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BLOG: Parting thoughts from Xiamen

View 2001 Sabah, Shanghai, Eastern China & Xiamen on alexchan's travel map.

Well, we watched Xiamen by night and have one more analysis (comparison with Shanghai area) to add. Up there, people have no qualms about going out to the malls in their pyjamas (ie those not wearing a suit). Over here, no one does that.

The development here is phenomenal. The expressway is built out over the sea, linking parts of the island. I suppose this saves on reclamation but the amount of reclamation is also unbelievable. Reclaimed land and demolition make way for new office and apartment blocks. Most tastefully done, with some in park-like settings. One area even retains several artificial inlets of the sea to make a picturesque setting. The high standard of cleanliness is everywhere ... Singapore standard.

My relatives drove us around the coast opposite Jinmen (one of several offshore islands occupied by Taiwan). The beaches here are very good and ABSOLUTELY spotless ... no seaweed, litter ... puts Takapuna beach to shame. We could see the Taiwanese-administered islands. These areas have only been recently developed and was even closed to locals until several years ago "for fear of Taiwanese attack".

I get interesting insight into the local way of thinking about Taiwan vs China. Another example being "we let Taiwanese visit our country, but they don't let us visit them for fear of us influencing their population to rebel against their capitalist government".

Along this coast was a huge loudspeaker formerly used to blast propaganda to the Taiwanese held islands. And there was one on another side of course, doing the opposite/same. Now, there is only a ginormous "One China" placard.

We were taken to a 300-table restaurant (table seats 10 but typical occupancy of 5, 2 sittings a night). It was so huge that the waitresses move around on skates while pushing their trolleys. Service was impeccable despite the size (offered to re-heat dishes, walk the doggy bag to the door at the end of the evening).

This morning we visited by great-grandfather's house. It has little bits of carving along the pillars and on the window panels. I could imagine how it looked with the old wall-fence, courtyard and houses inside. During the communist era, the compounds were built up with additional units which are now sublet by my cousin.

We're now packed and killing time before going to the airport. Kim bought an old (or old-looking) alarm clock with peasants in Mao suits waving their hands (or looks like shaking their fists). Also pictures of Mao on the side. I'm not worried about Aviation Security detecting this as we have no explosives attached to the clock. More worried about Malaysian customs confisicating this being a communist item ... or worse detaining him indefinitely under the Internal Security Act. The Act was enacted when Malaysia faced a lot of terrorism from communists in the jungle, and the government is quite proud of this piece of legislation ... because "the US ambassador wants to learn from them about how to implement similar legislation to counter terrorism".

So far I've been impressed with how China has advanced in the last three years.

The city buses here have some sort of smart-card reader. Just hold your card (or wallet) in front of the reader and it deducts the value of the fare. A bit like KL airport's passport reader ... just hold your passport or wallet in front of it and the doors open for you to enter or leave the country. And the bus disembarking door has a camera to ensure that schoolchildren are not dragged along the road like Stagecoach Auckland ... unusually safety-conscious for China. And smart-card / stored value cards / electronic purses are in use here.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

BLOG: In my great-grandfather's house

View 2001 Sabah, Shanghai, Eastern China & Xiamen on alexchan's travel map.

We flew to Xiamen [Xiamen-travel-guide-249714], sister city to Wellington (New Zealand) yesterday and were greeted with a certain welcoming familiarity. As we grew to know the place more, it even became more familiar or likeable:

* it had a distinct air of South East Asia rather than China, with covered footpaths along open shopfronts selling familiar goods (like dried cuttlefish, liquoriced-olives, etc. rather than the unfamiliar strange Northern / Eastern stuff).

* for the first time in nearly two weeks we were among people who weren't always taller than us.

* spitting is almost unseen and unheard of. We did hear a couple of "hoiks" from one person on the street and many surrounding pedestrians (including us) turned round to see who it was.

* streets are COMPLETELY litter-free in some stretches, earning the city the reputation of being the cleanest in the country.

* I can understand all the swearing at the internet cafe that we're now in.

Between my half-baked Mandarin and my Hokkien I'm getting myself understood 95% rather than 80% in the Shanghai area. Actually, there Hokkien is quite different from mine, but I try to speak like my Singaporean aunt who speaks "properly".

The city of Xiamen is on an island joined to the mainland by a bridge, and also just across from Taiwan. The dusty haze here is better than in Hangzhou [Hangzhou-travel-guide-220323] but the countryside seemed quite dry and barren ... very unexpected as I was looking forward to seeing something like the lush greenery of Taiwan (outside Taipei of course).

Our hotel room overlooks the island of Gulangyu. The view reminds Kim of the Bosphorus in Istanbul. During the day we see old nearly-Mediterranean and European houses, and by night the island waterfront is lit up. This morning, we went over to explore the quiet streets (cars and bicycles are forbidden there) and admire the many old red brick villas built by Dutch, Portuguese, English etc.

The were in various states of restoration and disrepair. In their poorer condition, they reminded me of pictures of Cuba.

Xiamen, Shanghai and many coastal cities were Treaty Ports in the 1800s (?) These came about because China had a closed-door no-trade policy. Many European nations wanted to trade silk and tea quite badly and traffic-ed opium to the locals to get their ways. This kind of culminated in the Opium War which saw some coastal cities (or just land in those days) being handed over. So, some highly respected international companies in existence to day have their roots in drug traffic-ing!

One of the reasons of visiting Xiamen is the fact that my maternal grandparents are from the area. We met up with my great-grandfather's granddaughter yesterday ... ie her grandfather and mine were brothers. We had a good chat and it is amazing how certain life-changing moments are not known at the time the actions are taken. She was born here and grew up in Singapore. Little did she know at age 12 that by boarding the ship to Xiamen, she'd end up seeing her family home here confisicated and be sent to the rural areas to work. We didn't ask exactly what the work entailed (admin, factory, farm ...). It is easy to read about these things and think that it is quite sad, but it doesn't hit you until you talk to someone face-to-face about it. We're off to see my great-grandfather's house tommorow.

So that was the news ... now for the observations and analysis for some of you with specific interests. I thought I'd draw some differences between the Shanghai / Yangtze Delta region and the South here:

* In the Shanghai area and Northern areas, some people tend to wear suits for everything ... cycling in the dusty traffic, painting, building a high rise, cleaning the toilet, relaxing on the Bund. There seems to be no "appropriate attire for appropriate activity". My theory is that it is a carry over from the Mao-style jacket for everyone which suited every purpose. This isn't the case in Xiamen, mainly because of the weather.

* Food in the Shanghai area is yuk. The cooking style is different and oily. But to make it worse there are raw material differences. As discussed over lunch today with our Indonesian restauranteur ... I couldn't believe how we agreed on every point about how the Shanghai raw ingredients are different.

Their rice is roundish-short grain (yuk), their kway-teow and dumpling skins are floury in texture, their noodles are not firm-to-bite. Excuse me, some of my friends reading this email will appreciate this analysis greatly.

* Architecture here is more familiar than in Shanghai. Here you have the red, green and gold or black and gold ... intricately carved. In the Shanghai area, mainly dark mahogany lattice work.

So, this is the end of another adventure. I'm glad it has gone so well despite world events. If this had been our 1998 China trip, it would have been over in the first week as Xinjiang province (above Pakistan) is closed to foreigners due to fear of Muslim separatist activities. At this stage our proposed trip to Beirut, Damascus and Tehran next April seems unlikely.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

BLOG: End of the Grand Canal

View 2001 Sabah, Shanghai, Eastern China & Xiamen on alexchan's travel map.

Hangzhou is at the southern terminal of the Grand Canal, an irrigation and transport lifeline constructed in around 600 AD, linking that city with Beijing. A distance of over 1000 km I'm sure ... takes about 2 hours to fly.

The main attraction of Hangzhou [Hangzhou-travel-guide-220323] is West Lake beside the city is built. The beauty of the lake is such that there are some 36 West Lakes in China, all named after this one.

The lake has several islands in it, one of them with several mirror-like ponds with carps up to 2 feet long!!! There are also numerous pavilions and gardens for relaxing and admiring the scenery. A dusty haze descended on us the afternoon we arrived in Hangzhou, and this detracted from the city's beauty.

Hangzhou is supposedly the tourist capital of China, but it is large enough to dilute the influx. Very unlike our previous destination (Huangshan / Tunxi) which was completely overwhelmed.

Domestic tourism is HUGE in China and we seem to be running to groups led by someone with a power megaphone. The itinerary for this trip attracts few foreign tourists and Kim goes for days seeing another European, and then only a handful.

What we don't understand is how they all afford the entrances as they are typically not cheap ... and there are no local prices (believe me I've tried).

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

BLOG: Like a painting

View 2001 Sabah, Shanghai, Eastern China & Xiamen on alexchan's travel map.

Flew to Huangshan [Huangshan-travel-guide-223025] (Tunxi) to ascend the vertical slopes commonly seen in classical Chinese paintings. We chose to ascend by cable car but due to the crowds the wait for this was just over two and a half hours. The 8 minute ride was spectacular! As we wanted to walk down rather than use the cable car, we were faced with two options ... the 13 km track or the shorter one (not sure of the distance).

We chose the shorter one which nearly killed us, regardless. The track was COMPLETELY made from blocks of coral-coloured rocks from nearby mountains.

The forest was showing its first hint of autumn with golden leaves, and with some Japanese-type conifers poking through higher levels (yeah ... I'm a botanist too!).

The foot traffic on the track was quite amazing. Porters make the journey up and down with foodstuff (unrefrigerated chicken and fish, Coke, water, eggs, kerosene ...) up towards the hotels, and down with dirty linen and recycleables.

The weight the carry is unreal. Apparently they do 2 round-trips daily, and get about NZD30 per one-way trip ... quite a lot for China. Apart from the porters, every woman and her cat seemed to be on it, even with really elderly people climbing up. And we were absolutely stuffed only going down!

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

BLOG: Shanghai by night

View 2001 Sabah, Shanghai, Eastern China & Xiamen on alexchan's travel map.

Back to Shanghai [Shanghai-travel-guide-240132] for a final glimpse of its amazing night lights on both sides of the river and the endless neon lights in the walking streets. In parts, it was like a scene from Bladerunner.

We flew out on the night of the big fireworks put on for APEC. Pity. I had hoped that we might be able to get a glimpsed of the fireworks from the sky as we flew out, but no such luck.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

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