Anthony's Interesting Times 2004 travel blog

Water Margin set

More Water Margin stuff

Resting actor

Yet more Water Margin

Tang Dynasty World

Bamboo graffiti, Surging Wave Pavillion, Suzhou

Another amazing thing round here is the (big) Grand Canal, which passes through here. 1000 miles long, as busy as a British Motorway, and finished in 700 AD.

Yesterday was tacky tourist day. Snobby Lonely PLanet didn't mention it, but my Rough Guide did, so off I went to Wuxi, a city of two million near here - probably three million by the time I finish this entry - and the most manic city I have been in yet. It is recommended primarily as it borders this huge lake, and lots of beautiful stuff, etc. In fact it isn't beautiful at all, at least not anymore, and I'm glad I didn't go there to wander amongst lakeside willows and tranquil pagodas.

I went there for a far more tacky reason, to purposely visit three Chinese theme parks. I don't know if I said (and they do have their own Big Brother here too) but whenever I swith on the TV and can actually get a picture, about a third of the channels are historical dramas, like the fabulous Water Margin that people of my age grew up with, and probably contributed to me wanting to come here in the first place.

These three theme parks are all owned by CCTV, Chinese equivalent of the BBC, and were and still are sets for their various productions. The main reason I went was because one was called Water Margin City. I was thrilled to bits when I found out, this was going to be even better than when I stayed in Luke Skywalker's house in Tunisia.

Water Margin City was the oldest and best, everything in it was built of proper materials and looked fab, as the pictures will show. And they were filming stuff for the Three Kingdoms (on TV all the time) while I was there, which was interesting. Busloads of soldiers were there, presumably as extras for a battle scene. It was even better than I hoped, and brought back fond memories of Liang Sham Po and the like. Three Kingdoms was a bit crap, and Tang Dynasty World (!) was OK, but what was weird was that they were virtually all empty. So now I know how to get away from the ever present Chinese hordes, go to a theme park.

My leg hurts much less today, except for the bit where the license plate dug in. Reminds me of a discussion I had with this German bloke on the way back from the Wall, aand I was saying that Indian drivers were definitely worse than Chinese ones. I am not so sure really, they are very bad and mad here.

Had a Korean meal last night, which was the nicest meal I have had yet, sweet and very spicy, but with lots of flavours too. Chafed pork, whatever that is. I have taken to ordering pork, as being the best chance of not getting bones and gross bits. Afterwards I was looking to find another internet place - one where I couild actually read my e-mails -and found a whole area of bars, and, I think, furthered my education on the sex industry here.

Basically there seem to be three kinds of bars. Karoake bars, which I intend never to set foot in anyway, 'normal' bars, and brothels. The latter seem to be very small, and entirely full of Chinese girls, and there are loads of them. I was quite surprised, as Lonley Planet says it is all illegal and much discouraged here, but whilst it may not be Bangkok, it isn't far off as far as I can tell.

Anyhow, I did at least now know where some proper bars were, so as it was my last night, I thought I would go on a pub crawl. The best one (actually the only one even tolerable) was a so-called Aussie bar called Pulp Fiction, which I started in and ended in after finding out the rest were crap. I assumed one place was legit as it was so big, on a street corner, Western couples drinking outside, etc, but it wasn't, so didn't hang around there. Another place had this dreadful band of Phillipine Eurovision Song Contest entrants called Hot Beats, who even massacred REM. And I also went in this disco: I was the only Westerner, and the only person over 20, but it was actually OK, like a provincial club in the UK, pumping house, and the most crowded dance floor I have ever seen, like the inside of a bus here. But all in all an interesting and relatively fun night, though would have been more so with company I think. I saw quite a lot of westerners (and talked to a few), but I noticed that they were all over 40, and I realised that was probably because people come here for the Gardens, not to the taste of your average backpacker on a gap year perhaps. And sometime during that increasingly confused night I found exactly the kind of shop I have been looking for, with thousands of Chinese martial arts DVDs for 50p each. Very few with subtitles, but enough. My rucksack is getting even heavier.

Anyway, this morning a bit monged out from my prophylactic nurofen and the humidity and heat, I went to a lovely garden nearby, and watched streams of carp drifting around and chilled out. Can't make up my mind what to do before I go to Huang Shan tonight. As Shnaghai is only an hour away, I may go and see why everyone says it is so great.

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