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Tuesday 28 August 2007

Transition in Hong Kong

It's time to assess this beautiful loop in China. A wonderful trip I can't summarize in a few words. Not everything was easy during this trip and some topics leave us wondering less than one year before the Olympic Games. The tourist who wishes to travel on his own will bump into several problems. The language barrier is the main one. At the restaurant, at the hotel or to move around despite the very good rail and road networks. Except the main cities and touristy spots, it's very hard to find someone who speaks the Shakespeare's language. I also point out : don't expect to find English signs in the bus or train stations. Another misunderstanding must be credited to some hotels which don't accept foreigners. Another difficulty turns out to be the cash withdrawal in all the cities but Shanghai, Beijing and the touristy spots. The ATM don't accept international credit cards (except for the Bank of China, although not always). And the counter clerks will stay puzzled while they stare at your card.
On the other hand, the remote hinterlands offer some genuine Chinese lures and a unique opportunity to live the country in its "original version". Learning basic Chinese and speaking in a so different language brings as much pleasure as discovering the natural gems of the country, its sacred mountains, the temples and its traditions. And these small worries look insignificant in comparison with the whirlpool of sensations the country brings.
Leaving Beijing, I have a change of scenery and head towards Nepal. A welcome change after one month spent with my family in the Mao's country. A part of the trip ends and a new one remains to be written onto the Himalayan heights. The transition goes off smoothly since my connection flight in Hong Kong leaves me enough time to visit the former British colony. The United Kingdom handed over the control of the protectorate to the Chinese government, 10 years ago. From this rich past and from its thriving present converges a subtle blend of Londoner trams, American fast-foods and Asian souls. In fact, Hong Kong is an island and a small part of the Hong Kong province that enjoys a relative autonomy. Chinese visa is not necessary to come here. Opposite the island, about a few hundreds meter away, there's the Kowloon district we can reach by boat or by metro. The town is definitely cosmopolitan, more in term of represented nationalities than type of workers, mainly tuxedo-clad businessmen.
The northern part of the Hong Kong island harbours a concentration of the tallest towers in the world. Down the towers, roads looks like tiny alleyways in comparison with giant-size skyscrapers. My urban walk is short but this city deserves to be known and remains a urban paradise for a lot of people wishing a renew in their professional career.

I take again the shuttle train and head for the airport before taking a plane to Delhi, then a new connection flight to Kathmandu after sleeping several hours at the transit area of the Delhi airport.

Sunday 26 August 2007

Back onto the Great Wall

We can't leave China without seeing and talking again about its symbol. France has the Eiffel tower and China has the Great Wall. The day before yesterday and with the family, I went back hiking from Jinshanling to Simatai. superb views in a clement weather and intact emotions.

Today, let's give way to the secret wall. One of these several parts, impossible to describe in a travel guidebook, and which delight some Chinese people sensing the good opportunity to make money. An alternative to escape from the tourists who swarm into the rebuilt sections of the Beijing-surrounding Great Wall. A short walk goes through the wood and ends at the bottom of the wall.
This enigmatic blend between an ancient human building and the vegetation which takes back the bit of land that formerly belonged to it. We feel the sensations of these treasure hunters and other archaeologists of the last centuries, crazy enough to leave the comfort of the city, guided by the obsessive quest of new jewels and unknown lands. We marvel like these intrepid pioneers. The steep hill sides would have formed a natural fence but topping its ridge with this wall, man showed his intention to tame the nature, to show his superiority over it. For a period. Because time teaches us without a meticulous maintenance, the nature swallows everything, destroys this fabulous rampart and devours the stone.
The so dreaded invasion didn't come from the humans but from the earth. Over the years, the roots pushed the rock away, infiltrated between the paving stone to finally dissociated and buried them. The fruits of the nature creep onto the rock and we contemplate this struggle that vanishes in a sumptuous intertwining of colors and forms.


Friday 24 August 2007

The summer palace at the northeast of Beijing

This time for sure, our last journey into the Chinese trains will be in first class. The night train gets to the capital from Shanghai in a little less than 12 hours and the service is equal to the price of the ticket: high. As we arrived in Beijing, we go back to the hutongs district, south from the Tiananmen square, in order to put down our backpacks. Then, we plunge into the metro station heading towards the silk market (Yongan'li station).
Several floors mix traditional souvenirs, clothes, shoes, sunglasses, jewelery and other accessories - The last stronghold of fake products in Beijing. Rayban sunglasses, Montblanc pen, Breitling watch, Diesel trousers, Ralf Lauren polo and genuine Chinese Goretex jacket; for less than 50€ and a fierce bargaining you can leave with the complete outfit. French customs will perhaps like less.
The next day, direction to the Great Wall from Jinshanling to Simatai, for the second time but in the sun this time. (Look at the pictures in the following post clicking here).
The next day, we hop on the bus n°726 at the south of the Tiananmen square. Its terminus is located at the summer palace, a little more than one hour from here. The emperor came to look for somewhere cool beside the lake during the summer hot days. We step on a pedestrian way that surrounds the lake. Several humpbacked bridges brighten the stroll up while trees lines on both sides of the path assure a relative coolness to us in the shade of the summer oppressive heat. Our walk leads us to the Emperor's palace and to a temple on the hilltop offering us a panoramic view over the lake. Pedal boats and small electric-powered boats sail onto the peaceful waterways.

At the end of the afternoon, and on the way back, a wandering travel agent gives us the opportunity to discover a vegetation-invaded part of the Great Wall, at 2 hours from Beijing. Here is an interesting excursion before leaving China. Rendez-vous is taken for tomorrow morning. We finally go back to our hutong we already have our habits and our favorite restaurant in.

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