Location: Shanghai, China -> Taipei -> Taichung, Taiwan
Background: My flight to Taiwan was cancelled yesterday because of typhoon. However, the airline company gave us each a bed in a nice hotel far away from the airport.
I set the alarm for 4:15am since we needed to check out at 5:00am. But I woke up before the alarm and spent 15 minutes lying in bed, not willing to get up before the alarm. Is there a word for this situation?
The hotel lobby was dark when I went down to check out. It wasn’t until 5:32am when the shuttle bus came to pick us up to the airport. Yesterday, there were 2 buses which brought us to the hotel. Today there was only one as many had probably left for their home in Shanghai.
When we arrived at the airport, only one regular counter and the first class counter was opened. The queue snaked out of its boundaries. Soon, someone managed to put the queue in order.
As I was reaching my end of the queue, a lady with a ponytail went to the counter and made a loud fuss. Between her fake-like, dry crying, she asked the airline employee to “please, please let [her on]” since she wanted to “bring [her] kid home”. Then she dropped to her knees and started really begging him for help.
The airline employee looked uncomfortable and replied that he couldn’t help her if she did not bring her identification with her. Hearing this, the woman let out a loud moan. In the end, the employee said he would see what can do.
In the end, I did see her and her kid at the boarding lounge. So thankfully for that.
Another flight delay
When we were all gathered at the boarding lounge, we were still not asked to board the plane. I overheard that the flight would be delayed yet again. This was confirmed when the airline folks asked us to queue for our breakfast since the flight would be delayed again.
I ate some of the biscuit and drank all my Coke and waited. Suddenly, we were asked to queue up for the shuttle bus to the plane. Hurray!
My seat was in the middle with four seats in the row. My seat mate was on the other end of the row so I sad comfortably.
For breakfast on China International Airlines, there was a choice of Chinese and Western breakfast. Chinese food was porridge while Western was eggs with one sausage.
I fell asleep for most of the flight so the 2-hour flight so it was very fast.
Back in Taiwan!
The last time I was in Taiwan was in 2010. It was a business trip so I didn’t enjoy a lot of the island. This time ’round, I will be joining my mom on a 9-day trip where we will see a lot and eat a lot.
Mom was already at the airport when I arrived. We headed to the mobile company booths on the left corner of the arrival doors. Here, we each bought a SIM with unlimited 3G internet for 10 days at a cost of NT$500.
We bought bus tickets to where we would meet our aunt. The bus journey was long and I even caught a few winks.
My aunt was waiting at the bus stop when we got there. We went to her place and settled our luggage before taking the bus to central Taiwan–Taichung.
Since I didn’t need to do any travel planning, travelling from Taipei to Taichung seemed easy. We went to the bus company and bought tickets for the bus leaving in 10 minutes.
Off we went to Taichung. Of course, this is also the best time for napping.
Miyahara ice cream in Taichung
When we reached Taichung, my aunt brought us to a famous ice cream place. The building was previously a hospital but now it’s a really beautiful place selling ice cream and biscuits.
We bought three ice cream flavors (82% Ecuadorian chocolate, “half-dreaming-half-awake” and local guava) on a wafer bowl. With three flavors, we got four free toppings including cheesecake, pineapple cake, pumpkin seeds and caramel.
The shop also has a lovely space selling all sorts of wedding cookies. However, these cookies are packaged like books and are arranged on shelves.
After desserts, we took the bus to the National Museum of Natural Science. While we were there, there was a promo for paying bus rides using payment cards. The first 8km of the ride was free when you use payment cards. Luckily, Taipei’s prepaid cards work here too.
National Museum of Natural Science holds fond memories for me. The museum was a place my mom brought my sister and me to frequently when we were in Taiwan as kids. Unfortunately, the museum was closed on Monday so we ended up sitting at the garden behind the museum.
After bumming around in the garden, it was time to meet my uncle. When we got on his car, we found a walking sticks. Turns out he was knocked down by a motorcycle on his way to take the bus. He added that he rarely takes the bus.
Since my uncle could not walk far, we chose to eat inside a shopping mall. Our meal for the night was Hunan food, a bit funny since I just came from China and ate a lot of Chinese food there.
After dinner, we head back to uncle’s place.
Have you been to Taichung? Do you have a favorite sightseeing spot?
My flight to Taipei was originally scheduled at 2:30pm and I was supposed to reach the destination at 4:25pm. However, I learned that the flight was delayed till the next morning so I would be Google, Faceook and Twitter-less for another day.
This is the story of the day my flight was delayed. (There’s a happy ending, don’t worry.)
Breakfast at Xiao Yang
After eating at Xiao Yang’s Dumpling yesterday, I still wanted to have more of it. The dumplings themselves weren’t delicate works but its rough, doughy texture and soupy filling makes it a great meal. This was why I decided to wake up early to head to a Xiao Yang branch before finishing my luggage packing and checking out.
As my phone didn’t have mobile Internet, I copied out the directions given by Baidu Map and took a look at the road maps for that area.
When I stepped out of the hotel, it was drizzling. I had to head back and grab my umbrella since I would be walking quite a distance later. The bus stop was right next to the hotel, which was convenient, but the bus that I needed to take arrived much later.
Taking the bus in Shanghai is very easy if you know Chinese as you will be able to read the destinations listed at the bus stop.
Even if you don’t know Chinese, there are announcements of the next destination of the bus once you are in it. However, sometimes the announcement comes too late (one second before the bus leaves the stop) so you’ll have to memorize how many stops there are before yours.
I reached my destination without a glitch and found the restaurant. The Xiao Yang Dumpling branch at Huanghe Road (黄河路) is the main branch and it even has an upper floor.
As with yesterday, I paid for my dumplings and went to queue. Unfortunately for me, the last dumpling in the pan was given away right before my turn. I waited for the next batch and suddenly realized that I was standing in the wrong queue. Thus I joined the second queue.
Again, my luck ran out and there were only 3 remaining dumplings by the time it was my turn. It was déjà vu as the same situation happened yesterday. I was a bit whiny so the employee told me to find a table and she’ll let someone send it up.
So up I went the upper level which smelled like a musty table cloth. My wanton soup arrived and I happily dug in. The fried dumplings were still as oily and had a strong taste of pork, making me wonder why I actually like them. As I ate, I realized that the best part about these dumplings were the soup inside.
Unlike xiaolongbao which are tiny, these shengjianbao are much bigger. Nibbling a bit of the upper part off, you can slurp out the scalding hot soup inside. It takes several deep slurps to suck the dumpling dry. Then comes the crunchy bottom part (which is actually the top of a regular Chinese bun). This is the most oily but I cannot help not eating them.
After I finished my meal, my single dumpling hadn’t arrived yet. I waited and waited and still there was no sign of my dumpling. Since my stomach was stretched to its limit, I thought I should just leave without it.
As I walked down the stairs, I thought I heard the employees say my table number. Too late to turn back and finish that little rascal.
Off I went in search of my bus back to the hotel. Again, it was the slowest to arrive but at least I had a seat.
Taking the metro to Shanghai airport
At first, I thought about taking the Maglev train to Shanghai Pudong Airport. However, Nicole who went to the airport last night reported that the time it takes to reach the airport wasn’t very long so I decided to take the metro and save 33 yuan. Plus, the distance from Longshan Station to the airport is really quite short.
Off I went with my luggage to Yuyuan Station. The rain had stopped but the ground was still wet with puddles.
The train station wasn’t as crowded as it was yesterday. I couldn’t find a seat so I stood most of the way. At Guanglan Station, everyone got off and switched to another train.
Flight delayed…until tomorrow
Finally, I reached Shanghai Pudong Airport. But when I reached the check in counter, there was a note saying that the flight had been delayed to 8pm and we should check in at 2pm. Hey! We were supposed to leave at 2:30pm. The airline would get us a room to rest.
There wasn’t much to do in Terminal 2 so I walked around, bought a stamp for a postcard home, walked around some more and sat down to read before it was our check in time.
At check in, Air China employee told me to wait at Gate 26 for the shuttle to the airport. As you have guessed, the bus–buses actually since there were too–came late.
We were driven around for a while before finally stopping at a fancy hotel. Is this where we will be resting?
Yes, it was. The hotel staff said the rooms were for two people so I paired up with a lady who spoke with a Taiwanese accent. After putting my bags in my room, I head out for food and some toiletries shopping.
The little ramen place that I visited was run by Muslim-Chinese. Many of them run noodle shops such as the one I went to. The father of the house was rolling dough and pulling it into thin strands of noodles.
Unfortunately, the noodle wasn’t that good. I couldn’t finish half of it. When I asked how much it was, the son even charged me a large bowl of noodles although I think it was a small one. That’s only 1 yuan difference but it’s annoying to be overcharged.
Then it was toiletries shopping. I bought several bars of soap–something I’ve been buying as souvenirs for some time–although I’m afraid that people might think I am hinting that they need to take a shower if I give them any.
So back to the hotel I went. While I went online in the lobby, I spotted my roommate who was getting her luggage out of storage. Turns out, she was returning to her home in Shanghai city as the flight was delayed until tomorrow.
Back in my room, I found out that the internet speed was really fast. Wonderful! I have been plagued by slow internet speed since returning home.
In the middle of j-drama bingeing, the reception called to say that I could go for dinner at 5:30pm. Dinner was pitiful but at least they tried.
Later, the reception called again to say that check out tomorrow is at 5:30am and we will leave at 6:00am.
I have come to embrace days when I do not do sightseeing while travelling. These days are for recharging and slowing down.
Today was one of those days of very slow travel.
Going to the wrong Grandma’s Place
In the morning, we headed to what I thought was a branch of Grandma’s Place (外婆家). This is a famous chain of restaurant in Hangzhou. We didn’t make it there because there was always a gigantic queue in front of the place.
However, when we got to that particular restaurant, it felt weird. The sign said “Grandma’s Place” in Chinese but it looked like a pokey little place instead of the grand chain that we saw.
I couldn’t remember where the other branches of Grandma’s Place were so we stood outside Costa Coffee for its free WI-Fi. While we were searching, Nicole suggested that we head to Xiao Yang’s Place for 生煎包 (shengjianbao) which our mutual friend had recommended. Then I remembered that there was a Grandma’s Place branch there so off we went in search of food.
The fake Granma’s Place is situated just outside of the Chenghuang Shopping area so we had to swim through crowds to get to the subway station.
Once we were at the right stop, it took a while to find Grandma’s Place since I didn’t record the address. Nicole used Costa Coffee’s Wi-Fi to figure out where to go.
Grandma, what big bowls you have!
The branch that we went to occupied the whole 7th level of a shopping mall. It was like a maze trying to get to our table. Since it was still a bit too early for lunch, we didn’t have to wait for our table.
We ordered what we thought would feed 2 people nicely. But what came out seemed to be a nice meal for four.
Of course, we ate them all (except a bit of dessert).
Our next to-do list was to eat shengjianbao at Xiao Yang. However, we were still very full from lunch so we had to pass time before eating again.
We spent much of our time in Costa Coffee, surfing the internet. I dearly miss apps such as Facebook and Twitter but I had to satisfy myself with repeatedly looking at Instagram and WeChat. It was a very difficult period.
After sitting in the café one hour too long, we went off to do a bit of shopping. Yes, it was only “a bit”. My favorite clothes store UNIQLO has awesome shops in Shanghai. While we were there, its largest worldwide flagship store was opened somewhere in Shanghai but I didn’t go because we didn’t have time.
Finally, it was time for tea. There was already a queue at Xiao Yang. Unlike the Nanxiang branch we went to yesterday, Xiao Yang’s employees do not help customers look for seats. Instead, Nicole found a table while I queued for the shengjianbao.
Unfortunately for me, my order of 8 mini buns lacked just one bun and I had to wait for the next batch.
At XIao Yang (or at least the two branches that I’ve been to), the buns are cooked constantly so you won’t get anything chilled. The main cook prepares the buns by arranging a pan full of raw buns in hot oil. The buns are arranged with the usual top (the swirly part) on the pan so the flat part remains white and fluffy.
The cook then shifts the pan from side to side so the oil scalds all the buns. This process takes forever since I was only waiting for ONE. After the buns are fully cooked, the cook shifts it to another pan from where the food is served. The assistant then scatters sesame seeds and some Chinese green onion-like thing before scooping the cooked buns onto plates.
The most fun part about these shengjianbao is the soupy inside. When you bite into a Xiao Yang bun, the soup flows out and you have to slurp it up fast. It takes me about 2 slurps to suck the thing dry. Then you eat the meat along with the crunchy part. It is divine.
After our meal, it was time to head back to the hotel. Nicole had to catch a flight at 1am so we couldn’t go shopping.
Lilian kindly booked us a room for the night since the dinner ceremony would end quite late. (7:30pm!) When she checked us in, she had to borrow someone else’s identity card because the little hotel cannot accept foreigners.
I asked Lilian to explain why. She said that only certain hotels can accept foreigners since there would be major problems if the visitor faces problems (aka dies) while staying in the hotel.
Since Lilian booked too many rooms, Nicole and I each had a room. My room had 2 single beds and a view of the countryside. I didn’t get to see the countryside at night as it was too dark.
The bathroom had a squatting toilet and a shower. My shower didn’t have hot water in the morning but it had loads the previous night. In the toilet was a curtain with a naked girl. I thought that was very weird. (Though not as weird as the erotic name cards we received in Ibis.)
I lit a mosquito coil during the night and kept the cutains closed. I felt faint from what could be the fumes that night. At least I didn’t died.
Breakfast in Feng Shu Ling
All the guests had breakfast at an eatery nearby. There, Lilian introduced us to 米羹 (mi geng), a rice paste-like dish with some local chili sauce and preserved vegetable. She explained that the dish was made during war times when food was scarce. The villagers put together all the rice they have as well as the veggies. Out came this special dish.
Other food served was a pancake with preserved vegetables (again!) and bits of meat. There was also sweet soy bean milk and runny, plain rice porridge as well as tea eggs (eggs boiled in tea).
Bus to Qiandao Hu
After breakfast, Nicole and I waited for the bus back to Qiandao Hu. We would need to catch the 13:50 bus to Shanghai.
Lilian’s husband, Mr Lilian, was very helpful with the bus. He even ran across the street when the first bus at 9am came. Unfortunately, that bus was full so we had to wait for the 10am bus.
Lilian was more anxious than us and asked if a local could drive us to Qiandao Hu. As the lady driver was getting ready, another bus came. Mr Lilian went to check if the bus was leaving soon. Turns out, it was the 10am bus but it came out earlier to pick up passengers and would leave early if there were enough passengers.
So Nicole and I, as well as Lilian’s cousin, got on the 10am bus. We said farewell to the newlyweds and waited patiently for the bus to leave.
Unfortunately, the bus didn’t fill up as fast as I hoped. In the end, the bus left as its usual timing.
The road to Qiandao Hu was rocky. Even though I was napping throughout the 2-hour journey, I felt the bus sway from left to right. The driver even had to honk frequently on the narrow road.
Let’s just fast forward to the Qiandao Hu bus station since the first bus journey was very boring. At the Qiandao Hu bus station, Lilian’s cousin sent us off until the waiting room. Nicole had to tell the cousin that we would be alright alone before she left.
Bus to Shanghai
Soon, it was our turn to board the bus. The bus was quite full. I sat next to an older lady who shifted the airconditioning shaft directly at me. -_-”
As we zipped through the highways to Shanghai, I was surprised at how developed China is. There were multiple high-raised roads (is that how you call them) and buildings on the side of the road either soared up high into the sky or were built in the strange format preferred by rich farmers. These strangely shaped houses are usually painted gray and are at least 3 storey high. They look like milk-boxes with roofs inspired by ancient Chinese roof tiles. It gave an impression of a mix of the west and China but in a jarring way.
At the beginning of the journey, I watched the very lame movie. It was about killer giant crocodiles. The movie was predictable so I napped in short bursts along the way.
We stopped at a rest stop and the driver game us only 10 minutes. He warned everyone not to get instant noodles too.
Unfortunately, we got back onto the bus late. The driver yelled at me in his extra loud voice: DO YOU WANT TO FIND YOUR OWN TRANSPORT TO SHANGHAI?
I went back to my seat meekly and watched the other movie. I think it was The Transporter with the very buff Jason Standham. (?)
We reached Shanghai sooner than I thought. We got off the bus at 6:30pm and took the metro to our hotel.
Our hotel room was upgraded to a suite because they ran out of double bed rooms.
Then we went in search of food, stopping by Watson on the way.
Since Costa Coffee had free WI-FI, Nicole and I holed ourselves up at the café to update our social networks. We also made reservations for a buffet lunch tomorrow. Cannot wait!
Nicole and I got up early today because we wanted to make it in time for the 8:30am tour of Qiandao Hu (千岛湖). The weather was slightly chilly as the sun hid behind hay clouds when we got out of Whitney’s house at 7:15am.
The bus to Qiandao Hu’s tourist harbor was quite empty when we got on. But at the next few stops, more and more people boarded and the bus was full in a short while. The bus took us up hills and down slopes. passing by the lake shore.
At the harbor, there are counters for independent travellers to buy packaged boat tour of the islands. Even though the lake is called Thousand-Island Lake, we’ll only be visiting 4 main islands (which are made up of about 1 to 4 islands each). Our tour cost 215 yuan (S$43) each, which is pretty expensive considering a very nice meal in a restaurant for 2 costs less than 90 yuan.
We had our breakfast picnic of bread while we waited for our tour to start. Most of the people passing by were in tour groups and they each wore a cap in the color of their group. So far, we spotted turquoise, purple and red.
Soon it was time to board our boat. Our vessel was a three-decked modern things. When we got on, the employees urged us to head to the third level “to be more comfortable”. When we got onto the third level, we realized that they charge an extra 50 yuan per person for the comfort, plus unlimited refill of tea.
We headed down to the lower deck where there was no extra charge. When one of the employees asked why we were leaving the third deck, I replied bitterly, “I don’t have money.”
The only space we could find with a chair was the table occupied by two couples and a family of three. We each minded our own business for most of the trip.
Our ship came with two tour guides. One of the guides said that tour guides are only dispatched to ships made up of indie travellers only when there are a certain number. I think it was only to make us feel better as they probably dispatch guides to every ship that goes out.
The tour guide explained that Thousand-Island Lake was formed when the government built a dam for electricity. The damming caused two ancient cities to be submerged underground but all was done in the name of progress. (And we’re dang proud of it!)
The lake does have a thousand or so islands during periods where the water level is high. And when the water level is low, there can be up to 3,000 islands in the lake.
To tell you the truth, now that I’m writing about the tour, I’ve kind of forgotten what was on the four different islands. I have a vague memory of walking a lot under the shade of trees and taking photos. Luckily, I have photos to jog my memory. Off we go to the first island.
Our first stop was 月光岛 [yueguang dao] which translates to Moonlight Island. I’m not sure why it was named this way but the island consists of about 4 islands and one of which is named Wedding Photo Taking Place (or something like that).
Moonlight Island included a lot of locks. What locks you say? Well, those locks you use on your luggage or door to keep out thieves. On the island, they sell locks which you can buy and lock onto all sorts of predetermined places.
After the locks, there was a fish feeding area. About a hundred fishes fight for the feed that visitors throw into their little square living area. The fishes fight so hard that many of them are carried onto the surface of the water for at least 10 seconds. I sometimes feared for the lives of those fishes.
The last part of the island includes a metal bridge called Zhuangyuan Qiao. “Zhuangyuan” is one of the levels in ancient China’s examination system. If you pass it, you have the chance of becoming a government official. Kids and their families are encouraged to pay a fee to cross the bridge so that the child will pass his or her examination with flying colors.
Nicole and I skipped the bridge and explored around the harbor. There was a tower with no stairs and a stage with no audience. It was a bit creepy.
We got back onto the boat and bought one fried fish for each of us. The fish was supposedly fresh water fish caught from Qiandao Hu itself. It tasted like a skinny fish deep fried in oil. I even accidentally ate the gills before realizing it.
Dragon Mountain Island
Next stop was 龙山岛 (long shan dao) which means Dragon Mountain Island. The island had a couple of pillars carved with dragons which was probably why it was named that way.
The island was famous for one of its officials back in ancient China. Hai Rui was born in year 14??, which explains how back in ancient China that was.
He was a very fair government official and didn’t waste his city’s money (unlike a lot of officials then). The people were so in love with him that they built him a temple-for-the-living and asked him to write a few words about it.
The island was small so our tour ended really fast. It was off to another island.
Happy Fishing Island
Our third stop was 渔悦岛 (yu yue dao). The name is a pun on Happy (yu yue). They changed the first word to another “yu” which means fishing. So I guess the name of the island is Happy Fishing Island.
On this island, there is a buffet place, a performance stage and plenty of watersports. We were given 1.5 hours on the island because of the various activities.
Since Nicole and I brought our own food, we skipped the 30 yuan and 50 yuan buffet and ate our bread. But we did get a 25 yuan ticket into the performance area where we were promised plenty of ladyboys from Thailand, some dancers from Africa, a master of Chinese calligraphy and beauties dancing with snakes.
The show was all levels of bad. The best part was one of the ladyboys singing in both a female and male voice, although I suspect the male voice part was lip-synced.
The snake charmer ladies wore sparkling gold costumes and held onto their limp snakes. Their dance could only be the result of total non-practice. Heck, even I could go on stage and wave one arm about.
The African dancers seemed like a caricature of their culture. They wore “native” clothes and wriggled about. I have a feeling the dancers all have degrees and were only doing this to travel.
Another performance by the so-called master of calligraphy was bad too. While the master wrote with ink, the screen played a short clip about him. However, in all of the photos of the master with famous people, it looked like his face was photoshopped on. Even the photos of him in Thailand and Vietnam looked like a bad mix of green-screen and Photoshop.
The master did two works which were auctioned off. While the writing was indeed very good, the starting budding price was a ridiculous 500 yuan. The video did promise that the works of this master could go up to thousand of yuan. During one of the shows, no one bought his writing but someone did during the second show.
The finale of the show was a performance by 5 ladyboys. After the show, they stood on the stage for people to come up and take photos (30 yuan charge) with them. No one did during the first show we saw and we didn’t stay back for the other show.
On Happy Fishing Island, there was also facilities for banana boats and motorcycle for water. There was also a souvenir area where the vendors scream for attention and business.
After this “fun-filled” island, I was ready to head back to the mainland. However, we still have one last island to go to.
Plum Peak Island
梅峰岛 (mei feng dao) means Plum Peak Island. This is the most famous island because visitors can capture a shot of many of the other islands. We did try to take some photos of the same angle but it was blocked by trees and the crowd.
Besides photo taking, the island included a tea house where people are introduced to three types of tea. Nicole and I bought a set of 3 cans of tea and was given a tea set. We have no idea if we were cheated of our money but the tea did taste quite nice.
We had to climb for 15 minutes before reaching the peak. As for going down, there is a choice of grass sledding. I didn’t want to walk any more so Nicole went ahead with the grass sledding too.
The grass sled was a ratty looking plastic seat and the grass were fake grass. I sat into the plastic seat, stuffed my bags between my knees and grabbed the handle. I screamed all the way down the slope. It was awesome.
After the quick ride down, we hung out a while before heading back to our ship. The ship took about 40 minutes to get back to the mainland.
Food and shopping for razors
Since we didn’t eat a proper lunch, we were very hungry even before the end of the tour. We got off our bus form the harbor and headed straight to the restaurant we visited yesterday. The boss still recognized us and got our order of half a chicken, vegetables and a soup.
We ate our meal with gusto and I even had a few sips of Qiandao Hu beer. I found the not-so-alcoholic drink pleasant since I’m wimpy when it comes to beers.
After the meal (70 yuan), we went to check out bus tickets for the 3rd when we would be heading to Shanghai. The shop owner didn’t really know how to switch the system’s calendar to October and we helped out a bit. We realized that tickets for Shanghai were not yet for sale and we checked the timing of the buses. We decided to head back tomorrow to buy our 7.45am ride.
Our next chore was to buy razor so we could have smooth legs for Lilian’s wedding on the 2nd. Razors sold for an expensive price at the skin care shop. (10 yuan each!) In the end, we got razors for men, still at an incredible price of 9.5 yuan (I could get it for about 3 yuan in Malaysia.
Nicole deduced that the low demand for razors caused the price to be high. Indeed, underarm shaving for women in China is not yet the epidemic as it is in the west and in Singapore.
We headed back to Wang Xing’s place where we got to meet her mother-in-law. After our long day, we were ready to retire for the night.
Initially, we planned to stay overnight at Xitang before heading to Qiandao Hu. However, Whitney said that her family will be heading to Qiandao Hu on the 28th so she advised us to skip the overnight trip and instead go for a day trip.
I thought that a day trip would be too tiring so I didn’t relay this bit to Nicole. (Sorry if you’ve just found out today. Um… Surprise!) So today was the day we headed to Qiandao Hu which translates to the Lake with a Thousand Islands.
In the morning, Whitney’s husband drove us to the metro. He warned that the underground might be crowded as everyone is preparing to head back home for the 7-day long National Day holidays.
Nicole and I bought a bit of things to eat before taking the underground. The little convenience store was stocked with tidbits. We bought two Pocky stick biscuits, yogurt and plain water that had Lee Hom Wang’s face on it.
The metro wasn’t as crowded as I imagined it would be. In fact, Singapore’s Chinatown station probably has more people during the weekend than there was today at Wenzhe Lu Station. Our destination was the fifth stop and we reached without a hitch.
At Hangzhou’s long-distance bus station, we went to queue at the ticket selling machine. Unfortunately, our line’s machine was the one that broke down every time it had to spit out 1 yuan coins. We probably would have bought our tickets sooner than we did if we queued elsewhere.
When it was our turn at the machine, it broke down again. I went in search of a station employee. I found a security guard who banged on the screen behind the machine. One of the ladies answered the banging and helped turn the machine back into operation.
While we were queuing, a man standing behind Nicole went too close for comfort. He was wearing a cone straw hat and very traditional clothes. I guess his sense of personal space differed from ours. He did ask us to help him buy tickets in the end so I suspect he might not be too familiar with touchscreen devices.
Our bus to Qiandao Hu would leave at 13:50. It was 11:20 when we had our tickets. Instead of heading into the city and risk missing our bus, we stayed in the station. Luckily, we found seats and sat there for the next 1.5 hours.
Soon, it was 30 minutes before the bus was supposed to leave. As I’m a worrywart when travelling, I told Nicole that we had better get going. We had to pass a luggage scanner before taking the escalator down to the waiting area where hundreds of people were already waiting for their buses.
Our bus wasn’t as shabby as I imagined it would be. We had a lot of leg space, in fact, I can’t even reach the foot rest if I sit upright. During the 2+ hour journey, I napped a lot to catch up with sleep. The bus was showing a Hong Kong gangster movie and a game show. In the game show, contestants have to perform and stay on stage for 100 seconds without getting voted off by 58% of the audience.
One of the contestant was a former runner up in a Miss Bikini competition. She was gorgeous but couldn’t carry a tune. One of the men behind wondered out loud why such a person would want to put themselves on stage.
Another contestant brought a large basket of fruits. The man behind commented again about how he had seen this show and that the woman had a sad history since she was adopted. In the end, we all found out that this was another person and not the one he had seen previously.
When I was not sleeping or watching the TV, I looked out the window to find tall mountains dotted with green trees. These mountains were dainty compared to the giants I saw in Peru. I imagined being someone in the past and having to cross these mountains on horseback.
Soon we reached Qiandao Hu long distance bus terminal. A lot of people were looking for business and asked if we needed a lift. Since Whitney told us how to take the bus to her sister’s place, I told the enterprising youth that someone was going to pick us up. I guess it doesn’t matter if the person picking us up was the bus driver.
We ended up boarding at the wrong place but thankfully, it was the right choice. The bus was crammed with people as soon as it stopped at the proper boarding area. Nicole and I each had a seat and my seat gave me a good view of bus signs to see where to stop.
We alighted at what I hoped was the correct place. Nicole called up Whitney’s sister, Xing, and told her where we were. Xing came soon on a bicycle with her daughter riding between her and the bike handles. The little girl was chatty, as was her little cousin Coke.
Xing brought us back to her place which was a 3-storied apartment. Our room is on the upper floor and is connected to the balcony where we could hang our laundry.
After a while, Xing brought us out to give us a mini tour of Qiandao Hu’s city area. She also brought us to dinner where we ate food for 6 people. It included a large bowl with fish head straight from the lake.
Xing had to meet someone after dinner so Nicole and I strolled down the busy street. Shops were open and blasted recordings to lure people in. We had something to drink at a bakery before heading back.
Xing, her daughter and her husband were home when we got back. Nicole and I have to wake up at 6 to get ready tomorrow so we have to say good night now.
Nicole and I woke up late today, not only because I watched anime till 1am last night–Tudou videos are viewable here and they load really fast–but also because the hotel didn’t include breakfast so we didn’t have to head out for the breakfast spread.
After checking out, we needed to claim the deposit on our bicycle rental. We walked a bit down the street where the hotel was and then headed to one of the bike rental stands to cycle back to West Lake for the refund.
Cycling in China is a rather scary activity. There are a lot of electrical bikes and motorcycle around so you have to watch out for those. Plus bicycles don’t have rear view mirrors so you have to turn your head back frequently to be sure you won’t die from getting hit.
Once, I wanted to cycle on the other side of the path and I didn’t look back to see if any vehicle was behind me. Just as I was approaching the side, I saw the front wheels of a motorcycle in my peripheral vision and I yelled out loud. The motorcyclist yelled out as well and he braked just in time.
After the hair-raising ride, we reached one of the booths. The guy in charge said we could refund our deposit but there wasn’t any space for us to return our bikes so we had to cycle down the road to find a booth that allowed refund and had bike space.
We did find one after 1km of cycling. We got our 300 yuan back and we were rich. What do rich people do? Eat. So off we went to eat at a Hong Kong dessert place.
I ordered a steamed milk pudding with caramelized walnut while Nicole ordered a steamed milk pudding with durian. Unfortunately, the durian pudding was out so she ordered a different pudding.
After desserts (or was it breakfast), we decided to head back to the hotel because Lilian’s friend will be picking us up to her place. Lilian is the bride-to-be whose wedding we are attending.
We went to the nearest bus stop to see if we could find a bus back to the hotel. There weren’t any. Luckily, the free Hangzhou Wi-Fi worked and I used Baidu Maps (which is a lot more awesome than Google Maps) to figure out which bus to take.
At the bus stop, there were two buses heading back to the hotel. Bus 7 costs 2 yuan (S$0.40) while bus 900 costs 3 yuan (S$0.60). At first I was quite firm that we should only take bus 7 but then I realized that the 1 yuan difference is only S$0.20 and it wasn’t worth waiting for a crowded and slower bus for that price.
Just then, bus 900 rolled in and we hopped on. The air-conditioned bus smelled of damp socks and it wasn’t very pleasant. Our stop was only one stop away and the bus drove a long way down before we reached our destination.
We went back to our hotel and got our luggage from the storage area. After a bit of waiting, Whitney arrived. We then put our luggage back into storage and went out in search of lunch.
Strolling on QIng He Fang pedestrian street
Not far from our hotel was Qing He Fang, a pedestrian street lined with ancient Chinese-themed buildings but modern wares. Since the long national day holidays was starting, the streets were filled with visitors strolling slowly.
We went into a noodle shop for lunch. My noodle had earth eels (is that what you call it?) and tiny prawns. It was an alright dish but the eel was fried crispy and tasted very good.
Next up was sightseeing/window shopping. The street of Qing He Fang had many old buildings and buildings recreated to look like shops back in ancient China.
All sorts of odds and ends targeted at tourists were sold. There were candy shaped into figures, caramel twisted into shapes, 5-minute portraits by street artists and even a man dressed in period costume selling flat bread under Wu Da Lang’s name. Wu Da Lang is a character from an old Chinese novel and his wife and her lover killed him.
There was also a haunted house on the second floor of one of the shops. While I’m curious about ghosts, the idea of getting scared by humans wasn’t very appealing.
We headed back to the hotel after finishing our walk. We passed by a street performance of an ancient Chinese play by a local university’s drama club. This was part of the international drama week or some strange celebration like that.
We picked up our luggage and went on the underground back to Whitney’s home in the suburb.
Hangzhou’s metro was launched recently. The train carriage was clean and the station sparkling. When we got on the train, we found a couple sitting on little foldable stools as if this was the norm.
We switched trains before reaching our stop. We then had to take a cab to Whitney’s place since the metro in front of her flat wasn’t opened yet. The cabbie even picked up another customer along the way. He told us that it would be difficult to make money if he doesn’t pick up different batches along the way.
A cute baby!
When we got back to Whitney’s place, we were introduced to her 2-year-old kid–Cola. He is cute as a button (rather rare for little boys his age) and has unlimited energy. He cannot carry on a conversation but keeps on babbling in his own language.
The baby entertained us as much as the TV program did. We watched one of the episodes of The Voice of China. Cola likes the duo who sings a song about curly lashes (It was originally a song by a Taiwanese pop idol, which explains the strange lyrics.) He bobbed around when the duo was on screen.
We spent much of the afternoon in the house watching TV reruns. Dinner came at about 7pm. Whitney’s husband cooked many platefuls of vegetable. We even had fresh water crabs and soup with pork ribs and corn.
After dinner, the family brought us to a branded outlet. I’ve never been to a branded outlet while travelling because I never found the time to do so. I should have in the US where Coach bags are said to be dirt cheap. Oh well…
Nicole and I had tea at Haagen Daaz after a stroll in the mall. I tried to use the free Wi-Fi but I was required to login with a password sent to a local Chinese number. Seems like I need to get a local number.
After the non-shopping trip, we headed back to the house.
Tomorrow Nicole and I will be going to Qiandao Hu–the lake with a thousand islands.
[I didn’t have access to my blog during my time in China so all daily posts are postponed until now.]
Location: Hangzhou, China
Nicole and I had breakfast at Guanghua’s lobby. The breakfast spread would end at 9:30am so we didn’t have the luxury of sleeping in until late. Unfortunately, the buffet had a terrible selection of food that I suppose even a local would find lacking.
The porridge was watery and the side dishes looked like it had been picked clean by crows before being served. Still, I stuffed myself with eggs so that I wouldn’t be hungry too easily.
After breakfast, we pottered around the hotel room a while before heading out to catch a cab to Hangzhou city where we would spend a night at Ibis Hotel.
Our cabbie was a chatty Hangzhou-born guy. He told us about which surrounding sight was interesting (Wuzhen is apparently better than Xitang which is very commercialized) and how many rich people in China are from Hangzhou (for example, Pony Ma from Alibaba and the folks from Wahaha).
The cabbie seemed like a nice guy but he dropped us off 4 blocks away from our real hotel. It made me wonder if he was really a good person who made a wrong mistake or a swindler out to get us. Fortunately, the weather was breezy and cloudy so Nicole and I didn’t feel too tired walking to our hotel.
When we got into our room, we found a few sexually suggestive namecards which promised sexual favors for money. Argh!
Detour to Jiuxi
After checking in the hotel, we decided to head out for lunch. While we were debating which was the correct road to the famous Grandma’s Place restaurant, a woman interrupted us and told us that the restaurant isn’t that amazing.
She then suggested that we head to Jiuxi 九溪 to look at the waterfall there and the paved road which Emperor Qianlong had walked on before. So we took her advice and boarded a bus to Jiuxi. When we got there, we walked down the road to look for somewhere to eat.
We ended up at a midsized restaurant. We ordered about 2 dishes and a bowl of tomato and egg soup. The soup came out in a bowl that reminded us of a basin which people used to wash their faces in. Of course, we ended the meal with gigantic tummies.
Next, we took a taxi to Jiuxi waterfalls. The driver gave us a detailed explanation of the surrounding area and even gave us suggestions of which trail to take.
The view at Jiuxi wasn’t as fantastic as what the passerby told us to be. There was a nice waterfall with a small lake. Loads of groom and brides-to-be were taking their pre-wedding photographs.
Trusting strangers in a land of mistrust
When we were walking on the path, heading for the exit to take the bus. A woman pushing a bicycle started chatting to us, telling us which were tea bushes and even plucked a few tea leaves for us.
She even invited us to have tea at her place. Although I’ve read about tea scams in China [LINK], she looked like a nice person so I didn’t object to going with them.
She brought us to her house which was a little cement place behind a fancy house. She brought out two bags of tea leaves and made glasses of tea for us.
We chatted about random things. She mentioned that her child’s teachers have sent mobile phone messages to remind them about the holidays and the kids’ homework. She also told us that it was sale season for black freshwater pearls.
When we had enough of tea (about 5 glasses), we told her that we were leaving. Nicole bought some tea from her.
The woman brought us out and told us that we could take a cab back to West Lake. So we walked up the hill. There, a man was waiting beside his car. He told us that the charge was only 20 yuan to West Lake.
We took the cabbie’s offer to head back. While we were driving down the hill, he kept asking if we wanted to buy pearls or silk products. Fortunately we didn’t.
Soon, we reached West Lake’s area. But the map told me that we weren’t very near where we wanted to go. Then, the cabbie said he could drop us off somewhere further in front after he picked up his kid.
A girl was waiting by the road. She got into the back seat with us. We chit chat with the kid while her dad drove us further down the road.
Then it suddenly hit me. (Nothing solid actually hit me, just a thought.) Could this man be related to the tea-woman? Could she be sending him phone messages about us?
I asked the kid which level she was in in primary school. She replied, “Third grade,” which was the same as tea-woman’s tea.
The thing about travelling is that you are never sure which stranger you can trust and which you cannot. It’s easy to reject everyone that comes along but you would never know if that person meant you harm or not.
I still wonder if it is better to trust or to mistrust.
Cycling around the West Lake
After the could-be swindler cabbie dropped us off by West Lake, I suggested that Nicole and I rent bicycles to cycle around the lake.
Hangzhou has an official bicycle rental program where you can rent the bike for an hour free of charge. The next hours are charged but if you return the bike within the hour and get a new rental cycle, then it’s free forever. It’s similar to the one in Paris which I’ve rode before.
The first bike rental place didn’t accept new applications so we walked 5 minutes to the counter opposite Yue Fei Temple.
We had to pay 300 yuan deposit for a rental deposit card. However, there was no bike around for rental so we walked back to the first rental place.
There were quite a few bikes there. We then realized why there were so many bikes there–Half of them were broken. One bike’s back tire broke when I sat on it. Another bike’s chains were gone.
So Nicole drove the only bike we could find to the other bike station. Still, no one returned the bikes. Well, some did but they took it away immediately so it didn’t count.
We then went further down the road, trying to find a bike station with functional bikes. Nicole and I took turns on the bike, trying to find a bike station.
We didn’t find a station with free bikes until 40 minutes after we got the first bike. At one point, I took the bike to find a bike station. I was supposed to cycle back to Nicole and report to her about my findings. I did cycle back when I found a station and thought that I would start looking for her after passing one of the bridges.
Luckily I stopped. Turns out, Nicole already reached the junction and was looking for me. If I didn’t stop, I would have to cycle to the meeting point and then back to look for her.
After we both reached the vacant bike station, we hopped on our bikes and pedaled down the dangerous road on which we rode alongside moving vehicles.
We rode our bikes for what felt like a long time before we were ready for dinner. We parked our bikes and went to a branch of “Green Tea” which we accidentally found.
We took a queue number and was about 20 numbers away. We went to find a public toilet at a shopping mall opposite. The sign at the mall was weird. It kept pointing upstairs and downstairs. We found it in a totally different place in the end.
Dinner was great. Green Tea was packed with customers. They have 5 floor and yet each table was occupied.
After dinner, we walked back to the hotel, passing by a Carrefour. I could not resist Carrefour. We bought some interesting skin care products.
Too tired at the end of the day, we stayed in. I watched some anime before retiring for the night.
[Since I did not have access to my blog when I was in China, I have to update my trip only now. Enjoy the delayed posts.]
Location: Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia -> Hangzhou, China
Hello everybody, I’m now in Hangzhou, China. Today’s the first day of my East Asia (China and Taiwan) trip.
At the beginning, I didn’t thought about writing daily entries as I did on my round-the-world trip. But today’s event was so interesting (or frustrating) that I thought it would be interesting to share details about this 20-day trip.
Let’s hop over to the start of the trip, to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Mom dropped me off at AirAsia’s terminal and headed off to the shop. Our family’s kind of laissez-faire about sending off people because we seem to be travelling too much for tearful farewells. Heck, my parents only start driving to the airport to pick me up after I call them to say that I’ve arrived.
The counters were full of guests waiting for check-in. I picked one of the queues that seemed to have less people and even lesser luggage.
Of course, I have the worst of luck when it comes to queues so my line was slower than the one on my left but faster than the one on my right. (I feel good about the latter part.)
While I was waiting, my mom suddenly appeared at my side. She told me that a police officer had left the parking area so she parked illegally. She didn’t hang around for a long time and went off soon.
After checking in my 8kg luggage despite having 20kg of paid weight, I headed into the boarding room. AIrAsia’s boarding room is kind of messy since they only have number gates and everyone waits in the same place.
I didn’t realize that my flight was boarding until I heard a man yell out my destination, “HANGZHOU!” By that time, the queue has dispersed and only the rest of the absentminded guests were rushing over to pass the gate.
The majority of the passengers on my flight were tourists from mainland China. It’s great that AirAsia has started Hangzhou – Kota Kinabalu route as it brings in a lot more tourists. Still, I think that the city still needs to work more to make the place tourist-friendlier.
Anyway, back to my flight. I booked a meal for the trip to Hangzhou because it was flying at an awkward timing (4:15pm to 8:20pm!). I booked black pepper chicken since I would be eating a lot of rice for the next 20 days.
All throughout my flight, the little kid behind me kept kicking my seat. He even shut the window shutter really loudly when I had my head leaning on the wall.
I didn’t confront his parents because I’m a wimp but from the kid and his mom’s conversation, I can tell that they are actually good parents and not raising a spoiled brat.
Soon (actually, about 4 hours), we reached Hangzhou. The airport was huge and our plane needed a car with an arrow sign to lead it to its space. I only glimpsed the car when it made turns. This made me wonder if there are actually tiny cars leading planes to their right parking in all airports.
Immigration at Hangzhou airport was fast since it didn’t seem like a lot of people were around. I hurried past the customs officers since I was eager to hea
Waiting, waiting and waiting for my hotel pick up
I got out my phone and tried to call the hotel through Skype since it’s much cheaper that way. What I didn’t realize that Skype’s service was blocked in China. (I should have known this considering my previous job involved a lot of writing about the Great Firewall of China.)
I was nervous and did the next best thing: Whatsapp my mom and ask her to call the hotel. I could see from my phone record that Mom had read my note. But a long while passed and she still did not reply me.
I forwarded the hotel’s number to the Whatsapp group where I contact both my mom and my sister. Soon, my mom replied. She said she was busy fetching someone to the airport and didn’t have time to call the hotel then. She had made the call and the receptionist said that the hotel bus was already off to pick me up. This was 9:27pm.
So I waited and waited and waited. I looked at every person who walked by, to see if they would approach me and ask if I was staying at Guanghua Hotel. No one asked me even though they looked like they were there to pick someone up.
At 9:40pm, I told my family that the vehicle wasn’t there even though the hotel is supposed to be near the airport.
9:46pm I wrote Nicole’s full name on a piece of paper and hung it on my luggage. Since she made the booking, I assumed that the pick up person would know to pick me up.
9:48pm I asked my mom to call the hotel again. My sister also volunteered to call.
9:54pm Mom wrote that the reception to the hotel was bad and she couldn’t hear much. I tried calling and no one could hear me speak.
10:03pm My sister said she would call. Mom wrote back, “I just called. They said that they’ve picked someone up. I told them that you’re still at the airport. She asked if there were 3 of you. Then I said that you have been waiting since 9pm.”
10:06pm My sister wrote, “The receptionist dared say that the 2 Malaysians have checked in. Head to Gate 14. Car plate 38, silver gray car with a driver called Liu.”
So off I walked from Gate 4 to Gate 14. Even though the numbers don’t feel too far from each other, the walk was dang long. When I reached Gate 4, my heart fell. This place was a total mess with more people waiting than people arriving. I knew I wouldn’t be able to recognize anyone there. I didn’t dare walk too far out of the airport because it was unknown territory. I told my sister about the situation and she called the hotel again.
10:20pm My sister wrote to tell me to head out and a vehicle would be honking and some one would be calling out my name. I walked out and there was a van outside. The driver was honking but he wasn’t yelling my name. I gratefully got on the bus.
Even though it was only a 5-minute drive, it felt like forever. The highway was quite empty and the dark roadside was lit here and there with florescent signs announcing hotels.
Finally, the bus approached a grand hotel. It was Guanghua, the place where I will be staying for one night. The receptionists were apologetic when I checked in. I took my room card and the breakfast coupon to our floor.
The room was majestic. After 4 months of living in hostels, a grand hotel room was very unfamiliar, although very exciting. Soft comfy beds! Dim lights! Not very cold air conditioning. These were things unfamiliar to me.
Other things that were unfamiliar to me were payable items such as junk food, face towel, shampoo and even instant noodles in the room.
Another thing that I’ve never seen in a hotel room is this basket consisting of 1 box of vibrating condoms, 1 box of ladies’ underwear, 1 box of ladies’ socks, 1 box of men’s underwear and another box I didn’t see clearly.
Nicole’s flight arrive slightly after midnight. I went to the reception to tell them to send a car over. Soon, she reached and we’re about to start our adventures tomorrow!
What is the strangest thing you have seen in a hotel room?