Shanghai

Trip Start Sep 21, 2007
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Trip End Apr 10, 2009


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Saturday, December 8, 2007

Hi everybody,
 
Time for a new entry in my travelogue I thought. And quite a long one I realize. I'll pick it up from Taipei.
 
Finally, I had to leave Taiwan. Together with my newly acquired toy I headed to Taoyuan Airport to take the flight back to Hong Kong. The flight went smoothly and I had a great view of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon from the plane. On the airport I went straight for a bus to Kowloon. In the bus a Chinese girl started talking to me (in English) en we chatted pretty much all the way. She asked me if I would accompany her, because she would like to buy a digital camera. I agreed and after checking in into a room in the Chungking Mansion I tagged along with her.
 
The process of buying the digital camera took ages (she haggled in an annoying way) and then we went to a cosmetics department of a department store, which took also a long time. I wanted to go (and show her) the Symphony of Lights and we just about arrived in time. However, I couldn't really enjoy the show, because she was asking dumb questions (in my opinion) all the time and she didn't seem impressed by the show. I then decided I had enough of her and ditched her - I mean, I excused myself for being tired and said that I wanted to go to sleep - which conveniently also happened to be the truth. So I said goodbye to her.
 
The next day I took an early train to the Chinese border and walked across to Shenzhen. From Shenzhen I took a rather luxurious and expensive bus to Shantou, where I changed to a cheap bus to Chaozhou. In this bus the only passengers were a Chinese girl and me and the Chinese girl happened to be an English student, so we talked all the way. In Chaozhou I arrived late in the afternoon and  I found a good and relatively cheap hotel and then I had a little walk around town, to the West Lake and to the Han River, where there is still a portion of an old city wall. I saw the sun set here and went back to my hotel.
 
The next morning I discovered that the next bus to Xiamen, my next destination was leaving at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, much later than I expected, so that left me with a lot of time to explore Chaozhou. I first went to a temple and relaxed here for a while and after that I went through the main city gate to the Guanji Bridge, which is a very peculiar one: on both ends it has arches with pavilions on top of them, but the middle of the bridge consists of a row of boats tied together with a walkway built on top of it! On this bridge I relaxed for a long time until it was time to go catch my bus to Xiamen. The bus ride to Xiamen was quite uneventful apart from the last portion. Because I arrived after dark in Xiamen I could enjoy Xiamen at maybe its best, because almost all high rises, bridges, flyovers, etc. were illuminated with neon lights, making it for me (apart from Las Vegas) the most lit up city I have experienced so far.
 
Xiamen itself was not too bad for a Chinese city, but the best thing here is the island Gulang Yu, a 5 minute ferry ride from Xiamen. This island used to be a foreign settlement and a lot of architecture from that era still exists. Because there are no cars allowed on this island, it turned out to be quite relaxing and together with a fair bit of sunshine made it into a very nice afternoon.
 
I continued my travels to Quanzhou, once one of the largest ports because of the Silk Route. Nowadays it's quite small, but it has an interesting relic of the past: a Persian style mosque. After a quick visit to this mosque I continued to the small town of Chongwu. The old part of this town is still surrounded by a complete city wall. Everything in this area seems to be made of stone, a welcome change from the popular but very ugly Chinese bathroom tile architecture. I found a very nice hotel which I bargained a bit down to make it fit into my budget.  Soon after that I started exploring the town and came across the Ancient City Stone Park, a park between the city walls and the sea with more than 500 stone statues: a very nice place to stroll around for a while. Soon after that it turned dark and I found my way back through the narrow alleyways in the old town to my hotel.
 
The next day was a big travelling day. I returned to Quanzhou from Chongwu and took a bus to Fuzhou, the uninteresting capital of the Fujian province with more than 6 million inhabitants.  From here I wanted to take an overnight train to Hangzhou, but soon found out that this train leaves in the morning and arrives in Hangzhou a little past midnight: no option. I now had to book a sleeper bus instead and this went quite smooth. I waited in the McDonald's looking next to the bus station until it was time to go. The bus left at 7 o'clock in the evening and was supposed to arrive in Hangzhou at 9 o'clock the next day. The bus looked clean and relatively comfortable so I was quite happy... for about an hour. Then a young girl vomited next to me in the corridor and well, nobody really cleaned it up! So the next 12 hours or so I was condemned to this horrible acid smell about half a meter next to me. Bah! The bus stopped a few times and at one time, at 4 o'clock in the morning after I slept a little bit, the bus stopped for a long time. I went back to sleep, woke up again at 6 o'clock and the bus hadn't moved yet. I said to myself that if the bus wasn't going to move at 7 o'clock I would start asking questions. But then at a quarter to 7 the bus continued its journey... to go to its final destination, the Hangzhou South Bus Station about 300 meters down the road!
I walked a long and tiring hour and a half to a hostel (I wanted to stretch my legs a bit, but it was further than I expected). After checking in I started walking around the famous sight of Hangzhou: West Lake. Sadly, it was rather overcast today, so the views weren't that good. It also started to drizzle a little. About halfway I took a bus to the Lingyin Temple and enjoyed both the temple and its surroundings, with abundant rock carvings of mainly Buddha statues. After a few hours I returned to West Lake and realized it was too late to take good pictures anymore, so I ate at the KFC I saw before. Here I talked to a very friendly and intelligent Chinese guy, who could English very well, until the restaurant closed at 11 o'clock. I said goodbye and walked back to the hostel in about an hour and went almost straight to bed.
 
Next morning I walked a little bit more around the lake and then took a train to Shanghai, where I arrived halfway the afternoon. After checking in into a hostel I walked to the famous waterfront street, the Bund, and saw the skyline of Pudong on the opposite side of the Huangpu River: quite impressive. I also saw it turn dark here. Most annoying here though are the street vendors and other scam persons who constantly bother you all the time. So my weapon in the end was to be rude and just ignore them completely.
 
The day after I had a daytime look at the Bund and continued to Pudong through the very strange Bund Sightseeing Tunnel: in this tunnel you go in a train under the Huangpu River to Pudong and this tunnel has all kinds of neon and laser shows during the passage. Very weird indeed. Pudong is the newly developed high-rise area of Shanghai with - amongst others - the ugly Oriental Pearl Tower and the more beautiful Jinmao Tower, at 420.5 meter the highest completed building in China as I write this down, because next to it they're building another high tower which is already higher. The entrance fee to the Oriental Pearl Tower was very expensive so I opted for the Jinmao Tower instead, which was much cheaper and the viewing deck a bit higher. Magnificent views of megacity Shanghai from here! There's another great view here, but now on the inside, because here you can look down to the lobby of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, 152 meters lower (floors 54 to 87): you can fit the highest building in the Netherlands in that lobby! What could impress me more today? Well, maybe a ride in the high speed train to Pudong Airport? And indeed, travelling at a speed of 431 km/h is quite impressive. What is distance if you can travel 30 kilometer in just over 7 minutes? Having had enough experiences this day I returned to my hostel.
 
Today I visited two museums. The first one was the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall (I have a university degree in town planning after all) and the Shanghai Museum. The former was quite impressive, especially the speed and magnitude at which they plan and execute plans. For instance the plan (or is it already being built?) of building a 32.5 kilometer highway into the sea to some rocky islands in order to create a huge deep sea harbour here. The Shanghai Museum also had quite a surprise, because it had an exhibition of Masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. So I also had my share of Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Pieter den Hooch and Ferdinand Bol today.
Back in the hostel I started to upload some new pictures and wrote this new entry in my travelogue on my laptop and with a free wifi connection.
 
My plan for the next week is to continue my journey inland from here and head to Yangshuo before Christmas. I hope it also will be a little bit warmer there, because it's quite chilly here with about 13 degrees Celsius. At least I had blue skies in Shanghai.
 
Bye bye for now!
 
Michel.
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