GT-R on the street!

While on an expedition on Kappabashidori for rubber nigiri and beer (not for me, I’m on a diet), I came across this Skyline GT-R parked on the street.

This is the color scheme I would get for this car if I were to get one
Unlike practically everything else on this street, it was not rubber or kitchen related.

Back from Japan (whoopee)

You know you’ve left Japan when the showers and baths don’t seem as hot, efficiency is a lost concept, the people aren’t as nice (in all ways) and rudeness and stupidity rule the day.
On the plus side, my iPhone works, I can drive here and my broadband connection is stable.
(sigh) welcome home…

It’s really a Village, complete with chickens and geese

When you talk to an ABC about where their family is from, you will either get a blank and defensive “I dunno” or “I dun care” or you will hear the generic “Toi-shan”.
Toi-shan is actually one of four towns in an area of the Pearl River delta where the first generation ABCs (and CBCs, etc etc) come from. Many of the Chinese in San Francisco and Hong Kong have roots here. My father’s family hails from Hoiping in Chinese. The modern (and Putonghua) name of this city is Kaiping. The actual village that my family actually hails from is 30 minutes or so outside Kaiping. That meant hiring a taxi for a few hours. 4 hours of taxi = Y250. Not a bad deal.

This is how it looks like outside Kaiping City. A lot.
After driving on dirt roads and missing two turns, we pull into this nondescript road with a field and a handful of abandoned buildings on it. Welcome home.

This is the only occupied house on the compound…
Using my Uncle Bill’s photos, we find the houses where he took his photos. Naturally, I’m unable to do this quietly and we attract some attention.

Distant relatives…
Turns out they’re distant relatives who proceed to show us around and open up the buildings including my Grandpa’s old house.

The buildings of the Kaiping compound
They know my grandfather’s name and his brothers. They know of my father and my aunt & uncle (who both came through here two years ago). I ask them some leading questions and they answer correctly. Then they hit me up for money. Yeah, they’re related.

Hmm, can use a new door. And roof. And heating…
These buildings (and the others scattered about the area) are known as the Kaiping Diaolou. The Kaiping Diaolou are also Guangdong’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of these villages (Zili village) survived the years relatively intact, so the local government made it into a museum with the better examples of the houses open so you could explore the house on your own.
Generally they follow a similar blueprint. The kitchen is on the ground floor, the bedrooms are on the middle floors and the top floor is for the altar. All of these houses have roof access so you can keep an eye out for bandits (as was the norm back in the day).
There is also the town of Chikan nearby the village that was built primarily during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Much of the town exists today as it was before with multilevel shophouses built along the Tanjiang River which divides the town.

Old shophouses that would be right at home in Malacca or old Hong Kong

Here’s the river and the other side of the bank
If this were in any other city of interest (and beside a clean river) this would be interesting. Think Clarke Quay; something like that. Instead, this is in the middle of nowhere and there’s nothing happening here except a metalsmith working in his workshop.

You can see the metalsmith at the very bottom center of the pic. And that was it!

The detail on the buildings is nice. Darn quality workmanship back in the day…
They make it look really good in the brochure.

Beware brochures here. Copious use of Photoshop!
After we returned to Kaiping, we were amazed at the lack of action here on a Friday night. Nothing. Lots of pollution, so thick you could see it under the headlights. But nothing happening. Wound up going for reflexology and dinner and packing it in early since A: there’s nothing happening anyway and B: the basi back to civilization AKA Hong Kong leaves at 0900 the next morning.

Well, you have to go this way first before you hit Hong Kong!

The road to Kaiping

Is filled with gas stations and lots of toll booths.
The joke goes: An ABC goes back to visit the village with his family. He sees the squlid conditions and meets the distant relatives, staying overnight in the town for one night because the buses leave twice a day for Hong Kong where you really want to be. When he gets back to the Ewe-ess of aay, he kowtows to grandpa and dad, thanking them for fleeing to America and a better life for the generations that follow. In short, glad I didn’t grow up and have to live there!
That’s the joke anyway. The reality is always a touch more complex. Grandpa passed away in 1995 and Dad passed in 2005. Before he died, he spoke of wanting to visit the village, making it a “family trip” of some kind. It was the few times that he would ask me for advice and took what I had to say seriously. So I began to plan out a rough idea of how a trip back to Hoiping would take place and what kind of logistics were involved.
When my dad passed, I had a brief chat with my Uncle Bill. He gave me some pictures of his visit to the village in 1999 and gave me the address of the family “estate”. Two years pass with lots of issues. Eventually, I passed this info to my friend (and fellow backpacker) April (native HKer and VERY multi-lingual), who was able to determine exactly where in Guangzhou it was, how to get there (basi!!) and had it mapped out on Google Maps. Amazing! And suddenly looks so “do-able”. We decide to leave on Thursday AM after both of us arrive in HKG on the previous night.
After a brief hiccup involving a delayed flight to HKG (her) and some total blurness about basi tickets (me), we set out for Kaiping City from Tsuen Wan on the 0740 basi on Friday AM.

The basi to Kaiping
When we arrived 3.5 hours later, it was just like taking Greyhound in the states. It was all freeway travel, we had one rest stop at a gas station with gross bathrooms and we got stuck in traffic briefly in Dongguan. Might as well call that Fresno.

Looks just like a I-5 rest stop except it’s bigger…

This was the view for 3.5 hours
There are only two hotels that come up on search engines when you type in “Kaiping” and “hotel” into your favorite search engine. There’s the Everjoint and the Sanya.

View of Kaiping, includes free pollution!
The Everjoint (now called the Pan Tower, sounds like a video game) is a tall “5 star” hotel that’s about 15 years old And boy is it showing its age. Decent lodgings though.
About that rating. Hotels in the PRC are ranked by the government (!!) Officially, the ranking is based on the amount of services that are offered by said hotel. Everjoint has a lot of services including: Bowling alley. “Chess” rooms. Beauty Salon. Western and Chinese restaurant. And bellboys that can help arrange hiring a taxi for a few hours. In reality, any hotel that’s clean and in an area where foreigners go magically become “5 star”. When I stayed at the Grand Hyatt Shanghai a few years back, it had a “7 star” rating. I’m sure its gotten some more over the years.
What is Kaiping’s claim to fame besides being the ancestral homeland for so many Overseas Chinese? Well, they make pipes. And fixtures. Anything related to plumbing, they make it here.

The Kaiping Convention Center. What do they use it for? Note the sky and the stuff in it
The actual village is about 30 minutes away from Kaiping City. In the country. Where there’s mud and chickens and fields that get plowed. More on that later…

HK Day

Today was a good day. It was full of wontonmein, daan taat, beautiful women and good food.
Also full of free coffee, refrigerators and the Doremon spotting game.
Back in civilization AKA Hong Kong and a stable wireless connection. Updates (backdated) forthcoming…

Evian (where the water comes from)

Renault: And what in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Renault: The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed…
From Casablanca, Warner Brothers, 1942, possibly the greatest movie of all time

Well make no mistake, if you take the ferry across Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) from Lausanne, you’re going to Evian-les-Bains and you’re probably going for the waters. Unlike Rick who found himself in French Morocco.

You leave Ouchy, which is here

Ride the ferry across the Lake, a 30 minute journey

Arrive here at Evian-les-Bains, no sign, just a small port. And no passport controls!
Evian-les-Bains is a small resort town on the French side of Lac Leman. During the low season (like now), many of the shops and restaurants keep short hours or are closed for the season.

Here it is, the Evian Visitors Center!

Except its CLOSED like 2/3 of the places around here…
The Evian (bottled water) story is well documented. Guy drinks water from spring. Liver and kidney maladies ease. Doctors recommend said water to patients. Other guy who owns the spring fences it off and begins to sell said water. Voilà, Evian bottled water!

The historical plaque telling the story of the Source
Of cors, in the US, Evian is sold as a luxury, premium water, bringing with it its own snide remarks and jokes while in the rest of the world, it’s just another bottled water while in France, it’s just called “water”.

This is the source of all Evian water!
And if you live here, you can help yourself to this water, free of charge.

Just pull up with a buncha bottles and fill up! Everyone here does it.
There’s also a second tap on the other side of the pump station called the Source des Cordeliers.

Thirsty thirsty thirsty…

The pumping station at Source Cachat and the Source des Cordeilers runs 24/7 and all you have to do is bring your own bottles to fill up. Twas true, I’ve seen it and done it!
Mmmm. Nothing beats free Evian!!

Lucerne sights

Did a day trip to Lucerne. It’s only an hour away from Zurich via SBB. It’s an city with a preserved old town, a lake and surrounded by mountains.

The famous (and reconstructed) Chapel Bridge in Lucerne

The old town on the opposite shore of the lake from the Hauptbahnhof.

There’s a Farmer’s Market each Saturday. Free cheese!

The facade of the old hauptbahnhof, in front of the new one

Bern-ed out…

Bern is the capital of Switzerland and is roughly half way between Zurich (money!) and Geneva (self-important, overpaid bureaucrats…). Since I’m on my way to Lake Geneva, I thought I’d stop over and check out this UNESCO World heritage city.

The figures on top of the Parliament building

The building looks like a concert hall, not a hall of politicians!

BTW, “rathaus” means “town hall”. If they only knew how easily that would apply to San Francisco City Hall!

The famous clock…

With the guy that rings the bell on the top
The old part of town has remained pretty much the same since it was rebuilt in sandstone during the middle ages. Most of the buildings have shops and boutiques and lots of fast food inside, just like the buildings of the middle ages did. It gives it a Disneyland vibe, especially when the tram rumbles by.

Here’s the postcard shot of the old city

And the Disney-feeling main street

complete with leftover Carnival musicians!
The Old Town had a neat feel for the first 30 minutes but there’s only so many times you can see a kabob place or a McD’s. This part of the city is the big draw here. Once you get outside of the old town, it looks like a very expensive, well kept city.

I like corner houses!
BTW, Bern means “bear” in German and they have five of them as mascots near the tourist center.

Don’t interrupt while he’s drinking
Speaking of drinking, the legal age for beer and wine is 16 and for liquor it’s 18.
There’s not much here and instead of staying overnight, you can visit here on a day trip.

Zurich 中環

Well, it’s not really “中環” but just plain “Central”. Except here it’s just a stop where 6 tram lines collide. Not a station, just a sign and a spot on the map.