zondag 11 januari 2009

The Peoples Bureaucracy of China

We arrived in Shanghai, along with about 500 others, with 2 hours to change planes. In theory, we would be leaving the 'checked-in' secure area in order to walk 300 meters to another terminal. There we would check in again. Because the bit in between was 'real' China, we needed both an exit and then an entry visa. We would also have to pick up our bags, carry them 300 meters, and then check them in again. I am not criticising the Chinese people (not much), but it did seem to me that there were more police and officials at the airport than passengers, and between them it should have been possible to organise an efficient transfer from plane to plane. It seems that most of the police are watching each other. Nobody seemed to want to make a decision, but a higher official needed to be consulted in a chain of 'not daring to do something in case I make a mistake and they liquidate me' apathy. The first thing you see when you get off the plane is a policeman in black and with a black fur hat. He smiles at everyone, but his function is not clear. It would appear that he is there to stop anyone getting on the plane rather than to prevent an illegal entry. While you are saying goodbye to the pilot and stewardess, another policeman sticks his head round the corner of that mobile corridor thing. He is just checking to make sure the first one is still at his post and has not hidden himself in the cabin somewhere in order to escape. As we move towards passport control, the number of black-uniformed police multiplies. By the time we arrive at the passport desks they are as thick as flies. There is a maze of yellow rubber tapes to walk through, left, right, left to take you to the desk. About a kilometer of zig-zagging to cover the last 20 meters. A woman ducked under the tape to take a more direct route. There was nobody in front of her, so she was not jumping the queue, but a pair of flies detached themselves from the swarm and frog-marched her back to her starting point, the long way round. We all kept between the tapes. Five policemen held up the queue until a desk was free, and all five pointed at the correct glass box. The examination of the passport and visa takes about 10 minutes. There is a little panel with five faces on the box. The left face is green and smiling, running through to the one on the right which is red and has teeth. A notice says 'Please evaluate my work and press one of the buttons'. I told the kids to press the smiley one, as the man was obviously sweating and terrified of a critical evaluation. Press the red one and he would be out on the tarmac, shot and replaced in seconds. The passports were handed in with our boarding cards enclosed and were studied in great detail, the blank pages included. When the policeman was satisfied, he put an elastic band round our passports and disappeared with them. A policewoman said "You need special stamp. You come me". We all went her and joined a growing group of confused passengers. All the passports were placed on a desk inside another glass box. When everyone had been relieved of their passports, all the checkers moved into the box. There were seven policemen in the box and it looked like a plastic carton of black sausages. The passports were picked up one by one and handed around to the chain of policemen, each of whom examined them carefully, sometimes upside down but examined they would be. At the end of the chain the passports were stamped and then put back in the pile. This was all the more confusing as passports were passed along only to be returned because they had already been stamped. The crowd of 500 passengers began to get boisterous and unruly. Several policemen started ordering people to get behind a yellow line and shouted in Chinese at us. It probably meant that we were a revisionist gang of running-dog lackeys of imperialism ripe for re-education. One huge American confronted the policemen with the most silver stars, ribbons and the sharp sunglasses, and told him it was all a total shambles and what did he have to say for himself, speak up you pompous little turd, and implied that an immediate confession and outing of an apology for the collective failure would not go amiss. To my astonishment, this previously officious little chap stared at his boots and mumbled something and backed off with a bow. It was now an hour since we had lost sight of our passports. Then one policeman held up a passport and said "Mirrer Ossun pliz". There was no reaction from the crowd until the policeman opened the passport and Mr. Johnson cried "That's me!". Since his family were not in the front row, two more policemen were sent to accompany the first to confront Mr Johnson's family and ensure proper identification. Having realised that trying to read out the names in English was not going to work, the police outside the glass box started to walk through the crowd with a passport in hand and staring at people. The seven policemen in the box were still handing passports around to each other and opening and snapping them shut. They were not actually looking at them, but the opening and closing made them look busy. All trying to be snappier in passport-closing technique than the other. It sounded like the applause at the end of a concert. I found this scene so ludicrous that I mentioned that we should have a photo for the blog. Emma took out her phone, but before she could put it away a policeman stood before her. "PHOTO NO. NOW TO DELETE." and watched her do it. All appeared to be going well but slowly, until someone shouted "I've got the right passport but this isn't my boarding pass!" Total panic as everone who had a passport now checked if the ticket was correct. It appeared that a pile of passports and their enclosed tickets had fallen to the floor in the glass box and had hastily been reassembled into pairs, As fate would have it we were the very last to get our passports back. Getting a 'special stamp' had cost us 90 minutes. We rushed off to find Terminal 1. This was not easy, as all signs are in Chinese. If you do find one in English, it points in a general direction and you come to a split. You take a chance and hope that around the next corner you will find another sign. We had to collect out bags, the last of which had only just popped up onto the carousel, so that we would still be waiting 90 minutes even if the passport charade had not occured. We piled our cases onto a trolley, only to find that Terminal 1 is upstairs, there is no lift, and trolleys are not allowed on the escalator. Just throw them all onto the moving steps, and with luck they will fall off at the top, not be stolen and maybe there will be another trolley. No signs for the gate, but by luck we found it by looking to the spot where hundreds of policemen were watching us and each other. The bags checked in again, and we again through the security screens. I noted that the officials were piling our hand-luggage onto a conveyor belt to take it through a scanner where other officials waited. Nobody was looking at the screen, just an empty chair. What a relief to get through all this and we needed the two hour break just to get us and our bags the 300 meters between Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. I can't believe they organised the Olympics on their own.

Onto the last leg, not such a great plane. A 747 with overhead screens that could not be watched because the light fell on them. Food was okay though. And a welcome at Schipol and another at home where our house was bedecked with flags.

We have had a great time. Thanks to everyone. This blog is now closed!

Apart from this message to Chris of the Aquapackers as appreciation of one of many high-spots of this holiday.

A Backpackers Heaven

I had never been to New Zealand, nor had I ever done any serious hiking since the Boy Scouts in the 1940’s. At the age of 66 I found myself wandering around the Abel Tasman Park with a pack on my back the size of a small house. The scenery was wonderful, but the pack was heavy and the flies were fierce. After a few hours of staggering up and down stony paths laden like a donkey, one looks forward to the evening rest with some misgivings. Normally this would be in a crowded DOC hut full of fellow travellers snoring and farting and trampling over you to find their beds and shining torches in your face and can you spare some toilet paper. Food you must carry on your back, and unless you have a stove, it will consist of nuts and raisins. If you do have a stove, it will be a packet of dried macaroni with a chemical beef flavour. What it will not be is filling and tasty. Milk will be powder, which, when mixed with water, looks and tastes like paint. You will not sleep because sand-flies also need food, and you will provide it. Instead you will lay awake and dream of real food and cold beer. It was with such a feeling that I tumbled out of the bush at Anchorage Bay and sprawled on the beach. I knew that we were booked in somewhere, but could not care what as I just fell onto the beach and slept. And dreamed that I was some traveller in biblical times who had stumbled out of the desert and found himself surrounded by water , but it was salty and he could not drink it.

“I am dead”, the traveler thought, “for I see a heavenly ship gleaming white upon the blue waters”. A figure sitting in a small boat detached itself from the back of the ship, and skimmed over the water towards him, faster than any man could row. “It must be an Angel”, the traveler thought, “to travel so swiftly without paddle or oar”. The Angel beckoned to him, and he climbed into the boat, which was soft and not made of wood as was the custom in his own land. “Who are you, and by what magic does your craft hurl itself over the waters?”. “I am he that is called Chris” said the Angel, polishing his sunglasses, “and I suppose a Mercury 50 hp four stroke outboard is a bit of magic, mate”. The Angel helped him onto the heavenly ship and the traveler saw a women of great beauty. Angel Chris said “This is Titania, my girlfriend. She will prepare food for you, won’t you Angel“. The traveler marveled. Two Angels! The Angel Chris showed him where he could place his belongings and where he could lay his weary head upon clean, soft bedding. The traveler looked at his body, dusty and bruised from his journey and said “I am unclean and not worthy to lie down upon this pristine silk”. The Angel Chris led him to a magical fountain and showed him how to command it to rain upon him water as warm as the far holy hot springs of Lake Taupo. Much refreshed, he sat upon a throne in the sun upon the deck of the heavenly ship and closed his eyes, and noted that out here upon the waters there were no flies to torment him. He dreamed that he sat before tables sagging with the weight of cooking meat and rice and salads, and that rich smells of cooking arose like incense to perfume the air around him; and found it all to be true when the Angel Chris awoke him with the magical words “Barbie’s ready!”. He ate until he was nearly full, the most delicious meal of his miserable life. “Forget the Mannah”, he said, “I’ll have another of those steaks if I may, and that lasagne is out of this world, which is where I am, I think!”.

Later, as he sat back on the deck of the ship and watched the sun go down, he noticed a vessel of golden liquid in his hand, upon which was the inscription “Speights Beer”. The bottle was as cold as ice, and a mist had condensed all over the glassy surface. With his finger he wrote a message in the mistiness. “I AM IN HEAVEN”.

Thursday - 8 January - end of Kiwifest

It is time to leave. Today we start the long journey home with 3 flights and not much time between. Time in the air will be 1, 13 and 12 hours. I expect, since we could not book our seats, that I will be separated from the other 3, as on the way to NZ, and will be sandwiched between two very fat people. First to Auckland, Shanghai, and then home to Amsterdam. Every day of this holiday has been wonderful, and it will be hard to say goodbye to these treasured people - my son, my daughter-in-law and my grandchildren. They have given us the time of our lives here. Anna disappreared for a while on the last day. She had been into town to print out masses of photos, and presented us with a book to remember all the things we have done together. I shall miss their humour, our morning walks, the great table-tennis battles, the food, the music and the fun. And this country, for the most part unspoiled and fiercley protected by its people. And the people. It was rare to see a kiwi who wasn't smiling. We wish you all well and hope to see you all again in a year or two, wherever that may be in the world. We love you. And that the next time Caro swims out to meet a dolphin, I hope he will stay around and play.

Right. Thats got all the required sugary stuff out of the way. Its off to Aukland we go. A trip of an hour. The next step was the best, a 777 with individual entertainment screens and great food.
Before landing, we had to fill in forms to act as a visa to leave China and to re-enter China again. This is because there are two terminals and we would be leaving Terminal 2 and thus technically entering China proper, going acroos a car-park, and then leaving China proper again as we stepped into Terminal 1. More of this nightmare in the next exciting episode of Kiwifest.

Wednesday - 7 January

A day of rest. Apart from following women in and out of souvenir shops and that great NZ institution, the Opshop. Opshops (Opportunity shops) are what we would call second-hand shops, but includes every range from those run by the church to hard commercial outlets. They are well organised and everything seems to be quite clean and free of most contagious diseases. Surprisingly, not everthing is old. I bought a new T shirt that somebody did not want (or perhaps died before he even tried it on) for a fraction of the new price. Whether you buy anything or not, it is always fun just to browse through these places, and you may find the only other plate in the world that matches the one you broke from the set of 12 that you got on your wedding day.

Just what I always wanted

Anna tries out being a bride. What a story this dress could tell!
Was she left standing in tears at the church?
Did she dump him and keep the ring, and the dress?
And break the lovely set of 12 plates, except one?
Did he fall in love with a backpacker from Sweden he met on his stag night?
Did he tell her he was gay as they walked up to the altar?

Then to the task of packing, and making sure that we are not over our weight limit. The backpacks we leave behind for others, and to make room for all the crap we have bought. They served us well. This is our last night.
It will be hard to leave this place and the wonderful people in this house.

zaterdag 10 januari 2009

Tuesday - January 6

In the morning we were up very early to enjoy our muesli with powdered milk, glare daggers at the Germans and walk swiftly to the beach to await the water taxi to take us to within an hours tramp of the Barn backpackers to pick up the car. The kids would stay in the taxi and be dropped off on a beach where they could get a bus to Picton. We could not be dropped off at the Barn because the water is too shallow. You can walk out for a kilometer without spoiling your underarm deo. Water Taxis are the only way to travel, apart from walking through the bush, in a place with no roads. They are cheap and very fast. We are now looking forward to a shower, a shave and above all, food that is not nuts, noodles or muesli. Tony and I have spent much of yesterday trying to outdo each other in 'food visualisation poker'. "I'll raise your Chateaubriand with Bernaise sauce, garlic buttered mushrooms and basilicum roasted potatoes with a 50cm subway meatball ciabatta including salad, creme fraiche and with extra layers of crispy bacon and Parmesan cheese". "Right, you have me there. How about roast chicken breasts, the skin so brown and crispy it breaks when you touch it, in a lake of orange sauce with asparagus...." etc etc.

The Water Taxi

Seal in the Sun

Sticky, hungry and needing a wash and shave. But first breakfast.

At this point, an incident occurred that caused much grief and anger in the Barn Backpackers. As returning refugees from the Abel Tasman Park, we were entitled to a shower and the use of the kitchen to make a meal before heading off into civilization. The people who do this tramping around with a pack on ones back are seriously healthy. They live off nuts and berries, yogurt and muesli, pineapples and soya. They'll happily share a raisin with you. Adam and Caro got the car and went shopping. They returned all the ingredients for a mega English Breakfast. Per person - three sausages, two fried eggs, three rashers of bacon, a mountain of mushrooms, fried tomatoes and toast. And lots of cold orange juice. The smell, incense to us, must have been appalling to the health freaks. Blue smoke went out of the kitchen windows and filled the entire area with a cloud of fat and cholesterol. Fabulous! All the work of the walking and healthy diet undone in one great fry-up bonanza. We can never go there again.

Photo taken almost at the end of breakfast.
You should have seen the plates in the beginning!
did not partake in this crime but stayed nutty.

Then off to to Picton by car, the kids on the bus. A lot of hunting for souvenirs and then off to catch the boat to Wellington.

Bored waiting for a boat 1

Bored waiting for a boat 2

The trip was uneventful apart from the time when I went up on deck to film the sun going down and the beautiful landscape between the Islands. It got quite stormy and I decided I had had enough and would go back inside after another few minutes. I was almost the last fool in the open when a terrible gust of wind hit me in the back and pushed be hard against the railings. My glasses started to come off and I was losing my grip on the camera. In a moment of madness, I decided to save the video camera. As I got back inside, feeling my way in the drizzle, I realised that the glasses were worth much more than the camera and I should have saved them instead. Somehow all eight of us, with all our baggage managed to get into Caro's car for the drive home. A very satisfying trip as far as I can see, which is not far without my glasses.

Monday - January 5

Today we were all up at 6 to get across the 'low-tide' route and avoid having to wade through deep water with our packs and clothes on our heads. Today we walk to Bark Bay, so named because the bark of the Beech trees was used to make tannin for the preparation of leather.

Dawn at Anchorage

The party sets off

Anchorage Bay

Ferns about 10 meters high

Anna and Tony arrive first

Emma relaxes

Bark Bay - Anna with a hat

..and Emma

We arrive at the Doc (Department of Conservation) hut. There are again two rows of bunk beds, 7 below and 7 above. There is a ladder so that one can climb up to the top level, but there is no space between the bed and a free fall to the lower level. This means that if you sleep on top, you have to climb over people who are sleeping to get to your bed. This should be interesting in the middle of the night. There are no lights. There is a toilet and a shower, consisting of a hose pipe in a tree and no privacy. There is no kitchen, just a table where you can cook if you have a stove. And some food. There are millions of sand-flies, and they are even more hungry than the people. There are a German couple next to us, and they don't say much and look very despondent. We have some dried macaroni for our dinner, or in my case, beef noodles. Our nuts and raisins and muesli bars are nearly all gone. Bernadet and Caro have been saving their chocolate covered peanut bars for a miserable party, but they have taken on a funny shape in the heat. My dinner was surprisingly good, and I found a small candle and Caro folded a napkin to create a romantic ambiance for supper. The mattresses are thin and covered in vinyl, which makes a loud squeaking sound when you move about. We were short on sleeping bags, so Bernadet and I had quilt covers, and no pillows. It was very cold in the night, but extremely noisy. The windows and doors were closed against the insects, which, having no means of escape, resigned themselves to an international meal of backpackers from all parts of the world.. It was not only cold but very stuffy and noisy. Lots of snoring, burping and farting, and cries of distress as people trampled on others as they tried to find their beds in the dark after a visit to the toilet, far away in the jungle, or woke them up with powerful torches, We could not sleep. Neither could the German couple, who removed their mattresses and went off to seek lebensraum in the place where a kitchen might have been, They made a lot of noise as the vinyl mattresses squealed and shrieked rubbery protests as they were withdrawn. They then shone laser powered spotlights in our faces to see if we were asleep. Anna, Emma, Merel and Tony had decided to sleep on the beach, but all except Tony gave up the attempt when they realised how cold and creepy it might be. Adam, also without a sleeping bag, kept watch. Later in the night he returned to the hut, stiff and cold, but found that someone had invaded his bed, probably a German, and was forced to return to the beach for a miserable night. I went to the WC in the middle of the night, and despite the cold, spent an hour just looking up at the sky. Unlike the northern hemisphere, the sky is not masked by pollution in the air or light from the ground. It is a carpet of swirling star fields with strange constellations.

Merel can't wait for her chemical dinner

Tony applies his culinary art. It should be noted at this point that Tony is a serious backpacker. He takes only the essentials with him, not one gram of excess weight to carry in this fly-ridden heat. Amongst the things that could not be left behind were a tin of tuna, a large can of fruit salad and stereo speakers for the I pod.


Candlelight supper

Its going to get cold!

Sunday - January 4

Any walking today will be purely for pleasure rather than as a means to an end. Lazing on the beach or a walk through the bush, jumping in for a swim when it gets too hot or to drown some of those nasty little sand-flies. With Chris's wonderful barbecue to look forward to. We went to have a look at the 'Glow-worm Cave' but there was too much light to see anything, and it looked a bit creepy to squeeze into the smaller crevices. Who knows what lives in there.

Glow-worm cave

On the way to Cleopatras Pool

Dont look down

Cleopatras pool

Thinks..I could grab that food and run off

Thinks..So could I

Meanwhile, Tony tries to save his sandcastle

Merel goes back for more

woensdag 7 januari 2009

Saturday - January 3

An early breakfast as all 8 of us are keen to pick up our very heavy packs and struggle up stony paths for around 13 km in the hot sun while providing meals for anything that bites along the way. 13 km does not sound far, but if you are constantly going up and down a few hundred meters, then it is at least twice that distance in terms of energy expenditure.

It is hard to describe how beautiful this place is. The vegetation is mostly giant ferns, some 10 metres high. Everything has been done to preserve that beauty. The path is narrow and winds up and down through the 'bush' following the natural rock formation. Bridges are placed to help where the going is particularly hard. The 4 kids surged ahead, probably not wanting to be seen with parents. The beginning was hard as the first climb is very steep at a time when one's pack is heaviest. After a while it gets easier as your leg muscles get used to the walk. Our early morning walks and healthy diet in the last two weeks has paid off. The last few kilometers are fabulous as we descend towards Anchorage Bay and flop gratefully onto the beach. It is here that one of the most pleasant surprises of the whole trip occurs. We had expected to be staying for the next two nights at a hut with only bunk beds and crude matresses, with water and toilet as the only facilities. The hut was fully booked, so Caro had made reservations at the 'Aquapackers' floating backpackers hut on a boat. We we told to wave from the beach and we would be picked up. A rubber boat duly arrived. We were taken to a floating hotel by a cheerful kiwi called Chris, who told us that the barbecue would begin at 6.30, there would be breakfast from 6 in the morning, and the bar with wine and cold beer was always open, just write down what you have used and pay up at the end. And there were hot showers. And there were no insects of any kind. Then the barbecue started, heaps of steaks and sausages. A table loaded with salad, rice and the most delicous lasagne I have ever tasted. This is a backpackers heaven.

The Beach at Anchorage Bay

If you fall off here it's 300m to the beach

A breadcrumb fell into the water

Waving for the lift to the Aquapackers