Semarang, Indonesia

Indonesia was a former Dutch colony. Semarang, our second Java stop, was a major port town during the Dutch colonial era. Thus, Dutch colonial buildings can be easily located here, mostly around Old Quarter. Some have been renovated to turn into a cafe, restaurant, administrative building or art gallery. But I believe greater efforts could have and should be poured in to preserve them. It is a shame, really, because poor maintenance seemed to be a common problem among not just the historical, religious sites but also the lodgings/ hostels. In fact, I would like to think such a matter outlined some important characteristics of the people in this region (ya, including my fellow Malaysians) but I shall leave the debate of it out of this blog.

Gereja Blenduk/ Dome church

Architecture around Old Quarter. Half of the time we were chilling inside either the art gallery or the cafe having coffee and beers. We could have explored the interiors of these buildings more. Alas, it was simply too hot to move around much.

We did stroll a bit further with our motorbike to stumble across what seemed to be a church and some residential housing.

The Great Mosque of Central Java. No stranger to mosques since I live in Malaysia but I must admit this is the most majestic and unique mosque I have come across. And this attraction was also part of the reason I included Semarang in my itinerary. We arrived before noon, waited for it to reopen after lunch break just so we could take the lift to the uppermost floor of the viewing tower to have a bird’s-eye view of the mosque and nearby towns.

Lawang Sewu. This landmark used to be the headquarters of the Dutch East Indies Railway Company and is lined with numerous doors and windows. After World War II, a battle broke out there and many died at the scene. Rumor has it that the building is haunted. If I am not mistaken, public is forbidden to visit the place after 6pm or 630pm. We almost couldn’t make it that afternoon but in the end, we managed to stay until it was almost dark. When night fell, the whole building was brightly lit, looking mystical from afar.

Shanghai, Part 1

It came as no surprise that I love Shanghai. Big cities brimming with lights when the night falls where hurrying throng of unfamiliar faces pass by you – each with their own story to tell but you get no glimpse inside their inner world. Even then, you take comfort in knowing that you are not alone amid the crowd. It is a funny way of detaching yourself without feeling the painful isolation.

I was staying in Fuzhou Road. Little did I know beforehand that it is also known as the cultural or book street, where stores selling books, stationery, supplies for calligraphy etc are found. So I spent my first afternoon in Shanghai excitedly checking out one bookstore after another. Among them are the multistorey Shanghai Foreign Languages Bookstore and Shanghai Book City (brother would kill to be here because of the huge collection of Mandarin titles on display). Put aside the more established and well-known stores, small stalls selling used or brand new books/ magazines attended mostly by elders could be found hidden at some corners or alleys. The entire time I was debating if I should shop for some Mandarin books for myself (esp those that are hard to come by in Malaysia). At last, I decided against it as I wouldn’t finish reading them anyway 😦 😦

Fuzhou road where I stayed. Gotta love the buildings around and it was not packed with tourists.

Books and more books. Heaven.

Fuzhou road was also where I finally found a family-run restaurant that served nice fulfilling flavorful Chinese cuisines with good price. I was fed up with having dumplings or noodles for past few days so I decided to stop settling for shops that didn’t serve rice no matter how hungry I was. I ended up having almost all of my meals there that the owner and her daughter recognized me as the weird girl.

Nice stuff. Wished I had taken more (and better) photos.

The reason why I chose to stay at the hostel in Fuzhou Road albeit the mixed to negative online reviews was because of the location. The Bund is just few steps away from it and it has a fantastic roof top bar which overlooks everything at night! Not to mention that it is near to the metro station which makes it easy for me to access all the attractions. But I wasn’t happy when I was there staying in the 8-bed female dorm. In fact, I felt so lonely and I craved for human interactions. As expected, all the girls in the room were young local Chinese. This seemed to be the same everywhere else (happened to the last two hostels I booked). Some came with friends, but most were alone. I soon realized that it was common for these girls to travel alone within the country and even when it was not summer break, they would travel around as long as they got few days off from classes. However in this hostel, the girls usually stayed for one night then checked out the next day before someone new joined the room. What drove me crazy was everyone minded their own business, no one looked at you and even if they did, they did it quietly. It was such a shame because I really loved the spacious room and the huge comfortable bed (nevermind the unsightly balcony that was full of clothes hung to be dried by these Chinese travelers). If I were to make friends with any of them, I needed to be the one initiating the conversations. But when I was put in a room with so many girls, I got intimidated. What if my friendliness was mistaken as a weakness or an unwelcoming nosiness? What if they reacted with indifference or hostility? I would feel hurt. I was such a coward, I was no different than them. So I told myself I would book a mixed dorm the very next time. But then again, the thought of sharing a room with so many Chinese guys put me off. Lol. On the last day before check out, finally a new girl said hi to me and conversations followed. Later on, another new girl chipped in. Both girls came from different parts of China and were in Shanghai for different reasons – one to look for a job, another to look for a friend.
As much as I enjoy the sight seeing and having a break from normal routines, I guess the biggest satisfaction comes from the interaction with people of different walks of life made along the journey.

P_20160619_194106_NTView from the roof top bar

Tunxi Ancient Street, Huangshan

The initial plan was leaving Hangzhou around 7am so that I could make it to Tunxi Ancient Street before noon then book myself a tour to nearby Hongchun (where Lee Ann’s Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon was filmed) and Xidi villages. But when I woke up at 8am, my stomach was not feeling well (suspected gastric pain due to irregular meals or food poisoning). I then dreaded the 3 hours bus journey ahead where I might need a toilet. So when I finally checked out, it was already past 10am. The girl working at hostel told me to use subway line 1 to get to Passenger Transport Center (12 stations away) to get direct bus depart to Tunxi. But when I got there, I was told that there was no bus to Tunxi. I had to get to Hangzhou West Bus Station instead. Lucky for me that not far away there was a waiting area for bus departing to West Bus Station. So I spent up to more than an hour waiting impatiently for the arrival of the said bus and for it to be filled up with passengers! When I looked around, I realized I was not the only foreigner as many of the locals were also new there as they were seemed asking around for directions and whatnot. Being the homogeneous country, I naively expected the people all looked the same but that was obviously not the case – China is a massive piece of land spanned across geographical diversities and migrants from the countryside were everywhere in the bigger cities. Police or security officers were stationed at all the transport hubs, mostly young and expressionless.

When the last passenger finally got up the bus, a quarrel broke out between the bus driver and one of the passengers. That passenger was instructed to remove his farm products packed in a box away from the seat next to him to keep at the bus luggage compartment to make room for the last passenger. He refused and went on justifying his act of hogging the vacant seat (which was common in China btw). They got louder and louder that eventually other passengers chipped in to support the bus driver. When I worried in fear that the driver might finally loss his temper and walk away, the middle-aged Cantonese lady seated next to me could take it no more, started yelling at the man to go get his personal coach. Others cheered supportedly. Lol. That was how it was resolved.

By that time, I was running late. When I finally got to the West Bus Station, I actually followed the men shouting for passengers leaving to Tunxi by the roadside to the opposite side of the bus station. That was a mistake I made – instead of taking my time to process things and surroundings by asking around, I took the first offer that came to me when I was in a rush. True that there were legit buses waiting at the opposite side, but it didn’t look like we (me and a few other elder passengers) would be boarding any of them. When I wanted to leave, the men guarded there stopped me and insisted that bus to Tunxi would depart soon. Then they started herding us to a small run-down van. I pointed it out, they said they would fetch us to where the bus was at as it was trapped in some traffic. At that moment, I was panicked in fear sitting in the van but tried to calm myself down, thinking that I had very likely just run into a syndicate cheating people’s money by taking passengers to their destinations using van rather than an actual bus. However, the van stopped and dropped us halfway by the roadside to wait the bus. The bus to Tunxi eventually came and we were ordered to get in. The Cantonese-speaking lady I met earlier on was also in the bus with her family. Bet they purchased their tickets at the counter legitimately. I sighed in relief and happy that there was no bad ending.

Tunxi district as I approached was seemed to be filled with lots of road banners. No kidding. The messages were usually harmless stuff like “drive safely” or “be a law-abiding citizen”. But they were unmistakably backed by the traditional Chinese cultural values like courtesy, harmony, loyalty etc. The more I read them, the eerier I felt. Take for example, if I drive safely without breaking any laws, its because I am aware of the dreadful consequences to everyone involved if an accident ever happens, not because I am constantly brainwashed, I mean reminded of my roles and responsibilities to my family, society and country. It was a very strange feeling. Anyway, the bus dropped me by the roadside where ancient street was nowhere in sight. I asked the men around, they told me ancient street was walkable but quite a far distance away. A tuk-tuk driver appeared and I was happy to pay 10 yuan for him to take me there. It was indeed quite far!

After checking in and having my shower and early dinner nearby, I found an empty bar that served both coffee and alcoholic drinks. Turns out that the tour to Hongcun and Xidi villages arranged by the hostel would be a day (not half-day) trip so that only meant I had to give these villages a miss due to a lack of time. I was kinda happy of how things turned out because a visit to both villages required an entrance fee respectively (which was not cheap). So there I was, sitting in the empty dimly-lit bar (attended by a friendly female bartender) by first ordering the overpriced coffee followed by cold beers until it got dark outside. Hehe. Three Chinese girls later came in – drinking, smoking and chatting among themselves about their lives.

Easily one of my best evenings in China. Lol.

Later that night, I made friend with a girl from Guangdong who traveled alone to climb Yellow Mountain aka Huangshan. Gotta admire her as the idea to climb the mountain didn’t even cross my mind when planning for this trip. More impressively, she has started a career with the Chinese government with her law degree (note the stiff competition faced by Chinese graduates every year to get a job in the market, what more a job with the government) but she told me they are only entitled of 5 days of annual leaves (I was thankful of mine then). We talked about interesting places to visit in China, the Chinese in Malaysia, China’s one-child policy, so on and so forth! That aside, I actually enjoyed the ancient street in Tunxi more than the one in Hangzhou, especially after dark. There was an entire street filled with coffee shops and bars. Too bad I just got out of one earlier on. Secondly, there were a lot MORE displayed items in the shops that actually caught my attention than anywhere else. Wished I spent the extra one night in Tunxi rather than Hangzhou. Oh well.

Fascinating Anhui style architecture – the main reason I was there. Told brother that it was like in the TV, at the scene where some of the series were filmed.

When the night fell.

Left: How I was fetched to the bus station the following morning. The lady driver laughed at me when I asked would I fall down with my backpack. Right: Tuk-tuk in Tunxi.

Things I was buying home for myself and family
P_20160616_151037Traditional Anhui style architecture – how the houses in Hongchun village shall look like

(Hang Nga) Crazy House

DSCF2205The fairy tale house deserves a blog post of its own simply because its really an awesomely surreal and magical place to visit. It is located in Da Lat (I would get to the lovely town in my subsequent entry), with an estimation of 5-6 hours away from Mui Nei by bus. Crazy house was probably the highlight of my entire Vietnam trip, but then again, it’s unfair to other places I went to because they were fantastic in their own ways.DSCF2211DSCF2209DSCF2170