Jinxi – The China we thought we’d never see

A few weeks back in time to July 2013……

Heading from Nanjing to Kunshan Station on the Beijing to Shanghai bullet train route, we eagerly anticipated our arrival in Jinxi, armed with googlings of information and images of the water township we were headed to.

Leaving the station, in a taxi organised by the hotel/youth hostel we were to be staying in, we didn’t let the industrial feel of the area dampen our excitement. Stations are often surrounded by such a lack of scenery. However as the forty minute journey continued, faint shades of disappointment were slowly smothering our hopes.

As the driver announced that our destination was very close, I looked around at the dark and dismal town we were passing through and wondered if Google had lied to us.

Suddenly, we rounded a bend and relief bolted through me. At the end of the road stood a large body of water and the ornate end of one of the many bridges we had been promised.

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A short walk through the ticket barrier (!?!?) (we didn’t have to pay because it was 6pm and already closed for the day), we entered the myriad of narrow alleyways that led into the heart of Jinxi and realised that Google really had lied. The views were much better than we could ever have crossed our fingers for.

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Jinxi is an old water township in Jiangsu province, southwest of Kunshan City that still boasts original Ming and Qing dynasty buildings, a wonderful lotus pond, beautiful oriental bridges and the tomb of Chenmu, the concubine of Song dynasty’s emperor Xiaozong. For more detailed information visit: http://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/jiangsu/kunshan/jinxi-town.htm

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Having lived for a year in Tianjin, a sprawling city and industrial port 30 minutes by bullet train from Beijing, the need to escape the endless noise, people, pollution and construction work is constant. Jinxi provides the perfect reprieve. Clean air, the utterly relaxed lifestyle of the locals, views of the water, good food and cold beer. A must when the temperature in July hits a dripping 43 degrees celsius! Most importantly it provides the opportunity to actually see something old and original instead of the numerous city sites that replicate something old and original. It also shows a glimpse of life we rarely see, such as the sight of an old lady washing clothes in the canal.

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Basically, this wonderful location offers tranquility, an overflowing bucket full of it. Days here should be spent simply; reading a book, slowly browsing the many shops of teapots, paintings, fans and clothing, taking a trip on the canals accompanied by the not quite so tranquil sounds of the captain’s singing, drinking tea, filling your stomachs with amazing and amazingly cheap food and ending the day with a few drinks in the best hotel bar I’ve ever been to.

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On the river

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Local life

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A fantastic tea house

I thoroughly recommend everyone visits Jinxi, actually I insist you do.

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 Our wonderful hotel, a bargain at £18 per night

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A rather poor shot of the excellent hotel bar

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The 1st Camping Trip in China – Day 3

Sunday 25 August 2013

Ben, more excited than a Ben in an outdoor equipment shop, woke up before the alarm. We made our sleepy way out of the tent dressed in many layers (12 degrees is cold when you have lived through a 30+ degree summer in China!) and brewed ourselves a lovely steaming mug of coffee and hot chocolate with a shot of honey for an extra kick.

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880 grams of awesomeness – Telemark 2 (Carbon) by Nordisk

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As we sipped away and prepared for breakfast and the dawn, the man who lives in the cabin called out a ‘Hello’ and then set off to tend the horses that had kept some of our party awake during the night.

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After finishing his early morning task, he walked past us so I took the opportunity to ask him if we could pop into the cabin to procure some more water. (The cabin wasn’t officially open yet). He answered in the affirmative and so I dashed up the hill to fill our bottles hoping to finish before the sun appeared over the ridge. Too late, I had missed it! Although on my return Ben had finished preparing our breakfast of muesli, coconut milk and honey. Yum, yum.

Scott was also awake now and so the morning quickly disappeared as both he and Ben furiously boiled water, fried bacon and fed the waking children as one by one they emerged from their sleeping bags.

Unfortunately, because of the amount of their bags to be taken down the mountain and to coincide our reluctant departure with the arrival of the mountain workers, we all had to be back at the chair lift by 8am. Despite our regrets about leaving our campsite, our heads full of the joys of a night under stars and canvas at 2000 metres made the return ride even more enjoyable than the upbound one.

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As we waited for the coach journey home, we sat in the sunshine, cooked some noodles and had a pleasant chat with Jon Xu, the Hotel’s International Division Manager, about ideas to encourage summer visitors.

Noon soon arrived and we were herded back onto the coach to start our eventful journey home full of blown tires, a seemingly endless traffic jam, an impromptu stop for lamb kebabs and an argument about the route home!

However, we had an amazing weekend with a terrific group of adults and children and are now set to meet them again for the return trip during the ski season. Camping will be out of the question that time as temperatures on the summit reach minus 40 Celsius!

The 1st Camping Trip in China – Day 2

Saturday 24 August

So, with the alarm set for 7:15pm we arose at 7:30, opened the curtains and smiled. The view from our sliver of a balcony boasted blue, blue skies and green, green mountains. We ignored the sights sounds and smells of the construction work outside. Breathing in the fresh air (though unfortunately tinged with building dust), we said goodbye to the Tianjin pollution for 2 days and looked forward escaping to the top of the mountain.

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View from the balcony

After rapid showers we went to explore the complementary Chinese and Western style buffet breakfast. Previous experience of ‘Western breakfast’ in hotels elsewhere in China saw us enter the breakfast room with minimal expectations. Today however, we were happily surprised with their offerings. Bacon, sausages, baked beans, eggs, toast, pastries, cereal and fruit welcomed us alongside more traditional Chinese fare.

Bellies more than satiated we had 3 hours to ourselves before the group was due to head up the mountain. We trekked out into the fresh heat of a 25 degree (Celsius) sunny day and took the bunny slope away from the route we were to take later. Having shamefully done very little exercise since arriving in China, as we progressed from the bunny slope to a more challenging hill breathing became increasingly laboured and promises to quit smoking were uttered.

Anyway, riding on the glory of former fitness we managed to make it up the hill and sat down to take in the view.

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We later discovered that the lake seen in the distance is used to top-up the snow at the beginning of the winter

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After the rest, we continued on and took the hard way back, rewarded with an impressive array of scratches from hidden bramble type things.

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At midday we gathered with the others and arranged to take all of our camping gear to the summit via chair lift. During the summer the resort requires a minimum of 800 CNY (£80) to activate the chair lift, so going in a group is advised unless you time your ascent and descent with the morning commuters, the mountain workers, in which case the cost is then 50 CNY (£5) per person.

Heavily laden with our own gear and the children’s share divided amongst the adults, we made our way to the bottom of three sets of chair lifts only to realise we should be at the top set. Back up we went and then took a peaceful, beautiful ride up.

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Arriving at the summit we found the Resort cabin and quickly dumped our kit and made use of the facilities that come complete with self-changing seat covers and automatic seat warmers! They also provide hot and cold water, refreshments and a phone charging unit.

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Leaving the rest of the group, Ben and I headed off with our backpacks back on back to explore and find a suitable site to make our camp for the night.

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A short walk along the ridge and we came across a decent place to pitch our tent but decided first to reward ourselves with a quick cuppa.

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The exceptional Classic Ti-Tri by Trail Designs

Following mobile communications with the rest of our campers we decided to head back and set-up camp in a beautiful spot not far from the cabin to make life easier for the junior campers.

Another brew and then it was time to pitch the tents. Our tent went up with ease and then Ben lent a hand to a trio of teenage boys to assist and instruct them in their attempt to erect a tent. At this point the boys decided to start calling him Bear Grylls’ cousin.

With our accommodation in place it was time for another brew and dinner! Our new friend Scott, the trip organiser, decided to conserve energy and cook all of their evening meat in one hit, in one pan!

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Whilst this was happening Ben engaged in a conversation with the trio about the different computer games they all like, impressing the boys with his years of experience in this field to the extent that one of the boys said in amazement “I can’t believe I’m discussing computer games with an adult!”

Once the kids had been fed and watered, Ben and I found a suitable piece of ground and Ben, with much delight, set up the Hive Stove and cooked our meal of pasta, chicken and sweetcorn soup, cashew nuts and tuna. Oh and some homemade chupatis. Tasty and filling.

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The Hive Stove – effective wood burning stove. Note use of aluminium foil in keeping with the Leave No Trace philosophy

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During the above, the kids had been sent on a mission to find firewood and so after watching a gorgeous sunset, Bear Grylls’ cousin instructed them all on the correct and responsible way to have a camp fire. As the stars appeared, much to the delight of one boy who had never seen stars before, we discussed all manner of things from planets, stars and satellites to whether bamboo would explode if added to the fire.

After the fire had safely burnt out, three happy boys retired to their tent still bubbling with excitement that we had been able to spot the International Space Station. Another happy boy, aka Ben, and I cleaned our teeth and crawled into our awesome 2 man tent and attempted to get some sleep before a 5am wake-up call.

The 1st Camping Trip in China – Day 1

Friday 23 August 2013

After all of our preparations, we set off at 3pm with rucksacks strapped to our backs to meet our travelling companions for the next 3 days. The taxi journey to our meeting point was slightly longer than expected as we had not realised just how long a road Jie Fang Nan Lu is!! Anyway, having left in plenty of time we arrive 10 minutes before our expected departure. Quick introductions to the rest of the crew and then we all await the arrival of the coach. Not surprisingly, the coach is 30 minutes late and so we finally head off at 4:45pm, 45 minutes late.

The coach journey starts off well however on entering Beijing we become engulfed in Friday evening commuter traffic which slows our passage. Despite this everyone remains excited about the trip ahead  and all goes well until our exit from the highway appears to have acquired a height restriction bar. The coach most certainly won’t fit. Stopping in a lay-by just past the exit we stop for phone call discussions on how to proceed.

Following this small hiccup the rest of the route is covered without further delays and we arrive at Wan Long Ski Resort (萬龍滑雪场), near Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province at midnight. Our journey having been untaken mostly after sunset, we only get a vague sense of our surrounding and we eagerly look forward to waking up tomorrow to take in the views. We do however realise that our destinations appears to be a building site and so, as anticipated by our trip organiser, the coach cannot drive to the hotel entrance. Lugging torches, bags and bikes we trudge up the hill to the hotel and deposit ourselves in the lobby.

Checking-in throws us a few surprises as we discover that the hotel needs our passports until noon the next day and also requires a 1000 CNY (£100) deposit!?! Assured that when we check-out the following day to start our hiking and camping excursion our passports will be returned to us along with 700 CNY (£70), the deposit less the cost of the room, we head to our rooms. The cost of the hotel is 300 CNY (£30) at this time of the year. After entering our standard room we realise that this is cheap! A very nice hotel room. Ablutions are quickly performed and we bed down for the night.

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Wan Long Ski Resort’s main focus has always been the ski season but from the efforts of the talented and extremely friendly Jon Xu, International Division Manager, they are now realising the potential for summer trade. Currently, business is only just starting to pick up and so prices are still fairly cheap. For our trip, standard rooms cost 300 CNY (£30) per night and family rooms which consist of 2 bedrooms and a small dining area with kitchenette 450 CNY (£45).

Winter prices are considerably higher, starting at 800 CNY (£80) for a standard room which increases to approximately 1100 CNY (£110) at Christmas and in the region of 2000 CNY (£200) at Chinese New Year.

The Resort’s website (limited info in English available at time of writing): http://www.wlski.com/eng/index.html

One year in…..

Apologies for those who have been keenly awaiting (?!?!?) this much promised blog documenting our adventures in Asia, however as life now begins to get interesting the need to put fingers to keyboard has become necessary to ensure that we don’t forget this amazing time in our lives.

The last month has been pretty full of travel within China, see separate blogs for that, and tomorrow we are going on another much anticipated trip. The 1st camping trip in China!

Through a series of rather fortunate events, we now find ourselves tagging along on a hiking and camping trip with persons unknown to us. They happen to be teachers at one of the international schools in Tianjin, so concerns for our safe return are presumably unnecessary.

Hold on, be back soon, I need to go and finish my chupatis! (They were pretty good for a first attempt. Thanks Mama Teale for the instructions! Will be making more tomorrow to take with us.)

So, today has been full of preparations for the trip and Ben has given me his first lecture on how to pack a rucksack correctly. Cue slight annoyance on his part at my less than enthusiastic participation. I hate packing!! Anyway, much progress has been made and we are almost set for the 6 hour coach ride to Wan Long Ski Resort, Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province. It is August so we won’t be skiing although if this trip proves successful we shall be returning there for some skiing later in the year. This area is said to be the best skiing in China.

Farewell until Monday when I shall update you with news and photo’s of our camping adventure on the summit of a mountain!

This is apparently a photo of our destination!

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The remainder of the chupatis

 

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Jen

xx