Friday, 13 February 2015

A month travelling in central and southern China

Teaching at a university in China means a long winter holiday allowing for extensive travel.

Here's a summary of where I've recently been and selected occurences of interest. I'll apologise in advance for the reduced photo quality - China's tightening firewall ("golden shield") means I can now only upload photos via the Blogger iPad app which seems to blur images excessively.

Wuhan
Following a high-speed morning train journey and after finding my hostel I went on a walk and found an interesting railway sidings for old trains then headed back, awkwardly managing to get hold of a meat roll en route (the language skills are wanting). Had booked four nights and wasn't expecting much more excitement, but back at the hostel restaurant/bar there was another foreigner, a Quebecois named Kevin taking time out in China to write a screenplay, a fascinating chap.



The next day we went to Hankou together to view the architecture and later met an Aussie at the hostel. The next day went to the lake, went out in the evening, met another Brit in a foreign bar, played darts, danced, drank.

In a couple of days I'd rediscovered the fun, freedom and opportunities of travel and was looking forward to the next escapade.

Guilin, the Longji rice terraces and Yangshuo
A major tourist destination this time and in the hostel met a Brit travelling the world on his redundancy and an Aussie English teacher also on her holidays and we went to the rice terraces.

They'd look even better after rain but it was a decent walk.


Yangshuo is said to be one of the most beautiful places in China and I was keen to see the landscape, climb the hills and explore on bike. It was on bike when a Chinese girl stopped me to point out "your friends" (foreigners) climbing a seemingly impossible peak.



I invited her to climb an easier one, and as we were both travelling alone we made friends and continued to travel together from there.



Went on a bike ride the next day to a place called Xingping and climbed another peak. Met an interesting guy from Cambridge named John who is fluent in Mandarin - his blog is worth a visit!


Dehang & Aizhai
Aizhai bridge is the world's 7th highest and a few hours from Changsha, so I was keen to see it, especially as I'd read the next door village of Dehang was a beauty spot with some great walks and places to stay. 

Getting close to the bridge was tricky - there was a £10 fee for entry to the viewing area still under construction, but fortunately the security guards told us about an alternative path there, which we took.

There was another gate barring the way but locals told us we could go through the building site, which we did, and then found an old path which took us down and close to the bridge, which is only crossable by motorway traffic. The pedestrian walkway may open later but for now it was just out of reach.





Onwards back to Dehang to see the gorges and waterfalls, and I was not disappointed. The falls were huge, water babbled around your feet and the surroundings were lush green.



The route took us back to Dehang village, then we continued up a climb through the 9 Dragons Waterfall path, which included a scary climb up a ladder and steep steps.



Made sure we got back down before nightfall, but this was a perfect day of exploring, sightseeing and climbing.

Fenghuang
Described as China's most beautiful town, diggers made a racket from morning to late at night.



I came down with food poisoning, the landlady of the guest house told us she wished we'd never came as we wanted to go out to get some food at 11pm which would mean her waiting up, then I was involved with a fracas with a security guard who wouldn't let us into the old town to get back to our hotel without an expensive ticket (the landlady took us through the first time without telling us this requirement).

Guangzhou
Some reasonably interesting things to do in this big city, the most memorable being my first bungee jump.

Macau
Took a trip down to Zhuhai, outside Macau and made a day trip into the former Portuguese colony.





The older parts were quite interesting but wouldn't fancy more than a day there.

Shantou, Chenghai & Nan'ao Island
Wasn't sure where to go next but Shantou was a decent sized city further west in Guangzhou with some history so headed there.

Read about a censored museum in nearby Chenghai and couldn't find details of exactly where it was or how to get there so naturally had to make a point of going. It was an interesting place to visit.

Shantou's old town is fascinating - crumbling old Chinese-European architecture from the concession period.



Got called an 'American ghost' then at the station on the way back got goaded by two jealous thugs which is the only time I've felt unsafe in China. 

Had read that nearby Nan'ao Island was described as China's most beautiful island by National Geographic.

Maybe we saw the wrong (west) side as it was covered in litter, dirty quarries everywhere. Getting a cheap room and renting a wasn't easy. Also the route through the forest park didn't permit us on bikes (only motor vehicles were allowed) on safety grounds. Try the east side if you visit.





That's all, thanks for your interest!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The interesting buildings of Hankou

China's foreign concessions were territories within China ceded to foreign powers, usually having extraterritoriality - citizens of foreign powers could freely live and trade in them, and they developed their own subcultures distinct from Chinese society.

According to Wikipedia, "some of these concessions eventually had more advanced architecture of each originating culture than most cities back in the countries of the foreign powers origin".

Hankou, one of the three cities which now make up Wuhan, used to have five. The first was the British in 1862, followed by France, Russia, Germany and Japan in 1898. The German one was the first to end in 1917 and the Japanese last following World War 2.


Naturally a walking tour of the area was a must, and several interesting buildings were happened upon.

Here's a shot of the Bund (the road running along the river) c1900 plus a photo taken of the same street today. At time of visit the building on the left which looks like a bank was undergoing refurbishment - a peek inside was briefly possible.




The YMCA appears to still be in use.



This is Hankou's old railway station, DaZhiMen which was the terminus of the Beijing-Hankou Railway, designed by French architects, completed in 1903 and closed in 1991. Was gated at time of visit - not sure of its current use. Postcard is from 1927.




Hankou Orthodox Church on Tianjin Road was built in 1893 and has apparently seen recent major restoration, though there was no access. No date for the postcard.



Finally, a walled-up a building on the Bund. Appears to be a former hotel - though a nearby tourist plaque of the area indicates "Shunfeng Exchange", the characters on the front do spell out 'Long Ocean (something) Hotel'.

Was disappointing not to be able to go in (did ask!) as it's derelict and has some beautiful Streamline Moderne / Art Deco architectural features.



Overall, a brilliant place to go for a wander - only saw some of the area so wouldn't mind a revisit!

Train graveyard, Wuchang, Wuhan

I've several weeks off for the Chinese winter holidays now, so it's a great chance to go out and do some exploring of other parts of the country, and so earlier this week I went to Wuhan, the largest city in central China.

It was while walking up the pedestrian stairwell of the 2nd Yangtze Bridge in the Wuchang area to take a shot of the river when I spotted this accumulation of carriages - further investigation seemed appropriate.


It appears to be a holding area for old railway stock - China's new high speed rail system means many old lines and trains are becoming obsolete.


Sign reads "Protection must be worn before working on the tracks".





One carriage's back door was left open, allowing inspection of this style of long distance train.

Below are the second class seats which is also where standing room only travellers would be packed in. You can imagine it bustling decades ago, reeking of smoke, body odour and Chinese toilet, crying children, caged animals and who knows what everywhere.



There was a cabin with this in in each carriage.


Hard sleeper carriage. These are three-bed bunks - access to the top one would require some physical dexterity.




Dining coach and kitchen




Ticket prices are highest for soft sleeper carriages, which have two sets of more comfortable bunks with a door for privacy.




At this point a man outside started banging on the train and talking in Chinese, so it was time to retreat through the carriage and get out on the opposite side, then under some other trains and extract.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Changsha Zinc Factory

As Chinese cities expand and build endless flats and shopping and entertainment centres, its older buildings are usually demolished without ceremony.

Occasional relics of industrial heritage remain though, including this fantastic factory which I spotted out cycling recently.


Someone helped translate these internal entrance signs - it's Changsha Zinc Company.



China is the world's biggest producer of the stuff, and the smelting process creates significant heavy metal pollution.


Not knowing much Chinese, it's been pretty hard to gain any specific history on the place. The original signs are in traditional Chinese script - mainland China moved to simplified Chinese after 1952 so it must have been built before then. From the state of decay and rust it probably closed well over 20 years ago.

What was found was a whole quarter of abandoned heavy industry - furnaces, tanks, pipes, shafts, silos, stores - all rusting away.

Near the entry point, an old bus next to some workshop/store buildings

En route to the main factory area

This room was beaut.







Raw materials must have come up this shaft into the above room.


Room at the end of the shaft - looks like this is where the material originated.

Approaching the core factory workings

Note the ionizing radioactivity hazard signs - cause for some consternation









Unknown device


Pushed a door which clicked open - this room felt as if it'd not been entered in decades.

Looking back from the far side - water works in the foreground.

Thanks for reading!