Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Sydney to Brisbane - Every Flight is different

 Our connecting flight to Brisbane leaves at 11:00.

We head for Qantas domestic transfer and when we get there the check-in clerk says we have plenty of time, the bags disappear, and we are virtually the last ones on the bus before it leaves.

Only to be stuck in a traffic jam while two planes are being ferried to another part of the airport.  It's now 10:30 and boarding for the Brisbane plane starts in 10 minutes.

Guess what?  We make it with a minute, yes that's what I said, 1 minute to spare.

However, the bad luck continues, and just after the plane had loaded and the main door shut with the possibility of an on-time departure, another calamity.

The air conditioner is broken and it's about 40 degrees Celsius in the main cabin.  That's almost unbearable conditions.  A call is out to the engineers and as at 11:20, they are still working on it.  But, mercifully, it is a little cooler.  Perhaps it's working again.


An announcement is made, the door is closed, and we're pushing back at 11:37.  Qantas is not having a good day in Sydney.

I think we won the raffle with this plane, it appears to be very old, with no screens in the seatbacks, but perhaps the onboard wifi could take its place.  The engines starting up with a loud whine, unlike most that just start and are virtually silent.  

Did I just get a hint of mothballs?

11:50 take off and this is where the shuddering starts and persists until the landing gear is retracted.  Then it's just creaks and groans from a tired airframe that's been through a lot of cycles.

Obviously, we made it home because you are reading this!

Shanghai to Sydney - Every flight is different

It's time to leave China and Shanghai. 

Every other time we have arrived or departed Shanghai, we've had to catch a bus to the plane.  Today, for the first time, we boarded the plane from a gate.

It's too good to be true...

So, here we are going for that on-time departure, and...

There has been an official "muck up" between the agents and the control tower staff in relation to a missing flight plan, so we now look like we're going to be sitting on the ground, in the plane, for at least an hour and a half.

Yes, things like this can happen to foreign airlines in China and there's little hope that the situation will change.  Beaurocacry is Beaurocacry and there's an end to it.

Now, we have the knock-on effect of catching connecting flights out of Sydney with the problems created if we arrive late, having to go through immigration, wait for baggage, collect the baggage, run the gamut of customs because I'm sure there's something we've bought in China that will grab their attention, get to the transfer bus with baggage, get to the domestic terminal and then try to find our connecting flight.  Sound like the definition of madness?  It is.


After some negotiation, well I won't say what I'm thinking, our departure had been moved up to 15 minutes from now, which means pushing back at 20:15, rather then the original departure time of 19:50.


20:15 is here and we're still not moving, but the door is now closed, and I suspect, we're about to start pushing back...

Stand by...

20:30 and we're now pushing back in preparation to leave, 40 minutes late.  It's going to be interesting to see if they can make up any time in the air.  It isn't exactly the smoothest run from the gate to the runway, and it highlighted a few of the creaks, groans, and rattles the plane has.

So much for a quick getaway...

20:51, we take off, exactly one hour and one minute late.  There's that few moments when the engines are throttled back for some reason, the retraction of the flaps not quite as noisy as some other old planes, and the familiar clunk as the undercarriage finally rests in its slot, but at least we'rein the air, and heading home.

Now it's a matter of getting up, through a little turbulence, and turning slowly to acquire our heading for Sydney.  As it is 6 minutes into the flight, we're heading towards Japan.  Perhaps they shouldn't allow us to see the flight path, and worry about whether the pilot really does know where he's supposed to be going.


It's 01:27 Sydney time and the flight path program is indicating we will be arriving in Sydney at 09:39.  Not long ago we were traveling at just over 1,000 kph, but that has now been wound back to 879 kph, as we straighten our course.  it seems going almost in the wrong direction was to catch the tailwinds so we could make up time, but that could only last for so long before we had to correct the heading.

Let's see how it works out.

After standing, sitting, standing again, and then going back to my seat for several hours of fitful sleep it's time for breakfast, and it's then I notice that the arrival time in Sydney is now expected to be around 08:37 which will make it more or less on time.

That impression remains until half an hour before, which is when the plane usually starts it'd descent, and hasn't.  That's a telltale sign we are not going to land at the time indicated.

However, a few minutes later, we start the descent at 08:10 but still showing the same arrival time.  At this rate, we should be going down like a lead balloon.  Either that or we're going to be late.

For those of us panicking about missing our connecting flights, a list of changes is read out by the cabin manager, and our flight to Brisbane has been changed.  We are now on QF520.

So far, so good...

Hang on, now we're being told that there's a delay because of congestion and we will not be landing until 08:45.  Just because they managed to make up some time, it's a case of no good deed goes unpunished.

This is followed by another announcement because we're late we've been allocated an outer bay that requires us to take buses to the terminal.  Just what you want after 10 hours in a red-eye special.  

And it just gets better...

We're on the ground, at the time specified 08:45, and rolling towards our allotted bay when we get another announcement.  There's a broken plane in our bay so we have to sit out on the tarmac and wait for another 10 minutes.

What else can happen?

Nothing thankfully, and we finally get to the bay and exiting the plan by the stairs at one exit.  That's when the euphoria stops.  Halfway down the stairs we suddenly stop.  

There's only one bus and it's full.  Worse, in some cases families have been separated, some are on the bus, and the rest of us still on the stairs.  It's like a Charlie Chaplin comedy movie.

Where's the next bus?  Don't they have more than one bus waiting for a plane with over 200 passengers?  After languishing on the stairs for about ten minutes we hear the Qantas staff member on the ground say there are no buses immediately available.  Obviously, this was to a restless passenger, further down the stairs.  Good thing, then, it's not raining.

Time is ticking away for us to make the connecting flight and we haven't got as far as the terminal to get started on immigration.

It takes a rather long 15 minutes before the next bus arrives, and, as an interesting diversion, what we soon discover to be a double-ended bus that can be driven from either end.  Never seen one of those before.

We get to the terminal, get reunited with other family members, go through the preliminary immigration procedures, down to have our photo taken, and then into the baggage hall.  You would think with all the delays that our bags would be waiting for us.


It takes another fifteen minutes before they come out of what must have been the last baggage container.  With time just about up for making it to the connecting flight, we still have to go through customs, and the line is very long, but fortunately moving quickly.  We declare our stuff as a precaution, and all is well, we can go.

The time is now 10:05.

Not much time to get to the connecting plane.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Time to review the last 10 days, Shanghai, China

 At least today we are able to sleep in, until 8 o'clock.  I'm not sure that means we are in any way shape or form invigorated, but at least it was not another 5:30 wake up for yet another exhausting day in the field.

After the long leisurely dinner last night, a welcome change from fretting over what we could and could not eat, it seemed the perfect end to a long and, at times, grueling tour.

Not participating in the knock off shopping tour, we stay at the hotel till we have to leave our rooms, then go downstairs and sit in the guest lounge on the ground floor until the bus comes to take us to the airport.

It's a time to summarise the tour.

We have seen China that the Chinese government wanted us to see.  That urban sprawl is a model of urban living in cities that have 7 million or more.  Two we visited had 10 million-plus, Beijing has 24 million and Shanghai has 27 million.

We saw hundreds of kilometers of rice paddies from the train which means their agriculture industry is huge.  What we didn't see was any animals like sheep, cattle, or pigs.  They're out there somewhere but not for us to see.

We saw a lot of power stations, and when you visit the cities you find out why.  Everything is electric.  And for the majority of our visit we do not see much pollution, though as we got closer to Shanghai, there was a lot more haziness.  Luckily on most days, there was a wind that helped clear the air.

The other thing that is very noticeable is the places you are taken to purchase goods that are government-owned factories so allegedly you can buy with confidence that what you're getting is real, not fake and you will get an iron-clad guarantee to that effect.

But it will cost an arm and a leg.  Nothing in any of these so-called factories is cheap.

The Chinese medicine shop, the pills they recommend for everyone are about 400 to 500 dollars Aus for a three month supply, for any type and there can three types so you're instantly looking at over a thousand Australian dollars right there.

At the pearl factory, the cost of everything is more subjective relative to whether or not you want it, but as a guide, it can cost you somewhere between 250 to 1,000 dollars Australian.

At the jade factory, everyone wants a jade bangle for good luck and good fortune, until they see how much it costs.  Here you are considered lucky if you walk away from the place with change from 2,000 dollars Australian.

Next is the terra cotta replica factory, and here there are model soldiers of all sizes and prices, with other pricier goods.  It's possible to escape this place for under 100 dollars Australian.

Lastly there us the silk factory and here for today only, it begins to sound like one of those infomercials on the morning show, the one that makes you turn off the telly or switch over to the  
ABC because anything on there has to be better.


We still buy the sheet the underlay the silk pillowcases and, you guessed it, free pillows were thrown in.  And, yes, it's not steak knives but a suitcase, yes, you heard it right, a suitcase to take it all home in, or free shipping if you spend a million dollars.  Well not quite that much, but it feels like it.

And yet there's more, the tea factory, the tour taken from a single room followed by the sales pitch where we are shocked and amazed by the properties of the tea.  Of course, it's great if I swallow a bottle full of iodine  The tea will just neutralize its effect, but as a tea, well just have to wait and see.

Yes, there are pills too, and these are also very expensive, a six month supply will set you back 1,800 dollars Australian.

So between all of the above, the smaller merchants haven't got a chance because after hitting the big six there's nothing left, or room left in your baggage if you took it with you.

At each venue, the tour guide gives you a long spiel, which is considered to be the softening up process before the real guide for the venue takes over to give the overall lecture on the product, and it's the manufacturing process.

By then, it's simply a matter of telling us the days bargain, but by that time all we want to do is escape, and, for some of us, get the goods and leave.  The dangling of free shipping entices us to buy more than we were going to, but in the end, the ploy works.

The government must be making a small fortune from this inflow of supposedly rich tourists.  Make the tour cheap, guide the tourists to the government factories, and bingo it's win-win for them and the guides who all get a cut of the action.


What about the guides themselves.

Some are really good and some are terrible, and by that, I mean really terrible.  It also depended on their English of which none could speak it without the inevitable conversion issues, and for others, well, it was painful.

We started with one of the best and we finished with one of the best, but each had their tormentors in the English language, and sometimes they struggled to find an English translation. In these cases, it only made the tour all that more enjoyable.

As for the bad guides, it ruined the whole day, as it did for us with the Shaolin temple and kung fu display.  What's worse it was the most expensive and it would have been more preferable to sit in the hotel all day.

There was so much disparity in the meals supplied and the cost.  There was nothing free except for breakfast.  Perhaps the worst was at the Shaolin temple, not so much the food which was quite bland, but in what they gave you to drink.  There was no cold water to drink with it, only hot water, and you had to pay extra for anything else other than water, and it was expensive.

As the most expensive side tour of the itinerary, including all drinks would have made the rest of the day's shortcomings more tolerable.

In contrast, the previous meal we had at the Terra Cotta Soldiers exhibition was incredible and came with all the drinks you could want, and it only cost 60 RMB, or about 13 dollars Aus.  Even the evening dinner in Hutong, an amazing array of Chinese dishes accompanied by free drinks at a higher cost made that from the Temple more disappointing.

Most of us couldn't believe what had happened at the Temple lunch and the guides response when we asked for, at the very least, cold water.  She completely ignored us and pretended it didn't happen.
As I said, there were good guides and terrible guides.  She was terrible. 

But, hang on, the other bus said their guide was worse.

And the Hotels?

God give me patience.

This is where, after the second hotel our group came up with the expression, 'it is what it is'.

All of them looked very impressive from the outside and going into the foyer level that impression improved with all the marble and expensive fittings.

But, sadly, in most cases, that's where the good impression ends.

The few lifts are small and usually fit four people and their cases.  All well and good except when seven buses are using the same hotel, then it can take upwards of half an hour to get you your room.

Which is where shock sets in.

Rooms can be so small you couldn't swing a cat in them, the doors barely getting past the bed end and the distance between the end of the bed and the tv on the wall less than a foot.

Others you don't get a proper bathroom, just a shower, and toilet cubicle and in the passage a washbasin.

Others, you get a large room and a bathroom with a bath and a separate shower.

And something else that I thought was quite odd, very few of the same tour group are allocated rooms on the same floor, so our group of 28 were scattered throughout the hotel on each occasion.

My overall impression, we were using old hotels that are now very tired according to trip advisor,  because discerning visitors are using the better hotels that still don't cost much more than these for a standard room.

Trip a deal could do better if they wanted to.

But as I said, it is what it is and it's not as if you're going to spend the rest of your life in any of those rooms.  Besides isn't that half the fun, finding the completely unexpected,  after all this is China and we cannot expect to find what we're used to here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Yu Gardens, Shanghai, China

The Yu Gardens or Yuyuan Gardens

The Yu Gardens (or Yuyuan Gardens) are located at No. 137, Anren Street, Huangpu District, very close to the Old City God Temple, in the northeast of the Old City of Shanghai at Huangpu.

Yu Garden was first built in 1559 during the Ming Dynasty by Pan Yunduan and finished approximately 1577, created specifically as a private garden of the Pan family for Pan Yunduan’s parents to enjoy in their old age.

Yu Garden occupies an area of 5 acres, and is divided into six general areas:

  -Sansui Hall which includes the Grand Rockery was originally used to entertain guests,

  -Wanhua Chamber is a delicate building surrounded by derious cloisters,

  -Dianchun Hall, built in 1820, includes Treasury Hall and the Hall of Harmony,

  -Huijing Hall which includes Jade Water Corridor.

  -Yuhua Hall which is furnished with rosewood pieces from the Ming Dynasty, and,

  -The Inner Garden with rockeries, ponds, pavilions, and towers; first laid out in 1709.  As the quietest part of Yu Gardens, it includes the Hall of Serenity and the Acting and Singing Stage.

The Mid-Lake Pavilion Teahouse, within the gardens, is the oldest teahouse in Shanghai.

A centerpiece of the gardens is the Exquisite Jade Rock, a 5-ton boulder that was originally meant for the Huizong Emperor (Northern Song Dynasty from 1100-1126 AD) but was salvaged from the Huangpu River after the boat carrying it had sunk.

These gardens house a lot of buildings that seemed to be a perfect blend of the old and the new, and if it was up to me, I’d keep the old.  Both the building and the gardens they are set in are like an oasis in the middle of an industrial complex, and perhaps impractical for the number of people living in Shanghai.

All of the ponds had a lot of fish in them

It was a pleasant afternoon, for both a stroll through the gardens

In and out of the rockery on narrow pathways

And to look inside the buildings that were sparsely furnished

There was even an area set aside for entertainment.

Old Shanghai, Shanghai, China

The old Shanghai refers to a small area of Shanghai that used to be walled in and remained that way until about 1912 when all but a small section of the wall was demolished.  With the advent of the concessions, Old Shanghai became the administrative center until later when it became a shopping complex.

Now it has many restored historical buildings as well as new buildings in a somewhat traditional style that has become one of Shanghai's main tourist attractions, housing many shops and restaurants.

The "Old Town" is not exclusively old, as you still have a chance to take in the atmosphere if you wander into the quaint side streets.

But, on first viewing walking down the street towards the complex, I'm not sure I'd go as far as to say this is in reality old Shanghai, except for what appears to be a true representation of it architecturally. 

The buildings, which are shops and restaurants, are set out symmetrically, with streets, alleyways, and squares which may prove that it was specially built for the tourists, and no mechanized traffic.


The buildings are magnificent, and a photographer's delight, and you'd finish up having hundreds of photos by the time you leave.  All the buildings are exquisite representations of traditional Chinese architecture. 

As for buying stuff, remember if you're not Chinese you have the sucker tourist stamp on your forehead, so be prepared to walk away if the vendors will not bargain.  

Nothing here is worth the price tag and in our group discounts like from 130 RMB to 50 RMB and from 1 for 1,200 to 2 for 950 RMB are common.

Here common t-shirts that we can get for 3 dollars back home start at 150 RMB which is roughly 35 dollars.  It's that kind of market.

We end up is a tea room, on the third floor of the meeting point below, and discover all the tour guides sitting around a table counting money, and I have to say it's the most $50 notes I've ever seen in one place.  

It is, we were told, where they discussed 'strategy'.

Friday, August 14, 2020

The French Quarter, Shanghai, China

The French Quarter and Shake Shack 

The Shanghai French Concession was a foreign concession in Shanghai, China from 1849 until 1943 and came to an end in 1943.  It was established on 6 April 1849, when the French Consul to Shanghai obtained a proclamation that conceded certain territory for a French settlement.

The area covered by the former French Concession remained the premier residential and retail district of Shanghai.

The French Quarter is an area west of the Bund, about 8km long comprising a number of small streets and is a highly desired area for non-Chinese to live.  Wukang Lu is a beautiful street, quaint and pretty, with outdoor cafes sprinkled here and there.  While on Wukang Lu, you wouldn't want to miss checking out Ferguson Lane on 376 Wukang Lu.  It is a charming pedestrian space with outdoor restaurants and wine bars.

If you're expecting a whole range of French restaurants forget it.  It's simply a collection of restaurants selling various types of food, and little else.

There is a shopping mall, further away from where the restaurants supposedly are, but there's little interest in finding them.  The happy house is far more important.

We settle, back in the French Quarter, in a place called the Shake Shack, located at No.10 Xintiandi North Block, Lane 181 Taicang Road, Huangpu District Xintindi 10-12 North Block, Shanghai, China.

I originally thought was the Snake Shack.  On closer inspection, and after being handed a menu, we discover it's a hamburger place.  Below is an idea of some of what the restaurant serves:


Is it like McDonald's, no.  The burger meat is real and the whole hamburger is absolutely delicious.  So are the fries, which are smallish well-cooked crinkle cut chips.

I had ice tea, which was real ice tea, not the sugary concoction you find in bottles, and the lemonade was real as well.

Value for money?  The prices were a little steep but, in my opinion, yes.  I'd go back again if I knew how to get there.

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Bund, Shanghai, China

The Bund

The architecture along the Bund or Waitan is a living museum of the colonial history of the 1800s.  The area centers on a section of Zhongshan Road within the former Shanghai International Settlement.

The word bund means an embankment or an embanked quay.   It was initially a British settlement; later the British and American settlements were combined in the International Settlement.

The Bund is a mile-long stretch of waterfront promenade along the Huangpu River. There are 52 buildings of various architectural styles, including Gothic, baroque, and neoclassical styles. The area is often referred to as "the museum of buildings". 

Building styles include Romanesque Revival, Gothic Revival, Renaissance Revival, Baroque Revival, Neo-Classical or Beaux-Arts, as well as a number in Art Deco style.

Having seen these buildings initially the night before, mostly lit up, our viewing this morning was from the land side, and particularly interesting in that the colonial architecture was really fascinating considering their location, but not surprising given Shanghai's history.  A lot of these buildings would be more at home in London, that out in the far east.

The Bund waterfront is about two kilometers long and impossible to cover in the time allowed for this part of the tour.

There was just enough time to get photos of the waterfront and the old buildings.

Some of these buildings had odd shapes, like one on the far right that looks like a bottle opener.

And, for some odd reason, a bull.

On the other side of the water, the sights that had been quite colorful the night before, were equally impressive though somewhat diminished by the haze.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Maglev (Magnetic Levitation) Train, Shanghai, China

So, the first treat for the day is the high-speed magnetic train, something we only learned about after arriving in China and was not on any of the pre-tour documentation.

The train line connects Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Longyang Road Station (in the outskirts of central Pudong).  It is the oldest commercial maglev still in operation, and the first commercial high-speed maglev with cruising speed of 431 km/h (268 mph).  At full speed, the journey takes 7 minutes and 20 seconds to complete the distance of about 30 km.

Construction of the line began on March 1, 2001 and public services commenced on 1 January 2004.  It was built by a joint venture of Siemens and ThyssenKrupp from Kassel, Germany.

But, like visiting anything from a hotel, first we have to drive to the station and because we are leaving at 8, its peak hour traffic, and it takes 1 hour 10 minutes to get there.

The train also has a practical use and that is to take passengers from Shanghai to Pudong international airport as well as for those train enthusiasts, which is what we are.

On the train, it has the same sleek look as the bullet trains, but it is completely different, and you are able to see from the front of the train to the back.

Reputed to travel at 431 kph we take a seat and it is not long before the doors shut, and a loud humming noise is soon replaced by what sounds like an engine, then we start moving.  It sounds just like a normal train, and is a lot noisier than a normal bullet train.

Seating on the train was nothing special, as one might expect

It didn't take long before it hits the advertised speed of 431 kph.  This is not sustained for very long, because the distance is on 40 odd kilometers, and the whole trip takes about 7 minutes.

We go to the airport, and then we come back.  Is it worth the price, yes.  If you are a train enthusiast.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Regal Plaza Hotel, Shanghai, China

Well, yet another grandiose exterior, and magnificent marble foyer.  Picture this...

Then, as always, the stars stop dropping off at the lifts, and then finally plunge when you get to the room.

Ours was designed by a blind man.

You open the door and it barely misses the end of the bed, there are two single beds in a room that would probably need an extra six inches if it was a king double.


You try to get past the end of the beds to what looks like an alcove but you walk into the TV, sticking about 8 inches out from the wall.

All in all, it's a very odd setup for a hotel room, but, again, it's not the first hotel we've stayed in where there is a shortage of space between walls and beds.  It was just disappointing that we ended up in a room with twin beds.

The next morning...

After the usual morning routine made somewhat more difficult because our room literally is a sardine can, we head down to breakfast and seize a seat at one of the round tables, one that is as stable as a paper house in an earthquake area.

Unlike the last hotel when there were 200 people trying to fit in a space that took 50, this time we can get breakfast and sit down, even if the table doesn't have cutlery or anything else on it.

There always seems to be a problem but I guess this morning we're using our hands.  But, as it happens somewhere in the room there must be spare knives and forks, other people are using them so we’ll add a little hide and seek to the morning's festivities.

The only thing I've found in China at breakfast time to be a problem is bacon.  They cannot seem to be able to cook it properly.  Perhaps it's the same with fried eggs, they seem to have this idea of cooking the yolk until it's hard.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Shanghai, China. A night cruise to the Bund and back

In Shanghai at last, and off to a boat ride at night

There's not enough time to go to the hotel and come back to the wharf, the hotel being about an hour's drive in the opposite direction to the cruise boat so we go to the boat ride parking lot instead, and take a half-hour or so before boarding to get something to eat.

When we finally get back from having a coffee or tea at a non-Starbucks coffee house, we find at least 100 buses all lined up and parked, and literally thousands of Chinese and other Asians streaming through the turnstiles to get on another boat leaving earlier than ours.

Buses were just continually stopping near where we were standing and literally arriving one after the other with people were everywhere in what could only be described as organized chaos.

At that moment, and even later, I was not quite sure what the name of the boat was, but it had 3 decks and VIP rooms and it was huge, with marble staircases.

Who has marble staircases in a boat?

We're going out across the water as far as the Bund and then turn around and come back about 30 to 40 minutes.   Being first on the boat we got the pick of the seats on the second of three levels and by the time everyone was on board, there was no room left on the third level, nor at the end of the second level.  And no one wanted to pay the extra to go into the VIP lounge.

We were sitting by very large windows where it was warm enough watching the steady procession of the colored lights of other vessels, and outside the buildings.

It was quite spectacular, as were some of the other boats going out on the harbour.

All the buildings of the Bund were lit up

And along that part of the Bund was a number of old English style buildings made from sandstone, and very impressive to say the least.

On the other side of the harbour were the more modern buildings, including the communications tower, as rather impressive structure.

And, another view of that communications tower:

Then, somewhat tired after a long day, next was the ride to the hotel, about 50 minutes or so, giving us enough time to consider the possibility that this hotel might be better than the last, but knowing full well those hopes were about to be dashed.

From Hangzhou to Shanghai, China.

Onwards, to Shanghai

From the brochure: Next, drive to Shanghai (approx. 2 hours) to visit the famous Bund. Shanghai is divided by the Huang Pu River into eastern and western sections. Modern mega high rises are seen on the eastern side while traditional European style architecture may be seen on the western side. The Bund is a five-block riverfront promenade with many of Shanghai's banks and trading houses.

We didn't do any of that, our guide deciding to change the order in which we would visit the various attractions in Shanghai.

We now have a 2 to 3-hour drive depending on traffic, to Shanghai with a happy house stop after 2 hours, which turned out to be a petrol station and a lot of little food places and a mini-mart.

Along the way I managed to get a photo of the fast train, a feat in itself considering the speed it was traveling:

We get a drink and bananas.

Of course, there were a lot of local products, some of which seems a little odd

I'm not sure what anyone would make of these, or some of the offerings inside the mall attached to the petrol station, but a lot of people declined the 'fast food' and piled into the grocery store, which was about the same as a Seven-Eleven store to stock up on items that might not affect their health.

I bought some very interesting drinks, or so my Chinese to English phone translator told me.

Monday, July 27, 2020

West Lake, Hangzhou, China. The gardens, and a cruise on the lake.

Next is our visit to the West Lake and surrounding gardens

West Lake is a freshwater lake in Hangzhou, China. It is divided into five sections by three causeways. There are numerous temples, pagodas, gardens, and artificial islands within the lake.

Measuring 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) in length, 2.8 kilometers (1.7 miles) in width, and 2.3 meters (7.5 feet) in average depth, the lake spreads itself in an area totaling 6.5 square kilometers (2.5 square miles).

The earliest recorded name for West Lake was the "Wu Forest River", but over time it changed to two distinct names.  One is "Qiantang Lake", due to the fact that Hangzhou was called "Qiantang" in ancient times.  The other, "West Lake", due to the lake being west of the city

It's about to get busy, with a number of activities planned, and the warmth of the day is starting to make an impact.

The tour starts in the car park about a kilometer away, but the moment we left the car park we were getting a taste of the park walking along a tree-lined avenue.

When we cross the road, once again dicing with death with the silent assassins on motor scooters.

We are in the park proper, and it is magnificent, with flowers, mostly at the start hydrangeas and then any number of other trees and shrubs, some carved into other flower shapes like a lotus.

Then there was the lake and the backdrop of bridges and walkways.


And if you can tune out the background white noise the place would be great for serenity and relaxation.

That, in fact, was how the boat ride panned out, about half an hour or more gliding across the lake in an almost silent boat, by an open window, with the air and the majestic scenery.

No, not that boat, which would be great to have lunch on while cruising, but the boat below:

Not quite in the same class, but all the same, very easy to tune out and soak it in.

It was peaceful, amazingly quiet, on a summery day

A pagoda in the hazy distance, an island we were about to circumnavigate.

Of all the legends, the most touching one is the love story between Bai Suzhen and Xu Xi'an. Bai Suzhen was a white snake spirit and Xu Xi'an was a mortal man.

They fell in love when they first met on a boat on the West Lake, and got married very soon after.

However, the evil monk Fa Hai attempted to separate the couple by imprisoning Xu Xi'an. Bai Suzhen fought against Fa Hai and tried her best to rescue her husband, but she failed and was imprisoned under the Leifeng Pagoda by the lake.

Years later the couple was rescued by Xiao Qing, the sister of Baisuzhen, and from then on, Bai Suzhen and Xu Xi'an lived together happily.

The retelling of the story varied between tour guides, and on the cruise boat, we had two.  Our guide kept to the legend, the other tour guide had a different ending.

Suffice to say it had relevance to the two pagodas on the far side of the lake.

There was a cafe or restaurant on the island, but that was not our lunch destination.

Nor were the buildings further along from where we disembarked.

All in all the whole cruise took about 45 minutes and was an interesting break from the hectic nature of the tour.

Oh yes, and the boat captain had postcards for sale.  We didn’t buy any.


At the disembarkation point there was a mall that sold souvenirs and had a few ‘fast food’ shops, and a KFC, not exactly what we came to China for, but it seemed like the only place in town a food cautious Australian could eat at.

And when tried to get in the door, that's where at least 3 busloads were, if they were not in the local Starbucks.  Apparently, these were the places of first choice wherever we went.

The chicken supply by the time we got to the head of the line amounted to pieces at 22.5 RMB a piece and nuggets.  Everything else had run out, and for me, there were only 5 pieces left.  Good thing there were chips.

And Starbucks with coffee and cheesecake.

At least the setting for what could have been a picnic lunch was idyllic.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Meijiawu Tea Village (Longjing Tea Plantation), Hangzhou, China

The Tea House at Meijiawu Tea Village

Our destination is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from downtown Hangzhou.

Meijiawu Tea Village is located in the west of the world-known West Lake and hailed as "ten miles Meiwu" for its vast area along the Meiling Road, is an ancient village with a history of 600 years.  It is the main production base and a protected area of the fragrant West Lake Dragon Well Tea.

The tea leaves from Meijiawu are beautiful in green color, graceful in shape, strong in fragrance and rich in flavor.

So, first, we get to look at the tea bushes, which are much larger than the bushes we've seen on the side of the road.  I'm not up for becoming a tea picker any time soon, so I'll leave it to the professionals.

All tea leaves are picked by women.  It takes about 8 hours to pick two kilos of leaves.

Tea leaves are still picked by hand three times a year, the first spring, by young girls about 15 or 16, the second, summer tea, picked by girls about 20 years old, and the autumn tea, called grandma tea, picked by older women.

Next, we go to the drying demonstration, three tubs with tea leaves, that have to be stirred by hand for a number of hours.

We then get the sales pitch, which extols the benefits of the green tea, which apparently good for everything.  So, now we have tea and supplement pills.

The teapot fountain in the gardens is a nice touch.

Still, we had a cup or two of tea discovered the right way to make it and had a stroll about the grounds.  And for that hour in the morning, it was very pleasant.

This is a about 1kg package of tea leaves.  Don't ask me how many cups of tea that will make!