Friday, October 27, 2006

Fuzi Miao

Fuzi Miao, the old Confucious temple, is now a shopping area and great tourist destination near the centre of Nanjing. Fuzi Miao has three official entrances, each of which is marked by a large heavily ornamented oriental-style wooden gate. It's quite a sprawling area and there are many other ways in, but these are the big ones.

Fuzi Miao gate 1

Fuzi Miao gate 2

Fuzi Miao gate #3

Finding new parts of Fuzi Miao seems to be a constant process. There are many opportunities for side alleys to become populated with vendors selling silks, jade stamps, delicious food, chinese clothing, antiques, a cheap pashmina, and so on. You can also easily find all the tourist items - moonstones, cheap jade, little ceramic cicadas that make a constant noise - there was a craze a couple of months ago for these oval-shaped magnets that made a weird noise when thrown together. The whole place is a meandering maze of small roads, shop stands, and people selling almost anything. Along the major roads - that attach directly to the gates - you'll mainly find commerical shops, in a building, with glass windows. The further away you get from these, the less touristy and more interesting the shops become. There are two side streets on either side of the main entrance to the Confucious Temple that both go to intresting places, full of fascinating old shops and unique goods.

One thing shopkeepers love to do is employ somebody to stand at the entrance to their shop and clap - not just in Fuzi Miao, but everywhere. Some clappers look decidedly dejected at having such a boring job, while others have particularly high voices that they seem to love yelling with, while merrily clapping away, to get potential shoppers' attention.

There's even an underground part, full of bright lights, and all kinds of shops. You can find an antique comeputer games market, selling original Sega master systems and games, or nail-painters, who will do all kinds of beautiful things to your nails for bargain prices. Often the floor has neon lights built in here. The underground part spans maybe a third of Fuzi Miao, and has many entrances. It's a bit like a rabbit warren and it took me six weeks to work out that it all connected up - explore every corner!

Underground electronics shop

Shops selling either jade name stamps, silk clothing, wall hanging scrolls or wooden carvings are very common, and the shopkeepers will yell "Hello" at anyone with pale skin that walks past, to get your attention. Often the selection is fairly mundane and very overpriced. There's a wall hanging in the living room that was marked at 210RMB, and purchased at 30RMB. The name stamps are also overpriced but if you can find a skilled worker and get into the back part of their shop, then you'll see some stunning pieces of workmanship, with all kinds of dioramas and creatures carved in high quality stone. Prices can go as high as you like, but it worth browsing just to see the amazing stonework.

Aside from the temple, there's a place where you can get boat rides at almost any time of day, along one of Nanjing's rivers (which are mainly tributaries and offshoots of the Yangtze). The scene is beautifully lit at night and definitely worth seeing, although there's usually such a queue for boats that I've not been on one yet!

Gate to the river in Fuzi Miao

Fuzi Miao boat rides

Transport around Fuzi Miao is best done on foot, though you will find a bunch of dudes dressed in yellow silks who are very, very keen to take you on their rickshaws (just look at their faces!). They can be found just by the Confucious Temple.

Fuzi Miao rickshaw drivers

Monday, October 23, 2006

Crack candy

There seem to be some rather interesting sweets available - is this stuff really OK for kids?

From 20061022-dump

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Green Tea

Green tea is good for you! Loads of people carry around some kind of jar or pot, with a handful of green tea in the bottom, and water in the rest. Once you've drunk the tea, the jar's refilled. They must've been doing this for a while because you can now get purpose built tea jars, with a strap, and an inbuilt filter to stop the leaves getting in your mouth while you gulp it down. I have one!

My "Plain Sailing" tea jar

Originally I was re-using a drink jar for the purpose - the fruit drinks in China are a million times better than the selection in Europe, there are very few fizzy artificial things (although the ones you do find are ace!) and mainly loads of nice gulpable fruit drinks, some with actual bits of fruit in. They're probably full of toxic chemicals and stuff, but they taste really, really good, and are cheap! You can get a great green tea cold bottled drink, and if you want hot stuff, there are many grades of green tea leaf. I accidentally spent 40 yuan on 50g of Oolong yesterday, though it did taste pretty nice. There's a great tea shop in Fuzi Miao where you sit down to test teas, made by someone who's been to Tea University. There was also Jasmine tea - 4 grades of it! - and we got some of that too.

Loose Jasmine tea. The flowers unfurl when you add water

If you're in the states, you can buy green tea and really high grade tea online.

Speaking of jasmine tea - it's not just green tea that's drunk here. I saw an old dude with red beany things in his tea jar, and bought some at RT-Mart a few days later. Turns out they were dried medlar berries (I haven't heard of them either - also known as loquat) and were ok. We've got random flowers and stuff to put in the tea jar. The Chinese version of camcmile tea (if you like that sort of thing) is way better than some stuff in a bag, like we get in the UK, you get actual camomile flowers and just put them in your teapot along with hot water! How cool is that! You can see them all through the clear tea jar, and appearances definitely do count when your tea looks this good.

Medlar berry tea

Camomile tea

Clover tea

Colourful looking tea - no idea what it is!

One of my friends went to Xinjiekou and found a strange rolled up ball (about 2cm wide) to put in tea. It's a flower with leaves also and it puts out a "root" when you add water, then unfurls into this beautiful white flower, complete with stalk, after a few minutes. It's good for five or six refills, and the tea tastes excellent too.


Everybody in China has a bicycle. Mine's a model that was popular about 25 years ago, it's black, built very strongly, and feels like it's made of cast iron.

Ace bike! This one will beat a Volvo

They use to be called "Weight Plus" because they'll take a lot of weight. You'll often see people with two metre stacks of boxes piled onto the backs of their bikes, wobbling through the streets! Most roads have wide cycle lanes, and they need it - it's not unusual to see a queue of forty bikes waiting at the traffic lights. Rules for cyclists are even less obeyed than those for motorists - the only one you should watch out for is to leave space for people turning right. Every bike has a registration number, as well as every moped, and driving without this is an offence. You can remove a strip of plastic from the middle of the registration plate, and most people do, though I've no idea why!

Electric bikes are popular, as are ones with very small petrol engines. The electric ones are usually pretty slow and I like overtaking them. In fact, Chinese cyclists tend to go at around double walking pace, which is really slow! It stops you sweating, and 10 years ago it might've been necessary because of the amount of bike traffic, but nowadays there's no need. Getting places takes a lot of time here, so I'm more than happy to go quickly! None of the bikes have gears, and although most of the world's bikes are made in China and good bikes are cheap, the theft risk is quite high for a nice mountain bike, and besides, I'd go much too fast to have a passable survival rate.

One particular type of bike that's popular with people who carry a lot of stuff around looks like a tricycle, and has a big box on the back. You can get varying sizes of box. I want one! You could get so much more in there than you can in the basket on the front - even a whole passenger - talk about luxury transportation..

Very new looking tricycle, for carrying stuff around.

Driving in China

Although there are many traffic rules and regulations in China, and the roads are wide, well-surfaced and laned, the actual driving experience is pretty much total chaos. Cars are fairly recent and up until about 3 years ago everyone had bikes, so they drive like cyclists - very aggressively, and into any space they'll fit! It's pretty good fun getting an "insane" taxi driver who's more than happy to drive full pelt towards oncoming traffic (in their lane) just to skip past the queue. My favourite manouveur is crossing at a crossroads or t-junction when the lights are red, by driving over a pedestrian crossing.

It's also amazing how close people drive to each other! There's no concept of personal space, which seems fairly reasonable, after all, there are a lot of people here, and personal space isn't actually used for anything much, is it? It carries through into driving, where squeezing three cars into two lanes is completely normal, and undertaking a bus while going round a sharp corner only warrants praise.

Chinese drivers use the horn as one might use a bicycle bell - to warn people that you're approaching. Mirror usage is pretty much unheard of; listening for horns coming from behind is usually enough. As a consequence, the roads are noisy, but it's not people being angry, it's perfectly routine!

As in Italy, if you want to cross the road, or go in front of somebody, and they're not going too fast, just walk out. The chances are, you'll get beeped at, but never hit. Accidents are surprisingly rare, which leads me to think that the Chinese are, on the whole, very good drivers!

For a city that had almost no roads in 1990, Nanjing's developing hugely quickly. Roads with fewer than seven lanes are only marked as "minor" on the city map! Also, right, the traffic lights have this well good thing, where there's a big sign counting down the seconds until when the light changes. Not only does it tell you whether you need to brake for them, it stops people getting irate at lights that seem to be on forever, and gives you something to look at while you wait! This is still the best idea I've seen since I got here, it's just wicked, everybody should do it. China's infrastructure is so thoroughly well developed. They really plan their capacity too - there are many enormous roads leading to areas of nothing, where land has been zoned for future construction. There's a whole highway that's completely empty in the northeast of Nanjing, just lying in wait for when all the building work there is complete (most of the land isn't even sold yet!)