Japan to China
Trip Start Oct 03, 2009
25Trip End Jul 24, 2010
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Being in a volcanic area, there were plenty of hot springs around which the Japanese turn into onsens, or public baths, which are massivey popular in Japan. The majority of onsen aren't natural, but when they are they are said to heal and soothe you. I had been told my Japanese experience wouldn't be complete without a visit to an onsen, and where better than the natural springs of Aso after a hike down a volcano in the cold rain. So I worked up the courage to strip off in front of a load of Japanese women and got in the outdoor bath whilst it was about 2 degrees and raining. It was a very relaxing experience, but I think I'll stick to private baths in my own bathroom still.
From Aso I went to Hiroshima, a town made famous by being the target of the worlds first atomic bomb. Walking around the city you have no clue about this - it seemed to me to be just another city with shops, restaurants, etc. The only evidence that still remains it seems, besides the memorial museum, is the A bomb dome, the skeleton of a building about 100m away from the hypocenter. It was very eerie being around it, but it was fascinating to know how quickly the local people tried to pick up their lives - the trams were up and running several days after the explosion apparently.
A short ferry ride from Hiroshima was Miyajima Island, where I befriended more deer and climbed all 535m of Mount misen whilst cursing myself for not bringing food along with me for the journey. The view from the top was incredible and made it completely worth it, it was such a clear day and you could see the blue sea and the islands - definitely not the Japan I had in my head.
I returned to Tokyo to do some essential sight seeing and not so essential shopping. Whilst there I decided to experiment with the range of accommodation Japan had to offer. My first night in Tokyo was spent in an internet cafe, which was not the most comfortable night of my life by a long shot, but the free ice cream certainly made the night a lot better. The following night was spent in a much more comfortable capsule hotel, where I slept for 13 hours compared to 3 hours the night before. The capsule dorm reminded me of rows of cages where animals ought to be kept, but inside my capsule it was surprising cosy - although I suppose anything would be in comparison to a night at a computer desk.
I left Japan, sad that I couldn't have seen more of the country. To me it was a land of extremes, where you could find the most modern things in the world right next to something ancient and traditional. The countryside was beautiful, serene and relaxing, whilst the cities were incredibly fast paced, and it was easy to feel like you were invisible there, though I doubt the language barriers helped there.
If I thought I had communication difficulties in Japan, I was certainly not prepared for China! I was looking forward mainly to some yummy Chinese food when I arrived, but when I arrived in Shanghai, I could only see street after street of McDonalds, KFC and Starbucks!
Knowing I would later on be spending my last few days of China in Shanghai, I quickly moved on to the Yellow Mountain, Huang Shan, one of China's most spectacular sights. I took a bus to Tunxi which is a good place to base yourself in the region, however not understanding a word of Chinese or recognising where I was meant that I didn't get off the bus soon enough and carried on on the bus in my concerned ignorance. When we reached the final stop, the bus driver showed me off the bus and I was beckoned into a nearby hotel, now having a clue where I was. Lots of people tried speaking to me but eventually they realised I was clueless so I was instructed to sit whilst the local children gathered to stare at me. As I sat, I thought about how much I'd like an English speaking Chinese person to help me out, tell me where I was and feed me. Then along came Mr Cheng, the local English speaker who ran a restaurant and tour company and haggled down the price of the hotel I was in. It turned out I was actually at the entry town of the Yellow Mountain itself, but I wouldnt have known that from the weather, as the fog was so thick I could barely see my shoes, let alone a mountain towering above me. Not mountain climbing weather. Instead, Mr Cheng made me the most delicious food for me and took me to some touristy spots in the area which weren't ruined by rain and fog. I saw some beautiful waterfalls and went to the Emerald Valley, where Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was filmed. The following day the fog still hadn't cleared, climbing Huang Shan just wasn't to be. So Mr Cheng put me on a bus to Hangzhou, and to my surprise I got off at the right place!
Hangzhou is a beautiful city, and I had originally planned to spend a day there before heading to Hong Kong, but I wanted to spend longer in the area! A lovely girl I met in my dorm invited me back to her home in Ningbo for a few days, a chance to experience a chinese home! This was an offer I couldn't turn down so next day I went with her to Ningbo. The first night I was there, she and her brother cooked me a chinese feast, it was so delicious. So the next day, I decided I would cook for them an English feast, which to me is curry. I even bought some ingredients from Tesco to make it extra English. Hanging out with her has been really cool and interesting, and its been great having a Chinese guide for the past few days - it makes such a difference to the country.
The past few days in China have been an incredible cultural experience, and the one thing I can't fathom is just how big the country is and how many people there are! A journey to a nearby town here is like going from London to Scotland, a distance I used to consider long. Next week I will make a really long journey overland to Beijing - luckily I already have my ticket and I know Beijing is the final stop! What could go wrong?