Archive for October, 2009

Lotus Cave – China – by Síle Tyrrell

2009/10/30


Lotus Cave – China – by Síle Tyrrell, originalmente cargada por Bass Tyrrell.

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Lotus Cave 22/10/2009
                        Lotus cave is a cave and
it was really amazing so I’m going to tell the story first.

We all rented bikes but Ailsa’s bike wasn’t the best so, when we headed
off for our cycle we went miles to far. And Ailsa’s arms started to ache
so mom went back with ailsa and dad and I carried on.
we asked for directions twice and went through little town with water
Buffaloes with huge horn running around FREE. And im the one who is scared
of all cow tipe things. So I rushed past them and wet around dad so if they
did want to charge their target would have been dad………….
hahahahahahaha. But after got into the cave it was amazing the colorful
lights were amazing and all the bats flying around you was amazing. It was
a good hours walk through the cave but worth dodging the Buffaloes.
On the way back I asked dad "would there be more buffaloes?" and his
respond was "probobly" but there wasn’t.

By the way Chingping is a really nice town.

sile tyrrell

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Lotus Cave – China – by Síle Tyrrell

2009/10/30


Lotus Cave – China – by Síle Tyrrell, originalmente cargada por Bass Tyrrell.

*
*
*
*

Lotus Cave 22/10/2009
                        Lotus cave is a cave and
it was really amazing so I’m going to tell the story first.

We all rented bikes but Ailsa’s bike wasn’t the best so, when we headed
off for our cycle we went miles to far. And Ailsa’s arms started to ache
so mom went back with ailsa and dad and I carried on.
we asked for directions twice and went through little town with water
Buffaloes with huge horn running around FREE. And im the one who is scared
of all cow tipe things. So I rushed past them and wet around dad so if they
did want to charge their target would have been dad………….
hahahahahahaha. But after got into the cave it was amazing the colorful
lights were amazing and all the bats flying around you was amazing. It was
a good hours walk through the cave but worth dodging the Buffaloes.
On the way back I asked dad "would there be more buffaloes?" and his
respond was "probobly" but there wasn’t.

By the way Chingping is a really nice town.

sile tyrrell

Guangzhou

2009/10/22

Guangzhou, originally uploaded by Bass Tyrrell.

Guangzhou

It is now two days since we arrived in China proper, on the train from Hong
Kong, and it seems very difficult to even access the blog. Whether this is
because the Chinese firewalls see wordpress (at least my blog) as
subversive, because the internet connections are poor or – more likely –
because the combination of controls that China imposes actually just slows
the whole thing down to such a crawl that connections are timing out I don’t
know. I do know my email client is not working properly, WordPress is
inaccessible and sites requiring secure access are slow and time out, making
life quite complicated as far as banking or most importantly booking hostels
is concerned.

We are happily installed in the Riverside Hostel located, unsurprisingly, on
the banks of the Pearl River with glorious if smoggy views across the city
and close to the old foreign enclave of Shimian Island. It’s not exactly
central but then Guangzhou doesn’t really seem to enjoy all that much by the
way of a centre and the metro – clean, modern and efficient – is a ten
minute walk. Even quicker, and landing us directly on to Shimian, is the
ferry that chugs regularly back and forth across the river.

Our three days here has worried us a bit that we are running out of steam:
where is that family that back in Ecuador and Perú never had a day without
something organised and some radically new experience? Here we planned a
side trip to Foshan, overslept, got to the station to find the Lonely Planet
was right when it referred to the station as a seething mass of humanity,
managed finally to organise tickets and then, after the train was delayed
for an hour, abandoned the effort as a bad job.

And went to Starbuck’s for a coffee. Oh the shame.

Still, today has been fun, despite a downpour of rain that has made the city
look more than a little like West Cork (wet and with no taxi to be found).
As we arrived on the far side of the river, the fish market was just getting
going with live fish being tipped into baskets, some landing on the floor
desperately thrashing to find water before the fishmongers pick them up. A
few steps further on, we enter a market area full of the smells of eastern
spices. The stall fronts – neat and nearly identical – on the main road,
full of saffron and turmeric and chilli and huge bags of rice are only the
most visible part as tiny alleys wind their way back into a maze of small
shops, restaurants, and businesses that could be almost anything: a counter
selling chickens next to a man repairing bikes. As in Vietnam, anyone who
finds business a little slow for a few minutes just puts their heads on
their hands and goes to sleep where they are. Then, as suddenly as it
started, we were out of the market and in a bustling pedestrianised shopping
street, lined with clothes shops. At least for that hour or so we felt we’d
seen something of, maybe not the real China of 2009 – the shopping malls are
just as much the real thing – but of a China that is disappearing into the
globalised mass.

Tonight we try Chinese trains: an overnight to Guilin where we hope to see
something more rural and will be staying in a small village called Xingping.
We have yet to see if the Chinese definition of a “small village” chimes
with the Irish one, and unfortunately tomorrow’s weather looks like being
awful so it could all go wrong. I think a few cycles and a crawl through the
mud in the Black Buddha caves may be just what we need to put a spring back
in our step!

IMG_1329 Stitch.jpg

Pearl River by night.

A tale of two restaurants.

2009/10/10

Arriving in Hoi An late in the afternoon heat Ailsa and I let Julie and Síle explore the city a little while we explored the hotel pool, or at least that part of it not threatened by loose tiles on the roof, after which we had little energy for anything other than heading 100m down the road to Café 43, a very pleasant, good value small restaurant on the same quiet street as our hotel.

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A quiet Hoi An street.

We went to Café 43 because it was recommended by a number of guidebooks, and it is a recommendation that I can heartily endorse: for the most part the food was excellent – the exception being the girls’ pizzas that I strongly suspected of being ordered in – the service good and the ambience extremely pleasant. It is also excellent value in a country where eating out is generally cheap but the quality varies widely.

But such listings, especially when as in this case there seems to be a chain of guides that follow each other in recommending a particular restaurant, do not always represent good news for the neighbours . Café 43 was busy: not overflowing but with a constant stream of both drinkers and diners that kept them occupied. In the meantime, several other restaurants in the same street, offering similar menus at similar prices, languished empty, suffocated in effect by the same reviews that breathe life into Café 43.

So the following night we decided to take our custom across the road, to the Sun Shine restaurant.

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The Sun Shine restaurant.

We sat at the table nearest the entrance in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to encourage others to follow our example. There was a small family crisis when the menu came out, there was no spaghetti bolognaise (only spaghetti with beef and tomato sauce :(  ) and this was just too important an omission for one child to overlook, but a promise from Hoi (owner, chef and waitress) to provide a cooking demonstration and the discovery of pizza bolognaise (definitely ordered in this time: it was served by a girl wearing a scooter helmet who then disappeared as quickly as she’d arrived) eventually calmed the situation and we ordered.

Very nice food it was too, washed down with a few glasses of the local beer at 3000 dong a glass (that is about 12 cent). Hoi cooks the Vietnamese meals from scratch on a two ring stove using all fresh ingredients, many of the vegetables grown by her husband on his plot. Even the chips were proper chips, cut from a potato and fried on the spot. If the presentation lacked a little compared to their neighbours – who again had a nearly full house while we were Hoi’s only customers – then that may have as much to do with the fact that they can afford the extra staff as anything else. Hoi and her husband were charming and welcoming hosts, happy to invite us into their kitchen and show us how to prepare the food – we left not only well fed but also with a daughter promising to cook chicken with chilli and lemongrass at the first opportunity she gets, which seems an excellent investment.

Hoi is probably typical of many Vietnamese struggling to make a living on the edge of the tourist boom. Honest, hard-working and kind, she is putting two children through university in the hope that they will have a better future. It is difficult to make ends meet, and she is hopes daily for that lucky break that will see her too mentioned in one of these books and the steady trickle of tourists might turn their heads to her side of the road. She deserves it.

Settling in to Saigon

2009/10/04

Saigon (still the correct term for the area of what is officially Ho Chi Minh City we stayed in) is an absolute madhouse: like nothing we have seen so far even in Latin America. There are apparently 3 million scooters in the city, and they all seem to converge on any road we are trying to cross: it is a bit like swimming through a shoal of fish with the added spice that if they hit you it’s going to hurt. They’ve heard of traffic lights but seem to regard them as a general guideline rather than a rule as such – they hoot the horn more often and for longer when they go through a red light.

Each block behind the main streets is a rabbit warren of tiny alleyways (scooters head down here too) where people live, eat work and sometimes even sleep in the street (I don’t mean the homeless: some people just put a bed outside their door). Walking through the streets is to be accosted by a constant stream of street sellers offering anything from food to tours to books to occasionally themselves – I’m the one who needs a protection after dark! None of it is aggressive, but the sheer persistence gets annoying. (“Why not?” I was asked by a young woman whose offer to go “you me one hour hotel boom boom” I had politely declined. Does that actually need a reason? Well, actually, charming though you appear to be I am not quite ready on the basis of our 15s acquaintance to take the relationship forward quite that fast and anyway since I am carrying two pizzas do you not think maybe the other one might be for someone?) Julie bought a couple of books off a girl in a restaurant and two minutes later another woman – who we’d earlier refused to buy from because we were in the middle of our dinner – came back in to berate us for not having bought from her.

The real pity maybe is that this all distracts from the many Vietnamese who genuinely want to talk: to practise their English, help out – open a map on a Vietnamese street and within a minute someone will ask where you want to go, tell you how to get there (so far about 2 out of 3 get it right) – or simply find out a bit about you without taking the opportunity to try and sell you marijuana. The Vietnamese seem to love to talk: those tour guides that we’ve met certainly prefer it to listening. There is a cheeky sense of humour and willingness to be familiar as well – in one museum the guide greeted us by congratulating me on being “the most handsome man in [my] family” as I waited with Julie and the girls.

Saigon alley

A Saigon alley.

The city itself is generally quite clean and well-maintained: there are people sweeping the streets, trucks washing them down and gardeners weeding the flower beds on the roundabouts

Municipal gardener

A municipal gardener

Uncle Ho’s lop-sided beard does peer down from a few billboards, but apparently nothing like as many as in Hanoi. His statue, with his arm around a small girl carrying what appears to be a machine gun, gazes down a broad boulevard in front of the city council building: it’s probably good that his gaze is fixed because I am not sure that in life he would have approved of having a stock market ticker display just to his left, or a huge new gleaming HSBC office block on his left shoulder for that matter. Reminders of the war are all around and generally rather less thoughtful than that in Hiroshima: there is a good deal of “look at all the ingenious ways we had for killing Americans”. The Cu-chi tunnels, while providing an interesting insight into why the US was more or less doomed from the start, was a bit full of this kind of stuff (some peculiarly unpleasant man-traps on display with some almost pornographic commentary about exactly how long and how painful the resulting death and dismemberment was likely to be) and I declined the option of shooting 10 rounds from an M-16 in part because that all seems to validate this Boy’s Own view of war.

Cu Chi tunnels

In the Cu Chi tunnels. There are over 240 km of old tunnels in the area, including one that led into a US base.

Man-trap at Cu-Chi

Ingenious ways of killing intruders – often quite painfully

The girls have, naturally enough, been a bit nervous though they seem to be relaxing a little after a few days. They’re happier with the food than they were in Japan anyway: the lingering French influence means you can get good bread and coffee, both of which have been lacking since we left Argentina, and the centre of Saigon has a huge variety of restaurants so we’ve filled them up with pizza and spaghetti knowing that further north they might have to learn to love Vietnamese food. Next stop, Hué: ancient imperial capital and just hit by Typhoon Ketsana. No idea what we will find when we get there.

Ho Chi Minh City – first impressions.

2009/10/02

It was always going to be a bit of a culture shock landing in Vietnam after Japan, though you wouldn’t necessarily think it from the sleek, modern and air-conditioned airport terminal which could be anywhere. Our visa-on-arrival scheme, ordered online from www.vietnam-visa.com, turned out to be simple and mostly painless, though at first we missed the distant window down the far end of the hall and stood in the wrong queue.

When we eventually got out we were met by the promised driver from the hotel, who took us on a white-knuckle ride through the city passing through shoals of moped-drivers like a shark through fish: hooting wildly seems to be the local alternative to mirror-signal-manœuvre, or at least the mirror signal part.

In the dark, it was difficult to get much of an impression beyond the busy traffic, a good deal of lively night-life that seems popular with the foreigners and here and there a glimpse of some grandiose colonial buildings.

Not for the first time on this trip, we arrived at our hostel though to find they had given away our room though they had arranged alternative accommodation for the first night just round the corner. I have promised not to blog on this subject until I have cooled down a little …

Narita

2009/10/01

Narita has been known to me for the last 20 years or so only as Tokyo’s new (ish) airport though, at up to an hour and a half’s travel by train from Tokyo itself it wouldn’t have been at all surprising that only Ryanair called it that.

So despite picking a hotel in Narita city so that we wouldn’t have to move bags and baggage on the last day, we fully expected a dreary airport town with little to recommend it, a sort of Crawley with Japanese food. Certainly our guide book not only didn’t recommend it it didn’t even mention the place.

On first inspection though, once away from the station and its attendant convenience stores and that ubiquitous fast food establishment (they are not restaurants, whatever they may like to pretend) whose name begins with an “M” and ends with an “cDonald” it turned out to be a pleasant enough place with a nice main street with attractive shop fronts, traditional and more international bars and restaurants and was, in short, not a bad place to wander around.

On second inspection, we found the temple.

Now, this is Japan. Of course we have visited several temples (the Buddhists) and shrines (Shinto) on our travels around the country: not to do so would be like visiting the Vatican without ever going in to a church. But, beautiful though some of them are and although each is unique in its own way they do have a certain generic similarity and so, philistines that we are, we weren’t actually dying to see more. This seemed quite modern, modest in size and generally unpromising apart from a spectacular pagoda. But it was there, it was free, and I wandered in through the elegant, and apparently quite recent, gates to discover that this was the Nakitasan Shinshoji Temple and is one of the oldest, possibly one of the largest and certainly one of the most impressive temples in the whole country.

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The three-story pagoda, 25 metres high and dating from 1712.

External appearances are quite deceptive: what the site lacks in width at the street entrance it makes up for in depth. You get drawn in: at every step there is another building or path lying behind draws you in to see more. This temple continues building – the current main hall is an enormous, cavernous building built in 1968 but at least two of its predecessors, from 1858 and 1701, are still there. The site has been in use since 940, and they are not in a hurry to throw anything away.

Perhaps the most unexpected feature of all – because from the street all you can see is a few trees on the top of a small hill – is the park: 16.5 hectares of garden with ponds, streams and waterfalls (what Japanese garden would be complete without them) in a small valley completely hidden from the main street.

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The hidden forest – invisible from the road.

Now we have a tendency in the west I think to romanticise Buddhism: a religion of peace, we say. No, scarcely even a religion, more a system of philosophy. Barefoot smiley monks in orange robes, who eat lentils and won’t step on a cockroach in case it is their dead aunt reincarnated. That sort of thing,

But of course humans have an uncanny ability to make their gods in their own image, and Shingon Buddhism is no exception. The temple’s main deity, Fudomyo-o, is a cranky looking character altogether and carries a sword in one hand (to “cut away hindrances of passion and false knowledge“, apparently) and a rope in the other (“to draw in beings to the enlightenment“). Enough to send shivers down the spine.

But despite this rather belligerent aspect, Fudomyoo today presides over the peace pagoda that is the single most impressive building on the site:

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The peace pagoda

It contains, apparently, a time capsule with wishes for peace from world leaders, though the leaflet is strangely silent on the question of whether they were cut from those leaders with the sword and then drawn in with the rope …

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Cleaning duty

All in all, this was a fascinating stop. The temple has a steady stream of visitors, but nothing like the hordes we found in Kyoto or even Miwajima. And it’s even free.

Just watch out for the sword …