National day in China is special. For the party member, this is the 60th such celebration and from what I've heard, there will be more fireworks burnt tonight than during the Beijing Olympics and the giant footsteps will make its way to Shanghai, if what I heard is correct. To me it's quite obvious they will use more fireworks for the 1 Oct celebrations, especially when you consider it will be celebrated country-wide.
Debate aside, along with the midautumn festival, I get to have 6 days off. All of it public holidays.
Now I've been fixated on Henan province since early this year when I read about it. Early golden dynastic years of the Chinese empire happened here. Out of the 8 ancient capitals of China, 4 are located here. That would be Zhengzhou, Kaifeng, Luoyang and Anyang. After the first emperor set up camp in Xian, the capital quickly moved to Henan (I believe it was Luoyang, but wikipedia will tell you what it was). Of course Longmen grottoes/caves are here. So is the very commercialised Shaolin temple at Song Shan. Better still, my chinese surname, Chen, the top 5 most common chinese surname, originated here in Henan. The article I read indicated it was in Puyang. My search on the web says another town to the east of Henan which I doubt I will visit due to time constraints. More googling says that it began when Chen state was established, and so on, and the town inside Chen State is today Zhoukou, not too far from Zhengzhou and Kaifeng.
So, the masterplan is to fly into Zhengzhou and cover all 4 ancient capitals and their most important sights and cover two thirds of the cities which are the possible origin of my surname. All these in 6 days.
Will go light. Everything hand carried. Will bring the Ricoh GR Digital for grab shots. Main cameras will be a Leica M2 with Abrahamsson's Rapidwinder IXMOO for black and white film. This will be mated to a 35mm f2.8 Summaron. A second Leica M6 with 50mm Summicron will be used for colour film. For film, will bring 17 rolls, all from ERA100, Tri-X in IXMOO cassettes, Neopan 1600 for night time, Velvia 50 in case there are landscapes to shoot, Kodachrome slides, Kodak 160NC and finally Ektar 100. That's a lot, but got to be safe. GPS navigation will be provided with my old workhorse the Garminn eTrex Vista, and backed up by Nokia E71. All these blogging will be done with the E71. The audio recorder PCM-D50 will come along to record ambient sounds.
30 September 2009: 2231hrs: Arrival in Zhengzhou after an hour delay caused by outbound traffic back at Shanghai Hongqiao. Tomorrow is the start of a long holiday, and happened to be the 60th aniversary of Modern China. Zhengzhou airport is quite impressive. I counted 10 aerobridges in a glass building not unlike Pudong airport in design, except the facade is vertical instead of obtusely angled. I had no luggage checked in so it was straight out the door, a ticket booth to buy your 16 RMB bus ticket and crossing a few lanes to board the CITS bound bus. They don't seem to stop on the way, so telling the counter lady Zhengzhou would do. Had a dejavu, like the airport in Xian I remembered. Same layout, same way to take the bus.
Trip takes 45 minutes on a modern highway. It drops you off in an area full of night clubs, including one that is called Hot Dancing Club... Curious, curious.
One thing I really hate when in a foreign place are those taxis with faulty meters. They are the ones waiting patiently when you arrive and explains the difficulty in getting to your destination due to the traffic. It is close to midnight. I got quoted 40 RMB. My GPSs both told me that the place I wanted to stay in is 5 km away. Even in Shanghai, 5km will cost me less than 15 RMB in a traffic jam. Told the guy to go prey on a REAL foreigner and I started walking. Experience tells me the number of dodgy taxis is inversely proportional to the distance of the center of action. Picked up one about 1 km away and rightly, cost me 10 RMB including 1 RMB tip. And no traffic jam naturally.
Its close to midnight once I got to the hotel, thanks to the hour or so delay causing us to take off at close to 9pm instead of the scheduled 8pm. Will get some needed sleep now. Tomorrow will head off to ancient capital of Kaifeng.
1 October 2009: Breakfast at a chinese business hotel. There's the fried rice, and vegetables stir fried in many ways, but mainly vegetables. There are spicy cold dishes and hot orange juice. Makes me miss turkish breakfast somewhat. No tea, which is strange for China.
Its an early start today at 8am. Wandered central Zhengzhou around Er Qi Square with my meterless Leica M2, sure the tricky lighting means a number of wrong exposures. Zhengzhou is just like any other big chinese cities. But noticeably, there are more beggars on the street. They are all mothers with kids, didn't notice if they were spaced evenly apart, so half-half chance of a syndicated begging scam. So i conclude either the city council does not clean up beggars as well as other chinese cities or perhaps this is a sign that behind the modern facade of this place, it is really just a poor province putting on its best mask.
Long distance bus station is nearby. However the queue today is horribly long. Guessing up to 50m long for the ticketing booth. Not surprised as it is Oct 1 today. The start of a long holiday. The space is not too big but there are hundreds of buses here ready to leave in batches. Signboards indicate where the bus is off to, and there are tens of rows of these, mostly within Henan province.
0938hrs: Kaifeng bus does not leave at this bus station as it is not long distance enough or some bullshit like that. So after 30 minutes of waiting in line, I'm not about to go off and re-queue another time. So detour is pending. Reckoning. And so I checked the bus to Zhoukou and there's one at 10am for 59 RMB. Thats rather expensive, which either denotes this place is freaking far away, or it is just due to the festive prices.
So I am off to Zhoukou. A last minute search on wikipedia before leaving for Henan last night gives conflicting account for the origins of the surname Chen. Chinese National Geographic says it's Puyang. Wikipedia says Chen State is now where Zhoukou is. I have no way to verify but one way to be sure, this crowded bus station gives me a good way to be sure, I can go to Zhoukou and Puyang to be sure I have been to the original Chen city!
1249hrs: Long time running, because the bus stopped at another station to pick up more passengers. As if it was not loaded enough, they loaded the aisle too, hey, why not fill up the overhead compartment too, Mr driver? But you know when you are in rural China when they do this. We are 10km out of Linying just befor hitting Luohe. It's a toilet break, at a rather overkill highway stop. There is a proper restaurant here, and stalls for tidbits, corn on cob, and fat sausages.
1350hrs: Finally got to Zhoukou. Along the way, actually all the way here there are farms on the side of the 2 lane double carriageway highway. Closer to Zhoukou I noticed farmers drying corn on top of flat roofs, like they do in the tibetan villages of Sichuan. The soil here looks dry, bet it has not rained for some time.
Zhoukou itself looks just like any other medium sized agriculturally dependent city in China. I'm ready to believe there are at least a million inhabitants here. Roads are wide and straight, suggesting it was modern, and there are many motorcycles and tractors on the road. Motorcycles are modified into 3 wheeled motor trailers and most of the time there are girls or old women sitting behind it. Air is foggy, polluted and dusty. You'd be happy to be able to see the sun. And unmistakably you're in rural china. People here speak strange putonghua. She said 40 RMB for the ticket to Kaifeng, and it took me a few tries to understand. For sure they modify the tones. Its like putting the standard pronounciation into a random tone modifier. Just have to ignore the tones and work by context. And yes, people speak loud here. And I'll say it again, I'm definitely in rural China!
Not too much time to spend here. There are a few tourist signboards coming into Zhoukou pointing to areas of interest linked to the Three Kingdom legends including, if I remember correctly a memorial to Lord Guan, then again there has to be millions of these around. One dot on my GPS, and I will now have to leave you, provincial capital of the area used to be known as the Chen state. Being a Chen, at least in my pinyin name, I cannot even imagine skipping this town. Even if it means 8 hour detour for an hour visit.
On the way out of Zhoukou, the bus goes straight north on a small road. Here the farming communities are obvious. They dry out corns again, some stalky twigs and the occasional black stuff, which smells like dung. There are so much of it, they really dry them all on roads. Two laned ways become one as half of it is covered with yellow corn kernels.
1826hrs: That was a long long way to Kaifeng. Arrived at the long distance bus station, located next to the railway station. Busy area as usual, as for all railway stations in this country. To be safe, I bought the ticket to my next destination, Anyang for noon tomorrow. Will wake up early and visit downtown Kaifeng tomorrow morning.
2011hrs: At Kaifeng's night market on Gulou Rd. Its noisy, and there are plenty of stalls. Closer to Gulou is where all the food stalls are, and they all seem to be serving stuff on skewers to dip into some kind of shop. Away from the bustling center, stalls start to sell household necessities, and some with those games you'd find in cheap arcades, mainly tossing small rings onto some statistically close to impossible bottles. This is where I will have my dinner tonight. And while shooting the night market, the tape on my Leica M2 IXMOO cassette broke at the end of the reel, meaning not am I running out of film, but I will need to take it out of the camera in a dark room tonight! There goes my planned Neopan 1600 shots of the night market! The backup M6 is sitting in the hotel room, unfortunately.
Kaifeng's night market is easily the size of the one in Xian. And coincidently also filled with chinese muslims. With their skull caps, not ladies in burkha of course. If I were allowed a wild speculation per hour I'd even say that the night market is identical to Xian. Chinese muslims pounding peanut cake, pear tea, brochettes with lamb and plenty of spices. I am starting to love night markets. Dirty but good food, and cheap. Had dumplings, then an apple (supposed to remove the skin I know, but lazy tonight) and topped off with a cup of pear tea. Dont think the total bill ever hit 15 RMB. There is a valid reason for tonight's frugality on my part. Most chinese hotels take 2x room rate, one part pre-paid room and another part deposit. They can't do deposit with my Unionpay card, so most of my cash is tied up there. Not that I have a lot of cash in the first place. The ATMs in this town are all out of cash.
Well, this is funny. Walking down the road a few km to my hotel and passed a roadside stall, same old dirty joints you'd find in third tier cities and there're these well dresses chinese girls munching down their spicy noodles. Across the road is a KTV. So that completes the picture. 2110hrs, and I'm passing the eastern city wall and across the river. I'd better stop blogging before I get run over by a Kaifeng driver.
2 October 2009: 0757hrs: I hate people who press the lift before the whole family arrives. And the whole load of people has to wait for them. Families are very much guilty of this social atrocity. And this was my first annoyance for the morning.
Planned to spend the morning going around whatever is around the center of Kaifeng city. On the map not much is more than a few hundred years, possibly because this place gets flooded periodically by the Yellow river.
0831hrs: At the Grand Xianggou Monastery in the middle of town. There is a 30RMB ticket charge, normal for a monastery. Reading the notice board for tourists outside the place, it says, 555AD during Northern Qi Dynasty... Ok, ten most famous monasteries, and this is funny - please maintain silence in the monastery ground. As I was reading this, a man shouts into his mobile phone as though his microphone was placed on the battery side away from his mouth.
There are a lot of local tourists here. Blogging away while waiting for a trough in the wave of tourists. Photos look better when it is simple with clutter of groups with the same red caps. Its 9am and the sun is up but the pollution gives light close to the evening sunset colours. Warm colours. The way photos looks best.
1238hrs: Leaving Kaifeng bound for Anyang, yet another ancient capital. This one might be the oldest of the 4 I will come across this trip to Henan. I don't expect to see anything remaining though. The longer it is, the deeper underground they are.
Kaifeng is a little bit of a revelation so far. Walked the streets last night and more this morning. It doesn't have a big impact tourist location, but spend some time here and its charm starts to show. There are cars, but reminds me of Shanghai a decade ago, where most cars are taxis and buses. Now most get around by electric cycles, and I estimate they out number petrol guzzlers by 5:1 at least.
Here in Kaifeng, shops still promote their wares the old way. I've seen many processions of young sales men/women with company vests or sash holding placards with the promotion they are trying to push across. There is always a leader and some noise, be it drums or an audio recording of some sort. Obviously, the bigger the troupe the more glamourous your shop is. I've seen that most are 4-5 people large, but one hawking kitchen wares was about 20 long including 8 maidens holding a large drum on their collective shoulders. The men had the honour of holding the boards. Older shops would sometimes do it the old way, an old man with deep and loud voice standing on a chair on the sidewalk attracting customers into a small leather shop. I have heard that this was they way they do it during the dynastic days and there is a skill involved, no doubt.
Shops try to outdo each other. It is not difficult to find shops putting their wares on the sidewalk. The biggest proponent of this are the alcohol shops. Their goods comes in boxes, so it is easy to put as many boxes outside your shop to show you have plenty of stock, and in effect, I guess, that you have plenty of business as well. And the next shop always has more stock to offer. I don't see this competition between shops elsewhere.
On the streets, there are more trishaws than taxis. No, these are mostly not human powered. They look like the same shitty rickety mechanical mess meant to transport people, and not to look good, but we are in the 21st century now and electric powered motors have found its way into them all. These 3 wheeled carts are everywhere. I did not take them, preferring the ultra cheap 1RMB buses. Bonus is that Google maps on my E71 now does public transit routing with the buses and it worked even in Kaifeng. Travel just got cheaper! As long as you don't get to pay roaming data charges or course. Just point to where you want to go and the bus numbers appear in the routing.
As the bus inches its way up north, horns used all the time although the traffic in front looked clear to me. My garmin states 65kmph. We're back to the countryside, evident by the drying of corn kernels on the emergency lanes on both side. The standard form of transport here are the 3 wheeled tractor, a cross between tricycle and muscle 4 stroke motor and motorcycle tires. I guess these are goods transporter but they seem to be ferrying people more than goods. Even trucks here, full sized trucks have 3 wheels. Either 4 wheels are unlucky, thus 3 (5 wheeled transports might be a little difficult to manouvre) or it is cheaper to maintain 3 wheels. Guess i will never know the reason and this will remain one of those mysteries of rural China.
Go to Henan Province Part 2...