Thursday, December 10

My China Visit - The Journey

It was my original intention to write a "diary" of my travels in China in the past week, but it didn't work out that way.  For a start, the great Chinese firewall prevents many of the Google products being accessed.  And I use Gmail and Blogger!  I did however organise a VPN - or Virtual Private Network, which allows one to bypass the Firewall and use the Google products in China.  That is how Chinese folk access Facebook - and of course how I did as well.  I found ExpressVPN and signed up and had assistance from the Chat service to solve a minor issue that I had.  From then on it all worked well.  I am happy to recommend them.

The biggest issue for me is that I was seldom near my computer - and when I did return to the hotel room it was late, I was tired and chose to get some sleep in preparation for the next day's events.  My body reminds me regularly that I am not that young any more!!!

I did take notes though, and did write some things in Word.  This is what I wrote on Day One (slightly edited)!

 * * *

I was early at the Brisbane International Airport.  Deliberately.  I hate being late.  And I figured I would be sitting at home doing nothing and waiting, so I may was well wait at the airport!  As it turns out I met a friendly couple – Peter and Debbie were at the Jazz on Sunday night.  I knew they were from the UK, and that they were returning soon, but it was a surprise to see them sitting at the airport!  At least I had someone to talk with – their plane left earlier than mine, but it was a pleasant interlude.

While I waited with the masses, (mostly Asian people) at gate 79 a number of people were called to the gate.  Much to my surprise I was upgraded to Premium – which was great.  More leg room, much more in fact as I was in the front row, and we had a few more little advantages.  Hot towels, and I think extra drinks.  Not that I took advantage of that.  Wine was not what I wanted!

I sat next to an Aussie bloke who spoke little – but I learned he lived and worked in Hong Kong.  Doing what?  I would not be surprised if he was the security guy on the plane, as he received extra attention from the cabin staff.  We arrived in Hong Kong early – which was no advantage to us as the gates were not opened and we had to wait until our booked time anyway!

As we left with the masses and joined other large groups, it was challenging to find ones way around the enormous airport.  A couple of us went in the wrong direction but eventually safely passed through the Transfer section and into the area where we had to wait our next flights.  I turned my phone on and immediately there was a message that my Dragon Air flight had changed and that I would be advised soon when it was to go, but that there was at least a further 2 ½ hour wait!!

I was already having to wait around 7 hours, so adding that to it didn’t impress.  Despite the extra leg room in the Cathay Pacific plane and more comfort, I didn’t sleep all that well and was tired.  Anyway, somehow I managed to sit, walk, wander, explore, eat and drink for the whole 9 ½ hours wait, and then endure some confusion as I could not find my flight number of the huge board which changed from English to Chinese characters every few seconds.

I did take a few photos from the plane, and for the most part, it had been clear good weather, but on arrival at Hong Kong it was not clear!  It was foggy or polluted.  Actually it looked more like fog, but knowing Asia and its challenges with air pollution I suspected a bit of both.  The “fog” hung around all day, and we were told the reason for the delay was “fog at Hangzhou” so guessed it was something rather widespread – pollution!

Dragon Air is certainly not as good as Cathay Pacific in the communication stakes – but in the end we all boarded safely and set off.  It was an uneventful flight, not quite as comfortable as my Cathay Pacific seat, and again I sat next to another gent – this time a young non-English speaking Chinese man who was pleasant and helpful when I could not open the lid of my drink!

When I arrived at Hangzhou and got through the Customs and Security, I looked around hoping Samantha was there.  I checked my phone/email, but there was no message.  I had not expected a phone call as my international roaming was supposed to be turned off.  However, she phoned me. She turned up moment later, with a huge and glorious bunch of flowers for me and her husband to be, who speaks little English.

It was an emotional reunion.  Both Samantha and I had tears!

We then set off for their new home in a village not far from the Xiaoshan Hangzhou airport.  Oh, how the memories came back.  Driving through streets of chaotic traffic – cars seeming to wander in any and all directions, tooting to warn of their presence, bikes, and small vehicles without lights wandering through the chaos, and people wandering and the streets full of strange shops and stalls.  It was still eerily “foggy” with the lights from cars and buildings making a strange appearance through the “fog”. 
Her husband, who only has a few words of English, drove and Samantha sat in the back seat with me.  I had a seat belt on, (of course) but Samantha did not.  Apparently she wears it when she is driving!
The car pulled up out the front of a garage, and we got out of the car and walked a few feet to two amazing wooden doors with red artwork on them.  Samantha explained the metal knockers (she and hubby love antiques and they had bought them in a village on one of their outings).  When the door opened, I was in a courtyard with a huge pool and trees with wonderful lighting.  Apparently the pool was originally for swimming  but it proved fairly useless as it was seldom warm enough (both the weather and the water) to swim in, so it is now a feature of the courtyard.  I look forward to seeing it in daylight!

Then we entered the Villa!!!  OMG.  It was amazing.  Mr C (the husband) is some sort of architect, and he fashioned the whole place which was very reminiscent of an ancient Chinese home, though with many mod. cons.

Hopefully, I will have photos at a later date, but didn’t think it was best to pull out the camera then and there!!

With the wedding festivities still in planning stages, there were many visitors that night.  The people preparing one of the dinners came, as did others that in some way were to play a role, including two of Mr Cs staff members.  His PA was there – clearly an efficient member of the staff!!  Mr. C’s mother and her younger sister were there and the “maid” – she is actually the child carer, but there is no child yet.

Samantha and I were the only English speakers – and we had a lot of fun as I tried to communicate, and Samantha interpreted.  I was shown all around the lower levels of the house and after dinner I was shown upstairs, where their huge bedroom, bathroom, office is.  Gobsmacking.
Apparently it Chinese custom for a young boy (around 10 years of age, so sleep with the groom for 3 nights before the wedding, and the father and the boy arrived while I was there.  The boy was quite happy about the arrangement, and was going to school the next morning, and then back to sleep for the total of 3 nights. 

Meanwhile dinner was on.  Much of the food was prepared by a local restaurant and Mr C and his PA went to collect it.  It was an outstanding array of food – pork, beef, crab, two fish dishes (one a river fish and the other a sea fish), several prawn dishes, soups, various vegetable dishes, and more.  And the wine. French wine and later some homemade white rice wine.

I think the food brightened me up, and I managed not to drop off to sleep despite being very tired.
After dinner and the inspection of the bedroom upstairs, one of the staff drove me to my hotel.  I had not realised how far it was from where we were – still in Hangzhou but it took the best part of 40 minutes to reach the hotel – in a back street some short distance from the famed West Lake.  Clearly not the most expensive hotel – but I was ok with it and the challenges of living there for a week.


The Street in front of the Hotel

The Bokai Hotel
On the night I arrived I was exhausted.

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