28 February 2018

Cherry blossoms in Guiyang, Hunan

After a lazy morning and lunch at home, we decide to take a short trip in the late afternoon. We take a taxi (a "Didi", the local company that bought the Chinese Uber operation) and drive about 10 minutes to see the famous cherry trees in bloom. It is February, rather early for any flowers, and it is cold, but somehow the cherry trees blossom in Hunan!

There are actually two orchards, one is free and for the other one we would need to buy a ticket that costs 40 Yuan. The ticketed one is more crowded, maybe it is better?, but the taxi driver told us it is not necessarily more beautiful, and in fact he had seen that most of the flowers had already fallen to the ground. So we decide to go to the free one.

The driver can only go so far, not really all the way to the garden. We have a choice: walk or take a motorbike taxi. As it is already a bit late in the afternoon, we chose the latter option. Someone with a bike offers to take us the few hundred meters that separate us from the orchard for 5 Rmb.

Once we reach the area we are getting close to sunset but the warm pre-sunset light is very useful to take some good photos. Only a few dozen people are left, and the local hawkers of drinks and snacks are beginning to pack up.

As I snap away at the flowers and take some portraits of my wife, I notice a girl wearing an eye-catching white and blue costume who is posing for her girlfriend. She also has a veil she lets lose in the wind while the other girl takes photos with her phone.

It is now getting dark, not enough light for more flower pictures, but we take a walk toward the town's mine. The dig out lead and silver from here. The mine is still partly in operation but has a section that is open for tourists. It is too late now but we'll come another time.

On the way, an interesting poster with the thoughts of Xi Jinping, sharing his wisdom with passerbys.

Socialism core values

people have faith, nation has hope, country has power

wealth, democracy, civilization, harmony,   

freedom, equality, fairness, justice

patriotism, professionalism, honesty, kindness

Chinese president's thought

Longish walk back home, about 1 hour. On the way I looked at a wine shop, China is now the 6th largest producer of wine and the middle class wants ever more good wines. This one though sells mostly distilled products. Most wines are red, which the Chinese consume in much larger quantities than whites. Some bottles are Chinese and a few French. A couple of Italian bottles from Tuscany and Venetia. Most wines are priced between 80 and 250 Rmb.

Dinner at home. As we're about to finish dinner the neighbors come in for a visit. Their little one and my niece Cindy play together quite often, even once kissed on the lips before they reached 2 years of age!

24 February 2018

Leiyang to Guiyang by bus

After some more trying to get two train tickets (no chance) and some trepidation at the thought of spending the rest of our Chinese New Year holiday here, we manage to get two tickets on a bus home, to Guiyang, where family is waiting for us.

The bus too is fully booked, but we get two seats in the back.

Three men board and take seats without tickets, when collector asks for tickets they say they could not buy them because they were sold out. They  argue, they want to go home. Then three more passengers with tickets board but can't find any seats because they've been taken by the three men. A long argument ensues then finally the three men leave.

Very noisy trip, people suck their drinks loudly, a car-sick girl vomits no one cleans up.

Meanwhile, it's been raining all day long.

We pass through some old villages. Old houses with pagoda roofs quite charming though need restoration.

New housing on the other hand mostly has with flat roof, just boxes of brick and mortar, no character but popular because can dry fruit on top . good for farmers who move to town but still grow crops in village plots.

Once at the Guiyang coach station we find a Didi (Chinese Uber) taxi driver who is rude and unhelpful. He does not move from his seat and keeps smoking while we load and unload heavy suitcases. But anyway we are home!

It is 4pm or so by the time we get to the apartment, and it is very cold. Hunan houses don't have a central heating system but many (including ours) have electric systems but people don't turn them on. In the evening it's 11 degrees inside, essentially the same temperature as outside.

23 February 2018

Wedding in Leiyang

We get picked up early for a pre-wedding ceremony in the groom's village, about half an hour away. Here we meet his relatives and assist to a small ceremony in the paternal house.

They tell us how the husband went to the house of bride to take her with him and left a chicken as a symbolic form of gratitude to her family for having brought her up!

On a simple wooden table in the middle of the main room of the paternal house, we are offered tea, peanuts and cigarettes.

All around are many old houses with clay tiles, wooden beams and wood floors.Some are being demolished for new ones with flat roofing and cement bricks. More functional if less charming.

Back in town we see a rather large Christian church next to a Buddhist temple. We get our shoes cleaned  by a happy lady (one of many) who is working on the sidewalk with a little stool, a chair for her clients, brushes and polish. She is happy, smiling and works fast and very well!

We are told that this town of Leiyang also hosts the biggest cement factory in Hunan and a huge coal power plant they are very proud of! Also a shoe factory, not to mention a gold mine: 20 percent of china's gold is extracted in Hunan.

At the reception, people come and give envelopes at a table by the entrance where each envelope is opened and the money counted, then most of them just eat and go away, unabashedly taking leftovers with them!

We later take a walk around the Western Lake park with a large pond and bridges by the western lake middle road. Lots of children playing around, many elderly men play card and mahjong.

There is a beggar with broken feet, he says to my wife he was a construction worker but fell from the 3rd floor of a building and broke both his feet. He says he gets 200 rmb a month from government, just enough to pay rent for a room. Then has to beg for a living, moves around on a small sled with 4 little wheels and pushes himself forward with two broken metal pipes.

My impression is that it is not easy to be a beggar in China, it is not a compassionate culture if you can generalize about 1.5bn people. His pot is almost empty. I am thinking of London where beggars get much better treatment from passersby but a better comparison is India where (again difficult to generalize) people give more easily in the streets. Quite often I've seen people who look poor give to those who are poorer. In China apparently a lot of beggars are fake, they pretend to be sick or handicapped.

In the end we manage to buy tickets at coach station to go to Guiyang tomorrow, no chance for train, but better than walking!

22 February 2018

Changsha to Leiyang

Amazing buffet at the Changsha Intercontinental hotel, eastern and western, hot and cold, sweet and savory, chopsticks and forks and knives and spoon, it is a real celebration.

Some of the highlights: I was first attracted by the local cold noodles, roughly grated with a special tool from a big boulder of dow. You then add spices and bits and pieces of veggies and meats. Also interesting the hot soup with veggies, pork, mushrooms, taylor-made for each of us by a dedicated chef.

After breakfast the real challenge of the day awaits us: find tickets to Leiyang for the wedding ceremony of Carrie, one of our best Chinese friends, but no seats were available to purchase online as usual. It is still the Chinese new year rush, with over half a billion people moving around the country to spend the holidays at home. We went to the station and tried our luck at the ticket office, but no way.

We were then approached by some scalpers who wanted 300 Rmb, not for tickets but as a fee to smuggle us on a train then we could then, supposedly, buy standing tickets. However I have never seen anyone standing on the fast train we need, and the slow train would take way too long, maybe up to 4 hours as opposed to 1. The whole thing is fishy, we give up.

We're stuck! My wife then remembers that there is an alternative: get bus tickets instead. We manage to catch the last bus to Chenzhou at 5:30pm, but must pay for the whole ride to Chenzhou even if we plan to get off at Leiyang. Actually at a highway station which is the stopover for Leiyang-bound passengers. But that's the way it is and we're lucky to be able to get (close) to our destination! Carrie's husband and his brother (who owns a car) will come and pick us up. Very kind for someone who's getting married tomorrow!

Meanwhile great buffet (40 Rmb pp) with unlimited food and beer at a restaurant by the gas station. Tons of meat (great), fish (so so) and veggies (again great). Beer is a local brand, kind of light, but tasty. No fresh fruit however. I loved the chicken paws and the pork belly. Also black fungus with quail eggs was juicy and inviting.

Gas station buffet, Hunan

16 February 2018

Chinese New Year parade in Hong Kong

Traditional parade organized every year in Hong Kong for the Chinese (Lunar) New Year.