A Travellerspoint blog

China

And relax... Sort of.

There is no need to go through the at times chaotic and surreal details of my madcap dash through Beijing, but in the manner of Challenge Aneka at her finest, I made it with seconds to spare. 2 minutes later, several Chinese were curiously standing around a white guy sitting on the steps to an office block laughing hysterically, punching the air in delight and waving a small rectangular piece of paper around.

Happy days.

Had two great nights out in Beijing, although sadly due to a technological hitch (f*cking stup1d phone), never hooked up with Phil again for his birthday celebration. It was strange being back at Leo's. Two folks from my previous visit were still knocking around (one of whom, Jamie, I'd bet against with a Danish girl one night, and ended up being so embarrassed by the failure of the Canadian guy who I had backed and seemed unbeatable, that I'd changed my bet to "Random black guy" [this is not meant to be in any way racist]). In addition, Martin and his sidekick Christian, two Swede's we'd met on Don Det at New Year (although neither had any memory of that whatsoever, such was their addled state) turned up as well. In the way of hostels, we twice ended up with damned good groups of 25+ people heading out, and it was a fitting end to my time in China.

I'll really miss this country allot.

And I will return, I hope, very soon.

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Miles. Metres. Meh. Close enough!

After supplying up for the journey, I headed to the station with plenty of time to spare, not wanting another metal detector incident, or to push my luck in the slightest. Although not mentioned anywhere on any station publicity, it was obvious which platform queue was ours. I haven't seen a single Russian looking person in the whole of Beijing, and then suddenly, there is about 40 of them queuing up.
Oddly enough, despite the horror stories, there was no trouble at all, and my bags weren't weighed, and my ticket not even checked until i was entering the train. Got on the train, and we left a minute early. And yes, i was on it. It's now almost 3 days ahead of me to Irkutsk, and I was Finlay leaving China and with enough time to get back to Europe.

Still no planes, and few obstacles ahead. In theory.

I couldn't help but be bemused at my troubles to get hold of a ticket, when i realised that I was out numbered by the provodniks (2-1) as the only passenger in our carriage. Hmmmm.

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It says it's the Vostok, on the Beijing - Moscow run. And it even was. I'm on the way
Late the following afternoon at an obscure Chinese stop, i began to realise why, when the carriage suddenly started to fill in a big way with a large group of Chinese traders. They each had significantly more stuff with them than I own in total (let alone was carrying with me), and before long there was cr*p everywhere. 2 joined my compartment (China - Russia through trains only have 2nd class Kupe places, not the 3rd class Platskartny I normally use) and the remaining berth and all other space in the compartment where other useful things (such as oxygen) could fit were soon swallowed by their cr*p.

Oh well, doesn't bother me providing I still have my berth and enough space for my bag, which I did.

After passing through such delightful cities as Shenyang and Harbin, and spending the last of my Yuan in the restaurant car on a delicious but scarily overpriced (for a Chinese restaurant car) meal - where, impressively, with just a single look, the woman handed me the English menu as opposed to the Chinese, Russian or German ones, at 4am on the third morning, we reached Manschuria.

Manschuria is the Chinese border station. We were locked in our carriage for about 90mins whilst they whisked passports away (after a slight scare when a very friendly and English speaking inspector insisted I had overstayed my visa for a day, and I had to explain that he was looking at the last entrance date on my visa, and not the 30days after I had actually entered date. We then spoke at length about Lijiang - no never been, although he thinks I had - Tie Li, Brazil, Rawney [Rooney] and Sun Jihai before he eventually happily pottered off). No luggage or customs checks at all. Passports returned, and then we had about 90mins to wander the platform and small shop area.

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Manschuria station at about 5am after disembarking after passport control, the welcome sign at station (curiously not in Russian as well) and an almost perfectly phonetic sign

And then the fun started.
A sh1t load of new passengers, mostly Russian, then went through customs and boarded the train. I returned with about 20mins to go before departure to discover a huge heated row going on. It involved everybody else in the carriage, but was centered on my compartment. All the Russian boarders were also traders with large amounts of baggage and you can probably see where this is going...

Anyhow, everybody was being utterly stupid and I made the mistake of uttering words in Mandarin to a Chinese and Russian to a Russian (I think It was "Excuse Me" and "Thanks"). Upon which - and realisation that I was a third party foreigner - I was seized upon as translator extraordinaire. Despite maybe having as much as 100 words of each language, that was about 90 more than anybody else could muster of the other, and led to everybody shouting at me at once in 2 languages I don't speak, and my having to mediate between a group of extremely stupid Russians and a group of even stupider Chinese, who regardless of if they knew each other beforehand had now forged into a Chinese mass and a Russian mass.

Why me?

We went 25mins to the Russian border, in the process going from 7.30am and brilliant sun, to 2am and still brilliant sun, such is the way of Russian railways and use of Moscow Time. It was then 3hours stuck on the train whilst we went through Russian immigration (easy), and customs (easy for me and the Russians, hell for the Chinese). The Russian inspector enjoyed making every Chinese person open every bag and throw stuff everywhere whilst searching for anything vaguely contraband. In such an enclosed space and with so much stuff in it to begin with, it was utter Chaos. What struck me most was the sheer amount of utter, utter cr*p and entirely random rubbish which the Chinese "traders" were carrying. Very little seemed even good enough condition to sell, let alone be vaguely desirable. And whilst admittedly they may make their money on the return legs, I can't work out how they would even break even on ticket prices trying to sell stuff which second hand shops would normally turn down.

After 3hours, we were turfed off the train for 4 more whilst they changed bogie's. Russian Railways are at a wider gauge than the standard gauge Chinese - and most of the rest of the world - meaning time consuming delays at the border as they don't yet have TALGO technology, and I doubt, ever will.

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Dual gauge track at Zabaikalsk station, plus changing the bogie's in the shed from Standard gauge Chinese ones, to broad gauge Russian ones, ready for the trek through Siberia towards Moscow, and, below, Zabaikalsk station with passengers awaiting the re gauged train for re boarding

I spent some time in the carriage shed watching out of curiosity, wandered around the town of Zabaikalsk (and exhausted it's possibilities), got all misty eyed at the discovery that 2 carriages on my train had come through from Pyongyang, North Korea, got some food, did some reading and just farted around.

And then it was, finally, back on board to another 2full days of screaming, shouting, arguing and my needing to mediate as best as i could, whilst mostly swearing in an assortment of other languages and wishing they would all disappear in a cloud of smoke, or at least eaten by wild animals or some such.
As long journeys go, it could have been worse, but I admit that I've had more relaxing ones. Roll on Irkutsk. Or wherever the heck these people are getting off.

I've just realised that for all I will miss about China - and that is allot, even without considering the delights of watching old people ballroom dance in parks (I kid you not, this has become a major hobby of mine) - the hardest thing about leaving China (and everywhere I have been before it) will be learning how to use a knife again...

Posted by Gelli 23:33 Archived in China Comments (0)

It's getting really, really tight...

4 hours until I know if i'm forced to - shudder - fly

With Xi'an out of the way, it was back to the trek back. Although it isn't necessarily somewhere i will rush straight to return to, i like the city and am more than happy that i eventually managed to get to the Terracotta Warriors. But I'm in a rush, and after 2 stationary nights for leisure (a day at the Warriors, and a day spent wandering the city with some people including a long trek in the blistering heat around the impressive 14km long city walls), it's back on the road home. And no more Heart.

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View along the vast Xi'an city walls, then two views from the walls, and a brilliant sign on the South East Corner of the Walls, which I don't ever want to translate for fear that it might make more sense!

10 days down, only another 12 or so to go.

I headed back to Beijing, praying extremely hard for a sudden bit of luck, but not really expecting it at all. I've more or less resigned myself to flying. It's either that or go up via the river at Blagoveshenk on the least known and touristed (but actually cheapest surface route between Moscow and Beijing) and be a day or two late returning. Assuming I can then get a useful ticket in Blagoveshenk, of course. It's a possibility

And besides, I had an appointment at the Turkmeni embassy to meet the Ambassador.

I'm not entirely sure why, but things seem to be happening quickly and with an efficiency quite unlike anything I've come across in that part of the world before. The more I think about that evening, the more I'm convinced that there is a hell of allot more going on than I know about, and that is really playing on my mind.

What the hell is the real story here? Somebody? Anybody? Answers on a postcard, please.

4 hours until deadline moment (end of business on Friday, meaning last chance for tickets) and still nothing. I was expecting it to be tight, but 4hours - and i will still have to dash across the city and somehow find the correct building even if successful - is starting to cut things a bit fine, regardless of the confidence of my agent that it is early days yet.

The embassy experience was, erm, interesting, and curious but not exactly enlightening in the slightest. More than that, I won't say for now.

2hours to deadline I get a phone call.

Wrong number.

B*gger.

Fart around some more.

1hour 20mins to deadline.

YIIIIIIPPPPPPPPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!

One very lovely agent has found me a returned ticket, and in the nick of time. But it's too late to deliver it (meaning I didn't have to stay in the damned hostel after all, as the only reason I did was for a delivery address. Bah!). All I have to do is get to their office, in a neighbourhood which i don't know - and I don't actually know where I am myself, at this point - in the next hour to claim the ticket. If I fail, It's all over right at the end and in the cruelest way possible.

This is not necessarily a sure thing under any circumstances.

The race is on (and yes, I have Yello on my MP3. Groan. But at least it's a great track!)

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An odd building sign, in Xi'an. I have no idea what it's supposed to be, but I am definitely intrigued!

Posted by Gelli 21:40 Archived in China Comments (0)

How to get back from the Terracota Warriors, Gelli style

1. Turn down dodgy looking minibuses and opt for tried and tested 7RMB bus
2. Note in amusement that police car in front also stops to pay motorway entrance toll
3. Accept fact in resignation that bus and a tricycle delivery vehicle manage to have an, urm, altercation. Despite the fact that both are stationary in traffic....
4. Watch ensuing argument
5. Start laughing as in typical Chinese style two trucks behind funneling into the one free lane next to us refuse to yield and also crash
6. Watch ensuing argument
7. Accept that despite no obvious damage to either party, bus will not move due to assorted shouting matches
8. Funnel in a mad rush onto replacement (read: bus which departed 30mins later and has now caught up) bus and stand in a contorted squeeze for last 3km.
9. Get on city bus back to hostel
10. Laughter but pain (due to increasing need for toilet) after 100metres when van crashes into rear side of bus
11. Watch ensuing argument
12. Serene resignation and acceptance as another 20mins and 250m later, bus then dies
13. Funnel in a mad rush onto replacement bus and stand in a contorted squeeze for remainder of journey
14. Groan in disgust (and seriously increasing need for toilet) as 100m later, replacement bus mows down cyclist
15. Watch ensuing argument
16. Finally arrive at Bell Tower, and alight bus.
17. Make mad dash to hostel for light relief purposes, almost ignoring the crunch 10 seconds after alighting which signifies that a taxi is now embedded into the front end of the bus
18. Other urgent priority prevents watching the ensuing argument
19. Sigh happily with relief having occurred
20. Resume perch on balcony overlooking Bell tower and roundabout where the previous night 6 accidents were witnessed, and within 20mins, I've witnessed 3more.
21. Watch all of the ensuing arguments, with a well needed cold beer in hand.

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The Bell Tower at night, after all the crashes...

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Chinese style semi Propaganda at the Terracotta Warriors

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Assorted pics of the Terracotta Warriors

Posted by Gelli 23:18 Archived in China Comments (5)

Dashing through the South of China

You can always tell who is Chinese and who is Laotian in Northern Lao. the Chinese are the ones having huge animated "Discussions" with large crowds watching, whilst the Laotian's aren't. So after an hour of arguments between rival bus drivers (groan) we actually left heading to China. After 3 entrances with no problems, i was due an awkward Chinese entrance, so can't really be too surprised. Leaving through Mohan had been fine, but entering took time. And lots of it. All 4 foreigners on the bus had issues, and each of us took well over an hour to process for different reasons.

Yay.

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A sign outside the Luang Namtha Bus Station (no, I have no idea) and loading a bus heading south

But made it to Mengla OK, and lucked out with a berth on the last sleeper bus of that day to Kunming, leaving in about an hour. Was joined on board by one of the the most stereotypical ignorant American surfer dude type people it's ever been my misfortune to meet. Sat for over 3hours at the same spot (more or less) as was delayed on the way down due to roadworks, and had the most stupendous rain storm. My MP3, for the record had excelled itself with a string of China related songs within the first hour or so of entry, followed by such delights as Blind Melon (No Rain) just as the heavens opened.

In Kunming i again lucked out and got a hard sleeper on the next train to Chengdu (Xi'an full, Chengdu an easy alternative) just 2 hours later, and spent a day going through some fantastic remote scenery in the South West of China and Himalayan foothills. In Chengdu I managed to get a useful connection North, giving myself about 6hours to have a quick wander around the city (pleasant, if like all others, under reconstruction) before heading through to Xi'an. I really need to return to Chengdu, and also the area between there and Kunming, but for now, time does not allow it.

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Images of Chengdu, although the bottom one is really beginning to make me think that somebody (Kiki?!) is giving me not so subtle hints

And thus after 8days of straight travel, I had made it to Xi'an, my first rest point on the mad trek North. And even with a day or two free to be a tourist and visit some Warrior type people...

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Xi' an Bell Tower in the centre of the walled city

Posted by Gelli 22:58 Archived in China Comments (0)

Completing the set of famous dead red guys

Back in Beijing, it was time to do some of that really horrible and utterly evil stuff which nobody in their right mind ever wants to do. Yup, i had to work a bit. I hate that word, i really do. But every so often, it has to be done. I also managed to finally catch up with Phil a few times, a British CSer out in Beijing who I'd tried to meet up with several times when i had last been around, but it just kept falling apart. Phil is stuck in Beijing after his ancient Ford Fiesta died in Mongolia on route from London to Ulan Bator. And despite being a really interesting and top guy, the b*stard even conned me in to helping him at work for a few hours. Every time somebody figures out what I do, they seem to find somebody who needs help. Oh well.

With then a few days to spare in Beijing until Erin's family went back to the US (Erin had been my host in Daegu, and has just finished working in Korea. Her family had visited her there and then they had all come to Beijing together to be tourists. In attempting to track her down at the hotel, thought I'd discovered a Chinese comedian when after much umming and ahhing, he asked if I was looking for 'Joking'. It took a while for me to realise he meant Joe King and wasn't having a laugh... We had planned to travel together down into Lao and Cambodia, partly to try and make her mother a tad less nervous about her daughter being out alone in the world. She feared Erin would be sold to slavery, whilst I promised only to sell her off if I got a good price), I took the opportunity to take i a few of the sights of Beijing i had manged to miss on my two previous visits.

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The rear corner of the Forbidden City from the outside

I finally got to see Chairman Mao in his mausoleum, my one "Must do" remaining, thus completing my set of dead communist greats after Papa Lenin and Uncle Ho. Mao was the quickest to get into, as they allowed more people around, whilst - oddly as he was the last to die - I think that he looked the most fake of the 3, and also somehow didn't seem to have any feet. All I need to do now to top off my set properly, is add a couple of not yet dead commie dictators (Gaddafi, Thatcher, Castro) and most of all, the Glorious Leader. If i can talk the North Koreans into that one, I will be a happy man indeed. And probably one much wanted by assorted other groups around the world, but nothing new there.

It has sadly come to my notice that certain people who should in no way know about this site have been reading it. You know who you are. Please stop it, now. Or if you insist on this unsolicited viewing, please don't use any of the information in it against any of the theoretical people (i.e. mostly me) who may or may not actually be real and appearing in the said page.

Happy now?

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Temple of Heaven

I also went to the Temple of Heaven, slightly disappointing as the main temple - like much of Beijing - is under reconstruction and closed, although the gardens were large and very pleasant to wander around in, an Oasis of calm in the chaos of Beijing. I tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to prevent Erin's family from buying the entire silk market, went for duck (Mmmmmm. Duck) and also to see the famed acrobats with them (a good show, although the number of performances the girls made with crockery was scary, and there had to be a message i there somewhere).

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Chinese acrobatic show

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Beihai Park, Dragon Wall, above, and awaiting the Tiananmen Square flag lowering ceremony, below
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Trawled the markets, saw the flag lowering ceremony in Tiananmen Square (Bollox was I get ting up at 6am for the raising) went back to the Lama temple, got hold of some Lao visa's, went to a jazz club to watch a great American group with a blind drummer, plus a club refreshingly full of Chinese people, and i took a stroll through Beihai park, again lovely, and again with the main temples under reconstruction.
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Jazz band with blind drummer playing in Beijing

Beijing is changing really, really fast.

Since I was last there, barely 2.5months ago, there have been new buildings and skyscrapers, hutongs have been demolished, my favourite restaurant and street food stalls have gone (although that didn't stop me eating as much of it as i could source from other places)

And in between all that, I managed to continue my jinx on Phil (in December his motorbike had died whilst on his way to meet me) by killing his bicycle, and snapping the key in the lock to my hostel room on two separate occasions. Great. And as always met my share of random travellers and those not quite with it. Two mention just two, a French guy picked up a Chinese girl when in the club, was taken to a fancy hotel by her where they got a room which she paid for, and then she slept on the floor with nothing happening to his bemusement. And a Canadian guy, who after wandering around naked one night, went to bed, got up and fully dressed, went and showered, took all his clothes off, wandered around naked again dripping everywhere and then back to bed, before pondering why his mattress was slightly damp. You really do meet all sorts travelling, and in hostels, and that's what makes is so much fun!

The 40hour train journey was uneventful, and even Erin (longest previous trip, about 12hours) enjoyed it, although it was tempered by the sight of a dead man lying on the railway tracks after being recently hit near Changsha. Hmmmm. Not good. The scenery further south though, after Ruili and into the darkness of the second night was wonderful - terraced farming in the hills, rolling valleys and patchwork fields of multiple colours. Lovely.

And so to Kunming for the third time. And good it was to be back. Spent much of the time just wandering, met up with a a couple of interesting fellow travellers, Simon and Soloman, did a load of chores, tried to convince chemists that Erin wanted Malaria tablets and not that she actually had malaria, finally visited the two pagodas missed first (ad second) time around, and enjoying the clean air after time in Beijing. And also the speed of change. Since my last visit, chunks of the city have been closed down, all the street food vendors have gone, and even the old market streets are close to the edge. Indeed, we walked through the bird market at about 3pm and a wall was starting to be built, and again at 11pm and it was entirely built. The wall is about a foot in from the shops, and when all joined up, means that the entire block will be closed off, and shortly afterwards, demolished. Scary, and very sad. Especially when there are lots of billboards asaying things like "Remember historic Kunming". Sure, you have to remember it, because it will have been destroyed before the month is out.

Sure, the construction and development of China is scary and impressive, but it's very sad that so many of the great old areas are being destroyed. Hopefully somebody relaxes their potential in time, before all of their historical legacy has been lost.

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Getting a street massage from a blind man in Kunming

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View inside a Chinese night bus

We headed down to Xishuangbanna, a semi autonomous province in south Yunnan, on the overnight bus. One of the things I love about travelling so much is when I get to introduce other people to random experiences and introduce them to the world etc whilst watching their reactions. To me, the journey was entirely routine, and the driving was serene and perfectly calm by even normal standards, let alone average Chinese ones. To Erin, it was a 14 hour death ride in which she was utterly convinced she was going to constantly die.

Culture Shock is a strange and fascinating thing.

In fairness, this thought probably wasn't helped by the fact that about 30mins after daylight, we stopped to collect an extra 35 odd passengers who squeezed onto our bus because their bus had crashed.

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The crashed night bus that we came across. It doesn't even look that bad from this side...

Mrs. King, don't worry. China is fine. It's the rest of Asia - and most of the rest of the world - where the driving comes anywhere near insane and survival chances are at best about evens. And seeing a dead body and having a near death experience (which really, it wasn't) in 48 hours or so really are just par for the course. I know I have a reputation for sometimes being in the wrong place at the wrong time and dodgy things happening, but I swear it's not my fault. And really truly and honestly, it really isn't any more dangerous than being in Detroit.

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Dai style hut

In Jinghong, we stayed in a Dai style hut on stilts which was really cool, although odd because it was in a courtyard in the middle of the city surrounded by concrete. Jinghong is a nice little place, and we explored by bikes. We went across the Mekong, looked at a market looking for food to try (Erin: what is that over there, it looks really tasty. Me: Erm. They are called socks...), wandered around a lovely local park, saw more Peacocks in one place than I've ever seen before in my life, headed through the fields into the lovely Dai countryside, wandered around town, found Banna Paradise (what would have been an amazing resort built around lakes etc, but is now a sad old crumbling mass and with a 4 lane road bridge dissecting it) and topped it off with the moment when less than 60 seconds after Erin muttered the words "I think my peddle is coming loose", she ended up with a crank falling off....

I know that I'm occasionally sometimes jinxed when travelling, but I'm beginning to think that I've more than met my match here. The border crossing could be interesting, to say the least.

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Erin feeding the peacocks, and me with my bike in a field, shortly before Erin lost a crank

And on that note, tomorrow at about 7am, we leave Jinghong. 5 hours later, we should be in Mengla. Theoretically, another 2 hours later in Mohan, on the border. And another maybe 30mins, potential food stuff issues and sh1t happens issues aside, we'll be in Lao.

More from there, or when I'm out of my Chinese customs jail cell.

Whichever is first.

Posted by Gelli 20:44 Archived in China Comments (0)

Note to Self: Never take any food stuff across any border...

Leaving Ho Chi Minh to get to Lao should be a relatively straight forward trip via Hue to Savannakhet, in maybe 30hours or so. If you don't have to go via Beijing, anyway. And thus it was that I embarked on a mostly uneventful and entirely routine (by my standards) 5 night journey. Cunning perusals of railway timetables meant that I got 5hours in Hue at a cost of only 50mins in HCMC, which gave me a chance to stretch my legs and get some food which wasn't the same meal served to everybody on every train in Vietnam.

A second night took me up to Ha Noi (cunningly planned so that I didn't have to spend a night there), where i got tickets through to Newport (sorry, Nanning) dead easily, and with time to kill and a bored ticket clerk who seemed to unfathomably like me, managed to haggle the ticket down from 560,000 to 160,000. I'm sure that shouldn't happen.

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A typical view of traffic waiting at Ha Noi traffic lights, and a classic sign...

10 hours or so free wandering around Hanoi and doing some chores, was followed by a 4.5hour trek to the border at Dong Dang in a natty and noisy 2 carriage train. It was at Vietnamese immigration that I had a little trouble. In this case it wasn't suspicious articles which got me in to trouble, but rather bent Vietnamese lacking supplies. I suppose it's my own fault. Not in any hurry, I waited until near the end to go through the immigration control, and then customs. Here bags go through an X-Ray, but you personally don't (this is standard on much of my trip. Basically, if your trying to sneak a gun or something evil and metallic through, keep it in your pocket...).

However, the carrier bag containing two bags of good Vietnamese coffee - bought in Hanoi as a gift, and as supplies, bearing in mind the Yunnan excepted terrible state of coffee i China - caused much sudden interest. If I'd repacked my backpack and put it in as I had planned, I doubt there would have been any trouble. But it seems that the coffee supplies at the border control had run out, and seeing the coffee, an enterprising guard rapidly talked to his fellow officers, and with me now last baring a couple of locals (quickly sent through before me) was succinctly told that I either give up the coffee to them, or they would detain me due to customs violations until the train had left, before profusely apologising for their mistake. As the train only runs twice a week, I would have been stuck in No mans land 25km from the Chinese post (which was also shut for another 8 hours). When the guard came to enquire if the train should leave, with no option baring to walk or rough it out all night and try and hire a taxi/hop a bus the following morning, I gave up. Left them grinning and with some excellent coffee, and me cursing Vietnamese Conn artists and the country in general one last time.

Despite everything, I did get the liquorice back.

I'm not sure that i've ever been so happy to leave somewhere, and it feels very strange. Chinese customs/immigration were straight forward as they always are, although timezones, timetabling and over enthusiastic Chinese staff meant that everybody was awoke barely 90mins after leaving Pingxiang in preparation for Nanning. An hour away. In Nanning, I stunningly managed to get a ticket leaving that night from an scarily empty ticket office (unsurprisingly, the ideal train was fully booked). I then left the station, and using an underpass crossed the road, where I immediately heard a couple of my favourite classic Chinese pop songs, and realised that I really had missed this country allot.

It's good to be back.

I somehow managed to kill 12 hours in Newport without getting too suicidal (it really isn't the most exciting of Chinese cities), and from there it was a simple 2 night 36hour trek back to Shangers, and a well needed shower...

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Newport (Nanning) High Street, and view over the River

It was very odd being back in Shangers. Despite being gone a good 7weeks or so, there were still familiar faces in the Hikers. Helen and Dennis were back again (they'd been there before Christmas as well as New Years), the entrepreneurial Jay was still knocking about, plus a couple of randoms who i recognised from previous trips. Jimmy (who'd climbed Hangshan with us) was also back, as was Paul who had left HCMC the same time as me, and despite flying (twice) had taken only 16hours or so less time (I'd even left Nanning a day before him it later transpired), and paid a good chunk more.

Sometimes surface travel even makes sense.

And the following morning, after a rowdy if not entirely perfectly Irish (we got a bottle of Jamesons and some beers, but don't get conned into drinking Guinness foreign extra. It's not worth it), Ivan the Dane, he of Shanghai, Yangshuo and Guilin, randomly turned up again after 6weeks back in Arhus, Denmark. It's like an old pals act here.

Shanghai's vortex was working yet again.

Spent a couple of days on chores, drinking, catching up, a little bit of strange work stuff (don't ask, the Russians were involved) and randomly being, and then tonight head onwards to Beijing, a full week after leaving HCMC.

When I get there, I'll even be slightly over halfway to Lao.

Posted by Gelli 23:25 Archived in China Comments (0)

Which idiot went and moved the promised land?!

And so to Yunnan. Kunming, city of eternal spring (apparently) and bin lorries (garbage trucks) and road sweepers which constantly play "Happy Birthday".

Hmmmm.

Kunming felt positively un-Chinese, it was odd. The sun was out and it was finally beginning to warm up a bit. Was this finally the promised land? Was the search over? Perhaps.

After a 40min walk to the hostel (Honestly. These people have been traveling with me long enough to realise that I like walking, and so if I say lets walk – bags and all – and they agree, they deserve all that’s coming to them), and a faintly ludicrous and heavily drawn out check in procedure (you are given a form to fill out, and then the clerk immediately goes and refills the same form with the same information, just so it’s in her own handwriting), we took advantage of the Camellia Hotel’s great breakfast buffet. I don’t often give specific recommendations to places, but if you do happen to be in Kunming – as I know many of you are on a regular basis – the hotel breakfast buffet is great value. Just don’t let them see you smuggle food out…

We then took care of the crappy yet necessary admin stuff (applying for 2 Vietnamese visas, and a Chinese visa extension. And no, not each) and with that, could settle down to being tourists. The Golden Temple Park on the outskirts (former site of world Horticultural show 1999 or some such, and including a death slide) was fairly interesting in a temple way, and a pleasant-ish way to spend a couple of hours. We got utterly lost in the flower garden trying to get out of any exit (there turned out to just be one, with lots of promising looking dead ends), amazed by the size of some of incense sticks burning, and tried to avoid – some did – being conned by the priests who read your palm, and which should probably have included a comment that they foresaw an imminent loss of some money…

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We think this sign actually says "Western Food"

Back in town, whilst Paul went to sleep, we wandered around the old Muslim areas of the city and markets. One of the things I am a real sucker for is street food, and I can happily confirm that Kunming has a great selection, ranging from Pineapples on sticks, to some wonderful fried and spiced tofu balls, with about everything you could possibly list in between. Yunnan coffee (and indeed tea, which is strong but exquisite) is fabulous, especially in a country which isn’t a big coffee drinker, and of course topping up of caffeine levels had to occur. The street market area was great as well, if mainly for the array of utterly bizarre shop combinations. I don’t remember all of them, but do recall that the shop selling kids shoes and assault rifles was my favourite!

Cuihu Park with it’s lakes was lovely, and the University area to the north of it was a heck of allot more attractive than most I have seen (Gipsy Lane, it wasn’t), and also had a small area of really bohemian style shops and restaurants. Central Kunming was very odd. It’s obviously changing extremely rapidly, with chunks of it being pulled down and rebuilt, but it leaves an interesting picture. You get to wander down some dodgy looking decrepit back alleyways, seeing real life in progress, before reemerging in the centre of a major pedestrianised shopping arcade. Which is probably best described (perhaps) as a cross between Rotterdam and Bristol. For those of you that have never been to either (or Kunming), tough.

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Mmmmm. Purple sticky rice

That evening we gained an American friend, and headed to try some of the local Dai food. Being SW China, the indigenous people are Dai’s instead of Han Chinese, and the proximity of the Burmese, Lao and Vietnamese borders has also had an influence on the local cuisine. I know I’m talking allot about food these days, but god damned it this is good stuff. Purple sticky rice in Pineapple (i.e. in a hollowed out pineapple) could have kept me in Kunming alone for months. And then I saw the price of room rental, and very nearly did. Some evenings happen entirely by accident, and this was one of them. On our way back for a few quiet drinks, we happened to come across somewhere with jars of local spirits in the window. Discovering that they were 4RMB each, we decided to try 4. We didn’t expect to receive 4 half pint glasses. They were, urm, potent, and shall we say, interestingly flavoured… Being 4 at least semi-alcoholic travelers, we couldn’t really leave them, and there was no way in hell that we could down them (a tiny sip of any was enough to scare us), so we ended up staying. And invented a card game to help. We originally agree to go after we’d passed 1/3 of the way down each glass, but somehow managed to get through all of them in the following couple of hours. How the heck we managed that, I have no idea, and never will have.

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Local firewaters

Dali railway station isn’t actually in Dali at all, a fact that we only realised in a taxyi at 5.30am when we left the station and immediately got on to the highway out of town into the pitch black countryside.

Oh well, you live and learn, mostly.

On the plus point, and although not the most salubrious of accomodations I have stayed in, the 15RMB we paid each for the room (about 1.07gbp) were the cheapest I have ever paid for accomodation in my life.

Dali was lovely. I had kind of expected it to be another version of Yangshuo – pretty and well sited, but very touristy and set up as a kind of backpacker heaven, but whilst parts of that were true, it really wasn’t. It was several times larger, and though it did have a few obviously touristy/backpacker bits, most of the town seemed authentic and normal Chinese by far out numbered white travelers, and those who’s jobs seemed to be to solely get business from the said travelers.

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Shoppers in Dali

It’s a great place to just wander. The walled city is large enough, and contains enough curios, back alleyways and traditional houses etc that you can easily kill a day or so doing nothing else. From one of the gatehouses, you can see the lake, only a couple of km away inviting you to its shores and water, whilst from almost everywhere you could see the fantastic mountain ranges just behind the town. Not desperately tall, but pushing 3000m, they are the tail end of the Himalayan range.

The weather was wonderful, if slightly chilly when the sun went down behind the mountains, and perhaps it almost was the promised land at long last. Together with the most amazing African American woman in her 40s, plus a German engineer, we had a Dai banquet. A once a week (admittedly tourist aimed) extravaganza of a long succession of stunning Dai dishes. Dai cooking is thus far definitely at the peak of my culinary rankings from this trip. The town by night is almost even more bewitching than during day. They have worked out the lighting to perfection, with a full moon and clear sky, and it just felt right wandering around with all the locals doing not allot. Although one close encounter with a firework, let off by an overly enthusiastic local which shot unexpectedly into a shop, whacking the assistant in the shoulder before embedding itself in a glass display case reminded us that we are still in China… Although completely different, it reminded my allot of Hvar, Mostar and Sarajevo at night from the beginning of my trip. And due mostly to it’s name, and our Shanghai – wherever trip being themed by stairs and monkeys, we ended up in the Bad Monkey.

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Dali by night

It was at this point that my body started to object. I’d barely managed to sleep in about 5 days, and despite a long night out, a couple of walks designed to try and tire me out and hot and cold showers, I wasn’t good. My gut was also starting to react in a big way (perhaps Dai food isn’t quite as amazing as all that…), and all I wanted to do (please excuse live altering information here) was to sleep and sh1t. I couldn’t do either, then couldn’t even keep water down, and then promptly went from not being able to sh1t to having to live on the toilet. Lets just say I didn’t have a good or productive couple of days. Apparently though, there are several really cool places near Dali, plus obviously mountains to climb and a lake to enjoy, which I will have to return to take advantage of.

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Kunming by night

Returned to Kunming by bus, along a 350km double land highway including several long tunnels and bridges, but which was almost entirely empty for the entire way, took a peak at the Chinese interpretation of Valentine’s Day (very westernized, and strange), collected our assorted visa’s – although mine included a crazy taxi ride involving a head on collision by two motorcyclists directly in front of us, and the hugely annoyed taxi driver who jumped out yelling and threw one of the motorcycles across the road (into another taxi, who’s driver and passenger were, shall we say, vocal in their unamusement), before shooting off at the speed of light, which seemingly so riled him, that he forgot to charge me – got some tickets and got the sleeper bus south to Hekou.

I’m going to Vietnam.

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Modern Art on the river front near the border in Hekou

Posted by Gelli 01:43 Archived in China Comments (0)

C-Cha-Cha. C-Cha-Cha. Oooh. Oooh

Travels into Yunnan in search of the promised land. And more stairs.

It's strange to be travelling with people again. I hadn't really realised it, but on this trip I haven't actually travelled with anybody at all. Sure, i've met people on the way, in hostels and other random places, bumped into several people on multiple occassions, and arranged to meet a few on the way. But In over 8months, I hadn't actually travelled with somebody(ies) I had met along the way until leaving Shangers, and it's suddenly very strange, and despite being a solo traveller by trade, i'm realising how much I do periodically miss traveling with other people.

Our intrepid quintet of mountaineers, however, became a trio quite quickly. James, who's idea it had been to begin with had developed a personal interest in Shanghai in the time waiting to be able to leave, and thus decided to cut short the road trip to return to Shanghai. Kyoko is lovely, and best of luck to the both of them. A day later, Jimmy headed off to Nanjing. Originally he'd planned to come a little further, but with a new job starting in only a few days, he decided to stay closer to Shanghai to avoid being caught out trying to return.

Huangzhou is somewhere which in summer i guess would be absolutely gorgeous. A large lake, parks, woods and low rolling hills with temples and pagodas in them make it a place that you want to be outside enjoying, whereas a fairly damp, chilly, windy winter day is not ideal, and it didn't leave a huge mark on me. I hope to return though, and give it a fair chance.

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And so it was that we headed south, aiming for the promised land. That almost went horribly wrong, with the taxi driver cunningly taking us to teh wrong railway station, leaving us with one huge mad scramble and second taxi ride to Huangzhou East. If the station had been any busier, or we'd have been literally 2seconds later, we'd have been goners, but for some reason, our luck was still holding and we got away with it. Just.

Chinese trains are classified. Z are non stop, T are the top level express trains. Chinese train tickets are also very hard to acquire for trains which don't originate in the town you are departing from. Most Chinese agents and ticket staff don't even bother to look up space availability on trains which originate elsewhere, even if requested. And thus it was that we spent 37 hours on an A train to Guilin. The journey actually only takes about 23hours, but being an A classified train means its a slow one. Which doesn't actually mean more station stops. Just that it stops randomly and frequently in the middle of nowhere for other trains to pass. The fact that this would be entirely unneccessary if the train wasn't scheduled to stop in the middle of nowhere anyway, seems to have eluded them. At one point in the middle of the night, i played rock/scissor/paper for 20minutes with a random and bored white guy on a train which had stopped next to ours for no apparent reason, whilst on a seperate occassion three trains behind ours all stopped alongside us, whilst yet another train went past. That cost us over 80 (timetabled) minutes, and explains why we took so damned long.

Our 37hour trip worked out at a hair-raising average speed of just under 27mp/h.

I love train journeys.

We were heading for the promised land. I've never had a warm/sunny winter before, and was looking for a month or so of warm weather and sun to enjoy, just for variety. Unfortunately, the promised land didn't turn out to be quite as promised.

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Elephant Hill

Guilin was still wet, and not especially warm. But not unpleasant. Guilin and the surrounding area of Guanxi province is charecterised by limestone Karst scenery. Basically, tall pillars of rock randomly dotted around. It doesn't sound especially amazing when put like that, but is actually really cool. We wandered around the Elephant Hill Park (literally, a Karst peak which resembles an Elephant drinking in the river) up the stairs to the top, and after collecting a friendly local (christened Simon, in honour of our Huanshan helper, as we know that they all will be from now on) the Princes City, a kind of smaller, less impressive and more expensive version of Beijing's forbidden city. And containing the inevitable limestone Karst pillar with a building on top. Up the equally inevitable long and steep stairway.

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River ferries and view of Princes City peak from below

Stairs are fast becoming a fixed point and overriding theme of this leg of the trip.

Guilin's other curiosity is that without exception, all restaurants have (a) all crockery and cuttlery shrink wrapped in plastic - due to some bizarre local law - which you have to pay to use (yup, you pay to use chopsticks and a bowl) and (b) that all meat and fish is displayed live outside, and you pick and choose what you want killed to eat. Well over half of it looks in a pretty poor way to begin with, whilst another segment contains animals that you can't even work out what they are (some voley things, some large brown things amongst others). Which is worrying when you ponder items offered on the menu, as you know that it sure as hell isn't a chicken or a pig...

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Guilin suburbs set out amongst the Karst peaks

We headed to Yangshuo, an hour by minibus. Getting minibuses is never straight forward in China. If the bus is not filled to about 120% of capacity, the driver trawls the streets at random looking for more passengers, and refuses to actually depart for the destination until he has satisfactoraly overfilled the bus. This can take time,and does take an inordinate amount of shouting, weaving and horn beeping, although in fairness this is standard to all Chinese driving. The delay mean't that we got to see the entirity of an absolutely fabulously bogus Hong Kong police/kung fu movie, which unfortunately i never knew the name of.

Yangshuo is a self confessed backpacker haven, and it shows. A small town on the river surrounded by some of the more dramatic karsts in the area, it has been turned into a white person's haven. In most places, menu's and signs are in English only, the food being served is often Western or westernised, and the entire town seems to contain entirely of hostels, cheap hotels, restaurants and gift shops selling every piece of unimaginable tourist kitch possible. But despite all that, it's not a bad place - it's picturesque, fairly relaxed and cheap. Our accomodation was 20yuan a night each, or about gbp1.40. I figure in the height of summer, it could be a hideous place, and overly full of white people, but off season it wasn't quite so bad.

We hired some bikes, gained another Simon as a guide, and later on two more travellers, and headed out into the countryside. Which is really lovely. Opportunities to do many things, including mud bathing, white water rafting and pot-holing (all simultaneously if you really wanted and fell out of the boat at the wrong moment), but we stuck to cycling and climbing. Moon Hill was only 841 steps (yes, i counted) and nothing at all like Huanshan had been, but still fulfilled our daily stair requirement quite happily. I told you that stairs were becoming quite a feature. And the view from the top over the local area and karsts was fantastic. The sun was even out. And I was back on a bike with some open road to play on, which was absolutely fabulous in itself.

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The view from Moon Hill

I've said it before, but if your reading this rubbish anyway, then you are stupid enough to put up with my constant repetitions, so i'll say it again anyway. I really miss my bike.

Some evenings are memorable for events, some for individuals. This was definitely one of later. A group of 8 of us (we randomly picked up a couple of old Shangers friends amongst others) headed out for dinner to sample the local speciality, beer fish. With a Chinese speaker in our ranks, we decided against the overpriced tourist restaurants, and instead headed to a small local looking place. Amongst others, we tried both the beer-fish and beer-duck (literally, fish - or duck - marinated in beer). How they are actually supposed to taste I don't know, as we ended up with, basically, two large plates of small bones. The fish plate also contained scales. But no meat was to be found anywhere. The meal would have been a complete farce, had it not been for the resence of a specific Chinese man and his extended family at the next table.

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Out at dinner on the beer fish night

Towards the end of our meal, and fortified by some consumed Baijou, he decided to befriend us. He spoke no English, but it mattered not a jot. We received biscuits, cigarettes, fruits of assorted kinds, spirits, mints and more as gifts. We offered leftovers, beer, cigarettes, and, well, us. Games we're played. Rice wine and beer was drunk. Singing was cringe worthy (and the title here reflects one of our favourites, which has been turned into a cult track to be sung at every opportunity, along with another more soppy but brilliant Chinese classic, approximately translated as "Mouse loves Rice"). Pictures were taken in abundance and much hilarity was had all around. We left the restaurant entirely unconcerned by the pathetic meal, and having had one of the best times of recent months. And all because of a drunk Chinese man, and his amazing family.

Although I will divulge that i ended up being given a free taxi ride and being dropped off randomly in the middle of a field, being waddled after by large cow (i believe, although it could have been somthing else making moo-ing noises) and also walked alone over a not inconsiderable Karst in the pitch black, i will leave the story there. Events, memories, pictures and impressions from the remainder of the evening are best left as such, well out of public consumption, and deep in the depths of a few fuddled memories. Unless of course, somebody somehow becomes famous...

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Karst landscape near Yangshuo. But not from THAT night

We bounced back via Guilin and, due to an inability to get through train tickets, we overnighted in Nanning, a major regional centre, which feels entirely un-Chinese. More relaxed, less hassle, and less noise. I'm in no way suggesting that it was orderly and traquil in the way that a Swiss city might be, but it was a definite and noticeable change from all other Chinese cities I have previously visited. It's notable mainly for it's insanely long ticket queues at the station, for excessively priced Vietnamese visa's, no white people at all and for being entirely nondescript and irrelevant. With the exception, and a worthy one at that, that a section of the city centre is pedestrianised, entirely out of all look and feel of the rest of the city (and indeed, China), which looks and feels suspiciously like Newport. Thats Gwent as opposed to the Isle of Wight or Salop. And some of the side streets have seemingly been stolen from Romsey.

Despite that, we didn't stick around.

Got the train towards Kunming, and thus, we arrived in Yunnan.

Posted by Gelli 23:42 Archived in China Comments (0)

The attack of the killer monkeys and a possesed MP3 player

I am a pacifist by nature. And I could never possibly condone or suggest animal cruelty. But sometimes, it's just neccessary.

We had a cunning plan.

For anybody that knows me, you know just how bad that is likely to be.

The intrepid quintet left Huangzhou at lunchtime, heading for Huanshan. Only the bare essentials were being carried. A 1 man tent, a welsh flag, and two pairs of speakers plus some "interesting" chili sticks amongst our meagre loads. The rest of the stuff was to remain at base camp, or possibly liberated by enterprising locals. That would be a surprise to await us on our triumphant return to Huangzhou, the city we had used as a half way point, simply due to our inability to get a cheap ticket direct to the mountain.

The supremely amazing cunning plan that we had concocted involved climbing the mountain at night in the pitch black, wandering the peak circuit, putting up the tent and all squeezing in, extremely cozily for a few hours whilst playing cards, listening to music and trying to not die of exposure or hypothermia. Rising to see the alledegly stunning sun-rise over the peak, and then returning down the longer and more craggy face in the daylight. In summary, 5 stupid white people were going to climb an unknown mountain (only 1800 odd mteres, admittedly) without a guide in the pitch black.

It didn't quite workout that way. Admittedly, that could have been partly due to the fact that they lock the mountain at night, so the only people that can stay on it, are those with prebooked accomodation on its hillside.

So a friendly local, Simon, with the most amazing accent (a cross between any English accent you could possibly name, and many you wouldn't) kind of talked us out of it, helped us select accomodation (i'm sure he was rewarded for it, although a bit of bagaining and the fact that it obviously wasn't very busy mean't we were in no way conned) encouraged us to eat at his restaurant (LP recomended, and the mortal enemy of the Lets Go recomended restaurant across the road, and Rough Guide recomended one a couple of hundred metres away) and generally didn't try and climb the mountain at night. So we stayed, ate, set off some fireworks, and prepared ourselves for a god awful 5am start to try and climb up high enough to see sunrise.

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Jimmy and Helene setting off rockets for New Year

That would have worked better if the wonderful Simon had actually known what he was talking about, and told us the correct time that the mountain opened in the morning, instead of us standing in a car park with a number of overly keen Chinese walkers and tour groups for about 2hours in the cold dark morning.

Huanshan is a mythical-ish and revered Chinese mountain, which countless Chinese (and there are countless of them) pay pilgrimages to. The mountain, predictably, has not been entirely left to it's natural glory, and sevral hotels, shops and shelters, plus restaurants and even a Bank of China with an ATM, amongst others, have been built on it's slopes.

As have stairs.

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Portage of goods to be sold at vastly imflated prices to weary climbers on the mountain

The climb itself was surprisingly pleasant. In most instances, the stairs had natural breaks between flights to break the monotony, the weather was perfect mountain climbing weather, and the sky clear enough to get some great views. Until the first peak (i.e. where all the cheating b*stards who go up in cable car alight for the peak circuit), the path was relatively empty, so climbing at your own pace was perfectly possible. And despite us all being utterly unfit, we were all approximately ok, although Paul was clearly suffering by about step 8.

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Paul looking happy to have made it a quarter of the way up

The entire route up the East face is made out of stairs. And up we climbed. Stairs can be painful to climb, and overly repetitive on the muscles, but in general they were easy to listen to some music, watch the scenery, get into a rhythm and just go. On a climb like that, you have to go at your own pace, or it will be supremely painful. With my perverse love of mountains and walking, I put my MP3 player on and set off like a mountain goat. I don't make a particularly good mountain goat though.

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At was after about 3 minutes that I realised that my MP3 player had a sense of humour. When you have an MP3 player with about 7000 songs on it, and hit random play all, you expect to get a random selection. Not one with a warped sense of appropriate humour. And so it was that after starting with The Top of the Morning, I proceeded to get Stairway to Heaven (which came up a stunning 3 times on the next 3 hours), Big Mountain, China Girl, Journey, Misty Mountain Top, Chinese Way, Road to Nowhere, China Crisis, Alone, Steps, Jump to the Top and Black Mountain Side amongst many others, each seemingly more apt and perfectly picked that the last. I have no idea how it occured, and in fairness, i'm not even sure that I want to.

Stunningly, Paul didn't collapse and die on the way up.

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Although the monkeys almost got him.

Even before we had left Shanghai, James (who's basic idea it was, and who was unanimously nominated to be glorious leader) had been talking about monkey attacks, and was carrying a nifty looking if somewhat daft collapsible kevlar walking stick to be used in just such an event. And after the first 45minutes, we did indeed pass through a large family of not inconsiderably sized monkeys living on the mountain. It was an encounter with a second family another half hour or so up the mountain that things got more interesting. Details remain sketchy. All i know is that Helene and I passed without incident, although some of them were barely 50cm away. A few minutes later, Jimmy ambled past. And then about 20minutes later at one of our customary regroupings, Paul and James appear talking animatedly about monkey attacks, life flashing before eyes and Paul was now carrying a recently purchased wooden monkey stick, and brandishing it with intent.

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Only a few more steps to go...

As we rounded the corner to the first main peak, a stunning sight appeared in front of our eyes. Literally thousands of frickin Chinese, all looking extremely fresh and like they had just got off a cable car (which, in fairness, most had), and swarming all over the place. Call me picky, but if i've just expended 3 hours and climbed 10,000 steps (rough guess) climbing a tranquil mountain, the last thing I want to encounter on the top is a huge hoard of people, looking fresh and enjoying themselves in restaurants.

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It really is somewhat surreal to be so far up a mountain, and be surrounded by hoardes of people. The next couple of hours we spent circling the summit, along with a good 100,000 Chinese people. Parts of it were hugely steep, most of it was relatively straight forward. There were further hotels and restaurants, and even porters carrying people. It wasn't quite as spiritual as I would have hoped, but the climb in itself had definitely been worth it.

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Happily on top of Huanshan

After a while with uncountable Chinese tour groups blocking the way (until a monkey stick was used on occassions), a couple of cross country jaunts by the two most stupid of us to try and speed past the people, and with the weather suddenly coming in very quickly, we knew it was time to vamoose. And so the intrepid quintet, basking in their glorious achievement of climbing the holy mountain, being attacked by monkeys and not hitting too many Chinese with the monkey stick headed down for a well earned meal, beer, and bus back to Huanghzou.

Posted by Gelli 02:27 Archived in China Comments (0)

Welcome to the Year of the Dog

And so it was Chinese New Year.

This is a long boring entry. Feel free to skip it if you want. You won't miss much. Especially as i still can't get any photos online.

For several days, the sheer number of fireworks going off randomly in the street suggested that it was going to be a louder and more colourful New Year than Hong Kong for Jan New Year had been. And so it proved. In good traditional style, a group of us clubbed together, bought a huge pile of fireworks (sadly without finding the requisit 1.5metre long big f*ck off rocket which we desperately wanted) and went on to the Bund to play.

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Paul, Michael, Ivan, Kyoko, Jimmy, Phillipe (back) and James playing with fireworks on the Bund

Despite the sheer amount of fireworks the country produces, Chinese fireworks are not always reknowned for their reliability, which added an interesting twist, as you never know which one that you are lighting will blow up your face or take off an arm. And with the entire Chinese nation, who are, quite frankly, more or less psycotic with regard to fireworks, just walking down the street is potentially a supremely hazardous experience. We were the modicum of decorum, praticsed (mostly) firework safety and all was good. Unfortuantely, bck near the hostel a group of stupid young Americans had decided to whack back all their booze before playing with fireworks and a couple of big bangs later, a couple of our group were
extremely lucky to escape with eyes intact.

And that kind of killed that.

At about 23.30, most of the hostel headed out on to the Bund to watch the show, which was stupendous. There was no official fireworks whatsoever. Instead, on every building, plus all of the streets and some of the river barges, individuals were just letting off fireworks in all directions. The sheer amount of fireworks used was staggering. Not a clear point in the sky, and by midnight, all was in a haze of colour and firework smoke. And it just never stopped.

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Pudong area of Shanghai, seen across the Bund at night

We spent much of the next day engrosed at at the Longhua temple, watching as most of the population of Shanghai and their visitors came to be blessed for the New Year. To steal a thought from my stalker, Kevin, it was almost like being in a National Geographic documentary. It was just a 'wow' moment. Incence sticks by the thousands being waved in all directions, the groups covered in incence sticks and money, offerings thrown at the gods, but which had missed or bounced off to be collected later. The wonderful Golden tree by the outside Pagoda was literally barely standing unfder the ever increasing weight of peoples hopes and dreams, which had been attached to the tree, or just thrown up into it. Wow.

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The tree outside Longhua temple where locals throw their wishes and prayers, to be answered in the New Year.

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Longhua Temple, and the buring incense, where Shanghaiese celebrate New Year and pray for a prosperous New Year

But I was getting restless. And although I spent a couple of days then wandering aimlessly, I was mostly plotting our escape. And trying to get to the damned cricket fighting, which seemed to have been cancelled for New Year and because it was too cold. I bet even the crickets are unionised. On the last evening, one of the girls, Kate, turned 19, and with another guy turning 20 the next night, celebrations had to occur. Periodically, in hostels, you do end up with a group which just comes together in a large scale for no apparent reason. And so, a good 30 or so of us went out on the birthday celebration, and I was the oldest. 2 or 3 others were mid 20's, the oldest of the rest was 21. I felt supremely old. And they were all happily intoxicated. I felt like some kind of grandpa. And ended up playing the role as well.

Long story cut short, but Kate was perhaps overly intoxicated before we went out, and in the club ended up loosing her wallet, her ability to stand and her camera. And then her credit card. Women! Stunningly, through a longwinded process during which and i ended up becoming good friends with George, the owner, I actually managed to recover everything (except Kate's ability to stand, although we utilised a really tall Canukistani to help on that one). Which made me feel more like an old grandpa fart, as i was seemingly appointed guardian of the entire group. Great. Next time, remind me never to go out with a group of kids, especially when they are mostly blottoed (i like that word) and you sure as heck aren't. Having said that, George is a damned good bloke, and whilst a meat market it may be, it's cheap, spirits are normally bought by the bottle, and it's good fun. If anybody is looking for cheap booze, sports, dancing etc in Shanghai, I can recomend Windows on Nanjing Lu.

I'm amazed that i ever said that.

And It really is time to leave.

The days were starting to drag, and whilst Shanghai is a great place to hang out, a couple of weeks (especially being unplanned) had led me to just want to leave. For anywhere. I like Shangers, and am sure i'll miss it, but i'm a wanderer at heart and being stuck for so long somewhere just makes me antsy.

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And with that, James, Jimmy, Paul, a supremely hung over Helene and I departed on what was billed as a detox trip, but in truth knowing nothing except that stairs, monkeys and a trip to the unknown probably awaited the intrepid quintet.

Posted by Gelli 01:36 Archived in China Comments (0)

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