Center

Given its sheer size, traffic is a major issue in Shanghi, with immense road arteries cutting through the city- we found one of the stacked intersections and managed to take some impressive pictures from an nearby apartment building.

Elevated Highway in Shanghai

Elevated Highway in Shanghai

The night before moving on to Bejing, we met up with a friend of mine from Maastricht who now lives in Shanghai with his wife- small world!

The journey between Shanghai and Bejing was exciting in itself as we took one of he new high-speed trains that manages the 1300 km distance in 5,5 hours- at speeds of around 300 km/h for most of the trip… Welcome to the future.

Chinese Bullet-Train

Chinese Bullet-Train

1300 kilometers in under 5 hours

1300 kilometers in under 5 hours

sdv

lladf If Shanghai is everything that embodies progress and modernity in China, Beijng surely is its anti-pole, modern but still firmly rooted in history. The latter’s weight is more clearly felt around the capital, also the governmental presence with its firm grip on society becomes more apparent.

Old Man playing traditional music in a public park

Old Man playing traditional music in a public park

While waiting for our Mongolian visa, we had plenty of time to take in the many sights around the city. Of course, there is the (in)famous Tian’anmen square (which makes one wonder how many security cameras can be mounted onto street lights around a supposedly public square- the answer: a lot), there is the Forbidden city, the Summer Palace, dozens of parks and gardens, historical streets and so called Hutongs (old living and working quarters around the inner city, with narrow alleys and small houses).

Tian'anmen square

Tian’anmen square

We spent a day each at the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City. The former reminds of Hangzhou with its lake, gardens, temples and pavilions. The Forbidden city is impressive not only through its sheer size and history buy also due to the detail devoted to the execution of the buildings- it definitely is a masterpiece in architecture.

Chinese people just like to dress up for their photographs

Chinese people just like to dress up for their photographs

He just didn't feel like joining his tour group

He just didn’t feel like joining his tour group

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Of all the important things to do in Bejing, two are of course especially crucial- a visit to the Great Wall and eating Peking Duck. We achieved both. In order to avoid the tour bus masses, we choose a section of the wall that is further away from the city and officially not open to visitors- only that no one cares and locals are happily waiting for the (mostly Chinese) tourists that make their way to this remote stretch of the wall. We had brilliant weather and pretty much the whole section of the wall to ourselves, which gives a very good impression of the size of this amazing construction. And makes one appreciate even more what an achievement its erection was.

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

Our last day in China is nearing. We are leaving the country with many new impressions, had our fair share of culinary adventures and would definitely come back again, as there is still so much to see!

Fiddling in the park

Fiddling in the park

You can't argue about taste, right?

You can’t argue about taste, right?

Shanghai at Night

Shanghai at Night

One of many kite-flyers in China

One of many kite-flyers in China

Thinking about a chess match

Thinking about a chess match

Greetings from the wall

Greetings from the wall

The two highest towers in Shanghai

The two highest towers in Shanghai

Shanghai Local with a fan

Shanghai Local with a fan

Lotus effect

Lotus effect

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Hong Kong Skyline by night

Hong Kong Skyline by night

Hong Kong- a name that promises big city lights, good food, markets, bars, cafes… It is a very international place and due to its status within China as a special administrative region also different from mainland cities- Hong Kong remains firmly independent, with its own currency and immigration laws.

We spend 5 days in the city, wandering around the many suburbs, exploring markets, going on photo sessions around town and savoring excellent food all the while.

Hong Kong Street Scene

Hong Kong Street Scene / Double-Decker Tram

Our stay began on Hong Kong island, where we found a nice albeit expensive hostel (23 dollars for a 9 bed dorm!!!). It was a good base to check out downtown Hong Kong with its glitzy CBD full of designer shops, the birds-nest and ginseng streets (yes, full of shops specializing in the sale of birds-nest as an ingredient for famous Chinese birds-nest soup), Causeway Bay which turns into a sea of neon lights at night and further away suburbs which we reached by going for a ride in one of Hong Kong’s awesome double-Decker trams! They cost next to nothing an you have perfect views of the street life.

Hong Kong Local taking a nap

Hong Kong Local taking a nap

We came across our first proper red light district in a while again, went walking along the bay and through parks, admired the illuminated skyline at night and delved into the busy streets of Kowloon.

We had to move hostels after 3 days as ours was booked out and found ourselves in the notorious Chungking Mansions at the lower end of Nathan Road in Kowloon. Mansions may sound grand, the reality is quite different however. The mansions are a claustrophobic block of apartments and guesthouses, with cheap phone shops and curry eateries thrown into the two lower floors. It seems as if Hong Kongs entire Indian and African population lives at Chungking mansions. Our stay was definitely an experience in itself, especially when making our way down the dark and moldy staircase every day.

Located in lower Kowloon, it was however a perfect place to get a better idea of the whole area. We visited the goldfish street (full of pet shops, many of which sell fish in plastic bags filled with water that are hanging on display outside the shops). We also had a stroll along the many street markets and our fair share of street food nibbles.

Heavenly Chinese Roast Pork

Heavenly Chinese Roast Pork

Hong Kong is full of corner shops that sell snacks to take away, and they are mighty popular. The choice ranges from fish or squid-balls on sticks, sausages, pig intestines, so called stinky tofu (yes, it smells) and meatballs or corn on the cob. The picture becomes complete with a plethora of fruit drinks on offer as well as coconut or mango sago (a drink with sago pearls, they are little jelly like translucent balls).

Food proved to be an integral part of our stay anyways. We had our heart set on trying both the tasty and the weird, which saw us eating turtle jelly as well as Michelin star rated dim sums. The former is a very herbal flavored jelly that is supposedly good for your health but only bearable when pouring at least half a liter if honey over it, as it is insanely bitter. Nico finally tried chicken feet, after I had already had them in Thailand and Laos. We indulged in a Hong Kong style French Toast, a cardiac-arrest- affair of thick slices of toast deep fried with egg and butter and more butter poured over it in the end….

Turtle Jelly

Turtle Jelly

Chicken Feet

Chicken Feet

Eat 2 and you'll die: Hong Kong Style French Toast

Eat 2 and you’ll die: Hong Kong Style French Toast

Roast Duck

Roast Duck

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We tried various dumplings, steamed as well as fried and made our way to queue for dim sums that have indeed been awarded with a Michelin star- and yes, it was delicious. Soft pork buns, shrimp dumplings, fried green peppers, sticky rice wrapped in Banana leaves with a meat and mushroom filling, and chrysanthemum jelly for dessert. We’d definitely come back- and all of this at an affordable price. You’d spend more money on fast food back home. (there will be a separate article about the Michelin-star restaurant coming up soon)

Hong Kong at night

Hong Kong at night

We did enjoy our stay in Hong Kong. In a way, it is like many big Asian cities- lots of commerce, lots of business (and people seem to be in a symbiotic relationship with their smartphones and addicted to shopping), it is crowded and noisy and full of Laredo apartment blocks that all look like clones, but there is a mix of city and nature, with hills and beaches just outside the center. Definitely not a bad place to spend a few days and one that could be explored in more detail over a longer period of time!

Typical Hong Kong Street

Typical Hong Kong Street

Traditional Hong Kong....

Traditional Hong Kong….

.... vs. modern Hong Kong!

…. vs. modern Hong Kong!

Where else would you find a Flip Flop Vending Machine...

Where else would you find a Flip Flop Vending Machine…

 

 

...or an umbrella vending machine?!

…or an umbrella vending machine?!

 

 

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I am writing these first impressions of our stay in the Middle Kingdom while speeding over the smoggy plains of Eastern China in a train on our way to Shanghai. Looking out the window there appears to be a layer of thick gray fog hovering above houses and fields, far away buildings are nearly impossible to see, merging with the haze.

Chinese Train

Chinese Train

The amount of pollution around here is scary to observe and makes one wonder what is going to happen in the future. It is of course not a secret that China is battling with severe environmental problems, but to see these first hand in their full impact on the population is a different story altogether.

We have spent about 3 weeks in China by now, which is nothing given the vast size of the country- you’d need a year to be able to at least get a glimpse of its diverse landscapes and culture.

Given our time constraints, we have opted for ‘hardcore city hopping’ as we call it. Travel distances are huge and thus take time, and navigating the countryside is rather difficult without any knowledge of Mandarin or Cantonese, so during our first visit to the country we will mostly see its metropoles- as such all our stories have to be taken as that- impressions from the city. The countryside would make for a different story altogether.

Typical Chinese House Front

Typical Chinese House Front

What can be said about Chinese cities (or the ones we have seen so far?). They are huge. 1 million inhabitants qualifies as  small place. There is lots of traffic, albeit way more orderly than in Vietnam (less honking- and electric scooters!!!). They are full of bland grey highrises- most apartment buildings seem to uniformly blend in with the often smoggy surrounds… There are veritable house jungles, one highrise next to the other, 30 stories or more, narrow huge towers dominating the cityscape everywhere. Then there is what one would call communist architecture- vast building complexes with an intimidating aura around them- everything is big and seemingly towers above you. The CBD’s are full of shiny skyscrapers.

On the edge of the city the image is somewhat different. Family homes exist, often tiled on the outside in kitschy colors, built in between community gardens. In the countryside, through which we passed on long train-journeys, small huts dominate, perched against hills or along rivers.

Tourist Crowds in Yangshuo

Tourist Crowds in Yangshuo

Some places are so big it defies imagination- Guangzhou, a city some 160 km north of Hong Kong has 12 million inhabitants. We started a bit smaller. After crossing the border into the ‘town’ of Hekou where we spent the night, our first port of call was Kunming in Yunnan province with ‘only’ 1,1 million inhabitants. It was a pleasant enough city, we particularly enjoyed the fact that we could finally use sidewalks as sidewalks again (not possible in Vietnam, where they are constantly blocked by food-stalls and scooters). Also, Kunming had a number of nice bars and cafes that made you want to linger rather than just consume something and leave.

China is definitely more comparable to the West regarding its development status (again speaking for the cities here)- consumption plays a major role in peoples life, shopping malls seem to exist at every street-corner, and rather than having the abundance of street-food like in Southeast Asia, fast food chains dominate in Chinese cities.

Mostly Chinese People floating through the beautiful landscape on rafts

Mostly Chinese People floating through the beautiful landscape on rafts

There is a marked difference to Southeast Asia in a lot of ways, be that wealth or organization or cleanliness. China is a place in which we spotted subcultural movements again for the first time in a while. Many people own cars rather than scooters, there are big supermarkets rather than markets (even though the latter still exist). Also, obesity is a problem again- hardly existent in Southeast Asia.

In order to get at least a bit of a country glimpse, we embarked on a 24 hour journey through the Yuannese mountains to Guilin and on to Yangshuo. The area is famous for its karst mountains (much like in Vietnam, only here they are dotted along rivers). It is a truly beautiful place. We rented bicycles and did a 35 km tour through the countryside,  followed by some rock-climbing the next day. For me, it was the first time while Nico had previously climbed- but for him it was the first real rock cliff, too. It was a lot of fun, climbing up the karst rocks and enjoying the beautiful view from above- and exhausting. Thinking we did quite well, we later walked up onto the so called Moon Hill only to be shown by the pro’s what climbing really is- people mastering the craziest walls with apparent ease- overhangs and all. We have a lot to learn….

One of the pros climbing (pictures of us were not that spectacular)

One of the pros climbing (pictures of us were not that spectacular)

The next station on our journey was Hong Kong- which merits a separate article- thus, here end our first impressions of Chinese life- more to follow soon.

Pros Climbing

Where the pros climb. They guy from the picture above climbs up on the inside of the gate (upside down), the guy below is where the red sqare is

Find him on the wall above

Find him on the wall above

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