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Trip Start Jan 16, 2009
Trip End Nov 20, 2009

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Monday, June 1, 2009

It's already been six weeks since my last update so it's about the time to write something (believe me or not, this not actually the way I especially intend to start all my posts). After avoiding writing a while, you'll become master in it and writing a new blog entry, obviously a long one, becomes harder and harder, but let's try.

After my latest post we had May holidays, during which I went to see my dad in Shanghai and had a small tour in Hangzhou as well. Shanghai is the most populated city in China and in deed different from Beijing. For example, the best known landmarks of these two cities should give you some idea: In Beijing the symbol of the city is the world's largest public square, Tiananmen Square, just opposite the big Mao Zedong portrait facing the square from the entrance of the historical Forbidden City. This square of heavenly peace is of course best known for the Western world of the "incident", as the Chinese call it, which happened almost exactly 20 years ago. Meanwhile, pick any guidebook of Shanghai and more often than not on the cover of the book will be a picture of the Pudong New Area filled with modern skyscrapers. The funny thing is, that two decades ago there were hardly any buildings on the area, and if your guidebook is a couple of years old, its cover picture is inevitably lacking the newest tall buildings. This is a clear example of Beijing being the city of Chinese history and culture while Shanghai is the financial centre of the country and the best example of new, rich and fast-growing China.

Although Shanghai also has some attractive European architecture from the 1800's (due to the international settlements), there isn't too much see for a tourist, so I went to near-by Hangzhou for a couple of days. I reckon most of you readers have never heard about Hangzhou, even if this small city of five million inhabitants is one of the most popular tourist destinations for the Chinese. The city itself wouldn't be anything special without the West Lake and it's green surroundings, which are a refreshing change from the crowded Shanghai. In Hangzhou, I rented a bike and cycled around the lake exploring the surroundings as well. The only problem with bike was that it was too small, so you can't lift the seat high enough to straighten your legs so at least for me, it's impossible to ride uphills without getting a fierce pain in my knees. The smartest thing with my Hangzhou visit was that I did it before most of the Chinese people were on their first of May holidays - during holidays the place is said to be unbearably crowded.

After the holidays, I continued my basic Beijing life for two weeks, until I left to Hong Kong. The Chinese are in some sort of a panic with the swine flu, so crossing the border to Hong Kong was pretty interesting as you had to fill special health declaration forms and your temperature was checked as well. However, considering that Hong Kong was struck down by SARS some years ago it's understandable, I guess. In Hong Kong, I met my old friends Jenni and Liisa, with whom we stayed in the rather international Chungking Mansions for four nights. Hong Kong in an interesting business centre, a mix of east and west, while it also has a lot of green hills and many islands with beaches. We also had a nice day-trip to another Special Administrative Region of China, Macau. I found Macau a very exotic place with Mediterranean architecture and Portuguese street names while the population is still Chinese. Macau is anyway best known for its casinos, and according to some statistics, it's even drawing annually more visitors than Las Vegas. This actually makes sense as gambling is prohibited in mainland China as well as in Hong Kong.

After Hong Kong and Macau we took a train to Guangzhou (Canton), which felt really Chinese again after these rather special two cities. Among being an economically strong area Guangzhou is especially know for two things as far as I know. Firstly, the Cantonese people are said to be willing to eat just about anything. We stayed there only one day, but we can tell that when you go to a restaurant and order a pigeon, it's exactly what you'll get - a whole pigeon! We also had a small tour on the Qing Ping market, which sells all kinds of animals, and we're not talking about pets here. Of course you also see some weird food in Beijing but it seemed that Canton got this reputation for a reason. Secondly, Guangzhou is known of being a city of scams, rip-offs and cheaters. Luckily, we didn't get any taste of that even if I changed our remaining Hong Kong dollars to Chinese yuans unofficially in a Pakistani restaurant because the banks were already closed.

After Guangzhou, Jenni and Liisa followed me to Beijing, where Aapo from Seoul joined us a couple of days later. This was the time for me also to check out the forbidden palaces, temples of heavenly peace and bird nests. I didn't find any of those especially fascinating, unlike our hike on the Great Wall, which was surprisingly nice and not crowded at all. With a bit of negotiating, we got a "taxi" to take us to Jinshanling from where we hiked about 10km and 4 hours to Simatai where the driver was waiting for us. Of course there were also some t-shirt sellers and other hawkers but I can only imagine how bad it is with them in Badaling, where most of the tourists go to see the wall.

Now all my three visitors are gone, but my mum and sister are coming tomorrow so I'll remain quite busy the following days as well. I haven't actually been to school in two weeks, and there's only two more weeks left before the exams so we're getting close to the end of my stay in Beijing. As I've stated earlier, I'll continue my travels after these Chinese studies and so far I've booked flights to Tokyo for 26th of June. The master plan in to explore Tokyo and Northern Honshu with Aapo for three weeks before returning to China. If we can still stand each others' company after those three weeks, we'll probably continue our way to China's southern provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan before splitting up as Aapo is heading to Vietnam while there's Tibet in my mind. Well, plans always change but that's at least the initial plan. I'll try to update the blog once more before the trip to Japan.
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