ISLANDEARTH / News / Tue 05 May 2020

Travel - China

Travel - China

I visited China August 2019 it has taken me a while to finally edit the images on the website. I used a Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera and a lens that I bought for the trip a 16-55mm short telephoto, it saved changing lenses and is another level up from my other Fuji lenses. My visit was primarily to see my son who is at University in Suzhou. He was determined I saw as much of China as possible in the time we had there, which to be fair is not a lot as the place is vast. We did see Shanghai with plenty of tourist attractions including the Bund where you get the magnificent view over the man-made water to the famous Oriental Pearl tower and the finance district. As we were walking past the Apple Store, Rolex and all the other high end retail shops we turned down an alley where we saw a guy having a shower in the middle of the street. I think this is where capitalism sits next to communism.

We moved on to Suzhou and visited the canals. Suzhou by the way is known as the Venice of China the guys punting the boats were characters and were always up for their picture taken. We also visited the university campus which is vast and has a very high student population. One evening we went to a street where street vendors drive in on their three-wheeler bikes and set up to sell street food, which was excellent, for some reason a coach tried to drive down the road causing havoc, they apparently do this regularly. Young rich lads also turn up in their super cars Lamborghini’s etc revving their engines (kids and cars). Suzhou has many lakes surrounding the city, which is very vibrant and as the sun sets the buildings across the shore light up which is quite an attraction for the visitors and locals.

On one of the evenings in Suzhou we had a traditional Chinese Hotpot meal where you can choose your ingredients, you are given an apron; which made me think this could be messy. In the centre of the table is a big Wok type pot, meanwhile the waiter comes over and puts in the oil and the sauces to cook the food it reminded me of a fondue. I highly recommend it. On the other table was a group of Chinese business men getting more and more drunk, it was hilarious.

Our final leg of the trip was Beijing we got there by travelling on the high-speed train that puts our (slow) train system in the UK in to perspective, even though it was busy it was organised and comfortable; everyone had a seat. In Beijing we visited Tiananmen Square, The forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall of China. One thing that I noticed is that we were putting in the miles, we were doing over 5,000 steps; everything is huge. Luckily my son speaks Mandarin and he has WePay on his phone, which made a huge difference for booking and buying tickets. Interestingly when we were queuing to buy a train ticket (you do a lot of that in China) the Chinese were looking at us as if we were going to hold them up. The cashier was surprise that my son could speak Mandarin and we were quicker than most to buy the tickets, which wasn’t a straight forward purchase.

When visiting the Summer Palace, we entered by the North gate going through the replica Suzhou market it did look like Suzhou on the water with the boats. The palace is situated on the top of the hill so we had a steady walk up longevity hill with the multitude of other tourists. When you get to the top you can see the Kunming lake which has boats sailing along the lake. Along the way though there is a set of beautiful Tibetan style temples called The Four Great Regions that represent the four directions of the world. In the centre of these buildings is the praying hall with giant Buddha statues where visitors can pray. There is also the Garden of Virtue and Harmony. This part of the Summer Palace was used as living quarters, to entertain guests, and meet with political and diplomatic officials. As you carry on down the hill using the steep staircase these leads you towards the lake where you can see the 17-arch bridge that connects to an island in the lake.

On our visit to the Forbidden City we walked past the building Chairman Mao’s tomb is, that had a huge queue waiting to get in and on through the vast Tiananmen Square to the entrance of the Forbidden City. The day was very warm but overcast mainly due to the smog, but this didn’t stop the vast throng of Chinese using umbrellas to shade them in case the sun did break through. I got poked in the face a few times. There was the Palace museum that gave you 3000 years of history. The forbidden city hasn’t changed and is in the centre of Beijing and is a throwback to a different time where the Emperor, Empress and his concubines lived where everyone else was forbidden to hence its name. The place is huge and you can walk right through visiting the Hall of Supreme Harmony Hall of Preserving Harmony and Palace of Earthly Tranquillity on to Jingshan park where you can get some elevation and look back down on to the Forbidden City.

At the Temple of Heaven, I particularly liked the shape of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests with its round shape it is the largest ancient wooden building in China. There was plenty of space around it for photo opportunities and people made the most of it. I actually enjoyed photographing them capturing their experience. We then moved south over the Danbi Bridge, one of the oldest passageways in ancient Beijing. The whole complex seemed more open and accessible, despite the umbrella’s being out in force again.

To get to the Great Wall we had to take a two-hour coach journey then catch a cable car up to the wall, we were recommended to go to a certain gate in order to have time to get back for the coach again. The walk was up and down and by the time we got back that was enough exercise and walking for one day. We were higher up in the mountainous terrain so the air was fresher which was nice being out of the city. The sun was also able to break through the smog a bit more, good job I took some sunscreen. As ever there was a mass of people so taking photographs of just the wall wasn’t an option you just have to try and use the people as part of the shot I was particularly pleased to get a photograph of two kids playing on their own, which seemed to capture the mood of the place. You’ve got to wonder what it was like when it was being guarded the bit we saw seemed to go on forever. On the way back we had a beer at the bottom of the cable car lift before we hopped back on to the coach heading back in to Beijing.

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