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Soundtrack: 'Funny Little Frog' - Belle & Sebastian

After Jon bought me a D-train ticket from Handan to Zhengzhou, I now try to travel on these more-modern trains wherever possible.  Much like the way I always now go to the posh coffee restaurants, perhaps I am drifting away from the authenticity of real rough traveling in favour of home comforts, and maybe this is missing the point of traveling a little bit.  But, faced with a choice of five or more hours on an uncomfortable vertically-backed seat in an old, cramped carriage or, for a small price increase, four hours on a soft reclining seat in a more spacious warm carriage, what would you do?  For the same reason, I'm buying soft (first) class seats and beds on trains instead of hard (second) class whenever possible.  I figure that I often end up with something cheaper due to unavailability anyway, so I'm still sampling everything. 

It had been an early start to get across town for the 08:25 train and had meant I had to skip a shower in the Hangzhou hostel as they don't turn the hot water on until 07:00.  But, on the plus side, I was in Nanjing by lunchtime.  I bought a ticket for the only metro line, rode it a few stops south and went looking for the hostel.  It was slightly complicated to find because the guidebook said that it would move location shortly after the book was written, so they could only describe it as being near the Fuzi temple.  Also, the book gave its Chinese name whereas the sign on the front of the building was only in English.  However, I got there in the end, booked a room and went to the top-floor bar for food. 

Sunlight is gone by 5pm these days so, with not a whole lot of the afternoon left, I stayed there until bed.  My room was south facing which attracted a bit of warmth.  It was still fairly cold, but this was still an improvement on recent beds. 

The hostel had a cat called Mimi which, judging from her stupidity, was probably not much more than a kitten.  She was keen to lie on the lap of any guests she could, probably because we were the best source of warmth in a cold room.  She was also keen to claw and bite and anything that moved, which made typing on the laptop tricky at times.  On another occasion she was particularly keen to bite a hole in its electric cable.  'Mimi' translates as 'lucky', but I figured she wouldn't be lucky for long if she managed to get one of her sharp teeth through the outer lining and into the live metal wires. 

Looking at the map and the list of attractions, I earmarked a few places I wanted to go in the morning and headed out.  My attempts to find a section of the old city walls failed, but I did accidentally end up at the former Presidential Palace, which was the second place on my list.  It was shortly before lunchtime and I was already hungry, so I decided it would nicely fill half an hour or an hour before eating.  Inside it was fascinating though and I found myself walking around for four and a half hours.  It had been a place of importance for many centuries but most of what was contained focused on Sun Yat-sen and Kai-Shek.  Yat-sen is viewed by all as a great figure in China's history, a man with few personal ambitions who organised the revolution which finally saw an end to the rule of the Emperors and then had to arrange a more bloodless coup a couple of years later when the new government started to go back to where it started. 

The Communists under Mao eventually overthrew this government and Yat-sen's successor Chiang Kai-shek.  Although the displays tried to suggest that they were nonetheless the true successors to his democratic ideals and included some amusing inaccuracies such as depicting Mao as one of the founding members of the Chinese Communist party, I was actually impressed at how impartial everything was.  Kai-shek forms a huge part of the historic period which was documented and, as he was the leader of the country that they fought against for two decades, it would have been very easy to have painted him as the bad guy.  However, not once did I see anything saying this.  Whether the Chinese translations had a different flavour, I don't know, but I suppose it would be unfair for me to draw baseless conclusions. 

I saw a map here, of which I saw a similar version the next day.  It showed China one hundred years ago and all of the foreign powers that were attempting to take land and trade for their own.  Russia was represented by a bear, Britain by a lion or a bulldog and America was represented by an eagle.  All strong animals which these countries are proud to associate themselves with.  But, looking a little less noble coming up from the south, was a giant frog showing the approach of the French.  Zut alors!  

The day was mostly done by now, especially as I needed to eat.  I tried without success to find a Budhist vegetarian restaurant that was supposed to be nearby.  A lot of the surrounding area was newly-developed or a building site of further new developments, so perhaps it had been recently knocked down.  Either way, I gave up and guessed my way through some streets until I was back at the hostel.  

The next morning I took some breakfast and played a couple of games of pool with Mimi.  She was a surprisingly good player, often chasing my shots towards the pockets and pushing the balls down if I missed.  She was then very keen to pull the balls back out of the pockets but fortunately for me she never quite achieved it, despite vigorous efforts (see photos).  When I was lining up a shot, she would also jump on the end of the cue with her claws and teeth, meaning I could play shots with just one hand and somehow even manage to pot the balls!  

Heading out, I took a taxi to Zijin Shan (purple-gold mountain) on the eastern outskirts of the city.  Many sites sit here on the slopes so I headed for the furthest of them and tried to make my way through as many as possible before sunset, only managing half.  

First was the Linggu Temple complex.  Wandering into a courtyard here, four monks led a long train of thirty or so worshippers out of one of the temples and took them up and down and up and down like a snake as they all chanted.  I tried to take some pictures of it as unobtrusively as possible, so as not to reduce their moment of spirituality to a mere tourist attraction.  Although, as I paid an entrance fee to be there and was therefore bankrolling this little exercise, perhaps I shouldn't have worried too much.  

After a walk through the forest to other scenic areas and tombs of great men, I came to a nine-storey 60m-high pagoda.  Walking up the spiral staircase, I stopped countless times to let descending Chinese tourists pass me.  I don't really know why I bothered to learn the word for 'thank-you' when I took my Mandarin lessons as almost no one in China ever uses it (or 'sorry') and certainly not one of these people I waited for gave me so much as a nod of appreciation.  

Having seen most of what there was to see in this section of the mountain, I tried to make my way through the criss-crossing forest pathways to get to the main attraction: Sun Yat-sen's mausoleum.  Almost there, I found myself at a high fence with no way around.  I think I was probably supposed to go all the way back to the entrance and come back in again, but this would have eaten up what little daylight time there was left.  Nearby I saw four Chinese, two couples from what I could see, who were encountering the same problem by a locked gate with spikes on top.  One of the guys had already climbed over the top and was encouraging his friends to come over or through.  I joined them in this exercise.  I was just too big to squeeze between the bars so had to climb over the spikes and jump down the other side before helping the others make their own crossing (the girls were able to squeeze through).  

Job done, I made my way towards the mausoleum.  Sun Yat-sen was apparently a simple man who would have wanted a simple burial.  What he has is a tomb that can surely only be bettered by the Egyptian pharoahs.  An open-air theatre site greets you first, complete with hundreds of white pigeons who will happily jump on you while you try to feed or photograph them.  After a couple of grand, ostentatious archways, there are then over three hundred wide, ornate steps that you might imagine Luke Skywalker going up are the end of Star Wars to get his medal from Leia.  At the top of this sits the grand mausoleum itself, where you can walk about the actual marble tomb and with gardens at the back to stroll through.  

Sun was fading after this, even though there were many other sights to see on the mountainside, so I took a bus back into town.  After walking around a posh area with big, modern restaurants, bars and clubs, I stopped into another place for dinner; nice by Chinese standards but nothing special for a westerner.  The experience was one I have encountered a handful of times in China and sums up the lack of sense of responsibility that many people have.  The waitress brought me a menu consisting of Chinese characters and pictures (which are not always helpful when Chinese food is usually made up of small pieces all mixed together).  I explained that I was vegetarian and asked for help for what I should eat.  As they didn't have much, she didn't know what to say, so she just stood there nervously giggling, making no attempt to talk to me, make suggestions or answer my further questions.  After a while she calls a second young waitress over.  The two of them then giggle with each other at the side of the table ignoring all my efforts to talk to them.  It's not that they mean to be rude, but they have neither the sense of responsibility that they need to take charge of the situation nor do they know how to take charge of any situation because they have no experience in life of ever doing so because Chinese culture does not teach people that it is ever necessary to do so.  The laughter is just a panic reaction.  As is normal when this starts, I wait for perhaps two full minutes, occasionally attempting further questions which are ignored.  I put on my scarf, I put on my coat, I stand up, I walk towards the door, another girl opens it for me and as I look back one last time the two waitresses are still standing by the side of my table in fits of nervous giggles.  

Day three in Nanjing I decided to look at a famous big bridge crossing the river on the north-west edge of town.  Thinking I had mastered the local transport map, I decided to pick my own bus route to get there, but the result of this was nearly two hours of walking around after the bus terminated until I found the actual bridge.  Still, as ever, these little detours do provide an excellent view of the poorer side of the populace that actually dominates the country as a whole.  

Having got there, the bridge was indeed big, stretching four kilometres including the raised approach sections on either bank.  It was also concrete, squared and ugly.  Even more so on this overcast day.  The classic Communist statues built onto it inadvertently accentuated the sense of functional-yet-poor, even though they were surely added as a statement of the fight for 'freedom' and its achievement.  

The main reason to come this city was to learn more about the Rape of Nanjing.  When invading Japanese forces occupied the city in 1937, they carried out atrocities on a scale that had apparently never been seen in the world before.  So, for my last day, I took a bus over to the commemorative museum.  Frustratingly, and for reasons that none of the visitors seemed to understand, it was shut for the day so I could do little more than inspect some of the sculptures and plaques that adorned the outside.  On my way back I tried to go to a different city museum instead but couldn't find it so eventually decided that the day was going nowhere and went back to the hostel for the less-exciting job of finishing my laundry.  


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China - 2nd visit

Qingdao, Jinan, Qufu, Tai'An, Beijing, Pingao, Handan, Zhengzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, China