Shanxi Province, China: Pingyao

I blame a previous issue of Silverkris (Singapore Airlines' inflight magazine). I tend not to take any more airline magazines as they all turn out to be paper weight after it leaves the plane, but now with a camera phone with enough resolution, I can take a picture of the page and read it later. And so it was, one edition had an article on Pingyao. That’s in Shanxi, Shanxi with single “a” and not the one where the terracotta warriors are located. It was not a long article, just one page, and something about not being affected by the cultural revolution and the fact that this small town was the first financial hub in China about a hundred years before Shanghai. And so during the long weekend in May, when I was out of ideas of where to go, Pingyao came to mind. Wouldn’t be that bad to decamp over there for a few days just to chill out.

The only issue is getting there. One idea was to go to Beijing and then taking a train, but that seems to take a whole day. Another way is to go through the capital of Shanxi Province, Taiyuan, just about 2 hours by bus. I like the chinese bus. Dirt cheap (though train would be cheaper) and full of locals. So... mind made up, and ready to go.

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Shanghai, China: Shanghai Film Park

It is difficult to write about something 5 months after. For one, I can hardly remember how I got to the Film Park. But I still remember how it happened, I've read about this place in Shanghai where many movies were shot, especially the ones that depict Shanghai pre World War II, and for completeness sake, let's just place that in the 1930s. I can recall Kung Fu Hustle. So, there was no real direction available on the internet, and I had the GPS coordinates only. I remembered taking the Shanghai metro to the southwest, changed into a bus, a wrong bus, and then having to walk a bit and one more bus before I got to within 1km of the park by GPS.

Shanghai Movie Park

As of writing, maps of China on Google Maps has to be viewed in map view and no satellite. There is a little 500m offset on it. I did a little internet sleuthing and came up with this address, copied and pasted (shall I say plagiarized?) without much though:

Shanghai Film Park, Chedun Town, 4915 Beisong Gong Lu, near Cheting Gong Lu 车墩镇北松公路4915号,近车停公路 Coordinates: 31.01228, 121.31037

Now that I have, hopefully, given enough instructions to get there, let me first start by saying that this is one of the hidden gems in Shanghai. Sure, the internet has plenty of day tours, but do you REALLY need a tour guide in a movie studio? I was there late in the afternoon, and there was a movie that was being shot at that time. I can't imagine another studio where you could just walk up to the set, and watch the film crew doing their stuff.

There is an entry fee, but it is a pittance, a little less than lunch for a tourist. Since a local can eat for less than 10RMB I'd make that clear first. I can't recall the entrance fee, lets just say its between 10-15RMB at the most. Could even be less.

Immediately to the left of the entrance is a building that seems to suggest they have performances there. I can't imagine dances and so on happening. I was out of time and I have absolutely no interest in something offtopic when I'm visiting this place for the set. I came with 2 Leica Rangefinders, a M2 loaded with Tri-X which unfortunately, was fogged so the frames looked strange (which would be all the black and white pictures you see here). The second was a Leica M6 loaded with Kodachrome 200. This partly explains why it took 5 months to write this post. With Kodachrome, I had to mail it to Kansas (that would be KS) and wait for it to come back before I could scan.

Continuing on, the first would be the giant reconstruction of Nanjing Road in the 1930s. These are actual buildings, but quite obviously close up they look like they've been built recently, and the workmanship looks crude closeup. That would be my expectation of a movie set anyway. There is even the Nanjing Rd road sign. I've been in Shanghai in years, and I would consider myself quite familiar with anatomy of downtown Shanghai, and I can conclude that this scale reproduction does not follow the actual city center. I mean, Suzhou Creek does not run perpendicular to Nanjing Rd. There is a smaller scale version of the metal framed Waibaidu bridge on Daming Rd spanning Suzhou creek. I noticed that there is even a tram track around. I did see some pictures of a working tram in this set, but I did not see it during the trip.

Wandering around, I explored the other set. I saw sets of old villages, and sets that are purely facades with supporting columns behind. By far the largest set would be the Nanjing Rd 1930s set, and perhaps the most permanent one as well. Wandering to the east of the sets, you'd find a full sized church there. I have no idea if this is a fully blessed and working church or just a oversized store room. Seems wedding couples love to take photos for their mega album here. That afternoon there were at least 5 groups there, group made up of bride with sneakers and wedding gown, groom with fancy tuxedo, and the makeup artist and photographer, and the quintessential guy holding up the gold reflector and remote flash.

What's for sure, this place is a heaven for photographers. Whether you shoot architecture of you have your own model to shoot for the day. There are no shops in there, but there are fancy toilets camouflaged as the rest of the buildings in the set. So bring water, but no worries on where to expel liquid. Avoid the church if you can, that's where the wedding photographers gather. And also the metal bridge. Somehow I prefer the real one on Daping Road. The further away you go from the fake Nanjing Rd, the less people you will encounter. You could have the whole set to yourself, but I did not see if you could shoot a movie in there illegally. When it is all done, you could look for a movie being shot and see how focused it really is. As in, you only get people where the action is (obviously) and the rest of the surrounding is like a ghost town, except for the occasional tourist. I bet they have a problem with foreign sound (like someone spitting in the background) during post-production.

Highly recommended destination. Too bad I did not record how I made my way there. But doubt anyone would want to try my long way there. Ask around, check the bus routing feature on Google Maps, do your homework. I think it's worth it.

And finally:


Shanghai, China: Hengsha Island

View of Chongming Island Bridge from Hengsha Island This farming island is not too far away from Shanghai. A fast ferry from Wusong Port in Baoshan will get you there in 1 hour and a bit. A full circumnavigation of the whole island will take more than a day along the coast, but highlights of it can be done in a day. I've about had it with long blog posts, so this time for once, only pictures, no words. Enjoy...

Please do not reproduce these pictures without permission. Thanks.

Wusong Port

Fast ferry service between Wusong Port and Hengsha and other islands on the Yangzi River delta

Fishing trawlers on Hengsha Island


Small ship repair industry on the island

Repairing fishing trawlers

Mobile phone number graffiti peddling services

Worker housing area

Styrofoam packages are common here. Only guess is that they are used as floatation devices.

Breakwater protect a small the perimeter of the island


Breakwater patterns

Island Interior

Chickens running around without enclosures

Farm houses on Hengsha

While running tap water should be available on the island, residents still make use of canals like these to do some of their washing...

Farm house

Leaving Hengsha Island


Henan Province, China: Anyang, Luoyang and Song Shan

On the second part of this Henan trip, I will go up north to Anyang from Kaifeng and then swing to the east towards Puyang, a city that seems to be historically important. Right after that, it's a long bus ride southwest to Luoyang where I plan to spend the longest stay of my Henan trip this time, a mere two nights. And on the way back to Zhengzhou, Song Shan lies on the way and this is where Shaolin Temple is.

2 October 2009: The bus from Kaifeng took close to 4 hours to make the 200km to Anyang. Having a GPS at the bus window showed why it took that long. We took the small road, went through small towns where the main activity is to dry corn kernels on the road and just about any bitumen or concrete surface that is available. People should be poor. And the toilet is everywhere, and it seems to be quite obvious even from the bus. All transports here has 3 wheels, motorcycles, cars and tractors. Every active shop has in front of it, again corn drying. Petrol station, the same story. Everywhere corn, and more corn. If you're not sick of corn, you will be after coming to Henan.

The bus arrived in Anyang at the long distance bus station next to the train station. Anyang looks much more modern and prosperous than Kaifeng by far. Less farm vehicles on the street, and things look a little more orderly. Not too much so, still a little messy as usual. Everything is so modern I don't expect to see too many ancient relics here.

1908hrs: Walked the back streets of old Anyang after visiting People's Square earlier on. Its a relatively long walk from the Train Station where I stay. Started off with a 2km walk to People's Square on Jiefang Dadao passing modern shops on both sides. Switched the film on my Leica M2 to Neopan1600 in anticipation of night shooting. There is just this sliver of sunset light remaining, so the Leica M6 loaded with Kodak Ektar 100 comes along as well. There are not too much on the street that is particularly specific to Anyang. Rather similar to other large cities in China. People's Square may also be called a park, perhaps it is called so. There are lakes, half moon bridges, etc.

On the way back, I spotted a parallel but smaller road back to the train station to Jiefang Dadao, so time to check out the hutong road while it starts to get dark. Time to check out the night life here. Dinner is by the roadside like the locals, having spotted a place that sells claypot stuffed with noodles, vegetables, tofu, oxtail, parsley, mushrooms. Its on the salty side but quite filling for 6RMB. My table neighbours are a bunch of loud labourers. They speak in a strange dialect and it sounds as though they're complaining about something. Took out my Sony PCM-D50 and recorded the conversation before my dish arrived piping hot. I'm thinking this would be a perfect dish for winter.

3 October 2009:

0817hrs: Early day today. Will be covering plenty of distance. Don't think there is a lot more to see in Anyang. There is a pagoda or two which I've seen from a distance, not willing to pay entrance fee to go everywhere. So the plan I decided in the morning is to catch a morning bus to Puyang and then in the evening to end my day in Luoyang.

While in the taxi to the East Bus Station to Puyang, negotiated 160RMB for a trip to Puyang in his taxi, but only if he drives fast. Road buses here stop along the way, plying the route like a public bus. So a 120km route, like my estimate from Anyang to Puyang may take up to 3 hours. Had some time to gain some information from the taxi driver along the way, including the wisdom: Anyang is small but densely populated, Puyang is big but sparsely populated. Sets the stage for my next town!

The road to Puyang goes straight to the east before doing a right angle right towards the south. The road is relatively modern and wide, enough for 4 total lanes, but the drivers here are crazy. Middle two lanes are for cars but not strictly so. Outer lanes are for electric bicycles, tractors and other farm vehicles and again, not strictly so. Thats because cars do swing to the far left, that would be pedestrian lane, at full speed when overtaking say a motorcycle, a lorry and a car at the same time. Among the strange wheeled contraption I saw along the way were 3 wheeled carts loaded to the brim with hay (I must say, I've seen them loaded to the brink of mechanical breakdown between Kaifeng and Anyang, so this is no longer surprising) and one special for geeks, its a tractor modified with a large rotating fan made with oversized twig-broom; yes for sweeping the road! Genius!

0915hrs: Arrived in Puyang. First order of business is to go pick up a bus ticket out of here. Strangely, the girl at the counter told me there are no time set on the ticket, and I can get on any bus and they leave roughly every 50 mins. Later I found out that also means they leave when the bus is full enough. Above the buses, as with other bus stops in Henan, there are signboards displaying the destination of the bus, including a pinyin translation.

Puyang is bigger than I thought. There are highrise buildings, proper hotels, multilane city roads and lanes for motorcycles and cars. There is even a People's Square which tells me that there has to be at least half a million people living here. I chart a path to take, around 6 km in total with my gps and get on going. I bet the photos taken here would look like it's taken in any other place in China. Nothing super special about it. I don't even know if I will remember much about this place a year from now. But somehow I had to pass by this place or else my trip wouldn't be complete.

After an uneventful lunch, its time to load up on the drinks and start moving towards the bus station. The ticket seller did mention it leaves at 1230hrs, and I got there around noon. By the time the bus left it was at least 1330hrs and I had dozed off a couple of times listening to podcasts on Anthropology.

1831hrs: Now this is a long bus ride. 5 hours into it and GPS says 9 more km into Luoyang. Just crossed the Yellow river at a narrow point where it doesn't look as scary as I expected. No massive dikes or barriers here. The bridge does span a log longer distance than the width of the river itself, perhaps to accomodate future change in river path. Only annoyance is that we are using a small van today, a 20 seater with higher window than a full sized bus so I had to place my Garmin eTrex a little higher than usual. Had to reconfigure my Kinesis travel pack to increase the height which is necessary especially when I doze off once in a while.

Arrived in Luoyang after dark. The GPS coordinates of the hotel I booked in advanced was out by a km. But I'm starting to trust google maps more and more. Even in Luoyang, you can look up the hotel and get it to compute walking path from where you are to the hotel. The other two options are driving and public transit, which I tested in Kaifeng and is working as advertised. Makes life easier at the expense of paying for data.

And soon it is time to plan my next day. Had two possibilities. Could either do Longmen caves tomorrow and some Luoyang sights and Shaolin temple on Monday, or vice versa. Eventually I will decide tomorrow, but for now I feel that going to Longmen caves first may be a good idea as I don't expect to spend too much time at the commercialised Shaolin temple.

0700hrs: So it is decided. Longmen caves and Luoyang city first today. Packed 7 rolls of different film, not knowing what to expect along the way. Maybe colour film, maybe slide film, maybe black and white only: lucky film canisters are small so it is easy to pack them all.

On the way to the train station, started doing a little survey of the facilities available. 16RMB for a quick bus to Shaolin temple, which is for tomorrow and I got to be here at 730hrs. There are plenty of transport options at the train station for sure. Just have to ask and agree on the price. And never join the tours, unless you don't mind spending hours at a tourist shop at the end of the trip.

0847hrs: Arrived at the Longmen caves. This place has the aura of a tourist trap extraordinaire. Infrastructures are excellent, big carparks, its own bus station, new shops lined the avenue you are forced to walk towards the entrance to the grottoes. And yes, the word I'm looking for is a tourist enterprise. And I forgot today is a Sunday, which explains the hoard of local Chinese tourists descending on Longmen Caves. Entrance ticket cost 120 RMB, perhaps 90% of it is a UNESCO heritage site permium, or to put it more crudely, freaking tax.

0938hrs: At the first carving in the mountain side. Looks like the base is limestone. The Three Binyang cave is a domed cutting 30m into the rock, with 5 statues in a semi circle fashion. 10 deep in local tourists here. Still possible to find a deadspot with no tourist where I could blog. My ERA100 M2 managed to capture the statue at f2.8 and 1/8s with an Abrahamsson softie. Before long I would run out of film, next up Kodak Tri-X. I think the jagged rocks require a little grittiness in the film. Loaded the film while avoiding knocks from a flood of tourists.

Longmen Caves: Tourists filing to see the same attractions

1048hrs: At Wanfo Cave, loosely translated by on site to be ten thousand buddha cave. Heres a spoiler, there ten thousand because they are all size of peanuts. It is also ten thousand because there are so many it is almost impossible to count. In effect, perhaps ancient chinese numerals end at ten thousand so it means too many to count. What is for sure is that there are definitely ten thousand local tourists here jostling for position. Even them small girls trying to push me aside. Gave them a lesson in Newton's third law of motion.

1112hrs: Fengxiansi Cave which is not really a cave, just a notch cut out of the cliff with 9 (Which I was able to count) 20m high statues arranged in a semi circle. Sure is noisy here, there is no way any devout buddhists could meditate here unless they put on a pair of noise cancelling headphones.

1129hrs: Guyang cave, according to the signboards, the oldest cave in the valley. It sure looks older. More noticeable, the crowds are thinning out here. Two hypotheses. Either its close to lunch and the morning group is finishing their trip, or they start to realize that once you have seen a buddha carving, the other ten thousand will look the same.

1217hrs: Done with the east hill complex after crossing Li River earlier. The number of caves are significantly less here, so are the tourists. Most of the sights are on the far side from the car park and this is where the commercialism kicks in. If you are too lazy to walk the half kilometer back to the main entrance, the authorities can recommend the 2RMB electric car ride. It is not expensive enough to be called a con but for measure, the public bus cost less than that for the 13km trip here from central Luoyang.

After a long walk to the carpark and bus stop, time to hop onto bus 60. I believe all buses here go on Longmen highway back to Luoyang. Buses here don't stop for too long even though it is the terminus. Next stop is Guangyin Miao, a temple a few km away. The bus will not stop in front of the temple, so a little hiking and GPS positioning will be required to make sure I stop at the right place.

Tickets to get in is 40 RMB, which is a bit steep me thinks. It doesn't have a UNESCO seal of approval, else it would have been more than 100RMB for sure. Perhaps the popularity of Guan Yu will get people in no matter the price.  Inside the ticket booth is a large square before entering the the temple itself. Inside it is a series of prayer halls, most with giant sized statues of the man/deity himself. At the end is a large burial mound like the ones emperors get. Along the way there will be attendants trying to get visitors to pray, and of course pay for the honour of doing so or to buy red ribbons with your name on it to tie onto some trees or stone carving.

Nothing much to report about, just another plot on my GPS as far as I'm concerned. And the ability to say I've been here. There are other burial temple complexs I've been to so this is not new.

After a little misadventure with the wrong bus, finally got onto bus number 58, which incidentally also passes by Guanlin temple but I seemed to have taken 15 instead when I left the place. Thats punishment for not checking Googlemaps before the trip. Next destination: Old Luoyang town.

Bus passes by a reconstructed west entrance. I saw Xi Men somewhere and Lijing Gate in other places. But it is new for sure. One of the pavillion just outside the gate played host to a group of at least 10 musicians with classical instruments and a lady was singing. For the next piece a whole gang of women and men came in to provide backup while one of the musician, clearly the ring leader of the lot comes up to conduct the mish-mash orchestra.

The old street is something I've seen before. On the main street shops with old style banner with signs in chinese and english tells what they are peddling. But this is not the interesting bit, turn right and you quickly get to the real old Luoyang, and with old people hanging out, some in solitude, others playing card games or mahjong. A little more than a kilometer eastwards, the old Drum tower stands in the middle of the road. A few meters after, in a small lane to the right, a map with a little English shows the map of the quarter. Not too far down is General Cao Cao's calvary command something. Then a few other significant something. And best of all, after a few right and left turns, Weng Feng pagoda. Now this is a strange one. I normally expect pagodas here to have elaborate sublevel roofs and coloured primarily in red and green and octogonal in shapem but this one is black, square and 9 sublevels tall with a pyramid at the top. Looks like a tower from the western world rather than Chinese.

On the way back, I encountered my first major rain. Thunder signalled the impending downpour and in less than a few minutes it did. Sought shelter in a shopping complex. I think it should be time for dinner once the rain dies down. Now it is 1656hrs.

5 October 2009: 0754hrs: Now this is confusing. The trip to Shaolin Temple is not as easy as I thought. There is a group of buses across the road from the train station but it includes a tour which I don't want. And they visit more than just the popular big temple, which I don't want. And they take a whole day to stop by many different places. And I guess the trip ends with a few hours at a shopping center for tourists. I was then told to take the straight bus from the bus station. Bought the tickets and was ushered across the road away from the bus station to take the bus. And it looks like the type of bus that will only move when full. And realising I'm back to square 1 with the tour buses. Plenty of these type of buses to tourist destinations in many cities. Now I just hope they go fast. Must be impossible for someone who don't speak chinese to get around.

1026hrs: Ok, nothing to be proud of. Got suckered into going for a chinese tour, but at least managed to break away and negotiate for ticket fee only. No pesky tour guide for me, I never follow them anyway. Most of the chinese tours come in regular waves. If you miss your tour group you can always tag along the next to come.

At Songyang Temple now. Not on my itinerary, so will do my own research later. This temple, not knowing the history of its raison d'etre, is swarmed with tourists. Other than the main halls of worship, there are shops and handicraft workshops whose aim seems to be to lure local tourists to buy items that will collect dust at home. I call this the dust collector. I'm sure the money goes somewhat into maintaining the temple, but there is no way one could medidate with the loud camera toting tourists in all nook and cranies. The only plus point is that this temple is situated on the foot of Song Shan. So in the old days, must be rather peaceful. Something that is lost in this modern age. Especially when it becomes a tourist attraction. Loaded with my first roll of Kodachrome ever, I look out for bright colours to shoot.

1150hrs: Fa Wang Temple. Another temple on Song Shan, further up the foot of the mountain. This time the temple is more or less a monastery as there are little monks walking about for their lunch. I think I saw a western monk as well. Other than the usual temple layout and architecture, right at the top, or the back of the temple is a pagoda made of bricks with a figure in a lotus position below it. I didn't pay attention to the prayer halls along the way but they all seem to be a different form of buddha. Just before the pagoda is a small housing complex with bunk beds and a small school. This has to be where the little monks stay, and most look less than 10 years old.

Ok so I'm still alive. Lets see what other temples they have in mind for me to tackle... I ran out of Kodachrome as it was a 24 roll here, so decided to switch to an old roll of Fuji Velvia. Looks like a fine velvia day and temples are rich in red and greens, two colours I think looks good in RVP50.

1356hrs: After a quick lunch stop at a restaurant packed with tourists, we are at Shaolin Temple. Another sentence on the restaurant please; it looks like one of those place where the bus guy makes money dropping bus loads of people there. Seems to be full of these type of activitity in China when joining a local tour group.

The temple entrance looks familiar. A large ticketing square doubling as the temple entrance. Looks less of a temple and more of a big tourist venue.

On the way to see a Kungfu dance, as the guide says it. It has to be a performance at 2pm. It seems that chinese tourists cannot be trusted to be back on the bus on time. Whatever it is, this is where I wave a virtual goodbye to the bunch of sightseeing drones. Will take the bus to Zhengzhou tonight.

Two hundred meters walk downhill and we get to a 1 storey high platform. Just a little after two a bunch of brightly clothed monks (more like martial art students) comes out and do their thing with flimsy weapons. It wobbles so much I guess it must be for safety so that no one gets pierced by it. There are quite a number of pseudo fights and skill showoffs while everyone sits in the sun on wooden benches. I let go a barrage of Velvia slide shots, knowing I will probably get crappy shots from quite far away and a 50mm lens.

Then it is a long kilometer walk to Shaolin Temple proper. I think I know the trick now, built the entrance far away and charge 10 RMB per person to transport them 1km. I'll walk thanks.

Shaolin temple is just that. Relatively indistinguishable from other temple monasteries except it is way richer, and because it is more, nay, a lot more famous, it gets plenty of stone stelaes with dedications from all over the world including a few in English. Next to the temple is a medicine building, where there are many drawers of medicines, but wondering if they are empty as the monks here are selling souvenirs instead. At the square, maybe my timing is good, there are a bunch of students learning their martial arts.

1607hrs: Branched off to the right on the way to the stone pagoda forest towards Wuru peak and Dharma cave. I'm sure I will never get there as the sign boards says 4000m away and I'm close to 5pm already. After a km or two, got to a temple at the midway point. According to the sign board, Chuzu Temple was one of the two reasons for the founding of Shaolin Temple on the foot of the mountain. Of course the first reason is Bodhi Dharma meditating in a cave close to Wuru peak. Right past the temple, I saw the way up the mountain. It is steep and will take an hour at least into the shadow of the mountain. No strength, no photo opportunity, no motivation. Time to go back.

The Pagoda Forest is a few hundred meters more from the branch off to Wuru peak. This is an interesting sight. Apparently this is where they interr the ashes of prominent abbots etc. So in a way it is a graveyard of sorts. Or whatever you call ash depositories. But no peace here with touts, souvenir sellers, tourists and beggars mingling among the pagodas. Towards the middle the pagodas are rather dense and they are all in Chinese, obviously. So it is not possible to make out what it says.

Just after the Pagoda Forest is the aforementioned 10 RMB bus ride back to the entrance. I'd rather get an exercise like any textbook scrooge would.

1731hrs: Onboard bus to Zhengzhou. Ticker price is 30RMB, I guess includes all sort of commission for everyone down the chain, including the local greeter' looking for passengers at the main exit of the temple, down to the ticket lady who scribbles some bean sprouts on the back of a book of receipts and gives you a stub. Just walk to the entrance and if anyone asks if you wanted to go to Luoyang, ask them about Zhengzhou.

The bus stops at the train station, taking close to 2 hours for the whole trip, and I estimate we spent more than 30 minutes for the last 8 km into the city due to traffic. Just after the drop, I noticed at the Zhengzhou Hotel a booth selling tickets to the airport. I checked, first bus at 0630hrs, which is what I need.

There are many hotels around the train station and most of the 3 Starred ones wanted 400RMB a night. Not willing to spend so much for a short sleep. I will need to get up early tomorrow morning. I downgrade to a binguan, loosely translated by me to be an inn. Now this is strange, they asked if I wanted a room with a bed or sleeping on a wooden platform? First time I had the reception ask if I wanted a room with a bed or without. Wanted to try out the bedless room, but logic got the best of me finally. Settled on the bedded room for double the price, but still cheaper than the other proper hotels. But of course in an inn, your phone will ring all night long asking if you wanted massage or girls.

6 October 2009: 0545hrs: Taking the 0630hrs bus to the airport from the train station, so naturally I stayed around the station. Even at 5am the square in front of the station is full of people walking around, the underpasses full of people sleeping in the streets. The hotels are relatively fully booked, but this is not a matter of hotels being available, but that hotels are normally a few hundred reminbi and above. Some brave souls sleep on the street where temperature hovers around 15C this morning. Touts and scalpers are hardy creatures. They are already out at work now. The chain restaurants around the central square are opened 24 hours, so an early morning noodles and soup is a perfect way to start the morning before getting on the flight back to Shanghai. Ticket cost around 16RMB. Not too sure as the change includes big notes, small notes and some cents in paper form, which you don't get to see too often in bigger cities.

As the sun rises, I start to think about my 5 day express through the 4 remaining ancient Chinese capitals. Thus on top of Beijing, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Xian... Adding Kaifeng, Anyang, Luoyang and finally Zhengzhou, completing one of my check lists. There is not too much left of the old history of these cities, unlike Beijing and perhaps Xian as well. I blame it on the shifting path of the Yellow river as it is known to switch its course through the centuries. Of course human destruction is surely partly to be blamed. Progress sometimes take centerstage compared to preserving history. Unfortunately, apart from being in the same physical location as the ancient capital itself, the cities as they exist today, it is very difficult to feel the aura that it should have. Is there a solution? Kaifeng comes close, with its remaining Drum Tower and backlanes with caches. The other cities are hewn out of the same chinese city planning template as 500 other cities. I will see later but I am sure I will not be able to tell the picture apart from one taken from a city in Zhejiang province.

The other two satellite cities I made the effort to stop by, Puyang and Zhoukou falls victim to the same urban sameness as their bigger and more important cities. But the purpose of visiting those cities are a little different for me. They are GPS waypoints required as I look for the birthplace of chinese surnames. One could argue, based on what was seen, that these two towns are farming towns. Roads are choked with a corn drying industry. Lets hope I still remember all these places in the years to come.

Some interesting numbers on this trip... GPS Moving time: 32hrs 30 mins GPS Odometer: 1241.38km GPS Moving Average: 38.2kmph GPS Maximum Speed: 119kmph B&W film used: 4 rolls Tri-X, 4 rolls ERA100, 2 rolls Neopan 1600 Colour film used: 1 roll Portra 160NC, 1 roll Kodak Ektar 100, 1 roll Kodachrome, 1 roll Fuji Velvia RVP50. 96kHz/24bit Audio Recording: 1hr 29mins

*the end*

Read the previous Part 1 post on Henan...

Henan Province, China: Zhengzhou, Zhoukou and Kaifeng

Street Performer in Kaifeng Night Market in Kaifeng

Hanging around in Kaifeng

No phone while driving? Nice one...

National day in China is special. For the party member, this is the 60th such celebration and from what I've heard, there will be more fireworks burnt tonight than during the Beijing Olympics and the giant footsteps will make its way to Shanghai, if what I heard is correct. To me it's quite obvious they will use more fireworks for the 1 Oct celebrations, especially when you consider it will be celebrated country-wide.

Debate aside, along with the midautumn festival, I get to have 6 days off. All of it public holidays.

Now I've been fixated on Henan province since early this year when I read about it. Early golden dynastic years of the Chinese empire happened here. Out of the 8 ancient capitals of China, 4 are located here. That would be Zhengzhou, Kaifeng, Luoyang and Anyang. After the first emperor set up camp in Xian, the capital quickly moved to Henan (I believe it was Luoyang, but wikipedia will tell you what it was). Of course Longmen grottoes/caves are here. So is the very commercialised Shaolin temple at Song Shan. Better still, my chinese surname, Chen, the top 5 most common chinese surname, originated here in Henan. The article I read indicated it was in Puyang. My search on the web says another town to the east of Henan which I doubt I will visit due to time constraints. More googling says that it began when Chen state was established, and so on, and the town inside Chen State is today Zhoukou, not too far from Zhengzhou and Kaifeng.

Retro province requires retro equipment. Leica M6 and M2 doing the duties for Henan Province along with 15 rolls of film.

So, the masterplan is to fly into Zhengzhou and cover all 4 ancient capitals and their most important sights and cover two thirds of the cities which are the possible origin of my surname. All these in 6 days.

Henan's Zhengzhou Airport

Will go light. Everything hand carried. Will bring the Ricoh GR Digital for grab shots. Main cameras will be a Leica M2 with Abrahamsson's Rapidwinder IXMOO for black and white film. This will be mated to a 35mm f2.8 Summaron. A second Leica M6 with 50mm Summicron will be used for colour film. For film, will bring 17 rolls, all from ERA100, Tri-X in IXMOO cassettes, Neopan 1600 for night time, Velvia 50 in case there are landscapes to shoot, Kodachrome slides, Kodak 160NC and finally Ektar 100. That's a lot, but got to be safe. GPS navigation will be provided with my old workhorse the Garminn eTrex Vista, and backed up by Nokia E71. All these blogging will be done with the E71. The audio recorder PCM-D50 will come along to record ambient sounds.

30 September 2009: 2231hrs: Arrival in Zhengzhou after an hour delay caused by outbound traffic back at Shanghai Hongqiao. Tomorrow is the start of a long holiday, and happened to be the 60th aniversary of Modern China. Zhengzhou airport is quite impressive. I counted 10 aerobridges in a glass building not unlike Pudong airport in design, except the facade is vertical instead of obtusely angled. I had no luggage checked in so it was straight out the door, a ticket booth to buy your 16 RMB bus ticket and crossing a few lanes to board the CITS bound bus. They don't seem to stop on the way, so telling the counter lady Zhengzhou would do. Had a dejavu, like the airport in Xian I remembered. Same layout, same way to take the bus.

Trip takes 45 minutes on a modern highway. It drops you off in an area full of night clubs, including one that is called Hot Dancing Club... Curious, curious.


One thing I really hate when in a foreign place are those taxis with faulty meters. They are the ones waiting patiently when you arrive and explains the difficulty in getting to your destination due to the traffic. It is close to midnight. I got quoted 40 RMB. My GPSs both told me that the place I wanted to stay in is 5 km away. Even in Shanghai, 5km will cost me less than 15 RMB in a traffic jam. Told the guy to go prey on a REAL foreigner and I started walking. Experience tells me the number of dodgy taxis is inversely proportional to the distance of the center of action. Picked up one about 1 km away and rightly, cost me 10 RMB including 1 RMB tip. And no traffic jam naturally.

View out the hotel, smack in the middle of Zhengzhou. The bright thing is Erqi Square.

Zhengzhou: Hotel room so big it seems they have problems wondering what to do with the space...

Local Chinese hotels in tier 2 towns are hard to explain...

Its close to midnight once I got to the hotel, thanks to the hour or so delay causing us to take off at close to 9pm instead of the scheduled 8pm. Will get some needed sleep now. Tomorrow will head off to ancient capital of Kaifeng.

1 October 2009: Breakfast at a chinese business hotel. There's the fried rice, and vegetables stir fried in many ways, but mainly vegetables. There are spicy cold dishes and hot orange juice. Makes me miss turkish breakfast somewhat. No tea, which is strange for China.

Erqi Square in the Morning

Shopping centers surround Erqi Square. Being the important October holiday, this place is heavily decorated.

Its an early start today at 8am. Wandered central Zhengzhou around Er Qi Square with my meterless Leica M2, sure the tricky lighting means a number of wrong exposures. Zhengzhou is just like any other big chinese cities. But noticeably, there are more beggars on the street. They are all mothers with kids, didn't notice if they were spaced evenly apart, so half-half chance of a syndicated begging scam. So i conclude either the city council does not clean up beggars as well as other chinese cities or perhaps this is a sign that behind the modern facade of this place, it is really just a poor province putting on its best mask.

Beggar on the street of Zhengzhou

Waiting for the bus at Zhengzhou long distance bus station

All buses from here are filled to the brim. No passengers on the roof though.

Long distance bus station is nearby. However the queue today is horribly long. Guessing up to 50m long for the ticketing booth. Not surprised as it is Oct 1 today. The start of a long holiday. The space is not too big but there are hundreds of buses here ready to leave in batches. Signboards indicate where the bus is off to, and there are tens of rows of these, mostly within Henan province.

0938hrs: Kaifeng bus does not leave at this bus station as it is not long distance enough or some bullshit like that. So after 30 minutes of waiting in line, I'm not about to go off and re-queue another time. So detour is pending. Reckoning. And so I checked the bus to Zhoukou and there's one at 10am for 59 RMB. Thats rather expensive, which either denotes this place is freaking far away, or it is just due to the festive prices.

So I am off to Zhoukou. A last minute search on wikipedia before leaving for Henan last night gives conflicting account for the origins of the surname Chen. Chinese National Geographic says it's Puyang. Wikipedia says Chen State is now where Zhoukou is. I have no way to verify but one way to be sure, this crowded bus station gives me a good way to be sure, I can go to Zhoukou and Puyang to be sure I have been to the original Chen city!

1249hrs: Long time running, because the bus stopped at another station to pick up more passengers. As if it was not loaded enough, they loaded the aisle too, hey, why not fill up the overhead compartment too, Mr driver? But you know when you are in rural China when they do this. We are 10km out of Linying just befor hitting Luohe. It's a toilet break, at a rather overkill highway stop. There is a proper restaurant here, and stalls for tidbits, corn on cob, and fat sausages.

Zhengzhou even has a tall television tower. This is on the way south towards Zhoukou

1350hrs: Finally got to Zhoukou. Along the way, actually all the way here there are farms on the side of the 2 lane double carriageway highway. Closer to Zhoukou I noticed farmers drying corn on top of flat roofs, like they do in the tibetan villages of Sichuan. The soil here looks dry, bet it has not rained for some time.

Zhoukou itself looks just like any other medium sized agriculturally dependent city in China. I'm ready to believe there are at least a million inhabitants here. Roads are wide and straight, suggesting it was modern, and there are many motorcycles and tractors on the road. Motorcycles are modified into 3 wheeled motor trailers and most of the time there are girls or old women sitting behind it. Air is foggy, polluted and dusty. You'd be happy to be able to see the sun. And unmistakably you're in rural china. People here speak strange putonghua. She said 40 RMB for the ticket to Kaifeng, and it took me a few tries to understand. For sure they modify the tones. Its like putting the standard pronounciation into a random tone modifier. Just have to ignore the tones and work by context. And yes, people speak loud here. And I'll say it again, I'm definitely in rural China!

Just outside Zhoukou, the bus stops at this workshop to fill up the fuel tanks.

Zhoukou bus station: This has to be the crappiest bus I've ever seen in China... No offense.

Zhoukou public transport - I hate these. You'd assume they're dirt cheap, but they like to haggle.


Not too much time to spend here. There are a few tourist signboards coming into Zhoukou pointing to areas of interest linked to the Three Kingdom legends including, if I remember correctly a memorial to Lord Guan, then again there has to be millions of these around. One dot on my GPS, and I will now have to leave you, provincial capital of the area used to be known as the Chen state. Being a Chen, at least in my pinyin name, I cannot even imagine skipping this town. Even if it means 8 hour detour for an hour visit.

On the way out of Zhoukou, the bus goes straight north on a small road. Here the farming communities are obvious. They dry out corns again, some stalky twigs and the occasional black stuff, which smells like dung. There are so much of it, they really dry them all on roads. Two laned ways become one as half of it is covered with yellow corn kernels.

Outside Zhoukou I got my first glimpse of corn land

Corn everywhere...

And more...

And more...

.... you get more corn.

1826hrs: That was a long long way to Kaifeng. Arrived at the long distance bus station, located next to the railway station. Busy area as usual, as for all railway stations in this country. To be safe, I bought the ticket to my next destination, Anyang for noon tomorrow. Will wake up early and visit downtown Kaifeng tomorrow morning.

2011hrs: At Kaifeng's night market on Gulou Rd. Its noisy, and there are plenty of stalls. Closer to Gulou is where all the food stalls are, and they all seem to be serving stuff on skewers to dip into some kind of shop. Away from the bustling center, stalls start to sell household necessities, and some with those games you'd find in cheap arcades, mainly tossing small rings onto some statistically close to impossible bottles. This is where I will have my dinner tonight. And while shooting the night market, the tape on my Leica M2 IXMOO cassette broke at the end of the reel, meaning not am I running out of film, but I will need to take it out of the camera in a dark room tonight! There goes my planned Neopan 1600 shots of the night market! The backup M6 is sitting in the hotel room, unfortunately.

Dinner. Dumplings.

Not really first class restaurant, but it will do.

and then it's time for dessert at the night market

I don't take hairy crabs, but they have it too...


This I'd take one... the cups were flimsy as hell though.



Kaifeng's night market is easily the size of the one in Xian. And coincidently also filled with chinese muslims. With their skull caps, not ladies in burkha of course. If I were allowed a wild speculation per hour I'd even say that the night market is identical to Xian. Chinese muslims pounding peanut cake, pear tea, brochettes with lamb and plenty of spices. I am starting to love night markets. Dirty but good food, and cheap. Had dumplings, then an apple (supposed to remove the skin I know, but lazy tonight) and topped off with a cup of pear tea. Dont think the total bill ever hit 15 RMB. There is a valid reason for tonight's frugality on my part. Most chinese hotels take 2x room rate, one part pre-paid room and another part deposit. They can't do deposit with my Unionpay card, so most of my cash is tied up there. Not that I have a lot of cash in the first place. The ATMs in this town are all out of cash.

Well, this is funny. Walking down the road a few km to my hotel and passed a roadside stall, same old dirty joints you'd find in third tier cities and there're these well dresses chinese girls munching down their spicy noodles. Across the road is a KTV. So that completes the picture. 2110hrs, and I'm passing the eastern city wall and across the river. I'd better stop blogging before I get run over by a Kaifeng driver.

Kaifeng at night: Notice the night markets

2 October 2009: 0757hrs: I hate people who press the lift before the whole family arrives. And the whole load of people has to wait for them. Families are very much guilty of this social atrocity. And this was my first annoyance for the morning.

Morning in Kaifeng

Morning in the streets of Kaifeng, Inflated decorative lions??? No!!!!

Planned to spend the morning going around whatever is around the center of Kaifeng city. On the map not much is more than a few hundred years, possibly because this place gets flooded periodically by the Yellow river.

0831hrs: At the Grand Xianggou Monastery in the middle of town. There is a 30RMB ticket charge, normal for a monastery. Reading the notice board for tourists outside the place, it says, 555AD during Northern Qi Dynasty... Ok, ten most famous monasteries, and this is funny - please maintain silence in the monastery ground. As I was reading this, a man shouts into his mobile phone as though his microphone was placed on the battery side away from his mouth.

Xianggou Monastery: Ticket Booth

Xianggou Monastery: Entrance

Xianggou Monastery: Local tourists, I love them all...

Xianggou Monastery: Prayer Flags


Xianggou Monastery: Reading monk

Xianggou Monastery

Xianggou Monastery: No idea what they're building and what for...

Xianggou Monastery

Xianggou Monastery

Xianggou Monastery

Xianggou Monastery

Xianggou Monastery: Proof of music notes

Xianggou Monastery

Xianggou Monastery

There are a lot of local tourists here. Blogging away while waiting for a trough in the wave of tourists. Photos look better when it is simple with clutter of groups with the same red caps. Its 9am and the sun is up but the pollution gives light close to the evening sunset colours. Warm colours. The way photos looks best.

1238hrs: Leaving Kaifeng bound for Anyang, yet another ancient capital. This one might be the oldest of the 4 I will come across this trip to Henan. I don't expect to see anything remaining though. The longer it is, the deeper underground they are.

Kaifeng is a little bit of a revelation so far. Walked the streets last night and more this morning. It doesn't have a big impact tourist location, but spend some time here and its charm starts to show. There are cars, but reminds me of Shanghai a decade ago, where most cars are taxis and buses. Now most get around by electric cycles, and I estimate they out number petrol guzzlers by 5:1 at least.

Here in Kaifeng, shops still promote their wares the old way. I've seen many processions of young sales men/women with company vests or sash holding placards with the promotion they are trying to push across. There is always a leader and some noise, be it drums or an audio recording of some sort. Obviously, the bigger the troupe the more glamourous your shop is. I've seen that most are 4-5 people large, but one hawking kitchen wares was about 20 long including 8 maidens holding a large drum on their collective shoulders. The men had the honour of holding the boards. Older shops would sometimes do it the old way, an old man with deep and loud voice standing on a chair on the sidewalk attracting customers into a small leather shop. I have heard that this was they way they do it during the dynastic days and there is a skill involved, no doubt.

Shops try to outdo each other. It is not difficult to find shops putting their wares on the sidewalk. The biggest proponent of this are the alcohol shops. Their goods comes in boxes, so it is easy to put as many boxes outside your shop to show you have plenty of stock, and in effect, I guess, that you have plenty of business as well. And the next shop always has more stock to offer. I don't see this competition between shops elsewhere.


Public Bus

On the streets of Kaifeng


Kaifeng even has a church



Taking the bus

Old street

On the streets, there are more trishaws than taxis. No, these are mostly not human powered. They look like the same shitty rickety mechanical mess meant to transport people, and not to look good, but we are in the 21st century now and electric powered motors have found its way into them all. These 3 wheeled carts are everywhere. I did not take them, preferring the ultra cheap 1RMB buses. Bonus is that Google maps on my E71 now does public transit routing with the buses and it worked even in Kaifeng. Travel just got cheaper! As long as you don't get to pay roaming data charges or course. Just point to where you want to go and the bus numbers appear in the routing.

Kaifeng Train Station

Little personal transporter can be seen loitering around public transportation hubs here

Long distance Bus Station. On my way to Anyang now...

As the bus inches its way up north, horns used all the time although the traffic in front looked clear to me. My garmin states 65kmph. We're back to the countryside, evident by the drying of corn kernels on the emergency lanes on both side. The standard form of transport here are the 3 wheeled tractor, a cross between tricycle and muscle 4 stroke motor and motorcycle tires. I guess these are goods transporter but they seem to be ferrying people more than goods. Even trucks here, full sized trucks have 3 wheels. Either 4 wheels are unlucky, thus 3 (5 wheeled transports might be a little difficult to manouvre) or it is cheaper to maintain 3 wheels. Guess i will never know the reason and this will remain one of those mysteries of rural China.

Leaving Kaifeng

On the way to Anyang

... through rural China

Go to Henan Province Part 2...

Shanghai, China: Changxing Island

The term "non-linear" applies especially to this post. I have made 2 trips to Changxing island over a few weeks, both times armed only with black & white film. As usual, I would type out this blog post on my Nokia E71 and then combine and edit them on a Macbook when I'm back in the comforts of my living room. However, somehow I got the post on Hengsha up and I forgot about this one till March 2010. So here I am, working on getting it out of my clogged up draft box.

As I originally wrote: after Hengsha, it is only natural the next island on the Yangzi River Delta to visit would be Changxing island, a lot bigger than Hengsha and slightly to the west. Not the biggest of course, that honour would go to Chongming island, subject of a future trip which I planned but never got to carry out before this post went online. It is not too difficult to get to Changxing. Same bus or metro to Wusong port and a boat to Majiagang, which is the only pier on the island, I was told. There are a lot more boats to Majiagang than to Hengsha, and the same for the return trip, so it shouldn't be any issue to get there and back and advanced ticket is not necessary.

There are not too much information about Changxing Island on the internet, at least not the English internet that I can search for. I was told that this island contains many orange farms, of the green skinned type. Lokam, some call it. Shanghainese would go there in their car in autumn and pick them, like a novelty item as if reminding them of the agricultural origins of Pudong. As the ferry passes by Changxing Island on the way to Hengsha, all I saw on Changxing was a lot of shipyards, so I have expectations of orchards, four-stroke tractors and shipyards.

Eventually I would spend a total of two weekends to survey two sections of the island, the middle  and the far western end. It would be total nuts to walk the whole island. Changxing is at least 30km long from one end to the other.

First Survey: 15 August 2009

GPS Plot for 16 August hike

Tried to wake up early, as I expect a long long walk on Changxing. Left home at 0700hrs after packing my own lunch, as I don't expect to waste time to look for a restaurant when on the island. After a quick breakfast, it was the usual bus 952 from People's Square to Wusong port. At the Baoshan ticketing office, the next fast boat I could find was at 1000hrs. This means I have at least one and a half hours to waste at the waiting room. I plug in my iPod and Fring on my Nokia E71 and tried to get productive going through some podcasts.

I have on me my old Lowepro Rover AW backpack, which I do not use too much anymore as I have found better alternatives. Inside is crammed with a Mamiya RZ67II medium format camera with 50mm and 127mm lenses. Originally I was thinking to bring 2 magazines and both black & white and colour film, but to cut down on the weight, it will be a black & white trip this time. Lunch went on the top of the bag, and the Sony PCM-D50 audio recorder in a pouch attached to the belt.  Navigation is provided by Garmin eTrex Vista, and backup with Nokia E71 running google maps in case I need to check if a path leads to dead-end or not.

1043hrs: Arrived at Majiagang port. Took less than an hour to get here. This place is busier than google maps suggested. Leaving the port gates, we are all greeted by motorcycle taxies and minivan drivers, offering to have you anywhere on the island for a pittance. Too bad this trip is all walk for me, no cheating on any other type of transportation. Just about every car on this island is doubling as a makeshift bus or taxi. There are some roadside stalls selling dried salted fish (because you could smell it).

Everyone seems to live in houses here. Not small huts either, these are 2 storey bungalows. But it would not be fair to call these luxurious, but rather, standard houses you would find on a typical chinese rural community. Not really farm houses either. They all seem to have tiles on the outside, which brings the class down a notch or two in my opinion. But you are on an island, so maybe style is not the concern. The only minus about these houses is that the cars that travel on the 2 lane highway have their horns permanently set to honk all the time. To make things worse, they prepare to overtake half a kilometer a way.

So I set a course due north east and walked till I hit the coastline where I could see Chongming Island, cutting through villages and farms, and orange orchards. Its not east to be discrete when carrying a Mamiya RZ67 as it looks as though I'm there to hunt for wild boar. This camera is just too big! But I love the medium format negative that it produces.

1305hrs: Finally hit the coastline after having to cut through some plantation, helped by satellite maps from my mobile phone. Found a way to get to a bund, and now sitting on a ledge at N31.42274, E121.68030 having my packed sandwich while enjoying the view of the bridge that connects this island to the main Chongming Island. I have heard of a long bridge somewhere near Shanghai, and I didn't know it was linking Changxing and Chongming Island. I don't think the bridge is ready yet for traffic yet but it does look long as hell. There are plenty of wetlands plants here, swaying in the wind, with nice cooling wind blowing so that it is not too hot. Perfect peaceful time to spend half an hour on lunch and just relaxing before the trek back to Majiagang.

1421hrs: Reached km0 of Fenghuang Highway, which should lead me straight back to Majiagang. The way back is just plenty of walking. Other than large breakwaters and dykes, majority of the island is mainly farmland. Not too many shops, so do stock up on tidbits and water before you venture out here. There are no restaurants that I have seen so far. They could be clustering around the Ferry Pier.

1530hrs: At Majiagang ferry terminal. No problem getting a ticket back to Wusong Port. The large waiting room at the terminal is noisy and full of locals. I don't see any tourist today. Maybe this is a good sign.

1647hrs: Back in Wusong Port and hungry. Time to look for some dinner. It was a nice long walk today. Most of the trip was boring, but the northern shore of the island is perfect for a quiet picnic. What is better than a totally secluded place with only the occasional local and no tourists and best of all, quiet and has a great view of the Chongming Island bridge?

22 August 2009:


0800hrs: Back at wusong port queueing up for the day's ferry ticket. Weather today is again forecasted rain but very very smoggy, but not worse than the typical smoggy Shanghai day. The ticket office seems emptier than normal which is strange. Bought a fast boat to Majiagang for 18 RMB, and like routine, went straight to waiting room 1&2. Boat number is 153, and I guess I will be at Majiagang before 1000 hrs.

Packed a Mamiya RZ67 and a Nikon S2 in my small 20L Arcteryx backpack so that I don't look too much like I have heavy photographic equipment. Lunch today will be a few buns from last night. Should be enough to keep me going all day. Water will all be in a 2L Camelbak inside the backpack. Bringing a Goosen Luna Pro light meter and the Sony PCM D50 audio recorder with a 16GB memory stick, about the most modern thing I have currently. Navigation is via an old Garmin eTrex Vista backed up by google maps on the Nokia E71.

There are many boats going to Majiagang on Changxing Island, but for some reason when you purchase tickets there is only one time on the counter. Trying to fill up the next boat? The fast boats are always filled up it seems anyway. Not tried the slow boat on the way to Majiagang, with more seats it should be a lot more vacancies on those. However, time is something I do not have much of, so no slow boat going there.

0937hrs: At Majiagang. With the smog, the view at the port is quite different from last week. The dry dock named Emei Shan seems to be sinking, at least by design so that the large ship being repaired there can leave the dry dock. Smoggy but sunny day, so guessing at least sunny f/16 minus 3 stops all day long.

1021hrs: Took a local illegal bus to a place to the west end of Changxing with a name I forgot but have the coordinates for. Stopped just in front of an army shophouse. Everyone inside are dressed in uniforms but wonder what they do here. There is a bus stop across the road and I noticed there is a bus that leads back to the pier every hour on the first quarter. Took note of it by snapping a picture with my mobile phone. Its time to take a walk... To the coastline!

There are giant breakwater dykes in this end of the island, and I'll just follow it for a few kilometer. The big issue today is that it is very very hot. I wouldn't be too surprised if it got close to 40C today in the hot sun. There are not too many trees out here for shelter, and the cemented path does not help either. I must have walked more than 10km by the time I got back to the place where I started. The scenery here is less of a wetland, as I originally thought from Google Earth, but more of large desolate landscape surrounded by concrete dykes. Good potential for simple landscape photography.

Time to walk back.

1354hrs: Back to the place I was left off. A public mini bus stands idle and the driver is sleeping inside. This has to be the 1415hrs bus back to Majiagang. Bus costs 3RMB. The one sitting here seems like the right one. Once the driver sees more than a person standing outside the bus he opens the door and turns on the aircon. The buses here do not seem to have number, they go by the destination displayed at the front, which is a bit of a problem for someone like me.

1426hrs: Back at Majiagang pier. Bought a fast boat ticket back at 18RMB leaving at 1545hrs. Which is just nice as this leaves me time to roam the pier looking for more things to explore. First up would be a visit to the waterfront to try to recreate the picture I took last week but lost because of a roll of fogged up film. Left my 127mm Mamiya lens at home today so unlikely I will get the same exact shot but will try.

Feel thirsty enough to crave a bottle of ice cold beer. But figured a bottle of sugared water would be a better choice considering I've probably lost quite a bit of salt through sweating today. Then its time go go into the boat waiting room, which is a 2 storey building. As with any transport area, you are greeted by a guard and an xray machine. I see that here no one puts their bag into the machine.

The waiting room seems to smell of urine. I was wondering if the floor is the toilet, but I guess its the unkept public toilet up on the second floor where most passengers wait and board the boat. Its fine to wait here except for the chain smoking men up here. They smoke all the time, never do you see them without a stick in their mouth.

1621hrs: Back in Wusong Port. Greeted by illegal motorcycle transporters, but this is quite normal outside the big urban centres in China.


Life in Shanghai: Shanghai Railway Station

Since I have a lot of projects lined up on documenting Shanghai on film, I will put some of them up on this website about 'Life in Shanghai' as it is. Deviating from my standard long post, I hope to write less and put more of the commentary in the photo caption itself. This should make it easier and a lot quicker to post as I don't need to check for grammatical or spelling mistakes; not that I do in the past anyways. First up, a day roaming around the Shanghai main Train Station. Stations make very good photo assignments. You get all types of people here, and in China you get people waiting outside the station for their train and all types of activity known to man.

Shanghai Metro Station

How appropriate, a mega video screen, public toilet and phone booth in a compact space.

It was a hot day in summer. Whatever ways to cool down when out in the hot sun.

The railway station is also a place for Shanghainese to hang around. This boy was running all around while his grandmother chats with someone.

This looks like a row of temporary ticketing booth for the holiday season, when the train stations are jammed with domestic travellers either waiting to get out of Shanghai, or to return home.

Even though mobile phone adoption is growing in China, public phones are still an important part of daily communication. Where else do you find more of these than the train station?

Its natural for someone new to Shanghai to get lost at the train station. This booth was set up to guide people around and can be found in the middle of a large square in front of the station.

There appears to be an impromptu queue forming at this bus stop. Yes, people in Shanghai are better for queuing compared to the smaller cities. But the queues form only when there are no buses. Once the door opens, its a free for all.

And now, the outdoor waiting room at the square in front of the train station.

And on the left and right flank of the train station are stationed blood donation buses. The one on the East side of the station seems to have a better turnout than this one.

So it looks as though public phones are not that popular after all. It makes good temporary shelter for some.

Sundry shops dot the perimeter of the station. This is where travellers pick up their last minute drinks and knick-knacks like packaged goose wings and chicken feet.

I think the icons are trying to say, male and female toilet. People in wheelchair might have a tough time getting to the toilet...

I believe this bus driver is off-duty... either that or he's an amazing driver in this driving posture.

These are most likely unlicensed motorcycle taxis, found just about everywhere in China and especially at public transportation stations.

And some are quite elaborate, not too sure how they can drive fast with the makeshift shelter unfurled.

This security shed is probably also a lodge, as someone is hanging his laundry just outside...

Where did this security guard go?

Waiting station just off the central square at the train station.

The roadsigns look pretty impressive and comprehensive. I have tried to followed it to catch a certain bus, and I can tell you it is anything but.

One of the main intersections around the train station. Bicycles, of course, is one of the major mode of transport here, but as expected, most are moving to cars now.

It is common to see left luggages at the station square. I waited a few minutes and I have never figured out who the owner of these sacks are.

Metro line 1 entrance. Always busy.

This is a little farther away from the train station, but still, a dustbin, empty and rubbish dumped next to it.

This has nothing to do with the train station, but shot on the same day, and so why not stick it here. Shanghainese uses the whole street as their living room, and so shall I on this webpage

And the last photo for this post... Major typo fail on this truck...

Cameras: Colour photos were taken with a Nikon D2H with a 50mm f1.8 AIS lens, while b&w photos are from a Nikon S2 Rangefinder with Voigtlander 21mm f4P Color Skopar and ERA100 film and guess-o-metered.

*End of post*

Shanghai, China: Nanjing Rd at night

Late night shoppers hanging around Nanjing Rd way after all shops have closed. The standard tourist to Shanghai makes a pilgrimage to the perennially packed Nanjing Road. The picture of thousands of shoppers compressed through the use of telephoto lens is all over brochures of Shanghai. I could copy those, and maybe I would in the future for my project, but I was more interested in what Nanjing Rd looked like late at night, when most of the shops have already closed.

In every major city there is always that one place where you will find more out-of-towners than locals, and this is where touts, conmen, and the general unlicensed street traders hang around. So naturally, I had my iPod on with sound isolating Shure headphones so I can ignore most of them coming up to me. I'm sure I will have to spend some time waiting so I packed a book with me so I can find a bench and read it until the crowd thins down.

In my small bag, 2 cameras. A Leica M6 fitted with a Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH, my favourite lens for night time shooting, and a second Leica M2 with Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.2 ASPH with Tom Abrahamsson's Rapidwinder IXMOO. Both cameras are loaded with Fujifilm's Neopan 1600. There are no meter on the Leica M2 so I was expecting quite a number of rejected shots.

And here are the results...

The standard shot of Nanjing Road, but this one close to 11pm. There are noticeably quite a number of people still wandering around, along with touts selling underwater goods.

This is a large tidbit shop. With the shutter closed, it is still possible to see the workers cleaning up and getting ready to return home.

This private proprietor is clearly a late night worker. Now this booth is filled with customers. I did not figure out what it was selling, though my guess would be lottery tickets.

And just like everywhere else in Shanghai, all public places are places to lounge around. Even late at night on Nanjing Road, it is possible to see people just hanging about when all else have closed.

And this is the other guy, first being me, reading at a pedestrian mall late at night.

... And before long, the cleaning crew would be coming to give the place a scrubdown.

And more of a scrub...

And soon it's time for everyone to pack up their stuff and say goodbye. This guy is shirtless as it was a hot night. Definitely a Shanghainese.

And some came to Nanjing Road prepared with their pyjamas.

Maybe they all plan to sleep over?

There are no shortage of public transportation to get back late at night. These 3 wheeled motorcycles are everywhere on the pedestrian street.

As are the most popular mode of transport apart from the metro...

Security van

But night time belongs to the cleanup staff

Shanghai No. 1 Store, at the beginning of the pedestrian walkway.

No Caption

And before long, it is quite obvious that the crowds are starting to thin down dramatically closer to midnight.

And in some areas it is just traquil, something not found very often in Shanghai.

These maintenance crews were getting ready to replace billboard posters.

And the last image to end this series... Hope you enjoyed it.


Shanghai, China: Wusong Pier And Hengsha Island

Flower fields blossom at Wusong Park, yes strange way to start a post, but thought starting with a little colour might be appropriate here... Summer is finally here. While I'd like to think that I have compiled a list of places to go in China, I rarely adhere to such lists anyway, and most destinations are off the seat of my pants. Last winter was reserved mainly for discovering new interesting back streets in Shanghai. Because of the cold, and the fact that most of my trip requires hours outdoors, it is a lot more comfortable to be close to home.

The first one the list, which has been on my want-to-do-list for some time, is a survey trip to Hengsha island. It desn't really have to be Hengsha, Changxing is fine as well. The former is one of the larger islands on the Yangzi river mouth, where the Yangzi and the smaller Huangpu rivers meet. I'm not a geologist, but it does seem to form part of the Yangzi river delta, the famous Yangzi River Delta! Trip there requires a public bus to one of the ports where the two rivers meet, as I wrote this, I had no idea which port the boats leave, but Google maps does suggest that I start with Wusong pier and so it shall. Taking a taxi there would be the easiest, but since when has adventure about taking the easiest path? Buses are not really that dodgy in Shanghai, but just for the fun of it, why not the bus? There are many places to board buses that goes to Wusong pier, and I settled on the closest one so that I can avoid taxis.

The Yangzi river from Wusong battery park

Port of Shanghai at Pudong

Over the course of weeks I made a few trips to Wusong port and it took till the third trip before I made it to Hengsha Island, but none of the trips were a waste at all.

30 May 2009

Unlike most other trips I have made, I woke up a little late at 10 am this morning. Has to be the latest waking up time for me on a Saturday! After lunch and a little gear tinkering and packing, and just utter time wasting on twitter, I started leaving my apartment at 1 pm, knowing full well I might have missed the last boat to be able to return on the same day. Let's face it, staying the night on some island I've never been to before in China is not exactly part of the plan today.

So what is in the bag today? Plenty of water since it is a hot day today. Took with me a innocent looking tote bag bought in Tokyo, filled with a Nikon D300, 12-24mm DX, 10.5mm DX and of course a 105mm f4 Macro AI in case the opportunity of insects, details and flowers present itself. Since there will be people to shoot as well, packed in my Leica M3 as well, along with a new 5cm Summitar collapsible lens. I just got this one back from a little repair work by John van Stelten from Focal Point in Colorado about a month ago, and it is time to see if this lens is any good for the price you pay (one of the cheapest Leica lens you can buy!). Film is of course, ERA100, and like I always say - chinese film for chinese people. Packed a Garmin GPS as well, and I can already feel that this unit is getting a little creaky old!

The trip starts with a long walk to People's Square in Shanghai city puxi side, and looking for the bus stop for number 952. There are no maps, so this involves asking people who look like workers for the bus company, but you can never be sure. Anyone that doesn't look like a tourist qualifies as the right person to tell me where to take that bus!

Start of Bus 952 Route

952 starts at one of the bus stop next to the Shanghai Museum. There is also 952B but it seems to be stopping less and ends before reaching the pier. Baoshan to be exact. The bus ticket to the end of the route is 6 RMB. I don't know how much it is to get to the pier, but 6 RMB is not too much of a price to pay! The pier is supposed to be stop number 25. And in the front of the bus, they do indicate the bus stop number out of a total of 30. At least that is what it looked like. I see a number that says 5-30, and somehow it didn't seem right to me. So fine. Just sit back and relax, and before long I doze off due to the hot sun. The interior of the bus is supposed to be 18C according to the thermometer readout at the front of the bus but I doubt it. Probably so inside the airconditioner!

Motorcycle taxis (illegal or not) are all over the place at Wusong Port

1427 hrs: In the bus and just woke up from a short slumber. Darn old garmin GPS is not acquiring any more than 1 satelllite. Maybe it is time to get a new GPS standalone unit. Those new GPS units seems to be able to acquire 3 signals a lot quicker.

Asleep on the job at Wusong Port

1529 hrs: Arrived at Wusong pier. No, I can nor confirm that the number in the bus does not indicate the stop but the conductor does shout out the stop coming up. Just listen out for Wusong something. Just before getting to the pier, the bus will go on an elevated highway for some distance and a port would be visible with a lot of standard sized containers stacked up before the stop. In short, it is a proper port, unlike the tourist piers that dotted the Huangpu running through Shanghai. The junction where the bus stops is Mudanjiang Rd and Songbin Rd. I have no idea where the pier for the boat to the islands really is, so I decided to stop early and do a little survey of the place.

This place is a typical chinese suburb. No one seems to respect any traffic rules, cross the road at any time, walk on the road and not the pavement, and cars turn right at their convenience. It seems that traffic light here are just for aesthetic purposes. There are restaurants and sundry shops. Further up there are mostly repair shops, in case your hybrid bicycle/motorcycle breaks down. Dusty for sure, but somehow there's a little nice breeze in this place. A little check on google maps on the Nokia E71 tells me I am indeed close to the river mouth, and hence the sea. Now, for the passenger terminal.

It seems that the passenger terminal is still a distance to walk. On Huacheng Rd now and walking following a road sign pointing towards the terminal. Can't wait to have the GPS coordinate for future use. Along the way, there are some lookout points and I'm able to see how busy the Huangpu is, full of cargo ships and barges going out to the Yangzi. Along the way, I was able to see a large terminal that is being built, and some signs indicating that this will be the next mega ship terminal and somehow I think by next year I will be able to grab a boat over here.

Wusong Temporary Pier (2009)

Temporary pier ticketing booth

After a little walk, finally I've found the boat terminal, not too far away if you know where to walk. The terminal is placed about 200m away from the water front, which is a little strange. It doesn't appear on Google Maps, so it has to be a new building, or rather, a temporary building waiting for the new terminal to be opened sometime in the future. There is a ticket booth outside, and a short walk away to the entrance to the waiting room. I had a little peek inside and it looks like a typical train station in small town China. An x-ray machine greets you followed by a chamber filled with chairs and ringed by government grocery sellers.

The roadside economy on the way to the park seems to revolve around repairing tires

And a row of half completed and abandoned buildings...

Life here is definitely slower than back in the city...

Unfortunately, the boat to Hengsha is at 1830hrs and there will be no more boat back to Wusong pier after that. Cost for the journey is 17 RMB, which I took note. So it is no go, I woke up too late for my own good. There is another boat to somewhere in 10 minutes time but no more boats back as well. I will then have to cancel the trip and walk around this area. Not too much of a failure though as this was supposed to be a scouting trip. The passenger terminal looks crappy with noisy chinese all over the place. Expect to sniff in plenty of low grade cigarette fumes.

Wusong Park Entrance

Here is an interesting find. This is the location of the entrance to a large park called Wusong Battery park perhaps. Perhaps, as I saw a couple of different names everywhere but this is the name on the ticket. Yes. All parks of a certain size in China requires an entrance fee. This one cost a negligible 5 RMB. And it closes at 7 pm this time of the year.

The first thing I noticed is the number of girls in wedding dress. looks like a haven for wedding photography. The paths are lined with plenty of flowers, this time of the year, and it looks like poppies if I'm not wrong. Thanking myself for bringing the 105mm f4 macro as I was having a field trip shooting the flowers.

Blimey, don't these look like poppies?

And some innocent daisies...

Viewing pier at the park overlooking the mighty Yangzi

This park is also located at the point where the Huangpu river meets the mighty Yangzi. I'll use the new spelling as I don't like the way Yangtse spells. A few minutes walk and I come to a walkway along the Yangzi. I believe this is my first time looking at the Yangzi but I might have seen it at Zhenjiang last year. There are plenty of ships for sure, and here at the mouth of the giant river, it looks like it is a sea. On a relatively clear day like today it's impossible to see the north bank nor the islands I was hoping to go to earlier.

It seems that this park also has a wetlands area, did see some but with noisy people around, doubt any animals will want to make their presence known. There are for sure more flowers here than animals or birds. The sea breeze is actually quite enjoyable here. I think I will just sit here looking at the cargo ship and barges for a while.

Repairing CCTV outside Wusong park

1822 hrs: On the way back to People's Square. Boarded a 952 after checking out the route on one of the bus stops. They all have this map with the buses and stops in the vicinity and it takes about a 20 minutes walk to get there. Whats interesting is that it seems the trip back to People's Square is only 5 RMB so it looks like I have overpaid a little on the way here.

7 June 2009:

Taking the metro to Wusong Port

Will be testing out another way to get to Wusong Port today. Bus was not an issue, as my test last week revealed. Today I will try the Metro. On the map it looks as though Line 3 Metro will get me close to the place. Only one way to find out, people!

This metro I am taking stops at South Changjiang Road station. Everyone leaves the train so I do the same as well. There is a slight breeze here so I guess we are close to the river, but I seriously doubt there is a climatic difference between this place and central Shanghai. Nevertheless, the frequency of trains on this line is low. Guessing 10 minutes between subsequent trains.

In front of the metro station, an elevated highway, and a bunch of people just chillin, I'm guessing they are street sellers taking a break.

Quite obviously this thing has been here for ages. Shanghai dust accumulating on it.

Getting off at Song Bin Road station after passing a small river. There are some old feeder boats, making very good photographic subject. This time, armed with a Leica M6 and 35mm f2 Summicron ASPH and clearing stock on Fuji Neopan SS film. There is no real waterfront to walk on the way to the Huangpu river, there is a concrete dyke that, i suppose, protects the town from being flooded during a king tide or typhoon. There are areas where one could climb over to a small waterfront. The ships that you are more likely to see would be barges, the type of river transport that is very common along the Huangpu when viewing it from the Bund. What else would you expect, really! The port over at Pudong is clearly visible and its nice to think that I was just there during my 58km cycle ride.

Barge going under Yixian Elevated Road and the metro line

Along Songpu Road close to the Huangpu river, a promenade lined with seafood restaurants

Whatever their speciality is here

And there's no escape from - outdoor snooker!

Roadside restaurant at Wusong Port

Locals enjoying the overcast day

Funny thing this trip, I accidentally stumbled on yet another pier with boats that goes to one of the islands on the Yangzi river mouth. This one even has a big ticket booth, and a proper timetable, unlike the one I found last weekend. Looks like this is the official Wusong/Baoshan pier. This one is closer to the bus stop which I got off from bus 952. Will check it out one morning. First boat to Hengsha seems to be at 0635 am.

There are many names for this area. I see it as Wusong but there are also signs indicating this place is also called Baoshan. Baoshan or Wusong? Doesn't matter anyway, I have the GPS coordinates stored away and that is what matters.

With a ferry just arriving, all the motorcycle taxis line up for business among the passengers

At another ferry exit gate, motorcycles line up...

There are a lot of illegal motorcycle taxis here, perhaps hoping to snatch the passengers arriving at the passenger pier. While loitering around the pier, a ship came in and I could see swarms of motorcycle taxis getting arrracted to the pier exit. Never took one before, but the alternative here would be local taxis (car) in dark green colour and with Baoshan in chinese characters stencilled on its front door.

14 June 2009

On the bus to Baoshan/Wusong for the third time

1210hrs Wusong Port: This time I might have the time to go to the islands. I am now at the ticket office which I scouted last weekend. The queue is relatively short and makes no difference as people here don't queue so the strong has the right of way, which is how I like it, to be frank. It allows the general public to get rid of pent up anger.

Waiting for the boat

At the ticket booth the agent will ask whether you prefer the fast boat or the slow one. Its a no brainer. Although I'd like to try the slow boat, not this time as I need to find out the time of the last boat back, which I estimate to be around 1600 hrs or so. The ticket on the fast boat cost 23 RMB and it is possible to pay for it with the Shanghai Transportation Card, which is how I prefer to do it. Boat 923 leaves at 1310 hrs.

Then it's time to stroll across the road to the waiting rooms. There are two sections, room 1&2 and 3&4. I dont quite know how they divide it but common sense seems to say it has to do with the speed of the ship. But this fast ship waiting room does not look better than room 3&4 for sure. To make things worse, there are no airconditioners here, just a medium sized room where an xray machine greets you and a complete lack of chairs for all waiting passengers are apparent.

Standing around the xray machine and watching passengers and what they are carrying with them. Hello Kitty large plastic sacks on balance beams, small packs the likes which are distributed when you join a local tour group, plastic bags of fruits, a man purse or two, the usual farmer plastic gunny sack seemingly filled with duvet and cotton blanket. No bootleg french luxury handbags so far. And not everyone gets to put their bags through the machine. Depends on the size of your bag. Bombs must be quite big this part of the world!

And as usual, I need to keep a record of the equipment that comes along with me so I can tell where the pictures on this post comes from. So today in the Artisan & Artist bag we have a Leica M6 Classic with a Summicron 35mm ASPH loaded initially with an expired roll of Ilford Pan F+ and later to use ERA 100 if I do run through a second roll. Also in the bag is a Nikon D300 DSLR with a prime 50mm f1.8 AIS which I just received last night. Call it a test trip if you will.

In the waiting room, standing room only as all the seats are all occupied. From here, the river traffic on the end of the Huangpu is clear, all barges with waterline almost to the top of the bow, which is probably not an issue for river navigation. What is interesting is that barges are separated less than 50m apart from each other and they are like a trail of ants almost continuous and bumper to bumper.


1308 hrs: In the boat now, which looks a little like an enclosed escape pod they used on large ships or oil rigs. The large hello kitty packs go outside the boat on the decks while everyone else sits inside. The seats are all numbered and while there are matching numbers on the ticket, it looks as though no one ever takes their seat. It is a first come first serve logic. The announcement says the trip today will take 65 minutes! I was expecting Hengsha to be a lot closer than that.

Port at Hengsha

Arriving at Hengsha Island

1421 hrs Hengsha: Arrived at Hengsha. Will get a GPS plot of the port in a while. The port is quiet enough, and the first thing to do is to get a return ticket to see how much time I have to move around today. At the ticket booth I was told the only boat left is a 1630 hrs slow boat that will take 2 hours to get back. Looks like there is no choice. I will take boat number 910 and the price is 14 RMB, close to half the price of the fast boat.

Main street on Hengsha Island

Awwww. Don't be fooled, after taking this photo, the dog squeezed right through the grill and chased after me... Damn dog!

Barrier protecting the island from what I can only guess to be king tide water. The masts in the distance is a fleet of fishing boat

Waited 15 minutes for the ticket as the computer at the ticketing booth was not working properly. So I have about an hour and a half to walk around, which means I will not be able to move too far. There is not map at the port, so will have to bring up Google Maps. The saviour.

Small ship yard at Hengsha Island, there is a bigger one over at Chongming Island next to Hengsha

When there are humans, there has to be a toilet. I can only imagine how this one works.

Best way to get around on the island

Boats on the Yangzi from Hengsha Island


The only logical hour long hike is the one that covers the north western coast of the island. There are fishing villages, small ship yards and farms. Both cameras come out to play and there are not too many colours out so black and white films were ideal for this shoot. Only the scenes of a visceral landscape this time. The 50mm on the D300 seems ideal for most use, and at f2 it seems to produce amazing pictures.

1610 hrs: Back at the port, and with 15 minutes to burn, next thing to do is to hang around a small colony of fishermen. Houses seems to be built on top of boats, since this was beyond the breakwater on muddy ground, I would assume this is to float in the case of king tides. Its dirty to say the least.

A house of doors...

Shopping on the street

View of the fishing village on Hengsha next to the ferry pier

1629 hrs: On the boat back to Shanghai. The slow boat can pack in a lot of people, but is also noticeably older and dirtier, not that it matters to me. The TVs are CRT and not LCD like on the earlier fast boat. It will also take 2 hours. This slow boat is almost like a typical ferry with inside seating.

Boarding the boat on the return to Shanghai

If there is something I really hate in China, it has to be the amount of cigarette these people smoke in a day. Non smoking signs seem to mean "don't smoke in the first 5 minutes". And just after we left port, the cabin start to smell of smoke.

This boat seems to break every rule in the book of boating. Now, there are 3 levels, right on the 1st level is where the cattles sit, same for the second, and the top are full of plush chairs, but guessing this the gaming room since Chinese people love to play cards especially on a 2 hr long boat ride. The funny thing is that everyone seems to be locked inside. All the doors, emergency or not, are all locked and it's not possible to go out for fresh air. So its either the nicotine tainted air or you can suffocate yourself thank you. The smokers are getting bolder after the first 30 minutes of skirting the rule. Since no one seems to be stopping them, they are smoking even in the passenger cabin now. Only thing left is to curse them. Can't do much more than this. Next time I will pack an oxygen mask.

1823 hrs Wusong Port: Back at the mainland. Right on the dot, 2 hour trip. Too tired to tap out the rest of this blog on my E71. Time to log off, hope to spend more time here in the future and continue this quest.

Tree lined street on Hengsha

*end of post*

Travels: Nanxiang, Shanghai, China

Pavillion at Guyi Garden, Nanxiang Shanghai is famous for this little dumpling with thin skin and soup inside. Bite it and if still hot off the steamer, it guarantees a scalding where it hurts.

The most famous restaurant in shanghai that sells them by the bucketloads, figuratively speaking, is Nanxiang Restaurant over by that tourist hole, Yuyuan Garden right in the middle of the city. Its not too far from where I stay and on weekends, I sometimes take the walk over, and stand in the half and hour queue (if I'm lucky). Its not the best in Shanghai though and its quite obvious it's famous because it's famous, no more. Nanxiang Restaurant also starts to expand with branches overseas.

Shanghai Bus, encountered on the way looking for that bus that will take me to Nanxiang

So not to dwell too much in stories, I found out during a chat with a colleague that the xiao loong bao, what this tasty dumpling is called, was first invented in a town called Nanxiang. Just tens of kilometre from downtown Shanghai so close that a public bus (actually many from all points) runs there from the Shanghai railway station, so we found out after browsing the chinese languaged internet. So quickly this became my mission for the coming weekend.

Guyi Garden Pavillion from another angle


Based on a copied and pasted list of public bus that goes there on my phone, I went out looking for this place that strangely most of my colleagues have never been to. The bus from Jing-an temple metro stop doesn't seem to exist. I've checked the locations of bus stops and list of buses that stops nearby at the metro station and couldn't match the number. What I'm sure is, if there's a bus that goes somewhere in Shanghai, its bound to stop near the Train Station.

After a long time searching, the bus I took was bus 517 at exit 6 of the Shanghai Train Station metro line 1. This is misleading because the bus stop is not exactly AT the train station. You have to make it to the north exit square and the follow signs pointing to bus 517 and this is a 20 minutes walk at least. At every junction look out for the signs that points to the direction of the bus stop for 517.

On the bus: This is funny. I use the Shanghai Transport card, aka the Jiaotong, and there is a conductor in the bus sitting next to the rear exit folding doors and has a console in front of him. This where he controls the pricing and has a comm system to talk to the driver. The price for the trip seems to be 4 RMB although I'm not too sure about it. Whatever it is, it's not too expensive compared to the price of taxis.

Sunset at Guyi Garden

Guyi Garden: Now, in the bus you have to be quite careful where to stop. I have a GPS map of Shanghai on my Nokia E71 and managed to get a window seat all the way there. Was able to track my location all the way to a town called Nanxiang. Unfortunately, I have no idea where the central attraction is, but I thought that a lake with green gardens should signify something tourists would want to go to. Not true. The easiest way is to look out for a signboard above the road that says Guyi Garden, and it exists in English as well. Its ok if you missed the stop and realised it after you passed it as the next stop is just across the corner after turning left.

Guyi Garden

Guyi Garden

First thing I noticed was that Guyi Garden has a restaurant in front of the main entrance. This restaurant looked oldish, and from the menu, looks like THE place to come for the xiao loong bao. But since it was only 4pm, I decided to have a look at the garden. It is not free, as usual, and 12 RMB gets you in.

Guyi Garden

After the entrance to the park, the first thing that caught my eye was a big basket of the famous dumpling. It was starting to get quite cold here and sun is starting to set. I walked quickly around the park. There's a lake with a zig-zag bridge and a pavillion, quite standard in most Chinese garden. The walk in the park was quite pleasant, but since it was getting dark I didn't have too much time to remember all the sights. The park is medium in size, probably 1km square , maybe a little bigger since its area we're talking about. The most interesting architecture in there was a pavillion that's suppose remind the Shanghainese of the Japanese occupation and what's special about it is that usually Chinese roofs have edges with accents of dragons, or mythical animals. This one has curled up fists. Looked like an ancient joke, but too bad I don't have photographic proof as it was in the shodow of trees and I couldn't get adequate exposure with the 2 film cameras I have loaded with ISO 125 and ISO 160 films respectively.

Guyi Garden

So by 5pm the sun was starting to set, and it was getting to low single digit Celcius, and it was time to go to the restaurant. Strangely, this park seems to be the confluence point of newly-weds, and the firecrackers attest to this. Even at the restaurant, there are many wedding limousines arriving and hurriedly leaving.

Guyi Garden

However, my attention was affixed by going for a basket of speciality steamed dumplings from the place that originally invented it (according to my news). Cheap, 15 RMB buys you a basket of 10. Cheaper than the one in Shanghai, but not by much. Since I wanted to go back to Shanghai before 7:30pm and drop the roll of Kodak 160VC I'm shooting today at the developers before they close, I decided to buy it to go. 10 dumplings and plenty of vinegar no it, I walked to the bus station diagonally across the road and past the traffic junction, savouring on a rather good set of dumplings, from the place that started it all. And it was good...

Dumpling Restaurant at Guyi Garden


*end of post*