I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!

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Entries in China (19)

Saturday
Mar162013

Saturday afternoon in Beijing

 

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Sadly this morning, it was time to say goodbye to our favourite ship and begin our journey home.  The first stage was to drive that awfully boring road from Tianjin to Beijing, three hours of pretty unrelentingly dull landscape with our Chinese guide, Ken, talking almost non stop. 

 

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As we neared the suburbs, there were more private cars, the apartments appeared to be occupied and the scene was of a more liveable nature.  Still, the predominant colour was beige and grey, however, and the outlook remained bleak.

 

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The inevitable building sites were all around, still, and the traffic as heavy as it had been yesterday afternoon.  Driving here must require immense patience.

 

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Nearing the centre of the city, the streets became more commercial and there appeared to be more of the hustle and bustle one might expect.

 

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But crossing over a busy road as we approached our hotel, my hero and I agreed that Beijing was more or less as we remembered it.  Grey, dusty and a little soulless.

 

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Thankfully, our hotel is anything but.  We are here for just the one night, because BA don’t fly to London on a Saturday.  Our friends are here too – one couple came with us from the ship, the others are staying a little longer to do some more sightseeing.  We felt pleased to be here, glad to have “normal” internet (minus google, facebook and anything else the Chinese would rather we didn’t have) and were happy to kick back and simply have a bit of peace and quiet.

We had no plans.

 

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But after about an hour, having refreshed ourselves and got tired of twiddling thumbs, we thought we’d explore the mall which adjoins the hotel.

Oh my.  Gucci, Hermes, Dior…at Chinese prices, ie almost double the price of such things at home – not that we buy these things anyway.

 

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We looked at a supermarket which was a dead spit of Waitrose and spent a happy half hour mooching around.

 

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By the ice rink (yes…really) we chatted to a young British/Australian couple with a small daughter who were as mesmerised as we were.  They told us they had just moved here and were still finding their way around.  Leaving them to watch the skaters, we mulled over the practicalities of bringing up a small child here and reached the conclusion that it might prove to be somewhat of a challenge.

 

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Spotting a ColdStone Creamery there amongst the snack bars and coffee shops, I suggested we take a break and think what we might do for the next hour or two.  Though the public rooms of the hotel are fresh and glitzy, our room is a little dated and not exactly somewhere we wanted to spend all afternoon.

But just a minute, didn’t I just spot a sign pointing to the subway?

And don’t I recall noting that this line – Line 1 – goes right into the heart of the city?

How about it?

 

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Neither of us had a coat on, we had no map, no guidebook, nothing.  But life is an adventure, yes?  Come on!

 

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Taking pictures the whole way, so we’d have a reference for finding our way back (at this point, we didn’t even know the name of this station, except I thought it began with a letter G), we made our way to the barriers and ticket machines.

 

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A 2Y flat fare (20p) wasn’t exactly going to break the bank and, looking at the map, my hero came up with an idea for our destination.

 

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We gathered up a map

 

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and armed with a single journey ticket each, we went down to the platform and waited for the train.

 

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It was absolutely packed, just like a Japanese rush hour train, but rather less gracious and with a little more pushing and shoving.

 

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Indeed!!

 

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We travelled five or six stations, pushed and shoved our way off the train and around fifteen minutes after enjoying our ice cream we were here.

In Tiananmen Square!

 

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But our first attempts to walk along the path were denied.  Policemen and Army officials blocked the way and there appeared to be some kind of official motorcade passing by.  At that point we remembered, it’s the Party Congress or something going on, the new President and Prime Minister have just been appointed and we guessed that these were officials and other dignitaries attending some do or other.

And then we turned around.

 

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Oh! this was the new Performing Arts Centre we had heard about in a lecture on the ship, though in reality it wasn’t quite as blue and shiny as we expected it to be!  Nevertheless, we were pleased to see it and even if we couldn’t walk all the way round it, it was a fine spectacle and a nice surprise.

 

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Ok, so, we have no map, no guidebook, no coats.  But we feel quite comfortable, it’s mild and there’s not a breath of wind.  Can we remember where to go from the last time we were here?

Let’s see.  We got off the train at Tiananmen Square West and had thought we’d walk to T S East to ride home again.  That seemed like a simple expedition that we could manage, so if only these policemen would let us walk in an easterly direction, we’d be ok.

 

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But we’d better behave ourselves, hadn’t we?

 

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We decided the best action to take was to follow the crowd – and oh my, was there a crowd to follow!  We found a subway to cross over to the other side of the road and simply fell into step with everyone else.

 

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Lo and behold, just a couple of hundred yards along, there we were.  In Tiananmen Square itself.

 

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And just behind us, the good old Chairman was looking benignly on.

At this point, I found myself feeling quite overcome.  After all, it’s one thing to set off with the intention and a programme in mind, planning to visit one of these great places with a guide and a commentary.  But we had simply pottered out of the hotel to buy an ice cream and look where we ended up!  How neat was that?!

I pinched myself, told myself that yes, I am in Beijing and it’s hardly surprising that I found myself here this afternoon.  But all the same, inside I was bubbling with excitement.

 

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Of course there were a few others here too.  At times, the police steered us through a checkpoint and random search of bags and belongings, but we were never called aside in spite of being the only Western faces in the crowd.  (Surprising, that…we thought there would have been many western tourists here)

 

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It was fun to linger, to look and simply be here for a while.  A gentleman brought his young son over and asked if he could take our picture with the boy.  Of course, we agreed, and posed for what must be a very strange portrait!

 

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The Square itself was full of parked coaches from all those officials who’d sailed past us earlier, and we couldn’t see a way to get into the middle.  So, we contented ourselves with simply walking along one side of the square, past the Tiananmen Gate.

 

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Admiring the painted roof of course, as we passed – though thinking that we’ve seen rather more impressive painted roofs these last few days.  But this was the original, the first such painted roof I ever saw and I can remember the deep impression it left on me when I first caught sight of it.

 

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Then, of course, my hero suggested we go through the gate, see what’s on the other side and yes, continue to follow the crowd.  So we did.

 

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The afternoon was turning out in a most unexpected way!

 

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Though the paintwork was rather shabby and peeling away in places, the colours and patterns up there are simply lovely, don’t you think?

 

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But my hero was getting antsy now.  How long was it going to take us to get back?  Would we be able to access the East subway station or would the police steer us back to the West?  Perhaps it was time to be making our way back.

 

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And so, we found the subway station with no problem at all, took the escalator down to the ticket machine and bought another couple of tickets before going through the barrier again.  Entering the station involved another bag check, too.

 

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Amused by the illuminated advertising signs on the subway walls, which are programmed to be still as the train passes by them, we were soon back at the station where we started – Guomao.  We retraced our steps and in no time at all,

 

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We were back!

Our dear German friends have a word for such spontaneous behaviour – fetzig.  My hero and I are generally planners, we don’t do fetzig as a rule, which might explain why, when we do, we feel quite thrilled by the outcome.

 

That’s how we spent Saturday afternoon in Beijing.

Friday
Mar152013

Learning to count

 

Chinese style, thanks to a lesson from one of the young guides, Erin.

 

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One

 

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two

 

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three

 

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four

 

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five.

Well, yes…but then….

 

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six

 

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seven (chicken head)

 

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eight

 

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nine

 

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ten!

 

Who knew?

Thursday
Mar142013

Let’s go fly a kite

 

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The view outside came as a small surprise this morning.  Well, of course, we knew we were expecting to arrive in Dalian, China sometime just before lunch, but a little earlier than that, we looked out of the window and saw a kind of Manhattan skyline coming into view.

 

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This was not quite what we’d been led to expect.  But Dalian is a growing city, at the forefront of modern China and clearly the place to be these days.

 

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Once again, the whole place seemed to be a building site and those who had been here as recently as two years ago said that it was barely recognisable.

 

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The silver turtle shaped structure which was near to our berth reflected the sunshine on this, another glorious day.  Cold  but clear, we were delighted that the weather was fine, because we were planning a little outdoor activity here.

 

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Shortly after passing by the turtle – actually, the forum for the World Economic Forum which will meet here every two years (the so called “Summer Davos”),  the Captain turned hard left and parked the ship perfectly just across the water from it.  (I hope you don’t mind my using such nautical language!?)

 

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Far from the small, regional town we had expected, Dalian is a thriving city and home to 6 million people.  This afternoon, it seemed like everyone was out in their car, for the roads were incredibly busy and every spare inch of land was being used as a car park.

 

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Zhongshan Square was our starting point.  We’d split into groups and eight of us introduced ourselves to Edward our young guide for the afternoon.  He explained a little of the background to the city, pointed out a few prominent buildings (this is a bank, that’s another bank and over on that side of the square is yet another bank)

 

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We set off walking down the main street, past KFC, Apple shops and Zara amongst other familiar brands.  This was far from the communist China of old and LV, Gucci, Prada and Dior appeared to be thriving here – though Edward said that the people who could afford to shop in such places were not locals but wealthy Chinese people from other parts of the country who chose to buy property here.

 

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We passed a cinema and other more Chinese shops selling more everyday items, though the people on the street were younger and more fashionable than the general population, we felt.

 

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Here was a large, modern shopping complex alongside a public transport interchange.  The car park here was full, too, with modern imported cars as well as the native Chinese variety.  On the short walk we took this afternoon, we passed several Range Rovers, Audis and other, similar high end vehicles.Oh yes, consumerism is alive and well in Dalian!

 

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The “international flag” was flying here too – because just underneath the surface of luxury goods and high end shopping, a more familiar and less glitzy China was there to see.

 

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Cars had been parked – left – everywhere, including all over the pavement, which had created other problems, too.

 

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The pavements were in a terrible state.  So much new building, so much investment and yet, such basic things as simple maintenance seemed to be overlooked.  At times, walking wasn’t easy – avoiding the parked cars, negotiating the broken and badly repaired paving slabs and stepping up and down foot-high kerbstones needed concentration and if that wasn’t enough, crossing the road involved taking one’s life in one’s hands, for in spite of a green flashing pedestrian signal, it still wasn’t safe to assume cars would stop.

 

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Poor Edward, he had quite a task taking care of us!

 

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Eventually, we reached The People’s Square, where a few of the inhabitants of Dalian were enjoying the sunshine.  We caught sight of the little one, all bundled up against the cold, and took a photo or two.  I’m sure none of us noticed anything particular about him/her until we downloaded our photographs later

 

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A bit chilly, perhaps?

 

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An elderly gentleman took great pleasure in showing off his ability to use the keep fit equipment, which our friends tried to emulate with limited success but with more than a few laughs.

 

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But the rest of the Peoples’ Square was more about the buildings which surround it rather than the square itself.

 

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The notice was politely worded, though.

 

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Next stop was a coffee shop, where we enjoyed a glass of jasmine tea and a snack in a room marked “VIP”.  The hot drink was welcome after a brisk walk in the cold air, that’s for sure.

 

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Whilst we were enjoying our tea, we were each given a kite ready for the next stop – the Peoples’ Park.  Sadly, there wasn’t a great deal of wind this afternoon, but that didn’t stop us running madly around trying to get our kites up into the air.  Some local Chinese people were amused by our efforts and tried to help.  Some even had a go themselves and grinned as they could get the kite to fly far more easily than we could.

 

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It was huge fun, however, and most of us did eventually manage to get the things to fly, if only for a few seconds.  This is my Angry Birds kite, up in the air above my head, just before the string became snaffled on my camera strap!

 

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We ran all over the place, squealing with delight like small children, really enjoying the fresh air and the opportunity to have some fun.  The one mystery was the identity of the man in the purple anorak.  He was there the whole afternoon, though didn’t travel on our bus, didn’t seem to be “with” us, and yet was always there hovering.  In the park, he even got out a kite and flew it with us.  Hmmm.

 

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Whilst we flew kites, the ladies of Dalian were dancing and swirling ropes and ribbons to some very loud Chinese music just over the other side of the pond.  They giggled and shouted to one another, having just as much fun as we were.

 

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As for the men, well, they were assembled over the length of the stepped sides of the larger pond sitting cheek by jowl playing cards.  Edward explained this is a long standing Dalian tradition and they’re playing a local game that only locals understand.  All I can say is that it was a pretty serious business and they didn’t appear to be having anything like as much fun as the rest of us!

 

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After an hour or so we were all exhausted and starting to get cold.  It was time to return to the ship.  In the late afternoon, a jolly bunch of kite flyers came noisily home, then, carrying their brightly coloured gifts and commenting on how pleasurable it can be to spend an afternoon doing something so simple.  Walking and talking with a young person from another culture, learning about their life and their country was great.  The kite flying was an added bonus.

 

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But it was good to be back in the warm again!

Friday
Mar082013

Zhujiajiao, the water town

 

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An early start this morning, so we were up with the lark and popped our noses out on the verandah to see what the weather was like.  Not bad.  Not as nice as yesterday but fairly mild and dry.  I thought I could see a couple of helicopters hovering above the city, so got my camera out to take a look.

 

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Actually, they were flying kites from the Bund, so we zoomed in for a better shot.

 

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Oh, and then I turned around and looked in the other direction!  Yes, this photo really was taken at the very same time as the kite one and from the very same spot, too.

 

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Anyway, after a spot of breakfast, we gathered our things (and our people!) and met in the Theatre to await further instruction.  In no time at all we were boarding our bus and off to Zhujiajiao, just over an hour’s drive away.

 

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I’m sorry that this is such a horrible picture but I wanted to share one of the Shanghai ring road signs, with traffic updates there on the sign itself.  The bright green is an illuminated indicator of the density and speed of the traffic on this, one of the busiest roads.  I’ve not seen this elsewhere and thought it pretty useful for a driver to see immediately where the trouble spots might be.

 

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Actually, the motorways were otherwise much the same as everywhere else in the world, wouldn’t you say?

 

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As we drove, we passed new, modern developments of what our guide referred to as “villas”. 

 

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Everywhere we go, there is building.  And more building.  This was on the outskirts of Zhujiajiao, which is probably within commuting distance from Shanghai, but more likely, of one of the outlying suburbs which seem equally popular.

 

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Anyway, shortly afterwards, the twenty or so of us were dropped off at the entrance to the town, stepped through the gateway and look.  Isn’t that lovely?

 

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Well, yes, this is a touristy kind of place, but also somewhere that real people live and work, so rather than focus on the touristy stuff, it was good to observe the inhabitants for a while.

 

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It’s noted for the “gondolas” on the river too, and we looked forward to a trip later.  But for now, we were going to walk through the town a while.

 

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Yes, the bedding was out in the fresh air, hanging all over the place as always.

 

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This man was rinsing some fish in the stream – though looking at it, I wonder if the fish came out and cleaner after being in the water, which didn’t look too clean to us.

 

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We smiled at the New Year “firecrackers” with the CocaCola logo all over them.  Oh yes, here we are!

 

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The end of this particular path offered a far more interesting view however.  We just couldn’t stop taking photos.

 

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A little along the next street, we passed several food stalls, each selling virtually the same things – little packages of chicken and rice, wrapped in leaves and tied with grass.

 

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Some smelled pleasantly savoury, others a little less appetising.

 

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And no one fancied chicken or duck right now!

 

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The old buildings were so photogenic though and the red lanterns shone in the sunshine.  Really lovely.

 

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It was good, too, that no one really bothered us, but continued their day enjoying the sunshine as much as we were.

 

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The old bridges were beautiful and by one of them, the oldest, an old woman was selling live fish.  This was not to eat or to feed to pets but to set free…like the little birds in cages, to win a little karma from the Gods.

 

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On this side of the river, the shops were more touristy in theme.  Buy a comb, a plastic toy, a silk cushion cover or “hand” embroidery…or…

 

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two wooden rice spoons!  Far more useful!

 

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We were making our way back towards the old Post Office and the Apothecary’s shop

 

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The Apothecary’s was dark and none to interesting, we thought, but the post office rather more lively.

 

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I posted a card home.

 

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I then went upstairs to look at the wonderful historic postcards on display.  Once more, I smiled at the little English translation “Old garden has experienced many vicissitudes”.

 

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Walking past the vegetables drying in the sun, we’d arrived at our boat stop.

 

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Six to the boat; perfect for our party and the gentleman with the oar did a grand job of transporting us back to the bus stop in super quick time.

 

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Along the way, we caught more, lovely glimspes of life in Zhujiajiao and were thrilled to be here.

 

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This was a busy thoroughfare though and our driver needed to concentrate!

 

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Making friends along the way is all part of the fun and we were rather sorry our trip was over so soon.

 

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But leave we must.  Our ship was due to sail from Shanghai at 1.30pm and we needed to be back on board. 

We’ve loved our time in the city and have overwritten all the less successful experiences from our previous trip.  We feel we have seen so much and have been truly blessed with marvellous weather, too.

 

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At 1.30pm precisely, we reversed out of the berth and a short way downstream before making a 360 degree turn and sailing away.  Goodbye Shanghai, I am sure we will be back.

We are now on our way to Hiroshima and will arrive tomorrow morning (Saturday).  As we enter Japanese water this afternoon, the communications will disappear once again, so we’ll be quiet for a few days.  Don’t worry though, we’ll still be having fun and I’ll have plenty of stories to tell when we’re back in touch.

See you later!

Thursday
Mar072013

After a delicious lunch

 

it was time to pay homage to Buddha.

 

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We were headed for the Jade Buddha Temple, one of the most popular in the city for both tourists and worshippers alike.  David reassured us that photos were welcome throughout the temple with the exception of the Jade Buddha itself.

 

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The visitors to this temple were rather different from those in the temples we’ve visited recently.  Here, they were an altogether younger crowd, possibly reflecting the demographic of the city itself as much as the temple community specifically.

 

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This was a haven of peace in a busy, busy world outside.  In the warmth of the afternoon, the traffic outside seemed a world away, as we followed David to the first floor to see the treasure that was the Jade Buddha.

 

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IT was indeed a very beautiful Buddha, in female form, closely guarded by three young women dressed identically in matching anoraks.  Though we’re enjoying the warmth of a Spring day, people here are still wrapped up for the winter and even the police have cute furry collars to their uniform.

 

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The little courtyards were attractive but of course, there wasn’t time to linger.  From time to time we caught a fleeting glimpse of a monk here or there, though David had told us that these young men were “undergraduate monks” and were likely to be using an iphone, too!

 

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Inside the main building, there were a range of Buddhas to approach, all with varying expressions.

 

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The main figure – another female form – was situated behind a screen of long embroidered panels and yes, of course, those interested me as much as the Buddha him(her) self.

 

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Actually, the whole frieze was a gathering of all kinds of figures and in the same way as a stained glass window can offer all kinds of visual prompts and illustration, these characters could tell any number of stories.

 

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I’m none too familiar with tales of the Buddhist religion, but if I were, I’m sure I could identify many of them here.

 

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For now, let’s admire the lovely embroidered kneelers – a  little different in style to those in an English parish church, of course.

 

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The stitched hangings which frame the main Buddha figure

 

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and the “lanterns” which are so colourful and stitched in such an attractive palette.

 

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Actually, even the rubbish bin with discarded packaging from the incense sticks and suchlike was a colourful and interesting arrangement!

 

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The afternoon sun and the haze of the incense had also been a little headache inducing, so in the fifteen minutes we had to spare, a couple of us escaped into the side street, where life was going on in much the same way as it always had, I imagine.

 

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We were pleased to rejoin our party and head back towards the Pudong again, for the last hour of the day.

 

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The “international flag” was still flying here and there!

 

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We joined a few Shanghainese on the promenade of the Pudong, and enjoyed a stroll along the riverside.  What a lovely afternoon it was.

 

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The sellers of this and that were out in force

 

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as was the McDonalds ice cream wagon!  Cheers, Ellis..how kind!

 

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Actually, the last stop of the day was the Jin Mao tower.  Hadn’t we been there before?  Well, yes, we had actually, so whilst a couple of our party went up to the 88th floor, we decided to forego the opportunity to make a third visit up there and instead, paid a visit to a familiar venue in an unfamiliar setting

 

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Starbucks!

We’d had a really wonderful day and enjoyed a half hour together reviewing where we’d been and what we’d seen.  All were unanimous.

We love Shanghai!