April 14th: Taking in Nanjing

Two things never to attempt in Nanjing on a Saturday night:

  1. Hailing a taxi after 10pm. Never mind the fact that the taxi’s colour indicator is the opposite to that in Shanghai (where green means available for hire); there just aren’t any available taxis.  Even if there were, you’d be fighting with far more savvy locals. Instead, get the number 7 bus.  It worked out perfectly for us (although having Anny to guide us probably helped).
  2. Booking into certain hotels if you’re not Chinese.  Either the hotel staff in our selected branch of Home Inn took an instant dislike to me and Bron or the government’s rule about needing to certify each hotel’s capability for accepting foreign guests is genuine (as was the hotel’s apparent lack of such certification).  I would like to know what tests they have to pass to achieve this status since, for example, if I can’t speak enough Chinese to book a room it isn’t the hotel’s problem and it certainly isn’t the government’s.

Memorial to the Nanjing MassacreOn probably our last outing of this type, we joined Anny’s extended family along with Linda, her husband & daughter for our trip to Nanjing.  Another of China’s former capitals (until as recently as the 1940s), it’s a city of contrasts, from the combined natural and man-made beauty of such sights as Dr Sun Yat-sen’s mausoleum on Mount Zijin to the memorial for the massacre of hundreds of thousands of civilians and disarmed soldiers at the hands of Japanese invaders in December 1937.   The latter explaining many of my former co-workers’ feelings towards Japan (in part caused by a perceived reluctance by the Japanese state to fully acknowledge and apologise for the massacre).

The memorial is incredibly and deliberately evocative, with many written and photographic graphic exhibits revealing the events leading up to, during and after the six-week massacre.  The chilling sight of the proportion of the ‘Pit of ten thousand corpses’ on display, with skeletons upon skeletons, some scattered and some intact, leaves the visitor (well, definitely me) wondering what happens to a fellow human such that they could maim, torture, rape and brutally execute other human beings.  The ‘Forgotten Holocaust’, as it has been called by some historians.

Looking downhill from Dr Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum

Looking downhill from Dr Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum

The Memorial visit was on Sunday; Saturday’s climb to Dr Sun Yat-sen’s mausoleum was a far more uplifting experience.  Shortly followed by a meal and  a little rice wine with all, and a late night game of Chinese style poker with Anny.  Playing Chinese poker with a Chinese expert when you’re a newcomer to the game is always going to be a bad idea.  And a costly one.

Anny and Linda – you and your families have once again been more than gracious hosts.  We hope to be able to return the favour one day when you visit the UK.  Soon.

April 5th: Sharing Hangzhou With Many, Many People

Rachel and Bron at West Lake

Rachel and Bron at West Lake

Along with what felt like half the population of China – or certainly of Shanghai, Chong, Isaac and Rachel joined me and Bron on a visit to Hangzhou on Thursday, April 4th,  to celebrate our one year anniversary of living in China.  Although the majority of our fellow visitors were probably there to celebrate Qingming Festival (or “Tomb Sweeping Day”), an annual national holiday to commemorate and pay respects to family ancestors.

Shanghai is so vast that even travelling two hours away you can still sense its spreading, all consuming tentacles. All along the sides of the motorways (/tollroads/highways) from Shanghai to Hangzhou there are houses, apartments or construction sights interspersed with huge, industrial looking farms.

P1040855A former capital of China (around a thousand years ago), Hangzhou is another of China’s many scenic spots, and probably the closest such tourist attraction to Shanghai (thus, the crowds).  Its West Lake was given UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2011, so was well worth our efforts to see it, despite fighting for a view.

A fairly cultured day of walking around the lake, climbing to high-up temples and admiring the scenery was of course rounded off with the staple cultural evening experience in China – KTV (karaoke). I think we got through just about every English language song available (those acceptable to human ears that is, so strictly no Celine Dion et al).

Our first, and sadly probably the last, opportunity to take advantage of Rachel’s new job providing a driver as part of her remuneration package. A driver and a seven-seater minivan. Very handy.

April 8th: Eating Locally, Hong Kong Style (Part 2)

Times Square

Times Square

Hong Kong offers those tourists not willing to go the extra mile a glimpse into Chinese life. But to suggest to the locals that they are identical in behaviour or culture to their mainland neighbours is akin to calling a Scouser a Manc (OK, not quite that bad). The Hongkongese speak Cantonese, not Mandarin; they rarely spit in the streets; they do not incessantly beep their horns. They’re fiercely protective of life as they’ve become accustomed; reluctant to change and suspicious of any attempts to get them to do so. It is a very different experience to mainland China, but does that make it in any way better? I’ll leave that one alone…

Adam, Heather, Bron and Me overlooking the Kowloon skyline

Adam, Heather, Bron and Me overlooking the Kowloon skyline

Our arrival into Hong Kong was less than ideal – a delayed flight resulting in a 1.30am Saturday arrival. Since we’d arrived from Shanghai, home of H7N9, the passengers were greeted by a man aiming a temperature gun at their foreheads. Never mind immigration, I’m convinced a reading above 37c would have resulted in refused permission to proceed beyond the exit of the contraption* leading from the plane to the airport gate. Hong Kong airport has a convenient train to take passengers from remote gates to immigration; this train stops running at 12.30am. So we arrived at the hotel around 3am, tired, grumpy and a little disturbed at the vision of the future Hong Kong offers – where surgical face masks are commonplace and social interaction via facial expressions is limited to interpretation of eye movements and intense study of dancing eyebrows. There’s a joke in there somewhere: a man and a woman both wears surgical masks go on a date…

I would like to know what happens when mask wearers are eating? Or do they never eat in public?

Me, Bron, Danny and Carmen... Happy despite the very dull Liverpool game.

Me, Bron, Danny and Carmen… Happy despite the very dull Liverpool game.

Ours was a somewhat enforced trip, but we took advantage of the opportunity to say goodbye to Heather & Adam and Carmen & Danny. Heather taking us to experience some fine barbecued Hong Kong food on Saturday night followed by a traditional Sunday dim sum; Carmen taking us back to the first restaurant we ever visited in Hong Kong. Very fitting as a first and probably last dinner in Hong Kong.

*I’m sure it has a technical term. “Contraption” probably isn’t it.

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