CHINA

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
1
8
118
Trip End Feb 18, 2007


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Monday, September 26, 2005

China, what a difference a border makes! It seems like we are a million miles away from Siberia. The smells and sounds of exotic China fill the air, the weather is hot and humid.

Shortly after arriving we make our way to a back street restaurant and are presented with some of the best Chinese food we have ever tried. We learn the art of eating Chinese style which of course means chop sticks for everything including the serving dishes. When eating out in China everybody shares from a selection of food placed on a rotating table in the middle. You are not supposed to fill up your own glass but to keep an eye out and attend to your neighbours drinks. The rice is brought at the end as to eat the rice before any of the other dishes is considered an insult to the chef!

The next day we head straight up to The Great Wall to walk the 10kms Jinshanling to Simatai section. This section crosses along hill and mountain ridges through stunning countryside and has some of the steepest sections of the wall. In fact, rather than a walk, it would be better described as 10kms of climbing up and down stairs. It is not an easy trek and only parts of the wall have been restored but there are fewer tourists around on this section which makes the site seeing much more pleasant. Seeing The Great Wall for the first time was a truly remarkable experience given it's fame and it's sheer size and would definitely feature as one of the highlights of our trip so far.

After a couple of days in China and realising the lack of people's English skills and the complete absence of any English menus outside of the principle tourist districts, we deemed it prudent to hunt around for a phrase book. I'm pretty sure this phrase book has saved us quite a few times from being served dog, bat, turtle, fried scorpion or jellied camel hoof to name just a few of the things which we translated off the menus.

After 4 days in Beijing we took the overnight train to Xian to see those famous warrior thingys. We must say they are a truly amazing site and to think that they laid underground undiscovered until a few farmers were trying to dig a well a few decades ago and one of the wretched things got in the way.

After Xian we headed down to Suzhou which is famous for it's classical Chinese gardens. By this time we are starting to notice a theme. We seem to be constantly stared at as if we were animals in a zoo. It's not that they don't get any western tourists in China but that there are so many Chinese around (1.3 billion at the last count) that a westerner outside of the principle tourist sites is still quite a novelty for them. Even more so at a restaurant when watching the two westerners trying to firstly decipher the menu, secondly order their food and thirdly, eat whatever the heck they've been brought out from the kitchen with 50cm long chop sticks becomes an evening's entertainment, not only for the waiters but for the entire restaurant.

After Suzhou we head down to Shanghai where the heat and humidity was unbearable. It was 37 degrees in the day but with the humidity it felt like 50. We make a visit to the city's old French quarter a priority. Patricia was pinning for a baguette which she really enjoyed, specifically at not having to use chop sticks to eat it!
At night we were impressed by the view of the Shanghai skyline from The Bund. This has to be one of the best city skylines we have seen after Hong Kong. Which we make our next destination just to check:-)

We get excited at Hong Kong. People don't stare at us, cars stop at traffic lights, food stores and motorbikes don't block the pavement. You can actually get on and off the buses which are of the UK double decker variety and most importantly, especially for Patricia who now has a Jaffa Cake craving, there's a Marks & Spencer. Oh and most people speak English.
We confirm that Hong Kong definitely has the best sky line we have ever seen. WOW! is the word and discover that it also has some pretty vibrant nightlife.

We cut our visit short in Hong Kong because it's so damn expensive and head over the water to see how the Portuguese faired in comparison with their ex-colony over in Macau. Well, we must say that one thing the British couldn't do for Hong Kong is leave a food legacy which is one area where the Portuguese have excelled in Macau. We ate so well at a little Portuguese restaurant in Macau that we could even face greasy Chinese food again.

So it's back into China to make our way over to Vietnam.

Overall, we've been surprised by how modern China is.
It could hardly be described as a communist country except maybe for it's censorship, where access to foreign news websites such as the BBC is blocked.
If you go to any large city you will find all the Western chain stores selling the latest fashions.
We've been surprised by the vast distances and the size of the cities. You end up in some city you've never heard of back in Europe which is just a small dot on the map and realise it has the population of London. It really is like that.

Things we won't miss are the ubiquitous spitting, the crowds and seeing squiggly lines everywhere which make sod all sense to us!
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