Friday, February 8, 2008

In the Dark

I keep wondering about the Chinese penchant for doing everything in the half dark. It might be that electricity is expensive, or it might be traditional. Certainly, the old houses are small and dark, with the main light source the front door. Once you've crossed the threshold, you're on your own!

Small shops, too, are dark, with the light again coming from the doorway. In fact, even the supermarket at Ni Zi doesn't seem to use display lighting, which makes browsing the lower shelves rather difficult. Perhaps that's the idea, as there is usually an assistant tailing you to make sure you're not pocketing anything. It's not a relaxing shopping experience.

I noticed also that schools seem to work in the dark. We walked past the 'new' school in Gualing, where we could glimpse students at work in the classrooms, with no overhead lights in the winter gloom. Perhaps Eddie's "cuzzie lawyer", the one with 15 LED factories, may be able to rectify the situation one day when LED lighting is more common. This type of technology certainly seems necessary.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Gong Fu Tea

Having had several ceremonial tea ceremonies in China, I decided to try one of my own. We have had the teaset for some year - I can't remember when we bought it, but we have a purple clay teapot and jug, with 2 types of little cups (wide and tall) which sit on a small tray, inscribed with a poem. The cups have a design on them that becomes coloured when heated - in normal temperatures, the detail can't be seen.

I had always wondered why a milk jug was included in a Chinese tea set, and it wasn't until we had our first party with lawyer Chan that I realised that the jug was for decanting brewed tea into, not for milk. I had some Pu Erh tea leaves (not very expensive ones - the tin had been marked down to $2 at Foodtown many years ago!) so I heated up water and teapot and had a tea party for myself.

It's not that much fun pouring pots of tea at the kitchen bench with no-one to share the proceeds. I think I drank about 3 mugs of tea (in thimblefuls), and I really need the special tray to stand the teapot and jug on as it's a very wet process. I didn't really look like a gong fu master standing at the bench, but its better than sogging up the carpet.

So that's how you use the cups!

Teacup Set There are two types of teacups used in gongfu tea, the aroma cup and the drinking cup. The aroma cup is the taller of the two, and is where the tea is initially poured by the host. The guest then pours the tea into the drinking cup, then smells from the newly emptied aroma cup. The aroma remaining in the cup smells noticeably different from both the aroma of the tea in the cup and that of the dry leaves, and changes subtly as the cup cools. The guest then drinks from the drinking cup. Average dimensions: Capacity: 50 ml, Height 6 cm (aroma), Length 12 cm (tray)

Back Home and Back to Work

Now I know why Eddie misses China so much when he goes back to Hong Kong - it does tend to get under you skin (and fingernails - I've been constantly cleaning mine).

Our trip has been much in my mind since I returned home on Thursday to a hot and muggy Auckland after a hot and uncomfortable flight. Apparently the plane had temperature problems. I've been used to feeling cold rather than hot on the last several journeys, and dressed accordingly, so it was difficult to sleep in the unexpected heat. I watched 5 episodes of Flight of the Conchords, some of the Extras episodes I'd missed and some Kath & Kim - enough to keep me amused for a few hours. During the night, I finished off the dried lichees I'd brought along.

Thursday afternoon was spent strewing stuff around after unpacking, putting the houseplants back in place, catching up with people and thinking about an early night. Which didn't happen.

On Friday I went back to work, to read my email, do a few library-related jobs and catch up with workmates. The car battery was flat, so I called the AA for help, and luckily didn't have to wait the promised hour - I was on my way in about 10 minutes, as the mechanic was nearby.

The weather was still hot and muggy, with the promised thunderstorms not appearing. I found it difficult to sleep with the heat and humidity, and finally dropped off at about 2.30 am.

Saturday has therefore been a very quiet day. I helped Eddie catalogue some of his possessions for about 2 hours, had a sleep, and haven't done much else - not even the dishes. They can wait till tomorrow.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Things I noticed and forgot to mention

  • Everyone I met in China who has a car has a newer and better one than ours. All with leather upholstery!

  • The Guangzhou car fleet is newer and smarter than the New Zealand one - the only beaten-up looking vehicles are the workhorses - vans and trucks.

  • The rotary hoe type vehicles are common in Xintang and the villages, but no-one rides a bike in Guangzhou. More do in Shen Zhen, especially delivery people (gas bottles and lunches - that sort of thing).

  • Brides in Guangzhou wear proper hosiery and shoes under their dresses when they have their photo shoot. I can state this categorically from the sample of 2 I saw. It was almost a surprise to see no jeans or sneakers below the train.
  • The rise of middle classes will eventually increase pressure to clean up the pollution and provide proper sewerage systems. There was little public rubbish lying around in Guangzhou, where rubbish bins were actually available and used. The Pearl River looked relatively flotsam free, and we saw a clean-up boat with workers fishing out bits of rubbish.

  • Chivalry isn't dead - young people still give up their seats on buses to older ones.
Thanks to Eddie for the pictures. Here's a photo for a bit of fun--

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Christmas is over - next: Kung Hei Fat Choy!

Sunday 13 January

Eddie spent over an hour on Saturday evening washing China out of his clothes and backpack (which is now so clean it looks nearly new). I did my washing on Sunday morning at about 2 am when I couldn't sleep - most of it dried before lunchtime. We spent the day inside writing and catching up, and ate scratch meals because we didn't have time or inclination to go shopping.

Monday 14 January

We walked up to Sheung Shui to meet Carman at the HSBC for a spot of financial rearrangement, then caught a train to Hung Hum, to meet Alex Ip for yum cha. He was keen for us to try the cuisine at the Royal Palace Restaurant where we had been disappointed last Friday.

The place was empty when we arrived at 12.15, and was getting ready for a wedding. The decor is quite frilly, with the chairs covered in white damask, finished with bows velcro-ed to the back. Silk pink and white roses and a 10-tier fake wedding cake added to the girly atmosphere. Fortunately, the cooking was much better than the decoration, and we enjoyed a selection of dishes that Alex said were traditional and authentic Cantonese dim sum, but rather different from the usual array. We ate har gow, rice rolls with spring rolls inside, fragrant beef balls, bean curd skin filled with mushrooms, char siu bao, with sponge cake and red bean dumplings for dessert.
Space Museum
After lunch we went our separate ways. We noted that the Space Museum had some good shows on, and decided to stay to see 2 of them - Exploring Black Holes and Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia - in the evening.

To fill in the intervening time, we took a bus to Sham Shui Po, to look at electronics and buy some toggles for my raincoat. There is an amazing array of outlets selling beads, costume jewellery, buckles, fasterners, threads and cords, gemstones, embroidered patches, lace and braids and all sorts of glittery and attractive things. Eddie calls it Magpie Alley, but the area of shops stretches over several streets. Some shops looked like old-fashioned grocer's shops with the coloured beads displayed in jars and bins, from which you could scoop out what you wanted and pay for them by weight. We browsed for some time before heading off to Apliu St which is attractive to another kind of magpie - one interested in electrical knickknacks and hardware.

A trip around the Golden Computer Shopping Centre completed our visit, and we took a bus back to the Space Museum for the shows. Both were interesting, the Dinosaur omnimax feature being particularly good, so we were pleased we had decided to stay on in spite of the chilly night. (The weather has got colder over the last few days).

I noticed on the bus ride that Christmas is over and shops are now festooned with red and gold and blossom decorations - Chinese New Year (year of the rat) is on Feb. 7. Underwear shops bring all the red and plum coloured bras and knickers to the front of the shop, making a brave display that is quite intense.

There are a few little Xmas trees and the odd stencil and bit of tinsel still around, but most Christmas decorations were jettisoned smartly after the New Year.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Another trip to China

Wednesday 9 January

Tuesday was spent at home, getting the CDs ready for the Su family, taking a walk to our bank in Sheung Shui to discuss finances and packing ready for the trip.

We left at 6.40 am on Wednesday morning in grey haze, and were through Immigration and Customs by 7.10 which left plenty of time for catching the 7.30 bus. It made good time and arrived in Xintang in 1.5 hours. We intended to catch a #9 bus to Ni Zi, but after waiting for over 10 minutes without a sign of a bus, decided to walk, and rather enjoyed it, as our bags weren't too heavy and the day got brighter and warmer as the sun rose. It certainly didn't feel like winter.

We greeted Hum, who was reading the paper, and then went to visit his parents, who were entertaining visitors (a man with a long straggly white beard) . We were required to do the performing monkey act while Yuk Tim gave his version of who we were. Unfortunately the CD we made for him that was supposed to show the photos on a TV didn't work in his ancient player, so he will have to look at the pictures on a computer instead. We handed him his originals neatly packed into a box - which he proceeded to unpack and stack back on a shelf, so they will be covered in dust again pretty quickly.

Hum cooked us lunch, then we set off for the other side of Cha Gaau village to see if we could find lawyer Chan's mother, who lives nearby. We walked to the ferry, and on the other side of the river, took a #3 bus to the edge of the village, saving a long walk and a lot of time.

The village is expanding rapidly with many new buildings being erected. There is a lot of money in China at the moment and many people are having grand new living quarters erected on what was once productive land. We were wandering along wondering where to find Mrs Chan when all of a sudden we were greeted like long-lost cousins - someone whom Eddie met at ChungYeung last year (who is a sort of cousin) recognised him and invited us back to his place for tea.

We interrupted his wife's lunch and were plied with bananas (a special kind), peanut and yellow bean sticky rice dumplings cooked in banana leaves that she had made herself, and about 2.5 feet of sugar cane (peeled).

Mr Chan took us for a tour of the village and showed us the garden where the special bananas were grown. Although not too untidy, there was still a heap of rubbish in places, especially on the stream margins. Walking through China is like walking on the edge of a rubbish tip - there is huge scope for a major improvement in hygiene and cleanliness generally.

He showed us his grand new house that will be finished in May - it's 3 stories high and about 2 to 3 times the size of his present house. We also looked into an embroidery factory where several people were minding machines embroidering jeans pockets with coloured thread. The factory also makes beaded designs. This may be Mr Chan's factory, as Hum said his business card indicated he owned such a factory.

After the walk and a trip to the new toilets (where about half a dozen mozzies did some damage on me) we went back to the house to sit and be sociable, while Eddie went for a walk to keep himself awake. Our host dropped off to sleep over his paper and I watched children's TV till Eddie came back to say that he had nearly found lawyer Chan's mother's house about about 200m away, much closer than the miles away Mr Chan had indicated. Eddie thought there must be some family problem that he wasn't permitted just to walk around and meet her.

We had a magnificent dinner - Mrs Chan is an excellent cook - and enjoyed soup with tong how (a type of chrysanthemum), fish on dried winter melon, chicken, tiny whelks (a lot of sucking for not much reward, I think), choy sum and ko yuk (a type of casserole of pork layered with a starchy vegetable such as taro. Eddie's mother used to make it with beetroot and omelette. It's one of my favourites).

After dinner, Mr Chan took us home in his work van - a nervewracking ride in the dark with me in the front, blinded by the lights coming toward us on the highway and cyclists with no tail lights , and Eddie clinging on in the back, perched on a child's chair. It was a relief to get back to Ni Zi and report in to Hum, who was looking at the CD of the photos. We spent some time with him checking them out, and looking at Google Earth before going back to our smelly room for bed. The night was disturbed, with late arrivals (12 - 2 am) yelling to each other and banging doors before they settled down. [uncouth nouveaux riches with no manners]

Thursday 10 January

Despite the broken sleep, we were up early, and in fact, had to wait for the family to get up. Lan (Orchid), Hum's wife, works on jeans and was up till 2 am getting an urgent order out. This seems to be a frequent occurrence. She works really long hours, as do others, as we always see people at work as we arrive each morning. (NB to the fashion conscious: white jeans will be in this season, along with heavy beading and other embroidery.)

After breakfast, we set off to walk to Gualing along the route of the #11 bus. Eddie wanted to do it just to say he had, and we thought it might be interesting to see the scenery close up. We went through the market and past the local supermarket where the owner had parked his Camry right by the checkouts. I knew people kept their motorbikes and scooters inside, but hadn't seen a car stored this way before.

It took us something over an hour at a slow pace, and we found much of the road easy going because of the repaving. Part of it is still under construction, but it's not as rough, or as dusty and full of deep potholes as it was last year. On one section there were many sheets of plywood stacked up or laid on the pavement to dry. We found a cemetery and took pictures, and took a wrong turn on a road we thought went to Gualing. Instead it lead to Wu Shek, another village we'd not heard of before. We took a few photos before retracing the route and finding the correct one.

Gualing has changed a little since last year, but the development is not as rapid as at Ni Zi. It does not have the bustling or exciting atmosphere of some of the other more industrial villages in the area. During the day, most of the people around are older or mothers with very young children, so it feels a bit like a sleepy hollow.

Gum Yung and his wife saw us as we walked down the main street, but didn't look especially pleased to see us. We greeted them briefly then went to the toilet (the new toilet is a little lest primitive than the old, as one straddles a slit in concrete over the pond, rather than sitting on and clinging precariously to a bit of 4x2 timber - but the fish are still curious). We called in at aunt's house while we were on our own, but there was nothing new to see. There were not many people around, but a few recognised Eddie and chatted to him.

We rejoined Gum Yung and family in a new sitting out area and talked for a while. They gave us some water and suggested we have lunch together, but I wasn't feeling comfortable with them and preferred to leave without obligation on either side. So we gave them some biscuits, and set off for Sha Tou across the fields, and continued on to Shapu under the railway to find some lunch.

Hum's sister Jing (Crystal) has a hardware shop in Shapu and we thought we could find it, but although we walked the main street in both directions more than once, we couldn't see it. The road was being dug up for repaving and was in a very dusty and rough state. (When we asked Hum later where the shop was he showed us on Google Earth that we hadn't gone far enough - the road didn't peter out as we thought.)

We stopped for won tun soup at a handy restaurant, walked the road again, then decided to catch a bus back to Ni Zi. The bus stop had moved because of the road reconstruction, but luckily Eddie saw the buses across the road, and we rode back to the corner of Highway 107. It was a bumpy ride to begin with, but not as bad as last year when the bus suspension was sorely tested by the deep holes and ruts in the road.

We were hot and dusty, and went back to the hotel to unload and clean up. Hum proposed a trip to Guangzhou on Friday, so after agreeing we asked at the desk if we could stay another night in the room. The surly attendant was not willing to compromise, so we decided to ask the next person once the shift was changed. We had dinner at Hum's (eating crabs and vegetables), played on the computer. then sat with some of the family on the wall outside Aunty's place chatting and star-gazing. The night was clear and quite warm for winter.

Friday 11 January Trip to Guangzhou

We had another disturbed night with late arrivals, but dropped off to sleep again. Eddie woke me at 10 to 7, luckily, as Hum rang a few minutes later to say he would meet us soon. I was washed and dressed in record time, and we waited only a couple of minutes before he appeared. We caught a #9 bus to the Tian He Dept store in Xintang, then walked to the Fortune Hotel on Highway 107 to get a bus to Guangzhou. We were lucky as one was nearly ready to leave. It cost Y8 to get to our destination at TienHe from where we got another local bus (813) to get to the university campus where Hum's second daughter (Gi/Elaine) is a student.

She had just woken up when we arrived, so we waited for her and a friend to get ready before setting off for the day. Each small room in the dormitory houses 6 girls - they each have a bed above a desk, with a small bookshelf, wardrobe and a chair occupying the space. A small shower, toilet and sink area is attached, all festooned with laundry. The girls seem happy enough together - Eddie and I wondered what would happen if one didn't get on with others, but couldn't really ask.

We crossed the road and had a quick breakfast of rice rolls (which may have been lai cheong as they had no filling), walked through the university campus admiring the gardens. The university was founded by Yuan Shikai's wife (I think) and has 20,000 students, most of whom live in. The library was in the process of being renovated, and I asked if they spent much time there, but they said the collection was old, outdated and insufficient. The usual story!

We went past and through the most expensive building in Guangzhou (according to the girls) to reach the banks of the Pearl River where we waited for a bus. This took us through the morning traffic to Yuexiu Park, the largest public park in the city. It's so extensive that we didn't have time to explore everything, but we enjoyed walking around watching people sing opera, dance, exercise, or play various sports, as is usual in Chinese parks. There is always a lot of life around, even on a weekday.

Hum had brought along the camera we gave him, although he was unsure how to use it - the girls immediately gained control and had a happy time snapping everything that took their fancy - including themselves in many poses. They enjoyed playing with a statuary group of 4 peasant rebels, copying their stances, and pretending to kiss them.

Not far away, a group of older ballet dancers were performing for themselves and an audience of 2 sitting on steps above them. They did a complicated dance that must have taken hours of rehearsal.

Eventually, we reached the famous statue of the Five Rams (actually at least one is a female) built in 1959 from 130 pieces of marble, and now on the must-see tourist beat since they relate to the legend of the origin of Guangzhou. We joined the groups of photo-takers and had ours done in various configurations.

By this time, we were really ready for lunch, so we stopped at a local cafe serving meals in polystyrene boxes (not really my first choice of a place to eat, but we had to tag along). The food was disappointing as the soup was cold, the meal dry but spicy and the rice too much for the sung. However, as Eddie always says "it filled a hole" and we had to have something to eat.

We took another bus (#105) to Shamian Island, which displays many Western influences, including a chapel, as it was a concession area to traders in the 19th century. There are many bronze statues throughout the park area, but we didn't have time to photograph them all. Our walk took us out of the park, back along the waterfront, which we continued to follow till we reached the bridge to cross for the university. On the way, the girls were going to buy some mandarins from a hawker, but discovered him cheating the weight (perhaps because he saw me - apparently they always cheat foreigners), so they dumped their selection back into his basket.

We had dinner at a restaurant near the dormitory ( a more successful meal than the previous two) - a type of 'economy rice' as they call it in Malaysia, where you pay for a certain number of dishes and have rice with them. We had 3 choices plus rice and soup for about Y10 each. I enjoyed mine, but the bowl of rice was enormous. It is impossible to go low-carb and eat Chinese-style in China!

After dinner, we went back to the dormitory so Hum could collect some things of Elaine's to take back home. She has virtually finished her studies in financial management, and after work experience will graduate in June. Then we took the #813 bus back to Tianhe to get our bus back to Xintang. We just missed getting on one at the stop, and were told by the conductor that there were to be no more buses that night. (Not sure why.)

Luckily, a few minutes later, another bus did come along, and it was a free for all as we struggled to get on. The last time I was in such a crush to get on a bus was many years ago in Malaysia. I was determined not to be left behind and, with my dander up and a measure of panic, managed to elbow someone out of the way as I went up the steps. As Eddie said it was 'bite, kick, scratch and every man for himself.' We got seats, but some unfortunates had to stand for the whole journey.

Rather than take a bus to Ni Zi, we walked and had to brave the "battle of the boom boxes" along the main road - every store had its speakers turned to maximum bass and loudness, while barkers vied to outshout each other. It seemed to me to be counter-productive, as all one could hear was a wall of noise.

We were back about 8 - spent some time on Google Earth and looked at the photos, then went back to our hotel and bed.

Saturday 12 January

Again we breakfasted at Hum's, having tasty congee and crullers and roast goose heads, which were tasty, but not very meaty. I made a reasonable fist of mine, but find it impossible to leave as little a pile of waste as Hum does. Yuk Tim took us to visit his youngest son's wife and their son (who are both very nice, though the young boy, who is only 5, is quite shy). We had a cup of tea there, then went back to the hotel to check out.

Hum cooked us lunch of steamed prawns, choy sum and little shellfish called hing - cockles? Finally we said a warm goodbye to him, waved to Lan who was working with her group in a jeans sewing room, and got the #9 bus for Xintang. We were on our way to Shen Zhen at 1.15, and were home by 4 after a most enjoyable few days.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A walk in the park

Monday 7 January

We were getting ready to burn the CDs of Yuk Tim's photos, when Alan Richardson, Eddie's school friend, rang to invite us on a walk. He said it was an easy walk, mostly on the flat, so I envisioned something like a walk along Tamaki Drive . We agreed, but warned him that we had to be in Kowloon for a dinner engagement with Alex Ip at 7 pm.

We met them at Sha Tin New Town Plaza, from where we took a 299 bus to Sai Kung, a picturesque fishing village surrounded by country parks. The next bus (94) took us to Pak Sha Wan or Hebe Haven The area is very rural and quiet on the weekdays - on the weekends it is filled with trampers and picnickers.

We headed off uphill past a pretty barbecue area among trees (with a nice clean toilet), and then towards the coast through a village (that was the easy bit) on to a walking track similar to the one we took last year round the Tai Tam reservoir. Tamaki Drive it isn't! Narrow paths are set with boulders and rocks which can be hard on the ankles, but we are grateful for steps when the going gets steep. Alan said the map indicated a climb of 160 metres, but I reckoned I could feel the air getting thin.

The air and water in the area is quite clean - we stopped for a rest at a very quiet and beautiful beach where there was very little rubbish washed up. It was a pleasure to sit and bask in the sun, thinking if this is winter, we could have more of it. The lack of humidity made the exercise enjoyable. We met very few people during the day, although on the weekends it is more crowded. Some cyclists passed us - I wondered how they negotiated the steps and narrow passes, but obviously they didn't find them major obstacles. Hong Kong's country parks are all well-kept and well-used - a major asset to the territory.

We hadn't had much breakfast, and forgot to pack provisions apart from our water bottles, so we were feeling quite hungry by the time we stopped for lunch at Hoi Ha Village at 2.30ish. The meal was disappointing, perhaps because it wasn't a busy day or tourist season, The main attractions at Hoi Ha are the remains of an old lime kiln, which was the area's industry along with fishing, and the beach, where we spent a few moments. Once refueled, we were able to carry on to the next village Alan wanted to show us.

[I thought the meal of 2 small oval plates of fried rice and noodles, a bottle of Qingdao beer, a can of coke for Weiming and a cup of tea each for Annette and myself for HK$140 was grossly excessive. Assuming the beer was $30 and the coke was $15, and the tea @ $5 /cup it would have been $85 for the food.-Tourist trap ripoff!. Maybe they charged me $50 for going to the toilet. They should have paid me for watering their garden. E.H]

Pak Sha O is a restored and renovated village (there is a good description of it at the link), with ex-pats making it a haven, almost English in its gardens and neat houses, though the one pictured isn't really typical as it is more traditional in style. An old chapel is also a feature. There are many other tumble-down buildings around - but Eddie felt it a bit far from civilisation to set up house there.

After our tour of the village, we caught a mini-bus to Sai Kung then immediately caught another to Choi Hung, from where we took the MTR to TST.

We arrived in plenty of time to meet Alex and his family, who are longstanding friends. Unfortunately, his first choice of restaurant had been booked out for a wedding, so he settled for a Chiu Chow meal instead, which we enjoyed, although I think we agreed Cantonese cuisine is best.

After dinner, we had a short walk around the waterfront before catching our respective trains home.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


We've had a quiet few days since our strenuous time in China, spending the time mostly in domestic duties - fixing the toilet, trying to fix the TV after the universal remote changed its settings, shopping, washing China grit out of most of our clothes (thank goodness for the winter monsoon and good drying weather) and scanning and manipulating Yuk Tim's photos. They were pretty gritty, as well.

I have loaded an album of some of my pictures on our trip for general viewing and you will find it here as well.

I also forgot to mention that some of the special tea we drank was very expensive. Lawyer Chan said he paid Y 1500 (NZ$375) for a tin of tea and a packet of tea (one per pot) cost Y 200 or about NZ$35 - just as well we got many cups out of the small pot!

Today is hazy and cool but not cold - it's not as clear a day as yesterday and Robin's Nest is shrouded.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

China diary Dec-Jan

Happy New Year to any readers. And thanks to Eddie ( for his photos in my previous posts. I should be able to insert my own from now on. Click on the pictures for more detail.

See Eddie's blog for a more complete description of the family and environs.

We spent five days at Ni Zi village and the following is my diary of events.

Friday 28 December

We left at 6.50, managing to catch the first bus for Xintang, and arrived in the fast time of 1 ½ hours. On the motorway the bus passed a wedding procession of several cars – notable for their decoration of parcel bows in various configurations, while the bridal car was much more elaborately decorated with a tulle confection on the bonnet.

We walked to the village, stopping only to buy a few presents for the family at Tian He Dept Store, and for Eddie to take photos.

Su Poy Yum (afterwards known as Hum) helped us book into the local hotel, which is of a reasonable standard, and most comfortable. Eddie had hoped to pay Y60 a night, but we had to take our room for Y80. I thought that was reasonable anyway, since it amounted to about NZ$16 for a double room and bath. It was great not having to share a bathroom and not have to wash in cold water, and we also appreciated the luxury of having space to spread out without worrying anyone else, and the large towels! The bed was very hard, in true Chinese style, but comfortable.

It was a beautifully fine day with the temperature in the 20s, so I only needed a T-shirt, though others were more wrapped up. We visited Yuk Tim, Hum's father. had lunch at Hum’s, then took a ferry across the river to Cha Gaau where Eddie’s cousin, Lei Yung, lives. We mooched around her part of the village, talking to locals (one old lady thought I was a boy – not sure why) for a while, ate some bananas Yung gave us, then walked back to the ferry landing. One of the motor bike taxi drivers recognised Eddie, which pleased him.

We walked back to Ni Zi, refreshed ourselves, and joined Hum and family for dinner. Mosquitoes were out in force, despite the cooler weather, although we didn't seem to get bitten, except by the ones in our hotel room. After dinner, Yuk Tim, Hum, and his brother Kei all came back with us to inspect our room.

Kei had asked Eddie if we had hot water in the bathroom, to which he replied "there had better be." To make sure, Kei went in to test the shower (rather than the basin taps), leaving water and dirty footprints everywhere. I had quite a clean-up to do after the men had gone for a walk and had to sacrifice a hand towel to the cause. I don’t really like wet bathrooms, much preferring a shower stall to control the water.

We had a good sleep, in spite of the mozzies and my aches and pains, which resulted from the long walk.

Saturday 29 December

We were booked for yum cha with some members of the family, so were out by 7, walking to a local restaurant. It was a pleasant occasion, but I find the smoking in restaurants hard to take – one’s clothes take on the smell and need a lot of airing.

After breakfast, Hum took us to Zeng Cheng for an outing – he had offered us a trip to Guangzhou or Zeng Cheng and Eddie thought he should see the city which is the capital of his ancestral county. We set off by bus, for a long ride north west of Xintang. The weather was quite chilly and we were pleased to have our woollies, scarves and hats with us.

We walked along the river bank, looking at the ‘old bridge’ the Japanese crossed when they moved down from the North. The river was lined with old, derelict boats,
home to poor, old people who had no other accommodation. They could reach the bank through cobbled-together, rickety rafts, or in small boats. Along the promenade, older people were sitting and chatting or playing chess or cards, in spite of the chill wind.

We wandered through the town to a large shopping plaza, in the grounds of which was a special grove of ancient lichi trees (well, one ancient one, anyway – the others just keep the tradition alive). Apparently the fruit is astoundingly expensive, but the owners sell to each other, to avoid money changing hands.

A further walk took us to another side of the river, where there are 2 pagodas on opposite banks, like a pair of chopsticks to pincer the enemy. This area contained a pretty park and some very impressive apartment buildings. We walked to the nearest pagoda, climbing the hill it surmounted and inspecting trees, plants and altars on the way.

Eddie and Hum attempted to climb it, but gave up when the stairs narrowed and steepened. I decided not to bother and stayed below to mind Eddie’s bag and take some photos.

On the way down, Hum souvenired a hefty length of bamboo – not sure why, but he must have thought it would be useful as he carried all the way home.

Unfortunately, when he went to pay for our fare on the return bus, Eddie discovered his money purse had disappeared, which was a shock for both of us. He coped well, but it was an sad end to the trip.

Off the bus and on the way back to Ni Zi, we stopped for lunch at a clay pot restaurant. They had sold out of fish so we had ‘tin gai’ (field chicken or frogs) instead. I didn’t translate that mentally until I was half way through mine, but it was tasty although there were lots of small bones to be coped with.

Hum had to leave us to get back by ourselves as he had something urgent come up. We walked through the fields, slowly, with Eddie taking many photos. There are many tenant farmers living in shacks by the fields they rent (Y1000 per year for a mu (1 Mu=666.6667 square meters)). Electricity is jury-rigged to the lucky ones, and water can be pumped from wells. Others cook burning what they can scavenge for fuel.

It’s not an easy life, but must be worth it for so many to come from afar.
Most of the farmers, or jeans workers for that matter, don’t speak Cantonese.

After cleaning up at the hotel, we spent a bit of time with Hum in his plot of land, admiring his building (a little house that he will let out when he has finished it and found access to water and power), and his dam, and mango trees.

After dinner, we spent some time on Hum’s computer, checking our mail and trying to download Google Earth, then went for supper with his sister Fong, and Kei and his son. Fong took me on her scooter, which was unnerving in the cold and dark, with neither of us wearing a helmet. I still find it very difficult to internalise driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. It’s not so bad in a bus or on a highway, but it’s really strange when I’m in the front passenger seat of a car.

Although it was late, the restaurant was still serving dim sum, so we had a few more things to eat on top of our dinner. The trip home was even colder than the previous one, and we were relieved to have a warm shower and get into bed.

Sunday 30 December

We did a lot of washing before meeting Hum for breakfast at 7.30. We took a walk through the market, which is reasonably extensive. There is a full range of vegetables, fish and meat. Among the meat for sale, I noticed fatty pork (about 2 inches of fat on some of the cuts in the traditional way), a dog (I’m sure I saw paws), and goats, the heads still with their horns.

We had a quieter day generally today, with eating, walking around and visiting the highlights.

In the later afternoon we went for a walk around the parts of the village we hadn’t yet seen. Changes are dramatic from this time last year, with a new road taking traffic from the old, and more buildings put up, while others have been demolished.

We had dinner at Yuk Tim's,which was a major effort invovling all the family and a great deal of cooking. There was meat and fish in plenty, cooked by the eldest daughter's husband, set out on several tables. The adults sat on saw-horse-like benches inside and the children were outside near the entrance. Afterwards, we were taken to visit his brother ’s daughter's grand house at Phoenix City, some way out of Xintang (she is a jeans queen and not short of cash). The area is a gated community of houses and gardens rather than apartments, and each is very large and splendid, though obviously from new money in their showiness. The fish pond in the garden must take some upkeep and is obviously the husband’s hobby. They have some fruit trees in the garden which will take some years to become established, and I was amused to see vegetables drying on the garden swing.

The couple have 3 daughters who kept us amused practising their English, while we ate peanuts and mandarins and drank tea. We were driven home by 9.30.

Monday 31 December

After breakfast at 7 at Hum’s, we left to cross the highway 107 bridge to get to Zhongtong. Eddie’s plan was to visit his Hong Kong cousin’s lawyer cousin and then walk to Cha Gaau to see the lawyer’s mother.

Although a fine morning it was bitterly cold with a biting wind. We crossed the bridge amongst the traffic without incident (though walking on an espressway isn’t my idea of fun), and walked to the lawyer's house through dusty road works and ankle-turning rubble. They family didn't get up till 10, so we waited for a while, chatting with the man across the road. Once they were up and dressed, we were invited to drink tea with him & his daughter, while his wife went to collect the other daughter from school.

We sat in the garden at his tea desk and took tea till after 12, drinking 2 kinds of very expensive tea, which were brewed with full ritual in a small purple clay teapot (rinsed, filled and refilled with water many times) and served in tiny cups. We had Ti Kuan Yin, which was very fragrant and not at all strong and bitter. Next we had Pu Erh tea which had been packed in an inside-out pomelo skin which had been cut and then sewn together and dried. The skin was still fragrant, but I think the scent was somewhat lost in the tea. He said the package was 10 years old.

He next denuded his blossom trees for flowers which he used to flavour the next pots of tea.

After 12 we went for lunch with the family at a local restaurant, then drank more tea till 3.30. It’s very easy to while away time chatting and brewing tea, and sipping more and more little cups, particularly when the sun is shining and the garden is pleasant.

Finally, we started to walk the long way home in order to visit his mother, but got lost so we retraced our route and re-crossed highway 107 bridge. I found it easier in the afternoon as I think there was less traffic.

After a stop in the hotel, we went for a walk to see where Uncle Mok Au’s burial place is – Hum met us and took us through a road construction site, and across weedy ground where we collected a healthy crop of grass seeds that had to be picked off later. He showed us how to eat sugar cane and we spent quite a bit of time chewing and spitting. However, politely, one should chew the fibres into a wad and spit them out into one’s hand before discarding them rather than just spitting them out. It’s hard to do genteelly, and I have difficulty peeling the nodes of the cane with my teeth. The rest I can manage.

After dinner, Yuk Tim took us to visit his #3 son's wife, who gave us tea & fruit. We were tired and made excuses to leave early, but went back to Hum’s for a computer session, looking at, which is like Google Earth and can be quite absorbing and time-consuming to play with. It was very cold again, but there was no hot water in our bathroom so we had to go to bed without a warm shower.

Tuesday 1 January

Unlike in
New Zealand, the night was quiet – I don’t recall hearing any revellers or fireworks at midnight. The celebrations are reserved for Chinese New Year which will have its share of fire crackers and excitement.

We joined Hum for a breakfast of congee, with deep fried devils, in the market – unfortunately sitting next to the local drunk, who got more abusive and noisy as the firewater in his glass took effect. We were pleased when he finally went, but it rather spoilt the occasion.

Hum’s aunt invited us to her house for morning tea and again we were treated to a tea ceremony. It’s something that was unpractised until quite recently, and indicates rising prosperity among the new middle classes, who can now afford the tea things and the tea.

Hum’s sisters had organised an excursion to the country, so we set off in two cars with Bing, Fong, Jing, Hum, Fong’s two children and the respective husbands. We stopped at Shapu to get Jing and were plied with pickled walnuts while we waited. We then had a long drive to the mountains past Zeng Cheng, stopping at a lookout, then continuing on a narrow looping road (reminiscent of the wilder parts of NZ) to a village for lunch and buying provisions. We passed small villages on the side of steep hills, surrounded by lichi orchards, and other crops. The comment was made that the air was very healthy, and it was a pleasure to see that there are parts of China where there is little pollution.

The village we stopped at is set along a stream, which was most picturesque, and seemed to specialise in selling dried vegetables, honey, dried meat and strings of dried small birds, some of which the party purchased.

For lunch, we sat in a pavilion beside the stream and ate ham, snow peas, three kinds of green vegetables, whelks, chicken, soup, and a very tasty rice. I commented that I supposed it might have dried birds in it, and Eddie said it had. He said it wasn’t much different from eating chicken, which is true, and they certainly added savour to the dish. There wasn’t a grain left at the end of the meal, unlike the whelks, which weren’t so popular. We drank special tea provided by one of the husbands along with a small drop of cognac to toast the new year.

After some of the party had annoyed a fish in the local river by trying to catch it, we set off on the return journey, stopping at a mountain stream to collect water in large containers. Next was a quick stop at Bing's husband's village for more ritually served tea, before we continued on for a quick stop at a park to see a thousand year old vine, propped up on concrete pillars and draped over a trellis.

At Shapu we stopped to deliver Jing and her goods – even there we were offered boiled eggs. Eddie said that this family’s life revolves around eating. Unfortunately, while he was negotiating a narrow street behind Bing’s shop, Fong's husband damaged their new Camry by scraping a bit of metal projecting from a nearby truck. They took the mishap philosophically – Fong said the two cars kissed. Rather a rough kiss, sadly.

For the evening we had dinner booked with Hum’s aunt & uncle's families – there were about 20 in all in the party. It was an elaborate meal with soup, prawns in cheese, duck, fish poached, fish casseroled, choy sum, a guts dish which was rather tough, and casseroled chicken. We couldn’t manage rice, but finished with mandarins & two kinds of man tou. We drank tea and Chinese red wine, which I found a little thin, but drinkable.

I expected an early night but after walking home, we spent some time with Hum on his computer, trying to trace our route on Google Earth, so we didn’t get to bed till after 10.

Wednesday 2 January

We met Hum for breakfast at a stall near Xintang, having rather tasty rice rolls. We took a walk round the markets and the old town, which used to be a main market for the area – some of the old merchants’ houses still exist. I was intrigued by an art deco house which stood out among its more traditional neighbours. We continued along the river bank past the Cha Gaau ferry pier and walked back to Ni Zi through the fields.

After a visit to Yuk Tim, where we picked up his family photos to scan so the family can have a copy and the records preserved (some prints are very degraded and all very dusty), we checked out of the hotel, had lunch with Hum. One day, he asked Eddie what was the English for "sik fan" or the invitation to eat, and Eddie told him "Eat" - so he took great delight in ordering me to "Eat!" whenever we sat for a meal. I found it really amusing but thought Eddie should have at least put in a "please" for politeness' sake.

We left to catch #9 bus and walked from the Tian He store to New Good View hotel where we caught the express bus to Shen Zhen at 1.45. I noticed yet another bridal car in the car park, this time decorated with real roses and greenery, wilting in the sun (see photo above).

We were home by 5, back where the traffic is quieter and more predictable and (mostly) stops at pedestrian crossings.