China....mixed emotions.

Trip Start Sep 28, 2010
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of China  , Guangxi Zhuang,
Sunday, June 3, 2012

Well China, we both have to say we have mixed emotions about you!! You have surprised us, delighted us, scared us, shocked us and intrigued us.....you have sometimes made us feel good, you've made us laugh, however at times you have also concerned us and depressed us!

We gave you eight weeks of our time, not nearly enough to dig very deep, but enough to at least scratch the surface. We spent the majority of our time in Shanghai (5 weeks in all), while also visiting Hong Kong (yum), the world heritage listed  town of Hangzhou (cough cough), and the southern cities of Guilin, Yangshuo (beautiful and relaxing) and Nanning (our gateway to Vietnam).



So, first stop, Hong Kong to visit some ex-Tzannian's (for those of you that don't know, a Tzannian is not some strange alien but a person who works at an architecture practice called Tzannes, Alex's old work), and get us some visas for mainland China. Sarah and Henry were away for most of our time in HK, but were nice enough to let us use their apartment.........it was definitely a step up for us......infact 41 floors up from an already high position on HK Island. It was difficult to leave the apartment and remove ourselves from the view, but a ridiculous amount of good food down on the street level of the city lured us down at least 3 times a day. Sarah and Henry, we have so many photos of the view from your place but none of you......sorry! It's been a while since we've had much Asian food so we were pretty keen to re-accquaint our tastebuds with the wonders of dumplings, noodles and dim sum. Other highlights included climbing to the Peak of the island every afternoon (I must say, if you want to get fit......just move to HK, it is rather hilly) and having lunch with another Tzannian, Jo, who surprised us by telling us she is pregnant too. After comparing bumps (both miniscule at that stage), catching up on each other's news and enjoying yet another delicious meal, we raced off to the train station to catch our overnight train to Hangzhou.


Hangzhou is about an hour south of Shanghai, we decided to visit thinking we would have a few quiet days in a smaller town before heading to another big and bustling city. We may have got our facts slightly wrong about Hangzhou. Yes, it's a relatively small town (only 7 million people, tiny for China) with beautiful temples and gardens around an extremely picturesque lake, but it also seems to be one of the most popular tourist destinations in China. The peaceful atmosphere of the classical Chinese landscape was somewhat marred by the extreme traffic gridlock from the tour buses, and the tour groups in matching hats/scarves listening to their guide on very loud and crackly microphones. We also managed to be there on a few days of very heavy pollution, so not only could we not see to the opposite side of the lake, we could barely see to the opposite side of the street. Whilst it was interesting to see Hangzhou it wasn't quite the relaxing interlude we were expecting. It was somewhat strange to arrive in Shanghai, a city of more than 23 million people, and find it to be a calm and peaceful place. It's all relative I suppose!



Well 5 weeks in Shanghai certainly went by quickly and we are not exactly sure what we did with all our time but we certainly fell in love with our little corner of the French concession. We can tell you that my Chinese is a little better after 3 weeks of classes and Alex is now a contender for Australia's next master chef after perfecting the dumpling making craft, the best part about her cooking classes was the fact that I got to help eat her tasty creations after each class was over……one word…..YUM!!

At times when strolling through the streets of the French concession you would have little idea that you are in one of the densest places on earth. Almost every street is lined with massive trees that cover the roads in a lovely dappled light, there are lots of intriguing laneways with traditional courtyard houses, and despite there being a lot of high rise construction in the city, there is still a surprisingly large number of buildings less than 4 storeys high. The roads are busy but not as hectic as we imagined, and there’s also lots of people on bicycles and electric scooters (with no lights I might add, which is a little unnerving at night as they make zero noise and creep up on you all the time). But the absolute best thing about our time in Shanghai was meeting Mathilde, who was our AirBnB host while we were in the city. A French designer who has lived in Shanghai for more than 5 years, she is very passionate about her adopted home and was an amazing source of information and recommendations. With Mathilde’s help we found out about every gallery opening, architecture exhibition, café, bakery and restaurant in the city, and it is thanks to her expertise that we had such a fantastic time in Shanghai (and lots of seriously delicious food). We were very lucky to be able to get to know Mathilde and hope we can cross paths again in the future.



After leaving Shanghai we spent a week in Guilin and Yangshuo, a rural area of China known for its dramatic landscapes and beautiful river. Like Hangzhou, the area is an incredibly popular tourist destination, but we stayed in a small village with a guesthouse run by a Dutch couple so we definitely managed to escape the hordes of tour buses this time. We spent most days riding bicycles alongside rivers and rice paddies, trying to guess what crops were being grown, and visiting small villages, some empty and rather run-down, others full of local kids and farmers. It was a rather lovely few days spoiled only by the rubbish that seems to be inescapable in China. It was so depressing that even in area of incredible natural beauty, which draws tourists from all over China, people were happy just to throw their rubbish on the ground or in the river.



Most times when leaving a country we are craving something, usually a food cuisine that we haven't had in a while.....you always want what you can't have. But we have to say that the chinese / asian diet is pretty much doing it for us, it's diverse, comforting and tasty, so the food cravings are not there. What we are craving most it a little blue sky!! In 8 weeks we haven't seen one single crystal clear blue sky day.......perhaps we've only seen a little (and I mean little) blue on a handful of occasions and that scares us......whether it's cloud, pollution, dust or a combination of all three I am not sure, but we wonder about kids growing up and really not knowing how blue and beautiful the sky can be.

While the food has totally satisfied us, and the variety in Shanghai and Hong Kong is more than you could ever hope for, by the end of our time here we cannot eat without a big question mark over the dish we are tucking into. We've heard enough stories here from both local Chinese and ex-pat westerners to really make us think twice. We were familiar with scandals about Chinese milk, baby formula, and other dubious additives to food. But we were a bit shocked to hear that approximately 10% of the cooking oil used in small restaurants is reclaimed from the sewers of local cities.....it's so easy to when it floats above everything else!! (Perhaps we shouldn't be so harsh, it's very enterprising and a great form of recycling, after all a good boil and it's like new again.....yuk!) And this wasn't just an urban myth, but a story regularly investigated by and reported on by the newspapers.

Visiting the local and ex-pat supermarkets the demand for imported products was pretty obvious, and it appears that if people can afford it they will definitely choose to buy imported rather than locally produced food. Australian and New Zealand meat and dairy are definitely doing a roaring trade, and organic is becoming very popular apparently. A lot of wealthier Chinese people we spoke to were definitely very suspicious of farming practices and regulations in China. One family we met have gone so far as to purchase their own farming land a couple of hours west of Shanghai and have employed their own farmers to work on the property so that they can control the quality of the food they eat. To begin with the land will feed approximately five families, but in a couple of years time they expect it to produce enough for twenty. So they have started their own food cooperative. Clearly the luxury of employing your own farmers is out of reach for almost everyone in China but it was very interesting to hear this story.

Although we never thought it would come around so quickly, we have now come to the realisation that our little trip is coming to an end. In fact we have even booked a flight home.....12th of July is the date. It's both exciting and a little scary as well, I'm not quite sure how we'll readjust to the real world again......although we're rather looking forward to seeing some crystal clear blue skies over Sydney again.

On the whole we'd have to say it has been a great experience in China, and we'll definitely be back...........so Zāijiān, until the next time!!

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Comments

Leenu Harris on

What an incredible journey! Make the most of it, as I know you will as your life will be VERY different! Love Leenu

Katrina Harris on

Brilliant blog as usual! Really enjoyed seeing and hearing about all your experiences. You will always remember them...such a fantastic time :) Take care of each other and see you back in Oz in 4 weeks xxx

Leenu Harris on

Can't wait to see you both! Alex looks radiant! So I assume she is well! Love again! Leenu

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