A Travellerspoint blog

January 2006

No crickets and F*ck varrying levels of carbonated water...

One day back in Shanghai, I got talking to a recently arrived Englishman, Mike, who was recounting his recent winter crossing of Russia and Mongolia. 4 of them had been couped in a train for 4 days straight, and had come up with the f*ck list. Some of which was recounted, and much of it made my hugely nostalgic for Russia. Such as fuck varying levels of carbonated water. If you've never been to Russia,it means nothing. If you've been, you know exactly what is means. In brief for the uninitiated, opening a bottle of water is an event which could be a non entity, or the equivalent of being savagely attacked by a demonic jetspray. You just never knew what. Apparently the entire f*ck list will be online at some point, and i will be sure to add a link to it then for the enjoyment of other former Russian travellers, although it will likely pass most others by completely.

I had come back to Shanghai for maybe 3 or 4 days to be a tourist, as i'd not managed to see anything much on my first trip through before Christmas. 3 or 4 days has since turned into an unspecified open ended period of time (i'm still here) due to assorted circumstances.

Somehow on nearing Shanghai station, I twisted very slightly moving out of someones way and felt a twinge in my back. It rapidly got worse, and 2hours later I was lying utterly prone on my bed in the hostel, and wouldn't manage to move again for about 48hours. The most I managed was a couple of trips to the toilet (about 6metres), which took over 4hours each to physically accomplish. I was not in a good way. A couple of weeks later, and i'm still moving more gingerly than i should be, and feeling it, although I am at least moving around. The other big issue is Chinese New Year. Basically, unless I wanted to go to Beijing (nobody goes home there), I wasn't going anywhere. Trains and buses are waaay over booked due to people trying to go home for the New Years celebrations, so I was stuck in Shanghai anyway. And I wasn't the only one. Many desperate attempts were made to leave by an assortment of people. Some even succeeded. Most didn't and are also stuck here, meaning that they are a motley assortment of long termers knocking around and we're making the most of it, and it's certainly not been unenjoyable.

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The Shanghai to Pudong Maglev train

Despite being mostly lazy, a couple of evil (unconnected) nights due to food poisoning - and i haven't been the only one - and the back problem, I have actually managed to see a chunk of stuff. Have wandered the Bund and main drag, Nanjing Road, regularly. I've been up the stupendous Jinmao tower, one of the worlds tallest skyscrapers to take in the view, whiskey in the piano bar, and stare down the stunning Star Wars style hole through the middle of the building which is not for the faint hearted or vertigo sufferers (i.e. me). I entertained the geeky transport idiot in me with a return trip to Pudong airport, in order to try out the maglev train. At 430kmh, the fastest train in the world, and being a non flyer, the fastest I have personally ever been. It was the most fantastic acceleration, meaning about 2minutes into the journey, we had hit top speed, although the journey was surprisingly bumpy.

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Looking down inside the Jinmao tower

Took a wander around the museum of communist propaganda (i can never say or type that word with going into a burst of "Duel"), the gallery of modern art (very cool) and museum of planning and construction, which basically showcases what Shanghai will be like by the time they host Expo2010. And these guys are not messing around. Most cities in China resemble building sites, but Shanghai seems to be taking its transformation to extremes, both in scale and time frame. The metro, for example is being extended to the tune of over 270 new stations on a dozen or so new lines. All within 5 years. Plus a new container port. On an island. Connected to the mainland by bridge. A 46km long one. The worlds tallest building, the Shanghai World Trade Centre, is due to for completion next year (although it won't be the tallest for long) and a few other biggies will also go up. Come back to Shanghai in 5 years time, and it will be virtually unrecognisable.

I've wandered around the Jade Buddha Temple (i like it) and the Jingan Temple (less impressive but fine), had a price of Guiness which made me wish I was back paying Swedish prices, and a foot massage and just wandered. More than anything else, Shanghai is a place designed just to wander. Very few must see's and do's exist, but i could happily spend 6 months here just walking at random, and never get bored, or even see some of the same things/places twice. People watching is imense, street markets and pockets of real Shanghai are everywhere, whilst the state of constant flux and construction means that things change rapidly and are often expectedly unexpected. The exception to wandering is the metro. Clean, quick, efficient, and rapidly expanding. With a but.

But.

But, due to the moronic nature of the Chinese psyche in certain aspects, the average station stop turns into a free for all as people barge on to trains without even vaguely considering the concept of letting them off first. People falling over are common. Trampling is not uncommon. Fist fights are expected. And without exception, some poor buggers trying to get off get trapped in the train as it speeds off. Carrying a golf club or iron bar is a very desirable option. Now when I try to get off, it's a case of elbows out and take no prisoners. It's very un-British, and i've sent any number of people to the floor which is regretable, but unavoidable. Otherwise, you don't get off, simple as that. It's sheer chaos.

The hostel is now mostly overrun by English guys and Scandinavian girls. Two groups of people i don't run into all that often. It's very strange. I've caught up with Helene (from the previous time around) and kind of relived my youth by sitting in a park on a sunday, drinking dodgy red wine from the bottle whilst watching a group of OAPs happily ballroom dance in the freezing cold, Lun (for some reason, we seem to end up drinking the odd beer and ending up in strange places when we meet. This time I ended up in a random part of town, having lost my phone and being locked out of an appartment in the p1ssing rain at about 5am) and Reevesie (Vladivostock, who ended up forced to fly out when the boat wasn't there, and has spent 3 months circumnavigating the globe on a ship teaching English. What a fantastic job), and came across a load of new faces, as you do. More on some of them to come in future installments.

The other interesting thing is the astonishing number of travellers I have met who fallen for scams down the Nanjing Road. Sure, you get people trying to sell you watches, bags, DVDs, drugs, women et al, but the vast majority of guys seem to have fallen for a coffee shop scam. Some local girls get talking to them, and aftyer a while suggest going for coffee. After a couple of coffees, and normally, whiskey (or even karaoke), plus a few bits which appear unordered,they then get hit with a whopping bill and told to pay up. 100euros, 100gbp, 100usd are common amounts, and a couple of Americans have been done for 800usd. Idiots. And yet, probably 75% of the males i've met in the hostel have been hit for it, and I can't comprehend why or how they managed to fall for it. Oh well.

All that is left really here is trying to avoid loosing an arm to Chinese fireworks, seeing the acrobats, Martinis in a poncey hotel and trying to see the damned cricket fighting. In no way am I proponent of animal cruelty and fighting, but I admit to being really annoyed that attempts to catch cricket fighting have so far come to naught. We've found the crickets, can even buy them (some of them are not small), but haven't manged to see them in action as yet. The mind boggles, but sometimes, you just have to suspend belief and experience local life.

Early next week, with luck, I will finally leave on the next part of the trek. Whilst not exactly how I envisonaged leaving, I've been conned (admittedly it didn't take long) into teaming up with another long termer, James (who's left twice, got stuck and come back), into taking a road trip, climbing a mountain and attempting to cross China entirely on local buses. It should be really great.

But first, It's Chinese New Year.

Posted by Gelli 03:05 Archived in China Comments (0)

Haggling for sex toys and visiting Jumbo and the Pandas

Musings from a couple of weeks in Hong Kong.

I spent just over 2 weeks in Hong Kong, and must admit that I enjoyed it imensely. Not the cheapest place in the world by any stretch of the imagination, but strangely comforting to be back in somewhere which was seemingly familiar, multi cultural, and relaxed. I think i could happily live here for a while, although that would seem something of a cheat.

Despite the inevitable fact that all 10 people i know in Hong Kong have been elsewhere the entire time I've been here (not stupid, these people), It was also good to catch up with a few familiar faces again. Admittedly I didn't know Kevin, Solene or Jude before I started this trip, but it was great to see old friends again. And also to realise that all TPers are alcoholics, but on the whole great people. Despite the whole fuffy/furry thing.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, and in all likliness, even if you don't, is to walk along Nathan Road, on the Eastern side, and make it from the Star Ferry to Jordan without being offered at least half a dozen hostel/hotel rooms, fake rolexs, tailored suits, money changed, drugs of all descriptions and in most incidences several curries and offers of Indian food as well. Some you can easily avoid, some are easy to fob off (i'll buy a fake rolex only if it's spelt with 4 "L"s, for example). And don't even thing about looking foreign (i.e. not Black African or from the Indian subcontinent) and trying to enter Chunking mansions around dinner time if you don't want a curry. It's just not worth it. But that's another story.

Stayed in several different places, partly by choice, partly not. The first place in the Mirador, as previously noted, was just strange and also lacked the facilities it advertised. And only 1 of the 3 nights i was supposed to be there, I actually was. And the oter two weren't by choice. A few nights in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island followed, until, together with Lun, Ananad and an English girl, Clare, we departed on mass from the Wang Fat hostel, spured by several issues, but mainly the discovery that all 4 of us (plus 2 previous residents) were paying completely different prices for the same dorm room, some a whopping 50% extra. Then ended up in another place in the Mirador, the Cosmic, run by 3 absolutely lovely old ladies, (and most of which was stunningly clean and well equiped, if on the cosy side) but due to the changing size of our group ended up in 3 seperate rooms (and price categories).

Some of the days i spent doing not allot, or just wandering at random. I probably covered every road on the Kowloon peninsula south of the old boundary point (south of the boundary was actually ceeded to the british - and HK Island was fully British as well - whilst the New Territories to the North were only on lease to Britain, despite the fact that the whole colony was returned to the Chinese), and at various times took in the Electronic, Ladies, Fish, Flower, Bird, Night, Jade and Sports markets, as well as the famed Stanley Market on the south end of HK Island, which were dissapointingly small and touristy. Wandered along both coasts of the harbour and into Victoria Pak (Island) and Kowloon Park (guess) and just relaxed.

A long story to remain untold it may be, but I will note in passing that there is definitely something surreal about standing on a market road at 11pm earnestly haggling with the stall owner over the price of a specific vibrator, and trying to counter their prices with getting other stuff chucked in for free. All of which whilst trying to avoid joining the unnamed person wanting said vibrator, collapsed in a heap of laughter on the floor. That's just not good haggling technique.

I just love haggling!

Went Laptop and computer shoping through assorted Computer markets and cities with Jude, although didn't buy in the end and shoe shopping with Clare (it's true that i might need my head examined). Went up the escalators again, just for the heck of it, wandered HKisland on the double decker trams (the only ones in service anywhere in the world), crosed the harbour on some of the other ferry routes and under and over it, including of course, the famous Star Ferry. Which at 2.4 (upper) or 1.7 (lower) dollars a trip, was definitely good value, as was most of HKs stunningly efficient public transport. Sorted out some jabs, went to the botanical gardens, went up to the Hong Kong peak twice (the first was hazy, the second wonderfully clear) using the impressively steep Peak Tram.

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Nikki on the Peak tram. Yes, the angle is correct, and thats not even the steepest part

Watched the sympathy of lights a couple of times, wandered with Kevin and Solene, headed out to Lantau island with Nikki to visit the Giant Tian Tan Buddha (the worlds largest outdoors bronze Buddha - good, but not the first or probably last giant Buddha I will see on this trip) and Po Lin Monastery. Also tried miserably to score some HK Rugby 7s tickets for the 2006 tournament in the spring and to get a space on the free Junk ride around the harbour. Oh well, can't win them all. And tried to get my rabies injection, but failed miserably 3 times because (a) it was too long ago i was bitten, so i must be fine or (b) i don't have the offending dog with me (it's a fecking stray in Romania. Why the hell would i have it in Hong Kong). I couldn't even get a possibly out of them, just a straight f*ck off. And as they were less than pleasant about it on all occassions, if i do happen to succumb to rabies in the near-mid future, please can somebody sue the arse off the Hong Kong Airport and HK Island Travel clinic for negligence in my memory. I even had to pay for a "consultancy" to get my jabs,despite the fact i knew what i needed, and my consultancy involved me telling the doctor what i needed for 90seconds and him muttering "ok". If i could get paid about 25gbp for saying ok and listening for 90seconds, i would be a happy chap indeed!

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At the Jumbo floating restaurant in Aberdeen

Headed down to Stanley, Deep Water Bay and Aberdeen on the south side of HK Island with Jude, to discover that Stanley Market was actually quite small and touristy, and the fort is now a Chinese military base who don't like stupid British people wandering around it. Just about avoided a long trip through the underground sewage farm, went for lunch on the self proclaimed "most luxurious floating restaurant in the world", Jumbo, in Aberdeen harbour. It was fairly luxurious, I admit, and the food was good if different (we had Dim Sum, which included classics such as Deep Fried Pork Pie - oddly damned tasty - and something which turned out to be faggotts), although the location was strage. Aberdeen, in fairness, is not the most delightful view for such a restaurant, with rows of high and used looking tower blocks, plus concrete overpasses to greet dinners. And it was debatable if we were actually floating or whether the main building (boat) was actually permanently attached to the seabed. Had a drink on the fabulously comfy rooftop bar though.

And visited An An and Jia Jia.

Expensive, sure, but neither of us had actually seen a giant panda before, and the opportunity was too good to turn down. Housed in the Ocean Park amusement park, they are both at peak age and may not have too many years left, which will be a shape, but normal. Typically, An An was out in the enclosure, but sleepy and barely moved except to roll over, whilst Jia Jia was animatingly eating bamboo as if it's life depended on it - in fairness, it probably did - but in a cage out of view, and only visable on TV screens. Oh well, at least i've seen a Panda. Took in the aquariums, shark tanks, bird and butterfly enclosures amongst others (all of which seemed depressingly small in size) and a really funny dinosaur enlcosure as well as a long cable car ride between the two sections and a huge long escalator ride back down. They like escalators in this city, it seems. Took in a trip to a very strange pizza hut (i'm not used to a pizza hut menu including things like Norwegian Salmon and truffles) and had a dim sum breakfast including chicken feet (tasty if boney) which certain other people weren't too impressed with.

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I can't help it if they don't move into a useful position to be pictured, can I?!

And of course, spent a night at Happy Valley Races. Happy Valley is a HK institution, and when the Chinese took control back, their first statement to the HK people was to the effect that the horses would keep running. The track is squeezed into HK island, surrounded by tall residentail blocks, but has a great atmosphere, surprisingly cheap beer (including yards of ale) and, best of all, free access aftr a certain time. We got to see the last 4 races, and using my patented greyhound trick of picking a number at random and staying with it all night Each Way, somehow picked a winner and came out a hundred dollars for the good for the night. Can't argue. There was also the odd inevitable night out, wandering around LKF and Kowloon with assorted people, which almost all turned out to be great fun (Lun posseses the great trick of being picked up the most desperate HK girls without having to do anything at all) although a return to our New Years haunt went wrong when we discovered everybody there was at least 50years old, almost ended in a huge punch up after a group of young Brits attempted to steal the only decent girl that Lun found.

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Happy Valley Racecourse, and celebrating my winnings with Kevin and Solene

Two weeks or so later, and it's been great fun. And i'll be back as well, but for now it's time to leave again and hit the road. All of the eassorted folks from the last couple of weeks (Andy, Jason, Nikki, Suzanne, Clare, Scott, Lun, Jude, Anand, the Kiwi's and Kevin and Solene amongst others) have left, as people do, to go their own ways (btw, Hi Clare - hope your having fun back home in the wonders of Teddington!) and it's time for me to follow suit.

So, tomorrow, with luck, i go and retrieve my passport from the Vietnamese, hopefully with a shiny new visa sticker (and not a Drugs offence refusal stamp) in it, and then proceed directly (I might even pass go on the way) to.... Shanghai.

Obvious, really, isn't it?!

Posted by Gelli 01:50 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (4)

Finally, a first taste of Portuguese life.

It's kind of odd really. I'm a European, who has spent 12 years running constantly around Europe at strange angles, and who has never been on a airplane in his life, and yet my first taste of Portuguese life is....Macau.

I'm not somebody that counts countries religiously, or tries to keep adding to my list like some kind of game, but I admit that it's long irked me that i somehow haven't yet made it to Portugal. I've been to every other mainland country at least 2 or 3 times (most many, may times), and covered huge tracts of other countries as well. Just never made it to Portugal. So there was no way in hell i was going to turn down the chance of a trip to Macau as I was that close.

Hong Kong has been strange in that it all feels oddly familiar to Britain. And despite never having been to Portugal, Macau also feels oddly familar and comforting. Asia's first European colony (i think) has a very definite Mediterranean feel to it, and parts of this small outpost could just as easily have been in Spain or Italy. Or, i'm assuming, Portugal.

It's also kind of odd that in going from Hong Kong to Macau, you never leave China, yet get both exit and entry stamps on your passport, neither of which are anything to do with the Chinese. Two SAR's - Special Administrative Regions - who essentially haven't changed since reverting to Chinese rule in the late 1990's (after some 400 odd years), and beaurocracy and international relations are a wonderful thing.

Five of us went over. An Australian-Chinese guy, Lun, who happened to be in my hostel joined myself, Jude (my host back in Muroran in Japan, shortly after the Kiki incident) and the wonderful Kevin and Solene. For those who can't be arsed to remember them, they are my trip stalkers who have chased me across Russia, met randomly on several occassions in Japan (including at Jude's house) and know many of the same hosts, and even ended up in Shanghai at the same time a I did. And then again in Hong Kong, slightly more deliberately.

Macau is an interesting dot on the map, and I was instantly captivated by the sudden change in life. I've always loved the semi chaotic look and feel of some of the great Mediterranean cities (Naples is a prime example), and Macau was just like that. Some dodgy looking appartment buildings, with washing hung across the road, old people resting on street corners or chatting across balconies, and the constant background hum of life noise, interspersed with some lovely squares and wonderful old architecture. And of course, casino's. Macau is a gamblers heaven, with 14 large casino's accounting for over half of the cities (or country) income. It has it's own currency, the Pataca, but also freely accepts Hong Kong dollars (at a slightly advanatageous rate to them, naturally) everywhere, and has 24hour jetfoil and helicopter transfres to Hong Kong just to ensure that the gamblers can always arrive (and been kicked out after the have lost everything).

Within 20 minutes or so of arrivng, i had already decided that i'd love to live here for 6 months - a year, i like it that much. Unfortunately, i'd only come for a day trip, so didn't have time to see as much as i'd wanted, but the public transport seemed to make up for that. The bus system is impressive in it's scope, but because Macau is so small, the systmes designers seem to have decided that every bus route should go down every strete in the damned country. Meaning that what you would expect to be a 10minute dash, could turn into a 40minute sightseeing tour, or visit to the Chinese border.

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Sao Paolo Church Ruins, with Myelf, Jude and Lun

Spent most of the time being a wide eyed tourist. The Ruins of Sao Paolo Church are probably Macau's most famous old site (burnt to a inder in 1835, i do believe, excepting the front wall) and we started here, before taking in the Monte Fort - complete with bus stop in the centre of the fort at the top of a large staircase. A tad optimistic, me thinks - the Temple of Kun Lam, Av de Conselheiro Ferreira de Almeida (main drag, with an area of exquisit if restored old houses and government buildings), Guia Lighthouse and Fortress (call me daft, but i would have thought that building the lighthouse near the shore, as opposed to on the mountain 1km inland might have helped not mislead sailors. Then again, if people get shipwrecked, i suppose they have nothing else to do but visit the casinos), the Leal Senado Square in the heart of the city, and a walk through some of the old colonial streets down to Barra Hill on the souternmost tip of the peninsula to look out over the Macau Tower and nearby Taipa and Coloane islands, Macau's other constituent parts.

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We also couldn't resist the opportunity to visit a brand new development near the ferry terminal. We had seen it coming in, and curiosity got the better of us. Eevntually, we think it will be a kind of theme park and shopping complex, but at the moment it isn't complete so includes only a Chinese fortress and Temple, Roman ampitheatre, Street of Dutch style houses, extracts from Stratford upon Avon, New Orleans and Ulm amongst others, a volcano and few extra bits and pieces such as an Egyptian styled conference centre. Most bizarre.

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The Macau Roman Ampitheatre and Dutch houses

I'd love to say that we gambled the night away in Casino's making huge sums of money, but i'm ashamed to say that for different reasons, none of us even entered one. My (semi legitimate) reason being that i didn't want to push my luck after the previous nights gambling successes. Your now wondering what the fr1ggin heck i'm going on about, but as i'm not writting about this in entirely chronological order (timelines? Pah! Who needs them?!), you'll just have to wait.

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The Macau Tower, and Jude with my stalkers Solene and Kevin

Posted by Gelli 01:07 Archived in Macau Comments (0)

Feck me, it's 2006 already. The story of a TP New Year

Who stole November 2005?!! And the story of the most amazingly fabulously spectacular fireworks display that you have even seen.

I really can't believe just how quickly things have gone. I really can't. It's now 2006, and i've been travelling since either the 20th April, or 13th May depending upon how you count it. And allot has happened in that time. It really doesn't feel anywhere near that long. But it's scary to think how quicky it's all gone. And how soon I have to actually return. Admittedly there are a few months left to go, but it's still creeping up on me with alarming speed. There's so much more to see and do, and so little time left to see it in and money to spend doing it. But i'm sure i'll come up with some cunning plan (or dip into the candy smuggling business) to keep me going for a whilst longer.

I suppose that some of you want to know about my New Years Resolutions. Ok, I don't really suppose that at all. And in fairness, they aren't worth it. My main one is not to make anymore stupid New Years Resolutions, which i probably actually broke within seconds because i made the resolution about not making anymore stupid New Years Resolutions. On a more normal note, I have resoloved that this year, finally, I will not get arrested, deported or shot at for the entire year. Actually, i'll take any 2 of the above 3, as I think managing all will be virtually impossible. That might sound relatively straight forward, but I've have been making the same resolution for several years now, and not managed yet, so who knows...

Hong Kong is really wierd. Crazily wierd. Spookily wierd. Everything is just so familiar, but completely different at the same time. Granted that it was British run until 1997, but even so, I was surprised at how familiar and almost comforting (yuk, i know) it seems. Stupid things, like the fact that all the road signs are in the same colours as in the UK and use the same font. Foreign looking people are speaking in English, and it's their first language (in some cases). There are white people, Indian people, coloured people all around, and yet you know that some of them are actually normal residents as opposed to most places I have visited in the last 6 months or so where they are either (a) backpackers (b) English teachers or (c) business people on assignment. And of course, many of the shops are the same. Sure, McDonalds and the Body Shop appear everywhere (except Bosnia-H. Dear god, please keep it that way), but seeing Marks and Spencers and Boots is a bit more random.

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Assorted 20HKD notes. Every bank produces their own notes, meaning that mulitple designs of the same note are in circulation.

I stayed first in the Mirador Mansions, a neighbour to the infinitely more infamous Chunking Mansions on Nathan Road, in Kowloown. I can helpfully inform anybody that books the New Garden Hostel through the hostelworld engine (i.e. most hosel sites) that 99% of it's claims are rubbish (internet is not free, reception is not 24hour, there is a curfew etc), and the pictures are certainly not from any of the bits which i saw. And lets just leave it at that.

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Bed sheets at the New Garden Hostel...

Spent a couple of days mostly wandering around HK island and Kowloon at random. Bounced around on the Star Ferry across the harbour, and on trams along Hong Kong Island, both of which were dirt cheap (about 14pence each). On the 30th, I hooked up with Jase007, of TP, and took a trip up the escalator entirely by accident. We didnt know that it was the worlds longest covered escalator when we started, just that we wanted to cross the road. To say it's the longest is a bit of a cheat as it isn't one contnuous one, but 28 or so flights of escalator later (including, oddly, one downhill stretch) and we arrive at a wall half way up the mountain. By that point we were expecting to see a wisened old grey haired man answering questions about the world truth, or at the very least, a crowd of people who had sone the same as us and were now wondering how the fr1gging hell they were going to get back down again. About two thirds of the way up is the self proclaimed last bar until heaven, which gives you some idea of it's scope. Went for a couple of drinks on Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong islands man drinking area, where we managed to order the only things not on happy hour discount, and then collected NikkiDutch (also TP, and who i'd met in Beijing as well).

I will say this now as a warning to anybody else entertaining the idea of meeting up with people they come aross online, espeially on travel websites. Meeting TPers can be bad for your health. With the possible exception of Lil J, all have been alcoholics, and with New Year coming up, things were kind of going to go downhill. And from there on in, it kind of became a mad 2 day bender.

Don't anybody say I didn't warn you if TP meetings ends up giving you cirossis of the liver.

End of public service anouncement.

I won't go in to much detail of the following 2 nights activities, mainly because none of us can really remember everything all that clearly. There was something about furry and fluffy, an entirely unintentional visit to a brothel (i think we were trying to find a toilet), a tall bald guy we picked up for no apparent reason, an astonishing discovery that you can get a draught pint of Tuborg Jul ol (Danish Christmas beer) in Hong Kong, which i've never seen outside of Denmark before, a long taxi ride for no apparent reason around Kowloon peninsula in which the automatic doors caused a slight issue, wall climbing to go to the toilet in a bush, a pint which was drummed off the table into my lap, a night spent in the wrong hostel due to 12 flights of stairs plus a band who we managed to get doing request songs, some of which i seem to remember were a tad on the bizare and unlikely side...

By the following night, New Years Eve, we had gained an American friend Andy, and things just went downhill.

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Spending New Years with these people (Jason and random local, Nikki and Andy) is not neccessarrily good for your health...

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New Years Eve is always a strange night for me. They generally are a let down anyway, massively overhyped and normally involving huge entrance fees, plus in my case the sad memory of the death of my best friend Marc, back in 97, which doesn't always exactly lead to a great sense of mind. So i'm generally in a strange mood anyway.

Every day of the year at 8pm, Hong Kong harbour has a laser light show. Kind of fun, kind of cheesy, I admit, but assorted lasers and spotlights, plus 28 buildings changing colour whilst dancing to music (if your on the walk of stars in Kowloon, at least) is probably worth seeing at least once. And they promised a little extra on NYE. So out we sat and watched the show, with the added extra this time of a few fireworks. Enough to make it different, but not enough to be totally 'wow'. Afterall, a firework is a firework, and only the very best displays (such as those you always see on TV as happening in Hong Kong at New Years) are memorable.

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8pm fireworks weren't too bad

After the show was over, the crowd disperse until it was just us lot left drinking on the pavements. Took a quick walk through the strange one way walking system to kill some time, and returned to the front to join the thronging masses. It was somewhat surreal to spend New Years eve sitting on the dock in Hong Kong, with 500,000 or so others, eating Crackers and cheese, drinking 7-11 vodka/brandy and mixers whilst waiting for the fireworks show that you always see on TV and is the most spectacular one going, possibly baring Sydney. It really was oddly great fun.

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The assembled masses await the big moment...

And topped off perfectly at midnight, with a HK island sky scraper light count down to 0 (with utter silence for #4, as that number signifies death in China) followed by.......
Zip.

Nada.

Ingenting.

Absolutely nothing.

Yup. Just that.

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The Midnight sky on the turn of the New Year, Hong Kong

And about 15seconds into 2006, a single red rocket launched on the far bank, went up, puff into 3 sparkles, and that was it.

Welcome to 2006.

But the thing is, it could not heve been any better. It was literally perfect.

From there, it started to get messy again. At various points, we seemed to gain a number of green glowing light sticks, followed by 2 green glowing light balls (one of which just had to be worn as a hat, to the delight and laugher of every HK person we subsequently passed that night). Why Ialways end up wearing silly hats on any kind of occassion, and always to the delight of the locals is beyond me. Which might actually be no bad thing. We then also aquired some beers and a kiwi girl, a german girl, then more unlikely a group of 25 or so goths and some Policemen amongst others, before ending up back in the previous nights haunt for several interesting hours of draught Newcastle brown ale (something else hard to find outside it's home area), probable dancing and sheer drunken idiocy, some more strange masks and hats and some clacky hammers. And probably more furry and fluffy. I really can't remember. I do recall that Andy and I spent the night (or, rather, morning) sleeping first in a corridor and then in a stairwell, due to the previously mentioned lack of professed 24hour access and no curfew.

If anybody would have told me on New Years 2005 that a year later i would be celebrating by drinking vodka on HK harbour front with half a million Chinese people, whilst eating Crackers and Cheese and waiting for absolutely nothing whilst wearing a large glowing green ball on my head, i'm not entirely sure what i'd have said although knowing how these things work out, I wouldn't have not believed him.

And just to top it all off in perfect manner, we arranged to meet to go to an Irish bar for a big fry up brunch on the 1st only to discover that the pub was shut. It really was the perfect finale to an amazing, if slightly different New Years celebrations!

And now, me thinks, it could be time to dry out for a day or two.

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There's always one that has to spoil the festive fun by not paying the electric bill...

Posted by Gelli 23:19 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (1)

Of motorcycles, massage and the luckiest CSer around

Twenty three hours to Guangzhou isn't really all that long, and the train was a good half empty. I took the opportunity to do some things sadly lacking. Sleep, and reading being amongst them. Admittedly the former was slightly harder, due to the fact that Chinese trains have music constantly pipped in to them between about 6am and 9p (lights out at 10), meaning that if you are on the top bunk (luckily, this time i wasn't) you get woken at 6am.

I hopped a bus straight to Dongguan, a city of some maybe 8million, in the huge Guangzhou - Shenzhen - Hong Kong corridor, and turned up at one of the biggest and most impressive bus stations I have ever seen. I was staying with a Quebecois, Jeff, a fascinating English teacher who had wandered around a chunk, and spent time in Serbia and Libya amongst others. Thats really travelling to teach English to enjoy it, as opposed to people running away from something or just out to make a quick pile of cash to clear the debts as many seem to be.

Possibly the luckiest CSer i have ever met, Jeff shares an appartmet with a almost constantly changing group of Chinese girls (9 at current count), who look after him. One, a lovely girl called Joan (or mama) plays the role of tribal elder, and the rest come and go. All are former students of his from Hunnan province, who have come to the Special Economic Areas and big cities of the Canton area, in order to find jobs. And there are any number of them scattered around area, working their own network.

A friend of Jeffs, Isaac, picked me up to head into town and hook up with Jeff for dinner. Oddly enough, I had never been on a motocycle before. Back of a tandem and snowmobiles, sure, but never a motorbike. And I must admit, that being driven around on the back of a bike, in a large sprawling yet obscure Chinese city by a huge friendly Ghananian, was not how I expected my first trip to occur. There was something somewhat comic about the whole scenario, and the picure of us certainly seemed to be very amusing to any number of Chinese drivers/pedestrians and fellow motorcyclists, who gaped, pointed and laughed in equal amounts. Another stupid first for me, ticked off on the trip. And the fact that we ended up eating Pizza (made with actual cheese. Anybody who has travelled or lived in China/Japan/Korea will understand the novelty here) in a Morroccan restaurant in China owned by a German didn't even seem particularly strange.

Not really the most exciting on entrants, this one, is it? You could just say that i'm wasting space.

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A small corner of the Kenyuan Garden, Dongguan

Got the most fantastic head and upper body massage that evening, which managed to more or less force my cold straight out of my system (these guys are good. And cheap), and the following morning went to wandrearound the Keyuan Garden, on of Guangdong provinces 4 famous gardens from the Qing Dynasty. A surprisingly quiet and relaxed oasis in the middle of the noise and chaos of Dongguan. Had some Chinese tea, and then i bought hotpot lunch for Jeff, Joan and 4 of the other girls at the little sheep restauarant (come on, it had to be) for a grand total of about 120RMB. Yup, a huge lunch for 7 people for about 8gbp. Great stuff.

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Jeff and some of his girls at lunch

And with that I embarked on a 3hour bus trip, across the border at Shenzhen for both departure and arrival without any incident, and down through the New Territories to Kowloon.

Feck me, i've made it to Hong Kong.

And still not been on a plane.

Posted by Gelli 22:37 Archived in China Comments (0)

Jul and similar type stuff. Including the delay of the torch

It wasn't too cold, and wasn't white (seemingly unlike the UK and Sweden etc. I always seem to miss the best winters or summers by being somewhere else), there were people with guns wandering around, and we did not much more than eat. Jen, I, and two other surfers, the Chinese Canadian duo of Nat and Mel had moved into another appartment for Xmas period, closer to the city.

Christmas (or Christmas Eve, depending on which part of the world you are in and it's respective celebration time) is one of those things that is great when you are a kid, and again when you have kids, but can lack a tad for those years in the middle. But being in a non celebration country which is pretending to celebrate anyway is an interesting twist. But it consisted almost entirely of food. And stupid hats. A lovely green tinselly type effect was added underneath a goldilocks style red Xmas hat I seem to have ended up wearing, to the constant amusement of most Chinese and white peple alike. Ah, what the heck. It's Christmas. Except it wasn't. I hadn't heard Slade at all, and anybody that has even been in the UK for december/Christmas, will know how much you are used tpo hearing it, and why getting to Christmas without it is a strange occurence.
A huge Hotpot type brunch was followed barely 3 hours later by another trip to the ducky place for a huge Roast duck Xmas Eve dinner.

I've said it before, I know.

Mmmmmmm. Duck.

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Carving Beijing Duck

The gap in the middle i used to be vaguely touristy, and visited the Yong He Gong Llama Temple. Which strangely managed to stay surrene and quiet despite being squashed up next to one of the ring roads and an industrial plant. And surprisingly colourful and looked after. Including some somewhat plump looking lama's who look to have beer bellies, although that seems more unlikely.

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Yong He Gong Llama Temple

And after a huge duck dinner, we randomly came across sick-Nikki's (NikkiDutch, a TPer) hostel, talked or way inside and woke her up sufficiently confused that she was convinvced that I was Chinese trying to feed her more food. I blame the stupid Christmas hat, but that can't really be the answer. And of course, the only way to continue after 2 huge meals (after the inevitable crawling taxi journey. Where the heck is everybody going at 11pm on a Friday evening?!) was obviously more food. I had the constant feeling of being fattened for the kill. Cake, cookies and fruit. Plus the odd beverage. I somehow got talked into heading to a club/bar type place by Jen to cleberate the arrival of Christmas with a load of people, (Phil, no show) which essentially mean't i got to go clubbling in a stupid Christmas hat, and then - Grrrrr. Annoying Chinese - climb up 12 floors on our return because the lift had shut off at midnight.

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Smile, kind of. It's now Christmas. Both the stupid hat, the reasoning behind Jen's yellow tongue and Louisa's happy state are probably best left un-inquired about

I can say without question that i got up the earliest on a Chistmas morning since back when we were little kids annoying the parents by trying to greet Santa at 4am. And that waking up at 8am on Christmas Morning, barely 2 hours after getting in to go and stand in the freezing for an hour waiting for a bus which didn't turn up wasn't neccessarilly my idea of fun. Ah heck.

The original plan was for a load of us to go up to Simatai on the 24th and spend the night up on the wall, waking up to watch the sunrise at Xmas over the unrestored wall. Which sounded a damned cool thing to do at Christmas, I must admit. By the time we actually left, it was down to 3 of us going for a day trip to Simatai, but even that didn't work.

The bus was supposed to take us out to Simatai, the old unrestored but accessible section of the Great Wall of China. But as it didn't turn up, it didn't. Or might have done, just without going via our bus stop. Who knows. Instead we ended up in Tiananmen where we hoped a regular tourist bus to the Badaling Great Wall section. The most touristy part, sure, but with changing plans and time running out, it more or less had to happen.

But I wasn't going to miss both the wall and the DMZ within 2 weeks of each other. No way. It was't too bad, in fairness. We had enough time there, scorned the cable car, ignored the famed starbucks, which thankfully isn't actually on the wall itself as originally planned, but rather is in the tourist village at the bottom, and together with a guy from Derby we picked up along the way, turned left on to the wall instead of right like 98% of all other people, and had a good old chunk pretty much to ourselves.

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We pondered the point of building the wall as they had. It isn't actually one wall at all, but rather lots of individual defensive walls taked together. It's long. So long that they are still finding new chunks. Some as long as 1400km. And under no circumstances is the daft idea that you can see it from space true, nor has it ever been. I can't believe - and haven't for years - that so many people believe such utter garbage. Just think about it, if you want to know why. Around Badaling, bits of wall seemed to dissappear in all directions, including a number of cutoffs, toilet breaks (!) and what semed to end up as a circular wall. Hmmm. And much of it was fr1ggin steep. I really wouldn't have wanted to be carrying much up and down some of these inclines at all, let alone have to run up and down in military formation.

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The wall gets a bit steep in places...

We amused ourselves happily for about 3 hours, playing with the hawkers (one guy wanted to see a plaque to say we'd been there. He started on 85, I started on 6. He came down to 10, but refused to go lower, whilst another I tried to sell my stupid Christmas hat to for 500usd, and then utterly confused her by switching currencies back and fore as normaly happens to you, but had no sale in the end. Fate mean't i had to keep wearing the hat) and wandering along the wall to its accessible limit, which was great because you could then see the unrestored section snaking off into the distance.

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Some of the unrestored section near Badaling

Headed back into Beijing, collected a few people including a semi recovered Nikki and lost Stewart, and went for a wonderfully traditional Christmas dinner of Muslim food.... Erm.... Ok, so it wasn't pork, salmon or turkey (delete as appropriate for your own tradition), but it was damned tasty. Fantastic skewers of meet and chicken, and bowls of wonderfully tasty and spicy meet and veg.

Even the non Chinese food in China is amazing. I have to return here for the long haul if it's the last thing I do.

And then Boxing day, an almost alive again Nikki and I headed to the Forbidden City. In some places, there are certain things you just have to see, and in Beijing, that's it. Hugely disspointingly, the audio guide which so many people had recomended (Ian in Brasov being the first, i believe) because of the voice of Roger Moore, was actually read out by some Chinese woman instead. It turned out to be very funny in places, but also somewhat odd... The scene was set before even endering the city, where a group of Chinese soldiers were on manouevers in the outer courtyard. On a basketball course. Some of their moves were very fancy, but look like they had been stolen from John Travolta, whilst the random guys who went in and out of their command post out of uniform whilst drinking beers added to the spectacle.

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The Forbidden City is kind of big. 9000 rooms, allegedly, although we sure as heck didn't see that many, or even work out where they could all be, unless there were several underground levels as well which they didn't admit to. The city consists of a number of palaces, temples, throne rooms and the like, all with names like "Palace of heavenly beauty" and "Room of incomparable tranquility". Plus a 9 dragon wall, amazing but strangely out of place rock garden at the rear, and of course, starbucks.

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PArt of the Roock Garden near the rear, and Nikki outside Starbucks in the Forbidden City

Yup, in the central attraction of the biggest communist country on the plane, and a place so closed in it's history that even the high and mighty of the Chinese gentry and nobility were not allowed access, capitalism has reared it's ugly head. We half expected to run into some of the other old standards - KFC, Macky D's, Bennetton, Body Shop and Kwik Fit - but at this stage, only Starbucks are allowed in. Good grief. It was amazing to walk around, although you did get theimpression that there was an awful lot more there that was not being shown off, and after the first half dozen palaces, you start to flag a little. The incorporated Jewellery museum was interesting as well, although conspicuosly lacked anything even vaguely resembling jewellery. Hmmmm.

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I was supposed to leave that very evening, but it's here that the story of the torch comes in to play. After I'd had a beer with Nikki, I headed to the station. Cleverly, I had realised that rush hour traffic mean't that I wouldn't get there in time by surface, so i took the subway and then a little motorised scooter taxi to the station. Plenty of time. It was then that I hit the metal detectors. All major Chinese stations seem to have metal detectors which all bags must go through before you are allowed into the buildings, and Beijing West is no exception. Nothing ever happens, and I haven't seen anybody get even vaguely stopped before. Or since. Unfortunately, however, Mine did. The same stuff that had gone through Beijing Main and Shanghai without incident was now being pulled up. Sufice to say, this was a rare enough occurence that it confused them a tad, even mnore so that I was a non Chinese speaking foreigner. Rats. Story cut short, but after about 20mins of playing, they discovered that what they were objecting too was actually my torch. I might have to change it actually, as It caused some curiosity by the gun wielding cops searching for bombs when i tried to leave my bag in Tobolsk that time.

With time rapidly running out, they finally let me go. I stuffed my cr*p back into the bag, stuff dangling everywhere and ran. Got to the departure hall with 3 mins to spare. To discover that thy cose the platform 3mins before departure. And thus, i got to stand and watch my train in the station for 3minutes. Then another 10 as it was delayed, and I still wasn't allowed on. And then got to watch it slowly roll out without me.

Yay. I knew they had to make up for letting me into the country so easily at some point.

I somehow managed to change my ticket without problem, although the nights late departure was full, so i had to wait until the following day. The wonderful Jenifer yet again answered a sheepish phone call and said I could crash at hers, saving me roughing it on boxing day. With time to spare, I then arranged to hook up with Stewart and take a wander. We went up to the Donganmen street market, now removed from it's traditional rabbit warren home to become a bright and cheery row of touristy stalls on a main road. But there was still lots of interesting foods to try.

Things like snake held little interest, as i had tried them before, and whilst the beef and chicken etc stuff looked and smelt fantastic, it's boring stuff. So i indulged first in sheep's testicles (surprisingly large, kind of a cross between soft Chicken
and pork tastes, and somewhat watery), followed by Starfish (tasy, crab like, but you are still pulling the little spikes out of your mouth and teeth a week later) and the inevitable centipede. On a stick. I have come across any number of contenders for wosrt (or most boring) job in the world on this trip, but the guy who has to put the skewers through the legnth of the centipede is well up there! Centipede was disapointing, in that whilst there wasn't a huge amount of meat (no sh*t, i hear you say), it wasn't the most amazing tase wise. The ends were ok, but the middles were a bit strange. It was quite funny watching them cook it though, and seeing all of the legs suddenly unfurl in the hot fat. And with that, a bottle of rice wine, some beer and the boxing day premiership games, It was time to leave. Again.

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Sheeps testicles and Starfish, waiting to be cooked and eaten (by me) in the Donganmen Night Market

I never did meet up with Phil.

Happy Christmas and God Jul everyone.

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Tiananmen Square at Night

Posted by Gelli 19:09 Archived in China Comments (0)

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