Friday, July 8, 2016

Brompton-ing Chengdu, China


                       



                         

        

                      

                     

 

                      

                      

 

                      

                       


Spicy Hot Pot. They really mean it when they say hot!



  

                       

                             




My new friends Jiang Bo, Ee Lin and Ruby. Such lovely people!

China has always been a fascinating country for me as my forefathers came from there more than 200 years ago. The culture itself is one of the oldest in the world, dating back some 4000 years and more. The chance to visit the Sichuan region in late June came about where I joined a medical team who would be doing some training in Chengdu and Chongqing. Time permitted me to do some exploring and as per my usual folding habit, I brought along my British Brompton to help me check out the cities.

 

Chengdu is a city of about 10 million and is relatively flat. It is the only city in China which has kept its original name since its founding 2000 years ago. It also played a very important role during WW2 when Chiang Kai Shek moved the Capital City to Chengdu, and later on to Chongqing when the Japanese invaded China. We stayed at The Ascot which is located in the dead centre of the city and that made for easy exploration. Chengdu is famous for Pandas and The Panda Park is a must see. We had a chance to enjoy the beautiful park on our first day and were very fortunate to see some Pandas feeding and frolicking. Indeed, they are such adorable animals, cuteness personified.

 

It is always useful to research the top attractions of a new city and a quick google on Tripadvisor did the trick. Seems there is quite a long list and the key is to narrow it down to which is accessible and interesting. That is not too difficult especially with a bicycle and I wanted to ambitiously see 6 attractions in one day.

The first attraction was Wuhou Temple and next to it was Jinli Street. It was only 3km away. Rolling my folded Brompton out of the hotel was easy but as usual, it attracted attention as I unfolded it. Somehow, it still boggles my mind that such a small package can instantaneously spring open to become an almost full size bicycle.

                      

Wheeling into the busy traffic took a bit of getting used to as China's traffic is rather chaotic and is almost an every man for himself style. Here, might is right and I being on small 16" wheels, was lowest in the food chain of traffic unfortunately. Fortunately though, there are wide bicycle lanes throughout the city and that helps.

 

However, these lanes are also occupied by e-bikes which look more like full size scooters zooming by you at 40km/h! Some were fully loaded with boxes etc. Hair raising as it was, I soon got used to it. The key is to stay alert and be aware of your happenings 360".

 



With the aid of my Maps.Me app, it was easy to navigate to Wuhou Temple, taking some short cuts where possible. Upon reaching there, I was taken back at the rather steep entrance fee of 60Y to see the temple and decided to park and lock my bicycle at the Tourist Office to have a look at Jinli Street. Bicycles are not allowed here, even if you want to push through as it gets rather crowded. This is quite a fascinating place with traditional old style shops selling all sorts of curios and souvenirs clearly for the tourists.

                      

I had a bowl of noodles here which was delicious at first but later turned out to be a bit too spicy for my palate. Although I am familiar with Sichuan food and its fame for being fiery, here in the heart of Sichuan the people really love their food HOT.

                       

My next destination was to see the Chengdu Renmin Park which was supposed to be a place where the locals hang out. It was a nice ride there along the river but as I was just pushing my bike through the park, the security stepped in to say no bicycles allowed. Cannot even push it through. Well, if my Brompton was not allowed in, I wasn't going in as well.

                       

So it was off again on the saddle to my next spot, Tianfu Square where a grand statue of Chairman Mao watches over a beautiful open square with flags flying and colourful flowers neatly laid out. There were also lots of police and military personnel around. Once again as I got off the bike and wanted to push the Brompton through the beautiful square, I was told bicycles are not allowed. At this stage I wondered if I folded the Brompton, whether that would be acceptable but the strict no nonsense look of the policeman made it abundantly clear, I was not welcome. At least with my bicycle. Rules are rules and as annoying as they are, we have to respect them as guests. But I wish they could be more bike friendly.

It was getting a bit hot at noon and it was great I spotted a McDonalds, an airconditioned oasis. I entered with my Brompton folded and nobody seem to mind. It was good to refuel and cool down as the temp was hitting 31c with the sun shining brightly.

                       

Managed to cycle below Chairman Mao huge statue and got his "blessing" without any trouble. Mao is still a very revered figure in China as he defeated the Kuomintang Nationalist Party in Dec 1949 and took over the government right here at Chengdu.



Wenshuyuan was my next stop about 2km north of Tianfu Square. This is also another significant temple and monastry built in the Tang Dynasty and is around 400 years old. It is claimed to be the best preserved Buddhist Temple in Sichuan. It was easy navigating there and I took a picture when I got to the Temple Arch.

                       

As I cycled into the temple grounds, I spotted a man carrying something very interesting on a shoulder rod and that caught my eye. I did a u-turn and had a closer look. It was a tortoise of sorts on one end of the rod, and its smaller cousin with some colourful stones on the other end. He wasn't too pleased I took his photo so my hunch was that what he was doing wasn't too legitimate. I'm not sure if he was eating it or was it used for some religious purposes.

                     
This man was not saying "Hi"...

I paid 1Y to an old lady who sort of created a self-proclaimed parking lot outside the temple. When I locked my bicycle, she said no need to do that as she was the caretaker. Still, better safe than sorry especially when this was my classic 14yo foldie. 

The visit to Wenshu Temple was very educational and best of all, it was free. Quite a few devotees came to offer prayers and it was very special to be walking in the grounds of this ancient and sacred place. There are plenty of cultural relics here including a piece of a skull belonging to Xuan Zhang, a famous monk who lived in the Tang Dynasty.

                      

On my way back to the hotel, I decided to do a short detour to Kuanzhaixiangzi Alley. These are scaled ancient streets built in the Qing Dynasty and is also known as the Wide and Narrow Streets. Once again, I parked my Brompton at the 1Y unofficial parking lot and went for a walkabout.

What fascinates about this is that it has more character than Jinli in my opinion. Lots of great restaurants, shops, cafes, musical concerts and even ear cleaning services. This is a great place to spend some time and I walked the streets twice. I was also fascinated with the traditional Chinese architecture and had a field day taking pics of all the exciting happenings at this attraction.


                 


                               
                           

On my way back, traffic was a bit heavy as people were returning home from their offices and schools. But being on a bicycle, I could weave and carve my way through and it was lots of fun. I came across what I am told was a famous seafood restaurant just by the river in Chengdu and they actually made the building to look like a ship. It looked so out of place among all the tall buildings but if the purpose was to attract attention, it does its job brilliantly.


I was also pleased to see that some old and traditional places were preserved and that is so important if the heritage of a city is to be kept. In the chasing of $, many of these iconic houses and buildings make way for the soul-less glass and steel towering structures and that is a real pity.

                    

I arrived back at the Ascot feeling a bit hot and sticky as it had been a humid day of cycling, walking and exploring. However, I was so pleased that I could hit 6 places in half a day thanks to my Brompton. Truly, nothing beats exploring a new city on small wheels and may I highly recommend you to bring along your foldy on your next overseas trip.

Chengdu, the Panda City of China certainly is worth a visit!

  
Pic from http://www.kylarichey.com/


* All photos taken on Samsung S7 mobile phone camera.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A crash can happen to anyone! Legends too....






One of the joys of cycling is the feeling of freedom and almost flying on wheels. Perhaps that is why I love cycling so much. The independence, the wind in your face, the satisfaction of conquering steep hills etc and the last thing we have in mind is crashing.

But that happens to every cyclist from time to time, and often when we least expect it. I have a lot of respect for my cycling buddy Chris whom I've know for over 20 years as he is liken by many as The Father of Touring especially in Thailand, Bali and Indonesia. He is also a bike mechanic (engineer is more appropriate) second to none and has put together very kindly many of my bicycles. After his touch, my bikes become Lexus smooth.

                                 
Highway 2 outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia

It was thus a big shock when I got a call from his wife one weekday afternoon to say that Chris was at the A & E of Tan Tock Seng Hospital. He had a crash! I immediately dropped everything and went to see him.

Poor Chris was very badly injured with head and facial injuries. His cable lock had somehow got loose and managed to get entangled with his front wheel causing an instantaneous jam that even bent the fork of his Bike Friday Tikit!

I thank the good Lord for sending the right people to help Chris recover and at the most opportune moments that only God can orchestrate. In times like this, we realise how fragile our lives are and we should be grateful for each day that is given to us.

       
                                   
Route 13 near Vang Vieng, Laos

It has been 3 weeks and Chris is making a strong and remarkable recovery. He has even started cycling again and I am grateful to God for His amazing healing upon this dear brother. May he continue to recover fully and quickly with God's help.

So do enjoy cycling, but at the same time, please ride safely.

More here on his excellent blog - Chriscycles.


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I shared this beautiful promise in the Bible about God's protection as we put our trust in Him to Chris. I hope you will find comfort and assurance that our Creator loves us deeply and is with us all the way.


Fear not, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed. I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

The painless way of entering into Johor Bahru from Singapore.




The Causeway in the early years








Pic KC

Pic KC



The crossing from Singapore into Malaysia via the Causeway (opened in 1923), is often a source of nightmares for many motorists travelling between the 2 countries. Huge snarling jams are the order of the day and during public and school holidays, this is compounded three fold. I have been stuck for almost 4 hours before! Factor in the locust-like swarm of small, smoky and buzzy motorcycles into Singapore (transporting many migrant workers) in the early morning and this ritual is repeated again from 4-9pm in the reverse direction, the Causeway certainly is to be avoided at all costs by most people. Tolls too have been increased recently and there is talk about compulsory registration for Spore vehicles that cross into Malaysia. All these obstacles really negate going into JB to enjoy the cheaper food and shopping despite the very favorable 1 to 3 exchange rate. Unless of course you are a cyclist!

                        


Choosing the proper time, it is possible to cycle into the heart of JB from Kranji MRT station, clearing 2 customs and all these done in under 30 minutes comfortably. It is a 2.5 km ride from Kranji MRT to Singapore Immigration, another 2.5 km across the Causeway to arrive into Malaysian Immigration, and another 2 km into JB proper. YC, KC and I had the chance to test this crossing today (a Tuesday)  as we planned to lunch with our dear friend and cycle buddy, Claudine who resides there.

We met at 1045am at Kranji MRT station like we always do. This serves as our usual meeting point as it is only 10 mins ride away from the Causeway.  Do not attempt to cross after 3pm or you will find yourself swarmed with a hundred thousand motorcyclists and you will get suffocated from fumes! You have been warned.

Here's how we did it. I hope this article helps our local and overseas cycling friends to cross into Malaysia smoothly.

Riding along Woodlands Ave 3, we made a left into Woodlands Road just after 100m and continued pass the Esso Station until we reached the flyovers.







At this traffic light junction, make an immediate left turn up the flyover. This is actually strictly for cars as motorcycles have to enter via BKE. But for cycling, this is the best way as this car lane will merge with the motorcycle lane after about 200m. The tricky bit is where we have to carry our bikes across the road divider to the motorcycle lane and we needed to be very careful here as motorcycles really zoom by at high speeds.




Note the bicycle lane sign appearing finally!

Continue on, the immigration counters are just around the corner and be careful to take the left lanes as the right ones are for the automated counters. A quick check with 2 immigration officers confirm that these lanes are NOT to be used by cyclists as of now. Cyclists can only officially go through the manual ones. Once you get your passport stamped out, do ask for an immigration red form if you plan to return to Singapore should you need it. It is a relatively easy exit out of the huge ICA complex and onto the Causeway. I tried taking a photo of this but was stopped and politely told to delete my photo by a kind lady officer. Rules are rules and we must respect them however, I wonder about the many cars and motorcyclists who have video cams filming every minute of their crossing.



Once on the Causeway, it's pretty much a no man's land and is quite a pleasant flat 1 km ride. This Causeway was blown up during WW2 by the British to prevent the Japanese from crossing and I found out recently that my friend Rod Wither's late father in law was part of the British Army demo team responsible for this in 1942.

Continue cycling till the end of the Causeway and you will find the extreme left lane that is dedicated to motorcycles or Motosikal. Cycle up this way and it is a fairly gradual long climb. Once again, stick to the left and be careful for speeding motosikals. It will then start to descend and do be careful of the metal graters on the road especially if you have thin tires as they may get caught. Crossing them at an angle is highly recommended. This will eventually lead to the Malaysian immigration counters.


There are no forms to fill entering Malaysia and getting your passport stamped is quite straightforward. There is a bit of a climb once again getting out of the complex and passing through the custom inspections. They seem to be quite relax here and that is a breath of fresh air. 

When we cleared, we took a wefie and nobody minded. Welcome to Malaysia and indeed, Malaysia boleh!


Upon exiting the customs, we took the extreme left that led to JB Sentral (railway station) and Pusat Bandaraya (Centre of Town) and before we knew it, we were in the heart of JB.


We arrived exactly at 1130 am, taking just 30 mins from point to point, at the famous Kin Wah Kopitiam at Jalan Tan Hiok Neo in Chinatown where we saw Claudine waiting for us, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.



It was kind of her to treat us to an amazing lunch of roast meats and I felt really bad as Claudine ALWAYS pays when we are there. We also enjoyed toast, coffee and ice cream.There are so many great places to eat in JB at much cheaper prices and arguably more flavorful too. The Johore Kaki Blog is a wealth of information here. No wonder many hard core JB lovers are willing to brave the long jams to go over there and stretch their dollar.

However for us cyclists, crossing at the right time, we can truly enjoy all the delights of beautiful JB smoothly and painlessly. At least for now! Sweet dreams sometimes are made of these...