After much difficulty with trying to get visa's for China, Pete was refused as the new law said he had to apply in London - his home country. So I ended up going to China on my own to meet up with Clair & Alan. We packed up from Geelong & headed into Melbourne so we were closer to the airports. We enjoyed our last evening together in St Kilda and with Emma's mission of finding fairy penguins - we achieved! We had a $5 mystery cocktail each & then had a yummy italian for dinner. Played a couple of games of tenpin bowling and then some silly games in the games arcade.
Intending on going to Melbourne Gaol, we instead got a bit of a shock phone call from the travel agent wanting to know why Pete was a no show on his flight. We were completely oblivious to this as we had booked a flight for him on wednesday at 12am....in our minds this was Wednesday evening, but the travel agent understood it to be first thing wednesday morning, i.e. Tuesday evening. How annoying! So we raced around travel agents in Melbourne looking for a last minute flight for Pete to get on as Singapore airlines wouldn't give another ticket or help at all....a bit dissapointing as they are supposed to be such a good airline. Never mind, it was our expensive mistake, won't make that one again!!! Managed to get Pete a ticket for a plane leaving in two hours, so jumped in a taxi and raced round to the airport, said a very quick goodbye and then I headed back to the hotel feeling a bit overwhelmed with what had just happened.
I left the hotel at 4am next morning to get my flight to Shanghai. I was really lucky as had 4 seats all to myself the whole way. It was great! I was flying China Eastern Airlines and as they didn't have inflight entertainment that any English person could understand it was quite nice to stretch out and snooze a bit. We had a couple of hours stop over in Sydney where they tried to take my bottle of Bombay sapphire gin bought in duty free Melbourne away. I went to duty free in Sydney to ask for my money back, but the lady said she would meet me upstairs. So got my gin back in the end.
On the plane we had pork with rice or pork with noodles for lunch.... and the spicy pork with rice or spicy pork with noodles for dinner! When I got to Shanghai I got through customs pretty quickly, Alan was there to meet me and we got a taxi over to the Ramada airport hotel. Clair was arriving the next morning, so staying close to the airport was a good idea. We met in the bar, had a couple of beers and shared a pizza then turned in for the night. Next morning had some fruit & croissant for brekky, then got shuttle bus to airport to meet Clair. The Wartzila driver was also there to meet us at the airport and we had a 3 hour drive back to Wuxi where Alan lives & works, as was bad traffic.
Got back to Alans flat and unpacked. Its a lovely flat 3 b/r, 2 bath/r, small kitchen, lounge with large plasma screen & on 18th floor, so pretty good views over Wuxi, although the pollution does prevent you from seeing too far. Once settled we went to TGI Fridays for a quick bite to eat, then went to Alan's local, the Blue Bar for a quick beer.
Saturday, we got up at 7am had some toast & oj for brekky then went out to see Ben the travel agent. He was great & helped us book flights from Wuxi - Beijing - Guilin - Shanghai, and also booked us hotel accommodation for 4 out of 5 nights. Altogether flights came to Y2800 each, works out to be about $450, not bad considering the distances between these places! The hotel accommodation was cheap, Beijing was $15 each per night and Guilin was $11 each per night.
After seeing Ben we went to meet up with Ronnie & Mila, a couple that Alan is friends with. They have had baby Max about 6 weeks ago. He is so gorgeous! We had some cuddles then went to change travellers cheques. Seems like an unnecessarily long process. There are six different forms you need to fill in and then someone else is given your passport to double check, all in all took nearly 40 minutes...what a performance! Unfortunately had to do that twice. We took a taxi round to Ho Shi Shi - the fabric market where Clair had a suit made & I had a skirt made. Skirt was fully lined and really well made, cost me $8! Thought about coming back one day & having a whole wardrobe made! Went back to Ronnie & Mila's flat for Chinese flower tea, lovely flavour! A group of us went out to the Banana Leaf for dinner. Its a Thai/Chinese restaurant. We had a private dining room which was great. Had a couple of Tsingtao beers with dinner. There were loads of dishes put in the centre of the table that you helped yourself too. There was sahimi, pork with crackling and rice, fish cakes, spring rolls, noodles, various meat and fish dishes etc. It was great to be able to try so much! There was Ronnie & Mila, Malcolm, Chris & Derek, Alan, Clair & myself.
Sunday, Happy fathers day! We were flying out to Beijing today, so packed a few things into a bag, went round to TGI Fridays for some nibbles and a drink, then got in a taxi to the airport. Checked in at Wuxi airport where Clair got pulled up for having mozzie spray - it was a flamable can, but after acting stupid, the guy let us go with the spray can. Flight was full and quite cramped. It was only for 1 hour 40 mins. We got fed some apple crisps and a fairy cake with some drinks. Got the luggage at Beijing quickly although we had to get our elbows out to get passed the pushy Chinese people. It was all a bit mad! We saw our luggage being transported from the plane to the terminal by a guy on a push bike with a cart on the back. It was amusing! At the exit we were decended upon by taxi drivers and we had to haggle a price. What should have been a 15 minute drive took nearly an hour because he had no clue of where he was going. The city is huge, almost impossible to know everywhere. He kept phoning people, and eventually we got there. Painful, especially when you need a wee! We were given a smoking room even though we requested non-smoking, so made a fuss at reception and were moved.
After settling in we got a taxi to the night market. There were loads of weird and wonderful things to eat like scorpions, tripe, sea urchins etc & some weird drinks too. Walked down new pedestrian mall area built for olympics. Got grabbed by one market trader who wouldn't let go unless I bought something. I told her to get off me nicely the first time, then I elbowed her and legged it! Bought some chopsticks, then went to Peking duck restaurant. They bring out a whole duck and carve in front of you. We also tried the green tea & barley tea. Lovely dinner. Went for a tea tasting next and tried jasmine teas, oolong tea (like seaweed & algea) nice very nice! Bought some jasmine flower tea. Our taxi ride back to the hotel was much like the one when we arrived in Beijing. Driver had no clue where to go, even though we had directions this time. Eventually got there...what an adventurous day!
Monday, got up at 8ish went for breakfast in hotel, was Y12 each. Not that nice, so had a coffee and some swiss roll type thing. Got our stuff together and started walking. We got to Qianmen Gate first, then passed by the Museum of Chinese history (was closed). The walked round to Mao's memorial. Through Tiananmen Square we saw great hall of the people, Monument to the peoples heroes, and were disappointed that no-one was flying a kite. Then moved towards the forbidden city where we were accosted by two students. They said they wanted to practise their English and show us their artwork displays. So we spent about an hour altogether with the girls chatting, and ended up buying a couple of pieces. Then went to Forbidden city. Started at the Meridien gate, walked over the 5 bridges through gate of supreme harmony. Had a look at hall of supreme harmony & hall of preserving harmony. Walked through gate of heavenly purity & out gate of terrestial tranquility & into imperial gardens. We stopped for some fried rice with veg, a bit dry and tastless. Later had some rose milk tea & chrysanthamum tea in the garden. After this went in search of Beihai lake. Its a huge park with two lakes, you can rent a peddle boat or electric boat, or just go for a walk. We had a look at Fangshan restaurant, but cheapest meal was Y300, so got a taxi to Ho Hi, and decided on a chinese/german restaurant. After dinner went for a couple of beers and a walk around the lake. There was a thunderstorm that started shortly after this and we were stuck looking for a taxi for over an hour getting totally drenched! It was virtually impossible to get a taxi, but in the end we got there. Was so good to get in the shower when we got home! A good day with a frustrating end.
Tuesday, Had green tea & muffins for brekky then went to hail a taxi to go to Great Wall. After a bit of haggling agreed a price to Simatai. But when we stopped at the ming tombs and he tried passing it off as the great wall, I got really angry and told him to get back in the car and drive to great wall. He couldn't speak any English and we were trying our best with the phrase book I had. We refused to give his any money until we got back to Beijing. He then took us to Badaling which is the main tourist spot for the Great Wall. Its also the bit that looks like it was built only a couple of years ago. So a bit disappointing there, but still an amazing sight to see. I walked a bit further than Clair along the wall. It was really steep in places, and really enjoyed the whole experience in the end. We then tried to find some lunch, but except for a dodgy looking restaurant all there was, was tea, chocolate or crisps. So went into the dodgy restaurant. Clair didn't have anything, I had a plate of stir fried chicken with rice and peanuts. It was really good in the end! Our taxi driver was still waiting when we got back and drove back to Beijing. He then proceeded to charge us extra for toll roads. A really bad taxi experience - always agree the price and find out if tolls are extra and how much they will be. We ended up paying a lot more because of this. Another mistake you only make once! Had KFC for dinner.
Wednesday, Flew from Beijing to Guilin today where we organised a couple of tours at the airport. First was a guided tour around Guilin that took us to reed flute caves, the pearl museum and the Solitary peak. It was a wonderful tour and Alex our guide spoke really good English which was a first for us in china! The caves were great and we had some amazing views from Solitary peak. We also saw some masked dancing at the Palace of princes near solitary peak. We got some KFC again for dinner as Clair didn't want anything too adventurous. We then went back to the hotel where we were met a bit late by the guide for our evening fishing tour. We went cormorant fishing. The birds have their necks tied so they can't eat the big fish. They swim back to the fisherman on his bamboo boat to take the fish out. It was really interesting. The birds are not harmed.
Thursday, got up early to get our bus transfer to the Li River cruise. I went to buy batteries & were told they were Y50, so I said, too expensive and walked away. She came running after me, on which we agreed to Y15. Much better price. I had bought some batteries in a sex shop in Beijing because it was the only place I could find. Clair thought that was hilarious! We were all assigned tables on the boat trip for our lunch and were buddied up with two Israeli guys, a couple from Germany and a couple from Denmark. We spent most of the trip on the top deck enjoying the view and taking loads of pictures. our lunch was Chinese style with noodles, rice, veggies and deep fried chicken balls - with the bones still in. They must have hacked it right up! The scenery was magnificent and was the highlight of the trip! We had 3 hours in Yangshou before getting the bus back to Guilin. We walked around the market, had a drink at a lovely cafe, walked around a little bit more and then went to wait at the hotel for the bus to come. We asked to be dropped off in the centre to get some dinner. Had pizza from pizza hut with some beers and a tuna salad. We finished up with banana pancakes from a small coffee shop place before going for a walk around the lake. Beautiful at night with all the trees lit up with coloured lights.
Friday, got taxi to the airport. He wanted to charge us extra for a toll we didn't even go through, so put the exact money on the roof of his taxi and walked away. We were half expecting to get the police on our backs, but when I turned around he was driving away. Point Clair & Pam....hooray! Flight was about 2 hrs back to Shanghai, where we were met by driver back to Wuxi. We met Alan at his factory for a show round and met some of the people he worked with. Then went back to his appartment & out to the blue bar for dinner. We met up with Ronnie & Mila. Mila's mum was over from holland, so I chatted to her in Afrikaans for a bit which she loved. i also got to meet Euan & Annie who we were supposed to meet in Melbourne before we left, but ran out of time. Clair & Alan went back to apartment & I went on a jolly out to Ronnie's bar with Malcolm. It was an Aussie bar, and Ronnie who owns it is a real crocodile dundee Aussie! There was live music and Malcolm played the bass guitar for a bit. It was a great night!
Saturday, left for Shanghai in the afternoon. In the morning we picked up our tailored stuff and had a quick bite to eat. Checked into the four points hotel in Shanghai. It was a lovely hotel. We met Alan in the bar for a G&T and some strange looking green nuts. Then caught a taxi to Xintiandi - an area with loads of restaurants and bars. We decided to eat at a brazillian Charrasco for dinner. There is a buffet of salad and veggies, then the waiter brings round different meat on skewers to carve on your plate. Most of the meal was really nice. There was also a dessert buffet, so we rolled out of the there and into the Luna bar for an after dinner drink. There was a good band playing there too and a lovely atmosphere. Back at the hotel chatted for a while before going to bed.
Sunday, Met downstairs for brekky, then got a taxi to the Pearl Oriental tower. Got tickets to go up. Althought the weather wasn't great we still managed to see quite a bit from the observation deck. Got a lift back down to the ground that resembled Go'uld transportation rings - cool! Walked down opposite the Bund and had a drink in a German pub before getting the ferry over to the Bund side. Got in a taxi to the Rennaissance hotel for lunch. It was a fantastic lunch - all you can eat buffet with all you can drink bubbly! Any food you could think of it was there! We toasted Pat (Alans wife) as it was two years since she passed away. It was a beautiful day! And needless to say we didn't need any dinner that night! Went to bed with full bellies ready for the flight to London the next day.
Monday, got the maglev train at 300kms per hour to the airport. Later in the day it goes as fast as 430 kms per hour! I upgraded to business class for the flight as Clair was already there. It cost me a little bit, but was well worth it for a treat! Much more comfortable than peasant class!
All in all China was a great experience and would love to go back again as our time was far too short there. Although we got ripped off a bit I think next time that will not happen so easily. Probably won't bother with Beijing again though, it was a dirty horrible place... the only good place was the Forbidden city, but that is only my opinion.