Nothing can really prepare you for it!!!!!! I mean this is the land where 25 million trees are felled annually to make disposable chopsticks ( for the Chinese!!!!!); where it really does rain “acid rain”, seriously the water stings your eyes; where personal space isn’t really personal; where pollution is so bad that the sky is a continual haze; where pedestrian crossings, are merely a “formal tool” for people to scamper across the road ….whenever!!!!!; where signs read…….Wan Kee (OK, that was under a sign under a Nike sign in Hong Kong); where “negotiating” means handing over what is asked, or actually punched into the calculator! ; where all these characters basically mean jack!; where there is “internet police!! Yes, I am serious!! Open up a “no no” website, and the hand of the law comes a knocking at your screen; where people are still tortured for practising their religion of choice. Hop onto a search engine and check out what they have done and continue to do to the Falun Gong! ; and where communism is a joke! I have never seen capitalism so ingrained. It’s like this, heads or tails? Communist when we want…capitalist when we want!
Welcome to China!
Well, here we are in a country with a population of 1.3 billion, or thereabouts. Most of us know that, but nothing could have prepared us for the Macau-Zhuhai border crossing. The short bus ride to the border was easy, just a local ride away, but what (or who!) we saw as we went through passport control was flabbergasting. We were both blown away as we tried to assimilate the amount of people going from one side to the other. I have never seen so many people at a border crossing in my life. The workers in passport control have truly got their work cut out for them here, as if they do not work expediently, they would be working 24/ 7 and it would take us hours to get through. Despite the fact that we were some 30 metres back in one of perhaps 40 lines, we seemed to get through in a little over half an hour. There weren’t many other foreigners around, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the locals were thinking. Covered in backpacks, and looking like stunned mullets must have been an amusing look to them!
Whilst in Macau we had flicked through our Lonely Planet China book, which we had bought in Hong Kong, and wondered where to go. It is an enormous country covering a massive 9.5 million square kilometres. To do only a small part would take weeks and the entire country, months upon months. With no definite itinerary, we decided loosely on some of the south-western areas, as we would eventually make our way to Vietnam from here. For our first night, we decided to book something on-line (again, what did we ever do before the internet?) and got a rather good deal at the Zhuhai Bihai (three star supposedly) Hotel, just eight or so kilometres from the border. Did we catch a taxi? No! We took the challenge, and “public transported” it. Again, we were overwhelmed by all the people…….I mean, after what we’d seen at the border crossing, we shouldn’t have been so surprised…they had to be and go somewhere! We realised after asking a few people the way to the hotel, that this was going to be much harder than Hong Kong or Macau, and that people here seemed to speak so much less English. But, we are always willing to give it a go, and we always try and learn a few words of the local lingo. Having been spoilt with all the English speakers in Macau and Hong Kong, however, we felt a little like lambs to the slaughter. Needless to say, we did eventually make it to the hotel. It’s amazing how far some confidence, a smile and lots of hand signals can get you. Italians are renowned for the use of their hands when they talk, and I was so happy that I had had some decent training in this. I cannot tell you how useful it has been in China!
There is not all that much to do in Zhuhai, or perhaps, more to the point, there is not much that we did in Zhuhai. We spent a couple of nights there and just took it easy. We slept, we ate, and we strolled around a little. Our hotel was right on the sea, and actually away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, so it was both peaceful and tranquil. It is said that it is one cleanest and greenest metropolises in China. We did see some lovely temples, local fishermen, and people just living their lives…..as you do. It was great to be in a place with absolutely no other tourists and no real tourist attractions. It was nice to see the Chinese living as the Chinese live!
Where to go to next? The next logical stop was Guangzhou, or Canton, as it is known by most foreigners. We did some reading and research, and despite its claim to have some of China’s best food, it’s also supposed to be China’s “thief capital”. It’s also a big city, and we had spent a lot of time in these recently. The minuses outweighed the plusses, so we ditched that idea. We decided, instead, on another city, heading out west, called Zhaoqing. Again, very few tourists here, if any at all, but that was part of the beauty. Once again, we ended up in a rather big hotel, as there did not seem to be any other options here. Whilst the centre of town did not provide anything anything astronomical, the surrounding countryside was rather spectacular.
We took a local bus out to Dinghu Shan (Mt Dinghu). Despite being only 18 kilometres away, it seemed so far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city so close by. Here we truly relaxed as we walked among the lush vegetation, temples, pagodas (a pagoda is the general term in the English language for a tiered tower with multiple eaves common in China, Japan, Korea, Nepal, Vietnam, and other Asian countries), springs, waterfalls and pools. There seemed so few foreigners, despite it being packed with Chinese tourists. Alex and I were also stunned at how so few people walk. Soooooo many tour groups and so many mini buses transporting people. Sadly, we have both noticed that people all over the world are getting larger, especially in countries where this has been uncommon in the past. This, from what we can observe, has been due to the increase of international fast food chains, as well as an increasingly more sedentary lifestyle. The path of least resistance is making people unhealthier!
One of the highlights of the Mt Dinghu Reserve was without a doubt the Qingyun Temple, a huge Buddhist complex of over 100 buildings. It seemed to go both on and up forever! The 500 gilded Buddhist arhats (saints) were spectacular, as was the rice pot capable of feeding 1000 people. We spent a considerable amount of time here, most possibly because the energy was so serene. The Baoding Garden was also a highlight, with its Nine Dragon Vessel, the world’s largest ding, a Chinese ceremonial pot with two handles and three or four legs. Besides all of this, various lakes, little islands and breathtaking views were presented at every turn.
Places with little tourism and tourists have their positives, but along with that some negatives too. Chinese people speak far less English than I thought they would, and let me tell you, reading Chinese characters to the untrained eye is like looking at scribble! So, communication takes both a lot of guts as well as sign language; no time to feel foolish or embarrassed, or you will truly get nowhere! Wandering around, observing and people watching in this town was as entertaining for us as it was for the locals. Once again, however, we were very disappointed in the food. It just seems so bland and tasteless, not to mention the copious amount of oil used.
Bland food I can cope with, but there are some other things that I just cannot deal with. Ah yes, the national pastime of spitting….anytime, anywhere, anyhow and by anyone! Age, gender, age and class is not a limitation! And, it’s not the casual quietly spitting to the side number, it’s the…..gather all the phlegm from the deepest, darkest, hidden corners of your lungs, and whilst making a noise louder than an erupting volcano, hurl it out! And to match, it is also as visually graphic as it sounds! Where the missile hits is unimportant; near your feet, close to food, inside shops. Gross, gross, gross!!!!!!!!! OK, I promise, this is the only time I will sound like a princess! I also want to burn (pun intended?) all those No-Smoking signs, as from what I can gather, they act as mere decoration. Once again, despite being placed in several places, such as shopping centres, restaurants, bus terminals and the buses themselves, they seem to have little or no effect. Whilst one can usually make a choice as to where he or she goes and/or enters, it’s a fraction harder when you are on the likes of a mini-bus. We have tried exaggerated coughs, using our fans, and sign language feigning that we feel like we are having a stroke, and while they occasionally, butt out, we mostly get odd stares and laughs. If only they knew how low our amusement actually rated! (May I just add, ironically, that someone just walked past me, and hurled a greenie out the door! Gross, gross, and more gross!)
Back to the disposable chopsticks issue here in China. I repeat, 25 million trees are felled annually to create them, and everyone uses them! When you go out to eat, “wash and wear” chopsticks are rarely offered. Luckily, Alex and I have our own, a gift from Yuko and Yuji in Japan. I feel that using the chopsticks that we have is part of being a responsible traveller, and not further adding to China’s constantly growing number of environmental issues. So, please, if you are a traveller or tourist, be aware of this and try and do your part! Our good friend Annie Whitlocke in Melbourne who has business relations with China gave us a spot of advice, which was to bring our own anyway, as hygiene may not be up to Aussie scratch. Unfortunately, you are right on that one Annie!
Due to its sheer size and that our next destination would be Vietnam (it’s all about place and timing), Alex and I decided fairly early on that Beijing and Shanghai were not meant to be on this trip, and that we would do some (and I do repeat some) of the south west of the country. And even then, it would be hard to do in a month, as besides distances there is so much to actually see. Our next destination was Yangshuo. Close to our last destination? Take a close look at the map….rarely is anything close in China! It was possibly a 6 or 8 hour bus ride from Zhaoquing, and as we approached this small town, we knew that we would be enchanted by it.
NOTE: Many of you would be familiar with our use of Wikipedia to help explain and add meanings and/ or links to many of the things we see and do. Unfortunately, it is one of the many websites that is not able to be accesssed in China, due to censorship. Thus our reason for not being able to use it. I am sorry if the links we have used and/ or added are not up to our usual standard. In addition, I would like to add that despite the fact that we can open up Blogger from the back end and create a new entry here in China, it CANNOT actually be opened up and read in China. Again, the Chinese government has deemed it a “no, no” site. Nothing like having an opinion ! I repeat, capitalism has many faults, but communism is NOT the answer! Controlling what people can and cannot do is not the solution! Each individual should have the choice to see and feel, and accept or reject! This is our will…..our free will!
“There’s so much pollution in the air now that if it weren’t for our lungs there’d be no place to put it all” – Robert Orbin.
(Photos: 1.- What can I say? Please explain! 2.- Crossing the border. 3.- Fishermen at work, Zhuhai. 4.- Fishing boats, Zhuhai. 5.- On the streets of Zhaoqing, it’s life as usual for most. 6.-Pagoda and bridge, Ding Lake, Mt Dinghu Reserve. 7.- Scenic view, taken from Qingyun Temple, Mt Dinghu Reserve. 8.- Supposedly Mt Dinghu Reserve is a great area for breathing anions! 9.- No spitting please! 10.- On the local bus, Zhaoqing. 11.- The unusual topography of Yangshuo.)