Monday, 30 November 2009

Shanghai from the sky!

Outside the hostel
When Mum and Libby first arrived, they were rather taken by Shanghai and so, it was with much enthusiasm (and a little sadness about leaving Wuxi) that we headed back to Shanghai for their final two days in China.
"This is not a good quality one!"
Shopping, of course, was on the agenda, with the first stop being the Hongqiao Pearl Market. We were confronted by row after row of pearl stores .... which one to choose? Finally, we were lured in by Juli Ann who, within seconds, had dozens of strands of pearls strewn across the counter. For over an hour, Juli Ann described the differences in quality (and price!). We finally departed clutching our new pearls and with our wallets slightly lighter. Thanks Mum for my first set of pearls!
Cloud 9 on the 87th floor
Bubbles on top of Shanghai
Since living in China, I have always wanted to go up one of the super tall buildings for a night time view of Shanghai. So, having visitors provided the perfect excuse for us to ride high into the sky. We decided to go up the JinMao Tower, rather than the World Financial Centre (which is the third tallest building in the world), purely because there was a bar at the top and every girl needs a glass of champagne after a hard day shopping! After two lift changes, we arrived at the 87th floor - wow!
Expensive....but oh so tasty!
The view was absolutely spectacular, the company was sensational and the champagne, well, at $200 a bottle, it was definitely wonderful. But, as was the cry for much of the holiday, premiere location always comes with a premiere price! Whilst Cloud 9 is an amazing location, the bar itself is a little stuffy and it was almost like there should have been a sign on the door saying 'No laughter'.
Birds eye view of Shanghai
The last stop of our luxurious day was at an art fundraiser event in the French Concession. Here, we looked at art by local and expatriate artists while quaffing cheap wine. Being a fundraiser meant that there was a raffle and after a couple of wines, several tickets were purchased. It was a lucky night for us - I won a wine voucher and a bottle opener but Ashley took away the big prize of a wine tasting experience for 10 people. Needless to say, he had quite a crowd around him after that.
Then it was on to the cheap stuff!
The final shopping stop on Wednesday, the last day, was the fabric market, where I had a new summer wardrobe made, as well as a couple of silk dresses for the weddings I will be attending over the holiday period. For just over $200, I was able to choose fabrics, be fitted and have five dresses made! And of course, Mum and Libby bought more scarves!
Winners are grinners!
Fun at the art exhibition
It was with much sadness that I bid farewell to Mum and Libby on Wednesday afternoon, but it is only 3 weeks until I will be home in Australia to see my family again. There are still many stories from our China trip to share....stay tuned for future blog posts. Thanks for a wonderful trip ladies!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Snow on the Great Wall of China!

Bare trees on the road to Huanghua
The Great Wall of China holds a special place in my heart. I never thought it would, it was always a must-see tourist destination but I never imagined that I would visit it 5 times in just 18 months. Of course, it is obligatory to take visitors to the never-ending wall, so it was high on our travel list when Mum and Libby were visiting.
Not quite the snowfall I wanted, but it was better than nothing!
After much debate about which part of the wall to go to, we decided to visit the same section that I had recently been to with Dad – it was close to Beijing (just over an hour in the car) and offered stunning scenery, as all the sections do. Mum and Libby simply wanted to see the wall and have the opportunity to walk on it …. I had higher hopes – I wanted to see snow on the Great Wall.
Libby touches the wall for the first time
Experimenting with the mini tripod
It was cold in Beijing and everywhere, there was evidence of the recent snowfalls, so my hopes were high as we drove up to the Huanghua section of the wall. I was prepared for disappointment as we approached the wall, I couldn’t see any snow. However, my wish was granted on the wall, with small sections of snow, laying in the shadows on the wall and beside it. It was enough to whet my appetite for more – of course, a sixth visit is on the cards now, a wall covered in snow is what I hope to see!
Tribute to Michael Jackson on the Great Wall of China - how classy!
Snack time - a couple of kilos of halva!
Snow on the Great Wall of China!
The quiet atmosphere around the wall meant that the small eateries and postcard saleswomen were overly eager about securing our business, banging on the car window as we arrived and departed. The restaurant deck where I had sat last time was bare, with the lake nearby frozen solid. We satisfied them by eating at a deserted restaurant and buying some postcards and a book.
Spectacular backdrop
A dusting of snow in the background
More tripod shots
It was amazing to visit the same section so shortly after my last visit. When Dad was here, it was the beginning of October and the trees were full of bright green leaves and the atmosphere on the wall was buzzing with the excitement of enthralled tourists. This time, it was the end of November, there were no leaves to be found on the trees and not a tourist in sight. What an experience, to be on the Great Wall of China by ourselves – a rare experience, I’m sure.
Frozen lake at the base of the wall
A greener Huanghua area
Perhaps one of the loveliest things of the day was the kindness of our driver, Xie. I met Xie for the first time when Dad and Carla were visiting. We were lucky to flat down his taxi and have him drive us to the wall for the day. For this visit, I had kept Xie’s phone number and the hostel called him for us for a second visit to the wall. As we got into the car, Xie proudly produced a business card offering tours to the Great Wall, which I believe he had made after our last visit because last time, he did not have any idea on how to get to the wall! It is making connections like this that make for such memorable travel experiences. Xie did not speak a word on English, I speak very little Chinese, but somehow we managed to get along just fine and have a brilliant day. As we drove back into Beijing, he kindly agreed to drive us to the site of the 2008 Olympics as well as circle the Forbidden City grounds in search of more halva. It was with a little sadness that I said goodbye to Xie. If anyone is planning to visit Beijing and would like Xie’s number, just let me know!
The gorgeous taxi driver, Xie
Birds Nest

Buying the halva

Our action packed weekend visit to Beijing left us all feeling a little weary and it was with great satisfaction that I fell into bed late on Sunday night, with dreams of the majestic Chang Cheng covered in snow.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

An action packed Saturday in Beijing ....

Looking terribly excited about sparkling wine in a can!
Apologies for not posting for the past week - it has all been due to a temperamental internet connection and being led astray by my mother. We had an amazing 10 days of travel, filled with lots of great experiences and great stories, meaning that I have many future blog entries tucked away in my mind!
Colourful and comfy train slippers!
Snow at Templeside Hutong House!
Travel to major cities in China is relatively easy, so making a weekend trip to the nation’s capital is a great way to escape Wuxi for the weekend. Last Friday night, I took the visitors to Beijing for the weekend. After much anticipation of the train trip (and the cans of sparkling wine that we packed), we boarded the luxurious train bound for Beijing.With colourful, fluffy slippers warming our feet, we enjoyed an Uberfood brownie and attempted to finish our sickly sweet cans of sparkling wine (not a recommended drink!).
Outside Templeside
Libby finds the much sought after Mao watch in Tiananmen Square
We arrived at 8am on Saturday morning to blue skies, sunshine and some old snow on the ground. After dumping our bags at my favourite hostel in China, Templeside Hutong House, and set off for to see the famous sights of the city.
Passive smoking at the Heavenly Gate
Obligatory 'under Mao' photo
First stop was Tiananmen Square, where we strolled across the vast space and marveled at the huge queues waiting to see Mao’s body. Libby managed to purchase the much hankered after Mao watch and we took photos with Mao’s portrait in the background. Next, we wandered across the Forbidden City where we managed to lose one another in the masses of Chinese tourists wearing red caps and following flags. As we hunted for somewhere to warm up, we munched on the best halva (a Muslim nutty concoction) I have tasted in China. After a super tasty MSG laden lunch, it was time to shop!
Formal and not so formal guards at the entrance to the Forbidden City
Frozen moat at the Forbidden City
Beijing is home to a gigantic optical department store. The centre is filled with hundreds of shops selling spectacles and we were immediately pounced upon as we entered. We pushed our way through the cries of ‘lookie, lookie’ and found the store I had been to last time. For over an hour, we tried on pairs of glasses, had our eyes tested and bargained them down to some super cheap prices. I bought two pairs of prescription reading glasses and two pairs of sunglasses for 700rmb (approximately $140)
Snow at the Forbidden City
Surely it's too cold for split pants?!
Whilst we waited for our glasses to be made (a 30 minute wait as opposed to two weeks in Australia!), we visited the nearby antique market where I was quickly lured back to the stall selling stunning black and white photographs. The market is massive, selling a huge range of goodies including art, jewellery, silk products, jade, silver and some beautiful antique furniture.
Shovelling the snow at the Forbidden City
Bare trees in the Imperial Garden
Of course, Beijing (or Peking) Duck is a must when visiting the Chinese capital. We planned to go to the oldest restaurant in Beijing for the experience, but found ourselves the victims of a tourist scam (more on this in a later post!) and ended up at a small dirty restaurant nearby. After enjoying the Beijing Yazi, we wandered through the restoration of the old CBD, admiring the lights and the facades of the old buildings.
Warming up with G and Ts at the hostel
Peking Duck
Beijing was forecast to have top temperatures in the single figures, so we made sure that we carried plenty of warm clothes and rugs with us. The hutongs can be particularly cold, so we snuggled in for the night with bellies full of duck, ready for an early start to Mum and Libby’s first experience with the Great Wall of China.
The old restored CBD of Beijing (I'm not sure of its name)

Thursday, 19 November 2009


Beautiful old buildings at night time
The two tourists made their way to Suzhou on Wednesday where they spent the day exploring the many gardens as well as other sights including the highly recommended Suzhou Museum. After work on Wednesday, I jumped on the train to meet them at our hostel on Ping Jiang Lu, a beautiful alleyway next to a canal. The hostel was decorated with beautiful old furniture but unfortunately the stone walls meant that despite the heating, it was very chilly!
Early morning exercise by the canal
Peak hour on Ping Jiang Lu in Suzhou
After a wonderful sleep-in on Thursday morning, we set off for a day trip to Tongli, a small canal town that is over 1000 years old. It was a cold and quiet day in Tongli, with very few tourists, so we were lucky enough to pretty much have the alleyways to ourselves as we wandered. We meandered through the small alleyways observing the old homes, the local way of life and the relaxed activity on the canals.
Still waters in Suzhou
Rickety old houses by the canal
We also browsed the obligatory tourist shops. Being a quiet day meant that business was slow for the shops and although we weren't there to shop, we found ourselves drawn into the warm shops, lured in by the cheap prices on offer. We managed to score some bargains - 'genuine' Puma shoes for 50rmb ($10) a pair, scarves for 20rmb ($4) each, Mao propaganda posters for 30rmb ($6) and some stunning artwork for half price - 150rmb ($30) and 60rmb ($12).
Cruising through Tongli
Disturbing the stillness with the washing
Tongli is home to an interesting tourist sight - the Sex Culture Museum. A separate 'M rated' blog entry will follow soon. This was an unusual highlight of our trip to Tongli but the best part was definitely just strolling along the canals watching life go by and imagining what it might have been like in this tiny canal town 100o years ago.
Rusty old bike
Old grate with Chinese characters
Touristy alleyway in Tongli
Which chair should I sit on?!
Old, cold stone buildings
Taking a nap on a cold and quiet day
Old lady in Tongli
Strolling along the canals
Damp buildings
Traditional osprey show
All rugged up from the cold
Boats on the canal
Relaxing in the 'China Unicom Customer Club' at the Suzhou train station