Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Li River - Guilin to Yangshuo

On the tourist route and loving it!

If you squint you can see a row of cormorants on a raft
(in the centre of the photo) waiting to work.
We were allocated a boat up the Li River with a large group of Italian tourists so being the only native English speakers on the boat, our guide seemed to spend the four hour trip scampering up and down decks to find us and point out particular notable scenic spots. Bless him, he also sped off with my camera during lunch to snap a particularly stunning curve in the river. For the Italians, it was their second to last destination on a two week package tour, and many were showing the exhausted signs of an intensely jam packed itinerary.
Impossible seeming shapes.
Soaking up the sublime scenery, many flopped in the seats, making the most of the opportunity to relax and chat. What a great opportunity to strike up a conversation! Thank goodness other countries acknowledge that it's important to learn more than one language. My sign language and pantomime sketches are adequate to communicate basically; but one of the many joys of travelling is having the opportunity to rub shoulders with people from around the world and  discuss world events, politics and compare outlooks.

Extraordinary mountains, seem to stretch forever.

How did such and such an event affect them? How was it reported there? What was the particular bias of their politicians? Did what we read in the papers and see on TV accurately reflect the event?  What a privilege we have being able to do this. I love the amazing conversations you have when bumping into someone from Brussels at breakfast,  Cologne at lunch and maybe London at dinner. Not to mention all the wonderful local Chinese people I met and conversed with.

The Li River is a very popular holiday destination.
 Not entirely surprisingly on the Li River, money was one topic that was raised. Not the cost of the boat ride, but the fact that this is where the sketch for the 20 Yuan note was done. A simple conversation starter could lead to show and tell about your own country's currency, how notes are impregnated with all sorts of metals and embossing to attempt to prevent forgeries, with a watermark here, a fine strip of metal there, a raised portion here for sight impaired people, and a particular compound placed just so, so that when the note is at just this exact angle it shimmers like a rainbow.
People power for washing dishes.
Best not to think that cold river water is used for the dishes.
The amazing topography is called Karst - a detailed description is here. Karst features are formed over hundreds of thousands of years from what was originally the seabed; but as the lands have changed the limestone has eroded and been uplifted producing extraordinary hills and mountains, underground rivers, caves of all shapes and sizes with awe-inspiring stalactites and stalagmites. Similar mountains are found in other regions of the world, but I am assured that China's Guilin area's claim to fame, is that the mountains cover the single largest region and extend south through to the Philippines and Indonesia. 
A fan souvenir and welcome refreshment at a local cafe.
The haze in the photos is a result of the extremely high humidity; fans are regularly used by men, women and children. Many are much larger than the souvenir 'gift' from the boat trip, and produce a welcome cooling breeze. I discovered (unintentionally) that sitting next to a vigorously fanning man and making "ahh" noises produced much hilarity and coy directing of the breeze on to my dripping face. Bless everyone who takes pity on a sweltering western woman!


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shanghai - beguiling, entrancing, captivating.

Grubby white sky, created by heat, smog or cloud, it doesn’t really matter which; lacks shape, interest and definition, like an unwashed sheep’s fleece blanketing this mega city, trapping the heat and humidity. No pure sunlight penetrates to create light and shade on earthly structures. A mono world, where dramatic architecture appears strangely shapeless and flat, all colour has been leeched out.
Futuristic and mundane on the riverfront.
The skyline comes into its own at night, colours are resurrected as dark descends, electronically and vibrantly enhanced, pulsating and energetic – unexpectedly entrancing, captivating. Gold ingots appear to stack perpetually, like an Aladdin’s cave unable to be emptied no matter how much gold is taken. One roof top structure, like a giant’s silver filigree crown, beautifully detailed, massive; oozes opulence and drama. Ladders of gems reach to the heavens being stacked and unstacked with frenetic activity, no need for words here, the symbolism crosses all language barriers!
Buddhist temple reflected in a massive skyscraper.
22 MILLION people (give or take a few), a similar number to the entire population of Australia resides and thrives in this city. Mind boggling, incomprehensible. But it works - appears to work well, like a perfectly oiled machine - to the outsider it seems efficient and runs smoothly.

TWENTY TWO million people: Han Chinese, minority groups, expats, transients from the world over, and of course, tourists, origamied into apartment blocks, hotels and dwellings which from the air look like a complex circuit board, laid out with efficient precision. Leafy lined avenues, lush and peaceful, modest homes and share housing with outdoor wash troughs men stripped to the waist, bathing (too intrusive to photograph) interspersed with opulent mansions and slick luxurious high rise apartments and offices. Rickety appearing, but solid old wooden homes, cheek to jowl with edgy futuristic architecture, demanding: “look at me”. So many styles; confusing in their diversity; jostling for space to breathe, a little room to stretch.

Old House Hotel and excellent Purple Onion restaurant
View from Old House Hotel, complete with ivy!
Street sleepers’ here - no different to Paris or Melbourne. Beggars too - mostly unobtrusive in their need, a low-key sign of a worldwide imbalance in wealth, of things not quite right. A darker side is here too, the dispossessed, ill, unwelcome people who also belong to any city, the flip side to all the apparent wealth and glamour.

I find this a beguiling city, full of complexity and contradictions. This pulsating metropolis seems comfortable in its own skin, firmly set with its roots in different times with different players vying for power, but clearly looking to the future. Historic buildings meander along the riverfront, some beautiful art deco, solid, steeped in history. Ferries full of excited visitors skitter across the river, thankfully avoiding container vessels and massive barges, reminders that this is a working river, not just a beautiful foreground for the eye-catching buildings.
The Bund
Postcard Shanghai with the Pearl Tower desperately trying to penetrate the grubby sky and find some blue, (it must be up there somewhere). The flagship Apple store all reflecting shine and squeaky clean glass, Super Brand Mall housing the kind of brands where price-tags are discretely hidden from view. Where the air-conditioned ambience seems to be more opulent than elsewhere - a blessed relief from the relentless drippy heat and humidity.
Apple store and Pearl Tower
Reflections shimmer on the Apple
Family groups gather on The Bund, promenade, slurping frozen treats – mung beans or peas are very popular, as well as what we think of as more traditional mango and fruit flavours.

Traffic, which at first seems to be a muddle of cars, taxis, bicycles, electric motorbikes and men pulling carts laden with painfully heavy loads settles into a pattern, a dance of weaving elegance and tolerance. Perhaps there’s an awareness or acceptance that to house such a huge population, arrogant aggression and selfish road rage have no place - would upset the delicate balance. Against all odds it works, and I feel envious of a culture where ‘giving the finger’ and vicious, ugly and profane words and phrases are not part and parcel of one’s daily driving experience.
The old and new.
I’m also envious of the subway - cheap, efficient, and oh so easy to navigate! Melbourne, are you listening? Why can’t we get public transport right? And wifi? Our antiquated system, outrageously expensive, is positively archaic – How wonderful that I can sit in a cafĂ© in Shanghai, enjoy an excellent coffee, and communicate easily via email with friends around the world (as long as I don’t want to use Facebook or look at a Blog – but that’s a can of worms I won’t open) but shamefully, free wifi is not commonplace in Melbourne cafes and is an additional expense in many Australian hotels.
Low rise streetscape and umbrellas always ready
for rain or shine!
Odd being a lone foreign woman walking, it feels safe though, there’s no nasty edge, smartraveller.com is worth a look for the common scams. One takes care and doesn’t put oneself in harms way. Not enough time, sadly, to do a walking tour to discover the history of Jews seeking sanctuary here. But the Propaganda Poster Museum is fascinating, secreted away in the basement of a building, no signage at all - word of mouth is a wonderful thing amongst travellers!
Leafy lined boulevard in The French Concession -
note the lady with the umbrella on her electric scooter.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

on Hong Kong, Macau and China

Torrential rain in Hong Kong
I hadn't expected to see Snoopy on a petrol cap in mainland China!
 Dragon Fruit

It's easy to forget that Portugal had control over Macau until very recently. According to Wikipedia, trading between Portugal and China began well before the 1500's when a trading base was established, with  Portuguese traders being allowed to anchor ships in Macau's harbors and carry out trading activities, but they weren't allowed to stay onshore. 

Around 1552, the Portugese obtained temporary permission to erect storage sheds onshore, in order to dry out goods drenched by sea water. It wasn't until later that the Portuguese established a permanent settlement in Macau.  China retained sovereignty and Chinese residents were subject to Chinese law, but the territory was under Portuguese administration. All of which sounds like a real headache for everyone.

The architecture has a distinctly non Chinese feel.
Old and new in Macau. 
Warrior protecting a casino
 Elephant tusk? Exquisite, intricate carving.

During the 16th century, Macau also served as a trafficking point for Chinese slaves to Portugal. Many Chinese boys were captured in mainland China, and were brought, via Macau to Portugal, where they were sold as slaves. Some were on-sold in Brazil, which was a Portuguese colony. Chinese slaves were prized by the Portuguese and regarded better quality than slaves from other countries.

The Portuguese retained control over Macau until 1979. Eventually, the stage was set for the return of Macau to full Chinese sovereignty as a Special Administrative Region in 1999. (As is Hong Kong)

The PRC has promised that, under its “one country, two systems” formula, China's socialist economic system will not be practiced in Macau and that Macau will enjoy a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign and defense affairs until at least 2049, fifty years after the handover.

All of which is a long way of getting around to saying that the custard tarts are fantastic, and may well come from a Portuguese recipe.
Portuguese Egg Tarts @ KFC

*I'll be in China for the next couple of weeks, and due to their restrictions will be unable to access Blogger, or visit and comment on other blogs. But I promise I'll think of the blogosphere each time I munch on a custard tart!

Information on Macau here, however re visas, it's important to know that if you travel to Macau from mainland China and wish to return to mainland China, you'll need a double entry visa.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

on acupuncture

Like an echidna I lie,
sprouting carefully placed, quill-like needles,
quivering with minute electrical impulses.
Dirty brown coal, heavily polluting and subsidised obscenely,
originates from open-cut mine,  powering generators in far off LoyYang.
Its product travels across the state in lethal, ropey wires -
would annihilate anyone coming into contact
by accident
or design.

Channelled into ever-smaller increments to be used here for nurturing and healing.

Alligator clips attached to fine needles settle into my tense, troubled muscles.
Delicate, rhythmic pulsing lulls me to sleep.
Enfolded in tender warmth, muscles gratefully absorb this strange experience,
to be refreshed and healed -

* A Drabble is a story told in 100 words. No more, no less.

**Thanks to giftlog.com for the photo. They also have other free photos of a variety of Australian animals. Link here.