A Blog To Tell You That I’m Not Blogging This Week

cropped-header-burton.jpgI can’t write a blog this week because I have final exams next week and I need to study. The program itself is a non-degree so my mark doesn’t mean anything. So what’s up with the studying then?

It’s a habit formed from many years of formal schooling. I can still feel the effect of the thought of writing final exams. A sense of “oh no, I don’t know this stuff..yikes! gotta study.” This drives me into a frenzy of studying.

A challenge for me is to stay focus. Part of my head is now thinking about the stuff I will be doing after study — getting back to the software development space. Now I study and late into the night, I read about software development. Yesterday, I put a stop on software development stuff and just focus on the studying for my exams.

Another thing that I’ve been thinking about is my time here will come to an end. The wonderful people that I am grateful to have met, the relationships that have formed will come to an end in their current form. A sense of sadness is in me. We will no longer seeing each other in classes, no longer going on weekend trips, no longer doing KTV runs, no longer going to different eateries and etc.

The question is what will become after the end of the current form of relating? Will the new form be just as good as current? I don’t know for sure. What I know is that it’s the unknown that gives me the sense of grasping and loss.

I’m an optimist. What lies ahead, I believe, will be richer because of the experience gained and the value I put into the current relationship that I will carry forward. In essence, I believe life’s richness is in how we relate to each other and in how to appreciate its ever changing nature.


Qian Dao Hu (1000 Island Lake): A Retreat From The City

At the beginning of November, I was ready for a break from the city. I needed to be in a place where there are more trees than people. Luckily, there is a place near Hangzhou — a 2.5 hours bus ride. The place is called Qian Dao Hu meaning 1000 island lake.

The lake is man made by the creation of a hydrodam on Xi’an River. According to the tour guide, the lake’s water is one of the cleanest in China. The water is used to produce Nongfu Spring brand mineral water. This brand is everywhere in Hangzhou and other part of China.

The air seems to be refresher here than the city air but I don’t know why the sky is so hazy. Could it be the cool air and warm water causing a low level fog? I don’t know. What I know is that it makes seeing far difficult and it’s really bad for photography.

Getting around is difficult in this area because there’s not really a good transit system and the places to do things are spread out. I needed a car for the weekend. Luckily, I found a driver and a car for hire for 70 Yuan (less than $11). His name is Mr. Shao (phone number is 13615719677). He drove me to the hotel from the bus station, took me to a local restaurant by the lake (waited for me), the next morning, drove me to the boat dock for my island tour, then pick me up afterwards. The next morning, he picked me at the hotel and drop me off at the bus station. He was very prompt and very courteous.

The hotel room I booked at New Century Hangzhou Qiandao Lake was amazing. It was on the 21st floor with a view the city and the lake. Because it’s the beginning of the low season, I got a deep discount for the room. The room was clean and the bed was very comfy. A nice change from staying in a hostel.

I was lucky to get a boat tour. It was their second last day before they close for the season. I boarded one of the biggest boat on the lake. It took us to the middle of the lake. There, I boarded a smaller boat that took me to various islands. It first took me to the bell tower — the highest spot. I didn’t know that I can walk up to it, so I paid 10 Yuan for a chairlift ride.

After that, the tour scheduled an early lunch on the big boat. The food quantity was massive but lacks variety. Last night I had two famous local fish dishes for dinner, and  at lunch I was served the same two types of fish dishes. Needless to say, that evening, I had no fish for dinner.

In the afternoon, I visited more islands and walked around. The big boat returned me to the dock to end the day tour. Overall, it’s a good tour but I could skip the lunch.

Nice hotel room. Floor to ceiling window with a great view of the city and the lake.

On the top of floor of the big boat after having a fish lunch.

The lake is the source for this brand of mineral water.

Going up the chairlift to see the lake.

A view of 1000 Island Lake from the top of the highest point.

Mr. Shao (my driver for the weekend and his car) and me in front of the bus station.


Taking a Train from Hangzhou to Beijing

I had a week off from school at the beginning of October. It was for the mid-autumn festival and the national holiday. It’s time to eat a lot of moon cakes (ate about 6 of them) and travel.

A few of my friends (who are excellent in Chinese) and I went to Beijing.  We took the train instead of flying because we have time and we wanted to see more of China.

I have heard of not so nice stories about train rides in China. Each often involves crowding, dirtiness, hard benches on a rickety train and people invading your private seating space. I was preparing for the worst.

On the day of our departure, we arrived at the Hangzhou train station at around 6:45am and our train is scheduled to leave at 7:20am. The train station’s floor was a bit of a mess. It’s likely that the cleaning staff hasn’t yet reported in for the morning shift. As well, there are more travellers going through the station this week than normal because of the holiday. Unfortunately, it supported those not so nice train stories.

When we got to the train’s platform, I was surprised by the train. It’s a high speed train with comfy seats. It’s sleek and clean. Wow. It took us 6.5 hours to get to Beijing but it didn’t feel like it despite some stops. Each stop along the way was fast and efficient. My negative perception has just got thrown off board. It was a fun experience!

Facts and tips about trains in China:

  • Our train seats were assigned when the tickets were purchased.
  • Trains can leave early. Ours left before the scheduled time. It’s best to come early.
  • Beijing train station (some other stations may too) requires us to have our tickets before we can exit the station’s platform. The lesson is don’t throw the ticket away until you have exited the arrival gate.
  • A train numbering is coded as AXXX (A is an alpha and where X’s are numbers). A train number starts with a G means it’s a 300+ km/h train. For example, our train number to Beijing was G32. This means it’s a high speed train. Other letters are:
    • C – Intercity super fast (e.g. Hangzhou to Shanghai)
    • D – 250 km/h (older generation of fast trains)
    • Z – direct express at 160 km/h
    • T – express 140 km/h usually have sleepers
    • K – more stops and slower 120 km/h
Below are some of photos of the G32 train my friends and I took to Beijing. Enjoy!

Spacious and clean seating area. This is the second class area. The walk way between cars is wide — a man in this picture is walking to car number 12 from car number 11. First class seating is like that of a modern first class seating on an airplane.

The restaurant car. This is where you can buy drinks, snacks and order microwaveable food. I recommend you bring your own food. There’s hot water facility on each car for tea and instant noodles.

Anne and Hyeonji waiting at the counter waiting for our food. We tried the food and it’s not recommended. Bring your own food. I am so lucky to travel with them. They know Chinese hen hao (very well)! Our another friend, Alex, is already in Beijing and he is waiting for us at the hostel.


Plenty of leg room and there’s an AC outlet to charge our mobiles. I got cell/data coverages most of the way except in the mountainous area and going through tunnels.

Speeding our way to Beijing at 305 km/h. The information board shows that it’s train G32, it’s 11:43 am and it’s car number 12. Very comfortable and quiet at speed.

A view from the train. A rural area as the train is nearing Beijing. Photo by Anne.

We have arrived at Beijing South Station. This station is connected to Beijing’s subway system. It made getting to our hostel cheaper than taking a taxi. I believe all train stations in Beijing are connected to the subway system.