Trip Start Jan 16, 2009
52Trip End Nov 20, 2009
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After my latest post we had May holidays, during which I went to see my dad in Shanghai and had a small tour in Hangzhou as well. Shanghai is the most populated city in China and in deed different from Beijing. For example, the best known landmarks of these two cities should give you some idea: In Beijing the symbol of the city is the world's largest public square, Tiananmen Square, just opposite the big Mao Zedong portrait facing the square from the entrance of the historical Forbidden City. This square of heavenly peace is of course best known for the Western world of the "incident", as the Chinese call it, which happened almost exactly 20 years ago
Although Shanghai also has some attractive European architecture from the 1800's (due to the international settlements), there isn't too much see for a tourist, so I went to near-by Hangzhou for a couple of days. I reckon most of you readers have never heard about Hangzhou, even if this small city of five million inhabitants is one of the most popular tourist destinations for the Chinese. The city itself wouldn't be anything special without the West Lake and it's green surroundings, which are a refreshing change from the crowded Shanghai. In Hangzhou, I rented a bike and cycled around the lake exploring the surroundings as well. The only problem with bike was that it was too small, so you can't lift the seat high enough to straighten your legs so at least for me, it's impossible to ride uphills without getting a fierce pain in my knees
After the holidays, I continued my basic Beijing life for two weeks, until I left to Hong Kong. The Chinese are in some sort of a panic with the swine flu, so crossing the border to Hong Kong was pretty interesting as you had to fill special health declaration forms and your temperature was checked as well. However, considering that Hong Kong was struck down by SARS some years ago it's understandable, I guess. In Hong Kong, I met my old friends Jenni and Liisa, with whom we stayed in the rather international Chungking Mansions for four nights. Hong Kong in an interesting business centre, a mix of east and west, while it also has a lot of green hills and many islands with beaches. We also had a nice day-trip to another Special Administrative Region of China, Macau. I found Macau a very exotic place with Mediterranean architecture and Portuguese street names while the population is still Chinese. Macau is anyway best known for its casinos, and according to some statistics, it's even drawing annually more visitors than Las Vegas. This actually makes sense as gambling is prohibited in mainland China as well as in Hong Kong.
After Hong Kong and Macau we took a train to Guangzhou (Canton), which felt really Chinese again after these rather special two cities
After Guangzhou, Jenni and Liisa followed me to Beijing, where Aapo from Seoul joined us a couple of days later. This was the time for me also to check out the forbidden palaces, temples of heavenly peace and bird nests. I didn't find any of those especially fascinating, unlike our hike on the Great Wall, which was surprisingly nice and not crowded at all. With a bit of negotiating, we got a "taxi" to take us to Jinshanling from where we hiked about 10km and 4 hours to Simatai where the driver was waiting for us. Of course there were also some t-shirt sellers and other hawkers but I can only imagine how bad it is with them in Badaling, where most of the tourists go to see the wall.
Now all my three visitors are gone, but my mum and sister are coming tomorrow so I'll remain quite busy the following days as well. I haven't actually been to school in two weeks, and there's only two more weeks left before the exams so we're getting close to the end of my stay in Beijing. As I've stated earlier, I'll continue my travels after these Chinese studies and so far I've booked flights to Tokyo for 26th of June. The master plan in to explore Tokyo and Northern Honshu with Aapo for three weeks before returning to China. If we can still stand each others' company after those three weeks, we'll probably continue our way to China's southern provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan before splitting up as Aapo is heading to Vietnam while there's Tibet in my mind. Well, plans always change but that's at least the initial plan. I'll try to update the blog once more before the trip to Japan.