Sunday, 30 November 2008

Friday, 28 November 2008

Guanxi Province

The overnight train from Shanghai to Guilin took 16 hours. Awakening at 06.00, sleeping on a lower bunk for a change, made me realize that i had moved into a different climatic and geological zone. Gone was the near leafless, dry and drought stricken central and northern regions to be replaced with greenery, , many trees, paddy rice fields, sugar cane and citrus. It was also much warmer, the architecture had alsochanged. It was 11 years since my last visit and there has been much change. Three quarters of the population in this province are non-han Chinese. Faces showed a mosaic of all the minorities who live here in this region.
The mysterious karst peaks of Guilin and its area have appeared for centuries in China's art and poetry, which has lured travellers to the region. The cause of the geological shapes is caused by being under the sea for millions of years, when it was uplifted the limestone has been eroded by wind and water into these beautiful and unique shapes of very steep sides with round topped solitary hills. The River Li winds its way through with rice fields on either side. Fishermen on their flat bottomed bamboo boats fish with the help of trained cormorants. Nearby was the back packer paradise of Yangshou, but this has become flooded by tourists and day trippers, thus loosing its serenity. I moved on 20 miles to Xing Ping a thousand-year old village. Immediately, on alighting from the bus, it was like stepping back in time, slow motion was the speed. It had some quaint architecture and on the roof top of my quest house there is the view that appears, exactly as it is, on the back of the Chinese Y20 currency note.
Quite some time was spent walking the banks of the river and watching the peasants in their back breaking toil working at their raised beds of vegetables, frail little old ladies staggering along with two large watering cans, strapped together on a yoke, irrigating in the late afternoon.
My visit was finished by an impromptu English lesson for all the staff of the guest house. I do not remember ever having had such a group of hardworking students before.
The China experience was almost at an end with Vietnam beckoning across the border to the south. So much is changing, so fast. The people are driven, nothing seems too much just to make a penny, nor are they shy about working exceedingly long hours. Generally they are not a spending, creating, or individualistic culture, they seem to just save. They will give all sorts of advice on cutting corners, or how to avoid spending trivial amounts. "How much did that cost?", is the most common question. They have nothing to learn from the west at making a deal.

Friday, 21 November 2008


The culprit

I took an overnight train from Si'an to Shanghai, which is a city which had the reputation: "whore of the Orient", Paris of the East". Certainly this may have been true before the war, where quick riches and ill-gotten gains were common, as well as being the domain of drug dealers, gamblers, tycoons and gangsters, all of this became a memory during the years of communism. It is a very recent city, just like Hong Kong, which Britain also opened up, when it started to import opium from the East India Company, to help stem the flow of silver payments, which China demanded from Britain in order to pay for tea and other exports from China. Opium became the biggest commodity in the world and saved Britain from a balance of payments crisis. The rest is history which we do not like to look at.

One of the biggest hongs, emanating from this time, was Jardine Mathieson.

I had another taxi experience on arrival, this time i took a photo of the culprit. Once again he drove a trike. Car taxis were taking the . . . . in their fare demands. So, he was prepared to charge an acceptable fare, but of course i ought to have known there was to be a down side. In order to accomodate me and my luggage i had to sit side saddle! His speciality was riding across zebra crossings and riding against the traffic flow, which made impacts seem more likely at double the speed.

Another thing i wished to see was what might have been a British first. Many years ago a English, at Imperial College, London, Prof. Eric Laithwaite, invented the linear induction motor.
There was a test track built near Peterborough about a mile long. End of project. Next i heard was that the Germans had bought the invention and put money into development ( our new forte is, of course, selling anything for short term gain), and now they have built it here in China as a prestige project from the city to the international airport at Pudong. I rode it in both directions. Traffic that was passed on the road looked as if it was stopped! My first run i did facing backwards! Both runs were at 431kph, max, making it the fastest railway in the world, by far.

I have a love of modern architectural skyscrapers and Shanghai is a place that has more than New York! There is a complete kaleidescope of architectural shapes to be observed both by day and night along the Bund.

Saturday, 15 November 2008


My last visit here was 13 years ago, i cannot believe the changes that have taken place during that time.
Xi'an is essentially at the roots of Chinese history and civilisation. The Qin Dynasty (pronounced Chin, hence China) unified a number of kingdoms in221BC. The first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, ruled with the twin rods of law and punishment. He even tried to do that from beyond the grave with the Terracotta Army that guarded his grave. This army, of many thousand, clay, life-sized figures, which are all distinctly different, having been worked on while the clay was still moist, and then painted, they are in different ranks and types as archers, both cross bow and longbow, kneeling and standing, cavalrymen and horse, officers and generals, details are amazing in clothes, facial expressions, hairstyles, armour and even footwear.
The army was discovered by chance in 1974 by farmers digging a well. Is sometimes referred to as the sixth wonder of the world. Qin was a capable ruler, he standardised the script, gave an infrastructure through building roads and canals.. He started off by building the city wall, which is 14 km long and is still standing, following this with his extraordinary underground Terracotta Army to protest his tomb.
The Silk Road also began here, there was a city of merchants and traders who exported and imported to the known world. An important import were horses.
Xi'an also has China's oldest Muslim settlement, dating from the 7th century. A visit to the Great Mosque and the Muslim Quarter would deceive you into thinking that you were not in China.
On leaving Xi'an for Shanghai i found it impossible to get a taxi in the huge rush hour, in this city of 6 million, to the vast railway station at the other end of the city. There was even concern that i may miss the train. train seats are at a premium in demand. Along came a chap on a motorised scooter with an enclosed cab. My rucksacks and i had to be shoehorned into the tiny cab. Then this startling ride commenced. Bus lanes, cycle lanes all were used. On a number of occasions i feared we would be crushed between towering buses on either side (it was dark and he was not using his lights). When the traffic became completely gridlocked he mounted the shallow kerb and stared to make his way along the crowded pavements full of pedestrians, beep beeping, all the time. Bus queues were also treated in the same way, with me aghast behind him. The
amazing thing is that nobody objected, or showed any annoyance. The simple fact is that in China there are no rules of the road. Go by trike! Electric, if possible.

Friday, 14 November 2008


Beijing Metro

Hutongs are the traditional single-story building that formerly comprised a warren of narrow streets covering most of Beijing. In the rush to modernize they are disappearing fast. I stayed in one, so i was able to observe community life as it was led by all. The public toilets are a feature of these hutongs, as many houses lack sanitary facilities, strung out along the alleyways, people sitting outside their houses chatting, drinking beer, playing majong and card games, or chess, little courtyards with flower pots, tables and a variety of pottery, birds singing from little cages, red lanterns, traditional tiles on their roofs and thick wooden doors, intricately painted and with decorated woodwork. The places hum with life and activity. Being greeted with "Ne how" (hello), 'Ni shi cong nor loi de" (where are you from). Friendly and most helpful people, especially if one is older.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City





Tiananmen Square is the largest in the world. It is a vast desert of paving stones right in the in their eyes and waving the little red book ( a copy of which i have now got). It also has a more recent and regrettable history. The square is flanked by huge halls for CCP meetings, Worker's Cultural Palace, China National Museum and then a giant obelisk in its centre called Monument to the People's Heroes, at the north end is the Mao Memorial Hall, with a giant picture of him set in its centre, the architecture is largely Russian inspired. Statues are heroic in the Socialist realism style. People queue in order to have a photo taken with him in the background.

Either side of this is an entrance to the Forbidden City, so called because it was off limits for 500 years. It is the largest and best preserved cluster of ancient buildings in the whole of China. It was the home of the Ming and Qing dynasties, who only left this paradise only if they had to. It is roughly ten times the size of Tiananmen Square! I spent a day walking around it and was completely blown away with it all. Far too much to take in on one visit. Ceremonial buildings, residences, banqueting halls, lounges. Quaint names like: Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Union, palace of Heavenly Purity, Imperial Garden, classical with fine landscaping, rockeries, walkways and pavilions.which. There is also a magnificent museum of clocks.

The Summer Palace is opulent with palace temples, gardens, pavillions, lakes and corridors which was once the playground of the imperial court. Royalty took refuge here in the furnace-like heat of Beijing's summer that roaste them in the Forbidden City. It had been enlarged considerably over the years. One emperor, Quinlong had 100,000 labourers to deepen and enlarge the huge lake which gave a cooling breeze in the hills that overlook it. It is 75% of the Palace area. Both British and French forces tried to damage its buildings in a couple of
campagains. There is the lovely Temple of the Sea of Wisdom tiled with effegies of the Buddha.