Sunday, April 18, 2010

Day 5 and 6, Shanghai and home

We left Hanzhou after our boat ride on the West Lake. It was a three hour bus ride to Shanghai, and there was a lot of heavy traffic. The expressways are fairly big, but there are frequent toll stops along the way. I think our driver got into trouble at one point, as he started driving away and the toll booth lady started screaming and yelling at him, so he stopped, she ran out and took his license plate number, screamed and yelled some more. He yelled back. It was interesting. We were mostly napping on the bus, or looking at the scenery go by. I think I'm getting a neck ache from looking and craning to see just everything there is to see.
It was dark when we arrived in Shanghai. Our driver was SOOOO excited to show us this one street in a certain area. I mean, REALLY excited-- like, look, look, look! It is so beautiful! But it was just like any of our small towns at Christmas time. Really, he's excited about that? But, I suppose if you live in a big city and they don't usually decorate, this could be quite a novel thing. And quite beautiful. I don't know exactly what I was expecting for all his excited anticipation, but it certainly wasn't this. ! Ha. But I took the obligatory photo and was polite. Honest. It took me three tries and he even offered to take it for me, he was so determined that I get a good shot of this BEAUTIFUL site. The picture is mediocre, I admit.
Below is the actual place we went to see in the dark : THE BUND.

This is a very famous site along the river of Shanghai. The tall, pointy radio tower is third tallest in the world...and it really was a pretty night sky line. Shanghai is huge. It's divided into seven districts or areas and all off them converge in one central location where the expressways, which are all lit with blue "liners," are seven layers deep. That's a lot of freeways! The Bund is unique, however, because it is one long block of 100 year old buildings (more or less) that were built around the early 1900's by many different countries. Each was like a representative of that country, like an embassy perhaps. Only they were the banking and financial district at that time. But is is famous, and well-known, the buildings are newly refurbished and sparkling and they even light them up at night on the exteriors--all along this waterfront area, so it's quite striking. I think there are about 50 large buildings. They are lit from 7 pm to 10 pm is all. Odd, no? And the freeways have recessed lighting all along the sides--inside and outside, so you can really see a solid line of blue. Or maybe we were just always on the blue road and there are contrasting colors for different hwys? Not sure on that. But they were lit up pretty. It was not for practical driving purposes--it didn't light the way. It was just for looks. They also did a lot of spectacular landscaping at freeway on and off ramps.

Above is a war memorial. Nothing to put it in perspective. Sorry. About 10 stories high, right on the water. Below is our (messy) Room. I'm tellin' you, we walked in, dropped our stuff an dropped right into our beds practically. That night we were in our rooms by 10 pm, but we were so tired. The PREVIOUS night, in Hanzhou, I actually slept the entire night without waking up. That's unusual for me. And it felt so blissful. That was my last good night's sleep for a while.
While this room was loverly, and a Marriott and a 5 star rating with a spectacular breakfast, etc., our beds were quite uncomfortable and hard. I actually folded up my comforter into three layers and slept on top of that! (with a sheet covering) Still too stiff for my tastes. I guess we really had nice plush and softer beds at the others. Or, I was too tired to notice. ha.
OK, so now we are on our 6th day in china! It's so exciting. We've seen so much and been so many places!! We didn't get going really REALLY early on Saturday morning because our group member, Carol, was quite ill. She was taken to a local hospital for tourists to be treated for her severe nausea and diarrhea. Poor gal. But we did not cancel our activities; they were merely delayed until we could find a tour company representative to accompany her there and back.

Our first stop was the silk rug factory.
Of course, we know these are not really the rug factories themselves. But they do demonstrate just how the rugs are woven/knotted on the looms. Above, I'm standing next to the rack of many colored silk threads. I could have just curled up onto those, they were so soft and luxuriant. Below is our little demonstrator. She was showing us the nap of the rugs. It was very impressive, but I kind of missed the actual before/during/after effect as she switched them around. Berenice complemented this gal on her lovely skin. She said, "It's because I'm so fat!" And truly, she was about the heaviest Chinese person we saw. And she's not that big.
Here is a lady demonstrating the weaving technique. It's very impressive, from conception of design to pattern, to rug. Very labor-intensive. We were informed that it is mostly a cottage industry now. People can stay at home, work on their farms, do rug work in evenings, etc. Hmmm. maybe. maybe not.
Some rugs are flat, others are sculpted. They were ALL very beautiful and very expensive in this government-controlled store.
The one behind us, hanging, took four women many months to complete. Or was it years? I can't remember. But Berenice can! You can ask her if you are curious. I'll bet is was years. It's huge and very intricate.
But they were soft to sit on.
Lovely showroom FULL of all kinds of rugs, rugs, rugs. And wall-hangings. A small one, like doily sized (1 foot by 2 feet) would set you back a few hundred dollars, and that's if it was not extremely intricate. Some rugs are simple, some are way more intricate.
Above we are posing with a tea set.
Everything seems to be under construction in this city. Not just big projects, but the little ones, too. Here's one example. Piles of construction just piled outside the store front, but life goes on.
We went for lunch after the Silk Rug Factory at a Mongolian Barbeque place. I know these are found in the US, even in Utah, but I'd never been to one. Our guide figured we'd never seen ANYthing like it, but most of the group had eaten at one before. But not one so close to MONGOLIA!
I actually lost my food at one point. I "Put the Food" as the sign said, then I got busy trying to take a few pictures and forgot to "Take the Food" as instructed on signs, and mine got thrown in with the other Linda's. Oh well. We just split it and she must have put the same stuff in that I had chosen, because it all tasted good. Very good. Gee, I'm getting hungry as I type this!!
After lunch, it was time for our fast train excursion. One thing I really missed on this trip was collecting brochures. I guess it would have been not much use as they would have been in Chinese. Perhaps someday the tour companies will cater to Americans that way and produce informative brochures. This BLUE GUMBY fellow is the mascot for the WORLD EXPO that is coming to Shanghai in May. He's every where in the city, touting the motto: "Better City, Better Life." This particular statue of him is at the railway station where the MAGLEV train goes.
This is the inside of the MagLev train station. It's not really huge--just a big domed area a block long. The Magnetic Levitation train goes only from Shanghai to the Airport. Driving that distance would take about an hour, or more if traffic was bad. The train does it
Much MUCH faster. We're waiting...waiting...taking a snapshot of ourselves waiting. The snapshot is taken in the window of the train after it pulled into the station. That's our reflections.

How much less time, you ask? Way less time
Inside view of the train. There are three seats on each side some facing front, others facing back. They have double tracks, so the trains don't "turn around" like in a round house. They just reverse. They're two-headed. And they are all computer driven. There is no engineer or driver.
You can see below that we were zooming along and I snapped a picture out the window. It's blurry. My camera usually takes great pictures as we're moving. But not at this speed, apparently!
We were all rather shocked when it banked. I guess we just expected it to just stay flat the whole time. But not at that speed! And remember, it's a smooth ride because we are levitating in the air. There is no contact with the track as we sped along. Our guide emphasized to us just how smooth it was by standing up in the isle, inviting me to join him, and then he started dancing with me in the isle! Yep, it was smooth...but I quickly took my seat again. (people were staring!) Sorry, no pictures of that.
Above is the clearest picture I could get of the km/h sign. (it's not perfectly smooth). 431 km/h. You do the math. It was fast.
Outside of train. Yes, there are plenty of bug splats. It is quite the tourist attraction. And it took 7 minutes only to arrive at the airport terminal. That's were we changed our seats without getting off, and faced frontwards again for the return trip. No dancing this time. The opposite train goes by SO FAST that if you blink, you miss it. I was really startled, sitting next to the window, when it passed us on the way out. It's like a mild explosion right next to you. Between that and the banking and the speed, I was amazed it stayed on the tracks. Mind bottling, as Eric would say.
OK, we're nearly done here. Our next destination was a big shopping area. But it was not easy to get to. Seeing as how everything is always under construction, there was no way we could possibly avoid walking through some of it to get to our destination. And walk we did! Wow. Through crowded streets with sidewalks torn up, streets with heavy construction going on, people people everywhere and sidewalk stores and scaffolding--right by us, not even fenced off. No OSHA around here, that's for sure! As we had to walk by this one spot frequently, I couldn't help but notice the sound of a saw going up above me. A skill saw- type noise. And I couldn't help but think that there was nothing to prevent that said saw from plummeting off that building and right onto my head. Yikes. But nothing happened. Whew.
This is a particular market area they wanted us to experience. I suppose it's not government-owned stores here, but free enterprise. So that meant that bargaining was allowed. Ick. I still hate shopping and they allowed HOURS here! Two hours? Really? Double Ick. Berenice wanted to give it a go, so we went in. I know the picture doesn't look particularly crowded, but there were side lanes and isles that were was just really packed.
She lasted for a few mintues, then had to sit down. I left her behind a vendors' booth and walked off for a bit. That's when I discovered how huge this place was! Jade Gardens, I believe was the name of the place. Perhaps. I kind of wanted to walk around a little more, so I walked back to the restaurant with Berenice, left her in that building (in a very crazy place! I was so glad she was inside!) and then I went back out to try my hand at one purchase. On my own. It was not a pleasant experience. I mean, it wasn't bad. But I know I overpaid for that tiny little tea cup. But I'd tried. I looked around for a bit. I did walk through one shopping area before going into that main area. It looked more local, and boy WAS IT! I was very alone and it was so busy and crowded. The building was like a grocery-store sized building, but it was impossible to tell because it was filled with floor-to-ceiling booths everywhere. The isles were narrow--so much so that you had to step sideways to pass another body (remember, we Americans are fat !) . The booths were so crammed with stuff EVERY where that you had to look hard to find the one person who was actually IN the booth. I would guess they were four or five feet wide, a little deeper than that, but they went clear up to the 8 or 9 foot ceiling. Every surface was covered with merchandise--the front of the booth, the side walls, the "counter" space, behind the merchant--probably even the ceiling of the booth. And it was stuffy. Even though the isles were not curving, I still made sure I kept an exit sign in sight. It was maze-like and I was afraid I'd get lost. There were wide varieties of things. Red paper lanterns, girls panties, stickers for crafts, you name it, they had it. Not food. Anyway, it was interesting and out of the way. I was looking for paper particularly, but never saw any before wending my way out of the maze.
So I went into the bigger shopping area, the nicer, more formal one. There was a pond/garden area back in it that I stumbled upon. And as I headed out (again, remember that I'm on my own), I started heading back to the restaurant where I'd left Berenice, and I wasn't on the street I thought I should be on. THAT was creepy! I kept walking and started to think, "I wonder how far I should walk down this street before I go back into that shopping area and try to find another way to the restaurant?" But then I saw my familiar landmark and breathed a sigh of relief.

We all met up at the restaurant for our last Chinese meal in China! We went back to our hotel that night to prepare for our departure the following morning. Carole was back in her room, resting and responding to the medications they had given her. Her visit to the hospital cost her $32. Quite a contrast of what an ER visit would cost in US.

Following are pictures taken from window of bus on way to airport. Construction. Old and new buildings
Landscaped parks by freeways
MORE construction. But is it coming or going? It looks like both on some of those.
The EXPO site with China's pavillion in the background. It looks like an upside down red pyramid.
Then the airport, then home. Long flight. Long drive. Long trip. Thanks for letting me share my adventure!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Day 5, Hanzhou

I think I have my days all confused. We are in Hanzhou, and the Buddist temple grounds (map of area, above) was our second stop of the day. I think we're on Friday the 19th, but I'm really not sure. We went to the tea gardens in the morning, and the Buddest temple of (?) was our next stop. It was right down the road from the Tea Garden area, still in the mountains as you can see from some of the pictures I took on the grounds. Berenice opted to sit this one out because it was a long walk just to get into the temple grounds. We even went into a cave and crossed over a creek on stones!
Here's the entrance. Look at all the tourists! I suppose not all of them are tourists, as I had the impression that many of them were sincere worshipers. David, our guide, let us just wander on our own after a short introduction.
The area around the monastery is very well-decorated with carvings that are probably pretty old. I think I saw them in my book I was reading on the plane on the way over "The Arts of China." I'll have to double check that fact. They certainly LOOKED old!
The dark spot on the bottom of the photo above is the cave we walked through. There were even carvings inside the cave walls!
Carol and I in front of the Happy Buddha.

He is a happy Buddah. We should all smile thus. Some of us already have the belly part down pat. And here's Suzette's feet as we cross the creek after walking through the cave. I took this to show Berenice the rough terrain she missed out on.

The monks are not supposed to have their pictures taken, but if you are discreet, it's OK apparently. I was attempting to be discreet as they quickly walked past us just as we entered the gated area of the monastery.
And, yes, everything is still so clean! Street sweepers even in the monastery and they, again, are using brooms made of limbs.
This was one of the big buildings/temples, one of many. We had about 45 minutes to wander around, so I followed the stairs all the way to the top. One building had this buddah in it (below), but my camera focused on the lovely curtain and not the statue. There were signs (in English, no less) requesting quiet voices and no photos. So I tried to be obedient. I was actually outside the gate while snapping that one--thus the lousy focus.
Burning incense is a big part of the worship service for this sect of Buddism. There are many incense-burning pots around (called "dings", I believe--again, from that book I had been reading)
Here's a close-up of one below this paragraph. They are big. It was smokey and rather fragrant. The people buy tons of incense sticks to burn, they hold them in front and bow to the four directions. Incense burning is no longer allowed inside the temples any longer--fire hazard, you know. So all the incense is outside now. Our guide took us inside the first one before turning us loose and demonstrated the proper way of worship. There are cushions placed before the (fence and ) Buddha. You kneel there and bow three times and the bow is a three-step bow. It begins with hands clasped at forehead, then heart, then the arms outstretch with palms up on the cushion while your forehead is down on the cushion. I was intrigued by those three parts to praying to God, and having palms facing up. I believe he said that indicated our humility to God--we come to earth with nothing, we leave with nothing. Empty palms. There were boxes to leave offerings, or money to support the monks, too. There were many cushions behind the fence from the public, but up next to the statue, but those were for the monks to use during their worship.
Lots of people, lots of incense, lots of smoke. I kept heading up the stairs with my camera, but every place I went had sincere worshipers there, bowing or leaving offerings. So I respected them and moved on. Up and up the hill. Most of these pictures were taken in the lower courtyard areas. I recall having similar feelings of reverence and respect when walking through St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It really was a nice, spiritual place.
Surrounding the temples were housing areas for the monks. I saw their laundry out drying. Along the sides of the stairs and in the trees were picnic areas where families were having a little lunch together (no pictures of that).
Here's me and Mary Ann before one of the temples (below). The map of the place doesn't really indicate how I felt it was laid out. It seemed more linear to me and, it also seemed like we walked through one temple area, looked at the statues (there were many!), then out the back, up some stairs where there was another building similar to the previous one. I got separated, so I just kept walking up the stairs to see what I would find.
I have no pictures, but as I kept walking up more and more stairs up BEHIND the buildings to the next level, I found more. One building had ancient Buddhist texts and it was like a museum. I didn't spend much time there. The very top building/temple, however, rather surprised me.
That top-most temple contained statues, similar to the one below. But there was not one, or even two, but THREE large white gods. Three. Hmmm. Doesn't that sound a little familiar? Three. And they were HUGE! And they were WHITE. No where where I've seen Buddha statues have I ever seen one that was white. They've always been gold-looking. I was quite pensive on the walk down to meet the rest of my group. No-one else had walked up that far and I was sure glad I took the time to make that interesting discovery.
Hilly country surrounding this temple. I wish I had a brochure or something from it, but I don't and I can't remember the name of the place. It was preserved during war times, however, and for that the local populace was very grateful. The picture below was taken near the top, looking back from where I had been. That roof line is probably the museum building.
The walkway to get to and from the monastery gates has restful pagodas or shady spots to rest. There is a creek, too. The monastery is surrounded by a large yellow wall.
A bike load of baskets.
We had lunch after this excursion. Note the tiny plates they always fed us off of. It didn't prevent us from getting plenty to eat!
It's so funny when we try to figure out how to use chop sticks. Mary Ann, Suzette, Linda C.
Oh, and Look! Here's Judy again. Same lunch stop.
After lunch, we went on a boat ride on a lake. The boats are lined up behind our tour guide, David. While we were waiting our turn, he demonstrated Tai Chi to us.
Pretty boats on the water. We were out puttering on the lake for about 40 minutes. Again, very popular tourist spot and there were dozens of boats just like ours out there, full of tourists. And lots of other boats, too, like the one below and canoes, too.
I'm not sure if the kites will show up if you click on the photo below, but people were out flying kites on this lovely afternoon. The lake is surrounded by parks. Hanzhou is larger than Souzhou I believe, so there are high-rises in the background. I believe this is a manufacturing area, but they call it "soft" manufacturing.
Me and Berenice on the boat ride on the West Lake. Most of our time was spent out on the back deck and it just got too hot so we came into the shade. I think she was close to having heat stroke here and I had no water with me this day!! Plus, they just run us ragged all day long. It's a fairly quick pace--go, go, GO!
After the boat ride, we left the Hanzhou area for a three hour bus drive to Shanghai, where we would spend the next two days of our trip. To be continued!