Published: February 22nd 2010February 3rd 2010
From Shanghai we headed to one of China's ancient capitals, Xi'an home to the Terracotta warriors. Here we saw the city's old Muslim quarter before heading off to visit the city's most famous sight. It is estimated that there are around 6,000 warriors in total with only a thousand having been unearthed. An impressive feature being that each is unique with no two having the same face.
Next we headed due south in attempt to see if there is much left of rural China. As Valentina has already mentioned it is fairly common for us to be asked to pose for photographs by the Chinese, normally fine but some of them like to attempt it without us noticing. One guy on our train carriage slowly lifted his mobile phone pretending to use it (while in front of his face) and then took our picture when we were sat just inches away from him. He might have thought he'd got away with it but the loud shutter sound gave him away. After 2 long days of train journeys we eventually arrived in Jishou, Hunan province. Fortunately Jishou was not our reason for visiting the area as it was fairly grim. This
was demonstrated in part when we visited the tourist information to ask where they'd recommend to eat. The very nice lady strongly advised us not to eat anywhere in the vicinity as they are all 'very dirty' and she would call us a takeaway. We weren't going to argue with that.
Our first excursion from here was to the picturesque town of Fenghuang. Feng Huang Cheng or Phoenix Town is so called as legend has it that two of the birds flew over it and found the town so beautiful that they hovered there, reluctant to leave (I may have plagiarised this sentence). As you can see from the numerous photos the town has been built around the Tuo Jiang river with the houses on stilts and is apparently the best remaining example of a pre modernised Chinese village. We were very impressed with it.
The following day we visited the village of Dehang, for the first time in China we could look around and not see swarms of people. Instead though there was the odd Miao farmer and their buffalo. After wondering around, taking in the views we came to China's tallest waterfall - Liusha. Unfortunately it
didn't have any water running down it so not technically sure if it still counts.
On a roll with rural China we moved further South to Yangshuo. Here the scenery far eclipsed anything we had seen so far with what seemed like thousands of karst peaks surrounding the town and the whole area. Many people would probably consider Yangshuo too touristy but after the best part of a month in China it was very welcome for us. We filled our week here with a trip down the river Li on a bamboo raft which despite the cloudy weather was very enjoyable. We also got back on bikes for the first time since our marathon trip round the vineyards in Mendoza. Our map reading was just as bad as in Argentina but it didn't really matter as it's not a bad part of the world to take a wrong turn in. We also did a Chinese cooking day which began with our chef taking us round the local market so we could decide what to make. One of the options was dog which looked especially unappetising in its skinned form with a hook through it's nose. Other options were snake,
Pit 2 which is still being excavated
turtle and toad. 'Think we'll stick with chicken' we replied.
Rested and recuperated we headed for Hong Kong and Chinese new year. The standard of budget accommodation in Hong Kong is bad at the best of times but over the festive period everyone seems to double their prices as we found out to our cost. We had (as it seems anyone on a budget does) booked ourselves into a guest house in a place called Chungking Mansions. The positive was that it is in an excellent location just a few minutes walk from Victoria harbour. The building itself is the most bizarre place we have stayed so far. The bottom floor is filled with sellers of bollywood dvds, Indian takeaways and hashish retailers. The next 16 floors are a labyrinth of Indian restaurants and small guest houses. Our room was pretty much just a double bed in a cupboard, normally we wouldn't mind too much but we were paying five times what we had been in mainland China and it was for a terrible standard in comparison. High demand meant we'd only been able to book three nights here so we were able to console ourselves with that, until
we realised that our accommodation for the remainder of our stay in Hong Kong was also in Chungking Mansions. When it came to moving we couldn't quite believe it but our new room was a lot worse and we were paying even more for it. So bad was it that when a Hong Kong resident we met saw it she began pleading for us to stay at hers. We couldn't let the cockroaches win and force us out though...well I couldn't, Valentina was in turmoil.
We enjoyed the New Years celebrations - the parade and fireworks. Hong Kong is a bit of a strange place. It is minutes from mainland China yet it still has a distinctly British feel to it at times - people wandering around in Barbour jackets and the like. It also doesn't have any of the complaints I've made below which was nice.
Our time in China was been immensely enjoyable and has probably provided us with more highlights than anywhere else we've been so far. There are however a number of factors which I feel worth sharing to illustrate that it hasn't always been my favourite place:
i. Spitting - Chinese males
Pit 1 which holds roughly 6,000 of them
(and sometimes females) are constantly spitting. I've no idea what they have against swallowing their own saliva but it seems an alien concept to them. This would be tolerable if it just occurred outside but we've witnessed people spitting onto the floor on trains, internet cafes and the worst - a women in a restaurant. It is also always preceded with a loud and aggressive honking. Very unpleasant indeed.
ii. Smoking - again this is mainly the males who regardless of 'No Smoking' signs are constantly tugging away on a cigarette which on a cramped bus or train for 10 hours begins to get a bit annoying. This may be partly an explanation for point i.
iii. The Chinese have enormous difficulty understanding the concept of the queue. They instead prefer the 'bundle'. I don't think I'd been in a bundle since year 8 so found myself pretty rusty when we first arrived. A month later however I'm back to my best - I've found my height advantage at times to be particularly useful over the locals.
iV. Littering - all rubbish regardless of where the Chinese are just gets thrown on the floor. This is especially
noticeable on trains where after a long journey we've often had to walk through about half an inch of detritus to get off - once this included most of a chicken carcass.
V. Staring - I've been stared at throughout our time away and have grown accustomed to it as I put it down to local people not seeing many westerners before. The Chinese however take it to an entirely different level with their jaws on the floor, they will just stare and stare and stare. The worst incident was when we were waiting for a train which was nearly 4 hours late. Due to arrive at 6 am it still wasn't there at 9.30 but our fellow passengers fascination with us had not wavered one iota during this period, only breaking off to spit on the floor or light up another cigarette. I was very close to breaking point by the end.
Like I say though, despite these petty grievances China was a very enjoyable month - the most memorable so far.
There are more photos below