China Blog

DAM weather! But grey skies can’t TAKEAWAY brilliant China experience

WARNING:  THIS BLOG TALKS ABOUT PHLEGM AND SPITTING – LOOK AWAY NOW IF YOU ARE OF A NERVOUS DISPOSITION.

MARK: “Have you turned the heating on Joe?”  Sarah leant forward towards the microphone on our £150 Asus EeBook Laptop, straining to hear Joe’s reply on Skype. “No need” came the crackly response from Regent Way Frimley, “it’s been 18C, sunny and we’ve been wearing ‘T’ Shirts!”

Not the same here in China at the moment – and we were doing so so well!

For the first two weeks in the Peoples’ Republic, we’d had day after day of bright blue skies and temperatures in the mid to late 20Cs. The late Autumn rays a real tonic.

Sarah balancing a bouquet of flowers on her head in T Square Beijing when the sky was still blue..

Sarah balancing a bouquet of flowers on her head in T Square Beijing when the sky was still blue..

But then we moved south from Shanghai and started to encounter the grey skies which many parts of this country “enjoy” for 250 + days a year.  The temperature has still been around 20-23C but the smoggy/foggy atmosphere has been awful and seriously depressing. At one stage whilst riding a tandem with Sarah on the city walls of Xian I had to ask what the yellow thing in the sky was.

The pollution in the air has been horrific. I’d always laughed in the past at photos I’d seen on the Internet of Chinese people wandering around wearing silly white masks.  Now I walk around with a silly white protective mask that I bought @ B&Q Farnborough, back in August.  But my God I have needed it.

The smog was so bad in Chengdhu that Mark resorted to using a mask whilst writing the blog

The smog was so bad in Chengdhu that Mark resorted to using a mask whilst writing the blog

I’ve suffered from a head/chest cold for the last four weeks.  “Suffered” is my word, Sarah just tells me to “man up and get on with it”.  But my man flu cold has been made that much worse by the pollution in the atmosphere.  Every morning I “do a Chinese”.  Thick green phlegm stuff builds up overnight and has to be discharged.  Not nice.  But I can now understand why many Chinese men and women do spit – but struggle with where they do it.  The road/pavement is bad enough but the local sport in the south of the country seems to be to spit from some distance in to waste bins strategically placed in supermarkets and restaurants and often close to food and people eating.

The weather conditions are in part linked to the Chinese economic juggernaut.  70% of their energy is generated by burning poor quality coal at hundreds of local and regional power stations.  The emissions mix with the fog which is prevalent in many areas and due to the topography of the country, tends to sit over towns and cities for days as there is often limited wind to blow the polluted air away.  Chengdu a classic case in point with car headlights shining brightly on the murky streets at 3.00pm in the afternoon.

But it isn’t just belching power stations and micro-climates that causes this “pea souper”, reminiscent of ICI Wilton/Billingham on Teesside in the early 1970s.

We’ve just had the amazing experience of travelling in the Presidential Suite, gliding down the Yangtze River through the THREE GORGES on board the MS Victoria V.

Money talks – this £1 note equivalent depicts the entrance to the first of the “Three Gorges” (right)

Money talks – this £1 note equivalent depicts the entrance to the first of the “Three Gorges” (right)

By gum it’s nippy. Sarah standing at the front of the MS Victoria V – the limestone cliffs on either side are nearly 600ft high

By gum it’s nippy. Sarah standing at the front of the MS Victoria V – the limestone cliffs on either side are nearly 600ft high

We transferred to a small boat to explore the small gorges

We transferred to a small boat to explore the small gorges – the rain hammering down

The Chinese have built a massive 2km wide dam near Yishang.  This has raised the water level by over 100m, displacing tens of thousands of unfortunate locals who had no choice but to move out.  Local people I talked to, confirmed that the flooding and water level increase has changed weather patterns.  Grey skies are common and it also rains more.  Mess with nature and this is what you get methinks.

However despite the rain, it was a truly awe inspiring journey, down the World’s third largest river.  The £80 upgrade for four days allowed us to bask in luxury in a room four times the size of our fellow group members’ cabins!  I’d ask reception speculatively if it might be possible, having seen graphics on the internet of the Presidential Suite (PS) and the private deck at the front of the boat.  When the lady smiled and said yes and was only charging £80 quid, I bit her hand off.  I felt sure she had missed a zero off the end of the price and paid on the spot before she had the chance to change her mind.

Sarah relaxes in the PS by “doing her feet” whatever that means

Sarah relaxes in the PS by “doing her feet” whatever that means

Sarah entertains lesser mortals from D Deck – close to the engines – the people were nice enough though…

Sarah entertains lesser mortals from D Deck – close to the engines – the people were nice enough though…

The Suite came in to its own at 11.00pm on the final night, as we arrived at the Three Gorges Dam, 600km from our starting point at Chongqing.  We graciously (joke) allowed our Group Travellers to stand with us on our 15 metre wide private balcony as we entered the largest flight of man-made locks in the World – five of them.  It made Bingley ‘Five Rise’ look like something out of Lilliput in comparison.

Our boat was 6000 tons – pulling up next to a ship load of Yanks – banter from boat to boat ensued

Our boat was 6000 tons – pulling up next to a ship load of Yanks – banter from boat to boat ensued

This is, make no mistake an amazing man made structure.  And putting aside for one moment the fact that hundreds of thousands lost their homes, the eco-system has taken a massive hit and the local weather is now “all confused” you have to admire what the Chinese have done here.  Our local Guide claimed it was all to do with flood management, navigational aid and the provision of green power.  But the dam provides just 2% of China’s power requirement.  And when the weight of water causes an earthquake, I wouldn’t want to be one of the many millions down-stream, as it will make the “Dam Busters” look like a little rain shower in comparison.

This was the best shot of the dam we had – a model!

This was the best shot of the dam we had – a model!

Pity could not see the river lift that is shortly to commence operation. Boats up to 3000 tons can rise/fall 175 metres in less than 30 minutes

Pity could not see the river lift that is shortly to commence operation. Boats up to 3000 tons can rise/fall 175 metres in less than 30 minutes

Just one more day in China, before we arrive in Hong Kong.  And one more treat in store for me as we travel for three hours on TWO new “Bullet Trains” the first of which runs at 260kmph (163mph) and the second a slightly quicker 320kmph (200mph).  James Duckworth/Alastair Black/Richard Daw/Steve Elliott/Neil Barton/Phil Whitby – what about this as a potential RAT experience?  Even Sarah – who is now suffering from a cold AND a prolapsed/slipped disk is looking forward to this trip and the chance hopefully to see some blue sky.

Me, I’m just glad that the Chinese didn’t censor BBC Five Live’s commentary on the Mighty Boro’s win at Manchester United.  You see, every cloud has a silver lining…

STOP PRESS!  Sorry could not resist showing two shots from the train journey this afternoon…

Brilliant experience - we must build more railways - our B Train!

Brilliant experience – we must build more railways – our B Train!

Nearly at 320kph - the Chinese took pictures... not sure why

Nearly at 320kph – the Chinese took pictures… not sure why

Categories: China Blog

The photos you did not see first time around

MARK:  Just arrived in Hong Kong after a nine hour journey from China involving one bus, two bullet trains and two metros.  Wifi and MASTERS access now fully restored.

SORRY WE COULD NOT POST ORIGINALLY THE PHOTOS FOR THE BELOW BLOG…

https://masters20152016.com/2015/10/23/through-the-eyes-of-babes-warriors-and-cute-pandas/

So, we’ve decided to include them below as a series of postcards.  One more China blog to follow.

Cute - 146 times

Cute – 146 times

The role of Panda Handler has just been voted the best job in China....

The role of Panda Handler has just been voted the best job in China….

Red Pandas, really are cute

Red Pandas, really are cute

Smile please

Smile please

The single child policy has just been lifted - good news for this family

The single child policy has just been lifted – good news for this family

Cheeky!

Cheeky!

Nana please Mum

Nana please Mum

Very confident young lady

Very confident young lady

Budding artist

Budding artist

Funeral 1

Funeral 1

Funeral 2

Funeral 2

The eyes have it

The eyes have it

I had this done and I can recommend it

I had this done and I can recommend it

Wonder of the World

Wonder of the World

each one unique

Each one unique

The Chinese have the World economy sewn up

The Chinese have the World economy sewn up

The second tallest building (left) due to be complete in two months and the third - on the right which we scaled

The second tallest building (left) due to be complete in two months and the third – on the right which we scaled

 

Categories: China Blog

BUDDA (TEST) OF HOTELS – A “TAIL” OF MONKS AND MONKEYS

ADMIN – We are back – hope he brings me back an iPhone after all this?………….Click on Photos for larger image

But for those of you who want to see a “Cute” Panda, take a look at this shot. This baby is about two months old and is fed like a human baby – the handler even “burps” the baby by patting his back. Ahhh. Anyway, the Pandas visit seems a long time ago now. So onward we must write.

Cute

Cute

MARK: “So tonight we stay in Monastery”. I was only half listening to our Guide Carina, as we sped along in a little 16 seater bus at 110kph down the main highway from Chengdhu to the Leshan, somewhere in the middle of China.

That’s a nice name for a hotel I thought, with visions of Fountains Abbey flashing through my mind coupled with the sound of Cistercion Monks and Gregorian chanting.

“You’ll be sleeping with the Buddha”. Suddenly I was all ears, this wasn’t the name of our next hotel, but literally a Buddhist Monastery, complete with Monks on their pilgrimage, from the Tibetan Border. The Baoguo Monsatery it transpired, was going to be our home for the next two nights, at the foot of sacred Mount Emei.

Three hours later the bus screeched to a halt in front of a large Pagoda, two Monks “guarding” the entrance. We clambered off not know what we were letting ourselves in for as wafts of powerful incense and “joss sticks” drifted towards us in the gloomy twilight air. As we walked through the giant wooden door, we entered a courtyard, trees all around, a giant “urn” in the centre and the site of a golden Buddha with worshippers kneeling in front of “their God”. I felt uncomfortable, walking past with my front and back packs securely strapped, totally at odds with this religious shrine.

Wafts of joss sticks everywhere

Wafts of joss sticks everywhere

The first of three courtyards

The first of three courtyards

No time to think though, as our single file snake of weary travellers headed round a corner into a second courtyard, a number of worshipping tourists coming the opposite way down the steps heading for the exit. The Monastery was about to close to members of the general public. Up some more steps, past an inverted swasticka created out of what appeared to be Chinese Coca-Cola Cans and then wow! Seven giant Buddhas, each about 30ft high looking down on us as we reached the inner sanctum and our “dormitory” bedrooms.

We had to walk past these guys every time we went to the shower

We had to walk past these guys every time we went to the shower

Beautiful Buddhas

Beautiful Buddhas

Bizarre inner courtyard and just outside our bedroom 1616

Bizarre inner courtyard and just outside our bedroom 1616

G Travel are smart people. They had identified that subject to availability (if not many pilgrims were in town) the Monastery would offer FREE OF CHARGE, beds for travellers like us, to sample life as a Buddhist for 48 hours. Barry Sutlieff, this place had your name written all over it – Buddha Heaven.

Carina initially split the group in to male and female (4 men and 12 females), for            sleeping arrangements, but then Canadian Court, whispered in a loud hiss “Mark get yourself over here…..” You don’t mess with 6ft 6” 240lb blokes, so I followed as did Sarah. Court and his wife Linda had managed to find a five bed dormitory room and he thought that it would be a good idea if we stayed in the “west Wing”. There seemed to be no objections so we plonked our bags and looked around the most austere and basic “bedroom” you have ever seen. Five rock hard single beds. A sideboard thing, four bedside tables and a flat screen TV that did not work. The room had not been decorated for years. The filthy curtains hid five broken pains of windows. A cockroach lived in the corner, along with a few Mossys. Two Chinese prints of stallions in full flight were hung between a large NO SMOKING sign. We’d arrived, but the adventure was just beginning.

Not quite De Vere Venues standards

Not quite De Vere Venues standards

“Patrick” our local Guide, showed us the bowl where we could wash in an outside courtyard – if you looked up, the roof was in fact the sky, with Jupiter twinkling in the inky blue last throws of daylight.

“Any toilets?” Sarah asked. A fair question. “Arrrrre yessssss Saaaarrrrraaaaahhh, round corner.” Patrick was right, 50 yards round the corner were some communal “squat” toilets for men and women – although Sarah only discovered they were designated single sex toilets a day later when she wondered why the Monks were looking at her strangely. She’d be in the wrong side! No wonder these Monks who normally show little facial emotion were smiling every time they saw her around the Monastery!

Mark meets Monks as Sarah looks on

Mark meets Monks as Sarah looks on

Monk down time…. Chilling outside of our bedroom window

Monk down time…. Chilling outside of our bedroom window

So the toilets were relatively near to our room, but the communal showers were some 200 metres away, past the seven Buddhas and two other shrines, at the end of a long corridor. They were a bit like showers you had at school, privacy not great which was a problem for some of our party. The best bit though was when Court and I decided to “take a shower” which could only take place AT NIGHT between 6.00-9.00pm when there was hot water. Court strips to his shorts, takes off his shirt and puts a towel around his neck. We head off, me with my towel and a bar of soap in my hand. “Better not drop that in the shower Buddy” Court smiles…. I got his meaning a few moments later, just as there were shrieks of laughter from some “lady Monks/Worshippers/Followers” at the entrance to the shower block. Clearly they had never seen a giant semi naked white man coming towards them wearing golf shorts and little else. I tried to explain that he was a man mountain God from the wilds of Canada but there was something lost in the sign language translation. The showers were however very good and were similar to the ones that Lex Hughes my old De Vere Venues colleague had described to me at his former school, Ampleforth College, that also a home to Monks!

Showered up and smelling sweet, we had dinner in the local town, before all agreeing to meet in a open air corridor, close to seven Buddhas, outside of the Dorms where the rest of our group were staying. Numerous bottles of Great Wall Red Wine were consumed, before lights out at 10.00pm. Would we survive the night?

These two really frightened me at 0200 as I headed to the loo.

These two really frightened me at 0200 as I headed to the loo.

Smelling sweet after the shower

Smelling sweet after the shower

Next morning at 5.30 am, through the semi-haze of sleep I heard the chiming every ten seconds of a bell, struck by a “Mini Monk”. I had to investigate. Quickly throwing on some trousers I headed out of our room by myself, past the seven Buddhas and down some slippery stone steps towards the sound of chanting. I peered through a wooden lattice window just like a naughty schoolboy trying not to get caught. Behind the screen were the Monks – all men on one side and a few ladies on the right, positioned away from the main event. I watched for a while, but decided that I was intruding on their private worship and so went in search of hot water to make some much needed coffee. The urn at the end of the Courtyard was hissing steam. Boy did that sachet of Nescafe taste good.

The main reason for staying in a Chinese Monastery in addition to the unique experience was so that we could be close to the beautiful Mount Emei a large mountain range popular with local Chinese visitors.

The weather was not good as we set off at 9.00am for our ten mile hike. The rain was heavy as grey cloud quickly enveloped the higher peaks. We were disappointed that the rain had come but quickly had to remind ourselves that this was only the fourth day of rain that we had in 52 days….

The rain did not dampen our spirits although four of the group decided to stay behind which was fair enough. They hadn’t the kit and you needed it. Clad in our North Face Gortex jackets we were ready for anything and ready to climb to the second highest peak from an elevation of about 1000m to just under 2000m via two valleys. We were in search of Tibetan Stub Monkeys (Stub as they don’t have tails), who had a reputation! And my God we soon found out what for pretty soon!

After a couple of sodden hours, Sarah and I headed off with three other members of our party to explore some of the side valley, which was described by one as very similar to the mountainous area of New Zealand’s South Island. We traversed swing rope bridges over deep ravines, the rain and sweet corn making the wooden surface treacherous to say the least. Yes, I did say sweet corn, although thought nothing of it at the time, as we headed about 100ft up the other side of the valley to wait for the remaining members of the party.

Suddenly a monkey appeared, then four or five others of various ages and sizes. Small ones first, then slightly larger ones with big whiskered “old boys” bringing up the rear. One climbed up Sarah’s leg and was promptly beaten off by a bamboo stick. We watched the monkey troup head off down towards the bridge where by now the rest of the group had arrived.

I then clocked it. This was an ambush scenario involving the Monkeys “aided” by local Chinese, all armed with sticks. Monkey business!

The Monkeys had followed a couple of Chinese ladies onto the bridge, following it would appear the trail of food – nuts, corn etc. As our party came across the swinging bridge, the monkeys pounced. Carina our guide had four on her head and body, Demi one of our young fellow travellers was also jumped. The Chinese ladies started beating them off, asking for money at the same time…. What a surprise. But this was no laughing matter. The Monkeys were vicious, scratching and pawing. I ran like hell with my stick down the hill. These guys were under serious attack. Thirty seconds later I arrived as the last monkey had legged it. Carina and Demi were in a state of shock.

Under attack these monkeys were viscious!!

Under attack these monkeys were viscious!!

The 12 members of the party quickly regrouped and we aborted the hike and headed to a Medical Centre, which just happened to be a few hundred metres away. Both, girls were checked out and because of their injuries, were given Rabies jabs there and then. Suddenly we were pleased to have spent £180 each on Rabies jabs – although we had never expected monkeys to be the potential cause of what can be a life threatening condition. I later asked Demi what the cost had been and she said £10…. Cheap at the price, but still glad that we had invested in this “optional” jab before we had left the UK. She on the other hand has to find a vaccine on Day 7 (when we are in Hong Kong) and Day 21 (somewhere in Vietnam where she will be then).

 

So we hope you enjoyed the tail/tale of two Monk(eys). One a quite gentle breed, the other less so. This was an unforgettable experience and one we will remember for some time.

Admin – Hope you like the music below?

 

Categories: China Blog

THROUGH THE EYES OF BABES, WARRIORS AND “CUTE” PANDAS

Note from Admin – The Chinese have managed to block all of M&S photos at the moment  – so please click on the music above whilst you read Mark’s blog – you may have seen me on the news in Manchester trying to bring the situation up with the Chinese President, but his bodyguards grabbed me by the prawn crackers before I could get near! – ITS A CHINA CRISIS!

Here we go………..

MARK: APOLOGIES TO RAY CROYDON IN ADVANCE – I HAVE MUCH TO WRITE AND SO PLEASE FEEL FREE TO JUST LOOK AT THE PHOTOS!

Lucky thirteen! Well Court and I hope it is. I’ve just turned to my new Canadian chum and told him that this is my 13th flight since we left the UK. He laughed and with a wide grin said, “well you better get on and write that blog real quick then…” Thanks for that Court!

So I am typing at speed, hoping to upload the copy on to “The Cloud” which today, is handily placed a few meters away to my left, out of the window of this China Eastern Airbus A320. If something does happen, you will be the first to hear about it. Just 21 more flights to go before we return home next May.

Anyway, I read this morning on the BBC news website just before we left Xian (home of the Terracotta Warriors) that the Chinese President is in London town. The “Big Potato” – as our Chinese Guide Carina calls him – is on a State Visit to see “Chairman Cameron”, with the RED carpet fully rolled out!

Whichever Political Party is in power, the UK Government must talk with and understand the Chinese people if we as a nation are to prosper and survive. China is powerful. That’s an understatement. It is/will be the next main World Power for many years and is full of innovation, big projects and I have to say really interesting people.

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And yet there is this strange dichotomy. On the one hand China is a very regimented, security conscious nation. Strict rules rule. If you stray off the beaten track around Government Buildings and monuments, prepare for a loud whistle and a shaking of fists – at best. The Army is everywhere (it seems) supported visibly by various police detachments – ranging from traffic cops through to fully armed riot SWOT Teams. They certainly miss the finesse of HM Officers trained by Ian Prescott.

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Conversely and somewhat bizarrely officialdom sits alongside parks, public land and open spaces, where anything can and does happen. Pensioners strut their stuff to the Bee Gees singing Tragedy, lone men sing by themselves as they walk along the pavement – many with very good Baritone voices – David Mortimer/Neil Barton take note. And then there are groups of teenagers playing loud rock music, all at odds in many ways with what you think a totalitarian state would be like. Oh and I must not forget the Karaoke microphones that are located all over each city, where you can step up and perform at any time.

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Many times I’ve thought, “you wouldn’t get away with that in England.” Here, it seems, so long as you are sensible, people are left to the own devices, be it flying a kite or seemingly being as “high as kites” on local herbal substances.

Oops!! That is that is the head flight attendant telling me to turn off my laptop as we are ten minutes from landing. See you later, I HOPE.

TWO DAYS LATER ONBOARD A BUS AS WE SPEED TOWARDS A DATE WITH THE GIANT BUDHA – WELL we didn’t crash in fact we had the best landing that I have had on this tour so far. The Captain – Mr Ding Yung Huan – put the plane down on a sixpence in what was a text book landing despite the fog. I was well impressed and asked to go in to the cockpit after we had landed to have a word with the main man. I explained to Captain Huan that I’d flown Emirates, Jet, Indigo, Buddha Air and Air China amongst others in recent weeks and that his landing on the southern runway was the best by far. As I shook his hand he asked if he could quote me for their next edition of their inflight magazine!

Enough. Back to the blog proper. I was waffling on about how the Chinese “play hard”. Well that’s just half the story, because they work damn hard as well and that is clear to see everywhere you look.

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The Chinese are incredibly innovative, they’re industrious and as a nation have a clear direction/focus, which in my opinion is to educate, develop and then….. well, history will tell us what “well” is. I think it could go one of two ways. Looking into my crystal ball, it’ll all depend ultimately on who ends up in charge. They could as a nation use their creative assets and work in partnership with the rest of the World and then we all live happily ever after. But if the dragon’s tail is pulled and hard liners move in, then watch out for the fire that will inevitably follow, simply because of the size of China’s population.

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Present estimates put the population at a whopping 1.4 billion – 20% of the humans on this planet. The one-child policy still exists with around 40% subject to the restriction. According to internet sources, circa 53% of couples are allowed to have a second child if their first child is a girl. But the latest male/female stats are alarming, with some Chinese provinces having sex ratios of more than 130 males to just 100 females. This is largely down to the fact that there is a traditional preference for sons and the widespread practice of arranging for sons to take care of their elderly parents. Old People’s homes do exist, but largely the responsibility falls to family members.

There did however seem to be NO “lady” shortage when we have been out and about. The “tradition” of having your main wedding photos taken up to three months before the actual wedding ceremony is very popular. One night we counted over 50 ceremonies taking place. Basically you hire a dress and a photographer – around £1000 as a starter – and then stand in front of something interesting/arty for that all important shot. Think I prefer the Shanghai skyline to the graffiti wall personally…

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The Graffiti backdrop above is a bit ugly, but you can’t say that of the children. I’m certainly no softie when it comes to babies and young children, even though my Mother has told me I was one once. But I have to admit to being “mesmerised” by the many little Chinese faces I have come across. So here’s my opportunity to share one or two photos with you. I did, I hasten to add, “ask permission” of their parents, so no need to report me… – ADMIN – OH No – paragraph is a bit pants without the pic! LOL

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Kids are kids anywhere you go, but the one thing I’ve noticed is the confidence of children aged between around three and say six/seven. I’ve heard young girls sing songs from the Sound of Music, others act and perform. There was even one young lady sitting with her Mum on the parapet of a bridge flamboyantly creating pen and ink sketches of Shanghai Pagodas and doing a roaring trade selling them for about £10 a go. Enterprise and confidence of the young – love it. – ADMIN – JUST USE YOUR IMAGINATION!

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But it isn’t just the youngsters who are creative in making a few bob. The latest fad in Chengdhu is to clean people’s ears out with long pieces of wire. You sit down on a couch, close your eyes and then a man with a mask and head torch pokes the inside of your ear until he hits your semi-circular canal. He then pulls the wire out with a whole lot of gunge. Beats syringing I guess.

Although I never tried it’s meant to be very relaxing. I had never heard of such a thing before and feel sure that this new fad will be over ear in the UK in the very near future. Or I guess it could become one of those things that is simply “ear today and gone tomorrow”, although the Chinese do wax lyrical about the benefits. ADMIN – TRY NOT THIS TIME!

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One group of Chinese who also benefit from ear cleaning are the thousands of Terracotta Warriors, who were positioned in the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China to protect him in his after-life. It is a remarkable story all round really when you consider that local farmers in the mid 1970s discovered what is a huge underground Palace, when they started boring a new well. Now in two “giant aircraft hangers” the size of Wembley Arena, archaeologists lovingly restore the Warriors to their former glory, ensuring not only their ears are clean, but their whole body. We were stunned by this place. The size, the history, the thought that literally thousands of years ago the Chinese had even perfected the art of chromium plating, later discovered by the west in the 1930s. Amazing that just like the Egyptians they had once ruled the World….. now coming back full circle. But perhaps the most mind blowing thing was the fact that each Warrior was uniquely created. There is not one the same with facial expressions that testify to the fact. Brilliant. And a worthy 8TH WONDER OF THE WORLD following, York Minster, The Yorkshire Dales and of course Peasholme Park in Scarborough.

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We’ve had a brilliant time here in China and there is still just over a week before we move on. So many sites, so many things we’ve seen including The Great Wall and the Teraccotta Warriors to name but two. But no trip of course would be complete without visiting the Pandas. Ahhhhhh.

There are 1500 left in the wild, but the nearest we will probably get is visiting them as we did on the outskirts of Chenngdhu at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, this morning (Wednesday 21 October).

I ran a “silent sweepstake” with myself as we went through the turnstiles as to how many “cutes” I would hear in two hours from our 16 strong group. But even I said “cute” three times as we saw baby pandas (twins a few days old), red pandas and numerous giant pandas all living in the semi-wild of this bamboo paradise. In total I heard 146 cutes by the way. ADMIN – IMAGINATION AGAIN

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A very moving experience as were their eyes.

In fact, after writing close to two thousand words (sorry Ray), I now realise that the common denominator with all of these observations are eyes. I hope you see where I’m coming from.

My grateful thanks to Russ Baker for spending a lot of his time compiling this blog due to Chinese restrictions on blog posting. Russ – I owe you a Chinese Takeaway when I get back. ADMIN – (PRAWN CRACKERS MORE LIKE!)

Onwards now to spend time in a Budhist Monastery for a few days, before heading down the Yangtze River on a cruise.

 

 

Categories: China Blog

Cracking China Chums

MARK: I’m a shy person. Ok, so that’s a lie (really – Administrator LOL!!!!), but I do from time to time get nervous when encountering groups of people in a social situation. Professionally no problem, give me a room of 250 strangers and happy days, network city!

For the last six weeks it’s just been me and Sarah. Indeed for 7 days we were the only white faces around and conversations, with the exception of Garima my “Indian Sister, were really limited. Surprisingly we are both still getting on, which is not bad, seeing we’ve not left each others sight for more than 5 minutes during that time. It must be love – MADNESS!

So welcome to China and our new “friends” for three weeks, travellers who like us, have booked “Essential China”, through Canadian Tour Operator G Adventures.

We’d arrived early in Beijing from Nepal and so had three days to explore the city and get to know it a little, before the tour started.

MB boogying with the locals – a large crowd soon gathered

MB boogying with the locals – a large crowd soon gathered

But on the afternoon prior to the “Welcome Meeting” at 6.00pm we both at the same time said “wonder what the others will be like….” We did not have long to wait as people soon started to gather in the Lobby of the Chongwenmen Hotel, everyone eyeing up everyone else.

First to rock up was a six foot, six inch Canadian giant. “Hi” he said. “My names Court just like a basketball court”, he smiled and promptly got in a bone crunching handshake, before I had chance to do the same. He’s a salesman I thought to myself and sure enough he was. A Director of a Real Estate Agency from Vancouver, complete with white socks. A nice bloke, you could see straight away – full of wise cracks and married to Linda, an equally lovely person who at 4ft 10” was nearly two feet smaller. For those of you who know Alastair and Sheilagh Black, there are many similarities in terms of stature.

We later had some great laughs with Court around Tiananmen Square when Chinese men wanted photos next to the two giants…. Yes I am a giant too, and not just around my waist.

Big Boy Court – a celeb’ around town and nicely dealt with a pick pocket, with a powerful push when he “felt a tickle”

Big Boy Court – a celeb’ around town and nicely dealt with a pick pocket, with a powerful push when he “felt a tickle”

Tiananmen Square MINUS tanks

Tiananmen Square MINUS tanks

Anyway, back to the Group brief….. Carina (our wonderful Chinese Guide – a 23+ year old Chinese national who studied English at University) beckoned us to a conference room for further information as the noise in the lobby became deafening as everyone talked over each other in their excitement of the first meeting. In we all marched and sat ‘U’ shape around dark wooden tables. De Vere Venues, I had come home…

Very soon we realised that we were all very similar. Everyone was a traveller, not a tourist! Four Canadians, three Aussies, five Brits an Irish lady and three Americans. Two of the party had come overland by the Trans-Siberian Railway and had loads of interesting stories. One lady Renee (mid 60s) has been on the road from her home in Carmel, California for 8 years – yes EIGHT YEARS. The Aussies – Sheree and Linda – had been about a bit and we soon realised could sniff out alcohol from at least 200 metres. Debbie, another Young Brit (22) was on an extended trip like us, planning as she went along. Yes – these were our sort of people. And, as we entered our passport and “next of kin” details on a scrappy bit of paper, barriers quickly broke down…

Next morning, bright and early at 0715 we all assembled in the hotel foyer for our first trip to the Great Wall of China, at a place called Mutianyu. A 17 seater coach pulled up outside the hotel and we all scrambled on, me and Sarah like “naughty school children” on the back seat, with Jan (58) a fun, former school teacher, complete with purple hair and a nose ring. Widowed for 8 years, Jan we discovered came from the Wirral and was clearly one of those people up for anything. She must have been, having shared a sleeping compartment with five Mongolian men for three days on the Trans-Siberian. More about Jan in a minute!

We had a wonderful five mile walk, but quickly broke ranks with the rest of the group as the Bailey’s, lead by Sarah, quickly decided we could walk to 15 different Towers, the rest were left trailing in our wake. The Wall is truly Great – another tick on the bucket list.

M and S pace setting

M and S pace setting

Truly stunning a must see

Truly stunning a must see

After a group lunch in a superb restaurant which produced the bestest Peking Duck we have ever had, it was time for a little nap, in preparation for a big night out, for what was described by one of our party as “disgusting eating”. The group, made its way on busses and the metro to an area of Beijing where anything quite literally goes when it comes to eating.

The pungent smell of sewage, sweet noodles and animal offal wafted down a small brightly lit street, neon signs and red lanterns everywhere. Suddenly we came across scorpions still wiggling on skewers, large crickets/grasshoppers that looked like something out of “I’m a celebrity get me out of here” and some huge beetle things which resembled a cross between a pupa and a cockroach.

Big Mouth Bailey, mentioned how he had been given a list of “things to eat” by his supposed friends – see pre tour blog for details – and so that was it. I was first up to eat a scorpion, the cricket and then the “beetle”. I was joined by Jan and Linda the Aussie who were also game for a laugh. We each bought a round of critters. A skewer of four scorpions cost around a £1.

Crunch! I went for it, the scorpion going down the inside of my throat, lightly toasted and with a bit of chicken flavour. One nil! The others then had a go and we made our way along the different stalls. However, I drew the line on the lizard, star fish and sea horses as I did not want to be running to the open sewer, sorry toilet on board the 17 hour overnight train from Beijing to Shanghai.

The three Musketeers about to eat scorpions – Jan centre, with Linda

The three Musketeers about to eat scorpions – Jan centre, with Linda

Lizard and star fish are popular with locals

Lizard and star fish are popular with locals

Yes I did eat them all!

Yes I did eat them all!

So no ill effects, which was just as well as we made our way to the Railway station. As for what happened next, well some things just have to stay on tour. Suffice to say we had a brilliant journey in a six berth sleeper carriage, with Don and Theresa (two mid 60 year olds from Canada) and Mr Wong and Leon, two Chinese nationals. The fire water flowed that’s all you need to know..

Taken from the top bunk

Taken from the top bunk

Sarah looking remarkably awake after just two hours, sleeping with two Chinese men

Sarah looking remarkably awake after just two hours, sleeping with two Chinese men

Yep, we are very lucky. A good group. Only two Alpha males and no cliques, everyone talking, sharing and getting on….

We’re in Shanghai now, a small place of just 20 million inhabitants. Our thanks again to Russ Baker for posting this and for uploading the graphics, via Skype as we cannot transfer files any other way.

Isn't that Mark Bailey from Radio Frimley - 'Mum!'

Isn’t that Mark Bailey from Radio Frimley? – ‘Mum!’

Categories: China Blog

CENSORED! BUT Chinese cannot TAKEAWAY MASTERS from its public!

MARK: Greetings from Beijing. Or should I say Lowton, near Warrington in Cheshire.

Yes Cheshire, because this post comes thanks to my “Administrator” Russ Baker, Brother-in-Law and MASTERS supremo.

The reason? It’s down to Chinese censorship!

We have the best wifi signal for 6 weeks, but our friends have “restricted” access to certain sites.

We CAN get BBC news, TripAdvisor, Radio 2 streaming Steve Wright in the Afternoon and Barclays, Tesco and one or two dodgy sites. We CAN’T get Facebook, Google or Radio Frimley Park. Yes Malcolm, the Chinese have banned me listening to you and the rest of the guys…

The other site which the Chinese seem not to like is MASTERS20152016.com

I can just about see the site online, but to quote Ray Croydon – the site is a bit “wibbly wobbly.” You can see random lines of text and photos but in no order and there is no way that I can upload copy or photos. In fact sending emails with attachments is another problem and hence NO photos for this blog post, which is a shame as we have some cracking shots.

So, thanks to Russ, I have sent the copy by email and he has uploaded and I believe put on a graphic – CENSORED!

 

 

EARLY OBSERVATIONS OF CHINA

We could write an entire blog on how we nearly didn’t get here. That would take too long. Suffice to say, two days before we were due to leave Kathmandu (Nepal), our flight was cancelled due to the fuel shortage. Rebooked on Air China, that was cancelled (according to the airline website) on the morning we were due to leave! Then surprisingly a giant AIRBUS A330 (200 series – 340 SEATS), managed to land and Sarah and I together with just 140 passengers got on. It had flown from Chengdhu in the middle of China, full of fuel, limited the passenger numbers out and back so it could take off on the short Kathmandu airstrip and therefore did not need the non-existent fuel in Nepal as it had enough to get back.

Never have we been so pleased to see an aircraft! And when it was in the air, it was “chink-chink” and cheers as we had our first glass of wine in 5 weeks.

But we had another treat. It was a mixed blessing as the day before we had invested in two £140 seats on a Buddha Air “Mountain Flight” around Everest. That was superb – a blog in itself.

However, as we were toasting our escape, the captain announced Everest was “on our left”. MY GOD what a view we had this time. Not from one side, but from both the Nepalese and Chinese (desert) side for at least 10 minutes at a height of 35,000ft (6,000 ft above Everest.) Sarah looked at me and said “we could have saved a few quid” and then we both thought “Nahhhh”, how many people see this amazing site twice in 24 hours and from the Chinese side as well. We were and are grateful.

Anyway, enough about Mountains. We’ve been in Beijing, China now for two days and have some quick observations of our time here so far.

 

SPITTING – NATIONAL PAST TIME

AAAAHHHHHHHGGGGGGUUUUUSSSSSSP – that’s the sound of a Chinese man, no sorry men as they all do it. A nice gargle at the back of the throat and then the flemmy/spitty stuff is launched through a car window, on to your feet as you are walking along or directly in to an airline sick bag only for some unsuspecting soul on the next flight to have an unwanted surprise. YUK.

 

EVERYONE HAS A PASSAT – the Germans are sending them here!

I have been tracking the VW crisis and glad I sold my motor three months ago! But, I now know where they are being sent. China! Everyone has one, probably because nobody gives a damn about smog and pollution. That said, we have been blessed with bright sunshine and blue skies and “cool” temperatures of 20-23C. The military parade has just ended and obviously the cloud seeding continues to work. By the way Steve Elliott: Can you give Sarah’s KA a spin please as it’s been a few weeks?

 

VERY VERY CLEVER PEOPLE

China will be the World leaders within 20 years. My prediction, and interesting when you think that in 1860 the British and the French combined to destroy most of central Beijing and all the temples… enough said. But these guys are smart. How about, being able to watch adverts projected on to the walls of tube/subway tunnels! They are so straight they can do it by series of giant projectors and monitors. Very entertaining. Plus you can make calls on their subway, surf the net, watch TV and all in air conditioned comfort. Boris are you listening???

 

THE CARPENTERS ARE ALWAYS PLAYED IN LIFTS

My friend Mr James Duckworth, loves the Carpenters and always says Karen was taken from us all too early and that she is sadly missed. Well James, you need an Iron Mountain contract over here as every lift you go in seems to play Carpenters tracks. We are in a hotel with 15 floors and typically – I have tried it – you need to go up and down three times to hear the full track. Worth doing after some of the so called “music” you hear and I must say very uplifting for the soul.

 

DEBBIE BARTON – POTENTIAL NEW SIDELINE FOR YOUR BUSINESS

They have some superb Palaces and Parks here. The best so far has been the “Temple of Heaven”. Away from the temples and gardens you will find groups of people aged between 70-90, dancing to tracks including Boney M, ABBA and the Pointer Sisters (I’m so excited). They bop along, strut their stuff and have a great time, keeping fit, socialising and generally have a laugh. I joined in – surprise that – and was soon performing in front of an audience of about 250 people who thought I was John Travolta. Women (80 years +) swooned, men watched in admiration and Sarah after taking a couple of snaps, made a swift exit. Debbie, how about a similar gig in Camberley High Street or Frimley Green Rec’?

SHE JUMPED IN THE AIR FOR A 40P TIP

You don’t need to tip here. Nice, as it saves on our budget. But we did leave a 40 pence tip to the kind waitress in the Noodle Bar. She had been very helpful trying to understand our sign language. When she realised we had tipped, she literally jumped in the air and ran round the restaurant waving the 4 notes (40p) in the air. She was happy – so were we.

 

STARTED THE EATING TEST

Before we left for the trip, I blogged a list of food that people had requested I eat….this ranged from parts of a pigs anatomy to locusts. Richard Daw, John Hodson, Alastair Black – I’ve not forgotten. So, I thought I would get in the mood with a little bit of Liver and some duck skin, leaving the tripe stuff, offal and some smelly chicken feet for Day 2. But my goodness, I nearly threw up on the liver, which was glupey and full of intestines. The smell was akin to a sewer and the colour that of….. well make that bit up yourself. So headed off for a Macdonald’s Big Breakfast which was great, but Peking Duck for breakfast was a little strange.

 

Well that’s it for now. Can we both thank you for your personal emails, Skype calls/messages, comments on the site, and the conversations on What’sapp. We really appreciate them ‘cause it can get lonely now and again. Hopefully more to come after we visit the Great Wall and Pandas assuming we survive the three overnight train journeys which are each 15-17 hours in length.

Categories: China Blog

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