Sunday, May 15, 2011

Last day

Up about 8:30, had breakfast, then walked the opposite direction on East Nanjing Road (away from the Bund) and discovered my hostel is super close to People's Park. I walked through People's Park, lots of locals doing tai-chi and playing Chinese Checkers in the park, but backwards walking.

This morning, I couldn't go 20 feet without getting offers for watches, t-shirts, shoes, hashish and a hundred other things. It got to the point where when they approached me, I'd start talking first, "No, I don't want any watches, t-shirts, shoes, hashish, massages or anything else!" Haha, they often liked that would laugh, ask me where I was from, pat me on thre shoulder and then leave me alone.

Had a latte at Starbucks, killing time, then back to the hostel, checked out about 11:30 and hauled Lisa's humoungously heavy suitcase and my backpack to the metro, took the metro to the where it intersects with the maglev train, then took it to the airport. The maglev was awesome! 431 km/hr, took about 6 minutes to get to the airport. Probably would have been 30+ minutes on the regular metro.

Got checked in and waited for my flight and that's it. Back to Canada.

Thoughts and Observations on China
- 99% of the motorbikes are electric.
- For women, lots of leg, short skirts and short shorts, usually with stocking, are common. Not much skin showing (except arms) for tops
- Chinese are not escalator walkers
- I was really surprised at the lack of harassment (except in Shanghai). I expected that all throughout China.
Hostels in China are top notch, above and beyond anything else in Asia, and even western countries. Super impressed! And cheap. Even my mom would be happy at most of them!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Shanghai in a Flash

Slept well on the train again. Because we were late leaving, we were late getting into Shanghai. Lisa took a different train into Shanghai, which was supposed to arrive 15 minutes before my train and she was going to wait for me at the McDonalds outside the station. I was about 30 minutes late, and I went outside to the McDonalds and Lisa was there, but was getting concerned, thinking maybe she had the wrong McDonads or something.

I'm bringing a suitcase back to Canada for Lisa, as she's cancelling her teaching contract and not staying the second year.

We hopped on the metro and got totally lost on the metro trains, getting on the wrong trains, going the wrong directions. After half an hour, we got ourselves sorted and made it to the correct station and got to my hostel, Blue Mountain Bund hostel. I checked in and showered while Lisa waited, then she took me on a whirlwind tour of Shanghai.

We walked to the Bund (soooo busy with tourists, both Chinese and foreigner), then headed to a pretty interesting art district, where all kinds of artists setup shop in old, renovated warehouses). Lisa bought a couple of small photos. Then to People's Park, then to the French Concession (lots of expensive outdoor cafes, quite European), where we had a couple of drinks and supper. Lisa was also searching for another area like this French area, but she's never been able to find it since being taken there when she first to to China. She texted her friend and found out where it was. We walked about 10 blocks through totally non-touristy areas and found it, a labyrinth of small alleys full of little shops and restaurants and cafes. We had another drink. Lisa had to catch a train back to Suzhou, so I headed back to my hostel area and walked to the Bund to get (or try to get) they typcial nighttime shot of Shanghai that everyone is familiar with

Along East Nanjing Road, the pedestrian friendly road that leads to the Bund, there are lots and lots of touts, all offering me massage servies, by beautiful Chinese ladies, they all tell me. I couldn't walk 20 feet without getting another offer. I finally found the Asia I've been expecting!

Friday, May 13, 2011

More Xi'an

Got up, headed to the park area near the towers again, still no old people walking backwards. Lisa said I have to get up pretty early to see that.

Back to the hostel and had breakfast, then headed to Starbucks between the Drum and Bell Towers to wait for Ellen. She showed up, we each got something to drink and hung out for a bit, then we walked to the South Gate of the old city wall, paid the entrance fee and went up. It's pretty cool, the vast wall is maybe 50 feet high and it stretches for many kilometres around what was the old city (which is now mostly demolished, replaced by lots of skyscrapers and malls). We rented bikes and biked all around, stopping for pictures quite often. It maybe took us 2+ hours.

We went for lunch at a hostel near the south gate, then jumped on a local bus and headed to the Big Goose Pagoda. There's a huge park and public area with huge fountain pools leading up to the pagoda (and of course, lots of people selling trinkets). Apparently at night, they put on an awesome fountain light show.

After that, it was getting late in the afternoon and I had a train to catch ay 7:50pm, so I headed back to my hostel, had supper, then got a taxi to the train station.

A local started chatting with me (english practice time again). He was on the same night train, but he had a seat (not a sleeper bed). Most Chinese can only afford seats, not the sleeper beds. He was also getting off at Suzhou, one stop before Shanghai and where Lisa is teaching.

The train was a bit late boarding. In my birth, the two bottom beds were not taken, so a group of four locals moved in with 18 beer (the big bottles) and lots of snacks. Of course, they had to offer beer to the foreigner, which was nice, so had a couple of beers with them, but I declined the chicken feet when they offered. They didn't speak any English, but my "friend" came over from his seat and ended up acting as translator.

Other than the hospitality of the locals on the train, nothing else exciting happened, and I climbed into my top bunk about 9:45, 15 minutes before lights out.

Remember the tv's on the train playing some good, old "Just for Laughs Gags".

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Terracotta Army

Up about 8:00, had breakfast, then walked to the park area near the Bell and Drum Towers hoping to see old Chinese people walking backwards. Nope.

Back to the hostel and waited for the 9:30 Terracotta Army tour pickup.

16 of us on the tour from two related hostels, including a handful of Canadians.

Our guide was awesome. She spoke good english and had a great sense of humor and was very energetic. She was concerned about us using our passports for id, and asked us if we had other id. One girl from Holland (Ellen) didn't, so the guide gave her a fake id that she could use. The picture on the fake id didn't look anything like Ellen.

We visited pit 2 first, then pit 3, then pit 1, the best pit. While it was really cool to see and I'm glad I did it, it wasn't that "Wow" moment I was expecting. Still the work done to create the army is remarkable. And they recently found another pit (pit 4) which has more warriors.

After that we headed to the tomb of the guy who built the army (I think), which consisted of us seeing a big manmade hill from a distance. We took pictures of it from ther distance.

Our guide was very touchy feely and would often walk arm-in-arm with a few of us and chat, including me. At the tomb, she wrapped her arm around mine and whispered to me "I have a special gift for you!" Then proceeded to bounce away, giggling. Confused.

We went for lunch, and she randomly came over to my table and stuffed a piece of bread with a sweet sauce into my mouth. The girl sitting beside me laughed and remarked how odd that was

As we were walking back to the bus, she came up to me, grabbed my hand and put something into it, a replica of one of the terracotta horses. How sweet. One othjer guy got a gift, I don't think anyone else did. Ellen, the Dutchu girl, didn't.

On the bus back to the hostel, Ellen and me made a date to bike the old city wall tomorrow,and a bunch of us decided to head out for supper a bit later tonight. We made arrangemens to meet at the Starbucks between the Drum and Bell Towers at 7:30.

Back to the hostel, showered and vegged, then headed for Starbucks at 7:30, 5 of us altogether. We headed to the Muslim district for supper, then walked around all the shops for a while, then headed back to our hostels around 10:00.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Day in Xi'an

Another superb sleep on the train. Xi'an wasn't the last stop for the train, but I knew the arrival time in Xi'an (about 9:00am), so I was concerned about getting off at the correct station. We stopped at 8:43 at a station, so I showed my ticket to a local and asked "Xi'an?" and pointed down to indicate here. He shook his head and waved his hand, I assumed to indicate no. 15 minutes later, the train was slowing again, he tapped me and said "Xi'an", nodding. I thanked him and got off at the correct station.

After exiting the train station, as hoped, the hostel was waving a sign with my name on it. Got to hostel, checked in, had breakfast, showered, booked a Terracotta Warrior tour for tomorrow, then walked around town. Went to the bell tower, drum tower, Muslim district, the old Muslim mosque. Then walked to the south gate of the old city wall, down some random back alleys looking for some stones (which I never did find), then hit up a Walmart for some kicks, walked through a vast mall, sat outside in one of the pedestrian friendly shopping streets and people watched, then to Starbucks, then back to the hostel and did nothing too exciting. Had a couple of beers, played a couple of games of pool, watched a movie, had supper, read, journal, not necessarily in that order. Then to bed.

Monday, May 09, 2011


Up early, I didn't sleep well, because I was concerned my alarm wouldn't go off and I would miss the panda trip.

I ordered breakfast the night before, so my meusli breakfast was ready when I went downstairs shortly after 7:00am.

Left for the panda's at 7:30, about 25 of us altogether, a big group.

It was less than inspiring, actually panda's do nothing but eat bamboo all day, so all we saw was panda after panda after panda being lazy, sitting on their ass eating bamboo. Panda's have the digestive system of a carnivore, but because they eat just bamboo, they receive very little nutritionj from it, which is why they eat so much of it.

On the flip side, the panda center seemed nice, and the bears had lots of room and seemed very well taken care of.

Near the end, we saw some young pandas playing with human volunteers. The youngsters have more energy, so it was a bit more interesting to watch for a bit.

Back to the hostel around noon, I checked out, had lunch, then took the metro to the north train station for my 2:50pm train.

Train ride uneventful, and I headed to bed before the 10:00pm lights out.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Stuck in China?

Slept really good on the train. Hard sleepers are fine. There was a local in my birth that was anxious to practice his english, so he was enthused to have me there.  The train ride this morning was quite something. Lots of tunnels, but when we came out, steep mountains and deep gorges all around, then, wham, another tunnel. Very smoggy, though, could barely see across the valleys, lots of pollution here from factories in the mountains (that's what my Chinese friend told me).

Got to Chengdu around 2:15 in the afternoon and took a taxi to Lazy Bones Hostel. I had a brochure which had the address in Chinese, so it was easy. Lisa stayed at this hostel earlier and recommended it. I booked a Sichuan Opera for tonight (Lisa's recommendation) and a panda tour for tomorrow morning. I then asked about booking a train from Chengdu to Xi'an for tomorrow night. According to the website they used, there were hard sleepers available, but when he called, he was told they were all full. He suggested I go to the train booking suboffice just down the street. He wrote my request down in Chinese for what I wanted, then wrote a second request for a ticket from Xi'an to Shanghai for Thursday night, May 12.

I found the booking office and she didn't speak a lick of english, so I gave her the note hostel buddy wrote for me. She found a hard sleeper that leaves at 2:50pm tomorrow (195 RMB). It arrives in Xi'an at 9:00am the following morning. I wanted more time in Chengdu, but oh well.

Then I showed her the flip side (Xi'an to Shanghai for May 12), she looked it up, then started beaking in Chinese, I said Ting Boo Dong, but that didn't matter, she kept going anyway. She showed me the screen, which had a bunch of 0's in all the columns, then she wrote NO on my piece of paper and gave it back to me.

Uh-oh! How was I going to get back to Shanghai? My mind started racing, considering options (bus? plane?), then I wrote Fridays date on the (2011/05/13) on the piece of paper and took it back to her. She looked it up and luck! I got a 7:46pm train from Xi-an to Shanghai to on Friday night, arriving in Shanghai at 11:00am Saturday morning. So, three days in Xi'an and only about 1 in Shanghai.

I walked to the main square to see a giant statue of Mao. Chengdu is a pretty modern city.

Back to the hostel and vegged, journal, ate supper, then at 7:30, headed to the opera. There was another couple also from our guest house and a girl from Manitoba from Mix hostel, a sister hostel to Lazy Bones

Opera was awesome. It's famous for face changing, where the performers masks appear to change by magic, in a flash. It was pretty cool. One woman's dress even changed in the blink of an eye.

After the opera, back to the hostel and to bed.

One thing I noticed, locals almost always seem to assume that you speak Chinese. Even if you tell them you don't understand (Ting Boo Dong), they keep talking anyway, maybe thinking you'll pick up the odd word here or there anyway.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Bye to Lisa

Lisa got up early to go for a run (she's training for the half marathon on the Great Wall)i. I got up later, picked up my train ticket from downstairs, showered and waited for Lisa. She got lost running, but made it back about 10:30. After she showered, we headed to Salvador's for an awesome breakfast. We walked around, then at 1:30, Lisa took off and headed back to the hostel, then to the airport.

I have a train to catch at 8:20 this evening, butwasn't really motivated to do anything. When I have a bus or train or plane to catch, I never really have any motivation to do anything.

Walked through an electronics store near the university. They were on me like fleas to a dog or flies to ketchup, whatever the saying is. Then walked through the university campus, then along a high-end shopping street (pedestrian friendly), which had all the high-end shops you might find in any western city. So many people milling about. There were also little kids singing in the street for donations.

At the main square, a little girl (maybe 10) ran up to me with an armful of newspapers and said to me, in perfect english. "Excuse me mister, would you like to buy a newspaper?" I replied no thanks, and said I couldn't read Chinese. She replied "Well, you could look at the pictures!" Haha. I chuckled at that and said no anyway.

Then to two old pagoda's (East Pagoda and West Pagoda), then sat in the shade and watched a dog chase a golfball, some teenagers playing soccer and some kids on bikes and a skateboard typer thing.

Went to a cafe and used internet for a while, then to Salvator's for supper, back to hostel, got my bags and got a taxi to the train station and got my 8:20pm train. 10:00pm and lights out. I felt like I was in a prison, the old, stern train lady was the prison warden barking at everyone to go to bed.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Day Bus to Kunming

Up at 7:30, went to KFC for a quick breakfast (it was the only place open), then headed to the bus station for our 9:00am bus.

Bus ride uneventful, but long (over 8 hours), however I enjoyed it much more than the night sleeper bus we took earlier. I just watched China unfold for 8 hours.

Got to Kunming around 5:30 and hopped in a taxi to take us to Kunming Cloudland Youth Hostel. It was full, but they called another YHA hostel and got us a room there. We walked to the other hostel (it's a dive), got checked in, then I had them book me an overnight train to Chengdu for tomorrow night (248 RMB). I got a hard sleeper, middle bed.

Lisa and me headed to Salvador's, a pub/restaurant catering to westerners. It was odd to see all the white people crowded around this little place, surrounded by a see of Chinese.

Had supper and a few beers, then walked around Green Lake Park for a bit, then back to the hostel and to bed.

Phrases I've learned from Lisa:
Ting boo dong (I don't understand)
Shey Shey (Thank you)
Nee How (Hello)

Also learned some numbers.

Ting boo dong is the most often used.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Tiger Leaping Gorge Day 2

Got up, another beautiful day. Had breakfast and continued on the trek.

Todays hike includes a lot of paths along ther edge of the gorge, with massive drops along the path. Awesome!

We reached Tina's Guest House about 10:00am, I guess, the end of the high path. At Tina's Guest House, we paid 10 RMB to take a private path (built by a local) down to the bottom of the gorge, then paid another 10 RMB to take a different path back up, which included a long ladder climb to go up a cliff face. Mom would not have liked.

Got back to the main road, and there were three Spanish guys trying to get a mini-van back to Qiaotou. With Lisa and me, the mini-van driver had enough people to go.

Back to Jane's Guest House, Lisa and me ate lunch, then the guest house dude arranged a mini-van to take me, Lisa and two French girls back to Lijiang.

Remember the mini-van driver tossing his empty orange juice plastic bottle out the window as he drove down the highway.

Got back to Lijiang bus station, Lisa and me bought tickets for Kunming for tomorrow on a day bus, then headed to the old city and found a hotel at the edge of old town.  One of Lisa's coworkers was in Lijiang as well, so we met up with her (Annie) and her boyfriend for supper. They we headed for ice cream, then back to the hotel.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Tiger Leaping Gorge Day 1

Up early, 7:00am, to get to our 8:00am bus to Qiaotou, the start of Tiger Leaping Gorge. The guest house owner drove us (and another 3 people) to the bus station.

It's a beautiful day, blue skies. The weather forecast was for rain all week.

Arrived at the start of the hike, bought our park pass, left our big bags at Jane's guest house and started off.

Beautiful views. The hike starts up this valley with a range of snow capped mountains towering over the valley.

There are guest houses approximately every 2 hours or so, and locals selling drinks, fruit and snacks all along the trail as well. A few locals were even selling marijuana at their stands ("good quality" they would say). Some locals have also setup photograph platforms, where you can pay a few yuan and get a picture. Usually you can get a free picture by just hiking around the next bend.

We stopped at Naxi Family Guesthouse for lunch, then started on the hardest part of the hike, the 24 Bends, a series of steep switchbacks going up and over a huge ridge.

The views from Half Way are amazing. They have a rooftop terrace (Inspiration Terrace, they called it) with just a grand view of the snow-capped peaks across the valley. And, I have another bathroom for my website!

We showered, had a beer, then had supper on the rooftop terrace, as more and more backpackers crowded into the guesthouse. It started raining about 6:30 (after a beautiful day) so headed inside to the restaurant.

A huge Korean tour group came into the restaurant, making lots of noise and filling up the place. Headed to our room and read and to bed.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Damn Locals

We woke up and headed to Compass for breakfast.

Lisa feels FANTASTIC! She's so happy, she's jumping up and down and she has a massive appetite again.

Around 11:00am, we rented bicycles and got a map and suggestions on where to go from the hostel lady.  We headed west, towards thwe snow capped mountains to some valley. Not much to see, as the park (and chairlift to get up the mountain) was closed. It's off-season.

We then headed for Napa Lake. On the way out there, there were two locals standing on the road. They let Lisa bike by, but stopped me and wouldn't let me pass, they kept holding onto my bike. And they were beaking at me in Chinese and had a pamphlet with a picture of the a pasture with mountains in the background. I kept trying to push through, not having any idea what was going on. Then another local came running over and he took over, speaking Chinese, while the other two held my bike. There was a car coming the other direction, Lisa flagged it down and asked if they spoke english (yes), then asked if this was the way to Napa Lake (yes). The car people then told us they were asking for money for people to pass, a Pasture Protection Fee. They wanted us to pay 10 RMB each to pass, even though it's a public road. The people in the car didn't pay. Essentially a foreigner fee. Lisa HATES foreigner charges with a passion.

So, a Mexican standoff. They spoke no english, us no Chinese. Lisa and I sat there for 10 minutes, playing dumb and discussing what to do. Then Lisa called the hostel on her phone and asked about this supposed fee. The guest house lady said there was no fee, we shouldn't have to pay anything. Lisa then handed the phone to the dudre and they had a discussion in Chinese, then back to Lisa. Hostel lady told Lisa we could either pay the free, turn back or try to make a break for it (and face the consequences coming back). There was nothing she could do to help us. We decided to not pay and turn back. According to the Lonely Planet, there's nothing to see between March and Sept. anyway, as the lake dries up.

We headed back to town and started heading for the bus station on our bikes to buy tickets to Tiger Leaping Gorge for 8:00am tomorrow. It started raining, so we aborted the bus station run and went to a cafe for a bit.

After the rain stopped, back to the bus station. My bike is finished. The cable that controls the major gears broke. And the chain keeps skipping when I peddle hard.

After bus station, we dropped our bikes off, back to the guest house, hung out, then went to Seans Cafe for supper, did some shopping abd bought some stuff.

After supper, there was a local dance session happening in the old city square. There must have been 50 locals all in a big circle dancing.

To bed around 9:00. Temperature in our room is a comfy 11 Celcius.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Off to Shangra-La

Up around 8:00am. Lisa thinks she's feeling better. We packed our bags, checked out, the guest house gave us a pendant thingy before leaving, a piece of cloth wrapped around something that smells. I think it's eucalyptus, Lisa thinks it's mint smell. We got a taxi to the bus station and got the next bus to Shangri-La.

It's a good day to be on the bus, it's overcast and raining and pretty cool.

Bus left at 9:30 and we climbed up into the mountains, twisting along a little highway as it meandered past deep valleys. The scenery was awesome and would have been more awesome if there were no clouds and we could've seen the peaks.

Got to Shangri-La around 2:00, still raining. Lisa ane me started to walk to the old city with our backpacks, but it soon became apparent that te bus station wasn't where the Lonely Planet said it was on their map. That, and the rain, we decided to hail a taxi, showed her the Chinese name, she called the place, then she knew where it was and off we went.

We checked into Kevin's Trekkers Guest House, 100RMB, about $8 CDN.

Walked into the old city, had an awesome lunch at Sean's Cafe, then walked some more, to a big square with a Buddhist temple on a hill behind it. It also had what could be the worlds biggest prayer wheel, which I spun 3 times. It must have been 40-50 feet high and 20 feet in diameter.

Back to guest house, I used the wi-fi to find out the NDP is now the official opposition in Canada. I didn't think i'd see the day...

Shangri-La is so much quieter than Lijiang. There's hardly any Chinese tourists and quite a number more foreigners. And most shops and restaurants we've been to so far have spoken english, quite a change from Lijiang. There's a lot of hiking here as well, so there's plenty of shops selling brand name (or fake brand name) hiking boots, Columbia and Mountain Hardwear clothing and such.

Now, a story about loss. I brought a bottle of shampoo and a bar of soap and a plastic MEC soap holder. Unfortunately, I left them in the hostel in Singapore. So, in Malaysia I bought new shampoo and soap. Unfortunately, I left that at the guest house in Lijiang.  So today I headed out in search of new soap and shampoo. There's a supermarket just down the road, so I went in and found a bar od soap WITH a plastic container for 6 RMB (less than $1). Then to the shampoo section and found Jackie Chan shampoo! It was more expensive than other brands, but if it's good enough for Jackie, it's gotta be good enough for me.

Lisa and me went to Compass for supper. I had chicken kebabs and an Oreo milkshake and Lisa had a huge piece of chocolate cake and an Oreo milkshake.

We both went to bed about 8:00pm and reads.

It's very cool (temperature wise) in Shangri-La.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Wandering around Lijiang

Woke up, had a good sleep. Lisa slept for more than 12 hours. We went out for breakfast, then Lisa went back to bed. Lazy bones! I walked to Black Dragon Pool area and hiked up Elephant Hill.

Back to the room, Lisa sound asleep. I had lunch at a restaurant and tried to figure out how to use the advanced functions of my camera and read for a while.

It's not a great day today, overcast and cool.

The guest house does a communal Chinese supper every night, so I partook in that. Lisa didn't, still not feeling well. She (and I) hope she gets better before the hike. She has had travellers diarhea today, so at least we know what it is now. She just needs rest to let her body fight the virus.

After supper, about 8:30, we walked around the old city, hoping it would look awesome all lit up at night, the lanes and the canals. NOPE! Just masses and masses of Chinese tourists, so many human traffic jams are common place. Crazy!

I hit up Freshnam Cafe (same place as last night) for a beer and live music. There's a guy from Toronto performing this weekend. Then headed to bed about 10:00.