it's about life, my life, quilts, midwifery, and whatever else occurs to me.

25 December 2012

Thoughts on China

(Note: Yes, I know it was nearly 4 months ago. I've been pondering the experience until now. These things take time!)

China had never been on my list of top places to visit, but a confluence of circumstances led us to make a trip there in early September.

Some things I saw:

1. Chinese people. There really are a lot of them. Including some very, very cute Chinese children, although some of the boy babies have very bad haircuts, like this:


2. Temples. There are a lot of them, too. 

Outer gate, Nanputuo Temple, Xiamen, Fujian Province

Interior temple at Nanputuo

Temple at Sunlight Rock, Gulangyu Island, Xiamen

Main gate, Yuantong Temple, Kunming, Yunnan Province

Interior temple at Yuantong

3. Signs and labels with amusing English translations.

'Warning slip' (i.e. 'slippery when wet') at Gulangyu ferry dock

'Skin doing device' (what we would call 'hair dryer') in hotel room

4. Breathtaking disregard for safety.

5. Lovely old architecture, and horrible new architecture.

A traditional tulou, Fujian province, southern China

A planned community under construction far outside Xiamen, in the 'horrible new' category.

Victorian-era structure on Gulangyu Island, Xiamen, Fujian province

6. Walmart. When you think about it, it makes sense since the crap they sell is all made in China anyway.

7. T-shirts with, um, somewhat inappropriate English phrases in large letters on the front. I don't have photos of these because I was too distracted by my thoughts on why these shirts exist and why people would wear them, but two have stuck in my mind, both worn by young women: (1) "Eat shit and die" (2) "I'm not easy but we can discuss it"

Then there are things I smelled in China; at the time there were three, but at this remove I can only remember two: diesel fumes, and sewer.

Best things about the trip:

1. Leaving Xiamen and going to Kunming. It was September, and Xiamen was too hot and humid.

2. Amazingly good and cheap food. Iced tea and wifi at Starbucks.

3. Brian. No way would I do China without someone who can communicate in Mandarin.

4. Stone Forest in Yunnan. Other-worldly and weirdly beautiful.

Worst things:

1. Toilets.

A luxury squatter - at least it was clean (and luckily there was a sitter in the next stall)
2. A plague of scooters.

Scooters waiting at a light
Now these scooters are electric, which means they are silent and can sneak up on you. Almost no public space is off limits to them, including sidewalks, the one place pedestrians like to think they're safe. And they don't always follow the flow of traffic, so they can come at you from any direction. On the other hand, I never saw any actual accidents. According to Brian, an accident would be a bureaucratic nightmare for the driver, and even more so if the aggrieved party was a foreigner.

3. The beds. It's of course impossible to convey in a photo just how hard the mattresses are, if they are indeed mattresses and not concrete blocks, which is sort of what they feel like. I like sleeping on a firm surface as much as anyone, but these things go way beyond firm, at least in the tourist-class hotels we stayed in. 

In our 10 days there we could only get the barest taste of the country. The experience was intriguing and definitely worthwhile. Would I go back? Well...maybe. 

01 December 2012

China, part 1: Hong Kong

I probably should have written about China a couple of months ago, when it was all fresh in my mind. I think that's the way it's supposed to be done. Oh well.

We started off in Hong Kong for a few days, and we also stayed one night there on the way home. At the start, being in Hong Kong was pretty much like traveling anywhere else. Yes, there were a lot of Chinese people, signs in Chinese, etc. But English is everywhere, reflecting the British colonial past, so as an English speaker you have no problem getting around. And getting around is easy on the fabulous, frequent, air-conditioned metro system; then, if you have to go farther than it does, there are buses and cool old double decker trams, or ferries if your destination is the mainland or one of the other islands. 

Harbor and business district, with Kowloon in the distance, from  the Peak
Hong Kong is built around the periphery of a mountainous island, as well as into the side of the mountain. On the north side, at and within a couple hundred meters of the shoreline, is the commercial district with office buildings, shopping malls, hotels, and some giant apartment blocks. Here there are mobs of people going everywhere all the time. This is what most people probably think of when they think of Hong Kong. 

Night market in Kowloon
Away from this strip is where people live and some people work: shops, street markets, restaurants, and dwellings of various sizes. 

Phil and Nick on Dragon's Back track
But there are also large swaths of greenery where nothing has been built, and you can walk on a hiking track for a couple of hours in a park and hardly see anyone except for the people you're hiking with.

photo credit: Wing Luk

Much of yuppie Hong Kong lives in an area called the Mid-levels, a neighbourhood just above the central business district, partway up the mountain. Between the steep angle of the walkways that lead up to the Mid-levels and the heat and humidity much of the year, getting home after work would be quite a chore, driving being a nightmare. The brilliant solution is the Mid-levels Escalator, the world's longest covered outdoor escalator according to Wikipedia. In the morning, until about 10, the escalator   moves people down from the heights to the business district, accommodating the direction of rush hour. Then it switches over to move people uphill for the rest of the day and into the evening. There are covered stairs for when you're going the opposite direction of the escalator, as seen on the right of the photo.

Sok Kwu Wan village fishing fleet, from the track
We passed through lively fishing villages offering all kinds of fish that you wouldn't necessarily want to eat, especially considering the apparent lack of refrigeration. This one was at the start of a couple hours' walk from one side of Lamma island to the other.

Our days were full of walking and our nights included dinner, more walking, and visiting the Ben and Jerry's scoop shops. Our hotel in the early part of the trip was clean, quiet, and convenient, but hardly luxurious; the room had just enough room for a queen bed, a very tight desk and closet area, and a small bathroom. On our last night, returning home the next day to Oz, we splurged on THIS room. My phone camera doesn't do it justice, but this is the bed as seen from the lounge area (note the complimentary fruit bowl), with the glass-enclosed bathroom (separate shower and tub!) off to the left of the photo. Also not shown is the rooftop pool and the VIP breakfast/tea lounge just down the hall. This is where I want to stay next time.