Friday 31 August
Ed: Might be a bit confusing this one, as Jo and I are simultaneously updating the website about different towns we have been to. I am concerned with Shanghai, our current home, and the home of trendy western imitating chinese people.
We arrived in Shanghai on Friday morning, after spending about 19 hours on the train from Qingdao. I woke up with rather rosy cheeks from my previous evening's rice spirit drinking challenge, but luckily Jo was there to help me with a french bread, Kraft processed cheese and Dairy Lee sandwich - v. tasty. Managed to get alerted to our arrival in Shanghai by the train staff a full 90 inutes before we actually got off the train which was a bit bizarre, but gave us plenty of time to ponder on the potential of the weather to be v. uncomfortable outside. The train was lovely and cool, but too many times now has this led us into a false sense of security. One's clothes can only take so much thermal shock of walking out into 30 degree ultra-humidity before the molecules fail.
Enough science - on to the much fabled city of Shanghai. Train station bereft of hotel touts and evil bastard taxi drivers. We even managed to find a phone and make some useful phone calls to relaxed sounding staff at various hotels spaced around town. It was already starting to seem like we had left the People's Republic. In fact, taking a rather long warm bus ride across town to our hotel of choice, it looked more like Tintin China than white tile communist China. Lots of washing hanging above the traffic etc. Most of the streets we travelled down to get to our hotel had four storey flats above them which leant into the street like two rugby packs about to scrum. Lots of industry and chinese banners etc. just like Tintin books in fact, just without the cyclo-rickshaw chaps.
Pujiang hotel where we are staying is v. cheap, but requires that one stays in dormitories of 7 poeple. The many corridors of old wooden floorboards and piles of dirty linen are v. boarding school, as is sleeping in a room with half westerners and half southern chinese people. All very civil and comfortable, but it is not mixed, so while Jo has to put up with the hippy travelling girls in her room, I have some very quiet and charming young chinese travellers to intimidate with my evil western flatulence and snoring. I was a bit wary of sleeping in dormitories, not just because I thought they might nick all my clean socks and pants, but also because I was expecting to go to bed nice and early and be woken up every hour of the night as they stagger in pissed and trip over our impressive selection of crap furniture (also v. boarding school - lot's of rubbish old bits of furniture that are deemed useful for no one else except boys of undeveloped character). How wrong I was.
Anyway, checked in and left immediatly (fed up with being stared at by the foreign boys) and pootled over to the river side for some cheeky site seeing. The river smells of poo (river name: Huang Poo = yellow poo), and on either side is a "bund" (Indian word for stinky muddy river bank). The old bund is a rather confusing mixture of western architecture from the nineteenth century, each building being subtley chinese in its appearance, and each of them completely out of place either in China or just on this old western street. Still quite nice though. The new bund has sprung up in the last decade, and no self respecting sky scraper would be seen dead there if it wasn't at least one hundred floors high. Some of them even look nice and curvy.
Funny old lady kept begging around us on the old Bund. She kept staring at me with her eye and saying thank you in chinese. A bit scary as she kept saying it over and over again getting louder each time - I think she thought I was someone else. It is the sort of thing one gets used to in China, but it was a strange place to see it.
Popped over to the library for a cheeky giggle at the internet. Slightly more restrictive here - I can't run my own programs on the computers - but still manage to get round this problem and set up all sorts of encrypted connections back home. I don't know what the chinese security people think of all this secret messaging, but it is nice to know that a) all those nasty Chinese hackers can't read my e-mail or passwords and b) all those nasty English hackers in their Cambridge rooms can't read my e-mail or passwords. (Many thanks to you crazy www-stu administrator guys for putting the MindTerm SSH applet on door - v. handy.)
Killed some time gawping at the massive amounts of lego robots they had in a one of the many shopping centres on posh street (v. long street with at least three real Gucci shops and dozens of very expensive dept. stores) and then went to the giant Shanghai cinema to watch Pearl Harbour. Crap film - they spent all their money on computer generated ships blowing up and forgot to employ a continuity editor, or even just an editor. One of the main characters meets his girlfriend when he sweet talks his way into passing an army flying medical. He is dyslexic, and so has to talk the nurse into letting him pass the eye test because it is based on reading letters that he can't resolve. They fall in love, and one of the plot points in the movie is to do with the love letters he writes to her from Blighty during the Battle of Britain. We both felt ashamed to be western while watching the whole film anyway, and I considered asking Jo to teach me the phrase for "No really, I was just watching with a strong sense of irony".
I am rambling a bit now. Met some Edinburgers at the film, and had a drink with them after the show. Combination of fatigue and beer led me to make the v. kind donation to them of my Worlds Service frequency charts so they could listen to the football. My good deed for the day - God knows what they thought I was like.
Stumbled back into the dorm at 0030hrs and woke most of the boys up. Bad form, expect a sacking from the master etc. etc. No one had bothered to shut the curtains, so I thought I would be helpful and do it for them. Unfortunatly they had set up about twenty empty water bottles under the window such that they would cascade embarrasingly to the floor when anyone tried to shut the curtains. Ha ha ha. I felt v. silly.
Saturday 1 September
Ed Just a quickie. Been eating fantastically here in Shanghai: had some yummy Japanese curry (including potatoes - curried potatoes v. yummy) for lunch along with some black bean noodles, and last night we dined on some delicious Thai veggy kebabs and green curry. I personally was not feeling that peckish after my foot long sandwich for breakfast, but the rice was so yummy. Had two plates of fragrant rice and a lovely bottle of TsingTao brown beer (a bit like Leffe Brun Belgian schtuff) and felt like big man ever since.
Met the western landlord of a bar we were drinking in last night. Typical middle aged ex-pat chinese girl fumbling idiot. Even worse, his idea of happy hour is to sell you one beer, then you get your next one free. Jo and I thought that it was buy one get one free. When he explained to us that the former rule was in operation he also pointed out that if we got both at once, he would effectively be selling us half price beer, and that would just be silly wouldn't it. If that is the service we get in happy hour, I can't imagine what it is like normally, especially with no Chinese art student girls to keep him amused. I understand cousin Henry is having similar encounters with lunatic ex-pats. Good luck to us all.
Just want to point out that I am still having much much fun and in general good mood - honest :)
Also had a conversation with some of the people in my dorm last night. Most of them are incredibly yocal farmer type Japanese young men (except that they work in Tokyo) - think typical butch peasant types who grunt to communicate. The guy in the bed next to me is about my age, Korean, and has the appearance and demeanor of a jolly fat Korean nonce. V. scary, especially when he was in his pants. Had a good chuckle or two about him with the Japanese people. I think they are just as suspicious.
Had another jolly day playing "hunt the train ticket" today to no avail. We did get the number of the CITS official travel agents though, so will phone them from the island and book our tickets down south to our next destination after a quick overnight post island bliss stop in Shanghai this Wednesday: we go next to the coastal town of Xiamen.
Thoroughly nervous about missing our boat to Pu Tuo Shan island, so must dash to loo and leave y'all now.
P.S. Mummy - new pants for birthday please. Sesimic sino-thai-curry-bum shock making mincemeat of these pathetic cotton things. Suggest M&S kevlar range.
Sunday 2 September
Ed: Well, we got to the boat with lots of time to spare in the end. Despite the usual need for the lavatory as soon as we set foot in a moving vehicle, the taxi ride was swift and un fussy. It could have been a lot worse, as some of the cabbies practically insist that you tell them each left and right to take. Too many calories required to know where you are going apparently.
I have been away from a computer for many days now, so forgive me if this reads like a list, for that is all I have in front of me as an aide memoire for times long gone (i.e. Sunday). Anyway, back to the illusion that I am writing this on the day in question.
"Be There or Be " (i.e. square) is a bit of a themer in China at the moment. There is a pop song about it, and we saw a restaurant near the dock with the same name. We took care to hide our pointy fingered amusement this time though (after having seen the pop song on MTV previously) as we know all too well how hard it is to explain to someone in China why it is out of place to be singing a love song / naming a restaurant after a figure of speech from a time many moons ago (stop rambling -ed).
The waiting room at the dock was staffed by the usual bored cadre of middle aged shouty blokes in grubby uniform. There were also lots of poshed up chinese tourists there as well. Laowai were few in number, and the odd monk or two brightened the place up a bit, but it looked like we would be sharing a boat with the usual hippy type Chinese people who have latched onto the old religions with their new suspicions and hokum (improve your sentences or you are fired -ed). What I mean to say is that the island of Pu Tuo Shan - our destination - is one of many sacred Buddhist places in China, but except for the monks, most of the people who believe in Buddhism also believe in black cats, the number 13 and the sub-ladder demons of Thaag. Supersticion is the new religion apparently, and if you can make seem more important by avoiding black cats near Buddhist temples while saying "Ohmmmmmmm. Miiiiind that laaadderrrr. Ohmmmmm", then it is worth the boat ride to do so. Even if you do run the risk of being mocked by laowai. Ha!
Boat cabin was suprisingly nice. We shared it with a family of three (four beds in cabin) who were v. friendly. Friendlier than the German ex-pats we met on deck. Jo and I suspect that it is part of ex-pat culture to ignore backpackers as they are of little substance and obviously not tough enough to survive in a foreign country for more than six weeks. Maybe we read too much into their unfriendliness.
More amusement came when we went up to the top deck to sit down at the nice tables and chairs. Another one of those semi-uniformed chaps looked at me and pointed at something as we sat down, but I ignored him. When his boss came over, it appeared that he had asked me if I would care to buy a ticket to sit on the "tea deck". His boss was a little more blunt and told us it was Y20 each to sit down. We asked him how much it was to stand. We furthered our point by standing up in our seats, and he said that he could do us a bit of a standing deal at Y4 each. We asked him how much it was if we stood over on another part of the deck, then cracked up and had to scurry below deck giggling. Tee hee.
Meanwhile, back down at freedom deck, the Germam laowai had got his camcorder out and was taking shots of his golddigging chinese girlfriend against a background of heavy industry (please note tradition of disliking Germans while on holiday being upheld). While this was going on, the other German guy was standing around with his western girlfriend not having nearly as much fun. Jo then recounted many a tale of how hard it is to shake off hangers-on when backpacking. I suggested telling them to bugger off. Jo told me that going pony trekking with someone who didn't like horses was a good way to lose them. She speaks from bitte experience.
I managed to have a successful squat poo in the only lavatory that didn't have a flushing mechanism. Then I went back to the cabin and scared the little girl by getting undressed. Quick splish splash in the lavatory hand basin was all the washing that I could do on the boat. This was all after a hard day in Shanghai of course, and so all I managed to do was create a nice sweaty solution and spread it around my torso - v. slippery and it made my towel smell.
Couldn't sleep much as the boat felt like it was going to capsize (v. choppy out at sea) and the little girl kept having nightmares. I estimated that we were doing about 20mph, which explained why it would take twelve hours to get to Pu Tuo Shan island. Jo went out like a light, and we both woke up at dawn the next morning to the sound of the tannoy announcing breakfast. I slept some more, Jo had rice porridge and went up on the tea deck for free! We finally arrived in Pu Tuo Shan at 0700.
Wednesday 5 September
Ed Woke up to the sound of stone grinding again - this time they started at about nine o'clock in the morning so not that bad really. Jo had been out already to buy the tickets for our return to Shanghai. We had decided to make a day-time getaway from the island by the fast boat route which should only take four hours. After some amount of loitering around having breakfast and buying provisions for the journey ahead, we checked out of the hotel. Much to our annoyance, not only had they lost half my clothes pegs (that's 3 out of a possible 6) and one half of a pair of socks, they also wanted to charge us for calls we made using a pre-paid phone card system. Evil evil people.
Plodded over to the bus station with backpacks and sunburn (not a comfy combination) and got over to the quayside with a full half hour to spare. Not that this stopped us from panicking (sorry) about missing the boat of course. It was late anyway.
Boat ride a bit choppy. I took my usual cure for sea-sickness - scoffing lots of snackfood and then lying down. Quite bizarrely we stopped at what seemed like a mid ocean refuelling platform half way through our journey. What we actually had to do was get off the boat here and catch a bus the rest of the way to Shanghai, but we couldn't see the promenade back to the land, and so getting off seemed a bit of a wrongun. What is it about the sea that makes us panic so much.
We calmed down and just followed the rest of the group over to where the busses were, and had a nice quick ride into town. Found a room at the music college which had nice air con (fridge tastic) and then went out for some fast western food. The place in the guide book that recommended mexican food was non-existant, so we had to go to Jo's second choice of Pizza Hut instead. I was not impressed by this, until they brought us our 12" big pizza - about the same bulkiness as a loaf of bread. Each.
Suffering the effects of eating vegetarian pizza and `fresh' salad this morning though (the day after). I am sure it will wear off (geddit?). Tee-hee.
Having trouble finding somewhere to stay tonight. Jo has tickets to go to Xiamen tomorrow, so will have to make the most of all these lovely sandwich shops today. Xiamen is 24 hours away by train, and is southier and westier and still on the coast. From there we go to Hong Kong by boat. That is as far ahead as we have planned so far. Apologies for rather dull diary entry.
Friday 7 September
Ed :Well. we found somewhere to stay last night, the Rui Jin Guesthouse. It was so swish and nice there that we got a bed that could have slept four people comfortably, a room control panel computer thing and a television with many western channels. Tip top - and worth staying there for the relaxation factor it afforded us.
Relaxing that is until we decided to go and find supper. We spent 2 hours travelling to the sandwich shop that I liked for tea time. Back to the hotel for a simultaneous shower for me and bath for Jo and some chips and nine-ball and Austin Powers films etc. A terribly comfortable.
Breakfast this morning was also part of the luxury. We had cornflakes and fried eggs and dumplings, along with coffee and orange juics and milk. It all had a slightly chinese feel to it though, but was still v. pleasant and better than having to neck a bowl of egg fried rice to satisfy early morning hunger. Scourge of the day no.1 was in the form of an American ex-pat who didn't see the point of us going anywhere as it was all pants. He lives in Hong Kong, and I can see his point about it not being a nice place to go. It would be like someone telling me that they wanted to go to London in November on holiday - yukky idea for us but great if you have spent your life in Kurdistan etc. etc. you see my point. Anyway - he was a complete (that's enough -ed).
We were up quite early (0800) because of our train journey at 1015. We got there with just the correct amount of time to spare, and settled into our bunks with much ease. It was only then that the scourge of the day nos 2-8 turned up. Middle aged chinese salesman types who burped and farted alot. They all seemed a little juvenial, especially when the fat one wanted to swap with Jo (bottom bunk) so that he could sit with his friends. A bit like a school trip really, and they were just as badly behaved as school boys. For example, they tried teaching Jo whay the chinese for "fork" was. Suffice it to say that their word for "fork" was accurate only in that its English form had the same number of letters.
We survived this by taking it in turns to shelter in the top bunk of our section and exhibiting perfect manners hoping that it would rub off on our cabin comrades, but I think this goaded them on into farting even louder and eating even smellier food.