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China

Journey into the Ancient Worlds

Day 5 Xi An and we're on our own

sunny 28 °C
View Tom & Jen's "Continental Drift" on jkerkin's travel map.

Up to now we have had Huiliang and Angela look after us. Now it's just Jen and I to fend for ourselves. We need to be more careful, observant and struggle with the language. Saying that I have surprised myself with the number of words I remembered from being in China 20 years ago. The airport check-in went smoothly (despite being well over the domestic weigh limits) and arrived in Xi An, negotiated a driver and 1 hour later through dodgem car traffic we got to our very plush hotel. First impressions of Xi An is it is definitely not as modern as Shanghai, construction work everywhere, more pollution, more noise and cars with push bikes being replaced with electric motor bikes. As an electrical engineer, the local approach to wiring still leaves me bewildered!
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Although, the streets are clean and regularly water trucks spray the dusty streets with water to keep the dust down. This reminded me of Beijing 20 years ago.

Dropped the bags off and walked Into the centre of town where we found the tourist offices and booked a day tour to the terracotta warriors for tomorrow and then kept walking the streets. Xi An is the start of the Silk Road and one of the oldest cities in China.

Most famous for the Qin or Ch'in Dynasty (likely origin of "China") which came to power as a dynasty (221-206/207 B.C.) by unifying China under its first emperor, Shi Huangdi (Shih Huang-ti). The Qin is the start of the imperial period. This guy unified China, created their currency and moved the country away from being ruled by war lords. The city has a mere population of 10 million plus, surrounded by a massive 12m high stone wall with a moat around the whole city. The wall goes for about 4 km in length and you can walk along it. Also beautiful gardens along the moat edge that you can also walk along.
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The Bell Tower near the centre of town is akin to the Arc du Triomphe, with a crazy washing machine of a round-about around it. There is no such thing as give way, just merge with care,
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Lots of walking this afternoon earned us a beer and successfully made our way to Xi An and looking forward to seeing the terracotta warriors now regarded as the 8th wonders of the ancient world!
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Posted by jkerkin 03:26 Archived in China Tagged history wonders china Comments (2)

Tiger Hill, Zhouzhuang Water Township and Farewell for now

Day 4 Suzhou and back to Shanghai

sunny 25 °C
View Tom & Jen's "Continental Drift" on jkerkin's travel map.

Angela organised a car and driver for the whole day so thankfully a train trip back to Shanghai was avoided. First stop was Starbucks for a coffee and then onto Tiger Hill. Main attraction is the Yunyansi Pagoda, built in 959 AD during the Song Dynasty, and the beautiful gardens surrounding it. The pagoda has quite a lean (more than 3 degrees) but they dare not excavate to restore it as the tomb of the Emperor buried beneath is believed to have booby traps.
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Gardens like these are a great retreat from the constant noise, traffic and people of everyday life in China.
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Halls and garden areas are given names inspired from famous poetry, which when translated into English is clumsy but quite beautifully profound.
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Angela shared stories of visiting this place as a kid, climbing on the rooftops and exploring the various areas. It is a place she holds in her heart.
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Next stop was onto Zhouzhuang Water Town. This was an old village restored with water canals, arts and crafts, street food, museums and Chinese traditional theatre where we enjoyed an impromptu performance of a famous old Chinese legend. The quiet narrow streets, water canals and the old buildings meant we got a great appreciation of olden times.
Lunch was really special, a little restaurant situated on a balcony over the roof tops.
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Trick is to always find a restaurant with pictures of the food to make sure you don't get something that is way off the normal menu - but we can never quite be sure what we're getting. A highlight of the trip so far has been the food and this was no exception: whole river shrimp, brewed local greens, local chicken, pork balls and most of all, Angela's company. Lots of reminiscing.
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A final stop at a Rice Wine Brewery for some samples. Rice wine is dark and semi sweet, akin to a fortified wine with a roasted soy fragrance. The longer it is aged, the darker and stronger it is.
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Then we had to say our goodbyes to Angela who was going to catch a bus back to Suzhou while we had a private car and driver take us back to Shanghai. Angela was so nice and we got to go off the normal tourist trail. We cannot thank Angela enough and hopefully we can repay her hospitality someday soon.

We had about a 1 1/2 hour drive back to Shanghai and saw more of the massive apartment blocks that have been built recently and a convention centre laid out in 4 part clover design, and from what we could figure, about 16x the Brisbane Convention Centre. Everything in Shanghai is on a massive scale. Roads, apartment buildings, airports, shopping centres, everything. This is about the most modern city that both Jen and I have been to.

We got to our hotel just 10 minutes from the airport so easy for our early flight onto Xi An to see the terracotta warriors.

Posted by jkerkin 03:02 Archived in China Tagged food china friends suzhou Comments (0)

Tall Buildings and the Venice of China

Day 3 - Shanghai to Suzhou

sunny 27 °C

Early start with a Chinese breakfast of wonton soup and dumplings and then off to the Shanghai World Financial (or as we know it "the bottle opener") look out at the 100 floor level. It rises up 474 m and the building next to it is still under construction will be at 634m. Amazing look out and you get a great picture of how congested Shanghai is with apartments. The trip up only takes 60 seconds.
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We then moved onto the task of buying a bullet train ticket to Suzhou and fortunately Jen's work colleague Huiliang escorted me to the train station and bought the tickets for us. The picture that would have faced me was an information board totally in Chinese and another 500 other Chinese standing in line and no one speaking english. We said goodbye to Huiliang who we cannot thank enough for his hospitality, help and being a great tour guide. We then experienced the Chinese mass surge of getting onto a train and somehow we were the last 2 to get on but made it in time, Jen and I need to learn the art of push and shove and forget about space. Talk about technology, this train travelled at 293km / hr, 30 minutes later and at a cost of $8 each. Arrived at Suzhou and met up with my friend Angela and dropped our bags off and went to the Administrators Garden.

Suzhou is called the Venice of China, full of canals and is also Angela's home town. She told many stories of her growing up there with her Grandmother. Stories like dropping watermelons down wells to cool them and then bring water up to the surface. The gardens were lovely to meander through pathways, buildings, rock formations and went through a massive bonsai garden with some bonsais over 3 m tall.
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From there we went to Pingjiang Road and strolled through for about 2 km's along a single street of little shops, food stalls and restaurants, sampling treats as we go. One thing both Jen and I wanted to experience on this trip was to eat street food as much as possible so we bought a series of little snacks that were just delicious. We also had dinner in a very traditional local restaurant made up of rice cakes, dumplings, chicken and some small little sweet fermented rice balls.

It was great to catch up with Angela and just chat and having her around showing us her local town was a great privilege.

Tomorrow its Tiger Hill and the Water Gardens. Also a note Facebook, Google and some web sites are being blocked in China by the Government, go figure!

Posted by tszeitli 15:38 Archived in China Tagged gardens food traditional train suzhou Comments (1)

Spectacular Shanghai!

Day 2 - Shanghai Sight Seeing

sunny 26 °C

Start of our sight seeing adventures and after a sleep in, hotel buffet breakfast and got some money we got picked up by Jen's work colleague, Huiliang. Not quite sure what to expect, he took us to the Bund side of the Huangpu River opposite side to the financial district. The Bund is a walk along the river's edge and along the road that has has all the old colonial buildings restored and basically used by the banks and financial institutions.
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You get a great view across the river of the iconic buildings of the financial district buildings; Oriental Communications Tower, Jinmao Tower, Shanghai World Financial Centre (474m tall which really looks like a bottle giant bottle opener), Shanghai Tower (632m second tallest building in the world).
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Local tourists everywhere but just an overall nice feel about the place. Huiliang was fantastic in guiding us and a wealth of information.
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We did the 1 hr cruise up and down the river and gave us a close up view and amongst the constant stream of ships and barges that use the river. Jen is now really getting to used her new camera and taking some great photos and the weather could not have been better for what we did.
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Caught a taxi back to near our hotel to have some pre dinner drinks and the good news is beer is cheap. He took us to a local restaurant with traditional food from Shanghai. One word - Delicious! Fried deep sea fish, fish with peanuts, drunken chicken, bbq beef and local style Asian greens.
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This was accompanied with a local rice wine.
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And I met an old friend
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Tomorrow we plan to go to the top of the "Bottle Opener", 472m sky scraper!

Posted by tszeitli 16:45 Archived in China Tagged food river cruise shanghai Comments (3)

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