Published: December 15th 2006November 18th 2006
Some people will be reading this and thinking, But she's been back for three weeks!! I know, I know, but a quick trip to Townsville, lots of shopping and a cricket match have all got in the way of sitting down at a computer, and now I have to try and remember what I did for 3 1/2 weeks in China. Beijing:
Arrived in Beijing very glad that I managed to actually enter the country even though my name was spelt wrong on my entry visa. Amazing that I noticed at all really - it certainly gets spelt wrong a lot at home. Good thing the immigration guy didn't read english that well.
Before I arrived I thought cities in South America were big. I certainly wasn't prepared for the size of things and the amount of people in China. There are billions of them and it seems they are all fascinated by tourists and feel the need to stare constantly. Add to this the constant haze of pollution (you can actually look directly at the sun here!), and the constant sound of hacking coughs followed by the spitting of boogers in the street (yes everyone does it)
and I was feeling a bit uneasy on my first few days in the city. Thankfully I had been warned about the 'queueing' situation before arrival and was a little more prepared for that. Here there is NO SUCH THING as standing in line-for anything. If you want to buy something, catch a cab, ask something, just elbow your way through the crowd and make your way to the front by any means possible. Only apologise if you think have really hurt someone. It may take a few days to get used to and seems a bit rude at first but is sooo much fun!!
Everything so far seen from Beijing is enormous. I don't think the Chinese know how to build anything small. The Forbidden City itself covers 74 hectares and Tiananmen Square which lies to the front of this and over looked by a huge portrait of Chairman Mao covers 440,000 square metres. A lot of space to cover which meant a day to wander the whole complex.
The Summer Palace, 15 km from the centre of Beijing is bigger and the grounds cover 294 hectares. Listed as a world heritage site it was an amazingly
peaceful place. Lots of trees, gardens, pagodas, lakes, bridges, somewhere to relax away from the noise of the city it is very popular with the locals for picnics.
Beijing was also the starting point for two visits to the famous Great Wall, another huge structure. My first visit was a little hazy due to too much beer the night before made worse by not enough sleep on the bus to the wall. We also only had two hours at this particular spot- Mutianyu- and it was very touristy, not at all what I had expected. Lots of souvenir stands, cafes, drink stalls etc. with pushy salespeople. There was even some sort of beauty pageant happening on the wall, much to the delight of the boys. There was a good view from the top though.
Second visit to the wall was much more to my liking. Starting at Jinshanling on a section of the wall that hasn't been restored we walked to the village at Simatai. Only took 5 hours and was hard going for some of it, I hadn't realised how steep some sections could be. The views were amazing, the weather was beautiful, there were only a few
other people, no souvenir stalls but a few locals trying to sell postcards. I bought some near the end because the lady had followed me for a good three hours and had taught me some chinese on the way. Xi'an:
A ride on a 'brand new' train had us arriving in Xian south west from Beijing. A small place by Chinese standards of only 5 or 6 million. Lots to see in Xian first up was the city wall. After the establishment of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang (first emperor of the Ming dynasty) enlarged the wall which was initially built during the old Tang dynasty (618 -907), creating the modern Xian City Wall. It's the most complete city wall that has survived in China, as well being one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world. We hired some bicycles on the top and rode around the entire thing. A great way to get a view of the entire city without have to walk around. From here it was into a taxi (mainly coz we couldn't quite figure out the bus system) and went to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda local holy place for Buddhists
and originally built in 652. The gardens were once again very peaceful and pretty and we stopped to watch some old men doing calligraphy near the entrance.
Also from Xian was a trip to see the Army of Terracotta Warriors and Horses which are east of Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum in Lintong County. There is something like 7000 odd pieces that have been uncovered with more still being found. I remember vaguely going to see a few pieces at the Adelaide museum when I was at school, it was very different to see the size of the site and the amount of figures there. And they were only discovered because a local farmer dug a well and found part of one of them!
Xian gave us an opportunity too to get involved in a much adored local pasttime - yes the Karaoke bar. Huge building, lots of 'separate' rooms so you only have to sing in front of your own friends, and a supermarket downstairs to buy beer and popcorn. Complete with helpful young people to carry your snacks to your designated singing room after paying for them. It helped that a lot of rice wine had been consumed
with the preceding dinner!! Chengdu:
Leaving Xian all thoughts of our previous 'nice train' were shattered when we boarded the train to Chengdu. Excited to be back to four in a cabin rather than six, very not excited when we spied the cockroaches that would be enjoying the ride with us...
Arrived Chengdu very early and went straight to the Panda research centre. Was the best time to see them as it was brekky time for the little darlings and they were all out eating and walking around, even some of the baby pandas were awake. Also we were leaving just as the crowds started arriving.
Chengdu is where we met our new leader -Yajun- as Stephen unfortunately had to leave very suddenly from Xian. First up for her was taking us all out for a Yak Pie dinner- very tasty..a bit like beef....funny that! Emei Shan:
From Chengdu we headed to the mountains for the next adventure. Stopping at the biggest carved stone Buddha in the world, a staue of Maitreya at Leshan 70 metres tall, and a chance to climb lots of stairs to the bottom to have a look. Then it was off
Great Wall- Simatai 20
At the end of the wall hike, took a flying fox to the lake.
to the Baoguo monastery, accommodation for the next few days.
Set in the mountains near the village of Baoguo, the monastery is part of the whole Emei Shan area which is also the general name for the surrounding three mountains, with Emei Shan being one of the 4 most sacred Buddhist mountains in China. Most of the monasteries and temples at Emei Shan were built during the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220AD), while others were added later. As a well-known Buddhist sanctuary of Samantabhadra, Emei Shan once had more than 100 monasteries.
Time to see the local village and then dinner with the monks before finding the hugest cockroach ever!!
in my room. I should have taken a picture, it was nearly as big as a shoe- well... a smallish shoe anyway.
Next day headed of for a bit of a hike to the next mountain. Took the cable car to the Golden Summit to get a view of the surrounding mountains, so glad it was a nice day and we could see. After coming back down it was hiking time to get to the next monastery for the night. The previous day we were a little amused to be
given walking sticks, yes the hooked kind, not because we all looked so unfit but apparently because of the monkeys!! And yes there were lots of monkeys on the way. Very used to tourists and very used to stealing food from tourists, hence the sticks to keep them at a distance. There were also a lot of steps along the way, a few thousand of them from start to finish, if I never see another step again I will be very happy. Arriving at the Hongchun Ping amongst the bamboo and trees our local guide told us "there is a hard wok cafe next to the monastery where you can have dinner tonight". With his strong accent I seriously thought he meant Hard Rock Cafe and thought to mysef- Surely Not!! Not here in these beautiful mountains, how terrible. Turns out it was in fact the "Hard Wok Cafe", a charming place run by a local lady Betty from her kitchen on the mountainside with an amazing view and even better food. So have to go back there!!
Next day another hike back to the original monastery, I took the long walk option and by the end of the
morning I was very glad to have my 'monkey stick' with me. Although on getting back to Baoguo a few of us went to the local spa hotel for the hotsprings. Never seen anything like it in my life. Pools everywhere all in different scents, cacao, rose, peppermint, wine, aloe, lemon, lotus, ginseng, I could go on for hours, it was unbelievable, and soo relaxing. Yangtze River:
Leaving the mountain atmosphere was difficult, the unfortunate thing about travel, if you want to see more you have to leave where you are. A long bus ride to Chongqing and boarded a boat for three days cruising down the Yangtze river. Accommodation on the boat is very simple but comfortable and most of the time was spent out on deck taking in some fresh air, relatively fresh for China anyway, and learning the art of playing Mahjong. An easy game in the end once it was explained properly and hugely hilarious for the chinese on board who first couldn't believe 'westerners' could play and then spent their time looking over your shoulder offering endless suggestions. Also on board, the dreaded karaoke bar, quite a serious thing to do in China
although listening to bad singing at 10 in the morning is taking it a bit far I think.
This is also where we got to cruise through the area of the Three Gorges: Qutang gorge, Wuxia gorge and Xiling gorge. Not as it is in pictures due to the Three Gorge Dam project, but I am glad I got to see it before the area is completely filled in with water in a few years. The dam was started in 1994 and will be the largest hydroelectric dam in the world, built for both flood control and electricity. The water has already risen over 100m with more to go and the difference is astounding. Close to 3 million people will have been displaced/relocated by the time it is finished (official figures 2 million) and there is lots of debate locally over the cost and effect on the surrounds. I'm sure in later years there will still be cruises through this area but sadly won't be as spectacular as it was.
End of cruise saw us leaving the boat cursing the fact that the mahjong sets that seemed such a good idea to buy at the time were actually
quite large and added an extra 6 kilos to our packs. Yangshuo:
Last major stop before Hong Kong and this little town reminded me a bit of Aguas Calientes in Peru. Surrounded by limestone karsts covered in greenery it was a nice little village although a bit more touristy than the mountains and the river. Arriving early morning it was nice to stay in a place that you coulds actually see most of in a few days rather than needing a month. I braved the hairdresser after breakfast for a haircut- always interesting when you can't explain what you want- but the bloke cutting my hair ended up refusing to cut off more even though I was trying my hardest to explain that yes i did want short hair. His only english was "too short, no good" oh well, for the equivalent of 3 australian dollars I couldn't complain and it looked ok. The markets were great for bargains and it was here I discovered that my roommate Taline was the haggling queen gettting some great deals. I still find it weird arguing over 5 cents though!
Took another bicycle for a jaunt through the countryside, a
A bit of culture at a show in Chengdu.
nice ride to nearby Moon Hill with yet more steps to climb to the top. Although again another fantastic view.
A visit to the daily markets for an interesting take on the eating preferences of the locals. Household pets definitely not on my list of things to buy, especially when being sold for eating purposes.The market visit was followed by a badly organised cooking lesson at which I don't think we learned much but the food at the end was good.
Local bar in Yangshuo sold snake for dinner- a few of the guys ordered it- 5 minutes later local lady turns up with said snake in bag- alive- they got to hold it before it was killed for eating- apparently you are supposed to drink the snake blood before eating it- I very politely declind the very red drink being passed around shortly afterwards. Hongkong:
Took longer than thought to get to hong Kong and in the end I really only had one day to look around in the end. A quick trip on the funicular to the top of Victoria Peak for a view of the city was a neccessity, followed by the ferry back
across the water for a night view of the harbour. The light show was good but short and the night markets saw a variety of great food at te street stalls. Bargains everywhere, this is a shopping mecca- soooooo dissappointed I didn't have more time- good thing I now have lots of frequent flyer points to get back here.
Things I find disturbing chapter 11:
Spitting and smog were the two things that bothered me at first.
Then there were the interesting sign translations. Sort of english sort of not. So many that I am compiling the photos of those for their own blog.
Nappy-free babies everywhere. I have heard of it before, in fact one of my sisters good friends has a nappy free baby, and I guess it does cut down on washing and landfill. But here as well as being nappy free, they get dressed in clothes that all have the crotch missing so their butts hang out!! Easier for baby to go when need be but wouldn't their little butts get frozen in winter?!
Why do the locals find it neccessary to include foreigners in their photos. You find yourself surrounded
The view of the mountains from Golden Summit
and then click- click- click- photos from everyewhere.
Most disturbing- squat toilets on trains!! At least they all had handles so you didn't fall over. If we do not find anything pleasant, at least we shall find something new. Voltaire
There are more photos below