Sunday 6 April 2014

Heading on south

Last time I wrote, I was about to visit the Confucius temple in Hangzhou, and wow, when I thought Hangzhou had given all it could give, it promptly played it's trump card. The Lonely Planet was surprisingly dismissive of the place, I was instantly smitten with it. Tucked behind some apartment buildings, a stones throw away from Wushan square, the entire complex is silent apart from the trickle of a waterfall behind a building. Apart from myself and a young couple, it was utterly abandoned. Free entry to boot.

The cleaners were quite happy to practise their English with me, encouraging me to look around, and what a paradise this place is. I took a hundred pictures, but have now trimmed it down to a dozen or two, I can't wait to show you all. I would be quite willing to sacrifice quite a lot and convert to Taoism if it meant I could visit this place every day. Then again, I probably don't need to convert, they were very welcoming of everyone. Perhaps I can just find an excuse to move nearby. LinuxIT China?

Then, feeling seriously guilty for visiting the bar before a temple of this beauty, I headed up to another, the pavilion on the hill, and just about died with happiness from the view. You'll understand when the pictures finally make their way online. Now content, I headed back down to the lake and spent the sunset perched with a group of Chinese students, who seemed overly happy to talk to an English man.

That's another thing; if you ever have a self confidence crisis, this is the place to go. I feel like a celebrity, welcomed into any setting, people asking for pictures with me, everyone wanting to speak to me. It's quite flattering, though also a shock! I've just tried to do my best to leave a good impression behind me. I do wonder sometimes if there are pictures of me floating around weibo.

Now seriously rocking the traveller beard (as I'm carry on only, I feel bad buying a razor and then throwing it away. Adds a few years to my face too, which is a nice plus) , I headed the next day for the airport. I had allowed for 6 hours to get from Hangzhou to Shanghai Pudong airport, and it wasn't enough. The trains drop you at Hongqiao, to the west of the city, and yep, you guessed it, the airport I needed was to the east. Everything about the Shanghai public transportation system seems designed to slow you down: the ticket machines only accept coins, not notes, so half of the people (a number somewhere in the low zillions) crowded around the 3 ticket booths that were open. I'm not sure if you've seen Chinese people queue before. They do try, bless them, and the end of the line looks very orderly and sensible. And then you reach the front, and then it's more reminiscent of an Australian football match. Everyone diving forwards, throwing others out of the way, shrieking, yelling, I swear one couple was offering to sacrifice a two year old for a train ticket to Tianjin. Despite this, after twenty minutes of channelling my inner zen, I had the ticket and arrived at the platform to see the train leave. This was going to be a recurring event throughout the day.

If you ever need to cross Shanghai, which the Lonely Planet dismissively mentions should take at least an hour, allow three. The trains only go two thirds of the way before you have to swap, and seem designed to pull in as the other train is waiting. They offer you tantalising views of the open doors across the platform, before, with a hiss that almost sounds like a cackle, they slide shut while you're trapped on the other train, helpless behind the glass. You're finally released when the other train starts to glide out of the station. I witnessed this in both directions as I waited for the next train, and if you ask me, the person who designed it needs a good solid slapping, or at the minimum to be forced to endure it while they're running for a train.

And so, with an hour until my plane was due to take off, I ran like the wind through the station, to find the time of it had changed, I still had two hours, could relax, and felt both relieved and frustrated after my marathon sprint across terminal 1. Ah well, you win some, you lose some.

Guilin. Well. I don't even know where to start. Just as I thought I could not love this country any more, this leafy green paradise is presented to me. If anyone from my work is reading this, if there's ever a thought of starting a China office, I would be willing to sign the contract in blood, or happily sacrifice a year's salary for the chance to live here.

Utterly fed up of being lost in strange Chinese cities after dark, I indulged myself and asked for the airport pickup. I'm glad I did, the drive was over an hour and I can only imagine where I would have ended up. Picked up by a cheerful driver who had my name scrawled on a card (first time for me, I felt so special!), I slid into the backseat, cranked open the window and breathed in the night air.

So, instead of pitching up in a bush somewhere in dispair, I settled into the comfortable, charming and super friendly Wada hostel. The reviews on this place are astounding, and I didn't believe they were true, but this place may just take the Crown for best hostel ever. Insanely fun and friendly staff, an open and well stocked common room/bar, and cheerful music drifting through. I instantly regretted only booking a single night, but myself, two Germans, one of the receptionists and a French guy played a few games of pool and made the best of it. This is a place with a welcoming and friendly attitude, and the staff truly make it incredible. If you're in the area, this is where you want to stay.

I woke up this morning (smiled with the rising sun...) and boarded the bus to the river, to perch on the most unstable collection of plastic I've ever seen and head south, through breathtaking countryside to Xingping. The mountains stick up like spikes, rolling in and out of the otherwise flat landscape, and the clouds swirl around them in patterns as we drifted by.

And now, I'm sipping tea, awaiting lunch in a tiny market street in Xingping. A massive contrast to Shanghai, this is almost like south east Asia- Vietnam is surprisingly close. Incredibly different, yet gorgeous in it's own, unique way. It's like it has all of the good points from the other Asian countries I've visited, while skipping the bad. The people are friendly and helpful, the touts are tame, there are no random shopping trips on the tours, there aren't 6 year old girls holding babies on the street, begging for money, breaking my heart and knowing I can do nothing to help them. That endless tension that was inside of me in India is just absent here. It's very peaceful.

I'm quite in love with this country, two weeks is just not enough time.

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