ScrimismsPresently suffering a dearth of witticisms

June 2008

Photos and Travel21 Jun 2008

As promised, more on China.

We flew 5 hours to Vancouver and then 11 hours to Beijing, with 4 hours at the Vancouver airport. The international lounge at YVR is the nicest airport terminal I’ve ever been to. It’s like a high-end shopping mall with airplanes parked outside: lots of shops, natural light, even a giant fish tank. One of the terminals at Heathrow has a similar “mall” feel, but isn’t nearly as nice. We heard PA announcements in four languages: English, French, Chinese, Japanese. Most of the flights that weren’t going to the USA were going to Asia, so that makes sense. I was surprised to learn you can get direct polar-route flights from Vancouver to Europe.

When I was a kid flying out to Vancouver to see my grandparents I thought the 5 hour flight was pretty long. On this trip, it was just the warm-up hop. The 11 hour flight to Beijing was surprisingly easy to endure. We tried to sleep a bit, though it was always daylight outside the plane. It was basically “2pm” for half a day… The Boeing 767 had a fancy cabin interior with lighting that gradually changed color. I guess it was simulating sunset and then dawn, perhaps to help with the jetleg. I actually found the 12 hour time adjustment not all that difficult and was sleeping at the proper times within a day of arrival, so maybe it helped?

Our route was fairly northerly and besides the mountains from the last post, I also got some pictures of ice floes.

Beijing’s new capital airport is absolutely gigantic. Built partly to deal with the influx of foreigners for the olympics (and, like a few other olympic landmarks we saw, still under construction at this late date), it’s one of the largest airports in the world. The entire main terminal is a dome with no interior support, making for a lot of open space.

We spent a week in Beijing before heading down to meet Shengrong’s parents in Wuhan. Beijing felt like a very cosmopolitan and modern city. And yes, they have McDonalds. Oddly, the most prevalent western fast food restaurant was KFC.

We saw all of the usual tourist sites, from the forbidden city to the great wall, and did a bit of shopping. I was constantly amazed at the department stores in China. I don’t think we have anything quite like them here: they make Sears look pretty puny. I wish I’d taken some pictures inside one, but I guess I was just too awestruck by my attainment of consumer nirvana. These stores were all over the place in the shopping districts of Beijing and Wuhan, and are have interiors that are bright and clean and ultra-modern looking. A typical floor-plan might be something like this: First floor: expensive things like perfume, jewelry and handbags. Second and third floors: women’s clothing. Fourth floor: men’s clothing. Fifth floor: “sports” clothing for both genders. Sixth floor: electronics. Seventh floor: food court. Each floor is gigantic, and is subdivided according to brand, and each brand’s area had its own staff manning the shelves.

One thing I learned quickly was that in a Chinese store, you don’t pick up the merchandise and carry it to the cash. Rather, you point it out to one of the ubiquitous staff members, who write you a ticket that you take to the cash register. Once you bring back the receipt, you can collect your goods. I encountered loads of small differences like this on the trip: the great thing about overseas travel is that you get to have all sorts of your assumptions about the world smashed.

The Canadian dollar is pretty strong and prices in China are good (and I had Shengrong to haggle for me so we didn’t have to pay the “foreigner price” too often) so we bought a few things. I got a couple paris of shoes, a new shoulder bag, and other odds and ends. But enough about shopping.

The Olympics are coming to town, and it’s a really big deal. Olympic signs and advertisements are everywhere. This count-down clock is on the front of the National Museum at Tiananmen Square (sadly, closed for renovations at present). Yes, I’m wearing a shirt that says “Australia” on it. Just trying to mess with the locals.

These Olympic characters were a common sight.

The national “bird’s nest” stadium appears to still be under construction. Must be a good time to be a builder in Beijing…

We went several times to Tiananmen square. I said in the other post that it is huge, and it really is. It’s the largest city square I’ve ever seen, by far. Think of the biggest city square you know and double it a few times and you’ve probably got the right idea.

Looking across the square at the national museum and its infestation of cranes.

Monument in the middle of the square.

Tiananmen at night.

The gate of Heavenly Peace, at the end of the square before the Forbidden City. Can you find me? There’s a convenient arrow pointed at my head.

I really enjoyed Beijing. I was expecting to feel a lot of culture shock, but I didn’t feel much. Perhaps spending time with a Chinese girl for a couple of years helped in that regard. Also, because Shengrong spoke the language and knew her way around, I didn’t really feel the sense of being cut off from people that sometimes goes along with foreign travel. One thing I didn’t really get a sense of was how many people spoke English. There are lots of English signs in Beijing, English announcements on the busses, etc, but while it is clear that some people know a few words, it was hard to get a sense of the extent of it. The only part of China I really navigated on my own were the airports when heading back to Canada, and that was pretty easy.

Another thing I was expecting to be more of a shock was the food. After the first couple of days I got quite used to it. Nothing ever really upset my stomach, and I got a lot better with chopsticks after using them every meal for two weeks. The only negative effect was that now that I’m home, the food I normally cook for myself seems a bit pedestrian. I’ll talk more about food later on. We ate a few “interesting” things…

Photos and Travel16 Jun 2008

I’ve just come back from China. It was a fantastic two-week trip to Beijing and Wuhan. I’ll relate more about it in subsequent communications; for now, here are some of our photos.

As photographed from the plane on the flight over: a very large mountain in Alaska? Russia? I’m not entirely sure where we were at that point.

Meteor impact crater?

Beijing, at the gate of the Forbidden City.

Detail from the Nine Dragon Screen in the Forbidden City.

Inside the Forbidden City. There is reconstruction work going on, as you can see.

Mao’s tomb, in Tian’anmen square. Tian’anmen is absolutely huge – I don’t think it’s possible to take a photo that does it justice. Of course, as I quickly learned, everything in China is huge…

Even the ducks! Okay, not really. This is outside a restaurant just off Tian’anmen where we ate Beijing Duck. Which I must say I really liked.

As if the Forbidden City wasn’t enough, the Emperor also had a posh summer palace with extensive gardens.

Tower of Buddhist Incense, inside the royal gardens.

There were a surprising number of English signs, especially in Beijing. Most were much better translated than this one. Waiter, there’s Shanghai in my soup…

They always talk about “climbing” the great wall. I understand why now: they built the gigantic thing on top of mountains wherever they could.

The view from the Great Wall, looking the other way. China is hosting the Olympics this year, maybe you heard…?

East Lake in Wuhan.

A very large number of turtles at a Buddhist Temple in Wuhan.

Wuhan traffic goes from bad to worse, with the Yangtze river bridge in the background.

Lastly, Wuhan’s famous Yellow Crane Tower – one of the top four towers in all of China.