Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Visit To The Big Dipper ..Day 4

Still drowsy from the drinking session the night before, I had to push myself to rise from the bed. Today will be a special day for us as we will be leaving Guangzhou city. Our mission of the day is to visit a city that is approximately 3 hours away from Guangzhou.

From our hostel, we took Metro to Fangcun Bus Station to catch a ride to our destination.
Upon reaching the station, we proceeded to buy our tickets.

Step 1 : Buy ticket over the counter.

You don't have to find which counter to purchase the tickets because one counter serves all . Basically, you can buy the tickets to any destination at any of the multiple counters here. There are more than twenty counters here, so there was no long queue.

Step 2 : Check in your luggage

After purchasing, you will need to check in your luggage prior to entering boarding room. Checking in is simple. Just put your luggage through the scanning machine (like those found at airports). And to think that this is just a bus station, I must admit that I was impressed.

Step 3 : Proceed to boarding room

Lush, spacious, bright and clean boarding room with plenty of seats. The environment is clean too. Basically, its a total opposite of what you find in the infamous Puduraya. Jalan Duta's Bus Terminal doesn't come close either.

Step 4 : Proceed to departure gate

When the LED screen above the gate shows that you can board in, you may proceed to the gate. A lady will guide check your ticket, and upon passing by the gate, the bus driver will wait eagerly for you. He will help you to put your luggage in the luggage compartment. Luggage will be tagged with a sticker and this contains an unique number. So, no chance of people stealing your luggage as one has to show the same sticker before collecting it when arrives at the destination. Oh, they serve mineral water too, even our journey is just three hours journey. Free of charge, of course athough you may argue that the price is already included in the bus fare.

Three hours later, and we reached our destination - Zhaoqing.
As it was already 2pm, we had a quick lunch - The ever famous Zhaoqing "chung" (dumpling).

It contains mostly glutonious rice, and doesn't contain much ingredients in it (unlike those available in Malaysia). It tasted quite pale, in my opinion. Malaysian chung would beat this one hands down.

Well, you must be thinking that we came all the way to try out the dumpling. It would be crazy to spend hours on the journey just to eat that, isn't it? I would rather put my money to good use...

... on something like this..

An island, you say?
Wrong. Zhaoqing is in the mainland, and it is not surrounded by sea.

Look closely, and you will notice some weird hill formation overlooking the water. Those are actually limestone hill. Due to the nature of the limestone, it is easily eroded by wind and rain. As time passes by, Mother Nature has created a work of art, a masterpiece that is so beautiful that still stand grand after centuries. Words can't explain how marvelous the craft is.

Ladies and gentlemen, brace yourself for the stunning Seven Stars Crag (七星岩).

As the name implies, there are seven crags, surrounded by waters on all sides. The crag are naturally formed like the arrangement of the seven stars in the Big Dipper constellation, hence the name.

Zhaoqing was actually not part of our original trip plan. I found this place by mere luck while doing my earlier research on Guangzhou. I came across certain blogs and websites which recommended this place, which is 2.5 hours away from Guangzhou. The star attraction in this city is Seven Star Crag, a site famous for rock formation.

I have always been fascinated with rock formation, as I have been an avid rock climber. God, it has been almost one year plus since my last climbing. How I miss the old days. Screw this Lumut place!

According to our reliable source, this place used to be a farming village. Many families lived here and made their livings by planting vegetables. The villagers did not put much attention on the rock formation as they have been here for a long long time, since their ancestors set foot here centuries ago. After all, living life was difficult (China was a very poor country and it still is, today) so the people were more concerned on getting food on the table rather than spending time enjoying the scenery. However, news of this unique rock formation started spreading around. In the 1970's, the Chinese government decided to take over the place and turned it into a tourism area. The land were taken over and the villagers were compensated. We were informed that the compensation was very low as the money had to be distributed from the upper echelon in the village down to the lower people. So, by the time the money reached the villagers, they received very small amount.

However, the government decided to build embankment on this area, and engaged the villagers for this task. My guess was that they wanted to flood the area, for reasons that they only knew themselves. No machineries (tractors, excavators, etc) utilized in this task. All were done by manual labour. As the embankment were completed, they started to be filled with waters. Eventually, the seven crags were surrounded by lakes, separated only by human-made embankment.

As time passes by, more facilities and attractions were added in. Small hut were built on strategic places. One was built on the highest point among the seven crags, and the view here was magnifique!

Pathway for people to walk were also built. A perfect place to take a stroll on the park, with awesome view of the lake and the crag.

They even built a Buddhist Statue garden.

Small jetty were build at a few locations around the lake, so one can choose to take a boat ride if he wishes to.

We opted to engaged a lady "tuk-tuk" driver after bargaining with her earlier at the main jetty. As we were her only client of the day, she offered to bring us around for only RMB 40 per ride (Normal price is RMB 50 per ride). The lady was kind enough to explain to us about this area throughout the 4 hours plus journey. And the explanation was in Cantonese too! What a relief! I would have suffocated to death if she explains in Mandarin! (But not Jye though)

If you read the background of the Seven Star Crag above, the "reliable source" mentioned above was actually from this lady driver. I was not able to verify the information on Seven Stars Crag she given as I could not find any of these in the internet. Perhaps some one can correct me if the above are not right.

Plum flower, majestic bridge with the crag behind the background.

Plum flower garden.
Up close and personal with pulm flower! Very beautiful, isn't it? I finally able to see a real one with my own eyes!

White plum flower

View from the highest point of the seven crags :-

The man-made embankment separating the lake

The Chinese National Canoeing Team actually conducted their training here. The best rower selected from all over the country were sent here to undergo rigorous training.

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the lake.....

Overall, we spent about 4 hours here. As the lady was kind enough, we gave her tips. She did keep us company and well informed throughout the trip, so we tipped her generously. She dropped us at the waterfront after our dinner at a restaurant nearby. We were fortunate enough as we arrived at the waterfront just before the clock ticked eight. Every night, at 8pm sharp, there will be a water fountain musical show. I did not post much of the photos here as the photos were not clear enough.

The show lasted 15 mins. Very nice, I must say.
After that, we headed for a brisk walk around the town area. Nothing much interesting, just shop lots around. As it was just after Chinese New Year celebration, the decorations can still be seen around the city. So, its a little consolation for us.

As time were rather limited, we headed back to the hotel for a good night rest. We need to head on to the next city the following day.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Over The Mountain Top : Day 3 - Guangzhou

Third day in Guangzhou, and this will be our last day of travelling in this city. A trip to Guangzhou would not be complete if one did not step foot on this place:

Bai Yun Shan (White Cloud Mountain)

One of the highest point in Guangzhou city, this place history backdated to many centuries ago, before Christ era. It was reported that many scholars came to this mountain to write poems. The serene and calm surrounding inspired the scholars to write beautiful poems. Standing high at 382m, it provides a breathtaking view of Guangzhou city from the top.

And this was where we decided to go on our third day of the trip.

One can opt to walk the way up to the mountain, journey taking approximately one and half hour by foot. Scores of people can be seen walking along the pathway leading to the hill top. But as every drop of energy is essential to us, we chose to take a cable car instead, a ride of only fifteen to twenty minutes, cost only RMB25 per ride. To be frank, it was rather shameful to see that our stamina were nowhere near to these healthy people of Guangzhou.

Again, being a typical Chinese city, it was not unusual to see the waves of people on top of the mountain. Just like some of the websites wrote, there were hundreds, if not thousands of people walking all the way from the foothill, coming in droves. As we walked downhill, we saw lots of people walking along too, uphill and downhill alike. The scene was almost similar like Xang Xia Jiu Lu and Beiing Lu; hordes of people littered all over the place! Perhaps it’s due to a Sunday, which explains the presence of a big crowd here.

There were actually more people than what was captured in this photo.

We were greeted by a group of people, approximately hundred of them, singing in the middle of the park. Young and old alike, they were singing song after song. My best guess was that they were from a society having a day out in the park, just like we were.

La la lala la~~

The hill top view would be magnificent, but thanks to the massive pollution and smog, the visibility from hill top was rather poor. Too bad the pollution in the city was bad or otherwise we can see the whole city of Guangzhou. I guess that's the price to pay for the rapid development which took place in this city since the past few decades.

"Spectacular" view hampered by the smog

After spending almost half hour around the top, we proceeded downhill. But this time, we were not going to take the cable car. We were going for an environment friendly way, which was by utilizing our feet. We could face some difficulty if we were to walk up the hill, but walking down would not pose much problem. Plus, there would be more things to be seen if we chose to walk down.

Temple (forgotten the name)

Poem. Too bad, I don't know how to appreciate it due to my Mandarin illiterate background.

And another temple. And a wishing tree to the right

And more temple....

Foot hill

After a walk of almost an hour, we finally reached the bottom. According to my research done before the trip, there was a garden of Sculpture nearby. Alas, we could not locate the place. So, we decided to head back downtown. (We later found out that the garden was located opposite BaiYun Shan, and one needed to go across the busy road).

Our next destination was to The Tomb of King of Nanyue. The tomb of the king was uncovered by mere luck in 1980’s, when there was a construction works ongoing at the same site. The tomb was dated in year 220 BC, which makes it 2200 years old. In this tomb, they found the remains of the king itself, buried together with various artifacts and some human remains, thought to be human sacrifice to accompany the king after-death. When the government found out how big this significant finding was, they put a stop to the construction work. Thank god for that!

By the time we finished the tour around the tomb, it was already 4pm. We were rather tired, so we decided to head back to hostel for a short rest. We had our dinner that night at the hawker stalls nearby our hostel. There were lots of hawkers selling by the roadside, and I tell you, the food were great! We ordered oyster bakar, sotong bakar, cendawan bakar, and some meatballs. Yes, most of the food here were barbequed-style. The food was cheap (oyster bakar sells for only RMB 2 per piece, which is only RM 1 per piece) and the hawkers were never stingy with the ingredients and sauces they put in. Our dinner cost less than RMB20 and that left us full. I decided to have that oyster bakar again later that night, with some Chinese beer. That would be awesome.

Jye Horng decided to retreat for the night, while I lepak lepak at the hostel lobby. One of the reason I chose to stay at these youth hostel is that one can mix around with people from various background. I met a few interesting individuals that night. Tim, an American, was retrenched from Citibank last few months. He decided to head off for a vacation in Asia after getting the compensation. This city was his third city, and before this, he was at Hong Kong and Shenzhen.

After a few rounds of beer session, more and more people joined in our conversation. A few Chinese came to join in, and soon our conversation became multi lingual. They were trying to converse with Tim, while I had to do the translation between Tim and the chinese. Lum Chee Kin was a chef in a restaurant nearby, and he was nice enough to offer us some cookies he made. Ma Bing Cheng was an engineer in another city, and he came to Guangzhou for a holiday with his friends (who later joined us in the conversation). He had wanted to practise his English with Tim but as he can only speak a handful of English, I had to translate his words into English in order for Tim to understand. Lum was a native Cantonese, while Ma speaks Putonghua, so the conversation on our table was a mixture of English, Cantonese and Mandarin.

Met also an Iraqi-British guy (father was an Iraqian, married to a British) who was studying in Beijing (or was it Nanjing?), currently doing Masters in Chinese history and politics. One thing interesting is that this guy can speak Mandarin very well. I have to admit that his ability did really put a dent on my confidence! Imagine a Mat Salleh who can converse in your very own native language much better than you are! God, that’s pretty humiliating I say!

As the night retreated, two of Ma’s friends joined the table. These two can speak really good English which really impressed me. But one of them had some strong American accent, which makes me think that either this guy had studied in US before, or he was trying to imitate the Americans.

Topics we talked that night range from American politics, Obama’s Make-The-Change, US army occupation in Iraq (this is what you get if you threw an American and Iraqi descendent together on the same table), Chinese history, economics, anthropology, love relationship and where-to-visit-in-HK-and-Guangzhou.

An interesting conversation, nice cookies and four bottles of beer later, it was already 3am. It’s a waste as I only managed to striked up the conversation on my last day at the hostel. Went back to sleep as we need to head to another city the next day. By the way, I missed out from tasting the nice juicy oyster bakar that night. Damn!