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Shanghai to Ping’an

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We arrived in Shanghai after a night in a hard sleeper. The hard sleeper was 2 bunk beds 3 high in each compartment. We got in the train late evening and were woken up by the carriage guard early in the morning, we had high expectations of Shanghai after enjoying Beijing but unfortunately typhoon Wipha was also arriving in Shanghai and heavy rain greeted us at the station.

Shanghai seems like a very modern city we were staying just out side the centre of the city and got the metro in everyday. The signs and tickets machines are in English which made it easy to use. Shanghai is mostly like being in canary wharf, most buildings in the centre were built within the last 15 years, and everything is very organised, it’s full of Starbucks and KFC’s. The river divides the city in two and the west bank opposite the Bund was farmland 20 years ago. we visited the urban planning museum which has a 3d map of the city, about a 1/4 is still in planning stage. I’m not sure what the people who live in the city think of being moved out from the centre to be replaced by office tower blocks and hotels. we have been told that a lot of the office blocks are still empty. “In Shanghai you need to ring the restaurant before you go, not to reserve a table but to check it’s not been knocked down”.

To escape from Shanghai we headed to Hangzhou a town built around a lake we accidentally booked a hostel in the middle of the flower gardens on the west of the lake. Garden Guest House. The hostel is in an old house probably the first place with character we have stayed in china, it was surrounded by gardens, rivers and typical Chinese bridge. everyone hires bikes to get round the lake so we joined in, unfortunately they are single-gear bikes with tiny wheels and short saddles. here we visited the tea museum and took part in tea tasting, we were shown the correct process for making tea, no dunking a tea bag here. We had to try the local green tea from the dragon well tea village but to me it tasted like fish.

We were in Hangzhou for the mid Autumn festival, which takes place in the full moon in September, you are suppose to eat moon cakes and watch the moon. We joined in sitting by the lake to watch the moon, and drinking the local “great wall” wine. The best you can say it was drinkable, and it got better as we went through the bottle. Moon cakes are dense hard Chinese pastry, with various fillings, as we can’t read Chinese we got a pick and mix of small cakes at the local supermarket and discovered the filings can range from meaty (type unknown) to fruit.

Then onwards, to Yangshuo, a painless 24 hours by ‘hard’ sleeper train from Shanghai. This feels like a tourist town: hotels, bars, lots of organised trips and activities to book, people selling tat,Internet cafes. The town is busy with domestic (Chinese) tourists – unlike the Thai towns of which it reminds me, where you’d only find western tourists. We’ve hired mountain bikes and a tandem to take us through the paddy fields, climbed the limestone karstswhich give the area a very distinctive landscape and kayaked down the Li River past water buffalo and fishermen. It’s Golden Week in China, the second biggest national holiday of the year; the town is packed but as soon as you get out of the centre things are far less busy and if you cycle to villages half an hour away things are very sleepy indeed. We stayed at the YangshuoCulture House, highly recommended (not least because of theexcellent Mr Wei and the amazing diners).

Something strange that we’ve noticed everywhere in China… little kids in ‘split-pants’ instead of nappies. All the toddlers here are wearing trousers which are open from the front, through the legs to the back. Hard to imaging? Here’s a couple of photos 1 2, it looks very odd when you see this on the street or in a supermarket! I read that nappies are catching on in Beijing but we didn’t notice any. Meantime the Chinese have a different way of potty-training their kids, which involved whistling in their ears when they’re supposed to ‘go’.

Now we’re in Ping’an, a hill village on the largest rice-paddy terraces in the world. My first thought was that it feels a lot like an alpine ski village without the snow – wooden chalets on steep slopes, a few conifers and a smell of wood smoke. We’re here for a couple of days to explore the area, then to Hong Kong…

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