Nanning, China at night

Nanning Nightscape (Pic du Jour)

Nanning is the capital of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China along the border with Vietnam. With a population of 6.6 million, it’s probably one of the biggest cities you’ve never heard of. It was also, by far, the least smoggy city I’ve visited in China.

Snapped in October 2010

Previous posts about Nanning:

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Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai

Big – Shanghai’s Jin Mao Tower

Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai

I just finished lamenting how un-big the backpack I’ll be living out of for the next 14 to 16 months is going to be, so it’s nice to have this antidote, courtesy of this week’s Wordress Photo Challenge.

This is the 88-story tall Jin Mao Tower, one of three skyscrapers that provide the primary focal points of Shanghai’s Pudong district, an area that Fox Nomad today reminded us requires about eight percent of this massive city’s total electrical output. I like how at this angle it appears to disappear into the night sky. At 421 meters, t’s the 13th tallest building in the world, but just the fifth tallest in China.

The top floor is an observation deck with incredible panoramic views of the city. My visit in May 2010 coincided with the World Expo, which meant long lines and long wait. Was it worth it? Absolutely. A few shots facing The Bund are below.

Shanghai from the Jin Mao tower’s 88th floor observation deck. 25-May-2010

Shanghai from the Jin Mao tower’s 88th floor observation deck. 25-May-2010

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A Dog at the Market

You can now cross Boiled Dog in a Nanning Market off your list of things to see before you die.

I’ve posted this pic a couple times before but it’s the first one to come to mind when Ailsa at Where’s My Backpack asked visitors to share some market pics in her latest challenge.

More about that October 2010 market visit –along with a dog and cat consumption in China update– is here. It was also the Gadling Photo of the Day for 18-Oct-2010.

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Five Long Exposures Inside Shanghai’s Bund Tourist Tunnel

And a hideously tacky Tourist Tunnel it is. But it makes for some great photo opportunities during the course of its five-minute journey.

Everything about the tunnel, which connects The Bund and Puxi to the Pudong Financial District beneath the Huangpu River, is so comically over the top and kitschy that it’s sublimely good. Well, almost. Multi-colored strobes, lasers, flashing projected images. Tinsel even.

At ¥40 (€ 4.75/$6.35) one way it’s not dirt cheap, so I’m not sure if I can recommend it. Unless you want to snap a few photos.

With no tripod or harnessing rig of any kind, these were obviously a hit miss. I just stood by the front window, held the camera against it and tried my best to keep it still. All are 10 second exposures at f7.1, 100 ASA except for the bottom one which was eight seconds at f5. No post-processing whatsoever.

Shanghai, 25-May-2010

If you’re suddenly overcome by a bout of Shanghai curiosity, check out some more of my pics from China’s biggest city here. No more flashing lights. Promise.


These snaps are this week’s contribution for Travel Photo Thursday (#TPThursday on twitter) hosted by Nancie on her blog, Budget Travelers Sandbox. When you have few minutes to browse, check out Nancie’s photos and those of others who take part. You’ll see some great photos and visit some wonderful places. The direct link this week is here. They also fit nicely for the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge theme this week which is ‘Through‘.

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Piran Café will be inaugurating a free monthly newsletter in May. It’ll be loaded with travel tips and wine reviews, updates on CC licensed free-to-use photos, musings on my obsessions of the day, plus an exclusive FREE giveaway EACH month available to subscribers ONLY. Giveaway No. 1:  Sign up now and you’ll be automatically entered to win a FREE major publishing house travel guide of your choice. Drawing is on 1 May, so do it now!

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A few China news links…

Even folks in China get tired of buying all the things they make.

This was taken in Shanghai last May during one of two trips I made to China last year and I remain utterly fascinated.

Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao met today in Washington which will keep the talking heads busy for the next few days. In the meantime, some links of interest I’ve read over the past few days – personal bookmarks:

From the Financial Times (17 Jan 2011), China’s lending hits new heights:

China has lent more money to other developing countries over the past two years than the World Bank, a stark indication of the scale of Beijing’s economic reach and its drive to secure natural resources.

China Development Bank and China Export-Import Bank signed loans of at least $110bn (£70bn) to other developing country governments and companies in 2009 and 2010, according to Financial Times research. The equivalent arms of the World Bank made loan commitments of $100.3bn from mid-2008 to mid-2010, itself a record amount of lending in response to the financial crisis.

From The Guardian (19-Jan-2011), China’s tentative steps towards democracy:

Yet when it comes to the subject of representative democracy in China, numerous sinologists continue to say, “Don’t hold your breath.” But the notion may not be as far-fetched – or as far off – as the cynics believe. For example, most westerners will be surprised to learn that China already holds more elections than any other nation in the world. Under the Organic Law of the Village Committees, all of China’s approximately 1 million villages – home to some 600 million voters – hold elections every three years for local village committees.

Critics scoff at these elections and say they are manipulated by local Communist party officials. But Robert Benewick, a research professor at the University of Sussex, says that village elections have been growing more competitive, with more independent candidates and use of the secret ballot becoming more common. For those elections where there has been real competition, researchers claim to have evidence of positive impacts.

From the Int’l Herald Tribune/NYT (12-Jan-2011), Chinese Authorities Raze an Artist’s Studio:

The studio would have stood at the heart of an embryonic arts cluster on the outskirts of Shanghai, a draw for luminaries from around the world.

Ai Weiwei standing in the rubble of his studio in Shanghai on Tuesday. He has come to see his conflict with government officials as performance art.

It took two years to build, and one day to tear down.

An order to raze the studio — designed by Ai Weiwei, a protean artist who is one of the most outspoken critics of the Chinese Communist Party — was issued last July. Mr. Ai took the move to be retribution for rankling the authorities. He said officials told him that the demolition would not take place until after the first day of the Year of the Rabbit, which falls on Feb. 3.

From Market Watch (19-Jan-2011), Boeing scores $19 billion jet order from China:

Boeing Co. secured a 200 commercial aircraft order from China worth $19 billion on Wednesday, helping the manufacturer head off market gains by its European rival Airbus.

The three-year deal followed a long period of negotiations between the U.S., Boeing and China that likely included offsets, such as an agreement to purchase certain goods or services from the buyer, or to directly invest in the country’s economy.

From the NY Times (15-Jan-2011), Solar Panel Maker Moves Work to China:

Aided by at least $43 million in assistance from the government of Massachusetts and an innovative solar energy technology, Evergreen Solar emerged in the last three years as the third-largest maker of solar panels in the United States.

But now the company is closing its main American factory, laying off the 800 workers by the end of March and shifting production to a joint venture with a Chinese company in central China. Evergreen cited the much higher government support available in China.

I’ve got plenty of pics from China on my flickr stream: Shanghai, Beijing, and Nanning. Check ‘em out!

Piran Café in 2010

That’s a boiled dog prepped and ready for sale in a small market in Nanning, China. Apparently, it offended western sensibilities enough to make a related post the most visited on this blog in 2010.

Team WordPress sent out a Your 2010 year in blogging report on New Year’s Day, complete with a Blog-Health-o-Meter attached. I hardly agree with their ‘Wow’ assessment, but I did appreciate the courtesy. And it did make me take a closer look at what transpired here over the past 12 months.

With just 78 posts, 2010 wasn’t nearly as active here as I would have liked. Life gets in the way. Nonetheless, a quick analysis:

I made four visits to Asia last year, and it was good to see that posts related to those trips made up half of the 2010 top-10. I regularly travel through Europe’s biggest cities, all of which are starting to look more and more alike. So it was a welcome gust of fresh air to bebop about northern Vietnam for a few weeks and savor the charm of an unparalleled city like Hanoi. I’m still organizing notes and photos from that October visit to Vietnam and Nanning, China, for a few projects so there is more to come from there.

So, here it is, Piran Café’s 2010 Top-10:

10. I wanted to visit Ho Chi Minh today, but he wasn’t there.
A trip to Uncle Ho’s Mausoleum while he was away in Russia for his annual facelift.

9. Shanghai notebook – Barbarossa Restaurant and Lounge
My favorite spot in People’s Park.

8. Hoa Lo, aka The Hanoi Hilton: an Abbreviated Tour
The place where John McCain stayed.

7. DICAPac WP-S10 waterproof housing test run
A quick test with some foam seahorses in the bathtub and the kitchen sink.

6. How to retrieve your wallet from a pickpocket on a Barcelona metro
Or, how to scare a thief.

5. Tito on Stamps
The former Yugoslav leader’s cult of personality on postage stamps. Considering the time it took to scan all the stamps, this post was the most time consuming, so THANKS for checking it out!

4. 60 minutes in West Bay, Doha
I’m sure there are cities with less heart and soul, but I have yet to visit them.

3. Cablegate in the Balkans – And the winner is:
A quick rundown of the immediate region’s cablegate tags.

2. Gulf coast oil spill, superimposed over Slovenia
An image from a cool google earth plug-in. Is anyone still upset about this?

1. Twenty Minutes in a Pair of Nanning Markets
A boiled dog on a market countertop apparently piques a lot of interest.

All-time most read post? I doubt anything will ever match ‘Did anyone tell the Amazon swimmer about the candirú?‘ unless I come across another fish that enjoys lodging itself into a penis.

Goals for 2011? I’d rather not put them in print. Let’s just see what happens.

Nanning 002, originally uploaded by pirano.

The Slipper Has Disinfected – Personal Encounters with Chinglish in 2010

I made two visits to China this year, enough to see that Chinglish is still quite alive and well, despite an official war in both Beijing and Shanghai on the mangled translations in public areas.

I don’t expect perfection. There are plenty of awkward examples of English here in Slovenia. There are too many stupid ones to be found in the USA. But it’s still baffling that in a country where tens of millions speak and write English very well that such poor examples wind up in public view. I’m starting to think that some are simply done on purpose. Or, those doing the translating simply don’t care. You don’t need four years of intensive English language study to know that Be Seated Defecate isn’t the best way to tell someone they’re about to enter a toilet.

I didn’t find that one, or Baby on Road, but a few examples I did came across are below, in no particular order:

On the Bund promenade in Shanghai.

This one is just odd. On the rooftop garden of Shanghai’s old imperial post office.

Not quite Chinglish, but just terrible editing/proofing. Or maybe some form of esperanto?  This is a poster for the World Expo in Shanghai, whose logo was Better City, Better Life.

Thank for corporation! In the bathroom of the Gui Jing Hotel in Nanning.

Again, in my Nanning hotel bathroom.

Again at the Gui Jing. Again free of charge, but apparently not a gift.

And finally, at the Ba Gui Agricultural Research Garden in Nanning.

I posted this one, with instructions on how to use a toilet, earlier, but it deserves another appearance here.

Nanning to Hanoi by Bus

That’s the first public toilet you’ll see when crossing into Vietnam from China via the Friendship pass. But fear not, there’s another, a newer one,  just a few hundred meters away.

This summary I posted back in March 2007, about bus service then between Mombasa and Nairobi, has become of the most visited posts here, so I thought this one, put together from a few notes I scribbled into my notebook, might be useful to some as well.

Heading south from Nanning to Hanoi by bus is the only real option, unless you think you’ll be passing through this corner of the world again. There is train service, but it’s overnight, which might mean a somewhat decent night sleep, but you wouldn’t really see a thing.

Nanning Bus Station

There are several departures daily from Nanning’s busy but orderly station; one-way is just 148 RMB ( 16 EUR/22 USD), and includes, as we were pleasantly surprised to learn later, a nice lunch in Pingxiang, a sleepy town of about 100,000. Buying tickets in advance is highly recommended.

Service with a smile – ticket taker in Nanning

The bus travels along China National Highway 322, a well-maintained four-lane highway which ends at Friendship Gate (aka Friendship Pass), the border point between China and Vietnam. I traveled on a Sunday; it was almost eerie how empty the highway was. It also felt a bit surreal watching Harrison Ford’s heroics in Air Force One during the ride.

lunch in Pingxiang

After finally parting company with my official government handler for the past four days –he reassured us that he would not accompany us to the border– we were off at 10 am, as scheduled. About an hour out of Nanning the landscape shifted dramatically, from a mix of relatively flat fields and gently rolling hills, to one with small jagged peaks –karsts, as their called in Halong Bay—bursting through the earth on both sides of the highway. That didn’t change until the border. Quite stunning if you’re seeing mountains like this for the first time.

About an hour southwest of Nanning

Crossing involves a bus switch; about a half mile from the Chinese post –a stunning and attractive large stone building—you collect your bags, hop on large golf cart-like shuttles, and are taken through Friendship Gate to the exit building where a pleasant border official will bid you farewell. (Don’t forget to press the feedback button.) From there you’re shuttled to the Vietnamese post, which is decent enough, but quite modest by comparison. From there you’ll shuttled again, past the day’s first large portrait of Uncle Ho Chi Minh, and to the other bus. (There were plenty of signs of construction on the Vietnamese side however, a large hotel among them, to join the small restaurant that is there already.)

Friendship Gate atop Friendship Pass

Both borders were relatively hassle-free; this particular Sunday wasn’t busy at all, and the bureaucratic part on both sides took about 45 minutes, shuttles to and from the buses and border posts included. Then we were forced to wait for a few remaining passengers who for whatever reasons, were held up. That, coupled with traffic on the two-lane highways in Vietnam, extended what was to be a seven or so hour ride to nearly nine-and-a-half.

Once in Vietnam (remember to move your watches one hour ahead), the pace slows considerably, and you begin a long gradual descent through lush valleys and sprawling fields. Drivers in general, and bus drivers in particular, like to lean on their horns. A lot. But I still managed to doze off between kilometer markers 133 and 85.

We were dropped off about seven kilometers from the center of Hanoi, where a slew of eager taxi drivers were waiting. I don’t know if this varies by bus company, but it’s worth bearing in mind.


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