A Travellerspoint blog

Conghua Hot Springs, and the Temple of Six Banyan Trees

A tale of two adventures; one very relaxing, and one sightseeing

sunny 22 °C


First there is the hot springs... Hot springs are dotted all around Guangzhou, and have been established here since the Ming and Qing dynasties. They've been on my list of 'must-dos' hanging in my room, so as soon as I had a free weekend, I decided to visit some friends in Conghua, which is a city 1 1/2 bus ride from Guangzhou, and famous for its hot springs. On the way there, the bus drove through built up guangzhou, then its suburbs, and then eventually some very rural areas, filled with farmland, little isolated houses, mountains, and crisp, fresh air. This is the first rural setting that I've seen in Guangdong province since I got the train into Guangzhou from Beijing. When the bus stopped at Conghua bus station, we showed a taxi driver a text in Chinese, which we hoped would get us to the centre of Conghua. From their, we met up with our friends and got another 20 minute taxi to their school where they live. The setting that the school was in was about as rural as I have ever been in China. Their experience is a world apart from what my daily life is.


That evening we walked down their road to a five star hot spring spa resort. For 100 Yuan (about £10) we spent 7 hours exploring the 30 or so hot spring pools. Each pool is a different temperature (most are like hot-tub heat), and are infused with different things, ranging from coffee, to different types of teas, and my personal favourite, wine. There is even a pool with Japanese fish that eat skin off your feet! All the pools are meant to benefit your health, an idea rooted in Chinese medicine. After getting my fair share of fresh fruit, healthy tea, pineapple sandwiches, warm towels, and heated rocks to lie on, my time here was up. I'll deffinately be returning... and very very soon!


And then there is the Temple of Six Banyan Trees...



In another day off, I visited the Temple of Six Banyan Trees, the oldest temple in Guangzhou, dating back to the year 335. The Banyan tree is the national tree of Guangzhou, and this temple is adequately named after... that's right, you guessed it... its six trees. After you see so many temples, you start to feel that they all look the same, but this temple looks very different... the Six Banyan Pagoda, in centre of the temple, is 17 stories high. I would have loved to climb up to see the surrounding neighbourhoods, but it was closed the day we were there.


The area around the temple is also great to meander through (a very posh area); in a way, it reminded me of a European city. Here are some pictures...


And one last picture of our exploration crew...

Posted by Anna1289 23:30 Archived in China Comments (0)

Pearl River Night Cruise

Seeing the city of Guangzhou by night from the Pearl River

overcast 18 °C

The International Finance Centre (IFC) Building is the tall building on the left; and the colourful building on the right is the TV and Sightseeing Tower
For my friend, Hannah's, birthday, we set sail on the Pearl River in the evening to see Guangzhou by night. We've been told that seeing the lights of the city is something that should not be missed, and they were right! It was great to put the city that I've been wandering around and exploring into some sort of perspective, and to figure out where things are in relation to each other, since I only really travel by the underground metro system, or by walking. Here are some pictures... enjoy :)


Posted by Anna1289 23:06 Archived in China Comments (0)

The itsy-bitsy cockroach climbed up up up

and other activities at a Chinese preschool

all seasons in one day 25 °C


Twice a week I also teach at a preschool a few metro stations from me. Every Monday and Wednesday I teach the ‘small class’, 3 year olds, and the ‘big class’, five year olds, a half hour English lesson each. These classes are smaller than my middle school class, thank goodness because I cannot even fathom the idea of teaching a class filled with sixty 3 year olds English! Each of my preschool classes has about 25 children. What really shocked me was that it is actually a boarding preschool, so many of the kids actually live at the preschool during the week. This isn’t really the norm for China I don’t think, but this preschool is an exception because it is the children of the army and government officials in the city so many of the parents are A) too busy with their jobs and B) really push for the best education possible for their children. In my last lesson I shouted to them all ‘Atten-TION!’ and to my amazement, all of the kids stood up absolutely still, at attention!!! They must have been taught this before by their army parents!


Teaching at the preschool is very different from teaching my middle school kids. First of all, I have a teaching assistant; Trainee on Mondays and Jackffy on Wednesdays. They both are about my age, and recently graduated with a degree in early childhood education and children’s English. Because my children do not know any English really at all, they help control the class!


The very first class I had with the 3 year olds, it was their first week of school, ever! They all sat there unable to move, and I think absolutely petrified of the ‘western’ looking woman trying her hardest to make them laugh (aka me!). However, it didn’t take long for their inner-craziness to come out, and now they are crazy! There is one little boy who cannot sit still for the life of him, and always has a huge grin on his face. He’s constantly running around the room, screaming for attention. But at the same time, he learns the words I teach so easily! I often bring up a word from over a month ago and he’s the only kid who immediately yells the right word.


Another little girl always sits on her chair and doesn’t join in with the crazy kids running around. Instead it’s like she lets the world pass her by and she has tunnel vision, starring at the card with the word and picture I am holding, and she just shouts and shouts and shouts the word repeatedly! Although, when I teach them words like ‘Red’ it sounds more like shes saying ‘fffwwwwedddd’, or ‘bird’ sounds like ‘bbwwweeeddd’ she is still a great little girl. Sometimes I look over at her still sat on her seat screaming the words after I have chased some of the other kids back to their seats and her face is actually beat red from saying the word so much I think she forgets to actually breath! So far my small class has learned numbers 1 to 10, colours, and we have just begun learning animals... pig, bird, lion and monkey. The lion is always their favourite! My TA, Jackffy, told them, in Chinese, that when I started to sing they should all come running over to me clawing me and growing like a lion... little did I know!!! I was mobbed by a crowd of 25 three year olds all grabbing at my clothes and pretending to be lions! This is the disadvantage of not knowing Chinese.


After a half hour lesson with my small class, I venture over the ‘campus’ to my big class. Their lesson plans are the same layout to my small classes. First we start with a morning warm-up. I shout things like swing, jump, left, down, up, right, run, etc etc. Occasionally I yell ‘STOP’ and they all freeze while I walk around the room handing out ‘tokens’ to the best ‘freezers’. These tokens turn into how many stickers they get at the end of the class. After morning warm-ups, I review what we learned the class before. With my big class they have just learned cockroach, mosquito, flea, ant, worm and snail (by the way, I don’t make up the lesson plans!). They learn the word with an action I make up, and almost immediately! So then we review the song we learned... This particular song goes ‘ The happy happy cockroach climbs up up up. Down came the rain, out came the sun. So the happy happy cockroach climbs up up up’ (to the tune of the itsy bitsy spider). Then you repeat it with each of the insects. I don’t really understand but they seem to like this song!


Then this week they learned ‘grey mouse, pink butterfly, orange chicken, and black duck’. And I ask them ‘What do you see?’ and they respond ‘ I see a pink butterfly looking at me’, etc etc. And then we play a game with the words, like race to the right card, or throw a ball, and then we play the song that goes with these words. End of lesson!

In this big class, their personalities really shine through. I’m amazed at how fast they learn. Like the little class, they all call me ‘Anna teacher’ and greet me with big smiles and hugs, and they all leave happy as can be with their stickers. Although it’s a very exhausting job to have in the evenings, it is always a lot of fun and extremely rewarding. It’s great to see the kids progressing every week.

Posted by Anna1289 01:47 Archived in China Comments (0)

Dance Competitions and Sports Days

Annual competitions at a Chinese middle school

sunny 22 °C


Part 1 of the Morning Exercise Dance

Part 2...

And this is part 3

My school held a ‘morning exercise dance competition’ between all the classes. It was taken very seriously and members of the army were even brought in to help train their marching skills to get on and off the field. The competition was held in the afternoon and I brought my camera along to get some videos of some of the classes. The winners of each grade did a joined performance a week later at the annual Sports Day.


Students and teachers alike take sports day very seriously here in China. For the two weeks preceding the two day class-free event, numerous classes were cancelled as students worked all hours of the day and every spare minute they could to prepare for the mega-event. They worked on their class t-shirts, which each class had their own slogan, and also their class banners. Teaching on the Monday to Wednesday of this week was absolutely crazy in class and none of the kids were remotely interested in anything except for the sports day. A buzz of liveliness and community buzzed through each of the classrooms.


Finally Thursday arrived, when the opening ceremony started promptly at 7:30 am with the national anthem. After each class of 60 students marched around the track in perfect military style formation and precision, they had two minutes to perform a dance to a panel of teachers and the rest of their school. The dances varied from Kung Fu style routines, to pop, and one sort of sci-fi star wars strange dance that used celery sticks (that was by far the weirdest...). After all of the classes had finished, a selection of students out of each Year (Junior 1, Junior 2, and Junior 3) all performed Year dance. Junior 2, my students, had a ‘Welcoming the Asian Games’ theme, as the Asian games are only a matter of weeks away.


After these dances, the sporting events began, which started a kind of frenzied, crazy teenager atmosphere in the school that would last for the next two days. The teacher’s relay race kicked off the day, with each year competing against each other. At the high school’s opening ceremony the following day, Roger actually competed in this relay race and his team won! He thought he had signed himself up for an innocent race against other teachers, but the day before he was given proper running spikes and a short lecture on how he has to give it his all because they HAVE to win. It was all very competitive, which really sums up the Chinese culture. Considering that I don’t see it as a very individualist society, people here always seem to be extremely competitive.


Each class had their own tent which the school had hired for the couple of days. The students all brought in chairs from their rooms and decorated the sides to make each class tent individual. It turned into the hangout place for the students during the day. These two days were filled with a great atmosphere, and I loved that the kids had a chance to be real kids. Their personalities absolutely shone throughout the day and the excitement which permeated the school grounds was great to be a part of.


Posted by Anna1289 08:04 Archived in China Comments (0)

Our bad luck, but adventurous, holiday

National week holiday on the tropical Hainan Island

rain 25 °C

The following blog is from Roger Golding's 'The one with the Black Cat' from 113 Degrees East. His blog can be found at: http://rogergolding.travellerspoint.com . I don't think any blog I could write could do our holiday justice, and for that reason, here is Roger's:


Towel – Check
Swim shorts – Check
Bus tickets – Check
Hat / Sun cream – Check

This, rather understandably considering we were headed to China’s premier beach holiday spot (Hainan Island), was the checklist assembled on a piece of scrap paper prior to our departure on the Friday evening of the National Day Holiday. Having been gripped by the frenzy of movements around the city during the previous 24 hours myself, Anna, and our four companions, were keen to get set off on what promised to be a week of relaxing sun, sea, and sand. Excited by the notion of exploring the tropical island, with its beautiful beaches on the coast and tropical rainforest inland, preparations had been made, if not all together smoothly, and tickets had been brought, reservations made, and most importantly expectations lubricated via google and several websites!!

In hindsight the list maybe should have read as follows……..

Black cat – Check
Ladder - Check
Red sky in the morning – Check
Broken mirror – Check


Now to say the holiday was a disaster would be very unfair, as in fact it served to do everything that I had hoped before we left. I came away feeling really relaxed, very motivated to throw myself into China more and get more established with the language and the locals, and I was also able to spend some time reflecting on my experiences so far. When you think of it like this it seems absurd to suggest that the holiday was anything short of perfect. I would at this juncture ask you to read on, get a cuppa, and consider the following….

The characters in the drama that was soon to unfold, as you have already discovered, were in high spirits, and by 4pm Friday afternoon had arrived at their point of departure, Tianhe Coach Station. Now if you imagine the shops on the last Saturday before Christmas and times it up by a few you have roughly the chaos we were met with when we arrived to get our bus. People were everywhere, men, women, children, and in some cases animals were concentrated into a mass of life and chaos, desperately trying to find their departure area or buy their tickets, China it seemed was on the move.


Having shoved, pushed, and generally manoeuvred our way to the closest information point, we queued for a while and finally got settled at our gate an hour before our bus was due to leave. To pass the time we mused as to what the nature of the bus that was to take us the 13 hour journey to Haikou (capital of Hainan and port city on the Northern coast). ‘Sleeper bus’ leaves a lot to the imagination it seems. We passed the time by playing cards with a local teacher who took pity on our attempts to play cards in the crowded terminal and taught us a popular Chinese card game, which even now I have very little idea of how to play; complex doesn’t cover it in the slightest.


As it turned out the bus was an adventure in itself, a double-decker stripped of its top floor, and instead installed with three rows of what can only be described as bunks, each stretching back from the front of the bus down its length to the back. At 5ft long and 2ft wide ‘bed’ is stretching it a tad. Despite their dimensions they provided a comfy (ish) and fun (very) way of travelling and when ignoring the obvious lack of safety, they turned out to be quite the way to travel.


Having arrived in Haikou everything seemed to be going our way, the weather way good, we found our hostel with little to no problem, a minor miracle I assure you, and things were generally looking up. Following a couple of hours sorting our return bus (China doesn’t do returns just one way, highly annoying when any sort of planning is involved) we headed to what we were assured was a good beach, and a nice place to relax. Armed with coconuts, freshly opened via machete, and straws to remove the coconut milk, we found the beach and with the overexcitement of preschool kids and play dough and we raced round the corner to find our paradise…….

Only problem being no one had told the beach this, we were met by mountains of rubbish, little to no sand and what was literally a construction site. If I told you there was a JCB and reinforced concrete right on the little sand there was I would be no more a liar that if I told you the world were indeed round.

Refusing to be down hearted we set out to the local university’s outdoor swimming pool, put two fingers up to our bad luck and swam anyway. As it turned out this highly figurative and immature gesture was to come back and bite hard….


20 minutes out of Haikou the next day, on our way to the southern paradise of Sanya with its famed beaches the heavens opened and the blue sky of sundown at 6.45pm the night before were to be the last we were to see of the blue skies until we returned to Guangzhou several days later.

3 Hours later Sanya appeared, and despite the rain, we checked into Sanya Lost International Hostel and headed straight to the beach determined to bring some British spirit to proceedings and enjoy the holiday come what may! Having reached the beach some 100m away (I know, hard life isn’t it) it was instantly apparent why Sanya has gained a reputation for stunning beaches , a reputation that is only rising as increased disposable income leads to increased tourism within China. Green palm trees fenced the picturesque white sandy beach that stretched as far as the eye could see in either direction, and thanks to the rain we were practically its only inhabitants.


Confident the rain would ease we splashed about till mid afternoon and went to relax in the hostel and wait till dawn brought clear sunny skies. As it was to transpire dawn brought more rain, and the week as to become part of a record breaking rainy spell on the island that broke records stretching back as far as 1910!!!

Slightly downcast we relaxed in the morning; reading, playing cards and generally following what was becoming an increasingly intense Ryder Cup on the Hostels internet. Come lunch the decision was made to make it a ‘beach day’, despite the torrential rain, and in what turned out to be a grand plan, we hit the sea for a second day running in conditions that certainly lived up to one half of the weather in the tropics.


After an hour of dunking, diving into waves and generally causing maximum noise and enjoyment the day took an agonising turn for your loyal author. Having ‘chased the wave’ back to shore I was in the midst of running back to the sand bar when I felt a stunningly sharp pain shoot from around my foot up the back of my right leg. A jellyfish had decided to coil its tentacle around my leg and immediately set off two reactions: 1) in what I am assured was a moment of maximum manliness I let out a roar of distress and agony, 2) In the same moment I immediately began to question who I would I could persuade to piss on my leg!! Sadly, despite some rather half hearted ‘I will if I have too’ the response was less that overwhelming, and the only thing to do was to hobble back to the hostel and wait it out.

By the time I had got back I was in a fair level of discomfort with my leg completely numb and breathing rather painful attributable to a shooting sensation every time I drew breath. I would like to take this chance to thank the hostel owners for their help and advice in my hour of need. Assured the pain would pass I sat down on the front step, cursing everything that moved in the sea, and wondering what would happen next….


We didn’t have to wait long to find out, the next day, after much of the tingling had subsided and the feeling was back in my right leg, we set off to acquire some rather striking waterproofs from the local supermarket. Due to the continuous rain the road was now ankle to knee deep in flood water, and the only way to go was wading through. After much thought (about 2 seconds) we set of with little apprehension or fear of the unknown ground beneath us….mistake…. about 20 seconds later Anna was putting her right foot down and much to everyone’s surprise (and very quickly delight) Anna, along with her right foot, continued their downward journey straight into the uncovered manhole below. Now words fail to come close to describing the shock, and amusement this event caused, so I shall not try to outdo the video that was captured of the event and instead will just let you watch, again, and again, and again….

Having further angered the gods, and wondering what could possibly go wrong next, the next couple of days were spent doing a variation of the following; swimming, walking down the beach, amusing the locals with our rather amazing macs, and frequenting the many coffee establishments along the seafront, with a special mention going to the ‘Bud (Zao Mia) roof top coffee bar 'and ‘Fat Daddies’ (although the second should only be visited if you can stomach the rather offensive, anti-local, ramblings of its co-manager Max). Despite the rather bizarre events that had to this point accompanied the holiday we thought our run of bad luck was up, and, in spite of the continued bad weather, and with a large dose of ‘Britishness’, everyone made the most of the following days allowing us all to relax and switch off.


Now the story is almost done but there is still to be one more twist in the tail, the journey back. As alluded to earlier travel is never easy in China, and the journey from Sanya to Guangzhou was to be no exception. Having taken a mere three hours and 60 Y (6 quid) a head to get from Haikou to Sanya, the return trip was a tad different. Due to 6 days of insatiable rain on the island, this had brought some serious consequences that were at this point unknown to us. 130’000 people had been evacuated due to floods, one of the two major roads on the island was closed and many more, smaller roads had been rendered impassable. With market forces dominating, and with no busses containing any space due to the conditions, a taxi was our only option. With a rate of 200 Y per passenger the five of us set off with four squashed into the back seat. After an hour in the rain negotiating an inflated price, tempers were slightly frayed and a quick journey was all that was hoped for (we were minus one as the day before one of the group had left on a train bound for Shanghai).


It was not to be, 8 hours after we left Sanya we rolled into Haikou. Having toured around the city for an extra hour, due to the drivers lack of familiarity with the city in the pitch black and pouring rain, the cups of steaming hot tea and bowls of food that we found waiting for us at the Hostel seemed the equivalent of being told that despite not buying a ticket, yes you can still have the lottery jackpot.


Having slept like a baby, I awoke expecting to leave the hostel at about half 2 to catch our bus that left an hour later. As with everything on this holiday, it didn’t quite work out as planned. Having handed our bus tickets to the staff to ensure we had the right bus station, we were quickly quizzed as to why we had not left already. Puzzled we enquired as to why we needed to leave at 1pm for a bus at 3.30. By this point the response was of little surprise, in the top corner of one of the tickets was written in Chinese that the departure time was in fact 1.30, giving us exactly half an hour before we missed the bus and were stranded in Hainan for another 24 hours (with it being the last day of the holiday all transport was fully booked). Running 3 steps at once, and with my heart rate unhealthily high, clothes, towels and anything that resembled our belongings were thrown into bags, and we were in a car provided by the hostel exactly 3 minutes later. After some more fine examples of crazy Chinese driving, a further 5 minutes later we were offloaded and settled at our gate in the bus terminal. Panic over!!

Despite having made the bus and left on time none of us were confident that come midnight we would be arriving in Guangzhou as scheduled. It would have been of great comfort to do so though, as to do so would provide me with a good few hours kip before my first lesson the next day (8 am). Following the ferry crossing all was well, before 20 minutes later whilst playing the same Chinese game of cards that had started our holiday, there was a sudden jolt and crashing sound, as our bus missed the road work signs and deposited itself firmly into the ditch. Having knackered the front of the bus, the next few hours were spent on running repairs and long delays. As night fell it was apparent that the 8am start time was in jeopardy, a feeling that come day break was inescapable. Resigned to the inevitable, following our run of bad luck, at 7 am I had given up and called the school to tell them what had happened and that I would be late for my lessons. 20 minutes later the bus had arrived at the station close to my school, and the race was on to get back, shave, shower and change before 8am…


After the week I had had there was no way I was going to miss it, and come 7.55 I was in the right classroom at the right time, waiting for the lesson to begin, or rather for the ceiling to collapse and end the week in style!!


I must at this juncture apologise for the length of this blog. However, I did feel that the events were all worthy of depiction, and found it impossible to neglect any one part of the story….I hope this is as entertaining to read as it was to experience. That is about all for now, see you for the next, much shorter, instalment!!


Posted by Anna1289 07:28 Archived in China Comments (0)

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