Wednesday, 28 April 2010
Governor Yu's garden
Shanghai, the final stop on our tour of China and the last port of call on our round the world adventure! What a trip it's been! We've been to some fantastic places and seen some amazing things. It's been a trip of a lifetime and Shanghai is our final taste of a different culture, as we prepare ourselves for going home to Britain and all that that entails. We're looking forward to some good British food, like a roast dinner or even a good ham sandwich, on proper bread! And a good cup of British tea. I know China is the land of tea and they do do a mean cup of green or jasmine tea but they kill their black tea by stewing it for ages, making it too bitter. We'll miss the excitement of not knowing what our next destination will be like and the buzz we get when we find we're able to navigate the local public transport system, or we're able to have a successful conversation with someone! We'll definitely miss the variety of scenery we've encountered and the journeys themselves, mostly by bus and car, where we've watched the countryside of different nations fly past us. It's been a great life experience and has taught us a lot about the world and the ways in which different people live. It's also made us very grateful for the lives we lead in the UK and the privileges that living there brings us. I'm sure we'll appreciate Britain more than we did before we started travelling. There are many lovely places to visit in Britain and a whole lot of history which, I'm ashamed to say, I'm yet to have a full grasp of. It's my aim though, to learn more about the country I'm from, just as I've given my enthusiasm to learning about the countries we've visited.
Shanghai is a fitting place to end our tour because it's the most cosmopolitan Chinese city and has a rich history of foreign trade with Europe, resulting in many examples of British and French building styles. The Bund, as it's known, is the street which runs alongside the river in Shanghai and boasts magnificent European buildings from the 1930s and 40s, including a Big Ben clock tower. Shanghai was a buzzing treaty port city with incoming foreigners setting up businesses and trading with the Chinese. Much investment occurred in the 1930s and led to a booming economy playing host to all the fun and frivolity of the age of jazz, dancehall and a new freedom of style and expression. The city now is the most contemporary and forward thinking we've come across. Most of the skycrapers and defining architecture has sprung up in the last ten years only. They're very adept at tearing down old neighbourhoods to build flashy apartments for high class living! We've arrived just before Shanghai Expo 2010 opens in a few days time and the final preparations are underway for the six month long international fair to showcase new design and technology from countries around the world as well as China. The city is being cleaned up to perfection, there are garden displays and expo adverts everywhere. It should bring a lot of attention to Shanghai and boost its power as a leading international city. The city still does have some older treasures too, in amongst the ultra modern tower blocks. Apart from the famous Bund, there is the exquisite garden of Governor Yu, which exemplifies the beauty of Chinese horticulture. The garden is designed in a series of sections including an enormous rock fountain, pavilion gardens, lake and small river all divided up by ornate curving walls with giant stone dragons flying across the top. It's not on the scale of the parklands of the Summer Palace in Beijing. This is a private garden in the middle of the city and covers an area of about 500 square metres. We especially enjoy it because, from every angle, there is the perfect photo opportunity for a snapshot of a traditional Chinese scene.
Shanghai is the most busy city we've been to on the whole of our travels. There's a street that's been pedestrianised and when we walk it on a Saturday afternoon it's like how busy it would be at New Year in London or if a huge festival was taking place. It's hoaching with people. And there are a huge number of Chinese tourists in tour parties, all wearing the same colour of baseball cap, being led by a guide with a microphone and speaker hooked on to their back. I hold on to Greg for dear life as he leads me through the throng! But it's very safe here. There are police and traffic wardens on every corner helping pedestrians cross the road and making sure no one causes any major disturbances. The only major disturbances are the Chinese themselves! They do have a way of talking very loudly and the very nature of the language makes it sound like they're having an argument, even if they're not!
So, this is the end. Tomorrow we go home and soon our memories will fade. At least we'll have our pictures and this blog. Thank you for reading.
- If you are resident in a city, you are entitled to a level of social security. However, if you're a farmer or live in the countryside, even though you also pay taxes, you are not entitled to any social security. This is why many rural dwellers strive very hard to get permanent jobs in the cities in order to become 'city members'. A mass movement is taking place into the cities,
- All land is owned by the government and therefore the people. Farmers rent the land from them. More than half the produce that comes from the land is collected from the farms, tea plantations etc. by gorvernment workers. The government sets the price they'll sell these goods at and it's ten times what they pay the farmers. However, if there is a crisis in one part of the country, for example a lack of rice production because of drought, the government will support that area with goods from the other areas, at a much reduced rate.
- Facebook, blogs and any other websites which could potentially have people grouping together and becoming vocal against the government are banned. It just comes up, Internet Explorer cannot find this page. If you write an email, there's a noticeable delay in sending as it's censored by central government.
- Lack of freedom of speech is a definite issue for the younger people especially and it's a frightening thought to think that if you speak against the government you'll receive death threats and, if you persist, you'll 'disappear' as they say.
- On the flip side, respect for authority, especially police, is much higher here, as punishments are a lot more severe. For the crime of peddling drugs in China the punishment is death. As long as the trials are fair and just, some people would go along with the idea that the punishments do sometimes fit the crime. The death penalty is a pretty adequate detterent to stop someone ruining hundreds of thousands of peoples' lives by supplying them drugs.
- Having said all this, we've heard that there is corruption on every level here, from the police right up to the government. As it becomes more open to the world things may change, but it remains a pretty dark place in certain respects.
Jiantsu Ancient Village
Guilin is the third poorest city in the whole of China and is much smaller than the likes of Chongqing and Wuhan, two of China's new megacities. Guilin is a tourist mecca because of it's starting off point for the Li river cruise through the amazing karst scenery. The sight of white people in our hotel suggests to us that this is a stop on most peoples' travel itineraries.It rains heavily while we're here and we're lucky we sailed up the Li on the day we did, because the day after, the cruiseboats cancelled because there was too much water in the river! It had flooded the banks of the city and was flowing too fast to sail on. We enjoyed our half day cruise up the Li, even though it was drizzling. The mists provided an atmosphere of traditional Chinese landscape paintings which are always executed in greys and blacks with daubs of grey mist cloud hanging over the peaks. The karst scenery was really spectacular and if we'd known how amazing this was going to be and how poor in comparison the Yangtze turned out to be, we'd have stayed here longer. The highlight of our time in this part of the world was the two hours we spent cycling in the countryside around Yangshuo. Yangshuo is where the boats dock on the Li and has been transformed from a sleepy country town in the middle of some very impressive karst scenery to become a foreign tourists' souvenier town selling all kinds of Chinese tat. The countryside around Yangshuo is, as yet, unspoilt and remains a rural haven of water-filled rice paddies with farmers in straw hats working in their fields, sometimes ploughing up the mud using a traditional hand plough and water buffalo (the fields are too small for any kind of mechanised plough). It's a dreamy scene when the soaring cliffs and odd shaped rock mountains are reflected in the waters below. It's nice how our guide, Tracy (her English name) is in her element too, as we cycle through the countryside. She comes from a rural village near Guilin where her parents still live in a traditional Chinese farmhouse and now she lives in a simple room in the city of Guilin. But you can tell she's a country girl at heart as she speeds off on her bike and nimbly hops off and on (she used to ride everyday to school and back). While in Guilin we're driven to an ancient Chinese village called Jiantsu where people still live very simply in old fashioned courtyard style brick houses with pantiled roofs and cobbled streets. We walk round the picturesque alleys and peer into the houses, spotting an elderly group of mah jong players and a few clucking chickens. The village's temple was unfortunately severely damaged by the Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution although they did leave one building standing. In this building there is a portrait of the village's forefather, the first of the Zhou family. In China, each child, boy or girl, takes the father's surname even through marriage, so now every family living in Jiantsu has the surname Zhou.