After my wonderful experience touring in China in 2014 I have decided to come back for another two weeks touring, starting again in Hangzhou, but this time heading west to Huangshan (Yellow Mountain). I am so looking forward to beautiful bamboo groves, ancient cities and some mountains.
In the 10 weeks prior to my leaving, I continued my daily bicycle commute to work and completed longer rides on the weekends, culminating in a 110km ride with an average speed of 25 km, I was home by lunch time. Over the 10 weeks I rode approximately 1200 km, I considered myself fairly bike fit but not super fit.
I followed my tried and tested trip preparations, booking a hostel this time and packed my bicycle in a box as I had learnt in my previous trips. I chose a hostel that I liked the look of, in the tourist pedestrian area I had stayed last trip. The trouble was it was not accessible from the road. So I carried a picture of the nearest landmark, the Drum Tower to show to a taxi driver.
On my last trip to Hangzhou I had seen hundreds of large taxis, able to carry my large bike box, especially at the airport, so I had assumed I would be able to get off my flight in Hangzhou and easily find a taxi to show my picture to. I was mistaken, on approaching the taxi rank all I saw were the small normal sedan taxis, like the green one below.
As I stood considering my options, a man approached me and offered to drive me, I asked him if he had a big van, he said yes, I showed him the picture of the Drum Tower, he nodded and said “GuLou” Drum Tower, I asked him the price, I had checked before arriving the average taxi price, and he gave me a price about double the going rate but still only about $20, so I thought for about a second and said sure. I was actually quite relieved. He dropped my off exactly where I wanted. On my next trip I pre booked a van, so as not to rely of this sort of luck.
I had landed in Hangzhou at 1.10pm, my goal for the day was to get to my hostel, assemble my bicycle and buy a local phone sim. I completed my tasks and I had a working mobile for data and voice but for some reason my trusty maps.me mapping application was playing up and would not sync up to my GPS. A fellow guest at the hostel helped me load up baidu maps so at least I had one mapping application working. There was one problem though, baidu maps was in chinese, so I had a few problems matching the baidu maps with maps.me once baidu had positioned me. Maps.me started working again a few days later, but for the next couple of days my navigation ability was impacted but not lost, I made do.
I give myself plenty of time to get ready for my rides, the goal for my second day in China was to buy food, and as I had my bicycle lock confiscated at the third airport security search, I needed to buy a bicycle lock. I located a bicycle shop across town and using my baidu maps/maps.me combined I managed to navigate to the store eventually. I passed some lovely parks on the way.
When I arrived at the bicycle store I was greeted with a locked grill. As I sat pondering if they would open on a Saturday, luckily another customer cam and sat down beside me, he informed me they would open in 15 minutes, at 10.30am. I am not sure if I would have waited that long if he had not showed up.
In the afternoon I visited a Traditional Chinese Medicines Museum that was very near my hostel. I had intended to visit on my last trip but ran out of time. It was interesting and it was not not just a museum, it was very much a working medical practice and dispensary.
That evening I was invited to visit my kind hosts from my last trip, Maggie and her parents, they had moved and I was in for a big surprise. It was a big evening, Maggie was having a farewell party as she was moving to Perth to live with her Australian partner and her baby boy!
2017 Hangzhou To Huangshan Cycling Tour – Arriving
A big travel day, up early to catch a train Shanghai to Hangzhou. I made my way back to Maggie’s parents apartment without trouble or rush. My flight was leaving in the afternoon. I had a final pack and discard of excess luggage, I had collected a few gifts and as I was overloaded coming over, I had to leave a few things. I was sure Maggie’s family would make good use of the things I left and nothing would go to waste.
I was farewelled my Maggie’s mother as everyone else was travelling elsewhere. Maggie’s mother had kindly tracked down an oversize taxi and booked a pickup at the nearest road to their apartment, about 400 meters away. I carry/dragged the bike in its box to the road for the taxi to Hangzhou airport.
A strange thing happen on the way to the airport, the taxi had seemed very quiet and I guessed it was electric, the driver started asking me when my flight was due to leave, I think he was very glad I spoke some mandarin, once confirmed we had plenty of time, he made a detour.
The taxi driver drove to a battery change station, it looked like a petrol station except there were racks of batteries ready to load into vehicles. We unloaded my bicycle box, as he needed access to the rear luggage area, at the push of a button, a row of batteries raised up for changing. It was very interesting and all up took about 7 minutes. I could not say anything as I am all for electric cars.
The flight included a stop over in KL and a night flight to Melbourne. So all up a very big day, but I survived and enjoyed every second of this great trip.
My luck carried back to Australia, when I approach customs with my huge bicycle box covered in big red China stickers, so much for me hoping to get through discreetly. I had cleaned my bicycle but I was not sure of the protocol. I declared the tea I was carrying. I was asked if I had cleaned the wheels, I said yes, I was then asked it is was a road bike, again yes, then I was waved through!
has been an amazing trip, everything I was hoping and more. I rode over 400km
trouble free, not one problem with the bicycle, meet wonderful friendly people.
Not one hitch, holdup or problem. I can not let go of China for the present and
plan to request another 2 extra weeks of leave for next year again first thing
tomorrow back at work. Meanwhile I think more Mandarin practise is called for.
Home in Australia, but I am missing China so much I insisted my wife and I make a noodle dish for dinner. We shared the cooking and I think we did a pretty good job. I didn’t know what is the normal broth ingredient so I found a red miso soup was a quick and easy gap filler.
2014 Hangzhou Bicycle Tour Day Fourteen – Homeward Bound
The plan for my last full day in China was a fast train to Shanghai from Hangzhou, then a day bike tour of Shanghai followed by dinner with Maggie and a local friend of Maggie. Unfortunately the day was wet and grey but I enjoyed riding around Shanghai’s busy streets.
The day started early, 5.50 am, ten minutes before my alarm was due. My train leaves at 7am, I allowed 30 minutes to get to the station. There is a 15 minute walk and a need to buy breakfast on the way, so maybe a little tight. Although I had purchased the ticket, walked the route the day before and saved its location on my phone map (maps.me).
Currently on the high speed train to Shanghai with my da boa (take away) breakfast. The passenger next to me is not very talkative. All went well except I mixed up the gate number with my carriage number and I arrive to find an empty lounge and a locked gate, I was worried for a few minutes until I realised my mistake. My gate was next door. I was on the train with 10 minutes to spare. I am glad I woke up 10 minutes before my alarm.
The train to Shanghai was very fast and smooth, a million miles away from the local train I had taken a few days before to Lishui. The local train did give me much more contact with locals, although I exchanged cards with a nice lady next to me (not the sleeping student). I managed to work out she lived with her parents and had one child. We both looked at our cards as curiosities. She was going to work.
On exiting the high speed train I now had to navigate to a metro station. I did not even know if there was a metro station at this station. I prepare well enough before hand, i.e. I knew I needed to get to a certain metro station, and work out the details as I go. At this point I decided I needed some help, so I spotted a western person (much easier in Shanghai), a well dressed blond German lady going to work it seemed. She ignored me for a while, I realised this was a coping mechanism to deflect local attention. Once she recognised I was western she immediately offered to take me to the subway ticket machine and in the process of showing me how it worked, bought my ticket for me! As we were on the same metro train we had a chat about working in China and my holiday.
Working in China is a bit of a dream of mine. My German helper is a HR manager in a large company and deflated my dream a bit. Getting time for a holiday like mine is rare and she finds Chinese workers frustrating in two ways.
1. They have no initiative/big picture thinking, they need to be given step by step instructions, multiple tasks needed to be stipulated with deadlines progressively through a single day. I assume this is as a result of very rote education system. This seems to support what I have read previously where the government is trying to broaden the school curriculum and encourage more lateral thinking. The trouble is the general population want to stick with what they are familiar with.
2. I mentioned briefly my theory about the education system making or breaking students and asked about the stars (those made). She agreed there are some stars in the work force but even these people leave on the dot of 4.30 pm no mater how much urgent work is pending.
She mentioned there are “rules”, as in it is OK to drop all work at 4.30pm and leave but how dare she leave at 4pm on a Friday even though she had worked late every other night covering for them leaving at 4.30.
On exiting the subway I now had to find Moa Ming road and since I was at a transfer station and there were road works everywhere, it was not clear where this road was. So I again asked for help, in Mandarin this time and was able to arrive at the tour meeting place about five minutes before anyone else. Talk about perfect timing. I had booked a day long cycling tour of Shanghai online as a way to see the maximum with minimum fuss. I was very pleased I was able to arrive on time with all of the travelling involved.
Being a rainy week day meant it was a small tour group, i.e. just me. My guide was a lovely lady named June (not July), a project co-ordinator for setting up Chemical factories, she was waiting for her next project.
Having a tour group of 1 meant it was a bit more expensive but what a opportunity! Throughout the day I asked many questions, I learnt that there are strict environment controls and regulations for New and Upgrades to existing chemical factories. Plus the regulations are changing and getting more strict all the time. I got the impression existing factories are another story.
June was lovely, as it was raining I was given a complementary rain poncho, trouble was it was not sized for a large western man, I was worried I would tear the poncho to pieces as I was putting it on. June noticed this and immediately offered to swap with me and so I had the privilage of wearing her much larger and more sturdy poncho while June spent the day in my mine.
We had lunch and afternoon tea together after stopping at the best egg tart bakery in Shanghai. It did taste smooth, warm and sweet, very hao chi (tasty).
We also discussed religion, ethics and control of society. It seems we had similar ideas, although June has a slightly more spiritual angle to our shared non religious beliefs.
I told June about my trip, by the way June has excellent English, she studied Chinese Literature at Uni. She was impressed with my trip but easily topped me when she told me about her 35 day bicycle ride she did with uni friends to Mongolia.
I did get one complement about my riding and how I was handling the traffic with ease, “oh you are braver than me”.
We rode to a number of central Shanghai tourists spots, and even an extra one not usually on the tour, because I showed so much interest in China/Politics, June took me to the Birthplace of the Modern China and the Communist Party of China exhibition, it was free entry but you do have to go in one door for a ticket, out to the street again, then hand the ticket in at the next door. Job making? It was a very interesting destination, maybe for keen locals more than westerners.
The bicycle tour I went on listed the following sights: French Concession Cite Bourgogne Xintiandi Tianzifang (Taikang Road) Antique Market on Dongtai Road Shanghai Old Streets Binjiang Avenue Nanjing Road ZhouEnlai’s Residence People’s Square
Ok, so my memory is as follows: The French Concession could have done with a bit of tourist polish, I was taken to a lòngtáng (Shanghai Hutong), I felt like I was being taken into peoples houses (and I was), the kitchen area I was shown was very greasy/depressing. There were about 5 single light bulbs in a line, each family paid the electricity for that bulb, it was their part of the kitchen. These were once plush 3 story family homes for one well off family, now one family per room.
We went to the cricket and bird market, parts of the market was overwhelmed by the sound of the crickets. There are hundreds of crickets in tiny boxes, being trained, I assumed irritated to become aggressive. There was a small bird sitting out in the open with a leash around its neck. The masses of wriggly lavie for feeding birds freaked out June. My overall impression of the market was it seemed cruel.
arts district seemed very nice, not as big as 798 in Beijing but more cosy and
easier to get around. Will definitely take Trudi Anderson back there one day.
The Antique Market was very disappointing, it will be knocked down within two years, everything is planned out at least that far ahead. It seemed they were almost wanting to give their stuff away. Definitely winding down, many stalls had already moved on.
We rode through many old/slum(?) areas that were being demolished and you could see the new and old side by side.
As we rode to the Bund (briefly, better to return at night), I was amused that we rode through the most bustling, messy, old area of Shanghai that I had seen up to that point as my gateway to see the shining flashy new.
Unusually June has a brother, younger, who already has a child, so there is no pressure to get married and have children, June was happy to say. The one child policy has lots of special rules, for example previously if both parents are one child they were permitted to have two children, then the policy changed that if one of the parents are a one child, then the couple can have two. Nowadays everyone can have two children.
I am not sure how June’s parents escaped the forced abortion, but she did mention something about her parents running away.
One of the tour destinations is a park where on the weekend it is packed with parents holding up their children’s education/qualifications looking for a partner. It was deserted on our rainy mid day ride. June happily replied to me question that her parents are not into that sort of thing for her.
After the ride, June helped me locate my Chinese Business person hotel and we worked out the metro line to catch. In fact June (not July) walked me to the subway entry. June had a straightness/confidence when she walked, I confirmed she also like walking/trekking. June was from some part of China I was unfamiliar with but I guess there are mountains involved.
in Shanghai on my last night in China, Maggie and I met up with her friend who
lives locally. Maggie had come to Shanghai during the day to fly to Taipei the
next day for a holiday with her boyfriend.
We have a native Shanghaier (well someone who lived in the city at least), to be the boss on where to eat and go. We went to a restaurant in the main walking street (that I had not seen before) that served classic/old style Shanghai dishes. A great choice, although I skipped the Jelly fish and Gluten dishes, the others were great and not too hot, “bu la”. The boss lady chose the dishes to give us a taste of Shanghai.
We then strolled down the
main walking street and I learnt a new word (well reintroduced),
“yong”, as in Bu yong, xie xie. When hassled to buy rubbish because I
am western I can say “No need, thank you”. This works a treat because
as soon as you show some fluency with Mandarin they assume you are local and
leave you alone. It worked a treat, especially if you say it with a slight
annoyance in your voice. It was useful the next day leaving Hangzhou train station
We were heading towards the
Bund, an obvious choice by the Boss lady. During the evening, Mia, the boss
lady, had taken to heart my desire to improve my Mandarin on this trip and
started setting me challenges. For example the group photo I have included
required me to request a stranger to take the photo without using sign
language. So the sentence is “Hello, question, can you take my picture,
OK? “Ni hao, qingwen, Bung wo pai zhao, hao ma”. It took a bit of
practice but I managed it.
Next was a writing test at
the war memorial, I admitted I am not learning written mandarin, but I did
point out one character I do know “ren” and then a few more were
familiar, I managed at 75% for my first ever written mandarin test.
I felt a bit intimated by Boss
lady Mia, but I think she would accelerate anyones learning.
All through this trip I
have been asking people what their thoughts were about the last Peoples
congress meeting where the sole topic was “The rule of law” with
Chinese characteristics. It seems they have plans to improve, make more
transparent the Justice system. Mia said she had not seen/read anything about
this. I asked if people are not interested in politics and the answer was, yes
of course they are interested but to what affect, what can they do/change? I
mentioned some villages have successfully protested against corrupt mayors and
party officials, so it is not a total waste of time.
That evening back at my
Chinese businessman hotel, I noticed a card had been pushed under my door. It was
for prostitutes I assume from the pictures. As an observation, this was the
first contact I had this whole trip with the sex industry. I don’t know if
China has a much smaller industry compared to other countries or just I was
away from the popular tourist areas. I considered ringing the number to
practise my Mandarin but decided against it.
2014 Hangzhou Bicycle Tour Day Thirteen – Shanghai
In the home stretch now, last full day in Hangzhou and 2nd last full day in China. I awoke to a grey and wet day, the temperature had finally dropped. I think I timed my bike ride to perfection. I had a lazy morning on the computer and making plans for Shanghai the next day.
Maggie was sleeping in and Maggie’s mother had gone out, so Maggie’s father put on a lunch spread for me prior to him heading off to catch the train to Hong Kong. Maggie and family have been so wonderful to me, it is amazing. I think I have been paid back in full and more for hosting Maggie, Danielle, and friend for a week back in May this year.
After lunch I went for a wander around Hangzhou and had a chance to check out the gate and drum tower in full. You can get your photo taken in old clothes if you pose in the certain way as demonstrated.
The young child I am photographed with was smiling at me and trying to take my photo, I smiled back, said hello and indicated it is OK to have a shared photo. She was very happy, but the significant thing for me was that I had my first and maybe only fluent conversation with her and family. Most people ask me where I come from, but in a slight variation that causes me to pause, but this time they asked and I understood immediately and was able to reply without a pause. I felt very pleased with myself. I think I must be the slowest person to learn Mandarin, but by persisting I can see progress.
Maggie walked me to the train station that afternoon to pick up our tickets to Shanghai and so I would know where to go the next morning. I am glad we did this, because although Maggie had already bought the tickets online and was was able to pick hers up at a machine, mine were not as I had to show my passport and it took a while to track down the office. I would not have wanted to be doing this in a rush the next morning.
We then headed off on the bus to a dinner with Maggie’s friend Danielle who had just arrived back from Australia and Maggie’s mother was also meeting us for dinner as well. By this time is was raining quite hard and I had no idea which bus to catch or where we were going. As we walked into the restaurant I commented to Maggie I was glad she was navigating as I had no chance to get there.
Strangely Maggie also was not able to navigate to the correct restaurant either. All three parties had gone to different restaurants! So after many phone calls, we started trying to catch a taxi in the rain with everyone else having the same idea, it was a bit of a nightmare. After 15 minutes we walked to where Maggie’s mother was waiting at the bus stop and tried to flag a taxi again.
I spotted a taxi stopping down the road with a green light and ran off waving, I almost pushed away a another group who spotted the taxi after me but were closer. So it was the westerner to the rescue teaching the locals a thing or two. 🙂
When we arrived, Danielle had ordered all the food and it was already on the table, which I was very happy about as I was el si la (hungry to die for). I again fought to pay for the bill and again was trumped by the waiter who knew who the host was. Thanks you Danielle it was a lovely meal. We caught a taxi home after a walking for a while in the rain.
After getting home that night, I went out for a short walk to buy my tai tai (wife) a present. Maggie’s mother offered to accompany me as she indicated she was good at bargaining, I think she would be as well based on her short demonstration, but I felt I had dragged her out in the rain enough. I found a beautiful double silk scarf, mostly green that I managed to buy for about half of what the initial price was. They pulled out a lighter and tried to burn the scarf to demonstrate it was silk and even burnt one tassel, rubbed the ash with their finger and offered it to me to smell/feel. I was not aware this was the way to prove it is silk, so I learnt a bit.
I showed the scarf to Maggie’s mother and she showed great appreciation, for a second I had a sinking feeling she thought I was giving it to her. I reviewed what I had said to her “You like”, whereas each time I had given a gift in the past I said ” I give to you” and held the present out with two hands. She quickly said tai tai and all was good.
Today the plan is to travel 266 km from Lishui to Hangzhou by bus, my host in Lishui, Annie, had helped me book a ticket on a larger long distance bus that was fine to transport my bicycle. Firstly I needed to cycle 5 km out of town to the bus station.
Riding through the streets
of Lishui I noticed something to me that was very curious, I saw crossing
people standing at either side of a pedestrian crossing with red flags, while
waiting for the lights to change. They did not step onto the road, but waved
madly if any bicycle, scooter, motor bike, etc, dared to encroach the crossing
by a millimeter. But it was was quite fine to not stop at all and do illegal
left and right turns, these people were not waved at or stopped in any way! So
they were stopping the inconvenience of having a crossing blocked but not the
potentially lethal illegal turns. I think this might have been another one of
those jobs helping to increase employment, where there is no need to have the
job in the first place.
Now if you are wondering how I can so easily navigate across a confusing town to a bus station that I have been to once and then by car from a different starting place, the answer is a wonderful phone app MAPS.ME, I downloaded a map of China before leaving Australia and it has been a life saver! It has the ability to save your current position and I did this the previous day when we were buying the bus ticket. I did have a little trouble finding the correct building once I knew I was in the correct area, arriving by bicycle seemed different by car and I missed the entrance.
I proceeded to the goods packing area to drop off my bicycle and pay the packing fee of 20 yuan. I wondered what this would entail and I found out it involved putting a sticker on my rack, parking my bike as in the photo and then later wheeling it to the bus and laying it in the cargo area of the bus. As I was boarding the bus I had a look to see if it had been loaded and then saw it being wheeled, or actually carried, because they had not worked out how to raise my stand. I helped load the bike, this was a good idea because they had no idea how to detach my panniers and I think they might have been wrenched off the bike or left to dangle.
While I was in the bus waiting room, I noticed a huge video screen, it was massive, maybe 20 foot high. It was showing the usual advertising initially then started showing graphic videos of …. bus crashes, there were lots of horrific in-bus videos of passengers, kids included, being violently thrown all around the bus during the accident. Other videos showed people being thrown out of buses across busy intersections. It was very unsettling while waiting to board a bus. At the end of the video, it shows a driver and passenger putting on seat belts, and one video shows a bus load of injured people lying all over the place and the one person wearing a seat belt getting up immediately unharmed.
I must say a modern bus is a big improvement to a local train, speed wise but much worst for interacting with locals. I was in a single seat in the front right corner and spoke very little to my fellow passengers. The drive was somewhere below, nowhere to be seen. Getting into the bus involved climbing steep stairs, almost a ladder. The bus made a lunch/toilet stop for about 20 minutes along the way, I guess this is a bus ride the chinese way. I did not venture off the bus.
The bus went though the
city I was originally aiming to reach on my bike ride, Zhuji, it was much
bigger, more sprawling and greyer than I had expected. I had read a blog about
a day riding in the local hills that I was attracted to but I think I had made
a much better choice to skip it.
Soon I was back in Hangzhou
and using MAPS ME again, a life saver in the much bigger city. I was almost at
Maggies when I stuck a problem. Maggie lives just off a tourist street,
pedestrian mall, no cars or bicycles allowed, this includes walking a bicycle.
I was stopped by two policemen from entering. I was keen to not have to wait
until evening to get through as I wanted to pack my bicycle, Maggie’s father
had offered to help this afternoon before he left for Hong Kong. I don’t know
if my Mandarin saved the day but I said ” I go to friends home to
sleep”, this was rejected, but after insisting three times they relented
and I was able to pass. This taught me something about the Chinese way with
Laws and Rules I think. There is the law, but the rules can be different/bent
When my bicycle box arrived in China, it was pretty worst for wear, it was torn in a few places, I was thinking I would have to go to a bicycle shop and ask for another one, but while I was on my tour, Maggie’s father had patched it up, thinking it was a waste to get another box. I was immensely grateful. My bicycle was unceremoniously taken apart and packed away in its box, I felt I should have cleaned more it thoroughly before hand, especially as it was covered in mud from the one day it rained. But I thought it would make a bigger mess and mud in Maggie’s house if I did and I could not be stuffed.
As it was my last night in Hangzhou with Maggie’s father, he was travelling to Hong Kong the next day, we all went out for dinner for his farewell. I fought to pay the bill, I offered cash to the waiter while Maggie offered a card. I thought the cash would have been preferred and was surprised they took the card. I think the waiter knew who the guest was and so I was not supposed to pay.
After diner I went for a walk and found the usual group of mostly older people exercising dancing/line dancing but as well there seemed to be a rollerblading school for kids. I was very excited about this because I don’t think the young people connect with the other group dancing as much and it was good to see alternatives.
Tomorrow is no bike rest day in Hangzhou before one last adventure in Shanghai.
This is another post I am not sure
about, a bit personal maybe, but I need to write it down as it was swirling
around my head keeping me awake for a lot of last night.
My day living as a Chinese
person. It started with me finding a laundry; I find that you need to ask at
least 3 people to find someone with actual knowledge. I wait for the person I
ask to leave or I walk a bit before asking another person. You need an answer
which is confident. I think I failed being Chinese for this task because what
you should do is turn to the next person and not consider the feeling of who
you just asked. Chinese are very practical.
Next is going to work and having a subsidised breakfast in the large company sponsored cafeteria, Annie was picking me up in her car, so I waited outside my Hotel for fifteen minutes past our agreed meeting until a rushed Annie arrived after sleeping through her alarm. So this felt suitably Chinese.
Despite her appearance,
Annie is a junior Accountant in the big state run power company, State Grid.
Many office buildings have gardens and car parking in their surrounding area.
Annie has a park on the grounds of the building. To get to this we needed to
pass a security gate with about 4 guards. I kept asking if it was all ok, if
anyone would get in trouble with bringing a westerner stranger onto company
property, Annie said it would be all fine, don’t worry.
Indeed all was fine, we
parked in an incredibly tight park, the last, we were late remember. We then
rushed upstairs to the company cafeteria, a large room with many people who
naturally all looked at me, as I was the only non-Chinese person in the room. A
large breakfast for two cost around 3 kuai, less than a dollar. Being late we
scoffed down the lovely breakfast as fast as possible, while Annie chatted on
the phone etc. I think this passes as Chinese.
Then we walked into the
office and I learnt a few differences to Australian offices, this building had
open space desks, but in a series of rooms based on service or job function,
except for managers, they still get super large offices. Based on a sample size
of 2 offices, they seemed to be segregated on male female lines/rooms, junior
females, senior males.
The first task of the first day of the week, Monday, is to mop the floors (no carpet anywhere), China is a dusty place, so the most junior work place members, the intern and I proceeded to mop the work space of the junior accountant’s desks and surrounds. Mopping seems to just involve very wet rag mops and water, no cleaning solution or buckets involved. I would say this definitely passes as Chinese.
Job done, I was given a
quick tour by the intern, well one lap of the floor, and scant information she
had gained about the other department areas. The intern is the daughter of
Annie’s boss, and is doing this while waiting to head off to Sydney next month
for a language course and Sydney Tec Uni course. To earn brownie points for
all, it was my task to chat to the intern to improve her English.
Annie had been away from work for a week and had a pile of papers on her desk to process, so I suggested the intern and I go for a stroll to practise English and also so I could complete a couple of personal tasks as well, topping up my SIM, and buying water. We ended up in the park over the road with all of the retired people, I think the intern was a little uncomfortable mixing with the retired gang but I was not in any way.
From my own experience, I
realised that I needed to keep to very simple statements or questions in
English, pretty soon I found myself asking a series of personal questions. Now
as you may have guessed I have an intense fascination with China and its
history, politics, laws, education system, absent parents and policies,
especially the one child. Here was a chance to probe someone who has
experienced this first hand and seemed to me to be showing signs of strain from
a lot of the above.
Comparing the intern to Annie was like chalk and cheese, there is a few years difference but I think it is much more than this, I think the education, culture and parental pressures make or break some people.
I think a couple of years in Australia is a great thing to help balance out people, hopefully the intern will blossom with this challenge.
Lunch time was approaching,
apparently the normal Chinese office worker day at State Grid includes another
company subsidised meal, lunch, followed by a 2 hour break (3 hours in summer),
a siesta I assume.
We were not late for lunch,
so this time I walked into the same canteen but with even more people. We sat
down chatting, Annie taking a few phone calls, and after a short time I noticed
the room was quiet and we were the only 2 people remaining. Everyone had raced
their meal and left in less than 10 minutes. So we failed this Chinese test.
Now you may have gathered,
Annie is a force of nature and how can I put it, Annie is good at working the
system, she had finished her pile of work and had been chasing her boss all
morning trying to arrange the afternoon off to be able to show me around. The brownie
points we had earned with the boss, getting me to speak to her daughter, had paid
off handsomely, she had the afternoon off as a reward!
Annie dropped me at my
hotel and headed off for her siesta, while I showered and instead of sleeping,
wrote about my adventure the day before when Annie and friends entrapped me. So
I failed this Chinese test, I later told Annie this was an example of how hard
working Australians are.
Annie told me to be ready
in an hour, 2pm. Near 2pm Annie messaged to say she was running 15 minutes
late, I assumed normal Chinese/Annie time and replied, sure see you at 2.30. At
2.30 I was on the street and messaged, “Ok la, waiting”. At 2.45pm I
messaged “Still Waiting”. At 2.53 Annie messaged “Oh no”,
and arrived soon after.
The plan for the afternoon
was to book a bus ticket back to Hangzhou as I had found out it was a 7 hour
train trip on the same slow train I arrived the day before. After buying a
ticket we visited the goods packing area to confirm the bike would fit. The
answer was no (by the way I still was not sure if I had a bike at this stage,
since we had not actually been back to confirm it was still with the
neighbours). It was worked out a bigger bus was leaving an hour later and it
was fine to change the ticket. I claim none of this organising but at least I
know for next time.
As a tip, I also dropped a
pin at the bus station in my mapping app, maps.me, to make it easy when riding
to the bus station the next day.
We then headed off for a visit to an old river village that is famous for art teaching. Also by this time we had picked up the bosses daughter, the intern, so more brownie points.
The intern told me how children with artistic talents are encouraged/selected(?) to do special art studies. This is to the student’s advantage as they can get into university with a lower entry score. Sounded a bit like a throwback to more forceful practises but I did not mention this.
Travelling to the old town
was much further out of town then I was expecting, I felt there was still a lot
to do this afternoon, picking up laundry, having dinner with Annie’s mother let
alone getting my hands back on my bike. But we were operating on Chinese time,
so I had to keep quite.
The river town was beautiful and since we had arrived late, Annie was able to park in the middle of the main street right at the entrance to the old town. Also there were only a few tourists, it was very peaceful, with the sun low in the sky.
On the way back to town, I
learned there was change of plans, of course, Annie, a friend and I would
instead go out to a restaurant which has special local food. A treat or a food
surprise maybe. The friend turned out to be a slightly overweight, computer
games addict, who seemed overly anxious when speaking to me. Like (all?)
Chinese students he had learned English at school but was rapidly losing his English
language skills as I fully understood. We had a stilted meal while I was asking
my simple questions again, but this time I asked him lots of questions about
Annie to help liven up the discussion and not make him feel so pressured.
The meal was a series of
shared dishes that I have not remembered the names of, but 2 did stand out in
my mind, the first and largest was almost complete frogs in a broth; there was
little flavouring, so we tasted the frogs mainly. I was surprised there were
these little tiny leg bones I had to spit out and that they tasted OK. The dish
I liked the most was simple soup with rice noddles, egg, and vegetables. I
hinted that I did not want to have a long meal and so we finished up in a good
Driving anxious computer game addict friend (lets call him TS) home, we both sat in the back seat and the English continued, but something special happen, as I learned more about TS and his life plan to travel the world, his fear of flying that has prevented him from leaving China, his overly anxious concern to be more prepared before travelling that was stopping him. I greatly warmed to TS, we spoke deeply and warmly to each other. I tried to put him at ease, pointing out that I was travelling around China with much worse Mandarin then his English. Also I tried to convey to him that if he could successfully live and travel (no driving) all over chaotic China as he has done, then I felt travelling overseas would not be anywhere as hard as he was worried about. Prepare well before going, then go and be prepared to change all your plan was my advice. I think by this time Annie was driving around the block and very slow.
Next task was pick up laundry and my computer to give Annie all the photos I had taken and if I was lucky, get a copy of her movie. We headed to Annie’s home and I was introduced to her mother, it was the largest home I have been taken to in China, with a massively big TV screen dominating the room. I was offered much food and made very welcome, Annie’s mother does not speak any English, and so was a little out of the conversation. Especially for what happened next. I had casually mentioned to Annie I had posted a Facebook status about my arrival yesterday and this sparked a direct request to read it. I was a little unsure and tried to scan ahead to see if I had said anything she would take offence at. Annie was soon laughing hysterically almost in tears. I felt so uncomfortable for her mother, as it was a strange scene. Annie was not offended and wanted to copy it for her wechat friends, who ignored the English text and just commented on the pictures.
By this time it was after
10 pm and still no bicycle, so I requested we make this important trip. On
arriving at the neighbours we found the roller door down again! But there was a
light on and praise the lord, or maybe just a lesson on Chinese kindness to me;
my bicycle was safe and sound. High fives all round. We still had photos to
copy, so another ride in the night following a car with its hazard lights
flashing ensured, this time I had no panniers or helmet, so I was mostly able
to keep up. This counted as very Chinese.
At midnight, Annie’s mother
started cooking! I was offered a large bowl of the local soup, noodles,
vegetable, and meat broth dish while they had smaller bowl, a Chinese
male/female thing, or just visitor, I don’t know. This dish was very tasty and
I am able to give praise back in Mandarin. The dish included vegetables grown
by Annie’s grandfather.
We wrapped up at 1.30 am, another big day, Annie walked with me to her car so I could collect my laundry, I took this opportunity to try to make some sense of why the last two days had occurred, I asked Annie the direct question, why was I being offered all this friendship, being asked to return next year with my wife and children, why was Annie scheming to get me an invitation to her friend’s wedding next year (our host from yesterday), why?
I fully understand being
Western in this part of China goes a long way, and one who speaks a little
Mandarin that much more, but I sensed more than this.
Her answer was, because she
recognised my open and caring approach to life and that we had talked about our
emotions and feelings in a way that friends do, not strangers. I was honoured
by this response and understood.
Heading off into the night with the instructions when leaving the apartment complex gate, turn right, and then right again at the next intersection, you will go past your hotel. I turned into a completely deserted street, no cars, no bikes, my brain immediately switched to the Australian driving direction and I found myself on the wrong side. I almost switch sides, but then I remembered I was a Chinese person for the day and did not. I also ran every red light I could.
2014 Hangzhou Bicycle Tour Day Ten – Lishui – My Day Living As A Chinese Person
Ok not sure about this post but here goes. My China adventure has taken a strange twist, I was not giving out all information yesterday about why I jumped on a train instead of riding as planned, the main reason was the lovely lady, Annie, below
who I had met briefly in Xin Ye Ancient Village, while she was on her first solo driving holiday, Annie invited me to her hometown. We had hit it off immediately, nearly had dinner together that night but her long drive back home in the dark prevented this.
We did exchange Wechat numbers and as I was deciding what to do on the morning of my change of plans/train trip, Annie confirmed the invitation and said she would give me a tour, so at the drop of a hat, Lishui it was. You need this information to make sense of what happened after I got off the train in the dark in a strange town in a part of China I had not researched and even now barely know where it is. There was no sign of Annie when I left the station, but I was approached by hotel spruckers looking for customers, so I was confident of finding a room for the night.
After a while Annie arrived and said I could follow her to her friends place for dinner. So we headed off in the dark, with Annie leaving her hazard lights on so I would be able to spot her. This worked a treat until I caught the red lights. There was a few nervous minutes while I cycled with Annie no where in sight. A few Wechat messages helped me follow in the right direction.
We arrived at a dark alley, not quite hutong, but close, the alley was very narrow with parked cars to mannover around with deep gutters either side. Annie drove into a deep gutter and out again and did not blink an eye. I then discovered the friend lived on the 6th floor with no lift, so the bike needed to be left with some neighbours who had their roller door open. We climbed six floors with my panniers to find the friends place was more like a social gathering/party of her friends waiting to see me. One friend was quite drunk, but very funny, he has fixations on Hollywood, which he struggles to pronounce and Lady Diana. I then found out he had just directed a movie with Annie being the star. This was all a bit overwhelming in a way, after the catching the train, the train itself, the new city, the getting lost ride going to the friends place, but a bit of wine helped and I found the meal and jokes very entertaining. Annie’s movie is below.
As if this was not enough,
five of us, Annie, Movie director, 2 other friends and I headed out for
Karaoke. By the way Annie had booked a hotel for me but I had no idea where it
was so I was a little trapped, but it all seemed to be part of the adventure so
I thought what the hell. I then discovered Annie had made a CD as a singer and
indeed she has a lovely singing voice. But the meaningful part was she sang
with her emotion and heart, very moving. I tried a few of the English songs,
but found they were all bootleg and seem to have different words too. I was
hoping to sing David Bowie, China girl but could not find it.
So we headed home to find the neighbours had put down their roller door and so my bike was nowhere to be seem. We pick it up this afternoon, hopefully.
has been another adventure which I will post about next. I am having a Chinese
day, I went to Annie’s work this morning, very interesting.
Ok, I am sort of admitting defeat in
one way, the heat, smog, the number of kilometres has ground me down a bit. But
this has just opened up another door in my adventure. I am on a slow, no air
conditioning, packed, local train, I am jumping a couple of cities and will
have a rest day tomorrow.
Every blog I read about taking a train with a bike says its possible, arrive early and expect problems… but first I will start in the morning, Sunday, I am in Lanxi, I want to get to Hangzhou, 200 km away by Tuesday or Wednesday to fit in a quick one night trip to Shanghai with Maggie before I fly home on Friday. Trouble is as mentioned, I am exhausted, so my new plan is to ride to the major town of JinHua, and catch a train 120km to Lishui, have a rest day tomorrow, Monday, and catch a train or bus to Hangzhou on Tuesday, if I can work out how to purchase tickets and if I am allowed to take my bike on board.
After making this decision, I feel much more energised and headed out to explore the old part of Lanxi for breakfast that I had discovered the previous evening. It was even better than I hoped, lots of food stalls, trinkets, fruit and vegetables being sold, all with the usual Chinese vibrancy.
Leaving Lanxi, I saw a car being prepared for a wedding I assume and a not so nice part of town, a bit more squalid and grim, I guess these are the areas that cause the locals to wonder why I want to go to the old parts of town. I think it is important to see and record the old as well as the new and shiny, I get a much fuller record of the towns and villages I visit.
On my way to Jinhua, I saw some interesting building techniques, gaudy buildings and what I assume is a nuclear power plant right next to the road I was cycling on. I even noticed food being grown right next to these towers, I was not sure this was a good idea.
I had found an excellent road direct to Jinhua, it was not too busy and not too small, one problem was I seemed to be riding past road works/road closed signs, it was by far my best route, so I thought I would press on and hope for the best. Sure enough I soon can across extensive road works and the road was closed to cars, but not pedestrians, so I rode where I could and walked part way, no problems at all, the benefits of being on a bicycle.
I continued on to Jinhua and away from the road works I found some local sights, old buildings, loaded trucks and flash town squares/government buildings.
I made it to Jinhua before lunch time and immediately headed to the railway station to buy my ticket to Lishui. I found a security guard at the station who was willing to watch over my bicycle and bags while I worked out how to buy a train ticket. I easily found the ticket office and managed to say, one person to Lishui sufficiently well that they immediately gave me a ticket. I had not mentioned a bicycle and I was not not sure how to check if I could take a bicycle, so I trusted my luck to work it out later.
I found I had a four hour wait for the train to leave. So I headed off for a wander and found a sign saying old town 4km. Perfect. I browsed a second hand and gem market, chatted to some religious people, I was given a card for me and my friends. I then found an up market Japanese restaurant for lunch. I attracted a crowd while having lunch, one local was an academic studying the tourism industry and was a little astounded she had found an overseas cycle tourist in Jinhua.
I decided to get to the train station one and a half hours early. Not like me, but I was the most nervous about this train trip then anything else so far.
First thing is to push into a swarming queue to get your ticked checked at the entrance. Initially I waited for the queue to proceed as normal but soon found it was not an orderly queue so I resorted to pushing my way as I was not making progress otherwise. The station entrance fitted the bike and one pannier, just. No problems so far, no mention of the bike, I showed the ticket I had purchased for one person…
Next is a bag x-ray check and another queue, the same size as the main entrance but with a right angle. Again no problem and no mention of the bike.
I then asked where to go in
a huge room with multiple seat queues. My queue was pointed out, you are not
actually allowed on the platform yet. I then realised my ticket had all the
important information printed in English. The time it leaves, the destination
and train number, I was now at the head of the queue under a sign with this
When the gates were opened about an hour later, apart from a few stairs (I was helped by friendly passengers), I was able to go straight on to the train, again no problems. The guard pointed out where to park the bike between carriages, I bungee corded the bike to stop it falling over, found a seat and sat down with a huge sigh of relief, in actual fact, it could not have been easier.
Thus began my first (and only so far) local train trip with a bicycle in China. As I mentioned above, it was slow, with no air conditioning, packed and full of locals eating and chatting, I loved it. At one stage I went to my bicycle and found a crowd checking it out, I proudly demonstrated its dynamo hub, told then I had brought it from Australia and did not mention how much it was worth.
I think there a thing
“Chinese time” like islander time. When I boarded the train a
passenger said it would arrive 6 pm something, there have been a number of
stops, it then changed to 7 something and now 8 something. At this I exclaimed
Really, too long, to the amusement of more passengers than I was expecting
When I arrived in Lishui, a town I had not researched at all, did not even really know where it was was, it was dark and my China adventure was about to take a twist.
It was Saturday morning, my friendly local guide, Fang Yu Long, had offered to show me around town after breakfast. My plan was to then set out after lunch to see if I could find another ancient town in the afternoon.
Spending the early morning wandering around the ancient village was magical, the morning colours, village sounds, locals market and no tourists (apart from me) was the highlight of the trip so far. If you can stay overnight, this is highly recommended.
My homestay/hotel did not serve breakfast, so I located a nearby restaurant, negotiated a time when breakfast would be available and then went out for a wander.
Back at the restaurant, I noticed it just seemed to be the family, 3 generations and myself. I felt like I was dropping in for their family breakfast. I was served a hot flat round bread, congee (rice porridge) with vegetables and a hard boiled egg. All very fresh and tasty.
After breakfast I continued my walk around town and admired the many buildings, old and new. The wood work on one particular new house was wonderful.
On my breakfast walk by myself, a friendly local struct up a conversation and insisted I come to this nice house for a photo. I assume it was the best in town.
My local guide Fang met me at our arranged time and took me to visit his friends. This is their kitchen, It looked like they completed all their food preparation on the ground in bowls.
We had tea and later walked through town, getting into all the attractions for free because they are locals, this included me! Fang rarely took time out to visit the town’s tourist attractions and he seemed to be enjoying his time showing me around.
My hotel served lunch and Fang and I shared our meal together and said goodbye. I thanked him for all of his kindness and showing me around. I greatly appreciated his efforts to communicate and friendliness.
I hit the road again and soon met a couple of fellow cyclist tourists, they were keen for a photo and a chat. They were heading 1000 island lake way and beyond. I would head in that direction the following year.
You can see from the photo above, the open road is not very clean or isolated. In fact the grime, heat and fatigue was getting to me, during this my first touring ride in China, and I was considering skipping riding for the next section, starting tomorrow. I just needed to work out where to go and how, train, bus? I had never taken a bicycle onto either in China and although I had read up that is was possible, I needed to work out where and how.
I pushed on looking for another ancient town but found no sign, so instead I headed for a large town Lanxi as shown on my map. XinYe to Lanxi was only 28km for the afternoon, but I was more than happy with this. I estimate I had ridden over 300 km now on the trip and I don’t think I was as fit as I hoped I would be, especially with unexpected heat, grit and pollution. I had thought it would be less out of Hangzhou.
As I approached a bridge, I could see an old part of Lanxi on my right.
On my left was mostly modern buildings, high rise apartments, etc. Once over the bridge, I obviously turned right.
I rode around looking for a hotel, initially unsuccessfully, so I then started asking for directions to a sleeping place/hotel, and eventually found a cheap local hotel in the middle of town. I has a shower and ventured out to the local streets and park. In the park a local airline hostess who spoke some English, asked me what I was doing there, I don’t many foreign come to Lanxi, she was even amazed I had chosen the old part of town to stay, she considered it very run down and a bit unsafe. I loved the trees, bustle and even the crazy traffic/roadwork.
I explored more and found where I would be heading for breakfast the next morning, the old part of town with lots of closed up food stalls and market shops.
After a lovely fish for dinner, I discovered the old towers next to the river were actually gatehouses leaving to pedestrian bridges over the river. The river was all illuminated and I discovered a beautiful park over the river. Many locals were exercising and strolling/enjoying the evening. An unexpected lovely evening with a new adventure awaiting the next day.
2014 Hangzhou Bicycle Tour Day Eight – Xin Ye Ancient Village To Lanxi
Qiandao Hu (1000 island lake) was my only must make destination on this trip. The next stage of my roughly planned trip is to retrace my ride to Jiande, then head east for a day or so, then sweep back north to Hangzhou.
I don’t know much about this route apart from a brochure I have picked up with some names of Ancient towns in the area and I read about the Zhuji area, located about 80km south of Hangzhou in a blog in the month before leaving for this trip. Zhuji was about 200 km away if I looped east before heading north. I was not sure if I would be able to cycle all the way but I thought it was worth heading that way to see what happened.
I headed out early and knowing the way to Jiande made the 50 km ride seem quicker and easier. I passed by many beautiful farms and villages.
I have never seen so much building development as what I saw in China. Even these small two bit river valley towns have massive developments. This flashy partly build development is only one of many in this town.
I reached Jiande in time for an early lunch but for some reason found it difficult to find a restaurant, so I decided to use my supplies. I usually buy or ask for a couple of hard boiled eggs each morning, I buy some fruit, grapes or bananas and I was also carrying some tins of tuna I had bought from Australia. (Note: I never bring tins of tuna anymore, instead I bring dark chocolate, this is also good as a present for locals).
While sitting in a lovely park in the middle of Jiande, quietly eating my snacks, a few locals were being inquisitive, one lady was chatting away on her phone and looking in my direction a lot.
Suddenly a young Chinese lady walked up to me and asked me in English if I was OK, what was wrong, since me being in the park by myself must somehow be a problem, was I lost? Her mother was the person looking in my direction a lot and had called her to tell her about me sitting in the park. She also spoke French, I think I had found the only Mandarin, English, French speaking person in Jiande.
I assured her I was OK, and managed to assure her I was able to look after myself, even if I was about to head off into the unknown.
Out of town was a monastery on a hill and an ancient town somewhere further along. I had marked where I thought they were on my mapping application maps.me and hoped I would be ok to find my way.
Not far out of Jiande, I found the entrance to Daciyan Temple. The temple is high up the hill, there was a cable car and a hike I assume. I was in a dilemma, I did not feel confident leaving my bicycle and pannier bags and also as I was not sure of where I was going to sleep that night, and so I was not keen to spend time visiting the temple unfortunately.
I stopped briefly thinking it looked very pretty and worth a visit one day without the bicycle.
After a snack and a rest, I continued east. I was searching for an Ancient town Xin ye, about 20 km further along. The town looked nice in a brochure, but I had no other information and just an approximate location. The town was about 5 km off the main road, so if I was not able to find accommodation, it would be a 10 km diversion , plus whatever km to keep looking for a new town.
Finding the intersection I thought would lead me to Xin ye, I turned left and happened to be riding next to a young man who seemed to be riding in the same direction.
Fang Yu Long was heading home to Xin Ye and spoke no English. So I tried to use my limited Mandarin, as I started trying to chat, two wonderful things happened, he asked me the most simple question in Mandarin, “qu na”, go where? Even I understood that one, a good start, secondarily Fang Yu Long’s enthusiasm to help, show me around and persist communicating was amazing.
I was able to tell him I was just going to “Kan kan” Look Look and I was looking for a place to sleep. Fang took me directly to the best hotel, well it was more of a home stay with a couple of lovely extra bedrooms with full ensuite and a restaurant, right in the middle of town and only costing $20 AU. I was so happy. We had a lovely ride into town and even buzzed a large group photo while on our bicycles.
Fang Yu Long left me to shower and explore after exchanging WeChat details and a promise to get together for dinner. After a shower and change I explored the town on foot and discovered an ancient town mostly untouched by modern developments even though it had appeared in a TV show and as I found is still used for filming. My wife thought I had come to a town where people reenacted old styles of farming and dressed up in old clothes, but I assure you it was just people going about their normal lives, a wonderful experience. Many of the old and family clan buildings had guides and I think entry fees, but I was welcomed without being asked for a fee.
During my walk through town I met one tourist, a young chinese lady who spoke excellent English. She was being given a guided tour by a couple of local children for free and offered to translate for me.
I noticed the brochure of the town Xin Ye I had picked up days before included pictures of the children, our guides. When I showed the children their pictures they became excited and wanted the brochure and soon after rushed off excitedly to show their family.
Annie and I had a friendly conversation before she left for her hometown, she was heading home after her first independent holiday. We exchanged WeChat details and Annie said I should visit one day, she would love to show me around her hometown.
Fang and I met up for dinner, afterwards he gave me a guided night tour of the town, including a nearby hill where we could look over the town. The next day was Saturday and we agreed to meet up after breakfast for a morning of sightseeing the towns attractions, something locals do not always do.
See the bottom of this page for a gallery of photos from my flickr account of this day, it is a beautiful town and I highly recommend visiting.