15 Sep 2004
|I had forgotten how much travelling in many countries involves much more travelling than actually being in places. I've lost track of days a bit, but I think I woke up yesterday in Qufu to another tropical rain storm, hopefully not as bad as Sunday's one which killed 200 people in a town I will be in a few weeks time. I was nearly out of cash (and am trying to save my traveller's cheques and dollars for when I am in really out of the way places) so I went looking for an ATM, getting very wet in the process. Eventually this nice woman in one bank walked me round in the rain to an ATM that would take my card. Much fun involved as the rain had made it electrically live, such that it really hurt to touch it. They seemed to think this was OK, and we managed by poking it with a pen. Let's hope no old people with weak hearts were going to try and get their pensions out.
Anyway, no train station in town, and I have already been told twice I can't get buses to Suzhou (Sue-Joe) where I want to go, so I get a minibus to nearest railway city, some craphole called Yanzhou. Talking of crapholes, I got off the bus keen for a piss, and whipped into the commonly available public toilets, only to find a row of blokes squatting there. I decided to wait till later for a piss, and was just glad that was all I wanted. Generally speaking, Chinese public toilets are pretty bad, bus stations worse than train stations, and the more provincial it is, the worse they are in terms of small and lack of privacy for anything you might want to do. Petrol station ones are by far the worst though, and are completely open plan and absolutely minging usually (pardon the pun), and to be avoided if at all possible.
Anyway, in the train station they said no train to Suzhou, so I thought I'd go to Shangahi and back out again, no worries. Turns out (apparently) that next train to Shanghai is in 10 hours time and hard seat only! Still pouring with rain in this very unprepossessing city, so I amused my self all day in the station until the evening train.
Hard seat works like this: It is possible to go in hard seat carriages without a reserved seat, either to take empty seats temporarily, or stand all the way (N.B. 11 hours to Shanghai). Everyone is held back from the platform until a certain point and then released, and it is bedlam, even more so when trying to actually get on the train, and move around a hard seat carriage thronged with shoving people with a big rucksack on etc. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I must be getting used to this because I even somehow slept some on this tortuous journey.
I was talking to this lecturer from Shanghai Uni, and later at 4 a.m. he woke me to tell me we were in Suzhou! This is extremely typical of Chinese misinformation (remember they said there wasn't such a thing as a train going there). Another example: then I went to my chosen hotel, who told me there were no rooms. When I asked for directions to next choice, they eventually said there was, and gave me a room. This is about the fourth time someone has said no, I wait around for a while, and then they say yes. And I'm sure it won't be the last. By the way, this is not a language problem, my guide books warn about this.
So now I have left behind Hebei province and Shandong Province, and am in Jiangsu Province. Shanghai is only about an hour away, but I am trying to avoid it, we shall see. Suzhou a city of 6,000,000 people, but in the centre at least, really rather nice, and famous for its Chinese gardens, all 300 of them. I have seen 2 already this am, and will no doubt see more this pm, after my internet rest.
First to the Graden of the Master of the Nets, for when it opened at 7.30. It was incredibly beautiful, absolutely stunning, and virtually no people there while I was. Lots of people at the Humble Administrator's Garden next though, the usual hordes of noisy Chinese tourists. Saying that though, it was easy enough to get away from them that early, and it was also very beautiful, in a different kind of way, and the best bonsai (a local speciality) I have ever seen, and loads of them.
And then wandering round trying to find some other nearby gardens in the backstreets, but no joy, though I did see a lot of things due to be eaten, that made me hope I am never that hungry. And so much for the romantic and ethnic backstreet hutongs. Yuppie gentrification was not really going to work in many of these areas, most of the houses were just small and horrible, no two ways about it, and I got the distinct impression people would jump at the chance to live in a tower block and not have to get water out of a manky well, etc.
I said in Chengde that I had worked out that what I thought were massage parlours/brothels were karaoke bars (could be the same thing). Today I worked out (I'm fairly sure) that what I thought were hairdressers are massage parlours, and proper massage parlours look like chemists. God knows where I go to get the haircut I want. A penknife and the hotel mirror at this rate.
Anyway, a couple of average gardens this pm, and then a couple of great ones to finish, including - believe it or not - bonsais even better than the fab ones I had already seen in the morning. These were the best, though I'm not sure how much my pics catch them, that's assuming I can load them up in the first place. And don't forget the bonsai mountains they have round here too.
And now again I am surrounded by noisy teenagers in an internet cafe. The first two I went in said they couldn't use my USB, which I knew was crap, but my Chinese wasn't up to arguing the point, and I forgot the standing there waiting and looking sad tactic. The nerds amongst you (i.e. my kids) may be impressed to know that food is brought to people at their PCs.