Monday, June 26, 2006

Day 4 (21st June 2006)

7.40am – The bus departed from our hotel for our tour.

8.45am – Reach a Mongolian ‘Village’. We were taken on a ride on trishaw through small lane sandwiched between houses, called ‘Hutong’. After a breeze trishaw ride, we stopped by a lake. At the lake, we were taken on a boat ride. Amazingly it was paddled manually by a local boatman. While on the boat, we saw an old man doing a few laps around a small island in the middle of the lake. We left the village around 9.30am.

10.00am – The bus took us to a jewellery shop near the ‘Bird Nest’ stadium. The shop belongs to a Malaysian. The owner happened to be in the office. Actually his father was the one who founded the company. The father fled Malaysia for Thailand after being heavily in debt (gambling problem) and started a construction company. While building a house, he discovered a gem deposits in the ground. He made a deal with the land owner and the rest is history.

11.30am – We reached a traditional ‘hospital’. We were whisked into a room. There were some pail filled with hot herbal water. We were asked to take off our shoes and soak our feet into the water. While we were relaxing, a ‘traditional’ came in and introduced himself. He was born in Kelantan. His family returned to China when he was in his twenties. Now he is 74 years old. He graduated from a university specializing in traditional medicine.

He explained about the basic concept of yin and yang. Yin is the water part and yang is the fire part of our body, analogically speaking. If they are not balanced, that’s why the body is not well. If your yin is low, you need to eat food that makes your body cool and ‘increase’ your blood. Then we had a really great foot massage. By the end of the session, I was ‘burping’ away.

1.00pm – We had lunch in a cultural restaurant. The waitress dressed in some ethnic clothing. I believe they are Mongolian costumes.

2.00pm – The bus stopped at Beijing’s Hard Rock Café. In a very touristy fashion, we all went in and snapped some photos. I think some of the staff and patrons were annoyed by our present. On our way out, I noticed some pamplets by the door. I grabbed a map of Beijing. Then we left for shopping trips.

4.00pm – First stop, same as previous day’s complex. I showed the old ladies' shop to other group members. After being ticked by my companions, I promised my friends and my self not to bargain at their shop anymore. Surprisingly (or not), the two ladies recognized me.

5.00pm – Second complex. I had the experience of being grabbed (physically) by three shop assistants. They didn’t want to let me go without buying a pouch from their shop. I haggled till the price dropped from RMB150 to RMB46. I would have haggled some more if wasn’t because of we were out of time.

6.00pm – Silk road market. The shop assistants there were less friendly and looked more fierce.

7.00pm – Dinner before returning to our hotel. Before leaving our Chinese guide, I asked him to wrote down the name of the shopping complexes we visited in Chinese.
Day 3 (20th June 2006)

7.30am - Already on the bus and ready for our tour.

8.30am – Our first stop, jade factory. The first cut is the rough cut. Then the master ‘cutter’ would shape the jade to the desired designs. We were also taught how to differentiate original jade and fake jade. Basically original jade would have ‘murky’ texture when look through the light. Then there’s the ‘pitch’ test. The higher the note sound, the better the jade is.

10.00am – The bus is off to Great wall. I asked our guide, which portion of the wall are we heading. I really don’t want to go to the Badailing section because it’s the most touristy section of the wall. Unfortunately, the guides (Dzul and Fariz) could not answer my question adequately.

10.40am – We exited the Badailing Expressway at Shinguan exit (not sure if I got the spelling or the pronunciation right). Finally, THE GREAT WALL of China! The highlight of the trip (at least for me). This section is build on a hilly side of China. Along the way, I notice granite bricks laying near the roadside. The bricks were probably for restoration work on the wall.

After a group photo, we ascend the wall. I’ve climbed the steps to Batu Caves in Malaysia twice, but the climbed up the Great Wall was definitely more challenging and steep. The steps were irregular and steep. Definitely more steps than that of Batu Caves. After all, the Wall actually goes up the hill. Imagine how hard it was for ancient soldiers to climb the wall with all their armours. From the watchtower, the people at the car park looks like ants (maybe I am exaggerating, but they look small).

As I sat at the tower, I wondered, why didn’t I climbed the wall on the right of the ‘entrance’. It has fewer tourists thronging the steps. Nevertheless, the view was breathtaking (due to breathlessness of the climb and the spectacular view). My only regret is that I did not take more photos.

12.15pm – After an even more challenging descend (I’m actually one of those who are afraid of height), I reached the car park. We boarded the bus to lunch. On the bus, I felt my knees trembling. Not because of the climb, but because of the height.

1.00pm – We reach a cloisonne factory. It served as an art workshop cum restaurant. Cloisonne is actually a craft of using copper and enamel to make vase, container and other artwork. I couldn’t actually made out what the translator was saying but basically there are 7 steps (if I remember them correctly):
1)shape – Copper plates are hammered to shape into vase or any other container.
2)prints / motives – strips of copper is glued to the main container to form prints and motives.
3)colour – some paste (I think it is enamel) with colours are filled into to grooves formed by the copper strips.
4)Burn – First burn. Perhaps to let the paste set in the grooves.
5)Baked –The cloisonné is baked in clay oven.
6)Enamel filing – If I’m not mistaken so that the cloisonné have that smooth surface.
7)Polish – So that the cloisonné have a shining surface.
After the educational tour, we were taken upstairs for our lunch. The window behind us opened to green hills.

2.30pm - Left for traditional medicine factory. Journey took about 1/2 hour. The staff demonstrated some of their products. She even went to the extend of scalding her palm using a red-hot iron. The smell of burnt meat filled the small room. We could see the reddish-and-brownish line on her palm. She applied one of the cream, ‘Bao Fu Ling’. Then she continued with her demonstration. After a while, she wiped her hand. Lo and behold, the scalding was gone!

3.30pm – The bus left the factory. According to our guides, for window-shopping. The guides asked us to compare prices between the three places that we would be going. We would be going to the same places on the fourth day for actual shopping.

4.30pm - First shopping complex, Shioawen shu men (the name sounds suspiciously wrong). I bargained for small table cloths (or was it table napkin?) from a shop manned by two old ladies. Gang was quite angry for that. I was ticked by both Ma Hen and Gang for it till the rest of the trip.

5.45pm – Second complex, Chaowai Yueshow.

7.15pm – The third, Wujiang Street, was more like Bukit Bintang area in KL. We were shocked to discover that even in department store, you could bargain!

8.15pm – We had our dinner before heading back to our hotel.
Day 2 (19th June 2006)

7.00am – Breakfast at the hotel. It was a disaster. Good thing I brought the ‘4 in 1’. Went on the bus for our tour.

8.10am – The bus had an accident. Actually, to me it was hardly an accident. A van from the left lane scratched the bus when it (the van) changed lane. By the way, vehicle in China are left-hand-drive. Both drivers stopped their vehicle in the middle of the road thus causing jams during the morning rush. They argued while waiting for the police to come (which was surprisingly quick). They argued some more in front of the policeman.

Perhaps after hearing the stories from both sides, the policeman took out his book (presumably the summon book). He was about the write the ticket when both drivers decided to settle. The van driver paid RMB200 to our driver for the damage.

8.45am – We reached Tiannenmen Square. I can’t remember the dimension of the Square but it was huge. If I’m not mistaken, it can fit around 4 million people at one time. There square was surrounded by some administrative buildings as well as memorials. There was the warrior memorial to commemorate those who died for China.

There was also the Mao Mausoleum, which I think no one from the tour group noticed. Even Dzul had no idea of its existence when I asked about it. The mausoleum housed the body of Chairman Mao (info courtesy of Discovery Travel & Living). After around half an hour, we crossed over to Forbidden City. Actually, we used a tunnel to cross the road that separates the city and the square.

The Forbidden City is huge with gates after gates letting visitors into the centre of it. Most of the walls were painted red – Chinese colour for prosperity. According to Fariz, the complex has the best Feng Shui – water flowing around it, the front faces a vast open space and a hill at its back.

Most of the complex was being restored. Later I found out other Beijing historical sites are also being restored, perhaps in preparation of the upcoming Olympic.

11.20am – After what seems to be an endless walk, which I thoroughly enjoyed, we reached the ‘back door’ – the one that faces the hill. We left the Forbidden City.

12.00pm – We reached the silk factory. First lesson in Beijing. There are mainly two type of silk cocoon. A cocoon that have two silk worms in it and a cocoon with one worm. The first type of cocoon is used to make comforter (a type of blanket). For Malaysian climate, it was recommended the 1kg-silk-comforter. The second type is used to make fabric. Roughly, a piece of cloth needs around 24 000 cocoons. This particular factory made the silk suit for APEC that was held in China not long ago. They have among others picture of Bush (US), and Dr. M (Malaysia), wearing the silk suit.

Among the things we learned at the factory was how to differentiate a real silk from the fake one. When a real silk is burned, it let out white smoke and a smell similar to burnt human hair. According to the translator, silk have the same chemical composition as our hair. Hence, the care needed for silk cloth is the same with the care for our hair (translation: wash it using a hair shampoo).

By the way, they even make use of the silk worms dejecta (translation: the poop). The poop is used as pillow stuffing. It is believed that ‘poop pillow’ is good for neck pain.

1.30pm – Lunch. After lunch the bus headed to Niu Jie Mosque. Niu Jie Mosque is the oldest mosque in Beijing. Like Forbidden City, the mosque is also undergoing restoration. The mosque was made mainly of wood. It reminded me of wooden mosque in Melaka (which I have to visit when I return get to Malaysia).

3.00pm – The bus left for panda zoo. It was sort of a sad sight. Panda looks dirty and tired. The cages looked small. Other than the panda, I also had another first encounter of another kind. There was this cute little Chinese toddler. She was trotting along with her family in front of me. Suddenly she stopped and squatted. She peed right in the middle of the walkway! So that’s the use of the weird looking pants! (Earlier while on the bus, I noticed a couple or two toddlers walking in pants with a hole showing their 'backside-crack'). Unfortunately my camera was not fast enough to capture it. From then on, I vowed not step on any water puddle in China. We left the zoo after spending half an hour there.

4.00pm – We reach the pearl factory. Unlike Sabah pearls, Beijing pearls are fresh water pearls. They came from fresh water oyster. Ocean oyster produce one pearl per oyster whereas one fresh water oyster produce as much as 20 pearls. The oyster matured when they reach 7 years old (i.e. pearls could be used for jewellery). Pearls from younger oyster can be used for cosmetics products.

While the translator was explaining these, all shop assistants looked and smiled politely to us. As if on cue, when the translator ended the explanation, all shop assistants took out the pearl cream and put it on to our hands. Then they took out the pearls jewellery and coaxed us to buy.

Coaxed is not the right word. It was more like trying to force us to buy them. They chased after us even when we went out of the front door. Gang was ‘forced’ to buy two pendants.

5.00pm – After the scene at the pearl factory, we made it safely to Summer Palace. This palace was used by the ancient royals to escape the heat during the summer in Beijing. Three quarter of the palace ground is covered by water (lake). Coincidently, we visited the palace in summer. It does have the cooling effect to us, the weary travellers (who wouldn’t be after the extensive walking in the Forbidden City).

6.00pm – We left the palace and headed to a government owned teahouse. On our way to the teahouse, we passed the 'Bird nest' stadium. The stadium was constructed for the Olympic 2008 based on the design of a bird nest. The stadium was design to withstand major earthquake (info courtesy of Discovery Channel).

At the teahouse, we got the chance to sample three type of tea. The first tea was white tea. It has a distinctively sour taste. The second tea is Oo’long Tea. All Chinese tea is brewed without adding any sugar. However, when drink in certain way, we could taste the sweetness of the Oo’long Tea. We are supposed to slurp the tea. The last tea is the flower tea. I like the sweet smell of the flower tea. Unfortunately, I could not remember the nutritional values of the tea served.

7.00pm – We had our dinner before heading back to our hotel. We were back in the hotel by 8.30pm.
Day 1 (18th June 2006)

The day began at a friend’s place in USJ. I had spent the night at my travel companion’s place. I wanted to hitch the ride to KLIA. By 6.15am, we left USJ. We had to be in KLIA before 7am to meet the tour manager.

6.50am - Met Mr Dzul (tour manager) at counter C15. We also meet another companion, nicknamed for during this trip as Ma Hen. My first companion was later nicknamed Gang (a name which we hardly used anyway). We checked in our luggage then headed to KFC for breakfast.

8.45am - Went through the departure gate. By 9.00am, we were already boarding the plane, flight MH 378. After a series of seat swapping, the three of us (Ma Hen, Gang, and I) managed to sit together. However, the plane only took off around 9.30am. Beijing here we come!

10.45am - Breakfast up in the blue sky.

2.30pm – Snack was served. No lunch!

3.30pm - Touch down. Beijing here we are!

4.45pm - After a series of queuing (for the exit, imigration, quarentine form & custom) we made it out to the airport lobby. There are 19 people in our tour group.

5.10pm - On the bus. The local tour guide is Mr Liew. Like Harmonica in Phuket, Liew adopted another name for easy memorization, Fariz. The bus driver is Mr Jiang, A Chinese word for river. A few metres from the parking lot, our bus was caught in a massive jam. To be more precise, it was a standstill. People actually turned off their engine and got out of their vehicle. Some smoke and some chat with the next driver.

5.30pm – The bus finally moved. There was a road closure. Some foreign ministers were visiting China. As in KL, roads were closed to allow smooth flow of the foreign delegation.

6.00pm – The bus stopped and park by a roadside. We walked along the sidewalk to get to a restaurant for our dinner. We passed some buildings which looks like a housing complex, similar to flats in Malaysia. The restaurant’s door faces the infamous Tiananmen Square. Everyone devoured the food. I’m not sure if the food was good or we were all very hungry.

7.00pm – We left the restaurant for acrobat show.

7.30pm – We reach the ‘theatre’. Having seen Fantasea in Phuket where everything was superbly choreograph into a story, the acrobatic acts were somewhat disconnected. Nevertheless, the show was cool. There were no safety nets and most of the acrobats did not use safety harness. The body ‘bending’ and ‘folding’ by the acrobats made the Thai massage I endured seems a child play.

8.30pm – The bus headed to the hotel, Zhong Yan Hotel. While distributing the hotel keys, Dzul could not remember my first companion’s name. He called out Ma Hen’s name, my name, and the gang.

9.30pm – Already in the room. We unpacked our things. We did a stock check on our food before going to bed.

p.s.: The names of travelling companions have been changed to protect their identity.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Getting ready for Beijing

I'll be going to Beijing this Sunday. Can't wait to see one of the seven wonders of the world - The Great Wall of China. Haven't started packing yet and it's already Friday. Will try to upload entries from China using my T5.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


I had to go ‘up north’ last weekend. Initially my companion had already booked the tickets. Unfortunately, since we couldn’t collect the tickets earlier, by the time we went to the counter in Shah Alam, the tickets were sold out.

So, I was assigned with the task of buying last-minute bus tickets. On Friday morning, I frantically phone the numbers listed by the bus companies on the Internet. The numbers were either engaged or rang eternally. I could not get through any of the ticket counters. The one that I got thru’ – Transnasional – have no tickets left for Saturday morning.

I decided to go to the bus station famously known as Puduraya. The roads around Puduraya is constantly jammed. To make the matter worse taxi, cars, and buses stopped by the roadside to let passenger disembarked. Driving to the area was out of the question. I took the LRT – formerly known as STAR LRT and stopped at Plaza Rakyat. Puduraya is less than 5 minutes walking distance from this stop. In fact, it is right next to Puduraya.

Puduraya itself is relatively old building. I googled “Puduraya” and found this entry in Wikipedia ( Well, there were plans to renovate the complex, but till this day, the main building remains very much the same for as long as I could remember.

Stepping into Puduraya, I was overwhelmed with the crowd. It was only 11.30a.m. The place was already buzzing with all sort of activities. Ticket-sellers screamed from left and right. Papers with destinations scribbled on it, were hung at tickets counters. Travellers moved from one counter to another trying to get the best deal (ticket price are about the same, only differ in the schedule). It was truly an assault to the senses.

I managed to get tickets to Butterworth. Not exactly to the town that we wished to go. We would have to get down at one of the R&R along the highway. That is another story all together.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Chow Kit II

It was a sunny Tuesday noon. But not too hot. Just nice for a stroll. So I got off the bus and onto the sidewalk.

"Dangdut" music was blaring from many of the shops. I also noticed that there were many small booths selling traditional 'health tonic' made of among others raw eggs. I can't help but feel as if I was in some part of Indonesia (even though I've never been there).

Feeling a bit hungry, I looked for a suitable place to eat. I spotted a reputable looking restaurant accross the road. I headed to the traffic light and waited for the "lintas" sign to light up. I crossed the road only to find that the restaurant (no name mentioned) was not up to my (cleanliness) standard.

I continued walking and found this infamous Lorong Haji Taib (Haji Taib Lane). I have to say, the reputation does not give justice to the term 'Haji' - religious men who had performed Hajj. The area have the reputation of being sort of THE PLACE for flesh trades. Poor Haji Taib (whoever he is) for having such reputation attached to his name. In order to get rid of the image, the government turned the lane into sort of 'night market'.I'm not sure if the effort has any success. At the time of my walk (midday), it looked like a deserted lane.

Yesterday, I used the lane to cut through traffic jams and get into Raja Laut Road. It was around 5.45pm. I spotted at least three ladies standing at the sidewalk. They looked like as if they were waiting. That's a tell-tale of them being a 'trader'. I had expected them to wear sexy and fleshy clothes, but all were in reasonably decent outfit. Short thight skirts, but not too short. No bare back or cleavage-showing dresses.

As I was turning my car into Raja Laut road, I spotted a sexy looking lady sitting next to a telephone junction box. With her long hair and and carefully made-up face as well as shapely physique, she was an attention grabber. But I realized something, she was kind of big. Then I realize, she might not be a 'she' after all.