Thursday, October 30, 2008

day 8: temples in the rain

More rain today! it was pouring today which has really affected our plans. we had decided to go visit LinYin Temple and Yue Fei Mausoleum. LingYin temple is this huge Buddhist temple in HangZhou. It is really old and really wealthy. in front of it, there is a small mountain that is made entirely of rocks, and in a bunch of rock caves at the foot, there are many buddha carvings from the Song and Yuan dynasty. This is the first time I have seen rock buddha carvings (don't count the ones from that island tourist trap). It was really interesting to see how the style have evolved over the years. the rain had made this part really difficult cause all the rocks are slippery, but also it means less people so we can enjoy the caves without 500 tour groups walking through.

The temple itself is extremely big and well maintained. I was happy to see that apparently this is a serious buddhist temple where monks live and study. They don't solicit you for money or want you to buy crap all the time. And they don't charge you 5 dollars to hit the bell or whatever. This makes me respect them that much more. I saw the cafeteria where monks eat. Man, they all eat this HUGE bowl of rice.

After the temple, we decided to go to Yong Fu Temple, an older, smaller temple on teh backside of LingYin. due to its small size and location, almost no one was there except us. it was really nice to walk there as the rain and the empty courtyards really made me feel at peace. It was a really good atmosphere. I am really glad I went.

Yue Fei Mausoleum is of course famous because Yue Fei is buried there. He is a Song General that is famous for fighting for his country, and then wrongfully executed by the emperor. it was like one of the biggest wrongs in Chinese history. I wanted to visit there and pay my respect. They had his evil accuser's statues prostrating in front of his tomb and I saw everybody spit on them as they walk by haha.

it was very different seeing HangZhou in the rain, West Lake looked completely different. So I was glad to go out today even though my pants got all wet :)

day 7: shopping day

I was glad we got to go see the lake yesterday as the weather forecast, which is much more accurate than the one for seattle, predicted 3 days of rain. So Sun decided to take us shopping. We first stopped at a mall where they carry very luxurious items like LV and Coach bags. We walked around and pretended we wanted to buy stuff haha. Aftet that, We went to the famous HangZhou silk market to look at cheap scarfs. Now I am horrible at bargaining because I don't know enough about the base price even though now I have learned how to say the right things to haggle. Sun, on the other hand, is an expert. Our greatest accomplishment was to buy a scarf for M. original asking price 215 yuan. final sell price: 35 yuan. @_@

day 6: Heaven on Earth

There is a saying in chinese :"In the sky there is heaven, On earth there is SuZhou and HangZhou". This is a testament to the beauty of the two cities. Now I have been to Suzhou and while it has very beautiful gardens, I felt like it has fallen into disrepair and decay over the years. HangZhou, on the other hand, has developed its environment along with its industry and preserved all the great scenery. It totally lived up to its "heaven" title.

Today, I walked around West Lake, which takes about 3 hours if you don't stop and look at anything. I of course took all day as I had to look at EVERYTHING. We had a rare sunshine day today. The sky was blue, the breeze was cool. It was a perfect day for a lake trip. West Lake has various scenic spots around it that are little gardens in themselves that you can walk around, and in each pavilion, long hall way and bridge, you can see a different view of the lake. It was incredible. ALmost every corner we turn, we saw a different aspect of the lake, and the mountain surroundng it.

In the morning, we climbed GuShan, which is this small hill that overlooks the lake. It was still misty and cool in the morning, and we got to see West Lake shrouded in mystery. After that, we climbed down the other side and walked on SuTi, a pier that goes across the entire diameter of the lake. There are 6 bridges on the lake and each one is different. the entire walkway is full of willows, flowers, pavilions. I noticed when I was walking, how quiet it was. The only cars allowed on the causeway is these small open air tour busses that uses special quiet engine. All the boats and ferries on the lake also uses the quiet engine so you almost hear nothing of the city beyond. You can tell they put alot of thought into the maintenance of this area.

At the other end of SUTi, is a scenic spot called 'fish watching in the flower garden". There is a pond in there with thousands, I mean literally thousands of those red chinese goldfish. they all come ot the surface and expect to be fed haha.

Of course, i had to plan a banquet into the day. I decided we have to eat at the most famous restaurant in all of HangZhou 楼外楼. It is originally built in the 1800s and is the only restaurant allowed on the side of West Lake. they are famous for a variety of dishes that i will post pictures later. We sat outside so we got a lakeview while we ate. The price is actually not bad. It is about twice as expensive as normal restaurants. check that off my list of things to do.

After dinner, we decided to keep walking along the lake. We saw a musical fountain ala Bellagio, some very interesting bars and tea houses. At night, every single building along the lake is lit up, in fact, the entire hill of GuShan is lit up at night. every single tree has a light. It looked awesome. I can't imagine their electric bill tho. Also, we had to stop at the WestLake Hyatt for the cleanest bathroom in the land. In addition to having real toilet seats, they actually have Paper towels!!. They must have been imported from somewhere cause I have not seen paper towels anywhere else and they don't sell them in the market. I wish I can carry that Hyatt bathroom with me, alas, we were only able to steal a bunch of paper towels.

Monday, October 27, 2008

day 5: tour groups are all the same

M was very excited to go see the YaoLin caves after hearing my aunt describing it. My aunt has travelled many places around China as part of her work benefit (she is the onsite doctor at a factory). So if she says something is good, usually she is right. so we decided to join a tourgroup for a day trip. The tour groups are really abundant and convenient in China. You can basically join a tour group to about any scenic spot that is worth visiting. Everything can be arranged online and it is highly customizable. they will even do a individual tour just for you if you have enough money. It is all really reasonably priced as well. that is the up side.

the downside tho, is that the schedule is extremely tight. They basically forces you to go through everything about twice as fast as any normal human being ought to. Especially if your tour group is big, the whole time is spent listening to the tour guide asking one person or another to hurry up. The other big downside is that they always want to make you to buy stuff. At the end of your tour, they take you to like a tea factory, silk factory, pottery factory etc etc. whatever the local product happens to be and you have to sit and listen through some sales pitch and they hope you buy stuff. It is alot like a timeshare presentation actually haha.

I have noticed this year that services has been getting tons better, they don't pressure you as much to buy stuff anymore. most companies now has a policy that the tour guides are strictly forbidden to take any tips. this way it prevent them from trying to solicit you. So the experience is much more pleasant. And if you encounter a good tourguide, the talking is really entertaining as well.

Ok, that is enough about the love/hate relationship I have with tour groups. Our day was divided into 3 parts, in the morning we went to visit this man made tour spot called Grandmother's House. It is basically a replica of a traditional farm house. Not very exciting except for this one house that is actually 400 years old, built in the Qing Dynasty. It is now preserved as a museum. It is basically a home temple for ancestor worship. It was really big and every single corner was covered in beautiful carvings. interesting, M says that our old family house was like this before it was all taken away in the Culture Revolution. She lamented that I was born too late to enjoy our opulent rich lifestyle. But I don't know man, how opulent can it be when you don't have flushing toilets? hmm

After this brief tour, we rafted down this really shallow river on rubber boats that seats 4. It was pleasant but really nothing exciting except for the fact our personal rower was amazingly experienced and he only gets 5 Yuan (less than a dollar) for each trip of backbreaking rowing. He says he can only do about 2 trips a day before he die of exhaustion. poor dude. I totally felt like a capitalist oppresor

After lunch came the most exciting part of the day, the Yaolin caves. this limestone cave is supposed to be the biggest in China, streches one kilometer in depth and covers an area of 28000 square meters. The place is really too amazing and too hard to describe. I am just gonna have to post some pictures. I heard that there are some really nice ones in the u.S. too, like that one near Austin. But I haven't been to any of them to be able to compare.

Third part of the day is the sales pitch. we got some green tea and silk bedsheets pitched to us. All in all, not too bad, at least we got to drink the tea hehe.

day 4

Didn't really do much today, which I am thankful for as the first 2 days kind of drained me. I went to pick up the luggage at ChangZhou airport. It was really really tiny and they just put my bag in the airport personnel office. Thank goodness everything worked out in the end. only now did my heart finally calm down.

After picking up the luggage, we took the long distance bus to HangZhou, which is the hometown of the renowned scenic park, Westlake 西湖. M's best friend Sun has an apartment there so we are going to visit her and various tourists spots around. The bus took about 2.5 hours and it was not as comfortable as the train but it can't be helped as HangZhou is in a different province and there are no direct trains. I am really looking forward to touring the lake as there are thousands years of history around this lake and it is just full of ancient temples and gardens.

Of course some banquets were involved later for dinner. HangZhou's food is very delicate and mild. the people here are very big on the easy lifestyle, they have much more discerning taste than the much smaller city of ChangZhou. The entire city is very well organized and there are greeneries everywhere. I think it is a great town to vacation in.

During the banquet I have decided I must forgo the planned trip to Huangshan as I was just exhausted from the nonstop action the past 2 days. After experiencing a little bit of HangZhou, I have decided to spent a few leisurely days here to just sit and soak in the people and history. But before that, there is still one more day trip to make. tomorrow, we are going to visit the famous YaoLin caves.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

day 3: WuXi 无锡 - the new old stuff

Alas, no banquet today. We went to a neighboring town of WuXi to visit some famous garden, and just to make Velius jealous, we went to this park where they have the movie set for the tv series "Romance of The Three Kingdom". You can walk around and they have shows about stories from ROTK. It is really cool.

I am too tired to write now, Will have to add more details later after my nap.

ETA: Alright I am back and refreshed.

So WuXi is about 1 hour away by car from ChangZhou. The funny thing is that the dialect there is completely different from ChangZHou and I can't understand any of it. Amazing how people can communicate before. we decided to go there because it is on the shore of 太湖 Tai Lake, this really beautiful lake that is the subject of many poems in Chinese history. So there are many beautiful gardens, and temples and houses along the shore. It is a good place to go for a day trip.

We decide to take the train. The newest train in China is the D train (动车). It is the fastest and has the best service. It is kind of like Shinkasen in Japan. The trip from ChangZHou to WuXi only takes about 15 minutes. It is really cheap too, the economy class seats are only 12 yuan (2 dollars). The first class seats, which is similar to first class on airplanes but with bigger leg room, is only 10 yuan more. They also have the cleanest bathroom I have ever seen on a train! You can totally tell progress in China by how clean the bathrooms are. They have been getting cleaner and cleaner every year I've been back. Now if only they would have real toilet seats instead of a hole in the ground.

After we arrived, we asked one of my uncles to drive us to 蠡园 (Li's Garden)。 This is a house that was built in the 20s so it is not that old. But its owner spent an enormous amount of effort to make it as authentic and as traditional as possible. the result is this gorgeous garden house that is very typical of southeastern Chinese architecture. There are ponds inside of gardens, surrounded by pagodas and all hidden away behind these rock mountains. I really loved it because it is still new enough that things have not started to fall apart and yet it has that very ancient feel. The reason it is called Li's garden is due to the legend of Fan Li and Xi Shi (one of the 4 most beautiful women in Chinese history). Supposedly xi Shi was born on the shore of Tai Lake and this is where the couple finally retired to.

We were seriously running behind on schedule because Li's Garden was so much fun to walk through even though it really isn't that big (still ridiculous large for one person to live in). Next stop is 鼋头渚. Turtle Head Peninsula on Tai Lake. This place is just famous for nature scenery and its view of Tai Lake. I actually made a mistake here as we decided to follow the tour route the tour map suggested which took us to this island Three Hills Island first. It turned out they have built a bunch of really fake photo spots on there, like a fake temple, and fake carved rock Buddha and many many touristy shops. OMG, it was horrible. Total waste of time and the boat ride took really long time. We were totally cheated. The 2 hours we spent there could have bene spent wandering around the hiking trails around the peninsula as they do have really great view of the lake and the mountains. By the time we came back from the island, we were pretty much out of time and had to run to the next stop.

Ok, now comes the fun part. At the end of the day we made a quick visit to 三国城. This is a theme park made from the leftover movie set from the tv series "Romance of the three Kingdom". They still use the set for other period films too. But when it is free, they let people buy tickest to go in and walk around. We visited SunQuan's palace, the navy camps of Caocao and SunQuan for the Battle at Red Cliff among other things. The coolest thing there is that they have this show that is the battle at Hu Lao gate where the Liubei, GuanYu and Zhangfei fought Lu Bu all at the same time. it was really awesome show. Everybody was on horses and they had real duels and fireworks and charges of the infantry. This show was better than any other one I have ever seen at another theme park. I took video too. It was totally worth the trip!

Come to think of it, my entire WuXi trip consisted of fake old stuff haha, I saw garden built in the 20s,fake temples aka tourist trap, and a movie set for Three Kingdom!

day 2: banquets!

After sulking all day yesterday about my lost bag, I was ready for some fun! My cousin drove M and me to the Heaven's Eye Lake (天目湖). It is this manmade lake very close to ChangZhou. The lake is surrounded by 6 mountains and was made by damming a river which they are using for electricity. It is relatively new lake built in the 90s. Besides their beautiful scenery, the one thing they are famous for are the Fish Head Soup!. They have the best 灰鲢鱼 around for the famous dish because the water is so deep there the fish never has a chance to burrow in mud which gives them that slightly muddy taste. So the fish head soup at Heaven's Eye Lake is suppose to be the best among all. So we went to the best restaurant besides the lake and had fish head soup. It came in a humongous bowl and was amazingly good and way too much for three people. That was basically all we had for lunch.

After lunch, we did a tour around the lake. THey have these small chains of islands in the lake which has hiking and various demostrations of tea making and pottery and stuff. The weather was sunny, the water was blue and it was a great time.

Oh and the most important thing! while I was hiking, China Southern called to politely inform me that they found my bag and it is gonna be on a plane to changZhou tomorrow! WOOT!!! apparently they do have awesome service! (well it would be better if they didn't lose it in the first place and force me to wear the same shirt every day).

After our lake trip, it is time for another banquet! This time our whole family went to "My Hotpot", A hotpot place near our house which has individual hotpots!! instead of having to share a big wok and duel with others for your piece of meat. You get this individual tiny hotpot and you can eat to your hearts content.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

day 1: anguish!

Apparently my aunt's new place has awesome internet so yay for me. I have arrived safe and sound in ChangZhou after about 20 hours of sitting in airplanes. On second thought, perhaps my flight plan wasn't the best of ideas. My original plan was to go

Seattle-> LA->Guangzhou->Shanghai _train-> to Changzhou

this way it ensures i get into shanghai in the morning so i can have a leisurely train ride to ChangZhou. but really according to the actual route travelled by the airplane, this is what actually went down:

seattle->LA -> Seattle->Seoul->Beijing->shanghai->Guangzhou --> Shanghai ->train-> to changzhou.

what a waste of time LOL not only that, stupid China Southern (despite of being perfectly cordial and polite) lost my luggage somewhere between LA and Shanghai! so now i am sitting at home with nothing to wear. Thank goodness nothing too important was in my luggage except all the nice clothing i have ever own. *cries* So hopefully I will get a call in the next couple of days with good news.

Other observations: LAX international terminal is a serious dump, they don't even have a terminal. THey bus you to the plane. GuangZhou airport is really nice and new and shiny. The food at Shanghai train station is very good but hella expensive. well, at least it was good haha.

oh, I also got one of those fancy asian haircuts last night that took 3 hours. I almost fell asleep during it. But now I look like every other Chinese girl here hahah.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Off I Go!

I am about to leave for China in about 4 hours. Will be there til Nov 8th. The plan is basically to beat Velius in the amount of banquet pictures in my blog posts during that time. I will do my best on daily updates but my aunt's place doesn't really have good internet connection so we shall have to see. So until then, everyone enjoy Halloween!! :D

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

a close call at trivia

I wish all the veggies were here for today's trivia. Because Guitar Hero/RockBand finally became a bonus round category today! We were given song snippets from the games and we had to name the title and the singer! Now I know the Veggies would have rocked this !

For the second week in a row, we had user requested cateogories for trivia. I guess the guy got tired of coming up with categories. We were suppose to nominate categories on our answer sheet a few weeks ago and turn them in. As a result, we got some really weird categories lol. For example, Classic Pornography was a category last week (eyeroll). Did you know Peter O'Tool (Lawrence of Arabia) was in Caligula? Last week we weren't able to take advantage of this because none of our categories got chosen. This week, it was a totally different story. We had a cateogry on Video Games that were made into Movies, sooo easy. and to Snoopy's extreme happiness, Peanuts the Comic Strip! She nailed that one effortlessly! Unfortunately, to balance out 2 categories in our expertise, we also had an cateogry on Rocky Horror Picture Show @_@!!!

All in all, we tied for third place with 56 points! This means the tie breaker of doom!! I am sorry to say I totally lose this game for the team :( The question was which planet is comparable to Earth in size and mass. I suggested Mars, while apparently everybody tried to tell me Venus. I answered Mars anyway, but of course every one else was right. So we were 4th place once again .. Cries!!!