Searching for locations: The Silk Factory, Suzhou, China

China is renowned for its exquisite silk, so naturally, a visit to the Silk Spinning Factory is part of today’s tour.

After that, we will be heading downtown to an unspecified location where we’re getting a boat ride, walk through a typical Chinese shopping experience, and coffee at a coffee shop that is doubling as the meeting place, after we soak up the local atmosphere.

The problem with that is that if the entire collective trip a deal tourists take this route then the savvy shopkeepers will jack up their prices tenfold because we’re tourists with money.  It’ll be interesting to see how expensive everything is.

So…

Before we reach the silk factory, we are told that Suzhou is the main silk area of China, and we will be visiting a nearly 100 years old, Suzhou No 1 Silk Mill, established in 1926.  Suzhou has a 4,700-year history of making silk products.  It is located at No. 94, Nanmen Road, Suzhou, Jiangsu, China.

Then we arrive at the Silk Factory, another government-owned establishment with a castiron guarantee of quality and satisfaction.

The look and feel of the doona cover certainly backs up that claim

And the colors and variety is amazing (as is the cost of those exquisite sets)

We get to see the silk cocoon stretched beyond imagination, and see how the silk thread is extracted, then off to the showroom for the sales pitch.

It isn’t a hard sell, and the sheets, doonas, pillows, and pillowcases, are reasonably priced, and come with their own suitcase (for free) so you can take them with you, or free shipping, by slow boat, if you prefer not to take the goods with you.

We opt for the second choice, as there’s no room left in our baggage after packing the Chinese Medicine.

Searching for locations: The Silk Factory, Suzhou, China

China is renowned for its exquisite silk, so naturally, a visit to the Silk Spinning Factory is part of today’s tour.

After that, we will be heading downtown to an unspecified location where we’re getting a boat ride, walk through a typical Chinese shopping experience, and coffee at a coffee shop that is doubling as the meeting place, after we soak up the local atmosphere.

The problem with that is that if the entire collective trip a deal tourists take this route then the savvy shopkeepers will jack up their prices tenfold because we’re tourists with money.  It’ll be interesting to see how expensive everything is.

So…

Before we reach the silk factory, we are told that Suzhou is the main silk area of China, and we will be visiting a nearly 100 years old, Suzhou No 1 Silk Mill, established in 1926.  Suzhou has a 4,700-year history of making silk products.  It is located at No. 94, Nanmen Road, Suzhou, Jiangsu, China.

Then we arrive at the Silk Factory, another government-owned establishment with a castiron guarantee of quality and satisfaction.

The look and feel of the doona cover certainly backs up that claim

And the colors and variety is amazing (as is the cost of those exquisite sets)

We get to see the silk cocoon stretched beyond imagination, and see how the silk thread is extracted, then off to the showroom for the sales pitch.

It isn’t a hard sell, and the sheets, doonas, pillows, and pillowcases, are reasonably priced, and come with their own suitcase (for free) so you can take them with you, or free shipping, by slow boat, if you prefer not to take the goods with you.

We opt for the second choice, as there’s no room left in our baggage after packing the Chinese Medicine.

Searching for locations: From Zhengzhou to Suzhou by train, and the Snowy Sea Hotel, Suzhou, China

For the first time on this trip, we encounter problems with Chinese officialdom at the railway station, though we were warned that this might occur.

We had a major problem with the security staff when they pulled everyone over with aerosols and confiscated them. We lost styling mousse, others lost hair spray, and the men, their shaving cream.  But, to her credit, the tour guide did warn us they were stricter here, but her suggestion to be angry they were taking our stuff was probably not the right thing to do.

As with previous train bookings, the Chinese method of placing people in seats didn’t quite manage to keep couples traveling together, together on the train.  It was an odd peculiarity which few of the passengers understood, nor did they conform, swapping seat allocations.

This train ride did not seem the same as the last two and I don’t think we had the same type of high-speed train type that we had for the last two.  The carriages were different, there was only one toilet per carriage, and I don’t think we were going as fast.

But aside from that, we had 753 kilometers to travel with six stops before ours, two of which were very large cities, and then our stop, about four and a half hours later.  With two minutes this time, to get the baggage off the team managed it in 40 seconds, a new record.

After slight disorientation getting off the train, we locate our guide, easily ground by looking for the Trip-A-Deal flag.  From there it’s a matter of getting into our respective groups and finding the bus.

As usual, the trip to the hotel was a long one, but we were traveling through a much brighter, and well lit, city.

As for our guide, we have him from now until the end of the tour.  There are no more train rides, we will be taking the bus from city to city until we reach Shanghai.  Good thing then that the bus is brand new, with that new car smell.  Only issue, no USB charging point.

The Snowy Sea hotel.  

It is finally a joy to get a room that is nothing short of great.  It has a bathroom and thus privacy.

Everyone had to go find a supermarket to purchase replacements for the confiscated items.  Luckily there was a huge supermarket just up from the hotel that had everything but the kitchen sink.

But, unlike where we live, the carpark is more of a scooter park!

It is also a small microcosm of Chinese life for the new more capitalistic oriented Chinese.

The next morning we get some idea of the scope of high-density living, though here, the buildings are not 30 stories tall, but still just as impressive.

These look like the medium density houses, but to the right of these are much larger buildings

The remarkable thing about this is those buildings stretch as far as the eye can see.

Searching for locations: The Erqi Memorial Tower, Zhengzhou, China

A convoluted explanation on the reasons for this memorial came down to it being about the deaths of those involved in the 1923 Erqi strike, though we’re not really sure what the strike was about.

So, after a little research, this is what I found:

The current Erqi Tower was built in 1971 and was, historically, the tallest building in the city. It is a memorial to the Erqi strike and in memory of Lin Xiangqian and other railway workers who went on strike for their rights, which happened on February 7, 1923.

It has 14 floors and is 63 meters high. One of the features of this building is the view from the top, accessed by a spiral staircase, or an elevator, when it’s working (it was not at the time of our visit).

There seems to be an affinity with the number 27 with this building, in that

  • It’s the 27th memorial to be built
  • to commemorate the 27th workers’ strike
  • located in the 27th plaza of Zhengzhou City.

We drive to the middle of the city where we once again find traveling in kamikaze traffic more entertaining than the tourist points

When we get to the drop-off spot, it’s a 10-minute walk to the center square where the tower is located on one side. Getting there we had to pass a choke point of blaring music and people hawking goods, each echoing off the opposite wall to the point where it was deafening. Too much of it would be torture.

But, back to the tower…

It has 14 levels, but no one seemed interested in climbing the 14 or 16 levels to get to the top. The elevator was broken, and after the great wall episode, most of us are heartily sick of stairs.

The center square was quite large but paved in places with white tiles that oddly reflected the heat rather than absorb it. In the sun it was very warm.

Around the outside of two-thirds of the square, and crossing the roads, was an elevated walkway, which if you go from the first shops and around to the other end, you finish up, on the ground level, at Starbucks.

This is the Chinese version and once you get past the language barrier, the mixology range of cold fruity drinks are to die for, especially after all that walking. Mine was a predominantly peach flavor, with some jelly and apricot at the bottom. I was expecting sliced peaches but I prefer and liked the apricot half.

A drink and fruit together was a surprise.

Then it was the walk back to the meeting point and then into the hotel to use the happy house before rejoining the kamikaze traffic.

We are taken then to the train station for the 2:29 to our next destination, Suzhou, the Venice of the East.

Searching for locations: The Henan Museum, Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China

The Henan Museum is one of the oldest museums in China.  In June 1927, General Feng Yuxiang proposed that a museum be built, and it was completed the next year.  n 1961, along with the move of the provincial capital, Henan Museum moved from Kaifeng to Zhengzhou.

It currently holds about 130,000 individual pieces, more of which are mostly cultural relics, bronze vessels of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, and pottery and porcelain wares of the various dynasties.

Eventually, we arrive at the museum and get off the bus adjacent to a scooter track and despite the efforts of the guide, there’s no stopping them from nearly running us over.

We arrive to find the museum has been moved to a different and somewhat smaller building nearby as the existing, and rather distinctively designed, building is being renovated.

While we are waiting for the tickets to enter, we are given another view of industrial life in that there is nothing that resembles proper health and safety on worksites in this country, and the workers are basically standing on what looks to be a flimsy bamboo ladder with nothing to stop them from falling off.

The museum itself has exhibits dating back a few thousand years and consist of bronze and ceramic items.  One of the highlights was a tortoiseshell with reportedly the oldest know writing ever found.

Other than that it was a series of cooking utensils, a table, and ceramic pots, some in very good condition considering their age.


There were also small sculptures

an array of small figures

and a model of a settlement

20 minutes was long enough.

Searching for locations: The Pagoda Forest, near Zhengzhou City, Henan Province, China

The pagoda forest

After another exhausting walk, by now the heat was beginning to take its toll on everyone, we arrived at the pagoda forest.

A little history first:

The pagoda forest is located west of the Shaolin Temple and the foot of a hill.  As the largest pagoda forest in China, it covers approximately 20,000 square meters and has about 230 pagodas build from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Each pagoda is the tomb of an eminent monk from the Shaolin Temple.  Graceful and exquisite, they belong to different eras and constructed in different styles.  The first pagoda was thought to be built in 791.

It is now a world heritage site.

No, it’s not a forest with trees it’s a collection of over 200 pagodas, each a tribute to a head monk at the temple and it goes back a long time.  The tribute can have one, three, five, or a maximum of seven layers.  The ashes of the individual are buried under the base of the pagoda.

The size, height, and story of the pagoda indicate its accomplishments, prestige, merits, and virtues. Each pagoda was carved with the exact date of construction and brief inscriptions and has its own style with various shapes such as a polygonal, cylindrical, vase, conical and monolithic.

This is one of the more recently constructed pagodas

There are pagodas for eminent foreign monks also in the forest.

From there we get a ride back on the back of a large electric wagon

to the front entrance courtyard where drinks and ice creams can be bought, and a visit to the all-important happy place.

Then it’s back to the hotel.

Searching for locations: Hutongs, Beijing, China

What are Hutongs?

In Beijing Hutongs are formed by lines of traditional courtyard residences, called siheyuan.  Neighborhoods were formed by joining many hutongs together. These siheyuan are the traditional residences, usually occupied by a single or extended family, signifying wealth, and prosperity. 

Over 500 of these still exist.Many of these hutongs have been demolished, but recently they have become protected places as a means of preserving some Chinese cultural history.  They were first established in the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368)Many of these Hutongs had their main buildings and gates built facing south, and lanes connecting them to other hutongs also ran north to south.

Many hutongs, some several hundred years old, in the vicinity of the Bell Tower and Drum Tower and Shichahai Lake are preserved and abound with tourists, many of which tour the quarter in pedicabs.

The optional tour also includes a visit to Shichahai, a historic scenic area consisting of three lakes (Qianhai, meaning Front Sea; Houhai, meaning Back Sea and Xihai, meaning West Sea), surrounding places of historic interest and scenic beauty and remnants of old-style local residences, Hutong and Courtyard.  

First, we had a short walk through the more modern part of the Hutong area and given some free time for shopping, but we prefer just to meander by the canal.  

There is a lake, and if we had the time, there were boats you could take.

With some time to spare, we take a quick walk down one of the alleyways where on the ground level are small shops, and above, living quarters.

Then we go to the bell and drum towers before walking through some more alleys was to where the rickshaws were waiting.
The Bell tower

And the Drum tower. Both still working today.

The rickshaw ride took us through some more back streets where it was clear renovations were being made so that the area could apply for world heritage listing.  Seeing inside some of the houses shows that they may look dumpy outside but that’s not the case inside.

The rickshaw ride ends outside the house where dinner will be served, and is a not so typical hose but does have all the elements of how the Chinese live, the boy’s room, the girl’s room, the parent’s room, the living area, and the North-south feng shui.

Shortly after we arrive, the cricket man, apparently someone quite famous in Beijing arrives and tells us all about crickets and then grasshoppers, then about cricket racing.  He is animated and clearly enjoys entertaining us westerners.

I’m sorry but the cricket stuff just didn’t interest me.  Or the grasshoppers.

As for dinner, it was finally a treat to eat what the typical Chinese family eats, and everything was delicious, and the endless beer was a nice touch.

And the last surprise, the food was cooked by a man.

Searching for locations: We’ve just arrived in Beijing International Airport, China

Instead of making a grand entrance, arriving in style and being greeted by important dignitaries, we are slinking in via an airplane, late at night. It’s hardly the entrance I’d envisaged. At 9:56 the plane touches down on the runway.  Outside the plane, it is dark and gloomy and from what I could see, it had been raining.  That could, of course, simply be condensation.

Once on the ground, everyone was frantically gathering together everything from seat pockets and sending pillows and blankets to the floor.  A few were turning their mobile phones back on, and checking for a signal, and, perhaps, looking for messages sent to them during the last 12 hours. Or perhaps they were just suffering from mobile phone deprivation.

It took 10 minutes for the plane to arrive at the gate. That’s when everyone moves into overdrive, unbuckling belts, some before the seatbelt sign goes off, and are first out of their seats and into the overhead lockers.  Most are not taking care that their luggage may have moved, but fortunately, no bags fall out onto someone’s head. The flight had been relatively turbulent free.

When as many people and bags have squeezed into that impossibly small aisle space, we wait for the door to open, and then the privileged few business and first-class passengers to depart before we can begin to leave. As we are somewhere near the middle of the plane, our wait will not be as long as it usually is.  This time we avoided being at the back of the plane.  Perhaps that privilege awaits us on the return trip.

Once off the plane, it is a matter of following the signs, some of which are not as clear as they could be.  It’s why it took another 30 odd minutes to get through immigration, but that was not necessarily without a few hiccups along the way. We got sidetracked at the fingerprint machines, which seemed to have a problem if your fingers were not straight, not in the center of the glass, and then if it was generally cranky, which ours were, continue to tell you to try again, and again, and again, and again…That took 10 to 15 minutes before we joined an incredibly long queue of other arrivals,

A glance at the time, and suddenly it’s nearly an hour from the moment we left the plane.

And…

That’s when we got to the immigration officer, and it became apparent we were going to have to do the fingerprints yet again.  Fortunately this time, it didn’t take as long.  Once that done, we collected our bags, cleared customs by putting our bags through a huge x-ray machine, and it was off to find our tour guide.


We found several tour guides with their trip-a-deal flags waiting for us to come out of the arrivals hall.  It wasn’t a difficult process in the end.  We were in the blue group.  Other people we had met on the plane were in the red group or the yellow group.  The tour guide found, or as it turned out she found us, it was simply a matter of waiting for the rest of the group, of which there were eventually 28.Gathered together we were told we would be taking the bags to one place and then ourselves to the bus in another.  A glance in the direction of the bus park, there were a lot of busses.

Here’s a thought, imagine being told your bus is the white one with blue writing on the side.

Yes, yours is, and 25 others because all of the tourist coaches are the same.  An early reminder, so that you do not get lost, or, God forbid, get on the wrong bus, for the three days in Beijing, is to get the last five numbers of the bus registration plate and commit them to memory.  It’s important.  Failing that, the guide’s name is in the front passenger window.

Also, don’t be alarmed if your baggage goes in one direction, and you go in another. In a rather peculiar set up the bags are taken to the hotel by what the guide called the baggage porter.  It is an opportunity to see how baggage handlers treat your luggage; much better than the airlines it appears.


That said, if you’re staying at the Beijing Friendship Hotel, be prepared for a long drive from the airport.  It took us nearly an hour, and bear in mind that it was very late on a Sunday night.

Climbing out of the bus after what seemed a convoluted drive through a park with buildings, we arrive at the building that will be our hotel for the next three days.  From the outside, it looks quite good, and once inside the foyer, that first impression is good.  Lots of space, marble, and glass.  If you are not already exhausted by the time you arrive, the next task is to get your room key, find your bags, get to your room, and try to get to be ready the next morning at a reasonable hour.

Sorry, that boat has sailed.

We were lucky, we were told, that our plane arrived on time, and we still arrived at the hotel at 12:52.  Imagine if the incoming plane is late.

This was taken the following morning.  It didn’t look half as bland late at night.

This is the back entrance to Building No 4 but is quite representative of the whole foyer, made completely of marble and glass.  It all looked very impressive under the artificial lights, but not so much in the cold hard light of early morning.

This the foyer of the floor our room was on.  Marble with interesting carpet designs.  Those first impressions of it being a plush hotel were slowly dissipating as we got nearer and nearer to the room.  From the elevator, it was a long, long walk.

So…Did I tell you about the bathroom in our room?

The shower and the toilet both share the same space with no divide and the shower curtain doesn’t reach to the floor.  Water pressure is phenomenal.  Having a shower floods the whole shower plus toilet area so when you go to the toilet you’re basically underwater.

Don’t leave your book or magazine on the floor or it will end up a watery mess.

And the water pressure is so hard that it could cut you in half.  Only a small turn of the tap is required to get that tingling sensation going.

It’s after 1:30 before we finally get to sleep.

As for the bed, well, that’s a whole other story.

Searching for locations: Sydney to Beijing, China – Every flight is different

Sydney to Beijing – Qantas A330-200
Boarding 11:45, everyone on board by 12:02, for a 12:10 departure. Pushing back 12:12 Take off 12:27

Lunch
Airline food is getting better but the fact they serve it up to you in a metal tray with a thick aluminum lid does nothing for the quality of the food inside.  I get what the chef is trying to do but often there is too little of one thing and too much of another and what you finish up with is slop in a tray.  Sometimes it’s edible sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes the meat is tender and other times it’s like boot leather.  As it is today. I think it’s pork, I should have had the chicken.  Or perhaps it was chicken.  I hate it when you can’t tell what it is that you’re eating. But, the drinks were good.

Rest or Sleep, maybe
It’s going to take 11 hours and 20 minutes from Sydney to Beijing, a long time to sit in a plane with nothing much to do other than crosswords, read a book or newspaper or magazine, listen to music on your own device, or the in-flight entertainment, watch a movie again by the in-flight entertainment – if it works – or try to get some sleep. I started with the crosswords but got bored quickly. I fiddled with the in-flight entertainment, looked at the movies and tv shows but none really interested me, not then at least, so I set it to the flight path. Not exactly stellar entertainment, but it’s always interesting to know where the plane is. Or is it? If we crash, what good would it do me to know it’s somewhere over the ocean, not far from Manila, or somewhere else.  It’s not as if I could phone someone up, on the way down, to let them know where we are. But, just after dinner, we still haven’t left Australia

However, by the time I’ve finished fiddling with and dismissing all of the entertainment alternatives, it’s back to the flight path and now we are…

Somewhere approaching the Sulu Sea, which I’ve never heard of before, so it looks like I’ll have to study up on my geography when I get home.

OK, Manila looks like somewhere I’ve heard of, so we have to be flying over the Philippines.  Not far left of that is Vietnam.  Neither of those places is on my travel bucket list, so I’ll just look from up here and be satisfied with that.

Working, or not
Chronic boredom is setting in by the time we are just past halfway to our destination. We are over 6 hours into the flight and there no possible way I’m going to get any sleep. I brought my Galaxy Tab loaded with a few of my novel outlines, and planning for missing chapters, thinking I might get a little thinking time in.  Plane rides, I find, are excellent for getting an opportunity to write virtually unhindered by outside interruptions, if, of course, you discount the number of times people brush past, knocking your seat, the person in front lowering the seat into your face, or people around you continually asking you to turn off your light because they’re trying to sleep. Sorry, I say, but you can suffer my pain with me.  It’s one of the joys of flying with over two hundred others in a claustrophobic environment.  Besides, aren’t the lights supposed to be slanted so only I get the rays of light?  Except, I guess when the fixed light doesn’t line up with where the airline has fixed the seat (usually so they can squash more people in).So, sorry, not sorry, take it up with the airline.

Back to work, and I put in some quality time on a part of the story that had been eluding me for a while.  I knew what I wanted to write, but not how I was going to approach it, so that blissfully quiet and intense time worked in my favor, something that would not have happened back hope. I won’t bore you with the synopsis, just suffice to say it’s finally down on paper, digitally that is, and it’s a huge step forward towards finishing it. There is, of course, the end play, the reading of the will but not before there’s a few thrusts and parry’s by some of the players, but all in all the objective was to showcase a group of people with their strengths and weaknesses pushing their characters in various directions, some at odds with what is expected of them. But enough of that.   A quick check of our position shows we’re still over water but closer to our destination, so much so, we might start the pre-landing rituals, starting with food.

Dinner
7:00 – Dinner is served, well, the lights go on and a lot of tired people try to shake the sleep, and sleeplessness, out of their systems. Then flight attendants that are far too cheerful, and must have beamed in from somewhere else, serve another interesting concoction that says what’s in it but you can’t really be sure of the ingredients.  It comes and it goes.

9:10 – We begin our descent into Beijing, you know, that moment when the engines almost stop and there’s a sickening lurch and the plane heads downward. 9:56 – We touch down on the runway, in the dark and apparently it has been raining though from inside the plane you’d never know. 10:10 – the plane arrives at the gate,  the usual few minutes to open the door, and, being closer to the front of the plane this time, it doesn’t take that long before the queue is moving.

Early or late, it doesn’t matter.  After clearing customs and immigration, we have to go in search of our tour guide, waiting for us somewhere outside the arrivals terminal.

Searching for locations: The Silk Factory, Suzhou, China

China is renowned for its exquisite silk, so naturally, a visit to the Silk Spinning Factory is part of today’s tour.

After that, we will be heading downtown to an unspecified location where we’re getting a boat ride, walk through a typical Chinese shopping experience, and coffee at a coffee shop that is doubling as the meeting place, after we soak up the local atmosphere.

The problem with that is that if the entire collective trip a deal tourists take this route then the savvy shopkeepers will jack up their prices tenfold because we’re tourists with money.  It’ll be interesting to see how expensive everything is.

So…

Before we reach the silk factory, we are told that Suzhou is the main silk area of China, and we will be visiting a nearly 100 years old, Suzhou No 1 Silk Mill, established in 1926.  Suzhou has a 4,700-year history of making silk products.  It is located at No. 94, Nanmen Road, Suzhou, Jiangsu, China.

Then we arrive at the Silk Factory, another government-owned establishment with a castiron guarantee of quality and satisfaction.

The look and feel of the doona cover certainly backs up that claim

And the colors and variety is amazing (as is the cost of those exquisite sets)

We get to see the silk cocoon stretched beyond imagination, and see how the silk thread is extracted, then off to the showroom for the sales pitch.

It isn’t a hard sell, and the sheets, doonas, pillows, and pillowcases, are reasonably priced, and come with their own suitcase (for free) so you can take them with you, or free shipping, by slow boat, if you prefer not to take the goods with you.

We opt for the second choice, as there’s no room left in our baggage after packing the Chinese Medicine.