China to Macau

Thursday rolled around and it was time for us to leave China and the next stop on the itinerary was Macau. Advance research and planning for this part of the trip was a bit sketchy as information on how to get from Jiangmen to Macau wasn’t readily available on line. Not in English anyway. You may remember from an earlier blog that we had been down to the Shengli Bus Station earlier in the week but gave up on trying to garner any in-depth knowledge due to linguistic incompatibilities with the ladies at the ticket counter. However, we had the presence of mind to photograph the banners that we hoped showed the timetable.

img_6438Armed with our photos, we asked the hotel concierge to help us decipher what we were being told. The bottom section – starting at 6:45 – was the list of times of buses to Macau, costing CNY 40 one-way and CNY 68 return. All our worries were over.

We were awake early and decided to have a light breakfast at Starbucks next door to the hotel before leaving. Starbucks had, overnight, removed all of the Christmas decorations that had been in place and replaced them with a variety of Chinese New Year paraphernalia for the upcoming year of the pig.


This company knows its audience no matter where it operates.

So it was that we checked out of the hotel at around 9:30, taking a last look around the lobby. Despite being a Chinese domiciled entity, they hadn’t yet been cynical enough to strike all their Christmas decorations so we were able to get a shot of its festive flavour.


From here, we took a taxi to the bus station. The taxi cost, as always, about £2.50 and we bought our tickets for the 10:20 Macau bus for CNY 40 – about £5 – each. I have resisted including amusing Chinese signs despite the large number we have encountered, but I used the toilet in the bus station before we left and there was a sign in there that, I think, includes words by which we can all live…

The bus started loading about 10 minutes before departure and everyone was in place as we rolled out of Jiangmen and headed south along the Pearl River Delta. It was a completely smooth journey and nothing could have been simpler. Until we pulled into an underground bus station and everybody got off the bus.

Being clueless anglophones, we waited till the end to make sure we had to disembark. We then had to get our luggage out of the hold and, by the time this was done, nobody else from our bus was in sight. I had seen them pass through a curtain up ahead so we went in there, but all we could see was a range of bus stops with Chinese destinations on them. There was an opening up to the left so we went in there. Success! Arrows pointing to a shopping centre and Macau. We followed them, and they then pointed upstairs. Up we duly went, fully laden with suitcases cameras and instruments. On the second floor landing, there were two signs. One pointed upwards for Macau, and the other said “Staff Only”. I was in no mood to go back downstairs with all this gear so we went up one more flight and encountered an unpromising door. We opened it, and found ourselves in the lingerie department of a large department store.

We scurried through the underwear and out of the store into a corridor where we once again found signs for Macau. We followed them for quite a long stretch and, eventually, arrived at the Chinese emigration formalities. We passed through them and then had to go through Macau Immigration formalities. Another queue but we successfully negotiated this obstacle and were finally in the Special Autonomous Region of Macau.

There was a tourist information booth just outside immigration where we were able to establish that there was a courtesy bus available to take us to our hotel, the Lisboa. We once again loaded all of our luggage into the hold of the bus – everyone else was travelling lighter than us – and settled into our seats. Finally, we had reached our destination.

We had to check our bags as our room wasn’t yet ready so we went for a brief walk around Macau just to get our bearings. The most interesting thing we encountered was the huge queue of people outside Margaret’s Cafe e Nata waiting to buy Portuguese custard tarts. I’m a sucker for those things, so we will be joining that queue at some point over the next three days.

After our wander, we went back to the hotel and checked into our room, on the 14th floor and overlooking the signage outside.


The blackout curtains in the room are, I’m pleased to say, highly effective.

An interesting border crossing today but we’re hoping to take some time to explore Macau tomorrow.

Last day in China

The second day of January was our last full day in China so we decided to celebrate by, once again, walking miles. Ishbel had found a park – Baishuitai – that featured a major Chinese pagoda at the top of its main hill, so we decided to go and take a look.

It was a fair distance away, so we decided to take a taxi there and walk back. Ishbel had taken some screenshots of the layout from Google Maps and saved them to her phone so after paying the taxi driver the customary £2.50 that most fares here seem to total, we had a look at that. Or tried to. Ishbel had a frenzied check of her pockets before determining that her phone had fallen out of her pocket in the taxi. This had the makings of a major disaster. As we were trying to work out whether I could use my phone to call the hotel and get them to call the taxi company and have them contact the driver, the same taxi went past us in the opposite direction. He seemed surprised when we waved him down again, but laughed when Ishbel reached into the back seat and retrieved her phone that was nestling there. Disaster averted and heart rates back to normal, we pressed on into the park.


We had walked about halfway up the hill that led to the pagoda when we were able to catch a quick glimpse of it through the trees. Something didn’t look right. A little further on we had a fuller view of it in all its splendour.

DSC_0138It’s been a theme of our stay in Jiangmen that there is a huge amount of public work underway and the pagoda had obviously been included in the work orders. We’ve been trying to figure out if there’s some kind of state visit or major international sporting event scheduled to take place but haven’t found anything. Anyway, this view of the pagoda was enough to convince us not to travel all the way to the top of the hill. We did carry on to a temple on the hillside which, as luck would have it, had a tiny model of the pagoda outside.

DSC_0147 So that’s what we missed out on.

Thwarted by the remedial pagoda works, we determined to enjoy the park anyway and headed back down hill to take the route around the lake. This route has a number of statues positioned on it, and I couldn’t resist emulating one.

DSC_0170We’re really getting the hang of making our own entertainment here.

After circumnavigating the lake, we did see something that will always brighten our day.

DSC_0186There’s nothing quite like catching sight of a kingfisher. The photo is the best we could get with a small lens. We had decided not to wander around China with the huge telephoto lens and binoculars. I’m sure you’ll understand why.

After the park we had a long walk back to the hotel. A good part of the walk was on the road because we again encountered public works projects that blocked off pavements on both sides of the road forcing us to walk into oncoming traffic. This was a little bit of payback since we had already experienced on multiple occasions being faced with bicycles, scooters, motorbikes and, on two occasions, cars on pavements as we walked along. Now it was their turn to get out of our way. Hopefully.

We safely negotiated our way back to the hotel and by the end of the day we had covered another eight miles. The iPhone is good at preserving walking data and I decided to take a look at my 2018 statistics. It turns out that I really did lead a sedentary life before retiring.


June and July was when we were on holiday in Vegas last year, and those are the only two months at the same level as December. It will be interesting to see how 2019 compares as we continue the journey.

The China adventure ends here and Thursday is our first day in Macau. Stay tuned.

New Year’s Day – a quiet time around the world

I know that we had a quiet day here in China and I can infer that everyone else had a quiet day too, since this blog enjoyed a record number of views on the day.

It was so quiet, in fact that we have very little by way of information to share. We decided to relax for the early part of the day then headed out in mid-afternoon with the intention of walking down to a restaurant that had been reviewed well on Trip Advisor. One of the few Jiangmen establishments to even be mentioned in that illustrious site. As we left the hotel, we encountered large crowds heading into what appears to be an exhibition centre just across the road from the hotel. There was an intricate piece of wood carving on display outside so we decided to head in and find out what was going on.

DSC_0107It turned out to be a cross between an end of year student art show and an Ideal Home Exhibition. We were again treated like novelties and as we were admiring some jade carvings at one of the stands, a young lady came over to us to explain how they were made. Nothing unusual in that, of course, except two other people also arrived to film the entire exchange. At another point, I turned around to see someone with a camera in my face. I checked behind me to see what he was photographing, but it was me. I think it may be a combination of my size and my facial hair. Maybe they really think I’m Santa.

We continued our walk towards the restaurant and discovered how they transport all of the blue Hellobikes from place to place.

IMG_1184We eventually reached the restaurant we were headed for, called Red Garlic and enjoyed an early dinner. The staff in that restaurant speak excellent English so if you’re in Jiangmen and want a break from all the miming, or pointing at pictures of food, this is the place for you.

After dinner, they were kind enough to order a taxi for us. They warned us that there would be an extra holiday surcharge because it was New Year’s Day, but that we shouldn’t pay more than CNY 30 as the fare. In the end it was CNY 25 – about £3.


New Year in China – not Chinese New Year

31st December 2018 – Hogmanay – started cold in Jiangmen. This was to be our first New Year experienced in Asia but we had to fill our day before we got to whatever festivities the evening may hold.

It was my turn to do some research and I had decided we should explore the Changdi waterfront which my research had led me to discover was an area where some fine examples of old colonial architecture still survived. As an adventure, we decided to take a taxi down there and walk the six miles back to the hotel, stopping en route at the bus station to check out transport to Macau, our next destination.

The concierge organised a taxi for us and gave us a card with the address that we could hand to the driver. The drive seemed a little longer than we were expecting but we duly arrived at the correct destination and paid the princely sum of £2 as fare. Sure enough, there were several terraces of older buildings along the waterfront.

DSC_0052They’re not maintained as valuable architectural monuments and are still being lived and/or worked in but it’s an interesting contrast with all the new construction in the area around the hotel. The area around Changdi as we walked up Chang’an Road away from the water is altogether more vibrant and lived in than most of the spots we’ve visited so far. The population of Jiangmen is 4.5 million – almost the same number of people as the whole of Scotland – so we had expected to hit a crowded commercial centre at some point and this was it.

Despite the thronged streets lined with shops, there’s always time for an oasis of calm and we decided to take a flight of steps off to the right of the main road just to see where they would lead. They climbed quite steeply and gave us an interesting view over the rooftops of the low rise buildings in the area.

DSC_0069At the top, we encountered a memorial to Dr. Sun Yat Sen. If you’re wondering who that is, we were wondering the same thing, especially when we saw this quote attributed to him.

DSC_0065‘Nationalism, People’s Rights and the People’s Livelihood embodies the essence and spirit of Abraham Lincoln’s saying, a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” and French Revolution’s “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. ‘ He had a fascinating life and it would be impossible for me to do justice to his achievements. If you get some time, look him up.

Ever onwards, we managed to locate the bus station from which Macau buses depart. We had a small amount of communication with the staff there but decided it would be far too complex to mime a requirement for two tickets to Macau with lots of luggage in three days’ time, so we deferred that challenge.

We then continued our stroll back to the hotel, passing various locations on the way that Ishbel deemed worthy of a photo.

DSC_0081DSC_0139One thing I’ve noticed about commercial areas here is that competitors in the same field tend to cluster together, much as they used to in London (think Savile Row for tailors or Harley Street for doctors). This makes for an assault on the senses when you encounter the street of mobile phone vendors.

DSC_0105Apart from Apple and, of course, Huawei there are another two equally ubiquitous brands: Vivo and Oppo. This street had a minimum of ten specialist shops for each brand. I assume they find some way of making it work commercially, but it seems unnecessarily over-competitive.

Back at the hotel after 16,000 steps, according to our iPhones, we decided to relax a little so out came the instruments again. We didn’t want to eat too early as we wanted to stay on the go until midnight to see in the New Year. Eventually, we went down to the hotel’s buffet restaurant and enjoyed a delicious mix of western and asian foods and a couple of glasses of wine. We got talking to the assistant manager, Paul, whose English was excellent. He advised that there would be some entertainment on the plaza across the road at midnight, so we went over there at around 11:15 and enjoyed a concert extravaganza featuring pop singers and what looked like a local high school’s ukulele orchestra. And we found out what the Chinese call a ukulele. Ukulele.

There was an impressive light show on all the buildings around the plaza, which we’ve attempted (and failed) to capture with the photo at the top. And that’s how we ended 2018.

We’re more than a month into the trip and still have seven full months to go. Happy New Year to everyone following along on the blog.

Brian and Ishbel

Stars in our eyes

We woke late on the second last day of 2018 with very little by way of a concrete plan. Ishbel to the rescue once again as she examined Google maps to determine where we would go today. The Xijiang River, on which our ferry had transported us here from Hong Kong, looked easily walkable from the hotel. Not only that, our route would take us through the Star Park – a park that recognises achievements in the arts by individuals from the region. Tony Leung and Chow Yun Fat were the two names that we recognised from the list of those honoured but that is probably more a reflection of our ignorance of the arts in China than anything else.

IMG_1083 2The statuary in the park was interesting, of course, but beauty can also lie in everyday items and we were both very taken by the bamboo ladder that we saw tucked away in a corner of the park.


It was just so beautifully engineered from an everyday material that we had to get a picture and share it with you.

After the park we carried on down to the river. I think I mentioned before that the cost of data charged by our mobile carrier here in China is prohibitive, so we are downloading screenshots of maps using the hotel wi-fi before we set out on these epic walks. This sometimes means we have to adjust our plans based on real world conditions without the benefit of Google maps adjusting along with us. So it was today when our planned route petered out into a dirt road before our very eyes. We improvised and carried on along the main road until we reached a turn-off that climbed steeply towards what could only be a bridge over the river. As we made our turn, Ishbel was briefly excited by a poster announcing a “River Trail”. Further reading clarified that this “trail” was in fact an eight lane highway covering 76km and costing CNY 1.44Bn. Not the scenic stroll she had initially envisioned.

We carried on down where the bridge road went up and hit the river bank as expected. The water looked very clean from our vantage point, so presumably it was perfectly safe for this chap to fish there.

DSC_0033 2We had envisaged a pleasant river bank stroll for our Sunday afternoon, but our plans were thwarted by a large container base which claimed the majority of the bank in our preferred direction. Consequently, we scurried inland and strolled in the general direction of home.

As was the case yesterday, we seemed to be the only Westerners on the street and the reactions of the locals were hitting about 8 on this device…

surprise_meterAs was also the case yesterday, we still need to remember to check the scale on Google maps. Another 7 miles completed today so, once again, it was back to the hotel and we relaxed by playing our instruments and jamming for a little while.

For dinner, we wimped out on external exploration and ate instead in the hotel restaurant. Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve for many, but it’s Hogmanay for Scottish people. It’s a cultural imperative for us to stay up until midnight and talk to friends and family early in the New Year. And to drink. We definitely need to check the map scale if we’re to stay awake until late.

Strangers in a strange land

Saturday started cold and crisp. This is the first day we’ve felt cold since leaving the UK so we wrapped up with extra layers and decided to go walking to try to get a better feel for Jiangmen.

The first thing we discovered is that they have their own local city bike program – Hellobike. We have no idea how it works as instructions are all in Chinese and there doesn’t seem to be an English language web page for it, so we won’t be using the system despite there being thousands of bicycles scattered throughout the city.

After consultation with Google Maps, we decided to walk down to Donghu Park, which is the other side of the WuYi University campus. I need to remember to check the scale on Google Maps when making these decisions. I think we have in our heads a basic assumption of how big a city block will be, based on long experience of wandering through cities. Blocks here are bigger. The primary roads are much wider than we get in UK or US cities and the distances between them are also proportionally larger, so we walked a little farther than we expected – about 3.5 miles each way.

Despite the distance walked, we didn’t spot another Western face. What we did encounter was the reaction of locals to our Western faces, which ranged from curiosity through amusement all the way up to bewilderment. We encountered the occasional frank stare but also a good number of smiles and hellos, which I suspect is the one English word many of the people here know. (I’ve worked out that thank you is “xie xie”, but that’s it so far so I’m in no position to take the linguistic moral high ground.)

It is apparent that this is not a city that gets many foreign tourists but Donghu Park was billed as a tourist destination so we were keen to see it. The map at the start of the park advised that there was a watchtower located at the top of a hill so we climbed up there to take a look.

DSC_0108 Then we climbed back down again. The park was very quiet in general but that’s only to be expected in the middle of winter. There are a couple of amusement parks with rides which are mothballed for the season but it’s no doubt a livelier place in warmer weather.

We were interested to see some graffiti in a place where we wouldn’t expect it.

DSC_0136A section of the park was dedicated to bamboo in its many different forms and a number of the old woody stems had Chinese characters carved into them.

After exhausting the possibilities of Donghu, we decided to head back to the hotel. We took a different route on the way back just for the variety, and passed an area of older buildings. There’s a vast quantity of recent construction and ongoing development here so this was a bit of a novelty. Also something of a novelty was this sight:

IMG_1066Someone was taking the opportunity to air dry some meat and fish from their windows.

We carried on to the hotel and, once again, got out the instruments and practised for a while. Afterwards, we headed out for dinner. There’s a recently developed street of restaurants just around the corner from us so we walked along there to see what took our fancy. The problem with them was that the restaurants were all quite shallow, so all the tables were near the door and it had grown really quite cold by now. We decided to keep walking till we reached the mall and picked a restaurant in there at random.

So we ate at a place called Three Thousand Mountain (I think) and had some very nice food there. Also, we had a conversation with the gentleman at the next table to us who could speak some English. He asked us where we came from and what we were doing in Jiangmen. It turns out he’s an anaesthetist at a local hospital and when he heard we were just visiting as tourists, he offered to arrange a tour of his hospital for us. This was wonderfully kind of him, but hospital visits aren’t really high on my list of leisure activities. We thanked him profusely but declined the offer. Again, I don’t think they get many tourists here.

After dinner we grabbed a beer to take back to the room and I watched Rangers vs Celtic on a poor quality stream. Not as poor quality as Celtic’s performance though. Oh well, we had to lose to Rangers some time, I suppose.

The challenge now is to construct some leisure time activities to keep us going here in Jiangmen. I’ll keep you all informed how that goes.

Out on the briny with the moon big and shiny

The title today is lifted from a song immortalised by Bing Crosby – Slow Boat to China. And that’s what occupied a good chunk of our Friday. Our ferry was scheduled to leave Hong Kong at 8:30 am so we were awake bright and early to make sure we were there on time and didn’t get caught up in any traffic issues. We were actually at the ferry terminal before even the Starbucks had opened so we were in plenty of time. When it did open, we had large cups of tea to set us up for the day then checked our suitcases for travel.

We boarded promptly and, because we had paid the small premium required for first class tickets, we were given seats upstairs by the window so enjoyed an unobstructed view along the journey which allowed Ishbel to take a load of photos of the huge new bridge.


Hong Kong to Jiangmen is around 120km, and we completed the journey in just over three hours. There was actually an intermediate stop, at a place called Dong Men. I panicked when we docked there and grabbed Ishbel’s dobro (which the baggage handlers hadn’t wanted to check) and rushed down the stairs. Well, I rushed about a third of the way down the stairs then surfed the rest of the distance on my behind. I’d like to say only my pride was hurt but my backside was a bit bruised as well. Anyway, no serious harm done, apart from the fright I gave the crew as a large Scotsman and a green, spangly guitar case suddenly appeared at the gangway.

We had organised Chinese visas in London so were hoping for a straightforward experience at the port of entry. It was ridiculously easy as there were only about ten people disembarking at Jiangmen, and the rest of them were all Chinese so we had the two foreigners’ lines to ourselves. We were quite closely scrutinised as we completed formalities but one lady approached us and asked if we were going on to Macau. Given that we had just arrived from Hong Kong, this would have been a very circuitous journey. She asked where we were going and, after saying the name of our hotel a few times (Wanda Realm) to no avail, I showed her the picture of the name in Chinese that I had stored on my phone. She immediately rustled up a taxi driver to take us there and off we went.

The trip from the port to the hotel was one which I had been dreading. I’ve been lucky in my travels in that I’ve always had an ear for language and have usually been able to pick up a few words to help me get by in whatever situation I’ve been in. This is the first time that I’ve felt completely out of my depth linguistically without even the benefit of being able to sound out words in hope of finding a familiar etymological root somewhere. I have become the classic Brit abroad. Speaking English slowly, pointing and attempting to act out my requirements. I don’t like it.

The hotel is lovely, and check in was very smooth. However, it appears that even the concierge doesn’t speak much English, so the art of mime will be our friend for the next few days. We were running short of clothes so, cliche though it may be, we decided we needed to find a Chinese laundry. Google maps indicated there was one a couple of blocks away so we set out to try to find it. It appears the concierge here doesn’t have maps of the area. And looked at us as if we were idiots for even asking. We managed to locate the laundry without the visual aid and handed over our washing.

We relaxed back at the hotel then had an early dinner. Not exactly a cultural experience – we ate at Pizza Hut.

On Saturday we will set about exploring a little more of Jiangmen and hopefully provide a more in-depth perspective on this city.