Tag Archives: people

Taipei first impressions

Let's be disingenuous and contrast with China. Well the people seem relaxed, confident and don't have that impassive coldness in their faces. Whereas the Chinese youth are as one lost in or hidden behind their mobiles and their peculiar taste in fashion labels and design, the Taiwanese have more cultured passtimes like reading, holding conversations and art. I think an interesting indicator of their sophistication and intelligence is the low rate of smoking and hawking up phlegm.

The 7-11 stores on every block are a treasure trove of bottled teas, plum being my favourite, exotic juices, chilled coffees, soya milks, rice milks and more. I didn't even notice Pepsi or coke. They function as snack bars too with hot buffets of sausages and cauldrons of tea eggs https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_egg The guys at the counter will microwave things up and you can sit on a stool in the window. Family mart is the same. Meanwhile there are kiosks for buying train tickets and charging the Taipei card which functions as a pre-pay card like the octopus in hk.

You forget what the weather is outside, lost in the labyrinthine multi-layers of malls beneath the main station and running the length of Zhongshan. This is wondrous for the seemingly high number of elderly in motorised wheelchairs, and a pleasant shady place for the groups of youths practising cheerleader dancing and hip hop in the mirror walled arcades. Not a cop or security guard in site, clean, peaceful, lively but no sense of rowdiness or shouting. Between Zhongshan and songshan is a long stretch of book stores with kids, teen, adults and elderly browsing and meditatively immersing themselves in the printed word. I bet there is a damn sight more variety of writings here than in the people's republic…. The mall under the main station is less highbrow, with games arcades, astrologers, an Indonesian corner, ice creams (yes I had one, and although big was not up to gelato standard), stalls selling games figurines. As the place closes for the night I emerge on the street at the bottom of Zhongshan only to find typhoon style rain. By the Jeff koon style silver balloon dog sculpture, the first on a line of interesting small scale outside pieces that line the white brick undulating walkway that follows the Zhongshan metro mall overground (including robots, snails and rabbits), shelter the guys who usually sleep the streets here and guys taking a break from scootering through the deluge. The plastic bag translucent yellow and blue ponchos are not enough tonight.

More to follow. I plan to chill out and write now I'm in Hualien.

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Guilin to Hong Kong day 20

A day of travel in various forms. Bus 100 to Guilin north station. 3 hour train journey to Guangzhou south, the city being shrouded by a heavy grey sky and electric storm, making it even more dystopian. A gamble that I can get to Guangzhou east in 2 hours and get on a train even though I haven’t booked in advance pays off, though is slightly stressful with 40 minutes of rammed underground trains, and disorientation at east station. I think my least favourite thing in China is trying to cope with these huge stations. Anyway I’m now on the Hong Kong train. Feels like I’m going home. Certainly I’m back in a “more developed” society. This means everyone is on their phone, looks tired, weary and is indifferent and unfriendly. I’ve come a long way in one day or so.

Here is some fruit from Guilin, forming most of my lunch. 

   3 more metros and after 9 hours of travel I’m back in Hong Kong at fortress hill again. This time I’m in the main hostel block and the room has more character and even a view. Vege buffet just around the corner 😀

Tiantouzhai day 14

The morning has a refreshing breeze and my corner room with Windows on 2 sides is a relaxing place to read Xinran’s “Good women of China”, a revealing investigation by a radio broadcaster into the role of women in Chinese society, through the eyes of those who are oppressed and forced to conform.

Busy sounds and voices permeate the air, butterflies flutter over the rice stalks near my window. Later on the terrace I observe how business is conducted here with locals calling by with baskets on their backs plying their produce. One man has fresh white and red speckled bamboo shoots. A woman in local dress has a pole on her shoulder, a sack on one end containing a primitive balance, the one at the opposing end is full of an orange bark. She encourages me to chew a sliver. It has a spicy sharp taste like cinnamon. The girl at reception tells me it’s used in traditional medicine. Most of the stuff consumed up here is brought up on people’s backs apparently.

I chat with her for a while. She is from Fujin province and majored in business English. Never been out of China, found the job here by Internet, believe it or not.

The peaceful atmosphere is shattered by an obnoxious Chinese girl who checks in, laughs at me for asking if there is meat in the dumplings on the menu, then walks onto the terrace conducting a loud video chat that goes on for 15 minutes. She can’t talk quietly, has no sense of others’ space, no appreciation of the location and succeeds in driving me inside. She kind of encapsulates many of the negative characteristics  I’ve noticed in a certain demographic 0f modern young Chinese. Loud, rude, phone obsessed and selfish. I wonder if she has read Xinran. I wonder what her perceptions of modern woman in China are. I will never find out. She has now walked into the lounge and sits at the bar carrying on her conversation oblivious to the receptionist  1 metre away and me again. Is she going to spend the whole of her stay doing this? Now she is giving whoever the bloody guy on the other end a video tour. If they miss each other so much, why not come here together? I have to go for a walk and get away from this abomination.

Guangzhou day 8

I can’t get the aircon to the right temperature, but anyway it’s cooler than outside. I want to get up early and see the city coming to life. On my street corner are the 21st century bare chested coolies, sitting and squatting, by the kerb, smoking and waiting to be called into action. There seems to be a thriving industry in sorting and collecting recyclables. Bicycles are used as delivery vehicles. I see 12 or so water tanks strapped to one. The little hutongs are atmospheric and historical. Homes to sleepy old people who stare impassively when I greet them. I do exchange a few words with a lady packing up her breakfast stall and offer to send her my photos of her. Another old guy asks me where I’m from. The rest look bemused and I’m not sure if this is guarded hostility for venturing into their shady streets bedecked with strings of laundry. There is a market stall selling chickens freshly slaughtered, a little show through whose curious Windows I peer. It is plastered with amateurish water colours of flowers and writing practice sheets. Inside seated on one side of a long table are two little girls diligently drawing as a youngish man with a white goatee points between an arrangement of vegetables and some sketches he is making pinned to the wall. A lady stands behind the girls and guides their movements. Evidently they are in a still life drawing class. An older man opens the door, I’m thinking to remonstrate, but he invites me in. I politely decline. Could be a bit awkward. Some people don’t mind being photographed. The coolies do, as does the furniture restorer sanding a chair on the street as his caramel coloured poodle sits in attendance.
I’m having lunch at zen again. This time it’s heaving and full of lively chatter. Bitter melon soup and fried noodles with bean curd skin.

  The route here takes me past countless little stores selling refrigeration parts, copper piping, hardware type stuff. That reminds me of the neighbourhood near Mong kok where all the little shos sold paint and decorating stuff. These kinds of places would have vanished decades ago as the diy mega store took over in uk.
The guan xiao si temple next door is week worth a visit and seems to be more monastery than temple. The garden is pretty and peaceful. On the hall of the sleeping Buddha a meditation chant has begun, primarily led by black and brown robed women, some men as well. They are not monks as they wear grey and nuns shave their heads. The chanters walk in a clockwise direction snaking in and out of the rows of cushions they squatted on and circling the reclining Buddha in the hall. Two ladies one clinking a bell, the other tapping a block, lead the way. This lasts at least 40 minutes and seems quite joyous. Outside I listen and watch. A 4 year old boy copies his mother and circumflexes.

I want to get somewhere else, but the hutongs and their rich source of image delay me. Finally I get the metro to yuexiu park and visit the museum of the mausoleum of the second nanyue King zhao wen. It’s a kind of pyramid covering the excavated 2000 year old tomb. This was discovered only in 1983 as the hill it was secluded in was being levelled for housing. The museum contains fabulous jade artefacts from the tomb, which fortunately had never been pillaged. This is the suit he was buried in.

  A thunder storm is brewing and I hit the streets and explore. Cities have a sense of urgency in the rain and figures sheltering under umbrellas reflected on the glistening neon lit pavements are an enticing sight. I’m hoping I will get a bit lost once I’m past the hospital and climb over a flyover, but there is something vaguely familiar. It’s the plumbing shops. Somehow I’ve made a direct line back to my familiar neighbourhood. I’ve walked a lot and sweated a lot. Time for a beer.

I wonder if anyone is reading this. Leave me a comment!

Pingyao

I guess 4 nights there was too much,but it gave me the chance to get familiar with the town and walk almost all of it. My first peaceful evening stroll was an illusion, as the town filled up for the 3 September holiday. Almost entirely Chinese tourists, eating, posing for photo moments, eating, eating, eating…The ubiquitous red lanterns are now supplemented by the red flag. On the main streets you have to keep walking, the crowds are so thick, but if you dart into a side alley, you are alone and find yourself looking into curious courtyards. Walking the wall gave a fantastic high-up vantage point to survey the scale of the city, it’s layout and surreptious views into courtyards you would not have privy to at street level. With the tourists came traffic, and although some of the city is closed to traffic, where there is access, electric carts full of families on tours cause snarl ups and make up for the quieteness of their motors by a continual beeping and reversing warnings. The hope is that by making so much noise they can drive as fast as they like and the crowds wil park. Then there are the electric bikes, electric scooters, boys on bikes weaving through the crowds. Where their are cars, the same horn sounding behaviour is adhered too, only louder and more insistent. It becomes a headache, and I try to avoid the busy streets.

Anyway, I saw a lot and bought some art, which I am afraid will get crumpled and damaged in my bag.

Leaving pingyao this morning I chanced upon a really strange sight. I was first alerted to it by the sound of a howling tearful woman running past me. Ahead through the traffic in the road I saw the rear end of a naked man, in his 40s. He was striding with purpose from the city, another woman scuttling alongside him grasping what I guess we’re his clothes.when the first woman catches up with them a shouting match ensues. The man doing most of the shouting. What was going on? Had he been caught having a bit on the side by his wife and was being paraded back home in shame. Unlikely. I know Chinese don’t like bring attention to themselves, nor would willingly shame themselves. From the manner of the man, it seemed he had literally lost his dignity, and this, if anything was penance. In UK, people, would have stopped to gawp, taken pictures, he would have been arrested. As it was I only saw ages people who visibly registered what was happening,even though this was a busy street full of food stalls. He then walked with the 2 frantic women straight across a busy intersection, cars, three wheeled carts, buses, circulating around them. Weird, and unexpected.

 

Prachuap day 2 continued.

Om's house seems to be a social hub, and I spend a clue of hours there after visiting monkey temple, city shrine, and the vege restaurant. I meet Petra, a German physiotherapist who is into cycling. Our paths cross several times later when I cycle out to wat ao noi. The conversations are backgrounded by the incessant on-repeat Christmas tunes from next door. Wat ao noi is out beyond the fishing villages and amid the extensive fish breeding pools. The cave temple with the two reclining Buddhas is nothing special, but the climb up through bourgainvillia and cacti is beautiful. The adjacent main temple building is also noteworthy, being made of dark wood and having a surrounding terrace encircled by spectacular entwined naga.

The evening takes shape when JJ invited peter and me to her friend's itaLiam restaurant. It's our Christmas party, replete with snowman deely boppers, and gifts for James, her son, and her friend's daughter. Funny how asian kids are so much more endearing than British ones. The ravioli and tiramisu aren't bad, but vastly overpriced. The conversation is animated and joyful.

Back in the seafront the tide has gone out, revealing a beach. We stop in the tuk-tuk to chat to some friends. And there I teach James some vocab. When I set off home alone along the promenade he runs after me and onto the beach, where I go for a last gasp if air. We high five several times before I go off to bed for a long looked forward to sleep.

Nakhon si Thammarat day 3

Ning and co come and pick me up at 7.45 to take me to the class at the uni. It's raining.

They tell me the students will be so surprised, and excited. The uni is about 8 miles out of the city, at the foot of a mountain (which freshers climb, believing conquering it will enable them to graduate). At the far end of the entrance driveway is a massive seated Buddha.

This is the university of communication studies. I meet the vice dean, who is a northerner and an ex-well-known radio dj. She also shows gratitude for my coming and wishes her students to swell the size of the group to over 50.

We have to remove shoes, both teachers and students. The classroom is quite formal in layout and has a raised wooden stage and a framed portrait of the king at the teacher's end. Students are in uniform, though rather scruffily, of white shirt and black trousers/skirt. They are a rag-tag bunch. Pretty little girls, some with powdered white faces and finely plucked eyebrows. Callow boys with moustaches and open top buttons. Some Muslim girls with head scarves, a rather ballsy loud girl with a top knot, brimming with personality and playing to the teachers and crowd. The teacher uses a microphone, which seems somehow to create a distance between her and the class. She greets them in English and is replied by a clumsy chorus. It's difficult and slow to manage the class into small groups, and I don't think they, or the teacher are used to this more dynamic and interactive pattern. The vision was that the students would ask me questions… I get involved in setting up how this could work. Smaller groups. Time to prepare….

Their English is mostly quite poor. They have trouble constructing questions. In the end most manage to ask me my name. The girls want to know if I'm married. The boys get energised when we talk about football. Their are some odd questions: ” do you think x is a hermaphrodite?” !!! ” what is your motto?” (I have to think, but end up with some cliche that they might understand : life is short, so enjoy it..). Anyway I have a lot of fun chatting to them,but I'm not convinced they learnt very much. At. The end there was a surprise. One of the girls stood up and made a speech she had written, expressing the class's appreciation for my coming. Then 3 girls, one with a ukulele, sandy a song in English..something like ” we hope you enjoyed the show”. This was followed by 3 more girls (never the boys) singing and doing a little dance in thai, led by the flamboyant girl. Later I Learn that in her interview for the uni, she stated that her ambition was to be a star!

After lunch we visit the teacher' s house. Very impressive. Just build, airy, spacious. Contains a shrine. Ning says I should drive her car to trang, rather than her. Well, my first time driving a car in Thailand, first time diving an automatic…not a big deal, but the weather is dreadful. Heavy rain, pools of water on the road. By the time we get to tang the rain is easing, but I'm still unsure of what to do. Go to libong, another island, stay in tang City, go elsewhere….amazingly, although I've only been ther once, I'm able to easily navigate us to the centre and the place where I can get some concert info about the weather and the availability of accommodation and of transfers to the islands. I make up my mind to go back to ko muk. We get some fruit and set off, then down comes the rain. I sense Ning thinks this is a bad idea, though she won't actually say so. She mentions getting a train somewhere. I pull over and check my train timetable. There's a train going north in an hour. I have to make a decision, now or never. We go back to the station and I get a sleeper to hua hin, basically because anywhere else would mean arriving in the middle of the night, or be too close to bkk.

I get an Indian meal to eat on the train, and Ning and I finally say goodbye. She drives back to hat Yai,and I settle into a peaceful ride and a sleep, I hope. However the guy in the next seat strikes up a conversation. He is a flabby, stinky American called mike. Turns out he is a psychology professor at a bkk uni. He. Smells of booze, and eventually he lets on that the clear liquid in his bottle is whisky, and it smells quite surgical. He offers me a nip. It's strong, and I can see now he is a bit pissed. Later he tells me he enjoyed talking with me, thinks I'm a smart guy. It's funny how so many people seem to latch onto me and want to tell me their life story, which he does. It's full of conspiracy, hardship, fighting court cases, being branded a terrorist by his family for expunging anti- American views. He feels in-American, despises the place and the people,and has lived in Cambodia and now thai land for 20 years or so. Something he tells me is quite creepy. It's about the murde of the. British tourists. He says he knows who e killer was, and that this person is high up and connected to the royals. This person is a student at his uni,. Nothing will be proven against him. Conspiracy, cover-up, scapegoating of the burmese workers. Hearsay….

I sleep until 3.30. Get off at hua hin at 4.20.