China Time!

Trip Start Jun 13, 2008
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Trip End Jun 12, 2009


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Sunday, October 19, 2008

*******I think the blogs are now going to be longer but less of them and further apart....only because we have found it super difficult to find Internet cafes in China that have decent Internet and allow USB....so it may be the same throughout the whole of Asia.... plus Flickr and Travel-pod have been blocked in some places in China! **********

Soo we landed in China safe and sound after watching Indiana Jones on the plane.  First impressions -> Not good, first off everyone seems pissed off to see you, not very welcoming and a little standoffish/grumpy (maybe their fed up of Westerners after the Olympics), second people like to spit, not discrete spitting but make a loud hacking noise from the throat as if it were a competition.  Third and finally we got a bus from the airport by following directions we had from the hostel...we told the bus driver which stop we wanted and he drove on, when he shouted out a name that resembled the required stop we stood up to get our bags and started to walk to the front of the bus...he let one guy off and just as we got near to the doors he shut them and drove on..... thinking it was a little strange and maybe it wasn't our stop we sat back down.  A little unsure zo asked about the stop we needed, and he pointed behind us as if we had missed the stop! so after another 5 Min's he pulled over and gestured for us to get off and pointed back in the direction we came from, we got off with a few people laughing and walked the semi-long distance back to the bus stop with our backpacks on.....  OK RANTING OVER..... from there it got much better :)
The people at the hostel are friendly, i had the best sweet and sour chicken i have ever had for just under 2 quids including rice, and a large beer for 70p loverly!  I have also realized that i get anxious in new countries.... there is excitement there but definite angst which i think comes from the not knowing of a new place....after a day or two I'm fine though and settle in to my new surroundings well.
I recently finished a really good book called "The falcon and the snowman"  and although i always seem to say this....it has been my favorite book so far and i couldn't put it down.  It is a true story that has also been made into a film, it is about two American guys from well off families who become soviet spies.  One of the guys is a drug dealer the other lands a job through his dad that allowed him access to information more classified than top secret.  Through the info he finds out about Americans interference with Australian politics and he wanted to act out against his country.....and it tells the story of how he passes the information to his friend who travels to Mexico and sells it to the Russian embassy.  Very interesting!

Anyways...the hostel in Beijing was great, good food and drink, pool table, dvd room with family guy ion dvd, and a playstation 2 :)
The second day in Beijing we went to Tienanmen square, it was super busy but i still enjoyed it.  You enter through a massive red building.  Upon it a giant portrait of Mao (the president).  As we wandered the square you are non stop hassled by people wishing to be your tour guide, we were used to this after south America and just took in the amazing architecture.  From the square we wandered into the forbidden city filled with statues and more stunning architecture, we walked for a few hours learning the history via our electronic talking guide.  
Next was the "Temple of Heaven", A beautiful temple, the area surrounded by older Chinese playing cards, hackey sack and a racket game similar to badminton.  We ended the afternoon with a trip to the peal market...can be very stressful but also a lot of fun...and just for fun i bartered some one down from over 100 pounds for an I phone to 43 quid...not sure if they are authentic...how much are i phones in the UK?  At one point zoe showed some interest and after she tried to leave the lady grabbed her arm and squeezed tighter the more zo struggled! It was fun anyways..Ebay maybe>? The night was ended with spicy chicken in a peanut sauce YUM!
The third day we decided to take it easy and just took a bus to the Olympic park.  A lot bigger than i expected, although I'm not really sure what i was expecting.  The Olympics being so good this year it was nice to wander around.  A bit of a hassle trying to get there on the buses... i had to draw a picture of the stadium and water cube...thats got us directions and to the site.
We have also been to two different Internet cafes in china so we could update our blogs, or at least send something out but there is no USB so we could not add any photos!

Early start the next morning for the great wall of china!  Breathtaking and stunning to walk on this piece of ancient history that winds through the hills as far as the eye can see.  I loved it and we opted for the 4 hour trek so we got to see a nice chunk of the wall while getting some exercise.  At the end of the trek the way down was a zip line / flying fox type thing from the wall to a boat at the bottom waiting to take you to an all you can eat resteraunt.  It was an excellent day and a good reminder for me of the great trip that we are doing...i have found when traveling for a long period it is easy to take it for granted at times, as if it just becomes the norm to be wandering around China....so it is good every now and then to remind myself what I'm doing and where i am!
So we were struggling to get a train south from Beijing.... or anywhere for that matter because of the public holiday in China!  All trains were booked for 5 days so we decided to take a bus (For twice the price of the train!)  And that we did after an expensive taxi ride to the station and back.  The rest of the day was spent relaxing...we wandered to a clothes market for some more haggling....they started Zo at around 550 RMB for some trousers and zo got them down to just over 100 RMB.  The night was spent at the hostel for the "Dumpling party"  Hahah was quite funny, they bring out dough and filling (pork stuff, and a spinach/cheese), then after washing your hands you can join in making dumplings with the chef.... it was fun even though i was pretty crap...you also get to enjoy discounted beer (from 70p down to 50p or something)  Once we had a huge pile of dumplings the chef cooked em up and we ate them :)
That night we went out to some bars and ended up in a slightly run down bar / club type thing and spent the night dancing with some of the local guys...randomly it ended up with us holding hands and dancing around in a circle to the music!  Finished the night with some street snacks of pork and chicken on a stick  and headed to bed :)
The last full day in Beijing was spent at the "Lama Temple" a gorgeous area sweet with the smell of incense....it also houses the largest sculpture created from one tree, a giant Buddha carved from a single white sandal wood tree.  It was pretty damn big , i didn't even know that trees came that big!  You had to properly lean back to see the top of it in this temple.  

The night was spent watching family guy, then 6 of us went to a kung fu show, super cool to watch the shaolin monks in action and it was something that i was really looking forward to...it didn't disappoint :)

Soo the bus to Shanghai... it was a semi bad bus.  We started off having to fight through the crowds and figure out which gate our bus was leaving from ...and there was a lot of crowds to fight through, that was not much of a problem it is expected.  The first semi bad point was the argument that broke out between the driver and a few passengers after they made us change onto a different bus.  It lasted for about an hour and a half while me and zo just kind of sat on the bus watching still in the Beijing bus Depot!  They were shouting pretty loud, punching the bus and it only really subsided when the police turned up...at which point the passengers scrambled on the bus and it sped off out of the depot.  The next point that made it a semi-bad bus was the little family of cockroaches living next to my head!  I was sat next to the window and about an hour into the journey i spotted one and it ran into the plastic window frame...i seen a couple more every now and then but mainly i lent on Zoe for the 16 hour ride and pretended they were not there :)  The last point was the random drop off point, that seemed to be the middle of nowhere but we soon figured it out....the plus points however was home alone 1, 2 and 3 in Chinese and after the argument about 10 Min's in a bloke walked up the aisle handing everyone cash ....we are not sure why but we accepted it and kept quiet.
In Shanghai we checked out the tech area..not as good as Japan. We headed to the bund for some gorgeous views of the skyscrapers and that but it was sooooo busy because of the public holiday, the streets were a river of people coming from all directions, very manic...we gave up and hit a veggie restaurant.  Something quite strange though, i had a guy come and ask if he could get his picture taken with me..so i thought fine and had the picture done and a few minutes later a couple of girls came up chucked their selves under my arms either side of me and asked for a photo as well.....then on the subway i seen a guy taking sneaky pictures of me ?!?!?!  I think it is just because I'm a Westerner maybe? or more likely because I'm beautiful...yea thats it, its because I'm beautiful :)
Overall i didn't get too much of a good vibe from Shanghai...i don't think its the city i think it was because of the holiday and it was super busy, plus I'm not too keen on large cities i much prefer the more laid back smaller towns, the ones where you have to use sign language to talk to people.  So we spent the one night and the next day took a sleeper train....three beds stacked on top of each other facing another three... i read and slept then arrived in Xian.
Xian...people say you love it or hate it.... i love it, we have spent 3 nights.  We visited the terracotta army, hundreds of life size terracotta soldiers, each  one different from the next...pretty stunning to see seeing as they were buried over 2000 years ago and only discovered in 1970 something by a farmer digging a well!  It was a good day with a good gang of people then we headed back to the super good hostel!  Pretty big hostel , lots of rooms and comfy sofas where you can get lost in a book. Plus they have a turtle, who i want to steal, but wont.  And then there is a restaurant and a basement bar. We are not spending much on the room, under three pounds but that includes 1 free beer a night, and they also like giving you free coffee when you book anything.  I was also really proud of zoe as she sang three songs during the nightly open Mic session...she was super amazing and i even felt quite emotional listening to her sing.  She started off with The scientist by cold play followed by yesterday.  My favorite had to be Nina Simone though....it wasn't in the song book, but after a discussion with the Chinese beatboxer starring that night she taught him the song.  He started of with and impressive beat box session and ended with "come here girl" in between beats, that was Zoe's cue and she stepped up to the microphone and sang Birds flying high...keeping the beat boxer at the correct speed by waving a glow stick... i loved it :)   Some excellent food in Xian too.... at 2:00 in the morning after the bar i went on a food hunt and found a street seller with dumplings...soft dough with meat that tastes of Cornish pasty inside, yummy!
On the night we watched the biggest water fountain show in Asia .... it was set to music, we got a good position, and the music danced with lights in the dark and it was bloody........alright.  Nothing too spectacular, but fun to watch.  I had a real cool time the next day and enjoyed a ride around the city walls.... for a small price you get a bike and 100 Min's to ride, good thing being that you get to view a good amount of the city with a birds eye perspective....fun.  Xian has been my favorite city so far!
We took a not so good train to Chengdu overnight.  It took 16 hours and we choose hard sleeper again.  This time we were separated and my bed was opposite a giant .....not only a giant but also a giant snorer...didn't get much sleep :(  So the first day in Chengdu was spent relaxing with a little wandering of the city and a lot of good food :)
Our second day in Chengdu was really special, because we did what we spent the 16 hours on the train here to do......we went to the panda sanctuary!  I loved it, we seen lots of Giant pandas up close as they were relaxing and eating!  We also seen some red pandas doing pretty much the same thing just a little bit faster....red pandas look like raccoons, but are related to the giant panda. One of the highlights was a group of six baby pandas all sleeping in a baby's type cot....and a mother panda playing with a super tiny baby panda....it was pretty special!


Next was a 25 hour train south to Guilin...loverly!

The train we took to Guilin was in hard sleeper class.... its cheaper than soft sleeper (which we haven't tried) and better than a seat...basically two sets of 3 beds on top of each other, a good chance top mix with the locals and get stared at :) And we haven't seen any tourists on any of the trains we have taken randomly...but i quite like that. It was 25 hours of cards, sleep and reading..arriving at Guilin by night....we just had a little wander and i ate meatballs and noodle soup from a street vendor for 25p.


IN the morning we headed straight for Yangshuo, a place i was looking forward to visiting, wanting to experience more countryside than city in China.....and we got just that. Even the approach on the train was beautiful with green hills, mountains and rice Paddy's.  We wandered the small streets filled with street vendors, shops and cafes. 


The first thing we did was to book a cormorant fishing tour for the night, one of things i really looked forward to seeing in China and it was amazing... the fisherman fish at night as the light from the boat attracts the fish. We were sat down on a boat at around 7:30 at night and set off down the river.  After about 5 minutes you come alongside a fisherman on his bamboo raft surrounded by his cormorants, he is lit up by a lamp and you follow him down the river. You can see the cormorants leading in the river (some others resting on the raft) you watch as these amazing birds dive under the water..as the water is so clear you can see them swimming under the surface catching fish. After a successful hunt (which is surprisingly regular) the cormorant returns to the surface with the fish in its mouth...they are unable to swallow the fish as the fisherman has tied a small loop of string around its neck. Once the fisherman spots the catch he dips his bamboo pole into the water and bird hops on....he then takes the live fish from the birds mouth and drops it into a basket... rewarding the cormorant with some food. Its amazing to watch and an amazing partnership between the cormorants and the fishermen. 


We reached the end of the river and were given the opportunity to get up close with the birds and i even held one.

Our second day in Yangshuo was one of my most memorable so far....soooo much fun :) We started the day with a cookery course we had booked....7 people turned up and between the five meat eaters we choose three dishes to cook, the two veggies did the same.
I basically just kept on saying sweet and sour pork over and over until it was accepted onto the list of the three dishes we were going to cook (It was a bit of a battle but i got there in the end).  We also cooked a spicy dish called Gong Bao Chicken and pork stuffed eggplant  yum! The session started with a trip to the farmers market to pick up ingredients...a very lively place where we first browsed the veggies and then into the meat section (Not the happiest place... cages full of rabbits, geese with their throats cut out and fresh blood everywhere, the worst being live dogs in cages to accompany the freshly killed and skinned ones hanging on hooks)...Anywayzzz back in the kitchen (on a rooftop with stunning views) we were given step by step instructions on each dish... i loved it and was super stuffed afterward as  i ate every last bit of all three of the dishes i made. Zoe's veggie dishes were tasty too...cant remember what she made though...you can read her blog :P


After a super fun morning cooking we had a super fun afternoon at a mud cave...a fake mud cave! We got there by mini van..the type of van we are quite used to now and didn't realize it was the fake mud cave  until afterward (during i was a little suspicious).
It was still a cave that me and Zoe explored first by boat then by foot in our swimming gear, non slip sandals and a hard hat.  The formations were pretty good, and we had a good laugh when he pointed out formations such as the "Titanic" and the "Peace sign" that vaguely resembled what he said. He also had a good laugh when i asked him if the bats that kept flying past me were dangerous.  After exploring the cave we came to a pool of mud and messed around for a bit...this was a tad disappointing for me but we still had fun. The reason it was disappointing was the pool of mud was very watery with just a layer of thick mud at the bottom...this is what makes it the fake mud cave... in the real one it is a pool of thick natural mud, whereas in the one we went to they must have just shoveled mud into a pool of water Hahaha. Bastardos! The flyer even looks almost identical to the flyer for the real cave.


Most nights in Yangshuo i enjoyed the chicken skewers and veggie skewers from the street stalls, super cheap and super tasty. The next day in Yangshuo was actually just a mix of these skewers and dvd watching. A nice way to relax and to break up two amazing days.


The second amazing day in Yangshuo started very early at a sleepy 5:00am as we had booked ourselves on a balloon trip... and why not for less than the price of 10 English pints! It was very misty, so most of the photos i took are pretty crap, but it did begin to clear and even through the mist i enjoyed the stunning views of Yanshuo... random hills jutting out from the ground covered in foliage. The basket was just above my waist and we were not tied on to anything so i clung to the side and tried not to drop my camera while soaking up the views...we also saw rice Paddy's, the main two rivers that surround Yangshuo and even came pretty close to a couple of the hills.  The landing spot was quite a random choice.basically a kind of motorway with tractors and trucks driving past!  We landed safely and ate breakfast :)

My favorite trucks you see whizzing by are the ones without bonnets...it is just the engine on top of a set of wheels open to elements dragging a cab behind it.  Random


After a sleep to get over the 5:00am start (lazy i know)  we booked up a bamboo raft trip to take us down one of the main rivers (Yulong River).  We were told the guide would turn up on a bicycle and take us to the river (we were happy to ride their ourselves, but it was included with the rafting so we were happy to get guided to the river) So we rented mountain bikes and waited... a guy turned up on a motorbike and we followed him peddling away... the streets were pretty crazy, vehicles zig zagging here, there and everywhere, hand clued to the horn (a gentle warm up for India i suppose).  


It was almost like a relay race as we were passed from one guide to another along the way..the last guide even swapped his motorbike with an electric scooter down a country track when we bumped into a passer by. He was our last guide and also the raftman.  He shoved our bikes on the back of a truck and guided us onto our bamboo raft. He was a good guide and an expert whistler & whistled Chinese tunes as we drifted down the Yulong.  The views were stunning as we cruised along..including a few little waterfalls for a little excitement. While cruising we saw two water snakes swimming by!  The guide fancied a fag break so i took over his role, and let him relax in the seat next to Zoe... i even nicked his hat and whistled some Chinese tunes as i guided us down the river with a bamboo pole :)  he let me attempt a waterfall... i seceded and whistled some more :)


Reunited with our bikes we rode back to town and ate :)

The next day was A day spent in transit: Yangshuo -> Guilin (pick up Zoe's left mobile phone). We then jumped on a sleeper bus (bus full of beds that are to small for me!) heading for Hong Kong.  First the bus stopped back in Yangshou, then instead of the 12 hours we were told i was tuck in a tiny bed for 18 hours (didn't think to bring food either because i planned on sleeping and waking up at our next location).  We were dropped off in Shenzen...so 1 bus, 1 train, 2 hours, and a short walk later we were in Hong Kong looking at Chunking Mansions.. are shelter for the next 8 days.


Chunking mansions looks pretty ghetto on the outside.but it is the cheapest accommodation in Hong Kong and we are happy with it. On the inside there are 16 floors packed with , shops, restaurant, and guest houses..... the restaurants are mainly Indian (actually i think they are all Indian...but thats no problem for me :) ) Our room is a cupboard.

The first day in HK we took the star ferry to HK Island and found the Vietnamese embassy.we gave them our passports and some HK dollars and set out for the day. It happened to be the last day of the biggest electronics EXPO in Asia located on HK island at their exhibition center.  We registered as a company called Portable Princess (i thought i did well with that name) got our buyers passes and headed in for a wander to check out the latest electronics on the market. I felt a little out of place as all the other "Buyers" and visitors to the Expo were wearing suits. We were scruffy backpackers.but still had a lot of fun, taking freebies, chatting to the stall holders and testing Home cinema glasses etc.  Took a few notes in our head of possible business ventures in the future. After the expo we picked up our passports at the embassy along with our visas for Vietnam Yey!


So here i am now sat at the computer in Chunking mansions writing this blog. Yesterday we gave our passports to the Thai embassy as we would like to be able to stay in Thailand for 2 months without having to leave after 1 month to renew our visas.  So today we are relaxing, watching BBC World news in our room. Enjoying the Indian takeaway in the mansion and ignoring the gorgeous weather outside :)

Only 4 days until Vietnam :)


Other books finished recently are:

Ben Elton - This other eden... bloody amazing book, super recommended, enjoyed it lots and lots (good recommendation from zoe)

Mark Zusak - Book Theif. thought it was not so bad...but Zo seems to bloody love it..and so did another girl we bumped into... its a book narrated by death following the story of a young german girl during the second world war

Andy Mcnab - Bravo Two Zero - Sure you have heard of this one....a true story of an 8 man team of SAS soldies stuck behind enemy lines...bloody good read :)



And once again all of our photos from China can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/discozo/sets/72157607846356163/

 
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