A Travellerspoint blog

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Ahhh welcome to da China club

sunny 32 °C

My first day in China! How exciting and yet with my day yesterday and the language barrier, also a bit worrying.
But onwards and upwards. I wasn't going to do any of the big sights that Michelle wanted to see as I knew we'd do them together on Sunday. Michelle is coming out to China for a 2 week belter of a trip that will take in Beijing, the Great Wall, Xian, Yangzi and Avatar world.

So today I availed of the hostel's top notch breakfast of muesli/fruit/eggs/toast and coffee all for only 28 yen! This was to be my breakfast most days at the red lantern. The staff there were so cute and friendly and helpful. And the place was really cool. There were a few lads in residence there who seemed to have been there for a long time. 1 Spanish guy was living there. Another NZ guy seemed to be constantly awaiting clearance of his package (Wahey!), and one other dude just seemed to be there all the time. There was also a grumpy Israeli girl who never smiled, an Israeli family with a tiny blonde haired boy who liked to drag a chair across the floor, a gang of moustachioed German lads who liked their beer, and a load of Swiss lads who just went round the place in their tiny underwear a lot. :D
The waiter there was so smiley and polite Michelle dubbed him Mr Glee! Great Craic.

For My first day I wanted to go to Beijing's leading art district 798, so I headed out to take the subway to the bus stop. I was surprised and impressed at Beijing in the daylight. The streets were clean, developed, busy and full of funky shops and restaurants. There were actual pavements, traffic lights (that no one heeded) and tons of buses, cyclists and cars zipping up and down the road. People looked efficient yet funky, with all sorts of whopper schtyles on them. (Eg fluffy pink crocs, and panda pjs with toy panda heads stuck on them - they are well proud of their pandas here. Can you imagine if the Irish started wearing leprechaun paraphernalia or pjs in the street. Jaysus we'd get lynched. ).

Anywho, nobody was really interested in me. It was brilliant. I felt safe and ignored. :) the subway was ace and got me to the bus stop in 15 mins. My problem then was which side of the road to be on for the bus to the 798 district. I stood and waited on one side for 15 mins, only to be told by the bus driver that I should be on the other side of the road. Oops. So waited aggges on the other side before the bus came along and I embarrassingly tried to pay the bus driver himself. What a tourist! There's a little woman with a microphone shouting at you on the bus who you have to pay.
They have these tiny little women shouting into microphones everywhere ye go, I presume just to keep everyone in jobs as I can't see the point of them really. Some of them stand at the bottom of the escalator in the subway station just shouting at everyone to "stand into the right" :/ odd.

Anyway, the bus ride was pleasant with cool views along the way to 798. 798 itself was amazing. It was originally an electronics factory built by the East Germans. Now It's a huge outdoor artisty area made up of former factories, tree lined roads, artists workshops and galleries, cafes, restaurants and tons of amazing outdoor sculptures. I was immediately impressed and spent the day here pottering, buying small pieces of art and admiring the great sculptures dotted all over the gaff.


I had a cheapo delicious lunch of "chicken" cury and lemon ginger tea and then hit the shops for some new clothes to spruce myself up for Michelle's arrival! ;) I desperately needed some clothes that weren't balled or stretched or stinky or clown pants stylee.

Next day it was a rare blue-skied beautiful day in Beijing, so i rented a bike and cycled up north to explore the 2008 Olympic stadium area. It was a pretty nice cycle, the roads were busy but as long as you're paying attention to the traffic and not taking photos as you cycle, (ahem!) you'll be grand.


The stadium itself was very quiet with not much going on. The buildings are impressive though and the area is huge.

Most of it was closed to the public though so after a couple of hours, I cycled back and treated myself to a mini pizza and beer in Pizza Hut. (In my defence, the menu had pictures!) it's very difficult to order food here. I obv can't read Chinese and you never know when a "goose intestine"or "braised Enema" is going to be lurking on a menu here....even when I try and speak MAndarin, the staff look at me like I'm bonkers and laugh away at my attempts. One party usually gives up after a few mins.

I headed back to my hostel to meet up with my latest roomies who had arrived last night - Nathan from Califiornia and Margot from South Africa. They were both in a laureate programme and were meeting up with a group of 20 other selected students to meet and greet some Chinese officials and get a tour of china into the bargain.

We had signed up to do the "cookery class" in our hostel at 6pm. We assumed the family who lived there were hosting it and it was supposed to consist of dumpling making, curry making, bread roll making etc so we were all hungry and excited.
Alas either they forgot about us or they couldn't be arsed doing a class. One lady of the house appeared with a big bowl of minced pork and onion, and round circles of dough. She showed us how to wrap the dumplings as she watched her soap operas behind us. We made about 30 dumplings and that was it! That was the whole class!

She directed us to the table to sit down and have a beer as she cooked the dumplings and then gave them to us to eat. Awww. They were delicious, but it wasn't much of a class to be honest! I hadn't eaten meat for three months in India and Nepal, but here in China, there's meat in everything - it's quite weird. And not just the good meat, but all weird meat. Like intestines, gizzards, throat, pig trotters, pigs faces?!, pig snouts, chicken feet etc. Luckily I'm not a vegetarian anymore or half as fussy as I used to be but I'm still not going to eat an animals face...well yet....
These are some examples of English translations we saw on some menus in Beijing.
- ducks spicy gizzard, mountain fragrance donkey meals, coke gut bomb, paste of a collapse of a son, mushroom rape package,
And my personal favourite - braised enema. yum!

After our "class" we sat around and had a few beers with the German lads and another young lovely lady from OZ - Fiona. Fiona turned out to be on the same laureate programme and trip as Nathan and Margot. Small world!

Posted by squeakylee 22:03 Archived in China Tagged beijing Comments (0)

Beijing Zoo

Pandering to the crowds...

overcast 26 °C

Today I headed up to Beijing Zoo. It was a bit drizzly but I wanted to see some pandas and I had a few hours to kill. The zoo itself was alright. At the first monkey cage, there were some Snub Monkeys - really weird looking things. Their faces looked a bit like Skeletor from He-Man. Anywho, I was stood there in a sea of Chinese tourists, peering in at this one particular Snubster. Then, weirdly, the Snub Monkey seems to spot me and stare back at me. He raised himself up on his legs and stuck his head out even further at me. It probably seems weird that I would think he was looking especially at me I know. But he definitely had an interest in me or someone around me! He seemed mighty angry, and got up off his seat, made a scary face and basically launched himself at the glass window in front of my face. Yikes! Jaysus - my heart! The lads around me were laughing their arses off. :D The Snubster must have noticed me as a whitey I reckon. Racist. ;)


Anywho I recovered and mosied on to see the pandas, who were awesome and very cute. They looked very human-like. Actually I was convinced they were just some guys dressed up in really good Panda outfits. I doubt the Chinese would do that now.... ;)


After that I saw the most depressed Chinchilla in the world. God he looked miserable - I swear he was actually crying. I felt so sorry for him. He was just clinging to the one tree in his little room and his eyes looked teary. I wanted to give him a hug and set him free. :(


This left me quite depressed so I decided to go and see the brown bears. There were 2 of them. One was marching up and down in the pen below us and the other was passed out on a rock.
Just then, the marching panda sits down beneath this group of Chinese tourists, starts clapping his hands and opening his mouth. This Chinese lady above him then starts pouring Coca Cola down into his gob. Oh Lord. The bear loved it though and kept clapping his hands and begging for more. Of course the lady happily obliged. It was amusing the crowd no end, but I thought it was a bit depressing. I don't know how these tourists don't know that you're not supposed to feed the animals. I reckoned that bear was going to be barfing his head off later on. Especially when after his bottle of Coke was finished, another Chinese dude fed him a big bottle of yoghurty drink. SIGH.


So I plodded off, beginning to think that maybe I shouldn't have come to the zoo. But wait! It was 2pm!! Time for my FREE BOAT RIDE!. (It wasn't free - it was 25 feckin yen). I hoped this ''Sightseeing Boat Ride'' would brighten up my day. :D I love boats! So I queued up with a thousand Chinese people and waited patiently. Some woman in front of me just threw her rubbish on the ground in front of me. WHY PEOPLE?? WHY??
So into the boat and off we go. I thought we were going to go for a jaunty ride around the zoo. On comes the little lady with the microphone speaking Chinese loudly. Obv I can't understand a word so decided to look out the window at the awesome views. But wait! THere are no views, the only thing we can see is a bank of grass on either side. Ah jaysus. I had to stifle my laughter - a sightseeing boat with no sights. hahahaha. nice.

Anyway after an hour and a half on this boat, I begin to think that we're probably not still in the zoo. The motorway alongside us kind of gave it away as well. Good thing I went to see the Pandas first! So yer wan (microphone gal) starts collecting money for something off everyone on the boat. I didn't know what it was for, so just kept peering out the window searching for sights. Then I realised it was 3.30 pm and Michelle would have landed in Beijing and was probably on her way to our hostel. Hmmmmm I thought - better get back.
But the boat docked and we were all herded off and channeled into a queue for something else in front of this fancy bridge. I recognised that bridge. Ah feck, we were at the south entrance of the Summer Palace (one of the sights I wasn't to see til Michelle arrived) and 12k or so outside of town. Boobs.

I asked some Chinese lads the way to the nearest subway, but their reply was ''Sorry I am a tourist.''. hahahaha - excellent mate. :D
I busted out my Beijing on a Budget app, (which has turned out to be my saving grace in Beijing as the GPS bit works when you're offline) and wandered my way back to the subway and back to the hostel. Only took me an hour and a half! :D I expected Michelle to be in our room. I heard music in the room too so was convinced she was there and started knocking on our door. Then noticed that the music was actually coming from my own earphones which were dangling around my neck. Classic Kenny.
Anywho Michelle arrived a bit later and we had a great catch up and a beer. She'd nearly missed her flight so needed a beer and a bit of a rant! It was so great to see her and I was supremely excited about the weeks events ahead.

Posted by squeakylee 22:18 Archived in China Tagged pandas boat zoo beijing Comments (0)

Beijing Fail

I have no pictures for the Forbidden City or Summer palace uploaded yet. Must have forgotten them... I'll insert them later.

sunny 29 °C

Well today was a bit of a Beijing tour fail. We walked for ages to find a hostel to book a secret Great Wall trip, only to be told the cost would be a whopper 600 yen each! The hostel had previously told us it would be 300 which was still too much. Boobs.
We did however have our own mini tour of the hutongs, which were awesome. And we saw lots of Chinese people out walking, cooking, playing games and eating etc.

After this we finally arrived at Tiananmen gate and square.


Chairman Mao's mausoleum was closed so we mosied around the square and then onto the Forbidden Palace, only to realise this was closed on Monday afternoons. Doh!

We got some dumplings (after leaving the first eatery due to the all too funny English descriptions)


and decided to continue on and attempt to see the Summer Palace. It was nearly 5 pm by the time we got to the palace and I was a bit frustrated at our lack of seeing any of the sights so far, conscious of our time schedule. Luckily the Summer Palace saved the day! The SP was a playground for the Ming and Qing dynasties when they wanted to escape the heat of Beijing city. 3/4 of it was made up of a lovely lake with lots of boats, peddle boats, bridges, little houses and obviously lush green trees and bushes. There wasn't an actual palace building, more like lots of gorgeous old buildings in the grounds which were used as dining halls, courts and temples back in the day. We trotted up the hill and had a good look around and a pleasant stroll. At one point we lost each other. (this was to become a regular thing).
We sat on the bank of the Lake and I had some of those wonderful cheapo noodles everyone is always eating. They were nom considering!! (I had wanted to try them for ages, but I figure ill be living on them when Chelle leaves.)

On the way back to our hostel, a young Chinese man in VERY tight jeans stood right in front of me on the subway. We were sniggering away like school girls but these jeans were rediculously tight.
Chelle asked me: "Have you ever gone out with a Chinese man? "
I said: "I feel like I'm going out with one right now"
Anddddd we cracked up again.

Back at the gaff we met Fiona who had done the Mutinya part of the Great Wall. It was pretty misty for them but the pics looked really eerie and cool.
We began to plan our trip to the wall. We wanted to do it ourselves so decided that we would get up really early and get a bus to the tiny village of Zhang Dao Koe, about 60km outside of Beijing. ZDK had a large area of unrestored wall not open to the public and a bit of restored wall as well. We had asked a young girl from our hostel to ring a guesthouse for us to book us a room for the night, as no one in the village speaks English apparently. So we planned to get up early, get there by 12 then get out, see the wall and hopefully have a sunset on it, and sunrise the next morning.

When we woke the next day however, we'd slept through the alarm and it was raining. So I proposed we try the Forbidden City again for the morning and then bus it to the village later on, as tomorrow was supposed to be a scorcher and we'd see a lot more of the wall in ze sunshine! So that we did. We packed an overnight bag and headed off to see the FC, which was quite cool. The buildings in the city were quite impressive, really gorgeous colours and lovely courtyards. The place was packed with tourists though and after a while all the buildings looked the same.

We had a strong coffee and decided to hit the road to our wall adventure. We managed to get the first bus to Huairou no problemo, (Michelle had to sit beside a crying baby with a split in his pants - wahahahahaha - I lolled from the back of the bus - let's see how much she likes babies now!! ;) )

Anywho we couldn't find the second bus to take us to ZDK as the bus driver dumped us out at the wrong stop for the directions we were given. hmmm. The bus we needed had no number on it, just the Chinese characters. We walked up and down the street to various bus stops and waited for a while for a non-numbered bus to show before we decided to get a taxi. We got this jolly bowl-haired taxi dude who chuckled a lot, to bring us to Zhang Dao Koe for an extorniate price. His Hiace van bumped and jostled us around all the way, and he had to stop and ask directions 3 times. Each time he got back into the van, he chuckled and said ''more money, more money, too far''. It was an absolutely beautiful day and we could see mountains and blue sky out the window for the first time in a week. Bliss. We'd a great laugh bouncin around in the back seat.


We got to ZDK village and paid Chuckles and went in search of our guesthouse. We spent yonks looking for it but eventually found it and our lovely hostess with the mostess, who whipped us up a dinner of vegetables, rice and eggs - thanks to Michelle's fantastic miming and Chinglish. :D
It was heavenly. We sat outside on the balcony with a stunning view of the nearby mountains and a part of the wall. EXCITEMENT ABOUNDED! (Is that even a sentence?)
For some reason however, there was a dead rat hanging from the balcony - maybe to scare away other rats?? I didn't tell Michelle until after she finished her dinner. he he he.


Our room was pretty basic with no water and the beds were like rocks, but the scenery was amazing, the food was delicious, the weather was AMAZING, there was a river nearby with a chorus of frogs ribbetting away, there was a tiny dog who hung round us and basically everything was hunky dory. Good Times.

Posted by squeakylee 23:35 Archived in China Tagged city beijing forbidden dao zhang koe Comments (0)

The Great Wall of China

a truly hair-raising experience

sunny 36 °C

Next morning, we got up at 3.45am to get up to the restored part of the wall for sunrise. We grabbed our torches and trotted out into the darkness, wondering what the fuck we were doing. We scrambled up a rocky pathway for about half an hour to reach a crumbling archway with a restored section of the wall to the right, and an unrestored (not open to the public due to it's unsafeness) section to the left.


We hit the restored section first as it was in better condition and it was still dark. We plodded up lots of very steep slopes and steps for about 45 mins until we came to a crumbly archway where we sat to watch the sunrise. There was a magnificent view of mountains all around us, the wall behind us and the resevoir below us. It was amazing.


The walls and hills looked gorgeous in the sunlight.
We lapped it up and took a few pictures and I ate a delicious banana. Michelle lost hers on the wall. :D

After a while we headed back to the beginning and headed left up the unrestored section of the wall.


On this bit we'd have to climb and scramble our way up a rocky bushy semi pathway and through 10 delapidated towers. After the 10th tower, the wall falls away to nothing and it's too dangerous to continue as it has sheer drops on either side.
Tower 1 was easy enough, in fact all of the unrestored section was a lot easier to walk on than the restored section. it was more comfortable and natural.

Poor Michelle's feet and ankles were in bits so we took our time trotting along. They looked so sore, but I wasn't allowed draw attention to it - the junction theory and all that! ;) (anyway when I did, she told me to shut up!! ) :D lol.

The second tower was a bit difficult as there was actually no way to get into it other than to haul ourselves up and into the window over a sheer drop. hmmm.


I wasn't sure if we could do it, and Michelle is terrified of heights, but we didn't want to give up! So I had a go and pulled myself up and in fairly easily enough. (Don'tlookdowndon'tlookdown). It actually looked scarier than it was. Michelle took a few minutes of deep breathing before gritting her teeth and going for it! What a trooper. She was up and in the tower in a matter of seconds. Yahoo! There was some high 5'ing and hugging and on we trotted.


The sky was so blue and the sun was belting down. The views were phenomenal and there was not 1 other human being on the wall apart from us 2. It was awesome.


The next tower was also a bit hairy and the pathway gradually got more rubbly and dense with bushes and trees, but it was fairly easy going. We passed through 7 towers by 8.30 am, before turning left away from an even more delapidated wall trail going the other way.


Towers 8-10 were ok too, but after that the wall started to fall away and became a very steep rocky slope down hill, with sheer drops either side, and a whopper wind whipping through our hair.


We follwed the wall down to a forest and when we looked back at what we had descended already, we got some pretty shaky knees, but were impressed with ourselves. It looked EPIC.


At this point, this is where we SHOULD have gotten off the wall and scrambled down. Michelle did suggest this, but I thought we could keep going down to the car park. I was wrong. The wall continued for a bit, but then fell away completely into dense mountainous rock with no way of getting down it.


We decided to jump off and scramble down the mucky foresty part of the wall on our arses. It was so steep, we had to sit down and scramble/slip/slide all the way down. At one point, I didn't think I could actually go any further. I asked Michelle if she could go back up, but she said no, so I had to have a stern talking to myself and my jelly legs and tell them to get the fuck on with it!

I was sitting on a big rock with what looked like nothing underneath it. ''GOODFEFFINJAYSUS'' I thought to myself. It was pretty hairy for a while there, and I thought we might get stuck there on the side of the mountain! But after a few deep breaths, and another 20 mins of sliding down on our arses, we eventually got to the car park. It was a bit tense and we still had 2km to walk back to our guesthouse for breakfast. Poor Mich's feet were even more wrecked and covered in cuts from the boots but we eventually got back to our gaf after a good 6 hours on the wall.

We had a delicious breakfast, a celebratory beer (10am beers - nom),


a snooze and caught the buses back to our hostel in Beijing, to grab our bags and head for the night train.

EPIC DAY - We'll always have the wall Mich. ;) xx


Posted by squeakylee 23:40 Archived in China Tagged great beijing wall scary dao zhang koe unrestored Comments (0)


overcast 26 °C

Sleeper trains in China are hit and miss. Sometimes they're grand, sometimes they're a bit unpleasant. Smoking is allowed on the trains so some of the compartments stink. There's a lot of hawking and coughing and spitting and snoring and sneezing, which is kinda gross. Whenever I'm on the train I feel like I'm breathing in a looootttt of germs. Our 1st sleeper to Xi'an though was very pleasant. We had a nice family beside us who helped us get our bags in and were generally quite friendly.
They even had a fake nose and moustache set for the journey! What everyone needs on a sleeper train - a disguise!


We got to our hostel in Xian about 2ish and had a pamper day. (i.e. a shower and laundry) The 7 sages hostel was pretty fantastic.


Later we rambled out for a bit of shopping - to buy Mich some new runners. We pottered around the lovely old streets in Xi'an - they were full of gorgeous old Chinese style buildings, food stalls, artists' shops and ladies dancing in the street. We had Subway for tea! :D HA! Michelle was disgusted. I was delighted. ;)

The next day we hustled to the station for our bus to the Terracotta Warriors. The centre for the warriors was surrounded with the usual kilometre of shops, restaurants, stalls selling furs (arrgh), little warriors, little bobble headed toys, jade, jewellery and so on.
There are 3 pits of warriors being excavated in Xi'an. Basically in 221 BC Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who was quite prolific apparently, but also a bit of a tyrant, began constructing his own tomb. Outside this tomb, he stuck in an army of terracotta warriors and horses, ready to protect him in the afterlife. There are thousands of these warrior lads - all made from clay and baked in a kiln. Only 2000 of them are on display in the main pit. Each soldier is unique with his own unique facial features and expressions, hairstyle, clothes etc. It was fierce impressive altogether and was really quite amazing to think of all the hours of painstaking work people are doing to excavate, preserve and put back together these lads.

We started at the biggest pit by accident which meant we saw the King Daddy Dog of pits first and so pit 2 and 3 were less impressive. It was quite a good morning outing, if a little expensive at 15 pounds in. (China is not cheap to do the touristy things in.) But it was cool to see it all the same. The excavation of this site will keep many people in jobs for yonks to come.


Our bus on the way back to Xian had The Voice Of China on the tv. It. Was. Horrific. My idea of hell. Contestants who couldn't sing a note in my opinion, hugging and crying and congratulating themselves on their performance. It gave me goosepimples it was so bad.
We had a shite lunch in Dico's (lol) and then rented bikes to cycle the walls of Xi'an. This. Was. Awesome. There were lots of pretty rooftops, temples, cool old style houses, quaint streets and a big balloony snake to be seen on and around the wall. Good times.


We only had an hour to get to our next sleeper train to Chongqing so legged it to the station. This sleeper train was an omen of what was to follow in Chongqing, (which is possibly the most unpleasant city I've ever been in). The sleeper itself was hilariously gross with the biggest snoring pig of a man in the bottom bunk. Michelle recorded him while I lolled away up top. Some other dude saw I was reading the Lonely Planet and took it off me and started reading it himself. Then sat at the end of the bed and rang people on his mobile VERY LOUDLY - despite a mom and baby asleep beside him. jerk. :D Still - all in all - pretty funny.

Posted by squeakylee 23:41 Archived in China Comments (0)

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