Saturday, August 31, 2013

Day 2 : Yiyang

After lunch, we drove through the countryside to go to Yiyang. Yiyang is also known as Silver City. Not sure why, though.

We were brought to the waterfront where there was a statue of Guan Gong, a prominent figure of the Three Kingdoms era. It was said that Yiyang was a site for an event during that era ... I did not quite know the details, as I'd not read the book nor watched any films based on that.

When we reached the site, there was no one there. It was just too hot and it would be just mad to be strolling about in the burning weather.  I too could not concentrate as I was running to find shade ... lol ...

 The statue

 A nice place to stroll ..... only if it's not so sunny ....

We stayed but for a while ... and then ran back to the van. We checked into our hotel after that .... and hid in the air-conditioned room till the sun set. We were staying at Yincheng Huatian Hotel <银城华天> here at Yiyang. It's a four-star hotel .... and the room was quite old, in fact. It's sufficient enough that it's clean, I suppose.

The room

Another angle of the room .... 

After dinner, we decided to head out. We stepped out of the hotel, and were taken aback by the heat. There was no sun, but it was still hot and humid. Like a sauna, still.

But still, we decided to stroll along the shopping avenue, located right in front of the hotel. On the left and right of the avenue were shops selling mostly clothes and shoes and accessories.

The street .... 歩行街

We walked till the end of the street, browsing in and out of shops when we saw a lot of people heading towards the left and up a slope. Some were on motorbikes ... some were on foot, and they were dressed for swimming! Was there a pool there, we wondered. So we followed suit as we thought we would go watch people swim ..... 

A popular summar activity 

It was not a pool or a pond. In fact, people were swimming in the river, the Zi River 资江 . Since it was hot, it was a great idea to cool off at the river. People of all ages were seen to be soaking or swimming in the river. It looked really fun! 

That night, we also visited a supermarket, just next to our hotel. It was a reasonably large supermarket. All product labels were in Chinese ..... I wanted to buy a bottle of shower gel .... but could hardly be sure that I was buying the correct thing. Now I know what it feels like to be illiterate! 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Day 2 : A Tujia Lunch

The Tujia people are a population of ethnic minority, centred around the Xiangxi district of the Hunan province. Our guide, MH and also our driver were of the Tujia tribe.

The Tujia people practise a strange marriage custom. The brides are expected to cry before their wedding day. In the olden days, crying was expected to take place from up till 6 months before the wedding. Tujia families even employ matchmakers to teach their daughters to cry with gusto!

Why? I asked MH.

It is better to cry BEFORE the marriage than AFTER the marriage, he said. Oh ... so it was believed that one had to cry to ensure a happy and lasting marriage.

According to MH, this custom is still widely practised among the Tujia people of today, but of course, for a much shorter period of time. The girls are only expected to cry for a day or two before their wedding day. Interesting, eh?

Along the road right up to the Maozedong Bronze Statue Square were so many Tujia restaurants, big and small. The Tujia people enjoy sour and spicy food, pickled and cured food. Rice and corn are their staple.

The restaurant that we ate in was tiny and narrow, and it could only fit 4 round tables. The name of the restaurant was 乡里味土家菜馆. That roughly translates to English as a restaurant that serves village-style Tujia cuisine.

We sat down .... and fanned ourselves fervently .... phew .... we were all hot and sticky from being under the scorching sun. Then, food was served. The first thing which came to the table was ...

 Pickled chopped chillies
This brings to the table 2 significant flavours of the Tujia cuisine - sour and spicy. But by Malaysian standards, this  level of spiciness was tolerable. "Not spicy," we agreed unanimously. 

The next dish was a must-have at Shaoshan. 

 Mao's Red Braised Pork
This is Chairman Mao's favourite dish, his "brain" food. Lol. 
The pork belly meat was cut into thick chunks and stewed in a concoction of chillies, soy sauce and sugar. It's locally known as Red Braised Pork. At this particular restaurant, we were served chunks of pork belly as well as lean meat. However, you would be able to see that the dish was rather oily ... the meat was shimmering with oil and a layer of oil could be seen on the surface of the bowl. The lean meat was firm yet tender, but I would personally prefer if it were sweeter in taste. 

A chunk of braised pork belly on my rice .... so fatty that I did not dare eat it. Connoiseurs would think that tihs was the best part of the pork as the layer of fat would just melt in the mouth .... 

The rest of the items for lunch .... 

 Fish in Spicy Sauce
This was fresh-water fish, deep-fried and then cooked in a spicy fermented soy sauce. I quite liked it. Note a layer of chilli oil on the surface .... 

Stir-fried preserved radish with cured meat 
The cured meat tasted like smoky bacon .... but what I liked was the crunchy and salty radish which was very appetising with rice. 

Fluffy egg omelette

Stir-fried angled gourd

 Kelp and pork bone soup 

Watermelon, courtesy of MH
Well, the watermelon was ripe, juicy, crunchy and sweet. Very nice indeed. 

Inside the restaurant ..... 

A photo of Chaiman Mao takes the centrestage ....  

 More Chairman Mao memorabilia

So much for a Tujia meal .... some of the flavours were familiar to us though. Anyway, there was too much food for only the few of us .... we were stuffed full. Then it was time to move on to the next destination, Yiyang. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Day 2 : Shaoshan

The sky was clear and blue. The sun shone mercilessly, casting a golden hue upon everything. I squinted my eyes as everything seemed so to be looking so bright. China was experiencing a prolonged heatwave, with extreme temperatures at some places. It had not been THIS HOT in 50 years!

It was crazy hot, and I was just as crazy because I was going to be walking under the sun later on. My fear? Hmn ... sunburn, freckles and heatstroke. My weapons? Sunblock, lots of water, an umbrella, and arm covers.

The motorcyclists did not need to wear helmets. They needed umbrellas. 

I jumped into the van, a JAC, for a comfortable ride to the next destination, Shaoshan (韶山).

Our vehicle for the next couple of days, China's very own make

The van was tied with red ribbons on both sides of the side mirrors. It's a superstition to ensure a safe journey.

Shaoshan is a small city located in the county of Xiangtan. It is about 120 km away from Changsha in the southeasterly direction, and this city is popularly known as the hometown of Mao Zedong.

We were dropped off at the Mao Zedong Bronze Statue Square. Well, as the name indicated, there was a 10 metre bronze statue of him here. As of today, people still paid homage to his revolutionary leader of modern China by placing wreaths of flowers at the base on this statue.

Chairman Mao, the founding father of the People's Republic of China
MH said that the statue was built in 1993, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth

The garden surrounding the square was beautifully landscaped, and there were stone tablets inscribed with poetry. I think they were written by Mao Zedong himself. 

A stone tablet 

A short walk away was the childhood home of Mao Zedong.

The sign ...

But the short walk there was distracting. On the left side of the road were ponds where water lily or the lotus plant were cultivated. So many water lilies. I loved the pink blooming flowers they looked so pretty!

A blooming water lily hiding  under the leaves ... 

Naturally, there were carts piling the roadside, and they were selling fresh lotus pods. 

Lotus pods for sale .... RMB10 for 5 pieces 

A lotus pod, from which the seeds could be taken out 

Just peel off the brown skin to consume the seed inside. Be sure to remove the green germ inside first. Otherwise, the seed would burst in bitterness in the mouth. The crunchy and nutty lotus seed was pleasant to eat, somewhat tasted like the flesh of an old coconut

Finally we reached Mao Zedong's school and childhood home. We were free to stroll into the small building which was the school ....

The classroom at the loft
This was the school where Mao Zedong received his education as a child 

But there was a queue to enter the house. At peak seasons or peak hours even, one had to queue for 4 hours for a 10-minute tour of the house!! But we were lucky to wait for only 10 minutes.

The house was made of mudbricks and had a thatched roof. The pathway led us from room to room, and we exited at the back of the house. It was a bit annoying that I could not linger in the house as I would like to. In each room, I stayed a mere few seconds before the queue behind me pushed to get through. Seriously, I did not know what was the hurry .....

This was what the kitchen looked like ... 

Anyway, Mao Zedong's family was considerably wealthy at that time, his father a landowner.

View of the house from opposite ... 

I loved the large pond in front of the house, and also the lush green paddy plant sweeping across the 
landscape. It was beautiful and exuded a sense of peace. 

By the time we finished our tour, it was time for lunch! The were many restaurants along the road, and we had ours at one of them. I was not so hungry ... but I could not wait to get some shade. I was burning hot!! 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Day 2 : Breakfast In Changsha

Hunan literally means "south of the lake". Indeed at the northern part of this province is a large lake, specifically Lake Dongting. Hunan is known as "Xiang" in short by the locals, because the Xiang River runs through this province. Changsha is its capital city.

View from my window

I woke up quite early that morning. I did not sleep for many hours, but I supposed I slept quite well. I felt refreshed that morning. After my ablutions, I went downstairs for breakfast. I was staying at Xiangyun Shanshui Hotel <翔云山水> at Changsha and breakfast was located on the second floor of the hotel.

Hmn .... the interiors of the dining room looked really dingy. Perhaps they intended to create a rustic feel and not quite achieving it. But if you asked me, I'd say that it badly needed a facelift.

Anyway, I counted only a few round tables for guests to sit down to eat their breakfast. Food was lined up on tables along the side of the restaurant, served buffet style. Food labels were in Chinese .... and that did not help people who have limited literacy in the language. Like me. :P

Because of the surroundings, breakfast did not look that appetising. There was a station serving soup and porridge, cold salads, fried rice and noodles, stir-fry vegetables, as well as dry items like breads and biscuits. There was a counter serving noodle soup as well.

What I ate ....

  1. A hard-boiled egg; 
  2. youtiao which was soft and soggy and tasteless;
  3. A spoonful of Egg fried rice. The rice was light and fluffy, quite fragrant and tasty. 
  4. The cherry tomatoes were really fresh and sweet.
  5. I did not eat that chunk of cucumber though I took it. :P 

  1.  A scoop of plain rice porridge with century egg. I was more interested in the century egg than the porridge.
  1. A steamed bun or bao - it was filled with coarse sugar .... I'd never had bao like that ... I nibbled a bit of it and then left the rest uneaten
  2. A plain steamed bun or mantou, which I also nibbled and then abandoned
  3. More cherry tomatoes - yums 
  4. A teeny bit of stir-fried noodles, which I found to taste alright as well. 
Done with breakfast .... and off to visit the first attraction of the day!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Day 1 : Can - Csx

It was an hour's journey by flight from Guangzhou to Changsha. At the boarding gate at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, we were issued a boarding verification card ...

Roarding Verification Card
Lol. Note the wrong spelling on the card. What a joke.

After we exited the gate, we were supposed to board a shuttle bus. I was accustomed to boarding the bus on its left side, so automatically, I headed to the left .... 

"The other side! The other side!" the officer called out to me in Mandarin. Only then did I realise that I was heading the wrong way. Lol. In China, the vehicle driver sits on the left, but drives on the right side of the road. Hence, buses and vans have their doors installed on the right side of the vehicle. This was the opposite of what we practised in Malaysia - right-hand drive and passenger doors on the left. 

Anyway, when the bus did not have anymore standing space, the doors closed and it moved. It brought us to the plane which was parked some distance away from the terminal.

Queuing up to enter ... 

We were settled in almost immediately ..... the flight was not full. I had an empty seat next to me. That suited me just fine. However, the plane had to wait for clearance to take off ... and that clearance only came 45 minutes later. Sigh .... 

Refreshments were ... 

A bottle of mineral water, a packet of salted peanuts, and a wet towel.

The one-hour journey felt short, which was great. I was glad that we had arrived at our destination. We were greeted by our guide, MH. He was a young man in his early thirties, pleasant looking and friendly. As we stepped outside to head to our van, however, we were taken aback by the heat and humidity. It was near 11.00 p.m., but it felt like it was noon time.

I mean, I had watched on television the heatwave sweeping across China ... but I had not thought about how hot it would be .... till I was there myself. It WAS really hot, like being in a perpetual sauna. I sweated that few minutes while I was outside. 

The air-conditioned interiors of the van provided reprieve as we travelled 40 minutes to the city of Changsha to our hotel, Xiangyun Shanshui Hotel <翔云山水>. The lobby looked ordinary .... and there was a group of shirtless men at the cafe next to the lobby. It all gave the hotel a very dodgy impression ..... 

The room, however, was great! It was clean and modern and furnished with a large flat screen television. Very comfortable indeed. It must had been recently refurbished as it looked so different from the lobby. 

The room

I turned up the air-conditioner, showered and snuggled into bed .... it had been such a long day. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Day 1 : Rbt Cafe

Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport was huge! There were two terminals - A and B to cater to the large number of international and domestic passengers. It was also one of China's busiest airports!

I felt dazed at first .... going from the international terminal to the domestic terminal, being not familiar with the airport setting. But well .... we followed the signs and asked around and before long, found our boarding gate for our domestic flight to Changsha.

It was dinner time by then, and there were a few F & B outlets at the domestic terminal. I was unfamiliar with all the names ... but finally, we decided to eat at Rbt Cafe (仙踪林).

Rbt has a rabbit for logo. Hence, I thought Rbt stood for "rabbit". Lol. In fact, it stood for Real Brewed Tea. I ordered a set meal, comprising a bowl of Braised Beef Noodles (红烧牛肉面) and a glass of iced green tea.

 Iced green tea
The tea was not too sweet, and really refreshing. It soothed my thirst immediately.

Braised Beef Noodles
What a big, big bowl. There was so much noodles in there! 

Meanwhile, I was glad that the noodles was served piping hot. The broth was spicy, fiery and full-bodied, so I quite enjoyed it. And I quite liked the play of spicy chilli with the tender chunks of beef. I wished there were more meat though. The wheat noodles, although were smooth, were not springy in at all. Too bad, as I would prefer them to have more bite.

For my meal, I paid RMB58.00. It was slightly overpriced in my context ... but since it was a franchise from Hong Kong (which later I found out), I suppose it would be charging Hong Kong meal prices. Plus, I was at an airport and food choices were limited .... and it was catering to tourists ..... well .... hungry people WOULD pay for food. :P

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Day 1 : Kul - Can

It was my first time taking China Southern Airlines, so it was a new experience for me. I was flying CZ350 from Kuala Lumpur to Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport and thereafter to Changsha Huanghua International Airport.

Baiyun means "white cloud" in Mandarin, and while, Huanghua means "yellow flower". Really, these airports have got very beautiful names. I was really anticipating the trip already!

Checking in took about 20 minutes at KLIA as the queue was rather long. We were checked in straight to Changsha, but were informed that we needed to claim our luggages at Guangzhou before our transfer to the domestic terminal.

Once checked in, we cleared the Malaysian immigration and took an Aerotrain to the C Terminal where our flight would be departing from.

The plane on berth at C21

We were allowed into the airplane as soon as it was ready. I was elated to find out that we were seated on the first row of the economy coach. There was more leg space there, and it would certainly make the four-hour journey to Guangzhou Baiyun more bearable.

The stewardesses were all young and pretty, dressed in dark fuschia suits and slim pencil skirts in diagonal stripes of grey, fuschia and pink. The purser had the same uniform but in blue. The only steward on board was in an off-white shirt with a striped tie. I found their uniform to be rather pleasant to look at for a change.

Announcements were bi-lingual in Mandarin and English ... though it was difficult to comprehend their spoken English. The crew also spoke to passengers mainly in Mandarin. I overheard one Caucasian lady asking the steward in English, "What time we arrive?" She asked a few times and really slowly ... but he could not comprehend what she wanted. Unfortunately. So, some of the passengers helped by providing the information to the lady.

One hour into the flight, the main meal was served. It was the only meal throughout the entire flight. First came the drinks cart .... and guests could help themselves to red and white wine, Coca-cola and Sprite, a selection of fruit juices, milk, water, or coffee and tea.

 Apple Juice

Soon after, the meal cart came by .... and they were serving on board  Fish with noodles or Chicken with rice on that day. I chose to have chicken.

My meal tray

There was a bread roll ... which I liked to eat with butter. The butter cube was hidden under the Danish pastry. Now, the Danish pastry was airy, but lacked of substance. It was not buttery at all, and it also had a rancid smell ... hmn ....

Potato Salad

Well, I loved the potato salad ... which was slightly chilled. On a bed of mixed salad leaves sat a mound of potato cubes, coated with mayonnaise. Yums ..... the grilled chicken with paprika was a bit dry ... but the large wet of ripe, juicy and sweet tomato made up for it. :)

The main course 

Hmn .... the chicken thigh chunks were rather succulent and were coated in a brown sauce, which could be a concoction of soy sauce and spices. The chicken was on the sweet side. It was good that the meal was served hot, cause the rice was more fragrant that way. The vegetables were alright, except that they looked yellow and unappetising. 

Another round of drinks were served an hour before landing.

Though the flight was merely 4-hours long, I was glad when it finally landed. It then took a long time to clear the immigrations. We stood in queue for near 40 minutes. Really, the line seemed to be so slow-moving.

Waiting for my turn .... 

After which we were to collect our checked in luggages .... 

Heading for baggage claim ... 

We went past the exit to where we transferred to the domestic terminal. We checked in our bags once more and reconfirmed our flights. After that, we had to go through another round of stringent security check. The queue was long and as one by one, passengers had to present their travel documents and then pass their hand-held items through the scan.

I passed the document check and proceeded to the scan. I was told to remove my digital equipment from my bag in order to be scanned separately. Finally, I passed my handbag through the scan.

To my surprise, I was stopped.

"Do you have a comb this long?" the lady officer asked me in Mandarin. She indicated the length with her fingers.

"Yes," I said. Immediately, my mind brought me back to the time when I was stopped at Tullamarine, Melbourne because of the SAME comb. The comb was made of solid plastic, so I suppose that was why it looked like a dangerous weapon on screen. Lol.

She then took the comb out from my bag, and placed it in a basin and through the scan. My bag sans the comb was placed through the scan, following the basin. Happy, I was let through.

Geez, what a comb. I had better not bring it on my future trips!!

Once cleared, we jumped on board a buggy and were driven to the domestic boarding gates. There. we searched for our designated gate and settled down to wait for our next flight ....

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Day 1 : I'm Lovin' It - Egg McMuffin With Chicken Roll

I seldom have McDonald's for breakfast here in Malaysia, pretty much because I did not quite fancy the Sausage McMuffin. Well, that was last time. I had not eaten a Sausage McMuffin for years! Now, there were even more choices, i.e. the Chicken McMuffin. I had not tried that either. Maybe sometime soon.

So anyway, it was about 10.00 a.m. I had just claimed my luggage and exited the domestic arrival hall. I was just strolling about the departure hall at KLIA. I had time as the next flight was three and a half hours away.

I was not hungry, but I thought I had better eat something substantial before the next flight. Who knew but there could be delays .... and I might end up starving. I was surverying what to eat when I spotted McDonald's at the far corner of the hall. And I made up my mind to have a McMuffin.

There weren't many people as yet that morning, and there was a whole section at the restaurant which was vacant ... That suited me just fine.I did not quite like the crowd.

At the counter, I placed an order for an Egg McMuffin Set Meal. I paid RM10.02 for it. I believe it's my first time eating the Egg McMuffin here in Malaysia.

 Egg McMuffin Meal Set
The muffin came with a hot cup of coffee and a piece of hash browns

Egg McMuffin with cheese and chicken Roll; Hash browns

I loved that the muffin was served really hot, fresh from the gridle. It was fresh, soft yet chewy. Only that the combination of cheese and chicken roll I found to be a tad too salty. On the whole, however, the muffin was rather enjoyable. The hash brown was crispy on the outside, but quite oily and thus induced a bit of guilt.

I sat at a near empty section of the restaurant, munching away my food and sipping my coffee.... while waiting for my friends to arrive ....

Friday, August 23, 2013

Day 1 : Kch - Kul

The day before, I was feeling feverish and dizzy. My nose was stuffy, and I felt weak in the legs. I wondered how I was going to travel at this state. But what was I going to do? My tickets were booked, and the trip had been paid for. It was too late to back out.

So to prepare myself, I took some medication and rested early. I slept for 10 hours straight and woke up feeling better and stronger at the crack of dawn. Thank goodness! Of course, I was armed with MORE medication for my trip.

There were 3 flights to catch to reach my destination, Changsha (长沙), the capital of Hunan Province (湖南), south central of China. The first flight was from Kuching to Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Thankfully, Flight MH2803 on Malaysia Airlines was right on schedule, and took off promptly at 7.45 a.m.

We were served breakfast a while later. We were given a choice of Chicken with Noodles or Nasi Lemak With Shrimp Sambal. Of the two, I opted for .....

 My breakfast tray

Nasi Lemak with shrimp sambal
Anchovies sambal on the left, rice in the middle, egg and shrimp sambal on the right

It was nice that the main course was served warm, with the rest of the items being cold. I really needed something warm in the tummy. Well, I found the rice to be not fragrant at all as it lacked the rich flavour of coconut milk or the fragrance of pandan leaves. The sambal was rather spicy and on the sweet side, but thankfully, it too had little salty anchovies in there to balance up the taste. It was not bad, actually. However, I did not like the shrimp sambal .... it had a strange flavour which I could not define. I merely picked at the shrimps and left most of breakfast uneaten.

The rest of the flight went smoothly .... and before long, I arrived at KLIA. I was to meet my friends here .... and while waiting for them, Mcdonald's was a great hangout place ....


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