Published: July 11th 2010July 11th 2010
So last time we were in contact we were just getting on a last minute flight out of India to Hong Kong. And what a contrast! Back to the west with a bang. In Dee’s words: “There is sooooooooooo much Shopping!!!!”. That pretty much sums up Hong Kong. Shopping and the smallest hotel rooms in the world. We had a great few days there; enjoying the cooler weather (still 30C mind you), scaling the peak and managed to arrange our visa for China before jumping on one of the best trains in the world to get us all the way to Beijing. Leaving Hong Kong, we knew we in for a treat, and what a treat it was. There is definitely truth in the term Chinese Medicine.. and we can confirm that just having visited.
Now even by the Chinese Communist Party standards it might be a struggle to suggest that Beijing is a breath of fresh air, but having recently arrived from Smelhi, we certainly thought it was. In fact we absolutely loved the place. Modern, clean, friendly, safe, beautiful Chinese architecture and the friendliest of people. And the transport is super too. The underground is
the best we have ever been in - quick, efficient, very cheap, air-conditioned, TV’s. Even your mobile phone works down there.
So in our few days in Beijing we did our best to soak up the never-ending culture on offer to us tourists - sampling the Peking duck and dumplings; Tiananmen Square; and then a day at the Forbidden City. And from Beijing we headed to the Great Wall. Dee loved it and thought it was an amazing feat of human perseverance. And yes, while it is stunning and beautifully winds its way up over mountain after mountain just north of Beijing, at the end of the day it is just a great big wall. Niall thought it was a little boring. Is that disrespectful? We are all entitled to our opinions aren’t we? But then this is China. Actually, Niall thought it was stunning too.
Incidentally, the Chinese seem to be the first nationality we have met so far that does not seek to speak English to better themselves. There are so many other people around to speak Chinese to they don’t really need it. And unlike India, they were not (fully) colonised by England (English is
actually the official language of India). But in addition to not speaking Chinese, we could not even read or write the language. Looking for restaurants in Beijing meant a detailed inspection of the characters outside each one, we generally seemed to be looking for the one where the second symbol looked like a centipede holding a TV aerial. Ordering food involved pointing at pictures, and booking a train meant pointing to a map. In one train station, after we approached the counter, the lady announced in Chinese over the loud speaker something like “There are 2 dopey foreigners here looking lost and a little helpless, anyone want to come up and have a laugh at them?” After which a skinny 17 year old kid managed to force his way through the gathering crowd to come to our aid with his broken English.
En route out of Beijing to Xian we stopped in a little town called Kaifeng. There was a huge street food market here, and we tried out some of the local delicacies. As none of the locals had any English, it was on sight and smell or ultimately tastes alone that we were picking
the food. Most of it tasted like chicken or pork to be honest, except for the thing that looked like squid - but then we were so far away from the sea???
Xi’an - The Warrior Princes
And on to beautiful Xi’an - the official end of the ancient spice route and home to the Terracotta Warriors. These guys are very cool. There are thousands and thousands of them and they are still uncovering more. They have foot the soldiers, the archers and the horsemen each one with slightly different facial expressions (apparently) and all lined up in rows. The story is that an ancient emperor built them to protect him in the afterlife. It is a little strange. They are in various different pits and to be honest the pits and their armies of warriors are a little scattered around kind of randomly. You can’t help thinking that given the work that went into making all the thousands of warriors, he was not much of a military commander.
On Fire in Chongqing
In Chongqing we saw the start of the World Cup in South Africa in the aptly named “Dee Dee’s Bar”. We were slightly
nostalgic for our temporary residence and cheered on the Bafana bafanas. On a side note, South Africa is the only country from our year long trip that made it to the World Cup so they got our full support throughout their campaign. Combine that was the fact that they had the opportunity to complete the French embarrassment and there were never two more delighted Irish-South African fans!!
Chongqing is also where we tasted the spiciest food of our trip so far. The Chongqing hotpot is appropriately, if not a little humbly, named. Wow. The bring you a pot of boiling oil including several hundred little red chilies and Sichuan pepper corns and you cook your meat and veg in it, a little like fondue. The pepper has anesthetic properties which numb your mouth and the chilies do the opposite. Man does it pack a punch. We burned our lips on the spice. Again they had no English in the restaurant, so we had to get Betty, a nice girl from the table next door to help us out. Betty explained that it is the Hotpot that keeps all the girls in Chongqing skinny. We are not at all surprised.
Time to Meet the Panda’s!
Then we went to see a panda sanctuary near Chengdu. The sanctuary houses several dozen pandas. And many are they the coolest animals. They just have so much personality. Lying around and chilling, just eating some bamboo, lazily playing. You see, pandas eat bamboo almost exclusively. And bamboo gives very very little energy. Therein lies the main problem for the panda. Their whole day is about getting in as much food and using as little energy as possible. As we watched one panda chain chew his way through a stash of bamboo, when the next stick was just barely beyond his finger tips, instead of shuffling over to bring it within reach he just gave up. Couldn’t be arsed. You got to love it. And there are people campaigning because these guys are going extinct? Let them. They are the most badly designed creatures you have ever seen. Darwin meant for them to die out. Or at least someone try and convince them to eat a few carrots.
Gorgeous Guilin and Yangshuo
From there we took a 27 hour train journey to Guilin and went to see the Dragon’s Backbone Rice
Terraces. What an amazing piece of engineering. They are nearly 1,000 years old, and are still in full use today. The idea is that rice grows in water, and by redirecting mountain streams and fresh rain fall, the water cascades down from one terrace to the next. The result is hills and valleys covered in beautiful mirror like lakes that step by step trickle down to the rivers below. Stunning.
And just before we darted south over the border to meet Dee’s sister Fiona, who will accompany us over the last 6 weeks and ensure we get home safely, we stopped for a few days in Yangshuo, a little town surrounded by spectacular countryside, and a great place to relax. We did lots of cycling through small Chinese villages and even tried some Chinese cooking classes. A holiday from the holiday. Yep, it is a tough life in paradise!
And then on to Vietnam to pick up another O’Riordan sister as we make our way south towards Cambodia… Watch this space for some tales of the Vietnamese adventures. Hope everyone is doing well, not long now until we are home so will be seeing you all sooner rather
See you soon,
Niall and Dee