Signs of the World – Elevator

One of my favourite things to photograph when travelling around the world is weird and wacky signs. Asia always has a smorgasbord of sign opportunities, especially when translating  signs into English for tourists.

On my first afternoon in Beijing, China, I noticed this very specific ‘Elevator Rules’ poster in my hotel. Of course we then took photos of us being silly and disobeying the rules, favourites included ‘no leaning’ and ‘press buttons lightly’!

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Nine Things to Do In: Shanghai

1.  Eat awesome dumplings! I am not a huge dumpling fan, I find them a bit slimy in texture, but we had pan fried dumplings at Yang’s Dumplings, and they were awesome! Worth the wait and the queue.

2. Catch the Maglev, the magnetic levitating train from the airport to the city, which gets to speeds of over 400km an hour! We caught it from the city and back just for fun.

3. Take a night cruise on the Huangpu River to see the spectacular skylines all lit up. On one side is the modern Pudong district with its skyscrapers, the other is the bund with its colonial style buildings and hotels.

4. Go up the Jin Mao Tower. There are a few high rise viewing platforms to visit in Shanghai, but the views from the Jin Mao Tower are pretty cool on a clear day (pray for smog free – not for me unfortunately!)

5. Visit the Yu gardens, yes they are touristy but you can get some awesome souvenirs, eat more dumplings and other great food and have a traditional tea ceremony.

6. Walk The Bund, the waterfront boardwalk, offering awesome views day or night.

7. Go fancy in posh hotels, even if you can’t afford to stay the night, the lobbies, shops, toilets and cafes/bars of the ritzy hotels along The Bund are worth a visit. Bonus points if you swag your way onto a rooftop for views!

8. Visit the Shanghai Museum for free to see many amazing Chinese artefacts, artworks and furniture as well as admire the cool shape of the building

9. Shop, shop shop! Whether its for clothing, souvenirs, food or panda shaped bread rolls, you’ll find it in Shanghai!

 

Temple of Heaven, Beijing

 

After two days of smog, fog and rain in Beijing we were pleasantly surprised to wake up on our third and final day to sunshine and (gasp!) blue skies. We spent the morning at the Temple of Heaven, a park and temple complex used by the Beijing locals for recreation and originally used only by the Ming and Qing Emperors (and those they deemed worthy enough).

It was a lovely morning spent wandering around the park, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, which must be almost unheard of in Beijing. People were out playing* badmington, more like dancing badmington really. There was also group aerobic dancing, Tai Chi, dancing with fans, partner dancing, hacky sack. It was always a laugh when we went and joined in.

Dotted through out the park are the various temples and other buildings used by the emperors for different types of ceremony and worship. The round temple in the centre – ‘The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests’ was a stand out, as was the ‘Imperial Vault of Heaven’ and the echo wall that surrounds it.

We also saw rows and rows of people sitting in the park with signs on the ground in front of them, often with pictures of people. Our guide explained that parents of single young adults come to the park (or pay someone else to come) and ‘advertise’ their child as a possible suitor for others to marry, or for another parent to choose as a match. A modern, park-based dating service. I had so many questions as I read the advertisements that described appearance but also education and employment. Sometimes the parents organise a sort of blind date / random meet up for the two young people, who may not even be aware that someone is sitting in the park all day promoting them. Crazy! You have to admire the commitment of the parents to spend their time waiting and hoping to find the perfect match for their sons and daughters.

After spending the morning at the Temple of Heaven we wandered across the road from the east gate to Hongqiao Market, also known as the pearl market for some shopping, bargaining (be resilient but friendly!) and yummy lunch.

Staying in a Monastery, Emei Mountain, China

Part of our tour of China included a stay in a Monastery at Emei Shan. A real life monastery with monks! On one of China’s sacred mountains of Buddhism! I was very excited!

This is what I was expecting:

Bhutan trip June 2011, Tiger's Nest Monastery

Image courtesy of Michael Folley @ Flickr

Oh yes I had visions of mist, tranquil mountains and a deserted, peaceful monastery with ‘rustic’ features, a retreat from the hustle and bustle of China.

Ha! Nowhere is quiet on the eve of the National Holiday in a country of a billion people. Our bus took a long time to drive to Baoguo, one of the little towns at the base of Emei Mountain. We seemed to only go a kilometre every ten minutes thanks to the endless traffic and pedestrians. I kept thinking – boy we still have a long way to go to get to the misty lush top of the mountain! In amidst of traffic and crowds our mini bus stopped and our guide said ‘We’re here!’

Huh? All I could see were ‘Chinese looking buildings’ (educated response, I know) , tourists and cars. Surely the peaceful monastery isn’t around here?

Well yes, we are staying in this busy complex of buildings that is a working monastery and did we mention it’s also a tourist attraction? That opens at 7am… The Baoguo Temple to be exact.

I did get some funny looks walking through the grounds of the temple to the public toilets (and our  accommodation’s amenities for 2 nights) in my pyjama’s with toothbrush in hand. Sure I feature in some Chinese photo albums now too.

So yes we were woken to the sound of monks chanting at 5am, but we never got to engage or see the monks really. We did get to share the monastery with hordes of Chinese tourists there at 7am. Was it peaceful and quiet – uh no! Late at night when the tourists had gone it was quieter but the building itself is right near town at a busy spot at the base of Emei Mountain, and for China’s National Day it was pretty packed.

Rooms were dorm like for those not in a couple, 4-5 beds in one room, hard beds (like all of China) and minimal furniture. The toilets and sinks were the ones the public visitors used so late in the afternoon they were pretty bad, and not western of course. The showers were communal, with no doors (MacGyver style scarf shower curtain needed!). I still think it was pretty cool to go to the toilets one morning with 4 monks there with me in the other cubicles. That doesn’t happen very often!

It certainly didn’t live up to my expectations (oh… we’re not staying on top of the mountain…) but it was a good base for exploring the many hikes and paths of Emei Shan.