25 July 2010

The Tulous

The two hour bus journey to Nanjing County was a breeze.  Once there, Audrey tried to contact the tour guide who was going to show us around the Tulous.  I was day-dreaming for a few minutes, and before I knew it, she had found three other Chinese ladies who were to do the same tour, and we were all in a dodgy cab on our way there.  The four of them were squeezed in the back, while I lounged up front.  The three of them were from Heilongjiang, in the far north east of China.

The driver was a lunatic.  And very loud.  Actually, the Chinese in general are quite loud, especially when talking on the phone.  But only in Chinese, they normally talk much quieter in foreign languages.  Must be something about the local tongues.  But the driver was a particularly strong example.

Anyway, he thought nothing of overtaking on the outside of bends, where we could barely see the crest of the corner, never mind the bend and what may be lurking around it.  The road was narrow, long and winding, going up and down steep valleys and mountains.  It looked like it may have been wider in days gone past, but the jungle/forest looked like it was trying to reclaim it.

Turns out this may have been true.  Audrey had neglected to tell me that the reason we were on this road of death was that the new road was flooded.  This journey on the new road would normally be 20 minutes, whereas this one, without any mishaps, would take more than an hour.

After about 40 minutes, the car broke down, on a corner, with a great drop to one side.  No petrol was making it to the engine.  Despite our drivers best efforts, he couldn’t get it going again.  Cars hurtled past us on this road, more than once there was nearly an accident.  Audrey and the others called the tour guide, Shau Hui, who we were due to meet.  Eventually he arrived, and drove us from there.

He drove a little more cautiously, and talked quieter.  When he overtook on a corner, he used his horn to indicate this.  Actually, he used his horn almost constantly over the next 24 hours driving around with him (mostly when he was driving on the wrong side of the road for prolonged periods of time).

As a tour guide, he did a great job, and gave us a great background to the local area, talked knowledgeably about the sights and brought to delicious local food.  What more do you want from a guide?  On top of that, due to all the flooding, the places were quite quiet and empty, so we didn’t have to compete with loads of camera-toting locals.

Farming was everywhere, in complete contrast to Russia.  Every single bit of land was used.  Slopes were crafted into steps of rice paddies, and when it got too steep, they then started planting row upon row of tea bushes.  Thin valleys here looked like they created infinitely more produce than a huge open plan in Russia.  And the work looked back-breakingly manual, with hundreds of people hunkered down among the vegetation.

Audrey spent a large part of our time conversing with the north Chinese girls about contentious issues (prodded sometimes by me).  What do you know about the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989?  What’s the point of the Great Firewall?  Censorship?  Do you think the government is doing things correctly for the people?

As usual, we got no interesting answers, as they mostly towed the party line.  “It is not right for people to speak out against the government.”  “As long as everyone is doing ok, then it isn’t a problem if a few people have to be silenced.”  We disagreed with most of it.

We got another bus to a town called Yongding, where we would be able to get a train to Guangzhou and, subsequently, Hong Kong.  At the train station, we discovered the ticket booking system was not working.  We would have to come back that evening to get a ticket (by which time they could all be sold out).  One of the China Rail officials took pity on the dopey looking foreigner, and did promise us that we would get a sleeping place on the train.

We arrived back about an hour before the train was due, as that is when the ticket office opened again.  The ticket system was still down.  They herded everyone, with or without a ticket into the waiting room.  The official appeared again, and told us not to worry, he’s speaking to the people on the incoming train, he’s sorting it out.  Lucky Audrey, I was thinking, to be with a foreigner.

He then took us out of the (crowded, hot and stuffy) waiting room, into the officials office, so we could sit in the coolness of an air-coned room.  This was getting better.  When the train pulled up, he brought us over to a separate carriage, and we piled on.  We gave him a little souvenir that we had for his help (which is at first refused, might be considered as corruption).  Turns out there were no sleepers yet, but one should be freed up at the next stop, 30 minutes away.

That was the last we heard from him, and anyone he knew on the train.  We went to the restaurant car for a seat.  Audrey asked the guy who was in charge of the sleeping car we got on in, and he said there was no possibility of a berth.  We then overheard a conversation with an important CCP official, who’s just got a bed, and he’d been waiting for 6 hours.

To stay in the restaurant car, we had to pay for a meal or you get kicked out, which we asked not to be served, as we had no hunger.  I got a couple of beers out of them instead.  Then I had a few more, played a bit of Championship Manager 3 while Audrey slept with her head on the table.  So much for the special treatment.

We arrived in Guangzhou at 7am, and took the first train to Hong Kong.

22 July 2010

Xiamen, as close to Taiwan as I plan to be

Next stop on our way was Xiamen (also known as Amoy, which back home I’d associated with cooking sauces), which seemed like the only place in Fujian Province that we could get to, due to heavy rains and general flooding meaning many railway routes were impassable.  As much as China may try (and that is very hard, they move mountains and rivers and raise and lower lands to suit their needs), Mother Nature can still reign supreme (no pun intended).

A simple day journey directly south for about 8 hours took us there, and stepping off the train, the heat and humidity hit us immediately.  This was my first proper taste of tropical weather and landscape (even though we were a couple of degrees from actually being in the tropics).  I’d been in Hong Kong in May 2009, but it was much milder than this.  Shanghai and Beijing, it turns out, were a doodle in comparison (which is not what I was saying when I was there).

We struggled to our hostel, which was outside the main settlements of the city, on the south coast (Xiamen itself is based on an island, not unlike how Hong Kong is situated), a minute’s walk from the beach.  We settled in, went for a paddle (the water was not that clean as loads of bits of foliage had been unsettled by the stormy weather recently), and relaxed in the room.  On our way out the door for dinner, the owner informed us that the electricity would not be working that night.

They ran another hostel where the lights (and more importantly, air-con) would be on, so we were shuttled over to it, a short drive away.  Over the course of the next three nights, we would spend it in three different rooms, with the final one being the most interesting we’d stayed in so far.  A large round bed, enormous bathroom, great mural and four chains with fake flowers hanging from the ceiling (possibly for some reason unknown to us).

Instead of a metro system, the powers that be had decided to build a Bus Rapid Transport system.  This meant building a few dedicated bus routes above the main thoroughfares of the city.  I had to admit, it worked pretty well, probably even quicker than your average metro system (they always seem like they’re going fast as the windows are so close to the walls).

Xiamen was one of China’s original Special Economic Zones, when they started opening up to actually doing business and allowing outside investment.  The most interesting point about the place, though, is the fact that it is only 2km from the Republic of China (aka Taiwan).  A couple of islands just off the coast below to Taiwan, and are quite visible, but getting closer to them would be a lot more dangerous, as along the coast, China has nearly 2,000 ballistic missile pointing at their near neighbour/rouge province (plus more than 100,000 troops on stand-by).

We found another restaurant that I wanted to eat at all the time.  It a type of cabbage dish whose sauce tasted exactly like Smiths Salt ‘n’ Shake crisps (that is to say cooking oil and somewhat salted).  I loved it.  Full meal with beer was about £3.5 for the pair of us.  No link to a map this time, as it was in some random backstreets that the mighty Google doesn’t have.

As we walked back to our hostel one evening, we spotted a guy fussing around a load of chickens and ducks in cages, with his assistant watching on.  We wandered past slowly, thinking he might be about to slaughter one.  He didn't, but as we were walking away, we noticed his assistant, who we thought had been sitting idly by, lifting baby ducks out of a bag, one by one slitting their throats then dropping them into a box.

While in the city, we watched the humiliation of England against the sprightly young Germans.  This gives you an idea of how far behind I am.  Will catch up soon, or else leave some out (we’ve been in HK for weeks now, and not too much has happened).

We’d sat beside a group of girls on the train here, and they had recommended that we go out into the middle of the country to visit the Tulous.  Audrey did a bit of research, and we worked out that we’d finally have to abandon trains for moving us towards our next destination for the first time since we arrived in Vladimir from Yarolslavl on the bus (about 10,000 km back).

We booked our bus, and left town a couple of days later at 9.00am for Nanjing County.

18 July 2010

Expo and Maglev

Shanghai has a huge expo on at the moment.  I’m not really sure why cities feel the need, or want, to put these on.  Especially somewhere as well developed as Shanghai, which hardly needs the extra investment.  Regardless, we went (courtesy of free tickets from friends, thanks), and it was somewhat interesting.

The expo was reasonably close to the centre of the city, on the former docks site.  Most countries in the world were represented, either having their own Pavilion, or else in a shared one (like the Africa Pavilion or Pacific Islands Pavilion).  We’d heard some harrowing tales of huge queues for the most popular pavilions; Spain and Germany (3 hours each), China (4 hours, plus a reserved ticket) and Saudi Arbia (5 hours).  We even met one fella who claimed to have stood for 8 hours in queue just to see the Saudi one.  Not sure how that is possible without a seat or toilet break.

Needless to say, Audrey and I decided to ignore the Saudi one completely (supposedly they all have an online presence which shows a virtual view of the pavilion, so I might get around to checking that out someday), and any of the popular ones until late in the evening.  We decided to try and get to as many of the rouge or belligerent states as we could.  It proved to be quite easy, as most of Africa was in one pavilion, and they put Iran and North Korea beside each other, within a stone’s throw of Iraq, Myanmar and Afganistan.

When we got in, we headed straight to the Irish Pavilion, as my mate James’s art gallery had a temporary exhibition there.  The pavilion was quite nice (lots pictures of landscapes, animals, redheads and, typically, Bono), the only one with grass around it.  We met James’s wife, Jai la, as she is working there currently.  Unfortunately their exhibition was closed (there was probably a big-wig visitor), so we headed on to Romania.  Not sure why we decided to stop there, but the queue seemed fast moving, so we thought even if it was rubbish, we wouldn’t lose much time.

Rather predictably, as we got close to the front, the queue stopped moving for ages, until another huge whack of people got in.  It was pointless, lifeless music from a group on the stage who looked like they’d rather be anywhere else (it had been running for two months already), plus a few uninspiring pictures of the country.  Ireland beats Romania again.

Then it was onto Libya, where a big portrait of the one and only Colonel stared down at us as we entered.  Next was the African Pavilion, where Zimbabwe (again with portrait), Sudan, Somalia and Congo awaited us.  To be honest, not much interesting, only building up their economic ties with China (China loves those resource rich, badly governed countries).

While there we wandered into many other ones, the most interesting being Namibia.  The queue was quite large by African Pavilion standards (maybe 15 minutes long), but we happened to wander in the back entrance.  Pointing to a map of the place, I reeled off the few facts that I knew about Namibia to Audrey.  One of the Namibian lads manning the exhibition was standing nearby, and was very interested that someone knew stuff about his country.

His name was Nessy, and he spent the next 30 minutes showing us around their exposition, and well as talking about his frustration with the locals.  In the two months he’d been there, barely anyone had asked any questions about, or shown interest in, Nambia, despite the fact the place was always full.  There were more interested in filling their silly Expo passports, which you could buy, and then get a stamp as each pavilion that you visited (and some are flogging full ones).  Some pavilions, including Ireland, have stopped stamping them, as they felt people only came to the place for the stamp (which, as we saw, was very true)

Namibia did look awesome, and is now firmly on the list of places we’ll visit sometime in the near future.  They were bringing in some of their local brew, Windhoek (named after the capital), in the next week on draught, pity I missed that (although I have had bottles before).  As we were leaving Nessy gave us a few little souvenirs of Nambia.

Next we made our way towards North Korea, stopping at some random SE Asia countries and Iran.  Iran did a decent job (with a good explanation of what they were showing, no nuclear bomb plans though), and they had phenomenally expensive carpets for sale.  North Korea was amusing, with a mock classic fountain with cherubs and angels in the middle of it.  I could also buy books by Kim Jong Il on the structure of theatre.  Nothing on how to starve millions though.

This was followed by the Stans, where we have been planning to get to (which is looking increasingly unlikely though, due to problems getting visas in any places we plan to go to) and more SE Asia.

We left any popular ones until later; the queues would be less, the Chinese need to get to bed early, how else are they going to mastermind the takeover of the world.  Early bird and all that shit.

Spain was interesting, quite arty, but done in an impressive manner (see the enormous baby photo above, which was a bit weird).  The German Pavilion closed quite early (maybe, like the Chinese, they plan on making another attempt at the world), so we didn’t get in.  Russia was weird, like Munchkins on acid, and all inspired by kids (see below).

That was the Expo.

A couple of days later, I went on the Maglev which connects Pudong district in Shanghai with the new airport.  I had wanted to take it on my trip in 2004, but it closed early on Fridays, and I arrived just as the last one was departing.  This time, I’d checked the timetable.

It would get up to 430 km/h for a couple of minutes, which is pretty fucking fast.  As the train set off, there seemed to be little urgency to it, but pretty soon we were up to 300km/h.  The camber on the corners was huge, but it wasn’t as smooth as I expected for something that is meant to float along its guideway.

Eventually (well, three minutes later) we got to the magic top speed.  It didn’t feel that fast.  Part of it may be that there was no comparison nearby.  Times when I’ve been on the ICE trains in Germany, they’re sailing along at just over 300 km/h, but quite often it is alongside the Autobahn.  You’re fleecing past cars at a phenomenal rate, knowing quite a few of them are at 200 km/h or so.

As we were slowing down (well, at 340km/h) on the approach to the airport, there was a huge WHOOMP! noise as we encountered another train going the other direction.  It was probably doing around 340 as well.  On the way back, I sat on the side on the inside of the tracks.  I held my head against the window to see if i could ‘feel’ the impact of them passing.  I could, quite hard, twice, once as they first met, then once as they left each other (a split second apart).

That was my pointless experiment over, just like this entry.

Coincidences in Shanghai

We’ve all been there from time to time.  A chance meeting in a random location throws you together with someone with whom you have a common friend.  It really annoys me when someone then says, “It’s a small world, isn’t it?”  No it fucking isn’t, try walking around it, then tell me that.

Anyway, just to contradict myself slightly, I had one of those moments while in Shanghai.  Audrey and I were staying at the BeeHome hostel.  I’d spoken to James Ryan (a friend of mine who lives in Shanghai who I’d mentioned in the previous blog) the day we arrived, and he was to send me details of where we could meet up the next evening.

It got to 2pm the next day, and I’d still got nothing from him.  Audrey and I were relaxing in the hostel, as that’s the worst time of day to be out.  We got speaking to a couple of blokes in the chill out room.  One of them was from Taiwan, the other from the states.  Discussions got on to plans for the rest of the day, and the guy from the states, Dustin (couldn’t get Hoffman/autism out of my head from there on in) said he was meeting up with friends.  I told him I was hopefully doing the same, but my mate still hadn’t sent me through any details.  I mentioned my mate had an exhibition on at the Expo.

“So does mine”, said Dustin, “What’s his name?”
“James Ryan.”
“That’s who I’m going to meet at 6.”

The usual ‘wows’, and ‘how unexpected is that?’ etc., started to be muttered by everyone.  I decided to tag along with old Dustin (he looked like a naive kid fresh out of Uni, found out later he was 32).  James later claimed he’d been working harder than Foxconn employee, and hadn’t time to get any info to me.

We had painful journey to meet up with him.  An almighty mess up by Dustin, meant we got off two tube stops from the hotel we were to meet James at.  Dustin had been there before, but it turns out he’d got a lift from a friend where we exited the tube to the hotel (something he realised after we’d been walking around for 20 minutes).  James seemed to give Dustin an ear-bashing on the phone (although that’s just the way he is) when he called for directions, and Dustin wasn’t keen on calling him back to get further instructions, so we settled for using randoms on the street.

Eventually, we arrived about 45 minutes late, but were the earliest of everyone who was due to be there.  We stood around waiting, chatting for a while, and we regaled our story of the random hostel meeting.

“Actually, I thought you’d recognised each other”, assumed James.
“Eh?”, we both questioned.
“In Hangzhou, 6 years ago”, explained James.

As he said that hazy memories of an enormous binge started coming back to me.  I’d went down to Hangzhou, a couple of hours from Shanghai, to visit James (he lived there back then) and my next door neighbour from back in Macknagh (somewhere between the mighty metropolises of Swatragh and Maghera).  They’d met in the Irish pub (shock horror) in that town, and had, ‘amazingly’, found a common acquaintance in me (and my brother Niall).

We all met up in the Irish pub, as we do, for a few beers on the Wednesday evening.  It had been good craic with the few people that were in the pub, and as the pub kicked us out, Karl, my neighbour, suggested a few more drinks back at his.  We were all at the stage were ‘no’ had been expunged from our vocabulary.

We got back there, and the brandy, whiskey and I can’t remember what else, all came out.  I was wasted by the end (and I assume the others were).  Over the years, I’d occasionally thought of that session, and that I had always remembered us being four, with a quietly spoken extra in there somewhere.  Dustin was the extra

14 July 2010

Beards Blog

I love my beard.  Audrey certainly doesn’t.  She’s praying for the day when I finally shave it off.  It’ll come in the next few days.  But it will be in stages.  The bit just below my lower lip, and around the chin will be the first to go, as they are the areas that simply look the weakest.  There could have been the possibility of a comb-over if they would have grown long enough   J

It’s got pretty unruly by now.  The only trimming has been around the upper lip.  The neck area is a matted area of hair growing in every direction, with no proper structure to speak of (or I’ve yet to find).  Running a comb through it involves a bit of effort.

While eating food, you need to be much more careful than usual.  Sauces get caught in it easily, while it had not been unusual for Audrey to spot a small morsel of food sometime after eating.  I’ve had to become much more conscientious of wiping my mouth after food (and a larger area that normal).

Drinking beer has also been affected.  I now get the 100% full-effect Guinness ‘tache, this hasn’t been a problem for the last few months since I left Ireland, as Guinness is usually rubbish abroad and not worth paying through the nose for.

While drinking pints, I now have to raise my upper lips a little to avoid getting a drenched moustache.  Towards the end of a pint, tip a little too far, and the contours of the hair at the edges of the glass make perfect conduits for beer trying to escape its natural path, and ending up on my t-shirt.

I think keeping a beard in order could be a lot of effort, thankfully I’m on holiday.  One of the lads I worked with had a full beard, always looked immaculate in the office (he is a Sikh).  He once told me he spent 30 minutes every morning sorting out his hair.  I e-mailed him for some advice on how I could get mine under control.  Eventually (I think he was too busy sorting out the facial hair ), he did mailed back with a lot of complicated info.  Good effort, but too much work for me.

I’ve been asked by numerous randoms if they can take a picture with me.  I quite like that, my ginger/brown beard may be appearing in photo collections all over the world.  My record was four people in one day.  Up until now, no one has actually asked to touch the beard, but I don’t think I could refuse if they wanted too, unless they happened to have a pair of scissors in their hands.

It’s also helping me become an expert starer.  The most stubborn ones are kids, around 5 years of age.  Initially, they would win, but I’ve been honing my skills, and usually win these days.  Quite often they appreciate a smile or a wink.  I use that with adults as well, I think it embarrasses them.

In Mongolia, I got a few shouts of “Jesus” aimed in my direction, which I found highly amusing, and it made me feel like my beard had “made it” (even with the barren patches).  Santa Claus will be the next step.  Since reaching China, there has been no shouting; either that, or Jesus has a Chinese name that is unrecognisable to me.

After 3 months of growing the beard, I think I may have finally found a practical use for it: I can hide toothpicks in it.  I think I’ll end on that note.

Back in Shanghai

It was more than 6 years since I was last in Shanghai.  You could see big changes were underway back then, and today they can be seen, but as far as I can tell, it is still nowhere near the end.  Construction may not dominate the skyscape as much as it did back then, but that is probably simply due to much of it being concealed by other massive buildings.

Pudong, the new (in 2003) district in Shanghai, had completely matured, now appeared like Hong Kong when viewed from the other side of the Hangpu river.  The subway has expanded from two lines to twelve lines, and will be 22 by 2020.  That’s fucking scary, especially when you consider how hard it is for Ireland to even try and build a couple in Dublin.

While there I met up with a mate called James Ryan, who I’d met 6 years previously in a neighbouring city called Hangzhou.  I also met my next door neighbour from back home in Derry, Karl McErlean, for a few minutes (he was too busy with some important business deal to do with clothes to spend much more time).  James loaded Audrey and I with loads of souvenirs (thanks), Audrey particularly loved the Irish wolfhound toy dogs (but our backpacks were now at their heaviest).  We tried sending one back home through China Post, but they refused, due to security concerns (might it have rabies and bitten someone?).

We picked up a copy of one of the Chinese English language papers while there.  I have never read articles that were more devoid of any actual useful information, completely sanitised.  I knew they wouldn’t be great at reporting on what the Chinese government did, but it extended to even vehicle reviews.  One example of Chinese “critical” reporting on the new Mercedes C-class:

“As a trendy vehicle suited for everyday use as well as leisure travel, the C-Class Estate has foldable back seats that can make room for up to 1,500 liters [sic] of storage space, enough for four golf bags.”

Not a single word of criticism, it read exactly like advertising bumf (top gear wouldn’t be in it).  Maybe I’m being harsh, the car might actually be perfect, although it is a Mercedes, so I doubt it.

Also watching the Chinese English language news, when talking about inflation on the Chinese economy, the ‘expert’ economist they had on to discuss the situation with the Australian (for some reason) newscaster, he spent the whole time simply saying, “the ECB, Fed and Bank of England are to blame for keeping interest rates artificially low”, and nothing else.  No mention of Chinese economic policy or yuan revaluation at all.  Why take any share of the blame, when you can blame others.

I picked up a couple of books in Shanghai, at a dodgy little bookshop with a few English language titles.  Best thing about it was they sold the (knock-off) books by weight.  20 yuan for 1 kg.  I got 'The Catcher In The Rye' and 'Super-freakonomics', all for the princely sum of £1.30.

We found another restaurant where we ended up going to three times (like Matrioska in Krasnoryarsk), cheap and tasty food, you can't beat that combination.  The most interesting thing about it was that they wouldn't accept any tips from us.  Which was very refreshing, coming from Europe.  They came running after us as we left the restaurant telling us we'd forgotten our money and insisted we take it back.  All they requested is that we come back again (so we did, twice).  There were a few other places in China that also insisted on no tips.  Maybe they seen it as somewhat corrupt, like a backhander (pity their politicians couldn't learn something from them).

The place was phenomenally busy while we were there, due to their being a World Expo on, but I’ll go into that later.  After hours of trying to sort out trains for our next destination (many train lines in the direction we wanted to go were being affected by flooding, seems like the Chinese can’t completely overcome mother nature), we managed to get tickets to a place called Xiamen, on the south east coast.

09 July 2010

Nanjing: The Southern Capital

The 14 hour journey got us in a 04:00, and a quick cab ride later, we were waking up the staff of the hostel by 04:30.  Initially the receptionist was quite cold (can't think why) and insisted she couldn’t do anything for us, and to come back later, but soon lightened up (not sure why), and let us leave our bags there.

Initially the journey was fine, there were a few empty seats near us, and I wandered up he train and found an near-empty carriage, and had an hours kip.  But by late evening, it was packed to the rafters, with people standing and sitting all along the aisles, some in phenomenally uncomfortable position.  The Chinese have a great dexterity for sitting in weird ways.

We got out sightseeing again soon after getting to the hostel, getting going early again, and got to the Sun Yat Sen Memorial, a guy who has proved to be enduringly popular due to his revolutionary ideals in the first couple of decades of the 20th century (among both ‘the party’, despite not being a red, and the lads who run Taiwan).  Nice park, and would have had some great views of the city again, if it wasn’t for all the haze.

I guess I shouldn’t bitch about it too much, and really we in the western world should be apologising to the average person in the Chinese world for affecting their health.  A significant proportion of the pollution create here is to service the consumerist demands of North America and Europe (we’ve simply shipped a load of our dirty industrial production, amongst other things, overseas, which means we get clear skies, bar clouds, in London, unlike in the late 19th and early 20th centuries).  There is a possibility that if a chuck of that was taken out of the equation here, everyone might actually be able to see more than a couple of hundred metres into the distance more often.

I had the best dumplings in my life in Nanjing.  Absolutely amazing.  If you ever go there, here is the google maps link to it (with a few instructions on how to find it).  Unlike Russia, China is well mapped.

I’ve also started to be eaten alive by mosquitoes.  It was only a matter of time, and I’m an easy target.  There is nothing worse than knowing there is one somewhere in the room with you when you are trying to get to sleep.  I end up being like a paranoid sleep-deprived soldier on sentry, thinking the enemy is everywhere.  It's not so bad if it is only me and Audrey in the room, I can switch on the light and try and swat the bastards (and I've done a few in my time, seeing their/my blood splatted on the walls).  But when sharing a dorm room in a hostel, it's not possible.  So I got up and watched the Brazil v Ivory Coast game (the late kick-offs are at 2:30am).

On the long overnight train trip, one thing that I’ve been surprised at is how dark it is along the east coast of China.  The place is phenomenally well populated, with our train passing through cities of a million or more quite frequently.  Yet some places you barely notice arriving or leaving them.  I think it’s pretty good in a way, but some of it is probably simply due to things being switched off in case of power shortages, rather than impressive efficiency regimes.  Which is no bad thing.  We still waste too much energy in the west lighting things that don’t need it.

We left after a couple of days; it was only a three hour trip to Shanghai.