Juxtapositions

Although I may have used this title in a blog on a previous trip to China, and perhaps I need to take a closer look at the definition, but it just seems to fit. For instance, Jing’An Temple in Shanghai underwent major renovations at various times since it was, according to various written information, built in 247AD, with the most recent construction finally finished in 2010. I thought I would never see what is behind the walls. When I lived in Shanghai the gates were closed and the ever present ugly green shroud common on every construction site in China was the only view. When I visited the temple seemed to have s pending opening date. Last year I managed a glimpse before the gates  closed at 5:00PM. I thought I was fated to never see inside.

Therefore, this trip had a few specific places I planned to visit. Jing’An Temple was at the top of my list. To keep my thoughts I recorded on my phone – now to remember how to record so that it writes at the same time. On problem with staying in hostels is lack of quiet and privacy. My thoughts at the time were mixed. It was quite busy for a weekday morning. Entrance fee, the wicket was tucked away near the gates – just a 12’x12′ opening where visitors basically only hear a disembodied voice, hand over their 50CNY and get a ticket. There was a more elaborate ticket booth, I believe for anyone wanting to make offerings to the fires burning. No photos are allowed from inside the actual temples where the various gods are seated (or standing). Which meant I forgot to take photos of what each place was! In the first shrine, holding eight standing Demi-gods, piled boxes of incense shared the space. I found this a sad state of affairs when a shrine is also used as a warehouse of sorts. I do get it though, the two places for burning incense and making offerings are also there. 

Secular and sacred spaces can form a bond.

 If anyone thinks temples are for quiet reflection they have not been to a Chinese Buddhist Temple! To paraphrase my daughter from one of her papers, Buddhism is a living, and lived, religion. Adherents were praying,monks were chanting while striking gongs and wooden clappers, gawkers trying to take photos from outside. It was a very active environment. I wish I could include the recording I have of me attempting to describe the scene, my voice is nearly drowned out. Twenty years ago, when I first came to China, was still a time when young people scoffed at ritual, choosing instead to mimic and laugh when visiting once holy sites, especially when they saw their elders bowing in deference to the various gods represented. What I see now is young people, in their twenties, joining in ritual and prayer with reverence. Having faith, or an outlet, is important. 

A little blurry but I love the look on this dragon’s face and the feet!
I like the humour in this; there is likely a deeper meaning behind the image.

Offerings were being made for, I assumed, the recently departed, at both of the burning altars. Red bags of gold or silver ingots  – rapidly being folded in various corners – were dropped into the fire, one family seemed to want to ensure their ancestors would never go without in the next world. At one point one family was made to move to the less busy altar (sorry everyone, I really do not know the correct term) rather than have any crowding. I could not see a difference, perhaps the winds were friendlier at oneover the other. However, that slight change meant so much to the family when the assistant/security? somewhat roughly took the bags and dropped them unceremoniously into the fire. When he made to take a very small offering an elderly lady was holding cupped in her hands she snatched her hands away. She did appear visibly upset – either with him or the event I could not tell.


I did feel rather like a voyeur. At another shrine – these are usually massive structures that house a specific god related to Buddhism – also highly decorated, a couple was making offerings, following the direction of a monk who was chanting in harmony with others who played cymbals and bells, all in view of onlookers. When the woman left I could see she was trying very hard to hold back her emotions. Knowing a little about Chinese cultures I did wonder if these two had recently lost a child or were so far unable to have children. The culture of the past and now has not changed so significantly. The difference is that even with a loosened restriction on the one child only policy couples, and their families, still prefer boys. 

However, life goes on, and it certainly was at the temple. I discovered that, like many Buddhist Temples, a vegetarian lunch was being served. After some hemming, walking around a couple of times and some complaints from my travel companions I de died to partake of the meal. For 10CNY I was given a bowl of rice and a bowl of soup. It was quite tasty, with mushrooms, cabbage, and cauliflower in a light broth. Just what I needed to continue on with my day. I was quite impressed. 


For dinner though I was less than satisfied. One of my favourite street food places does lamb kebabs – only that and flat bread – which I did not buy because it came out of a bag rather than their circular clay oven – more expensive, less tasty, too much gristle. Add in the lowering of already lackadaisical service at my go to hostel and I think Shanghai has lost its lustre for me. I was ready to leave.

A note about posts: although I had intended to post twice a week about this trip I am finding that access to Internet is so spotty it does not make any sense to wait. Besides, I rather like letting readers know what is happening in the moment. 

Expenses (CNY) taxi 253; hostel 180; 120 transit card (20 deposit); 100 Chinese phone number + internet (not enough GB so very poor service; 50 Temple; 10 lunch; 11.50 breakfast; 28 dinner and leftovers for breakfast, water. I think my expenses in Shanghai was a staggering 700CNY (at the time of writing I the hostel I was st had no power so can only estimate that is about 120CAD) for the two nights. At that rate I will rapidly run out of funds for China.  Must watch the wanton spending.

Steps: over 17,000

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One Month: Shanghai!

I have usually packed, and unpacked, at least once when I am at one month before departure, and this is one month before arrival! It seems that a sick kitty, (no real improvement and now he is eating the coffee plant again) an attempt to work to save money for said kitty, plus various appointments have taken up precious time. Having that extra ten hours back that I was putting in for a low salary – I quit – (and excruciatingly sore knees) means more time with my kitty and finalizing plans.  Not that I had not been preparing. That started even before my trip to Ontario in the summer! As previously mentioned I just had not had the same drive to work on my itinerary let alone pack. After shaking off the cobwebs from my brain and the dust from my passport (not really, I keep it in a bag) I finally started working on the  Vietnam leg for after my motorcycle tour and the second part of my time in China as well as packing.

My empty Sirius 36L. Also Mozzy, relaxing in style.
A better view for size? My plan is to take only these to carry everything.
 Vietnam: I had not highlighted the main on the map posted where I will be stopping at when on the ten day tour. Ho Chih Min, (Saigon); Long Hai; Miu Ne; Bao Loc; Da Lat; Lak; Dray Sap Falls; Chu Se; Kon Tum; Kham Duc; Hoi An. I hope I can still stand upright after such a rigourous journey! All for the grand sum of about 1000CAD so long as our dollar does not drastically fall. (750USD) Food is not included but is very cheap. Although not cheap by any means it is better than attempting to learn how to ride a motor scooter, navigate the roads and deal with signs written in Vietnamese! I keep reading about how wonderfully relaxed Hoi An is. As my daughter will be travelling with me in Vietnam and plans to go diving in Hoi An I decided it would be nice to stay there four nights before heading to Hue for two nights – so far the only place I booked the accommodation. Everywhere else is taken care of. My final destination will be Hanoi where I will buy a train ticket to Nanning, China (where my cat Mozzy is from) to complete my final 22 days. I hope I can write a little about each place once there. 
I cannot decide if I will take my journal from my daughter with me. I would hate to lose it.
 Packing: I am often asked, mainly by family, why I prepare so far in advance.  I like to be organized so as to ensure I have everything I need and, even more important when trying to fit everything into a 36L backpack and one smallish daypack, what I do NOT need for a 58 day trip. My trip to Ontario and Winnipeg helped me weed out some clothing items as just impractical. I will not need a long dress (if I do I can buy one) and some of my cool, pretty tops are not so cool when it is hot and humid. I also have to rethink legwear to prevent mosquitoes from eating me. Which seems a great possibility.

Being fairly confident I am familiar with various weather patterns in China – although never psychologically prepared for the heat and humidity – I have a fairly decent selection of clothing to meet the ups and downs of my first ten days in late September. As I remain undecided about heading north my focus is on late October into the first half of  November when I will be travelling to some of the southern interior provinces where it can begin to be chilly by November. I have clear recollections of needing light fleeces for my daughters when in Yangshuo many years ago as well as summer wear. Sturdy footwear is another necessity – just because the locals might be wearing plastic sandals or flip flops does not mean it is a good idea. 

Two of my daughters – Yangshuo/Guilin, 1997. Hot and cool clime. My youngest had shed her fleece.

Weather research shows to expect monsoons (one site said typhoons for Suzhou) and rain in general along with daytime highs of 29c (Shanghai) and lows at night of 20c. When I do these searches I begin to ask the question others put to me – why? Particularly when nothing has really changed since my first, truncated trip in 1996. Then there is Vietnam, basically expect rain with heat and humidity although the rainy season might have slowed down when I get there. There is s good chance of flooding in Hoi An. With all of this in mind am I prepared? Probably. I have encountered monsoons – rule of thumb, try to find higher ground, preferably under the eaves of a building rather than indoors where it will most likely be hit, humid, crowded and often no electricity. The latter is based on experience, I still have no idea why the electricity seems to be shut off although common sense says it is a safety precaution.

Circa 2002, near Yangshuo. My daughter holding her hair out of her face, looking down. It was bloody freezing. Note umbrellas as well as crossing flooded road.
Unlike meteorologists I am unable to predict the future.

So, after all of that what am I packing? This is why I plan ahead! As I was laying everything out I was removing adding items. If I add everything up I will be carrying sixty items with me – including the two packs. Some items I can do without but do not want to: a small bottle of maple syrup to share and remind me of home; finger puppets other than my travel companions – who kept jumping into the shots to remind me they are going; 3 packages of Canada pencils for gifts. The puppets and pencils are my nod to being a preschool teacher. Nearly everything is included in the photos.
These items fit into the large pocket above the main body of my backpack. Not shown is my travel French Press
I plan to actually use the camera this time! Small moose pouch needs another pocket added that will close to serve as a very light bag when I need nothing else.
I switched out the hard eyeglass case for a cloth one.
I will be wearing one outfit! Not sure if I can cut back on anything.
What works to keep the bulk down? Besides just a shoulder bag and buying items as needed (I met one traveller who was doing that) I try to have items I can mix/match/layer. With two distinct seasons and various climates I know I can use leggings under a light pant, a skort or on their own. A long sleeve top can be layered under a short or 3/4 one. A fleece can go over anything. My cover up was free and can be worn in many styles – it also scrunches up into a fairly compact ball. Footwear, yes I am packing slippers; I might pack flip flops (I just do not like them but for showers, beaches and pools they will be handy). One pair of sturdy walking sandals and runners. My floppy hat disappeared on my most recent trip which means I will most likely buy a new one once I am in China. All I have to buy is a travel emergency kit. I am confident will fit – we shall see.

Pushing My Buttons: or why my BP goes up

First, I should make it clear that I do not think my blood pressure did go up. Of course I chose to not check it. As I grow older I am also far more mellow than when I was younger, raising children and juggling all the unnecessary stuff that made up my life. Slough off much of that and everything seems just that much easier. It might not be, but it feels like it. Then every once in a while I hit a roadblock. Or, in this case a derailment.

Not to worry, it was a figurative one. After spending far too much time working on an itinerary that will give me time to actually enjoy each place I visit, I booked my train passage for the first leg of my trip. I had every intention of booking this time with travelchinaguide.com a dollar (USD) cheaper than chinahighlights.com and far more information to glean ideas from. However, I found some challenges with their payment request. Little did I know that their competitor also requires a copy of the ‘payer’s passport’. In other words, although it is me paying, me going, but not my PayPal account I would have to ask the person whose account I am using to send along a photo of their passport. 

National Day crowds I am hoping to avoid – one of Shanghai’s three train stations

I realize someone is under the impression this is for security measures. I just do not see it. Therefore, after checking out chinahighlights.com -I used them last year – and finding nothing to suggest any difficulties, I booked and paid through them. Except the app used seemed to only Book one trip at a time. Which then seemed to be booked – but not yet paid – and an email was sent with a booking number along with a request for money. I sent a message to cancel it. 
Back on track using the website, four trains booked, paid for through PayPal using my debit/visa, no need for anyone to do it on my behalf. Except this time all I received was a PayPal receipt. No booking number, no confirmation, nothing. I started to panic. I thought my money was lost in the ether. Finally, about three hours later, I received a message (I had sent an email) that the money was received and my tickets would be ordered. Except….did I really want to leave Shanghai on May 20th? Oh my goodness! Am I glad some bright individual caught that.
Not my ticket, but look at all that information!

So, happy with the agency I used, still unsure if they need a photo of my passport for proof of purchase – the cancelled app order asked for it , but the main order there was no mention. So long as I have four train tickets to pick up in Sep no problem.
Shanghai to Suzhou; Suzhou to Nanjing; Nanjing to Huangshan (this was a test – I told my daughter Hangzhou); Huangshan to Shanghai. All for 165.67 CAD

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: getting from there to there 

With 40 days and 40 nights to go before I step on the ferry from Victoria to Vancouver for my flight to Shanghai it was time to work on how I will post my blog. Everyday is time consuming for me, boring for readers if I am just adding padding. Reading the travel blogs of others, usuaally about 3 decades younger than me, I think I have come up with a plan to make the process more enjoyable for me and interesting for readers. 

Post on the same days each week; keep it consistent. It is easier to follow a writing schedule this way. 

Seriously consider at least one day of less writing and more photos.

Work on the money/places/information – perhaps do not imbed it in the text. (I also add bits of nonsense at the end not really thinking if anyone actually reads it).

After about a week or so of several hours nearly daily I finally hashed out my itinerary for roughly the first 25 days of my trip to China and Vietnam. I struggled with how to fit in what I want to see and do within the time constraints of avoiding the National Day holiday. My first itinerary was just too difficult to really enjoy anything, it had me rushing off for the far reaches of Gansu and Northern Shanxi provinces, in Northwest China, before flying to Saigon. Just not practical, even if taking in only one of the provinces. The cost of airfare alone to Saigon was prohibitive.

I finally decided to break my trip into four sections. I will do a much smaller loop for the first ten days, Shanghai, Suzhou, Nanjing, Huangshan, Shanghai. Although I have been to Suzhou and Nanjing there are still places I want to visit. In Suzhou my main goal will be the New Suzhou Museum, known for its simplicity of design. I saw a documentary about the architect, I.M. Pei, and how much this particular project meant to him.

In Nanjing I hope to visit the city wall there, maybe rent a bike and ride on it, we only drove past it when there years ago. One can do so much solo, with children, or even other adults, so much has to be considered. There are so many layers of history in that city to be studied and one visit found me wanting to know more.

Huangshan, Anhui will be a stepping stone to the Huangshan (Yellow Mountains) National Park, where I will spend one night somewhere in the the park – not sure if at the base or partially up a mountain, and, I hope, the ancient villages of Xidi and Hongcun. I am fully aware these might be more along the line of rebuilt villages to bring in the tourists, domestic and foreign, so I can only hope there may be some authenticity.

To ensure I make it to the airport in Shanghai to leave on Sep 28th for Saigon I was meticulous when choosing trains for each stretch of this leg of my trip. The only piece of information I have been waiting for is will I make it to the train station from Hongcun to Huangshan. Lots of time still. What I had not considered was that cancelling my first tentative itinerary, to Gansu, would mean my new itinerary would also be wiped out! I am hoping all my effort can be easily rectified and I will once again have my requested trains put in the queue again. I immediately fired off an email to have this done. A similar situation occurred last year – I do wish people would read things! So, waiting with my fingers ready to send my payment for seats and berths.
Thank goodness I do not have to plan my time Vietnam beyond the first three nights in Saigon. I will ask my daughter what I can do there other than have my phone stolen. (That is her story – not mine)

Getting From Here to There/Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

After about a week or so of spending several hours daily I finally hashed out my itinerary for roughly the first 25 days of my trip to China and Vietnam. I struggled with how to fit in what I want to see and do within the time constraints of avoiding the National Day holiday. My initial itinerary was adding up as too difficult to really enjoy anything; it had me rushing off for the far reaches of Gansu and Northern Shanxi provinces, in Northwest China, before flying to Saigon. Just not practical, even if taking in only one of the provinces. The cost of airfare to Saigon alone was prohibitive.

I decided to break my trip into four sections. I will do a much smaller loop for the first ten days, Shanghai, Suzhou, Nanjing, Huangshan, Shanghai. Although I have been to Suzhou and Nanjing there are still places I want to visit. In Suzhou my main goal will be the New Suzhou Museum, known for its simplicity of design. I saw a documentary about the architect, I.M. Pei, and how much this particular project meant to him.


In Nanjing I hope to visit the city wall there, maybe rent a bike and ride on it, we only drove past it when there years ago. One can do so much solo; whereas with children, or even other adults, so much has to be considered. There are so many layers of history in that city to be studied and one visit found me wanting to know more.
Huangshan, Anhui will be a stepping stone to the Huangshan (Yellow Mountains) National Park, where I will spend one night somewhere in the the park – not sure if at the base or partially up a mountain – this is what makes travelling an adventure. In addition, a stop of two days to visit the ancient villages of Xidi and Hongcun. I am fully aware these might be more along the line of rebuilt villages to bring in the tourists, domestic and foreign, so I can only hope there may be some authenticity.

                      Guess who is afraid of heights.

To ensure I make it to the airport in Shanghai to leave on Sep 28th for Saigon I was meticulous when choosing trains for each stretch of this leg of my trip. The only piece of information I have been waiting for is will I make it to the train station from Hongcun to Huangshan. Lots of time still. What I had not considered was that cancelling my first tentative itinerary, to Gansu, would mean my new itinerary would also be wiped out! I am hoping all my effort can be easily rectified and I will once again have my requested trains put in the queue again. I immediately fired off an email to have this done. A similar situation occurred last year – I do wish people would read things! Yet another one of the pesky issues when booking everything on one’s own. Check, cross check and check again. So, waiting with my fingers ready to send my payment for seats and berths.
Thank goodness I do not have to plan my time Vietnam beyond the first three nights in Saigon. I will ask my daughter what I can do there other than have a phone stolen. (That is her story – not mine)