Steve Watson


      Information: Travels: China-2: Diary








This was largely a day of travelling. I got up at 6am in the Taipei Backpackers and left quietly (forgetting to recover the key deposit: NTD100.) Walked to the Ximen station and took the subway to Main Station. From there I attempted to navigate the infernally unnavigable pedestrian malls; but most of the relevant ones were closed,  so I wound up giving up and coming up for air at the Taipei Bus Station. Inconvenient, but not too bad. From there I walked to the Airport Bus station and got an express bus which left at 6:55 and got me there at 7:50 Ė which I call pretty good time.

The plane left on time (it wasnít cancelled, for example) and I arrived at Shanghai Pudong at about 10:20. First things first: I converted my Taiwan money to Chinese and discovered the rate worked out to be something like 6.25 Y/$. Then to an ATM and withdrew Y1500 with absolutely no dramas, which is always a relief. 

Next stage: from the airport to the Maglev and a Y50 trip to Longyang station. Still impressive to be travelling at 430 km/h on land. Itís here that my plans almost came unstuck, I was unable to successfully navigate the Shanghai metro ticketing machine and had to retire and regroup. I looked up the actual position of the train station I was going to and found that my memory had played me false. So back to it, and got there via lines 2 and 1 and Peopleís Square.

The Shanghai Station had a self-ticketing system which was actually a good deal easier than the metro! I bought my ticket to Hangzhou with no problem at all; and, in fact, found that the train was available at 2:50pm, which was not, I am sure, listed online when I was researching this trip. Iíd been wondering what to do in Shanghai for 6 hours until the earliest listed train, but now I only had a 1Ĺ hour wait. Easy.

The train itself was a surprise: it turned out to be one of their high speed jobbies. Very smooth, very fast, very comfortable. It only took about an hour and a bit to get to Hangzhou.

Fast train looks fast

The first thing I did was to go to their inconveniently located self-ticketing office and book my trip out. Lucky I did. There were plenty of trains to Nanjing on the day I wanted, but only one with seats available: and that was at 8:15 in the morning. Itís a pity, because it means another early day.

My only real mistake was to decide that it would be a good idea to walk the 2 km to the hostel. The sun was hot (over 30) and lowering into the West, which meant that as I walked to (XiHu) West Lake along XiHu avenue it was right in my face the whole time; and the bags which are convenient in short doses become millstones grinding on my shoulders after an hour. Well, never mind. Itís in place of the gym I should tell myself.

I was lucky enough to meet an American fellow called David who was just  about to head out to look for a vegetarian restaurant that heíd been told about by the hostel staff. I joined him and we had a pleasant meal, with the waitress being especially amusing Ė just a very young girl desperately trying to make herself understood in English and trying to understand our Chinese. Back to the Mingtown restaurant attached and we had a lengthy talk about such topics as recent technological innovations, Science Fiction, and so on.

Street Lights
Yan'an Street lighting






At about 11 I went off for a walk about the West Lake. At first it was a nice comfortable walk in the warm morning, but as the sun came up it became rather oppressively hot and the lake was much larger than I had thought from looking at the maps. Iíd intended to walk up to the Feilai Feng, but by the time I was halfway across the Long Causeway (Su Di) I was really about done with walking. Itís a shame because the causeway is quite scenic, and much enjoyed by the locals too, by the look of it.

Map of Hangzhou's Xi Hu (West Lake) area 

Fishing from the Su Di on Xi Hu


A tour boat
passing in front of the Leifeng Pagoda Standing in the Sunset 


Still it was worth going on to the Yuefei Memorial at the Cloud-Lingering Peak. This is a memorial to a patriotic fellow of the Song dynasty who fought off the barbarians but then was betrayed by palace politics and executed. Later he was rehabilitated and in lieu of returning his life he was given a monument. Small comfort, I would think


Yuefei Mu 

I think these are the actual burial tumuli, but I canít be sure, because the English help here was a bit scanty. There were rooms of stelae which were completely unexplained, and statues with only the barest of labels. Itís a pity.

Met up again with David who had attached himself to a girl called Shu Ting. We went out to dinner again at the vegetarian place; but although the food was good (and we avoided the lotus root this time), the waitress clearly just wanted us to go away so that she could go home. Conversation was good, and Ting pretended to be Japanese (very convincingly) so that weíd be forced to use our own Chinese language resources to get by. Mostly we did ok.






Intending to hire a bike, I was inspired to ask at an information booth whether there was a bus up to Feilai Feng. There is; and it leaves from just the next stop up. So that saved a heckuva lot of pedaling and struggling with maps and so on. Nor was there any difficulty in spotting where to get off, or from where to catch the bus back, or where to get off that bus. It was all easy.

Feilai Feng is the Peak that Flew Here. Thereís a story that a Buddhist monk called Hui Li arrived from India, doubtless with a valuable store of sutras as the fruit of his expedition, and thought that he recognized this mountain from his home in India. It must have flown here before him! The place is the site of a sizeable monastery, called the Lingyin Si, or the Temple of the Soulís Retiring. It has a very beautiful setting amongst the tea plantations and the general greenery, and thereís a pleasant little stream that runs by it too that is full of fish and turtles, and across the stream are carvings of Buddhist figures Ė not impressive in themselves, but nice enough, and they attract a discerning viewership.


A monk grasps the permanence of the Buddha

A resting pavilion by the stream

The walls of Lingyin Si

Incense was burned. I worry that I may have been affected by passive piety.

One of the curiosities of the Temple is its Hall of Arhats, which is a swastika-shaped building filled with rows of smiling saintly figures, each with some individual and peculiar attribute. One is waving a fly-wisk, another has a monkey, yet another has a dragon standing on his head, and so on. (One of them had a spider hanging from him. Perhaps heís a kind of Robert the Bruce figure, or a Rip Van Winkle. Who knows, there were no signs I could read.) The one I liked was having his ears cleaned by a little person. He is clearly of a higher status than the one further up who had to clean his own ears.

Earhat. Those long ears require cleaning. Lucky thereís a holy imp with a stick.








Another travel day. I got to my hotel, and found that it really was just a low budget hotel well outside the main city area. The place is clean enough for a cheap hotel, but absolutely no-one speaks English, so itís all a lot more difficult than it should be. Thereís a restaurant in the basement, but trying to get any sense there was also a losing proposition. I got a meal which was acceptable, but no more, and I didnít go back. The rest of my meals would be taken at the IFC at Xinjiekou.

I had to go back to the Station almost immediately because Iíd forgotten to buy an onward ticket to Louyang. What a bloody nightmare. There was no sign for self-ticketing (though I discovered there was such a place when I was leaving) and in the main ticketing office there were 20 odd counters all with Chinese-only labels and all with huge queues outside them. I had no idea what to do so I just got into one and did my best. The girl wouldnít even try to communicate. Honestly, if someone can clearly only say a few words, what is the point in gibbering at them at top speed. In any case, I got a ticket for a bit earlier than Iíd wanted. This actually turned out to suit me well enough since I donít really think much of Nanjing. It meant, of course, that I had to arrange another night in Luoyang. Luckily I was able to find a dorm bed quite close to the station.






Decided to see the sights in the city, such as were advertised. Xinjiekou, I was told was a main centre: well, if so, then Nanjing is sadly lacking in a civic centre. It was about as exciting as Los Angeles. I looked about for the Presidential Palace, but couldnít find anything where it was located on the map except a new, ordinary-looking building being constructed. There are next to no English language signs for assistance Ė which makes getting around in Nanjing very tiresome.

After a coffee at Costaís opposite where the PP was supposed to be, I headed back to the hotel and had another shower and a bit of a snooze and recuperation. From there I went walking out to the East Gate and up to Ming Ling and Zhong Shan Ling. The Ming Ling is a set of Ďsmallí Ming tombs (thatís their name) and is quite pretty, though of minimal significance. The walk out was alongside the Ming walls for a little way, and was really quite pleasant. Thereís also a nice little lake that looked like it wasnít being properly appreciated.

A pretty lake by the Eastern Ming walls

The sacred path to the tombs guarded by figures

Monstrous architecture


Stairway through a blank wall


Fancy eaves

By the time Iíd finished there I needed to rest and was about done walking actually. Iíd started developing blisters and it was quite a hot day. Still, I couldnít stop and miss Zhong Shan. This is the tomb of Sun Yat Sen, and is entered through a large tourist shopping area. Again, there are no signs to speak of: I knew it was up a hill and headed in the likely direction. Then one turns a corner and finds a huge entrance. Really, not well thought out. And to top it off, when Iíd walked all the way there I found that they werenít admitting any more visitors to the mausoleum itself Ė even though it was just after 5, and the guidebook said it was open until 6:30 pm! This is the last straw. I walked back home.







Travelling again. Went into town to hang out at Starbucks and bought a few things for on the train. Then off. Went smoothly enough, and the little inflatable headrest is a success. I wish I hadnít pulled my shoulder muscle Ė itís quite a nuisance.

Got in to Luoyang at about midnight and had some trouble finding the hotel. Again there were no latin character signs and the big hotel sign was in Chinese only. Bit of a dump really Ė Iím glad Iíll be staying here for only one night. I donít like dormitories Ė theyíre always filthy and inconvenient.

Map of Luoyang with Pi La's annotations






Moved into my real hostel. Which is better, but has a bit of a sewage smell in the bathroom (ok, itís not just a Ďbití of a smell.) Did my laundry, which was an adventure with their crazy machines Ė even the staff helping me follow their instructions thought they were funny. The place has wifi, but it doesnít quite reach to my room. I have to take the lappy into the reception area to connect.

You need the sewage smell in the doorway to get the real ambience of the room

I thought it would be a good idea to go into the town for a walkabout, but no sooner did I set foot outside the door than it began to rain. I sheltered in a convenient KFC.






The next night was much better. Iíd been chatting to a few of the other guests there who were eager to practise their English on me. First Pi La (Priscilla) had introduced me to Sherry from Shanghai, who was just finishing her vacation and was going home, then we were joined by a guy from I donít know where who was going to Chengdu to learn to fly(?), and then a girl from Kunming who was studying at Houhot(!) because she wanted to study in the North but didnít like Beijing, and then three girls sitting behind us also joined in. They were all very jealous of the fact that I could travel the world so easily and had been to Ďso manyí places. Life is very constricted when you are educated well but live in a poor country where you canít afford to get out and other countries donít trust you to go home. It was all very friendly, but I was glad when I could get a bit of peace and quiet. I walked about outside for a bit snacking on some yummy things (I darenít ask what.)


Snack street

That was the evening, but in the afternoon Iíd gotten onto the bus and headed out to Bai Ma Si, a famous monastery. In fact it is the most significant monastery in China Ė Iíve read its name many times. It was the first in China, founded in 68AD by monks who had come from India bearing sutras on two white horses Ė hence the name of the temple, of course. There are commemorative statues of horses here that the children (and some older people) sit on to have their photos taken. In fact the children seem to have a great time at this temple.


Whee! I'm praying

I wonder how many of these people dutifully praying and burning incense and so on are actually believers: Sherry said that wherever she goes she makes a point of going to the temples and praying for luck at work, health for the family, etc., but she doesnít believe in it Ė itís just a cultural thing.

Wishing well

Now given the Chinese attachment to money, this must be a sign of true believers! On the other hand the notes are almost all only Y1, and I think the highest I saw was Y5

It's a sign

I have no idea

Not a peony pavilion

The city of Luoyang is supposed to be famous for its peonies, but the season has passed now and the irises are in better condition; but even they, if you look closely, are not as healthy as they could be. This display was quite impressive though.

A pagoda

And finally, in the enormous area of shops outside the temple itself, but apparently part of the temple complex, there were a pair of girls making noodles. I found it very difficult to get a decent picture of them. This is the best I could do.

Swinging the noodle






Off today to Longmen grottoes. Turned out to be a fairly long day, and with quite a bit of climbing up and down steps. The caves were created and decorated over 500 years from about 500AD, but many of the grottoes donít actually have very much of interest in them. (Well, historical interest perhaps, but nothing for the casual visitor.) Apparently there was a lot of vandalism in the 9th C during the anti-Fo movement and again in the Cultural Revolution. My guidebook says there was also lots of damage by Western souvenir hunters, but I think thatís likely to be wishful self-flagellation by the reliably cringing editors. The damage thatís visible reminds one of the head-lopping of the iconoclasts in Byzantium and in Revolutionary England Ė not the collecting done in the 19th C in Greece, Italy, and Egypt. I would recommend for others to skip most of the Northern side and take the ferry from the end of the Southern walk across and down the river to the Xiangshan temple. You wonít miss anything worth seeing.

The only really impressive sights are, in fact the Vairocana Buddha and his buddies in the Fengxian cave. Really big.


The God of Grr! The side statues are about life size and a half

Part of the Southern bank of the Yi river. A sacred place: holey and enchanted

More of the same

The Fragrant Mountain Temple from the South Side

Once back in the comfort of the Tourist Exploitation Zone blocking the entrance to the site, I slipped into a quiet place to have some lunch and a coffee. It would have been pleasant except the staff insisted on having a shouted, shrieking conversation just behind me for about 30 minutes. The whole time I was there. Does everyone shout in China?






Today was the Shaolin monastery on Song Shan. It was a trip I arranged with the hostel, but I donít think it was really very good. Nobody spoke English Ė it was all Chinese guides and guests apart from me, so I didnít know what was going on half the time. I didnít even know that we had a guide to start with, so when we got off the bus and we all seemed to drift apart I worried about getting tickets, food, into the show, back home. Even before that, weíd made an (unscheduled) stop at Bai Ma Si which had me flummoxed. Eventually the guide had to call someone who could speak English to explain that it was just for the benefit of the other guests Ė I could stay in the bus. So there I slept for ĺ of an hour. Later, when we had lunch, we all seemed to be sitting at separate tables Ė and again, I didnít know what was expected (and there was no tea.) All in all, not a great success, and I canít help but compare it with trips Iíve done to the Great Wall and the Buried Army Ė both much, much better.

I thought the Shaolin Temple itself wasnít much to write home about Ė perfectly average temple from what I could see. And the display was not impressive. The monks are acrobatic enough, but nowhere near as skilled as the Opera performers Iíve seen. And we didnít see any actual demonstrations of fighting skills; it was all weird posing and flashing sticks and whips about.

Fancy bracing on the temple

Ferocious fighting figure from Kung Fu fane

Flags outside the temple grounds

The forest of pagodas

View through Shaolin temples to the hills of Song Shan

Driving out into the countryside was one of the interesting things about today. It was very hot (but only 28oC) and dusty and felt a lot like central India. There was a lot of street life and a lot of industrial activity at al sorts of levels. There were large trucks full of gravel, trucks carrying big pieces of odd-looking machinery, small tuk-tuks and other oriental mini-vehicles laden down with all sorts of things - bamboo, boxes of God knows what, glass, Ö The roads were everywhere under repair Ė or in desperate need of it. There was a persistent smell of hot asphalt. The farms were full of vegetables, so it canít be too hot for the cabbages I guess. Driving then through Luoyang makes you realize how narrow the area of modernity is in this town. Itís basically just ZhongZhouDongLu where I am and a few blocks on either side, and one or two other areas that I saw. The rest is just very third world.






The first part of this was a trip to Zhengzhou, which was ok, but Iím not keen on the hard seats: theyíre hard and not everyone gets one, so that there are people standing in the aisles and bumping into you constantly. It was easy enough to find a left luggage office Ė but expensive at Y20 for two pieces. Still, it gave me the freedom to walk about town, which was much more interesting as a city than Luoyang. It has no sights to see however, so I just found a coffee shop near the corner of Jinshui Lu and Erqi Lu and sat for a few hours. (2 cappus cost Y67! This was a very fancy establishment.) Back to the station via a desperate KFC in a plaza off Renmin Lu.

The train started badly with some guy yelling at me that I was in his seat. He really made no effort to make himself understood, but after inspecting both tickets I noticed his had a little Ďxiaoí (小) character beside the bed number where mine had a Ďzhongí (中) character, so he was right, but why not point those characters out to me instead of jabbering at me? This area is quite bad for that sort of inability to communicate. I think this must be their Ďredneckí area. Later, I managed to have a reasonable, halting conversation with a girl and her friends just before we came into Qufu about 30 mins late.)

Map of Qufu. My hostel was on Gulou Jie opposite the Yanmiao Temple






I was ripped off by the taxi guy; which wouldnít have annoyed me so much except that he was assisted in this rip-off by some apparently friendly girl who was helping me. Anyway, I had to wait ĺ hour till 6:15 for the hostel to open. Itís a beautiful place. Iím very impressed with it.

First thing I did after sleeping and showering and eating breakfast (excellent) was to visit the Confucian Mansion. Iím not impressed with it. The rooms are badly signed and they contain mostly junk. It looks like a half-cleared out house which has been partially reoccupied by squatters. There are old electric light fittings and bits of modern cheap (staff) furniture beside incredibly dusty and obscure remnants of (presumably) original furnishings. Quite disappointing. Externally, the mansion didnít look like a very fun place to live, but perhaps it would have been prettier when it was properly cared for.

A scene from the mansion






To the Confucian Temple! A huge pile. And Iím starting to think that if youíve seen one Chinese temple youíve seen them all. A bit like Greek temples I guess. The differences are really apparent only to connoisseurs, and the significances of the places are not usually reflected architecturally. Iím also rather tired of being hailed with ĎHelloí from morning to night by people who have no further English but merely want to (a) sell me something (usually some appalling tourist junk) or (b) laugh with their friends about speaking to a waiguoren. Get over it.

A pavilion. One of many.

Industrial scale domestic piety

Ming-age Kong Fu temple turtle

A rooftop parade

Well that was all very amusing, but Iíd really had enough by the end.

In the afternoon I went to the Confucian Forest (Kong Lin,) really the Kong family cemetery containing dozens of generations of the family Ė at least 2000 yearsí worth. It was a huge place and to get to it there was an insane scrum of really nasty souvenir stalls Ė much worse than most places. There were large crowds at the gates and just inside, but as soon as one got past the first few hundred feet you found yourself almost entirely alone; apart from those little electric tour carts that whizzed by, and even they seemed only to do the perimeter tour.

The actual tomb of Confucius was very low key. There were various additional buildings that had accreted over time, but the tomb was really just two markers, a stone brazier (I think,) and a kneeling platform.

Markers for the tomb of Confucius

Angry figures outside a grave. I call them the Disputers of the Dao.

I would refer this fellow to the writings of Mo Zi,
with special reference to his criticism of extravagant funerals






When I woke up in the morning it was cold and thunderstormy. Checking the weather for Taiían, I found it was going to be cold and rainy there, so I gave up the idea of going to Tai Shan at all. Iíll stay here one more night and go straight to Beijing tomorrow. Today I foresee doing nothing at all. And, indeed, I succeeded! I took a few pictures of the hostel, because it really was quite nice. Hereís the part of the restaurant where I spent most of my days.

Cosy and quiet - just as Qufu chould be. (There are turtles in that large bowl.)







Today, since there was almost no one but me at the hostel, I had a long conversation with one of the staff called Li; she practiced her English and I practiced my Chinese Ė to mutual benefit I think. And later I introduced myself to Anthony, an Australian studying in Beijing returning on the same train as I was. We decided it would be a good idea to share the taxi to Yanzhou, reducing the cost from 40 to 20 each. He was a decent fellow and we had a nice chat. Quite a relief really.

I arrived at the hostel without any significant dramas at 10pm, but just couldnít get to sleep. Iím feverish and have a headache. I hope that this goes away before Taipei.






Iím not too impressed with this place. The room itself is a bit grotty, though the hostel in general seems ok. The restaurant serves decent meals, but the breakfasts are back to the normal Chinese interpretation of portion sizes.

Covered courtyard in Candy Inn

I blew the fuse in the place today. Whoops. Soon had it fixed though. Took all my clothes (except what Iím wearing) to reception to have them cleaned. (My clothes weigh 1.5 kg.) This is a job that is long past its due time.

Still in the morning, I went to the new museum which has just been opened. What an almost complete waste of time! There are next to no exhibits, and the exhibits that there are are not very informative or varied.

1.       Peruvian things (who cares?)

2.       Art of the Enlightenment (why would I come to China for that?)

3.       Ancient art. Better: bronze vessels and bodhisattvas; minimal English captioning.

4.       Ancient Ceramics. No English at all. Worthless.

And thatís it. I think the Auckland War Memorial Museum is better than that. Oh yes, there was also a ĎHall of Rejuvenationí where the Communist Party interpretation of recent Chinese history is presented. Mind-bogglingly naÔve and partisan, and reading rather like one of those Chairman Mao rants about running dogs of Western imperialism. An insult to every visitor, but especially to any Westerners.

The National Large Empty Space Where A Museum Should Be. Where are all the exhibits?

Walked to Qianmen to have a Starbucks coffee. What a boring neighbourhood this is, but the coffee and sandwiches were good.






Walked through Wangfujing. Had a coffee and a beer in one of the tent stalls there. Bought an Economist at the Foreign Languages Bookshop. Hated it. Now I wish there was some way I could get the library to buy everything printed in the series of ancient Chinese classics that I saw there. They had many that I recognized and many more that Iíd never heard of before. Theyíre all bilingual with notes and really quite cheap in hardcover.







This is my last day in China, and Iím really quite ready to be on my way. However, since my flight leaves at 8:40 pm and I have to check out of here at 2pm, Iíve got a bit of time on my hands. I thought itíd be worthwhile going to the White Pagoda in North Lake park. I walked there at a gentle pace, passing through Nanluohuxiang, and stopping at the Tibet Cafť for a bit. The park, when I reached it was really rather pleasant. It was full of quite interesting temples and pavilions and a lakeside promenade under willows. And there were also a couple of things that Iíd really missed last time. In the first place there was the Bai Ta (White Dagoba) itself, which was on a little island in the lake completely built over with temples and paths and what not.

Bai Ta

The best view of it in the park is from one of the lakeside pavilions that people were lounging in. They were themselves very pretty too.

Lakeside lounges. (It's a pity it was so glary: it was hard to get a good picture.)

To get to the Dagoba you had to walk around the East coast of the lake, because, contrary to all my maps, there was no southern connection. This caused a bit of backtracking, but it wasnít really a big deal. I suppose one could have taken a boat across, but they were all tied up, and it was too windy and choppy anyway.

Boats on the West of North Lake

And the other thing that was worth seeing was the famous Nine-Dragon Screen.

One dragon of Nine (actually of Eighteen.)

And there were also other dragons to be seen. Some of them were to be seen crawling on ceilings, leaping from rooftops or just running around on the walls. Really, there must have been a bit of an infestation at one time. Thank heaven those days are over.

Hit 'em with the old Pea Beau

Anyway, I made my way back through Wanfujing (having a beer at one of the tents) and the Bookshop, and off to the airport. Be it noted that the airport connection at Dongzhimen is ridiculously badly organized. It was damn near impossible to find the ticket seller or the station. For some reason itís all separate from the rest of the subway, so that you have to leave and go back down another hole. Oh well, at least I gave myself plenty of time. That turns out to have been a good idea, because when I got there I found that China Air had moved the departure time forward 40 minutes, so instead of a leisurely time, I barely had 15 minutes for a quick coffee and straight onto the airplane. They were boarding, I think, when I arrived. (The coffee hit was required now because CI coffee is really undrinkable Ė even for me.)






Arriving in Taipei was much the easiest part. Getting on the bus at the airport and off at the station is now a familiar procedure for me. Experience (and my weather gadget) also had me prepared with an umbrella, which impressed my fellow travellers. I had no trouble at all getting into the hotel or the room following the instructions left by the staff. Good for them. The room, however. The room. Well, what can I say? I did choose one described as a mini single, but I wasnít in any way prepared for the shoebox size of it. My wardrobe at home is bigger than this!

An unfortunate choice of rooms