Showing posts from October, 2009

Wayne’s First Kiss (Hong Kong Oct 19-24/09)

For Wayne, Hong Kong is like that first kiss, or staring down that bully in grade 1. It’s filled with romance and larger than life dreams that have been upsized with each telling.
He didn’t tell you that it took 25 hours to get there from Huangshan, involving a taxi, two buses and two trains and a subway, and a frustrating border crossing,did he? Nordid he tell you about Chinese trains, right?
We railed it down most of the way in soft sleeper class. That’s Chinese speak for first class, tho officially this is a classless society. The mattresses are a little thicker, and there’s a door for the four bed/2 bunks in a tiny compartment. We’d done the hard sleeper earlier, which was downright proletarian compared to the softie as it’s three walls, 2 rows of triple bunks, and doorless, so prying eyes and wanderers get to peer into each other’s warren. The thing about trains is that they are such a microcosm of China. You’re not supposed to smoke, but people do in the aisles, especially the cre…

Secret Mission to Hong Kong, Oct 19-24, 2009

Objective: Ascertain viability of long term living in HK

Risks: Pollution, poverty, Trish killing me
The best way to see HK is either after or in between China. Having done this now twice, I (Wayne, here) am deluded with romantic notions of it. I crossed into it after the Tiananmen Sq massacre, and now after a month of second hand smoking, spitting and language challenges.
I also remember HK the way it was, before the Brits left. Temple St inspired my first published story. And even Temple St is now a disappointment, a gross tourist trap not worthy of the seedy aura it once held for locals and foreigners, I still love it all and hope to convince Trish to move here for a year or so. Why?
I love how Louis Vitton, and Dior snuggle up beside greasy chopstick diners, dried seafood stalls and knock off vendors.
I love how 5 star hotels look out into 20 story crumbling apartments and their laundry. Imagine Four Seasons-like hotels back home surrounded by Jane/Finch corridor or Caldwell like tenem…

Turtles, Turtles, yeah, yeah, yeah!!

For those such as Carlee who've accused us of animal cruelty, I'd like you to think of this as a cross cultural exchange.

Wayne's done the guinea pig, snake eating thing in previous travels, this time he was determined to try turtle. Here you can buy turtles as big as fry pans on the street. In our favourite restaurant in Huangshan they come in burger sized, and whole. It's served shell up, head and appendages intact, and in a soup. Wayne recalls Campbells soup coming out with a turtle soup years ago, but he's old.

Anyway, the turtle came, Wayne had a few sips but it wasn't especially hot so Wayne called the waiter over, who proceeded to flip it over. She explained that that was where all the meat was. You should have seen Wayne's face. He sent it back anyway, figuring if he was going to eat it, it had to be piping hot.

When it returned it was piping hot. Wayne flipped it over. Through the cartilage, the organs and bits of fat, tiny slivers of soft meat could …

Crouching Tiger, Burnt Monkey, Huangshan Oct 14-18 

Stayed at the Old Street Youth Hostel in the old town. Located on the narrow, stone pedestrian tourist street, it's lined with shops and stalls built to the old Huizhou ways. Every region so far has unique architectural elements. This area also has some of the best tea anywhere. We sampled lots and bought the most incredible green tea.Huangshan is an area long venerated for its otherworldy and romantic mountain, as well as surrounding UNESCO 1000 yr old villages Hongcun et al, and the bamboo forest in Mukeng.
If God rested on the 7th day, he would have whittled away on this granite form, Huangshan (mountain) carved out 40 fantastic granite peaks with whimsical names such as Beginning to Believe Peak, Double Cats catching Mice, Purple Cloud, and Mobile Phone Peak (really). He then would have thrown in rippling brooks, inserted pine trees into the most obscure crevices and cracks and made them grown into impossible places, and shapes.
Immortalized into the Chinese psyche for its beaut…

Dreams of Glory and Family Discovery

Wayne here.
Had a strange dream the other night. The principal dancer at a major dance company took ill and the rest of the cast and crew beckoned me to step in and take over. I stated that I had no real (or imaginary) skill at this, but they insisted.
Then I woke up, not realizing the significance of it. Until last night.

We went to an acrobatic show. Turned out they added a modern twist. Western-style moves and grooves. It's kind of like going to a dumpling vendor and he offers you a pizza. Anyway the acrobatic piece and traditional Chinese opera was at times brilliant, but the modern pieces lacked the expected discipline, tightness and synchronicity of the acrobatics. It was so lame it was funny, watching the amateur choreography stumble all over the place.

Think we will stick with dumplings next time.

Just a final note about Suzhou. We went digging through some family records at the Chinese Sex Museum in Tongli, and found some familial artifacts that show a clear link to me (Wayne)…

Ghost-girl takes on watertowns

Suzhou (6mill), just west of Shanghai, is one of those legendary cities with 2500yrs of history. It was said that in heaven there is paradise, on earth there is Suzhou and Huangzhou. Even Marco Polo said it was the most beautiful city in China, with its tree lined canals, fantastic gardens, silk and art epicentres, and trading hub. Well, none of the above have seen the post Stalinist/Mao influences since. It has much of the pollution and noise and congestion and smog and concrete blockitecture typical of Chinese cities. Some of the canals and alleyways reek of charm, but these are few and far in between. And only a few of the hundreds of gardens of yesteryear, tho they are utterly breathtaking.

Anyway, we're doing a homestay here. If you're thinking we have a small room in a family home with an outhouse, handdrawn well water, chickens in the yard and adorable, wrinkly faced granny...forget it.

We're 14 floors up in a western, expat enclave of luxury hotel apartments. Interes…


We check into the Asset Hotel, a unremarkable but clean 2 or 3 star job, and are happy with the extra space and anonymity, and promise we will do nothing in Shanghai...Yea, right.

Wicked Shanghai it ain't. More like Blade Runner takes Asia. The contrast in the poor and the glitter is jaw dropping. We do our rounds of 5 star hotel washrooms, some of which are still smoke and toilet paper-free, and recall how 20 years ago Chinese weren't allowed into foreigner hotels. Now they own and stay in them.
We take in 2 Chinese movies on huge screens (the Message, and Wheat---the former is fabulous). The act of not walking or talking is wondrous. The theatres offer multi-coloured popcorn, grilled chicken breast, lasagna, Haagen Dasz and sparkling seats and service. We think of staying longer in Shanghai but are pretty sure we can't handle the propaganda movies.

We discover Taikang Rd, an artist colony in an area of old tenement houses cloistered around narrow alleyways and passages whic…

Free iPhones at the Forbidden City

We discovered a delicious steamed bun paradise on the way to the Summer Palace but we are in need of some western food...never thought we'd say this. These five bite buns of joy were named after a general who used them as heads in order to disguise his army size. Whatever, they've ruined any future bun eating.

The Summer Palace is the 2nd most visited site here. Made for heavenly emperors to escape the heat, its 4x the size of the Forbidden City and is an impressive spread of temples, villas, landscaping, water, and opulence.The last Empress Dowager splurged on this when it was supposed to go to a modern navy. She did however, build a marble boat for her pleasure.

It's the National Holiday period and Oct 1 is THE special day of celebration--the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PRC. An exit strategy for Beijing has been a struggle. All trains booked. Oh well, this is what improvising is all about.

Even in Canada, Chinatowns never shut down. Incredibly, many businesses h…

Michael Jackson does the Great Wall

There's likely few people who couldn't identify the Great Wall. The long, meandering battlement snaking in and around rugged hills, the myth of it's visibility from space, images of Mongol invaders scaling it's precipice. Nice images. But rather unreal.

Most people go to sections of the wall that are completely restored and polished, and inundated with aggressive hawkers, touts, cheap souvenir stands, endless tour buses. There is no serenity or peacefulness there.

So we, along with Herbert and Marta, 2 wonderful Germans, hire a guide to take us to Jiangkou.... a bit further out, and a whole lot more authentic. Its an area closed off to the the masses, so no throngs, and no chotchca vendors. Here the wall is real and wild. The crumbling bricks compete for space with overgrown bush and weeds. There are more salamandars than people. It is wild and far more entrancing than the gringo route, as it shoots off into the hills, often forcing us to scamper up 70 degrees of foreste…

Beijing Then and Now

Wayne here. Twenty years ago when I was here in Beijing, the country was in the midst of social and political upheavel. It culminated in the Tiananmen Sq masacre which today isn't discussed, nor taught, nor acknowledged. You have to be at least in your mid thirties for it to register. For these locals, it appears to be a sad chapter, but they've moved on.

Now it's about racing to be like the west. It's about making money. No secret here. Unless you talk to a Communist cadre.
I'm surprised how open the English speaking locals are. Things are so different.
Far less spitting, far less smoking (tho still a problem if eating in public places), more posh, more modern, more cars (By the way, contrary to what one might expect of a sea of Chinese drivers, they are no more kamikaze than in other developing countries)。 Also helps that I'm not staying in $5 dives.

Beijing is so huge. The greater area is the size of Belgium. Two blocks on a map is 2 km. I've taken more publ…