Tour of China (part 2)

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June 15th 2015
Published: June 26th 2015
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One night in Chengdu and we started with an orientation walk and a lunch which is famous in this region, it is a hotpot. It is basically a large cooking pot in the middle of your table with a burner underneath and then you pile in meat which in our case was beef and pork balls then you put in vegetables such as mushrooms, potatoes, bamboo shoots, herbs, potato noodles and quail eggs you then wait until it all boils and then dive in with your chopsticks. Or in my case a spoon. It was ok, not really our kind of thing but when in Rome!! Next we went to the local market for a scout round and then we met up with the rest of our group and got a couple of beers from the shop and headed to the park which was really nice. The group got chatting to an 88 year old gentleman who had been an English teacher and was out for a walk with his son. It was totally unexpected to hear somebody of his age speaking English and he turned out to be a lovely old chap with a sense of humour. It quite made the afternoon for us all and I'm sure he was thrilled to have been using his English again and his charm as he kept telling all the girls they were beautiful. We went to the Opera tonight which is quite a famous one in Chengdu so off we went really looking forward to a night of beautiful operatic music and some culture but what we actually got was the weirdest show come acrobatics come ancient china history lesson. It was obviously in Chinese with English subtitles which was strange, the costumes were lovely but where the band had got their instruments from God only knows, think they knocked together a couple of tin cans and milk bottles and smashed the living day lights out of them. There was only one 5 minute slot that was fascinating and that was when they wore masks at the end and did the changing face, that isolated part of the evening was applaudable. The Chinese seemed to enjoy it, the Westerners just all kind of looked at each other with looks that said "what the chuff have we just sat through". We have put it down as another experience. Be warned when in China Opera is not what you think!!!

Off again today and first stop was the Emei mountains to see the Giant Pandas at the breeding centre. I was quite shocked as I thought there would only be a couple of Pandas for us to see but there were actually quite a few. They were so playful with each other and looked like big soft fluffy teddy bears. The centre has successfully bred over 90 panda cubs but they have only ever released one in the wild which didn't survive. All the Pandas are now part of a breeding program to prevent them from extinction. I can't help but think that perhaps if they are never going to be released into the wild as their natural habitat has been destroyed should we be spending millions of pounds to ensure there future albeit a life in a zoo environment. Surely we would be better spending the money on education and safeguarding their habitat instead of making them into a tourist attraction. I am a bit on the fence on the subject, not quite convinced it's a way forward but having said that it was a joy to see them and when they had their breakfast of bamboo canes they were like machines, chomping, stripping and munching their way through it so fast. A group of four of them all sat like little old men holding their bamboo, it just looked as though they were going to play instruments in a band. Funny!! Next it was a bus ride followed by a boat ride to see the biggest Buddha in China. It stands at 71m tall and was created over a thousand years ago to protect sailors on the river. The river is known as the angry river and flows into the Yangtsee, it's not hard to see why, it has lots of swirling water and undercurrents. Another good trip. The group are stopping in a monastery for two nights but having heard what it was going to be like we opted for a guest house in the village. It's very basic as it's communal showers which you can only take in the evening upto 9pm, if you want to get dry it's one towel for anyone and everyone. The toilets are squat ones only with no door to hide your privacy. No food and the beds are a basic thin mattress on a hard base. You have to whisper and abide by quite a few rules as you are staying with monks, the group are a bit peeved as they are not allowed any beer. Think Baz and I made the right choice especially as after eating dinner with everyone we wandered around the little town and it's really nice. Lots of restaurants, shops, lanterns hanging everywhere, temples and carvings in the mountains that are lovely. It's got a nice feel about it.

Today we have been hiking up Mount Emei, it is over 3000m high and unfortunately was under the thickest cloud so our views were non existent. It was only Baz and I that made the trek, the rest of the group opted for a nice walk through the forests to see the monkeys, think they all had a good time except for one of the girls who got bitten by one and had to go the hospital for a rabbies shot! Anyway it was a knackering climb and I sent Baz off in front to get to the top take the pic and come and meet me when done. Apparently I nearly made it, just 10 minutes more would have cracked it but hey ho enough is enough. There were thousands of steps and I am not exaggerating, it's not the same when you are not rewarded with a great view and a pint of cider at the end! The thing that encouraged me to keep moving and climbing was the fact that I was clearly the only westerner on the mountain so people kept throwing their kids at me to have their photo taken. Honestly I think the kids may be scarred for life when they look at the pictures of themselves with a sweaty, red faced westerner who looks as though she is about to self combust. They will probably think an alien landed on the mountain that day!

Moving on again today to meet our boat where we have a three day cruise down the Yangtze River. We got good news today, we have been upgraded to an American boat, all our meals included and trips off the boat, yippee. I am hoping there will be drinkable coffee!! Climbed aboard and took our bags to our cabins, nice little room, two beds a small couch, dressing table etc and a little bathroom which even had a little bath in it and even more impressive we have a balcony with a couple of chairs, think I may never get off! I think our guide was a bit disappointed as he wanted us to have an authentic Chinese experience whereas I was thinking bring on a bit of westernisation. It was lovely to be somewhere with a proper loo, clean sheets and no damp, it was like a little bit of heaven for us. The food was not bad either and we managed to make use of happy hour on a couple of occasions! Anyway whilst sailing down the river we had a stop off at ShiBaoZhai to see the Red Pagoda, it was a stroll uphill to visit the temple and the pagoda was built as a means of getting to the temple safely as in years gone by it was a rope and a perilous climb up the cliffs. We also did several talks on the history of the Yangtze River, Chinese medicine and traditional healing including acupuncture, acupressure and cupping! Bit of Tia Chi in the morning before breakfast and on day two a little ferry boat took us up one of the tributaries of the river known as Lesser Gorge to a little village where the girls sang traditional folk songs to us and had people up dancing. Last day on the boat and today's trip was to see the dam that they have been building over the last 20 years. It is huge and is in fact the largest hydro electric dam in the world. We went through a series of five locks at night to get through and its size is just immense. Each lock holds upto six ships and takes between 3 and 4 hours to get from the bottom to the top. Unfortunately it was a very cloudy day so we were not able to see the whole 1.4 miles of it clearly and apart from anything else we had been given so much information about how much water it holds and how much electricity it generates that I had tuned the whole thing out! Think we were all a bit bored by it.

Another overnight train today but we actually got on at 1pm and the journey was a mere 17hours long followed by a bus ride for 4 hours to reach a little town called Yangshuo. I admit that I slept ok this time but the going to the loo is just as bad. It was another knickers in the teeth time again! Last overnight train in my life, never never never again!

First impressions of the town of Yangshuo are lovely, it's a bit like Halong Bay in Vietnam, it's all Limestone cliffs, rivers and a nice little town that has a good feel to it. Some very nice restaurants that serve both Chinese and Western food, bars that have wine and more importantly coffee places to check out! First job of the afternoon was to get Baz some acupuncture as he has been suffering with his back for three months now. Off to see the good Dr Lei who put 12 needles in his back, 1 in the back of his knee and put a box over the top of them which had something hot inside and was smoking. I did ask her if he was going to be a new man after this and she assured me that he would be. Time will tell, fingers crossed.

Early start today and off to the park with a Tai Chi expert for us to learn the first 10 steps of this Chinese art. He was very good and explained everything fully and of course we became a tourist attraction once again. 13 Westerners in the park looking silly. Anyway it all went really well and now we have learnt these techniques we can carry it on at home. Baz and I will be found on Lytham Green every day at 7am giving it plenty!!! After this was a quick coffee and then onto a bike ride. Nice cycle out of the town and into the countryside, past huge ponds of lotus flowers which look so pretty and lots of paddy fields where all the farmers were hard at work. We stopped in a local restaurant for lunch and then headed back to town. Unfortunately it is now just coming into the rainy season and it decided to show us just how much it could pour down. We were totally drenched, even my knickers and bra could be rung out. We peddled really fast coming back and as is so typical as soon as we got back the sun shone again. Just like being at home. Back to the hotel for a shower and dry clothes and Baz has gone for another acupuncture session. Tonight we have been to a light show, it is an outdoor theatre set on a lake with the limestone mountains as the backdrop. It was the most dramatic beautiful place especially when the mountains were lit up. The show itself had been choreographed by the chap who did the opening ceremony of the Bejing Olympics so we had high expectations. There was a cast of maybe a thousand, little bamboo rafts all lit up, outfits with flashing lights on them, songs, a large moon afloat in the lake with dancers and just to add to the effect a lightening storm was threatening. The performance lasted about an hour and when it had finished we all couldn't decide what we really thought about it. Baz seemed to be the only one that thought it was good, the rest of us just wondered what it was all meant to be about. Perhaps you have to be Chinese to understand it??

Travelling to Hong Kong so it's a bus ride followed by two bullet trains, an ordinary train and three underground trains, all with two suitcases, two backpacks and a bag with food and water!! Who needs the gym!! Anyway it all ran like clockwork and although it took us nine hours of travelling it was ok. The bullet train was amazing, there was loads of room, nice seats, proper sit down toilets with toilet roll and soap (complete novelty) and when it reaches 307km/h and we took the pic to prove it, it was just fab. Following on from this we went to Victoria Harbour which was just awesome. It was great in the day and we walked up and down the waterfront past the film stars walkway which is where they have all the famous Chinese film stars handprints are on the pavements, very much like Hollywood although we had never heard of any of them apart from Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee but at night it truly comes into it's own, it is just such a spectacular skyline anyway but at night it's just magical, I loved it. I could have sat all night just looking at it, the boats coming and going, lasers off some of the buildings and although the free light show at 8pm every night is lovely it's not an extravaganza but it doesn't detract from the sheer meganess of the harbour!! So many shops here and all duty free, having said that I went to M&S today in search of a new bra but they were so expensive, didn't buy one but oh my goodness we spent an hour drooling in the food. All the things we have not seen for months like cheese, hummus, white chocolate chip cookies, proper ham and quiche, pork pies, strawberries, the list goes on and on. You don't know what you miss until it's not there!

Today we had a lazy morning and then headed out in search of caffeine which meant we went to McDonald's for a Latte! Bit of a wander around the shops of which there are sooooo many. I have never seen so many jewellery shops and the size of the diamonds are mega. I told Baz he could bring me back to buy me one for our silver wedding of which he agreed readily as he will be 84 and thinks he will be too decrepit to do anything about it! Spot of lunch and then we met up with some of our group, there are a few of us stragglers left although most of us will be departing tomorrow for either pastures new or home. We went to catch the ferry to Hong Kong Island. The ferry only takes about 10 minutes and costs a staggering 20p. From there we walked to the tram station to go up to the top of Victoria Peak. Good day to go up as it was clear skies and no clouds hanging over the top. It's a very steep climb in the funicular and the views from the top are awesome. Took loads of pictures and then headed down for some nibbles and then returned when it had gone dark to see it all lit up, it is so pretty. Caught the underground back to the hotel and had a Bon voyage hug with all our new friends. We have enjoyed Hong Kong, it's a huge city with millions of people but it has a completely different feel than the rest of China.

We have seen some wonderful sights, met some lovely people and have made some fantastic memories. Off now to Tokyo.................

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