03.10.07

The traditional China – 8. 3. 2007

Posted in China, Guangzhou at 00:52

Beause I could not connect to the Internet the evening before I had to rely on the guide book copies I already used the day before. My first target was the Jade Market near Changshou Lu. About nearly one hundred shops selling all different kind and shapes of jade (photo) were settled down here. Some even with their workshop open to public sight (photo). One woman was always taking care that the craftsmen were doing their work and not watching me. I was very surprised as I suddenly saw in a shop window a variety of ivory carvings. very detailed traditional Chinese ships, landscape sceneries and most amazing a sculpture consisting of several ivory balls bound into each other. Through the bars structure of the surfaces you could see all the inner balls. I could not imagine how they did this. Just a five minutes walk from the Jade market was the Chen Tiu Lu 陈家祠 (also known as Chen Clan Academy or Ancestral Temple of the Chen Family) (photo) that houses the Guangdong Folks Art Museum. A lot of different specialized craftsmanship works were displayed and explained. Masterpieces of colored embroidery, Chanzhou wood carvings, sculpture works, colored pottery, painting and of course ivory carving (photo). And sometimes I could not stop to be astonished. A fisher net with all kinds of fishes and sea food INSIDE the net carved from a tree. Here I also learned that ivory carving has a long tradition in Guangzhou and they even showed how they did this special multiple-layered ivory ball (photo). It is a very impressive place and full of variety views into the more traditional China.

Unfortunately the weather was rainy all the time what did not really gave me mood to walk around in the streets. I was looking for a place to sit down eat something, have a beer and check out what to do next. This time I checked the guide papers more carefully and there was really a small place next to the Pearl River where there were several bars next to each other. It is called Shamian Island and is the “Western Town” district of Guangzhou. In the 18th and 19th century it was the only place where foreign traders were allowed to set up warehouses. For Chinese people the access was permitted. The small district with only colonial style buildings and a nice park still retains the atmosphere of these times. In contradiction to the rest of the city it is normal to see western people here. Also every sign is suddenly in English. I decided to go to Lucy’s bar, where I could eat something and already understand in advance what they will serve me 😉 .

After the lunch it stopped raining and my way lead me over the river to the Honan district. Until the communist revolution it was the red light district of Guangzhou and afterwards much improved. The guide told me it is a model district of the “Civic Spirit” campaign in the eighties. Sounds interesting even when I had no idea what to expect and what I found was totally different of this anyway. A nice old street, no modern buildings and everything quite lazy. Half of the shop owners were sleeping behind their desks. The total contrast to the modern city center I saw the evening before. That was how I imagined China before (photo, photo).

Already my last sightseeing point was the Huanghua Gang Gongyuan (Martyrs’ Memorial Gardens). Near the main entrance there was the Communist Uprising Monument (photo). It was build to remember the heroes of the communist uprising in Guangzhou in 1927. Just next to it is the mausoleum of the 72 martyrs of the Canton Uprising in 1911. Finally I could see communistic hero admiration in live. It makes quite a difference to feel this if you stand in the former East German part of Berlin where it is closed history, or in Guangzhou China where it is still real. Especially with all the coated soldiers around. Also here I could hear some music. But no speakers, this time it was live music. An old man playing a Chinese bowed string instrument sat in the Sino Soviet Union People’s Blood Condensed Friendship Pavilion (photo, photo). Next to him a woman slowly moving and dancing. It was looking like she would dance to to music. Another unique moment in China and my last impression of this city.

I was often warned that Chinese people would be quite different than Taiwanese or Hong Kong people. When I arrived in the train station yesterday and denied the taxi driver he yelled after me “Take care” and also by the entry guard in the Yuexiu Park. Fortunately I could not really find out what they meant with this. Even here in China I was asked one time by a young mother with a child on their shoulders if I find my way. So nothing offending at all.

But one more story: For souvenir and for my China fans at home I wanted to buy some Chinese cigarettes. They are very creative in designing nice packaging and so I choose the nicest one’s. I first thought that I only had bad luck because they were strong like hell (15mg tar/1.2mg nicotine). Later I was told that Chinese do not really know lighter cigarettes. And the smoking behavior is also one of the biggest differences I found between Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. In Taiwan you do not see many people smoking. And when then they are mainly elder men and young want-to-be cool guys. Except in pubs it is forbidden in restaurants and also on many other places like generally most of the buildings. In Hong Kong the law is much more restrictive. There it is even forbidden to smoke on most public premises like also parks. But on the other side because of the mixture of people there are again much more people smoking. And in China it is different again. Smoking is not prohibited in many places. Even in shopping centers people were smoking and the price for cigarettes is nearly nothing. The cheapest offer for a packet of cigarettes that I saw in Honan district was 2.5RMB (CHF 0.40) while the mean price was about 6-8RMB (CHF 1).

The journey back to Hong Kong was the same smooth like the outward journey. From Hung Hom I wanted to take the ferry back to Central but unfortunately the last one already left half an hour before. So I had to walk along the seaside to Tsim Sha Tsui. Behind a six-lane road I suddenly heard live music playing. Ah… on the wrong side of the road. My luck was a foot bridge just 50m further. The music came from the Bulldog’s Bar & Grill. Like in Taichung before there was a live cover band with two cute female singers. It was interesting to watch the people at this place. Only western couples or Hong Kong business men. Except four screeching German girls no young people here. Because I somehow enjoyed the live music I stayed for a while and had a self-brewed Bulldog’s beer for expensive 68NT$ (CHF 10). Eventually the last star ferry brought me back to Hong Kong Island once more.

03.09.07

The beauty of Chinese parks – 7. 3. 2007

Posted in China, Guangzhou at 20:27

Another big day for me today. I would go to China 😀 . Only with a small backbag, the main luggage I could deposite in the HK Hostel, I started to Kowloon Hung Hom railway station. Approximately every hour an intercity of the KCR is connecting Hong Kong, Dongguan and Guangzhou. Like mentioned before my target today was Guangzhou. A return ticket for the less than two hours ride in Standard Class was 380HK$ (CHF 57). The procedure before the departure is the same like on the airport. Passport check and then customs. The travel in the modern rolling stock was very comfortable. The train crew even handed out a free bottle of water to every passenger. When passing the border you still could see the difference between Hong Kong and Chinese mainland territory. Floodlight constructions, high barbwire fences, guarding towers and plane areas are still marking the boarding line near Shen Zhen. Before arrival in Guangzhou everybody has to fill out two blanks. Firstly an arrival card where you had to write down who you are, where you will stay and why you come to China. The second one was more interesting. It was a health form that cared about who the avian flu. You had to answer if you were in close contact with birds within the last few days, if you carry any blood or animal products or human tissues (?) and if you felt well at the moment. Of course I was very curious about the entry procedure. But nothing special there. Handing out the forms, waiting until the customs clerk made his stamp into the passport, passing a drug detection dog and suddenly I was definitely in China.

Like the cities I visited before also Guangzhou has a very modern Metro system (photo). The stations where announced and named in both English and Standard Cantonese. The confusing difference to Taipei and Hong Kong metro however was that they translated the entire station name into English. So for example NongJiangSuo became suddenly “Peasant Movement Institute”. Guangzhou is one of the most important cities in south China and attracting a lot of poor people from the countryside who try their luck to find work in this city. Because of this it is not really known to be very safe for travelers. Therefore I decided to stay in a decent four-star hotel, the Guangdong Hotel, that I could book for 43$ for one night. It was also next to the main sightseeing spots and easy to find. The luxury was in first sight quite amazing. Several doormen, a big entrance hall, own restaurant, health center, communication room, travel agency, bank agency and also an own jewellery and watch store. My room was on the 9th floor and had a nice view to the surrounding district (photo). I did not find a Tourist Information at the train station but fortunately I had previously copied the chapter about Guangzhou from a China guide of a friend (thank you Gregor. It had the value of gold) and the hotel provided me with a useful tourist map so I was ready now to explore Guangzhou.

Just next to the hotel was the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall (photo). It is a big concert and theater hall. In the inside people were practicing for a scene. After read about all the glorious performances that took place in this hall I went a few blocks down to the Yuexiu Park 越秀公园. Already at the entry people were welcomed by classical music spreading a coherent ambiance. It is China’s biggest urban park, encompassing over ninety hectares (0,9 km²; Hyde Park London 1.4km²). It is not an open area with green but a hilly forest with many branching paths and cultivated places to sit down and relax. A lot of historic monuments like the Sun Yat-Sen Monument (photo), a long section of the ancient city wall from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) (photo), with a guard tower, that is the Municipal Museum today and a lot of other monuments and themed areas like Flower Garden, Garden of Chinese Idiom or Bamboo Forest, make this place to an interesting and very beautiful green island in the 12 million people city. Here you could easily spend half a day by only enjoying the hundreds of exotic plants which are home for many voiceful birds. With a heavy heart I had to leave this paradise again. Unfortunately five a clock already passed and so most of the temples and other sight-seeing places where closing their doors. It was time to experience Chinese street life. Along the Perl River (photo) I made my way towards Tianhe district a commercial center in Guangzhou down town. The life here did not seem that busy like in Hong Kong anymore. Arrived at the City Plaza on the Tianhe Lu nothing remembered me of the China how I did imagine before. Modern skyscrapers, shops and restaurant from western chains were stamping the cityscape here (photo). The only thing that made me aware that I am in China were the numerous soldiers and policemen which were patrolling in their traditional coats and uniforms. On every street corner, near every half-important building, in every subway station they were taking care of the behavior of the people.

After I futilly tried to find a bar for one hour, how I found out the next day this was definitely the wrong district, I returned to the hotel to plan my second day. In the hotel description wireless Internet was mentionned but when I asked at the reception they only ordered the housekeeping service for me. This one never appeard in my room and later I found out that I could only go online over the analog phone line where I had to pay the costs myself. Even in the cheapest hotel before I could use Internet from my laptop for free but here it seemed impossible. Or are they just not trusting a western tourist?

South Chinese Sea – 6. 3. 2007

Posted in Hong Kong at 12:42

Fortunately it was not raining anymore so I could finally do my trip to the south of Hong Kong Island. A 20 minutes bus ride brought me to Aberdeen which is famous for its junk village Shek Pai Wan in the Aberdeen Harbour (photo). The second biggest junk village on Hong Kong Island.

I am still wondering how they plan their bus routes in the big Asian towns. Already in Taipei I recognized that the bus 39 that I had to take to my hotel was stopping on 3 sides of the main station which was measuring about 300 x 200m. Are the Asian people generally really that lazy in walking? And now I was sure 😉 . Already five minutes before we arrived at the Aberdeen terminus I believed to see latter on the other street side connected by a subway. But nobody was exiting. After taking several back roads the bus arrived at the previously seen place and finally yet all the people were leaving. When exiting before the people could at least save five minutes but had to walk 50m more. Now I am not wondering anymore that you can see a lot of information and advertisements how to stay healthy. This topic is actually much more important for the people here than I fell it is in Europe. But somehow they still do not really understand the basic that motion is one of the most important parts of it.

I first payed attention to the Aberdeen Wholesale Fish market. Every morning the fishermen bring here their fresh catch were it is retailed to restaurants and fish dealers. They were temporarily stored in small water basins and mostly sold still alive (photo). Later in Shau Kei Wan I saw how the still wriggling fishes were slaughtered in front of the customers (photo). A remarkable place in Aberdeen is the Chinese cemetery. One entire hill slope is peppered with stone graves. No green, no flowers only costly stonemason constructions. Not a very lovely place but very impressive to see. I imagined Aberdeen completely different. While I thought it is a kind of fisher village also here the townscape was stamped of huge high-rise buildings. The Chinese government built them cheaply for moving the people from the junk village to controllable environment.

Back on the seaside suddenly a wife in a sampan was yelling towards me. She offered to show me around in the junk village from her boat. I accepted and so we rode around in the Aberdeen Harbour for about half an hour what cost me 60NT$ (CHF 9). She did not only show me the junk village but also the biggest Floating Restaurant “Jumbo” (photo) and the modern marina in the Aberdeen South Typhoon Shelter.

Back on land I was observing a special religious ritual which mainly elder women practicised. Near the Hung Shing shrine they were sitting on the sidewalk enlightening candles, smashing eggs in front of them and slapping carton tigers with stripes of animal fat. Afterwards they burned some papers and threw rice or something above this mess. Unfortunately I could not find out what this was all about.

But actually I wanted to find a peaceful place away from this concrete jungle. So I went further to Shek O (photo). It is a small resort in the south east of Hong Kong Island. And it was breathtaking. A big sandy beach (photo) which was because of the winter season and the cloudy cold weather nearly empty. It was surrounded by rocky shores. But here the time seems to stand still. A beautiful view to the South Chinese Sea (photo, photo) was offered and the light wind was playing with the water surface. The busy life of the metropolitan was forgotten in one second. That is the place that I was looking for. 🙂

Unfortunately evening fall apart again and I went back to Shau Kei Wan where I enjoyed a tramway ride (photo) along the northern districts of Hong Kong Island. Barry Bay, Northern Point and finally Causeway Bay. I made a big journey by public transportation today but it nearly did not cost me anything. To Aberdeen 4.6HK$ (CHF 0.70), Shek O 6.8HK$ (CHF 1) and the tramway was only 2HK$ (CHF 0.30) no matter of the distance.

03.05.07

Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok, Sham Shui Po, more shopping – 5. 3. 2007

Posted in Hong Kong at 18:28

After sleeping in I first had to plan my further approach of my trip. I finally decided to leave Hong Kong on Wednesday to see another place nearby: Guangzhou, the Cantonese capital which is only in 1.5h train distance from Hong Kong. The hostel could easily provide me with a visa for China, I could cheaply book a nice 4-star hotel and the public traffic connection from Hong Kong to Guangzhou is excellent. So when I am already here want to make use of it. I think it will be again different from the already experienced Taiwan and the metropolitan Hong Kong.

The rest of the day I wanted to see around in the parts of Hong Kong I did not see so far. It was mainly district in the northern Kowloon. I started with Mong Kok the district that is famous for having the highest population density in the world. More than 165’000 people should live here per square kilometer. Unfortunately I could not really see a lot of this. The streets were looking like I already knew from all the parts in Hong Kong. In the ground floor bright and clean stores or street market stands and upwards the facades of got a bit long in the tooth city houses (photo). Modern skyscrapers cannot often be found here but the life is as busy as usual and also from the mixture of people I could not tell a difference. An interesting thing is that there are different shopping roads which are concentrated on one single kind of store. For example there is the “Lady’s Market” where there are mainly stands with women clothes, jewelleries and baby accessories. Another road houses first of all ornamental fish shops with all variety of species and accessories for your home aquarium (photo).

Another district called Sham Shui Po is an excellent place for buying all kind of computer equipment. On the “Golden Computer Arcade” I could for example find a professional high-end graphic adapter Nvidia Quadro fx4500-x2 (photo), the biggest adapter card I know of.

Back in Tsim Sha Tsui a district near the seaside of Kowloon I wanted to find a pub for an evening beer. But how I already expected not that easy to find. My intuition following I left the main shopping roads into some side allies when I suddenly passed a Turkish food stand selling Döner Kebab. After my rather disappointing experiences in England (Bournemouth) and Germany (Berlin) with this well liked food in Switzerland, I was curious how a Chinese Döner Kebab would taste like. And I was not disappointed. The flatbread was maybe more crounchy than in Switzerland but the ingreadiens where as accustomed firm salad, fresh tomato cuts, onions, well roasted lamb meat and delicious and spicy souces. A nice surprise for my stomach 🙂 . A few steps away I also suddenly found a cosy English-like pub, the Stag’s Head. I enjoyed a pint of Strongbow for HK$35 (CHF 5.20) and the first part of the Premier League match Newcastle – Middlesbrough. A piece of home around 7500km away from the Pickwick’s Pub in Bern. Unfortunately it started to rain heavily while I was sitting in the pub and also now at 1.30h in the morning it does not seem to stop. Hopefully tomorrow will be better weather again. Else I have to disarrange my travel to southern Hong Kong Island one more time 🙁 .

The longer I stay here the more I can actually enjoy this place. The variety of people is very interesting but it is much more difficult to come into dialogue with local people. So far I was only chatting with other foreigners here. I hope it will change one time.

Enjoing Hong Kong – 3./4. 3. 2007

Posted in Hong Kong at 17:23

My plan of visiting the southern part of Hong Kong today fall through because my friend from Shen Gang (Taiwan) decided to visit me in Hong Kong over the weekend together with a friend. Thanks of my exploration the day before I could show them around in the places I have already seen. On saturday evening we decided to go onto the Peak, the local hill of Hong Kong. An old-styled Swiss cable tram, the Peak Tram, was bringing us near the 552m high viewpoint on Hong Kong Island. The upper station was self-evidently a five-floor shopping center with a viewing platform on top. From there we enjoyed the breathtaking view onto the nightly Hong Kong skyline (photo). Afterwards we enjoyed a visit in the Asian untypical bar and disco area Lan Kwai Fong in the Central District. One western style pub after the other and on the same time also a lot of policemen in the streets. In comparison to other metropolitans like London the occurrence of the police and the hooter howls of emergency vehicles is generally not at all noticeable here in Hong Kong. The reputation of the safest metropolitan is therefore probably not arbitrary.

The next day we went for the first time off Hong Kong Island to Kowloon. Although there is a MTR (Mass Transit Railway), local name for subway, connection between the two parts of Hong Kong, we took the ferry. For only HK$2.2 (CHF 0.33) you can enjoy an interesting ride with this traditional means of transportation. Every 6 minutes the ferry is blazing a trail through the busy ship traffic what leads to interesting crossings (photo).

Kowloon on the other side is the same touristy and commercial place like the districts I have seen before. One shopping center after the other and in every second street a big street market. A big exception is the Kowloon Park. A piece of green in the middle of the busy city. But on this Sunday very crowded. An to my astonishment not particularly by local people but by many groups of immigrants. A crowd of Indians and Islamic people from all different nations where enjoying with their families and friends on the benches of the park. Listening to music, dancing or exercising own performances. A multicultural mixture of people spending their leisure time in public area.

After my friends left again I was spending the evening on the Kowloon seaside. From the Tsim Sha Tsui Public Peer I enjoyed a spectacular view to the every evening light show on Hong Kong Island’s skyscrapers. Their facades are enlightened in changing colors and flood lights and lasers were illuminating the night sky accompanied to a music symphony (photo). Insane…

03.03.07

New postings

Posted in News at 06:12

In the upcoming days I will make up some entries about the past days in Taiwan. To not confuse the chronological order of the days I am going to insert them in between the already written postings. That you can recognise them better I will prefix them for a few days with “(NEW)” in front of the title.

03.02.07

Labyrinth – 2. 3. 2007

Posted in Hong Kong at 19:42

After sleeping in I took a first sight of Hong Kong by day. First I went around in Causeway Bay and around its typhoon shelter (photo, photo). Actually not very interesting. A lot of huge skyscrapers and shopping centers wherever you look at. But every shop seems to resemble the other and the fame of the salespersons here is not the biggest so I did not bought anything. I thought the Wan Chai district just next to Causeway Bay might be quite interesting because there is still a very traditional street market (photo). But compared to the markets I saw before in Taiwan it was somehow disappointing. Only a few streets and the variety of products could never reach a Taiwanese night market. But again I felt very comfortable because the air was smelling delicious after all kind of food (photo) and spices. I made my way to the Pak Tai temple, the biggest temple in Hong Kong and one of ten temples that are protected by a Chinese cultural committee. Just next to it, it was very interesting to watch all kind of workmanship companies. Always situated in the ground floor of the houses and with no front wall. So I could see into the workshop of garages, joineries, furniture stores, plumber shops and so on.

It was time to get an overview of Hong Kong from a higher point. The restaurant Revolving 66 on the top floor of the Hopewell Centre was the perfect place for this. First by escalator into the third floor. Then by lift into the 17th floor. It is interesting how the lifts are organized here. The building has 62 floors and not every lift stops at every floor. More over there are from the 3rd floor lifts to certain sections of the building or to a transfer floor where you have to change the lift. For example my lift was serving the floors 3 and 17 to 26. From 17th floor there was a glass lift on the outside of the building bringing me to the 56th floor where I had to change again. It was an amazing view to ascend from the deep street canyons to the roof of the city. The Hopewell Centre is with 216m height the third largest building in Hong Kong. The special thing on this restaurant is that it moves. It turns around 360º within one and a half hours. So I perfectly could enjoy the view over the different districts in the northern part of Hong Kong Island (photo, photo, photo).

Back again in the depth of the streets I went through the Lockhart Road. During the Vietnam war it was the boiling pot of Hong Kong. Many “topless” bars were amusing the American soldiers. But today there are beside some nice bars only a few strip clubs left, but nothing really mentionable. Actually not really what I expected from a city like Hong Kong.

I finished my tour of the day in the Central District (photo). And actually I only went there to see the sea again. From the Central Pier (photo) the lovely old ferries take passengers from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon. It is unbelievable how exhausting walking in this city is. When you see the way on your map do not think that you can walk there on the shortest way. When you are only a few dozen meters from your desired target away you often will find out that there is an insuperable fence, hedge or road in between. Or that the way is closed because of a building site or because it is not finished yet. Or there is no crosswalk but a bridge were the stairs went upwards a block before. I surely walked twice the distance I originally wanted. Generally, they are constructing a lot of new things in this part of town, what is very annoying. Again only noise, dust and fetor. They are also still reclaiming land (photo). A hundred years ago the cost line was at certain parts more than 1km away from where it is today. Unfortunately this leads to a very uncomfortable seaside. There is no real promenade or park to enjoy the view to the sea. What a pity…

Finally I was quite fed up with skyscrapers and shopping streets. I feel life here quite crushing. No overview, no sight to farer places and very rare places to relax. Tomorrow I will flee from this metropolitan life and visit some hopefully nice spots in the south of Hong Kong Island. Hope to find some peace in more natural environment again.

03.01.07

Hong Kong. Huge! – 1. 3. 2007

Posted in Hong Kong at 18:36

The journey to Hong Kong was like expected without any problems. I was early enough at the airport. My friend warned me that there may be some troubles because from today also Chinese airlines introduced the restriction in taking liquids into the cabin baggage. But except some posters on the airport which were pointing to this, nobody really cared about it. I flew with China Air, a Taiwanese Airline, which has very modern aircrafts and a comfortable on-board service.

On Hong Kong International Airport I could take a CityFlyer bus that brought me directly to the HK Hostel. The accommodation is a small, around 7m² big, one-bed room without window, for 300HK$/night (CHF 47). It is part of a seven rooms apartment and a small roof deck (photo). Unfortunately I did not see anybody else living in the same apartment but I am looking forward to met these people because I am going to stay here at least five nights. Of course also wireless network is freely available.

After arriving I went to look around a few hours in my district. It is Causeway Bay, one of the main shopping areas of Hong Kong (photo). It is very different from the relaxed life in Taipei. Of course life in Taipei is not relaxed at all but compared to Hong Kong it is. My first impression here was that everything is just fast, loud, commercial, stinky and above all HUGE! The buses are all with two floors. The tramways also (photo). The buildings are just walls on the street sides (photo). That high that you cannot see until the top. Even the people seem to be taller again than in Taiwan. There I felt with my 1.83m like one of the tallest. Also people are looking very different than in Taiwan. While there were mainly inland tourists, the crowd is much more international here. You can see all different Asian types and also many faces from around the world. I never saw a black person in Taiwan and here it is just normal again. Tourists from everywhere in the world. Hong Kong is definitely a world city. And small Reto is in the middle of it. I am very looking forward to see the daily life of Hong Kong tomorrow.