Saturday, May 19, 2012

China Trip Autumn 2011 (Oct 22nd - Nov 13th 2011) Part II- Manchurian Dreams

Changchun Nov 2nd 2011:

I took an overnight train to Changchun (former WW2 capital of the Japanese-occupied wartime puppet regime of Manchukuo/Manchuria) from Beijing and this was my 1st time sitting on a Chinese overnight train. It was quite alright actually as for my entire overnight train journeys on my 3 week China trip, i always bought the soft-sleeper class tickets which meant only 4 people in one compartment and the conditions were much much much better (i can't emphasize this enough) than the hard-sleeper and even hard-seat compartments ( yes, they actually sell all-seat compartments for overnight trains meaning people just sit throughout the entire night and you can even see people standing in overcrowded train compartments on Chinese trains going overnight! In fact, on my Xian to Chongqing overnighter, i had mistakenly gone into the last carriage which was the worst and got the shock of my life, given that it was totally overcrowded with no sleeping space n i knew something MUST be wrong as i had bought the soft-sleeper ticket, which i only got very last min as it was sold out earlier on i think n i'd be stuck in Xian for the night but thankfully i got the ticket. Furthermore, i had already slept on a soft-sleeper class to Changchun and back before n knew what it shld be like altho i did momentarily doubt whether it was due to it being an inland train away from coastal China) .

Anyways, I have always wanted to go to the northeast of China/Manchuria, and have always had this image of 1930s/1940s China with the slow train chugging along the Manchurian wintery countryside with pine willow trees since young watching old Chinese movies, and Changchun fit that picture image perfectly. It was so nice and had a rustic feel to it, just like in the movies set in 1940s China. Of cos, development had caught up even here with brand names such as Hermes having a large store in central Changchun but places like Nanhu Park was absolutely one of the unexpected highlights of my entire China trip and simply an amazing experience and beautiful sight which will forever be etched into my memory. I also had my first proper Dongbei cuisine..of what else but good old dumplings in Changchun and they tasted lovely as i would have expected. There were also still some Japanese puppet government- era historical buildings surrounding the central public square in downtown Changchun which i visited, all of which have been reused for other purposes now such as as a university faculty building and a hospital which i even went in to visit! ha! visiting a hospital as a touristy site whilst on holiday!

I also had some Korean-Chinese food here which was abit different from usual Korean food as they have been modified to suit Chinese local tastes (Changchun is the current provincial capital of Jilin Province, one of the three provinces which make up northeast China, and Jilin province also has the bulk of the Korean ethnic minority group numbering almost 2 million, most traditionally based in Yanbian Korean autonomous prefecture which is located within Jilin province, hence explaining the numerous Korean food and Hangul writing found in the city)

I spent the night in Changchun and had dinner at Guilin Road district, a very popular funk downtown district as well as managed to sit on the only preserved 1940s tram line whilst in Changchun! Highly recommended city to visit, for its authentic 1940s charm and feel..

Harbin 3rd Nov 2011:

I sat the morning train to Harbin from Changchun which took around 2 hrs i think. Once i arrived, I basically went to visit the famous Zhongyang Dajie which is the preserved historical street and main shopping strip in Harbin. I also visited the Matyrs Monument, Anti-Flooding Monument, Harbin's shopping district and of cos the St Sophia Cathedral for an obligatory photo op.

I also visited Walmart in Harbin! Hahaha..had a good look at the products on offer...quite worth the money actually...Before i left that night on the overnighter train back to Beijing, I went to the bankside of the Songhua river, and dipped my fingers into the waters as well as took photos and had a walk along the Stalin park promenade overlooking Songhua River, which i have always known since young as the Songhua River is one of the main rivers of China.

Thus, I was very happy and fulfilled to be able to finally visit and experience former Manchuria/China's northeast, a place which has always captured my imagination since young!

Friday, May 18, 2012

China Trip Autumn 2011 (Oct 22nd - Nov 13th 2011) Part I- Enter the Big Cities

I went to China for a Across China trip from October 22nd to November 13th 2011 last year. It was my first time travelling for such a long extended time, covering China, from North to South, East to West, for 3 weeks. I went to Eastern China (Shanghai, Nanjing, Huangshan), Northern China (Beijing, Tianjin, Changchun, Harbin), Central China (Xian, Chongqing) and Southern China (Lijiang, Shenzhen). Some places i only stayed for 1/2 day trip due to restraints in time given that it was only 3 weeks but due to the amazing and rapid changes in China's transportation system, it was possible to visit such vastly distant places and criss-cross China in 3 weeks.

I'll start with describing each location in order of my travel itinerary:

Shanghai 22nd-26th Oct 2011:

I arrived in Shanghai first on China Eastern Airlines (which was the cheapest airline i could find, as usual, Chinese airlines are much cheaper and more affordable compared to other airlines). It was nice and comfortable, and much better than I had expected, after reading all the horror reviews online, since i had never sat on a Chinese airline before..much like sitting on an airplane in the 90s without TV screens on the back of seats but rather comfortable and food was alright too..people who cannot understand Chinese may find it abit daunting though as the flight attendant's English may not be the best..but overall very good value for the money..

I arrived in Shanghai at night and took the Maglev train wooshing me into Shanghai Pudong in just under 7mins from Pudong Int'l Airport. Transferred to an MRT train line and went into Shanghai CBD near the Bund. My hotel for the 1st night was The Astor, a heritage hotel near 'The Gardens Bridge' i think, another historical bridge which always shows up in old movies and footage of Shanghai. Checked in and put all my luggage and went out for dinner/supper on Nanjing East Road area...basically, i enjoyed Shanghai alot and it was 7 years plus since i last visited and it was very modern and fastpaced just as i remembered it to be, the metro lines have more than doubled since i last visited in late 2003/early 2004 and overall the city is very modern and reminded me of Taipei but a much more crowded, fastpaced, and modernised city...

Huangshan 25th- 26th Oct 2011:

I took the long-distance bus from Shanghai to Mount Huangshan which takes around 4-5 hrs on the modern expressway. Along the way we stopped for a toilet break and refueling and as i looked across the rest stop to another building which had traditional chinese architecture and the clean wide expressway with the cold breeze, it being late Autumn in China already, i couldn't help but feel amazed at the development and sense of modernity as this could be an expressway in Japan for all you knew, but it was China, in the early 2010s...anyways, arrived at Huangshan's Tangkou at the bottom of the famoust mountain, (China has many famous mountains such as Mount Ermei and Mount Lu but Huangshan is THE most famous and apparently most drawn Mountain in Chinese paintings through history) and took a cable car up the mountain. The cable car used European technology and i was very impressed given that it was VERY VERY high up and the view was superb. It was like Hong Kong's cable car in Lantau Island but way longer and steeper. I had booked a night up the mountain so that i could experience the sunrise atop Mount Huangshan given that if you live below the mountain, the cable cars don't start until later and you will miss the sunrise by the time you get up...but prices were very steep given it was up a mountain and all provisions had to be carried up manually such as food, clothing,furniture,etc. I was frankly quite impressed with the hotel i stayed in despite all the crappy reviews online, considering the fact it was so far high up there and everything including staff had to be brought from below the moutain...anyways set the alarm and woke up early with others to watch the sunrise and went down the hill via cable i had been told that the next bus back to Shanghai was much later than i expected reaching Shanghai at night (when i had planned going to collect my tailored clothes and dinner with my friend) i risked it by taking a shared car (very common in China) and going thru narrow winding roads thru semi-countryside into the town (an experience!!) to catch another bus which departed earlier from the town and thank god there were still tickets which meant i could catch this earlier bus arriving in Shanghai much earlier in the afternoon as planned to go to the tailor,etc.
One tip about going up Mount Huangshan, apparently from my friend and pix i've seen online, there can be 1-2 hour long queues just to get into a cable car and the waiting area is long, but when i went, there was hardly any queue and i got into a cable car to go up the mountain within 15 mins, which means try to go late in the afternoon when the crowds have gone as most ppl don't live up the mountain and usually leave by late afternoon as the sky gets darker and the last cable car down is nearing..

Nanjing 27th- 28th Oct 2011:

Nanjing has always been a city that i wanted to visit, not least due to the history of the Rape of Nanking (Nanking Massacre by the Japanese Imperial Army during WW2) and also being the Republican era Capital of China before the current capital city of Beijing.

I had missed my earlier high speed rail ticket to Nanjing from Shanghai and couldn't take the next one as it was fully booked too and thus arrived alittle later than expected for my schedule. The high speed rail was my 1st time sitting a Chinese bullet train (i think!) and it was super fast criss-crossing across the Chinese landscape passing many cities which were very developed beyond my expectations, such as Wuxi, where i could see many skyscrapers. I had originally planned 2 full days in Nanjing which turned out to be only 1 1/2 days and so still managed to visit almost all the tourist spots but some only on the outside as they were closed once i got there, for example the Sun Yat Sen Maesoleum on Purple Mountain and the Zhonghua Gate.

Also visited of cos the Nanking Massacre Museum in the suburbs which was a really good museum showcasing the history and i particularly liked the small garden/park outside the main exhibition buildings which are surprisingly good spots for a picnic or chat with friends despite the solemn meaning behind this museum.

Loved Nanjing street snacks such as the duck blood soup noodles amongst others and visited Confucius Temple and the pedestrian shopping/restaurant area surrounding it. The night scenery was really quite amazing!!

Also visited Xinjiekou, Nanjing's premier shopping district, and some of the malls there were so classy:) Had shabu-shabu too..nice..Nanjing actually has a nice feel to it and also visited the former University of Nanking and Former Ginling Women's College, both refugee camps during the Rape of Nanking..i actually visited/came across 3 refugee camps during the Rape of Nanking whilst in Nanjing, but now you can't see much traces of that due to the time and refurbishment...

Nanjing in many ways reminds me of Taipei...well, one must not forget that the Republican government which governed from Nanjing later fled to and is now governing Taipei and Taiwan, thus the similarities may well be expected i suppose;-)

Beijing 29th Oct- 5th Nov 2011:

I flew to Beijing from Nanjing  and arrived early in the morning. Took the train into the city and checked into my hutong hotel. Got upgraded again and the room was nice and really comfortable and spacious despite having booked and payed for the cheapest room online...(this happened to me almost my entire trip in China, getting upgraded to much better rooms, and coincidentally also in Bangkok 1 month later as well where i was upgraded at both hotels) Went to Tiananmen Square, National Concert Hall, the Forbidden Palace (my first meal in Beijing was good old traditional Beijing Zhajiangmen inside the Forbidden Palace, and it was yummy surprisingly!!) ,Qianmen, on my first day...

I visited many places in Beijing as i had allocated the most days to it for my entire trip, but quite frankly, the whole city didn't give me such a good atmosphere, the pollution was quite horrendous actually and there was a concrete, semi-industrial feel to the city..i went to too many places to mention all, but a few places would be Peking University, Qinghua University campus, Wudaokou and having dinner at a second level hidden pub/dinner, viewing Maple leaves at Xiangshan and the street food there was great (took the Beijing bus there, quite a nice experience!), Summer Palace and sat on a boat there, Beijing financial street area, Xidan shopping area ( had Taiwanese meal for dinner there, so-so),Houhai Area ( had a high-end vegetarian lunch here), Drum Tower, Yonghegong Lamma Temple, Temple of Heaven (omg, the highlight here was actually the group of elderly and others outside in the parkland  exercising, singing, playing badminton, and even a fashion catwalk by a group of senior citizens which i happen to have a whole video of!!, hahaha..), 798 Art District ( bought a pair of cheap working shoes whilst transiting to get here!!), watched a performance at the National Performing Arts Centre 'Rhino in Love', and managed a trip to an authentic morning market called Rendeli/Sihuan Morning Market..the food there looked so good:)

Tianjin Oct 31st 2011:

I went to Tianjin via the highspeed rail from Beijing taking 30 mins only. I had arrived at Beijing South Station (i think!) abit late and was told i had missed the ticket sales for the time i wanted and had to take the next one..however, as the two ticket holders were allowed in around the same time, i just went into the earlier one just as it was about to pull out of the station and got into the closest compartment. I then preceded to find an empty spot and sat down hoping fervently at this late stage that no one would turn up and the train pulled off the station and i was relieved. I only realised i was in the 1st class compartment (the Beijing-Tianjin highspeed rail has a 1st class and normal class) when i had bought the normal class ticket. The 1st class compartment was really really nice and high-end in its atmosphere, the seats had press-buttons and functional buttons and the furnishing of the interior was top class. As the train whizzed through the countryside between Beijing and Tianjin, it simply felt as if i was somewhere in Europe with a Western guy very well dressed fidgeting with his computer. Anyways, after arriving in Tianjin, i got out of the station and wandered around, had a Chinese breakfast, walked through the historically protected buildings abundant in parts of Tianjin, as well as went to the commercial and shopping district for a quick tour for comparison with other Chinese cities. I also passed by and entered a Chinese wetmarket and took some photos ( i just love visiting wetmarkets in Asia!haha!) I also managed to squeeze in a trip taking the Binhai Express metro rail to the Binhai New Development Area but ended going 3/4 of the way and sitting right back to the Tianjin downtown area as i was going to miss my train back to Beijing if i went any further, cos it was quite far in reality as compared to the map...I then took the high speed rail back to Beijing in the afternoon, ending my 1/2 day trip to Tianjing, this time on the normal class compartment which was really normal...

Part Two coming up in a few days (or weeks???hahaha..)...keep posted!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Aamir Khan's Show of Conscience:)

Aamir Khan, whom i knew from the movie 'Earth' (which is a highly recommended film dealing with The Partition of India in 1947, which i saw on SBS channel back in my university days in Melbourne one evening almost 10 yrs back n how i first came to know about the horrible circumstances of the partition of India and Pakistan.) has a talk show called 'Satyamev Jayate' (which is apparently a national phrase of India meaning Truth/Justice will prevail. ) I watched the first two episodes on youtube with english subtitles and it was great, he deals with alot of taboo and sensitive topics happening in India such as female foetal genocide, sexual child abuse,etc.

With his fame and popularity, this show will surely greatly open up discussion and greater social awareness to talk about and deal with these issues in contemporary India.

  Please see episodes (with English subtitles) here: (this is the 2nd episode, the uploader 'StarWorldIndia' has all the episodes and uploads each new episode regularly). Hope you all watch it!!:)

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

March Madness...

I know its May already but a recap of March... I went to the Mardi Gras Parade 2012 and it was great as usual...altho raining heavily throughout and one point i was thinking what i was doing there with the downpour but enjoyed it overall and looking forward to next yr!!

Attended Picasso Exhibition with a friend at the Art Gallery of NSW and altho i didn't get it much (but then, i usually attend and love art exhibitions for the crowd, atmosphere, and the feeling of being 'trendy' and 'artsy' more than the admiration of the art itself..haha...apparently the Picasso exhibition attracted the biggest attendances for any exhibition ever held by the Art Gallery.

Went rowing a small boat at the Royal National Park at Audley for the 1st time in my life and loved it..coincidentally the photo of me relaxing on the boat attracted one of the most 'likes' in my facebook history from friends..hahaha...then had a bushwalk with the gang of friends through the Royal National Park next...

Went again to 'Miros', my fav Spanish Tapas place on Liverpool Street in the CBD..their chorizos in caramelised apple is highly recommended...also went to 'The Red Door' bar again with a friend after for desserts..another intimate hidden underground place suited for intimate cosy conversations with friends..really nice:)

Visited a couple of art galleries and explored the Potts Point/Kings Cross/darlinghurst area during Art Month Sydney and enjoyed re-exploring the Potts Point area..

Met up with a high school friend of mine from Melbourne (and currently residing in Munich with her partner) and took her out to Surry Hill's Monkey Magic for a nice catchup dinner..was fantastic catching up on our lives since 1 yr ago when i visited Melbourne and caught up with her and other Yr 12 friends of ours..i also discovered Sydney's best kept off the beaten track 'treasure' being this underground 'longest travellator in Australia' i swear! So cool..hidden and connecting an underground carpark to an exit coming out in the middle of a park...the travellator's walls are painted with imagery as well!!

I also got to meet with the founder of 'Pink Dot' Singapore and director Boo Jun Feng as well in Sydney (again! as i bumped into him and recognised him when i was in Singapore merely 3 months back and took a photo with him then! so happy!) and i took another photo with him..haha...

Anyways, i did much more stuff in March, not mentioning February when i was in a hummer limousine ride party for my friend's b'day and April when i went up to the the MCA Cafe at the rooftop of the new MCA wing for lunch and the spectacular views as well as toured the new MCA and also went for the 1st time to the Hunter Valley/Port Stephens(saw the dolphins up close!! omg! so unbelievable!)/ Central Coast with a couple of friends during the Easter Long Weekend.:) Oh well, can't update on everything happening in my life..too hectic and busy with happenings and social life i guess so that's my reason for the absences to my blog since this year!

Will try to blog more often though..

Monday, May 07, 2012

Australia's Largest Garage Sale Day 2012:-)

I set up my very own garage flea sale on Australia's annual garage sale last Saturday and sold mainly items donated from my friends from last yr..and did pretty well! I went with the tagline 'Everything for $1, cheaper than the cost of a newspaper, cheaper than coffee, cheaper than the Sydney Morning Herald!' which always managed to put a smile and laughter on most people's faces..and i sold half of what i brought there in the beginning in just over 3 hrs which wasn't too bad..i think i should just consider a side job in selling stuff! Anyways, I met so many interesting and nice people, people who decided to buy stuff i think more out of goodwill and anything else, some not even bothering to try something on and just buying it from me..i also met this elderly gay senior citizen whom proceeded to tell me about his handsome young Taiwanese General Practitioner (GP) whom he describes as very straight and whom rejected his marriage case you were wondering, he had asked me where i was from, and i said not from china and he immediately said 'from Taiwan then?' and i was like how he knew and he was like 'oh, everyone whom insists they're not from China are from Taiwan...hahahahaha..anyways, there was alittle bad note in that i got told off my the owner of a fence which i was using to remove the items, but besides that, it was a really nice afternoon spent...i ended it with a nice meal at a new restaurant in Glebe ( cos i was selling at Glebe Point Road, at the same spot as last yr)...i'll probably do it again next yr!!:)

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Singapore+Bangkok 2011-2012 Christmas/New Year Last-Min Vacation:)

I know i should probably start with publishing my China trip post but i'll do one of my Singapore/Bangkok trip 1st:)

Singapore Dec 28th-2nd Jan 2012 (NYE in Singapore):

I went to Singapore after 9 years (last time being Jan 2003!) and it has changed many malls and foreigners (or as the Sg govt likes to call them, foreign talent) all the service people are mainly filipinos and mainland mom joined me for our 1st overseas travel in years (altho its only Singapore) and we walked around Chinatown hearing all this northern/mainland Chinese accent wondering where we were..haha..Singapore is a nice place to visit if you haven't been before or haven't been in a long while..but i wouldn't go every year..haha..went to the new Casino Marina Bay Sands, very impressed with the shopping mall attached to it, very classy, felt like in another country or something, but everything very expensive...also visited Sentosa Island, Chinese Gardens, Punggol Park Connector, Kampong Glam, Little India, Orchard Road, Dempsey Hill, Bukit Timah area looking at the elite schools such as Raffles JC, Chinese High, etc..most importantly, my trip was about meeting people, old friends whom i haven't seen in friend over 7 yrs and another almost as long as was a nice feeling sitting in their cars having them drive me around and also both married different from our uni days..another friend i hadn't seen in 10 yrs..took me around to places like Old Airport Road Hawkers Centre, Holland V, Haw Par Villa, was nice reminiscening..also spent New Year's Eve in Singapore...and of cos, tried Hainanese Chicken Rice incl at Mandarin Orchard Hotel and Yanting Dim Sum at the St Regis ( i think!!)
Was nice catching up with my mom as well..

Bangkok Dec 24th-27th 2011 (Christmas in Bangkok):

As for Bangkok, it was over 5 years since i went last (mid-2006 being my last time) and i really wondered what took me so long!! I took Emirates Airlines for my BKK/SG trip and i was lucky enough to get a seat during the Christmas peak season for a cheap price ($1300 plus i think!) as i booked it like merely 10 days before flying (as this Christmas trip was really very very last min) and i guess the airline lowered the price thinking no one would buy so last min and thus still wanted to sell out the empty seats..actually the ticket even went down to $1,200 the day after i had bought my ticket..this is cheap compared to the $1800+ tickets for all other airlines so i was VERY lucky!

Anyways, Bangkok was heaven as expected with cheap delicious food, fabulous stylish cool clothes,etc and even though i had barely returned from my China 3 weeks vacation in mid-November and told myself not to spend money buying stuff in Bangkok and just spend on food+sightseeing, i still ended up spending quite abit on clothes in bangkok (and alittle in Singapore)..i mean how could you not in a city like Bkk??!!!

The clothes and shopping at Chatuchak Market was to-die-for (as expected!) and the food in Bkk is cheap too..i also managed to have Coca Steamboat which i always loved since young in Penang when they had a branch back then..and shopped around Siam Square, Siam Paragon, Central World, MBK Centre,etc...managed to squeeze in 10 mins at the new(ish) Terminal 21 Shopping Mall in Sukhumvit and also sat on one of those "scooter taxis" which they only have in Bkk!! I actually ask the scooter guy to take me to a specific MRT station despite knowing full well i could simply take the MRT subway right in front of my eyes and they kept pointing to the subway entrance and when i insisted (we had communication problems due to me not knowing Thai and them not knowing English) he took me i'm sure thinking what a dumb farang (foreigner) n what an easy buck to make...i met up with a highschool friend whom i haven't met in over 10 yrs and spent Christmas dinner with was nice considering how both of us didn't really change all that much in appearance nor personality in the intervening years..

I also met up and stayed the last night at my Thai friend's place whom i had known from my Japanese language exchange days back at Keio University in Tokyo for one semester in 2005. Nice to meet her parents and sister again too!!:) Anyways, loved the food, culture, and people of Thailand even more this time round and determined to come bck again sometime in the near future..not another 5 1/2 yrs again! Alright, gonna start writing my China Autumn Trip 2011 now,...