Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Final Chapter

I'm way behind in writing this final chapter of our China blog since have already been back in Canada for a month and 1/2. Yes, we are back to stay this time. Carole may go back for some shorter stints of maximum one month but I won't be going back as I will (hopefully) be working full-time again soon.

Anyway, back to November, after I finished my mountain moto tour and Carole got back from teaching Phase 1 in Canada, we still had 2 months in China. Here is a short snapshot of those last 2 months.

One of the major tourists sites that we had not yet seen was the Temple of Heaven, so off we went to Beijing one weekend to see it. Here's one view:

And there were even a couple of hobbit doors. They certainly weren't the nicest we've seen,  but even basic hobbit doors like this I love:

Back at work, one of the things we've been doing is corporate team-building. Here is a small company from WuYunShan (near the Shaolin Temple) that had a fun team-building day with us:

And here is some the staff of the House of I (the company we worked for in China) posing after a teambuilding activity we led:

Somewhere around the first week in December (when the temperature was still a bit above 0) I packed up my motorcycle with all the associated spare parts and supplies so I could drive it in to Beijing where a friend will store it for me and sell it in the spring. I was surprised to see how much associated stuff there was once it was all strapped on. Goodbye Bike!

The following weekend we took a trip to Tianjin which a another huge city just a 1/2 hour away from Beijing by bullet train. We stayed the first night in Beijing. Just another day in the city, maybe a tad more polluted than average, but not at all unusual:

The train to Tianjin was fun. Since it's only a 1/2 hour ride, the upgrade to Business Class was not that expensive, so we tried it out:

Once it Tianjin, we ran into Bugs Bunny on a bridge greeting everyone who passed. Mickey Mouse was on the other side of the bridge:

This has got to be the cutest electric trike we ever saw:

Tianjin is an interesting mix of ancient China, Colonial European architecture, and ultra modern:

And they have lovely hobbit doors:

We outfitted our house with some Christmas lights. These we actually bought last year in Cambodia and lit them up for the first time this season. They are so lovely we'd have liked to bring them home to Canada - but they are 240V and won't work in here:

The Canadian Leaders here hosted a Christmas party for the preschool kids:

Complete with Gingerbread house decorating:

Christmas day is pretty much a non-event in China, so we had a quiet day with a friend who came all the way from Beijing to visit us.

And then it was time to leave. Jan 5 we had all our luggage packed and ready to go:

And on the very same day, at almost the same hour as we departed,  we arrived in Canada:

We then made a short trip to Kitimat for Mum's 80th birthday party. It's not often we all get together in the same place at the same time:

Back row: Mitch, Tim, Trevor, Barb, Bill, Carole
Middle row: Susanne, Katie, Kathy, Vi, Tien
Front Row: Landon, Jacob, Mum, Skyla

We moved from our temporary studio in Nanaimo into a temporary house in Victoria where we will focus our job search efforts. It is a beautiful waterfront house that we have use of for 3 months. Here's the view from our window:

And now we are on to a new adventure - job hunting. I have a some anxiety about this as many employers don't want to hire 57 year old employees even if I am the best fit for the job. Also it seems having just returned from China isn't helping. One of the jobs I applied for is with a company who contracts to the federal government. To qualify for this job I have to pass a security clearance. I thought it was no big deal as I had this same security clearance before I left for China. But, the company called me for an interview and in their pre-screening, asked me if I had lived outside the country within the last 5 years. Well I found out that I am now ineligible for any government job or any job with companies who contract for the government. And Victoria is a government city so it really does limit my opportunities. (if I had lived in the US or a Commonwealth country it would have been OK, but not China.)  So, let me know if you hear of a good job for a systems administrator or network technician, especially in the Victoria area.  Here is my new job search optimised website:

Monday, October 31, 2016

Sacred Mountains tour, part 6

Well I made it the 880 km to Tai'an in one day because no one bothered to boot me off the expressway. Then, when I got up next the morning, I could actually see Taishan out my hotel window. Well, almost, it was actually too cloudy and raining to see it very well but here's a photo from my hotel window taken on my last day there. Its the mountain in the background right in the middle of the picture:

Now this mountain is in some ways the most special of the 5 Greats. It is the head of Pangu, it is the Eastern mountain, and it is the mountain that all the emperors of China would visit to make sacrifices to help establish in their status as emperor of China. Some Emperors would make the pilgrimage to all 5 of the great mountains but they would all at least make it to Taishan.

There were a number of approaches to this mountain, from 3 different sides. I chose to take the same approach that the emperors would have taken. That means starting from the Dai Temple and going straight up from there. This was also convenient for me as the temple was within walking distance of my hotel (3 KM). From the outside it looks more like a fortress than a temple but I guess that makes sense if it is where the emperor stayed when in town:

I entered by the back entrance and worked my way through the gardens

and temple areas

to the front. Close to the front is a lovely Hobbit door

And it leads to another hobbit door that has a bonsai garden inside:

There are many more bonsai gardens, some of the more delicate varieties are in greenhouses like this. In behind the greenhouse you can see one of the 4 corner towers of this complex.

And then, out the front door is the modern street which lies where the ancient road used to be, the road that the emperors would take to the mountain (which is just to the left of center - behind the tree).

This is named "Red Gate Road" because it leads to the Red Gate which is the entrance to the mountain. After about 1-1/2 kilometers we start seeing red buildings but its not yet a gate. And the stone steps are starting already here and also there is a sign saying something like "ascent starts here"

And along the way are many shops selling essential tourists supplies, like sticks - walking sticks, incense sticks and selfie sticks.

Finally I reach the Red Gate;

Then are are a fewer tourist shops and more steps. The steps start out relatively gentle:

The staircase looks wide enough for thousands of people to pass in both directions. Even so, a family group of 5 can easily spread out along the width of this path completely blocking traffic in both directions - while seeming to be completely oblivious to the fact that that they are inconveniencing other people. Fortunately this was a rainy weekday at the end of October - so no crowds.

Of course there are many more gates along the way. There is a gate for everything in China. And sometimes it seems like, in the middle of nowhere there is a gate for no other reason than someone thought it must be a good place to put another gate. Anyway, this is something I've never seen before - trees growing right out of the wall of the gate:

After much walking and climbing of stairs I got to a patio which marks the half way point in vertical rise. The whole mountain is a rise in elevation of about 1300 meters and this is at about the 650 meters up.

It  maybe 1/2 way but it still looks like a long way to the top:

This 1/2 way point is also a transfer point for people getting assisted travel to the top. Buses bring people up this far and then to get to the cable car they have walk along this corridor where, in case they missed it before, they can buy all sorts of tourist sticks.

So, about 3/4 of the way up someone stopped me to have his picture taken with me. This happens all over the place. There are not a lot of westerners around and some people like to have their picture taken with us when see one.

At this point the stairways are pretty steep and there is still no end in site. This was also one of the times when Carole happened to send me a text from Canada so I took a few moments to "chat" with her before proceeding on.  Our contact was sporadic while I was on this trip so we both tried to respond when attempts were made.

Beside the main stairway we can see the remains of an older set of steps. The Chinese have been building steps up their sacred mountains for centuries:

And finally getting close to the end. There are more people here because the cable car ends just below this staircase so everyone wanting to get to the summit must pass this way:

The view from here (at least there is a view as the summit was completely socked in with fog):

And here is the temple at the very top. In the center is a sort of wishing well covered in padlocks. I'm guessing that if you buy one of their blessed padlocks, make a wish and lock it to the fence around the well, then surely your wish will come true.

This climb seemed to me to be harder than the other climbs, I was exhausted. I think it was probably about 200 meters more vertical rise than any of the other climbs I did this past month. I was happy to take the cable car and bus back down onto town - and then even a taxi back to my hotel.

This was the last mountain  of my tour but I was not yet home. There were still 600 KM to go and the weather forecast said rain all the way home. Now I can handle getting wet, but also I was now back in Northern China and the expected low at my destination was 0 degrees. I wasn't ready to be wet AND COLD for an 8 hour ride. The forecast also said that the following day would be cold but dry the whole distance - so I stayed another day. I didn't do much that day other than catch up on writing this blog. Anyway, a day later, I made it safely home, cold but dry.  Carole arrived back from Canada two days later.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Sacred Mountain Moto Tour, Part 5

So I left Yangshou and, as planned, in order to protect the heavily loaded bike from breaking again on the bumpy Chinese roads I took the Expressway (which is not legal for motorcycles in most provinces). On the expressway I easily arrived at the town of Nanyue well before dark. Since this town is right at the foot of the Southern Mount Heng, I could just set out on foot from my hotel in the morning.

The lower part of the trail up Hengshan follows along side a stream with many small waterfalls along the way. This creates a sound bath all along the path which is named something like "Buddhist Music Garden":

Then the path joins the road which goes almost half way up the mountain. But it is only partway on the road as there are many exits onto walking paths that avoid the road with a constant stream of tourist buses (the sign says "Climb on foot")

As  usual there are little temples along the way, Here's one with a wall that has a lovely hobbit doorway in it:

And finally I reached the summit. You can just see the flames coming from the furnace on the right of the following photo. That is where people offer their sacrifice of incense. Now usually temples have an area where you can burn incense sticks and some people burn a few sticks at a time. Here I saw many people carrying a plastic bag full of many boxes of incense sticks. Well they would say their prayer and then toss the whole bag of incense in the furnace.

Also for a short time while I was at the summit, there was a break in the clouds. For a while we were actually between cloud layers so I got the heavenly view of the sea of clouds for which these mountains are famous.

On the way down I stumbled upon a path that went a different route, beside a stream that completely bypassed the road way I took up the mountain.

Next on the agenda is Huangshan (Yellow mountain) which is 900 km away. I had originally scheduled 2 days to do this trip, but with my new plan of using the expressways to avoid rattling my motorcycle to pieces, I figured I could do it in one day, Well at the first rest stop I was escorted off the expressway by  the traffic police. They were very nice a about it and wished me a pleasant journey - on the regular roads. Since they officially recorded and photographed my passport and driving license, I thought it wise to stay off the expressway for the rest of the province of Jiangxi.

This put me back on the regular Chinese roads which are often OK, but can also run for long stretches like this (or worse):

And as luck would have it, I got a fair amount of the above - so I was glad I had my bamboo struts supporting my luggage racks. Also, since it had recently rained a lot, it was also full of mud. Of course this meant it was again a 2 day trip to make it to Huangshan so  I camped by the side of the road this night.

I am so happy with my "2 second tent" That's what it is called but in reality it takes about a full 30 seconds to set it up and maybe 2 minutes to fold it up again. In the rain it is a real treat to be able to set up for the night in under a minute. Also, whether its a "2 second" tent or not, it is great security to have a tent because, when plans change and you are out in the country, it is often not possible to find a hotel. For a hotel to accept foreigners they have to be officially registered with the police department. So in out of the way, countryside areas where a hotel could expect at best one foreigner every 2 or three years, its just not worth the trouble to go through the registration process, hence they are not allowed to accept foreigners. But, in China, one is allowed to pitch a tent pretty much anywhere.

Once through the mud, it was a nice drive on the regular roads, I got to see things that you just don't see on the expressways: villages, terraced rice fields and gardens, water buffalo with birds sitting on their shoulders and incredible bamboo forests just like in the movies. But I was driving and didn't take photos as my phone was clamped to my handlebars as a GPS Navigation tool - which led me straight to my hotel in Huangshan city.

And that was a problem. I didn't research thoroughly enough. You can see on the map below Huangshan park is in the middle of the map and just north of it is what looks like a town named Huangshan. So I booked myself a hotel in Huangshan City, It wasn't until I got there that I discovered the mountain Huangshan was not at all nearby. Then on closer inspection of the map I could see there are 2 towns named "Huangshan" in English, but only be looking at the Chinese characters underneath can we know that only one of them is Huangshan city and the other is Huangshan district. So, now, instead of being close to the mountain, I was 1-1/2 hours away. Actually it took me longer than that because my GPS was malfunctioning. After many wrong  turns I finally rebooted my phone and was back on track.

One more little glitch along the way is that my radiator fan stopped working. As long as I kept moving faster than 40 KM/hour I was OK but in slow city traffic the bike would quickly overheat. I made out alright by shutting the engine down at every red light.

So here we are on the trail up Yellow mountain (Huang = Yellow, Shan = mountain). It has amazing stairs all the way to the top:

It was foggy, which gave everything a bit of a mystical look:

The further I got, the steeper became the stairs:

No  words required for this stairway:

People resting on the summit:

There is another way down so I had new stairways for the return trip:

And a couple of hundred meters down from the summit suddenly the clouds broke to again give me a view of the sea of clouds:

By  the way, Huangshan seems to be known to foreigners. I saw about a dozen westerners on this mountain. Up until now, on the 6 sacred mountains I visited (which are all major Chinese tourist sites) I saw a total of 2 Caucasians.

My original plan had me visiting Jiuhuashan (top left of the map) the next day which would have been a 1-1/2 hour drive each way from a hotel in Huangshan District. But my being in Huangshan City now made it a 3-1/2 hour drive. This meant that in order to be able to still drive back in mostly daylight, I would have at most 2 hours on the mountain. That's definitely not long enough to climb, but I could take the cable car to the top and back.

Here's the entrance gate to the Jiuhuashan scenic area which unfortunately for me was the best part:

I have learned that on these tourist mountains, the roads are closed to private vehicles. To control traffic they only allow tour buses on the roads, so unless you are walking, the only way to get there is to transfer to a tourist bus. I bought a bus ticket to the base of the cable car to the top. I ensured this by pointing on the map to the Chinese characters on the bottom of the cable car. Well ended up on a bus to the tourist street in the village at the base of the mountain (many kilometers from the cable car). Since I only had a 2 hour window there was really no time to head back to the reception area and get a different bus, so I figured I may well look around at what was there on the tourist street. Well the fog was so thick we could not even see across the street:

At  least I had a pleasant motorcycle ride there and back. The roads were mostly good pavement, nice mountain twisty roads and not a lot of traffic.

And now, because of the delays waiting for gas tanks, I had to skip Putuashan, the island mountain on the coast. Besides with no radiator fan I could not head into the heavily populated area that surrounds Shanghai. So next was to head straight for the last mountain on my tour, Taishan...

 On to Part 6 of the Sacred Mountain Moto Tour >