November - December 2017
  • Day11

    Yellow Mountains.... Shanghai dumplings

    December 5, 2017 in Hong Kong ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    On Friday we travelled by fast train to Huangshan -which literally means yellow mountain. Located in Eastern China, Huangshan is a frequent subject of traditional Chinese paintings and literature, as well as modern photography. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of China's major tourist destinations.
    There is a “ scenic area “ ( think National Park) which hosts most of the tourists in a rather grubby town near the entrance . We stayed in a cheap but cheerful hotel run by a young couple very keen to practice their English and attract western customers. They were typical of all the Chinese people, sincere, warm and very helpful. We even got a “Western style breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast although the concept of jam was a bit confusing for them.
    The Saturday morning bus ride half way up the mountain was the first test of our nerves. We weaved and swerved up a very steep mountain road. Finally we arrived at the gondola station and did the, by now, routine gauntlet of ticket purchases, then security checks then line ups. We were amply rewarded at the top of the gondola ride when we popped through the heavy rain and clouds and enjoyed spectacular views in every direction. After lots of photos, we started what turned out to be 6 tough hours of walking up, down, then up then down, etc a total of nearly 30,000, steps that day said the lovely Maria. Turns out the gondola that was supposed to take us down the hill after 4 hours of hiking was broken and we ended up hiking an extra 2 hours down hill. Tough on the body!The trails were crowded and the toilets very basic. We did stop mid-way for a veeery expensive lunch(everything is hauled up the mountain so you can understand why the prices. ). Our bodies are still feeling the effects of our hiking but it was an experience. Our quads are still screaming at us.
    Yesterday was Sunday and we, again rode the speedy bullet trains - this time to Shanghai our final China stop. Have to say of all the places we have been in China, Shanghai is my favorite. Most likely due to the fact that coffee is readily a available and there is wine for sale in most stores - I know, call me shallow. The feel here is much more international and Westerners feels relatively more at comfortable.
    We are safely ensconced in a hotel near the former French Concession area. Lots of things to see near by. Today we wandered around and hit our favorite dumpling shop for lunch. The Shanghai dumplings contain broth and meat. Then they are steamed and fried. Mmmm m delicious and cheap. We visited a fascinating little museum devoted to preserving Chinese propaganda posters . The posters really reveal the history of China from the Second World War. Very few of the posters survived for various reasons and they are quite interesting.
    Tonight we went on a night cruise on the Huangpu River which cuts through Shanghai. We were treated to a spectacular view of the many magnificent and architecturally diverse buildings in this world class city. Jonathan tells us that Shanghai is actually, at 25 million people, likely the largest metropolis in the world. It is a vibrant, international city with every brand of store, hotel, business you could imagine. Prices are accordingly high. A bit of a shock after our experiences in the rest of China.
    It goes without saying that we’ve really enjoyed our time with Jon and Maria these past 2 weeks. Unfortunately we lost our translator and excellent travel guide Maria yesterday as she had to return to work in Beijing. Jon has patiently stuck with us and will continue to guide us until we are safely in the arms of Air Canada on Wednesday afternoon.

    That’s about all for now.
    Love Heather xx
    Happy Birthday Lindsay xx
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  • Day8

    Fast trains and slow boats

    December 2, 2017 in China ⋅ ⛅ 5 °C

    We left Xiamen on Wednesday aboard the bullet train. We whistled at top speed through some pretty huge cities and some rural areas where we saw farmers with oxen pulling plows. China is such a study in contrasts.

    Our first stop was Putian where we took a car (Uber equivalent that Maria can get at a moment’s notice through a phone app). A little lady near the train station magically appeared and we trustingly left our luggage with her for the day. Everyone here has a small business going on if they are not in some official, uniformed position.

    We headed back to the coast and took a ferry to Meizhou Island the birthplace of the Mazu culture which seems to be some sect of Buddhism who worship this goddess Mazu. It was all a bit confusing given the lack of English translations that made any sense. Anyway, we walked up to a series of temples and hired a nice lady to tour us around the island. Then it was back to Putian -where our luggage was right back where we left it, and another bullet train to Wuyishan where we arrived late to our very Chinese hotel named the Jooch.

    Wuyishan is a beautiful area with dramatic buttes and a river that meanders through the area. It is a key tea growing area -although finding a decent cup of tea was surprisingly difficult and expensive!
    Our hotel had been a Best Western hotel in the recent past but is no longer that brand so as Mike says, it was all fur coat , no nickers. Meaning it looked great but was missing some important things. Our room was lovely and quite comfortable. The lobby bar billed on the ads is no longer but we managed to get a half decent bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from the restaurant which took 3 people to sort out. The boys reported that the local beer was good.

    Our 2days in Wuyishan were very active. We hiked three times including a real grind to the top of one mountain called the Heavenly Peak(I think, again limited English signage), It was like a 45 minute stair master. Views at the top were nice. The place was very crowded, as with most attractions here. We certainly got lots of attention as this area is not really a Western tourist draw and people kept exclaiming about us wearing shorts. We also took a leisurely bamboo raft ride down the Jiuqu river.
    The fellow steering our raft seemed a bit concerned about our total weight given his rickety raft. I doubt he was concerned about Maria. Although he grumbled a lot probably in hopes of getting more money from us-he and his buddy managed to steer us deftly through the rapids and to a safe landing downstream.

    Got a question about the “facilities”. We have been off the usual tourist track so mostly squatty potties. They have been very clean though. I’m well equipped with my toilet provisions and if there is a regular toilet for disabled people I use it shamelessly. We hear that China is trying to attract more foreign tourists and has a Toilet Revolution starting . This is the name given to all large government initiatives.
    Late yesterday we arrived via another bullet train to Huangshan . We are staying at a lovely little boutique hotel near the base of the Yellow Mountain scenic area. Today we are due to go up and hike around the top area. Onward!!
    Must run, being called to breakfast.

    Heather xx
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  • Day4


    November 28, 2017 in Hong Kong ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Hello from the coastal city of Xiamen.

    We had a very pleasant day Sunday with Maria’s folks walking around the Olympic Site and visiting the Llama temple. On our previous visit we had stopped only for a quick photo of the birdnest stadium in the rain during a jammed packed tour day so it was nice to see it in more detail. Lots of lovely public art. Also lots of new building happening for the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics. Poor Maria was done being a translator by the end of the day. Admittedly, it’s very hard to even begin to know people if you can’t communicate. Maria’s Dad had lots of questions about my Mom’s place, and who’s was paying and what she is doing etc. Maria’s Mom has decided that we should move to Beijing because it’s much cheaper to live. She offered me a key to one of their flats. Very generous people indeed. However, in addition to many major reasons for not moving to China, the main day-to-day barriers for me would be a lack of good, affordable coffee and ditto for white wine.

    We left Beijing on Monday morning bright and early. That is everything left Beijing except for my iPad which I left in the security area which was beyond busy. We were checked, ID etc at least 3 Times. Fortunately, a friend of Maria picked it up yesterday on his way through to Vancouver and we’ll recover it there from him. There is security and checks everywhere here and we were reminded by Maria that we must have Passports on us at all times. We don’t normally think about it. The Chinese have ID cards that they use for everything.

    We are in another great hotel here in Xiamen in what seems to be a kind of expat district in this city. Nice lowers profile city and We have a beautiful view across the river to the main city. There is a Starbucks next door where we found decent coffee. Xiamen is a port city across the strait from Taiwan. There are essentially 2 islands- the larger one with the city and the smaller one was a British Treaty Port from 1842to 1912. Today we took the ferry to this smaller, car-free island called Golangyu. We put on lots of miles steps wandering around the island which is now a UNESCO site because of the many old colonial buildings. We visited a lovely small piano museum which had amongst the collection a Chickering piano - the same brand as mine! The island became a unique hub for pianists because of the large number of pianos brought to the area by the Brits. A number of world famous Chinese pianists came from the area.

    We stopped for some interesting take out food. Fried things mostly . We are wary because of some of the crazy things that are on offer but also because of Mike’s allergy to shellfish.
    Much of the food here is as Jon would say- greasy but good. We’ve tried a few unfamiliar things but mostly on the veg side - bitter melons. We had spicy fish head the other night. We left the lips and eyes to Maria who. Is very adventurous when it comes to eating. Tonight we went in search of some weird sea worms.... evidently a local dish. Everything is served family style and people just pick away at things. I’m getting much better with my cop sticks. The smells here are very strong and I have them hard time with them at times. The Duran fruit and the really smelly tofu just knock you over.

    . Today we head inland on the bullet train inland to a place called Wuyishan. On the way we are stopping at another island . Wuyishan is a Chinese resort city in Fujian province's Wuyi Mountains. It's popular for bamboo rafting on the 9-Bend River and viewing the range's 36 peaks, including high points like Great King Peak.
    That’s it for now.
    Love Heather (Mom)
    Fi, hope the trip to the Uk was uneventful.
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  • Day1

    Family Gathering Beijing Style

    November 25, 2017 in China ⋅ ☀️ 8 °C

    Ni Hao.
    Hello from Beijing.
    Mike and I arrived late Thursday after very long flight. At the last minute our Air Canada flight was rescheduled so we flew Air China. Fortunately, with some persistence from Mike we were able to sit together and, all in all, it was a very pleasant journey. No complaints about the food or service in fact I'd rate it better than Air Canada and heads and tails above some other airlines. Only 2 problems - didn't have a clue what the announcements were trying to communicate even though they were ostensibly translated and 2. When we asked for white wine they looked confused, finally found a bottle and poured us about 2 tablespoonsful in our coffee cup. Not a big seller with the Chinese mainlanders yet, but evidently that's changing like so many things.

    Jonathan was at the airport to meet us. Took about an hour to run the gauntlet of immigration, customs, baggage etc. But all smooth. We took a car to the Shangdi area of Beijing .Kind of like arriving at Pearson and driving to Niagara Fall. We were instantly reminded of how huge and busy this city is. Have already had some interesting discussions with Jon about how the government is trying to control the population of this economic hub which threatens to balloon to 50 million people.

    Our hotel is a very comfortable Holiday Inn Express near the big University district of the city. We are only 2 subway stops from Jon and Maria's apartment - virtually next door. Our only complaint at all is that the elevator doors slam shut rather quickly and if you don't jump right in you risk shoulder injuries.
    Yesterday was Friday . After attending the very extensive breakfast buffet featuring both western and chinese offerings, we met Jon and headed into the centre of the city. We met up with his buddy - a Texan named William who is here teaching English. Unlike Jon, he has made a very concerted effort to learn Mandarin and he helped navigate our day. For anyone who has not been here, unlike Europe and many other parts of the world, English is not widely spoken here, for any number of reasons. I expect the younger generations are traveling more and being exposed to far more Western cultures so that seems to be changing slowly.
    We took a stroll up to a temple that looks down over the inner city. Beijing sits in kind of a bowl beside the mountains. It has been cool but very clear so far. The views yesterday were terrific and we could see the Great Wall winding through the distant mountains. We continued with a long walk around various parts of the city centre and stopped for a lunch - everything is family style here. Good Kung Poi chicken - not sure if I'm spelling that correctly .
    We spent a few hours visiting the very grand Chinese National Museum. It is in an enormous, very imposing building that sits bordering Tianemen Square. The security was tight and we went through scanners and checks . The main exhibition is mainly about the last 100 to 150 years of Chinese history. So their modern history from the Opium Wars ( lots of information about the bad colonialism) and the throwing off of the feudal Qing dynasty, through the revolution and assumption of rule by Chang Kai Shek, who was overthrown by the Communists under Mao. Very interesting - from what small amount was translated - the explanations of the various changes along the way. Lots of emphasis on Deng Xiaoping who really moved China into a more open, modern society. We also visited the great hall with all the international gifts that have been given to China from visiting world leaders. ( looks like a bit of regifting might have been going on. Not another vase!)

    We finally saw Maria last night. She ´s struggling with some of the changing demands of her current job and we chatted with her about that. We had Yunnan style food last night. Specifically a large whole fish bubbling away on a burner that everyone dug into with their chopsticks. Forks and
    Knives are as scarce as English speakers here and My clothes are taking a real hit. Those thin, slippery mushrooms are really a challenge with chopsticks!

    Today we took the subway to Jon and M's apartment . Jon showed us around his neighbourhood. A large - 1 km long - stretch of apartments. Their place is quite large by Beijing standards. Maria's cousin Chung Chung and his friend also live there. We met up the translator who the kids hired and rode via Uber type car to Chang Ping- the neighbourhood where most of Maria's family live. We were greeted enthusiastically by a large crowd of relatives and spent a very enjoyable few hours visiting and eating a stupendous feast. Dishes on offer included roasted chicken, lamb, roasted pig, Peking Duck with all of the trimmings, a delicious fish dish called squirrel fish due to the way it is sliced and served to look like a squirrel. Also, many interesting side dishes and finally the soup made from the carcass of the duck.
    People made the usual rounds of toasts and the Uncles - who we got to meet a couple of years ago- took to the Crown Royal we brought them with much enthusiasm then started on the beer. Mike was right in there with them. We gave out gifts to everyone . They in turn offered gifts to us. Nothing small so now we're trying to figure out getting things shipped to Shanghai in time for our flight home.
    The discussion today, not surprisingly turned to Grandchildren with the not so subtle message that I was to start the pressure from our side. The translator, Alice, explained that this is pretty standard for family gatherings. First pressure on the younger ones to get married then to have that child.
    We are now back in the hotel taking a much needed break in the action. Tomorrow more family time then Monday bright and early we fly south to Xiamen.

    That's all for now. Hopefully this will actually upload. Internet is fine with lots of bandwidth but lots of things get blocked. Hard to tell.
    Hope all is well wherever you are.
    Love Heather( Mom)
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