From WuYi Shan I had a really horrible night train ride to Hangzhou. Was a night train and I was issued a standing ticket! Yikes... Sat several different places, but ended up in the food carriage... I may have slept for an hour or so on the 14 hour journey... Watching the sunrise over really lovely mountains and fields was a bit of recompense...
But the real treat was one night in a REALLY nice hotel (most hotels would have charged two days since I checked in at 7am) so it wasn't terribly expensive for one day/night even got two breakfasts with cornflakes out of the deal :)
In the afternoon I went for a walk around West Lake which is very famous around China. It's really lovely even though it's prety developed. Along the way I met a Chinese guy (Allen is his English name) and his "Sister" (Candy is her English name)... we walked and talked for a while and then had dinner. Allen is quite an amazing man. He is a Bilogigy teach in the North East of China. He had two weeks off work and was in town visiting his "sister"... His American (I would say English, except he speaks American :) is exceptional. It's really hard for me to understand how someone could develop such an amazing vocabulary and ease with a language without having spoken with foriegners more than a handfull of times. Anyway, they invited me to Li Shui to stay with Candy's family for a few days. What an absolutely amazing experience! I spent the afternoon of my second day in Hangzhou in Candy's shop, wich is a sports clothing shop in a huge building full of mostly Shoe stores... Then we took the bus (3 hours) to Li Shui.
Candy's hubby, Da Liang (means big Liang, which is his family name), was at the bus station to meet us with their car, which we had to push start because they were having problems with the battery. We went out to dinner with some school friends of Candy's. Allen convinced me to try Cicadas (sp?) looked like beatles... Was hard to eat the first one, but easy to eat the send, third, fourth, etc :) The restaurant was very sparse dirty concrete with plastic tables and chairs, on the edge of a really lovely little lake with neon animal signs all over the place :) We had some spectacular fish!
The chinese way of eating is really great. You have a big stew in the middle of the table and lots of dishes that everyone shares. Then there is the drinking. Lots and lots of drinking. Mostly ale.. You make as if to knock glasses with someone except you just touch your knuckles, you say "Gambe" and shoot the whole glass. Then fill it and go again... Generally you don't take a sip without engaging someone in this ritual... And you can't say no! At leat it's not poilite although, very luckily I received some leeway on this point as a foriegner...
After dinner we stopped at a family friends house. Candy is involved with Amway and had some business to do with her friend and I got the vague impression that I was being shown off :)
The first day, Allen, Da Liang and I took the car to be repaired and then went sight seeing. The chinese seem very civilized about this. We would walk around for half an hour then stop to eat or drink something... Take lots of photos (I have millions to post and finally a place to post from so expect loads of photos in the next few days)... then repeat... We had another group dinner, at which I tried snales (again, thanks to Allens encouragement ;) The taste was quite nice, but I don't really like the texture...
The following day we all (including Candy) wen't to visit Candy's mum, sister and brother. Had a lovely lunch with her mum. Then visitid big brother and then big sister. I didn't quite understand this. We didn't seem to settle anywhere. WE just sort of jumped from house to house. Got to tour some really extravagant (by Chinese standards) houses and drink a little tea. Then whisk off to the next house. We all (except big brother who rode is motor bike) crammed into the car and went to a community college where Da Liang had been a Phys Ed teacher many years ago. We visited the local leaning tower of... not sure what it was called ;) ... then drove out to a farm house in the boonies for a rather wild goose dinner... Was very good... I even liked the blood Tofu made with Goose blood... although again, the texture was a bit strange... This dinner did my head in, because big brother took significant advantage of his position as head of the family to induce a lot of drinking :) Again, I had to play the foriegner card after a small bottle of wine (more like sweet whisky)... Got drunk for the second time on this trip... and paid for it the next morning!
Day three, was introduced to one of Candy's associates who owns a kindergarden and offered a job teaching english. I really wish I had not been hungover for this meeting! Everyone was very understanding, but I still hate feeling like that! We had a big group lunch and headed out to the University that looks brandspanking new (with loads of empty dorm rooms.) for a bit of a tour. Part of the job there if I take it would include teaching at the Uni. It's all a bit nebulouse, but also sounds like a very good deal... Business is conducted in a very round about way here...
Then back home, I packed and got the bus back to Hangzhou. Had a really hard time finding a good hotel, ended up paying more than I wanted to, but that apparently is just how Hangzhou is...
After a really good nights sleep, did some chours, then got the tourist bus to to the Dragon Well. Probably my favorite Chinese tea is Dragon Well (Lung Ching) which got it's name from the local well. Part of the mythology of this tea states that it tastes best if you brew it with water from the dragon well. The well apparently got it's name because the riples on the surface of the well look like a dragon... I was rather dissapointed that the well is now too pulted to make tea with :( but I washed my hands and face with the water and tooks ome photos. I also met a Taiwanese couple on the bus (Esther and Allen are their English names) who I hung out with for a few hours. We went to a local tea house and sampled the tea... and watched a guy making the tea in large wok. Unfortunately all of the tea I tried here was not very good... although it was very fresh, which I enjoyed experiencing.
From the well we headed to a place called Tiger-Leaping (I think) which is another well surrounded by a large garden. This well is not poluted. They demonstrate this by filling a bowl so full that the water raises about half a centimeter above the rim (due to surface tension) and then they float coins on top of the water! This is now supposed to be the best water to make dragon well tea with... The water was very fresh, but the tea again was mediocer.
Allen, Esther and I went our seperate ways after the Tiger-Leaping. I headed to the China National Tea Museum, which is incredibly informative. Lovely grounds and everything is in Chinese and English. I took about 100 photos mostly of the descriptive text in the exhibits :)
Was a really lovely day despite not finding any good Dragon Well tea. The following day I wandered around town, met an American guy and English gal in the Foriegn Language bookshop and wandered around together for a while. Got some tips about teaching English in China. Then hooked up with Allen and Cindy for dinner and a stroll down a rebuilt classical chinese shopping street... Said sorrowfull goodbyes and went to bed...
This morning I took a double-decker train to Shianghi. Spent the afternoon walking around town. It has been a really action packed few weeks and I'm ready to take it easy for a few days before heading to Japan. I expect I'll hit some of the tourist sites here in Shianghi and try to ferret out some good tea houses. But also take a break from all the input :)
Loads of love to you all!
Let's see, where did I leave off? Raoping... Well, from a purely tea perspective it was a dud. I did see some tea growing along the road on the bus trips there and back, and I'm pretty sure that after an hour walk to get out of town I was able to look at some tea bushes, they looked like tea, but did not taste like it... Go figure...
On the other hand I had a couple of really cool experiences, I got there at about 2pm and had not eaten lunch so I found a road stall and had a lovely time phrase-chatting with the folks their... After about an hour of fried vegies, very basic tea and really good humored company, they refused to let me pay even though I begged them several times... So that was a really nice intro to the town.
From lunch I made my way to a nearby hill... it was a strange piece of city geography a very steep quite high hill in the middle of town. It seemed like a great vantage point to scope which direction I should head for my tea adventure... At the top were several large (10 meters in diameter) concrete domes... they were only about 3 meters high. On these were painted disney characters donald duck was really good! There were also three young guys who were lounging in a bamboo hut (they looked a little like friendly thugs)... I tried to figre out if the area was a bar, tea house (there were a bunch of tea pots and heaters laying around) or a dance scene... They were more interested in their game of cards, but they did offer me some really nice tea (the best I had had in China so far.)
After not very long, I got bored with watching these guys and their card game and headed down the mountain and in the direction that looked to provide the closes vegitation. After an hour I managed to get to the fields and had a bit of a stomp (carefully) around, and possible even saw some tea. Seemed like it was mostly salad greens though. On the way I had my first moon cake, which to my delight did not have an egg yolk in the middle and was really delicious!
That's the high points for Raoping, the next day I headed to Xiamen. I stayed on an island on the west edge of the city, called Gulang Yu. This island, is was where many of the foreign consulates were for this part of china. Lots of european architecture and they have recently done quite a lot of really nice landscaping on the northern edge of the island.
I spent about 5 days here and in Xiamen proper. The island was lovely, I'm not sure about the dimensions, but it took about 2 1/2 hours to walk around. The north is mostly landscaped and the south is mostly beaches. I finally found tea (which Fujian, the province where Xiamen is located, is famous for). Lots and lots of tea. Every 3rd or 4th shop seemed to be a tea shop and I had some very nice Tiguanyin (Iron Godess of Mercy Oolong).
I also visited the local aquarium and did a day trip to the TenFu Tea Museum in Zhan'Pu (sp?). I had an amazing time at the museum. Since it was in the middle of the week, I pretty much had the place to myself. According to them, it's the largest tea museum in the world. We (myself and 5 chinese business men who were the only other guests there) watched a presentation on traditional Chinese tea ceremony and one on Japanese tea ceremony. The Chinese one was simple and very nice. The Chinese one was put on by about 8 girls with very new looking period costumes who did the whole thing coriographed (sp?) to a rather nice classical Chinese folk sound track. They served us 3 types of tea, all of wich were delicious (well at least two out of three were delicous and one was really interesting, if not quite delicious - it was bitter tea.) My guide who spent the whole time with me at no extra cost was very helpfull and informative. She showed me the cave where they age their Pu Ehr teas and we walked around their lovely lake that is fed by a local mountain spring.
Unfortunately I missed the last bus back to Xiamen (mostly because I was too obstinate to accept a taxi-motorcycle ride to the bus station and just had to walk.) I got there and watched the last bus leaving :( So I paid $25 for the 2 hour ride back to Xiamen in a Taxi... My credit card went into fraud mode, which it seems to do with each new country I reach, and I had an unbeleivable horendous time trying to call the credit card company to get the card re-enabled.... I don't want to remember what else, but there were a few other things, that evening and the following morning. Definately got me in the mood to leave dodge.
From Xiamen, I headed up to WuYi Shan, which is where I am now. It is a very famous area for Chinese tourists, because of the lovely scenery, local Buddhist sites, and some really good tea. I had a guide (who had excellent English skills) show me around today. We went to see the King of Tea plants (as far as I can tell this is a little like King Arthurs grave or Billy the Kids final resting place... i.e. there are quite a few of them;). And walked about 6 or 7 kilometers through really lovely craggy mountains and tea fields. Then ended up at a Tea Factory where I enjoyed some very fine Rock Tea! So named because it grows out of rocks :)
That about brings me up to-date. Internet connections are hard to come by here, although they seem to be fast and cheap when I find them (if not completely reliable.) Also a quick note about my hotel. I'm staying in a really great hotel for $10 a night. It's a little funky, and definately looks like it has seen better days, but for some reason it has a large amount of charm! I love it, cold water and all ;) The view of the tea garden and the lovely sound of frogs and crickets out the window don't hurt either :)
All the best to all of you wherever you are!
OK, it was the rail to china, but it doesn't sound quite as nice!
Had a bit of a hecktick time replying to emails then getting to the train station at the last minute to check through customes and get on the train to Zhaoqing (pronounced dzow-ching). I ended up with a 6 person compartment to myself. Was a really nice clean train. There were quite a few pretty young Chinese girls in uniforms, sort of stewardesses who came around and served tea and checked tickets, etc. I ended up having long chats with a few of the passengers and one of the "stewardesses". The journey was over in no time (4 hours felt like half an hour.)
I'm incredibly glad I have a Mandarin phrase book with me! It is very exciting communicating with people with very few words in common (maybe 4 or 5 words)... It is also very tiring!
I spent the first day in Zhaoqing drinking tea and exploring town, lots of big modern shopping centers, lots of really run down 60's ish concrete attrocities that seem to be how the Chinese are able to have populations of 4-6 million people in a town that is maybe twice the size of Bouler (130K people last time I checked) and lots of older maybe early 1900's brick buildings... All sort of tumbling on top of eachother.
It took 2 hours in the tea shop to finally explain that I wanted to try Zhaoqing tea, not Fujian tea or Taiwan tea, since I'm going to Fujina in a week and Taiwan after that. I have to say that although Zhaoqing tea was interesting and I did eventually find one that's quite nice, most of it is not at all to my taste!!! One of them tasted almost exactly like the Alfalfa hay Jackie and I used to feed the rabbits. One of them tasted like tea that was brewed in a coffee pot (with residual coffee...) Yuck! :)
In the evening I discovered a rather cool fountain near the hotel that squirts synchronised with classical and marching music. Had lots of colored lights too. My guess is that the show was in honor of the Mid-Autumn festival, which is going on at the moment. In Zhaoqing, everybody and their mother's brother's cousin was out buying moon cakes, which must be a seasonal delicacy. Actually today is the official day for the festival, the only thing I've seen today is people burning "money"... Sheets of paper with fancy gold writing on that I believe is supposed to reresent money to pay of the spirits or something...
The following day, I went to Dangu Shan (a really nice local mountain/nature preserve.) Bumped into two really sweat brits who were in town with a group of university students on a photography course. Nigel, Penny and I ended up spending the afternoon walking through the wood and saw a bunch of realy nice waterfalls (none quite as spectacular as the one in Luang Prabang though :)...
Yesterday I took the train to Shantou (pronounced san-tao -- not dao). I got in at 11pm and took a room in the first hotel I found down town. It was pretty grotty and there were lots of business men with pretty young women checking in at 11pm... So I spent this morning looking around for a different hotel. I ended up in a much nicer place that's run by a Chinese/Thai couple. For only $12 a night... Totally worth it!!! I guess I should wait and see tonight, but it feels much nicer and the staff speak more english and are more willing to work with me messing up my Mandarin :)
I also purchased bus tickets to Xiamen (pronounced shamen) for the 13th. And sussed out how to get to Raoping (pronounced Jow-ping... go figure) which is where most of the local tea here is grown and processed. I don't have any contacts so it's quite likely that I won't get see in any factories, but I figure I'll go snooping around and see if I can charm my way into some tea estates and factories... it's really a bit of an experiement. The other option is to call folks and tell them I want to purchase tea, but I need to see things first... I don't really want to do that though.
My time at this cafe just ran out, so I'll check out now.
Lots of Love!
Just a quicky to let you all know that the typhoon (wasn't a tornado at all... my bad) was a none issue here on Kowloon. Enjoyed walking, metroing, photoing, ferrying around town today. Will try and post some pictures (from here and more from Laos) before heading to the mainland. I'm not at all sure what the internet access will be like there so I'm trying to catch up on all things net before heading out.
(And finished "Confessions of an English Opium Eater" :)
The last week in Bangkok was really nice. Did lots of walking around different areas of town, retail therapy (is there a different phrase if you're just looking?), watched a few movies, started reading "Wild Swans: Three Daugters of China", listened to a lot of music...
Yesterday evening I finally made it to China (Hong Kong is China right? :) Had a really easy flight on China Airlines, an hour bus ride into Kowloon (just north of Central Hong Kong) and found a TINY single for $18/night! Ouch! It's very expensive here compared to India/Thailand/Laos... not that I'm complaining. So far it has been a very cullinary experience!
Last night I found a vegie place (you know the kind with all the fake meats).. Had greens with beans :) there was some kind of fake meat that I've never had before, that tasted/textured (is that a word? :) a bit like pumpernikle (sp?)... sounds strange, but was really nice! When I got back to the Guesthouse and checked the news (Did you know news is an acronym for North, East, West South? The order that mail couches arrived in London every morning in the 1800's)... But I digress... on the news they said that there is a grade 1 tornado [update: oops, it was a typhoon, not a tornado] warning... wasn't clear if it was a grade 1 tornado or grade 1 warning... turns out that it's now a grade 8 warning and that there were 140 mph winds in southern Taiwan yesterday from this thing... Apparently grade 8 is pretty dire and most of the shops have closed down... I'm so glad I'm staying on the 14th floor! So far I'm not that worried, it's raining hard out there, but not much wind, will see how things progress. (I'll keep you all posted if it get's freaky!)
Anyway, back to food! This morning, the breakfast joint I was looking for had vanished (I want real time updates to my Lonely Planet!) and there was a Starbucks near-by so... damn... had a blueberry muffin.. mmm... note to self, Starbucks in the US has bad tea, same is true for Starbucks in Hong Kong ;) Then while comparing guest houses, I fell upon a really nice tea shop!
I spent most of the morning trying different teas at Sun Sing Tea here in Kowloon. Nothing spectacular, although a couple of rather nice teas. Too bad the prices are the same as they are in the states... I hope the farmers don't charge this much! ;)
Had Dim-Sum for lunch, was a bit hard communicating that I don't eat pork or beef (horror of all horrors!!!) but it was lovely and now I've found a super fast internet cafe just outside my guest-house! And they have web cams and everything!
I'm planning on spending about 6 days here. I need to get a visa for Taiwan so will do that here, and hope to research and experience tea... Already found one place I've never heard of that has an Oolong tea that tastes like Lychees... quite nice!
Hope you are all very well!!!