Day 22 - Friday June 20, 2008

We had a great breakfast this morning - I think 95% of the people in the breakfast restaurant (there were others in the hotel) were non- Chinese. I had watermelon and pineapple with grapefruit juice and afterwards went back for roasted tomatoes, sauteed cabbage and onions with a croissant, and decaf cofee. Michael’s second course after his fruit (he calls this his “Chinese” breakfast) - baked beans with bacon, seasonal vegetables, hash browns, rice, scrambled eggs and broccoli - with coffee.

I met and talked with a woman in the lobby - she was from England, teaching in China and she told us about a picture dictionary that was available in the international bookstore. So we went and bought a copy: Michael is going to get a lot of use out of it in his future trips to China.

That's a page I could have used (above) because I wanted to get my hair cut in China - maybe that was not such a good idea anyway.

Then we went bought a lovely tea set that is the same shape/style as the one above, but with a different pattern painted on it. It’s very heavy and we thought about mailing it, but it would have cost 1500 rmb to ship ($200+). We’d have to try to take it with us, but it was really heavy ... so instead of an experience to complain about, we decided to make it an enjoyable experience worth remembering. Michael really wanted to get it and I'm glad he made the decision and he was going to carry it. We took it back to the hotel and then went back out to taxi to the silk market.

Aside: I was walking around the curb-side of a tree because of the construction (there was very little sidewalk), slipped off the curb and fell on the street - flat on the bump on my leg - yeeoweee! After a pause and some loving compassion from my husband, we continued on but it was quite painful to walk.

We felt that the taxi driver "overcharged" us on the way to the silk market because we were told by Steven (who knew) that it would cost around 10 or at the most 15 rmb and we shouldn't pay more. We knew the driver was doddling - our total fare was 18 rmb. That's a little over 2 dollars, but he's the one who has to pay the gas. It's hard to consider an extra 50 cents as a burden.

So, the silk Market is a department store with 3 or 4 floors - with stalls upon stalls of STUFF. Here's a drawing of the building - it used to be a street market but was torn down and reinstated as this modern horror:

(Silk Street (Chinese: 秀水街; pinyin: Xiùshuǐjiē , aka Silk Market, Silk Street Market, Pearl Market) is a shopping center in Beijing that accommodates over 1,700 retail vendors, notorious among international tourists for their wide selection of counterfeit designer brand apparels - wikipedia.)

I hope they don't mind, but someone put up a youtube video from the silk market - here it is, just copy and paste it into your browser. It's just like I experienced:

One floor had mostly clothing, another had mostly jewelry, another mostly scarves; there were household goods, there were toys, there were tea sets, etc. But a lot of it looked a bit cheap - especially the jewelery (but what do I know about jewelery, I only wear it) and the tea sets. They didn't seem to have the beautiful sets we had seen near the hotel.

It was very busy, the atmosphere was so "electric", the sales people were so “grabby” that I was stunned - and did not even take one picture. The first stall with scarves that I stopped at sucked me in, it had me in it's claws and would not let me out. I bought two scarves very quickly without having the opportunity to consider if I really liked them or not. The sales girls were in my face and I couldn’t think! They wanted an enormous amount of money, but even so I gave them about 45 dollars for 2 scarves. Way more than I had wanted to spend on scarves and they were not even the kind I was looking for!

After that another saleslady got me in her booth and was pressuring so much I had to just laugh out loud. I couldn’t even look at the scarves without their tentacles latching on to me. They were going to make a sale - no matter what! This one lady wanted to go with me to get my husband (who had gone up the escalator on purpose) because I told her he had the money. I almost got caught, she was going to let me have it without paying, trusting I would come back to pay. Finally I tossed the scarf back on the rack and immediately took the quick escape up the nearby escalator - WHEW!

All in all, it was a fun experience I must admit. I think I would do better next time having already been there once - but for me, it’s not worth going back. It was one of my China experiences for 2008.

Now to Gallery 798.

Then we took a taxi to the 798 art gallery area. We did lots of walking and saw lots of art..

This above is a slightly "larger than life" piece - I thought it was excellent work

What are we saying here - it's ok to pee on the sidewalk? The watermarks are unintentional, they were formed by dripping air conditioners right above the doorway to a gallery.

I thought this might be a sculpture of Mao, but Michael says no, it's not.

It's massive!

They were laying rectangular stones for this sidewalk, then drawing an uneven outline and cutting the shapes out with a rock cutter - very time consuming work, but I figured they'd get it done before the olympics.

There seemed to be a lot of dark work - paintings of greyness and fumes and jumbled chaos. The sculptures were interesting - some depicted multitudes of people, as though they were small anonymous toys; one showed a soldier rising out of thousands of small, deformed little toy people - all the same colour. It seemed to symbolize one person getting to the top at the expense of many others - not an uncommon theme in the west. I mostly took pics outside, many places said “no photos”.

At times I it seemed that the colour schemes were either gray and subdued or overly bright and unrealistic. Very few had, what I would consider, "beautiful colours", nevertheless, it’s always inspiring to see art that other people have made. Art is a universal language.

I used a drill press like this before - many years ago.

Maybe I was not supposed to take this photo (above) but I thought it was amusing.

I don't know if that large thing on the sidewalk was temporary or intentional - I guess it doesn't matter in an art park.

Day 21 - Thursday June 19, 2008

Farewell to Kaifeng:

One of Michael's great night photos

So still in our hotel in Kaifeng, we got up around 5 am, checked out at 5:40 - but we couldn’t communicate with the staff. The two young girls at the front desk (one was asleep on her arms on her counter when we first got there, the other was on a cot). They were very confused and looked a bit worried that they couldn't handle what they were sent to do. They called someone on the phone who might be able to translate for us, but that person spoke with Michael and still couldn't make us understand. It took until 6 am and a call with Chunhong (our translator back in Zhumadian) before we realized all they wanted was our deposit receipt that they gave us when we first checked in. We had given them 700 rmb at that time as a deposit and after all was said and done; our total for the 3 days, including breakfasts was 714 rmb (around 100 dollars). You get what you pay for.

The trunk of the little taxi couldn’t handle all our bags so my big one had to sit in the front seat. The taxi driver ran a few red lights on the way from Kaifeng to Zhengzhou (it was a one hour drive), and when we finally got to Zhengzhou, he had to ask for directions three times before we got to the crowded train station (and with just enough time). The fare was 180 rmb - about $25. The taxi driver couldn’t get very close to the station it was so crowded on the street, so we had to get out and walk for a bit with all our stuff.

Inside the station there was English on the signs (what a relief!), and there were lots of people in uniforms who stand around waiting to give directions to people like us who don’t know where to go.

But here we were again, needing to go down quite a few stairs with all our luggage to get to our train. There was a ramp at the side of the stairs to allow suitcases to descend more easily, but it was made of marble and a heavy suitcase can become quite unwieldy. My suitcase (actually I was handling Michael's because mine was heavier) turned over a few times while I was descending the stairs and there were so many people that I lost sight of Michael.

I had a few frantic seconds but I showed my ticket to a “helper” and she waved me down to the end of the train. I had to run to catch up with Michael who was waiting for me, and my bag turned over a couple more times, but soon we were in our seats. Unfortunately, our seat numbers put us across the aisle from one another, but an older couple with a grandchild switched seats with us so Michael and I could be together - and then they got to be together as well. How nice.

Our second trip with the bullet train.

So, we cracked open the fruit and the pitas and had a good breakfast on the train. I took lots of pictures and slept a bit - this was our second experience with the bullet train - fast and smooth. However, although we were in a non-smoking car, we were in the last one and the smoke from all the cars in front of us wafted back to our car every time the door was opened - and that was a lot.

Pictures that I took from the train - in my mind, I'm imagining their lifestyle...

If the roofing tiles leak, I guess you replace them with galvanized steel or aluminum and since you have no screws or nowhere to screw the roof to, you use bricks or anything else that will weigh down the "new" improved roof. Where there's a will, there's a way.

There's always someone when you look out the window - there's lots of space but I never saw a place in the countryside where I didn't see one or two or more people .

This could be southern Ontario - where I grew up.

We arrived in the Beijing train station around 1 pm and took a taxi to the hotel.

This was a photo I took from the taxi on the way to the hotel - I think we were passing close to Tiananmen Square. Please go to Youtube and type in Tiananmen Square and see the tragedies from June 1989.

This was the Novotel - very posh - and I saw more westerners in the first 1/2 hour in the lobby than I had seen in 2 and a half weeks!

One view

Another view

Another view

The hotel restaurant - was I still in China?

We got changed and went for a walk down a pedestrian mall. Very tourist and shopping oriented.

Someone was posing for a picture, so I took one.

We went into one jewelry store and on the third floor saw some coral for the first time (I still wanted to get some for Christel). They were having a “sale” and the prices were marked down 90%, hmm... that’s suspicious, isn't it? We were just looking though. Sometimes I couldn't help but feel like I was in a dollar store.

Then we went into a silk fabric store, they make clothes for you there if you want. They also had scarves and some ready made clothes. I tried a jacket on - XXL was too big, XL was too small. I suppose if I really wanted one I’d have to have it made - but that’s ok, I don’t need a jacket and it takes a couple of days.

We walked around the block and stopped in a tea shop on the way - they offered us samples of 3 teas, I liked the Jasmine tea the best and decided to buy some before we left Beijing.

This is a Hat Store - oh ya, you can read the English on the sign ...

I thought these two trucks were so cute! Maybe they're made for use on sidewalks ...

Amy and Steven

Then, in the lobby of the hotel, we met Amy and Steven - friends of Michael - a Chinese couple who live in Vancouver most of the year, but visit and do business for a month or two in Beijing - Steven does work in information technology and is self employed. Michael met Amy through Bonnie who teaches teachers of English (ESL) at Simon Fraser and one of her students was Amy. Amy came to the presentations in Beijing last year where Michael was making presentations and talked to the students about learning English.

The four of us (Steven, Amy, Michael and I) had dinner in a small room in a restaurant (with all smokers right behind us - that empty table in back of us is where they sat).

We saw Amy’s artwork - she’s a VERY talented draftsperson. She’s 28 years old but could pass for 18. Her English is excellent, she was great to chat with and she gave me a few shopping tips: for example if they want 600 for a scarf - offer them 100 or walk away.

By the way, the fingernails I got painted the Friday before in Zhumadian still looked great a week later! I guess the secret is not doing dishes or laundry or cooking or cleaning. Hmm...

More strange things in Beijing.

Does this look like the building has been plastic-wrapped?

Out with the old - in with the new. The story of China I guess.

Great poster!

Day 20 - Wednesday June 18, 2008

I guess the plastic flower makers got it right ... this is actually from a living lotus pond.

This morning (June 18, my brother's birthday) we decided to do something about our toilet - it had not been working well since we arrived - so Michael used the computer to translate: “plugged toilet”, enlarged the words, then took a photo of the computer screen and went and showed the camera view window to the young ladies at the front desk - wow, they understood - after breakfast all was well. Maybe someone can use that bit of info next time they're in China.

Then at around 9:30 am we took a motorized “rickshaw” to the Iron Pagoda. On our return trip we had a man driver and realized how conscientiously this woman drove.

Goods for sale on the next rickshaw.

Had I mentioned that the speed that people drive their vehicles is quite slow? You never see some young whipper snapper weaving in and out of traffic at high speeds.

Above you see why the speeds are slow.

On the way to the Iron Pagoda ...

Below is what greets you when you get past the entrance of the park:

When we walked in, I was immediately struck by the freshness of the air - I could smell the grass, and the bushes, and the flowers, and the water - it was SO refreshing. I hadn't experienced that much since I'd been spending most of my time in cities. But it didn’t last long, because soon more people started coming in and with them - the lit cigarettes. People smoking everywhere (actually, mostly men).

The lotus leaves were everywhere ... but this doesn't give you an idea of the size of them.

This does.

The flowers; some pink, some darker pink, some white, some yellowish. I assumed there were different varieties of the lotus flower.

Some of the walkways in the park were decorated with pictures made of pebbles - all hand made. It looked like painstaking work. I thought it was odd to see a whale - I mean this is the wheat growing province - hundreds of miles of fields - the thought of a whale was far from my mind.

They had a sizable bonsai garden - very enjoyable to look at, but I wish someone could have told me how old these were and a little info on where these plants have been.

We saw some older people in this area - seemed they lived in the maintenance buildings in the park. I imagined that they were retired gardeners and were provided with room and board in exchange for caring for the bonsai garden. Sounds nice anyway.

I wondered what it really said ...

Here is the Iron Pagoda:

Wikipedia says The Iron Pagoda of Youguo Temple, Kaifeng City, Henan province, is a Buddhist Chinese pagoda built in 1049 AD during the Song Dynasty (960–1279) of China. (The name of the pagoda refers to the color of the building, not the metal.) It was a brick pagoda tower built on the location of a previous wooden pagoda that had been burnt down by lightning fire in 1044 AD. It is seen as a masterpiece of Song Dynasty architecture

This is a picture of the very top (pretty good zoom, eh?)

This is a close-up of the detail of the carvings on the bricks.

This gives you a good idea of the size of this structure.

On the other side of the pagoda was a large lake and a beautiful area for walking with cement bridges that lead to a small island.

This little structure was on the island - meditation area perhaps. Lovely place to sit and pray for a few hours. We stayed for a few minutes.

Another view of the lake - this was all inside the old walls of the city.

Students find a quiet place to study.

Very interesting woman in an intriguing park.

And common to any site: a temple in the middle ...

Then we took the rickshaw back to the hotel: It was about a 10 minute ride and cost 5 rmb (7rmb = 1 dollar).

I guessed this was a school with student bicycles parked outside.

Colourful signs.

Was someone sleeping under there?

I'm almost positive those are apples.

Those are apples.

Traffic ...

These look like something else but they're actually huge "cakes" of dried tea leaves. I should have taken a picture of my foot with these for comparison - the bottom one was probably 25 lbs.

Later in the day, with using the computer to translate “food supermarket near here?”, we were able to find and walk to the local grocery store. We bought bananas, apples, grapes, a papaya and more fruit for today and for tomorrow on the train - a 6 hour bullet ride to Beijing.

In the evening we walked out to the street food market and wandered a bit, bought six baked round and thick pita breads that are so good when crispy and hot, four for the next day.

I decided to add, on today's blog, some of Michael's pics - he does much better at night shots - I like to think it's his camera but honestly, it's his skill. The previous pic and the next three are from when we were in Kaifeng the weekend before.

Chunhong - that's her in the colourful dress - is explaining something to me - it may have been the abc's of "How to Bargain". In short, if you don't like their price, you walk away - but you know, it's not as easy as it looks.

Socks and ties?

More clothes ...

More clothes, but there are actually a lot of jewelry booths too.

Ah, the food wagons! This is how it works: ater you choose from the selection on display, your items are thrown into a pot of boiling broth (called hot pot). I only know that because I watched, then you get a container of some sort and go to a nearby bench to eat. We didn't try this food.

We didn't try this either.

Or this ...

Or this ...

But we did buy some of those bread pita type things - they put them in that hole and when they come out they're really hot - but delicious.


We got to bed a bit earlier and set out alarm for 5 am. But I woke up around 12:30 when Michael’s cell phone rang and then couldn’t get back to sleep properly - there was a very heavy smell of cigarette smoke in our room that kept me from sleeping. It's like someone was smoking right beside me. I tossed and turned - I guess I was also a bit concerned that our alarm wouldn’t go off and we’d miss our train to Beijing. At 3 am I got up and opened my computer, then I went back to sleep around 4 am and rested a bit. Oh well.