blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The long haul

June 18th, Saturday

Wikimedia photo of a Maglev train at Pudong airport
Waking shortly after 6 a.m., we had our boarding passes printed by the hotel receptionist and then our taxi arrived, on time, to transport us wildly and dangerously through the teaming rain to the Longyang Road metro station. This ride, over a suspension bridge and a series of flyovers, took no more than 15 minutes. Andy had predicted 45 minutes.

We took the Maglev (magnetic) train to Pudong airport (PVG), a journey of only a few minutes above flooded fields, flooded streets and probably flooded houses. Pudong is right on the coast and from there we could see container ships slowly sailing along, into the Pacific Ocean.

From Shanghai we were taking the British Airways flight to London. The check-in line was very long, but after 20 minutes Chris brightly thought to ask if there was a shorter queue for people with boarding passes who simply wanted to deposit their luggage. There was. After that, we lined up to exit the country, having our exit visas and passport photos checked. Finally, the security checks, and we had reached an attractive Departures lounge with an extraordinary, curved ceiling. So far, so good. I bought a last minute kite for my grandson. We sat down for a breakfast and I looked at the objets d'art on display between the seats: porcelain, glass, jade or bronze vessels, mostly.

We boarded our 'plane on time, all was going well, our Captain waited for his departure clearance and then ... nothing. We sat there looking out of the window at the neighbouring Finnair jet for five hours while China's air traffic controllers apparently allowed just one flight through their airspace to the border per twenty minutes, following their rule of the day. Some of us were wondering who imposes these rules, and why. We'd be next in line after the Finnair, the BA Captain announced, thanking us for our patience. After four hours, that one pulled away, and we thought our wait was nearly over, but no joy. We sat on the tarmac for another hour. Applause from the passengers when we finally began to slide away from our gate, but even then, it was another 20 minutes before we got airborne.

And then the flight itself. Seventeen hours is a terrible long time to sit in one not very comfortable seat. Most of the people around us were Brazilian, speaking Portuguese. To our vicarious horror, when we reached Heathrow at last, it was announced that their BA flight to Rio had been held back so that they could make the connection, as long as they hurried along––straight from one very long haul to another. Poor souls.

Trying to take my mind off things, I watched (mostly before take-off) an Austrian film about a love affair in avalanche country and a documentary about the Afghan national cricket team, entitled Out of the Ashes. While he was able, Chris sent our daughter text messages about the delay to ensure that our hotel room in London would not be lost.

It was frustrating, to say the least, that the Flight Tracker map on flight BA168 was either deliberately disabled or didn't work on our chair-back screens, so we could only guess where we were during that journey. I believe we overflew the Russian steppes, eventually glimpsing snow on some mountains below––were they the Urals, or were we still too far east? Our son-in-law Peter told us afterwards that he had seen the track of our flight crossing Sweden. When we were finally permitted to raise the cabin blinds––it drove us crazy, having to sit for all that length of time in the dark!––with the container ships of Shanghai still fresh in my mind, I was thrilled to see cargo ships below us in the North Sea, approaching either Harwich or Tilbury, and a pleasant British summer evening as we descended slowly over Suffolk and Essex towards Greenwich Park, the Millenium Dome and the familiar old Thames.

A lucky break: we were given priority for our approach to land at Heathrow. At the far end of the journey, Chris and I felt utterly exhausted. The bad news was that we then had to stand for a whole hour in the obligatory sheep pens, because there were too few staff manning the Customs and Immigration desks. There were ironic cheers from the crowd of passengers when the replacement shift deigned to turn up, after which the line began to shuffle forward a little more quickly. We felt sorry enough for ourselves, even sorrier for the families with small children.

Everything comes to an end, sooner or later,
Jeder Strom wird's Meer gewinnen,
Jedes Leiden auch sein Grab ...
as Chris sings in Schubert's Winterreise, and finally we were in a London taxi that was taking us to the Park Hotel in Teddington. We checked in, dragged our luggage to our room ... and went for a midnight stroll round the block, past the bistros still doing business in those quiet streets. The air was cool and dry and after forty days in China we were back in an environment we could understand. It felt like coming home.

Rainy day on the Bund

Frustrating view from the Bund on my last day in China
June 17th, Friday

The Langham Yangtze Boutique Hotel had given us a room with an art-deco headboard for our bed, a big screen TV in a picture frame attached to the wall and a bathtub deep and wide enough to drown in. Along the corridor were museum worthy 1930s artifacts (amber knitting needles, bead handbag, etc) from the 1930s, when Shanghai was to all intents and purposes British, and decadent with it.

Heavy rain started to fall during my breakfast at ground level and failed to ease off, but I wasn't going to find much difficulty in passing the time while Chris was speaking at the QNX show on the 9th floor. I went up to say hello to the people in charge. The set-up for the talks looked like a 1930s theatre, complete with stage, flouncy white tablecloths and red velvet furnishings. Chris had the use of a microphone; otherwise he'd have found it hard to project his voice in there.

Parts of Shanghai could almost be London!
Brandishing my umbrella, I set out to visit the Bund, the famous Shanghai waterfront only about a kilometre away. The neighbouring streets wouldn't have looked out of place in London. It was fascinating to see this old-style, neoclassical architecture, reminiscent of British banks or Canadian railway stations, closely juxtaposed with Shanghai's ultra modern, ultra tall skyscrapers. In the other direction our hotel was within a few steps of the Renmin Gongyuan (People's Park) which once upon a time was a racecourse, quite central, and not far off was a former Music Hall (a palatial theatre built in 1930) that had to be shifted 66 metres when they wanted to widen the road. No problem to the Chinese. Mei guanxi!

I reached the Zhongshan Lu on the Bund, promising myself I would find out where the name came from. The Wikipedia tells me:
The word comes from the Hindi-Urdu word "band," which has Persian origins and meant an embankment, levée or dam ... In Chinese port cities, the English term came to mean ... the embanked quay along the shore. In English, "Bund" is pronounced to rhyme with "fund."
In the Bund Financial Square I found a gigantic bull sculpted in bronze by Arturo Ugodi Modica, a copy of his Charging Bull on Wall Street. Shanghai, like New York, is a rich city. Facing the Huang Pu River are the Custom House (sic), the Bangkok Bank and the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, all with Corinthian pillars. Later, on a side street, I also came across a red brick cathedral and cathedral school built in the 1920s. The anglicisation of Shanghai had in fact begun in the mid 19th century around the time of the Opium Wars: "the humiliation of old China" as one of the city's historic plaques uncompromisingly puts it. The British Empire Customs building eventually became the headquarters of the People's Peace Preservation Corps after the PLA (People's Liberation Army) had "wiped out the enemy" in a series of bloody battles. At the end of the promenade by the river's edge I found an concave monument and tower (24 metres tall) to The People's Heroes, commemorating "noble minded patriots [who] devoted their sweat, blood and lives here."

The river itself is magnificent, despite the rain (one thunderstorm following another all day) and the view of the skyscrapers on the far bank must be stunning when the cloud ceiling is not so low. All manner of boats, ships and barges were sailing back and forth that day. Cruise ships and warships were anchored in the city. We were close to the coast there.

Seeking shelter from the latest downpour, I decided to treat myself to a light lunch (the previous evening's meal having left me with rather delicate insides) at Victor's on the ground floor of the famous Peace Hotel; this is a typical Fairmont hotel of the Canadian Pacific kind, its art déco interior very reminiscent of the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa or the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec.

Chris meanwhile had met a kindred spirit at his meetings, a professor from Shenzhen University. I returned to the hotel after abandoning a walk through the People's Park (too tired!) and, as I set out again for a repeat tour of the Bund with Chris in my soaked walking shoes, was encouraged to hear him say, "I'm feeling really happy." Between showers we had a sit-down at a snack bar patio table, sauntered along the riverfront, and back up the Nanjing Lu (formally Nanking Road), one of the busiest thoroughfares in the world. It reminded me of Las Ramblas in Barcelona.

By the time I got back to the Langham the second time that day I thought my walking shoes would never dry out before Heathrow, until Chris had the bright idea of training the hair dryer on them. By supper time it was raining so hard that the city's taxis were taking twice as long as usual to arrive anywhere, so the QNX group changed their minds about meeting for supper at the Peace Hotel and to my relief we simply dined quietly (on eels, and so on) at our own hotel's T'ang Court. Click on the link to see our table, under the mural. As we waited for the others in the elegant vestibule below Chris and I watched a lady singing (very well!) at the grand piano, and after supper saw another musician sitting in front of the piano in a silk gown to play delicate Chinese music on the guzheng; it sounds like a harp.

Then we finalised the arrangements for our departure, bracing ourselves for the long journey to London.

Monday, August 22, 2011

From Hangzhou to Shanghai

Message sent to the family: "We're packed again and due to leave Hangzhou ... arriving at the Langham Boutique Hotel on Hankou Road in Shanghai at around 8p.m. ... Friday, Chris will be giving a presentation to Chinese customers and potential Chinese customers of QNX on the subject of The Changing Face Of Safety Critical Software before taking part in various discussions ..."

June 16th, Thursday

Four of our lunch party beside the MixC mall ice rink
It was still raining on our last morning in Hangzhou, but at lunchtime it eased off so that we felt the heat of the sun on our walk from Grandma's Kitchen at the MixC mall back to the hotel with Chris' QNX colleagues.

Me, Andy, Chris, Kimm, Yi and Bob, near the hotel
To match our initial welcome at the "golden ball," Chris and I had a send off fit for royalty, shaking hands with the many hotel staff who turned up for our departure, including the managing director; five or six people were eager to help us with our luggage. Jennifer, our initial hotel contact person, showed up looking as beautiful as ever and hopes to see us again. We would like that too. I put in a good word for our chambermaid, in the hope she'd be praised for looking after our room so efficiently.

The ride in the minivan hired from Hangzhou took just over two hours, a journey of about 200 km. Andy got the driver to stop half way so that he (Andy) could buy me a snack, one of those sticky rice pork dumplings of the Dragon Fest variety, actually quite tasty and a good idea, since we didn't get any other food till after 9 p.m.

Motorway service station between Hangzhou and Shanghai
Hangzhou's suburbs seemed to stretch for ever. After skirting the southern part of the city via the Grand Canal we followed the route the train takes, the railway being on concrete stilts all the way, incredible. Once again noticing many little towers with three balls on a spike on top, I asked about their significance. Apparently they mimic the Pearl of the Orient TV tower in Shanghai (yes, we saw that too; it glows pink in the dark) and they are an architectural feature of the local cities. Chris and I couldn't have done this drive by ourselves because of the incomprehensible road signs, but many hoardings and billboards were translated into English along the way
High Quality Baroque Flooring
Let the technology knows you better
Ecological Harmony, Happy Homeland
The landscape was mostly pylons in the soggy, flat fields that lay between the car dealerships and factories. I doubt that these fields will last much longer in this part of the world, but farm workers were still cultivating them in their straw hats, using ancient tools.

We kept stopping at toll booths where there were webcams to keep track of who was going through, or speeding, left Zhejiang province at one and entered Shanghai, after which the roadsigns became slightly more readable (e.g. "Hardened Verge"). We passed a shocking truck load of pigs packed like sardines on two levels, as I was still nibbling my pork dumpling. Then the Shanghai South Railway Station appeared ahead, like an enormous flying saucer that had landed in the midst of the new developments. Andy was very pleased with the smooth flow of traffic as we reached the downtown area of Shanghai. "I never see this fast," he said. "It's miracle!" The major buildings loomed ahead and flashed in the dark; the more ordinary ones were lit up at the higher levels ("to dress up the city," explained Andy) with the lower levels unlit. And so we homed in on our destination.

Arriving at our hotel in Shanghai, each of the ladies was handed a pink rose. It felt like walking into the 1920s as one of the western or westernized upper class, a playboy or a flapper. Jazz recordings of those old days were playing in the corridors and in our bedroom, too.

The nearby supper venue, Xian Qiang Fang, like the hotel, was vintage architecture and doubled as a Peking Opera theatre, complete with little boxes above us and curtains to the stage. Kimm's choice; she knows Shanghai. The dining area used to be a dance floor. With three more QNX people along, we saw a scene or two of the show, performed live by a man and a woman dressed very lavishly in the "Opera" garments, almost on a par with those worn by the bride and groom at our son's wedding, and singing or declaiming in that unique, highly artificial, whining manner that had caught our attention on the TV in Beijing. Chris thought the faces were masks but I think they were real faces got up to look like masks. We didn't have a clue what's going on, of course, but one of the gentlemen at our table told us that the female character was acting the part of an intoxicated concubine. The noise made by the accompanying instrumentalists (amplified erhus and drums) was absolutely ear-splitting and I was quite glad that we had taken our seats not long before the end of the act, because conversation between the nine of us round that supper table would have been impossible otherwise. But it came to an end as our first dishes were being brought out and we had another sumptuous umpteen-dish banquet served from the lazy Susan, as usual when people gather to eat in China. Eels yet again (we'd also had them for lunch) and one of those spiky fish with its mouth open, pieces of duck and what not. We did appreciate the sticks of green vegetable (asparagus?) but they tended to be too slippery to grasp in one's chopsticks without making a fool of oneself by chasing them all over the table.

Zai jian, Hangzhou!

June 15th, Wednesday

Erhu player, Hangzhou
This was our last full day in Hangzhou; on the morrow we were due to depart for Shanghai where Chris was to take part in a QNX Technology Innovation Conference. He set out for work across the river taking farewell gifts for the friends he'd made in Hangzhou and received one or two in return, such as a tin box of high grade Longjing tea sachets from Henrry, which we're still very much appreciating here at home in Ottawa. Chris, who never touched tea before our trip to China, now asks for some. I can hardly believe it!

I spent the morning sorting clothes to pack which took me longer than expected. Emily came to clean the room and make the bed for us, her English not bad at all; I complimented her on it. She's a sweet girl who comes from a place that's a four hours' journey from Hangzhou. Staff like Emily live in a hostel near the hotel, so I gather, whereas others commute from home.

After a luxurious swim in the hotel pool, all to myself––one of the staff came to show visitors round as I did a lap, and the attendant popped his head round the door now and then to make sure I hadn't drowned––I caught the B2 bus to Wulin Square for a last wander-around downtown. Bought a coffee and a snack at a Best Bites Donuts outlet (quasi American fast food outlets like this are appearing all over China nowadays, a sign of the times) and found my way past the "swanky" fashion outlets on Wulin Lu to the shore of West Lake.

A game of cards under the trees
I felt a little sad to be standing there for the last time. Where Jiefang Lu meets Nanshan Lu by the lakeside there's always a crowd of amateur singers and erhu musicians and their admirers making a happy noise, elderly people walking up and down in the gardens, children playing, ladies dancing and gentlemen fanning themselves in the shade or playing card games. I found it all very foreign but knew I'd miss the scene once I left Hangzhou.

Then, having bought a banana for sustenance, I took my last ride on the K96: past the China Construction Bank, the China Welfare Lottery, the Hangzhou Bank, the Bank of China, Fox Optical, the 4-star Sunny Hotel, the 2nd Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University College of Medicine, with its Emergency gateway blocked with relentless traffic, China Telecom, Euromoda, the canal with the white statue of a silk goddess, Hangzhou's Tourism Vocational School and the KTV (i.e. karaoke) halls. Through the Newtown Tunnel and past the ICC TCC department store in the clothes market and the sex shop with its larger than life picture of a scantily clad female in handcuffs on its door. Across the series of busy 6, 8, 10 lane roads to the Shi min zhong xin stop where I got off to hurry across one more wide road and escape from the heat and humidity in the air conditioned hotel.

The usual crowd in the lakeside gardens
Chris was sending text messages to tell me when he'd be back from work, but got caught up in an impromptu meeting with the visiting QNX team at the end of the working day, and thereafter in a call to Germany during a taxi ride across the river in a heavy thunderstorm, sharing a cellphone with Yi on the back seat. They stayed on line as they crowded into the hotel lift with Andy, Rob and Kimm and the dripping umbrellas, and the call continued in the meeting room of the club lounge on level 18 where they all emerged. I was summoned to join the gathering up there and sat introducing myself to Kimm and Rob from Canada and the USA respectively––now snacking on the hors d'oeuvres at a lounge table (I was served green tea; the other two were sampling the wine)––while Chris and Yi from Ottawa and Andy from Shanghai wound up their international conference call behind the glass partition.

Eventually, everyone dropped down to Level 4 for a proper supper: crispy baby eels, various slippery soups, whole fish, etc., etc. which took all evening. I am proud to add that Chris' work in Hangzhou was thoroughly praised and everyone round the table stood up to toast his achievements!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Very wet

Rainy morning on the Qiantang River
June 14th, Tuesday

We woke to torrential rain. The weather was being reported in the China Dailycopies of which were regularly delivered to our room, so we assumed it must be unusual. 600,000 square kilometres of farmland was flooded, so we read. (Later that week, it got worse.)

A trio of strange ships sailed by on the river while I was drinking a cup of milky coffee in the club lounge, decorated that day with stems of lotus buds, fifteen to a tall vase, as well as single orchids in the small vases.

Zhongshan Lu in better weather, looking south from Jiefang Lu
In the afternoon I decided to take the bus to town, rain or no rain. I got off before the terminus and walked south down Hangzhou's oldest street, the Zhongshan Lu, which is very long. This would be nice to explore on a fine day, with flowerbeds, a battery car for tourists and a parallel stream in a gutter with little bridges crossing it, but I was preoccupied with keeping the umbrella over me and my feet out of the puddles. Not many other people were about and the shops were empty; I saw a shopkeeper fast asleep in one.

I revisited Hefang Street, the street that sells the sort of souvenirs I generally don't want, although I did wonder about a gourd flute. In order to shelter from the wet, I went inside a few of the shops, this time, buying a mouse mat with a communist poster image for my brother-in-law, a silk tie for my son-in-law and a cute little outfit for my baby grandson. Some of Hefang Street reminded me of shops on the seafront in Scarborough, Yorkshire, in the 1960s, although I did also see a few more exclusive looking jewelry and silk outlets.

On my return to the hotel I needed a complete change of clothes, stuffing pages of the China Daily into my shoes to dry them; as soon as we set out for supper the other clothes got wet, too. No matter, we had an excellent meal at Asia Table in the MixC mall. We guessed it would be good because on the previous three occasions when we'd tried in vain for a table it had been packed with queues outside. The restaurant hires musicians, a quartet of jazz singers with a drum that evening, to entertain their waiting customers. Unfortunately this clashed with the smoochy background music inside. We chose spring rolls, a green Thai curry, sweet and sour pork, beans in spices and three bottles of beer.

Nature with added taste

June 13th, Monday

In the Tai Zi Wan park
"Rustic wooden bridges and thatched cottages may evoke childhood memories," said the notice at the gate to the park at the southwestern corner of West Lake. I had got there after being stuck in the CBD tunnel on a very crowded yellow K96 bus for ten minutes on my way into town, not pleasant, but the Tai Zi Wan park relaxed me. I read that it was named after two Song Dynasty princes Zhuangwen and Jingxian (I didn't quite see how) and that it had been awarded a prize from the PRC in 1995 for being one of the best parks in China. It's interesting to note what the Chinese find praiseworthy; this place was full of what they call (or what their translation calls) "nature with added taste," which to my mind is like their adding dollops of MSG to the mass produced food.

There was another of those prefabricated churches again, this one larger than the one in the Botanical Gardens, and it had a serving hatch to the right of the door offering popcorn and soft drinks. You didn't get that in the churches of my childhood. I see from the blogpost of a British estate agent working in Hangzhou that I'm not the only outsider who found this bizarre: click here for a photo of the church interior! Also, in a muddy field, I saw the big Dutch windmill complete with sails; it turned out to be a café when I got closer.
The church in the Tai Zi Wan park

The landscaping of the Tai Zi Wan walkways, pools, streams and bridges was very attractive, all the same, with Japanese maples, ornamental grasses, irises and shapely rocks. The rain held off that morning. I found a small waterfall and sat in a thatched pavilion up winding steps on the top of a little knoll to eat my sandwiches and watch the fish in the clear pond below while birds with long striped tails flew through the branches. Piped piano music rose etherially through speakers concealed in the grass, Scott Joplin harmonising with the men who were shouting in chorus in the woods, the clang of metal barricades being dismantled after Sunday's influx of crowds, and the hum of the nearby traffic.

Inevitably, a bridal photo party appeared, the photographer with his seven or eight assistants in blue T-shirts carrying a bouquet of lilies and a huge teddy bear, the bridge and groom wearing white. As I watched, the couple was encouraged to lie down on the wet grass with the letters L-O-V-E artfully positioned around them.

There were two more such groups beside the next pond.

Crossing the road, I entered the neighbouring park: Viewing Fish in the Flowery Harbour (hua gang), where indeed there were carp by the hundreds, with hundreds of tourists looking down at them, their cameras at the ready. Round the corner I saw pigeons and white doves vying to be fed, some perching on people's heads, hands and shoulders, to the squeals of the high-heeled girls, more cameras clicking and flashing. At the other side of the lawn were rival peacocks displaying their tails while the peahens paid them no attention, ambling away down the paths, unafraid of people, or flying up to perch in the trees.

Gradually, as I followed a network of paths to the west of Xi Hu, I left the crowds behind me. I failed to find the connecting path to the Su Causeway but did come across the tiny, humped Ming Dynasty Jingxing Bridge hidden behind foliage in a swampy area; some of its stones looked genuinely old.

I asked a security guard outside the park where the nearest bus stop was, understood his answer and decided to wait for the Y2, a tourist bus with a ¥2 fare which I assumed would take me to the northeast corner of the lake. It did, eventually, but by a very circuitous route via the Lingyin Temple bus station in the hills and through several tea villages I hadn't seen before, a guide at the front telling the passengers what we were seeing, except that I hardly understood a word so just sat there.

I got out at the Broken Bridge in Melting Snow stop, no snow imaginable in that heat, with the lotus buds of midsummer just beginning to unfold.

After this excursion I flopped at the hotel, Chris coming back to take a QNX conference call to talk about whether his work in Hangzhou should be extended (but he was also wanted for projects elsewhere in the world). Then we had one of our regular suppers at the Food Republic (dà shí dài) outlets above the ice rink in the MixC mall and walked home by the river in the rain, trying not to get our feet wet.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Getting over a disappointment

June 12th, Sunday

Our plan for Sunday was to visit the Canal Museum on foot then catch a waterbus into town. After walking a couple of miles we did find what had probably once been the museum, in the middle of the Grand Canal, beyond a scruffy, impoverished district east of Sanxin Road where little boys playing were playing dangerously on the wall of a subsidiary canal and where watermelons were being sold from handcarts (not every vendor could afford a tricycle cart with an electric motor in this district); people's washing hung everywhere and we barefoot toddlers and dogs were roaming in front of the sheds where they lived. The museum was boarded up and looked ready for demolition; no sign of anywhere to board a waterbus either, nothing for it but to cross the canal again and walk back the way we'd come.

Entrance to the Grand Canal
If only we'd had proper access to the Internet and not just an out-of-date leaflet for foreign tourists we would have realised that the new Canal Museum (opened in 2006) is in the Gongshu district, a long distance from where we were. Had we been able to read Chinese we might have also found a mention of it on the notice boards concerning the waterbuses from Wulinmen Square.

Barge going through the lock
Anyhow, we crossed the canal at its very first (or last) bridge; it consisted of a couple of locks side by side, admitting barges into and out of the Qiantang River with huge, heavy gates that showered the boats with water as they just about scraped through the narrow passage way.

We had lunch at our local MixC mall where the posh people shop for Louis Vuitton handbags or Armani Junior outfits for their kids––after seeing the nearby slums the contrast made me feel decidedly uncomfortable––then, already rather hot and weary, caught the usual bus into town. "Be patriotic and obey the law" said the cartoon girl on the poster in the road.

Sequoia roots by the stream, Jiuxi
After our disappointment over the museum, I wanted Chris to have a treat, so, repeating what I'd done the previous Wednesday, we caught the K4 bus to Jiuxi. It was already 3:30 p.m. when we set off on the country walk. Since Saturday night's downpour and the previous downpours, the stream I mentioned in Wednesday's email had swollen to twice its previous volume and was rushing along; new streams had formed through the tea fields, besides, pouring across the road and into what had been sandy dry gullies. Fording the stream was now impossible and the cobbled path, dusty four days earlier, had become slippery with mud. The roadside rocks were dripping wet, which encourages the growth of moss, and the sequoia roots, reaching into the water, looked weird and wonderful. The shade of the trees kept us cool, but the dampness was such that sweat doesn't evaporate at all and we soon felt as soaked as if it were still raining!

View from the Jiuxi valley
Chris was enjoying the views as much as I had done during the week, in spite of more traffic on the narrow road. We walked as far as Xizhongxi where a high waterfall tumbles down the cliff and climbed slippery steps up the side to a pavilion high on the hillside where four student types were posing in Letters of the Alphabet shapes, our alphabet, funnily enough, not theirs. They were having fun. On the way down and further on it became more peaceful. We passed people wading barefoot in the water while others were washing their cars with it, and came upon the Li'an Temple, a quiet place built in memory of a monk who'd lived at the Buddhist temples of Jiuxi and Wuyun. Abbot Zhifeng was a man who “often went downhill with a big fan to beg alms” in order to buy meat with which to tame the terror of the woods, a tiger who "carried him up and down from then on", after which they called him Abbot Tiger Tamer. It sounds somewhat unlikely to me but I like the story. Here's a mention of it in someone else's blog.

At the Xizhongxi waterfall
We got off the return bus near the Haveli restaurant and had supper there again. It was very slow in coming because the waiters, not to mention Chris, were distracted by a long table full of Chinese and Indian ladies indulging in a lavish celebration of some sort, who had invited a belly dancer to entertain them, very sinuous with a jewel in her navel and tassels round her hips which she vibrated to great effect. Chris says we should have swapped seats to let him have a better view, especially after she smiled at him through her hair. The music she danced to was deafening.

The dancer at the restaurant

We walked back to our last bus of the day under the willows underlit with floodlights, quite magical, with boats sailing by all lit up with changing colours past an elaborate fountain in mid lake, Chris quizzing me on how I'd work out the force of the water coming through the nozzles if I knew what height it reached in metres.

Friday, August 19, 2011

"Do you happy? Yes, I do."

Here's a transcription of the email I sent on

June 11th, Saturday

On the bus this morning a very young Chinese child with his grandparents, who had spotted us at the bus station, tried out his English (“Good-morning-how-are-you?”) and sang to us on the bus:
There was a farmer had a dog, and Bingo was his name-oh.
B. I. N. G. O., Bingo was his name-oh.
I recognised this, though Chris didn't.

Barge on the canal
I was taking Chris on the B2 line to see the Grand Canal. As I'd predicted, he loved doing this and would happily have stood at Wulinmen Dock all day watching the barges negotiate the bend and the bridges. He liked the glass walled bridge too with its engraved maps of the other famous canals of the world: in England (Bude Canal, Manchester Ship Canal ...), Wales (Abergavenny and Brecknock), Finland, Germany (the Kiel canal, the Rhine and Danube), Egypt, Erie, New York State, but not the Rideau. We then wandered up and down the canal banks with many stops to watch the boats and the men and women who lived on them. Some barges were heavy with cargo and very low in the water, lower than the plimsoll line should allow them to be, we thought. Empty ones were bouncing along with high bows and washing hanging in the cabins at the back. A woman was scooping dirty water out of the canal, not for the cooking, we hoped.

The Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal ... in Hangzhou!
Low in the water
Finally tearing ourselves away from this scene we walked down Huangshan Lu North and Huangshan Lu West past the ancient warehouse of a clothes market not unlike the old market at Newport in Wales, but on a much bigger scale. Then we followed a subsidiary canal up to the lake where we sat on a bench with our umbrellas up (the rain starting to fall again) to watch the people, like watching a play. Chris wants one of those T-shirts with English words on, especially the one that says: Do you happy? Yes, I do.

At the lakeside kiosks you can pay for a photo of yourself wearing satiny dressing-up clothes and twirling a parasol. Men sit outside them calling out for customers and sample photos decorate the outside walls of these huts which also sell coconuts, windmills (in the shape of flowers and butterflies), ice cream, popcorn, bird whistles, plastic frogs that make a croaking noise and blow bubbles for children to play with, pot noodles, fans and scarves. Then on to the bus for a rattly ride back here so that Chris could do some more work on his priority inversion techniques.

He took a break this evening to take me down to the hotel bar where I ordered a Cosmopolitan Martini cocktail which came decorated with lemon peel on the rim of the glass, twisted into a bow. The pretty girls in their slinky long black and golden outfits followed a recipe to prepare it (shaken, not stirred). As we sat on a velvet settee to have our drinks, nibbling our salted walnuts and cashews rolled in herbs, we watched the coloured lights change and the lifts slide up and down the lift shaft as he told me how priority inversion had affected the Mars Rover project because of a flaw in the programming. It seems he's pretty excited about his work here.

Works of art and expensive merchandise

June 10th, Friday

Painting seen at the
Zhejiang West Lake gallery
I woke from a dream in which I'd slept right the way through a long haul flight in a first class recliner, which made me think that my life of luxury at the Intercontinental might not be doing me much good. When I looked out of the window I could see 15 barges on the river as well as 18 smaller boats. It was damp and hazy again.

As a prelude to our departure the following week, I sorted out the gifts and souvenirs I'd bought so far. There were still a few more purchases to make, but most of the goods in the nearby MixC Mall were too expensive. I looked around a silk goods store on the top floor selling items for 5-figure prices. One was a silk scroll reproduction of what some call "The Mona Lisa Of China" (meaning the nation's most famous work of art): a 12th century scene in a picturesque landscape crowded with people, animals and boats, known as Along the River during the Qingming Festival (Qīngmíng Shànghé Tú). Cheaper reproductions can be found as well. When we got to London I gave my grandson Alexander a fan printed with this picture; he liked the little details that showed up as we unfolded it segment by segment.

Chinese painting would be a fascinating subject to study. Hampered by my inability to read the script, I didn't take in as much art in Hangzhou as I'd have liked to. The main branch of the National Academy of Fine Arts in China is on the Nanshan Lu, and has a gallery next door which I'd visited on May 25th (I didn't mention it in that day's blogpost) but I hadn't understood the exhibition notes. I'd seen a gallery full of photos of faces and landscapes, possibly by the same photographer, including one that I can still visualise vividly: a beautiful young girl breastfeeding her baby. I gave it my own title: the Madonna of Tibet. In adjoining galleries were oil paintings and sketches in a non-controversial style, including some inferior copies of famous European masterpieces. The other art museum I saw in Hangzhou was the one on Gushan at the northern end of the lake. That too was full of very derivative art, their 10th century ink and wash landscapes really no different from their recent, 21st century ones, but originality may not be seen as a virtue in the Chinese art world. I don't think "derivative" has such negative connotations to the Chinese as it does to us, a copy being more of a deferential tribute to the old masters than a cop-out. At least, that's how it seems to me.

I must say that the most beautiful works of art I saw in Hangzhou were the gardens and courtyards.

On the basement level of the MixC mall the Pizza Hut sold me a nice risotto and after that, sitting on a bench in the CBD sculpture garden during a slow walk back to the hotel, I finished reading David Lodge's novel Deaf Sentence (which I'd bought in the bookshop at the mall a week or so before): good read, depressing subject.

In the sculpture garden

Then I rode up to the 18th floor and had another swim in the hotel pool (click! ––the hotel's website has been updated, so you can now find a picture of the pool online). I didn't venture into the "Touch Spa" because it sounded somewhat dubious:
We open the gateway to commune with heaven-sent elements and experience truly rewarding ancient rituals and wisdom to enhance the body-mind-soul interdependence.
Instead, I enjoyed a couple of Skype chats with my children, catching a glimpse of George observing pulsar signals at the radio telescope at Parkes in Australia and Emma feeding her baby in London, England. The Internet is a truly wonderful thing; to restrict people's access to it seems all wrong.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Botanical Gardens of Hangzhou

June 9th, Thursday

In the afternoon, from the 16th floor, over a pot of green tea of which I drank the lot, being so dehydrated from the heat, I watched a humdinger of a thunderstorm. I was lucky to have got indoors in time. From the bus stop to the hotel entrance the sky was dark with flying dust and litter blown up high in the downdraft from the storm; my eyes felt gritty. Cyclists looked up anxiously and started to put their coloured capes on. Then from the hotel I saw the barges buffeting upstream against waves breaking on the Qiantang, the wind coming from the west as it does in Canada, and terrific lines of lightning as well as sheet lightning over the skyscrapers.

There was astonishing clarity after the storm. I saw ranges of hills I'd never known were there.

(My camera lens steamed up in the heat and humidity!)
The day had begun hot (really hot) and sunny; I took a taxi to the Botanical Gardens with an entrance fee of 10 yuan, senior's rate. The numerous signposts in the gardens weren't of much help, since everything is shady garden in that part of town for miles and miles around, with ponds interspersed, but I managed to identify Watching Fish at Yuquan, a scenic spot famous since the 12th century, with "bamboos and ancient trees reaching into skies" where "various flowers contend in beauty." More trees than flowers, actually, and I learned that the ones with mottled, peeling bark were plantanus hispanicus and that the yew-like bushes with thick, wide needles, were podocarpus marcrophyllus. The feathery tall trees in the woods were beautiful examples of metasequoia glyptostroboides and I compiled a list of several more Latin names for my botanist sister.

The city's official tree is the cinnamomum camphora:
The ancient camphor trees are elegant in groups; thousands of leaf layers, falling their shade everywhere. At the cusp of spring and summer the green small flowers split the full branches. The light breeze delivers the fragrance and gladdens the heart.
and the city's flower is the osmanthus fragrans:
The light yellowish sweet osmanthus, has exaggerated Hangzhou with the deep inside story of two big cultures, Wu and Yue, and has exaggerated the happiness of Hangzhou’s person.
Stepping stones over a lily pond
(to quote from the International College Zhejiang University website) ... not in bloom during my stay. The famous peach and plum trees growing in the Botanical Gardens and on the causeways across the lake were no longer blossoming either, but one of Chris' Huawei colleagues had given us some deliciously fresh peaches from his orchard, to eat at our hotel.

"Did you find any surprises at the Botanical Gardens?" asked Chris. I did come across a cluster of small metal huts in the forest that puzzled me, one got up to look like a miniature Christian chapel with crosses on its porch and roof and linked hearts inside behind the "altar." A row of hooped arches decorated with coloured, artificial flowers led to its doorway, the pathway beneath them covered in confetti, so then I realised what that was for. I wasn't so sure about the other little huts.

It's obviously a trendy thing for the Chinese to borrow ideas from western culture, but they don't always get it quite right, like the restaurant named "Dollar Store" or the shops playing "Santa ... hurry down the chimney tonight" as background music while you do your shopping in June, and the street sweeping vehicles warning you to get out of the way with a merry, repetitive, electronic tune: "Happy Birthday to you, happy Birthday to you..."

On my way back to Jiefang Lu I passed one of my favourite quirky juxtapositions, the Casablanca Country Pub in the park beside Hubin Lu where I picked up a leaflet for tourists in English:
You CANNOT stop the Water Bus by waving hands.
It also gives some advice regarding the climate:
Summer, hot. Good to wear cotton thin clothes (skirt) and topee.

In the countryside at Jiuxi

June 8th, Wednesday

Doing her washing in the stream
Pleased to see the sun come out in a blue sky for once, I was apprehensive about the heat it might generate. I was aiming to take the Y4 bus through the hills. In the end I couldn't find a Y4 so got onto a K4 instead, taking it to its terminus which was Jiuxi Zhan, a bus station by the Qiantang River, a few miles upstream from our hotel. The bus took me through the woods south of West Lake, past the zoo on the Hupao Road lined with the mottled trunks of plane trees.

Washing line in the tea fields
There didn't seem to be anything touristy outside the bus terminus; I didn't mind that. Jiuxi was a village not unlike the one at the bottom of the Fragrant Hill near Beijing. My walk started in a small park with green grass still soggy from the recent rain and continued up a surprisingly narrow road which one of my maps calls “Misty Trees Along The Nine Bend Stream” and which the signpost called “Nine Creeks” (the literal translation of jiǔ xī; other pointers to this part of the countryside call it "Nine Creeks and Eighteen Gullies"). It looked appealingly traffic free so I walked on into the valley. Almost at once there were tea plantations in all directions, near the stream I was following and above me on the high terraces. All this scenery to myself, so peaceful! Occasional cars or bikes went past and in the fields the tea farmers were having an early lunch break. I came across groups of people grilling kebabs under plastic gazebos in the fields nearest the houses. It felt a lot more old-fashioned than the city. People were washing their clothes, bedding and dishcloths in the weirs of the stream.

Tea workers' lunch break
The water was clean and clear up there. I followed a damp, cobbled footpath under the trees parallel to the lane and found a rock to sit on where I could dangle my feet in the water. The woodland flowers are familiar European varieties but the trees are different. Black tailed butterflies fluttered around me and I heard a bird call with a long low whistle.

I found a shady pavilion with pictures on its inner walls “full of Zen implications” apparently but they were lost on me: pictures of incomprehensible folk tales, I assume, the captions composed by a Taoist poet who lived through many upheavals, dying in 1931, Fan Zengxiang. A chap sat on a bench in there minding his own business, maybe in the middle of a Zen meditation, I couldn't tell.

Cooling my feet
At the Linhai Pavilion

Having walked part way up that valley, I also explored part of a side path the other side of the village leading towards the Wuyun Peak (too many steps for me to attempt the whole walk, too hot). The street at the start of this trail was more residential than the other one, with people's washing hanging everywhere from balconies and over walls and bridges. Three dogs wandering around, old folk sitting in doorways, a huddle of men playing cards in a yard and a young woman carrying a baby tied to her back in a cloth. The name Wuyun refers to the five auspiciously coloured clouds that surrounded this hill but there were no clouds today. Following a concrete footpath through the fields I sat in the shade half way up the hill on a stone which was the "Boundary Mark of West Lake Cultural Landscape Heritage," to be precise, eating my home-made sandwiches and drinking some water, with a view of the rolling tea fields, the semi-tropical forest and the skyscrapers in the hazy distance on the far bank of the Qiantang River. It felt good.
Jiuxi village street

After supper that night we went for our usual stroll by the river and saw people flying kites. One was a floppy red bat. The kites and their strings were lit up with little lights so that their owners, adult men holding reels to their chests, wouldn't lose track of them in the dark.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Facts about West Lake, and a cure for colds

Mooring station for gondolas on Xi Hu
June 7th, Tuesday

Chris suffered from a sore throat all night and got up feeling lousy, but had his breakfast and left for work all the same. Later in the morning I set off into town again. The lake was still grey, pewter coloured, and smooth. After some gift shopping I sat at an upstairs window seat at the lakeside Starbucks for ages, writing my diary and looking down on the gondolas moored by the promenade. The uniformed gondoliers stood there, smoking, or sat in their boats to eat a packed lunch with chopsticks.

Afterwards I took myself to the West Lake Museum (opened in 2005 on Nanshan Lu) to learn some facts.

Scorpion, Hangzhou
Because not everything was translated into English, I was puzzled by the diorama of an historically important man having his back tattooed with Chinese characters, but the display of stuffed animals from Zhejiang province was fairly self explanatory. It included seven different kinds of snakes including one I didn't like the look of, the dangerous naja naja atra (cobra) ... don't click on that link if you don't want to, Emma! It occurred to me later that maybe it hadn't been so prudent to wander around in the tea plantations in open toed sandals. There was a swan or goose, a wild cat of some sort, a ferret like creature and a kind of stunted deer. I didn't see anything about the scorpion Chris and I had nearly stepped on during our visit to the Lingyin Temple.

Dredging Xi Hu during the reign of Qian Liu (10th century)
West Lake, it seems, is not a very old geographical feature. A lagoon was formed from mountain streams some 2600 years ago and various local leaders have had it dredged and refined since, Su Shi, for instance, planting lotus to keep the water clean. In my last blogpost I mentioned the Su causeway, the western dyke he had constructed. A shorter dyke, the baigong di, was created earlier, in 822, and named after Bai Juyi, a famous poet from the Tang period.

Once again I read that Emperor Kangxi had built a palace on Gushan, the ruins of which I'd seen on my explorations, and was famous for naming the ten beauty spots (西湖十景). His son, who reigned between 1723 and 1735, went one better and named eighteen more must-see views! It was obviously the thing to do in the Qing Dynasty days.

In the evening the QNX team from Shanghai, Andy and Alan (not their original names, of course ... we had some discussion about that), took us out by car for a meal in the fish restaurant at the top level of the MixC Mall. It had an extraordinary ceiling made from strips of wood to ressemble a curvaceous fishing net. The dining booths were partitioned by walls of bamboo sticks. Andy and Alan were very solicitous about Chris' cold, and for about an hour before we actually ate anything we were obliged to share vast quantities of hot ginseng tea, drinking it from tiny cups. A beautiful girl performed the tea ceremony for us. The eventual food was good too, including a hot consommée soup, again for medicinal purposes. Chris asked what it was made of, and they alarmed him by answering: "pig lung soup, good for the lungs." He was absolutely forbidden to consume anything cold during his supper.

Westerners may scoff at Chinese medicine, but next morning, Chris felt completely better.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


June 6th, Monday

No dragon boats to report, I'm afraid. They were all at the Xixi Wetlands which we decided would be too wet for us that day. Also we'd have had to hire a chauffeur.

Instead, we walked right around the West Lake. Starting out around midday at the Jiefang Lu corner, we went through the park––Orioles Singing In The Willows––sitting on a damp bench to eat sandwiches from the supermarket smothered in salad cream (which makes for soggy bread) during a break between showers, then stopping further on to rent a "self-driving" boat for an hour, i.e. one that had a little electric motor that could propel us forward, backward or be turned off altogether so that we could enjoy the peace and quiet away from the shore and watch the Chinese herons fishing as we sat close together on the small seat under the little canopy. It started raining while we were on the water so I put up my umbrella.

That afternoon, we walked the length of the Su Causeway (苏堤) named after Su Dongpo, a poet-governor of the 11th century, who had the lake dredged and this dyke constructed from the silt. He planted peach trees and willows on it and they're still there. We walked alongside many families and tourists riding bikes or the little open sided buses (like golf carts). Sometimes the shores were visible with the misty hills and pagodas beyond, sometimes not. It was a metaphor for life, so it struck me later, all these strangers merging for a short while, mostly cheerful, occasionally acknowledging one another's presence with smiles, confined to a narrow route through the mist. With mysterious water lapping on either side of us, we were obliged to keep moving along in a straight line towards a destination we couldn't quite see, some old, some younger and arm-in-arm, some pausing at the side of the path to embrace under the trees. Little children were being picked up and carried. At intervals, stall keepers would vie for our attention and try to sell us things. Purposeful individuals were striding along by themselves at a fast pace, others dawdling in groups, the youngsters indulging in horseplay. From one end of the causeway to the other, we crossed six stone arches (bridges).

A causeway bridge, Xi Hu, Hangzhou
The Western Causeway across Kunming Lake at Beijing's imperial Summer Palace was a deliberate copy of this.

We returned to town via the Gushan once again, having a long sit-down in, of all places, a Costa Coffee outlet in a dark, wooden pagoda surrounded by magnolia grandiflora trees and tropical palms and such, all wet. Not like the Costa coffee place on Reading railway station, indeed no.

When it gets dark, they put on a free show in the lake, near the mooring place for the giant, golden dragon (a three deck pleasure boat), with fountains leaping in time to amplified music and lit up by lights of changing colours. Just beautiful with the hills in the background, lights showing dimly through the trees on their slopes. The little pavilions round the edges of the lake are also floodlit.

A quotation from the directions to visitors to West Lake:
Please be a good behaved visitor. Please obey the law and social morality, protect the environment and visit attractions in a healthy way. Please do not pluck flowers and branches and do not catch wide (sic) animals willfully. The attraction is a civilised place for people to learn knowledge, enrich life, mould temperament and enjoy nature.

Under the umbrellas

Southeast corner of Xi Hu, in the rain
It was cooler on Saturday, but the rainy season had now begun; between this first weekend in June and the end of our stay in China we had a great many wet days and so will forever associate Hangzhou in our minds with umbrellas.

It was a holiday weekend in China, the Dragon Boat Festival, a three-day break for Chris although he had to do a day's work in total hours in our hotel room in order to meet his contract equirements. Whenever he took a break we went for a walk in the rain. The true Hangzhou atmosphere, misty, wet and mysterious. When I closed my eyes at night I saw thousands of dark, wet leaves with rippling water in the background, and thousands of umbrellas bobbing up and down in a variety of pastel shades as people moved along beneath them. From a distance, a line of umbrellas slowly moving over the bridges, which would have made a lovely impressionist painting.

June 4th, Saturday

was a recovery day for me, although for the sake of fresh air Chris insisted on our going out twice, the second time catching the bus downtown. We wandered along by the lakeside, getting soaked but not cold, and sheltering in pavilions for ages with the friendly crowds. At the end of the afternoon I remembered having seen an Indian restaurant on the Nanshan Lu, Haveli. We had a delicious supper there––onion bajees, creamy chicken saag, basmati rice (an agreeable change from sticky rice), naan bread and tea, slowly drying off in our window seats with colourful cushions and satin and velvet napkins.

June 5th, Sunday

We had made an over-optimistic mistake on the Sunday, leaving our umbrellas behind (the one I'd brought from Canada plus one that had been lent to us by the hotel staff), so had to buy a couple more on Gushan in order not to become objects of pity for the natives. In fact we were shamed into buying the umbrellas by the number of people who gallantly offered us the use of theirs. The Solitary Mountain wasn't as solitary as all that. About 100,000 people were crossing the causeway to get there, but surprisingly Chris and I did find a little pavilion in the woods on the hill which we had to ourselves for a few minutes before a friendly chap came along to join us and talk to us in his language. We had also had a ride in a gondola during which the nice girl sitting on the seat opposite had chatted to us as well and had grabbed the spare paddle so as to hand it to Chris to have a go, once she discovered out we were Canadian.

Where we heard the bird singing
Continuing towards Lotus Swaying in the Breeze, a part of the lakeside I particularly wanted to share with Chris, barges carrying the lighting equipment for the Son et Lumière show sailed past us. We reached yet another pavilion by the lily pond, stopping to watch the fish and listening to a very musical bird singing on and on, some kind of nightingale perhaps. This was another China moment that we'll not forget.

On the "mainland" we walked back round the northeastern corner of the lake (along Beishan Lu, behind which are some eye catching, older than usual houses, to Hubin Lu) to find a restaurant for a salty supper in wet clothes, avoiding the option of Snake that we found on the menu. With dripping umbrellas we caught the last bus of the day from the Jiefang Lu terminus. A beggar whom we'd seen before was playing the flute in a shop doorway; a slim girl got onto the bus in bare feet.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Finding silks and losing my way

Hangzhou silk town between Fengqi Lu and Tiyuchang Lu
June 3rd, Friday

Once again, I found the Feel Best Coffee shop above the Foreign Bookstore on Fengqi Lu, had lunch there, and following my map also found Hangzhou's famous silk market, (zhong guo si chou cheng), which took my breath away, it was so extensive. This street of shops selling silk products is more than a kilometre long, colourfully decorated and closed to traffic other than bikes and scooters. I shopped for gifts here, keeping in the shade; even so, the heat that day was debilitating.

The other end of the thoroughfare
In order to reach the bus stop I had to follow a path by a canal, walk under the Zhonghe flyover onto Huangcheng Lu along a cycle path, then up and down the steps of a pedestrian bridge and then another few blocks by the ring road. It was approaching the rush hour by the time I boarded a bus that would take me back to our hotel, as I thought ... only the B2 doesn't always take the same route and doesn't always end up at the shi min zhongxin where I needed to get off. Because I was too illiterate to read the destination stop on the front I was ignorant of that fact until the broadcast announcement, translated into English: "next stop, Railway Station." The railway station is several blocks south of the Jiefang Road, and between the station and our hotel lies a canal and all the railway tracks. The only way across is to drive through a tunnel or across a flyover. Walking is out of the question.

Wikimedia image of taxis emerging from the Hangzhou station
I told the bus driver that I wanted to be at the shi min zhongxin, but he just shook his head and waved me off the bus with everybody else. My Chinese wasn't up to asking further questions, so I went right up to the station. Other buses galore, but none I recognised. No taxis. Finding an hotel on the concourse, I went in there to ask where the taxis were. Go down the stairs and turn left. I did as I was told and found myself in a deserted corridor. I walked in the other direction into a corridor jam-packed with people and luggage: the queue for the taxis, obviously. It was going nowhere. People kept joining the queue but I was always at the back because, being British, I don't push in front of other people. Taxi touts kept approaching me and the other despairing types at the back of the line to offer alternative transport for big bucks (big yuan?) but my son George had warned me about these people so I dismissed them with: bu yao! I also pretty soon dismissed the idea of getting a taxi from here any time before nightfall and climbed the steps back into the heat and chaos of the station approach.

A driver of the No. 96
It bore some similarity to that squalid bus station we had seen in Beijing, near the zoo, not an area you'd want to linger in.

I set off walking in a random direction and soon found myself at the bottom of the motorway flyover. Wo mi lu le, I was lost! The traffic was at a standstill and the three taxi drivers I tried to hire from there shooed me away again. I kept walking, hoping it was towards a district that I knew. Hordes of schoolboys were crossing the big roads with me; there's safety in numbers. Finally I spotted some buildings I remembered seeing from my faithful old Bus 96 and this oriented me. I had guessed right; the Jiefang Lu was ahead, the bus stop for the 96 still a fair distance away, but at least I knew how to get there. I saw the Sunny Hotel and felt relieved.

Bus and taxi on Jiefang Lu
In the evening I didn't have much recovery time from this exhausting experience before Chris' colleague Andy, visiting again from Shanghai, invited me to join a supper party in a glass walled booth at the lower level hotel restaurant where the tables were decorated with elaborate Ikebana arrangements. The flowers were removed before supper was served; otherwise there wouldn't have been room for all the dishes. The slender waitresses wore black and gold satin trouser suits, the epitome of elegance. Much of the conversation around the table was in Chinese because Chris and I were not the only ones present. I could understand very little of this but was fascinated by the body language of the Chinese gentlemen doing business over that meal.