A Travellerspoint blog

Leaving China on a high in the city of the future- Shanghai

sunny 26 °C

Setting three alarms prevented me from going back into unconsciousness so at 7.45am was out the door and on my way to the South Beijing Metro Station which is built exclusively for the bullet trains and is vast, clean and very modern. Being very navigable it was easy to find gate 11 and just one escalator away I was by the G1 so took some photos and sat in my middle seat (if known would of changed as booked well enough in advance) with the train smoothly pulling away at 8.57am effortlessly increasing in speed through the capital’s suburbs south to reach the 300kmh mark in no time, which it stayed at almost the entire way except for the one stop in Nanjing (topped out at 306). With the weather staying fine I looked out at all the construction sites, unfinished towns, agriculture and some nice landscapes as managed to go through 250 photos in the 4 hours before my battery died (considering such an important part of the growth of this country you would think power points and wifi would be on board- I mean they are on the Filipino ferries for god sake). Time passed so quickly and was hard to imagine the speed we were going considering how few bumps or vibrations there were. At 1.45pm we were at Shanghai Hongquiao Station (even bigger than Beijing’s believe it or not) where couldn’t resist a packed Subway sandwich on the way to the frankly perfect metro (4 Yuan a ride) as carriages are bright, well lit, informative, air cooled, fast and not a blemish in sight.

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Only 6 stops east on Line 2 was Zhongshan Park and a mere 10 minutes walk away just off Wuyi Road I entered Rock & Wood International Youth Hostel; tall skyscrapers already apparent when exited the station. As Mr Palen not here yet I paid a key deposit and settled into the ensuite twin room by taking out things I will need, shaving, reading emails and looking up cheap spots to eat and drink as worry I could break the bank here more than anywhere else. At 3.45 I heard a knock on the door and my good friend from Quebec was here making it the third continent we had seen each other in. We were soon out and about in search of the Train Booking office for him on what was a cheap road a few metres away so able to buy a pen, bananas, Bao’s and water then wasted 15 Yuan on a near useless big scale map of the city that was of little use; still used it to pinpoint specific places whilst having a cold beer by the mosquito filled pond near reception. We caught up over some supermarket Tsing Tao’s (Buddies) in the room then at 8.30pm went on the metro to the neon lights and international fashion shops of East Nanjing Road and a short walk to the Bund where the view across the Huangpu River to some of the tallest buildings in Asia was readily available so no fighting for a spot like in Kowloon. Exactly how I pictured it the Oriental Pearl and surrounding office towers reflected off the water as both tourist boats and normal black freighters went past so took many photos using manual mode resting on the metal barrier. After some shots with Chinese we looked at the early 20th century stone buildings behind (such a contrast), a bull resonant of the one from Wall Street and a wall covered in flower patterns giving me a fantastic first impression of this city- bits reminded me of New York, Chicago, Hong Kong and cities in Australia. We ate a mini feast of tomato & egg, thick noodles and fried potatoes with chilli at a cafe near the hostel, smoked a pipe made out of a Pringles tube (trust John to bring some stuff with him!) mellowing out and about midnight went out to look for a bar using my hard to read map. Eventually we came across Perry’s Cafe which from the outside looked dead but on the third floor was essentially a backpacker/English teacher budget, lively bar that was by far the best one come across in China and right up our alleys. The problem was not knowing anyone (all in groups), being sober, the place closing in an hour and not in the right frame of mind to start socialising which really frustrated us as many good looking people about; prices must be cheapest in Shanghai at 10 for a beer and 25 for a bucket! Fortunately being close to where we are staying means there is no reason why can’t go again.

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With the school open over the road and many noises occurring once awake at 8.30am I couldn’t continue staying in bed. Later that morning I went to a barber’s and being half awake watched the guy use a number 2 all over making my hair the shortest it’s been in about 6 years which was hard to get used to at first but looked much neater as would be a while before have to do it again somewhere in Malaysia. I was surprised and glad to see an early Kristina downstairs (she didn’t want to knock as thought we were sleeping) meaning could work out a route of the French Concession using her easy to read free map and having Canadian Tessie come over as she was intending on seeing that area today also. In a group of 4 we perhaps unwisely walked over 40 minutes following the Yanan Road highway that slices through the centre on another hot day with the Lamborghini Garage (one colour for each of us- orange Gallardo my pick) the most exciting thing we saw till reached Fumin Road. John was determined to find the Pancake House which was incorrectly labelled on both Google and Nokia maps making it take far longer than any of us wanted, especially me as was never going to buy anything, although being with two girls meant eating half their food including apple and cinnamon pancakes and a club sandwich with real bacon and cheese. At long last the sightseeing of the famous 1930’s era area could begin at Xiangyang Park and Huahai premium shopping boulevard which lead to the only French style garden left in China- Fuxing Park. The hedges were cut to perfection, statues clean and white, flower beds all uniform and colourful and a fountain in the centre (grass off limits as still spring) with many people relaxing with partners/friends, dancing and taking a stroll just like us but with less intention of going anywhere. Having gone quite a way already we weren’t overly fussed about specifics making what we were doing more of a neighbourhood wonder than anything, noticing 3 Russian Orthodox churches (Kristina going there for service the next day- Sunday), some nice hotels, cafes, antique/art’s shops, quiet roads and the odd residence of a famous person.

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Stumbling on the Tianzfang district was the best thing we did as a rabbit warren of lanes playing host to many small bars, quirky shops, photographs, paintings, pricey restaurants and unique things such as a toilet based cafe (so odd- turd shaped toys available). We chose a bar to sit outside at for a drink (Chinese gentleman taking photos of us on the next table so we did the same back and asked him for a group one using my camera) and as planned the route to be by the Dapuqiao Station could easily take the metro one change to our stop. Requiring some sort of substance I picked a 3 Yuen dried naan bread, covered in chilli and oil for no extra cost (started a trend as the rest did the same), bought a couple of beers and lay in the room looking at where the clubs are; M2, Mint, Muse and Shelter.

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At 9.30pm we were on the way to Perry’s to meet Molly (here for the weekend with friends) where got the staff to find us a table as a 3 litre beer tower was purchased between just myself and John (forgot the ice initially- quite reluctant to put it in) taking up the bar top which gave them extra incentive to make sure we were seated asap- it worked. He was on form using his flowery shirt to his advantage but as Tessie dissuaded me from wearing mine I wasn’t quite as obvious (trust your own instincts!) and so got drunk with the American then moved up to an unweak bucket when she had to go clubbing. Liking where we were at we resisted the temptation to go anywhere else as good music and could be countless other places in Asia. On the way home I somewhat cheekily nipped into a semi open but unlit bakery and grabbed a football sized pastry when the chef loading the oven wasn’t looking; didn’t feel guilty as shouldn’t have had the door open and no security! As fresh as ever going to get it I sped past John to be outside Rock & Wood by 3am where both ate the still hot sweet delight.

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I didn’t need to change to a dorm room until 12pm so relaxed and used the lovely shower till the time came (used passport as deposit as not enough money to leave a deposit) then by the Bao lady John used his language skills to order us veggie egg fried noodles which added lots of spice to and still cleared the bowl being glad there was a slight breeze. Under the river at Lujiazui we exited the escalator and instantly looked up as above us were the Jinmao Building, Shanghai World Financial Centre (currently third highest in world) and under construction Shanghai Tower which, when completed, will be second to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (first place on my trip). When waiting for Kristina we watched the cranes some 400 metres up reaching to ground level to pick up several tonnes of steel bars (if hint of wind they must stop) and once with us we could go on the elevated walkway for unobstructed views of the what I think is the city that will define the 21st century. The Greenland Park was neatly situated in the middle of it all and even though was a Sunday so few people were about (if lived here this is where would come to relax). We walked barefoot on the grass, made some abstract shots and did a 360 seeing structures all around, in particular the Financial Centre, which is in shape of a bottle opener; how was that overlooked in the planning stage?! Over the circular walkway and down open air escalators to Binjiang Avenue we were by the river with the distinctive landmark Oriental Pearl and its two shiny purple balls ever present; so lucky with the weather. With our McDonald’s ice creams we stared at the mostly unimpressive other side and back on the metro left John to catch his train home 2 hours away.

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We went to Yuyuan Gardens which was the ultra tourist Lijiang esque area I hoped to avoid (confinement is fine) although Kristina amazingly bought me a souvenir chopstick set making my day and nearby we stepped away from the groups to be where the real locals lived a genuine way of life; much more interesting yet only us there. On the Bund Riverside Walkway the sun was close to setting so the light from the thousands of windows made the skyscrapers seem alive making me just lean on the railing and watch the transformation. I stood atop a pillar, and did a long arm so both of us could be in a photo (better than entrusting someone else to do a shite one) then continued on to Nanjing Road where walked the whole way to People’s Square talking away, seeing a Samsung S4 tent and feeding off the buzz.

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The thing that caught my eye the most wasn’t the long relief depicting some communism events or the big monuments or even the trees but the obscene 20 exits for the below metro station! Over in People’s Park (much different to the one in Jersey) the green lighting didn’t quite work but the Shanghai Museum and fountain both looked great. Sat on one of the three coloured bands we watched the water in a trance (been a long day) and at 8.15pm went to Jinshajiang Road on Line 2/11 (seemed half the cities 20 million inhabitants were at the initial station) to pick a place to eat not far from her hostel. Ran by a husband and wife who had a young baby we somehow ordered about 5 dishes (Kristina speaks Chinese but was still hard work) including fried pork, spicy noodles, tomato/egg, green cabbage and rice with me having the majority together with a lukewarm beer I had not had before. Having enjoyed her company very much and wishing she wasn’t quite so shy it was tough to say goodbye again after such a short time but that’s what happens when you’re travelling. Still relatively early, after logging into see many unread messages on Facebook (hostel has a VPN), I used the computers to skype Amy and Mum whilst going through the remaining hundreds of Chinese photos (multi tasking!) being last up in the dark hoping was prepared for Borneo.

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Using Chinese symbols the Russian wrote for me I was able to order the same noodle dish as the day before and about lunchtime felt should be on my way to avoid any potential problems. 11 stops away at Longyang I went up a level to the Maglev, paid 50 Yuen and awaited the German built Magnetic Levitation train that, although floating and taking 8 minutes to reach PuDong Airport, ‘only’ got to 302kmh when I know these things have gone in excess of 400 so was quite disappointed. In Terminal 2 I checked in with Malaysian Airlines (area A- furthest away and 22.5kg bag weight- no issues no), used the 30 Yuen Kristina had lent me to buy a Burger King meal (squirted ketchup all over me) and at 3.20pm boarded the Boeing 777 wide bodied jet equipped with personal TV’s meaning my middle seat wasn’t as bad as first thought. A few minutes later and it was bye bye China...

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Posted by antony25 04:55 Archived in China Comments (0)

Beijing- History, pollution, strange food and one long wall

sunny 23 °C

The Air China flight landed into Beijing Central at 12.40am and once had walked about 2km through the terminus, collected my bag and ignored the lying taxi drivers (said no public transport about even though had an airport guide in my hand saying otherwise) took the bus to the Railway Station where I was quoted obscene amounts of money for the short distance to my hostel. I went over to the deserted concourse then back over another iffy feeling walkway where picked out a guy who spoke little English and had to phone the number to figure out where to go. He put the meter on, stopped by a mobile police unit for some verification and a couple minutes later was outside Beijing Leo paying only 16 Yuen compared to the ‘quoted’ 50-80. The bar was 24 hours so before had to find a spare bed in the dark drank a nice cold beer glad to be in the city I visited nearly a quarter of a century ago (sound so old as was just after the Student Riots and the man in front of the tank).

Clearly half asleep still I rather stupidly paid top dollar for the biggest breakfast on the menu then found there to be a supermarket two doors away where could of satisfied my hunger for a fraction of the price. Thinking the hutong’s would be really interesting and somewhat cultural I partly followed the basic map they gave me and went in no real direction just seeing drab concrete buildings and people going about daily normal lives. I must of been a faster walker than thought as ended up two metro stops away from where I wanted to be giving me a perfect opportunity to sample the subway network which was good value (2rmb), fast, modern and efficient but no a/c so on hot days could be unbearable like London. Unsure where Tiananmen Square actually started I past Mao’s Mausoleum and the National Museum to the Revolution Monument with guards all over the place. The Square itself is huge but relatively lifeless and besides the fact it is the centre of the city and has history there is nothing there of interest, no entertainment and it’s just not pleasing to the eye. With nothing to sit on I parked my butt on the floor to one side facing the entrance to the Forbidden City and Mao’s Portrait and ate some tasty cookies receiving weird looks from passers by probably confused as to why a foreigner would be doing that.

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I headed back to Leo and at 2pm met Sarah so we could go along Dazhalan Xijie and do some free tea sampling. A lady went through the motions of making the three different types and pouring into tiny cups with us trying them and giving feedback; not a tea person and found none to be of my liking but good at bullshitting. She invested alot of time so was glad Sarah did buy some before I nearly got hit by an ultra slow moving tourist tram and had strawberries covered in syrup on a stick.

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We took the metro a few stops and one interchange south to the Temple of Heaven which covers many acres and as a Sunday was full of local people simply enjoying themselves. There were groups of friends everywhere playing cards or checkers, singing songs to a conductor, using rackets and practising musical instruments with one old man seated on his own the thing that sticks in my mind the most. He produced some lovely music, appreciated the crowd, posed for photos and never once asked for anything- his wise, weathered face could tell a thousand stories and if I knew any Chinese would of definitely tried conversing. Now at the main circular temple itself my main aim was to take photos with no one else in them and surprisingly succeeded even when on the best side for the afternoon light. We got amongst the multiple tour groups each wearing hats of varying colours imagining some sort of war about to break out Gangs of New York style but unfortunately never materialised. Once seen some weird going’s on by a 500 year old tree (people reaching out in a trance) we visited the underwhelming Echo Wall and a three tiered structure that looked as if half finished with a random stone in the middle that is slightly raised and apparently of some significance; stood on it as everyone else was. Our legs were tired by time had gone through the parkland to the subway and we separated on the metro as her home a good hour away the second last stop on line 1. That evening I ate eggplant with rice and stayed in the restaurant listening to the music videos they play all day long and planning the next day as well as seeing my VPN work for the one and only time meaning could chat to people on Facebook and check messages/notifications. I spoke with American Med student Arjun (so many of them) as he would be joining me tomorrow then about midnight the Kentucky foursome arrived unexpectedly as thought they were not coming anymore. They went to bed as I talked to a guy about how to make the most out of my Kindle then at 1.30am went up to my hard mattress.

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I met Arjun at reception at 8.10am to begin our epic Beijing day with the smog levels above 250 which is basically a health hazard...great planning! We bought things from the supermarket and wondered over to the entrance of the Forbidden City where used expired student ID’s to get cheap entrance tickets and passed under Meridian Gate seeing that there is a lot of repair and paint work that needs doing. Amongst the dozens of co-ordinated tour groups (very few individual’s or couples on their own exploring) we went over one of the Inner Gold Water Bridges (not the middle as Emperor’s only), through the Zendu part of the Gate of Supreme Harmony and saw just how bad the light was today plus significant scaffolding on some of the major buildings. Not really knowing a great deal of history of the world’s largest palace complex or what each area represents enabled us to be quite ignorant and leave the main axis to be away from the hordes of tourists so better photos and can appreciate bits more. We looked around the yellow roofed, ornate smaller more intimate temples & buildings where the royal family lived, studied and held meetings alongside the concubine’s residences seeing the male and female lion statues adorning most openings (representing power and fertility) and getting slightly disorientated at the sheer scale (9,999 rooms- one short of the ‘perfect number’). We briefly rejoined the crowd by the Preserving Harmony Hall to see a 16 metre long stone carving of a dragon then was amazed at the Imperial Gardens with grotesque rocks everywhere completely out of symmetry unlike the rest of the complex with one pile about 30 feet high and a temple atop.

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Only 1.5 hours after entering we left via the North Gate and climbed the man made hill (the ground dug up to make the 50m moat built it) in Jingshan Park for a limited view of well anything because the visibility was atrocious; never seen anything like it...how could any westerner live here I don’t know. At the bottom we forgot to take a photo of a map we saw and so walked a long way to Xisi Station (used his translation book) and changed from Line 2 to new Line 8 to reach the Olympic Park. Although it was cool to see the Bird’s Nest, Aquatics Centre Water Cube and other sites from the 2008 games the cold, grey air and inability to see more than a kilometre meant we were soon on our way again back to Beijing Leo to meet up Matt, Ryan, Ed and Will. We somehow failed in finding a cheap noodle place (in the capital of China?!) and spent 45 minutes on Line 4 to get to Beigongmen and the Summer Palace.

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With enough time on my hands I should of chosen a different day as to be honest I didn’t find it that amazing and certainly couldn’t appreciate its beauty besides the intriguing 700 metre Long Corridor that was fascinated by with its thousands of painting’s and abstractness. Being slow and posing for photos (not unusual) I nearly lost the guys by the lake (couldn’t see the other side!) before we exited and made our way to Qianmen and found Chinese pizza for only 4 Yuan- naan bread with tomato and basil sauce smothered evenly over.

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I had a beer from the shop and at 7.30pm met Sarah and introduced her to everyone so she could take us to Line 1 and Wongfujing for the famous night market. Just off to one side of a wide pedestrian road lined with office towers was a brightly lit alley full of all the weird and wonderful things you could think of so got right to it and ate snake meat on a stick with chilli, ok chestnuts, lots of squid (tentacles and body), a dried up tasteless insect Sarah ripped the head off Ozzy Osbourne style, bits of beef for some substance and spending 15yuan on a big black Scorpion that was tough to swallow (pincers could barely be digested) but something you just have to do. Being with a sweet set of people, drinking cans of beer at the same time and everyone sharing their delicacies made it quite the experience; a bakery was throwing out leftover goods and shockingly tried to not let us have any even if was bound for the bin and not the millions of poor. We mulled over Great Wall options extensively (came to a sensible decision not to stay overnight), played Asshole in the ever unlively bar, took a look at small Bar 98 a couple minutes away (met two nice Irish girls who are Occupational Therapists in Singapore) and made sure didn’t have too late a night.

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I gave myself a mere 15 minutes to be ready and in the minivan b 8.15am on a near record pollution index above the 300 mark (children advised to stay inside) we drove out of the city many kilometres north seeing only the smallest of changes the weather until the other side of a long tunnel was like being in another world. Although not that far from the primary sightseeing spot of Badaling we appeared to be in a lightly visited section where dropped off by a handful of cars which was a very good sign. Initially it was clear much restoration work had taken place but as we were now hiking on the Great Wall of China no one seemed to care, that is until the first watchtower played Michael Jackson and Justin Beiber from the speaker- surreal isn’t the word! As very steep the wall progressively became more and more authentic/degraded/in need of repair the further up we went and only four other humans were seen the entire time which is exactly what we wanted although wind and drizzle were not. The highest point was the 6th half still standing watchtower (used Gorillapod so all of us in a photo- perched on stone at risk of falling) and where the sun came out making everything look so much better as myself and Ed, who were at the back, kept stopping and to take in the remarkable structure and making sure the fallen bricks didn’t twist any ankles as by now the sides were almost nonexistent. Nearly at our destination the route became so dangerous it was safer to be on an adjacent path as the wall descended to a valley floor and up again the other side with a mini fortress out of sync probably because is a weak spot and enemy could exploit (damn Mongolians!) so needed a second line of defence.

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The moment we left the wall gusts of wind and stinging rain attacked us on way to the van (didn’t want us to leave) for the 2 hours to central Beijing getting cramp in my legs as watched more BB meaning could think of little else when at the hostel. Matt and Ryan found yet another stinking Dorian fruit (obsessed) to mull over as we couldn’t communicate with the old lady for more ‘pizza’ as the chef was unavailable and so settled for one piece to share then sampled some sugary pastries with different jams on top. I got very stressed with the wifi connection being nigh on unable to skype (was heard swearing and shouting), paid 2.60 yuen each for two beers (have to save somewhere) and when the Americans, Irish, Israeli Noah and Argentinean Tervesa ready quickly went towards where supposed to meet Sarah.

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Already late we not only couldn’t figure a way across to the corner of T Square but when we got there I realised got my East and West mixed up meaning she had gone by time we arrived so ran back to the hostel and phoned finding she was already on the subway home but persuaded her to turn around as the reception gave us an address to the Peking Duck restaurant in Chinese symbols so could get ripped off in two taxis (carrying 10 people) a short distance to Li Qun which is perhaps the most famous place of its kind in the city. I apologised to Sarah for the mix up then when called inside found we had our very own room with a round table and soon numerous dishes began arriving including 3 roast ducks cut there and then by the waiter so no fiddling about, a whole fried fish in sweet and sour sauce, two Eggplant dishes (Shizu blew me away), duck heart, wings, vegetable dishes, rice and tortilla wraps to hold things in; could only order this much with so many people to kudos to me for getting everyone together. The food was perfection personified and due to it being somewhat of a free for all the only way I was going to have my fill was using a fork as not well enough yet with the chopsticks. This enabled me to literally pick up the fish and eat its face bit by bit swallowing everything including the brittle bones, eyes, skin and gills which was near equal to the duck in my mind (savage). The 143 per person bill made it my most expensive meal ever outside of a western country and although hard to stomach was justified by a fantastic culinary once in a lifetime experience. There being no toilets we were forced to use the very open public ones, where guys are taking a crap right next to you with no walls or barriers of any kind, then located an activity area on the way home with unbroken exercise machines and one that can only be described as a ‘thrusting device’ all us guys had to try out. Now quite late a few of us had cheap tequila shots & tequila sunrises, played the stupid American version of Shithead and as enthusiasm waned for going anywhere else plus music being of a terrible quality I called it a night.

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In a space of a few hours the pollution dropped to a staggeringly low 29 making for one gorgeous, clear, sunny day (if looked at forecast would have planned my time better).Our aim for the morning was The Silk Market at Yonganli but as just a shopping mall you could bargain at, and besides a stone stamp (name imprinted on bottom), none of us particularly liked it so used Arjun’s map to guide us to the Embassy/Russian filled area and Yuxin Park to see green trees in a peaceful, uncrowded, untouristy space. In the Pagoda where able to see the CBD/downtown my Med Student friends had to go so gave them each a business card (should get in the habit of doing it as you never know what may happen) and after a large 7/11 meal (didn’t know they were in China) on the street went to Leo.

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Once rested I met Molly at 2pm by exit C, walked slowly about T Square and went on Line 2 to Yong He Gong and the Tibetan Buddhist Lama Temple that primarily was occupied by religious folk (no groups) lighting incense, praying and offering them to shrines or statues; used her student card to get in half price. The 26 metre high one piece of Sandalwood Buddha was the key thing to see and wow was it incredible to look at enclosed in a room where it practically touches the roof. Reaching the end of the complex we turned around, bypassed all the homeless, beggars, blind and disabled people (awful to see but not handing any money over) and went to NanLuoGuXiang which is an undestroyed Hutong area that has been rejuvenated into one long coffee shop, retro, street food, backpackers friendly street that originates in the 13th century. We followed it the full 1km length, ate at a very local place (used photos or order), talked and upon looking at my watch knew had to make a move so separated from Molly at the metro station. Sarah had been telling me about a club called Propaganda for a while but due to my extremely poor time keeping I was so late to the meet point (trains did take much longer than either of us estimated but no excuse) that she had already gone home which I didn’t realise till had spent 20 minutes looking for the place, paying the 50 Yuen entrance and being unable to find her. As was all you could drink I thought it rude not to stay for a bit so had some watered down LIIT’s, chatted to perhaps the only two white girls in there (unbelievably from Lexington, Kentucky like the guys) and left at 11.15pm in the hope would make the last train. I stupidly got on the wrong train and found myself on the 5th ring road out of the city with everything shut down meaning a 70 Yuen metered taxi was required to take me to within walking distance of the hostel- probably deserved it but what an expensive fail of an evening that was!

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My last full day in Beijing was taken up with writing my journal and completing the IELTS Research paper for Advanced TEFL (got further than anticipated) as well as emailing Amy and Veronika, getting acquainted with a map of Shanghai and Skyping- certain areas have better connection. Once sent the 8 page narrative to Stephen, showered and drank a warm beer I bought Chinese pizza which finished before I even reached Qianmen and despite two changes and 9 stops I was just about on time at the correct exit to meet Sarah- third time lucky! About ten minutes walk and we were at the Kro’s Nest Pizzeria and Bar (if not a local would of missed it as a big metal door with a button to enter) for Trivia Night with seemingly every foreigner in Beijing here as if in the West. Sat with her four gay friends in a team called the ‘Iron Ladies’ we ended up coming dead last in what was one of the hardest quizzes ever participated in even if did make a number of notable easy errors through thinking too much and changing answers at the last minute. After some curly fries and onion rings a Sicilian size half shrimp/half vegetarian pizza came out that although a monster in size taking up nigh on the whole table, given prior warning could of finished it myself just about; lucky for me no one was a big eater so had double my share anyway. Along with Thai Um and local Jay we shared a taxi to Sanlitan and Bar Street where on the top floor of a building full of bars on every level we enjoyed a beer overlooking some skyscrapers able to see the moon clearly, craters and all- not normal for such a smoggy city. I couldn’t say no to some tequila shots and glad I had something to get me through a visit to Kai Bar which was obviously a gay place with virtually no females about (those that were there were eating each other’s faces). Already uncomfortable the fact I was the tallest, most noticeable person there meant I resisted any type of dancing and stayed in a corner looking forward to leaving although her friends were a lot of fun and really cool to hang out with. A 32 Yuen taxi and a few minutes later I was fast asleep looking forward to the next destination.

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Posted by antony25 04:02 Archived in China Comments (0)

Beer pong and the karst limestone landscape of Yangshuo

Monkey Jane Rooftop Bar, scooter's, local food, relaxing,

semi-overcast 20 °C

Half asleep and clearly forgetting what day it was I almost fatally turned my alarm off and reset it for an hour later (what was I thinking) with Lena being the saviour shouting ‘good morning’ to us. Twenty minutes later, with things already nigh on packed, I was out the door and using a large, detailed map of town to navigate my way to the south entrance but even this became confusing and ended up by the big Crown Plaza hotel meaning a longer way but at least knew exactly where I was. Going as fast as I could in the early morning air I made it to the Mercedes minivan at 7.55am (when changed my alarm to!) and being the 8th passenger sat by the driver going instantaneously. The seat was soft and light not restrictively bright so set about watching every episode of Breaking Bad Season 1 totalling about 5.5 hours in between a short rest stop and a place where I was given a token for a provided lunch (good deal- unexpected); awesome show and now a little addicted. We halted for nearly an hour alongside trucks and some real expensive vehicles (Porsche’s, BMW’s) never knowing what the reason was except that the tailbacks either side stretched for many kilometres and could of jeopardised me making my train if had been stuck much longer. At the awful West Bus Station I was hounded by drivers of all sorts to a point where I blew up in some of their faces and went off not knowing where was going. I turned a corner and walked in the road so an actual metre cab picked me up and I was at the main Train Station a good 20 minutes away with enough time for a Dico’s (Chinese KFC) meal before showing my ticket to go down to the waiting K182 train. If numbers were in Chinese also I think I would find everything impossible in this country but they are not so went to carriage 8 and saw that seat 90 was a middle seat in a row of 3 opposite another row meaning not only was the material quite hard but I couldn’t stretch out without kicking someone. Although was only white person in sight the staring was minimal (besides when I stood up) and we departed on time at 18.30. I looked out the window then watched Passion of the Christ for the first time (oh my god what a disgusting film- how did it gross half a billion dollars?) and an episode of Pacific then took 2 Valium which worked a charm as was out like a light half an hour later with one more popped for good measure just to make sure I didn’t wake up- maybe excessive as never used before seeing as sleeping tablets have no effect on me.

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I must of had a reasonable sleep as was around 6am when knew what was going on so listened to tunes and typed until a student called Wenyaping came over and asked me lots of questions prompting the young people who had been sitting by for half a day to now join in (they just need a gentle nudge). They were shocked at the amount of countries I had visitied and I felt sorry for them as their lives are planned out already- study, work, family. It was clear we were running late and didn’t get to Guilin till 1.20pm meaning was on for 19 hours! I followed three of the girls to bus 100 and they showed me the right place tog o at the station for Yangshuo so paid 25 Yuen and about 70 minutes later pulled up 2km from West Street having seen some of the limestone karst formations the area is famous for. Spending another 20 Yuen I got on a motorbike a minimal distance then was pointed to the alley way Monkey Jane’s is at. Arriving at the same time as Dutch Mieke we were put in a small dorm room and were soon admiring the view from the 5th floor rooftop with cheap 7.5 Yuen beers in hand (2 for 15 happy hour and bar tender Q let us have the deal early) checking emails and awaiting more people as currently only us- Jane herself in Thailand and place been closed a few days previously so not quite the party I anticipated. We ate large portions of pork fried rice then sat with four guys from Kentucky who were playing an unusual card game and convinced them to start playing beer pong which this place is renowned for and even has a table in place just for that use; all medical students on a month long vacation to Annapurna in Nepal and here before going off to different hospitals in the US. Mieke was my partner for the night as we won 6 games out of 9 (meaning lots of beer Tsing Tao) with the only downside being a ridiculously competitive Dane called Katrina taking things far too seriously in terms of rules- I played the original American rules I learned with my buddies years ago and she tried something else. We all had a lot of fun and I became very drunk when finally stopped playing and spoke with Aussie old boy John and fell asleep on the bar an unknown amount of time.

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Not feeling like doing anything specific or too strenuous myself and Mieke walked around the centre seeing a lack of any backpackers which is in complete contrast to what had been told of prior to my arrival- TEFL centre of China it appears not to be and have no urge to consider living here. There were however plentiful souvenir shops, two McDonald’s, men with birds posing for photographs and many tour groups making it feel like a tourist trap set in a pretty area which the entire country will soon become I’m sure- disappointed at all the fakeness. I went along with the crowds and had a 3 Yuen McFlurry then went for the complete opposite by having a big bowl of ‘spicy with meat’ noodles putting my newly found chopstick skills to the test; sauce was an orange /red/green colour filled with white noodles, vegetables, pork, lettuce and bits of our choosing such as bamboo shoots, onion and chillies. I thoroughly enjoyed the taste and even emptied the juice into my mouth as no spoon available although doesn’t quite fit my eating style because time and effort are a key factor.

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Back on the rooftop with no one about I used the internet, skyped and shouted at the Kentucky boys over the way as they moved hostels due to the damp and general uncleanliness- having already committed to five nights I couldn’t do it but was ok by me. I helped myself to beer as Q was running late from school (does this voluntarily to improve his English but looks miserable most of the time because I don’t think is treated all that great) then accompanied Mieke to a pizza restaurant (couldn’t afford it) before returning to Monkey Janes for a night of being oh so bad at beer pong and seeing Matt & Ryan somehow win all 13 games they played giving them an air of invincibility the further it went on; on a tie break on verge of losing Matt sunk all three in a row to beat Edward and Katrina. Having lost some pride I didn’t bother staying up too late and so went to the room the same time the yanks left.

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All nice and cosy in the middle of a good dream Mieke decided to throw a pillow at me well before my alarm was due to go off as she was confused with timings- argh! We soon met the guys in the lobby (yellow waterproof bag incase rained) who led us to two Chinese, Danny and Agme, who were going to show us the best scenery. We ate 1 Yuen meat and veg dough things then located a place that had 7 rental scooters available all in the same burgundy colour, quite big, 125cc, required no deposit and with no option of a helmet (90 including fuel was good for here but more than double what would pay in Thailand); had to show Mieke discreetly how to turn the engine on and where everything was as her first time and didn’t want to publicize it.

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At 10.15am our posse of 9 bikes rode out of town into the countryside breathing fresh air, seeing few vehicles or people and going past fields/crops of varying substances at a frustratingly slow rate with some of us just wanting to let rip on roads that just asked for it. With the sun now out we stopped with our mouths open to gaze down onto the limestone landscape of tall individual karsts covered in green of differing shapes and sizes with arable land in their shadow- hard to describe but with the Yipping River in the foreground making for a perfect focal point it was sensational and in my view better than Phi Phi, Ha Long Bay, Krabi and El Nido (other similar places). Putting the SLR into manual mode using both the 10-20 and 18-105mm lenses I had a French kid take a group shot of us then was at the back for a while making the most of every scene and enabling me to go full speed to catch up. We carefully made our way along a gravel road to the river itself (Mieke skidded but jumped off before any damage done) to see all the little motor bamboo/plastic boats and big ferries as well as being really close to the farmers single headedly ploughing their plots of land then half way up stopped for a ‘hot pot’ lunch.

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We began with fresh bread dipped in the best chilli mix imaginable then waited for the broth filled with two entire chickens, mushrooms and greenery to be ready as us boys had to try the multiple eggs pre developed or on the verge of having a shell, liver, intestines, heart and other bits minus the head much to the girls horror; needed rice or noodles to be more substantial as not enough meat but at least washed down with beer. With Agne pointing us in the right direction I led from the front and went as fast as my machine could take me then when was held back on a mini drag race at some lights I overtook Mieke and hit some rather big potholes somehow not throwing myself off or breaking the bike; loved it. By a pretty stone bridge was where all the relaxing two person bamboo rafts were so instead of foolishly jumping off the top (could see from the poles that it was too shallow) watched the Dutch have a swim and sat on a parked one out of the sun contemplating. Trying to take a back route to Yangshuo was interesting as were forced to turn around on a rocky track no one wanted to go along then saw how the other half live as weaved in and out of tiny throughways in the villages seeing local life well away from outside influence in its purest form.

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Now amongst rush hour traffic we did a u-turn, took bikes back to the shop and ate large quantities of boiled fresh water snails the Kentuckian’s had been raving about all day- not quite French Escargot. I bought a black pen (really should buy in bulk as everytime one goes dry I stress), the freshest chocolate covered donut known to man and reluctantly helped Mieke finish a plate of dumplings as they looked like Momo’s and was hard not to imagine being sick again- I overcame my fear and ironically they just didn’t taste as good as the little fuckers that hurt me so so bad. I went through photos, washed and had happy hour beer, looked at news then spoke to Mum before Mieke came to say she was feeling unwell and so would be going to bed early. That evening more beer pong was played with me losing in the semi finals of the singles tournament rather unluckily (opponent Lisa even said I deserved to win) then not doing so great in the doubles as whatever partner I pick almost never gets a ball in. The beer was of course flowing quite a bit as spoke with Swedish Henrik who makes money from music as he travels and likes time lapse photography (we both have problems advertising out respective work) then when saw not much was happening (my friends had since gone to bed because have a 6.30am bus to catch but will see them in Beijing) I played one final game, which became very vocal due to the rules yet again, and did a phantom reminiscent of Daryl back in Jersey when snuck off to my room.

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In and out of consciousness till about 9.30am it another hour before we got up and went via the small market area (bits of meat in quite unsanitary conditions) for the cheap dough things then tried another place for noodles getting charge twice as much as the locals were although did find toothpaste and a toothbrush for 40p to make up for it. Knowing I had many things to catch up with I finished off photos and wrote in my journal for a long time then at 4.30pm had a ‘sub of the day’ at a privately owned Subway equivalent feeling it was a good deal for only 15 Yuen and still being able to ask for as many fillings and sauces as possible (mayo and thousand island) while watching a Chinese couple have semi professional photos done outside a sports adventure shop- so random. I got a Mango ice cup then typed up this blog as much as I could till 7.40pm (now someone else in the room!) when showered in undersized bathroom shoes (everything damp I needed to) and spoke to Fanny on the roof whilst sipping on a couple of Tsing Tao’s and stealing some of Mieke’s French fries as Q provided her with a massive portion. Speaking for over 80 minutes I was on the verge of going when saw 35 year old Lisa (filling in for Jane) and played Pong against her with Henrik and his buddy as our team mates winning one and then getting obliterated in the next. I got away with two free beers from the fridge then when saw everyone in clicky groups did actually leave and start watching Breaking Bad Season 2 till near 3am.

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I was so warm in the night that I woke up soaking but still carried on a while longer when chilled on the laptop, went for noodles/McFlurry/water/cakes with Mieke in the somewhat humid day then finally finished typing up this and began my research papers for my Advanced TEFL with only 9 days left to complete them- been putting them off so badly its untrue and now the deadline is so close I am not sure if trying to do both simultaneously is a wise idea when having one under my belt first of all is better. I stayed in the room for hours managing to even go well over the five page minimum till were satisfied it was sendable by 7pm when bought a sandwich and had a beer with the Dutch on the roof. There was no one else about again until Casper and Katrina arrived meaning could play one game of doubles on the beer pong table with us winning by the skin of our teeth with both in on the final cup just as Mieke was due to go for her bus to Guangzhou. I returned to the roof and joined forces with Katrina to win a couple of games (I sunk 10 of the 12) then unbelievably two guys I recognised appeared who turned out to be Mitch and Rob from Australia who had met in Pai last year- the world is a small place! It was great to see them both again and although lost a closely thought game to them we trumped them on the return hands down. The Tsing Tao’s were flowing and I went back on the table to play with Lisa and win some more finding that although it was a Friday night backpackers must of gone elsewhere as really empty. I moved onto the spirits and stayed till the bar closed about 2.30am.

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In the morning I typed up and posted Yunnan blog, packed and went out for some noodles then wrote some emails and waited till it was time for my shuttle at 3pm that picked me up by the bridge. I could of got on a later one but couldn’t risk any unexpected delays and was at Guilin Airport 5 hours prior to my departure so watched some Breaking Bad and did some things on the laptop before checking in my exact 20.0kg bag and going to the gate more or less when boarding was occurring. Although on the plane fine due to an air traffic control issue we were stationary for 50 minutes meaning could watch some interesting big budget Chinese film called The Last Tycoon which had subtitles and was about Shanghai during the 1930’s before and during the Japanese Invasion. I was half concentrating on my diary and half on the screen for the duration of the flight through no time zones as the country is all the same despite its size.

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Posted by antony25 03:43 Archived in China Comments (0)

Experiencing 'rural' China in Yunnan Province

Kunming, Dali, Lijiang and Tiger Leaping Gorge

overcast 10 °C

About 33,000ft up I was listening to my favourite songs and eating Chinese plane food hoping the next 25 days would go well and not break my budget as much as I fear it will do. Through a layer of clouds a rural landscape appeared below as we ever so gradually descended into Kunming, Yunnan Province. Getting an impression of things to come the brand new airport was of such an immense scale I could not quite believe my eyes and upon speaking to an American family that live in the city found out it is the third biggest in the entire country!

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We appeared to be the only occupants as I spoke with businessman Matt, his wife and two daughters going along the ghost hallways to a multi lane immigration area and hangar like room containing 15 of the biggest baggage carousels I have ever seen- only two being used! Into the architectural marvel of the arrival area (bigger than T5) I knew life would not be easy here from the moment I saw the metro was shut and so went into the cool night air, avoided dodgy non metered taxi drivers and paid 25 Yuen for an Airport Shuttle having no clue as to where the drop off points were as was unusually underprepared- no map, no guide book and the only photo of the directions was on my small camera which had ran out of battery- WITHOUT A PADDLE was an understatement!

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What I naively presumed would be a large town was actually a city with a population of 7 million people and so just stared at all the neon skyscrapers, western chains such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour and all the other signs this was a very modern metropolis. I stayed on till the last stop by two fancy hotels and went into a Samsung store where a guy with limited English skills looked up my hostel online and very helpfully called them so he could tell me what direction and bus to take- good first impressions of the Chinese. With no change the driver let me on for free and so I stood eagle eyeing every available street sign and stop that had English characters until Jinbi Road was reached. Out on the street I had a feeling I was going in the right direction (50/50) and when came to a pedestrianised area in the centre saw the ‘Hump Hostel’ at the other end. I entered the YHA at 9.30pm and was very pleased with the big bed and set up of my 10 bed dorm which was in near perfect temperature (window open so not fan or a/c assisted). After locking myself out when went for a deserved shower I stored my valuables and used the free draught beer voucher at the bar finishing it in no time as straight away got speaking to a number of Americans from the Peace Corps- all spread out in towns many hours from here in different provinces and on a few days holiday to sample western culture- love the irony as I feel the opposite! Texan McKinley shared her spicy mint fries then I ate a bacon cheese sandwich (very local) as moved up to the 15 Yuen Tsing Tao’s (ran out of draught) and got told many useful words and tips that no doubt would forget within minutes. I beat a Swedish guy twice at pool (one from being awesome and the next by the two greatest words- De Fault) and stayed in the warm surroundings of the bar talking away to the really friendly yanks and having their drunken Vietnamese born friend Steve introduce me to alcoholic 12% plum juice. Most only arrived in the early hours of last night so one by one slipped away leaving me and McKinley to chat away till the bar shut. We made sure Steve made it to his room then I failed in finding a VPN or proxy so can use Facebook on my laptop (not the end of the world) and fell asleep about 1am.

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I slept well but still felt really tired by morning as washed my face, filled my backpack with essentials and ordered breakfast. I sat with McKinley and Melissa on the chilly rooftop overlooking the square and main road forever waiting for my food to arrive but was handed a fabulous slice of toast with Philadelphia smothered on top in the meantime. My egg, tomato, pepper, vegetable mix thing (looked like an omelette that had fallen apart) with toast was just about enough as I went over the bus stop and waited for the 107 to take me via the big Railway Station to Yong Ping La – phase 1 of my Stone Forest Day.

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On the other road to the right I stood at the no.60 stop a while (stared at and spoken to by funny locals) until a young security guard took me over to where I should be as it had unknowingly moved. When it took a good 45 minutes to reach the Eastern Bus Station on the way to the airport I knew today was going to be significantly longer than hoped but luckily I met a Danish girl from my room and so was now not alone with the added bonus she could ask speak some Chinese meaning purchasing tickets for the next bus and finding the right door was made slightly easier. Now already near 12 myself and Sarah made sure we were at the front of the 25 Yuen bus that would take well over an hour to reach our destination as the driver didn’t dare exceed 60kmh. She is only 19 but has been living in Beijing teaching at a military school since August so learnt a lot about things to do there and how the whole system works; not being able to get many words in my eyes were shutting and I accidentally drifted off. It was interesting going up and down hills, over ‘Foggy sections’, through tunnels and past a lake seeing bad driving and many confusing signs. Nearly 4 hours since leaving The Hump we were at the famous Stone Forest so paid 200 Yuen for entrance/shuttle and were amongst many tour groups/minority performers as was soon being transported to the actual entrance 2km away- what a con!

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Being a local holiday meant that no matter how natural and interesting the grey stone formations were all the tourists just made it feel like Disneyland not being real at all; Sarah bought a white hat making her hit her head a few times.

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We vaguely followed confusing maps going along a number of narrow paths (some congested) and stairs being amused at the unsubtle security cameras, tiny tables and chaos on the viewpoint Pagoda with everyone pushing you about to take a crappy photo. 100% regretting coming here at that point it was nice to be surrounded by towers off the main route all on our own so could appreciate it and enjoy the area much more.

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Giving up on things such as the ‘immortal Turtle’ we found Lotus Pond to be a man made affair complete with pipes and uncovered lights. Even though we almost avoided it, the Minor Stone Forest’ trumped everything previous as in a very picturesque grass and tree setting the stones appeared to grow out of the land- much better than the monotony of everything looking similar.

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In total we were at the UNESCO World Heritage Site (think they practically give these away nowadays- almost doesn’t mean anything anymore) less than 2 hours when ate a full roasted duck complete with head and limbs and egg fried rice at the restaurant as thought our bus ticket had 5.40 written on it; getting much better at chopsticks and tried all the pieces of my first full on Chinese meal in decades. All relaxed and fully accepted that happy hour would have ended by time we got back it turned out the number was not a time at all but a number plate.

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Thinking we missed our bus, by sheer coincidence ours was the next one (in other words if knew that originally would of sat waiting an hour instead of going for a meal!) and much like on the way here I fell asleep for quite a while only to see that not much progress had been made due to an accident a few kilometres away. It wasn’t to be until 8pm when at the station and in a metered cab (an old guy tried ‘guiding’ us and then asked for pens or coins from our home countries) for the half hour trip in comfort meaning 80% of the day was just getting there and back with only 20% at the attraction itself- welcome to China Antony! I will try my best not to go through that again by not visiting things that are well out of the way- ridiculously long day. I managed to be in the bar for a bottle of beer feeling refreshed within 15 minutes then me and Sarah communicated with a Chinese student who wanted to improve her English so sat with her and another guy a while with me always eyeing up the ping pong and the door for my friends so could have a lively night. Used to most things going my way at the moment McKinley, Melissa, Alex, Jeremy, Steve, Amanda and co did come back and so went on the strong fruit drink and began having fun as well as Phoenix Jason persuading me to not visit Shangri-La making my time in Yunnan much less rushed and less time on buses- yay. When the cold got too much we hung by the bar till they closed (never tells you when so always unexpected and therefore cannot prepare by buying a few at once) then I drank a little bit too much local 52% Baijiu out a small round glass bottle by the shop downstairs using Sprite as a chaser; nigh on polished it off on my own in 15 minutes as Scuba Steve’s treat (legend). Practically behind us was an open bar so we went into and I sat chatting to Alex (from Long Beach CA and only 4’11) being told I am ‘an interesting guy’. Some Chinese men got rather angry at something Steve said and all of a sudden big fight very nearly broke out with me inevitably going to join in (tall is intimidating.lol) but no punches were thrown and it didn’t materialise although was a good time to leave. On the roof I spoke to McKinley (again the last two standing) til noticed it was 5.10am and so went to my room not having any water as nothing open.

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I forced myself not to carry on sleeping so could actually make it to Dali at a normal time but was still kind of drunk as knocked a few things over when reached the outside tables where Sarah and a few others were. I saw how good Jason was at reading Chinese symbols and his ability to speak the language fluently and in the right tones (only been here 18 months- how the hell? It would take me till the end of my days I reckon), gave out my email, ate a very different sweet and sour chicken to what was so used to at Tanin Market in Chiang Mai, went to the cake shop and at about 1pm knew should get going; will party with Sarah in Beijing in a couple of weeks but won’t see the others again I expect.

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In a more sensible Berghaus t-shirt, as I felt the odd drop of rain, I ended up walking up the Pedestrianised street past the Brilliant Mall and then quite a ways along Nanning Road to the closest no.82 bus stop as construction work on the new subway system meant the first couple were not available. Literally the moment I approached the stop and thought to myself ‘I want it to be here now’ it glided past me and so sat awkwardly for the half hour to the West Bus Station which is clearly much less touristy and no signs saying where I should go. A random guy picked me out the ticket line and took me to the right buses but as didn't have a ticket he was just wasting my time and so went back to spend 138 Yuen and sit on board the 14.50 to Dali. I didn’t know the seats were numbered so got moved twice before the engine was turned on and we were on our way to what I hope will be a great backpacker hangout- going to stay a few nights. Although my eyes felt so tired I knew I had to type out the goings on from the past three days so did that till 6pm then managed to edit a few photos before the laptop died just as we reached Xiaguan (New Dali) an hour later. At the bus station absolutely nothing was in English and I even went as far as confirming with the driver we were in the right place. Out on the street I was close to losing hope of being able to go anywhere without paying a fortune for a taxi but once communicated with a guy on a form of tuk tuk what the train station was through a picture on his phone (‘t-ron’) I was on my way. Charging 15 Yuen he took me along the very bumpy highways to the modern station as I pretended to go up the stairs so he wouldn’t try and take me to the old town. Again clueless I saw some buses so stood by them presuming none would be going anytime soon until a number of Chinese all of a sudden got on a number 8 so did the same and within a few minutes we were moving along the south western edge of the lake- things are getting better. I stayed onboard till the very end by the beautifully lit West Gate and did exactly what my directions told me so crossed the highway and walked about 450 metres and up a side way to the big Jade Emu and Roo complex; was an ok 8.15pm.

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In contrast to Kunming there was no deposit and I pay when I leave so just got taken up to my large 4 bed dorm, changed and sat at the bar with my Kindle using the VPN Wi-Fi meaning Facebook worked- awesome. Once eaten some fried rice and had a cheap but weak Tsing Tao I decided to go to my room and relaxed and with the noise at the bar lessening I added photos to travellerspoint and edited the rest of my photos and was asleep just as the French couple who were in the beds below came in and rudely talked not unloudly; bloody frogs...they don’t ever get better.

I woke up sniffling and feeling fresh as for some reason the French had already vacated and even left the door wide open; not sure if was snoring or what but they were only around for 12 hours total thank god. I went down for an English style breakfast (baked beans, bacon, toasted roll and eggs), got some Dali tips from an English Chinese couple from Shanghai then finished off my Thai diary before leaving at 11am to go and explore the ‘ancient walled city’. I began at an unimpressive gate and went on and along a remaining part of the Old Wall to the South Gate where many Chinese tourists were; good temperature and in a jumper with boardies.

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I visited the supermarket to inspect the prices I should be paying for things and was surprised how cheap the Yunnan wine was (20 Yuen- £2) as well as the water being half what the hostel charge plus big packets of biscuits for only 5 so bought them and a solitary but huge banana. I walked through the gate onto Fu Xing Lu seeing many souvenir and jewellery shops and stalls selling things on a stick so bought a crispy one now knowing it had sauce on it so dripped that all over my hands and map- very clever.

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Past the WuHua Building I continued onto the popular Ren Min Lu to see the infamous bars that I keep hearing about and overpriced restaurants selling primarily Western food. Instead I spent only 4 on a thick doughy pancake thing that tasted very good and was of a good size; think i’ve found my ‘dish’ here.

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I went on a part of ‘Foreigner Street’ then to the lifeless park which had more concrete and grey than green vegetation. By now near the North Gate I saw a ceremony as part of the ‘Tomb cleaning Festival’ then did something I always love to do in a new country- visit a local market.

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I kept my finger on the trigger as zig zagged along the rows past meat then vegetables and onto live chickens and finally fish that were splashing about in the shallowest of water (Yes I did get wet) alongside their very dead friends and bowls of what I am guessing is the ‘leftovers’. I saw a minority Bai lady purchasing what I am guessing is a form of Tofu with chilli on top so sampled it and was given a block for the equivalent of 20p; went well with the 30p bag of red grapes I had almost finished.

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I went all the way along Bo Al Lu, stopping at Wu Temple, to buy that bottle of wine I had my eye on then went towards the lone pagoda but there was a barrier saying that construction work was going on and it was closed.

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Despite a women staring from afar I shouted that I was going to go over for a photo without going close to the tall, old structure itself. Thinking I was fine I waved and went towards the barrier when her big extremely aggressive dog barked nearby and all of a sudden chased me making me run as fast as my flip flops could take me fearing for my life. Her shouting and the fact I was well out his ‘domain’ halted him but my god was that a close call; worth the photo though as no damage done except for my pride. A bit flustered I went the five minutes to Jade Emu, ate some of the Athens biscuits in my lovely empty room and went through photos by the bar.

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I struck up a conversation with Merseysider Tom who is a proper lad and has been in and out of China for about 3 years and Dali for 5 months only working 2 days a week earning £180 and being paid in alcohol at Bad Monkey’s Bar. I think he spends all his free time drinking and recovering from drinking (fair enough, he is only 20) so he bought me a bottle of Crown Lager (well the owners are Aussie) as we kept talking then played some pool on the slanted table. Now typing this I lost so had to wait for another go when played Darren who I think has been here a while also and clearly played umpteenth times on this exact table as was doubling it every go; I got us to a decider and lost on the black so can hold my head up high. I spent a fair while writing in my new diary with a pen one of the Peace Corps crew gave me then changed into warm clothes just as a group of three Frenchies ruined my own room charm. I arrived at Bad Monkey about half an hour into the Liverpool vs West Ham game and had Tom (who was working) hand me a beer then saw German Felix who happened to see at the West Bus Station the day before. We talked about China and what each of us are up to in general then an Aussie from Perth started speaking to me as he thought I was a fellow countrymen- think my accent is getting stronger! As will be in the city soon we went over all the awesome things that make it so much better than elsewhere with City Beach being both of our favourites. With the game being dire and ending goalless we listened to the talented Canadian band who were on stage then watched some keen Chinese girls sexy dance with guys they picked out the crowd; everyone shouting ‘Gaunbi’ which translates into ‘take your top off’. My cold was getting progressively worse and because was speaking so loudly my throat was struggling to cope and was on the verge of leaving when Felix insisted on buying a couple more. When the party died down about 1am we left, as going the same way, and was not long fast asleep.

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A bit of a mess in the morning I was glad the girl in the room was in a similar state as lay there for a while trying to feel better as sent some necessary emails, figured out a new Yunnan plan and wrote up to date. I finished the biscuits and eventually grew restless so went to ask the staff some questions on where things are and what to do then in just a t-shirt (not best idea) had a thick pancake on Ren La, took out 2800 Yuen from the International ATM, bought paracetamol (had Chinese letters written in advance to make it easy) and went to the Train Booking Office where the lady spoke enough English for her to understand exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately there were only ‘hard seats’ available for the overnight trip (fantastic) but at least it saved me a few quid.

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At Jade Emu I hung about the bar on my laptop looking up various things and finding out that every single one my photos on my website (www.photoboxgallery.com/ascottphotography) were never set to public despite being on there for 6 months- was so annoyed at myself for not having noticed sooner. I went about picking my favourites from the second leg of the trip (India onwards) and editing them further so were good enough to be available ‘for sale’ despite not making a penny so far probably because of the muck up. At about 9pm I went to Bad Monkey and although in quite a good mood was just not feeling sociable so sat by the bar for two bottles of Dali and left; little bit pointless but at least got me out and about. I went online for a while and accidentally fell asleep for 4 hours waiting for Amy to get home from work in London. At 5.30am I took my kindle downstairs away from the rooms and skyped her for nearly an hour, finding out how badly damaged Easyjet made her bag and jewellery but that she found a nice, cheap £475 a month house share which was a simple bus ride to her new work- happy everything worked out as was a little concerned.

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Feeling well enough to do something strenuous I had a Yunnan Coffee and porridge and was all set to go and rent a bicycle in the old town but the girl at reception very kindly let me use hers so once made the seat lower was good to go. I wheeled it most of the way to the pedestrianised area thinking this was the polite and probably legal way to go but when saw motorbikes disregarding things I went down to the East Gate and soon found the road going towards the port of Caicun finding my ‘Giant’ to be very smooth and lovely to ride. I located the scenic road that ran along the west of Er Hai Lake and steadily past by the acres of farmland (mainly older people working- noticeably few of the younger generation) and through the many same same villages finding there to be few cars to worry about so for the most part went no handed having a very relaxing time breathing in good clean air.

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At Pan Xi I accidentally walked in the ladies public toilet so made a swift exit further into the fishing town to a small temple by a basketball court. A few minutes further along I stopped at Xiang Yang Xi, sat on a concrete wall and dangled my legs over the water eating my baked snacks watching the empty, near lifeless lake; no boat traffic to speak of (very strange).

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Here I opted to turn around and soon went along a track to the Dali-Lijiang highway for a quick way back but this did my weak lungs no favours with all the trucks and coaches going by beeping their horns unnecessarily. Getting a little tired and the wind blowing in my face I was glad to see the Three Pagodas getting closer and closer so turned off onto the road that ran right to the them completely in symmetry and took photos using my zoom lens so didn’t have to waste over 100 Yuen just so I could be closer as no one is allowed inside due to safety fears.

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I booked my 558 Yuen bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai (first day I can), used my last remaining notes to buy a Snicker’s Bar and a 30% juice drink and chose not to go to the university for a panorama of the area. I spoke to Swiss Dominic at Jade Emu, realised how burnt my shoulders were (ultimate farmer tan), fell asleep for about an hour and along with English Nolly who just arrived the three of us ventured to Bad Monkey for dinner. We sat outside in comfortable temperatures having an Amber draught beer (is a micro brewery) and a pricy Smokehouse Burger & chips (£7 for both- splashing out) hearing how bad Lijiang is from Dominic and a funny Irish couple he knew making me feel another night here might be justified then sunk some bottles before trying to see if anywhere else was open. It appears that Tuesday’s are not a happening night so ended up where we started till 1am when I wanted to go.

As has been the case since the food poisoning a few months ago there always seems to be something wrong with me and even though my cold had almost gone (just a cough remained) a toothache had taken its place with a vengeance leaving me in quite alot of pain. For hours I had near zero motivation or willingness to even get off from my top bunk so rested, felt sorry for myself, slightly changed some plans and went about uploading photos to Photobox for the first time in about 6 months. I did some writing and once a second strong paracetamol took effect I was able to go outside for a pancake and to hang around the aisles of the supermarket wondering what would be good to purchase; ended up with a bag of local crisps, biscuits, one banana, two big waters and a Gatorade!

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I wrapped up warm, was totally unproductive doing pointless tasks, skyped Mum in the lounge area, started taking my Co-Amoxiclav antibiotics (have them on me just for this reason) and ate a warm pumpkin porridge by the bar before a black kitten tried resting right on my keyboard. I tilted if off before it destroyed anything, skyped Nick about the possibility of my photos making some money over in the States and tried sleeping about midnight unable to lay my head in its usual position as where the pain was.

I was restless throughout the night but come morning and probably something to do with taking two paracetamol instead of one I was unusually warm and literally buzzing when Nolly said she had booked us onto an 11am bus to Lijiang. Unable to continue hibernating I packed in double quick time, heard loud thunder above, fitted in a shower and waited with her for a guy to take us in his car to the south of town where a cramped 19 seater minibus came to get us. We were totally full by the time we left Dali meaning I had barely enough room to breathe on the back row as we chatted a while going up into the mountains (has a French background). I stretched my legs at the 1 Yuen toilet stop then my right butt cheek went numb so was glad to see the airport meaning only another 22km to go. In town we worked out correctly which side of the road to take the bus from and stepped on the number 8 all the way to the main entrance to Lijiang’s ‘Ancient Town’ despite two locals trying to get us to change buses. Luckily the 80 Yuen entrance fee isn’t exactly enforced well (would of not stayed if had to pay that!) as we made our way towards Mama Naxi’s Guesthouse through the streets all lined with the same shops, same style of building, fast food chains, nothing remotely old and hundreds of smiling, camera wielding Chinese; was very glad am not spending any time here as is so artificial and overpriced to the max. Remarkably we didn’t get lost and so when at our place checked in, signed up for dinner and also paid for the bus to the gorge in the morning before a well dressed old man showed us to the dorm room in the next building through a pleasant courtyard. Not wanting to explore anymore than we already had we lay down on our beds, spoke with American Molly (kind of confusing) and had the most amazing ‘family meal’ at 6.30pm. Each given a bowl of rice and a small mug of tea various dishes were placed on the table including eggplant, grilled fish, minced pork, chicken , vegetables, fried potatoes and crispy egg snacks so could eat however much we wanted with extras always available. Using chopsticks I ate a lot and was definitely the best meal in the country so far by a country mile. It was a very sociable experience and so delicious that was pretty full by the end- was last of course. I spoke to Fanny on the internet (no Facebook however and not expecting it again) then chilled with the girls a while finally drinking the wine I bought days ago as we looked up movie trailers on youtube.com and got told off by one of the many Israelis in another room for being too loud (so many here). Although the tablets had long worn off I hadn’t taken any more and was still feeling good so had high hopes for a good hike with my new friends.

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Up at 7.30am on what was my 1000th day I finalised what was taking with me, put big bag into storage and ordered two things for breakfast thinking they would be on the small side- how wrong was I. The banana pancake must of had half a bunch of the fruit on top and then my porridge was enormous and oh so hot meaning ran out of time to finish it as we needed to get going; only hostel you should stay at here...food and hospitality are exceptional! We walked to one dinky toy van and was soon transferred into another of equal proportions but this time with me getting that fold down bitch seat by the door with a back that didn’t even reach my shoulder blades- oh the joys of being big in Asia. Now with Danish Lena (just arrived but chose to change plans and go hiking with us) the four of us eagerly anticipated Tiger Leaping Gorge having heard so much about it. Going on slow, congested roads weaving around the pillars of the as yet to be completed highway (when done the area will change for the worse!) I listened to music until we were made to change buses again for a short journey to the ticket office at Qiatou where it is 65 Yuen to enter although no one ever checked it.

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We bought snacks and water at a very dusty shop then 400 yards along a tarmac road past a school there was the turning onto the start of the High Trail; so far not what expected. Inevitably I was leading the way the majority of the time as the views became better looking down over a green river valley, flood plains and hills although electrical cables were a constant nuisance. As we increased in altitude and moved further into the gorge you could see just how tall some of the mountains were as their icy peaks showed themselves in the cloud above.

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Now on a narrow path I saw a lady going towards a shack by a good viewpoint and she tried charging 3 Yuen for us to be there taking photos so I obviously flat out refused even though the cheeky hag grabbed my arm. Not too far along we reached Naxi Family GH for some watery soup filled with uncooked potatoes and pumpkin (was awful) but were given fresh strawberries from one of the men with mules who hoped our bags or ourselves would eventually cave in and pay money to use his ‘convenient’ service.

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Unfit Lena did get on one as did one half of an older German couple so that the next steep hill and infamous 28 bends could be completed. Going well ahead now the sun was out making things rather warm and initially had no idea I was on the toughest part of the trek until figured it out from all the steep bends and confirming with another hiker. Finding things not overly tough but still hard work I was relieved to be at the top where a Polish couple were and pointed me to a ‘free view’ where the clouds and wind made things decidedly cooler indeed.

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The girl took a great shot of me at the edge overlooking the Yangtze and the steepest/highest section of the world’s deepest gorge then sat sheltered with them, Molly, Nolly and Lena. We cracked on to Tea Horse GH and a further 70 minutes later were nearing the end of the first day when skimming the edge of cliffs going quickly just to finish.

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At 6.20pm we made it to Halfway House (cars about so not quite that remote and nothing like Nepal in that respect) so once in the dorm showered while it was still light under really hot water and changed into clean, unsweaty clothes and sandals that didn’t fit (provided under each bed). For dinner I had strong Naxi garlic bread (whole pieces atop) and a Chinese equivalent of the rice with chilli and pork I had in Chiang Mai as well as a beer to commemorate my anniversary and a good day completed. Once heard a noisy group of Chinese above in the rain jumping up and down I turned in about 10.15pm only to see neither myself of Nolly had blankets anymore so caused a bit of a hoo ha trying to use charades when telling the staff what the matter was only to be told they were in the locker we were given a key for- the other two speak Chinese but had their own room so was rather embarrassing. I used my headlight to do some things then with eyes shutting slept soundly.

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Awake early before 8am Nolly was already outside looking at the view reading her book so put yesterday’s things on and had rice porridge/plain naxi bread to start the day although my 5 Yuen lemon tea was so bland I left it after two sips. Besides taking the wrong exit and going the wrong way for the first ten minutes we made good progress to the waterfall that flows over the path and the slippery but stable downhill for roughly an hour to Tina’s GH and the official end of the trek at 10.10am.

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I booked the afternoon bus, waited for the girls and when they caught their breath went along the main road to the second way down to Middle Tiger Leaping Stone going by Dominic’s recommendation (3 in total). We paid 10 Yuen to a man whose family keeps this section maintained (he used our cameras so worth it) and went forth along a narrow and precarious way going over wooden planks, under overhangs and using unstable barriers built into the rock making it an adventure in itself.

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There was an altercation when another women from the other family demanded money from us for what we presumed was either for photos or the same thing we just paid for so attempted to go past only for her to throw rocks and wave a stick at shocked Lena upsetting her quite a bit causing much shouting in Chinese; again a huge misunderstanding as she in fact wanted 10 more for the other way up via the ladder- bit OTT and insane though. Away from her we went to the platform mere feet away from the most powerful torrent of water I have ever witnessed. The Yangtze, China’s biggest river, was pouring over rocks with such force that it would be impossible for the best rafters in the world to get out the hellish mass of water alive- so incredible to watch Mother Nature in all its magnificent, terrifying glory that we all sat staring along time in complete awe with 5000 metre high mountains towering over us.

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After photos we knew it was time for the steep uphill and when at the foot of the ladder we were all a little worried due to a lack of anything to do with safety. I went first and tried not to look down until nearly missed a step then with one hand on the final bar did a long arm photo of myself with the SLR with Nolly thinking I had frozen with fear as right behind; the contraption shouldn’t even exist.

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About twenty minutes hard slog up and the worst was over with just a few more metres to the road and beyond that Tina’s which reached bang on 2pm- no more hiking till Mt Kinabalu in June. We ate some ok lunch and hung about until the buses were ready to depart with Nolly going north to Shangri-La and us going the opposite direction.

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I edited the photos from the day but all the time our combined worry was missing the family dinner at Mama Naxi’s. Luckily we stopped at the north entrance to old town Lijiang which was closest to our place and so made it by the skin of our teeth as practically fell through the front door. Noticeably quieter there was one full table then us so had our own mini feast (lots of fried eggplant), moved into our own dorm room, washed under hot water and went for a brief wonder past all the fancy lit up places to a cheap supermarket for a 15 Yuen bottle of sweet red wine each to consume in the room whilst discussing travel and relationships becoming a little light headed by time saw it was approaching 1am and all the alcohol was gone- well except for American Molly who is considerably slower than us Europeans.

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Posted by antony25 22:45 Archived in China Comments (1)

Last days in Thailand

finishing the TEFL course, leaving Chiang Mai, overnight train, Bangkok

sunny 38 °C

When through Thai Immigration I could go straight to my bike and onto the Chinese Embassy, just south of the moat, seeing as didn’t have a bag to collect off the carousel. Having already prepared my papers I passed the other people busy filling out forms and once had explained to the lady behind the window what each confirmation was about (flights and hostels) got given a receipt and told to come back in three days; easy peasy. I rode all the way to the railway station to the east to book my train to Bangkok on Sunday (<600 baht as second class non a/c) then went home to my apartment, via Tanin Market for an early lunch; called the destination station ‘Hump-along’ by accident much to the attendants amusement. I had two hours to finalise a plan for today which was fine as I spend almost all the lesson at The Loft having the guys read out their various homework to each other then asking questions about it meaning it was a guaranteed STT lesson from the get go- just one more left! We evaluated (still flies going for my feet- pests!) then I bought spring rolls, fries, a shake and a big water and chilled at my desk on the internet for a while after unpacking my minimal amount of stuff. Being way more tired than initially thought I could barely keep my eyes open writing at 8.30pm so turned the light off and lay down not even waking for my 11pm alarm so besides turning the computer off at 1am slept right through till morning- can’t remember the last time I had half a day’s rest!

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Re-energised I was heavily distracted trying to do my journal (people speaking to me and news articles were main culprits) I didn’t leave the seat till my stomach gargled at 2pm; green curry time! I adapted an old lesson plan, printed it then rode my semi flat bike (front wheel slow puncture) to the rental shop to get shouted at because I should of known to come in morning time (really?- no small print saying that buster). I sped south all the way to the end of the airport boundary and to Big C Supermarket about 9km from my place in total so Hugh could pick me up on his 135cc scooter and go into the cool, green valley’s (first time out of an urban environment in weeks) to Baan Pong and his house that he rents by rice fields and a temple; area felt like Pi but with zero tourism. Mati and Margit were already there taking photos and at 7pm the four ‘new’ ladies arrived for the one off lesson we would each give them; Sutin (Hugh’s cleaner), Dau, Nong and Gerd.

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Being on his patio in the evening with everything so still and free of noise was such a change to where we usually do this so we all felt more at ease and relaxed. Going last, I started by having them tell me things about themselves and their likes/dislikes then went over opposites with two pairs saying sentences to each other which went well considering there is no intermediate’s about helping to explain in Thai what I want them to do. They were fun to work with and I was very appreciative that they got me over the final hurdle- 5/5 done! The four of us stayed about an hour longer then Hugh took me to my bike with us talking all the way about Thailand and how I should seriously consider coming back to work. I bought a celebratory Chang on the way home and sat on my balcony sipping it with a grin on my face as listened to the pop music being played at the nearby bars then Skyped Anya and watched half of Ang Lee’s visually awesome and spellbinding Life of Pi; too tired to finish it.

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When up I did some journal then went to Nokpochana’s mid morning for a bowl of spicy green curry with chicken in coconut sauce with two portions of rice. Before I even tried to see how hot it was I added chili’s to it and the cook must of been laughing her head off watching me do that as it almost blew me away by the time I reached the bottom as my mouth was on fire; Mati happened to be there and she saw me unable to function at the metal table besides repeatedly filling up my cup of water; main thing is I forced myself to finish every drop but fair play she got me finally! Full to the brim I somehow did my back in (just beneath shoulder blades) doing nothing in my room, worrying me slightly as I went through the Formula 1 photos lying on my front till 6pm. I headed to the market stalls for some good banter with the girls I deal with and their better speaking friends and was up late making sure the latest blog was posted before speaking to Amy at 1am for an hour; her last days on ‘the rock’.

I was at the Chinese Embassy bright and early to pay 1100 baht and collect my passport (sticker on an odd page- wanted it to follow on!) then went onto the somewhat dusty walking street (taken up all the stones for drainage reasons) to pick out a massage place seeing as leaving the country soon and my back is no better. Unable to find the one Margit spoke of I walked over stepping stones to C & R Thai Massage (180 baht for back, shoulder and neck) where my feet were washed in warm water and lime almost the moment I opened the door- sweet. Upstairs I put on loose cotton clothes and sat by the fan till the masseuse came. Unlike Pai she did a good job for over an hour without making me feel like I was being tortured and did pay particular attention to the area where I said it hurt; seriously though my shoulders do not feel or even sound normal- might need to see a professional if causes me problems in future. It was midday so went over to Prego’s to catch them just as they were opening but my order was simple- Khoa Soi and rice...that is all; very pleased I had another opportunity to try that sensational local crispy noodle dish! I gave myself just enough time to think of a game for my last class (basically a volunteer now) and although it was something as easy as Hangman they loved playing it, especially when made two teams and there was an air of competition about which Thai’s no doubt love- Panya secured the last word ‘waterfall’ and so won it. That evening Margit came to get me and we both thoroughly enjoyed a meal at Why Not with some good red wine and chat to go with it; going to miss the big pizza there (just had rocket on this time). Before bed I commenced the arduous process of copying over my blogs from Wordpress to Travellerspoint (pictures and placing them in order are what take a while) because that is the site I used last year and although you are reading this now I am only getting perhaps 10-20% of the ‘views’ as used to so going to run both simultaneously from now on to improve exposure.

On Friday I continued the transfer then at 11.15 rode my now completely flat bike (I know it does it no good but its old and not really mine) to the closest garage and left it there for a new inner tube. It was possibly the warmest day so far here in Thailand and now I was made to use my two legs to buy snacks and meet the others at Loft so that Pear and Nuan could take us over under umbrellas (sun protection- remember here people want to be white not brown which is opposite to our way of thinking) to the Wat Ku Tao for the annual Boys Rite of Passage Buddhist ceremony; everyone dressed appropriately except guess who- me! (at least wearing a black singlet and not usual white).

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Amongst a party atmosphere each family had a designated area to dress up their young son/s, put colourful costumes on and draw make-up on their faces so that they could be a part of the monks for a few days for initiation; already shaved heads. In front of each were tables and as Nuan’s friend was a part of the ceremony we sat and got given an absolute feast that was completely free- crispy pork, rice/gelatine thing, spicy stuff, vegetables and many litres of artificial soft drinks with ice.

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Intrigued as to what was taking place I went around with my camera and even had the privilege of having the father take his son from his shoulders (they all do this as shouldn’t be touching the floor when ready) and place him on mine which I certainly didn’t see coming; I think he requested it to show off to his friends that he knew a tall white man.

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Now free from the burden of potentially ruining the kids life (imagine if I dropped him?) we wondered around, prayed in the temple (shoulders uncovered but Pear insisted), looked at the various things for sale both edible and non edible then at 2pm left; damn good time and pleased done something cultural in Chiang Mai.

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With the other students about (minus Ampai as she is on a pilgrimage to the top of a mountain- poor girl) Hugh got us all to participate in Boggle with myself embarrassingly being the worst out of the English and non English speaker’s because didn’t get the rules and didn’t know you could make up words in diagonals (haha); gained back some pride by making up a well put together sentence using all my team’s words. Although a mass of food was now put on the table I really didn’t feel massively hungry as still digesting the last lot so much chicken was leftover for little Harry and hungry Nanchok to eat as I took a video of his ‘bark’. We received some lovely gifts and sadly said goodbye to the people I have grown quite fond of over the past few weeks; felt like just got going and turned a corner in terms of learning but now no one will teach them till May so start from scratch I suppose.

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In the classroom Mati gave us an advanced debate lesson on wealth vs happiness and gone 6pm we felt a beer was in order. At Nabe Bar right by my apartment block we congratulated each other on finishing the TEFL Course and besides that didn’t approach the subject again as we relaxed and talked about other things. Upon seeing the 169 baht deal for 3 Chang’s I opted for a couple more then gave hugs all round as we parted ways. I raced to my room, messaged Carlos (met him in KL) and within twenty minutes was out the door again to Deejai Backpackers via 7/11 to meet him and then walk to Zoe’s. Not learning from the past I sunk an entire small bottle of Sangsom beforehand and so barely remember anything between ordering a bucket and being in my room plastered (how did I cycle??) stupidly having conversations online that I would inevitably regret in one way shape or form till near 5am!

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Feeling wired from all the red bull I handed a bag of dirty clothes to the lady down the road, ate sweet and sour pork and spent hours on Travellerspoint formatting the second Nepal blog and uploading all the photos since then so easy to do the rest hopefully quite soon. After Skyping Mum, Dad and Max (skin infection again so was on his way to the vets) I collected my 50 baht laundry (can’t fault it), had a bowl of spicy seafood soup (get a lot for what you pay) and went over the China plan for most of the evening, deciding how long to spend in each town in Yunnan, booking a couple more places and creating a document for all the hostel reservations with maps and directions to make life simple and efficient (almost sound German). I finished off Life of Pi, downloaded the latest Archer Episode (worse one yet I have to say but still good) and left the computer running as the first two seasons of Boardwalk Empire will be complete soon.

As if straight out of a dream I woke up so naturally it almost felt like I never went to sleep in the first place- weird sensation. I Skped my brother Nick asking him about his budgets, places and dates he will be in each country (in Playa Del Carmen, going to Cuba shortly and seeing as I will be in China it is unlikely there will be much communication between us for a while) then briefly spoke to other, more drunk, Nick in Syracuse as their college basketball team (Go Orange!) are in the last 4 of the NCAA. I emptied the draws and cupboard so could pack all my belongings from scratch (still enjoy doing it), bid my farewells to the girls at Tanin Market by buying food from each of them and taking their photos and did research for the TEFL Advanced papers for a couple of hours.

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At 3.30pm I showered and had manager Naan look at the water and electricity metres but as the latter was still saying zero for my room she had to phone the boss and try and guesstimate a total which I of course managed to lower by 150 baht seeing as was away for half a week and leaving half a week prior to my month ending- still got a good deal as played down how much used the a/c! Winning again. With my 5000 baht deposit safely in my pocket I just about rode with my 30kg of stuff to the bike shop for another 2000 baht then hopped in a Songthaew to Chiang Mai Railway Station where bought more water and used my wide angle lens to take some sick photos of my 17.30 Express Train.

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In Coach 5 Seat 18 I sat on the wide seat and listened to my IPod for a couple of hours as we progressed South out of the city- my time there was very good and so no regets! About 8pm the ‘changer’ started setting up the coach for sleep time and I was very glad to have the bottom bunk where the window is and far more room; full set of sheets and a curtain- I expected to have to use my sleeping bag and jumper for a pillow! As everyone else presumably slept I organised all photos and wrote up blog right up to 11.51pm when protected my backpacker with the rain cover, was careful in the toilet (if bumps or sudden stops could be midly embarrassing) and lay down on my front trying to get to sleep with all the noises and lights going past. Taking far longer than expected I kept moving about and even resorted to my eye covers before finally shutting my brain down about 2am.

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Initially up at 6am I rested a further hour then stayed behind the curtain peering out the window as could hear everyone putting their beds away- was reluctant as the breeze was nice and liked being in my own little bubble. Just like we were almost forced to go to sleep the guy came around and informed me I was the last one so waited until I exited so he could make it into two seats again. When at Don Mueng Station I knew we were on the outskirts of Bangkok so patiently saw us ever so slowly move into the city proper stopping multiple times at stations and at busy road crossings where I’m guessing most cars ignored the signs and were not meant to be blocking the way.

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As we inched every closer to Hualumphong I took more photos as several people left the train early to go across to their respective homes then once under the roof of the mini Gare Du Nord style station I unnecessarily power walked to the taxi rank to find there was no officials and it was accustom to a free-for-all with no one caring who was in front of who and the tuk tuk drivers picking up the pieces and charging the earth for small journeys. Not to be a part of this charade I stood under the sun on the road and when the taxi drivers either said no or instead picked up Thai’s I accepted the offer of a 50 baht motorcycle ride. It was nerve wracking as he made shortcuts going through alleyways and along lanes full of people, stalls and other forms of transport and before I knew it was at New Road Guest House at 10.20am (train only an hour late) to meet Fanny who had been around for a few hours seeing as her bus arrived from Suratthani at 5.30am to the Northern Bus Station. Not happy to hear that we couldn’t check in till alot later and they were reluctant to let us rest in free dorm beds the two of us put bags in storage and I showered and changed before joining her in hammocks up on the roof of the second building- place much bigger than the net photos suggested.

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With no fans and only limited breeze we talked and looked at the view to take our mind of the ensuing heat. At about midday we walked out onto Charoen Krung (New Road) so I could have a small but tasty beef curry, enquire about exchange rates for China and buy water and ice cream at 7/11.

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The lady in the ice cold reception handed us the keys to room 201 but seeing as the fan was unable to move and only covered the top left quarter of the bed making me no less hot whatsoever I made the decision to spent the equivalent of an extra tenner (450 baht) to upgrade to an air conditioned room above on the third floor. We lucked out as was airy, spacious and through the window an uninterrupted view of the skyscraper from Hangover 2 so stayed there for a few hours away from the uninspiring climate before dressing up and going about two minutes away to Tongue Thai Restaurant which was good but way overpriced because in the expensive hotel area of Bangkok; added 17% tax and gratuity so just left money on table and walked out. We thought about going to a bar but instead bought three beers from 7/11 so could enjoy them in our room as we talked and chilled together having a pretty amazing time. Both really tired we somehow kept ourselves awake till about 1am then drifted off in controlled 27c a/c which was just right.

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Fanny was up in a flash at the first of my two preset alarms at 5.09am and I just about kept my eyes open and brain awake so could put on some clothes and walk her to the street and easily flag down a meter taxi. Although brief it was a very memorable encounter and am sure to see the intelligent German again even if starting her second Master’s degree in Sweden later in the year! Whereas she had two long haul flights and a 14 hour layover in Abu Dhabi to look forward to I just had to climb three flights of stairs and went back to bed for the next couple of hours. Even though the internet was down the entire morning I found enough things to get on with and had just enough water to get me through till the 12pm checkout as just wanted to be ‘cool’ as long as I could. I paid the near 900 baht bill (worth it) and walked to Charoen Krung Soi 40 and to the Oriental Pier Water Taxi on the Chao Phraya River where only waited ten minutes until a heavily laden boat with an orange flag came along. I wisely stood with rucksack on at the back holding the railing and facing the water so no matter how many more people they tried putting on (too many) I just sweated it out with no interference or having to move. I watched all the river activity, tugboats, ‘floating’ JCB’s, skyscrapers, Wat Arun, bridges, stilted wooden houses and people on every pier until disembarking at Phra Athit near the big Rama VII Bridge.

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I walked a few minutes to Phra Sumen Fort and over a small road bridge across a canal unable to find the hostel until asked a white couple by some over accommodations who told me the way. Back tracking slightly I entered Santichaiprakam Park and over a footbridge by some food stalls was Flapping Duck Guesthouse which appeared really chilled and laid back- exactly what I wanted.

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The Thai guy showed me to my four bed dorm on the first floor where I hung up my soaking top and sat by a fan for a number of minutes then put things in a locker and wandered about the Khoa San Road area. I knew I would hate the majority of my excursion so not sure why I put myself through seeing all the irritating first time backpackers, ignorant holiday makers, annoying tuk tuk drivers and expectant sellers but I think I enjoy it! Ironically I chose not to eat at the local places as thought costs were too high but still had an 89 baht sub of the day with drink at Subway because not sure if going to see one again until reaching Australia and it was really good with all the toppings and sauces I had the girl put on.

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Via the supermarket for water, market for bananas and a shop for some hotdog bread loaf (45 baht) I was back at the Guest House so I could spend the next couple of hours on the sofa using Travellerspoint once again seeing all the old and new age hippies about. When the mosquitoes became too much at 5.30pm as evening approached I continued in the room then spoke with a middle aged Italian outside about finding the little spots of land that are beautiful but still undeveloped- he’s been travelling around Asia every year since I was 2 years old and remembers places like Koh Samui when there was just the odd beach bungalow about! As him and some loud Spaniards went for dinner I drank a beer and realised no one was really doing anything so went on the laptop again to make a go at bringing both blogs in line with each other which I achieved about 11pm feeling relieved as something wanted to do for weeks and took much less time than anticipated. Now with the main doors closed and only one other person seemingly up I walked to 7/11 for more H20 in still 30c temperature then watched Skyfall using my headphones till gone 2am when gradually fell asleep despite the guy above moving monotonously.

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Ignoring my alarm I awoke from an unknown awesome dream at half 9 and stayed on the bed gradually getting warmer and warmer looking up random things, writing and typing knowing my good friend Tracy was due to arrive very shortly...or so I hoped. I lingered about the place not really achieving very much because of the climate even if should of been getting on with my Advanced TEFL modules or doing something with my photographs; no energy or patience. By 2pm I feared something may of happened to her bus or at the border but just as was getting a mixed fruit shake I saw her coming across the park with a gigantic rucksack tired from barely sleeping the near 12 hours it took to reach here. Once she showered and settled in we sat talking about our respective whereabouts the past 2.5 years and potential future plans with her flying home to Ireland the next day not knowing how good the job situation is over there or how long she will last. We did a repeat of my walk around the area just chatting for the entirety and only buying some spring rolls and water before sitting outside 7/11 waiting for 5pm so we could get some beer to sneakily drink at Flapping Duck.

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Once progressed onto our amazing African adventures and the whereabouts of our old expedition buddies we both changed and had to use ice to chill the next drinks as watched two Dutch girls achieve the remarkable feat of getting to 31 levels on Jenga- we all knew that was not something that could be done twice but didn’t stop them from trying.

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We ended up sitting with them and the four of us went onto Rammbutri to the bar myself and Nienke avoided paying for our bucket last year. I had a big green curry as two watered down 160 baht Sansgom and coke buckets were drunk then we hung about on the chaotic Khoa San Road Chang’s and Siamsato’s in hand seeing all the naive first timer's party in the middle of the street with some Thai’s; with a bar playing loud music either side we moved positions depending how good the song’s were. Tracy bought a clingy blue monkey and at ‘only’ 2/2.30am we had had more than enough so slowly made our way back not being anywhere near as drunk as thought I would be.

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As if I knew what the time was I opened my eyes the moment my watch said 8am and went the long way about uploading photos to facebook as the normal way didn’t appear to work on either Firefox or Chrome; very tedious. I unwisely gave up on the idea of posting my latest blog (turns out China blocks Wordpress- wish I knew at the time!) and instead got Tracy moving so we could go to a nice little Belgian Cafe for Cappuccino’s, fruit, tiny salad and a baguette using homemade bread; good but not worth the money. Forgetting that checkout was 12 we rushed back after using a net cafe (most of the computers had one issue or another) to pack making sure the fan was facing me the whole time. I had a not so fruity banana shake (practically nothing) then at 12.45pm we got in a taxi thinking it would take about half an hour maximum to MBK then Phaya Thai Airport Link station but the traffic was horrendous and at points didn’t move for long periods of time. I was always thinking I had nothing to worry about even when gave her a hug goodbye by the big shopping mall but when did some calculations in my head started to get a little edgy.

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This turned into full blown panic when the train sat on the platform for what felt like an eternity and I genuinely believed my chances were slim of making my flight. The 25 minutes above the streets of Bangkok going at speed east towards Suvarnabhumi were not good for my sanity and we arrived 65 minutes prior to my departure time! Seeing a guy wearing flip flops carrying roughly 30kg on his back and right shoulder trying to run on a polished stone floor and up three flights of escalators was probably rather funny to a passersby and typically China Eastern Airlines check in was at the far end of the terminal so when saw red writing on the electronic board and no other passengers about I feared the worse! Straight away the staff said I was ok, leaving me enormously relieved and able to concentrate. Cutting it fine isn’t the word and I can’t believe how blasé I was- only told Fanny the other day the story of how I missed two flights between Berlin and Edinburgh in 2008 being rather happy it had not occurred again! I was still all over the place as looked for a money exchange, got my exit stamp and put my bag in the x-ray then walked to gate F4 to be the last one in the waiting area.

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My seat number was 33F and on any normal aircraft that would be towards the rear of the cabin but when I was halfway and saw I was already at 48 I knew an error had occurred and so the biggest person on the plane had to go against the flow to find his seat which was technically in row 3! At 15.50 the 737 took off bringing my Thailand experience to an end and so it was time to go to a country I had not been in 24 years and knew very little about...CHINA!

Posted by antony25 10:37 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

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