Friday, September 30, 2005

Farewell China!

Well, not quite yet, but pretty damn soon!


We're already in Beijing, our last stop in China. Today is Friday and we head off first thing Tuesday morning. Yikes!


So, update. Things have been fairly uneventful since the rainy sick days. We had 2 long days of travel as we made our way north. First a night train to Kunming, followed by another 20 odd hours to Xi'an. It was fun though, the train to Xi'an was older looking and there was a very friendly old couple in the bunks beneath us. I spoke with them as much as my Chinese would allow and it actually went quite well.


Xi'an was a lot more expensive than the previous places we'd been, but we were only staying the one night. Basically we were there to see the terracotta warriors, and then just wander about the city on our last day. Of course it was rainy while we were there. Oh well. We all rolled up our pants like a bunch of dorks. It's lame, but when you've only got 2 pairs of pants and you don't want one of those pairs soaking wet and covered in mud, it's got to be done.


The terracotta warriors were cool, pretty much exactly what I expected. I'd seen them in books and on tv, so I knew what I'd be getting. Thousands of lifesize statues, all lined up in pits under a huge domed roof. Neato. Other than that we just meandered about, mostly in the muslim quarter that was lined with busy restaurants, teashops, souvenirs and vendors selling dried fruits and other - less obvious - food things. On the night we left we had the traditional Xi'an dish for dinner. It was soup with mutton and then crumbly pieces of doughy bread. It was so goddamn delicious. Look, it merits a tame swear, that's how good it was! The meat was so tender it practically melted in my mouth and the bread stuff was soft, delicious and so filling. My stomach is rumbling at the thought of it.


Then was our train to Beijing. Now is pretty much the worst time to be traveling in China because it's National day tomorrow and everyone has a week of holiday. That's right, a BILLION people are on holiday. We waited in the massive queue at the train station only to be told that there were no beds left on the day we wanted or the day after. Only "standing" tickets. Surely she meant "standard", right? We had no choice, we just bought the tickets and hoped for the best.


We arrived at the station over an hour early, which didn't turn out to be a head start at all and a line was already forming. We got in line and managed to push forward a bit. The man beside us spoke some English and confirmed our fears. It was rush seating and there was a good chance there wouldn't be seats for everyone. Oh god oh god, 14 hours without a seat was just not something I wanted to experience. We waited in line, the tension building. Then it happened. The corral gates were opened and the crowd surged forward. Gogogo! We ran as fast as we could go, our packs bouncing around, stopping for nothing. There was another entrance to the platform and people were spilling out from there too. Oh no! We ran to the car we were told and pushed on. Thanfully we found 3 seats together and the train quickly filled up. There was a family across from us with 2 young children who were getting an impromtu English lesson from another Chinese passenger. They were very cute and shy, practicing their alphabet for us. We gave them little Canada pins which made them happy. It was hilarious though, the dad hauled out the camcorder to video the kids talkingo to the foreigners and a small crowd gathered to watch. Unfortunately that was the highlight. It was still an unpleasant ride, lights that stay on all night, no way of getting comfortable, and a leaky window to boot. I woke up from a restless nap to discover that it was pouring rain and my right side was soaked. Great, now I was uncomfortable, cold, and wet. Yay. We pulled into Beijing about an hour later than predicted and eagerly got off the train.


That's about it. We visited the Forbidden City today, so much more crowded than when I went in February. We'll probably go to the Wall on Sunday (a much more difficult spot than last time, I hope I don't fall off!). I don't know if I'll get another chance to write before leaving. Probably not. So the next update will either be from Mongolia or Russia. Yippee!!


Goodbye China and thanks for everything!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

rain, ganja and poo troughs

I know this is a long one, but there's good stuff, really!


I am just in between trains at the moment. Took an overnight from Dali to Kunming, where we have 6 hours to kill before putting in another 20 odd hours on a train to Chengdu. Honestly, I think I'm spending as much time on the trains as I am in the actual places!


So, we left the splendor and heat of Yangshuo and arrived in Dali, greeted by a sudden drop in temperature and grey, rainy skies. Boo. We meandered about, reminiscing on the paradise we'd left behind, whyohwhy etc etc. Spent the day playing cards and drinking shakes.


The following day was excellent though. We decided to go horseback riding. A nice, relaxed, leisurely jaunt? Not quite. As we left the town and trotted along some old cobblestone streets, our three horses liked to cram together, and lucky me was in the centre getting both legs crushed. And when they weren't all walking beside each other, my horse was a bit too close to the back of my sister's horse. So I would freak out as my knee was coming dangerously close to being wedged in a horse's ass that I was sure was going to crap all over me. Ewwww. That was the easy part of the ride. Then we made our way up the mountain, following narrow, muddy and very slippery paths. The horses were slipping and sliding all over the place because of the previous day's rain and tripping over loose rocks. A little nerve racking. At the top, my brother, sister and I wandered along a nicely paved path, then scrambled over slick rocks and damp, mossy roots for about an hour until we reached a big, rushing waterfall. It was gorgeous. I was slighly panicky on our walk back though because it was a fairly trecherous path and I had visions of my brother or sister tumbling over the edge. Shudder. Going back down the mountain on our horses was even worse than going up, and my knuckles were white from gripping so tightly. But it was the fun kind of scary.


So, unbeknownst to me, Dali is apparently the Amsterdam of China. We passed plenty of Chinese people just sitting on the side of the road, smoking from huge bongs. We'd just be walking down the street and women in traditional Bai (Chinese minority) dress would come up to us and, under the pretense of showing us postcards or hair clips, would quietly mutter "want to smoke the ganja?". We finally went with them to "looklook" and were led down a small alley, around a corner, into a padlocked room and had the curtains closed. Two different bags were shown to us, and my brother, knowing more about it then my sister or I, did the inspection. But he poo-pooed it, saying it was too leafy and seedy etc etc. I really don't think we had any intention of buying anyway, seeing as they were only selling large bagfuls, but we wanted to see what it was like.


Our last day in Dali I was sick. Being sick is never pleasant, and being sick on holiday sucks that much worse. But being sick when all you have for a bathroom is a stinky trough on the other side of the yard, well, that brings it to a new level of ick. Yep, these were our worst toilets to date. Going without a western style toilet is perfectly normal, and I really have no problem with the squatties. But this was different. There were 4 stalls, and through them all ran one communal trough, flowing very slightly downhill. Every several hours water would gush out, cleaning everything. But very often you'd go in just before a flush was due, and ugh, was that nasty! Crap and flies and the stench of ammonia. On top of that, the stalls only had small doors that came up to chest level. None of the Chinese girls even bothered shutting them. So anyway, you get the idea, it wasn't the ideal place to have a stomach bug.


That pretty much brings us up to date! I'm feeling better today, but not 100% yet. Not much time left in China, hard to believe it's almost over. Okay, zai jian for now. Keep in touch everyone!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

I'm alive!

Hey hey hey, it's me! Still alive and kicking in China. Been busy taking in the sites and doing all the travel stuff, without much of a break for internet using. I have no photos that I can post yet, alas, but when I do, they'll knock your socks off. Yep, goodbye socks! I just left a town called Yangshuo and the scenery there was breathtaking. My meager little blog can't possibly describe to you the gorgeous landscape we were priviledge to. Steep, green peaks jutted up out of the lush rice paddies, the sun beat down hard, shining brilliantly off the river, and local farmers walked their cows and baskets of foods along the paths. We rented bikes to ride through this astounding scene, stopping constantly to snap more photos. We slathered ourselves in a mud bath in a cave, chilled out on a bamboo raft that lazily coasted downriver, took a Chinese cooking course, and got our adrenaline going with some crazy white water rafting. The town was small and crammed with backpackers, but things were still cheap and we loaded up with some souvenirs. It was a fun few days.


The mud bath was so strange, it was thick, slippery and slimey. When I stood up, mud had filled my bathing suit, making it look like I had a big old turdy pile in my bikini bottoms. Ewww.... The bike ride was amazing, and I can't wait to share the photos. The white water rafting was a bit more action than I'd bargained for as Theran and I hit a rock and tipped over within the first 10 minutes. I was a little shaken but climbed back in fairly quickly. Poor Theran couldn't get in and our raft was whooshed past him, me screaming frantically "stop stop! he's fallen out!" and Theran getting pushed downstream, over the rocks, collecting some hefty bruises along the way. We also went to the terraced rice fields, which I'm sure everyone can imagine, it's one of the most Chinese images you can have of this country. And of course, it was beautiful.


Someone tried to steal Theran's wallet on one of our bus trips though. No, not just a little bit of deft finger movements, fast hands type of thing, the guy actually was cutting through Theran's short pocket with mini-scissors! Theran noticed before the wallet was snatched and was understandably furious, punching the guy a few times in the face before the thief was kicked off the bus. Crazy.


Anyway, Theran headed back to Canada so it's just me and the siblings now. Hopefully we won't be at each others throats too soon. I'd better wrap this up for now, tonight we have a train to catch to a town called Dali, where we will take it easy for a couple of days. It's all rushing by so fast!


Oh yeah, I also saw a market that sold dogs. To eat. There were the doggies in cages, then the dead doggies on the table being chopped up. Not a sight for the faint-hearted. I have photos for later, if you can handle it. Keep writing, I'll update when I can!

Sunday, September 4, 2005

Goodbye Dalian!

Ha, you thought I was gone. But here I am at the school for one last entry. Just a few goodbyes.


Goodbye Zhongshang square, where I experienced my first English corner and was mobbed by all the eager English learners. Goodbye local restaurant which, due to not knowing its real name, we affectionately called Carl's. Goodbye recycle people that woke us up every morning with there insistent shouts for bottles. Goodbye little drink stand in our lane where I often ran to in my slippers for a quick can of coke. Goodbye Walmart with all the pushing and shoving and tasty little restaurants. Goodbye hooker street that we walked down to get home after the bar. Goodbye underground dvd shops, I hope you stay afloat without our constant business! Goodbye men walking about in shirts pulled up to their chest, hands on their bare bellies. No wait, I'll probably see that again.


Goodbye all my lovely friends and memories!!

Hittin' the road

Just about to dismantle and sell the computer. I'm off tomorrow! I'll try to write whenever I get the chance. Don't forget about me and keep checking back for fun tales from the road!

Thursday, September 1, 2005

Slacking on Packing

Crap. Crapcrapcrap. I hate packing. I'm such a procrastinater. I wait and wait and then suddenly I barely have any time left so I start to panic. Like now! Originally we thought we'd have to move out of our apartment Sept 1st, but our landlord was very kind and said we could stay til the 5th when we leave. Much more convenient. of course that meant that I had all those extra days to get my shit together. In other words, I could leave things in a state of chaos for another few days! I look at everything I need to somehow pack away, mail home etc, and I just don't know where to begin. Okay, let's start with the dvds.....




Perhaps if I wait just a little bit longer the room will clean itself.


Sure seems quiet these days. The other foreign teachers left already. We're just puttering about until Monday when it'll be our turn to say goodbye.


Last night my friend had a get together at her place, just a few friends, snacks, and of course drinks. Ended up going to Dave's bar, which isn't the name of the place and I have no idea why we call it that, and sitting outside for a few hours. Stayed until 4am. Gotta love these places that will stay open as long as you keep buying beer.


At one point my friend Helen was really jittery and bouncing her leg around, and it was driving me bonkers. I gently put hand on her knee and said "shhh.... shhhh". Her boyfriend asked me why I did that and what it meant. I said it's just to calm someone down, get them to relax, be quiet etc. He said that's usually what mothers say to their little boys to get them to pee. Hahaha! Funny cultural differences. Kind of reminds me of when I was in Egypt and the people did this strange hissing sound when they wanted to get past you. Like we would ring a bell on a bicycle or maybe clear our throat to let someone know we were there. Obviously we all expect languages to be different, but it's interesting that even body language and indistinct sounds can have different meanings too!
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