Friday, 25 October 2013

The Lands of Dragons and a yurt
The jolly jock got it right again. Friday October 25th was forecast to be wet and with the dawn I woke and watched the rain falling like stair rods as they say so the walk, which was to be local, was cancelled.
 Some years ago my sister was working in an international school with vague Canadian connections, in Macau and suggested I might like to visit. I booked a flight with civilised Air France and jetted off from Newcastle to Charles de Gaulle airport and after a few hours wait boarded a very large Boeing for the long flight to Hong Kong. Air France are to be recommended, they actually offered economy class passengers a limited choice of dinner, had a good choice of films on the mini TV and best of all had the map that tells you where you are and how cold it is if the door was to suddenly open.
Arriving in Hong Kong I was met, surprisingly for our family, and given a choice, I opted for the bus from the airport so I could see what the old colony was like. It was a proper bus, double decker and driven on the proper side of the road too.
Put up in the Salisbury Hotel I soon fell asleep, not being very good at snoozing on planes. The hotel looked out on the classic view of Hong Kong they show you on news bulletins:
                                   It was a grey but warm day in Hong Kong.
    Fed and recovered, next day we caught the ferry to Macau. I liked Macau, still a little colonial downtown with many a handsome Portuguese style building, lots of casinos and blocks of flats.
                                                                   Close quarter living, Macau.

                                            Nice old street, specialising in nougat.
                                             If anybody knows how to enlarge pictures  
                                              on blogs let me know. I only seem to be able
                                           to enlarge the first.
Next day we went to the the airport and boarded a plane to Bangkok, capital of Thailand. We had a  central hotel, very comfortable ,   spoiled by a couple of middle aged English men who were obviously on a sex tour. Having said that our hotel was close to the notorious "Cowboy Street" and I just had to have a look.
                                                     Cowboy Street, Bangkok
                              (Don't bother, just found out how to do it)
             As I walked down the street an attractive young lady (or lady boy for all I knew) called out "Come in sir, you'll have a wonderful time!"
A stern schoolmarm voice behind replied; "He's with me!"  Foiled again.

Naturally we did the tourist sites of the city, the Royal Palace in the hope of seeing Deborah Kerr or Yul Brynner, several monasteries and a street market that sold fun things like snakes. Chinatown was a bit spooky, people selling second or third hand stuff on the pavement, car parts made locally, Chinese medicine and food, cooked on handcarts there and then Health and Safety would have a field day.
                            Inside the palace grounds, Bangkok.

 One day we took a boat trip to Ayuthaya which was the site of  a Buddhist monastery and an elephant training ground. 
                           Reclining Buddha at Ayuthaya. Pleasant life being a Buddha, lazing around, just thinking.

On offer in the hotel was a day trip to the Bridge on the River Kwai by coach so we booked it. The coach did not turn up for us. Full of apologies the company provided a car, air conditioned of course, with a driver,  and we made it to the bridge just in time to join the coach party for a light lunch in an open hut similar to the ones the prisoners would have had as they worked on the railway. And I am certain we fed better than they did. Close by was a military cemetery, row after row of headstones, each engraved with the name of a soldier who had died working nearby.
                                          The Bridge on the River Kwai, nothing like the structure blown
                                     up by Alec Guinness in the famous film. Towards the end
                                   of WWII it was badly damaged by an American bomber. A nearby
                                    museum housed all kinds of strange objects, some not at all related
                                     to the bridge.
  Back in Macau I was offered a choice; amuse myself alone in Macau or join a school trip to Shenzen in mainland China as a member of staff. Well, having seen a lot of western Europe with parties of children another school trip sounded fun and off we went. The children were all about twelve, mainly Chinese but with a couple of Australians and Canadians thrown in for good measure.

On the bus journey, which wasn't too long as Shenzen is not far4 from Hong Kong we stopped at a fort. Our guide, who stuck to his lines explained it was attacked by the awful imperialists in the Opium Wars, a shameful episode. I can't help but think that there are millions of Chinese and the small British fleet had supply and communication lines for thousands of miles.
  About thirty years ago Shenzen was little more than a fishing village but today it is an industrial  town with several million inhabitants turning out goods for export. We stayed in the Crown Plaza, quite possibly the best hotel I have ever stayed in, that's communism for you.
One of the trips arranged for the children was to the "Minsk". This is a Soviet aircraft carrier bought by the Chinese and made into a sort of theme park. Undoubtedly the biggest ship I have ever been on it had a few jets and helicopters on the deck which was probably measured in football pitches. Below decks (Nautical term) some of the hangars had been converted into games rooms with video machines. But what a difference, all the planes that got shot down in the games were American!
                                        On the flight deck of the   СCCP  MИНCK                                          (Doesn't have the same ring as HMS)

Another day we visited the local gardens where it was possible to visit several of the world's cities in an afternoon. Scale models of Paris, New York, London, Moscow and a scaled down version of the famous Chinese Terracotta Army. In the evening we went to  an open air show that presented a history of China in amazing dances. Never seen anything like it, truly wonderful, even the digs at those awful imperialists and their running dogs.

Show in Shenzen
And to finish off the trip we went to see "The Great Horse Battle" where about fifty mounted men charged around an arena re-enacting the life and times of Genghis Khan. Not sure who won this battle but I suspect it wasn't Genghis, or Temujin to his friends.
                  We won! Note the yurt in the background. Mrs Whitehead would have approved.
 Me and my little Chinese friends in a restaurant in Shenzen . Couldn't use the chopsticks too well.
Back home in Macau there was one other trip to make. An old student friend invited us to visit him and his family in Foshan. Speaking 23 words of Chinese sister Kathleen booked our bus tickets.  Some hour into the journey she decided we were on the wrong bus and we finished up god knows where. Wherever it was they eventually found somebody who could speak English and we set off for Foshan where we were met by "Ivan" who took us to his parents flat. A pleasant flat in a modern block, the living room had all the electronic gadgets you would need, the bedrooms were well furnished, the cooker was modern and the toilet was a hole in the floor in a cubicle off the kitchen , flushed by filling a pan and pouring the water down the hole! Ivan apologised, I laughed.
His dad had been a lecturer in English literature at the local college but had lost his job for a while  when the Chinese decided a lot of people needed re-educating and students were only too keen to rush round with little red books.
But he highlight of the few days spent in Foshan was in the hairdressers in the block across from Ivan's. I accompanied sister and Mrs. Ivan to the shop and was whisked into a backroom, laid out face down on a fairly high couch and given first a head and scalp massage. Unable to speak Chinese and unable to understand instructions led to a lot of giggling but I finished up with an upper body massage that was really revitalising. Offering to pay for all three of us I was told the score; it worked out about 12p each! Must have known I was from Yorkshire, and no tip as that is a bit of an insult, like not leaving a small amount of food on your plate.
                                             Me with Ivan's parents. It was my birthday
                                           and they presented me with a lovely cake .

                                            Chinese garden in Foshan.
On our return to Macau we were held up for some time as there was a problem with the visa. Eventually we were allowed through but only after the authorities went to get the border officer who had let us through a few days previously!

Next day I caught the double decker bus to the airport and flew home. Crossing the Himalayas the plane met turbulence and the aircraft jumped around. The pilot ordered everyone in their seat, the emergency lights came on as well as the lights pointing to the exits. I had always wanted to go to the Himalayas but not like this. As soon as we were over the mountains the turbulence ended and the rest of the flight was super smooth. We flew over Siberia, Moscow Prague and down to Paris. After a wait I caught the shuttle back to Newcastle, and the next day I went back to work.