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Saturday, 15 June 2019

Travels in the Land of the Dragon, pt 1

Auckland to Shanghai

By air and river

We've done a lot of travelling out east but China is a place we've never visited and have only briefly passed through Hong Kong.  The World Heritage-listed Three Gorges area of the Yangtze River, Terracotta Warriors and Great Wall have all long been on the bucket list and our fantastic travel agent put together a great itinerary where we could do that plus a few of the other "must see" attractions in China.  The China part of the trip was with Viking River Cruises, who have a well-deserved reputation for excellence.  For Hong Kong on the return leg, we did our own thing. All this in late May and June for a celebration of our 47th wedding anniversary, albeit a few weeks early.

I bloody detest long haul flying, not because I have a phobia or anything like that.  Living at the bottom of the world a long way from anywhere has some distinct advantages but inevitably means that any substantial travel involves sitting on your butt for hours at a time, going quietly insane.  There's only so many movies you can take in or similar before getting terminally bored or seizing up.  Odds on that it's an economy class passenger with long legs who finally invents a Star Trek - type matter transporter.  He or she will have the gratitude of humanity for eternity.  Jennie and I are way past putting up with ageing bodies taking a hiding in long haul economy.  A solid 18 hours non-stop to Doha on our way to Kenya and Tanzania convinced us of the benefits of business class on that flight so it's the same again up to China and Hong Kong for our latest adventure.  It may be a bit pricey but at least we can hit the ground running when we get there, rather than being knackered through jet lag and cramped seating.  The following photos in each part of this trip are just a tiny selection of the 800-odd we took altogether.  Definitely a case of what to leave out!

Auckland-Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific - don't waste your time watching the movie shown on the screen - it's crap!

The trip to Shanghai involved a leg to Hong Kong lasting a bit over 11 hours, an overnighter in the airport hotel, then a "redeye" flight to Shanghai very early the next morning.  We arrived in HK and headed for the carousel to pick up our luggage.  After a lengthy wait and a no-show, it was unfortunately discovered that our stuff had been checked straight through to Shanghai - bugger!  No point in getting upset so we had a laugh and made do with what was in our back packs, which wasn't much.  After about 4 hours sleep, we got on another flight feeling a bit second-hand and arrived in Shanghai, not exactly smelling of roses!

Viking had organised a 5 star hotel in Shanghai (the Westin Bund Centre) which was seriously good in every respect and it was only a short walk to the Bund and Yangtze River.  Shower, drink, meet some other people assembling for the cruise, meal, bed!

Bathroom with a view - everything was marble!

Next morning, we met our escort Iowa (which sounded phonetically like his Chinese name Aihua Xian).  What an absolute legend he turned out to be throughout the holiday.  Excellent self-taught English, totally organised and nothing was too much trouble.  He also had a very sharp sense of humour and was quite happy to poke fun at both himself and us - much laughter over the whole trip!  The other thing which was perhaps surprising but immensely refreshing was his transparency.  If asked contentious questions (politics for example), he was quite happy to discuss them from his personal viewpoint.  This helped our understanding immensely and was a great means of building bridges.  An outstanding ambassador for both his company and country.  What we particularly liked was Iowa's low-key approach.  Wherever possible after a good briefing, he gave us time to do our own thing rather than feeling shepherded everywhere.

A walk along the Bund revealed a thoroughly modern city with great architecture and equally impressive infrastructure such as roading. Temperatures were in the low 30's C with relatively low humidity so walking about wasn't a trial.  There was no obvious pollution whilst we were there - more about this further on.  Oh, and another thing....... the standard of cleanliness in towns and cities wherever we went was exceedingly high. I'd say higher than the average western equivalent.

View from the Bund

A wall of living plants several hundred metres long on the Bund

Example of architecture - retro Gothic in this case?

The rate of progress was starling - no mucking about once development decisions were made.  Where the land on which old privately-owned dwellings stood was required for development, it appeared that a fair price was offered straight up to the homeowner rather than trying to screw them or try for compulsory purchase like many countries including NZ.  This enabled rapid progress.  No way to verify this without further digging.

A visit to the old quarter of Shanghai followed which was a real delight with some of the structures being several hundred years old.

Just gorgeous

The aquatic equivalent of a street cleaner!

Tranquility in the middle of a city with a population of 26 million

Local Dim sum takeaway - yummm!

Next, it was off to a factory which made silk products, principally high end embroidered pictures and carpets.  The standard of work was breathtaking with individual pieces taking between a few months and a year depending on size and complexity.

Working on an embroidery of carp

The range of subject matter was huge, a case of something for all tastes.  Jennie and I tend towards simplicity and elegance, somewhat towards Japanese traditions.  The embroidery below took our breath away.  Seemingly simple, it was made up of several hundred slightly different shades of silk thread to achieve an almost 3D effect.  One of the most beautiful pieces of work we'd ever seen and the photo doesn't do it any form of justice.  Apparently, it took over 6 months to complete.  The asking price of about US$6000 might seem expensive but not for the time taken and the fact that it's a one-off piece of art.  Approximately 0.75 of a metre high.  We bought something far smaller and more modestly-priced!

An absolute masterpiece

Weaving a silk rug

Colourful collection of silk fans 

Next stop was Shanghai Museum.  We both love museums but seeing artifacts from 5,000 years of Chinese culture was something special.  The museum was huge so we just concentrated on the ceramics, bronzes and jade sections.  Here are a few representative photos from the stunning collections.  And most of this was when most of western civilisation was barely above barbarian level!

Jade dragon, barely over an inch long

Ceramic platter, about 3/4 metre in diameter - breathtaking

Beautiful engraving on a bronze vessel

I took the following photo just as we were leaving the museum.  With my interest in motorcycles, I noticed that a motorcycle cop had pulled over an electric bicycle rider rider and appeared to be booking him.  It certainly wouldn't be for speeding.  Other than the cop's bike, I only saw one other internal combusion-engined bike in Shanghai - a 1250cc Suzuki.  Everything else on 2 wheels was electric-powered - scooters by their thousands.  It would seem to be a deliberate policy to reduce pollution.

Let's have a look at your details, lad!

Separate lanes for scooters and bicycles - protective gear doesn't appear to be a requirement

That ends our stay in Shanghai and the next day was  a flight to Wuhan to begin the Yangtze cruise.  However, before starting on that, some general thoughts.   

It really was a great surprise to see how quickly China was modernising with great architecture and infrastructure which would match the best anywhere. Clearly, positive steps were being taken to address automotive pollution issues.  Driving standards were interesting.  When changing lanes, indicators were rarely used but everyone kept a decent gap.  It seemed accepted practice and apparently, there's no road rage. Young Chinese in particular dressed the same as young people in the west and all had mobile phones glued to their ears.  Everyone we met was friendly and went out of their way to be helpful. Food was outstanding.  We love Asian food anyway but the variety available would suit most tastes.  We tried some "unusual" food items just to say we'd done it and suffered no adverse consequences at all!

Oh, and a comment about using the internet.  China has some restrictions on what can be accessed through the internet, partially or largely due to the current trade sanction tit for tat with the US.  I was aware of this before leaving NZ and knew that it would affect my Gmail account.  I therefore installed a VPN (Virtual Private Network) on my phone to get round the problem.  I chose Express VPN as it got good reviews.  It worked just fine in Shanghai but for the rest of the trip, it was either patchy or non-existent.  Disappointing, but given the relatively low cost; not a really big deal.  

Bye bye, Shanghai!


Next - on to Wuhan.

12 comments:

  1. More please, Geoff. You are hitting the places that are also on my bucket list. I hope I don't have to wait to visit until Roland and I have 47 years of marriage on the clock though. We just had our 20th. Happy anniversary by the way.

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  2. Coming up shortly Sonja! I've wanted to walk the Great Wall ever since I was a teenager, never expecting to actually do it. That, and other activities were well worth waiting for! Thanks for the good wishes. Our anniversary isn't until the end of July but that wasn't a good fit for the vacation. Congrats on putting up,with Roland for 20 years 😁

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  3. Great photos and narrative. I've spent quite a bit of time in Hong Kong and Macau, and a bit in Guangzhou (sp?) but none in the places on your itinerary. So I'm looking forward to more.

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  4. Thanks David, we loved our time in China. I reckon that especially in China but Hong Kong too, if you visit every 5 years, the rate of change is so rapid that you might not recognise the places! We were in HK during the recent protests. Saw the police presence but none of the actual protests as they were in a relatively confined area.

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  5. Aah, some wonderful familiar sights there. Shanghai is a fascinating place. Glad you got the clear skies. Gregory was there a week or two before you, and the air was a different hue. And what is it with these bathrooms with a view??? We were on the 35th floor, or something, privacy was not a big issue, but still ...

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    1. Hiya Marg,
      It certainly was fascinating, as was the rest of China. Our bathroom wasn't overlooked by any other tall buildings but the one in Beijing was. It took us over a day to discover that there was a powered hidden blind system, sigh..... 😑

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  6. This trip has been at the bottom of my bucket list, but you are encouraging me to move it up to top 3 !!!

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    1. Thankk you Susan! We've travelled extensively and this trip makes our top 3. The other two are a safari in a 4WD Landcruiser through Kenya and Tanzania and a road trip up the length of Western Australia.

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  7. Oh, sounds like a fantastic trip! I wish one day to visit China and see all those beautiful things that you mentioned. I didn't now anything about internet restrictions, but I' already using Surfshark app, so I guess it should be working in China too.

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    1. Hi Will,
      Best wishes in getting to China one day! Hopefully, VPN will get even better ifmchina and the US stop their current in-fighting!

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  8. Finally got around to reading your blog. Wonderful, wonderful, and so pleased that we shared so much of it with you and Jennie!

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    1. Hi Kathryn,
      Lovely to hear from you! Hopefully, it will keep all our memories alive of such a magnificent trip and great companionship. Lots of love to you and rich xx

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