China part 1

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January 5th 2010
Published: January 5th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

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China Part 1

For winter vacation, as many know, I took a trip to China. As I type this I have just returned, got off of the bus officially ending the trip about an hour and a half ago. It was incredible, and I really enjoyed the country. China seems to carry such a stigma with it to the rest of the world, of a big shady government, poor human rights and a bullying economy. All of these things may be true, but the vibe I got from the cities and the people was a familiar, friendly and enjoyable atmosphere. Apart from a few shifty piercing looks from security officials, I never felt worried that if I said the wrong thing I would have a bag thrown over my head and vanish into some government building. Anyway, I'll try to give a blow by blow of where we want, for my own memory as much as for your curiosity.

It started out Christmas morning as Korea punched me in the mouth and mysteriously disconnected my internet connection as I am trying to call my parents who I had not talked to in a couple weeks. I had a mini break down as I threw way too much stuff in my backpack and rode my bike to my friend and fellow China companion Adams to try and use his internet. Alas I was too late as my parents had went to Christmas Eve church, and I have still not had a chance to speak with them, sucks. So we set out me feeling terrible about myself and Adam trying to tell me now to worry. Four of us traveled together to China, Adam and I, two Americans, and Jon and Wehmeyer (pronounced Vim), two guys from South Africa. We met Wehm at the train station where his girlfriend was seeing him off. It was a long bus ride, extended by Christmas traffic, and we didn't make it to our destination, Seoul for over five hours. From the Seoul bus terminal we got another bus out to Incheon. We had a hotel booked in Incheon, a city just outside of Seoul where the airport is and finally got all checked in and settled after a full day of travel around 8. We went for some Korean grilled pork and got some sleep. The next day disaster struck at check in when we learned there wasn't enough time between our flight change from Shenyang to shanghai to check bags. Me packing in a rush had too much crap to carry it on. After I freaked out a bit Wehm calmed it down and we found a storage place that boxed up some of my excess junk and clothes and crisis was averted. I was giddy at take off, and that feeling of excitement was refreshing, I realized how absent it had been from my life recently. We landed in China after a short flight, maybe over an hour, and had to catch another flight into Shanghai. It was slightly intimidating getting through customs and immigration, but the anxiety was mostly in my mind as the officials didn't even look at the paperwork, and aside from those shifty looks there was no problem. It turned out there would have probably been plenty of time to check my bag, and we got back on the same plane we took there, so why there was such a problem with a checked bag is still beyond me, but nevertheless we made it to Shanghai. We took a high speed maglev train, magnetically powered and incredibly fast, 300 km per hour and were whisked away from the airport to the city at very high, yet incredibly smooth speeds. I believe it is the fastest ground transportation in the world, and will only be eclipsed by another train being built in, guess where, China. We found our hostel with relative, but from the moment I stepped out of the subway terminal I was in awe of the size of everything in China. The buildings, the massive road intersections, the crush of thousands of people pouring through the subways, everything was set on gigantic scale. After settling at the hostel we navigated our way to the train station to sort out our tickets to get to Guilin, and the spectacular scenery we would encounter their. After the train station we went to find some food and found ourselves on the main pedestrian street in Shanghai. One of the biggest regrets of the trip is not having camera between the four of us, the lights on that street were excellent, and the busy thoroughfare was glowing with spectacularly illuminated buildings and signs. As we walked up and down the glowing street we were bombarded by people peddling anything and everything. From laser pointer to sex we were constantly solicited and beckoned into alleyways and coat pockets, definitely an experience not to be forgotten. After we walked around for a bit we returned to our hostel and relaxed with a few drinks and a bit of music, basking in the still somewhat shocking fact that yes, we were in China. We were woken up by Wehm, our early to bed early to rise faction of the group. He lead us to a pretty cool back market very close to our hostel were we had some dirt cheap traditional Chinese breakfast. They were buns with meat inside, for 1 yuan each, or about fifteen cents. After that we made our may back to the Peoples Square and the pedestrian street we had visited the night before, thinking that the haagen daaz we saw was the same one that a walking tour would be departing from. Unfortunately it was the wrong one, so we scrambled back towards the subway station to try and find the walking tour. As we found the correct haagen daaz and wandered a bit looking for a group, we were enthusiastically approached by some girls. They were so friendly they swept us away out of the cold rainy weather right into a classic Chinese tea show scam. The tea show was pretty cool, and the scammers were damn nice, but we did pay a lot more than was needed for some tea. They even were nice enough to exchange emails with us and even sent us an email after it was all said and done, so honestly, just another travel expense, and a pretty funny story, as we met countless other travelers who had been approached and lured in by the same ploy. After the tea show our scammers directed us towards the Shanghai Old town, even writing down an address for both the old town and our hostel in Chinese and helped us hail a cab, but oh no, they had already seen old town so many times, so they couldn't come with us, we honestly thought we had made some genuine Chinese friends at the time. Old town was pretty cool, good architecture, but mostly shops. We did get to peer into one of the oldest gardens in the world, but weren't willing to pay the somewhat expensive entrance fee. After lingering in the cold sleet we were barely able to hail a cab back to our hostel, gather our things and take the metro to our train station. We had decided to get to Guilin, a city fairly far south by means of an overnight train journey, saving the cost of a hostel and getting a chance to see a good chunk of the Chinese country side. Again the south bus and train terminal was massive, and perhaps that was one of the things that made our train compartment seem so small at first glance. We steered into a twenty five hour train ride with a toast, and watched the Shanghai suburbs melt into industrial outskirts and finally countryside before the light faded into darkness. A night and a day later, stuck in a box car, eating pretty bad train food and drinking too much of some mysterious Chinese liquor left me feeling less than bright as we arrived in Guilin. We didn't have a hostel booked initially but found a brochure of a hostel that was fairly close to the train station, and had a sweet four bed private room with a bathroom that we got for the price of their cheapest dorm bed, score! As I napped the evening away the boys decided that one long train ride was enough and worked through finding a flight and arranging our schedule to get to Beijing. The hostel workers were awesome and proved to be immensely helpful as the next morning we sorted everything out and got the plane tickets delivered to the hostel that afternoon. This was Tuesday, and we spent some of it wandering around, looking for a bookstore and stumbling across some amazing pagodas, one of which turned out to be the largest copper building in the world! It was connected to a sister pagoda, both sitting in a lake tucked just off the main road behind some shops. The copper pagoda was connected by an underwater tunnel that was lit by rows of small lotus flower lights, giving the tunnel a glowing warmth of spirituality. I think I will let the pictures speak for these, but it was exactly the type of thing I went looking for in China. That night we spent at the hostel playing cards and chatting and having drinks with the fellow travelers and hostel staff. Me and Adam even put on a mini dance show, before I got angry with a card game and totally killed the mood. The next day, Wednesday, we took one of the highlights of our trip, a river cruise down the Li Yao river. The scenery is almost indescribable, and even the pictures do not do justice to the way the green peaks exploded out of the ground at incredible angles. These peaks weren't just surrounding the river, but bubbled up all over the landscape of the region. The river cruise was a modest little raft of four large pvc pipes covered with a wood floor with three bamboo lawn chairs on them. The modesty of the endeavor was soothing, and with a quiet motor the serenity of spectacular mountains enveloping a calm river was spiritually rejuvenating.

At the moment I am having difficulties retrieving my pictures from the memory card, so pictures and the rest of the trip should be updated in a day or two.

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