Mon, 04 Sep 2006

Day 15: Leaving Beijing (北京) // at 23:59

It was meant to be our shopping day, a last chance to look around the markets, visit the Silk market, and gather up some presents for neices and nephews — unfortunately Jo was still very sick this morning so we spent almost our entire time hunting up the English-speaking SOS clinic.

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Sun, 03 Sep 2006

Day 14: Beijing (北京); Day trip to the Great Wall // at 23:59

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Sat, 02 Sep 2006

Day 13: Beijing (北京); Tianenmen Square and the Forbidden City // at 23:59

The weather in is officially “cloudy” — there is no . In preparation for the 2008 Olympic games, large numbers of new parks and trees are being planted all over the city, and a huge steelworks has been closed and moved to another city to clean up the air — Beijing's air anyway, the unvisited industrial recipient city gets all the pollution now. Car numbers are supposedly to be capped at three million to limit congestion and pollution, but nobody is quite sure whether this will happen, or whether money and privilege will just make for a black market in unofficial cars.

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Where?

Beijing (北京)

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Fri, 01 Sep 2006

Day 12: Xiahe (夏河) to Lanzhou (兰州) by bus, fly to Beijing (北京) // at 23:59

A traveling day; bus from Xiahe (夏河) to Lanzhou (兰州), lunch, back in the bus for the trip to the airport then fly to Beijing (北京). Eight in the morning to ten at night.

Once again our bus driver proved his worth; there was another huge thunderstorm last night — a thunderstorm that I slept through — and the river was even more swollen and flooded and brown than the last two days, the roads were covered in rock-falls and the road-works detours turned into churned up bogs. A fairly routine six hour drive had a number of very boggy crossings and much slaloming around everything from handfuls of gravel to fallen boulders a metre in diameter.

Lunch at a café in Lanzhou, a beef noodle dish that is one of the three things this area is famous for — the other two being labour camps and the Chinese space industry. Good news was that Dan assured us that we'd only get to experience one of the three! Bad news was that Jo started feeling sick shortly after lunch, maybe the lunch, more likely last night's Chicken Biryani in Xiahe(夏河).

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Checking in at the airport it was interesting to see that although Beijing (北京), like Ho Chi Minh City, has changed in spelling or name from its original westernised version, the airport code that is stuck on all the luggage is still the original, PEK for Beijing (北京) (Peking), SAI for Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)!

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Thu, 31 Aug 2006

Day 11: Kharnang and back to Xiahe (夏河) // at 21:00

I think Jo and I were the only two in our room who slept well last night; Damian and Amy were both feeling sick, Dan snored a bit and claims that he never sleeps well when he stays here, Julie says she spent the night rolling back and forth between Damian and Dan — not used to sleeping between two others!

After the tremendous thunderstorm last night it was clear and sunny again this morning, I ducked out for a short walk around the place, then Jo and I took off for a longer walk before breakfast, happy to get out and see some of the place without the local children hanging off our arms.

Out the western gate and around the outside of the “city walls” around to the east. Dozens of little frogs were out and about on the paths and the walls themselves, so dense in places that you couldn't avoid stepping on them. There were more smiles and curious looks from the local inhabitants starting their day, fetching water from the bore and putting the animals out into the fields, and watching tourists wander about.

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Wed, 30 Aug 2006

Day 10: Xiahe (夏河) and Kharnang // at 21:00

Afternoon bus trip off into the Tibetan grasslands, up from Xiahe (夏河) at 2900m altitude to around 3300m crossing the rolling green hills, then back down onto the plains to visit Tsewey Monastery and on to Karnang — also Kharnang or the Chinese Ganjia Baijiao City — to spend the night, Karnang hardly classifies as a city, a population of maybe 500, unpaved roads, no shops and a mass of single storey mud houses inside 1000 year-old city walls. There is a primary school here that Intrepid used to support, but we've learnt that the teachers were stealing the donations and none were getting to the school, so the school visit is off the agenda!

The road out from Xiahe to Kharnang is in fairly good condition, except every single bridge is simultaneously being replaced! This has resulted in detours down off the roadway at every culvert and bridge off to one side or the other, across the hopefully dry watercourse, then back up onto the road.

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Tue, 29 Aug 2006

Day 9: Travelling to Xiahe (夏河) // at 21:00

    I met a hairy black yak,
    In appearance, a shaggy old sack.
    I approached the wrong end,
    In an attempt to befriend...
    and ended up flat on my back.

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Mon, 28 Aug 2006

Day 8: Around Xi'an (西安) // at 21:00

City walls, drum and bell towers and the Little Goose Pagoda.

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Sun, 27 Aug 2006

Day 7: Xi'an (西安) daytrip to the Terracotta warriors // at 21:00

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it was not what I was expecting!

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Sat, 26 Aug 2006

Day 6: Luoyang (洛阳) to Xi'an (西安) // at 21:00

A long time in the bus....

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Fri, 25 Aug 2006

Day 5: Shaolin and Buddhas // at 21:00

Grey, grey skies....

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Thu, 24 Aug 2006

Day 4: Shaolin // at 22:00

As it says on the ticket:

As the famous touristy attraction in the world and 4A level scenic spot firstly announced by State Tourism Board, Shaolin scenic spot enjoys rich humanities sight, antique natural sight, massive Shaolin Buddhist and Wushu Culture and elegant & rare geological wonder. Centralizing within 2.1Kmof coral area of coral area of scenic spot, the humanities sight mainly includes Shaolin Temple, tower forest, Damo Hole, First Ancestor Hut, Second Ancestor Hut, etc. Centralizing in Sanhuangzhai of Shaosi mountain, the natural sight integrates three biggest orogenies of Songyang, Zhongyue and Shaolin and land making activeties, which were famous during the precambrian period and are the optimum sight spot of Songshan World Geology Park. The natural sight mainly contains over 40 spots such as monkey watching sky cloud apices and howling tiger setting sun in Yusai, autumn scenery of Shaoshi, Waterfall, Atalagamite Hole, Daxian Gorge, Lingxiao Gorge, Nappe Hole, Camel Stone, Elephant Stone, Dragon Head and Tail, etc.

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Wed, 23 Aug 2006

Day 3: Shanghai (上海) and the train out // at 21:00

A day to ourselves today, just be back in time to get to the train! At 08:30 or so we'd packed our things and checked the bags into storage at the hotel, then walked off towards the old town. A long way to walk, but neither of us had much of an idea how to go about finding the right bus, or how to flag them down and pay. Breakfast again of mysterious tasty bread-things from a stall, then roughly south and east zig-zagging along the streets and trying to stay in the shade — it was already hot in the direct sun.

Around the corner and suddenly we found ourselves in blocks of traditional-style buildings, some still under construction. In fact everything in China appears to be still under construction. One huge marketplace of little shops selling to tourists, endless streams of touts on the footpaths wanting me to buy “Watch, Prada bag, lady watch, shoe,” all rattled off as one long meaningless sentence. Crowds of people around the — bright green — ornamental lake, including a TV crew filming an interview with someone, I've no idea what its about but I'm in the background!

Then RMB30 to enter the Yu Yuan gardens where it was far more peaceful, although we still had to dodge 50-person Spanish and American bus-tour groups as we walked around in the maze of rooms and gardens and pavilions. A real shame there was no map as it seemed a lot larger inside than expected, all the small spaces making it easy to miss parts of the whole.

Finally we made our way back to the entrance, then back up to the Bund to start on the day's chores — money and food for the train. A green-bean icecream as we crossed another new park and back in the direction of the river, confusion set in and we headed the wrong way along Ren Min Lu and found ourselves walking three-quarters of the way around an enormous building site then along a main road in blistering sun and finally to a corner of the park where we were within sight of where we'd sat to eat the ice-creams! Took the correct turn this time, then alongside the river on the Bund walk, again really hot as there's hardly any shade up on the embankment.

The first bank we stepped into while hunting about to change money was enormous, one of the traditional old-fashioned style banks, all timber panelling and 19th century attitude. Completely overwhelming and no signs anywhere in either English or Chinese of where to do anything. The second was much easier, the guard took one look as we walked in the door and guided us upstairs to the foreign currency office.

Financial transactions completed, back across (under) the river via the “Pedestrian tunnel,” a bizarrely misnamed piece of tourist tat which is a very expensive little train that holds eight or so people, costs RMB30 one way (as against RMB1 for a return ticket on the ferry) and has a very tacky and very loud laser and light show its entire length. We had been warned by Julie, but we just had to see it for ourselves!

One good point is that the tunnel exit is right next to the Pearl tower and across the road from the enormous gold coloured supermarket-mall-department store that Dan had suggested was a good spot for provisions. Once inside it was a bit tricky finding the supermarket, luckily Jo remembered that it was in the basement!

It felt strange to be walking around in an enormous supermarket, everything marked in Chinese, but little different to any supermarket anywhere else in the world. All the same bright fluorescent lights, bright colours, endless brands and packaging. A reminder of how different the culture is came in the form of a company rep. standing behind a display rack of cartoons and a tray with tiny sample cups full of a mysterious drink... “Sir, madam, try this, its milk” Indeed it was, simple, ordinary, plain cold milk, but a product that necessitates a special advertising campaign in a country that doesn't consume much in the way of dairy products.

We made our way back towards our hotel by the metro, then sheltered for half an hour or so in an air-conditioned foreign-language (ie English) bookshop. The thermometer outside happily telling us it was currently 35°C.

Regrouped at the hotel then all piled into taxis for the trip to the station. An amazingly noisy and slow trip, I'm sure we could have walked it quicker, then down into the largest underground taxi rank I have ever seen.

Show our tickets at the turn-styles with guards outside the building — with so many people in China you can't even get into the train station without a ticket, but even so it was packed once we got in. The waiting halls are amazing, enormous cavernous rooms just full of people.

A deafening and distorted PA system blasting out announcements, then down onto the platform for the long walk to carriage 17 of 20 or more — sorry Marko, no chance of taking any pictures of the engine for you!

We made ourselves at home in our compartment, six beds in two stacks of three, then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening sitting around chatting and eating our way through assorted snacks, watching as the world went by. Noodles for dinner, the same as most of the other passengers, RMB5 from the lady with the food cart then fill them up with hot water from the urn at the end of the carriage.

Lights out and into bed at 10; I slept fitfully through the night, waking up occasionally as the train lurched and banged or stopped in odd locations.

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Tue, 22 Aug 2006

Day 2: Shanghai (上海) // at 21:00

After a day of travelling, last night I slept like a log, but surprisingly still managed to wake up around 7:30 this morning. Off to find something for breakfast out on a street stall before our first group event — subway and walk to the Shanghai museum. Temperature already up around 30°C as Jo and I headed off at semi-random around a few corners and bought a pastry-thing and a bun-thing from a street vendor.

Ming and Qing furniture, a huge room full of bronzes, we skipped the exhibit of five thousand years of pottery and finally made it out around 12:30 to find that it was still hot, but had just finished raining.

With the afternoon free we took off on foot to the French quarter and found ourselves surrounded by construction work everywhere we went. Buildings listed in our maps simply did not exist anymore. A new park with a sign proudly proclaiming “4,936 families successfully removed to create this park” — we wonder where the families are now.

The old flower market is gone, one huge building site of rubble in its place. Slight mis-reading of a map on the way back had us walk the long two sides around a triangle, then successfully made it back to Middle Hennan road on the metro — including a change of trains and puzzling out the automated ticket machine. Simple things that become suddenly complex in a new place and a foreign language. Dinner by ourselves of “three mixed meats” and eggplant and Chinese vegetables, then regroup at the hotel for a visit to the acrobats. Wow! These are absolutely amazing people. Traditional pole and rope climbing, running up poles as though they were stairs. An incredibly flexible girl performing some sort of yoga/ballet will holding five sets of lit candles, tying herself in knots and not setting anything on fire. Hoop diving, plate spinning, a tacky silk-rope show set to an over-the-top backdrop projection of music and film from Titanic. Cyclists on eight bikes in formation, then eight cyclists in formation on one bike! The climax of the show was the motor cycles in “the wheel of death”. Completely crazy to watch with one guy spinning around inside the ball, when the second bike entered it was amazing, then it was three... four... five motorbikes whirling around in a blur of two-stroke and noise.

Successful negotiation of the metro back to the hotel and then some very expensive beers outside on Funan road — the Chinese equivalent of Eiffel tower beer, RMB25 a bottle, 20 of which was for the seat and the view! Then back to the hotel, exhausted.

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Mon, 21 Aug 2006

Day 1: Shanghai (上海) // at 21:00

An hour and a half this morning in Changi airporty in Singapore, time enough to walk around and look at the pools of Koi and orchid gardens, then back on the plane for the flight to Shanghai (上海).

Long queues at Chinese immigration, video cameras everwhere filming the arrivals in the hall, then quickly through a very prefunctory customs check and out of the aiport. Do we change money insider or outside the immigration? The rates inside didn't look so good so we waited until outside — should have known, the rates outside were exactly the same. Luggage and money, now time for transport — woohoo, the maglev train! Only one small problem, we couldn't find it!

RMB40 and an aircraft boarding-pass stub and we were onto the train. Very ordinary looking on the inside, apart from the groovy illuminated signs that tells you how fast you're travelling; 100, 200, 300, 400 — ticking away up to 432km/hr! Only a little bit of noise and shaking, it was all quite amazing really. Eight minutes later and we were in the station in the centre of the city, this is definitely how it should be to get from an airport to the city!

Struggled across to the metro station and puzzled our way through tickets; machine or person? The machine has English text, but is slightly confusing, as every ticket machine in every city always seems to the visitor. We made it though, two RMB4 tickets and onto the train, then across Pudong, under the river and off at the correct station of Middle Hunan road — Yay!

I'll blame the northern hemisphere! Subconsciously navigating by the sun we came up blinking into daylight from the metro station, confidently turned left and strode off in precisely the opposite direction to where the hotel was! Luckily it was only half a block before the rational part kicked in and had us make an about-face, then down the side street to the Nanjing hotel and inside to checkin and get a well-earned shower!

After getting established in the Nanjing hotel we headed back out for an exploratory walk, once again I got confused about north and south, that subconscious is a dangerous thing! Nanjing Lu is one big pedestrian mall, the crowds and shops and stonework making it all look vaguely reminiscent of Bourke street mall in Melbourne — but maybe that's just because I don't spend much time in Bourke street mall! Maybe not so similar after all, the architecture and neon signs all straight from the 21st century.

Early in the evening we met the rest of the Intrepid group for the first time, handed over our wads of cash for the “local contribution” then headed out dinner. Damian and Amy from down near Geelong, Peter and Rachel from Ballarat, Steven and Kristine from Toronto in Canada, and Julie from Adelaide, to be led around the country by Dan.

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