I take the advice of Kris and skip sightseeing Chennai (formerly known as Madras) and I get on the bus or even two that carry me to Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) – the kind drivers explain to me where to get off. I only notice the noisiness, chaos and crowdedness of Chennai, as well as a corpse in a plastic bag carried by two skinny guys, I can also smell the presence of the river – before I can even see it in her pitch-black elegance, my nostrils get struck with a vile stench…

The buses somehow manage not to fall to pieces before completing the 60 km in just above 2 hours. I am relieved to get out of the hot, sweaty interior and start an intense sightseeing in Mamllapuram – there is an immensity of temples, one more impressive than the other, with all the amazing sculptures… The most famous one is the Shore Temple, picturesquely thrown right…

Late evening I land in Trivandrum, a city located on the very south of India. Luckily, my strange looking visa doesn’t seem any suspicious to the elderly dust-covered mister sitting at his dusty old desk in that somewhat small and dusty arrival hall.

The moment I step out I get surrounded with an army of taxi drivers offering me transportation to the centre where cheap hostels are located (or at least I hope so, as this is what I read on the Internet). The prices the drivers are suggesting have been prepared specially for the whitey that I am – I kindly refuse and start looking for a place to stay near the airport. The centre can wait until the morning, when public buses will be working again… And in the meantime I should rather find a place to hide against the pouring rain. I jump between the puddles and avoid hungry dogs wandering about, I refuse…

In the evening, after 4.5 hours ride on a coach (surprisingly fast pass through Malaysia-Singapore border; though maybe I should not be surprised after all – every evening half the Singapore leaves the place to stay for night in a cheaper place on the other side) I get to the city-state, international center for all business. I will only stay here for one day – I will only have time to walk the Mount Faber park, get the avant-gout of India (in its clean and organized form) in Little India, check out Chinatown (no quality found, especially after Malacca experience) and have a close look on some skyscrapers (they stand so close on to another that they must be hitting each other in windy weather). And I will fill myself up with Milo Ais – oh, I’m going to miss it a lot…

Evening metro to the airport, bus transfer to economic terminal and I’m ready for the…

Malacca is a must-see on Malaysia tourist map. Old colonial streets, eclectic Hinduist, Muslim and Buddhist temples… And – first of all – the Chinatown that has a lot more charm than old boroughs of real Chinese towns. Here in Malaysia, the Chinese put a lot more effort into preserving their own culture. The façades of houses are beautiful not only to look nice for tourists – the owners just like taking care of their property. And in the backyards of shops and in small side streets there is the real Chinese life going on – the life that is gone in post-revolutionary China. Here I meet a certain Charles Cham, a painter exhibiting his works in all important world’s galleries and in his hometown Malacca… he is selling T-shirts with a monkey. A very friendly dude that has a certain view on art critics, he really is liberated through his creation.

In one of tiny Chinese restaurants…

Ridz arrives on time; before we leave he takes me a neat Indian restaurant. Then we take a ride on a comfortable, air-conditioned coach, we change vehicles and take a less comfortable, completely non-conditioned wreck, filled with passengers to the limits… After a couple of hours we reach Port Dickson, a sort of beach resort located at Melacca Straights, 90 km south of Kuala Lumpur.

Except for tanning and swimming there is not much to do here; you can throw in a walk in the jungle – a weird jungle that is, with asphalt road cutting it in two halves… If you’re lucky you can spot monkeys, eagles and other inhabitants (mosquitoes being the most frequent ones). Ridz invites me to his house built by his father of all kinds of materials, making a surprisingly harmonious and spacious whole. The cool family receive me as one of their bunch, used to numerous foreign visitors frequenting the house. One…

Evening landing in KL, coach to the centre (many companies to choose from, reasonable prices), short hostel research in Chinatown (oh, the cheapness!) and I make myself comfortable in a dormitory shared with one cool Pakistani and one delightfully ignorant Australian.

I will leave the sightseeing till tomorrow but I decide to have the first glance just before going to sleep. A good decision again – I bump into Ridz, nice guy that talks like a machine gun. He drags me to a cheap and cosy restaurant and invites me to his hometown. The scheduled departure time is tomorrow noon, thus I’m left with just a short while for discovering KL.

In the morning I decide to check out what everybody else would – the Petronas towers. Getting there with slightly chaotic and not-so-clean metro is a piece of cake, however getting to the viewpoint on the top is impossible – even though it is still early…

http://vimeo.com/18300106

I get to Shanghai the right moment – there is the modern art biennial going on, entitled “Rehearsal”. The core of the whole event is the exhibition in Modern Art Museum, located next to the People’s Square. Some of the artists took the title too literally, simply completing their artwork with the documentation of the creative process or just transferring their studios in 1:1 scale. Fortunately, some artists were more creative – for example, Qiu Zhijie filled a room with humorous, useless machines (those female guards who never let you interact with the artwork!), Verdensteatret (Norway) put up a stunning musical-mechanical-image show, Mou Boyan brought his “breathing” animal sculptures… You can’t really find anything you would call entirely new, it all feels very safe, as if nobody wanted to cross any frontiers of political correctness… The exhibition is still an interesting walk through Asian art, with Chinese art being the main focus and some Western bits added here…

This time my visit in China was more personal than touristy, thus I will limit myself to describing the interesting para-professional experience in Da Qing and art-oriented sightseeing in Shanghai.

During yet another stay in chilly north (the temperature will soon reach -20 degrees during the day) I had the opportunity to make myself useful: I was invited to do some ordering works in a place schemed for afternoon school for kids. The previous owner of the estate left quite a mess – a lot of work to do and the grand opening will happen in just a couple of days! The reward for the job well done is the possibility of covering the walls with paintings. I am free to choose what to paint and I decide to go for animal world, the idea that the kids enjoy a lot (the classes have already started!), they even help me paint. My presence in the school is…

Night train (two-storey, comfortable sleeper) brings us to Lijiang – probably the most touristically desired town in China (for Chinese). Crowds flow through picturesque, beautifully renovated streets of the old town (there is the national holiday going on, extended by an extra weekend), not at all discouraged by the stubborn rain. The town is very photogenic, though one day stroll is enough to know it all – countless shops all offer the same authentic-fake craft and you can’t eat local delicacies (including dragonflies – crunchy, interesting) all the time, can you?

It is a good idea to visit Shuhe, old town located a couple of kilometres north, less populated with tourists, with mellow bars and hills that demand that you climb them. From the top there is a splendid view on the valley filled with the city of Lijiang and nearby villages. In Shuhe you can also check out the reconstructed Tibetan monastery. Inside, apart from not-so-impressive replica…

Kunming

Kunming welcomes us with a wall of rain and a grey sky. The city itself doesn’t look any special to me… The value of the capital of Yunnan are its parks – right now, for weather reasons, they don’t feel that great either. In spite of all, we decide to visit one of them – the park around Dianche lake. Nice views, though the rain is trying to spoil it all. We find a rain-free zone in barbecue spot, where we spend a long time trying out different delicacies on stick (really tasty octopuses!).

 

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Kunming wita nas ścianą deszczu i szaroburym niebem. Przechadzając się po mieście zauważam, że samo w sobie nie wyróżnia się niczym szczególnym… O wartości stolicy Yunnanu stanowią parki – chwilowo, z przyczyn pogodowych, pozbawione części uroku. Mimo wszystko, wybieramy się zwiedzić jeden z nich – rozciągający się wzdłuż jeziora Dianche. Widoki przyjemne, choć deszcz stara się ze wszystkich sił…