Travels with John Smith
Chapter 50 year 8 (2019)
Pat and Lyle in China
Wuhan, Shanghai and Beijing
-Kung Pao Chicken Chinese
-Yellow Crane and Taxis
-Tailor Street and Dumplings
-Walking and Foot massages
-Hu Bu Lane and Doupi
-Shanghai fake market shake down
-never enough jewellery
-The Wall with Drunken Doctors
-Haggling on my birthday
-Tiananmen Square cold
Travels with John Smith
Chapter 50 year 8 (2019)
Chinese New Year with Pat and Lyle
Wuhan, Shanghai and Beijing
We have been at the airport for about 3 hours, maybe more. We wanted to be early and unsure of the traffic in this city, where it takes an hour on a good day to travel to the airport, we left right after school.
Lyle (John’s brother) and his wife Pat walk through the doors, looking a little tired but relieved to have arrived. We are delighted they are here and we are looking forward to showing them ‘our’ Wuhan.
We are standing in a crowded bus. We pushed to the back when we got on and lost Lyle. We look back and see him, smiling, holding on to the railing above him. He is held up by wall to wall people, who are all so much shorter than him, he is a full head above them. We are on our way to our favourite restaurant to eat Kung Pao Chicken (Gong Bao Ji Ding). We sit down and Baopei, the woman who owns it, welcomes us with her usual friendly smile. We make the introductions and have a conversation in Chinese about how it’s going, then she asks what we want to eat, even though she knows we always have the same thing. She is making us look good in front of our family, by asking questions and talking about stuff we have spoken about in Chinese before, things she knows we can answer and we just love her for that.
We are standing in front of The Yellow Crane Tower. This is the last day before the holiday so I have taken the day off without pay to show Pat and Lyle around the highlight spots in town. John is being responsible and is working but we will meet him later.
We have already climbed some of the steps in the tower and looked out at the view over the Yangtze River. Since I have been up a couple times, I know that walking to the very top is exactly the same view, only a little higher so suggest we carry on, since we’ve got a lot of exploring to do today. We walk to the other end from where we came in, which I have never done before. We get some good pictures and I notice there is an exit so am thinking, instead of spending half an hour or so, walking all the way back to where we came in, we could go out here and possibly find a taxi right away.
There is a guard standing by the exit and in my broken Chinese, I ask her if it is possible to get a taxi there. She says yes so I think “Sweet! This will save some walking”and we walk down, out the exit.
We walk down the steps to a very busy road directly outside and it is impossible to cross or flag a taxi to stop there, even if we are lucky enough to see one. We start walking along the road that brings us back to the other exit but on the outside of the wall that surrounds the tower. It seems to go on forever with no where to cross and even the few available taxis that pass cannot or will not stop and now I feel terrible that I have lead them astray and it seems like we are walking way more than we would have inside.
Even if a taxi stopped, they might have to go across the bridge before they could turn around and I am sure we need to cross the street to be in the right direction but there’s no where to cross. Ahhh! I am failing miserably as a guide.
We are in Tailor street, exploring the busy stalls of gorgeous material. I introduce them to the friendly people I know, like Yang Peng (otherwise known as Elvis). Since we are going on holiday in a few days, we can’t have anything made but I still manage to buy some sheepskin from a woman who always says she is my friend and will give me the special ‘friend price’. There is another stall that sells pretty silk and they will sew an edge on the material while you are there so we buy some pretty scarves to take on vacation with us.
I want to take them past the food market for the lively atmosphere, to the little street food place that is like a hole in the wall, where they do spring rolls and spicy chicken strips but sadly it’s closed on weekdays. I look for a place that serves Reganmian, otherwise known hot, dry noodles. It is basically noodles covered in sesame oil and sometimes a spicy peanut sauce. It is the most famous food in Wuhan.
I spot a dumpling place, where they are making them fresh. They roll out the dough, flatten it, put an already mixed up filling inside, pinch them together and place them in the large steaming trays. We are now sitting, eating some delicious steamed dumplings. We are hungry so are gobbling everything up and unlike some foreigners, both Pat and Lyle are handling the chopsticks quite well.
We walk around on ‘Art Street’, then manage to get a taxi back to the school. After all that walking, we need foot massages so we are now sitting side by side, each with our own lady pressing and squeezing our feet. The ladies who are looking after us ask lots of questions in Chinese, most of which I try to answer. Today has been a real test of trying to get around using my limited Chinese. When John and I are together, we do alright as what one don’t know, the other usually does. I usually understand what people are saying but can’t always remember the words to answer them and John can’t always understand them but has a good memory so knows the words to answer. We make a good team.
John is off today and we try to do all the things we can to show Pat and Lyle more of our Wuhan. We go to Wuhan’s famous food street, Hubu Lane, and eat some Doupi. It is a kind of traditional specialty breakfast dish made from rice, pork, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots. It’s fried in a huge kind of pan like an omelette until golden brown and served in small squares. So tasty!
We get there thanks to Zhang, our favourite driver and he waits while we explore, takes us to a couple of other places, he thinks we should see, then we carry on to Han Street (the modern shopping street) to do some shopping and have dinner.
We are watching fantastic acrobats, spinning up into the sky on water jets, ballet dancers doing cartwheels gracefully skimming on the top of the water, divers doing backwards dives and daredevil stunts All this is beautifully choreographed with classy art direction and lighting, like a Cirque du Soleil on water. It is called the Han Show, and is a must see but for John and I, it’s also our first time. It is an incredible show and we even get meet some of the performers at the end so it’s a fantastic night.
We are travelling at 324 kilometres an hour, sitting in comfortable seats on the fast train, on our way to Shanghai.
We are in the fake market, under the Science and Technology station. The hallways are dark and most of the shops appear to be closed. There are some people pacing the halls, looking nervous. We are meant to pick up some glasses from the optician. We chose the glasses we wanted, they checked the prescription and told us to come back in a half hour.
While we were eating lunch, the inspectors raided the market but the sellers were tipped off by someone. Anyone selling anything that is ‘fake designer’ (sunglasses, bags, shoes, electronics) has turned off the lights and brought down the garage like doors on the front of their stalls. They then sit on benches near by and wait until the inspectors leave the market. I guess the thinking is they can’t get busted if no one is there or they can’t get in. The market is like a labyrinth and the shop keepers keep getting messages from their friends about the location of the inspectors so they wait patiently.
I see the girls who work in the opticians sitting on a bench and they hand me the glasses discreetly. A shop keeper comes over and asks me if I need shoes. He lifts the door of his darkened shop and waves me inside. I feel kind of nervous about following him into the dark store. He is taking a risk and maybe I am too. There is a pair of shoes I am interested in and after a bit of haggling, I get a good deal and slip outside. Another shop keeper asks Pat and Lyle if they want a bag. They bug them until they also slip inside the darkened stall but they decide they can’t see anything clearly enough so come back out without buying anything.
We make our way to my favourite jewelry shop which is still open. Julia, the lady who owns it is lovely and honest about what she sells and what each piece is worth. I trust her so I come here every time we are in Shanghai. The walls of her small shop are covered in strings of semi-precious stones and above and under the glass counter there are many rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets. She has an eye for putting colour combinations together and her inventory is so beautiful, it’s hard to choose. If you want something made, you can choose whatever stones you want and the girls who work for her will string them while you wait. The shop is always packed, mostly with foreign women who know a good thing when they see it. Her husband and 2 children are often in the shop with her and her older daughter is adorable, carrying on conversations in English at age 3. Pat and I spend about an hour inside choosing and deciding and just enjoying being surrounded by this beautiful jewellery.
We see the sights; look at the Pearl Tower from every angle, from the financial tower, the IFC mall, the Bund and our hotel. We show Pat and Lyle our favourite temple and restaurants and streets.
We are back at the train station. It is packed as the Chinese New Year holiday rush has begun. We edge our way over to the doors our train will leave from. It is almost impossible to walk from one place to another let alone find a place to sit. There is already a lineup but they won’t open the doors to the platform until 20 minutes before it leaves. Then there will be a wave forward, 4 people abreast storming the ticket styles, then rushing down the stairs and escalators, running to find their coach and their seats. These trains leave on time. Next stop Beijing.
We are on a walking street looking for a good place for dinner. We spot a place that serves Beijing Duck (for those who haven’t kept up, it used to be called Peking Duck). and decide this would be a good thing to do here in Beijing.. For anyone who has not eaten Beijing Duck, it involves a thin pancake or crepe and a roasted duck with a crispy tasty skin, sliced super thin, finely shredded cucumber, spring onions and a tasty sauce. It is then rolled into a kind of crepe shape and wolfed down. In this restaurant, the chef expertly carves the duck in front of the patron and place it on a plate in the form of a flower so it’s delicious and beautiful.
It is the next day and I am reading about the best Beijing duck restaurants in Beijing and the one we went to was the No 1 Restaurant! How lucky!
We book a trip to climb the Wall and choose the part that’s a little farther away than the closer, more touristy part. There are 4 guys from Nepal in the van that takes us there. 2 are Doctors, 1 is a politician, another is a businessman. They apparently do a trip like this once a year, so they have booze with them and are quite jolly company.
We are dropped off in a parking lot where we take a cable car up to the wall. We are not dressed quite warm enough for the wind and biting cold but once we get walking up, we get warmer. We stay up there long enough for a bit of a walk and to take some pictures. Even though this is our 2nd time here, we still marvel at the view from every direction. It is truly one of the most amazing structures we have ever seen.
On the way back from the wall, the ride is lively. The businessman is quiet but the other 3 are very talkative, friendly and funny. The politician finds out we had never been to Nepal and invites John and I to come to stay with him in Katmandu, where he says he is the mayor. He shows us loads of pictures of himself at different times in his life and at various functions to prove he is the mayor (not that we didn’t believe him) and the Doctors entertain us with their antics as they progressively get drunk.
It’s my birthday today and we visit the outdoor market to show off our haggling skills, and come away with silver dragons and some things we probably don’t need. A lot of the market seems to be closed which is probably a good thing but we are hungry.
The only restaurant we can find is pretty empty. It looks ok but we don’t know if it’s a touristy one or not. The touristy ones are sometimes a watered down version of the Chinese food we are now used to and love. We order a lot of food in honour of my birthday and it’s pretty good but way too much so we do our best to eat most of it.
We move on to Tiananmen Square in below freezing temperatures wearing inadequate, light winter jackets. As I mentioned above, we brought layers of old warm clothing with us, that we can leave behind us, when we leave Beijing and move on to Vietnam but it is even colder than we thought it would be here. We can barely move with the various sweaters and hoodies piled on top of each other and we are still cold.
Because of this, we are already feeling a little miserable and we see the long lineup for the Forbidden city. We ask Pat and Lyle if they are up to waiting to go in, secretly praying they will say no. They are on the same page as us and we are so relieved! Since we have already been in there, we do our best to describe it, walk around the neighbourhood, checking out some of the traditional hutongs but it’s time to go back to the hotel to get warm!