Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Beijing Day 6 - Fraser Suites & CCTV Tower

4 Star Security Embassies. I Found my Missing Lego pieces.

sunny 8 °C

Fraser Suites is located in about 600m East of CCTV new headquarter site, 600m NE of World Trade Centre 3, and 600m West of the Temple of the Sun (not Temple of Heaven where every package tour takes you to). In other words, it's located @ 666.

Hugging the SE corner of the Temple of the Sun is the Embassy district. It's a off-limit area like Area 51. And like Area 51, they're populated with aliens. All the embassy buildings are decked with beautiful coiling barbwires up the top of wall. And about 1.5m away from the perimeters of the embassy buildings are surrounded with a very nice 3m tall wire fence like a maximum prison. In the space in between, let call it shoot-to-kill corridors, stood the motionless solders. The embassy staff know they're in safe hands, and electric fences.

Well, I didn't really go there with the camera. If I start shooting, 1 of them security guards that disguised as statue might spring back to life and shoot me with something more easier to operate than a DSLR. No, I was driven past from Novotel to Fraser Suites, and inspect the area from the comfort zone of a passing taxi. Yep, except from the air, the area passed my security criteria. I award it 4 stars for security. I hold back 1 star because the security's weapon isn't measured up to John Rambo's.  The embassy staff might feel like staying in a penitentary, but it also frustrates suicide bombers to no end. Better safe than seared?

Fraser Suites usually locates in expat area. Here's a list of things to keep your eyes out to spot for an expat area: a high concentration of high fashion shops, upscale multicultural dining, trendy cafe - sorry café, how clumsy of me - where Beijingers can be seen with their laptops, or smart phones. Look, I'm tapping into wire-fi. If all that can't convince you, there's the EtonKids Kindergarten to add weight to the evidence.

sky screen, The Place, Beijing, China
The LED sky screen @ the Place, Beijing

sky screen, The Place, Beijing, China
Floating rock castles

sky screen, The Place, Beijing, China
Chinese pheonix goddess

One of the typical high fashion shopping mall just across the Jintong West Rd from Fraser Suites is The Place (世贸天阶). The reason why this place - or The Place - grabs attention is its large canopy that could easily be mistakened as just a slightly odd looking ceiling in the day time, but by night time, it reveals its purpose as a giant LED sky screen. I don't know exactly what time it switches on (and off) the LED sky screen, it shows some animation for 10 mins every hour on the hour. This structure is a drawcard for The Place. It's popular with the (expat) families with kids. There aren't too any interesting restaurants there to blog about. Another good thing about this place is that no cab driver knows about Fraser Suites, I use it as landmark.

Logo, The Place, Beijing, China

I tend to go to the World City to grab some grubs while I stayed in Fraser Suites. The World City is The Place's immediate northern neighbour with multicultural eateries lining 2 sides. This is high-end eat street. At least it looks upmarket while it also has Pappa John, and other Chinese fast food franchises. Mind you, some American fastfood outlets like Papa John (and Pizza Hut) are rebranded in China (and other countries) to higher end.

After dropping the bags in Fraser Suites, and recharge my own battery with my fave brew of Iron Guanyin tea, I made my way to the CCTV Tower that's the headquarter for China Central Television. It was then that I found my missing Lego piece that I lost a long time ago. It's always the last place you look.

CCTV News Headquarter, Beijing, China

CCTV News Headquarter, Beijing, China
Look! It's a plane! It's a giant reversed number 7!
It's my missing Lego piece!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Beijing Day 5 - Yonghe Lamasery & Confucius Temple

Mulitculturalism, Chinese Ancient Style. Let's Get Alone.

sunny 15 °C

The windy condition in Beijing remained more or less the same as yesterday. We were slightly under dressed, thinking the wind would die down by at least somewhat. And we already packed everything into the luggage to be shipped to Fraser Suites, so we just had to grin and bear it. Ok, no grinning, just wincing.

Yonghe Palace

yonghegongWe decided to take the subway to get to Yonghe Palace, or Lama Temple, or Yonghe Lamasery. So which is it? Palace or Lamasery. Well, it was a palace that turned into a Tibetan temple. Why? This name plaque or sign at the top of the front gate should give clues.

This plaque says Yonghegong (雍和宮 = "Yonghe Palace") in 4 languages of the Manchus, Han Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian (not in any particular order).

Apart from Chinese, the other 3 ethnic groups all worship Tibetan Buddhism (Chinese has their own version of Buddhism).

Also, except for Han Chinese, I can't the tell other 3 ethnic languages apart, and it's all Greek to me (I could tell Greek from other European scripts, however. In fact, Greek letters stands out from the rest of the European alphabets much like Chinese writing stands out in this plaque).

You don’t need to be a Chinese speaker to tell Chinese from the other 3 writings because Chinese is the only ideogram while the other 3 columns of scripts are more or less made up of 'alphabets' that run together (written from top to bottom). So I will make educated guesses as to which other 3 'cursive' scripts are by judging from their relative positions. Since Chinese (and other Asiatic, including Arabic, are written from right to left), therefore the rightmost column would be Manchurian writing as the Emperor and owner of this palace was Manchu. The 3rd from the right is Tibetan writing as this is a Tibetan Temple. And by process of elimination, the leftmost column of script would be Mongolian. I believe my conclusion is correct.

Tibetan monk in Yonghe Palace, Beijing, China
Tibetan monks

If you have heard Paul McCartney's "Ebony and Ivory" (duo with Steve Wonder), the 1st 2 lines of lyrics goes like this,

Ebony And Ivory Live Together In Perfect Harmony.
Side By Side On My Piano Keyboard, Oh Lord, Why Don't We?

So instead of piano, we have name plaque on a gate; and instead ebony and ivory keys, we've 4 languages. Instead of "Oh Lord, why don't we?", we have "Oh, Buddha, why the hell not?"

Like the theme of the song, this temple captured the spirit of or embodied the ideals of Chinese ethnic harmony. In particular, the ethnic harmony of the 4 major Chinese ethnic groups (not the largest in numbers, but the most powerful and influential). When the Jurchen ruled over the Central Plain (中原) - ancient name for China - in the Jin dynasty in the 12th century, they answered the Han Chinese’s discontent with brutal military oppression. When Genghis Khan promised to help the Chinese to overthrow the Jin Dynasty[4], the Han Chinese said "You're so kind". And when the Khan got rid of the Jin Dynasty, they applied the same medicine to the Han Chinese. "Sucker you Han people!" (in Mongolian, of course).

yonghegong, yonghe palace lamasery, Beijing, China

yonghegong, yonghe palace lamasery, Beijing, China

Both the Jin and Yuan Dynasty didn't last long (100 years isn't a long time to the Chinese). Among other things, one of the factor of their downfall was their Rule by Force, which the Qing Emperor Yongzheng judiciously realised was a bad idea. So he devised various policies to rule by conciliation. And this policy of harmony was extended by his heir to the throne Emperor Qianlong.

The Book and the Sword by Louis Cha
Louis Cha, better known to the Chinese
by his pen name Jing Yong
In Louis Cha's 1st novel The Book and the Sword (1956), Emperor Qianlong turned out to be the son of a high ranking official of the Han Chinese (I hope I don't spoil it for people who haven't seen/heard the many adaptations of the novel into movies/TV series/radio dramas).

Louis Cha is the most popular wuxia writer in the Chinese speaking world. Among many other reasons, one is because many of his novels are a masterful and an entertaining blend of historical facts and fiction. 'Facts' that are sometimes embellished with more decorations than a Christmas tree (we all liked to be dazzled by symbolically loaded meaning).

In this book, he suggested that Qianlong was a Han Chinese. I don't believe that he was the only one, indeed the first to do so. This was because of how much affection Qianlong had for the Chinese people and culture.

I have little doubt that other Chinese historian before him must have done that. He just made use of their controversial, thus delicious, historical hearsay into his book. "The Book" in the title refers not to the the Bible, but another sacred text, the Koran. The Koran belonged to the (probably) Uygur tribesmen from Xinjiang[3] in this novel.

The novel is in fact about the secret organisation called the Red Flower Society who tried to overthrow the Manchu-led Qing Court to restore the Han Chinese rule. So the last thing the Qing Court needed was more enemies from other ethnic groups like Mongolian and Tibetan.

Both the Muslim tribesmen and Han were discontent with the Manchu's rule, and so logically the Red Flower Society and the Muslim tribesmen formed an alliance. The Yonghegong also plays a part in the novel. When the member of the Red Flower Society are invited in Yonghegong for a feast[5], the Tibetan lama, under Emperor Qianlong's instruction, torches the temple for the expressed purpose of turning them into barbeques.

Two of the recurring themes that Louis Cha's many novels dealt with are conflicts among the various Chinese ethnic groups, and nationalism/patriotism. And not just Han Chinese patriotism. In fact, in The Book and the Sword, the Muslim tribesmen are being portrayed as honourable people, defended themselves to the very tragic end as their tribe were massacred by the Manchu army.

The name Yonghegong was derived clearly from the 1st name of the Emperor Yongzheng (雍正) and the word "He" ("和" = Harmony, should be pronounced more like "Her", not "He" as most English speakers tend to do). Remember this is the Chinese character that popped up (literally) in the performance depicting the Chinese movable printer in the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony.

Performance that depicts the Chinese invention of the movable type printer
during the Olympic Opening Ceremony in 2008
This scene depicts the Great Wall of China

In the following youtube video of the dance performance, you can see the ancient Chinese character "He" (和)  popped up @ 3:24 and the word appeared and re-appeared for more than 2 mins during the performance to re-iterate its importance.

If there's ever 1 word that captures Chinese culture, "He" (Harmony) would be it. This word is, in essence, what Confucianism is all about. Although the Harmony Confucius referred to is between persons, and between persons to state, not peoples. I think Confucius would say that his principles - borrowing IT terminology - it's totally scalable.

China is one of those country that got bigger as it was conquered by others. The neighbouring foreign conquerors ruled over China, and then got absorbed into it. Various neighbouring countries had reigned over China: Tibetan captured and sacked Chang'an (modern day Xi'an) in 763 AD; a confederate of Turkic peoples (whom were called the Toubas[1] founded a Kingdom in Shanxi named Northern Wei with Datong[2] as its capital (AD 386 - 534). As the Mongol took over the Middle Kingdom (or the more literally translation "Central Country"), Inner Mongolia eventually became part of China. After Manchus toppled the Ming Dynasty, Manchuria eventually became part of China.

This temple was a concrete symbol of that policy of harmony of the 4 major ethnic communities. The Qing’s Dynasty lasted much longer than their ancestors the Jurchen people, or the Mongol rule. Their downfall was due to far more complex circumstances, not just the enemies from within, but threats from without. In short, they couldn’t keep up with the time. They didn’t take a leaf from Emperor Meiji in Japan, and eventually led to their failure to prevent the Imperial Japanese invasion.

I entertained the idea that what would happen if the Imperial Japanese had successfully annexed China during WW2? In time, it too would become a Chinese province. "This time it's different", some historians might argue. Maybe. But that famous last words had been echoed through the ages of Chinese history by different ethnic conquerors and the outcome is the same with NO exception, so far.

While this Sinicization of the different conquerors of China is typical in Chinese history, it isn't unprecedented. One example is the Norman. They were pagan Viking who conquered France, but in turn, being turned into a French-speaking Christian.

It makes even more sense for the conquerors of the Middle Kingdom to undergo this cultural absorption because China is far bigger; its history far longer, and its culture far deeper than any of its conquerors.

For example, today people - both within and without China - don't think of qipao as a Manchu dress. It's thought of as a Chinese dress.

Towards the end of The Book and the Sword, Louis Cha seemed to tell us - using Qianlong's mouth - that while the emperor was a Machiavellian incarnate, under his rule China achieved peace and prosperity. It really didn't matter what ethnic group was running the imperial court.
The word "Harmony" (="He") may very well synonymous with "Assimilation".

Speaking of Confucius, or what I would like to call, Chinese Jesus, has a temple named after him just opposite Yonghe Lamasery. We spent an hour there. Kinda makes sense that this 2 temples are locating next to one another considering what I said above.

yonghegong, yonghe palace lamasery, Beijing, China

yonghegong, yonghe palace lamasery, Beijing, China yonghegong, yonghe palace lamasery, Beijing, China yonghegong, yonghe palace lamasery, Beijing, China

Read this travel article for more on Chinese ethnic minority.

Confucius Temple

Confucius Temple entry ticket, Beijing, China Confucius Temple entry ticket, Beijing, China

Statue of confucius. Confucius Temple, Beijing, China Bronze bell, Confucius Temple, Beijing, China Burner, Confucius Temple, Beijing, China

[1]  They descended from the Central Asian Huns (Xiongnu).
[2]  I"ll there next week.

[3]  In the novel, Xinjiang was refered to with its ancient name Huijang. Literally, Xinjiang (=新疆) is "New Territory" while Huijiang (=回疆) literally means "Hiu Territory". "Hui" is Chinese for Islam. The word "Hui" in terms I suspect either came from the Uyghur or the Hui people.

[4] The most well kown of Louis Cha's novel - The Legend of the Condor Heroes - is based the historical conflicts between the Jin, the Mongol, and the Han Chinese.

[5]   In the novel,  this makes sense because one couldn't imagine this bunch of Han Chinese would be allowed to enter the Forbidden city, rebels or not.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Beijing Day 4 - Jinshanling Great Wall & Tiananmen Square


semi-overcast 13 °C

We had been to the Great Wall twice, both times as part of the packaged tour. And they tend to take you to the popular Badaling section because it's the most well maintained section of the Great Wall. It's also the closest to Beijing (for the same reason that it's the best maintained section). We decided to go to see a different section of the Great Wall, one that not too crowded and more original. Jinshanling Great Wall fits the bill.

The temperature of Beijing plunged from the early 20 °C in the last 2 day to 12 °C today. This came 1 day early to signal the start of winter.

Jinshanling Great Wall entry ticket, Beijing, China Jinshanling Great Wall entry ticket, Beijing, China

The drive started at 8am from our hotel to Jingshaling took about 2 hours. It begun to drizzle when we left the hotel. We arrived about 10am, hazy weather made the visibility rather low. As we got up the top after a cable car ride, most of the mountain was covered in fog. While it's atmospheric to look at, most of the Great Wall was shrouded in it.

Jinshanling Great Wall shrouded in mist, Beijing, China
The Great Wall shrouded in heavy mist about 10:30 am

There were only a few local tourists; most are laowai ("foreigners"). Being Monday probably had something to do with this too. This way you could take photos of the Great Wall, and the mountains, and not at the Chinese "people mountain, people sea" (人山人海 borrowing a Chinese expression). Not that it isn't a spectacle in itself. But if you like a quiet atmosphere in China, this is perhaps 1 of the very few tourist spots left. So get it fast while it lasts. In the whole 3-hour climb, I saw less than 50 tourists altogether. A rare sight in more ways than 1.

It's certainly less well maintained than the Badaling section. In some sections, there're no wall, so you could take a very short cut to the bottom by accident (I wasn't in a hurry). Because of that, more fitness and dexterity would be required to climb some of the broken staircases. I'm told that we could start from the Jinshanling Great Wall and finished up in Simatai Great Wall. I'm game, if I'm 20 years younger.

Crumbling stairs at Jinshanling Great Wall section, Beijing, China
Crumbling stairs

While it's in higher altitude than Beijing city, so we would expect it would be colder. It's in fact not that cold because of the total absence of any wind. The climb quickly raised my heart rate and body heat, and the cold was vanished within 15 mins (for the average person like Etta, and 50 mins for me. I've a reptilian circulation. Look at the bright side, chocolate never melt in my hand. And it could keep fresh in my stomach a long time).

Jinshanling Great Wall shrouded in mist, Beijing, China Jinshanling Great Wall shrouded in mist, Beijing, China
Jinshanling Great Wall, Beijing, China Jinshanling Great Wall shrouded in mist, Beijing, China Jinshanling Great Wall shrouded in mist, Beijing, China
Jinshanling Great Wall, Beijing, China Jinshanling Great Wall, Beijing, China

As we started to head back about 12:30pm, the fog had almost completely dispersed with the autumn colour of red, yellow and brown leaves intensified, and Great Wall emerging from the mist. I imagine the autumn colour would even more vibrant a few weeks earlier as we were in the tail end of autumn.

Jinshanling Great Wall shrouded in mist, Beijing, China
Mist had slowly lifted by 12 am

A local female villager in her 40s tagged along with us the whole climb, offering to carry our bags, giving Etta a hand in negotiating challenging staircases, etc. At the end of the trip, she tried to sell us a few travel books on Jinshanling. Her asking prices weren't higher than the RRP printed on the books. We decided to buy 1 of her books, which Etta liked because it got many pretty pictures of the Great Wall. We didn't have to. It was hard to turn down under the circumstances.

Lunch was included in our private tour. We asked our driver to drop us off at our next destination instead of our hotel. We were dropped off at Tiananmen Square about 4pm, so we had about 1 hour of sunlight left at this time of the year for photography.

The temperature in Tiananmen Square is probably higher than Jinshanling, but it feels about 3 times colder because of the strong wind.

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China
Tiananmen Gate, which gives the square its name

Monument to the People's Heroes, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China Qianmen Gate, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China Guard, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China

Sculpture outside Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, The Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, Mao Mausoleum, Beijing, China
Sculpture outside Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

I don't remember when they had been removed, but the giant portraits of Marx, Hegel and Sun Yat-Sen were gone. In the middle of the Square were a couple of giant LED screens being installed. Can't say I like this is a symbol of looking towards the future. Tradition and technology don't mix so well in this case. We tried to get into Qianmen, but it was too late. We walked around Tiananmen for a while until The Man Upstairs dimmed the lights out that it was time to call off the day. I got the message, you needn't tell me twice.

zero kilometre from Beijing
Zero marks the spot
The Qianmen Gate, the Archery Tower, Tiananmen Gate, Meridian Gate, etc all lie on the Celestial north-south axis. The most important point, in a sense, on this axis is marked by this unassuming brass plaque on the ground just in front of Qianmen. The numeral '0' marks the centre of Beijing, a kilometre zero for all the highways of China. In other word, the naval of China.

It also contains the 4 compass points (in both Chinese and English letters), and the 4 animals that represent the 4 cardinal points.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Beijing Day 3 - Olympic Park & Qianhai Lake

Empty Nest. The Legend of the Seeker of the Egg. The Toilet Index. The Call of Nature. The Sun Also Sets.

sunny 21 °C

Another day as bewdiful as yesterday with a few degrees cooler and more breezy. I must have got up the right side of the bed (even though I actually got out the left side of the bed). Dandy.

I wanted it to make today the modern Beijing theme day, and a day of leisurely pace after yesterday as there aren't a whole lot to see in the Olympic Park.

Since it's a bit of distance from Wangfujing where we stayed, we decided to check out the subway. The subway was crowded. It's more crowded than HK or Singapore, but it's better than Tokyo. The traffic congestion in Tokyo streets aren't bad at all, this is because everyone disappears underground. Yeah, Tokyo underground world is many times larger than Cu Chi Tunnels in the Ho-Chi-Minh Trails, and it's fully conditioned and spacious, catering for the battle of business by shop owners. As they say, business is war.

Beijing Olympic Stadium (Bird's Nest), China
Great place for kite flying

Beijing Olympic Torch, China
Olympic Torch
PRC should be congratulated for its unique design of the National Stadium or Bird's Nest by exposing the seemingly random steel structural trusses that resembles a bird's nest. Without this 'organic' element, most stadiums look like gigantic ashtrays. The Olympic Torch is just the lighter for that gargantuan cigarette. I call them Zeus' Ashtrays. Only Chinese could think of Bird's Nest design because bird's nest - or swallow's nest (燕窝) to be exact - is Chinese delicacies for centuries. Ancient Chinese myth led them - the Chinese ladies - to believe that consuming bird nest soup is the secret of beauty. Beauty or gross and disgusting?

Speaking of swallow's spit and building materials, the swallows saliva hardened in the air and swallows used it to build their nest. On the other hand, to increase the strength of the mortar for the Great Wall of China, Chinese mixed in sticky rice. You think Chinese eat everything? What about building materials and animal saliva?

I had sampled quite a number of times of bird nest's soup when my mum made them for herself. It's quite a delicacy. Its tastes reminiscent of egg, which is hardly surprising as it's mostly protein. Given the price and the meticulous labour involving in removing the impurities from the bird's nest, it isn't something that would be eaten often.

After the talk of food, let's talk about the waste disposal.

"You can judge a society by the way it treats its prisoners" - Winston Churchill.

"You can judge an economy by the way it keeps its public toilets" - Yours Truly.

The economic progress in China in the last 3 decades were paralleled by its improvements in toilets. The fact that it still has horrible toilets in some areas simply reflects the wide economic disparity of the countrysides and the cities. The Olympic Stadium indicates wealth, but the public toilets indicates economic development (this is my favourite topic, that's why I wrote this article).

Beijing Olympic Stadium (Bird's Nest) entry ticket, China
entry ticket
(click to enlarge)
Beijing Olympic Stadium (Bird's Nest) entry ticket, China
entry ticket (reverse side)
(click to enlarge)

How could anyone talk about China without talking about their toilet experience especially in the past few decades? I'm certainly not suggesting that the toilets in the Beijing National Stadium are bad. The Stadium is PRC's showcase to the world, after all. And yet, they have no toilet papers. I don't mean it runs out. It has no toilet paper holders. BYO. This is very ironic because Chinese invented toilet paper.

Just keep an eye on the appearance of toilet papers in the Bird's Nest to mark the next stage of economic development. Wayne Wang made a film titled "Life Is Cheap... But Toilet Paper Is Expensive (1989)". The setting of the movie is in HK, although Mainland China would have been more accurate.

Beijing Olympic StadiumThe stadium was preparing for the CX-Open Games while we were there. They're international skateboard competitions.

All these thoughts of toilet bird's saliva and toilets made me hungry. We had lunch at the wallet-hurting Intercontinental Hotel. Well, it’s the only nearby place where we could get some grubs, and we were either got burned a hole in the wallet or burned a hole in the stomach by acid, we chose the former. "Excellent choice, Sir!" That's what the waiter in the Intercontinetal said. I thought so too.

After the late lunch and a chin-on-my-chest power snooze at its 5-star lounge, we had decided where to go next. After visiting the Bird’s Nest, it only makes logical sense to see the the Giant Egg (aka NCPA). I can’t bear to see an empty Nest. I must go to seek out the Egg. Also, it keeps in line with today’s theme of the modern Beijing architecture. I can’t stand mixing travelling themes of old and new. I might want to get lost in a foreign city, but never in the confusion of architectural themes. Never, never, ever!

It was about 4:15pm when we hopped into a cab to head for the Giant Egg.

With the heavy traffic, I had time for some after-lunch daydreaming (the most satisfying kind of daydreaming). I wondered if the Bird's Nest is big enough for the Giant Egg. I couldn't do anything until I got back to my PC, and churn out some facts and figures (you can read my architectural analysis of how the Giant Egg fits into the Bird's Nest here).

Jingdingqiao Bridge, Qianhai, Beijing, China
sunset over Jingding (Golden) Bridge

With the busy Beijing traffic, by the time our cab got to Qianhai, the sun is only 32.5° from the horizon (I had my sextant). I estimated – with my handy astronomical table - that there was only 15 mins left of sunlight (ok, 13 mins; it took me 2 mins to look up the table) before the sun was totally swallowed by the earth, according to some Polynesian legend. So we asked the cabbie to drop us off there (it took us 13 secs to pay the cab-fare and got off). No point to get to the Bird’s Egg without any sunlight. Besides, this bewdiful sunny-side-up fried egg over the Qianhai Lake is so golden brown that it made me drool. I run, and run faster than Forest Gump to get the vantage point. I MUST add 1 more sunset snapshot to my library of 3608 sunset shots as if this was the last thing I had to do on earth (that’s what I called “Shoot like there’s no tomorrow”). Another Chinese lady on a Vespa got the same idea, stopped, got off, excused me, and elbowed me out of a niche and fired her DSLR away with urgent multiple shutters. What a bewdiful sight that was - the sight of another nutty shutterbug.

"Light’s too short, shoot fast, and keep a spare battery, and memory cards handy" - Moi.

Tang Ren Tea House, Qianhai, Beijing, China
Tang Ren Tea House

Tea lady at Tang Ren Tea House, Qianhai, Beijing, China
Tea lady at Tang Ren Tea House

It was only after the sunset that the nature called. Ok, it didn’t call, it screamed, “NATURE!" NATURE!", "Let me out! May day! May day! This is not a drill!”. Luckily, only I heard it. But there was no ignoring. I'm so envious of ignorant people. So in desperation, we went into the closest tea-house just so that I could use their toilet. Where is a tree with a large niche when you want one? As soon as I got in, I hid my urgency by asking the tea-lady as casually as possible where was their toilet (she was totally fooled. It was an Oscar winning performance). She told me that there was a public toilet just outside the tea-house on my left. Man, I hoped the tea was good. Well, it ain’t bad, but it was one expensive cup of pee tea. The tea was ¥180 for 2 persons, and ¥40 for water to boil the tea. My wallet had never recovered from that shock, and had never opened its mouth to spit out a single banknote for the rest of the day.

The moral of the story is abundantly clear, never shoot when nature calls you. To put it in a more subtle way, always pee before you shoot. Another valuable - but costly - lesson on the conservation of wealth is look around before you leap into a tea-house in a tourist destination (I can't really leap in that condition. It's only a figure of speech. Come to think of it, I must have waddled like Mr. Bean. Yep, there's no grander vista or more satisfying than watching waterfall in an aerial view high above its source. Lovely!).