Zhongshan – January 29, 2007

20 02 2007

2007-01-29 (Monday)

We were off on a tour today!

We were to meet down at the Hotel restaurant for breakfast at 0830.  Boy, I sure felt the late night from the night before.  I was getting ready to go, and had the laptop fired up and syncing when I got a knock on the door from Mr 7.  The others were already downstairs and waiting. What??? It was only 0815.  We got the rest of our stuff organized and headed downstairs.  We joined everyone in the restaurant and had a nice breakfast.

The van was waiting for us outside the hotel when we finished, and we all piled in.  This time I got to sit in the front.  Little did I realize that this was to make up for the endless hours of driving we had coming up.

We headed north.  We were headed to Foshan.  Why?  That got left out by my dear, loving translator.  As we travelled along the road I saw all the oddities that remind you you’re in China and that this isn’t Kansas anymore Toto.  We passed a flat bed truck with Ox head remains in a pile (Just the kind of thing you want to see first thing in the morning after breakfast) Of course I took a pic, but nobody thought I should post it.  We saw scooters with Mom, dad and baby all sandwiched together, we saw people with bikes carrying 20 foot long pipes, and moving piles of paper – beneath which somewhere was a person on a bicycle.  Cars wove in and out, using the lane markers as guidelines rather than delimiters.  At one point on the drive, we were following a cement truck on a two lane road.  Two cars each passed us and the truck on each side of the truck as well as a scooter.  At one point we had 4 vehicles abreast on our little two lane road.  Good Times!  Breath deep…relax.

We passed through an area where all the lighting shops congregate.  Indoor, outdoor, neon, flashing, Chandelier, display, day to day.  You name it. During that 10km stretch if you couldn’t find the type of light you were looking for then it isn’t made.  This would be interesting after sunset probably. Since we had been driving for about 2 hours at this point, it was washroom break time!  We stopped at a hotel and everyone took advantage of the break to head in and get rid of the morning’s breakfast coffee.  All 10 of us packed back into the van and away we went.   The next stage was pretty short.  Fairly soon we arrived at a Furniture supermall.  It was a good thing we got there when we did.  As we got into the “Furniture zone” the air had become much dustier and the diesel fumes were becoming much worse.  I was beginning to feel nauseated.  I welcomed the opportunity to get out of the vehicle and into an air conditioned mall.  It was only when I stepped into the building that I came to realize what a monstrosity it was.  Six floors and a square footage that rivals a football stadium, if not surpassing.  The place was HUGE.  Nope…  Huge doesn’t do it justice.  Here…. Look at this:

Full sized panorama (12MP) can be seen at: http://www.fotothing.com/photos/409/409511e3fdc2e1e5562b0897e8279193_b49.jpg

We walked around for about an hour while some of the members of our party were looking for furniture to furnish a potential home or to have shipped back to Vancouver.  Some of the furniture had some excellent pricing while others (the more stylish pieces) it would seem were likely to cost as much delivered to home as if we bought them in Vancouver.  There were deals to be had for the wise shopper.  Largely I just wandered in awe of the magnitude of the place and tried to breathe in as much fresh air as I could before being put in the diesel fumes again.  Time up… out we went to the van. Back to the fumes.  This time, we managed to get the driver to turn on the air conditioning.  What a great idea.  That helped significantly.  Apparently I was the only person who was suffering.  Everyone else just kept on with out really noticing.  Urgh!

Having departed the furniture mall, I had managed to pry out information from my translator.  We were going to go have lunch and then after that go to an area where they sell ceramics by the boatload.  Oh joy!  We headed towards where the ceramics were and passed all manners of trucks piled high with furniture of all sorts.  Wooden chairs by the dozen stacked up high on a truck, tables and shelves all towering well above the height that any sane person would have stacked them.  These trucks still drove with the carefree abandon that characterizes the scene just before a huge car accident 🙂 After a couple of wrong turns and one little wrong direction in the traffic circle (Whoops!) we had found our way to the ceramic district.  If you needed new porcelain for the washroom, there was store upon store for you.  Pleasantly, all my washroom needs are presently accounted for in our house.

Since the area was foreign to all of us – including our driver, we asked for a good place for lunch.  We were directed to a restaurant which was apparently “THE” place to eat around there.  After parking and talking to the lady at the front, we were directed around a corner or two towards a distinctly dodgy place.  As we entered, there were pails with snakes, and cages with rabbits.  What really got me was that next to the rabbits was a cage with two cats.  Yup.. cats.  Felines. Felis Domestica.  I’m sure my heart sank a little bit when I saw them in the cage, listless and sullen.  Somebody’s lunch or dinner.  After a quick overall look at the place we vetoed it (of which I was pretty happy – I don’t really want to support a restaurant that serves cat or dog, even though I’m not going to tell someone else that they can’t if they don’t care)  We piled back into the van and drove a couple of blocks until we saw a hotel restaurant.  What a better choice that was!  As usual we ordered what seemed like a reasonable amount of food, only to end up with heaps upon heaps. I recall a plate of shrimp that was overflowing to the brim which I had to help finish off.  It’s a tough life, but someone’s got to do it 🙂

After our late lunch (1425) we headed over to the ceramic area.  They had all kinds of ceramic vases, horses, sculptures etc.  It was fairly interesting.  It became distinctly LESS interesting after passing by the 15th shop selling the exact same thing though.  I almost bought a vase with a really interesting modern pattern but I had visions of it coming home in little fragments so it remained unpurchased.  The day had been hot, and as the late afternoon came the temperature cooled a bit, making it a bit more pleasant to walk about.  Children were already playing with firecrackers around the area, and the rush hour traffic starting up was fun to watch from afar.  A couple of people purchased a few small items and we were ready to head back around 1700.

We were expecting the drive back to be simply long and monotonous.  Not so much.  When we got back to the lighting store area my earlier prediction proved out.  The lights were on and the area was a glitter with outdoor light displays and some beautiful chandeliers inside the stores.  Wow!  That’s got to cost a bit in electricity.  After stopping at the lighting area hotel for a pee break we headed off for the home stretch.  This is the part where you realize that the lack of signage in China is pretty evident.  As you drive down dark roads looking for the “obvious” turn you don’t get those handy little signs like we do at home telling you that the highway is right/left/straight ahead.  At one point we were in a town area, and had a chance to watch some locals shoot some hoops in an organized game, just before we ran out of paved road.  Ooops.  Turn around.  Try again.  We took a few different turns and asked more than a couple of locals before we found the unlit road that led us back to the highway with, surprisingly, our kidneys still intact.

It was pretty late by the time we got back to “Agile town”.  We went straight to dinner that night. It was a western style dinner.  Very nice ambience to the restaurant, and there was a live guitar player providing the tunes.  I had a very nice set menu as did Mrs. D.  It was a strange little island in the middle of Southern China. After dinner, there would be no wasting time.  It was massage time.  I caved.  This time I went for the massage.  It was an interesting experience.  I don’t think it’s something that I would want regularly, but at about 30RMB/hr it’s hard not to find a reason to lay around and have your muscles pounded and shaped.  It felt generally good, although I had to warn my masseuse about the various knee and shoulder injuries to avoid having her work them too hard.  It seemed that all my fellow massage recipients fell asleep while being plied.  I couldn’t.  When it was all done I felt pretty good.  We headed over to a little dessert place where I had tapioca in hot milk.  It was quite good.  That night we actually got to bed by midnight.  Imagine that!

Hong Kong/Zhongshan – January 28, 2007

20 02 2007

2007-01-28 (Sunday)

We got up early (0730), organized the last bits of things that we were bringing on the trip, and headed out for the bus station in Kowloon.

As usual we took the Hong Kong transit system.  Boy oh Boy does Vancouver have a LOT to learn about efficient transit.  You can almost always see a bus on the street, and the MTR (subway) serves a large swath of the city frequently.  This city of 7 million people is always on the move, and mostly by bus and subway.  We whisked across from our home to central on the #70 bus through the Aberdeen tunnel, and then from there onto the metro to go under the water over to Kowloon.  Quick and easy.

Since it was Sunday when we passed through Central we came across a huge gathering of Filipinos.  Sunday is maid/caregiver day off traditionally, and they all head down to Central to gather and catch up on events.  When we passed through the area, I wondered to my wife, “Are there any left in their home country?”  Having a maid or a nanny in Hong Kong is very common.  Many Filipinos are eager to get out of their country and earn better wages that they can send home to help their family.

We arrived early for the bus so decided to try to find some breakfast.  Not much open.  Hong Kong really doesn’t open until 1200 in many areas.  We found a little place, and ordered some simple breakfast.  Mrs D explained it as cooked ham and macaroni.  It sounded like it might be pretty good.  When my meal arrived it really ended up being macaroni sitting in hot water with pieces of boiled ham floating around.  Not QUITE as appetizing.  I ordered a bun to supplement the fact that I wasn’t going to eat plain, wet macaroni.  It filled me up nicely.

Washrooms in HK –  If you need to use a washroom in HK, it’s a bit of a crap shoot. You’re either going to have a porcelain hole in the floor or the standard North American toilet.  Usually if you have the hole in the floor, you’re also going to find that other standards aren’t quite as high.  At this little place, you got your hole in the floor and not reall much of a door.  There was a common tap for men and women, and after washing your hands and leaving you are confronted with a big pot of short ribs marinating.  RIGHT next to the washroom… Eeeew.  Thank good I didn’t order that!  Sometimes in some of the grungy little restaurants were really nice washrooms.  Like I said, you roll the dice.

We met up with everyone travelling around 1000.  There were a few new faces.  All in all 10 of us, including Mrs D’s cousin from Vancouver and his wife.  The bus is quite a nice trip, and you even get reserved seating.  No fighting for aisle or window seats.  Just like a plane.  The ride was interesting.  When we got to the Chinese border at Shenzen we had to get out of the bus, and pass through immigration.  Then we went a little further and had to go through the routine again.  This time for customs.  In/out up/down.  Sheesh.  I can certainly say I was glad that we weren’t going INTO Hong Kong that day though as the line to enter HK was HUGE.

As we approached Zhongshan the area became much wetter.  We were definitely in the Pearl River Delta.  The wetlands made excellent growing areas for bananas and fish ponds.  Apparently a large percentage of China’s bananas come from here.  The use of the land was amazing and mildly disconcerting. The fish ponds were right next to the highway, meaning that runoff would simply ooze into the water.  on the land between fish ponds they grew the bananas.  No wasting land.  Even in little triangles where most western farmers would just let the land grow fallow, there were 3-6 banana trees.

We arrived at the end of the bus trip to be greeted by our driver.  You got that right baby… we had a driver!  OK, so we weren’t cruising in a Lincoln Town Car but we weren’t hoofin’t it!  We were packing 10 of us into a van for our cruising pleasure.  I hopped into a middle row and we all got settled in.  What I neglected to ask was “How far are we going?”.  After about 15 minutes my legs kind of went numb since they were folded up under me somehow.  By the time we got to our lunch spot, thought I may have had them amputated 🙂  Lunch was at the Agile Golf and Country Club which was nestled in a beautiful hillside area and had quite challenging looking course.  There were some beautiful homes up on the hillsides, which we would later learn were being built.  It was a very nice, and very filling, lunch.  We had a mix of Chinese dishes which were distinctly local in style.

From lunch we headed over to the new homes to check them out.  One of the couples in our party was interested in purchasing a place in the area with an eye to having a home in southern China which they could use for a vacation base.  We looked at the developer’s planned neighbourhood on the scale model.  I would estimated about 2000-3000 units were being sold, of which probably 2900 units had already sold.  It was a mixed bag of detached homes, duplexes, Fourplexes and apartments.  The most expensive unit in the lot was sold.  It had sold for $20M RMB!  It was palatial and overlooked everything, being on the apex of the hillside development.  It had its own little “watchtower”.  It looked like a place that you might own if you were a drug dealer and needed to post your security guards with AK-47’s 🙂

We saw 6000sqft and 3000sqft model homes.  They were very nice.  The finish and design within the homes was beautiful.  They had some small issues like the fact that they had no networking wired, but other than that, for the approx 1.5M CAD the 6000sqft home wold be a beautiful place.  The salesperson took us over to one that was finished, so that we could see the deliverable product.  Wow!  What a difference.  Here I was complaining about lack of network wiring when in reality you don’t even get finished plumbing!  You get a concrete shell of a house.  no floors, no finished wiring, nothing! For 1.5 freakin’ million dollars! It would easily put you back another .5M finishing the place.  Apparently this was standard for China.  Either you get a concrete shell, or you get a home that you can move into and start living in today, fully furnished.  One or the other.  No middle ground.  I still can’t get over that fact.

We also so some apartments.  Same deal – shell.  Nicer price tag though to go with the fact that you’re going to have to put out some cash to finish it. From the apartments we headed over to the  “Agile villas” where Mrs D’s Aunt #7 and her husband have a place.  The home was very nice. They had purchased it about 5 years ago and it has been their place to get away from the madding world that is HK.  It certainly was as if you had stepped into another reality.  The grounds were quiet, and patrolled.  You could hear birds chirping and hardly hear the traffic on the nearby road.  There were starfruits growing on the trees.  It was a world apart from the crazy city of HK, or the dust and smog of most of China.  It really was nice.

We had dinner at a restaurant in a private room, and on the way down from the room (yes, the restaurant has 3 levels) we crossed two weddings.  It was a busy night for the restaurant and both the brides looked beautiful in their wedding dresses.  The funny thing was that one’s ride from the dinner consisted of hopping in the front seat of a pickup with 2 other people.  I guess weddings in China span across all types too 🙂  The dinner had been grand and inexpensive as much of the food in China was.  From there we headed back to the house and a group of us (all except me really) headed over for a 2 hour massage. 

Mr 7 and I went over to check out the local “bookstore” to have a look at CD’s and DVD’s.  OF COURSE I didn’t buy any. Ahem.  They had Casino Royale, Departed etc. for only 12RMB.  Sure the subtitles didn’t necessarily match the movie, but who reads those anyway? LOL.  You could get Ray Charles’ 40 greatest hits for only 12RMB.  We’re talking about $1.60CAD for a double CD or DVD.  Crazy.  We went out for a delicious iced coffee later, and then caught up with the others as they were finishing their massages.  Our transportation during this little exercise was a 3 wheeled moped.  It was great.  The bike had it’s own rain/wind cover and whistled along at a nice little clip. We could drive around on the streets with it, since most of the area had been developed by Agile, and the local police were far outnumbered by Agile security guards.  This little part of China was basically “Agile town”.

At 2330 the day had been a long one so 4 of us headed for a hotel (the Agile Hotel) while the others went to the house.  It would have been a bit crowded for 10 of us to stay at the house.  It turns out that Mrs. D got missed on the body massage as did Mr 7 since he had been with me.  To make up for that, two masseuses came to the hotel to give them massages.  They got rubbed down until 0230!  Finally, at about 0245 sleep came very happily!

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