Day 49: Jiayuguan to Dunhuang

Mike took the lead today and we both felt as if we were back in South America. We took a regional road, rather than the motorway, and the road soon ran out to be replaced by rather uneven, one lane road. Mike had found a ruin on a map and we were off to look at it. We did find the ruin, part of an old fort, and duly admired it!

49 Dunh ruin

Then it was back on the road which completely ran out and we were on a dirt track, obviously as a result of road works. For the next 30 plus kilometers, Goldie as tail end Charlie, ate everyone’s dust. Shades of roadwork in both Chile and Argentina. It was all good fun, however.

49 Dunh dirt road

Along the way we did come across a mosque which was really of two worlds as it blended minarets with a pagoda. The locals love having their photo taken with you (we are rather unusual in this country, especially this far removed from the usual tourist haunts) and I did have my photo taken with these lovely ladies and their children so I thought I would take theirs, which they loved.

Finally we rejoined the motorway to everyone’s disappointment, but we did need to get some miles under our belt. Moving form on motorway to another we found a roadside stop that was (almost except for the 4 or 5 vendors) deserted. It was quite an experience having lunch without having our every move, mouthful and actions watched and hearing Chinese exclaimations when seeing the map on the side of the car and realizing where we were driving. Quite peaceful for a change.

49 Dunh lunch

As we were driving along we were passed by a new MG GS, the SUV. Here it is lined up with Dash. So, we have the lifestyle car of the 60s and 70s next to the ‘lifestyle’ car of the 2010s.

49 Dunh MGoldnnew

It is staggering the amount of infrastructure exisiting and being built along the way. We can see two existing rail lines (one high speed the other goods and slow trains) a motorway and beside all this there is a new regional road being built all running parallel to each other. Plus numerous power lines, both high voltage (about 3 parallel lines) and low voltage (about 6 criscrossing the landscape). Is this all part of President Xi Jinping’s belt and road plan? Remember we are 2,000 kilometers from Beijing and in China’s equilivent of the wide west.

We have now reached an area of China which is very dry and desolate, power lines dominate the landscape. Also, we drove past a huge wind turbine installation along the way, see above a very small corner of this installation.

We drove through an impressive city gate to arrive in Dunhuang, an oasis town and once an important stop on the Silk Road, and checked into the hotel which was the most atmospheric we have stayed in for some time, with a very ethnic feel to it.

49 Dunh hotel

We then went, with Lindy and Ian, to the singing sand dunes, so named because of the singing sounds made by the wind when it is blowing. It was not blowing! We walked up a huge sandhill, probably to a height of approx 200 meters. Fabulous views across the sand hills in the distance, nothing but sand hills and desert as far as the eye can see.

 

It was a great walk up, aided by a laid flat ladder of poles and rope, fabulous views from the top and a fun run down. You seemed to be running in slow motion but taking giant steps. All the way to the bottom!

Then we wandered back to the hotel for dinner on the terrace while watching the sun set over the dunes.

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PS. I have mentioned ‘TV’ Tonny, as he has been nicknamed, previously. He is a charming young man who has fitted in with the group easily. Here he is filming out of the sunroof of his car and also with Kay and Yan (on the right), his driver. Yan is also a lovely young man, though we communicate with him through Tonny or via gestures!

Day 48: Zhangye to Jiayuguan

Another easy drive today with Dutchess in the lead. The terrain has changed again, we are travelling along very flat land with snow capped mountains to our left and flat almost desert like land to the right before yet another mountain range. Green says the further west we go the more desert we will be seeing.

A fast train track is running along beside us to the right and a couple of trains stream by, probably not at full speed. These trains can travel at up to 300km per hour. 48 fast train

Today’s drive is all about the destination, the Jiayuguan Fort, which was part of the Great Wall defense system, and another section of the Great Wall itself. Even more pertinent is that this is the point at which the Great Wall and the Silk Road intersect: the Silk Road heads west while the Wall goes south as far at the Qilian Mountains. An imprtoant point in our trip.

The Jiayuguan Fort is very impressive. It has been rebuilt and of course this always begs the question, preservation or restoration, however in this case the restoration does give you an excellent idea of the fort, its layout and how the defenses would have worked.

 

The walls are enormously thick and surmounted by parapets and defense towers. The walls are 11 meters high and 733 meters in length. Jiayuguan originally consisted of three defense lines: an inner city, an outer city, and a moat. All but the moat has been meticulously reconstructed.

Also in the fort can be seen a reconstruction of the General’s house with all rooms furnished and populated with life like figures, including secretaries, maids, footmen and generals discussing tactics over a sand box model of the terrain.

Along the walk way into the fort there is a display of now and then photos of various parts of the great wall: photos from the early 1900’s with comparisons taken in the same spot today. Interestingly the photos of the early 1900s mostly showed a relatively well preserved wall indicating that a lot of the degradation occurred in the 20th century. Perhaps Mao’s statement to use the material in the wall for building materials was a significant cause of this loss.

Chinglish struck again with a classic example below – note that audio and video were available in the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644)!. 48 Jig_Chinglish

After the fort we slipped around to another access point for the great wall. A great walk up and an excellent spot for the car photo.

48 Jig carsatwall

Also near the awl were some very beautiful statues invoking the time of the Silk Road. Mayer and Paula curled up to a camel each for one of the photos.

Fortunately Jiayuguan is (in Chinese terms) a very small town (pop 300,000) hence an easy drive to the hotel. John and the next day’s lead car, in this case Mike and Kay, sit down to plan the next day’s drive, and for tomorrow we have found some more none freeway driving which will be welcome.

Back downstairs for beer and discussion before heading out with Pat and David and Tony to a fascinating restaurant. One price (RMB 65 each – about AUD11.50) for unlimited food and drink, which you cook yourself at the table, either in a boiling pot of chilies or on a grill. A huge selection, including seafood (we are about 2,000 km to the nearest ocean!) various cuts of meats including steak, bacon and a wide variety of processed meats, vegetables galore (6 different types of mushroom: often translated into English as ‘bacteria’!) and juices, soft drink, and some interesting bottles that looked like beer but were not!

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Day 47: Xining to Jiayuguan – At Last a MG Road

Today’s drive took us off the motorways and onto the country roads (which Green called ‘off-road’ driving) and high up into the Qilian Mountains.

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We started the day at around 2,000 metres and travelled along a beautiful winding road through farmland: we still find it amazing how small the plot sizes are: less than an acre and all carefully laid out with intense care. It looks like most of the agriculture is done by hand as we see many people in the fields working at ground level clearing weeds, trimming vegetables or planting new seeds.

A quick stop for morning tea before we reached the snow line.

We then began climbing up into the mountains and with views of sweeping vistas across the valleys and hills allowing plenty of photos of mighty MGs both loving the driving on this kind of road as well as lined up with snow capped mountains in the distance.

Above 3,000 meters we met quite a few yaks, happily grazing on the hills side while sheep were common as well.

Additionally there were numerous Tibetan temples and a variety of transport.

We were advised that all the tents along the way were locals camping while they looked for a certain grass that is used in Chinese medicine.

Tibetan streamers at the summit.  Houses and tents.

 

We finally reached the highest pass at 3,758, with snow still beside the road. The views from the top were spectacular and Henk even tried to promote a snow ball fight by lobbing one in the general direction of a couple of other team members.

At one stop for photos we also came across a whole group of locals who has set up souvenir stands and were selling mainly jewellery and a few small statues.

It gave us a chance to pause and shop! As well, to take photos of the locals with the cars who were absolutely over the moon to be included in the photo.

47 mountains locals cars

Still more photos ops on the way down….

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A fuel stop at the village of Ebao extended into another photo opportunity as next to the station was a Silk Road monument in the same style as we saw in Xian.  So, we all lined up again!

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Most of the team went off to a noodle shop for lunch, but we decided to picnic by the monument as we had stocked up on picnic supplies the day before. The locals were fascinated by the process of making a sandwich and Ros entertained them by explaining what each ingredient was in English. The pepper and salt, in grinders, were passed around to be examined and smelt. There was some consternation when Ros produced a large knife but this was quickly assuaged when she did nothing more than slice up a large, juicy and tasty tomato! Once the sandwich making was complete and John and I were enjoying the fruits of my labours, all the locals melted away. The show was over.

A hundred meters up the road another fantastic sculpture of camels being led into the desert provided further entertainment with John deciding he would join an old fashioned caravan, as opposed to a MG caravan, and mounted a camel for a trip along the fabled Silk Road!

47 John on camel

Then it was into the town of Zhangye to visit the reclining Buddha, the largest in this part of China, and the temple in which it is housed. There were other displays at the temple including some interesting art works.

Outside is the offering table covered in intense, plus a pond.

Finally we visited the wooden pagoda, 7 storeys high, and with Tony and young Tony, the clay stupa and the bell tower which, unfortunately, has been marooned in the middle of a traffic roundabout and so is inaccessible.

We went with Loris, Ian and Green to a very local restaurant where BBQ was all the go. Choose your skewers of meat, veges etc, hand them over for barbequing and spiced and ready to eat they arrive at the table. All washed down with some local beer which came in a 1.5 litre jug! Yet another different and interesting culinary experience.

47 street sweeper

PS seen on the road, a mechanical street sweeper, probably replacing 6 people’s jobs!

 

 

Day 46: Lanzhou to Xining

A leisurely drive of a little over 300 kms today to reach Xining. Ginger was leading with Pat and Dave sharing the driving. We have five regular (as in pretty much drive 50% of the time) lady drivers this trip, way more than any of the other trips we have done, which is great.

Pat and Dave the space cadets with their headsets.  A temple along the way.  A view

Arriving on the outskirts of Xining we visited the Taer Monastery, also referred to as the Tibetian Kumbum Monastry.

First, lunch in the car park. You do get very accustomed to scratch lunches wherever you happen to be. The locals find this picnicking around the boot of the car somewhat strange and always interesting.

Ros explaining our trip using the map: then a local translating for the crowd.  Everyone wants a photos with us and the car.

We do attract a crowd wherever we go. These three young school students saw us drive through the town and followed us up the hill to the monastery. I suspect they had a little English but were too shy to try it out. They were no too shy to jump into Goldie for a picture! Henk then gave each of them a small koala or kangaroo and we had great fun getting them to pronounce the English words. This monk, also, took great pleasure in jumping into Goldie and having his picture taken.

The Kumbum Monastery is spread over a very large area with many halls for prayer and study. It was difficult to get a really good picture as it is really not a picturesque site. There are monks everywhere as well as people praying and ‘chanting’ prayers in groups. There were also tourists, although we were just about the only Europeans. Again, we are way off the normal tourist route in China and so the tourists are mainly Chinese.

The halls of this monastery are absolutely beautiful. The Tibetan influence is enormously strong, with highly decorative and coloured paintings, tapestries, wall hangings, frescoes, prayer carpets and kneelers everywhere.

There are also prayer wheels of all sizes all around the monastery.

We are now into yak territory and the Tibetans use yak butter for many things including candles, which give off a highly distinctive scent, not unpleasant but just a bit cloying, and also for carving into statues. One prayer hall had three yak butter statues prominently displayed and, further up the hill, there was a new building with refrigerated display cases specially designed to display yak butter statues.

Yes, these are really made out of yak butter and kept refrigerated until replaced each new year

This building, recently built in the 1990’s, was the most ornate of all the buildings we saw with the level of decoration and the use of colour so dominating it was hard to know where to look.

Photography was strictly limited in the monastery, understandable but rather disappointing, so our photographs are very limited. Have a look on the web if you are interested, I am sure there will be more there but accessing Google images (blocked) or such like is very difficult from here.

Then it was off to the hotel. We took the rest of the day off to catch up on some domestic chores (yes, even on a trip like this the domestics intrude). John went out to shop for food and a few basics and I thought I had lost him it took so long, but it appeared he had found an alley of stores and was fascinated by the selections from fruit, meats (goats and pigs heads included), fish (both for eating or for the indoor aquarium), dried figs and other things to shoes and food stores. He even found a super market and came back with a selection of meats for lunch, none of which he knew what they contained! Fortunately he met Green in the lift who explained that one needed cooking (into the bin).

That night we went out with Pat and David to a Moslem ‘sushi train’ restaurant John had found earlier when he went exploring.

We sat at a table with individual induction hot plates in front of you. Onto each of these was placed a small hot pot. You were asked to choose one of 4, spicy hot, spicy medium, spicy a little, no spice. We decided on one of each and shared them around. You then filled a small bowl with all sorts of things to create your own personalised dipping sauce. You could choose from about 30 different condiments including chilli, from very hot to mild, vinegars, soys, sesame paste, fresh chopped coriander or parsley or ginger etc etc. The list goes on. The food, on skewers, revolved around on a sushi-like train and you chose what you wanted, popped it into your pot to cook and then dipped and ate. All very yummy and yet another different culinary experience! Aprons supplied!

Day 45: Tianshui to Lanzhou

We set off at our usual 8.00am and headed for a morning tea stop at Shui Lian Dong grottoes, another site where a huge Buddha and two bodhisattvas have been relief carved into a mountain face.

To get there we had to wander along a regional road which ran through a town with totally erratic traffic (it came at you from all directions) and then up a lesser road which ran through intensively farmed fields. All the fields were quite small and very clearly delineated. However, despite the high level of cultivation there were no workers to be seen. Much of the cultivation was taking place under long plastic tunnels. It is possible that much of what we saw growing was either red sorghum or wheat. This area would appear to be far too dry, at least at this time of the year, for rice.

The road soon entered a gorge and wound its way up this gorge which narrowed and became more winding. Ian C likened it to the Bungles in WA and there was certainly a similarity in the weathered beehive shape, although it lacked the striations of the Bungles.

Soon we turned a corner and there, on the cliff face above us, was another huge Buddha flanked by two bodhisattvas. Unfortunately the cave of the thousand Buddhas was closed, but we had two other sites to explore. First, we walked up to the viewing area closer to the relief statues to be awed by the size of these figures as well as the ingenuity of their creators. It is thought these carvings were originally made in the Qin dynasty, but successively updated by later dynasties. They were originally accessed by a series of timber ladders – a bit scary. Below the Buddha were a series of animals, lions, deer and elephants (interestingly called dikes on the sign!).

Then it was off to view the Lao Shao temple complex and the rain curtain cave. Accessed by crossing a picturesque small covered bridge and then following a winding path with lilac and other flowers growing all around us.

This temple complex has been, literally, built into the side of the mountain. At the very top was the temple itself, though above this, but unfortunately closed, was another tiny structure which in all likelihood was another tiny shrine. There is a community of people living at the temple all of whom seemed very aged.

With Mike and Kay we spent a good half hour wandering peacefully around this complex, marvelling at the structures and the beauty and tranquillity of the setting.

We also had lunch here and we bought what looked pretty much like, and tasted like, a Cornish pastie from a food stall. Very good. We also found an opportunity to line up the cars for one of those iconic photos. John took the roof down for the picture then we drove down the gorge top down – just fabulous, and it allowed Ros to take some great photos of the following cars.

Then it was a longish but relatively easy drive into Lanzhou, Gansu’s capital, on the Yellow River, to find tonight’s hotel. Along the way we were fascinated by the mixture of quite intensive agriculture on one side of the road with heavy industry on the other. As on other days we continue to be amazed at the tree planting both along the highway and on the hills. At one spot we came across workers planting immature trees and placing shade cloth over them down the middle of the road, with just a cone or two to warn the cars and trucks. At another spot the hill side had been covered with young trees and a huge sprinkler system was in use to water acres of new plantings.

Pat and Dave have arranged for music and the 2 way radio via headphones: great in a noisy MG.

At the usual team meeting, with cold beer of course, Green was asked a couple of questions and she got talking about the pace of growth in China and the social changes this is brining with it. Many rural young people are moving to the cities for education and a better living standard. Farmers are looking to sell their land to the government to accommodate the expansion of cities as their land is worth far more as a development site than a going concern farm.

Young couples are looking to move out into an apartment of their own rather than live in an extended family. When couples marry, the young man’s family are expected to pay at least the first instalment of the price of an apartment for them to live in. Green mentioned friends of hers where the girl’s family was very well off and the boy’s family not so. The boy’s family still had to pay this first instalment before they were allowed to marry. They did so by borrowing from relatives. The need for more and more housing to accommodate smaller families is forcing up the price of apartments, especially in major cities. Huge, multiple tower blocks of apartments dominate every city skyline in China. And, China is beginning to build retirement villages and nursing homes for the elderly.

This was a simply fascinating discussion and we have seen the effect of this incredible building of apartments. In some cities and towns there seem to be more cranes than in all of Australia. As we passed one town, John counter 30 new apartment buildings, each of 30 floors, and at 80 sq mt each apartment that could extend to as many at 10,000 new apartments for just that town.

And, as usual, the cars are a real magnet for onlookers, and sometimes we are also! Note the randoms in this team photo below!

We learnt from Green that Lanzhou had a good night food market well patronised by the locals so off we set with Peter, Paula and Green to investigate and seek out dinner. In fact just about the whole team headed to the night market and we ended up having entrée with Pat and David, main course, ravioli-like dumplings filled with spinach and pork in a broth with noodles and vegetables, with Peter, Pat, Ian and Loris and then Portuguese tart like tarts for dessert with Mike, Kay, Henk and Maya. A fun night which was topped off by a visit to the old footbridge which spans the yellow River and which gives you excellent views of the city by night with its buildings outlined in lights of all colours and the green trees on the hillside illuminated in green. A very pretty sight and worth the visit.

 

Day 44: Xian to Tianshui via Maijishan

We left the hotel and headed off to find the monument which signals the start of the Silk Road. The monument was spotted by Tony when he was cycling around the city walls and then located, by dint of taking a taxi, by Tony and cameraman Tony*. We found the monument, a rather beautiful structure carved from sandstone which depicts a camel train. The monument is probably 30 metres long and 4-5 metres high.

Although we could not get a picture of all the cars next to the monument, we did get one of all the Silk Roaders next to the monument and then of each car at the entrance to the monument. And so the real journey begins.

 

Then it was out of Xian to drive to Maijishan. There is always something new to see along the way and so here are a few happy snaps, mostly taken from the car, of what we saw along the way.

Clockwise from bottom left: street sweeper at a toll plaza; street sweeper on the motorway; hedges down  the middle of the motorway being pruned and trimmed with manual hedge trimmers; fake policeman on duty on the side of the motorway (seen everywhere!)

Then to Maijishan, a series of Buddhist grottoes carved into the face of a mountain principally between 386 and 581 AD. There are hundreds of these statues in niches and larger grottoes on two sections of the mountain and they are accessed by very steep stairways which literally cling to the mountain side. When we had dinner with Han Li in Beijing she also spoke about Maijishan and the statues and the fact that their remoteness and the difficulty accessing them were largely responsible for their surviving the cultural revolution.

The initial view of this site is awe inspiring as you look up at staircases and walkways literally clinging to the face of the mountain and it is difficult at first to see how you get up there.

44c ros view

Dominating the mountain face are two enormous relief statues of Buddha, the largest more than 15 metres tall, flanked by two bodhisattvas. The eastern face reliefs are intact, though they have been restored, while on the western face one of the bodhisattvas has literally dropped away during an earthquake and only a suggestion of its size and shape remains. 44 3

This was a fascinating visit. Some of the statues were carved in the Zhou dynasty (400-600 AD), while others added at various time after, including up until the Ming and Qin Dynasties. Some statues still had colour on them and a variety of remarkable pictures and drawings around the Buddha added to the spectacle.

The eyes of the huge Buddha and bodhisattvas are glass and are still reflective to this day. The sheer size of this site is extraordinary and the dedication of the creators evident wherever you look.

The mountain is sandstone, but a rough conglomerate sandstone unsuitable for carving and so more suitable clay has been brought in and overlaid on the conglomerate or used to create some of the smaller statues. You can also see holes in the mountainside which were originally used for supporting poles for platforms which were used by the carvers. Later, these same holes were used by the restorers for the same purpose. In various parts the walls have fallen away: the row of 14 Buddhas, now staring out into the open, was once in a corridor, however the outside fell away in an earthquake around 1,000 years ago.

The stairways accessing each of the levels are in places incredibly steep and literally cling to the sheer face of the mountain.

(Ros. I was suffering from a heavy head cold and ran out of oxygen at the top but Dave took over and looked after me all the way to the bottom, even carrying the handbag! Thanks to Dave for his very assiduous help and care in getting me safely down. Thanks also to Henk for the hug along the way!)

We bought lunch from one of the local food stalls at the site. The choices were a Chinese hamburger or noodles. We both chose the hamburger and they were delicious. All food prepared on site, noodles cooked by the back door!

Then it was off to Tianshui for the night. Dinner, with Lindy and Ian, was another adventure. The menu had only four pictures (and these can often be deceptive!) all of which looked pretty similar, and no Green to interpret. John headed off to view what the other people in the restaurant were eating. The maître de assured us, in Chinese of course, that everything was good(!) and pointed to the four pictures in the menu. Eventually we agreed on something, we were not sure what, while John went and pointed first to a platter of vegetables and then a plate of already cooked lamb as accompaniments. Next came four brass bowls suspended over burners with noodles, broth and vegetables. By dint of showing us what to do we then ate a hearty meal an enjoyed all of it.  Again with beer, all for the princely sum of less than $10 a head!

* We have been joined by a cameraman, Tony, who is essentially shadowing Tony Wheeler. Young Tony (cameraman) is here working on a documentary for CCTV about tourism in China and of course Tony, as founder of Lonely Planet, is the magnet and main player and is the perfect person to talk about tourism and travel. We all get filmed at times and certainly our trip provides a focal point for the documentary. It is somewhat hilarious to see Tony being shadowed by young Tony continuously. Tony W just takes it in his stride.

44 tony tony

 

 

 

Day 43: Xian – day 2

Today, after a relatively late breakfast, we set off for the Big Goose Pagoda that is situated in the Da Ci’en temple, one of the largest in modern day Xian.

Big Goose pagoda is one of China’s best examples of a Tang style pagoda, which are squarish rather than round. It was originally completed in AD 652to house the Buddhist sutras brought from India by the monk Xuan Zang whose travels were famous throughout China.

43a pagoda

Xuan spent the last 19 years of his life translating scriptures, aided by other monks. Many of these translations are still used today.

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You can climb the Big Goose Pagoda and from the top there are fabulous views over the city and surrounds. We climbed the 7 stories of the Big Goose Pagoda, taking pictures of modern day Xian out each of the four windows.

The Da Ci’en Temple buildings date from the Qing dynasty and are laid out as we have seen with the many temples we have visited: passing through a gate, you will invariably find a bell tower followed by a series of halls, all usually with a different statue of Buddha as its central focus. The temples are enclosed by walls and smaller rooms run along the inside of these walls with a covered walk way joining them. In these rooms you will often find smaller shrines for worship, areas for use by the monks eg for studying and classes, and rooms housing artefacts or explanations of the life of Buddha.

Da Ci’en Temple had all of these and it was fascinating to wander around looking at the various exhibits. In one room were the hundreds of translations of Xuan Zang. The artwork around the walls of these areas was superb; copper and bronze etched panels, wooden carved panels, and one that was some type of resin perhaps. Each of these was beautifully detailed.

We then returned to the centre of the city and visited the Great Mosque. Buried in the centre of the Muslim Quarter and accessed through hundreds of tourist stalls, this is quite a surprise. Gone is the traditional mosque to be replaced by a very traditionally laid out Chinese temple. The big difference, the prayer hall at the end of the complex, rather than a shrine to Confucius or Buddha. The traditional entrance gate was very much in evidence.

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Then we visited the Drum Tower in time to see the afternoon performance before wandering off to the Bell Tower. Where was the bell? There was certainly a bell on the outside of the second level, but this was hardly large enough to be the original bell in such a huge bell tower.

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Then we walked down to the city wall and climbed up on to the ramparts via the south gate. This is obviously the spot to have your wedding photos taken in Xian. We saw three brides being photographed.

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In the evening we had a group dinner to celebrate the actual start of our Silk Road trip.

We firstly gathered in the car park to have a few beers and to include the cars in the celebration, before adjourning to a private room in a nearby restaurant for a magnificent meal. Green did an amazing job of selecting a wide variety of courses from meat, vegetables, something in jelly, fish, soups and much more.

With long term friends Ian and Lindy; Mike and Maya; Loris, Peter, Henk, Ian C 

Each of the ladies was asked to comment on the most memorable / enjoyable activity on the trip.  The views ranged from riding elephants, the dangerous market, the night markets, seeing the locals dancing in the streets, different foods and the friendliness of all the people we have met.

John gave a summary of ‘why we are here’: because of Dave Godwin and Marco Polo.

Dave first drove his MG (named RIP) from Beijing to Abingdon in 2010 having driven around Australia and New Zealand before that.  We then joined him in to drive from 2012 Cape Town to Cairo and onto Abingdon  in 2012 and again (with Mike and Kay) in 2015 around South America. His inveterate restlessness has given us a taste for these trips and, with Mike and Kay, we have planned this trip.

Marco Polo really does not rate in the history of the Silk Road but allowed John to speak about the events across time that have touched on this great route. From Alexander the Great in 200BC, the Romans, Sythians, the nomadic people of central Asia, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane up to the ‘Great Game’ between Russia and Britain in the 1800 century to control Central Asia.

He commented that trade was not just in silk, but in spices, nuts, gold, ivory and horses (Chinese horses were smaller than those of Central Asia and hence much desired by the Chinese).  And also religion: Buddhism from India and Islam from the west.

He outlined where will be travelling and how in history these have been important trading posts and why we are travelling: the history, geography, anthropology and meeting people along the way.

A great night and a celebration of our trip so far (7 weeks) for the start of the Silk Road and for the remaining 2 months together.

43b group car park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 42: Xi’an

In 2010, Dave Godwin, who masterminded the Cape to Cairo and the Pan American Highway trips we did, and which got us hooked on long range MG driving, led a group of MG enthusiasts on what we believe was the very first individual led long MG drive and it was along the Silk Road. Dave is never still and this kind of adventure suits him totally.

We did not know about that first trip of Dave’s. Dave with five other couples, shipped the MGs, including RIP his MGA, to Beijing and then, after visiting the SAIC headquarters in Shanghai, set off across China to Xian, where we now are, to begin the Silk Road journey.

When John heard about the Silk Road trip he began to talk seriously about replicating it, however the Pan American Highway with Dave and most of the Cape to Cairo crew was irresistible so off we went, meeting on that trip, Mike and Kay Herlihy in Shiraz.

It was not long before John had seen a kindred spirit in Mike and eventually asked if he and Kay were interested in recreating Dave’s Silk Road odyssey. The answer, an unequivocal YES!

Our grateful thanks to Dave for leading the way and getting us hooked on this type of adventure!

So, as you would expect, Day 1 in Xian saw us visiting the Terracotta Army.

The Terracotta Army is a collection of sculptures depicting the armies of the first Emperor of China and taking, we were told, 25% of the empire’s revenue for 26 years to construct. We can see today only a small amount of the expected complete site.  Further excavations have stopped as there is so much more to do just reconstructing the warriors that have been found and hope that further scientific developments will allow better excavation techniques such that the colours on the statues can be preserved (at the moment they fade when exposed to air and light).

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There are 3 pits:

Pit 1 has the largest display of warriors, about 2,000 of the possible 6,000 in the pit.  It is covered by a roof and it’s the usual Chinese bun rush to get to the railing to see into the pit!  The warriors include archers, soldiers holding (originally as made of wood now gone) spears and other long shafted weapons plus swords and axes.  Also in the pit are horses and the outline in some cases of the chariots they were pulling (also made of wood and hence gone).

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Pit 2 contains around 1,300 warriors and horses plus has in glass cases so you can see up close the kneeing and standing archers, generals, cavalry and a mid ranking officer. Again 4 deep around each display but we are getting better at elbow diplomacy!

Pit 3 has excavated the head quarters of the army: better dressed and fed generals plus their horses.

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The army is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE. The purpose of the army was to protect the emperor in his afterlife. The figures were discovered near Xian in 1974 by local farmers. The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Estimates from 2007 were that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits nearby mausoleum.

The Terracotta Army is part of a much larger necropolis of approximately 98 square kilometres. The necropolis was constructed as a microcosm of the emperor’s imperial palace or compound, and covers a large area around the tomb mound of the Emperor.

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The warriors stand guard to the east of the tomb.

A vast Museum has been constructed over and around the famous Pit 1 where the majority of the warriors have been excavated and restored. The two other pits have been partially excavated and can now also be viewed during a visit to the site.

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On display are some of the warriors which have been found in near perfect condition, including the kneeling archer whose shoes illustrate the fine detail in the production of these warriors. You can actually see the tread on the soles of the shoes!

The other interesting feature of the army of terracotta warriors is that each face is different, so there are thousands of individual warriors in this army.

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Also uncovered during the excavations were chariots, both war chariots for use by the army and also a chariot for the Emperor which had a turtle shell like roof. Replicas of these chariots can be seen in one of the exhibition halls.

Then it was back into Xian before heading off to the Muslim quarter for the night to find dinner. Peter and Paula, who had explored the area the night before came with us, as did Maya and Henk, and Peter became the official tour guide for the night – no umbrella or flagon stick, however! The streets simply become one huge market place with lights and thronging people and food stalls and shops and everyone exhorting you to try their kebabs, noodles, deep fried crab, deep fried squid, toffee and nuts sweets, etc etc etc. And through the middle of all this motorised rickshaw like vehicles ferried people to and fro tooting at anyone in their way – which essentially meant that they tooted constantly!

A few people have  variously described it as either the Gold Coast, Disneyland, Las Vegas on steroids. Whatever, it was a huge buzz. We stopped in a restaurant, very casual, for skewers of spiced lamb however, due to a complete breakdown in communication we ended up with 6 skewers, two bowls of assorted noodles and then, to top it all off, a huge bowl each of wide noodles, lamb, tomatoes, tofu, vegetables and etc all in a tasty broth. The original idea was to have a little here and a little there. After this feast we all trooped off looking for ice creams for dessert. Dinner was a done deal!

Day 41 On to Xian

We started today with a visit to the Shuanglin Temple, a Buddhist temple just outside Pingyao made up, as we are learning, of numerous halls one behind the other.  The temples have a collection of carved statues, plus some made of wood and covered with plaster.  In addition each temple room had amazing scenes on the walls covering the life of Buddha and his followers.

All of these are painted in (slightly faded after 400 years) colours. We never really found out how this temple missed out on the destruction during the Cultural Revolution, but thank heavens it did.

After the temple a 500 km drive into Xian, really very easy except for the last 11 kilometers which took us an hour and a half in heavy pushy traffic.  A bit of a test for English cars as it was around 30+ degrees, but we all made it.

John had arranged for us to stay in the Bell Tower Hotel immediately next to the Bell Tower.  Disappointingly our request for Bell Tower view rooms was changed by the hotel because, they said, a large government booking had been made and it takes precedence.  It reminds us how different China is to Australia.

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Xian Bell Tower

After settling in we had drinks and set out for a walk around the Bell Tower and a dumpling dinner at a restaurant recommended by Green.  I wonder if we are getting obsessed by food as it seems we mention it each day.  However as the food has been so delightful and no two meals have been alike we are really amazed by the quality and variety of what we have eaten.

Green and Serena our guide in Xian share a meal.  the hungry team.

While we were visiting SIAC in Shanghai and servicing our cars, SIAC had a photographer follow our every move.  I have just received copies of a selection of photos and add them in here.

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Day 40: Pingyao

A morning drive from Shijiazhuang to Pingyao with the only interest being Dash, our leader for the day, getting lost within 2 kilometres of the hotel: everyone else made the correct turn, just not our leader!

The old city of Pingyao is still surrounded by its original city walls which date from 1370. The walls have survived virtually intact throughout the ages with only a very small portion ever being restored. The town was already thriving by the Ming Dynasty but really came into its own during the Qing Dynasty when local merchants created the country’s first banks and cheques to facilitate the movement of silver from one place to another. Almost 4,000 Ming and Qing Dynasty houses remain intact within the city walls and you can today visit the buildings which housed China’s first banks.

The city walls are10m high and more than 6km in circumference and are topped by 72 watchtowers. The city gates are some of the best preserved in China and at two of the gates you can still see the cart tracks which, over the centuries, carved themselves into the paved entrance ways.

Being both walled and small, most streets in the city are pedestrian only, with the consequence we had to leave our cars outside and walk in, which gave us a great introduction to the city.

We were very lucky as, while in Beijing, Tony invited a friend and colleague of his, Han Li to join our regular meeting and then dinner. Han Li is an archaeologist and has been working in China for nine years and Pingyao is one of the sites she has been involved with. It was fascinating to learn from her, first hand, a little of the old city’s history and the challenges facing it in the modern era.

The streets are hung with traditional red Chinese lanterns, giving the whole city a festive appearance.

There are many old buildings in the city which are open to the public and we visited many of these including the old bank building.

The banking industry in this city eventually died out as modern banking institutions took over and as well, the local industries changed.

We also visited a traditional house and of course, some of the city temples including the Confucian temple.

A traditional Pingyao house with multiple courtyards and gates. The living quarters were towards the back with a garden behind this.

The Confucian temple

Old Pingyao today exists through the medium of tourism, which in itself has in some respects compromised the old city. Most buildings on the main street, including the shops are now completely focused on tourism; souvenir  shops, restaurants and bars line this and most of the more major streets.

Many traditional houses have been converted into guest houses, however this does preserve the original layout including the interior courtyards which are such a feature of the houses. It also makes it easy to stay in the old city and experience a little of the traditional architecture first hand.

 Our guesthouse with its internal courtyard

When walking around the streets Ros met this beautiful Goldie holding court outside one of the shops and it was impossible not to stop and say hello. He got an extra big pat from Ros, a surrogate dog for 5 minutes.

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One very beautiful Goldie

Dinner that night was in a local restaurant and Green, yet again, masterminded the menu for us. Mike produced a new bottle of Baijiu, this time with honey and herb flavouring which nicely masked the raw alcohol flavour!

 

 

 

Day 39 – Beijing day 3

This was our last morning in Beijing and there were still a few sites we wanted to visit, so off we set to find the metro which would take us to the Bell and Drum Towers.

We arrived so early that neither tower had opened when we got there so instead we set off to walk the hutongs, the little laneways which crisscross Beijing, though you need to go looking for them as the entrances are so small, sometimes you can pass by without noticing them. One such lane we walked along had obviously had a big make over and very smart doors lined the lane way. This was a very superficial makeover, however, as behind the doors we glimpsed ramshackle sheds and piles of household items, haphazardly stacked along internal entrances. The area we were in also had lovely tree lined, shady streets which were very pleasant to walk along.

Back at the towers we first ascended the Bell Tower where a thirty two ton bell takes pride of place. To reach the bell itself we had to climb up an incredibly steep staircase. Ros’s legs are starting to protest every time they see stairs! Originally this bell was used to announce the time in Beijing. The bell does not have a clapper, but rather is struck by a very large and heavy log, carved and decorated to resemble a fish. We have become used to huge crowds of local tourists so were delighted to find just ourselves in the Bell Tower.

There was an interesting story related to the casting of the bell. Having decided to build the bell tower, the Emperor summoned the best bell casters from all over the country to Beijing to cast the bell for his tower. The casting process began but all attempts failed. The Emperor became impatient and finally gave the bell casters 80 days to finish the casting of the bell or be beheaded. More attempts failed and finally it was the 80th day and the last lot of metal was bubbling away in the furnace.

The head caster knew in his heart that something was amiss and that this casting would also fail and that they would all be beheaded. His daughter also realised something was missing from the casting so she distracted her father and threw herself into the molten metal. Her father tried to stop her but was left holding a single silken slipper. This final casting was successful. The Emperor dedicated a temple to the bell caster’s daughter and it is said you can still visit this small temple today.

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From the Bell Tower we crossed the plaza area separating the two towers and climbed the steep steps of the Drum Tower to reach the drum room. We fluked the timing of our arrival in time to see and hear the drums being played, very impressive! The drum room also had a display of ingenious time keeping instruments from the past including one which recorded time through the trickling of water from one vessel to another.

Back in the plaza we stopped briefly to watch a game being played which entailed four players using an over-sized shuttlecock and kicking it with their feet to keep it airborne. They were very skilful, often kicking out backwards to collect a shuttle which had flown over their heads and was threatening to land behind them. See the shuttle cock circled in red in the pictures below.

Then it was off to the Lama Temple, a huge Tibetan Buddhist temple. This was a simply amazing temple. You enter through a traditional gate before walking along an avenue of trees .

Through another gate you come to the first of the six halls within the temple complex, with the statue of Buddha in each hall getting bigger until the final statue towers to a height of 18 metres. It is simply enormous.

This is obviously a temple of huge significance as the number of worshippers far outstripped the tourists and everywhere was enveloped in swirling smoke form the hundreds of incense sticks being burned. We nearly missed this temple and we are so glad we did not as it must be the most interesting of the many we have visited principally as it was being visited as a place of worship, not as a tourist must see. As a result the whole atmosphere of the temple was completely different; busy and alive.

Our final stop was the Jingshan Park where the hill in its centre was created with the earth dug to create the Forbidden City’s moat. The tower on the top gives panoramic views over the Forbidden City and Beijing. John climbed the stairs for the view, while Ros wandered through the park and admired the flowers and bonsai. Particularly beautiful were the beds of peonies, the national flower of China.

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                         Looking down over the enormous expanse of the Forbidden City

Our wander through this very suburban area also brought to our attention the number of three wheeled and tiny transport vehicles which are found around parts of the city. Certainly these would make navigating Beijing’s traffic easier. Bikes are very popular for the same reason, and there are many bike stands where you can scan an App, get a code to unlock a bike and simply ride off. You can leave these bikes anywhere in the city and you pay by the hour to rent them.

It was then back to the hotel to depart for our night’s accommodation. We were delayed in Beijing and so left late and ended up driving in darkness to the city of Shijiazhuang. A very undistinguished hotel in a city of 10 million in the middle of nowhere and it was dusty and polluted! We arrived late, left early and I suspect missed nothing!

Tony Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet, is one of our team members and he does attract a certain amount of attention. While waiting to depart Beijing Tony had to sign a pallet load of books, a Chinese version of the Lonely Planet guide to China, and also one of the television stations turned up to interview Tony. They stuck around for hours waiting to film the cars as they left. Every time Tony moved during the afternoon they jumped up and tuned on the cameras. It was hilarious to watch. Then we were given a huge send off by the hotel staff, again all was filmed by the TV crew.

We left 2 team members in Beijing with a health scare so, along the way, with 2 less team members it meant that 2 cars had no passengers, making the collection of toll tickets and payment difficult (remember we are driving right hand drive cars on the right side of the road, so the toll booths are addressed by the passenger). Ros and then Paula became excellent toll wenches: hopping out of one car, running up to the toll booth and paying for a passenger-less car and then catching a ride in a different car.

Ros’ time was further complicated when 2 cars took the wrong gate, paid the toll, exited the toll way and did not collect the ticket for the next section of road. [Most toll roads here issue a ticket when you enter and you hand that in when exiting to calculate the toll, which is complicated when changing providences, often paying for the trip to date and collecting the next providence’s ticket at the one toll booth.] The exiting cars then cut back onto the toll road between some bollards with a handy gap; however that meant they did not have the ticket to show where they started the trip. Ros with hand signals and pointing was able to get issued with 2 extra tickets, all while standing at the booth with passing traffic watching in wonder. Life is never dull on these trips!

Day 38: Beijing Day Two

Another day for being a tourist and sightseeing in Beijing.

38 RJ in forbiden

First stop Tiananmen Square, where joined the other 1,000s of tourists swarming around the huge 440,000 sq mtr square, created, incidentally by Mao, capable of holding over 1,000,000 people (it seemed to me that many of them were there today!).

Crowds in Tiananmen Square and entrance to Mao’s tomb

In the middle is, of course, Mao tomb, where he lies inside a crystal casket.  Sorry closed today.  Likewise the square is closed at 3pm everyday – probably takes a few hours to move everyone on. Anyway, it’s a big space.

Across the road and into the Forbidden City, today prosaically known today as the

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Palace Museum, is another place for gathering of the multitudes and we joined them.  Sorry, but the adventure was as much as moving through a sea of people as seeing the amazing sight of the emperor’s palace.  At various spots there were rugby scrums to peek into the chamber and try snapping a picture!

Built 1406 to 1420 by Emperor Yongle (about the third of the Ming Dynasty) it’s big as we all know.  Enough words, try pictures instead:

Female and male lions guarding the Hall of Supreme Harmony 

It took us about 4 hours to walk through the Forbidden City, ending with a squeeze through a 2 metre gap to be spat out at the back.  I would say that we only saw about one tenth of what’s on view and we understand that overall there is less than 10% open to the public; a big complex, seen here from Jingshan Park, a ‘hill’ of sorts created with the earth excavated to dig the moat of the Forbidden City.

Firefighting equipment (needed a fire underneath in winter to keep water liquid)

Roof of the Hall of Preserving Harmony with phoenix followed by dragon babies: the more the more important the user of the hall.

Only the emperor can pass over the dragon path – and he does that in a sedan chair!

We were told men must step over with the left foot first: John and Mike concentrating hard

Bride having pictures taken in front of moat

On then to the Summer Place, where the emperors debunked each summer to beat the heat of the city.  And certainly we immediately noticed how much cooler it is: a gentle breeze across Kunming Lake, created by a workforce of 100,000 labourers in the 18th century.

Its history is fascinating, built originally in the mid Qin Dynasty, vandalised by the French and English in 1860 as part of the opium wars and then rebuilt by Empress Cixi (the Dragon Empress) with money earmarked for a navy.  Hence the marble boat at one end of the lake!

It’s got a long open breezeway, we were told 728 meters long with paintings in the eves and cross beams.

Corridor.  the dragon Empress with a few more dragons (born in the year of…)

Back at the hotel, Tony had a treat in store for us, a colleague of his from the Global Heritage Fund (http://globalheritagefund.org/ ) Han Li came to speak to us about our visit to Pingyao in  days time.

Global Heritage Fund works to empower communities through heritage preservation. Striving for a future that’s beyond monuments, we partner with local people, communities, organizations, and governments to both preserve the timeless heritage of the past, and ensure that it is a vibrant and beneficial part of the present.

Han Li is the China project manager and she is involved in various projects, including Pingyao, where the fund will jointly fund activities that help preserve the heritage of the village and support the locals in economically viable activities.

She provided us with insight to the village, which we will write about when we get there!

Dinner in a restaurant with yet another cuisine: a delightful fish stew, beef stew, shredded zucchini with a sesame/mustard sauce, soy bean pancakes (with veg, like Beijing Duck) mung bean shoots and rice (amazingly we have had few dinners accompanied by rice).

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The more practical side of travelling 

 

Day 37: Beijing – day 1

Obviously when you visit Beijing the first stop is a visit to the Great Wall.  John and I visited the Great Wall in 1986 at a different location to the part of the wall we visited today, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. Back then you could drive right up to the Wall, walk up onto it and virtually you were there on your own. Things have changed! Which is really not surprising when you consider the size of the domestic Chinese tourist market, let alone the international tourists who visit this site.

First a bus trip from our hotel to the Wall car park. Originally we had thought to take the cars in the hope of getting one of those iconic MG photos. However, the Wall is now accessed, at least this part of the wall is, via a trip to the Wall car park, another bus trip to the base of a cable car and then a cable car ride up to the base of the wall! Once we realised this we decided that we would get a bus to take us as far as the car park and save ourselves for the necessary driving.

The Great Wall, which stretches for thousands of kilometres across China was built by successive dynasties beginning more than 2,000 years ago and has been subject to erosion and then, in the Ming and Qing dynasties was restored and sections previously not linked, joined up. The Wall was meant to keep out invaders from the north but was not always successful in doing so. During the rule of Mao Ze Dong, the Chinese people were encouraged to view the Wall as free masonry and rocks for use in their building! Sections of the wall have been restored and are now open to the public, the two most famous of these sections are within relatively easy reach of Beijing.

This is an extraordinary structure, not just because of its staggering length but also because it follows ridge lines, hence it wanders around in a fascinating and highly picturesque fashion. The Wall you see today is from the Ming Dynasty, during which time it was faced with stones and heavily reinforced. Some sections of the wall are incredibly steep; think 455 nearly vertical steps between one longish downhill section and the next watch tower.

Each watch tower would have been approximately 15 metres in length by 9 metres across. Inside you find a steep staircase to the upstairs platform and many linked corridors with niches for fireplaces. You can only imagine how arduous spending a winter on the wall would have been for the soldiers who manned it.

From the point of entry we walked the longest section, and also the steepest, to get some feel for the construction and ‘life’ on the wall. Questions raised were: where did they get water from and how did they store it; where did the food come from and how did they store enough to last a watch, or a winter; where did the wood come from for the fires? Perhaps, more importantly, where did the stone come from to build the wall in the first place. We assumed it was quarried locally, though much of the wall is composed of crudely made clay fired bricks. A fascinating structure which, because of its history and the multiple questions raised by walking on it has become a ‘research project’. Surely somewhere there is an account of “Life on the Wall’ which we can access.

Again, the pictures really tell the story.

When we came down off the Wall it was time for lunch. Dumplings or noodles? Then Ros spotted a sign saying coffee! And the coffee shop offered a chance to retreat into familiar western food, though John opted for curry and rice! Ros opted for a toasted tuna mayo and lettuce sandwich which tasted really good! The food we have been eating in China has varied wherever we go, a gastronomic foodies travelling delight. All the food has been excellent (except perhaps the fish heads and the feet and heads of the chickens in some dishes), all different across each province or town and Green, our guide, has ensured we sample all local delicacies, including deep fried cicadas!

John also opted to buy himself an ‘I climbed the wall’ t-shirt!

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Then it was off to the Ming Tombs. 13 Ming Emperors are buried in this valley, which is surrounded by hills, and each has their own tomb, just like their Egyptian counterparts. Only three of the tombs are open to the public and only one has had its underground burial chamber excavated. We first visited the above ground sections of one of the tombs. Enclosed by a wall, with real and ceremonial entrance gates and with park like grounds and very old Cyprus trees dotting these grounds, was above ground. Exactly where the Emperor was buried in the hill behind this structure remains a bit of a mystery.

The second tomb we visited has had its underground burial chamber excavated. When the underground chamber was discovered the tomb was found to have leaked and the wooden coffins and accompanying boxes of artefacts had deteriorated. The accompanying photographs show replica coffins which are now in place in the tomb.

Many of the artefacts found in the tombs are  on display on one of the buildings. The air ornaments and gold utensils were particularly interesting and beautiful.

An interesting visit, and again very different to our 1986 visit when we drove to the wall surrounding one of the tombs, walked through and picnicked under the Cyprus trees.

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Back to the hotel for a short break before looking for somewhere for dinner. As we didn’t make much headway with the reception staff in the hotel, we were looking for some local street food, we just decided to walk the streets and see what we could find. Turn right out of the hotel door, turn right at the big intersection, turn right into basically a street running along the back of the hotel and there we found small street restaurants which were all BBQ restaurants.

A burner with coals was delivered to the table, a grill plate placed over the top and then a selection of meats and vegetables were barbecued on the grill plate, all marinated with some sauce which was poured over the top. The meat and vegetables caramelised beautifully and, instead of salt and pepper, you could dip into ground chilli or ground caraway seeds. Both added to the flavour but were not essential, as the barbecued flavour was terrific. Our maître de obviously recognised complete novices and came and personally cooked for us to ensure we got the absolute best result from the cooking process. A great find.

 

 

 

 

Day 36: Another Driving Day but lots of pictures

Jumping back a day or two:

                      Welcome at the Qufu hotel.                   Pat’s birthday dinner

Today only about 500 km, but entering a big Chinese city like Beijing is always a worry.

                     Leaving the hotel and lunch almost Chinese in ingredents 

Lunch at a service centre, however it was a ‘5 star’ service centre which meant it had shade, tables, restaurants and 5 or 6 aviaries with an assortment of birds.

All went well until we arrived at the outskirts of Beijing and sat in a line of traffic for 1 ½ hours queuing for a police check. That slowed us down a bit.

                         Police umbrella. Looking back and forward – just cars everywhere

Driving into Beijing was not too bad, much traffic but moving and interesting to count down the circuit roads as we got closer to our hotel.

Closer to Beijing with very large toll gates

We especially noticed the planting along the way: roses everywhere between the road carriages.

A safe arrival and then out for a walk around Tiananmen Square and followed by a ubiquitous Beijing Duck dinner.

Here are some photos from past days to fill the page!

                                    Breakfast from a few days ago

                Sign above a urinal             Chinese manufactured  Land Wind looks a bit like a ……

                               Popular with the kids at dinner.  Chicken feet anyone?

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Try passing this truck!

Day 35B: Tai Shan Mountain

From Qufu we had a 100km drive to Tai’an, the town at the base of Tai Shan, another of China’s sacred mountains; said to be the most sacred of all, and it has been worshipped since the 11th century BC. In 219 BC, Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor, proclaimed the united kingdom of China from its summit, and from its heights Confucius uttered the dictum, ‘the world is small’. Mao climbed the peak to declare, ‘the East is Red’, and countless other Emperors and dignitaries have climbed the mountain to pay their respects. Pilgrims still make their way up the steps of the mountain to pay their respects to Taoist and Buddhist teachings.

There are many ways to ascend the mountain but, with Ian and Loris, we decided to start at the bottom in the old part of Tai’an, (a town which has had a thriving tourist industry since the Ming Dynasty) and climb to the halfway point.

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So off we set, beginning the climb by visiting the first of the many small temples we were to visit in the next 2 hours as we climbed. We spent at least ten minutes in this first temple and it quickly became apparent that we needed to walk, not linger too long, if we were to get to the top.

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Small Taoist and Confucius temples, and some Buddhist ones, line the stepped pathway to the top and we also saw more stelae and a huge copper “drum’ which dominated the entrance to  one temple.

The pathway wound amongst Cyprus and other trees, providing us with a shady and very pleasant walk. The steps were well spaced with level walks between each, and so we continued for about the first half o the walk. Along the way were little food stalls, some rustic outdoor ‘restaurants’ and souvenir shops. John bought Ros a set of bells hanging from a decorative rooster (this is the Year of the Rooster, after all) which he claimed would ensure he could not lose her. The big question is, ‘can John actually hear the bells?’ Never mind, said Ian and Loris, we will be able to hear you and can tell John!.

 

It soon became evident that we had been lulled into a false sense of security as quite suddenly the stairs became steeper, each flight containing more stairs and the flat stretches pretty much disappeared. At one stage we asked a ticket inspector (yes, you have to pay to go an a pilgrimage up the mountain, you have to pay for everything in China, though the older you get the bigger discount to get in) how far up we were. Only half way! We thought we were at least two thirds of the way up – and it was still getting steeper! Ros plodded on, John suggested we turn back, but having come this far I was determined to get to the middle of the mountain. From there we could catch a cable car to the top, and I was determined to make it to the top, a very long way still!

35B_Tian_summit

It was a struggle, and, unlike Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) where there were sections where we went down between the ascents, we were continuously climbing, This time there was no relief to the up, with sections of down! By the time I got to the middle gate a rest was necessary. This tree was almost weighed down by the traditional red ribbons, placed here to ensure good luck and longevity, and the more modern form of  this, the engraved padlock.

35B_Tian_wishes

Finally we reached the Midway Gate to Heaven. We could have continued up the steep stairs finally coming to the Path of 18 Bends, an extremely steep section of stairs nearly half a kilometre in length which renders one legs jelly-like within metres. I had struggled enough, we headed for the alternative route up the mountain, the 12 minute cable car ride with its spectacular views and leg saving, fast moving cars which deposited you quickly at the top station, at Moom View Peak.  [Note form John: at one point Ros had turned to stone, however once the cable car was in sight it was like a horse heading for the stables: off we went at a good trot!]

35B_Tian_cablecar1

Our walk up the lower section of the mountain left us with only about 25 minutes to wander around and admire the spectacular views, walk through the Archway to Immortality and the South Gate to Heaven and visit the small Taoist temple located here. We walked back onto the cable car without queuing and the bus ride back down the mountain was quick and exceptionally well organised. Long queues were quickly dispersed as many buses as necessary were quickly filled and dispatched down the mountain. A great afternoon.

 

A beautiful park greeted us where the bus deposited us at the bottom of the hill. China works very hard at landscaping parks, roadways and townships, everywhere is exceptionally clean and generally quite beautiful. This park, with its serene lake and soaring pillars is fairly typical of this beautification process.

Back at the hotel, cold beer awaited us. Green at first could not quite get her head around this Aussie need for a COLD beer at the end of a long day. Most Chinese seem to drink it at room temperature but this really did not sit well with this team. Green soon had it organised, however, and now cold beer greets us whenever we arrive at a hotel in the evening. Green is a marvel of organisational ability and we would be doubly lost without her. We would be lost physically, our Garmin maps are near to useless and also we would be lost comfort-wise as Green tries to ensure all our needs are met. A great member of the team; we have all come to love her!

That night Green organised a superb dinner of various types of dumplings, BBQ lamb skewers of a wonderful flavour, various spiced BBQ vegetables and, of course, more cold beer. Even Ros is drinking the beer, as it is cold. Water, the preferred tipple, also comes at room temperature so is not altogether palatable.

 

Day 35A: Qufu – Birthplace of Confucius

We were met after breakfast by Kevin, a guide from whose knowledge of the history of Confucius, the Confucian Temple and the Confucian Mansion was, we were to lean, extremely extensive.

First stop was at the gates of the Temple where every morning there is ceremony / performance which leads to the opening of the gates for the day. This ceremony revolves around the five ‘studies’, calligraphy, mathematics, archery, music and dance. This was very colourful and interesting, and certainly a fascinating introduction to the temple.

The Temple is built on the site of Confucius’s original and very modest three room house and open air classroom where he taught young students his philosophy on life. Confucius, who lived in the 6th century BC, did try to interest the Emperor of the time in his philosophy and encourage him to adopt this as the way in which to rule his kingdom. When this failed he travelled for 13 years from state to state trying to find a ruler who would adopt his ideas. However, he was not successful and it was not until the 2nd century BC that it became the official ideology of the Han dynasty, therefore gaining mainstream acceptance. This Temple was built well after Confucius, has been added to many times, and enclosed by an imperial style wall. It was partially destroyed during the cultural revolution, later to be restored to what you see today.

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The Temple is very extensive, with 9 large courtyards and 300 rooms inside its walls. The courtyards are filled with immensely old Cyprus trees and the age of each is indicated by a label: green, less than 500 years old, blue, 500 to 1,000 years old and red, 1,000 to 1,500 years old! The buildings are very beautiful, roof lines are fabulous and painted sections very decorative.

Throughout the grounds are stelae documenting imperial gifts and sacrifices from the Han dynasty onwards and one particularly treasured example of calligraphy which is used as a model for calligraphers to this day. These stelae are often mounted on baby dragons, animal like figures with a dragon’s head, turtle’s back, eagle’s feet and a snake’s tail.

We did miss out on seeing the inside of Dacheng Hall where there is a huge statue of Confucius. This was due to the fact that a group of students and their teachers were making a ceremonial presentation to Confucius this morning in recognition of his inspirational status as a master teacher. Above his statue in Dacheng Hall are the words, ‘ model teacher for all ages’. The student ceremony was very impressive and certainly added to our visit.

From the temple we went to the Confucian Mansion which is a maze of living quarters, reception rooms, offices and studies. The mansion buildings were moved from the temple building to their present site in 1377 and then considerably enlarged over the years to now include 560 rooms! We did not see them all!

The mansion was probably the most luxurious private residence in China thanks to Imperial sponsorship and the fact that the Kong family were powerful rulers with rights over taxation and execution in Qufu, which was an autonomous state.  The mansion has been occupied by Confucius’ 78 generations of decedents until 1949 when they left to go to Taiwan.  Apparently over one third of the residents of Qufu are decedents with the name Kong.

The Emperor was the only person who could pass over the ramped entrance, above, to part of the temple as the carving contains the dragon, a symbol of power. The Emperor was carried in his palanquin and the bearers walked up stairs to either side of the carved ramp while the Emperor’s chair passed over the dragon. Further on, John rubbed the dragon’s nose for good luck.

Once inside, we stood in front of the ceremonial gate which was only opened to allow Emperors to pass through it. Now it is opened for descendants of Confucius to pass through.

35 Gate

The living quarters were separate from the offices and reception rooms and to reach them you had to pass through a very narrow passageway which was easily defended, and always guarded. One interesting feature was that boys from the age of 12 were not allowed to enter the living quarters. However, they were responsible for bringing water to the residence. So, large stone trough was filled by jugs born by these boys and the water flowed through to the living quarters at the back of the complex.

It was a bit frustrating that we could not get into some of the rooms but had to view them through dirty glass windows. There was no attempt to rope off sections of rooms and allow people to get into the rooms without getting near the furniture, as we would see in Australia or famous residences throughout the world. Furniture etc on display looked very dusty and ill maintained, unfortunately.

From the residential section of the mansion we wandered through some beautiful gardens until it was time to head back to the hotel for our departure.

Day 34: Another Long Drive

Prelude: if you are having trouble seeing the pictures, or if they are too small, may we suggest you read the blog on the web page (bastians.com.au) rather than in the email.

Someone (ie John and the travel agent) got today’s distance wrong.  500 kms sounded long enough but when Ian (Vulcan, today’s leader) conferred with Green it turned out to be 750 km from Shanghai to Qufu, Confucius’ birthplace and tonight’s stop.

So an early 6:30 start.  Partially we needed to start then as only local vehicles are allowed on the city motorways between 7 and 10, but clearly the need to get going meant we had little choice.

     Leaving Shanghai the motorways were clear: the first time we had seen green.  

                                                         Read the red bin carefully!

I had expected to have little to say about the day, until a radio call came from the front: caution we are stopping ahead.  And we did, for 2.5 hours!  An accident ahead meant the traffic was stopped and definitely not moving.  After noting that the queue extended far into the distance, lunch was called.

                           Lunch stop on the motorway.          River view included!

After a satisfying feed of purloined rolls and salad followed by tea on the motorway, the mechanical members of the team got restless: any issues which need attention?  I think each car had its bonnet up at one stage during the stop!

                    Dave doing some maintenance.              Between the carriageways on the           motorways there are trees planted and pruned the whole way.

Goldie has been running a bit rough (hardly surprising after 6,000 kms) but the plugs were clean, however one lead was a bit loose.  Another non-urgent repair was the high beam which was not working. Initially we thought it might be the relay, however extensive testing after a quick call to Stuart back in Sydney, chased it back to a dicky switch in the indicator stalk off the steering column.  All good now.

Apart from chatting and being disposed of the seat (driver’s seat) in the shade by the restless mechanics fixing the high beam, Ros unearthed her book and relaxed. Getting time to read is a bit tricky so you grab the chance when you can!

The locals were, of course, inquisitive, looking into engine bays, passing tools, etc.  At one stage I had to comment that it was a bit difficult getting my own head under Goldie’s bonnet!

                                  Hard to look into your own engine.  Ros relaxing!

And then the call went up: we are moving and within 10 kms it was back to mayhem Chinese traffic.  As there were numerous trucks, the right (slow) lane is full of them and so the impatient locals drove between the lanes, cutting in on the front bumper and swerving at will.  The really ‘good’ ones drove down the emergency lane, jumping back in where it narrowed over a bridge and often crossing 2 lanes with no warning, and all at 100+ kph. We are getting very good at holding the line against marauding Chinese drivers who want to cut in in front of you by zooming up and passing you on the right and then cutting in, usually in a very dangerous manner. It is sometimes safer to block them out rather than risk an accident having them cut in with at most inches to spare.

              Tailgating Dash at 100Km             Why not use the emergency lane to overtake?

The rest of the drive was relatively uneventful, just more fending off Chinese drivers and dicing with heavily laden trucks. Not very relaxing driving!

Samples of Chinese infrastructure:  30 km of road widening with construction equipment along the whole way.     Build a new high speed train

34 18 cars

The most vehicles yet on one transporter: 18 trucks on the car loader.

Day 33: Shanghai

A non-car day! We were picked up by a colleague of Green’s, Helen, for a bus tour of Shanghai. There was some concern that we would spend the whole day in the bus in the traffic and not see much, however our fears were completely ungrounded with the bus moving easily around the city and always to hand when we needed to move from one site to another. Really quite restful!

Shanghai is really a very pretty city, a statement seemingly at variance with its huge population. Many of the streets are tree lined, with young to mature plane trees arching over the traffic. Many of the streets are lined by planter boxes filled with flowering plants, while traffic islands at street intersections often had large gardens planted out with flowers. Along the Bund a beautiful vertical garden stretched, over two sections, for about 150 metres.

The river these days cuts the city in half and from the Bund you can see the superstructure of ships sailing past!

Our first stop was at the Temple of the Jade Buddha originally built in the early 1800s. All the temples in Shanghai were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, including this one. The Jade Buddha survived, and this is a fascinating story. Later recognised as a very good Prime Minister, Chou En Lai, who was pretty high up hierarchy at the time of the Cultural Revolution, decided that the Jade Buddha really should be preserved for future generations. The Buddha is carved from one single piece of white jade weighing, with its pedestal, nearly two tons. Chou En Lai dressed some monks as soldiers and then placed the Jade Buddha behind a huge photo of Mao Tse Tung with the ‘soldiers’ to guard the photo (Buddha). And so the Jade Buddha was saved from destruction. (Not allowed to photograph this, however.)

33 Shanghai_jade temple

The temple has been completely rebuilt since the freeing up of restrictions on religion and the Jade Buddha returned to its ‘original’ home. In the same room around the Jade Buddha there were niches with lots of little Buddha. Apparently you can pay for one of these at RMB50,000 a pop. Not a bad business for the temple, considering John counted over 1,000 in 3 or 4 of the rooms!

The whole temple complex is very beautiful with many other places of worship within the temple complex. In one can be found three figures of Buddha representing the present, past and future. Down each side of this temple there are golden statues of monks. The whole is enormously elaborate.

33 Shanghai_guards

In another part of the temple the four points of the compass are depicted each representing something other than just a direction with North (weather), South (fight), East (music) and West (snake).

33 Shanghai_eastfigure

There are many beautiful artefacts throughout the temple complex with beautifully and intricately carved screens being amongst the most interesting and beautiful as well as a new Buddha made of wood covered in gold leaf. A temple certainly worth visiting.

Then it was off to the French Concession area, the area controlled by the French when they were trading with a ‘closed’ China back in the 1800s. There was also an area known as the British Concession which today is separate from the French Concession by a very large elevated freeway!

The French Concession has largely been demolished and rebuilt in the last 20 years (by Hong Kong investors we were told). There is only one remaining original building, originally a private residence, now an exclusive private club. The area is pretty and the original architecture has been replicated, but obviously the whole area is very new. It has essentially become a restaurant, café, shopping precinct and apparently this is where many expats feel most at home.

Then we drove through the Peoples Square, which was once the race course. This is now a large park surrounded by government buildings including the National Museum and the Shanghai Development Board. Then it was on to the Bund. (Helen, our guide for the day, was very helpful and constantly adapted the program to suit the group’s needs and wishes.)

Apparently there was a move to demolish the old colonial buildings along the Bund, however, thankfully, they have sensibly been preserved and the Bund itself has been upgraded and has a beautiful pedestrian precinct along the river edge. Again, the beautification of the city is evident in the fabulous vertical garden which forms part of this precinct. The old buildings which front the Bund are very beautiful and very typical of the era in which they were built. Like other colonial buildings around the world they were designed to reflect the power and influence of the country which built them, and they do this still.

Across the river from the Bund lies the Pedong, a peninsular of land formed by a huge curve in the river. In 1986 when we visited Shanghai with Jo, who was then 17 months old, the Pedong area was nothing but rice paddies. They started building this second half of Shanghai in 1990 and so in 27 years this area has gone from rice paddies to an area of thickly towering skyscrapers of multiple shapes and sizes. Perhaps the jewel in the crown of these buildings is the Pearl, a soaring tower adorned with pink pearl like spheres. Either side of this building are two more spheres, each emblazoned with a map of the world with China depicted front and centre. China can build a complete city of millions in 27 years, NSW can’t even duplicate the Pacific Highway between Sydney and the border with Qld in this time!!

33 Shanghai_pearl

After the visit to the Bund we headed off to the Old Town. Here are to be found the old Chinese buildings of the original Shanghai. How many of these are actually original and how many have been rebuilt it is hard to know. Certainly the roof lines are very traditional, as is the entrance gate which has been replicated in China Towns around the world. We had a dumpling lunch here and wandered around an area which really only caters for tourists looking for souvenirs.

33 Shanghai_oldtown

Then we went to a roof top tea house for a tea ceremony. This was very interesting with some fascinating teas, all Chinese, with some exceptionally pretty flower like arrangements appearing in glasses when the tea leaves swelled up by being immersed in boiling water. There were two teas which were particularly beautiful, one called Romeo and the other Juliet!!

Tea ceremony explained      Tea tasting cup             Romeo in full ‘flower’

It was then back to the hotel for most of the group. John and I elected to be dropped off near the National Museum as we wanted to spend some time exploring the various exhibits here. We looked at the collection of paintings from across the ages, many of which had been preserved from BC times and were still in pretty immaculate condition. Chinese painting is dominated by nature; landscapes, flowers, trees, fish and birds in particular. Studies of people also feature, portraits and, more likely, head to toe depictions of people. The vertical scroll landscapes were very familiar to us, we have owned two since our 1986 trip when we bought two depicting the River Li from the artist himself after our trip by ferry down this river.

Perhaps even more fascinating and something we had not seen before were the horizontal scrolls depicting landscapes. These paintings drew you in and suggested you might like to walk with the artist through the landscape as you progressed along the paintings. The paintings were approximately 6 metres in length but probably only 400cm high, which emphasised the lineal nature of the painting and which strengthened the feeling of strolling through the landscapes depicted. You felt that there had to be a story involved with these paintings, that they were more than just a painting of a landscape. They left open to the viewer the opportunity to imagine what this story might be.

We also looked at the furniture section and again, having lived in Singapore, much of this furniture was familiar, though there were certainly beautiful examples of decoratively carved screens in a range of beautiful woods and some fabulous book shelves with scroll drawers, all of which were beautifully carved and decorated. There was an elaborate red lacquer table and chairs but my favourite had to be the screen with the dyed ivory panel (yes from a time before this type of use of ivory became illegal) which was exquisite.

Then there were the centuries old tiny carved jade pieces. These were extraordinary in the detail in such tiny carvings and the pieces ranged across a number of uses but mostly were related to ornaments or buckles etc for hair and clothing.

Perhaps the most interesting exhibit for us was the pottery and porcelain exhibition. Many of the pottery examples on show reminded me of ancient pottery found in both Africa and also South America, particularly Bolivia and Peru. It has long fascinated me that civilizations which are continents apart nevertheless develop utensils, bowls vases and such which, because they are designed for the same use, or depict similar animals, end up being reminiscent of each other. Some of the pottery was thousands of years old and still in immaculate condition, some archaeologist’s dream find, no doubt.

After the pottery section you were led through the development of Chinese porcelain and of course the adoption of the generic name ‘china’ for all porcelain as it was exported to Europe and the west. Finally, the exhibition led us inevitably to Jingdezhan where the development of Chinese porcelain reached its zenith. Here the famous blue glaze was developed, as was the red underglaze and finally the use of multiple colours on each individual piece of porcelain. Also, we saw examples of the beautiful celadon glaze, that almost translucent pale green glaze which characterises this style of Chinese porcelain. All this is, of course, made possible by the reservoirs of kaolin clay in China, a mountain of which exists just outside Jngdezhen, or more literally these days, half a mountain.

The building housing the museum is beautiful in its own right. The exhibition galleries are accessed via escalators and stairs which are at two ends of a huge square atrium which has a beautiful glass dome arching over it letting in floods of natural light. The galleries themselves have beautiful woodwork around the huge glass display units and every detail of each room and the atrium enhances the historic nature of the displays in this building as well as maintaining an elegant Chinese flavour. This is a wonderful museum, completely free to enter, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time here.

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Internal view of the National Museum

We held our evening meeting in the Tipsy Fiddler across the road from the hotel, much top the amusement of the waitress and the other patrons and then, with Kay and Mike, followed Loris and Ian onto the metro. Currently Shanghai has 16 lines with another 6 being built and in service by 2020! We went to East Nanjing Road, the stop for the Bund and wandered around with the thousands of other locals and tourists to see the lights of Pedong across the river.

Back along Nanjing Road and up to the 5th floor for a random guess at a restaurant. It turned out to be a hot pot restaurant and the staff giggled as we tried to order. Mike excelled himself again with google translator on his phone and selected the meats and vegetables to cook in the hot pot.

It would seem that Chinese eat a lot earlier than we are used to: by the time we had finished the kitchen staff had moved into the restaurant and were enjoying their dinner (with their eyes glued to the compulsory mobile phone). A great night out.

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Day 32: A Car Day

Peter and Michael have, over the past year, being in contact with the Chinese manufacturers of MG and the Shanghai MG Car Club.

Their efforts paid off today with a factory tour, big lunch and servicing of our cars.

Worries about the traffic (is this a recurring theme of Shanghai) meant a 7:15 start to drive to the SIAC Passenger Car factory on the outskirts of Shanghai.  Lead by Gary, the marketing manager of SIAC, plus supported by Adin, brand marketing director, plus a photographer in a third car, we set off in a long train.

Leaving the hotel

The promised 1.5 hour drive took 3 hours, oh well!

Arriving at the factory

We arrived for a presentation on the factory and here are some details: the factory produces 880 cars per day, half MGs; there are 370 robots in the factory; they start with rolled steel to make panels; the assembly workshop is 44,000 sq mts; around 5,000 employees; 2 other factories in China; sell around 20,000 passenger cars per month in China.

Welcome at the factory.  the factory (taken from a slide!)

Some other numbers: SAIC is now ranked 46 by Fortune 500, overall SAIC sell 6.48 million vehicles a year, while VW is largest single passenger car brand selling 2 million cars in China a year.  Why should they even think of selling in Australia as the sales would get lost in the rounding!

                        New logo???   The team at the factory

SIAC have just released a smaller MG SUV, the ZS, which might get to Australia later this year, and have released a prototype MG sports car, the E-Motion, an electric vehicle with a claimed range of 400km and spectacularly fast.  Only hard top, but a glass roof!

SIAC also make the ROWE brand (could not buy Rover brand because of Range Rover) and have a hybrid called, wait for it, the PLUG IN!

No photos of the factory tour unfortunately as it was amazing to see the automation: robots placing panels in place (I did not see a person actually lift anything except the hydraulically counter balanced attachment tool); robotic trains called ‘carry ants’ towing pallets of parts across the floor; engine and rear axle assemblies moving up into the bodies and robotic spray painting that gets inside, under and around the bodies.

                      Mike and John present a team shirt.  SIAC present a model GS

A presentation by the GM, including the history of MG!, Mike and I responded and we were presented with a model of the MG GS!  Then off to a lunch with, I estimate because when I realised it was never ending had already lost count, around 20 courses.  All very delicious and tasty.

The SIAC team at lunch.  A sign.

Highlight for Green was when I took the roof off and drove her from the factory to lunch, about 15 minutes along open carless roads: ‘I feel like a movie star’ was her comment.

31 green 4

She had never been in an open car before and enjoyed waving to all and sundry, plus the loud music, and the amazement when we lined up across the four lanes of the road and chased each other in good MG style.

The promised 1.5 hour drive to the service location took 3 hours, oh well! An MG dealer (I know not where in Shanghai) kindly provided us with service facilities: hoists, staff and oil.  But first we were greeted by the MG CC of Shanghai and the boys given car badges (another one for Goldie’s grill) and the ladies MG teddy bears.

A banner was rolled out pictures taken of the team and CC members, of the cars, of handshakes and overall great merriment.

Finally around 4pm we rolled on to the hoists.  Under direction it was fascinating to watch the young mechanics learn how to remove a sump plug and how to use a grease gun.  Once the first car was done, they moved from car to car with this skill!  Additional work on a few cars was necessary and the offer to provide follow up servicing in Beijing was made. It all went quite well, even if it resulted in Mike running from car to car getting more and more worried that we would never finish.

But we did, at 7pm at night, with the whole staff still there and happy to help.  By this time a few of our team had left, so the remaining drivers were spread over the remaining cars (we are not allowed to drive without our guide being with us at all times).  This lead to some confusion especially as the voices didn’t match the cars ‘No Mike I am Shiraz, you are Burgundy!’ We were lead again by Gary with one of our team in the passenger seat relaying directions, who by this time had been with us since 7 this morning.

A very hard day: over 13 hours on the road (actually we were in the cars driving for longer than any day so far, just that we only went 150 kms) / in the factory / at lunch / working on the cars and I expect everyone fell into bed.

31 model

Goldie in her element!

But the cars have been serviced!

PS some pictures as we rolled through Shanghai

Day 31: May 2

We set off from Huangshan Jianguo Hotel in drizzling rain, not a great start to a 450km day. As it is my birthday I decided to lead and enjoy being out front.

Our guide, Green, was very worried about the holiday traffic plus getting into Shanghai so we decided to pass up any side visits and just use the service centres on the motorways.  Now that we are in a more populated part of China the service centres are becoming less depressing (or are we becoming more familiar?) and we are finding the free hot water, supermarkets and restaurants (plus of course petrol) not too bad.

The power lines leading into Shanghai – when we saw the Bund at night we realised why so many.  Accident and tea tress beside the road

We made it into Shanghai by around 3pm, before the traffic and allowing everyone to have a few free hours.  Interesting to see as everyone emptied their car of all bags, back packs and other parcels collected on the road: clearly there will be a fair amount of repacking, washing and rearranging done over the 3 nights we are here.

Evening briefing with Gary from SIAC outline tomorrow’s visit.  Dinner with the team

Highlight of the day (for me at least) was having a slap up (non-Chinese) dinner with 15 of my closest friends.  We have been travelling together 31 days and are getting to know each other very closely: who likes hot food, who worries about running out of petrol, who wants to know exactly where they are, who likes to stay at the back, who dislikes the early morning starts (everyone!) and so forth.

 

                        Steak and Chocolate cake!  What a birthday

Ros has organised (via Lindy, via Dan and expat Australia living in Shanghai) a cosy Italian restaurant near-by, which had not only good wine, but Australian steaks (tasted excellent).  All good holding a knife and folk after only using chop sticks for the last 2 weeks.

30 w Ros

Thank you Ros for a great birthday

An excellent chocolate cake to finish off!