Thursday, 27 January 2011

Tamworth Country Music Festival 2011

It is the country music that brings thousands of people to Tamworth each year for the Country Music Festival. So many people that it is one of the biggest country music festivals in the world. Tamworth is located on the New England Highway in New South Wales, Australia, 415 alms from Sydney in. The 10 day Festival was held this year from 14-23 January. It's the fascinating combination of welcoming locals and the friendly visitors, the summer holiday atmosphere and non stop huge variety of quality music that gives the place such an across the board appeal.

Country music, in all its varied styles, can be heard all over Tamworth. Large venues include the giant Tamworth Regional Entertainment & Conference Center, the Town Hall, and outdoor stages in parks. Other venues include shops and arcades, pubs, clubs, theaters, halls and churches. Much of the country music is free to listen to and most is pure Australian. Tamworths tree lined main thoroughfare, Peel Street, is home to hundreds of buskers who perform on the footpaths morning, noon and night. Three blocks are closed to traffic over the Festival and down the entire length are buskers. There are individuals, groups and bands, all ages, some shy, some flamboyant, playing all kinds of music. The best of the buskers are invited to play at the Buskers Championship Concert.

The official program lists over 2,500 individual events ranging through concerts, record launches, bush poetry, exhibitions and so on. It even includes rodeos and bull-riding in the fabulous new Equine Centre.

Celebrations commenced on 14 Jan for the opening concert at the Bicentennial Park Main Stage to kick off the Tamworth Country Music festival.  It included a brief official ceremony which included the raising of the Country Music Flag. The concert gave festival-goers a taste of the 2011 event, showcasing up-and-coming talent and traditional and contemporary artists. The Bushwackers are celebrating 40 years together, and they featured at the Concert.

Various talent quests are held, such as Star Maker, which recognizes young and upcoming Country musicians and singers. The Open House Concerts held in the 75 year old War Memorial Town Hall are free and showcase the best of country music. The Great Country Pub Song Competition was won by an Upper Hunter local Susan Ransom. She won the competition with her song about Moonan Flat's Victoria Hotel.

The Fender World Record Challenge brought together guitarists and music-lovers of all ages and skill levels. It attempted to break the Guinness World Record for the Largest Guitar Ensemble in the one place.

The Festival had its two major events on its last weekend. The annual Peel Street Cavalcade drew its usual big crowd on the Saturday morning, spectators enjoyed seeing their favourite country music stars cruise through the Tamworth CBD on a variety of cars and trucks. The prestigious CMAA Golden Guitar Awards were held on the Saturday night.Various awards covering all facets of country music were presented to Australia’s best. Since it started in 1973 legendary Slim Dusty still holds the record of receiving the most Golden Guitar Awards with 36. Indigenous country artist Jimmy Little joined the ranks of Slim Dusty in winning the Lifetime Achievement Award, his first Golden Guitar after six decades in the business. Admitted to the ARIA Hall of Fame in 1999, Jimmy Little has more than 30 albums and has been a regular at the Tamworth Country Music Festival since its inception 39 years ago.

I attended the Festival on the Thursday and Friday spending my time l;listening to the buskers in Peel Street, the concerts in the shopping centers, and various singers and bands in pubs and clubs. I attended the CD launch of a Balladeer from Queensland who commissioned a photo of a friend of mine for the cover of the CD. A hot, tiring, but wonderful time.

This year crowd numbers were down slightly due to the recent floods in various states of Australia preventing people traveling the the Festival, and the temperatures were up, but the 2011 Tamworth Country Music Festival successfully foot-stomped its way through Tamworth for another year. Cowboy hats, folding chairs, and guitars are memories of the country music at the Tamworth Country Music festival

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Day 9 and 10– Wednesday 24 & Thursday 25 November 2010

Our last day in China started with the wake-up call at 5am. We met in the foyer of the Sheraton Resort Haikou ready to board our mini-bus, and drove off at 6am for the forty minute drive to the Meilan International Airport, eating our boxed breakfast provided by the Sheraton Resort along the way. We said goodbye to our Hainan Island mini-bus driver and local guide Amy. There was no delay caused by fog today, so after checking in we flew out on time at 8.30am.



The delightful China Southern Airlines flight landed at 10.30am in Pudong International Airport at Shanghai. We boarded our mini-bus at 11.30am with Daniel, our previous Shanghai guide, and drove along the expressway to a restaurant for our last Chinese Banquet meal in China. I then briefly visited a Carrefour Supermarket. It was huge with 42 checkouts, a large in-store bakery, fresh tropical fruit and vegetable section, and a fish section selling fresh, frozen and live fish.
We arrived at a market complex under the Museum Science and Technology at 2.30pm. It was not a relaxing shopping experience due to the noise, the crowds, and the shop spruikers enticing you into their market shops. After purchasing an imitation iPhone and some souvenirs I had my only experience of being temporarily lost in China. We were to meet our mini-bus at 5pm at the spot where we were dropped off. I finished my shopping at 4.30pm but I couldn’t find my way out of the underground market complex. There were many aisles and exits and I kept on going past the same stall. I asked several security guards but they couldn’t speak English. I finally found the right exit and went to the mini-bus at 5.10pm after 40 minutes of frantically racing around the market complex. Fortunately I wasn’t the last of our group back to the bus.
Once all aboard we drove back along the expressway to the Pudong International Airport and had plenty of time to check in before our departure at 8.20pm on our China Eastern Airlines flight. Fortunately they allowed my 37 kilograms of baggage to be checked in. I had a window seat behind an emergency exit door, so had plenty of leg room. After the evening meal I slept comfortably. Breakfast was served and we arrived safely at Sydney International Airport at 10am.  

I will always remember my first trip to China and be thankful that I was invited to be a part of the small group of Australians and New Zealanders as a guest of the China National Tourist Office. The food, sightseeing, hotels, resorts and travel were all first class.

China is a wonderful mix of ancient culture and modern living and is a wonderful holiday destination for Australians. Holidays to China can either be a packaged group holiday organised by a travel agency, or they can be arranged independently by people devising their own itinerary and making bookings on the internet. China holidays can either be hectic or relaxing, based at the one location or several, budget or luxurious, depending on what the Australian tourist prefers. Not speaking Chinese isn’t a barrier to enjoying a holiday in China, as most people in the tourist areas, and most young people, speak English. Transport is very efficient on high speed inter-urban or metro trains, cheap taxis, or internal plane flights. There are many accommodation options ranging from basic backpacker hostels to luxurious resorts. There are many tourist attractions, museums, and observation decks worthwhile seeing to appreciate Chinese culture. The shopping is wonderful and could occupy several days of bargain hunting. China should definitely be one of the countries to be considered by Australians for their next overseas holiday. I for one can’t wait for the next opportunity to visit China.

Day 8 – Tuesday 23 November 2010

After an early morning swim and hot spa I enjoyed my buffet breakfast in the Breeze Restaurant overlooking the Resort's beautiful water features.
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We then boarded our mini bus to see the “China Haikou Volcanic Cluster Global Geopark”, which is 15 kilometres southwest from Haikou, and has 40 dormant volcanoes formed 10,000 years ago in its 118 square kilometre area. There was no police escort today as we were the only min-bus.

There are numerous scenic spots in the Geopark such as the basalt garden, a corridor of amusing rocks, lava flows, mystical craters and volcanic stone implements all remarkably presenting the beauty and grotesqueness of volcanos in a tropical environment. There are more than 30 lava tunnels within the scenic area with their caves in a formation similar to an underground maze which people find fascinating. Volcanic cones, craters, ancient basalt villages, as well as production facilities for everyday items made from lava are scattered all around as if in a world made from basalt. The landscaping includes ancient trees, wild pineapple and tropic orchards, a cactus garden, bonsai plants, lotus ponds and tropical vegetation.

We walked around much of the Geopark absorbing the unusual sights, eventually walking up the many stairs along the pathway leading to the rim of the volcanic crater. The entry fee of $10 for tourists is very reasonable for such a developed natural tourist attraction.

We had lunch of local specialities in a Restaurant at the Geopark as dancers performed for us on stage. A large group of 20 year old army soldiers dressed in their army uniforms visited the complex and dined at the outdoor restaurant. They were celebrating their last day in the army before their return to civilian life. A special performance by singers and dancers was staged for them while they dined. 



We then boarded our mini-bus and drove to the Old Town area of Haikou. Many of the buildings are old with ornate architecture, largely built by wealthy Chinese from the mainland and some overseas Chinese who had returned to their homeland. The buildings are a mixture of styles including Portuguese, French and Southest Asian. The original buildings had no glass windows and many are being preserved.

This is a bustling area where the locals shop for clothing, pets, homewares, toys and food. The tropical climate means there is an abundance of fresh local fruits such as mangos, pineapples, jackfruits, coconuts and carambola, betelnuts, pawpaw, longan and lychee, loquat, naseberry and passionfruit. Unlike Shanghai, no hustlers approached me selling goods so it was quite pleasant walking along the streets and footpaths browsing the shops and market stalls.

We then returned to the Sheraton Haikou Resort and I walked along the beach, where I saw a Chinese bridal couple being photographed at the waters edge. I then explored the Resorts garden and pool area then went to the Resorts Chinese Restaurant for our delicious evening meal. After the meal I went for another hot spa and swim in the outdoor pools before returning to my room to pack my bags and watch some Chinese television. I was delighted to see a grand fireworks display from my balcony. The fireworks were at the neighbouring resort and lasted for more than half an hour. I then retired for the night, ready for an early morning departure the next day.

The day reminded me that some of the most memorable aspects of a holiday are not the meticulously planned aspects, but the impromptu things you come across, such as the soldiers at the Volcano Geopark, the wedding couple being photographed on the beach, and the fireworks display.

Day 7 – Afternoon and Evening of 22 November 2010



After lunch it was then back on our mini-bus at for a short ride from the Mission Hills Resort to the magnificent beachfront Sheraton Haikou Resort. This was another luxurious 5 star Hotel, to be our home-away-from-home for the next two nights on Hainan Island. Surrounded by lush palm trees and beautiful ocean views, Sheraton Haikou Resort is located on the west coast of Haikou city. We were greeted by a guard of honour of Hotel staff and management to welcome us, just like at each of the other Resorts we stayed at in China. Performers greeted us with bamboo pole dancing as we entered the Hotel.
The pools dotted around the grounds are kept very nice and clean and have beautiful landscaped surroundings. It is a really stunning setting with charm and style. The 377 luxurious rooms are very nicely furnished with marbled floors and large bathroom. There is a window to the main room so you can sit in the bathtub and watch the television.

We were running late with our itinerary, so only had 10 minutes to settle into our guest rooms and change before going to the Grand Ballroom on the first floor for a Tourism Seminar held by the Hainan Tourist Development Commission. Speeches were given by several key tourism officials about the emerging tourism potential of Hainan Island and the plans that are being made to attract more international tourists.

Almost a year after being classified as an "International Tourism Island" by the Chinese government, Hainan Province is undergoing massive tourism development, both in infrastructure, construction and policy. The project aims to build Hainan Island into a top international tourism destination by 2020.

Over the last year Hainan Island posted a ten per cent increase in visitor traffic with growth set to continue as the Island prepares for ambitious tourism expansion. Among the projects Hainan has in development are two seven-star hotels set to open in 2011 and 2012, the world's largest duty free shopping zone in Hai Tang Bay and the Island's first eco-tourism centre. The construction of about 30 new five-star hotels is underway and they open within two years. A space theme park is being planned for 2014/2015 and eight visitor centres in Haikou and 10 in Sanya are under construction.

The new bullet train from Haikou to Sanya city commenced operations this month.  It can reach speeds of up to 280km/h and will help facilitate faster and more environmentally friendly travel around the Island for an estimated 18 million passengers each year.

The Hainan Quality Assurance Program has commenced which will involve assessing and certifying hotels, tours, parks, restaurants and other tourist amenities.

Hainan has special Visa laws which allow free entry to tourist groups into Hainan for periods of up to 15 days for people from 27 countries, including Australia and New Zealand.

A feedback session at the Tourism Seminar gave the opportunity for some of the representatives from overseas countries to provide suggestions on how Hainan Island could be better equipped for international tourism .Suggestions included - have reasonable pricing, increase advertising, improve air quality, combine beach and mountain holidays, conduct driver education, encourage longer stays, more direct flights, and improving the language skills of tourism staff.

We then left the Grand Ballroom whilst the staff rearranged it from a seminar room to a dining room. In the foyer we had the opportunity to talk with staff from various local Hainan Island travel agencies and organisations.

We then went back into the Grand Ballroom for a Farewell Dinner held by the Hainan Provincial Government. (The other people in our mini-bus convoy from other countries were leaving the next day, although we were staying an extra day.)  This was another magnificent Chinese banquet meal. There was no shortage of drinks provided with the meal. There were 5 glasses on the table for drinks including hot green tea, Chinese beer, red wine, coke or orange juice, and rice wine. The attentive staff continually replenished the liquids in the glasses throughout the meal. When someone from another countries table came over to greet one person at our Australian & New Zealand table it was customary for all to stand and toast each other.

After the Dinner we boarded our min-bus and drove the short distance to The Urchin Theatre to see the magnificent 8.30pm evening live performance of ”Impressions Hainan".The theatre is shaped like a half Urchin Shell covering the seating area and has an open air stage with views of the ocean some 50m away.

“Impression Hainan” is the latest live theatre performance from the acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou, the designer of the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies. The show is spectacular, featuring over 250 young performers, actors and dancers with an average age of 19. “Impression Hainan” premiered on 3 April 2009 and shows to a live audience seven nights a week. It represents the essence of Hainan life – the history, uniqueness, ocean, flora and local traditions. The show includes special audio, water, visual and high-tech lighting effects. Tickets are well worth the $A45 per person admission price for the 1 hour 20 minute show.

The performance finished at 9.50pm and we went back to the Sheraton Haikou Resort in our mini-bus. I then went outside for a hot spring spa and swim in one of the Resorts many pools. The temperature has been 30 degrees each day on the Island, with the nights still warm enough for swimming. Hainan Island is indeed a land of tropical sunshine, clear blue ocean waters, white sandy beaches, lush tropical rainforests, fresh flowers and green trees.

Day 7 – Morning of Monday 22 November 2010

The wake up call came at 7am, but I was already awake at 6.30am so that I could enjoy my spa on the balcony overlooking the rainforest. I took a battery car ride along the rainforest roadways from my Narada Rainforest Resort & Spa villa unit to enjoy the buffet breakfast at the Outdoor Restaurant surrounded by luscious tropical vegetation and water features.

At 8.00am we boarded our mini-bus and departed the Resort, leaving the southern end of Hainan Island and travelling the 285 kilometres to Haikou, the largest city on the Island. Haikou, the “city of coconut palms,” is the Capital city of Haikou Province and lies southwest of Hong Kong on the northern tip of Hainan Island. It is on the west bank of the Nandu River estuary, which is the longest river on the island. The city's name appropriately means 'Mouth of the Sea'. Along the way we drove past many market gardens, tropical fruit orchards, small towns and large developments of many apartments. We had a comfort stop to break the journey at the appropriately named “Easy Joy” petrol station at 9.30am This was the first occasion since I had been in China that I came across Asian style squat toilets.

We arrived at Mission Hills Haikou Resort, 25 kilometres before Haikou, at 12.10pm The Mission Hills Golf Club and Hotel is an exclusive, 20-square kilometre resort complex built on top of an extinct volcano. Each golf course incorporates the original lava rock formations, ancient trees, deep crevices, meandering streams, crystal-clear lakes, and wetlands.  Since 2007 they have turned a waste black lava rock area into the largest Golf Club in the world. It has hosted many international tournaments in golf, tennis, and cycling.

To create the huge golfing complex, they have had to truck in tonnes of soil and sand to cover the bed of ancient lava rock. They have laid 570 kilometres of irrigation pipes and 28,000 kilometres of electrical cables underground, created 7 lakes, retained 20,000 trees and planted 30,000 tropical trees. They have conserved 50 kilometres of serpentine long lava walls and 86 lava caves. 

At present Mission Hills Haikou has six 18-hole championship golf courses with another four under construction. Each has been designed by an international golfing professional and is named after its unique features. One is called “Stone Outback”, and has an Australian sandy desert and black lava rock setting with many Eucalyptus planted to evoke the Australian landscape. When completed, Mission Hills will have 20 golf courses on the one site covering more than 800 acres.

At present the costs to play a round of golf are - green fee $378; caddie fee $31/Golfer; cart fee $31/18Hole; rental clubs$46/Set, shoes $11/Set, umbrella $3, facilities service fee $4/Golfer, insurance $1/Golfer, making it about $A505 for a round of golf.

Nestled amongst the lush green gardens is the 18 storey luxurious resort block, a 9 storey resort annex, a 3 storey club house, shopping arcades, meeting facilities, the Lava Lagoon outdoor theme park, volcanic mineral springs, and a sports and recreation centre. Each of the Resorts 518 guest rooms have unobstructed views of the panoramic golf courses. There are 7 different Restaurants to cater for a wide choice of fine dining. More hotels and amenities are in the construction or planning stage to cater for the increased number of golfers when all 20 courses are completed.

We had lunch at the Magma Café at the Clubhouse at 12.15pm. This was our only non-Chinese Banquet lunch or dinner meal on the China trip. I delighted in selecting my favourite foods from the extensive range buffet of hot and cold dishes available. I must admit I had several servings of sweets.

We then went up to the Grand Ballroom where we were given a short PowerPoint presentation and talk on the development of Mission Hills Golf Club and Hotel complex. A tour of the impressive Golf Clubhouse was next, followed by a ride on golf carts around the Number 1 Golf Course, ‘Blackstone’ to see its manicured lawns, tropical gardens, sand traps, water features and lava rock features. We then went to the Mission Hills Hotel for a tour of its guest rooms.

Day 6 - Evening of Sunday 21st November 2010

We boarded our mini-bus at 4.45pm and drove the short distance to the “Hainan Yanoda Rainforest Cultural Tourism Zone”, arriving at 5pm. It has a site area of 45 square kilometres encircled by an ecological protection area of 123 square kilometres. There are more than 1,400 kinds of trees, 140 types of herbal medicinal plants, 80 kinds of tropical flowers and dozens of tropical fruits in the rainforest. Strangler vines, buttress rooted trees, palms and ferns were to be seen everywhere.

The origins of the word Yanoda are the combination of the smaller words Ya, No, Da, indicating the numeral words "one, two, three" in the Hainan dialect. Yanoda Rainforest Cultural Tourism Zone has put new meanings to these words- :”Ya” means innovation, "No" represents promise and "Da" refers to practice. The concept of Yanoda is to exhibit and perpetuate the essence of Chinese traditional culture. Yanoda also implies “welcome”, or "Hello” to express friendliness and blessings. I heard friendly people greet me with the word Yanoda many times today. A band of musicians in colourful clothing played traditional musical instruments to warmly greet us.

The Yanoda Tourism Zone has already developed two areas, the Rainforest Valley and the Dreamworld Valley, with more to be developed in the future. All areas are connected by an 18km inner ring road. We left our min-bus in the entrance car park and boarded their shuttle bus to go up the mountain to the rainforest. We were greeted by friendly staff who were all well presented in neat green and white uniforms. They gave each person an electronic E-guide and earphones with a choice of Chinese or English languages available. When we came to places of scenic interest on our tour in the vehicle or on foot the E-guide automatically played an appropriate commentary.

For the tour we boarded an American battery car and followed the rainforest roads alongside scenic rainforests, lotus pools, cliffs and waterfalls. At one stage we got off the battery car and went for a short rainforest walk along a path made of planks and stone. We then went back to our mini-bus by the battery car and shuttle of bus and departed the Rainforest at 6.15pm.

For tourists the admission is A$19.50 and includes the E-guide and the shuttle bus and battery car rides. There is also a free bus from Sanya to the Rainforest if people require it. The Yanoda Rainforest deserves more time to fully explore all that it has to offer.

At 7.30pm we arrived at the Narada Rainforest Resort & Spa for our evening meal and overnight accommodation.  It is located within the Mt Qixianling National Reserve and is the only five-star hotel featuring a tropical rainforest setting and natural hot spring in Hainan. The impressive lobby has spectacular chandeliers fashioned out of tree branches.

The evening meal was held in the Conference Room, and I decided that this would be the one occasion I would be brave and eat all the dishes offered. The Chinese Banquet consisted of appetizers, pigeon soup, crisp fried five-legged pig, steamed river turtle with lotus leaf, braised sea cucumber, marinated meat combination, fried frog with bamboo shoots, braised veal in a pot, fried black fungus with mushroom, boiled local vegetable, bamboo tube rice, steamed and deep fried buns, and a tropical fruit platter. Whilst enjoying the meal I was interviewed by reporters from a Chinese newspaper about my impressions of Hainan Island.

After the meal we were taken by a buggy to our villa units. I was eagerly looking forward to relaxing in the hot spring tub in the room, but was disappointed to find only a shower. It was only when I opened the curtains that I discovered the private hot spring tub was located on the balcony overlooking one of the many Resort’s pools and the rainforest. I enjoyed the hot spring spa before going to bed and again upon waking in the morning.

This had been a full day of sightseeing, with visits to the Duty Free Store, Nanshan Cultural Zone, Areca Valley Resort, and the Yanoda Rainforest. All these glimpses of Hainan Island gave me a broader understanding of Chinese culture and its varied tropical landscapes. The day left me with the realisation that Hainan Island is indeed a wonderful destination for tourists from Australia to visit for a holiday.

Day 6 - Afternoon of Sunday 21st November 2010

At 1.40pm we were back on the mini-bus to drive to our next destination. The police escort was very slow this afternoon, and at one stage we were escorted along the wrong side of road works only to find the road blocked and we had to make a u-turn and retrace our steps to find the correct road.

We arrived at 3.27pm at the “Areca Valley Tourist Resort of Hainan Ridge Primitive Culture” which covers 24 hectares and consists of three main areas – “The Li Ethnic Group’s Village of Primitive Culture”, “The Mysterious Rainforest”, and “The Primitive-style Chlyou Village of the Mioo Minority Ethnic Group”. I learnt that the Areca is a tall single-stemmed palm growing in profusion in the valley, which is  surrounded by lush jungles.

We were welcomed by Li people in traditional clothing playing musical instruments made of ox horns, bamboo, wood, and coconut shells. A betel nut necklace was placed our necks. The betel nut is a sign of politeness and is the most courteous reception which Li people use. Unfortunately I had only limited time for a quick walk around the Li Village which consisted of timber and thatch houses and other buildings, some of simple design and some rather grand ones. An elder or chieftan in the Li community is called Ao’ya. The Ao’yas house is a place where the chieftan or elders have meetings. It is built in the shape of a tortoise because they enjoy longevity. Similarly, elders or chieftans are expected to live long lives.

The ethnic Li people were dressed in traditional clothing and demonstrated traditional handicrafts such as spinning, dying, weaving and embroidering. Known for possessing the earliest weaving technology in Chinese history, the Li people contributed enormously to the rise of silk weaving technology and the production of fine silk garments throughout China. Li women are incredibly skilled at spinning and weaving and are especially adept at weaving silk cotton. The silk brocades that they produce are famous around the world and are renowned for their quality and elegance. There were several museums showcasing the exquisite ancient weavings such as Dragon Quilts.

I saw Li women using traditional ancient weaving machines to weave silk fabric quilts, curtains and sheets in unique beautiful patterns. It takes many months to complete the weaving of one item of fabric. In contrast to the elaborate fabric materials, I also saw how clothes were made from the bark of trees. These were used by the Li people for protection when hunting.

I saw the Li people demonstrate getting the rice off the stalks to store in the granaries. These century-old granaries are not found in any other place on this island. They have no locks so prove the honesty and integrity of the Li people who would not steal anything from any granary or house, even though they are not bolted at night.

I sampled the Shanlan rice wine, but not in the three stages the Li people traditionally welcome people- 1) talk about something while drinking the wine, 2) the guests must get drunk according to Li ethnic custom and 3) the host and guest sing folk songs together. My singing voice is not great!

I saw that some of the older women had body art tattoos on their faces and bodies. Traditionally at around the age of 13 or 14 the girls were tattooed on the nape of their neck, then over the face and throat. Over a period of around 3-4 years they would also have their arms and legs covered. The process involved piercing the skin with a thorn, and then rubbing a mix of soot, ink and water into the wound, which would create the pattern. These are seen as symbols of beauty and are considered to be a mural painting carved on a body.

At the conclusion on my walking tour of the village I was offered refreshing coconut juice to drink in its shell, and then took my seat in an open air theatre to watch the Li people entertain us on stage with folk dancing, singing, tree climbing, and “hitting bamboo dancing”. After our enjoyable short visit to the Li Ethnic Village we were farewelled on our way.

The admission fee for tourists is A$30 and needs a half or full day to fully experience all that is on offer.

Day 6 - Morning of Sunday 21st November 2010

The start of a brand new week in wonderful China. I left the curtains of my luxurious Sheraton Sanya Resort  room open during the night so that I could enjoy the glorious tropical view out the window when the wake up call came at 6.30am .I ventured down to the Lotus Cafe Restaurant on the first floor at 7am for a delicious buffet breakfast of Chinese and Western delectable dishes.

We departed the Resort at 8.45am, again with a police escort for our mini-bus convoy. There was always something of interest to view out the window as we travelled. In many ways the new high rise towering buildings in Sanya reminded me of the Gold Coast. Only these looked cleaner and more modern with better landscaping of palm trees, flowerbeds and grassed areas. It was always a hive of activity on the many building sites, road works, and foot path constructions, with labourers outnumbering heavy machinery. As we travelled out of Sanya the countryside contained a mixture of market gardens being tended by many workers, forested areas, simple housing, roadside stalls, market style shops and tea rooms.  

The scarcity of vending machines in China surprised me until I realised the Chinese version of a vending machine was a person sitting under a beach umbrella at a roadside stall selling bottled water, soft drinks or confectionary. I noticed that many of the simplest houses had rather grand entrance doorways, hot water storage units on the roofs that looked like a stainless steel beer kegs, and most had a satellite dish on the roof.

It was common to see groups of men sitting around tables in front of houses and shops The explanation given was that its is customary for the men to sit down, socialise and drink green tea while the women worked. I wonder if this concept could catch on in Australia….

We made our first stop at 9.20am at the Sanya Duty Free Store. This is the only large-scale tax-free shopping centre on Hainan Island. We were the first guests after the opening of the third phase of Sanya DFS, the Sanya Fashion Galleria housing many new outlets from international firms. Unfortunately, we could not make any purchases, as we were not flying out of the Sanya airport.


We were back on the bus at 9.40am and travelled along the Coconut Palm Corridor to the 50 sq kilometre “Nanshan Cultural Tourist Zone”, arriving at 10.53am. This wonderful attraction showcases traditional Chinese, Hainanese and Buddhist culture. It comprises the large and richly decorated Nanshan Temple, many statues of Budda, the Mercy Garden and Auspiciousness Garden, the Longevity Valley and Moon Bay, the thousand arms golden Guanyin, the world’s largest dragon ink-stone and the giant 108 metre 3 faced Budda Statue. This statue took six years to build and was unveiled in 2005. It is currently the largest Buddha statue in the world and the fourth tallest statue in the world. The statue has three aspects; one side faces inland and the other two face the South China Sea. Each side represents Peace, Wisdom and Mercy.

The area is so large that we were conveyed around the site by trackless trains. Whilst on the train I was interviewed by a Chinese television news crew about my impressions of Hainan Island. The reporter spoke only Chinese, so her questions were translated by an interpreter, and then my answers were translated into Chinese for the reporter. It would have been interesting to see how the interview turned out in the television news broadcast!

We only had limited time to explore the many buildings, shrines and gardens, and missed out on seeing the classical concert and kung fu performance that the A$23 admission fee includes.

At 12.40pm we went to the Nanshan Yuang-qi Vegetarian Restaurant to enjoy a Buddhist vegetarian banquet. The dishes not only tasted delicious but were also attractively presented like works of art. The meal concluded our brief visit to the “Nanshan Cultural Tourist Zone”.  

Day 5 – Saturday 20 November 2010


The wake up call came at the early hour of 5am this morning as were leaving Shanghai to fly to Hainan Island located in the South China Sea. Hainan Island is the smallest province in China and the second largest Island after Taiwan. It has an area of 33,920 square kilometres.
                         
We boarded our mini-bus at 6am and said goodbye to our fabulous Renaissance Yu Gardens Hotel where we had stayed the previous three nights. We ate our boxed breakfast provided by the Hotel on the mini-bus as their breakfast buffet only started serving at 6am. We arrived at the Hongqiau Airport, 13km west of our central Shanghai Hotel, and checked in our bags at 6.30am. The weight limit for this domestic flight was only 20kg, so only my large suitcase weighing 19.8 kg went under the plane. I took with me my backpack weighing 8.6kg, laptop bag and the new bag I received at the Travel Mart. We went to the Departure Lounge at 7.15am and boarded the Juneyao Airlines plane at 8am for its scheduled departure at 8.30.

Due to heavy fog at the Airport we waited, waited and waited on the plane. It finally took off at 11.35am. The cabin crew were very patient with the passengers, some who were getting rather agitated about the long delay. Breakfast was served on the plane by the hostesses as it was parked at the Airport. We landed at Sanya Phoenix International Airport at the bottom of Hainan Island at 2.35pm. Even though the flight was delayed, it was still far quicker flying the direct 1,800 kilometres than driving 33 hours non-stop along the 2,400 kilometres of tollways and roads and taking the ferry to the Island.

We had left cool Shanghai and arrived in the 28 degrees heat of Sanya. It is interesting to note that Hainan Island is on the same latitude as Hawaii so experiences the same type of warm tropical weather all year round. After collecting our bags we were given a Reception Manual prepared by the Hainan Island Development Commission that detailed our extensive itinerary whilst on Hainan Island, and a “Honoured Guest” nametag to wear around our necks. We boarded our new mini bus at 3.10pm. This is when I realised that we were part of a much larger contingent of people from around the world who were touring with us on Hainan Island and staying at the same Resorts. The Australian & New Zealand group were in mini-bus No 1, and groups from Italy, Switzerland & Taiwan, Canada, Myanmar, and Korea travelled in the other numbered mini-buses. A police car with flashing lights drove in front of us escorting our min-bus convoy, not for security reasons, but because we were VIP’s. The intention was for speedy travelling to our various destinations on the Island. This worked better on some days than others due to the varying amount of traffic on the roads.  Whilst travelling in the mini-bus I noticed many recently constructed buildings and the hive of activity of building sites. Many roads and footpaths were being upgraded to cope with the rapid expansion of Sanya. I noticed the innovative lighting system on some of the main roads.. The lights were powered by a range of power sources including solar, wind and electricity.

Unfortunately, due to our plane’s late arrival at Sanya, our afternoon’s sightseeing had to be shortened. We only had time to visit a new development area in which 32 five and seven star hotels and resorts will be built in the next 10 years. At present there is only a newly grassed lawn area with an observation deck and information boards written in Chinese.

The Police car escorted us back to our overnight accommodation at the five star Sheraton Sanya Resort. This is located on a private 300-meter stretch of the white sands of Yalong Bay.  Other police were stationed at intersections stopping all other traffic to let us go thru lights unimpeded. We arrived at the Hotel at 5.55pm and were greeted by a bevy of staff who welcomed us by placing real orchid leis around our necks. We took our bags to our rooms where we were welcomed with a plate of delicious tropical fruit. I changed quickly as the mini-bus left at 6.10pm to take us to the nearby Horizon Resort Hotel for our Welcome Dinner. The dinner for the 6 mini-bus groups of people was served outside in the tropical garden setting. Unfortunately, the Chinese Banquet was mainly seafood, which I’m not fond of, so I only tasted 3 of the many dishes. During the evening there were speeches and delightful entertainment provided in the warmth of the balmy evening.

We boarded the mini-bus back to our hotel Sheraton Resort had a tour of the fabulous Resort complex. The night was late so I unfortunately ran out of time to take advantage of any of the swimming pools, spas or Fitness Centre. Instead I retired to my room for a refreshing bath. With the louvered partition opened between the bathroom and lounge, I could view the television whilst soaking.

Day 4 – Afternoon and Evening of Friday 19 November 2010

Daniel and I hopped back on board the mini-bus and were driven to the Old Town area of Shanghai where he guided me on a walking tour, The Old Town was formerly surrounded by a city wall and is full of alleys of old low-rise houses and shops. The sights, sounds and smells captivated me as I walked around. I really felt I was in China as there were no English signs in sight. The restaurants and cafes were very basic, with a kitchen sink and cooker on a bench in front of the house and a few old chairs around a small table on the street. Bicycles and scooters weaved around pedestrians in the crowded laneways as clothes dangled out windows in the breeze as they were drying. These offered glimpses of a bygone era which unfortunately may disappear as redevelopments take place in the ever growing Shanghai.

We then walked to the Yuyuan Gardens and Bazaar  We walked past the classic Ming-era Yu Garden built in the southern Chinese style, the famous old Town Golden Temple, Xiaotayuan Mosque, Lotus Flower Garden, Zigzag Bridge (Bridge of Nine Turnings), Mid-Lake Pavilion Teahouse, to name but a few. The famous Nanxiang Steam Bun restaurant was doing a roaring trade with the usual queues of people lined up. McDonalds and Starbucks were also busy. Around the bazaar was a maze of curio and junk shops selling a wide variety of goods that were “Made in China”.

The personalised tour of Shanghai with Daniel ended at 4.30pm when I walked to our nearby Renaissance Hotel. It had been a wonderful day at the CITM in the morning and the tour in the afternoon.

At 5pm I rejoined our mini-bus for a short drive to the Seagull Palace Restaurant in Pudong for our evening meal. As night falls the Restaurant looks like a seagull which is about to fly on the waves, whilst the interior looks more like a ship This was an amazing three story building with the ground floor catering for a wedding receptions, the middle floor catering for a pharmaceutical convention and the top floor for individual and group dining. Our group of four enjoyed the variety of dishes in the Chinese banquet as we overlooked the lights reflected on the Huangpu River.

After dinner we went back to the Hotel and I took the lift up to the top to explore its 22nd floor. The glass walled infinity edged pool and the large spa looked inviting with views towards the brightly lit skyscrapers of Pudong. However, I decided to go out and explore Shanghai using the efficient Shanghai Metro urban rapid transport system I had heard so much about. The system incorporates both subway and light railway lines. It first opened in 1995 and since then the Shanghai Metro has become one of the fastest-growing rapid transit systems in the world. As of 2010 there are twelve metro lines, 268 stations and over 420 km of tracks in operation, making it the longest network in the world. Daily passengers average over 7 million people. The system is still growing with more new lines and extensions under construction.  Plans through to 2020 project a Metro system comprising 22 lines and 877 km of tracks

I crossed the road at about 8pm and went down the escalator directly opposite our Renaissance Hotel to the Yuyuan Station, which is on the newest line to open this year (Line 10). Purchasing a ticket was easy as I found a ticket vending machine with a touch screen that had an English wording option. I paid 4RMB (about 60c) to travel by subway to the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum Station. I only had to wait 3 minutes for the next train. It was a simple matter of going one stop to the E. Nanjing Rd Station, changing to a Line 2 train and getting off at the 4th station along. The announcements on the train informing us of the next station were spoken in English as well as Chinese so it was easy to know at what station to get off the train. My intention was to do some shopping at the many market shops that surrounded the subway station. Unfortunately I arrived about 8.15pm and the shops were starting to close for the night. I had time to see that the many market styles were selling many imitation brand name clothes, bags, and electronics.

When the shops closed I caught the Metro back to the E. Nanjing Rd Station and once again walked along the Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall. This time I walked all the way to the Bund and walked along the new pedestrian promenade that edges the Huangpu River. The Shanghai Bund has dozens of historical buildings that once housed numerous banks and trading houses. It was amazing to see the contrast between the softly floodlit old buildings on the Bund side of the River and the tall modern brightly coloured neon lit skyscrapers on the Pudong side of the River. I then walked back to the Renaissance Hotel along Road and Henan Road for another night’s restful sleep.

Day 4 - Morning and afternoon of Friday 19 November 2010

I was awake before the wake up call came at 7am and rather than a shower I tried out the separate freestanding bath tub in the glass walled bathroom. I really liked the automatic blind which is controlled inside the bathroom near the tub. It was nice to be able to watch the television in the lounge area through the glass window while relaxing in the hot tub and not just hear it. I ventured down to the restaurant for breakfast at 7.45am. The breakfast buffet provided a large choice of juices, cereals, fruits, cold station, breads, egg station, hot station, pancakes and waffles, dimsum, Japanese and Chinese stations.

We boarded the mini-bus at 8.15am and once again drove the short distance under the Huangpu River to the China International Travel Mart 2010. I rushed into the Mart as soon as I arrived to make the most of the day. I still had three and a half huge halls to cover by our departure time of 1.30pm. I had my running shoe on as I explored the various tourism booths. The quality of the tourism booths was outstanding. Once again there were entertainment performances to see and food to sample. At one of the booths I joined the long queue of people to have my face profile cut from a piece of black paper with scissors. I was ushered to the front of the queue and the clever man cut my face silhouette in 20 seconds. I skipped lunch at the cafeteria again today as I wanted to see as many of the display booths that I could,

I had noticed all the tall cranes next to the Shanghai New International Expo Centre and thought that it was a construction site. I enquired and found out that it was the next exhibition being set up showcasing advances in the construction industry. “Bauma China 2010”, the 5th International Trade Fair for Construction Machinery, Building Material Machines, and Construction Vehicles and Equipment, would be open from 23-26 November in nine of the halls. I also noticed the long line up of trucks with their drivers parked along a major road for several kilometres leading to the Expo Centre. I found out that these had been parked for several days waiting to unload their goods, as there was not enough parking space at the Expo Centre. I read that more than 150,000 visitors from 165 countries attended this year’s Bauma China Exhibition. After China, the top ten countries of origin among the visitors were Korea, India, Japan, Russia, Malaysia, Brazil, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Australia – in that order.

Attending the Travel Mart and seeing preparations for the Construction Exhibition showed me the two new development areas of China’s rapidly expanding economy in the future – tourism and construction.

As it turned out I was the only person at the mini-bus at 1.30pm for the afternoon tour of Shanghai, as the others from our group had made other arrangements for the afternoon. I was privileged to have Daniel as my own personal tourist guide

We drove to the area of Shanghai known as The French Concession. This area was designated as a home for French traders and business people from 1849 until 1946. It is now an extremely popular busy shopping and dining area for tourists. The tree-lined avenues and their many Tudor mansions in the area still retain an air of the "Paris of the East". The area has unique architecture; which blends European and Chinese style.

Daniel walked with me around many of the areas streets and winding alleys amongst the classical old buildings, art galleries, designer clothing boutiques and trendy cafes. I saw that it is a unique mix of western and eastern, old and new, rich and very rich. We ventured into an old market stall building where the locals come to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and seafood. Much of the seafood was live in tanks. The snakes and eels were still slithering in their tanks. It was interesting to see that scaffolding on building construction and renovation projects was made from bamboo, not steel. After a delightful stroll around the French Concession area it was time once again to board the mini-bus to continue my personalised tour of Shanghai.

Day 3 – Evening of Thursday 18 November 2010


After an exhausting day at the China International Travel Mart it was time to recharge our bodies with more food. Many of our group had made private arrangements for the evening meal, so only four of us dined. I am not fond of seafood, so was disappointed to find that all the Chinese banquet dishes were seafood of various descriptions. I dined mainly on the fish and rice dishes which I enjoyed. It was only when we were leaving the Restaurant that I read its name – it was a Chinese Seafood Restaurant. That explained all the seafood dishes!

We arrived in the mini-bus back at our Renaissance Yu Gardens Hotel, and rather than going to bed I set off on another walk to explore Shanghai. I walked along Henan Road until I came to Nanjing Road, the main pedestrian shopping mall in Shanghai. It is about 6 km long and starts at the Bund in the east and ends at the People Square in the west. Even though it attracts over a million visitors daily, it was not overly crowded when I walked along it late at night. Nanjing Road was first the British Concession, then the International Settlement. Importing large quantities of foreign goods, it became the earliest shopping street in Shanghai

I discovered modern shopping malls, specialty stores, theatres, department stores, restaurants, cafés and international hotels lining the street. To my surprise I even spotted KFC, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks scattered along Nanjing Road
 
I ventured into a McDonalds to make a purchase only to discover the menu boards written in Chinese. The helpful member of staff saw my state of confusion and handed me a laminated menu page written in English from under the counter. I then easily ordered my small serving of fries..  

Amongst the upscale stores selling countless famous brands and new fashions there are traditional Chinese stores and specialty shops still providing choice silk goods, jade, embroidery, wool, and clocks. I ventured into Shanghai's most famous department store, the cutely named “Shanghai No. 1 Department Store”. This first opened in 1934, but has been has been updated since. The store is devoted to selling clothing, shoes, gifts, books, watches, toys, jewellery, cosmetics, homewares, sporting equipment, and electronic goods. I wandered around a supermarket that seemed to mainly sell confectionary and alcoholic beverages. An interesting combination!

I was approached by various touts inviting me to go into their shop to purchase handbags, DVDs and other reproduction goods. I went into one shop and started the haggling process to lower the price form the high initial price but went away without making a purchase. Other hawkers approached me trying to sell items they had in their pockets, such as watches and laser pointers. I just kept on saying no thanks and kept on walking.

Nanjing Road was crowded even though it was late at night, mainly with young Chinese people. I imagine that during daylight hours it would be even more crowded. The crowds added to the liveliness and atmosphere of the area. 

A trackless sightseeing train provides a comfortable tour of the pedestrian street. However, I walked the length of Nanjing Road rather than riding on it. Flashing neon signs in Chinese language letters illuminated the magnificent buildings and spangled the night skyline. After walking the length of the Nanjing Road I walked back along Henan Road to the Renaissance Yu Gardens Hotel for a restful nights sleep.  My feet were telling me that after walking all day around the CITM and along Nanjng Road they needed a rest!

Day 3 - Morning and Afternoon of Thursday 18 November 2010

After grabbing a few hours sleep in my luxurious room at the Renaissance Yu Gardens Hotel the wake up call came at 7am. I opened the curtains and enjoyed the views of old and new Shanghai out of the floor to ceiling 45 degree angled windows and a took a quick shower. The shower head was very large and made me feel like I was standing in the rain. At 7.30am I took the lift down to the restaurant where the breakfast buffet was served. A delectable choice of Western and Eastern hot and cold dishes was available in a café like seating area overlooking Shanghai. I would have liked more time eating leisurely, but went down to meet the others in our group in the Hotel lobby at 8am to board the mini-bus for the short drive under the Huangpu River to attend the China International Travel Mart 2010 (CITM) at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre (SNIEC) in Pudong.

Since the opening of SNIEC in 2001, the exhibition centre has continuously expanded. The venue currently comprises 11 huge pillar-free, single story exhibition halls with 126,500 square metres of inside exhibition area. SNIEC has been experiencing rapid growth. It now hosts more than 70 world-class exhibitions each year and this number is set to grow in the future. It plans to complete all its facilities and reach full exhibition capacity by the end of this year. By then, the Centre will contain 200,000 square meters of indoor floor area and 130,000 square meters of outdoor area.

Even though it was peak hour traffic, it didn’t take long to reach our destination. We actually arrived early and waited outside until the CITM opened its doors at 9am. The CITM is an annual event that is held in Shanghai and Kunming alternatively. It is the largest professional travel mart in Asia.  The CITM occupied 5 halls with a total exhibition area of 57,500 sqm and included 2,243 exhibition booths. Participants in CITM came from all sectors of the travel industry, including international and domestic tourist organizations, travel agencies, hotels, airlines, cruise companies and tourist attractions.  There were 1,387 domestic China exhibition booths, making up 61.8% of the total, and 856 overseas exhibition booths, making up 38.2% of the total. Altogether 95 different countries and regions exhibited.

I was overwhelmed with the sheer size of the CITM, as there was so much to see and experience. In fact, during the first day I only managed to walk around one and a half of the exhibition halls. A lot of time and effort had gone into each of the booths colourful displays, brilliant lighting, stunning graphics and multi-media presentations.  Many of the personnel at the booths wore elaborate national costuming. Various booths provided a range of entertainment including singing, dancing and pantomime to represent their region or country. We were provided with a luncheon voucher to obtain our midday meal from the cafeteria; however I did not use this. I was too busy visiting the display booths. I did not go hungry, as various booths provided samples of food and drink.

All the booths offered literature promoting their tourist features. I would have liked to pick up a copy of all the brochures offered, however I was very selective in what I took. If I took one copy of every brochure offered I would have needed to charter a jumbo jet to fly them all back home! Instead of brochures, I collected the DVDs that were offered from the China tourism booths. I now have a choice of 121 new DVDs to view to learn more about tourism in China.

In the afternoon we met with the management of China Eastern Airlines, who we flew  with to China. They welcomed our Australian and New Zealand group and were eager for feedback on how their flights from Australia to China could be improved.
                                       
My first day at CITM ended at 5pm when I met our mini-bus and guide to travel to our Restaurant for dinner.

Day 2 – Afternoon and Evening of 17 November 2010

We left Wuzhen, and in less than 2 hours we reached our Hotel for the next three nights. The Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden Hotel is part of the Marriott group and is located in central Shanghai next to the Yu Gardens and Bazaar. The 22 storey hotel was opened in 2007 and has just been rated as a five-star hotel by the China National Tourism Administration. The hotel has 341 guestrooms, some of which have bathtubs located in the living area of the guestroom offering views of old and new Shanghai. It boasts three full-service restaurants and a bar, and an infinity edge pool and spa on the top floor.

After a quick change into my formal suit it was time to head off to the Opening Gala Welcoming Banquet of the China International Travel Mart. I boarded our mini-bus for the short drive along the tunnel under the Huangpu River to the Shanghai International Convention Centre located on the Riverside Avenue in Pudong, the new area of Shanghai.

Pudong looked spectacular at night, with all the skyscrapers colourfully lit. The three tallest buildings in Shanghai could be clearly seen pointing skywards. The tallest is the Shanghai World Financial Centre. It was completed in 2008 and is 492m tall with 101 floors. According to the Guinness Book of Records it has the highest observation deck in the world. The second tallest is The Oriental Pearl Tower. It was completed in 1994 and is 484m tall. The unusual tower features 11 spheres, big and small, linked by three columns. The Third tallest is the Jin Mao Tower, completed on the 1990s.and is 421m tall with 88 floors. 

I was overwhelmed by the size of the huge entry lobbies and grand function room. There were 134 elegantly set round tables each seating ten people and a long table for officials. I was seated at the Australian & New Zealand table, and enjoyed dining on the Chinese banquet meal and being entertained by Chinese singers, dancers and musicians.

Mr. Shao Qiwei, Chairman of the China National Tourism Administration, gave the keynote speech during the gala dinner and opened the event. During the keynote speech Chairman Shao confirmed that within the first three quarters of 2010 the number of inbound visitors to China reached 41.58 million, representing 11% increase over the same period last year. Outbound visitors from China reached 42.28 million, which showed an even more impressive increase of 21%. The number of domestic visitors reached 1.59 billion with an increase of 10%, which generated US$142.8 billion representing an increase of 24%. Therefore China achieved growth in all three aspects of the travel and tourism industry.

After driving back to our Yu Gardens Hotel and changing out of the formal suit, I joined several others for an exploratory walk of the Yu Gardens. However, as it was late evening, all the shops were closed so we came back to the Hotel. I then ventured out towards the Huangpu River, walking along wide streets and tiny lanes. In the older areas I came across many people who set up their food stalls on the street in front of their small houses. I had discovered the real China. At one home a couple invited me to buy a dead chook and offered to cook it for me, and to enter the home to drink some Chinese beer. However, I declined their polite offer and kept on my walking tour.

Eventually I came to the Huangpu River, and walked along the newly constructed well-lit wide pathway. There were a lot of river cruise boats and ferries moored at the river wharfs that had completed their evening cruises. However, the wide river was busy even in the middle of the night with a lot of cargo boats plying its waters. This is not surprising, since from April this year records show that Shanghai is the busiest port in the world.

When I came to the historical area known as the Bund, I decided to turn left at Yanan Road , then left again at Henan Road to our Renaissance Hotel. After a long day exploring Wuzhen, driving to Shanghai, attending the Gala Banquet, and going on an evening stroll, I slept soundly in the comfortable bed.

Day 2 – Morning of Wednesday 17 November 2010

I awoke in Wuzhen from my comfortable sleep in the huge bed and opened the curtains of my Tongan An Hotel bedroom to see the glorious outside water views. After a warm shower to wake up properly, and briefly viewing my first Chinese programs on the TV in the room, I enjoyed a delicious buffet breakfast in the restaurant.

We gathered outside for a wonderful walking tour of the old Wuzhen water town. Wuzhen, located in the south of the Yangtze River, has a history of more than 1,300 years. Many of the ancient residential houses, workshops, and stores still stand on the banks of the rivers and canals. The town needs to be experienced on foot or afloat on a wooden sampan, as no motorbikes or cars are permitted in the historical centre. A variety of goods can be purchased form the floating boat markets as in days gone by.  The boats gather in one market area and people can inspect the produce and buy

The Wuzhen Tourism Development Co Ltd. was formed in 1999 to develop Wuzhen as a major tourist destination in China. It has authentically restored many of the old buildings, and built new Club Houses and Hotels, such as the Tong An Hotel, in the style of the existing historical buildings. They have converted some of the original residences along the waterways as tourist accommodation villas and guest houses. More than 700 households still live in Wuzhen and practice traditional handicrafts. The children attend a local school.

Wuzhen features profound history and culture, water town scenery, unique foods, and colourful folk customs and festivals. There are now over 40 hectares of late 19th century original buildings and more than 100 ancient stone bridges of various shapes crossing the waterways joining the many flagstone streets and laneways.

I got a glimpse of what it was like to live in ancient China whilst walking around. There are many lanes, bridges, nooks and crannies to explore. I wandered into former homes of wealthy merchants, clan meeting halls, a pottery workshop, an iron works, a Temple, a post office and several tea-houses and theatres.

Walking around I saw that tradition is still very much alive in Wuzhen., the time-honoured art of making indigo-dyed printed calico is still practised in Wuzhen. In ancient times, indigo-dyed printed calico was used for curtains, scarves, and tablecloths in every household in the countryside of Zhejiang Province. Today, it is still common to see old women in indigo-blue gowns leisurely operating spinning wheels or looms at weaving workshops in the old lanes of Wuzhen, while the squeaks of the looms resound throughout the lanes. Carrying on this tradition has become a part of the lives of the old women.

Many of the buildings are used for making or selling traditional Chinese items.  I saw soy sauce, lollies, rice wine, lanterns, wood carvings and sticky rice being made. I actually helped make the sticky rice for a short while – its hard work.

For the tourist Wuzhen is not free to enter, and therefore never really swarming with an overflow of people. Admission costs about AU$20 and includes a short sampan ride to the town proper. Once on dry land, there are no other admission fees to pay, which means visitors can enter all the scenic sites, buildings and exhibition halls. Unfortunately I only had a very short half day walking around Wuzhen and did not see the Flower-drum opera, shadow-puppet shows, martial arts demonstrations, pole climbing and temple fairs that are featured for visitors. Time ran out to see the Hundred Bed Museum, and the Foot Binding Museum. There are so many ancient docks, waterside pavilions, and corridors that stretch out for miles more time was needed to fully appreciate all the town’s features. There are suggested itineraries for 1, 2 or 3 day visits to Wuzhen as there is so much to see, explore and experience.

I enjoyed a lovely sampan boat ride back to the Tong An Hotel for a delectable Chinese banquet lunch in our private dining room with the other Australians and New Zealanders. We all then boarded another boat for a short ride to the entrance of Wuzhen water town to board our mini-bus for the drive to Shanghai. This was a wonderful introduction to Chinese traditional culture which made me look forward with much anticipation to the rest of my time in China.

Day 1 - Tuesday 16th November 2010

It was a great honour to be invited as a guest to join a small group of nine Australians and New Zealanders to visit China from the 16th to 24th of November 2010. Seven people came from various parts of Australia, and two people came from New Zealand.

Departure day was 16th November. I stayed with friends the previous night in Sydney and enjoyed my last Aussie BBQ meal.  I was driven to their nearest railway station and caught the train to the Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport to board the MU562 12noon flight on China Eastern Airlines to Shanghai, the largest city in China. I was second in the short queue at the check in area when they opened for business at 9am so I had plenty of time to explore the Airport shops till boarding. My bag weighed well under the 30 kg limit at only 15 kg. (A slightly higher weight of 37kg for my three checked in bags on the flight home at the end of the China visit!)
I spotted our China Eastern plane as it taxied into position when I was having a cup of coffee at the airport. I noticed it had the Expo 2010 painted on the side. The World Expo 2010 was held in Shanghai from May to October with the theme “Better City, Better Life”. The Expo had 246 participants, 79,965 volunteers and attracted 73 million visitors, the largest number of people who have ever attended a World Expo. 

At 11.30am I went through Customs and to the Departure Gate printed on the Boarding Pass but found a plane from another airline.. I reasoned that this must be the wrong Departure Gate and after wandering I eventually found the right one and boarded our China Eastern Airlines plane with a warm welcome from the flight crew.  The cabin on the A330 plane was very clean, with white/grey surroundings and blue seats in a 2-4-2 configuration. The seats had a pitch of 33” and a width of 17.8" while a button on the right armrest allowed me to recline the seat back 5.5 inches. To my surprise I discovered that Pat, the person sitting next to me on the plane, was one of the group of Australian and New Zealander people I was going to China with. The time went quickly on the plane, spending time chatting with Pat, looking out of my comfortable window seat, and enjoying the lunch and dinner meals served. Lunch was a meat and noodle dish, accompanied by a salad, bread roll, chocolate bar and fresh sliced fruit for dessert. Drinks offered included green tea, juice or soft drink. Dinner was a hot meat, rice and vegetable dish accompanied by a bread roll, salad, and chocolate cake dessert. There were no entertainment units on the back of the seats, but TV screens scattered along the ceiling of the plane showed mainly Chinese movies.

After a ten hour flight, with only a few pockets of air turbulence, the plane arrived at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport. Terminal One, at which we arrived, was opened in 1999 and has 28 gates, 13 of which are double decker gates, and 204 check-in counters. The second Terminal opened in 2008. Even though it is the third busiest airport in the world, we soon collected our bags and met Daniel our helpful Chinese guide. It wasn’t long before we went out into the cool dark evening and boarded our mini-bus and drove 150 kilometres for about 2 hours along the tollways and roads to Wuzhen, a traditional water town. The tollways were multi-laned, with drivers driving on the opposite side of the road to Australia. I counted 40 toll booths on one toll road exit! I was surprised by the lack of traffic we experienced while travelling, as I was expecting bumper to bumper traffic all the way in the most populated country in the world.

On arrival at Wuzhen, the old water town, we enjoyed a delicious Chinese banquet dinner at a local restaurant, even though it was late, and we had previously eaten on the plane. We then settled into our comfortable rooms at the Tong An Hotel. The Hotel was recently built on a man-made island to blend in with the old town buildings to represent a typical south of the Yangtze River building complex of the Ming and Qing dynasties, It is decorated in an elegant traditional Chinese style and has 70 double rooms, 13 single rooms and 24 suites. All the rooms face either neighbouring streets or lakes with water views out the windows. It was a wonderful first night’s introduction to my China visit!