Articles tagged with "china"

Stanley

Stanley

I went to Stanley on my last day in Hong Kong. I didn’t have any particular aim in mind, I just wanted to see a part of the island outside the city. I wandered through the market a few times, bought some souvenirs, then walked along the sea shore and watched boats passing. I liked the place; the city was just over the hill but the town was very tranquil and relaxed. The market was busy but it was nothing like as crowded as the Peak had been the night before.

After I’d seen enough of the market and the sea, I headed back to the city. I had an idea that I’d go to Lantau island and see what there was there, but it was already 4pm. Lantau is twice the size of Hong Kong island and I thought a couple of hours wouldn’t really do it justice. I’d liked Hong Kong so much more than I’d expected that I knew I’d be coming back. I decided to leave Lantau for the next time.


The Peak

The Peak

In the evening I took a tram up to the Peak. At the top was one of the most horrifically commercialised places in a horrifically commercialised city – a towering arcade of shops and cafes, which it took ages to climb through to get to the viewing area. And I was not the only one to make the trip up. Hundreds of eager photographers were jostling for position as the sun set and the city began to look spectacular. Politeness was not rewarded and so after a while of trying to take photos through the sea of heads and arms, I elbowed my way to the front and took in the view for a while. Eventually I was barged aside and shoved towards the back again.

Despite the crowds, the view was pretty breathtaking. The forest of skyscrapers looked incredible as it lit up. I had never had a particular sense of urgency about visiting Hong Kong and had only come here as an aside to my China trip. But now I was here, I was loving it. It was like nowhere I’d ever been before. It was compact and incredibly easy to get around but there were endless things to do and see. I only had one more day left but I thought I could fill weeks.

As I tried to leave, so did everyone else, and it took me an hour to get onto a tram back down.


Man Mo

Man Mo

Back in Hong Kong, I went for a walk around Hong Kong Island. I took the escalators from Central to the Mid-Levels, which took about twenty minutes. Then I wandered slowly back down towards the harbour. I passed the Man Mo temple and had a look in.

It was a sunny day outside, but in the temple the atmosphere was choking. Hundreds of incense coils were burning, and the air was dusty. Only a few shafts of sunlight found their way into the darkness. A few people were making offerings to the effigies of Man the god of literature and Mo the god of war. It reminded me a bit of when I visited San Simón in Guatemala.

I couldn’t stay inside for long. I took a few photos which came out blurred, came out gasping for fresh air, then went back in for another try. I got the picture I wanted, left a small offering to the local gods, and then headed on.


Macau

Macau

I got a ferry to Macau. As I boarded at the Kowloon ferry terminal, I noticed a sign saying “Dumb walkway swaying. Passengers up-and-down be careful”. Normally I think it’s a bit churlish for foreigners to mock the “Chinglish” which is quite common in these parts. After all, our languages are radically different, and it’s just nice for English-speakers to have signs approximately understandable. But this one was really a good one. The dumb walkway didn’t sway and I got onto the boat without needing to be particularly up-and-down careful.

It was a wet squally day, but I was still disappointed that there was no deck to go out and stand on as we powered across the Pearl River Delta. We docked at Macau just after midday, and it began to rain as I walked towards the centre. Soon it was wildly torrential downpour, and as I took refuge in the doorway of a megacasino I chatted to two passing Bangladeshi students visiting from Shenzhen.

Eventually the rain eased off, and I headed for the Fortaleza da Guia, a Portuguese fortress on the highest point in the city. I’d imagined that Macau would be quite similar to Hong Kong but it had an incredibly different feel to it. The number of colossal tower blocks was staggering, and most of them looked to me like they might crumble and fall at any moment.


Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong was nearly a disaster. I walked through Hung Hom station, found a cashpoint and realised I didn’t have my wallet with me. I searched around for a lost property office, working out what kind of a plan I might have if the wallet was lost. I was imagining getting around by walking, and eating a slice of bread once a day, but luckily when I found the office, they radioed the train and someone found my wallet on the floor of my compartment.

I would have like Hong Kong anyway, but having seen my trip come back from the brink of disaster I was in an excellent mood as I walked out into Kowloon. I headed for Nathan Road and the Chungking Mansions, an incredible rabbit warren of restaurants, shops, currency exchanges and cheap accommodation. You can’t walk into the mansions carrying a rucksack and not get hassled by hotel owners, and I allowed myself to be persuaded into a place on the third floor. For a negligible cost I got myself a spot in a tiny airless room with two stainless steel traders from Bombay and a traveller from Melbourne.

It was cool and humid. As evening fell I walked down to the tip of the Kowloon peninsula, for my first view of the skyline of Hong Kong Island.


Train to Hong Kong

Train to Hong Kong

It took me a while to buy my ticket to Hong Kong. The easy bit was knowing I needed to ask for ‘Jiulong’, the Mandarin for Kowloon. The much harder bit was finding the ticket office. After lengthy periods in three different queues in two different buildings near Shanghai train station, I finally got my hands on a ticket.

While I’d been in Beijing, watching China’s English-language news channel, one of the stories was that the national rail network had just been upgraded and all journeys were now quicker. If I’d taken this train a week ago it would have been a 24 hour journey, but today it was down to 20 hours. I got a China exit stamp and boarded the train. We headed out of Shanghai, and for hours we passed through its vast suburbs. I didn’t see any significant area of green land before the sun set.

It had been sunny when I left Shanghai. In the morning, we were in the rice fields of southern China, under heavy skies and with rain lashing down. I watched the terraces go by and we approached Hong Kong. I went in search of breakfast, and found the restaurant car just as they were packing away what looked like a magnificent feast. Luckily there was a small shop selling snacks, and I bought some small cakes to see me through the rest of the journey.

We stopped in Guangzhou for a while, then pushed on towards Hong Kong. Soon after Shenzhen, we reached the border, which couldn’t have been clearer – the concrete of Shenzhen abruptly stopped, and the green forests of the New Territories started. The train wound through the mountains, past small villages which became larger villages and towns and eventually the suburbs of Kowloon. At 1pm, on time to the minute, we pulled into Hung Hom Station.


Train to Shanghai

Train to Shanghai

In the morning I was woken at 7am by a thunderstorm, and felt disorientated to find myself in a strange room. I couldn’t sleep, and no-one else was up, so I decided to just hit the road. I’d thought about heading out to the river to see if I could get a boat down to Shanghai, but with heavy rain falling I decided just to get a train. I got the metro to the train station, taking note of the signs instructing me to ‘wait in safe-line’ and ‘care the gap’.

The station was a scene of chaos, and I felt that my lack of Chinese and shattered state was going to make things tricky. But the queues were fast moving, and the English-speaking girl behind the window sold me a ticket for a train leaving for Shanghai in ten minutes. I got on, found my way to a seat, and then slept all the way to Shangai, dreaming crazy dreams.

It was 4pm when I arrived in China’s biggest city, and I hadn’t eaten all day. I got on the metro, assisted by a friendly local who I thought might be after a tip like the woman at Beijing airport had been, but he wasn’t. He asked me where I was going, showed me how to buy a ticket, and was gone before I could say ‘xie xie’. And so I headed from the train station to Henan Zhong Lu, and walked down to the Huangpu River.


Nanjing

Nanjing

Often when I revisit places I’ve been before, I somehow find it difficult to see anything new. It’s too easy just to visit the familiar. I avoided that possibility in Beijing by leaving immediately after the conference. I took a very cheap flight to Nanjing. Lauren, who I’d met on the train to Istanbul a year earlier, was spending a year in China teaching English, and so I decided to spend a couple of days in Nanjing on my way towards Hong Kong.

Nanjing was incredibly different to Beijing. It’s a city of 7 million people but still seemed quite small and manageable compared to the capital. And it is vastly more cosmopolitan, with a huge expat scene. I liked it a lot as soon as I arrived, because I managed to work out firstly how to get a bus from the airport to the city, and then more importantly, where to get off. I left myself with just a short walk down a leafy avenue to get to the university.

I spent a day exploring the city. I thought I would walk from the university to Purple Mountain, which didn’t look far on the map, but turned out to be far enough that I didn’t make it. In Beijing on my first trip there, I’d assumed that city blocks were quite small and that it would take less than half an hour to walk from one corner to the next. I’d been wrong then, and I was wrong again here. This city wasn’t designed to be walked across.


Return to Beijing

Return to Beijing

I spent the summer of 2002 working on my PhD in the astronomy department at PKU in Beijing. I had an amazing time in China and so I was very happy when an opportunity to return arose – a conference to be held in the outskirts of Beijing. So, on a Sunday evening in April I headed to Heathrow to start my journey back to China.

Disaster struck early in the journey. Although it was a Sunday there were a few thesis-writing PhD students in the office, and I got a call from one of them saying I’d left my laptop behind. It was too late for me to go back. I tried to persuade them that they could catch the Heathrow Express and get to the airport before me (I was taking the tube) and save me the embarrassment of turning up for my first ever conference talk without said talk in my possession. But they didn’t feel like racing across London on account of my forgetfulness, so I went to China without the main reason for my going.

I was tired and jetlagged when I arrived in China. I got a taxi from the airport to the conference venue in the Fragrant Hills, near where I’d climbed Incense Burner Peak with a People’s Liberation Army engineer on a fearsomely hot August day five years earlier. I managed to transfer my talk from college onto a computer here in China, and so I was able to give my presentation the next day when the conference got under way. A constant supply of green tea kept me awake when necessary during the three days of conference.


Out of China

Out of China

My day started brutally early at 4am, and I finished packing with a hint of dawn in the sky. I left my flat for the last time at 5am, walked along to the East Gate and found a taxi. I was worn out by the time I got there, and regretted having bought so much stuff, which I would have to carry eight thousand miles home.

I watched the blocks of sky scrapers go by. As we drove along Chang’an, the sun was just peeking over the horizon, and the flag was being raised in Tiananmen Square. I got to the station in plenty of time and found my way to the waiting room. I got on the train at 7am, and found my way to my compartment. It seemed unbelievable to think that it would be my home for the next six days.

As we started to pull out of Beijing Station at 7.40am, I was feeling something like butterflies in my stomach with the anticipation of what this journey would be like. I watched as Beijing gradually melted away into the surrounding hills, and after a couple of hours we were in rural northern China. A few scattered parts of the Great Wall occasionally appeared on the tops of hills.

Tired from my early start, I slept a bit during the day, but mostly I was just watching the scenery go by. By 7pm, we were a few hundred miles from Beijing, and we were in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. An amazing sunset was the last thing I saw in China, and a couple of hours after nightfall we reached the border with Mongolia at Erlian.

We spent five hours at the border. First of all, all the wheels on the train had to be changed, because the tracks in Mongolia are wider than the ones in China. Then we had passport and customs checks from the Chinese, a long slow rumble over the border to Dzamyn Ude, and then more passport and customs checks from the Mongolians. The Mongolian entry forms were printed in Mongolian and English only, and so I made many Chinese friends in my carriage by filling in all their forms for them. I had offered the favour to my three room-mates, not knowing that they had about twenty friends in neighbouring compartments. My wrist was aching by the time we left Dzamyn Ude at 2.30am.


Last day

Last day

My final day in China dawned amazingly cool and fresh. I had lots to finish so I was up and about early, and my first task was to take some photos of the campus. I headed out at 6am, and spent a couple of hours walking around, enjoying Chinese park life. A couple of times I’d been across here early enough to see all the communal activities that take place in Chinese parks early in the morning. What I liked best was the ranks of people practising their taiji moves. There were also people practising plays, speaking English to each other, jogging, and all sorts of other things. It seemed like a very friendly atmosphere, and I was sad to be leaving this.

In the evening, I went out for a meal with Xiaowei, some other professors in the department, and a few of the students. We went to a place near the campus that did Peking Duck, and although I’d largely lost my sense of taste due to a head injury two years previously, I could taste enough to find it absolutely delicious. In the usual Chinese way, a constant stream of food was brought out, which twice as many people would have had difficulty finishing. Tasty dish after tasty dish arrived at the table, and I was bloated and waddling by the time we left.

I said goodbye to everyone, went for a last walk around the campus lake, and then headed back to my apartment on Chengfu Lu to pack up. I’d had a fantastic six weeks in Beijing, but now I was looking forward to a long journey home.


Fragrant Hills

Fragrant Hills

It was my last free day in Beijing. I got up at 5am because I wanted to go to Shidu, but again I was thwarted – the weather was horrible, with rain lashing down. I stayed at home until 10am or so, by which time the weather was nicer but it was too late to think about going to Shidu.

I decided instead to go to Xiang Shan – the Fragrant Hills. This would be my greatest triumph on the buses – I went to a nearby bus stop, and after only half an hour of staring at the map in a deep trance of pure concentration, I worked out that I could get the 332 to Yiheyuan and then the 737 to Xiang Shan.

As I got off the bus and walked towards the park entrance, a guy walking along beside me started talking to me. His name was Yanlong, and he turned out to be an engineer in the People’s LIberation Army, and he was doing one of his three-times-weekly climbs of Incense Burner Peak, the highest point in the park at 557m high. I had been thinking of getting the cable car up there, but felt now that that would involve a serious loss of face. So I said I would be happy to walk up with Yanlong, and up we went.

The heat and humidity made it a difficult climb. People coming down the trail were soaked from head to toe, and I felt like I probably would be too. Yanlong said his best time for the climb was 28 minutes. I thought we’d be lucky to get up in less than an hour. But Yanlong set a rapid pace, and we ascended at speed. Occasionally he would permit a moment’s rest to drink some water. We reached the top in 45 minutes, and I felt shattered. “You did very well!”, said Yanlong, but I’m not sure he really meant it.

It was hazy, but the views from the peak were pretty awesome. I chatted to Yanlong while looking out over the outskirts of Beijing. I was sad that I would soon be leaving: in six weeks I’d started to feel quite at home here. Just as I was getting the hang of the place, I was running out of time.

We ambled slowly down the hill again, passing more sweaty people coming up. At the bottom, I said goodbye to Yanlong. I was glad I’d met him – I might not have climbed the hill otherwise. A decent hike up a hill with a good view was a good thing to have done on my last weekend in Beijing.


Hot, humid

When I first arrived in China it had been viciously humid, but not too hot. Then the humidity dropped and the temperature rocketed, and after a few days I decided I quite liked 40°C temperatures. Over the last couple of days the temperatures had dropped a little bit, but the humidity shot up to 90%. Today was even worse than yesterday had been at Huanghua. I was exhausted by my five minute walk to work, and after twenty minutes outside at lunchtime I was starting to look like someone had thrown a drink over me. I stayed in my air-conditioned office until late. I spent a little while looking up equations for how to convert a temperature and a humidity into what it actually feels like, and for today’s conditions the answers were between 53 and 60°C. I was massively relieved at 9pm when it began to thunder.


Great Wall: Huanghua

Great Wall: Huanghua

Visiting the Great Wall was one of the first things I’d done in China. At Simatai, the setting of the wall is spectacular, but although it’s not as touristy there as other restored parts of the wall, I fancied visiting a more remote part of the wall. I headed for Dongzhimen bus station, and got a bus to Huairou. At Huairou, there should have been a bus to Huanghua, an unrestored and little-visited part of the wall, but I had no map, no idea of where the bus stop might be, and a crowd of taxi drivers telling me there were no buses anyway. Rather than wander aimlessly I decided to go with the taxi plan, and soon afterwards arrived at a hamlet by a reservoir, from which the wall snaked away over the hills.

The weather wasn’t great. It was warm and extremely humid, and mist was draped over the hillsides. Huanghua clearly wasn’t so remote that no-one went there – a small restaurant in town had a sign saying “Mentioned in Lonely Planet! Only restaurant at Huanghua!” on it. But as I set off up the wall I was quickly out of sight of anyone, and enjoyed the solitude.

The wall was crumbling and overgrown here, and it was quite a strenuous hike up it. Soon I was sweating impressively, and after half an hour or so I looked like I’d jumped in a swimming pool. The mist made the scene quite atmospheric, and I was not unhappy that it wasn’t sunny like it had been at Simatai.

I plodded up the wall for three hours, and met two foreigners and five or six locals along the way. I walked up to Gaping Jaw, a valley into which the wall plunges down Sawtooth Slope. The slope was as steep as anything at Simatai, and I would have walked down it, but that would have committed me to probably another hour of walking before another path back to Huanghua unless I wanted to retrace my steps, and I was running out of water. So I headed away from the wall, taking a forest path which led me back to Huanghua village.

I wasn’t sure what I’d arranged with my taxi driver. Due to language difficulties, I had no idea if I’d hired him to take me back to Huairou or not, but when I got back to the village he was there waiting for me. He wasn’t much impressed with how I looked after three hours of hot, humid hiking, though, and he looked like he was going to tell me to bugger off and get the bus. But grudgingly he drove me back to Huairou, and I got a bus back to Beijing from there.


Tiananmen Square again

Tiananmen Square again

I went to Tiananmen Square again this evening. For a few days the weather had been grim but today was much sunnier and hotter. I left work at 3.45pm, and got a disastrously slow bus down the road. It took about two hours to reach the centre, and first of all I went to the Friendship Store to get more cheese. Since my first batch ran out I’d been getting serious cravings. I had no idea how much I’d missed it.

Having done my shopping I headed for the square. As night fell, it was an incredibly pleasant place to be. It was full of families, people playing football and badminton, people flying kites, rollerblading, skateboarding, and generally socialising. The atmosphere was friendly and I stayed for a while, taking a few night photos and liking the vibe a lot.


Mao

Mao

Today I tried to go to Shidu, a scenic area about 100km from Beijing, but when I went to Lianhuachi, where the long distance bus station was supposed to be, I couldn’t find it. This was an unexpected obstacle, and it seemed ridiculous, but I wandered the area for a while and there didn’t seem to be a bus station here. Bemused, I rethought my plans, and headed back to Tiananmen to finally make my acquaintance with Mao.

The skies were heavy and as I found my way to the back of the queue for the mausoleum, it began to rain. I queued for about half an hour, getting wetter and wetter, and so it was quite a disappointment to finally reach to mausoleum only to be rushed through with barely a couple of seconds allowed to glance at the orangey features of China’s ambiguous hero. There were people by the glass case whose job it was to rush us through, and before I knew it I was out the other side, in a tacky souvenir shop. I passed up the opportunity to buy Mao cards, Mao lighters, or a copy of the Thoughts of Chairman Mao.

After Mao, I got the metro to Jianguomen, and visited Beijing’s Ancient Observatory. It sits on top of a watchtower which used to be part of the city walls, and although the surrounding buildings are much taller, the views are pretty impressive. Not exactly aesthetic, but good for getting an impression of the kind of pace Beijing works at, with traffic pouring by and skyscrapers all around.

The Friendship Store was nearby. For years, entry to the store was restricted to foreigners only, excepting maybe a few elite Party members. The opening of China had long since made the concept of a foreigners-only shop redundant, but the Friendship Store still survives. It’s a very easy place to buy souvenirs – more expensive than any market, but plenty of people are willing to pay that premium for a less frenetic shopping experience. I just bought postcards, before heading down to the supermarket in the basement. For me, this was a fantastic place. As well as typical Chinese food – including an entire shark’s fin that could have been mine for just a couple of thousand pounds – it also had things that foreigners like. Cheese is not a big part of Chinese cookery and they certainly didn’t have any in the shop on the university campus, but here they had a huge selection. I suddenly realised how much I’d been missing cheese, and bought a block of edam.

I left the Friendship Store and got the metro to Junshibowuguan station. There was a bus from there to the University and I was determined to work out how to get it. It was actually more straightforward than I’d expected – the information in my guide book was for once not out of date, and it was the number 6 bus I wanted. I knew the characters for ‘Beijing Daxue’, so it was easy to check that it did indeed go to the university. I paid my 2Y fare and vowed not to get a taxi in Beijing again if I could possibly help it.


Tiantan Park

Tiantan Park

The first time I went to Tiananmen Square I was too late in the day to see Chairman Mao. Today I went back to try again, but I couldn’t find the left luggage office to drop off my bag until it was too late. Instead, I chilled in the square in the hot sunshine for a while, only encouraged to move on by the frequent attentions of ‘arts students’. Every time I went anywhere near Tiananmen Square, it would only be a matter of time before I was accosted by someone who would turn out to be a member of a group of arts students from some remote province of China, visiting the capital and with an exhibition near by. The first time, I thought this sounded quite cool and went along to where their exhibition was, saw some moderately interesting art, refused to part with wads of cash to buy any, and went on my way. I realised there was more to this than met the eye when another arts student started talking to me only half an hour later in a different part of town. Almost every time anyone started a conversation with me, they would turn out to be an ‘arts student’. Sometimes they’d give me the spiel straight away; other times we’d chat for quite a few minutes before the truth came out.

As I wandered south with no particular plan in mind, one particularly persistent arts student walked with me. He was quite a bit too old to be a student, and probably, where all the others were only partaking in the mildest of scams, he was actually trying to rip me off. I walked into the narrow streets around Dazhalan, and managed to shake him off in the crowds.

I walked randomly, buying the occasional street snack from a vendor, until I ended up on Qianmen Dajie. I walked down this main road until I got to Tiantan Park, and went to explore the Ming temples in there. Most of the park was very relaxed and pleasant, but the main sight of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests was probably the most crowded place I visited in Beijing. I got caught in a flow of visitors and swept through rapidly. I escaped from the crush and headed over the Bridge of Vermillion Stairway to quieter parts.

I headed north again, and walked to Wangfujing, one of Beijing’s oldest shopping streets. There was an excellent night market here where I bought some great food, my favourite being deep-fried octopus. Once I’d filled up there, I headed home. I’d been getting taxis everywhere so far, as they were cheap and very convenient, but I decided it was time to get acquainted with the public transport system. I got the metro to Xizhimen, the closest metro stop to the university at the time, and got a taxi home from there. My next target was to work out the buses.


Old Summer Palace

Old Summer Palace

The Old Summer Palace was only a short walk from the university, but it was still hard to find. There was an extreme lack of English signage to it, and I hadn’t yet learned more than about 15 chinese characters, so it took me a while to find the entrance and work out where to buy a ticket.

Once I was in, I found it quite a strange place. It was very quiet and tranquil, but with a slightly spooky atmosphere because all the lakes were completely choked with reeds and looked slightly threatening. Inside, there were more English signs than there had been outside, but unfortunately most of these were only to remind me that my forebears had been a bunch of cultural vandals of the highest order. Together with the French, in 1860, the British had destroyed this place, and frequently there were signs marking the spot of some former building which had been one of humanity’s most glorious achievements, only to be torn down by the British and the French.

The palace grounds were vast and maze-like, and I got totally lost. I was still somewhere in the grounds when night began to fall. I was probably only a few metres from the exit, but in the end I had to retrace my steps over the entire route I’d followed to find my way out. I emerged into the city again just as it was getting properly dark.


CCTV Tower

CCTV Tower

It had been unbelievably hot ever since the fog had lifted, a few days after I arrived in China. I’d never experienced anything like it before, but living in an air-conditioned apartment and working in an air-conditioned office made acclimatisation easier. Today it was even hotter still, breaking 40°C. I decided to seek higher altitudes, and thought maybe it would be cooler at the top of the CCTV Tower.

It’s an unfortunate acronym: it stands for China Central Television, but a tower overlooking the entire city being called the CCTV Tower certainly has a bit of a Big Brother air to it. I got a taxi down the road from the University to Gongzhufen metro station, near the tower, and walked the short distance there with the assistance of a couple of litres of cold water that I’d brought with me. The heat was more bearable than I thought it would be, but I drank stunning quantities of water without even trying.

At the tower, I had to leave my bag in the cloakroom at the bottom. This was unfortunate because I was carrying a lot of camera gear. I went into über-tourist mode, draping a camera and two lenses around my neck, and filling my pockets with film. I left my now-empty bag in the cloakroom, and headed up to the observation deck, 238m above the city.

What hit me first was the wind. There was plenty of it up there, and it was hot. It was like standing in a hairdryer, and I felt like all the moisture was being sucked out of me. I’d never felt anything like it before. The next thing that struck me was the view, which was incredible. The tower is in the western part of the city, and looking east I could see nothing but city. A forest of skyscrapers stretched away into the distance, with the flatness of the terrain only interrupted by Jingshan Park a few kilometres away. I was staggered at the number of highrise buildings – London has very few. Beijing probably has more in every central city block than London has in total. Looking west it was a different story. The buildings were getting lower and the Western Hills rose beyond the city limits.

I spent a few hours up the tower, waiting for sunset. When it came it was spectacular, with the lights of this vast, energetic, changing city shining from everywhere, while Venus set into the blazing twilight skies over the Western Hills. I didn’t really want to leave, but I’d run out of water and I couldn’t afford more than one coke in the rotating restaurant. Eventually I had to come down, and in the slightly cooler evening I walked back up to Chengfu Lu.


Summer palace

Summer palace

After a couple of days back at work it was the weekend again, and time for me to set out exploring once more. My first target was the Summer Palace, one of China’s most impressive imperial treasures. It’s only a couple of miles from the university, but I thought I would get a cab as the temperatures were nearing 40°C, and I thought I might die of dehydration if I walked. But in the end, there was only one cab by the East Gate of the university, and he wouldn’t take me. With my Mandarin still not even reaching appallingly basic, I couldn’t even begin to understand why. I decided to brave the heat and walk it.

I didn’t actually look around the Palace itself: I didn’t fancy being indoors on such a hot day. So I just spent a few hours walking around Kunming Lake, and over the famous 17-arch bridge to a small island. I frequently passed stalls selling ice cream, and I frequently gave them business. I spent quite a while sat on the island, enjoying being in the middle of a tranquil lake, surrounded by the Western Hills.