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We Go To China

April 2000: we take the Spring Holiday weekend off and head for the 'Middle Kingdom', China, which becomes the latest major destination we've added to our itinerary.


A RECAP. Tomb-sweeping fever gripped Chinese society over the first weekend of April as the CHING-MING Spring Holiday provided a great excuse for everyone and their dog to take the long weekend off. This was generally the time when families head off to their hometowns for a visit to their ancestors' tombs, rather a silly reason to spend most of your day in a freeway traffic-jam just so that you can wipe a bit of dust off Grandpa's masoleum. While this was all happening, Laeititia and I were doing other things (quite sensibly too, if you ask me) - in China!
SO. More visas cluttered our passport pages as we joined our Boss's family for a few days on the Mainland. After flying to Macau, we crossed the 'border' into China proper, staying for the night in Zhu-Hai city, a showcase special economic zone which is full of interesting things, one being the Youan Ming Palace, a spectacularly restored Ming Dynasty complex where we spent Saturday. Laetitia and I got the chance to try out some interesting places to sit, one being the traditional sedan chair (as used by the Emperor) and the other being the considerably less bumpy Imperial Throne. ROLLIN!

CROWNING IT ALL. Laetitia was also roped in to a huge pageant performance at the main amphitheatre there and was 'crowned' the new Empress of China, complete with dozens of dancing handmaidens and stern pony-tailed blokes waving large spear things. Fun - at least that's what the 4000 people in the audience thought, though L wasn't paying much attention to the adoring crowds, preferring to focus on the small matter of trying to understand what was going on on a stage on which she was the only person who couldn't make head or tail of what was supposed to be happening re stage directions etc. So, with cries of "LET THEM EAT (RICE) CAKE!" in front of thousands of people, and with the assistance of the 'Imperial Guards', Laetitia is chosen as the 'Emperor's bride' and becomes 'Empress'. Fun - and free noodles for the toiling masses! We even got the ceremony taped onto videodisc for future party tricks!

SURREAL. That night I met another Taiwanese guy in the hotel's Karaoke lounge (I was there for the cheap beer) and we hit a club in Zuhai. Remember those apparently stereotypical films in which a lone foreigner visiting Communist China wanders around a really INTENSE dance club and stares in amazement at the Chinese Military Police in full parade gear with completely expressionless faces patrolling the sweaty crowds of dancers? It happened. To me. Really. Military guards on the left, silver foil miniskirts and glow-sticks on the right.

GRIME-ZHOU. Gaungzhou was the next stop on our travels. This huge city is generally known as 'Canton' to English speakers. We stayed about 30 floors above the traffic (which helped a lot), though we had to tread carefully at ground level, 'cause the hotel foyer was being renovated and we had to carry cases etc through the middle of this damned construction site. Still, we DID get a discount on the room....


WE'RE 8! Our 8th wedding anniversary was spent in a nice Thai restaurant in another city near the coast, Shenzhen. This is a major port and special economic zone just across the bay from Hong Kong. We had a pretty decent dinner to wrap up a splendidly self-indulgent couple of hours in a Chinese massage/reflexology palace. One thing about China - it's not THAT cheap, but the coffee should be. In fact, it should be FREE because it's dire - almost as bad as the coffee in Korea. 

STONE-FACED. The bit of China that we saw is certainly worth another visit, provided you've got some basic Chinese under your belt. Laetitia tried to chat up one of the local lads but didn't get very much in the line of a response. Must have been her accent. Inscrutable types, these Chinese.

Macau - a little bit of Portugal in Asia.

MACAU. This little gambling enclave was (until December'99) part of Portugal and was returned to Chinese rule as some sort of 500 year-late Xmas prezzie. We arrived by strolling across the border point from the Chinese city of Zuhai at about 9pm on Monday night, just in time to get throught the gates before they closed for the night, but not too late for Laeitita to have a nervous breakdown when the Chinese officials started quizzing her about whether she supported Taiwan or China etc etc. The day was saved by my stepping forward with a BIG smile (giving face) and reminding everyone that "South Africa is a great friend of China" and that "the Chinese are fortunate to have such a great country" (not mentioning the Taiwan issue at all). Their attitude changed completely. The prison doors did NOT in fact swing shut on us and we were cheerfully informed that we'd be welcome back anytime!. 

We strolled from China into...erm...China and booked in at the Hotel Fortuna in the casino area. As we were there for only a few hours (excluding kip time), we couldn't do much except grab a late supper in a lovely Portuguese restaurant near Selgado Square and then wander around in happy amazement at the European-style parts of the old city. Luffly. Another time, definitely....

Leaving the mainland...

But now it was April with about 25 different countries visited, and we were back in Taiwan. The only thing on the calendar was work, work, work. We were still radically short-staffed so our schedule was 12 hours a day. Grim. Nicer things DID happen, though. I was lucky enough to catch a live gig by former Duran Duran bassist John Taylor at the Taipei Hard Rock Cafe. He played a lot of my fave tracks from the Duran 1983 album  RIO - a tad better than staying home and watching TV... I was half-expecting another concert-cancelling earthquake of the 1999 ilk that nuked the SUEDE concert here last September ...



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