We had an early start to fly to Nanjing this morning. The flight was due to leave at 7.45am, and we had been called to check in at 7.20am. After waiting in the queue for 15 minutes we were told that although the plane was ready, they had no pilot! We eventually took off at 10am! We arrived in Nanjing at 11.30am where the temp. was 30c.
The tour is starting to slow down a bit from now on, and we are able to relax a little more.
After yet another Chinese meal we went to visit the Confucius Temple. Confucius was regarded as the greatest thinker, educator and statesman in Chinese history. There are many sayings that Confucius is reported to have said. One that I think we all could relate to was ‘The shortest connection between two people is a smile’.
Unfortunately there wasn’t much in the way of information given to us at the Temple. I did mention to our guide that a leaflet giving brief details of the places we visit would be useful, but in China it is not something that is done very often.
On Wednesday it was already around 32c by early morning. We went to the Presidential Palace in Nanjing. The building is over 600 years old. It was built as the Marquis Guide’s residence and the Prince Han’s residence in the early years of the Ming Dynasty. Later still it became the official residence of the Viceroy in the Qing Dynasty. In 1912 Dr Sun- Yatsen was sworn in as the Provisional President here. He was the founder of Modern China. He had 3 beliefs which he structured China on – Nationalism, People’s Rights and People’s Livelihood. When he died Chiang Kiashek took over as President and lived here. He had a very chequered history. When Nanjing was liberated from the Wang Jingwei’s Puppet Regime in 1949 the People’s Liberation Army occupied the Presidential Palace. Chiang Kaishek went over to Taiwan (Formosa), and became President there. All through the period up to 1976 when Mao died Chinese people were led to believe that Chiang Kaishek was in cahoots with the Japenese. In truth he was not at all, and now China revere him as a good President. The Palace has some delightful gardens known as East and West gardens. Four things Chinese gardens need are plants, water, rocks and buildings (pagodas etc.)
We left the Palace to go to Dr Sun-Yatsen’s Mausoleum. You go through a marble gateway and then start the climb up to the Mausoleum at the top of the hill. To get there you walk along a wide slabbed avenue of trees which resounded to the noise of cicadas (very much like a cricket), before you start climbing the steps to the top. There are 392 in total, but the views from the top make the effort worthwhile. His 3 beliefs are inscribed in Chinese on the door head of the Hall that is the Mausoleum.
The largest railway station in the world
We left the Mausoleum to go for our obligatory Chinese meal near the city gates before travelling to Nanjing railway station for our journey to Suzhou. The station is supposedly the largest railway station in the world. Inside the waiting area is more like you would see at an airport.
Travelling through the countryside we saw a lot of buildings under construction but very little agricultural land. What there was, was mainly wheat fields. They do not have herds of cattle grazing in fields, they are kept indoors in pens.
There was a notice board in the carriage very like the ones in Australia. They gave information in both Chinese and English about the next station and what the temp. was at that station. Inside the carriage was air conditioned and when we were coming into Suzhou it told us that the outside temp. was 38.2c – 100.7f! When the doors opened the heat wrapped round you like a blanket. It was also a humid heat, so it was like being in Northern Queensland.
We joined up with another guide at the station called Grace, who would be with us until we left Shanghai on the Sunday morning.
We were informed that the hotel we were staying at in Suzhou wasn’t more than a 4 star as Suzhou is only a small city, and there wasn’t much to do there. The population of Suzhou is around 7 million! The Chinese have a different conception of size to us as their population is 1.2 billion, a fifth of the world total.
Gardens, silk, dragon boats and embroidery
We are still in Suzhou. It is now Thursday, and we have been in China for one week now. Our first stop today is to visit the Master of the Nets garden. It was laid out under the Southern Song dynasty under the name of Fisherman’s retreat, but in the reign of Qianlong under the Qing Dynasty it was changed to its present name. It’s the most well preserved garden in Suzhou, and in 1997 it was added to the World Heritage List by UNESCO.
It’s a very tranquil place, although with the temp. at 35c and very humid you felt more as if you were in a sauna!
We left the gardens and went to visit a silk factory. Suzhou is very famous for its silk. The factory was built in 1926 and some of the machinery looks original! They allowed us to see the complete process of sericulture (silkworm breeding), and silk making. The life cycle of a silkworm is around 40 days. You see the mulberry plants that the worms feed off, silk reeling and weaving and silk quilt making. The men had a go at stretching a piece of silk to go on a quilt. It is amazing how strong the silk is. It wasn’t easy to stretch. To make one quilt of standard size requires 700 silkworms. They can produce up to one and a half kilos of silk from a cocoon. I treated myself to a silk tie!
We left there to go for the obligatory Chinese meal again, but this time they had altered some of the dishes! We still had water melon though!
We then went for a trip on the Grand Canal on a dragon boat. Suzhou is known as the Venice of the East because of its canal network. We passed through some of the poorer areas of the city, and saw people had hung their washing out on the canal side to dry. The city also boasts a fine city wall. Quite a few of the places we have been to have them and they are in most cases still intact.
Our final stop of the day was to an Embroidery factory. We were told we couldn’t take photos as it would breech their copyrights. I immediately thought of pot, kettle and black! They had a very impressive display of workmanship though. One piece took 2 years to complete with 3 people working on it. There was one piece that had a tiger on one side and a lion on the other side. It was a lovely item mounted on a mahogany base. The cost was £10,000 – although it did include shipment and insurance!
Quite amazing items on display, but I don’t think I would have the patience myself – it would tie me up in knots! They showed us a lady working and she was a ‘master’. You train for 5 years and then after a further 10 years you become a master. This lady had been a master for nearly 25 years. She had started in her teens. They have to retire at 55 because their eyesight has to be protected.
Back at the hotel we had a buffet meal in the evening. Back to civilization at last! 2 salads, a small piece of steak and chips (cold). Then 2 lots of sweet – cakes and profiteroles! While in the restaurant we saw lightening as a storm was brewing up.
Next morning it turned out that we had had a storm around 5am, but I hadn’t heard a thing. We later found out that there was a typhoon which at the last minute went south of Suzhou and Shanghai and turned up towards Taiwan and Japan. A day later we saw on CNN that this storm had indeed got to Taipai and we saw a video from a car windscreen camera of a boulder about 20 ft square coming down in front of the car in front. He swerved to miss it and it rocked back and forth and settled on the road. It missed the car by inches! Taiwan usually have 360mm of rain in the month of August. This August they had had 1360mm!!
There are no emergencies in China
We went direct to Shanghai from Suzhou by coach. It is only 85km and took one and a half hours with the traffic. The guide Grace did tell us to look out for rice fields in the country, but I didn’t see any. Most of the time it was built up.
Shanghai has a population around 23 million, but only 10% own a car. Not surprising really as when you buy a car you also have to buy a licence plate. That plate costs around $17,000! There are about 3 million cars in Shanghai, and although there aren’t the restrictions that they have in Beijing, they are concerned that if they don’t try and control the numbers it will get to be like the capital. They have a lower and higher road network, and in rush hour the local people with local licence plates can use the higher route and get through quicker. All provincial traffic plates have to use the lower route which is more congested. If anyone goes on to the higher network when they should be on the lower one they get a hefty fine, as there are many cameras to pick up your details.
We headed towards the Bund area of Shanghai which is on the bank of the Huangpu River. The area is all tall modern business buildings, and it is hard to believe that 17 years ago the whole area was agricultural land. It’s amazing how quickly things change in China. We had 30 minutes to stroll along the river bank. We saw the Grand Canal that we had been on in Suzhou the day before coming out into the Huangpu River. The river flows east for 28km and joins the Yangtze river and the east China Sea. Shanghai means ‘up to the ocean’.
We then went straight to our hotel where we are staying for 2 nights. It is certainly very posh. In the lobby there are photos of VIP’s who have stayed there. The Queen, various Prime Ministers and President’s from around the world etc. As it was still mid-afternoon I decided to go for a walk into the main shopping street. The street was full of traffic in both directions. An ambulance came along with his lights flashing and bleeper on. Nobody made any attempt to move to one side to let it through. It had to wait in the queue along with the rest of the traffic. A police car was just behind as well with lights flashing, but still no response. Later I mentioned it to our guide and he said they don’t give way in China to emergency vehicles. He said that people had died in ambulances because they hadn’t been able to get to the hospital in time. Quite amazing.
We went out at 5.30pm for the evening meal at a restaurant. Still Chinese, but a little more variety this time. Then about half of us went to the Magnolia Theatre to see the New Shanghai Circus. It had a lot of acrobatic skills, contortionists, plate spinning, gymnastic displays, Chinese yoyos, bicycle riding (10 on a bike!), bench carrying, roller skating, juggling, and the finale was 5 motorbikes riding in a giant ball. Absolutely breathtaking. It lasted for one and a half hours and was a tremendous show and well worth the 200 Yuan ($40) to see.
One more day to go with everyone before we split up. 13 are going back home and 5 of us will be continuing up the Yangtze River for a 5 day cruise.
To be continued …..