This post may not contain things related to Tasker, Raspberry Pi or other things I write about. It’s my travel log. It will be updated daily so feel free to check on it.
The plan was simple, get home from work after the night shift, get a shower, pack my bag and catch a train to the airport. Virtually everything that I had planned for that day went wrong. I managed to leave work an hour early as I really wanted to post more WIFI results (RPi3 vs RPI2+dongle vs RPIZW). I got home early enough to start the tests. The 1m and 5m were fairly ok, but the 10m and 25m tests were inconsistent and for whatever reason, I was unable to reproduce the same speeds on the Raspberry Pi Zero W board. The entire plan of finishing the article on the train to London has been canceled. While I had enough time to get things done, my wife stayed longer at work, then have continued her work home. She was so absorbed with work that she forgot to order a taxi and 20 min before our train departure, we had no means of getting to the train station.
The taxi service around here is great and a car was waiting for us 5 min later. The driver was amazing and got us to the train station just on time. I wish I could say that the journey was uneventful. The train got some delays on the way due to damage to the traction power lines (caused by the weather). I’d be more understanding, but it was hardly windy, 10C and hardly any clouds all day. The fault caused 70min+ delay and at that point, I was sure we won’t make it on time to check in the luggage.
We have missed the flight but were lucky enough to be seated on the next flight with a better connection (at the hefty premium). The flight to China was uninterrupted, and I spent most of the 26h transit sleeping. Before the day ended for us – there was one more event. I’m a rebel most of the time, so when I sit at the back of the taxi I don’t put the seatbelt on. My personal rebellion has been squashed within 10 sec from getting into the airport taxi. This guy was crazy! Not a single time the indicator has been used. I have been given a crash course to driving in China. Something, that I won’t be doing anytime soon.
Hangzhou is weird and wonderful. At night, it looks like the city from the Blade Runner. I couldn’t shake off the impression we moved about 50 years in the future (for better and worse).
Day two continues tomorrow…
I can’t say I had the mother of all jet lags. I think working nights comes with benefits, although I don’t think that my body was able to operate at 100% energy levels. The day was planned accordingly. A simple dim sum breakfast in the center. A trip to the ZOO, and a dinner after.
In the morning, I checked what is the damage done by the Great Chinese Firewall. I’m in China one day, and I fully understand why Chinese people would take an iPhone over the Android. Having recently played with the Huawei P9 (Chinese edition) I couldn’t believe the amount of bloat and unwanted items that come with it. The answer is simple, entire Android infrastructure is doubled as nearly anything on stock Android won’t work due to ties with the Google Services. Even WIFI on my phone would report that I have no internet connection (despite being connected) preventing some of the not blocked apps from launching.
If you ever travel to China get the VPN ready, check what services work there as ie TunnelBear flopped instantly. Downloading VPNs is hard as often the services are blocked as well. I’m using PureVPN and the client took over an hour to download. It’s working now, but it’s painfully slow.
The breakfast was great, on the way there I made a friend with a small girl on the bus who was amazed by the fact I don’t have brown eyes! For the first time, I felt like an alien. She was probably speaking better English than I could Chinese. Back to the food, it was fresh and excellent.
The ZOO is located near the lake. It’s a really nice and green part of the city. They have PANDAS. I don’t think I have ever seen pandas before. Not in person. I have been to a few ZOO before, and I have to say that comparing to the overall size of the ZOO some of the animal enclosures felt small. Shame, as place it not lacking in space and the city, looks like they have the money. Another slightly bizarre experience was a circus show inside the ZOO. While some of the performances were simply silly, can’t say I was amazed by some.
One of the funny things I found out was the G20 summit. The buses were upgraded to play the English voice over for each stop because of this event. Somehow I really doubt that all these invited will be traveling by bus at any time, but I’m happy to take the advantage of this.
Lack of caffeine forced us to find a rather pleasant place. Each party gets an assigned room with comfy sofas and Amazon Dash style buttons to call for a service. This is not a place I would expect the orders being taken from a tablet (including payment by scanning the QR). The Belgians Waffles were translated as ‘Muffins’ but that was the biggest flaw I found in the entire setup. Great coffee and an amazing bowl of fruit.
I can’t say I was hungry, but it was the dinner time, so we made it to the restaurant. I start to believe that this blog sounds like some sort of food advisory service, but I do like to eat out when I’m traveling. China makes it also cheap. Warm coconut milk is an excellent choice to deal with any spicy food.
After all that seating, and eating I started to feel how tired I am. My feet were killing me. There was a massage place in a hotel or something of this sort and for £20 a head it was hard to resist. Bear in mind that I have never had a massage done to me in my entire life (not by a pro) so I was in for a treat. What supposes to be a feet treatment turned out to be a 90 min body session in which I had some very skilled knees placed between by shoulder blades. I dozed off at the end for few minutes. When it was time to go it was past 11 pm! I felt like a new man.
Between the massage place and bed, this happened:
I slept well that night… very well.
8 am is pretty early by my standards. This was the time when I left the house to do some bonding with my father in law. What you have to know, neither of us speaks each other languages so for the next 3h communication was a ‘mess’. The plan was to get on top of the Wu hill. At least this is how much I was able to figure out with my broken Chinese. The hill is crowned with a temple with pretty impressive views over the West Lake and the Hangzhou itself.
On the way down we passed through few random (to me) temples and a market. The Hangzhou is pretty modern so it was really weird to see this spiritual place near the city center. People came there to dance, do yoga, drink coffee and play cards. Kids were learning kung-fu from some long forgotten masters. Some people were praying. This is not something I would expect from a city where QR codes are everywhere, and the Alipay account buys you bread and cars.
We rushed back home as at 11 we had to set off for a more formal lunch. The meal was organized – this means a room has been rented out with a table for 20 people. There was a private chef as well. You may as well govern the UN from this place. At least that was my opening joke of the day. The food was pretty impressive as well. The UK food usually gives you few ingredients to enjoy at once. Unlike in the UK, this lunch served several different types of meat, vegs, and seafood. The most exotic treat were duck’s tongues. (not a big fan).
Turns out that my ‘new’ family looks more intimidating than it is. Good, I was pretty terrified.
Later on, we went for a tea. This is where I have been introduced to a Japanese treat: white chocolate cheese. This is AMAZING. If I could set up links to be supported by this desert on my website – I would. If you ever have a chance, try it. It’s a blend of soft cheese and the white chocolate. It’s hard to describe the taste. I only have 3 pieces left so I have to ration it out to myself.
The rain came down hard. The weather forecast says it will stay like this for 2 days. Pictures won’t show this, mostly because I kept the camera in a pocket during the heavier periods of the rain, but it was very wet. We went out again regardless. The next stop was the more traditional part of the city. Sadly the Fan Museum was closed (shame I’m a big fan) but the centuries-old pharmacy was up and running. You could buy some random herbs, dried worms (if you have a few grand to spare) and the ginseng root if you ready to sell your car.
Home time soon after.
This day was a bit uneventful. The mention about water confirms it. It has been raining all day, the temperature dropped creating weather that keeps people indoors. We had only one thing planned – meeting a friend inside a coffee place. This is where the warm cucumber water revelation comes. It’s served complimentary with your order, it doesn’t taste anything but it’s scented. Surprisingly a warm water on the day like this is very soothing. You can warm up your hands and body.
I also ordered a dessert called ‘waffles’. Judging by the experiences from the #DAY2 I was expecting muffins. (waffles has been served!) When the catch-up time was over we went to the shopping center. Unlike in Europe, shopping assistant will approach you and speak to you the moment you look at any item in the store. Then, they will follow you around, all being ready for customer support duties. At least this is what I hope was the case, otherwise, I was severely underdressed for this mall and they were afraid I will leave with my custom unpaid.
The tech highlight of the day was the bike pictured above, From a cycling point of view it was a very average choice of components, but from a tech perspective, it was bit interesting. Highlights include a P parking brake, which locks the disk break unless unlocked by code. A build in sat nav (and your usual speed panels) and if you got multiple bikes from the same company, ability to talk one to another. All this is powered by the generator build in into the front wheel. That should solve the power issues.
For a boring day, this post is lengthy already. Rest of the evening I spent on:
- restoring Remote Desktop (not using google app) SUCCESS
- creating VPN server on Raspberry PI FAIL
- creating VPN server on Windows 10 FAIL
- creating VPN tunnel to my personal files FAIL
- creating the VPN server on Linksys WRT 1900 ACS – HALF SUCCESS (can connect, but can’t do anything)
Back to the modem speeds, I guess?
This day will be filled with pictures rather than words. This is because I have been walking most of the day and everything wonderful that have happened was pretty much captured by one picture or another. The West Lake in Hangzhou is a famous landmark and a heritage spot. It’s hard to argue that, as the lake, the shore and the islands are pretty and well maintained. We set off in the morning to catch a ferry to the island (10 min trip). This is also when I discovered what happened to the Loch Ness monster. Turns out, even monsters want to go on holidays.
The island is beautiful. Royal pavilions crown the centerpiece of the island as well as each corner of it. Other famous objects of interest are three Stones Mirroring the Moon. The tech is my religion so I can’t explain this better than a wiki, but stones are placed to account for the position of the Moon during the full moon time.
Feast your eyes:
After the island, we disembarked on the opposite side of the lake. There were more pretty things to look at, therefore here are a few good pictures. I also have a theory in progress. You see the fishes below are turning white for some reason and China is doing everything they can to prevent this. One of the solutions that work is to feed the fishes with the orange creatures standing at the other side of the water. Fishes retain some orange colour from the food they eat. At least this much I made out from the story that was told to me in Chinese.
Later on (lunchtime) we went back to the city centre to meet another friend. Starbucks was the unfortunate meet up place (don’t blame me, not my choice). If you ever want to get an overpriced coffee in China at European prices – Starbucks is the place to go. Apparently, it’s trendy among Chinese youngsters, and if I lived in China all my life I could see the appeal. I live in Europe and Starbucks is not the place to go.
There was one more treat waiting for me this evening. But first the Blade Runner cityscape. Pictures look seriously unimpressive, as they don’t show the full scale and size of the buildings, but you have to believe me when I say – massive!
The VPN speeds tell me that 3 min clip would finish upload about the same time when I get back to the UK, so for now, you can look at the pictures. The animations were played at a pretty much every building around us. All in sync with the music and the movement of the fountain. Personally, I have never been to Las Vegas, but I have first hand (and biased) statement that while the fountain on its own is less impressive, as a show, this is so much better than the USA one.
The year 2050 is here, you just need to know where to find it.
Tomorrow we are going back to 18th century!
An early one, as we have to leave the city before the morning rush. The destination is Wuzhen, a huge historical village later on called by me a Venice of the China for a reason! This is where this whole thing becomes mind blowing. I’d expect a 10 min walk around not a 6h exploration. It’s worth mentioning that we only have seen one part of the complex. This is a truly incredible place to see, and extremely scenic as you will see on the pictures.
Side note: Wuzhen will hold an internet conference soon, which I find rather funny due to the fact that only the 50% of the internet is available in China, and it’s the more boring 50% for me 🙂 I’d like to see how that turned out.
Anyway, for some reason, this fella was here:
I guess the Middle-earth is bigger than I previously thought. I’m pleased to say we also reached the wizard tower. Without further blah blah blah here are some pictures:
The complex is filled with hotels, places to eat, drink and rest. All is kept in traditional style. There is also a fun little shop where chopsticks are sold like this:
This guy trained some birds to help him fish:
Alos the promissed tower:
And to leave you smiling:
There is something unique about setting off in the morning for a trip with people who only speak Chinese. My Chinese is limited to ‘I’m hungry’ and that’s all, therefore each time I learn a new word I get excited. Especially if I can remember a corresponding character too. Today I have learned many things. There is a street in Hangzhou where people gather together to play music. On the same street, more people will gather to sing to that music, and even more, people to gather to dance to the previously mentioned music. And that makes several hundred people and dozens of small concerts on a single street. Also, these people don’t know each other. I’m sure they do make friends this way. Since there are no pictures for now (I was on a bus) guess where I will be going eventually!
Also, there is a place called an English corner. This is where Chinese people come to practice the English language. The name is slightly misleading as this is just a spot on the very same ‘musical’ street. The sense of community is pretty amazing there.
We took the lazy route up the hill: the cable cart. My company was not the youngest, but my legs appreciated it as well. The cart took us swiftly over the Long Jin tea fields to the top of the mountain. I have to say it felt quite high at times making me feel slightly uncomfortable. The mountaintop temple was not that impressive, I was expecting more from the prime location like this.
On the way down however things started to turn more interesting:
The second temple celebrated the Buddha’s birthday therefore the entry was free. There was a room with 200 statues inside, and many more things. I got to burn the scented sticks and look out of this place most of the time. Chanting monks were on the menu too:
I also challenged my father in law to a ping pong match. Something tells me my ass will be handed over back to me on a Chinese plate. I will do my best. Keep fingers crossed for me. Tomorrow China -Poland/UK unofficial championship.
This is the day, when I will face the Chinese ping pong masters. But first, I have to go and climb another hill.
On the way to the temple, we stumbled across the Chinese poetry written on the pavement using water. The characters are beautifully painted and covered the majority of stones on the promenade. Each of them has been hand-painted using water and a giant brush. This is art. I have seen several people writing this in the different sections of the promenade. The entire display will be invisible in an hour or so when the water evaporates or gets stepped on.
This time the tower is sealed and you cannot go inside it. The path to it goes through old, poor-looking and sort of ‘traditional’ Chinese buildings. The name imprinted onto the stone says ‘villa’, however, long are gone the times of the prosperity. An old, lacking in colour, Chinese arch is a clear reminder of that.
The climb is short and pleasant. Near the top, I see a sign pointing us to another English Corner. There must be quite a few of them in the city. A very early spring, the overcast and probably some of the air pollution make the top looks very colourless. The rock formation at the top consists of a cave and several paths carved into the stone.
After the climb we started to crave some food, therefore we went to the city center (actually the temple is pretty much center oriented already) and here is a pretty funny story. Before I get on with the story a bit of background is required. My wife studied in Hangzhou, her home city, and her case study was Alibaba, the company behind the half of the country payments. You could compare the Alipay to a bigger and widely accepted PayPal. If you can’t take Alipay payments you don’t really count in this city.
The place we went to get some food was a 5th-floor food court. A cross between a local takeaway, a food court and a place to eat cheap street food. The vendor of our choice got us lunch for £2.7 and was unable to accept cash due to lack of change. We have been asked to pay via Alipay instead. My wife speaking with local dialect stated that she has no Alipay account and this raised the eyebrows of the entire staff behind the counter. It also made them question her nationality. The question if she is Chinese has been asked after her speaking the local dialect. I laughed but I can imagine the embarrassment of my wife.
This is how widely used the online payments are. You scan a QR code, press the amount to pay, show a confirmation on your phone – and the food is paid for.
The food court was located on top of the department store. The 1st floor had the mobile phones, cameras, and laptops, the second gaming (I got to try Playstation VR for the first time) and 2 more floors sported repair centres, second-hand electronics and places to place the bulk orders for items.
Although nothing caught my attention there, I was surprised by how little thought was spent to organize the stock, and you were expected to browse the boxes of items. An occasional shelf with well-presented stock was a rarity. I will go again (I’m after a mic that can be used with a smartphone and perhaps a handheld stabilizer) and possibly take some pictures. The one I took is bad as I was too embarrassed to flash my camera everywhere!
Ping pong time.
The game was casual and I played against my mother in law. I have not played in over 10 years, but I used to be reasonably ok. I remember getting a 2nd place in the primary school, although it’s probably worth mentioning that the school consisted of about 80 students across 8 grades. I can say I’m very rusty, but I still have some good serves left in me. I was able to win most of the rounds so the honor is saved. Tomorrow I will face the Chinese nemesis – the father in law. That fight will have a very competitive character however my morale stays strong!
See you tomorrow.
The dreaded day is finally upon me. The infamous Chinese air pollution has covered the sunshine completely. The day is gray and the air has a taste of the car fumes. You can feel it everywhere even inside of the buildings. This is where the overpopulation of the cities becomes very apparent. It isn’t much you can do about it. Traffic is limited to odd or even reg plate numbers allowed on the streets in the attempt to reduce the traffic. In response, everyone buys a second card with an opposite registration number.
A small victory for me. My VPN is still very slow but this time due to hardware limitations. I have successfully enabled the openvpn on my Raspberry Pi and I can now connect to it from the mobile or the laptop. The speed isnt amazing due to microcontroller being connected wirelessly, but my mobile finally connects with speeds larger than few kb/s.
Something tells me you will see some VPN related stuff once I’m back home. I can’t beleieve how much hassle it was to get this going for me. Being in China doesn’t help as Chinese government made sure that VPN related results are often blocked.
You won’t find today as exciting as some of my other entries, as we went out to meet friends in pretty boring places, but I would like to share a picture or two from a pretty good Taiwan restaurant.
The food was great, and it was a pleasure to see it prepared in their skilled hands of the chef. The entire meal lasted about 1.5h and it was a feast for the mouth and the eyes.
What will happen tomorrow time will tell.
Due to really bad weather, I don’t have much to report today. The whole day was filled with heavy rain, keeping us mostly indoor. There was a family dinner at another ‘UN table’ and I got to meet more relatives. I have been called an uncle today, by a young Chinese boy, which makes me realize how weird and wonderful this whole thing is. It took me a moment to connect all the dots in my head (I’m not great at all this family thing) to realize that indeed I have a new nephew.
After the dinner, it was time to play some ping pong. Since I lost it miserably to my father in law, there will be no additional words here bragging my skills. He is good, I’m rusty.
Most of the day I spent working on the last part of the Tasker write up. This is all I have ‘scheduled’ ahead, so I have no new content until I got back home, unless I will come up with something interesting. It’s closer now to the return date. We are leaving to Shanghai in 2 day time (bullet train time) and I’m looking forward to experiencing the city on my own terms. One of the tallest buildings is in plans. After the Shanghai – I’m going back home, to the UK.
I don’t actually miss my home yet. I miss my bicycle, I miss the internet freedom (I don’t watch TV, I watch YouTube) and I miss having a bit of my own schedule. I cannot complain tho – the entire trip has been wonderful.
See you tomorrow.
This is the last full day I get to spend in Hangzhou. Tomorrow we are leaving for Shanghai. We are leaving in the morning for the last meeting with relatives.
We take the Chinese Uber (it’s not the proper name, but the company has been aquired by Uber) and the driver pulls up in an electric car. I take the opportunity to grill the driver with all sorts of environmental questions. The consumer can receive up to £15k grand for a car that costs £35k providing that the car is manufactured in China and it’s electric. The EV cars have no restrictions in the city and can travel to any zone. This model had the 280km range and costs about £7 to charge. It was a Chinese brand so don’t ask me to write it down.
When we got to our destination, I have been treated to a mini-concert. The melody has been played on the traditional Chinese 3 string instrument and was very old fashioned. Sadly there is no pictures or videos I can share.
After the mini-event, we went to catch a water taxi. while waiting for it, we came across a pavilion that showcased a very pricey Chinese porcelain. The cups were nice looking but would shatter as easy as your dreams after Trump’s presidential campaign. I have been told that these sets were used to serve tea during the G20 event in 2016. This explains the price tag (over $500 per mini cup).
The water taxi takes us to the center of the city again. I can’t resist the feeling that, us entering the skyscrapers area, remind me of the similar water travel scene from The Lord of the Rings. A food place of our choice was closed after the lunch hours. Is this for real? Is no one interested in eating at 2 pm in the heart of 6mln people city? Impossible. Luckily we came across another food court and I got to eat my noodles in peace.
Another trip home and a short rest before we head out to meet another friend and eat another meal. The place is near the opera and the light show I wrote about earlier on. The food is good, although I barely can move after the meal. I can move enough to find this beauty, though:
The plan for today was to visit the tech market again and try to find 3 items: a USB to Ethernet (1Gb), a lav mic that works with my phone and look at the stabilizers for the camera. I was able to get the 1st item on my list only. £13 was the asking price and settled at £10. Something tells me that with my western face I don’t get the deals I wanted. The only cam stabilizer I found was for mobile phones only priced sub £200. Not something I have funds for after the flight shenanigans.
Word of advice. Sometimes, the bus journey can be less stressful than the taxi trip. Our lovely driver had no respect for the lanes, junctions or rules like no overtaking on narrow slip roads. I have never been so happy to leave a car alive! Some drivers in the city should not be allowed near anything that has wheels.
I don’t know how this happened but we arrived in China with 1 checked in luggage, but after packing all the stuff for the return journey we have 2 large suitcases and 2 pieces of cabin luggage filled with god knows what. I’m sure this has something to do with the amount of food provided by the inlaws.
Anyway. The bullet train time. Sadly the sensation of the high speed lasted a few moments as it was already dark inside. It was still pretty impressive as the landscape outside of the window reminded me of the one visible from a perspective of the landing plane. The rest of the journey to Shanghai has been done in total darkness.
To get to our final destination we had to use the underground. There was a guy there nailing a guitar hero type of game on a tablet on the level pro. I have a video of it, just no decent connection to upload it. It was pretty cool to watch him do that. I’m in the city a few hours now but I have not seen much of the surface as yet. That’s for tomorrow. Tonight, we are watching Mission Impossible 3 with Chinese subs, and taking the mickey from all the silly stuff that made the ‘action’ pieces.
Actually, the action is taking place in Shanghai, and one of the scenes where Ethan runs across the historical looking place is filmed in Wuzhen, the place I have visited a few days ago. That a really cool coincidence!
See you all tomorrow.
I’m staying in Shanghai only one day. While a lot can be done in a day, I think the travel fatigue is settling in and I really want to just chill. It would be silly of me to do this though as the very next day I will spend about 20h in transit.
As we met up with our friends, who used to live in Shanghai, we have our tour guide sorted. The plan is to go to the top of the one of the 3 towers and perhaps something else.
The city center is pretty busy. We left the underground near the Pearl of the Asia, a radio tower landmark of the city. The tower of our choice was not the highest one, but 88 floor has to do for this time. I recognized one of the buildings from the Mission Impossible 3 we have seen the day before. An action move that made very little sense in reality. We all know the Tom Cruise is over the top anyway.
Apart from the impressive view, there are 2 more ‘attractions’ that tower has to offer. A skywalk, and the view down the tower. I was brave enough to look down the tower, as my knees were getting soft, but there is no way in hell I’m going outside chained to the rail. I’m not great with heights. Funnily enough, I skydived before, but walking at the edges of the building is a completely different experience.
After the tower excitement, it was the time for some food and more sightseeing. The food was great, with a view of the river bank. The next place to see were Shanghai gardens, which turned out to be a historical center of the city. You could find there a lot of tourist-oriented stalls and attractive architecture.
Sadly our legs started to fail us. These two activities were enough to fill about 6h of the day, and we wanted to go back and rest before the transit day.
I have to mention that I slept on the hardest bed ever. A carpeted floor had more comfort than this and in the result, I’m all broken on the plane.
This is the last day of the trip. Tomorrow, a drive to the airport, 2h flight to Beijing, 3h transfer window, 11h flight to London, a 1h trip to the city center, 4h layover, and 3h train back home plus a local 20 min transfer and a taxi home.
Sadly, the trips start with a news of a terror attack in London.
Hate living in the present sometimes.
I’ll update this post one more time with some final thoughts, tips, and conclusions.