Taxi Talk 2

The Opium War revisited (Camelia Hotel to the Kunming Bus Station)

Not all Chinese have a positive impression of the British (See previous posting) . This cab driver, on our short ride to Kunming’s Bus Satation, angrily reminded us that China had not forgotten the Opium war and that the time was soon approaching when those countries responsible would be held to account.

His monologue mirrored Chinese history teaching on the Opium War that paints a very black and white picture of villains, the British, and Victims, the Chinese. “You humiliated China and now China is strong again” were his parting words.

I did my thesis on the Opium War at university and know that the issue is far from black and white. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get a word in before we were dumped at the bus station. Never mind, it was eye opening ride.

Taxi Talk

Taxi Talk

If you want to get a fragment of what today’s China is thinking then speak to your taxi driver. Whether it is in Beijing, Shanghai or anyone of those forgettable towns you pass through our get stuck in on your travels in China, you’ll find, like their counterparts in New York, London or Madrid, China’s cabbies have plenty to say. That is once you get them talking!

Below are just a few recollections of some of the more thought provoking conversations.

The Beijing Warmonger

(Wangfujing to Guijie 2003)

  • “Blair is very good” the driver said immediately after I had told him I was a yingguo ren (English). This came as somewhat of a surprise, given that most Chinese I had spoken to previously, had associated him with the Iraq War. But this turned out to be precisely what he liked about Blair. “Go on” I asked inquisitively, “why?” “The English army is very good, they have a lot of experience”. I am quite aware that many Chinese are pretty nationalistic and hold their army in high esteem, so I returned the compliment with a vague reference to the increasing professionalism of the Chinese Liberation Army (The PLA). With a disdainful wave of his hand the taxi driver told me “they don’t have experience, not like the English army, the Chinese haven’t had a war and so the army is useless and needs experience.” Provocatively, I ask where they might get that experience. “We must invade Taiwan” was the answer. Having quite a few friends in Taiwan I suggested that Japan would be a more suitable target given the current state of relations. “No, it must be Taiwan, we have to invade Taiwan to get the experience so the army will be prepared and then we can have a war with Japan and revenge Nanjing”. I asked what would happen if the Americans tried to help Taiwan, but he nonchalantly laughed this off and claimed they wouldn’t. We arrived at our destination and said our goodbyes.

 

Next: The Opium War revisited in Kunming:

Shaoxing & Huangjiu

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The smell of the wine hung heavy in the bar and impregnated the old wooden tables, chairs, floor and beams. Old and young took large gulps and slurped the wine from ceramic bowls. Mah-jong blocks crashed on the table, and chopsticks raced with each other to pick up the last piece of stinky tofu. The owner smiled and exposed his blackened teeth, more bowls of wine were ordered as new customers replaced departing ones. Welcome to Shaoxing and it’s wine….

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For more go to: HolaChina: Your Gateway to China

Guiyang-Chishui-Zigong-Bamboo Sea

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This triangle linking the south of Sichuan province with the north of Guizhou is a great combination of lush subtropical scenery, traditional villages and impressive architectural monuments. Yet, in spite of its attractions, the area has not been put on the tourist map, which only contributes to its charm.

This route is equally feasible from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, or from Guiyang, capital of Guizhou, given that the bus connections are good both ways. If you start from Guiyang, like we did, you may find the first part between Guiyang and Chishui, a bit long and tiring, though you could always break up the journey in the historical city of Zunyi….

For more go to: HolaChina: Your Gateway to China

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Langzhong

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This small town, with a big history, is situated on the banks of the Jialing River, some 225 kilometres from Chengdu. It is all at once the burial place of the Three Kingdoms general, Zhang Fei, birthplace of the Han dynasty inventor of the Chinese Calendar, Luo Xiahong, and home to a wealth of traditional Sichuan architecture. In short, Langzhong has plenty of things to see and do to keep a visitor busy for two days.

Your first priority on arrival, is to find accommodation in one of the many traditional family mansions that…..

For more go to: HolaChina: Your Gateway to China

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Finding Fenghuang

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It was one of those early evenings in small-town China in 2001; we’d already eaten and the after dinner entertainment options were conspicuous by their absence. The only fall-back was to retire to our room with a few beers and watch CCTV9, the mildly interesting English Language Channel. We tuned in to “Around China”, a cultural and travel programme dedicated to the promotion of traditional and/or exotic aspects of Chinese culture. On the programme, they were discussing a type of opera that was only found in a remote town in Hunan Province whose name I hadn’t caught. We were immediately drawn to the screen, wondering: “where is this stunning place with covered bridges, ancient houses on stilts and pagodas?” At the end of the clip I managed to catch its name, ‘Fenghuang’. Grabbing the guidebook I tried to find it, but there was no such town. We decided to look for more information about this elusive Fenghuang, so that if one day the opportunity arose, we could visit it.

This opportunity eventually came in 2003……

For More go to: HolaChina: Your Gateway to China

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Beijing: Evictions, Hutong Demolition and the 2008 Olympics

COHRE ( COHRE – Centre On Housing Rights and Evictions) claims that the Beijing Municipality has forcefully evicted more than a one and a quarter million Beijing residents to make way for the Olympic Games in 2008.

“The Beijing Municipality and BOCOG have violated the housing rights of over 1.25 million residents of Beijing in pursuit of relentless economic growth, including the hosting of international showpieces such as the Olympic Games. The mass displacements and evictions implemented in Beijing are a clear case of the illegitimate use of evictions as a tool of development by the Beijing Municipality and BOCOG, in a bid to transform the city into a ‘world-class metropolis’ fit to host the ‘best Olympic Games ever.’ Despite courageous protests inside China, and condemnation by many international human rights organisations, the Beijing Municipality and BOCOG have persisted with these evictions and displacements. COHRE’s research has shown how the awarding of the Olympic bid to Beijing by the IOC has been used as a pretext to ride roughshod over rights of affected residents,”.

COHRE – Centre On Housing Rights and Evictions

Some are fighting eviction in Beijing
Apart from the forced evictions it should also be noted that hundreds, if not thousands of Beijing’s historic hutongs (old streets and home to the traditional courtyard houses), palaces and temples that have been reduced to rubble in order to be replaced by wide featureless avenues, souless shopping centres and a an opera house that locals call the Rotten Egg.

The Destruction of beijing's historic Hutongs continues apace before the Olympic Games in 2008

Enjoy The Games!

BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Viewing China From the West and From Within – New York Times

Shitou Zhai 石头寨 and the Dreaded Ménpiào 门票 (Entrance Ticket)

The dreaded entrance ticket 门票. The expensive surprise you get when you visit a remote village in China

Baishui River (白水河 Shitou Zhai 石头寨

Shitou Zhai (visited in 2007)

 Baishui River (白水河 Shitou Zhai 石头寨

The stone Bouyi (ethnic group) village of Shitou Zhai 石头寨 , not far from China’s largest waterfall at Huangguoshu   and easily accessible by public transport, is said to have been around for some 500 years, and judging by the condition of some of the houses it could well be true.

Stone buildings at Shitou Zhai

The Bouyi build stone houses that resemble dwellings in European medieval villages. Anyone who has visited the remoter parts of the Spanish provinces of Castilla and Leon, or Galicia, will recognise the style immediately.

Lazy dogs at Shitou Zhai

These days, visitors are met at the entrance by friendly young women, dressed in traditional clothes, who act as guides – included in the steep 40 Yuan ticket (the dreaded Menpiao: That unexpected expense when you arrive in a village in rural China) – and give you a reasonably interesting demonstration on batik making techniques, provided you can speak Chinese.

They then take you for a walk around the village. Some of the old stone houses are still quite impressive, but many are just ruinous shells with nobody living in them.

A local bouyi at Shitou Zhai 石头寨

You might catch a glimpse of a few local Bouyi dressed in their dark-blue, dyed and embroidered clothes, but not many.

Making Batic (蜡染 /Làrǎn) Shitou zhai 石头寨

However, you will find plenty of opportunities to purchase batik products (蜡染 /Làrǎn) , your guide will be more than happy to point them out. While you are browsing, you may bump into wholesalers from Anshun 安顺 , many of whom buy their stock in Shitou Zhai.

Making Batic Shitou Zhai 石头寨

It’s a good idea to check out Anshun 安顺 prices first (especially the shops lining Nanhua Lu, near the bus station, specialised in Bouyi batiks (蜡染 / Làrǎn and Miao clothes) and then buy here.  Prices are very reasonable,  as long as you bargain.

Stone toofs at Shitou Zhai 石头寨

If Shitou Zhai is a bit of a let down, the surrounding countryside is stunningly idyllic. Slow rivers and water canals meander through rice fields, buffalo and village children swim in inviting pools, and enchanting paths lead off to other stone villages (without ticket) and towards the beautiful karst mountains.

Water canals and Karst scenery around Shitou Zhai 石头寨

If you continued for another 3 km after Shitou Zhai, through the rice fields, you’d reach the river (  Baishui River (白水河 ) only a few kilometres before it cascades over the rocks and turns into Huangguoshu falls.

 Baishui River (白水河 Shitou Zhai 石头寨

Practicalities:

Getting there and away:

Path along Baishui River (白水河 to Shitou Zhai 石头寨

You should get on a Huangguoshu– bound bus from Anshun 安顺 and ask the driver to drop you at the turn-off for Shitou Zhai, from where it is a pleasant 2- kilometre walk, following a slow winding river (Baishui River 白水河 ) and grazing buffalos to the village.

Stone houses at Shitou Zhai Scenic area 石头寨

Returning, there are many buses that pass through Shitou Zhai going to the town of Zhenning, from where buses depart every 10 minutes to Anshun 安顺 .

 Baishui River 白水河 Shitou Zhai 石头寨

Food:

Not Much! There are (were) no restaurants, but there is a small village shop where you can buy drinks, snacks and sweets.

 Baishui River (白水河 Shitou Zhai 石头寨
Local Bouyi in Shitou Zhai 石头寨

Gansu Travel Insurance: From Our Diary: September 10, 2002.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002, Bus ‘Mafan’, or bloody hassle!

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

It wasn’t as easy as we had thought. Having paid 200 yuan for the Gansu Travel Insurance, a worthless piece of paper that does nothing for the hapless traveller, but protects the bus company in case you are injured or killed on one of their buses, a possibility that cannot be excluded, given some of the driving and conditions on the roads, we expected to be sold a ticket and board the bus to Pingliang. Our final destination being the Taoist mountain of Kongtong Shan.

Adam had seen on the departures board that a bus was leaving at 11.20, so he strolled over to the window, insurance paper in hand,  to purchase two tickets. To our amazement, he was told by the rude attendant that there were meiyou (no) buses to Pinglian, ever, and that we had to take the train. Disbelieving, we went outside, to the departures area where we identified the actual bus and checked with the driver and conductor, who both confirmed that this was indeed the bus to Pingliang and that it was leaving at 11.20, but that we had to buy a ticket at the ticket office.

Round two: we returned to the office, choosing a different window, and asked for 2 tickets again. The second attendant just waved her hand at us in a dismissive manner and said meiyou baoxian (no insurance). So that was the problem? Triumphantly, Adam pulled out the insurance paper and placed it in front of her. Without even looking at it she just repeated meiyou and turned to the customers behind us.

Though Adam insisted that our insurance was in order, she just blanked us, as if we didn’t exist. And here began one of those episodes that occasionally can drive China travellers to despair: we refused to budge, she refused to look at us, or our insurance. After a stand-off of 2 or 3 minutes, she pulled down the shutter and moved away. We tried two more ticket sellers, but met with the same response.

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

Eventually, we decided to just board the bus. We took two seats and waited. The conductor wanted to take us and was willing to purchase two tickets on our behalf. Unfortunately, an inspector prevented her from doing so. By now it was 11.20 and the driver was anxious to leave. However, knowing that we were in the right, we refused to get off. It was an uncomfortable situation for all, but we held our ground, locked in a ridiculous battle of wills.

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

As a last resort, Adam decided to appeal to the PSB, the security police. Leaving me on the bus, he went to the PSB desk inside the bus station. A friendly officer told him that he needed insurance to travel in Gansu province. Patiently, he again produced our insurance papers. Again, without looking at the papers, the officer told Adam to follow him to a travel agent’s next to the bus station. The agent  pulled out some forms for us to fill in and said the insurance would cost 200 Yuan.

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

Totally exasperated Adam showed our papers again and, at long last, someone actually bothered to look at them! ‘But you already have travel insurance!’  the surprised travel agent exclaimed, comparing the two forms. Back to the station Adam went, victoriously, accompanied by the PSB officer. He marched up to the same ticket seller, who had previously spurned his insurance papers. This time she merely smiled sheepishly and quickly sold him two tickets. Then we were off!

The Ticket
Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省