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July 17th 2009
Published: December 17th 2010
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Adventures in China (June 29 ~ July 17)

June 29th - I’d finished with one job and hadn’t started another yet so I figured that warranted a vacation, right? Fortunately my sister/favorite travel partner, Becky, was willing and able to put her job on hold to join me yet again on an adventure.
We started our journey on the 29th of June with both of us heading to the humid city of Hong Kong where life (like the traffic) never slows. Customs in Hong Kong was a breeze and I ended up making it to the hotel earlier than I expected. I made a booking at the YMCA in Kowloon for a room facing the Hong Kong Island. It was quite a view and I had difficulty tearing myself away from the window to head out into the streets and markets. Pushy, pushy, pushy hawkers, vendors and store owners every where you turn on the streets. The city itself is a constant weaving and blend of cultures and people; practically overwhelming. I wandered around for a couple of hours and ended up buying some cheap clothes from the esprit outlet where there were no sales people. 😊 I returned to the hotel in time to have a shower before the Hong Kong light show at 8pm. The 13 minute show was pretty cool and worth watching, but not the spectacular fare it is hyped up to be. The skyline itself is stunning enough on its own at night. A while after the show Becky arrived at the hotel and I finally got to see my precious sister after over a year of missing her. It was so great to see her and spend time with her.

June 30th - The next day we explored a bit of Hong Kong and went to Aberdeen, famous for its floating village/ floating restaurant. It was fun, but a bit commercialized. Basically it was a bunch of parked boats and a giant floating restaurant with lots of tourist boats making the loop around the little harbour. That afternoon we headed into Shenzhen, Guangzhou on mainland China. Customs was almost a nightmare. Everyone was paranoid about H1N1 so they quarantined Rebecca for half an hour because she was an American and they quarantined me for about 10 minutes because apparently I was running a fever, but since I was living in Japan they deemed me OK and let me go. Perhaps a bit of a double standard there. When we made it through we discovered Shenzhen was an unimpressive, pushy, dirty place. I was glad we didn’t have long to wait before our night bus to Guilin left.

July 1st - Our night bus journey was an experience; the driving was pretty terrifying, there wasn’t a toilet and it was pretty noisy. Despite all that we still managed to get a bit of sleep before our journey ended in South Central China. If I thought Shenzhen in Guangzhou was bad, it was nothing compared to our next stop, Guilin. We encountered quite a few not too friendly people (everyone wanted to rip you off for crazy amounts of cash and cussed you out/threatened you if you declined) and some not too honest people (seriously thought they would steal our luggage from under the bus and so many people were blatantly lying to us). There were a few honest gems too. One kind shop worker directed us to the station and helped us use a pay phone. But overall the city was inhospitable. We quickly bused to Yangshou, a quaint, quiet piece of countryside situated in a region with stunning karst formations. The ride was little over half an hour and cost 15 yuan each. The bus ride was beautiful and the karst landscape seems almost like something from fiction or fairytales than reality. Fortunately the Yangshou Culture House’s owner Mr. Wei picked us up in town. It was the friendliest hostel, clean and cheerful, with culture lessons, free breakfast and a delightfully massive and scrumptious homemade dinner every night that included rice and about 12-14 heaping platters of Chinese dumplings and stir-fries. The first day there we only had time really to look around the town and check out the market before our feast. After dinner we promptly went to our room and fell asleep for 10 hours.

July 2nd - The next day we had toast, watermelon, lychee, orange and tea for breakfast before catching the bus to Yangdi. At Yangdi we explored the two blocks of the town before heading to the docks to get a raft down the Li River. Before boarding Becky bought a Chinese reed hat to wear. Guadalupe (a Spanish girl we met at the hostel), Rebecca and I drifted down the Li River on a barge with a friendly owner/driver to XingPing. The ride was relaxing and beautiful. We enjoyed the peaceful hours gazing at the stunning limestone formations, the surrounding greenery and the occasional water buffalo. XingPing was a quaint, quiet little town with docks, a street market and various hotels and restaurants. After returning to Yangshou via bus through the countryside, Becky and I briefly went to the West Street Market. We found some blueberry potato chips while we were out which were seriously scrumptious. That night the dinner at the hostel rocked my socks off again. It was so delicious. Plus they keep bringing out plate after plate heaped with steaming food. I would go back here just for the food. After dinner most of the people staying sat around and learned to play an 81 Chinese card game with Mr. Wei which was really interesting.

July 3rd - The next morning Becky and I decided to bike to Moon Hill even though it was raining. We rented bikes for 10 yuan from our hostel, put on cheap plastic ponchos, bundled up our cameras and went for it. It was soaking outside, but the rain made the colors everywhere more brilliant and the rain clouds hovering around the tops of the karst hills were worth the wetness. We stopped at one place to admire the lotus blooms with rain rolling off them. Becky was happy since it was the first time she ever saw lotus plants. Moon Hill was pretty cool to see when we got the base, but the lunch we had at the Moon Hill Café there was really the star attraction for us. The restaurant’s patio was covered, so we could dry off while looking around and the food was stunning. On the way back we saw a Chinese model Communist Village, which was strange. Also on the return journey we ventured into a national park with the Big Banyan Tree, a 1,400 year old tree along the Yulong River. It had a little area of stalls, the tree, some lotus plants and a museum full of rocks. Before we made it back to the hostel we paused along a bridge above the Li River watching the rafts below. That night after we returned we dried off and rested for an hour before another buffet dinner. I’d love to return to Yangshou again it was such a beautiful place.

July 4th - The fourth of July in China and we woke up to firecrackers oddly enough. Many people were starting new businesses or getting married today because it is an auspicious day in the Chinese lunar calendar and fireworks were allowed in two areas of the city. Sadly it was another rainy day so we stayed inside until the 12pm check out time. Rebecca took a calligraphy lesson and I just wandered around. Just after 12 we walked to the main road and caught a bus to Guilin where we bought food supplies before catching the 23 hour train to Beijing. The train was surprisingly clean (expect the bathrooms), comfortable and relaxing. I watched a bit of the flooded countryside fly by, but for the most part slept the lengthy train journey to the capital.

July 5th - In the morning of the 5th we were still on the train watching the Chinese countryside go by. Last night the view was of numerous rice fields, hills and flooding rivers. Today there are more trees, the land is flatter and the rivers are no longer busting their seams. 30 minutes later the outer building of Beijing
The Great WallThe Great WallThe Great Wall

It was really smoggy that day so the camera had trouble picking up distances.
came into view. Beijing is a monstrous city compared to the tiny town of Yangshuo. We made it to our cozy, cat filled hostel alright and had a bit of time to look around the area. There were some temples nearby. We also found a Buddhist shop with a really friendly lady who wanted to take her picture with me. Finally we headed into a Peking Duck restaurant recommended by the hostel staff. To eat this famous dish you roll sliced duck with some vegetable into tacos with thin crepes. It was delicious, but the portions were huge! We ate ourselves nearly sick. When we returned to the hostel we booked ourselves a tour to the Great Wall for the next day along with tickets to see the Peking Opera.

July 6th - The breathtaking, magnificent GREAT WALL OF CHINA at Mutianyu was well worth getting up so early in the morning for. The grey stone structure made centuries ago by man slithers along like a snake for as far as the eye can down valleys and up hills. The thought that people planned and labored to make such a gargantuan structure is nearly mind boggling when you see how the heavy stone wall perches on top of high hills and follows the landscape for what could be forever from where you’re standing. To get up onto the wall we had to take a ropeway up the steep hillside. The tour guide gave a few hours to hike before lunch. Not all of the Great Wall is accessible here. Mutianyu is one of the few areas near Beijing that are restored to make them safe for hikers. First we walked uphill to the end of the reconstructed path to the right of the entrance. Then back down towards the left. Up and down for a while until we decided to head back. We didn’t want to miss lunch! To get back down from the wall you have to sit on these tiny cars and go down a giant metal slide that curves back and forth down the mountainside. A very ingenious exciting way to go, but maybe not the safest. LOL. At the bottom there was an old man dressed up like a Mongol and for a few Yuan would take a photo with you. We both did that and it was fun. Back at the base we met our guides at the restaurant and were served a meal that I would rate as mediocre. Then back into the heart of Beijing to change and rest up before going to the Peking Opera. We weren’t really up for resting so we explored the area around our hostel and grabbed some dumplings for dinner. They were delicious and cheap! That night at the very fancy Chang'an Grand Theatre, home to Beijing’s Peking Opera, we attended a performance. The costumes are gorgeous and the sets very simple. The singing is bizarre. It’s not like western opera at all. It’s very high pitched and sounded almost out of tune. The first act was a story about a girl who picked up a token from a lover, but didn’t want to admit it. The matchmaker was trying to set her up. A very confusing story that basically involved a girl making up her mind if she wanted to marry some guy or not. The second act was awesome. It was about a powerful warrior and her 4 assistants who break in and rob the government bank. There were battles and acrobatics, plus singing. In the end the lady beats all the dudes and runs off with the money. That’s my kind of story.

July 7th - The day after the Great Wall hike we were pretty sore and tired, but made it out early and headed to Tiananmen Square. The Square really is just a large open area for public meetings made famous mainly for the massacre of demonstrators in 1989. All around the square are important government buildings and Chairman Mao’s mausoleum. We strolled right past all these and went straight for the Forbidden Kingdom. On our way to the gates we met these really nice art students who wanted to show us their art exhibition right inside the palace gates, which of course turned out to be a bunch of “students” trying to sell fake paintings to tourists at super steep prices. We refused to purchase anything and continued into the palace. The structures of the palace are amazing. Layer after layer of beautiful buildings and gardens. I can only imagine how wonderful it was when the Ming and Qing dynasties still used it and before the communist movement cleaned the place out and placed Mao’s picture at the entrance. After leaving the other side of the palace complex
Stunning BlueStunning BlueStunning Blue

Temple of Heaven
we caught a taxi to the Temple of Heaven to see the beautiful structures there. Once upon a time the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties prayed to Heaven for good harvest every year at this temple. The Pearl Markets were right down the road from the Temple of Heaven so we went there. Big mistake! It is the epitome of a tourist trap. It was mazelike, crowded, over priced and sellers were pushy beyond your imagination. At one point some ladies tried to drag Rebecca back to a booth to make her buy shoes while another held on to my arm. Huge error on their part. It resulted in the Chinese lady grabbing my arm getting knocked over and me racing into the face of the lady dragging my sister and screaming at her in the middle of the markets. I rarely ever lose my temper, but that market maybe the most infuriating place on earth. After our market mishap we raced back to the hostel to collect our luggage and then raced to the train station to get an overnight train out of Beijing and to Xian.

July 8th - Xian was smaller than I expected, especially after the smoggy mass that Beijing was. Xian is quieter, it still has an ancient feel, but at the same time is definitely a place catering to tourists. The hostel picked us up at the station and two people we met on the minibus were natives of Australia. One took quite a shine to Becky so we ended up hanging out together for the remainder of our time in Xian. First stop we wandered to was the bell tower in the city centre and then to the drum tower near the North Gate. We opted for ice cream sundaes from Haagen Dazs for lunch. Then we wandered back towards the South gate near our hostel and along a shopping alley to The Forest of Steles, a temple with a collection of over 2,000 stone tablets. Around sunset we headed back up towards the towers and ate a very nice dumpling dinner.

July 9th - Our second day in Xian the four of us headed out of the city to the site where the world famous terracotta warriors were unearthed. It’s a pretty stunning archeological site. There were 4 different sites or pits that have been unearthed. The shear size of the army is nearly overwhelming, but most of the mannequins are found in bad shape. From pictures you see in magazines you would think they are all in perfect condition in perfect rows. A very small section is like that and most are just rubble. They are still unearthing sections of the site and slowly trying to put some statues back together. When we returned to Xian we took a long walk back to the hostel and unfortunately ended up with a stalker that kept yelling how he hated us foreigners. Finally he went away when I started videotaping him. That evening we all headed to the bazaar area in the Muslim Quarter. Becky and I spent hours there and managed to get almost all our gift shopping done here since it was comparatively mellower than most Chinese markets.

July 10th & 11th - The part of the trip I was most looking forward to was going to Tibet, our bedbug ridden hostel in Xian booked our trip and our arranged our visa. We flew to Chongqinq only to find that our visas were fake. The hostel’s representative in Chongqinq was a greasy businessman who tried to get the airline to except it, but it didn’t work. We ended up having to stay the night in the dirty industrial town. Luckily our money was refunded the next day and Becky and I decided to get an airplane out of China and back to Hong Kong. We were tired of people hustling us for money and the general mentality in the country. We booked right back into the YMCA hostel with its clean rooms and beautiful views. Hong Kong is a really a completely different place from mainland China.

July 12th- 15th – Our first day back in Hong Kong we decided to lift our spirits with a day of fun at Hong Kong Disneyland. We caught one subway train to Lantau and then the special Disney train which was definitely decorated by the Disney Corporation. It was swelteringly hot when we arrived but we didn’t mind. Luckily it wasn’t that crowded at all since most people were at work. The Disneyland in Hong Kong is probably the smallest of the Disney theme parks. We rode all the rides we wanted (some twice), walked around, took loads of pictures and finished by mid-afternoon before the heat really set in. We headed back to the hotel early for an early, relaxing evening. It was just what was needed. Over the next couple of days we strolled around Hong Kong and shopped. One day we went to a nice sandy beach in the afternoon and just lay in the sun and enjoyed the beautiful weather. During two of the nights we watched the Hong Kong Skyline light show. They really pull out all stops for it every night. Imagine music, lasers and flashing lights on a city wide scale.

July 16th – Today Becky had to head to the airport and then back to the USA. 😞 It was so great to see her and spend time with her, but I was sad when she left I wanted her to stay! I wasn’t leaving until the day after so I decided to go and see a big Buddha. I took a train to Lantau Island and then caught the Ngong Ping 360 ropeway. The ropeway journey is nearly 6km. Not sure if it’s the longest ropeway in the world, but it’s the longest I’ve ever seen. The Tian Tan Buddha in Ngong Ping is the largest, seated, outdoor bronze Buddha in the world. From the cable car you can see it from far, far away and it dominates the surrounding wooded landscape. After climbing up to the Buddha and back down I visited the Po Lin Monastery for a late vegetarian lunch. Then it was a return cable car journey and another train ride back. When I returned to the hotel I picked up a light salad from a corner shop and went into the dorm to eat and relax. I wasn’t planning on doing anything, but I ended up going out that night to the street markets with Caroline, my new roommate. It was a nice farewell to the city.

July 17th - The next morning I got up, ate breakfast and then headed to the airport and back home to the land of the Rising Sun. Overall, I’m not sure how I feel about China. It had some ups, but some serious downs too. Maybe I’ll try coming here again someday and hope for a better experience, if not Hong Kong is always a nice back up plan.

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