2 Weeks in China – A Blog Post

It’s my blog, and i’ll post what i want to. Warning: Holiday Photos

Normally this space is reserved for news items but i just spent a fortnight in the most interesting country and i wanted to share my experience with people in what will likely be a horribly written recounting of my trip.

Our initial 9.5 hour flight was over night – i got about 20 minutes sleep because sleeping on planes is impossible. We had to make a stop over in Hangzhou for a couple hours before continuing on to our first destination, Xi’an, where the terracotta army was uncovered. The differences between China and the western world are immediately apparent upon stepping out of the hotel. half dilapidated buildings with giant moving billboards, apartments buildings not 20 years old already being prepared for destruction and reconstruction. Entire blocks of skyscrapers going up within eye sight at any given time. This is what a country going through a shift in the way it interacts with others and the way its market works looks like, and it seems to be a very positive change for them. We didn’t arrive at our hotel until the afternoon and most of the first day was spent relaxing. Here’s the view from our hotel window in Xi’an:

We started our first proper day exploring the ancient Xi’an city walls. These go 14 kilometers around the old city, and you can hire a bicycle to ride the length, but we just wandered to take it all in. These are some seriously awesome fortifications:

Then we went to see the “Small Wild Goose Pagoda” – a Buddhist pagoda in Xi’an, which was pretty sweet:

After cruising around Xi’an for a day and watching some Chinese television at the hotel it was at this point i realised there seems to be government propaganda everywhere:

Oh hey, a Chinese sailor moon knock-off was one:

That night we had a shit load of dumplings for dinner and took in a show of traditional Tang dynasty dances – which was fascinating to watch. I don’t think anyone else in our group enjoyed it that much though:

The next day we went a bit out of the city to see the Terracotta army. You’ve probably seen photos and video of these guys, but they just can’t properly convey the sheer size of the place – it’s freaking massive! Along the way we saw some statues of emperor Qin who had them built:

and the army itself:

This was a whole day and we had Chinese food for lunch and dinner – Chinese food is very different here, and so much better than the westernised version.
Sadly we didn’t have much time to spend in each place as China is huge and we were only there for 2 weeks, so the next day we spent on a high speed train to Beijing. Trains through the country are my favourite thing to do on a holiday – i believe that’s when you get to see the real thing. We hadn’t seen farms up to that point, but in a country where 50% of the population are farmers you better believe we did now. The view out the window was basically farms in the foreground, skyscrapers in the mid ground and mountains in the background. These mountains were seriously impressive as well, but later in the trip i saw some that just blew me away. Here’s out the window on the way to Beijing, the mountains are considered a sort-of barrier that separates north and south China:

The next day was a big one – we walked through Tienanmen square and saw the monument to the executed student protesters:

At the other end of the square is the entrance to the forbidden city, opened to the public in 1926 after China’s democratic revolution and the dethroning of the last emperor:

Inside the outer palace, an immensely huge place, you would literally need days here alone to explore it all. In the outer area VIP’s were allowed to stay, like doctors and such:

The inner palace, only the Emperor, his wife, his concubines, and eunuch servants were allowed here:

After the forbidden city we went and saw the Temple of Heaven where the emperors held annual prayer ceremonies:

At this point i’m noticing just how insane the traffic in China is, every road rule seems to be taken as a mere suggestion, watching the world go by out the window is just fascinating for it’s differences to Australia. China’s roads can also be used as an example of why our own nanny state road rules are so pointless, China has far less vehicle related fatalities per capita than we do, and their streets are seemingly chaotic. I guess bikes and scooters having their own lane everywhere certainly helps – they had great foresight to plan that out. A downside to everything being state-owned though seems to be the toll booths absolutely everywhere. Crossing the street in China is a dance with death, Makes you feel alive though. Need to play lots of dark souls to get your dodge down right. Drivers seem excellent at driving around pedestrians though as people tend to just wander down the middle of the road like it’s no big deal. The scooters are all battery powered, so no one turns their head lights on at night and you can’t see them coming. It’s entertaining to just sit at an intersection and watch the chaos. Never an accident, it just works.

I’ve also noticed that most of what you’ve heard about pollution in china is untrue, we had many days of clear blue skies no different from back home, it just happened to be overcast more often than not (it was the rainy season after all). Bugs are bigger and with brighter, more intense colours, but way more docile than in Australia. nice change of pace in that regard too.

The day after walking around Beijing we headed out of the city to do the most typical tourist thing in china, visit a section of the Great Wall, but not before getting caught in the Beijing peak hour traffic first. Being there in the middle of summer is kind of awesome and kind of awful, there was no one else around because no one else was stupid enough to do this in 35 degree humid weather. You probably don’t realise from pictures and such, but the wall travels over mountain ridges and such, meaning it’s not flat – but constant stairs going either up or down. The section of the wall we visited had two possible direction to walk in – one an almost vertical stair climb up the side of the mountain, the other a slightly less vertical stair climb up the mountain (and these stairs sure aren’t even). so naturally i took the easier route, but it’s still a difficult climb up to the highest point of this wall section, 1,000 steps supposedly. but the view is amazing, especially looking back at the harder of the two directions you could walk in:

The Great wall was a full day trip, and so we just relaxed after, and the next day we explore Beijing a bit more. First we went to Beijing zoo to see the Pandas, and i had Deerhoof stuck in my head the whole time:

Then we went to the summer palace, built on a man made lake, essentially the summer holiday house of the emperor:

Finally we visited the old part of Beijing, known as the Hutong village, here we ate proper traditional home cooking which was something else. So much good food on this trip but i don’t want to bore you with every meal:

Once again we found ourselves the next day on the high speed train to the Huangshan area (aka Yellow Mountain):

At this time many provinces in China were having the worst flooding in decades, the view from the train was spectacular and horrible at the same time. I didn’t get any photos of this but i did get video which i will update with a link here later. Sadly it was hammering down rain in Huangshan and the next day when we were supposed to go up the yellow mountain itself we couldn’t, the cable car had ceased operating due to the severe weather. So, no photos of China’s best view. However, instead of climbing the mountain we explored an old farming village in the mountains, which was something else entirely:

That evening we explored the streets near our hotel in Huangshan:

A 3 hour bus trip on the next day through amazing mountainous regions saw us come to Hangzhou. Now, i live the Blue Mountains, but living here you don’t really know the meaning of the word “mountains”. These were motherfucking mountains. I’m talking these mountains about to get the wrath of Saruman called down upon them to prevent a fellowship from crossing. Sadly most of the really impressive sights were out the other side of the bus, but i got a couple:

Hangzhou is a city that i will absolutely need to return to, in fact this entire second half of the trip went by way too quickly and we didn’t get to see anywhere near as much of what these cities had to offer, but we did our best. Firstly we went to the “west lake” and took a boat to explore. There’s something about being on a boat that just calms me down, relaxes me, like nothing else can. The water has always felt like a second home to me:

We then wandered the park around the West Lake, this day was about 90% humidity and the park was stinking hot, but it was very enjoyable – something i’d like to see more of in the spring maybe:

One thing i love about old countries compared to living in Australia – we just don’t have truly old buildings here, in China there’s just random ancient pagodas dotting the landscape, it’s wonderful. I had the same feeling when i went to London, something about these structures standing for hundreds of years is really impressive to me.

So, speaking of not getting to spend enough time in these places we only really got to spend 1 full day in Hangzhou and then we were off to Suzhou. Some thoughts on the way China builds cities (Shanghai, a very western city, excluded). China doesn’t build their skyscrapers very high, they seem to just spread their cities over a larger area, it’s pretty interesting to see. And there’s construction on skyscrapers just everywhere, don’t get to see many in construction in Australia, here there’s whole blocks in the process. Also, transporting things via barge seems to still be popular in China, lots of rivers we drove over with big barges travelling underneath.

Dinner after arriving in Suzhou and wandering the town was interesting – no English waitstaff or menu, so me and the waitress communicated via our respective translation apps on our phones. We only got one dish wrong and all the food was great, so that was fun. The day after we went to a Silk factory where i learned how silk is made, turns out it involves the mass genocide of countless silk worms. I found it quite amusing to put into peoples head that that silk scarf they were buying was made by the death of literally thousands of animals – mass silk worm genocide. Not that i personally care for the plight of the silk worm, but it’s funny you never hear people talk about it:

Regular day in china traffic:

There are some serious power lines in China:

Suzhou is also known as the Chinese Venice… granted a much more dilapidated Venice, but it’s quite beautiful in its own right. It’s probably the most “Chinese” city, i.e. the least westernised, we had been to or the most typical of what you expect a Chinese city to be like. We even walked down an old market street where people were selling things like live eels for you to take home and cook:

You get stared at a lot in China. I guess as a white person if you want to know what it feels like to be a minority this is the place. Later we went to the Suzhou Palace Gardens:

The day after suzhou we drove to Shanghai, our last port of call, and where we hear about Typhoon Nepartak that is supposed to hit land in China the day we leave. much of our time in the amazingly beautiful city is spent with a worry constantly at the back of our minds, though the city is an easy distraction. Holy shit what a city. living in Australia your whole life you never really get to experience what a proper “big city” is like, Sydney is minuscule compared to the size of this place. And the architecture, each city we went to seemed to have it’s own style and personality, Shanghai is no exception. It seems to be the only city that built vertically, and it’s this amazing mix of super modern massive skyscrapers and old English and French architecture, it’s just really cool. Most impressive might be that it’s a planned city, but still seems to have worse traffic than Sydney! Though i guess when your total population is about the same as all of Australia it’s understandable. Our first proper day here we went up the Jin Mao Tower, not the tallest building in Shanghai (the Shanghai tower, 2nd tallest building in the world) but one where you can still have amazing views, and look at the taller buildings, which is really cool:

We then went to “The Bund”, which is basically the waterside area where you can see the skyline of the modern side of Shanghai:

We came back to The Bund for dinner, and got a look at the awesome light show that happens every night in Shanghai. my favourite part was the massive side of a building lit up with a hammer and sickle that dissolved into an ad for coca-cola:

The next day we took a joy ride on the Maglev train (video coming later):

And went to the old part of Shanghai:

I really do need to return, because a few days really is just no time at all to explore a place like this and see everything it has to offer. We managed to get out of Shanghai alright and after a stop over at Hangzhou again we took off straight into an electrical storm, which are pretty amazing to see up close and personal, but we got home safe and sound. If you ever get the chance, visit China, especially in this transitional period it’s going through, you’ll never see anything like it again, it’s amazing.

Update: A bunch of footage i took while in China can now be seen in the videos for music i have uploaded to YouTube here:
Morning Bell, Whispers Invoke Paranoia, Authenticity, Set Fire to Creation, The Other, Laconic