Tuesday, June 10, 2014

China 2014 part 2 - Wuhan/Shanghai


After necking the excellent included east-west breakfast at the Novotel, I changed plans and made for the Yellow Crane tower.  I should have tried to look at classical Chinese porn yesterday; the sexology museum is an easy cut in favor of this hike.

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0048. Blue skies behind the hotel.

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0049. Greenery and traffic crossing Zhongshan.

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0050. Bridge ring over an intersection by the park.

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0051. Entrance stairs at the Yellow Crane park.

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0052. Sculpture at the front.

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0053. West gate backlit by the rising sun.

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0054. Up to the tower.

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0055. Down into the city from the foot.

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0056. Side pavilion.

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0057. Pavilion and foliage.

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0058. Crane sculpture out front.

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0059. Looking down at the west entranceway.

v03. Turning in the wind, faint music.

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0060. Inside the tower.

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0061. The rest of the tile mosaic/mural below it.

0062. (DNCO).

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0063. Down to the bell tower.

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0064. Detail of one of the roof finials.

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0065. Across to the west/left bank of the Han.

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0066. TV tower on a green hill.

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0067. More history inside.

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0068. Rooftop garden.

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0069. Greenery and skyscrapers to the southwest.

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0070. Tight corners -- these are hazardous for 太高的西国人.

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0071. Temple horn and city.

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0072. Traffic westbound on the Hubei expressway over the river.

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0073.  Inside again; old ritual utensils.  I was trying to keep the cleaning lady out of the shot, because 中国人民 are not a tourist attraction, but really, she has exactly as much right to be pictured as the tower contents she maintains.

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0074. Roof bell and some of the city.


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0076. More of the old temple furnishings inside.

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0077. Old doorpost covering.

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0078. Cranes and more artifacts.

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0079. More reimagined than restored.  The iconoclasm of the Communist takeover, and especially the Cultural Revolution afterwards, did a lot of damage to historical religious sites.  But this, too, is China; patching over the past with a reverence that's sincere, but won't be an undue bar to forging ahead.

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0080. More of the artifacts at the foot.

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0081. Denied!  As will be seen later, while China will allow giant white devils to wander around the map at leisure, trying to go off the map is problematic.

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0082. A green corner below the tower.

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0083. Calligraphy in stone.

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0084. A weathered worship rock; there's a lot of these in the alluvial plain of southeast China, probably washed out of the karsts in Guanxi and Yunnan.

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0085. Another quiet corner, immediately ahead of a tour group.

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0086. More peaceful scenery, seconds ahead of the tourguide.

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0087. Poetic steles; the start of a 200m-long complex.

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0088. Mao's poetry, preserved in stone.  The requirements of a leader did not change in the transfer of the mandate from Heaven to the Party Congress.

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0089. Crane frieze and ponds below.

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0090. An outbuilding of the temple complex.

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0091. Path through the green.  Despite the relentless urbanization, China fights hard to preserve urban greenspace.

v04. Pan across waterfalls in a garden.

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0092. Double-level waterfalls at the end.

There was a dude on the landing before the second falls doing tai chi with a tassel-hilted sword, but I didn't take a picture for the same reasons that Chinese tourists don't take pictures of Westerners doing zumba classes: morning exercise isn't a tourist attraction.

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0093. The long fall above.

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0094. Statue of Yue Fei.

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0095. Old gate, heading downhill.

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0096. Down to the south entrance.

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0097. South gate and apartment blocks; little sums up Wuhan like this.

That was it for the park, so I continued east to try and find the 1911 memorial museum, or at least the Wuchang rail.

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0098. The former Hubei provincial library.  A public safety (公安) cop stopped me after taking this, so I opened the camera to delete if needed, but he just sent me on my way.  The nationalist period is not expected to be of interest to travelers.

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0099. A lonely tag in the underpass.

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0100. Looking up west, about to jump off looking for Mao's villa.

I busted on this due to bad, imprecise directions, but got to give a laugh to some Chinese dudes about the big dumb foreigner who wandered down their street and needed to be set right.  Han-looking people in twig may be able to get through, but for the likes of me, "off the map" is fairly sharply constrained.  In cases like this, the tourist attraction is you, so smile, take the bust, and head back for the boundary.

The most important lesson from this encounter for the rest of the trip was the conviction that as long as I stayed on paved roads, I wasn't going to come to grief, and that a track turning into a dirt or gravel path was an indicator to head back or take another turning.  This proved to be correct, and was very useful in keeping me on the straight and narrow in Harbin.

My streak of modestly bad luck continued at the station, where I got my santoku taken off me by the first observant sec-checker I'd encountered.  From this, you have a 100% chance to be able to bring a business-sized knife on a Chinese subway in your pack -- even if, as for most of this trip, they're scanning baggage -- but only a 50% chance to get that knife cleared for intercity rail.  My actual to-hand knife, though, continues to go through metal detectors unscathed.

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0101. No cap, no tab, but probably the best beer so far.  This is an unwidgeted stout from Qingdao that is not really trying to be a schwarzbier, no matter what the can says.

It's about an hour to the train; time for some lunch, and then in queue.

So for lunch I went to Master Kong's Express, and since it's a fast food place, I couldn't use the 招牌菜 trick.  But a miracle happened!  I could pronounce all the characters in their special!  Jinpaihongshaoniuroumiantaocan!  TEN HIT COMBO!

But seriously, a big bowl of beer, veggies, and noodles in spicy soup for 48 yuan is probably the best real you're going to get in the Wuhan controlled-access area.  I'm fine till Shanghai now, and will probably pitch dinner there late off this feed.


Another neat thing from the restaurant: a great constant of public spaces in China is the intermittent presence of some kind of canvassers, usually young women with a clipboard, probably soliciting Party contributions or something, because they leave Westerners strictly alone, where charity scammers in other countries tend to go directly for tourists.  However, one of them came up behind me and rounded towards my table before turning away; from the back, hunched over a bowl of noodles, and wearing a shirt with "CHA" on the back (rep dat Human Weapon), my hair is apparently dark enough, and the rest of my frame without enough immediate tells, that I can blend in.  Kind of.  Ultimately I can't blend in -- too large, too tall, too pale, too beardy -- but all I desire is to be as minimally disruptive as possible, while still seeing not only the sights of China, but also, as much as possible, the real lived experience of Chinese people.  I don't do guided tourism because I want to mediate my own experiences, generally, but the risk of that is blundering on and off the map like a mastodon in an army pack; the less I disrupt, the better not only for the locals, but for my experience of China as it is without my immediate presence.  I leave; what I pass through stays, and the more I see of what will remain rather than the environment reacting to my presence, the better I understand.

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0102. The "sightseeing" cab.  The normal first-class cabin is pretty plush, but this is ridiculous.  I've got to keep my ticket out to prove that a mook like me is allowed to be here even.

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0103. Some sights; probably not a reactor (see the smoke), but a coal plant.

v05. Running east by northeast at speed.

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0104. Mountain greenery; this was a third try at this view, since high-speed trains are as unforgiving as ever.

The run of the train goes through some amazing views: paddies worked by an ox trailing a wooden plough, small knots of mountain ranges, crumbling houses cheek by jowl with shiny new ones.  Rail travel remains the best way to see the countryside; we'll have to wait to drop to K trains, though, to get reliably preserved versions of those views.

v06. Reaching Wuxi, coming on sunset.

If the approach to Shanghai is dominated by any one thing, it is the relentless grasp of man on the land.  The trees are planted in rows, and the rivers and ponds are walled or cut with aquaculture pens.  Nothing on this plain is left wild, if it can possibly be of use under administration.  And everywhere, new buildings are going up, new foundations being bulldozed.  The country is in a life-or-death battle with the heat, the smog, and the increase of population to keep agriculture going, for when that fails, this will all break to pieces.  Elsewhere in China, things grow that aren't planted, but on the G/D track inwards of Nanjing, there's no such thing.

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0105. Off the platform at Suzhou.  Grass as flat and manicured as a putting green, trees held in by stakes.

v07. Crossing Huanghe.

0106. (DNCO).

- Shanghai -

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0107. This is a train station, not an airport.  Well, Hongqiao is an airport, too, but this is just the high-speed rail terminus.

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0108. Coming up at People's Square.

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0109. The lights of Shanghai (well, Renmin Guangchang area) from the 10th floor of the Park Hotel.

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0110. The full panoply.

As of now, I have zero leg strength left and several shirts to wash.  Tonight in, tomorrow tour hard, and then on the eighth, out at the goddamned crack of dawn.

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