Confusian guide to Lazy Susan etiquette

Confusian guide to Lazy Susan etiquette
Suzhou, China

Suzhou, China


Visited the Confusian temple in Nanjing this morning. The temple itself is dominated by a giant statue of the man himself and is certainly worth a visit. However, the best feature is its setting by a canal. There is a fabulous bridge there and some outdoor cafes where you can have a reviving iced tea and watch the world go by. A very short walk from the temple are a maze of small lanes and alleyways full of the usual tourist tat at knock down prices. For afficianados of Pee Pee boys you will be releaved that they are available together with more copies of the thoughts of Chairman M, assorted fans, fake jade and the obligatory “100% silk” pillow cases. DVDs and limited games and software can be found one street behind in the main drag for 10 Yuan a disk. We then had a dire ‘tour group’ lunch. A word on Lazy Susan etiquette. Elly and I have now had over 12 meals from Lazy Susans (the dreaded revolving platters where all the food is put for the diners to share). Being British a strict anti-clockwise rotation is favoured and the food moves in a sedate and orderly fashion. This is quite normal because most the food is so average that no one wants to load their plate. However, should a hint of shellfish or sweet and sour pork appear then the turntable speeds up so fast that the overhanging spoons clink the beer glasses and it sounds like wind chimes in a hurricane. But on no account should you remove the plate from the table and shovel the food into your bowl, the secret is to offer the dullest member of the party the cold pork in egg white or whatever will ensure the best plate is opposite you and then attack it with your soup spoon as if it were a backhoe at an Olympic construction site. Then took the train to Suzhou. We were in soft seats, first class to you or I, but there are no classes on Chinese railways for fairly predictable reasons. Fast comfortable and clean, we arrived on time in Suzhou two hours later. Yet more building works but they are preparing for the Shanghai Expo in 2010 and are enlarging the station just in case. That’s what I call forward planning. Stayed at the Bamboo Grove Hotel. The worst of the trip, small rooms with beds so firm the floor may have been softer. Good happy hour at the bar but that’s all I can report. Look elsewhere.


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Freedom at last

Freedom at last
Nanjing, China

Nanjing, China


After eight days on the road Elly and I felt we needed a break. We got into the hotel in Nanjing at about 9.30 last night and felt like a day away from our ever so cheery tour mates. So we bade William, our guide, a fond fairwell and said we’d see him again a 24 hours. We felt like Steve McQueen jumping the fence in the Great Escape. So while Elly caught up on her beauty sleep, I thought I’d head off for some street photography. The hotel pointed me at a market in the north of Nanjing called Zhongyangmen. Either the cab driver got lost or the concierge had a sense of humour but I landed up in Bra World. I kid you not, I was dropped in a lane at the end of which was a building coverd in abour 30 giant posters all advertising bras and all the stores sold bras or strange meat soup. Not where the locals come to do all of their shopping I thought. Back on the streets and I got some good shots, then the rain came so I jumped a taxi looking for *cheap* software and DVDs. I was pointed in the direction of Zhujiang Road. No problem at all. After 30 seconds I was offered all sorts of software. As one old street seller didn’t have what I wanted on him he suggested that his daughter and I went back to his ‘shop’ for a longer look. His shop was a lean-to shed in a broken down alleyway. He has tons of titles including DVDs. It was $1 a disk. Rather charmingly he only offered me the adult material when his daughter had left the room. You see there is a code of honour amongst the software pirates. I bought a few things, strictly for evaluation of course, and headed back to Elly with Father, Mother and Daiughter waving me a fond farewell from their shed. Xie Xie, Groodbry. I picked up Elly and we headed to the smarter malls and Elly bought some Birkenstock shoe clones for $12. We had a pizza for lunch (nice change) and back for blog writing and hair washing. The rest of the tour were visiting Sun Yat-Sens mausoleum and Chaing Kai-Shek museum plus Nanjing Yangtze River Brige (complete with inspirational revolutionary inscriptions). Unless you are a passionate student of early revolutionary China or a fan of nine-span cantilever bridge construction give Nanjing a miss.


Wild Goose chase and peaceful mosque

Wild Goose chase and peaceful mosque
Xi'an, China

Xi’an, China


We had a day in Xi’an before heading to Nanjing. Xi’an is a large modern city of 6.75m people but it feel like the provinial capital it is. The old city walls are vast and help define both the boundaries but also the character. Xi’an isn’t beautiful but is large by almost any European standards. Traffic flows pretty smoothly and it is booming like the rest of China with road construction everywhere. The city walls would be best seen at night when the red lanterns are lit along its 13km length. But on a hot, sweaty day in May they weren’t bad either. Then onto the Wild Goose Pagoda, the bigger one I believe. Lacking in architercural or more importantly spititual feeling. I’d skip this if you are presed for time or have been to any other Buddhist temple in Asia. Instead head for the Mosque in the Muslim quarter by the bell tower, it ouses peace, calm and tranqulity. The little lanes off the Mosque are full of people selling a wide range of tourist tat and some rip-off antiques. But the prices are so breath-takingly low and the vendors so friendly you don’t mind haggling for a few minutes over a 2 Yuan (20cent)fake sandlewood bookmark. Good news for pee-pee boy fans, they can be found here together with Mao caps, 6 week old medieval coins and the Little Red Book in a range of Europeam languahes.


Dyed green chicks and teracotta

Dyed green chicks and teracotta
Xi'an, China

Xi’an, China


Spent May 6th gettimg from Beijing to Xi’an on China Eastern. Definately worth considering if making the flight to Xi’an. New Airbus, very smiley staff. Luggage arrived in reasonable shape we lost a handle and a couple of the others lost padlocks but not a bad result. Our guide gave me the best quote of the holiday, “What do you think the terracotta army if made of?” That had me stumped, herrings? Lego? old Asda carrier bags? what about terracotta or would that be too simple? On Monday 7th we headed off for a the Terracotta Army via a museum that makes replicas. In a hedge we spotted a green chick, Elly was convinnced it was a rare, fat and fluffy budgie, I was sure some unscrupulous locals had spray painted it for the tourists. The Terracotta Army complex is vast and excellently laid out by any international standards. The tourist authorities in India should get over here to see what preservation is really all about. Were the warriors as I expected, yes but none the less very impressive. The farmer Mr Yung, who found them in 1974, was there (I’m sure they’re lots of Mr Yungs who work in shifts but everyone seemed very excited. It was a bit like seeing Lord Canarvon at Tutankhamun’s tomb. The irony was he was trying to prevent photos being taken. His sense of intellectual property rights isn’t shared by DVD copying compatriots. Getting back to the transport meant walkthing the gauntlet of figurine sellers, kite sellers and pashmina sellers. Sadly the pee-pee boys were absent, I know I should have bought one of the Wall. After the warriors off to some godforsaken neolithic village at Banpo. Elly and I opted out and sat in the sun while the others went to stare into a hole. As the Insight Guide says “Not worth a visit unless you are a very keen archaeologist”. As Elly and I aren’t this seemed like the right decision. Then back for a well earned shower. We were staying at the Shangri-La Golden Flower hotel. High recommended with huge rooms and efficient faultless service. The breakfast is particularly good and the Margarita’s at 60 Yuan ($6) hit the spot after a a day in 34/92 degree temperatures.


Ming tombs, sacred walks and the Wall

Ming tombs, sacred walks and the Wall
Beijing, China

Beijing, China


Off for an hour’s drive North East to the Ming Tombs. A great deal less crowded. Maybe the rest of Beijing decided to go to the Summer Palace again as it was a sunny day. Hooray, personal space! The tombs are one of the few exhibits we’ve seen so far that you can actually go inside. Elly fell in love with a jacket called the coat of 1000 children. We sat under Cypress trees watching the birds build nests in the eaves of a pagoda having a cool water. Then onto the Sacred Way a kilometre long avenue lined with Ming statues. We were the only ones here – bliss, solitude. The group was happy and very relaxed at this point. Bright sunshine and not even a single hawker offering you Olympic hats 2 for 10 Yuan ($1)or a pop art Mao T-shirt. We got to Bandaling at about 3.30. You have two choices at the Wall, to turn North and aim for a plaque commemorating Chairman Mao’s exaltation that “you weren’t a true hero of China until you had climbed the Great Wall” or go South. Have a guess which way we all went. 70,000 Chinese patriots heading North and 20 Europeans going South. The Wall is simply extraordinary. It feels like perpetual motion; you struggle up to a watch tower convinced you’ve reached a high point only to see the thing snake away up to another peak. It’s slightly addictive as you pant up another insanely steep incline and swear this is your last watch tower only to look at each other and say “OK the next is definately the last” They sell some wierd souveniers on the wall. I can understand the ‘I’ve climbed the Wall’ T-shirts but not the need in 35 degree temperatures to buy a Pashmina shawl or a pee-pee boy. (A Chinese version of the famous Belgian fountain ststue). I remember saying to Elly half way up that what I really fancied wasn’t a cold beer but a plastic figurine of a Chinese boy having a pee – luckily they had hundreds. Staggered down the wall and then the best beer in decades. Rounded the day off with dinner at the hotel with free and unlimited Sushi (amongst the stir fry).


Tai Chi, Summer Palace and the opera

Tai Chi, Summer Palace and the opera
Beijing, China

Beijing, China


Started the day at the Temple of Heaven about a mile south of Tianamen Square. It’s worth a visit as in the morning you’ll see a host of locals doing their own thing; Tai Chi, group singing, ballroom dancing or walking their caged birds or playing checkers. Elly and I skipped the temple and hung out with the folks in the park. Elly tried her hand at Tai Chi Ball which is a bit like trying to keep a ball stationary on a tennis racquet as you perform a number of Tai Chi moves. Harder than it looks but she did pretty well. The ballroom dancing classes were fabulous with young and old waltzing to some very distorted classical Chinese music. We had lunch on the way to the Summer Palce at a Szechuan resturant favoured by Deng Xiaoping. Even Ted Heath had a meal with the old reformer here. Note respectful entry concerning former Chinese leader and fathers of modernisation. The Summer Palace was dreadful. I’m sure it would be gorgious on a spring morning when 300,000 people didn’t have a similar idea. In short it could be beautiful but as all Elly and I saw was the backs of young Chinese holidays makers so I have no idea. For dinner we went to the Beijing Opera. What can I say? The singing was hilarious (high pitched, screeching, incomprehensible) but then Wagner isn’t so different. Quite fun as Elly and I were in juvanile hysterics at the subtitles. The English was eccletic. So first impressions of Beijing? Very modern, buzzing with the count down to the Olympics, clean, affluent and confident. I’d love to come back and spend some time looking beneith the surface. This vast, massively populated city has a real buzz.