A Travellerspoint blog

November 2013

Lost in Chengdu

sunny 15 °C

So, Monday I lost the biggest building in the world (by getting off at the wrong metro stop). I topped that on Tuesday by losing an entire motorway/ring-road - by not recognising that the thing I was walking under was the very thing (second ring road) I was looking for. I needed it because the Industrial Civilisation Museum was just the other side. So, I walked fruitlessly backwards and forwards, getting more and more frustrated (the only consolations being that I found a very nice patisserie for coffee and croissants and I was very amused by these


law firms, all lined up on the street) until I decided, bugger it, I'm walking back into the centre, along the bus route I had come out on. At least this meant I finally spotted the Walmart which I knew to be right next door. Lots of people were using the space in front of it for exercise and dance


I resisted the (surprisingly low) temptation to go in, and also managed to resist the temptation to go into this restaurant


Unfortunately, either the Industrial Civilisation Museuem is no more, or it is an elaborate joke, because to me it looks like a building site


I spent a wee bit of time in the neighbouring East Chengdu Music Park, so named because blokes like this one bring their amp and sing karaoke al fresco


But it was nice to finally see some greenery in the city


and I watched these guys spin their tops by whipping them (they produced an unearthly sort of music as well) - judging by the fact that some had bags and thermoses, this might have been an all day activity


Lots of badminton was being played as well


I don't really know why, but I decided to walk back from here to where I am staying, right in the centre - it is about 7 km. It really gave me an appreciation of just how huge Chengdu is, as for the entire walk, it looked like I was walking through the CBD - lots of malls, commercial buildings, traffic and a constant string of highrise apartment buildings like these


Coming at my digs from a new angle, I found things round the corner which were quite good to know about - two coffee shops, a ramen joint, a purveyor of donuts and something which made it very easy to get dinner - essentially a cafeteria where all the food was laid out in bowls for me to select, with no language barrier. I ate splendidly for about $8 - the shiny green things in the bowl on the left are chillis: I ate the lot, but had a bit of a problem with the Sichuan peppercorns, because they leave you with a wierd sort of stinging (because they're quite potent) numbness (yes, a complete contradiction, I know).


All in all, Tuesday was not the most successful of days, so I was a bit concerned about Wednesday - I had a very special destination in mind. I probably could have taken a tour from the hostel, but they wanted to go quite early and, well, I quite like touring about on local buses. From the internet, I had gathered that I had to catch three seperate buses to get to my destination - the first two were fine, but the third never showed. Luckily, I had another bus number in reserve, and when one turned up, on I hopped. I was most entertained by the two older (i.e. my age) people sitting in front of me, on opposite sides of the bus (completely unrelated, as far as I could tell). First one and then the other received a cell phone call, and they both went through the same procedure. The first point to make is that they didn't have ring tones, they had ring shrieks. Their phones, quaintly, were in tight fitted knitted pouches - so the shrieking went on for some time. Then the shouting started - ==WEI== - to answer, and then prolonged very loud conversations which people three buses away could probably hear.

Anyway, I finally arrived at my destination - I didn't come here because of it, but once here, I could hardly leave without visiting


could I? I took my time, inspecting the grounds


Swan lake (with its fishes)


and having lunch before going in search. Initially, I was disappointed, going past several enclosures without seeing anything, and beginning to wonder if coming earlier would have been a good idea (it happened to be the hottest day I've had so far in China) but eventually I run into a few pandas


The wee cubs were absolute darlings (I actually have some video of them, but can't upload at this stage), but aren't they just the cutest things?


There is a brand new cub, just a month or so old, which a sign said was being brought out for people to see while I was there but unfortunately I never managed to see her.

So, I did pretty well - but then on the way back, I took a different bus and got so lost I had to get off, go into a mall for some wifi in order to work out where the hell I was: I was convinced I had gone way west of the North Railway Station but, oddly enough, I was just a block from my hostel, which is right in the centre of town.

Posted by NZBarry 07:03 Archived in China Comments (1)

Loving Chengdu

sunny 14 °C

It seemed so easy: book in online, get an early drop off at the airport, drop my bags and have a sweet time hanging out airside at the LCCT. Hah! The first two worked out fine, but then I encountered Air Asia's organisation of their check in procedures. The computer screen said to go to particular counters: I did so and asked a staff member if it was the right place (she said it was). With zero movement in the queue and me thinking there must be a bag drop line, I asked the same staff member if there was - "Oh yes, go round the other side". Another huge queue, one which had formed itself into a spiral. But then I saw some check in desks for India and China - solution! Nope, China to Air Asia means Hong Kong only, back into the spiral. I didn't even have the consolation I had in Sydney - there, one girl was conversing with her friend solely by singing her responses, musical theatre style. Then the two girls behind me break out of the spiral and make for some special desks - I had the foresight to ask where they were going: Chengdu. That's how Air Asia functions in KL - it makes people queue for hours, then just before each flight is about to board, allows those on that flight to go to the special counters IF they can make out what is being mumbled through the PA system at the other end of the departures area. I clear immigration only to hear "Final boarding announcement for flight D7 320 to Chengdu". Air Asia doesn't do airbridges - we walk along the edge of the apron - our plane was last of about 8. Once on board I could watch at least a quarter of the passengers follow me - at least Air Asia had the decency to make sure everyone was in, although it made us about 20 minutes late.

The flight itself was spectacular, very little cloud for the last hour, so I could see the mountains and rivers of western China and Tibet. Chengdu from the air was like nothing I have seen before - it has obviously recently grown very quickly, onto farmland - it is still there as a backdrop, with lots and lots of clumps of shiny new high rise buildings as well as industrial sites and even some clumps of mansions. It looked more like an electrical circuit board than a city, at least till we got to the older part. Clearing immigration and customs was a breeze (I had all sorts of forebodings about them taking my laptop and finding the VPN and confiscating it - no-one even looked at me). Thanks to the excellent map provided by my hostel, I could show the bus conductor where I needed to get off, and found the hostel with no problem.

But in my walk around the area, I became aware that there is a problem: food. There's a restaurant directly across the road, and them menu is painted on the wall in heavy blocks of Chinese (at least I think it was the menu, but for all I know it could have been instructions for pulling apart a lawnmower engine). Almost every place I saw was the same, no pictures, no English - I was starting to think I am going to have a very hungry month when I noticed a "Highly Traditional Fried Duck" cafe, then another with pictures of the food they cook I'll be able to point to. It was too early to eat, so I kept wandering, into the abomination known as Chunxi Shopping Street. It is a part of Chengdu with a long history, but is now Chengdu's main shopping area - I lasted two blocks. Most shops seemed to be clothing shop: every one of them had a barker (who was bellowing into a cheap megaphine) and an assistant barker (who was clapping her hands). What with the various sound systems also operating, the fact there were no shops of interest to me and the hundreds of people milling about, I had to get out. Luckily I found refuge in what calls itself a coffee house but is really a restaurant. They had an English menu and the Bangles on the stereo, although the staff addressed me solely in Chinese. I managed to get myself some very nice cake, a couple of beers and a wonderful dish comprised of short bits of pork rib, green beans, capsicum, cumin and chilli.

The walk proved one thing: I should go nowhere without a camera. Just minutes from the hostel, I came across the entire staff of a restaurant - servers with their aprons, chefs with their white hats, at least 50 of them, all lined up in military formation on the footpath being addressed by some weedy wee fellow. I wanted to hang around to see if they were going to frogmarch into the restaurant, but several broke ranks to look at me and giggle, so I thought I'd better leave them to it. Then I ran into a fellow, obviously thinking he was pretty cool, but he was wearing a onesie, black with white polka dots! At least the next person I saw wearing one, yolk yellow, looked at me as if to say "I know, but my work makes me wear it". Something else I noticed: as in most Asian cities, there are lots of people on scooters, and they''ll be on the footpath, on the cycle path and on the road but not too fussed about the direction taken. Here, however, the scooters are electric, so (a) they tend not to use any lights and (b) they're an absolutely silent peril to deal with.

Today was more of the same, wandering about but with three objectives. I had to go up to the north Railway Station


to get my ticket out of here, which meant first going on the metro. Easy as, as it happens. Even getting the train ticket was no big drama, although the booking hall is a bit confronting:


I had found the train I wanted, and found the Chinese characters for the town I am going to next as well as for the lowest of the three bunks in a hard sleeper, and in a very clumsy way drawn them on paper. The booking clerk person seemed to have no trouble understanding what I wanted - the ticket she gave me has the right date, train and place, although I can't see where my accomodations are recorded. Nearby I noticed a couple of dumpling restaurants in what turned out to be the bus station. Although again no English was spoken, the girl behind the counter seemed vastly amused at the challenge of getting me fed, although on the whole she struck me as quite serious


and pointed to a picture of a dish which my observations confirmed was the most popular thing on the menu (a very soft minute steak, with dumplings and a fried egg (very hard to eat with chopsticks)):


Then I had to go south to check out an English language bookstore, lending library and cafe called the Bookworm, where I whiled away some time over a coffee and carrot cake reading (thanks to the random nature of what I have downloaded to my tablet) William James' Varieties of Religious Experience. This is what the entrance to a real Chinese restaurant looks like


In my wanders, I noticed quite a theme, and not just in this restaurant:


The third thing was to go to the New Century Global Centre, which is the largest building (by floor space) in the world


The mall was a touch on the gaudy side, and even had electronic fish swimming up the escalators


Inside, I certainly had a sense of how huge it is, although there are only four floors of shopping, and a lot of the top floor is taken up with an IMAX theatre and very large skating rink. I was very impressed with the width of the corridors and the stud - they've certainly not crammed the shops in here. One of the things that drew me here was the fact that they have put a proper sand beach into the mall, but I was too much of a cheapskate to actually pay to go see it. Instead, I watched adults laugh so much they cried riding these


I had a bit of a cock-up on the catering front when it came to ordering dinn,er. I was successful in ordering BBQ Pork, cabbage and beer, but when it came to ordering rice, my waitress didn't know what I meant, so I pointed to a picture of some - unfortunately it was part of a larger meal, so guess what turned up


The tables were fixed to the floor: the three year old boy at the next one was having a great time - he'd shove the table as hard as he could to make things rattle, and then laugh uproarously, until it was time to do it again. And that's what I'm loving about Chengdu, just watching people go about doing what they do. Being a little indiscreet for a moment, I've been thinking that if I had grown up here, I wouldn't have made it through my teens, as even at my grand old age, I've been acutely aware of how heart-stoppingly beautiful many of the women are.

Posted by NZBarry 07:07 Archived in China Comments (0)

A Day in Kuala Lumpur

sunny 30 °C

I have spent quite a lot of time in KL over the years, so feel no urgency to go out and explore when I am here. Still, tempting as it was, I couldn't just spend my day holed up in the hotel so went for a wander, starting with yet another meal in the KL Sentral Station canteen (my hotel was right behind the station):






Spending time in the station was a bit of a mistake, as early versions of this trip involved train travel all the way from Singapore through Malaysia and onwards, and hanging about in the station brought on some regrets. Not that the station is anything to write home about - it looks more like an extremely budget shopping mall


and lacks any of the class of the former KL Sentral Station. In my notes for KL, the only entry I had was "Colonial Cafe, Majestic Hotel". I have no idea where the suggestion came from to go there, but it was a good one. The building itself doesn't look like much from the outside


although it seems to have a fake main entrance down the street


but the Colonial Cafe was well worth the visit - even though it is actually only a year old, you wouldn't know it:




My smoked salmon on bread with mustard didn't quite look as expected


but the Ayam Kunyit was great


Since I had now eaten lunch twice in the space of about 90 minutes, I thought I should take a walk, starting with going past one of my favourite buildings in KL - the former KL Sentral Station, which still houses the Heritage Station Hotel (I have spent more than a week there):




I then made for the area housing the Islamic Art museum, which is on a hill not far from the old station - I didn't want to see that museum in particular, just felt like wandering to see what I would see - that turned out to be the Royal Police Museum, which in amongst all the apparatus used by the Police over time told quite a tale - the Police appear to have been the main force relied upon by the State to quell the communist uprising in the 1940's. One odd thing - either I missed a room, or they didn't have a whole lot to report post 1960 (although there was some police equipment I saw which was much younger then 50 years old). Wandering further, I found myself back at the Merdeka Square, which is where Malaysian independence was declared in 1957. This was the State government and Supreme Court building (and is now the Ministry of Heritage)




The people are gathered to see the World Strongman championship - I arrived just as some dancing girls finished doing their thing, and didn't bother to wait for some chaps holding 66 kg weights with their arms extended in front of them. On the other side of the Square is (I think) the Royal Selangor Club


I needed to find an internet cafe and decided to walk towards the Petronas Towers in the hope of finding one - this was not successful, so after a couple of hours solid walk in the warm and humid air of KL, I finally arrived at the Petronas Twin towers themselves, and collapsed into a long cold drink. On about the third floor, there is a Harley Davidson shop



and then from the fourth floor, there is a pretty good view of proceedings outside




The place was packed, so I retreated to a Vienese cafe, and was not bothered a bit when they said it would take half an hour to produce a molten chocolate lava cake. Oddly enough, it was 8 before I got back to Sentral - just time to collect my bags and catch the train back to my digs near the airport.

Posted by NZBarry 07:18 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

Away Again

sunny 30 °C

I took my last sip of beer and zipped my bag just as my friends drove up to take me to the airport. A short delay with my plane gave us a window for another beer, and then it was off to Christchurch where I was collected by another friend, who drove me around and watched on patiently while I had supper (actually the first meal of the day, so maybe I had been busier getting ready to leave than I thought). My last morning in New Zealand was relaxed - a short stroll to the coffee shop around the corner and on to the airport bus. Christchurch has these interesting devices on its bus stops - a list of bus routes, you press one and a wee red light glows to show when the next bus on that route will arrive. A fellow inhabitant of the bus stop was so intrigued by this system that she took numerous photos - I can just imagine how they will go down back home: "Look ma, a bus stop! You push this button and it does this, and.." "Alright, enough about the bus stop - make me some tea".

I had several hours to kill at the airport, and again at Sydney, which I occupied quite easily - mainly by eating. On the flight to Sydney, I was a bit squashed - a bloke sprawled with his legs wide apart to the right and an excitable Chinese woman of indeterminate age to the left who never sat still. In my semi lucid state, I examined the bloke and indulged in the thought that he was pretty scrawny for one taking up so much space and, with the element of surprise in my favour, could probably beat him in a fight. During one of my other neighbour's several absences, a cabin crew member sat in her seat for a bit, and she was using the seat back entertainment system to buy some food. I know the Government is strapped for cash and selling off its assets, but I didn't think it had reached this point. I did ask Paige if it had - she was just buying for another passenger whose screen was not working. In Sydney airport, I was in a cafe, enjoying my food, when I felt the heavy hand of a security guard on my shoulder. Not much of a situation: he had seen me eating, thought it tasty and come over to find out what I was eating (since it was just BBQ chicken on noodles, I thought it was obvious). Finally it was time to get on the Air Asia X flight to KL - a mercilessly dull 8 1/2 hours. No entertainment system (not without paying for it) and I was too tired to read but not sleepy. The only upside was that as soon as the plane levelled out, I could extricate myself from my seat and swap for one in which I had no neighbour.

On the descent, we were told we'd be ready to disembark at 3:15 a.m. and that the temperature was 27 degrees! It didn't seem too bad, and formalities were extremely perfunctory - no landing card to fill in, no questions, waved straight through Customs - I was checked in to the hotel before 4:00, where I had a tiny little room which was no more than a foot bigger on any side than the bed. My first day in KL didn't see me do very much - move into the city, catch up on some more sleep and then go buy the things that I had left behind (a mouse, a memory card, soap). This involved a visit to the malls in Bukit Bintang. Up on the 6th floor of the Sungei Wang Plaza, I enjoyed this sight:


After a heavy dose of shopping, it was time for one of these:



I noted the guys beside me had gone for a 2.5 litre tower of beer: there were only two of them and they were making very slow progress - I doubt they were going to finish. I only wanted the one beer, then it was time to enter the maws of the mall and find some dinner - it was very Christmassy.




Posted by NZBarry 18:10 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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