Six months in Asia travel blog

Crowds at the Sun Yatsen Mausoleum

Monks at the Linggu temple, Nanjing

West Lake, Hangzhou

West Lake, Hangzhou

West Lake, Hangzhou

Moon gate at Jingci temple, Hangzhou

Flowers in Hangzhou park

I arrived in Nanjing after a 9 hour train journey overnight and things continued pretty much the same, grey drizzly weather and awful food, and yet, I thought the city had a lot more charm than most and it has a string of canals that wend their way through the centre.

I spent Saturday afternoon at the Massacre Memorial Centre which remembers the thousands of people slaughtered by the Japanese in 1937. It ought to have been a sobering moving experience, but the usual crowds made it impossible to get anywhere near the exhibits.

On Sunday the weather forecast promised sun, but the skies remained overcast and rain came in the afternoon. I spent the day up on the main hill, Zijin Mountain, where most of the sights can be found, including the Sun Yatsen Mausoleum. There were a few pleasant trails where it was possible to escape the throng for a few moments, but the noise and multitudes were never far away, nor was over-exploitation and kitsch. Not only are souvenir stands everywhere, they even crop up inside centuries-old temples. There was nothing decent to eat (by then I wasn't surprised), only sausage on a stick and pot noodle. I had both and tried to make a two-course meal out of it, but half an hour later I was hungry again!

On Monday I caught my first bullet train to Hangzhou and the sun came out and everything brightened up, both literally and metaphorically. Hangzhou is a famous place in China, ancient (not that there's much evidence of that) and situated on the beautiful West Lake and surrounded by hills. It's the day before the huge May Day holiday so it's not quiet, but somehow the place still captivates. I've spent two days hiking and cycling around the lake and generally just enjoying myself. Dotted around the fringes are many little parks, stone bridges and scenic spots which were given names by Qing emperors such as "Orioles singing in the willows" and "Three pools mirroring the moon". It seems that Chinese can be a very poetic language, certainly judging from the translations. Even the prosaic gets the flowery treatment, so an automatic tap is labelled "Sensing faucet".

But the biggest surprise is that I've actually had a decent meal. It was in a Japanese restaurant though, but that does mean I have high hopes for better food when I get to Japan next week. Even more exciting, today I found a Carrefour supermarket and French bread and ham and so I had a wonderful picnic in the park, attracting much attention and a lot of friendly stares.

As this is quite a tourist town, more people speak some basic English. With that and some hand gestures I've usually managed to get what I wanted, but I drew the line at miming when it came to buying loo paper.

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