returns to China: Shijiazhuang, April 14th to 19th/2013
I occasionally note that this hobby has changed my life. I don't mean that in any small way.
I mean that my life is very, very much different than what it was or would have been. I have many new friendships, many new appreciations and countless new experiences. I have been shown more kindnesses than I could ever have imagined, travelled further than I would ever have dreamed (twice now)...and I have a few more watches, too.
And, I've noted in passing, I also very proudly have a new brother.
My friendship with (now a fairly long-time) WUS member Ma Rong (CameronMa) has grown from our first watch-related business dealings a few years ago when I started collecting VCMs (and MaRong was the first seller I contacted) to a friendship so close we now consider each other as
true family, and we share much more of our lives than just talking about watches.
So it was a true pleasure for me to be back in Shijiazhuang, once again spending time with my brother in China, MaRong and his wonderfully friendly and intelligent wife QiRan.
Mind you, I was so bagged from travelling that all I managed to capture that first day was one photo of MaRong and QiRan when we first met in my hotel room before going out to eat, and a couple of photos of Shijiazhaung's massive brand new train station. It was so wide that I couldn't get all of it in frame from anywhere on the street. And the street, as you can tell by the straight-on shot, is quite a distance away.
The next day, however, my camera-fu improved somewhat and I was also blessed with the opportunity to finally meet MaRong's parents, taking photos of the clan in the parent's apartment plus a few shots of a neighbouring apartment buildings next door (the Ma's live on the 14th floor), and a shot at our lunch together.
...before we went our separate ways for the day, the Ma family to take care of family business and me for a peaceful day relaxing and shooting in Shijiazhuang's smaller-than-Zhengzhou's but still quite beautiful People's Park. (It's worth noting that Mr. Ma is actually Dr. Ma; he was an Orthopedic specialist for thirty years, mostly working in Beijing before retiring.)
It was getting so it would be darker in an hour or so, so I headed home, walking a few
kilometres from downtown to my hotel.
I didn't want anything more strenuous because the next day was going to be my return to
Cangyanshan (this time with MaRong, QiRan and parents) and, like last time, I knew that that was going to mean some significant exercise, plus another challenge of my (diminishing) fear of heights, and it was.
The next morning we all headed out from Shijiazhuang to Cangyanshan which is a ways, but not terribly long, and I'd been warned that unlike last time, this day was going to be very busy as it was an important Buddhist prayer day. You'll see there were a few people there, and I'll mostly let the photos speak for themselves...except to note that the gondola ride to the summit is breath-taking and that, again unlike last time when I could start right at the foot of Cangyanshan, this time we had to trek about a klick and a half to get to where we could start the climb, or in this case, the gondola ride. The gondola wasn't running last time, and I knew I wanted photos that can only be taken from there.
And the gondola ride wasn't near scary for me, as it turned out, so that phobia was improving, lots. Mrs. Ma joined me, praying as we rose...
Here's a shot of the gondolas, which doesn't really get the point across...
...and the shots taken from the gondola, which, I think, do...
The buildings seen here are about 3/5 up the full height of the Cangyanshan site, only slightly higher than the bridge and temple that cross the ravine...
...as you can tell if you study this photo which has the right side of the ravine-crossing temple and bridge at the left edge of the photo.
MaRong's dad waving from the gondola behind us...
...and to give another view of the wider scope of things from the gondola...
Safe at the top, and as I noted, we weren't
alone at Cangyanshan (and yes, there were souvenir sellers all over the place that day...)...
MaRong's folks grabbing a bite...
What follows next are just shots around the top area and then on the way down, with the occasional note...
My brother MaRong and his wife QiRan )
I did not -- at all -- expect that this day would be the day I would get to (finally) ride a camel, but...there ya go...Ron of Cangyanshan...wearing a vintage Hongqi three hander...
There were many ceremonial fires all over the Cangyanshan site, filling the normally quite good air there (see my last Cangyanshan post) with haze as believers sent prayers on notes into the fires and into the sky...
I noted in my last visit to Cangyanshan that I'd encountered "a set of steep, quite long and very rough hewn "stairs" around a ledge with just a metal pipe handrail that scared the $#@&*% of me so much I completely forgot about taking pictures."
Well, I wasn't going to let that happen this time
always people making a foreigner welcome
Besides my brother Ma Rong, I also have another friend in Shijiazhuang: a young man named ShiShenjiie who I met during my last trip. Back then, I was returning from
my first visit to Cangyanshan when a young man on the bus who heard me speaking English with a middle-school teacher I'd met offered to assist me with a bus transfer to nearer the hotel where I was staying.
I accepted the offer...but we ended up walking and talking instead of taking the transfer bus. He'd said we were only twenty minutes away from the hotel, that he was headed that way anyways, and that he was a school student enrolled in an English program and he wanted an opportunity to practice.
Our friendship has continued since that day and we've kept in occasional touch using
China's QQ messenger software. So here's ShiShenjiie (in the blue jacket) after we met at my hotel, with his best friend whose name I embarrassingly don't recall...
I took the two of them out for lunch, and then we all went hunting for Ma Rong's aunt's shop which had changed locations since I last visited.
We found it and I made an appointment to re-visit her store the next day as Ma Rong's aunt said she'd bring some VCM stock from home. As you'll see in the next photos (from the next day), that was a good idea ;-)
...and I also had a meeting that next night for supper at MaRong's home with his wife QiRan teaching me to make...something. Which tasted good. And to buy some watches from Ma Rong as well :-)
Here's some photos of some kids in MaRong's neighbourhood, and a shot of me being taught.
So it was sort of VCM heaven with great food for a couple of days. Here's what I got from MaRong's aunt:
From right to left, top row: Butterfly, Diamond, 40 zuan Double Rhomb, then blank, then Honglian
From right to left, bottom row: Shuangcheng, Kongque, Chunlei, Sea-Gull and Zhongshan (4 butterflies dial)
...and one quartz Sea-Gull because it had a "diver's bezel" and I just liked the look...
...and what I purchased from MaRong:
From right to left, top row: Sea-Gull, Shanghai, Mingzhu, Double Rhomb
From right to left, bottom row: Kongque, Zhongshan, Diamond, Shanghai
The next day I spent packing and re-organizing from the busy days in Shijiazhuang, getting ready for Tianjin, and MaRong and QiRan and I met for one last night out at a local restaurant. The meal and company was wonderful. but there was nothing fun at all about saying goodbye to my brother MaRong and his wife again :-( ...
...till next time...
When I left for Tianjin by bus the next morning, the temperature had done a freak nosedive and Shijiazhuang had woken up to a morning snowfall!
...but it was only raining when I finally got to Tianjin...for my next adventures. Here's the view that night from my Tianjin hotel...See the menu for the next installment