Saturday, 30 April 2011

Tea Sir?

Saturday 30th April 2011

MP3 track of the day: Dirty – Christine Aguilera

Weather: Still very polluted … still very hot.

In one months time - 30th May 2011 – I shall be boarding British Airways flight BA0038 bound for London. Now a month may seem like a long time but, considering that I've been travelling for around a year, I only have one twelfth of my travels left to go (to put it another way, if you had a twelve day holiday it would be like having one day left); I'm starting to see the end of my great adventure and, even though in some ways I'm ready to come home, there's still so much of the world that I want to see … as you will see later within this blog.


Finally a decent lie-in. I was still awoken to the sound of some Chinese bod shouting at their phone but at least it was 9:30am; I got up and I was ready to hit town by 10am. The plan today was a simple one; head towards the Chinese Traditional Medicine Hospital, for a guided tour, before visiting one of Chengdu's many parks for tea. As neither of these attractions required me to visit the city centre I decided that I would stay clear; unfortunately, as I read my hostels menu, it soon became apparent that I would have to nip into the centre, for food, as my hostel's 'breakfast sets' all consisted of egg. This was okay as it would allow me to take a few photos of the city, especially the smog, before finding the hospital.

It took an hour to reach the centre of town and, as the time was 11am, I abandoned the idea of breakfast in favour of an early lunch. With an hour until noon I decided to photo some of Chengdu's smoggy skyscrapers and visit 'Tianfu Square'. The heart of Chengdu, Tianfu Square – which is actually a circle – is a large, smog ridden, pedestrian area; at it's north end stands the Sichuan Museum of Science and Technology with a statue of Mao in front. Even though there was a water show happening it still wasn't very pleasant; skyscrapers, cranes and smog surrounded the 'square' making it feel quite claustrophobic. I moved on and headed west into the main shopping area of the city; to waste time, until lunch, I went into a shopping centre and, luckily, found an expensive chocolate shop. Torro was it's name and I purchased five chocolates, for just under £5. Like Ho Chi Minh City the weather was hot and so, to prevent melting, the chocolates had to be consumed quickly. Unlike Ho Chi Minh City the chocolates weren't that great; the design, texture and presentation of each chocolate could rival any country in the world, however it was the content that just didn't work. The chocolate either didn't taste of what it was supposed to taste of, or the content was too powerful or not powerful enough; either way there was something not quite right and I left disappointed.

After lunch I walked to the east side of the city stopping on the way for copious amounts of liquids, and ice cream, to cool myself down; the day was extremely humid and it didn't help not being able to find the 'Chinese Traditional Medical Hospital'. I spent ages walking around the area where my map, and my guidebook, stated the hospital should have been. After half an hour I gave up and headed south, a little annoyed as I was looking forward to finding out about ancient Chinese medicine.

I kept walking south until I stopped at Baihuatan Park; located to the north of my hostel I had come here for one reason and that was to experience what a Chinese tea house was like. As soon as I went through the parks gates a tea house loomed behind a high hedge to my right. Even though I couldn't see said tea house the sound of Chinese voices, and the rattle of Chinese domino pieces, was unmistakable. As I made my way around the hedge I was confronted with many tables positioned under huge trees for shade; to my left stood an old Chinese building which I decided to head to. As I walked voices were lowered and strategic domino plays were missed as the Chinese people stared at me. Due to all the staring I walked straight past the tea house and headed to the exit; I stopped, only a few footsteps from the entrance. I wanted to try this Chinese pastime and no amount of staring was going to stop me; I went back to the tea house where a lady came out to see me. 'Tea' she said and I nodded in reply. She found me a seat and I asked 'how much'; 'ten Yuan' (£1) was her reply which, for an unlimited amount of tea, I thought was a rather good deal. I sat down and the lady brought me a three piece Sichuanese gaiwancha, which consisted of a saucer, a handless cup and a lid. Down to the left of me she placed a large flask, with a wooden bung, full of boiling water. At this point most of the people got back to what they were doing before I'd arrived; I took the lid off my cup thinking that, once again, I'd ordered something different to what I had come in for. At the bottom of this steaming cup of water sat, what can only be described as, an aquatic forest; you couldn't make out the bottom of the cup and, with said forest, the cup only held enough water for five mouthfuls. As I waited for 'me cup of cha' to cool a little I looked around me; finally it was nice to see the Chinese being civilised. To my left were a small group rehearsing a Chinese song, in front was a group playing dominoes and to my right an oldish couple were setting the world to rights. It was extremely pleasant and I sat down with the only activity open to me ... I read my guidebook.

The tea had cooled as I read about Tibet; I drank a few mouthful's of the hot liquid, by-passing parts of the aquatic forest trying to enter my mouth, whilst planning my next round-the-world trip. Now I'm not planning on doing this any time soon – I'm too shattered to start again – but I reckon the below would make a rather good trip:

  • Flying from London, to Beijing, and transferring to Lhasa (Tibet).

  • Spend six weeks in Tibet, visiting Mount Everest and Mount Kailash, before heading north.

  • Spend six weeks in northern China and into Mongolia.

  • Spend four weeks in Russia heading west into Europe.

It was at this point that a lady came up to me and 'twanged' a metal object in my ear; I turned and she started to speak Chinese. I flicked, through my guidebook, to the page that translated 'I haven't got a clue what you're talking about' into Chinese to which she showed, what looked like, a weapon of torture. She moved closer to my ear and then I realised that she wanted to clean them … for a fee of course. Now, within South East Asia, a firm 'no' would make the 'service provider' move onto another tourist; in this case she wouldn't move and she kept coming closer, and closer, to my ear. Only after looking sternly, and becoming quite angry, did she leave; this had annoyed me as it had spoilt my 'tea in the park' experience. I re-filled my cup and took another mouthful – the tea by the way tasted like hot water … it wasn't great – before returning to my 'round-the-world trip', where was I:

  • Spend two weeks in Finland before moving onto Sweden.

  • Spend two weeks in Sweden before moving onto Norway.

  • Spend two weeks in Norway before moving onto Denmark.

  • Spend two weeks in Denmark before moving onto Germany.

  • Spend four weeks in Germany before moving onto Belgium.

  • Spend three weeks in Belgium, and Luxembourg, before going home.

Almost eight months of travelling and the best bit is that, if out of money, I could skip Europe and get home quickly.

The 'ear cleaning' woman had put me on guard for others touting for business, therefore I couldn't chill out. I'd witnessed Chinese people relaxing and, even with the smog and the sounds of heavy traffic all around, I'd liked it. I got up from my seat and walked the short distance back to my hostel, stopping to pick up supplies for my twenty-one hour train ride tomorrow. The evening didn't produce anything spectacular; I spent most of it relaxing before taking a long shower.

As I lay in bed I was glad that I was off to Kumming tomorrow; the pollution here is vial and it's making my throat sore. I hope Kumming's going to be different; I have five nights booked as I need to extent my Chinese Visa (It runs out next Friday) and, with it being the Chinese holiday, I don't fancy being anywhere too touristy.

Kumming here I come!

Toodle Pip!

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