Friday, April 06, 2007

Traveling through China....

Beijing...

There is something intensely liberating about being in a place where no one speaks, or even attempts to speak, your language. Which is why a trip to China, which included Beijing, Shanghai and the picturesque Guilin, got the nod from me right away.

My first morning there and I woke up to find out that Beijing had laid out a white carpet welcome. Fresh snow dusted the wide streets, where people in traditional Chinese clothing cycled by solemnly next to the ones in dapper suits zipping past in the latest cars. The still-holding-on-to-its-traditions and at the same time inching towards modernization capital of China drew me to itself instantly.

The Great Wall, the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden Palace were just some of the attractions that fascinated me in this country of people, who are the only ones, perhaps even more superstitious than us Indians.

The Chinese were fascinated by me even more than I was by their country. It was still early days for tourism when I visited in March ’05, and Indian tourists were a rarity. The women there were enthralled by my bouncy curls and wanted to touch them as they pointed ruefully to their poker straight hair. They wanted to feel my face, my eyes and my lips and I could only stop them when they wanted to feel my eyeballs. My pierced nose intrigued everyone and I was repeatedly requested to pose for pictures with the locals. I was even asked if I was a movie-star back home and, God is my witness, the temptation to concur was immense, but I chose the truth and told them I wasn’t, at which I was promptly advised that I should be! Ah! Beijing was good for my vanity, yes!

Shopping is an internationally indulged in pleasure, but in China it took a new twist. Being wrapped up in 4 layers of clothing, due to the minus degrees, made it a little difficult for the salespeople to see what size I actually was. The Medium that I wear here was the size that a 7 year old child there would wear. After much hand gesturing, peeling off layers of clothing and crowd gathering could a desirable size finally be located and tried on. And this rigmarole was repeated in every place I shopped at.

The Chinese are fascinating people mostly, once they allow you to get to know them. The English language was/is being taught to more than 10 lakh citizens to prepare the country to play host to the 2008 Olympics. And the new found enthusiasm for the Queens language ensured that as fluent speakers, we were treated with awe and often ended up bartering Chinese words in exchange for English ones.

So if you like being in a place that is learning the language you are reading right now, don’t mind what is on your plate or the cage that it came from and where drinking tea is a lengthy ritual and tradition, head to China. You won’t regret it.

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China: Travelogue

Best time to go: April to Nov. Spring starts mid March and in April the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Currency: Yuan. 1 Yuan = 5.5 INR. (Mar ’05 rate)

What to wear: Please do check the weather before you leave. In winter you will need your thermals, thick wool socks, gloves and skullcap and a sturdy weatherproof, lined jacket. The weather varies throughout the country. For eg; up north is colder than down south, Beijing is the pretty cold compared to Shanghai, which tends to get humid and has sudden rain showers too.
In summers jeans and t-shirts should do, but carry a light jacket along.

Food: If you are vegetarian or very finicky about the non-vegetarian you eat, it is advisable to carry your own ready-to-eat-supply and snacks. Popular brands of world-renowned fast food chains are readily available as another option. Pork is the main meat.Chinese food is extremely bland and vegetarian here is tofu, water chestnuts, lotus stem and a few other local vegetables.
Do try the steamed buns though.

Fluffy, white buns, soft as a pillow and filled with a savory mixture of minced pork usually. We ordered ours plain and they came to our table still steaming in a bamboo steamer and delicious.

Language: Big problem. They speak no English and Chinese is very difficult to pick up and follow. Even their gestures are complicated! Hiring an interpreter makes it easier to move around.

People: Very, very superstitious. Indifferent and wary of strangers. The people of Shanghai are extremely rude and our interpreter enlightened us that they were proud of it. The shopkeepers are pretty okay though but very persuasive. If you enter a shop/store before 12 am they will not let you go without buying anything. Sort of like the ‘subah ki boni kar do’ thing we have in India.

Shopping: Mind-boggling variety. Bargaining like mad is the only way to get a good deal here. If someone quotes 100, you quote 10. You normally get it for around 20!:) Yes! It’s that crazy!! :) You bargain at the roadside stalls. You bargain in shops. You bargain in boutiques and yes, you bargain in shopping malls! And the crazy part is you get your price!!

What to buy:
Of course Jade!

Jade is known to be the only ‘living stone’ in the world, that is, it changes color to a deeper green as time goes by. Its value goes up 1.5 times the cost each year. The Chinese consider it very lucky and it is worn on the body as a good luck charm and to ward off evil. The women there wear a unique oval shaped jade bangle on their left wrist. The more affluent you are the darker green your bangle is, as the darker the Jade the more expensive it is. It is always advisable to buy Jade from certified government shops. There are plenty of them everywhere. Beijing has the most variety and the best quality of Jade. Figurines are also very popular.

Silk: Chinese silk is exquisite. We visited a silk factory and saw it being woven in front of us. Silk is available in every imaginable form there. Bed sheets, quilts, accessories, and paintings, you name it, they have it. Prices start from 10 Yuan and go up too 10000 + Yuan. A typical Chinese silk shirt with beautiful silk buttons will cost you 180 Yuan up.

Pearls: China produces the largest number of fresh water pearls. Don’t miss a visit to the pearl factory where they show you the oyster, let you open it and give you a real tiny complimentary pearl! The pearls here are available in a wide range of beautiful colors and suit every pocket.

Etc: Silk pouches in every shape and size imaginable. Beautiful. Coin purses, spectacle cases, jewelry boxes, tissue holders and much, much more! All reasonable priced and make great gifts.

Other things to do and see :
Reflexology foot massage:
A heavenly massage, especially after a tiring day.
There are special places for these, so see that you go to the right one. Hotels also have their own masseurs but the reflexology massage is something very different.
Acupressure is used on specific parts of your foot and you feel all your tiredness slipping away. They greet you with a cup of jasmine tea, wash your feet and then soak them in hot water to which some magical powder has been added in front of you. After a good soak the massage starts and goes on for 45 minutes. Then your legs are wrapped in hot towels and when you think it can’t get better than this you are given the most relaxing head, neck, back and shoulder massage you can imagine for the next 15 minutes. The whole thing lasts for an hour and costs between a 100-150 Yuan.

Theatre:
The acrobatics shows are very popular all over China and are worth a watch. The Chinese opera is popular too but since you don’t understand the language you don’t enjoy it much. The Chinese ballet shows were a pleasant surprise. Prices of the tickets vary from city to city and show to show. Tend to be on the steeper side.

Tea Houses:

Tea is integral to contemporary Chinese society and a mainstay of economic and culturally activity. Experience traditional Chinese teahouse culture when you visit any of the teahouses that China is dotted all over with. You can attend an elaborate tea ceremony where a hostess guides you through its various intricacies. Learn and enjoy everything, from making the tea to learning how to sip it from tiny cups to how to slurp at some of the teas to get a better taste and flavor. You can also buy usual and unusual teas like the very well known jasmine and green tea to the more exotic Litchi with rosebuds, Jasmine dragon pearls, Golden green tea, Oriental beauty oolong, Snow mountain white tea. Besides the tea, you can buy fancy Chinese tea sets, clay pots and various types of mugs too.

Zhujiajiao:

Known as the “Venice of Shanghai”, located in a suburb of Shanghai city, Zhujiajiao is an ancient water town well-known throughout the country. For an entrance fee of 50 Yuan per person you can walk into and experience a faux-Venice, foul-smelling canals et all. It is a lovely experience as a boat takes you through the river that winds through unique old bridges across bubbling streams, and you peek into houses where people are going about their everyday chores. I did ask the boatman (gondolier wouldn’t be right because it wasn’t a gondola) if he would sing( lack of good food makes me do pretty strange things) but by the time he could understand what I meant we had reached the end our out 30 minute boat ride and I had missed a couple of sights ;)

The Worlds Fastest Train:

Do not miss riding on Maglev (magnetic levitation), the world's fastest, most futuristic passenger line train. Smiles abound inside the sleek train as, with a breathtaking whoosh, it rockets to 300 kilometers per hour in two minutes flat. Overhead, like a giant scoreboard, an LED blinks out our record-breaking progress till we top 430 kph. You are instructed to sit in the direction facing the destination the train is going towards else there is a chance of you feeling dizzy and nauseous. Though all I felt was sheer excitement looking at the houses, and later fields, zipping past me. The round trip, the train starts from Longyang Rd. Station, speeds up to 430 km/hour and arrives at Pudong Airport, fare costs 150 RMB for normal seats and 300 RMB for VIP seat.

Boat Cruise: Shanghai:

Watch the gorgeously lit-up Shanghai skyline as your, equally gorgeously decorated and lit-up, boat cruises along at a relaxed pace on the Huangpu River. The 2 hour cruise needs prior reservation and a Buffet is included with each ticket - enjoy beer, wine, cocktails, and soft drinks accompanied by live music.


All pics courtesy : Google.

2 comments:

Chameleon's Karma said...

Welcome, Quicksilver!!
Hope to see more of you in this part of the woods!!

Cheers!!

Quicksilver! said...

Thank you!
I hope to wander by more often too! :)