Showing posts with label TRAVEL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TRAVEL. Show all posts

12 November 2019

Magnolia, a Chinese Poem


作者:睦石 (Author: Mu Shi)
朝代:明朝 (Dynasty: Ming Dynasty)

玉兰原文:Original Magnolia

霓裳片片晚妆新,束素亭亭玉殿春。
已向丹霞生浅晕,故将清露作芳尘。

Pinyin:
ní shang piàn piàn wǎn zhuāng xīn ,shù sù tíng tíng yù diàn chūn 。
yǐ xiàng dān xiá shēng qiǎn yūn ,gù jiāng qīng lù zuò fāng chén 。


一片片花瓣犹如飘拂轻柔的舞衣,
颜色像新装扮的晚宴妆容,
细细的枝桠像女子纤细的腰肢。
花瓣的颜色由浅至深,
已近凋落,
落花上沾染了清晨的露水。


Magnolia

Your petals pretty and light
Like the evening makeup fresh and bright

Your twigs and branches slim and slender
Like girls waists graceful and tender

Your pink petals of various shades
falling and drifting at its own pace

Hugged and kissed by morning dew
Like Spring embracing you

Poetic translation by Lifang Yan

11 November 2019

Chenzhou west railway station

Want to talk about water?
Time to catch a train back to Hong Kong and return to Europe. The station at Chenzou is impressive as ever.

Or maybe it is normal for a city of 4 million to have a modern railway station with fast trains and proper facilities.

Like wifi. There is free wifi everywhere in the station, though it is not super fast and at times a bit erratic.

Several shops sell food, drinks, small stuff.

Everything is payable electronically with Wechat or Alipay. I am, again, one of the few, maybe the only, customer using cash. Oh wait, this really old man is another one I feel less lonely! Not that I did not try.

Vacuum packed duck meat
But I have not been able to use WeChat pay as I do not have a Chinese credit card. The app allowed me to register a European Mastercard, but when I try to use it to pay it tells me I have no funds. When I try to add funds, for example, my wife tried to send me money from her Wechat, I get a message I am not allowed to receive funds either. So I am stuck, though I can still use the app to communicate with my friends!

As for paying, I am resigned to always be the only one using cash in the supermarket, in the farmer's market, restaurant, everywhere really, though my Mao portraits banknotes have never been rejected. At the station's toilet dispenser I was saved as I had paper tissues in my handbag!

Something which is advertised here though you can not just buy it on the spot and take it away is a Japanese style WC, with all the bell and whistles they come with. All kinds of buttons, to wash, dry and even a "lady function" as the ad says (in English), who knows perhaps it is a front-toward-the-back water jet? Arab toilets have it the other way, back-to-front, to wash the rear of either gender. This is new to me. I am convinced that the first person to import bidets to China will get rich quickly. This high-tech gadget is manufactured in Italy by a company called Faenza.

Strangely empty station in Chenzhou
The fast trains come and go every 6-10 minutes. They are marked white on a large electronic board when they are still far away, then become green when it is time to board, usually 10 minutes or so before they arrive at the platform. This way only passengers for the next departing train can be on the platform at any given time. The train numbers become red when boarding is closed! It's my turn soon, got to gather my stuff and get ready to sprint!

Siedo accanto a due signore che parlano cantonese, non capisco una parola ma riconosco l'accento, che subito tirano fuori pezzi di frutta esotica che non riconosco e uova sode.

Buona parte dei passeggeri mangia roba che si è portata da casa. Mi ricorda i treni che prendevo da bambino in Italia, dove le mamme avevano sempre panini pronti, di solito con prosciutto o salame, prima di tutto per i bambini e per se stesse pure

Filiamo via sui lucidi binari lisci come velluto e arriviamo puntualissimi dopo due ore e mezzo a 300 kmh. Controllo passaporti (ancora necessario per accedere al territorio di Hong Kong dalla Cina) e dogana e poi attraverso ancora una volta la larga striscia gialla che indica il "confine" tra quella che convenzionalmente tutti chiamano "mainland" e la "regione autonoma speciale" che è Hong Kong.

Arrivo a Hong Kong in una splendida giornata di sole, e dopo aver fatto chek-in alla Finnair a Kowloon (a Hong Kong si fa check-in in città e si mollano i bagagli prima di andare in aeroporto) mi accingo a fare un giro per la città quando noto televisori della MTR la metropolitana) che avvisano di disturbi al servizio dovuti a dimostrazioni degli attivisti pro-democrazia.

Rapido controllo sul mio telefono (finalmente posso accedere a tutti i siti e il wifi gratuito dell'aeroporto è velocissimo) e apprendo che ci sono sommosse significative un po’ dappertutto, con anche un ferito grave colpito dalla polizia. È la terza volta che si spara da giugno. Decido che forse il giro in città lo farò un'altra volta.



14 October 2019

Hail a ride in Singapore

Grab is the local version of Uber. You download the app, add a credit card and you are good to go. But you have to be in Singapore to do it, can't activate it from abroad for some reason.

Uber was present in Singapore but sold its business to Grab in exchange for a 30% share in the company I was told. My driver tells me there are some 5,000 drivers as far as he knows, many like himself are part-time: have another full-time job and drive when they want to make an extra buck. Grab is top now, though an Indonesian company called Go-Jek provides competition. They are popular in Indonesia where they run lots of motorcycle taxis, but in Singapore, they are not allowed, only cars.

Fares are marginally cheaper than taxis but can't beat the convenience especially during rush hours or when it rains. Chinatown to the airport is SGD 26.

My driver is a typical Singaporean: half Chinese and half Malay on his father's side, half European and half Indian on his mother's side. Well maybe not so typical, most Singaporeans belong more clearly to one of the ethnicities which make up the cosmopolitan island. They keep to their food, their religions and their language, though of course everyone speaks English and feels equally Singaporean. He tells me mixed marriages are on the increase now.

27 February 2019

Back to Hong Kong

Breakfast with dumplings by Ouyang's wife, he brought them to us yesterday when he visited. Very thin envelope, more like northern China style than the thicker southern Chinese kind.

He is a very traditional Chinese man even though he is only in his forties. He said he got her daughter a job in Chenzhou as a kindergarten teacher but does not want her to go and live far away or have a career. He gives her some extra money each year to compensate for what she's missing. Despite his young age, he has already planned to bequeath some money to his two daughters but all real estate properties to his only son.

Ready to go back to Europe, but first one last espresso in China. My three-year-old niece learned how to operate my Nespresso machine a few days ago and now every time I say out loud I want a cup of coffee she wants to do it!

My niece makes me coffee!

We leave at 7.30 with a Didi car my wife booked night before. It is rush hour so it takes a bit of time to get out of the town. On the way, we meet a funeral procession on the road. Four people are carrying the coffin on shoulders. A long line of mourners follows them and they all wear white cloth on their head. Musicians play trumpets and cymbals. I am curious and interested in the ceremony, though we do not have time to stop and look. Lifang, however, is not amused, she does not like to talk about anything that has to do with death or accidents in the morning, especially early morning, at the start of the day.

On the road to the airport, lots of little street hawkers sell hot dumplings to cars on their way to work in Chenzhou. Maybe commuters or just people going for shopping or business to the big town. Big pots and steam coming out are quite inviting but we just had a substantial breakfast and decide not to stop.

Another fast train to Hong Kong. Lots of people at the station, but fairly disciplined this time, no one is cutting the line, or almost no one.

On the train, I can't help chuckling every time I see, over and over again, this promotional tourist video with a chubby doll in a red dress showing her enthusiasm for the major Chinese tourist sites.

Once in Hong Kong, we have a few hours until our late night flight to London, and decide to make our way to the "Peak". It is not the best day to visit, the visibility leaves a bit to be desired, but still, it's worth the effort. At the top, besides the obvious view, there are lots of restaurants and souvenir shops. Tricky Hong Kong... once you are topside you have to pay another ticket to get to the terrace from which you can enjoy the view, otherwise, you are stuck at the restaurants and the museum!

It is not always easy to get a ticket for the iconic tram at the last minute, but we manage to get a combo pass of some kind that will also allow us entry into a funny wax museum with all kinds of statues of well knows (and some not so well known to us) Hong Kongers from all walks of life.






After which we need to go and pick up our many bags at the hotel we stayed in last time, and traffic is not promising but luckily a trusted Uber driver shows up when we start up our App and we get through the rush hour in no time.

26 February 2019

Carbonara in China

Add caption
Easy day at home, packing and playing with my niece. She loves to play hide and seek and can do it nonstop for as long as it takes to exhaust me!

Dinner with family, mostly food from my in-laws' farm, pickles, bamboo shoots, dried fish. Mother-in-law has set aside two large bags of the addictive peanuts they grow to take back to Europe.

Tonight I used what was left of my guanciale to make some carbonara, thus taking my culinary proselytism one step forward from the gricia of the other day! My first time eating carbonara with chopsticks!

Again they loved it beyond expectations, much to my satisfaction. We even rang the bell at the neighbors and gave them some. Ayi (the auntie) later came over to thank and to say they had eaten it and appreciated it a lot! She looked sincere!

At night we go out for a little walk and my wife has a facial massage from a little shop inside the supermarket from which she bought some aloe vera cream. I found a massage machine: a large and supremely comfortable armchair with all kinds of moving parts inside which massage my whole body, from the neck down. However, it was necessary to have a special store card to use it and we did not have one. So my wife's masseuse kindly agreed to use hers for a 25-minute session, I think it was 15 Rmb and we had to insist to reimburse her!

Later at home chat with the neighbors, as well as catching my niece who continues to hide behind the curtains until I catch her! While we are doing this, the tv is always on in the background. Quite often my father-in-law put on serials about the war with Japan. There are quite surreal features. All the actors are very beautiful, without exception, also the hated Japanese. They all wear lots of makeup, and all the men sport perfect shaves. I doubt anyone was so presentable in the heat of war.

25 February 2019

Pasta alla gricia and espresso

The highlight of this day is dinner with relatives who came over to visit.

I cooked "pasta alla gricia" with guanciale from Lubriano kindly gifted to us by friends Jacopo and Luciana who came to China with us.

I only cooked 300 grams of spaghetti even though there are eight of us because lots of food was already cooked, and che Chinese like to have a little bit of many dishes at every meal.

I was slightly concerned at first. Despite the fact that pork fat is a familiar taste in China, its combination with Italian spaghetti is new for them and my friends and family are not always very curious to try new foods and flavors they are not familiar with. I slightly over-cooked the pasta, a couple of minutes over my usual al dente texture to make it easier for them, as Chinese noodles are always on the soft side compared to their Italian counterparts. I also avoided adding cheese, though the recipe would call for pecorino romano.

Amazingly, the gricia went down well, it was all finished in 5 minutes! And we used the traditional Chinese chopsticks of course, no forks or table knives in this home!

I then decided to push my luck and offered everyone coffee. I have a Nespresso machine here which I took with me from Europe. I actually tried this before, but my in-laws never liked my nespresso, they said it smelled and tasted like something burnt.

The other relatives and friends loved it though it may be in part because I offered to add a little bit of sugar. Even the little kids wanted it, and I gave them some decaf with brown sugar!








24 February 2019

Guiyang dining tables

As I walk to run some errands I notice several shops selling a unique piece of furnishing I have seen nowhere else. Heated coffee/dining tables which my family tells me are typical for Chenzhou/Guiyang, with whole shops devoted entirely to different models of the same: a sturdy table, higher than a coffee table but lower than a normal dining table, with a large central support and a thick flat base that hosts an electric heating unit.

People gather around on their sofas or stools and eat while keeping warm. An oversize table cloth/blanket is placed on top and falls on the diners' laps all around, trapping the heat inside and keeping everyone warm. ot at least the lower half of everyone. Prices range from less than 900 to over 5000 Rmb.

Today dinner at aunty's, they just bought a sparkling new apartment in a large complex just opposite ours. It is a building we visit often, as it hosts both the best supermarket in the neighborhood and our massage parlor.

The building is relatively new but for some reason the elevators were never properly finished so they look a bit like cargo lifts. Nonetheless the one we take is on the outer side of the building and has glass walls, so it's pleasant to have a view of the urban setting as we make our way up. I am always puzzled at how all the windows of all floors are heavily protected with metal bars. Usually I have seen that, in many countries, at the top floors, where thieves could get in from the terrace or roof, or at the bottom floors, more accessible to ill-intentioned strangers from the street. But here it is almost universal practice.

Some teenage kids smoke in the elevator as we walk inside, although it is obviously not allowed to do so. They calmly kill their cigarettes when they are done and leave the stub on the floor of the lift. When I look at them with obvious disapproval they tell my wife... he looks like a foreigner!

We sit around her heated table and chat about life in Guiyang, she says there is no theatre in Guiyang no concert hall, no entertainment really. We are not there yet. But I am sure we will get there: the money is flowing and the curiosity for new things is already palpable.

22 February 2019

back to Guiyang's market n.2

Back to my favorite town market, simply called Market n.2. Except I can't really go "back" to it, because since the last time I was here last September they moved it! Even my wife does not know where it is so we need mother-in-law's guidance to lead us there, though it is only a few hundred meters away. But it is inside a large building complex, it takes a whole block and it would not be easy to find.

The new market is much better than the old one, for one thing, it is a proper building with a tiled floor and a rainproof roof, unlike the messy jumble of stands on mud floor like the old one. The old one was more fun to watch though!

Shops for live animals are clustered together, along the same street. On one side of the market they sell fish (alive from styrofoam boxes, as usual here) and on the opposite side of the block, it is poultry, also alive.

I buy some pig ears. I like the texture of the cartilage and enveloping skin, especially as my mother-in-law cooks it with her signature home make chili-garlic-ginger spicy sauce.

In the afternoon it is massage and herbal bath time. My wife and I take our two friends who are visiting from Italy to try the Chinese technique. One hour is filled with three sessions of massage, body, legs, and arms, alternating with sessions in a wooden tub for a hot bath of herbal infusions. The massage takes place in a warm room with gentle music in the background. Single or double rooms depending on clients’ needs.

For our two friends, they only had two single rooms and only one of the rooms had a shower. The masseuses did not speak any English, so with the help of a phone translator my lady friend's masseuse, at the end of the session, wanted to tell her if she wanted to rinse in her husband's shower. Except she said: "I want to take a shower with your husband!" Haha.

21 February 2019

Supermarket and TV series

I am pleased to see Italian durum wheat pasta of an unknown (to me) brand called "Sicilia" in the supermarket but no other Italian products. Not many foreign products at all actually. There used to be a few last year. In fact, there was a whole stack of shelves with pasta, olive oil, vinegar, and also lots of wines.

Every time I come here I get a kick out of seeing the live fish in the aquarium waiting to be hauled out with a net and knocked dead with a wooden stick before being weighed by the fishmonger. Weighed but not cleaned as the Chinese like to eat the skin as well as the guts of the fish, which by the way are delicious, silly of us to throw it all away.

Ground floor kids space all kinds of games and entertainment. You buy a card and top it up, then tap every time you play a game until you run out of credit. Our niece Cindy is very fond of this and whenever we are here she can't wait to drag us to the games.

An evening watching TV at home. There is a singing contest on CCTV (China state TV) with many Taiwanese singers. I suppose that is a good way to improve relations across the Taiwan straits.

Later on, there is one of many war series with Chinese soldiers killing many Japanese during the war of the 1930s. The subject touches raw nerves in China even eighty years later. Many Chinese soldiers are very pretty and immaculately manicured girls, but no less brutal fighters!


20 February 2019

Train to Chenzhou

Crispy fish skins
Easy morning around Mong Kok. I would like to try a snake soup again but my friends are not so enthusiastic so we opt for a traditional family restaurant of Cantonese cuisine. Fun to walk around this part of town, lots of peculiar shops, selling goldfish, cats, rabbits and all kinds of food, of course. This time I tried noodles, bovine pancreas and fish skins.

In the early afternoon we take a taxi to the sparkling new West Kowloon Terminus, the final stop of the newest fast train coming directly from the mainland. One more step toward the integration of Hong Kong with the motherland.

It is all very new and impressive. For some reason we foreigners are charged 30 Rmb to collect our tickets even though we had already book and prepaid online. Perhaps because we must show our passports to a human teller. (All tickets are nominal.) Chinese can do this at an automatic teller and for free with their electronic ID cards. Anyway, we are lucky to have seats at all. It is still the end of the CNY celebrations, lanterns day festival was yesterday and millions of Chinese are still on holiday.

Second class tickets are the equivalent of about 40 Euro each, fairly reasonable at European prices for 2 and a half hours ride on a superfast train, but quite expensive for the average Chinese. And yet the train was long fully booked. My wife was smart to catch tickets for us and our visiting friends via a special app which somehow manages to snatch tickets as they become available (one month before the trip) or when there is a cancellation.

Pass Hong Kong passport control first and enter a duty-free area, just as if we were leaving the country although Hong Kong is an integral part of China, if with a special autonomous status. I bought some whisky to share with my family in Guiyang.

Then, before we get to the PRC passport control positions, we walked over a thick yellow line on the ground and passed from the "Hong Kong area" to the "Mainland area" on the other side. Landing cards must be filled and we were at the Chinese passport control checkpoint. The officers did not smile much but are polite and very fast to let us all through.

The ride is quite smooth. We arrive in Chenzhou and it's dark and very cold. We have to get off fast as the train stops only for very few minutes before resuming its run to Wuhan.

Taxis are readily available, 100 Rmb to Chenzhou. We tried Didi, the company that bought Uber out in China, but could not get one. We don't trust some illegal taxi drivers who approach us and offer a discount.

Pile up our suitcases in the truck at the back of the taxi but they do not fit, so the driver just leaves the lid open and ties everything together with some strong belt he always carries with him.

16 February 2019

CKS Memorial and stroll around Taipei

CKS Memorial
Visit to an important landmark of the city of Taipei, whatever you think of the history behind the man.

The most obviously awesome sight is the change of the guard in front of the huge statue of CKS sitting between flags of the Republic of China. It takes over ten minutes for the procedure to complete, and there always are lots of people watching.

A highly controversial man he was: the museum takes you through the various phases of his life, from a traditional Chinese background to world leader dealing with Churchill and Roosevelt.

His father died when he was very young and he grew up attached to his mother.

He was married off to his first wife at age 14! Much later he met Soong Meili, the woman of his life..... but still had a concubine in traditional Chinese royal fashion!

CKS car


The exhibition lavishes praise on him but I would not say there is a
cult of personality. his political and military failures and defeats are also covered in text and photos.

There are other art exhibitions in the mausoleum, one about Andy Worhol and another by YawaiMeika, a young (born 1990) lady painter who belongs to an aboriginal tribe in Taiwan.

We also try our luck at the concert hall and theater but there is not much going on, the next concert is in a week's time! perhaps because of the New year celebrations, oh well.

A pleasant walk around the mausoleum, lots of people walking around, children playing, elderly watching on wheelchairs, it is a weekend family day out despite a cloudy and windy day. Many exotic plants, the grapefruit flowers gift us the most intense scent of the afternoon.

Lunch at a simple but friendly eatery just outside the memorial complex, Steamed chicken, pork intestines. Shared formica tables, paper napkins and metal chopsticks which I don't really like, too slippery. I later noticed packs of single-use wooden chopsticks but they are for takeout clients. As I was thinking to ask for permission to use them a Deliveroo driver came by to pick up an order.

pork intestines


On the way to the hotel, past lots of lit paper balloons for CNY,  a well-deserved foot and body massage, a popular feature of central Taipei, 1200 ntd, 1 hour foot and 1 hour body.


10 February 2019

Taipei, Jade market and night food

It's a late morning wakeup, we are tired from our travels returning from Palau and need a good sleep.

As we leave our hotel in the cranky elevator I went to push the 1 button to get to the ground floor and noticed that there is no floor number 4. They skip from floor 3 to floor 5. 

This is because anything number 4 in China is bad luck, as the pronunciation of the number is similar to that of the character for "death".

I thought it was some kind of old superstition that only old people in villages believe, but no, it is here in one of the best hotels in the high-tech capital of modern Taiwan.

A short walk and we are out in the lazy Sunday traffic.

Trip to the Jade Market, which has become a bit touristy, a lot actually, but is still interesting. Open only on weekends from 10 to 6 in the evening.

Mostly jewels, lots of handicraft and even live anumals, like a few friendly parrots.

Many coins from the Qing dynasty are available, a souvenir full of history. Some may be fakes, but they are quite common and cheap, I don't think it would pay to mint fakes.

In the end I bought a pair of jade earrings from the Qing dynasty for my wife. They dynasty reigned for almost 300 years so it's hard to date the stuff, but it does not really matter.

The most interesting encounter is with a Tibetan couple who came to Taiwan 11 years ago. In broken English, they tell us their stories and show us their wares. They did not feel safe in Tibet and decided to leave, but it was not clear to me why they decided to come to Taiwan. I did not want to be intrusive and did not ask.

I bought a curiously intriguing red Buddha carved in I am not sure what. Maybe some resin or perhaps animal bone.



Funny that they only take cash everywhere in the market. I did not expect Taiwan to be so backward. In any similar market in China these days everyone, including illiterate farmers, would accept electronic payments.

Liaoning night food market for dinner. Taipei is famous for its night markets, again it can be a touristy experience but the food is good and generally cheap.

Tonight for me it's goose intestine with chili, ginger and spring onion. All washed down with cool local beer.


Followed by pig blood curd soup. Usually we have our soups first, but you can't really plan a meal at a night market in Taiwan, it depends what you stumble into first.




31 January 2019

Hospital experience in Koror, Palau

In the middle of the night my wife woke up with food poisoning, it looks like the green long beans at the buffet maybe were not well cooked or washed. Palau produces virtually no vegetables, they are all imported from the US. I suppose it might be easier to import them from Asia or Australia, but give the special relationship I am not surprised a lot of food comes from American farming. Even eggs I am told!

We hate having to wake up our cruise director but she is feeling really sick, even coughing blood.

Luckily our boat is not far from the port, and the skiff ride to shore in the moonless night takes only a few minutes.

The hospital is a simple structure but seems alright. I register her with a receptionist and get checked by a nurse before seeing a doctor: a young petite lady who wears a white mask and gloves. She sends us to an adjacent lab for a blood test. 

As I walk in the door there is no one to be seen but, after a few minutes, a really big betel-chewing guy with red gums shows up in a blue hospital apron and takes a sample of her blood. After some 20 minutes, we get the results. The soft-spoken doctor says not to worry it's not too serious and blood is just coming from her scraping her throat with the repeated vomiting.

On checking out, I'm pleasantly surprised to see a sign on the cashier's window that they accept my DAN (Diver Alert Network) insurance for their services. Except that they don't. When they see our cards they argue our policy does not include this eventuality. Insurance companies never cease to surprise. It's going to be 151 dollars for us. Could have been worse.

A poster on the wall encourages women to report domestic violence. It informs us that 37 percent of the victims in Palau don't ever tell anyone while 67 percent don't report it to the authorities.

Another poster explains ABC: babies must sleep Alone, on their Back and in a Crib. And without a pillow, but somehow the P didn't make it into the acronym. And by the way, no toys in the crib ...

Another poster warns about dengue fever: report asap any symptoms. I thought Palau was free of dengue but apparently it comes back from time to time.

On a happier note... an open box on the wall is full of condoms and a little colorful note taped to it encourages patients, or anyone passing along really, to take a free condom, "or 2 or 3..."

01 October 2018

National day in Guiyang

Today it's China national day, the anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. It is the beginning of one week of celebrations in the whole country.

We take a walk in the Culture Park. Lots of families, and quite a few children, many waving Chinese flags.

We have dinner with family and friends. The main curiosity of the day is pig intestine, at least for me, they are used to it of course. Also duck and melt-in-your-mouth breaded pork cutlets. To finish off the meat dishes, some frogs! Everything delicious!

The men are drinking considerable amounts of distilled alcohol, 4 of them share a bottle. O. empties the bottle into their 4 glasses and then they make various toasts and challenges to each other until it's all gone! (It does not take very long!)

O. says he wants his son to marry a girl who has an older brother so he can protect her. But he wants his daughters to marry men with older sisters who would then help their younger brothers set up their families. It is a bit convoluted but his reasoning has its own logic from a traditional point of view. Good luck! These days Chinese kids find their partners online and I doubt the gender of their siblings is an important part in their decisions.

30 September 2018

Massage and herbal bath

They opened a new massage parlor near home. It is the second branch of a company we tried last year. They offer a broad series of treatments, they sell beauty products and they complement it all with a herbal bath in a hot water tub.

It is located on 12th floor of an apartment building that includes lots of modern shops and, at the ground floor, one of the biggest supermarkets in town.

I am surprised to see this kind of service in a town at Guiyang's stage of development. Is it a sign of gentrification in the area?

The masseuses are all ladies, no masseurs. There are several rooms, each with one or two massage beds and, in an en-suite bathroom, a wooden tub. The tub is lined with a thin transparent film and filled with hot water. A bag of herbs is sunk into the water an hour or so before the treatment so as to diffuse its scent through the water and the whole bathroom.

Before the treatment they offer tea. The masseuses are mostly little skinny girls but they are very strong. They massage especially hard massage at the base of my skull, which is a bit painful but I can feel the muscles and joints enjoying it.

At the end I feel great my joints are smooth, my muscles relaxed and a big red area on my back, along my upper back, demonstrates the energy the little girl has put in her hands as they pressed and slid along my spine.

More tea is provided at the end of a blissful hour and a half of treatment.

As I leave my masseuse and two others escort me to the elevator, I thanked them and asked if they were hungry for lunch now and they nodded in unison, and wave goodbye.

The subscription for this parlor is 3988 Rmb for 20 treatments no expiration date. It is not cheap, actually very expensive for local salaries (about two months' wages of a waiter) but they are in business and expanding, and there are no tourists in the city, so the only explanation is that there is a growing middle class who is eager to use this kind of services!

27 September 2018

Grey day and wedding

Grey day at home working on the English edition of my Maldives book.

Mother in law and niece went to a wedding of some neighbors from Yan Jia village who are throwing a party in Chenzhou.

We had decided to go for lunch to a Korean restaurant in town, one of many new restaurants with foreign food which are open for business trying to attract the up and coming local middle class. Been there before, but would love to go again, look forward to some different kind of food. However, the clouds and especially the cold drizzle eventually act as a powerful deterrent and we decide to stay home.

Mother comes back with plastic bags full of of food, left overs from banquet: fruits sweets even a half kilo or so of delicious spicy prawns. It's the custom here: invitees to wedding receptions take home their share of leftovers. She said they took away the least compared to everyone else at the party. Some parents unabashedly tell their children to grab as much as possible as fast as possible!

23 September 2018

Market n. 2 in Guiyang

Morning to buy food for the lanterns day celebrations at Market n.2, just a kilometer or so from home.

On the way I cross paths with a lady who is carrying a balancing basket. She is collecting paper and plastic bottles to sell back to commercial recycling companies, apparently a common activity here.

Lots of sellers of ducks line up the streets today, it is the traditional moon festival meal. All the ducks, of course, are sold alive and kicking in their reed baskets.

One lady buys a duck but she does not trust the seller's scale, so she grabs her animal  and asks the next seller down the sidewalk to weigh it, not sure how it turned out but she bought the duck, 30 Rmb, about 4 euro.

The market is very busy, meat fish (always alive in water tanks) veggies of all kinds. Large quarters of cows are hanging from the roof of the covered market, and the butcher slices off any cut and size his clients require. On one side, a man with a grinder produces the typical spicy chili paste that is so common in Hunan cuisine.

As I snap away a policeman approaches me and Lifang and explains he doesn't want me to take pictures of his police car, which I haven't done and have no interest in doing anyway.

 A little girl drinks fresh juice out of a plastic cup then throws cup on ground, I pick it up and try to show her to hold on to it until she can put it in a bin but her mother takes it from her and shows her how to throw it... on the ground! I give up.

At home mother in law has bought a duck, which is swiftly slaughtered in the bathroom, fairly quickly and effortlessly. The blood flowing from the neck is collected to make bean curd and then used in a soup. It's very delicious!

22 September 2018

Train from Hangzhou to Chenzhou

Grey sky drizzling. We pack our stuff check out of the hotel and are off to station with an ever reliable didi car.

At the station we are welcomed by a very crowded waiting hall, lots of people going home for the mid-autumn day celebrations.

Lifang goes to get the tickets she has booked online while I wait in line to check-in. I've got all our suitcases and proceed with some difficulty. It's all the more difficult because the wheels of one suitcase are broken, so I have to drag it. But instead of helping me people try to jump the queue and get ahead of me. I manage to keep them behind me and make slow progress.

When she's back we go through to the waiting room a huge hall with thousands of people waiting for their train. From here batches of  travelers are admitted to the platform in the order of departure of their train.

Lifang manages to buy some bananas and processed duck meat for the trip, we've skipped lunch after all. I like the boneless duck bums especially!

The station is quite impressive. Electronic boards show the next 3 or 4 departing trains: red letters and numbers when you need to wait, yellow when you need to get ready and green when the gates (which look like those at the London subway) are open. We slip our tickets through and take the escalator down to the platform.

Then it's time to take position at the color-coded marks on the ground which indicate where each car will stop.

When the train arrives and stops with millimetric precision where it is supposed to stop I'm pleasantly surprised to see departing passengers patiently let arriving travelers off the train first!

We board and struggle to find a place to put our luggage, the aisle is so crowded.

We're off at 300+kmh through Zhejiang province toward Hunan. We barrel through fields of farms, many towns and cities where modern tall and thin residential buildings contrast with old traditional houses.

Too many screaming Chinese children on train, parents could do better to calm them down. Or not. Half the passengers are listening to their favorite TV program or playing a video game online, and not one of them is using earphones. the result is a somewhat less than enjoyable persistent monotonous and loud cacophony.

Once we get to Chenzhou we need a taxi (or Didi) to Guiyang. There is a taxi stand by the station, the fare is 100 Rmb. We try and get something cheaper but end up wasting time with an unofficial taxi before calling a Didi and getting home for dinner! Lesson learned: you may save a few Rmb by using unofficial and/or pooled transportation, but it's probably not worth the hassle!

21 September 2018

Temples in Hangzhou

After breakfast we take a trusted Didi car to the old city street, then walk up to the Dongyue temple. As soon as we arrived and walked inside the temple it started pouring cat and dogs. Not so convenient for walking around but it made for a picturesque scenery and it cooled down the air.

Three ladies are silently practicing tachi by entrance to the temple, completely oblivious to our presence.

The temple is from the Song dynasty and it contains Tao figures from before tang dynasty as well as big paintings celebrating inauguration of an emperor of the dynasty. We spend quite a bit of time looking at pictures for details. These celebrations lasted 67 days and cost 8 million yuan which at the time was an enormous amount of money.

The highlight of the day is our visit to the temple of the Soul's Retreat. It is a huge complex of several temples. As we walk in past the electronic ticket check we are greeted by a long series of Buddhas carved in the stone of the adjacent hills.

In the first temple a couple paid the monks to get their blessing. It was not their wedding, that had been done before, but a kind of enactment of a ceremony that to my untrained eye looked like a wedding. The groom is dressed very casually, just a cheap t-shirt really, while she is a little bit more elegant, but still no wedding attire of any kind. The monks, some thirty of them, gather at one corner of the temple and recite their mantras while the couple make an offer to a small altar lit by a few candles.

They then move to centerstage for more blessings and some drum playing by the monks.

We finally go outside with them and place incense sticks in a large bronze cauldron by the back door.

We spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around the huge complex. I can't see any foreign tourist, though there are many Chinese visitors, including quite a few pilgrims.

In one building we find a traditional writing desk with brushed and ink for people to try their calligraphy. More interestingly, there is a set of traditional robes and hats, for man and woman, for any one to try on for free. There is no one to be seen so my wife and I take our turns at dressing up and posing as a traditional Song dynasty family!

Dinner is back at Grandma, this time we share a table with a couple of middle-aged and rather large Chinese guys who keep ordering more food than they can possibly ingest. That seems to be a recurring trait in upscale restaurants in China. Maybe they do it to show off, I am not sure. Maybe the sudden abundance of wealth and food over the last few years still needs to be matched with a culture of avoiding waste.

19 September 2018

Hangzhou: Confucius temple and pork intestine

Large temple dedicated to Confucius near our hotel. I am almost the only visitor or maybe just three or four couples share the quiet air conditioned rooms and courtyards with me

There is a large collection of Stèles inscribed with figures of wise men and confucian texts. Many have been heavily damaged over the centuries but have now been meticulously restored and preserved. A serene place that I am sorry to leave.

I reflect how this is in stark contrast with the way that treasures were treated in recent past when doing the cultural revolution the red the guards destroyed with abandon anything that had to do with ancient Chinese culture.

Later took a walk around the west lake shore. I sat down and absorbed the landscape on a bench by the water. Lots of Chinese tourists and and all the German or French here and there. it is very hot and humid otherwise I would have taken a ride on one of the gondolas that ferry tourists around the lake.

I have lunch at the Grandma restaurant, which served all kinds of enticing food whose pictures were printed on a large menu together with the English translation . Today I went for green peas and braised intestine of pig. Peas are not that different from how we would prepare them in Italy, sweet tendency. Intestine is tender, a tad on the rubbery side but not chewy. It melts well in the mouth with minimal effort.

When I was finished the waiter presented the alipay barcode to me to pay electronically which however I could not do it. I am not allowed to open an Alipay account without a Chinese identification. I will have to look more into it as I have seen Alipay used outside China. So I have to pay with cash which made me look very much XIX century. Everybody else paid with their phones. I am not sure they even take credit cards I haven't seen anybody using credit cards in China these days except perhaps at big hotels. It seems China has leapt forward from cash to electronic payments via mobile telephone, largely skipping the credit card era together.

After lunch I walked around a bit more and then made it back to my hotel just in time before the heavens opened up and a heavy downpour put an end to my explorations for the day.