Nanjing

This portion of my trip was the first of a few very difficult ones to write about. I anguished over how to provide adequate words for why I was there and where I visited. To assist me I recorded snips to remind me of the immediate impact of the heartwrenching Museum of the Nanjing Massacre. Despite having a very firm grasp of the history of that era, particularly the horrid attacks by the Japanese on Nanjing, Shanghai and the surrounding areas, I was not prepared. Which brought me up short when I finally sat down to write.

I finally decided to keep my visit to Nanjing in chronological order, it made no sense to jump back and forth even though the museum is what stood out. My whole visit to Nanjing in one ugly lump. As with my visit to Suzhou, it was one of the reasons I decided to return to Nanjing. However, I shall begin with my departure from Suzhou and my arrival in Nanjing – another early morning and a hunt for my hostel. I was beginning to think this would plague me with each new city in China and Vietnam.

Despite all the problems with not knowing if I was legally staying at a now un-named Hostel in Suzhou I actually slept and was up by 5:30. Unfortunately, due to the nature of backpacking and the lack of hot water I did not have a shower. Coupled with wearing the same outerwear as the previous day I felt yucky from the start of my day. Bleh. Then as if that were not enough, for good measure, I bashed my head with my coffee press that I had finally managed to pack in its usual top pocket of my bag. So, there was no knowing if my feelings of further bleh were a result of the head bash, no shower, or carrying everything about to taxi, station and train, or all of the above. Wheels were beginning to look like an excellent alternative to a backpack by the time I was on the train.

My first stop once I arrived at the train station – as usual far too early – was to head for whichever fast food place I could find. This time it was KFC, where I ordered a large coffee and watched the day unfold below me. Like watching Geand Central Station in fast motion. (I have only seen this on film) Then it was my turn to join the madness, coffee unfinished. I never like this part of travelling by train in China. A mad dash for the gates, stuff your ticket in, yet another mad dash up, down, over (depending on which train) and find the right car. I still have not figured out how to tell where I am supposed to go despite the colour coding on the platform – the board inside is, of course, in Chinese so I never know the colour I should head for.  Once in my seat I relax. Until my arrival.

Another short train trip, another early morning, another bad taxi driver, and I was very hungry. (One day I need to tell the tale of the driver from hell in Shanghai.) It was easy to get a taxi, not so easy showing him the address – written in Chinese – with the phone number and GPS. When I discovered later that the area is a major spot for tourists all I could do was wonder why some people choose to be taxi drivers. Once he had figured out where I was going he kept muttering to himself – this seems to be something drivers must learn at taxi school – and asking me where the place was, or possibly he meant did I, the foreign visitor, recognize it or see it – this is another common query from drivers. Once we did arrive I was nearly thrown out the door after paying the 22.00CNY in exact change; a demand for extra money was made with all sorts of gestures as to why, along with the driver insisting I hurry up. The result was I dropped my money, which slowed down the process even more, all the while he was yelling st me. I hoped I had not lost 100CNY! If he had not been in such an angry rush our transaction would have gone more smoothly as well as much faster. It was not until the following day that I found out there is a 2.00CNY surcharge.

the hostel kitty – he did not seem too pleased to share his space with a dog and a rabbit.

I was so happy my hostel was just across the street from where I was dropped off – until I was informed there was no power, which also meant no internet, for the whole block. It was not expected to be on until mid afternoon. By this time I was more than a little shaky, and in dire need of food. Although I had not intended to break into my emergency granola bars I was happy I had taken the foresight to buy them before leaving Canada for moments like these. Fortunately my bags could be left in a secured room on the main floor. I was not favouring the idea of climbing to the 4th floor with them! I headed out in search of food and happily discovered a restaurant two doors down that serves food already prepared – breakfast often being a rushed meal – prior to the power being cut. I made my selections, grabbed a set of chopsticks, and headed back to the hostel where I could make coffee – thermoses of hot water are still a major item found in hotels and restaurants in China – to add to my picnic on the large deck. Coffee, breakfast and a book – I was happily unplugged for several hours.

Naturally, after I did finally have a bunk to call my own, I was also ready to explore. My first stop was to the Fuzimiao (Confucian Temple) down the street. I rather liked the apples and ribbons hung on trees by couples – either for good luck or progeny, probably the latter considering the importance of family according to Confucius. No clear explanation as to how Confucius (b. 551 BCE) would be where many Chinese choose to show their devotion. However, his philosophy on moral standards and filial piety were, and remain, the base of Chinese culture. I have always wondered why temples were built to venerate Confucius – temples were generally erected for religious reasons. Confucius never considered himself a god, not even a messenger of God. I spent some time making friends with the few Temple cats sunning themselves. I also had to don my sunglasses to hide my tears for Mozzy. (This would happen pretty well every time I visited a place that also had cats in residence)

I could not resist this very cranky looking kitty with his brush and stand – not that I was going to try to pet him!

After the truncated visit to the temple I visited Nanjing’s very busy, pedestrians only, Fuzimiao (Confucian Temple) Street and surrounding area where the hostel is handily located. In addition to the Confucian Temple and the Imperial Examination Hall there is a lot to see. I did not make it to the latter – too worn out. In hindsight I wondered just how much I missed of the Confucian Temple though, the time I was there, and what I saw, certainly did not cover what I have since read about it. (The Temple and site were undergoing extensive renovations which did explain why some areas were not accessible) Next time I visit a place I will have to be better prepared! I The various wares and food did not draw my attention nearly as much as what I consider a new trend – mainly with young men – tattoos. A cross on the throat of one young man, others with various neck tattoos. Young women seem to keep their inkings to shoulder blades or arms – perhaps easier to cover up or be discreet. I blame my lack of enthusiasm for trying out the many delectable selections to the morning head bash, no electricity and a cranky driver. My mantra at the end of each day was rapidly becoming – I was worn out! I was in my bunk by 8:00pm.

This funny fellow seemed to belong to a wax museum.

My plan for the following day was to visit the Museum to the Massacre of Nanjing. Even two months on I remain unable to adequately put into words what I felt and saw. This became palpable throughout my trip each time I visited a recent (20th Century) historic site of conflict.

I did not take any photos from inside. However, the monuments and statues outside tell the story far better than I can.

What I first saw once inside, formally called The Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invader, was a mass grave, with many of the skeletons laid out relatively straight. It was an eerie sight; who took the time? It is important to know that the anthropologists, the forensic scientists, anyone involved with the discovery of this mass grave, pulled no punches when describing the atrocities against these victims – they were all brutally murdered. I wish I had known the importance of the flags the majority of the visitors were carrying, and just how much the tragedy of the massacres (as with earlier and, sadly, later mass ‘war losses’, worldwide, I doubt there is no knowing how many more mass graves remain undiscovered) to this day has an affect on the citizens of Nanjing as well as the whole country. As we solemnly passed by, and around the grave site, then – in mute harmony – matched numbers to photographs, visitors left a flag next to a name, a picture, a story, a memory.

A question came to mind while a few visitors were taking photos of the bared bones. (As visitors came closer to the exit they appeared to lose the shroud of quiet respect with a need for the air of modernity – death, particularly of such magnitude – is easier to leave behind from behind a lens). I should remark here that 10,000 bodies are not under scrutiny at the memorial, I did not make a note of how many – one being too many when considering why they are there – skeletons are displayed at the memorial, although I think fewer than 150 based on the numbers laid beside each remains. The question was were we, who are visiting, collectively guilty of ghoulishness, or was it an attempt to keep the memory, or a reminder to never let it happen again? Not that it has not happened since.

Q

It seems nearly an insult to write of the more pleasant visit I made to the city wall of Nanjing. Similar to the Great Wall outside of Beijing, and across the country, the ancient cities of China had fortifications built to keep enemies out. Nanjing, as well as Xi’an, had built a wall to surround the city. For a fee, senior discount for me, it is possible to climb the stairs to the top of the wall and go for a very pleasant walk. The sections that are open to the public stretch to six kilometres – I walked only 3. It is also much easier than the often arduous climbing of the sections of the Great Wall. I spent a couple of hours walking, taking in the view of the city on one side and a park on the other. Birds chirping, a slight breeze, and trees shimmering below were a balm after the museum. As this was a Sunday there were people cycling, walking, classical singing, tai chi, playing instruments were only some of what I heard and saw A photo shoot was happening on the wall – how the woman managed to climb the stairs in the long, flowing gown, was beyond me. I have noticed that women often carry, or have them carried, a pair of heels when heading to have photos done. Once again I was not sure if this was an wedding party or a fashion shoot. This time the dress was red – making it even more difficult to figure out. Unfortunately, by the time the Japanese attacked Nanjing on Dec. 13, 1937, the wall was useless against the bombings. It made me wonder if the Japanese were laughing at the ancient fortifications once considered strong enough to push back any invading army.

the inscriptions in the bricks are many, many centuries old, with some dating back to when the wall was first built. Although some histories say it was the builders who wrote them that seems unlikely as they were labourers and unlikely to have had any formal education.

After walking down from the wall I walked about 100metres before encountering the strangest sight – people had crossed over the low fence across from the lake and were kicking the trees before stooping down to gather up whatever had fallen to the ground. There were gingko trees and some trees I did not recognize which seemed to indicate this was a rather nifty, relieve your stress at the same time, way to harvest the fruit that would otherwise just fall and rot. It was quite funny to first hear the whack, whack of foot against trunk and more so when I saw it! Life carries on.

This lovely tearoom was built within the Nanjing Wall during extensive renovations during which time some internal modifications were necessary in order to keep the exterior as close to its original look as possible. I chose a less expensive repast.

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Paradise Cave: Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Paradise Cave was discovered in 2005, and have now taken over in popularity the better known Phong Nha Caves that are announced by a huge sign on one of the hills outside the town of Phong Nha. The latter caves can only be reached by boat then walking to the caves so we opted for Paradise. Which was just as well as we discovered later, which also explained why Paradise seemed to be suddenly getting crowded at one point, the Phong Nha Caves were closed due to high water. It took four years for experts to fully explore over the next four years before opening to the public –  31 km long, the largest dry cave in the world, we only explored the ‘easier’, monstrously large, dry section. 100 metres at its highest point and up to 150 metres wide. The boardwalk inside this section of the cave, once down the steep, steep stairs, is an impressive one and 1/4km long that provides many wonderful views of the various formations one would expect in a cave. The more intrepid can choose to stop at – before or after – one of the more challenging sections for dark caving (no thank you), wading in water through a cave, rafting, (I think that is what they meant when our guides were telling us about the activities) and cave climbing. There is also the very carefully protected cave in which only 300, carefully vetted, visitors per year are allowed to explore. This particular cave, Hang Son Doong, could fit an entire Manhattan city block insid and takes a week to explore! Like I said, we chose paradise (need I suggest, over Hell?)


These reminded me of ancient blades melded together over time.


My only fear was having one of these fall on us!

Readers may note I say we versus me, I was on a four day motorcycle tour with my youngest daughter. She ended up not being a happy camper during the significantly long uphill, switchback trek to the mouth of the cave. (Rather than tell me she was hungover she just complained – most likely because I would not have felt a bit sorry for her. The blisters on her feet however were another issue) It took me 45 minutes to an hour to the mouth, she took longer.

There were maybe 3-4 places with coloured lights; my preference would be none. (In and around Guilin, China, also known for its caves, lighting is a garish art form

Once there we had to climb down a short set of steps, enter the somewhat narrow mouth to the cave, adjust our eyes, then be wowed by the spectacular, disorienting view, in the eerie darkness. Plus the stairs. The steep stairs. Wooden, vertigo inducing stairs. I had a few moments when I did not think my equilibrium would balance on time to go forward or back. Fortunately my brain and feet worked in unison and I sallied forth. My daughter was somewhere behind me taking pictures and finally enjoying herself despite the muttering of ‘I’ve seen caves, why am I here’ that were audible enough for me to hear until I was further away – I never did remind her that sound carries. I focussed on being awed by the natural, internal world. White walls, cathedral surmounting ceiling, a couple of degrees cooler than outside, naturally formed, marbled statues that outclass even the most perfect of all statues – which is of course up to debate. I was happy to note this cave is tastefully lit, just enough light to not trip over your feet. We were also there, until as noted, more visitors were arriving, when it was relatively quiet. At one point it felt as though we were the sole inhabitants of a lost underworld. 

Although called a dry cave there was water on many of the surfaces. I did wonder where it came from.
This was like time had suddenly stood still in mid bubble.

Photos cannot do justice to the magnificence of huge spaces unless taken from above, and, although I took a few pictures from the top of the stairs’ the feel for the space – I never felt I was literally under millions of tons of rock, well not until now – cannot be depicted unless perhaps a drone (heaven forbid) were to be used. I hope I managed, with help from my daughter who has a much better eye for photo ops than I, to find enough shots for others to enjoy. 

This was the end for us although my daughter thought the sleeping guard gave us the opportunity to slip over the guardrail. I did read later that it is possible to explore further with a guide. The fact a guide is necessary made me happy to turn back.

Wedding Wednesday

I managed to get a few of these two who did appear to newly wed. Or just about to be.
Someone needs to tell her it is supposed to be a happy day!
It seems that my daughter said yes to the dress recently. She found it at a pop up wedding dress sale. Upon receiving one exclamation from a friend s explained it something along these lines: I could not help it, it fell off the hangar and leapt into my heart. Although I may have the exact wording wrong it certainly describes just how important the selection of a wedding dress can be. I remember when her younger sister and I were dress shopping, now over nine years ago, we both thought we would no be overtaken by emotion simply because we were not wired that way. Then she came out wearing one dress in particular and I had tears. She was s little teary also. As it turned out she did not buy that dress after deciding it would only suit one venue, which had been knocked out of the running. So, like her older sister now, we headed for a trunk sale and found the perfect dress, one that she had first found, tried on, and fallen head over heels in love with. Except it was the first dress and who buys the first one?

I never could decide if this was just a photo shoot with models or an actual wedding shoot.

For now I only have pictures because I am in China, my daughter is in Ontario, and I go home to British Columbia. A dress shopping date in Toronto was set for January that we will still keep. After all, there are accessories, and i still need a dress. Or, although not Chinese, perhaps my daughter can have two dresses! Her sister did, one for the wedding and dinner, then a fun little purple dress for heading out for a night of dancing.

Try as I could I was not able to capture her white sneakers.

Meanwhile, I did find some interesting dresses on the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam and Yangshuo, China. I hope to add more next Wednesday!

Huangshan: Day 2

It appeared breakfast was not included after all although I only paid for this day for the time being. I had had too much bread in the past two days two days plus the delicious meal the previous night, which resulted in not being very hungry. I decided to save my boiled egg for lunch while I explored. My first stop was to the Huizhou Culture Museum. Fantastic discovery – it was free! I do not recall so many free museums from previous years; therefore, I am inclined to think this must be a way to encourage people to visit them so as to keep them running – it is the number of visitors versus the amount of money collected that will keep the coffers filled.

 

I had managed the visit the walking street section of Huangshan on my first evening, lots of people enjoying the cooler (who am I kidding?) late afternoon under the eaves that overhang most of the shops. Lots to take in without having to spend anything is my kind of shopping. Various pressed teas on display, or flowering in glasses, ginger taffy candy being hook pulled – lots of fun to watch as the puller stretches the sticky candy as far as he can before looping it over a hook to stretch again and again. It is supposed to be good for all sorts of ailments. A Traditional Chinese Medicine pharmacy was also in operation, rather quiet when I was there. Although busy the place was rather laid back. My one treat was a break at McDonald’s for an ice cream cone and coffee. I was becoming expert at finding the AC.


My initial purpose for going was an attempt to beat the heat yet still have an activity. One claim made was that young girls were educated by their family and by scholars. Everything I studied, have read, and heard about education in China – regardless the ethnicity – was that girls were not provided with an education beyond what was necessary for them to marry. Yes, some women had forward thinking families, but until relatively recent times it was rare. Somehow I managed to stretch my time to two hours at the museum, taking my time to carefully view the various exhibits and attempt to figure out the translations. Unfortunately, the sentence structure and word usage finally gave me a headache. All of the ‘etc., etc.’ to indicate there was more information to be had drove me nuts and I found myself humming songs from The King and I. Many items had absolutely nothing to do with what I was reading so I finally just split my interest. Read a little for the history, look more for interest. It was a pleasant way to spend the morning. What was very interesting for me is that I was just finishing reading a book that took place in this area – including golden lily feet, marriage customs, education (again only for marriage – the embroidery done by the Hui women was highly regarded as the finest), cooking if from a poorer family. Rather nice to discover I knew some of the history already!

The Hui people were also known for their business acumen with many well to do running lucrative pawn shops. From what I could understand these shops were not considered last resorts.
An ‘ancient’ pharmacy.
Not exactly easy to toss in a bag for some light reading!

A forecasted storm did not arrive; however, I remained inside most of the afternoon due to the heat and humidity. I did look into seeing an opera. I had a date for 8:00pm to see a free outdoor performance. The rest of the the day was spent chilling with the AC, reading and packing. A decision about my runners was still pending when I went in search of dinner. I ended up back where I had been the previous night – we are such creatures of habit. The manager of the hostel took me to the opera as promised. It was in a covered area of the boardwalk along the canal/river – from what I could understand people go there every evening to just sing. This was an informal karaoke style opera – one woman and probably her teacher, he could really belt out the songs. It was very strange to see him smoking one minute then going through the range needed for each song he sang. Although not a full blown opera with costumes, bells, cymbals and drums, sitting at a table sipping tea, it was rather fun to watch and listen to locals. We listened to a few songs then left when the tunes turned to more modern ones. We went for short walk, using a translation app to talk to each other and for my host to explain some of what we had been listening to, then the importance of a recently installed, freestanding wall that depicts the history of primarily the Hui people. I was thankful I had gone to the museum earlier – it made me sound quite knowledgeable when I asked some questions. I must admit having the translation app is very useful, I downloaded Baidu and am learning to use it – one day before I leave for Shanghai and then Vietnam. It will come in useful when I return. A pleasant last night before heading off the next day.

Departure for Shanghai

The next morning I could hear people in the hallway, I assumed they were checking out. Nope, the police were checking the validity of guests in some of the rooms! Only Chinese citizens. I just went on with my morning, headed for breakfast (hurray, scored some coffee with my meal) only to be henpecked by the funny night clerk – he is one of those people who worries all the time and runs around uselessly, or so it seemed to me. My responses to some of his queries: Of course I have my ID. Yes, I know I have to pay for breakfast. Yes, I am checking out today. On and on. Those were to the sensible questions.

I am most definitely not a fan of hot soy milk!

Not wanting to remain indoors for the whole morning I decided to walk back to the river – now that I knew it was at the end of the road – to try to make it to the wooden foot bridge. By the time I was quite close I felt I understood how Scott must have felt on his ill fated final expedition to the Antarctic, except what was slowing me down was the heat. I swear the bridge was moving away from me. However, with the humidity ten degrees lower (only 35c) than the previous day I felt I could make it. I did, but I did not cross all the way. Instead I went about one-third of the way, enjoying the view – finally some hills – then taking photos of a bride and groom. This must have been an auspicious day for weddings – I saw three wedding motorcades plus the couple on the bridge. (They had arrived alone in a vehicle with a photographer so I assumed they were not with any of the other vehicles). By the time I got back to my room, after stopping for some items to take on the train, I was feeling like I had walked through a sprinkler of sweat. I need to mentally prepare myself for Vietnam.

My thoughts on Huangshan are mixed. It was so hot and humid it made going anywhere seem like a visit beyond Hell. Where I stayed was not terrible, neither was it great for getting suggestions or information. I strongly believe that anywhere catering to foreigners should at least have a list of places to visit other than saying, “You can go by yourself.” The mountain range was pretty neat, and the museum was a nice respite. I can cross this off my list and know I will not return.

The train trip was fast, rather boring, I had plenty of legroom sitting in the front seat on the aisle. The view was not great, only one small window for the three seats. The two across the aisle had no window. I napped, read my book, napped some more, finished my book. One less item to carry. Imagine my surprise after disembarking when a gentleman from the train trailed after me with my book in hand saying I had forgotten it! I felt rather bad that he went out of his way to give it to me. I explained I had finished reading it so he was welcome to read it. He seemed rather pleased at the prospect – I am not sure it will be something a Chinese man would enjoy though. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. I hope someone enjoys reading it. On to the hefty 719 page Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George. Yes, a real book – my intention is to give it to a friend in Beijing as he thinks he has not read it yet. Perhaps I should ask him rather than lugging it around once I finish.

Two plus hours to the airport on the subway – great savings and I had time to kill. The subway was so crowded and noisy I got off twice just to figure out when I should get off – I could not hear the Chinese nor English clearly, and the map was difficult to read from my vantage point. I must have been the only person not talking, scrolling or listening to the my phone. McDonald’s nuggets, fries and bottom of the pot coffee for dinner – yum. Good thing I had Tums handy. I eventually found a semi- comfortable place – three seats without armrests in between the seats – to lay my weary body at the Airport for my 7:00am check-in.  

The following photos are from my random shots – food of course, also a little vehicle I would love to zip around in at home.

The photos are a little backwards because I was walking from the finished product side – this first one was the final step before frying. Of course I had one! Divine!! Lots of green!!! Green onion, parsley and cilantro plus pork.
The tofu and tripe dish.
Qie.zi! This is what people say when they want someone to smile for the camera. Well, I was certainly eating my qie.zi and having to too.
Given a few minutes and an ray escape route I could have had that chain off and be heading north.

Expenses: according to my notes I spent no more than 150CNY over my full second day and leaving for Shanghai. If that was correct I did very well. My whole trip to Huangshan was around 1000CNY = 200CAD for four days including travel and accommodation. This was encouraging after my first ten days of travel before heading to Vietnam where I would be encountering a completely new culture to me. I was heading to Saigon.

Huangshan: the missing photos

Although I said there is the thought that one mountain is much like another I still wanted to share these with readers. Most are just mountains, the others will make sense if the captions were read minus the photos in the previous post. (Window of opportunity has me thinking I had better try some of my other photos!)