A conversation with Hong Kong

HK: Welcome to Hong Kong.
me: You speak English! I'm so glad to be here. That bus ride was a bear. Those beds were not made for 6' Westerners. It really makes you appreciate train travel.
HK: Technically, you're not there yet. You first must fill out this form and go stand in that line.
me: No problem.
HK: And then this form and that line...and then that line over there.
me: What's the deal with the customs. Aren't you still part of China?
HK: Yes and no. It's complicated.
me: Hmmm....
HK: Oh, and you need different money. My dollar is far superior to the RMB.
me: (yeah, but .01%)
HK: What was that?
me: Nothing. So how much should I get out of the ATM? I'm only here for 2 days. This ought to be more than enough.
HK: Ha!
me: We're not all here to shop for Gucci, you know.
HK: Have it your way. Where are you staying?
me: I was hoping you could help me out with that. Any particular district you recommend?
HK: You mean you don't have a guide book?!? Well, all my districts are nice.
me: Alrighty then. Thanks for the help. I'll just roam around in the heat with my big bag until I find something.
HK: Well, enjoy your stay. (And maybe you should stop by to see one of my many tailors, grubby)
Sunday November 12 2006File under: China, travel

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Democracy Works!

No, I don't mean the mid-term elections back there in the U.S. (whose hubbub I'm so glad I've mostly missed out on). I mean the BdW poll and its results. Thanks to some great investigative work by you, dear readers, I've just had 3 great days to wind down my time in China.

I've spent my time in Yangshuo which is just outside of Guilin. It is the "independent travelers" area, while Guilin caters more to the package tourist. The touristy atmosphere has been a pleasant change from the big city hustle and bustle I've experienced so far. Menus in English, other travelers, and activities out the wazoo are all assets Yangshuo's got going for it.

First and foremost, upon arrival, I immediately climbed Green Lotus Peak to get the area's only geocache. In the evening, I enjoyed more steamed dumplings at the hectic night market. (I had to pass on the dog, frog, eel meat this time around.) On the second day, I rented a bicycle and toured the local countryside. Riding through rice fields on a path 2 feet wide where there is no one around but the water buffalo and farmers stooped to hand reap the harvest will forever stay in my memory. I couldn't have asked for a better counterpart to the cities I've mostly seen so far. After a bamboo ferry ride across the river, the bike trip finished with a trip to Moon Hill.

The Li River is one of the things that can't be missed, so I didn't. Yesterday I took a trip that puttered up and down the river where we pretty much just gazed out at the scenery. Quite pleasant (oh, ignore that dude in the front with goofy looking birds on his shoulders and just bask in the scenery).

Friday November 10 2006File under: China, travel

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Numbers (a.k.a. BdW's Index)

I had some down time at the train station the other day, so I thought it might be fun to run some of the numbers of my trip so far. Now I know most of you are muttering "nerd" under your breath. To that, I reply, "Yep!" So enjoy it if you will. Or not.

Nights away from home: 56
Nights spent on some form of moving transportation: 9 2 on a place, 6 on a train, and 1 on a boat (I'm only counting 1 night on the cruise because we were docked the majority of 2 nights
Hours spent on a train: 87 most of which have occurred in China
Postcards sent: 24 (if you haven't gotten one, e-mail me your address, then wait 6-8 weeks for delivery)
Countries visited: 3
Countries legally visited: 2 Russia, of course, is non the wiser to our visit
Maximum paid for a hotel/hostel: $22.50 (in Chongqing, China)
Minimum paid for a hotel/hostel: $2.00 (in Chaing Mai, Thailand)
Average cost for a hotel/hostel: $5.30
Median cost for a hotel/hostel: $4.00
Books read: 10
Geocaches found: 8 but one was a virtual cache which almost doesn't count
Wednesday November 8 2006File under: travel, China

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Yangtze River Cruise

The cruise was everything I expected, both for the good and bad. It was 3 nights and 2 days of being pampered and fed, but having everything planned for you. You woke up to music on the intercom, had assigned seats for all meals, and were given an iteneray sheet the day before, so you knew what to expect. Anyone who has been on a cruise probably has a similar story.

But it wasn't bad. The Three Rivers Gorge is really beautiful. There were guides to point out the elephant eye and moon goddess in the various rock formations (although they pretty much all looked the same to us). We did a couple of excursions off the boat to little touristy things along the banks, only one of which is worth noting because there was a geocache there!

I suppose you all don't really care about that stuff, though. You just want to hear the of the bum shaking incident. Well, the last night, there was to be a talent show. Since the boat was 90% full of chinese folks over the age of 60, I felt it was my duty to represent the U.S. with style. And since I have lugged these juggling clubs everywhere, I might as well. Otherwise I would have prolly skipped the whole thing. So, I get all practiced up and make friends with the MCs for the evening. It turns out that there are no other passanger performers, just the crew, so I felt a little silly. All their stuff was very well rehearsed. Anyhoo, one of the bits they had set up was a game in which 2 audience members come on stage, get belts with a box full of ping pong balls tied around their waists, and have to wriggle them out into a box on the floor. Well, of course I got called up, so wriggle I did. And I won too! I don't think my face has been redder in a long time. Afterwards, I did my juggling bit to much applause. Hopefully I will have pictures being e-mailed to me later.
Tuesday November 7 2006File under: China, travel

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Guilin it is!

Thanks so much for all the votes and information! Perhaps I should just leave my whole iteneray up to ya'll. I'm so glad you overwhelmingly picked Guilin (sorry mom, but I already got shanghai'ed in Beijing by some tea ladies). On my fancy cruise, I got the impression from talking to other passengers that Guilin is really the place to go. Sorry to all the runners-up in the poll. I still appreciate your votes. And who knows, I have a double entry visa to China so maybe I will be back to hit up that whole Shanghai area after my time in SE Asia is done.

So now I am off to figure out my way south before it gets dark and the wolves comes out. Once I get to where I am going, I'll post a little about the cruise. But a few teasers: beautiful scenery, contrived cultural demonstrations, breakfast buffet, Wren shaking his bum on stage, and so very much more. Thanks again for all the info!
Monday November 6 2006File under: China, travel

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First official BdW poll!

I've got myself a bit of a dilemma here. And rather than figure it out myself, I thought I have myself a little poll. I'm getting on a boat here in a few hours to cruise down the Yangtze. It drops me off in either Wuhan or Yichang. As you can tell, I don't really know what is going on. The dilemma part is what to do next. I've got to be in Hong Kong on the 10th to meet up with a friend. From there, I head back to Bangkok on the 13th. That leaves me with approximately 4.5 days to kill between, let's say, Wuhan and Hong Kong.

That is where you come in. I'm leaving it up to you, dear readers, as to what I should do. Being that I only have a dinky little book with hardly info besides history on the various possibilities, everyone of you is as qualified to lend a suggestion as I am. A brief look at a map reveals these possibilies:

A) HANGZHOU - Known for its famous West Lake
B) SHANGHAI - Modern City with a mix of cultures
C) GUILIN - Beautiful Scenery on the Li River
D) NANJING - Old capital built to rival Beijing
E) GUANGZHOU - Cultural city with some good eats

So hop to it. Do your research. Support your choice with helpful info for the would-be tourist. Place your vote in the comments or in an e-mail to me. Extra credit for any not listed suggestions. Remember, I don't have a ton of time, so ease of accesibilty should be considered.

Thanks for your help. I look forward to the results.
Friday November 3 2006File under: poll, China

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Chongqing

What to do when you get to a city that you barely know anything about, isn't set up for a tourist in the least, hardly anyone speaks English, and your only purpose it to buy a ticket to the next destination? Well, that is basically my situation, friends. And what I chose to do is what I pretty much always do in a new town: walk.

So I went walking. Chongquin is set up kind of like, dare I say it, NYC. There is the downtown area that is quite similar to Manhattan. It is seperated from the rest of the town by two huge rivers. This little plot of land, however, is quite hilly. Atop the biggest hill, there is quite a nice little park. People were out in droves dancing, gambling, and playing mahjong. It also offered quite the views, not that there is much to see through all the smog.

The evening found me at a Time Square of sorts. The lights and people reminded me that this is the biggest city I've never heard of.

Oh, and for those of you who have been digging on the food info: here's the skinny. For lunch, I had a bowl full of potstickers (again). This time, they were made right before my eyes (wontons rolled on site and everything). For dinner, it was fried rice noodles with beef and a McDonald's ice cream cone for dessert.
Thursday November 2 2006File under: China, travel

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Beijing Wrap Up

After a rocky beginning, my time in Beijing has quickly become one of the highlights of my trip so far. The city has so much to offer for the tourist. Great food, amazing historic buildings, beautiful parks, and activities out the wazoo. All in all, I spent a week here, split into two parts, and I still feel like I only scraped the surface of the many things to do.

Besides the must-sees the city has to offer (Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Tienamen square), I also got to do a little less touristy stuff. Yesterday, I hopped on the subway to head out west of town in search of a few geocaches (mission accomplished, BTW). The subway stopped right outside the international sculpture garden, so I thought, "Why not?". Well, I'm so glad because it was a great time. The weather was perfect for just strolling through the beautifully kept grounds looking at the sculpture collection (most of which was hardly international).

I am sorry to say that I leave Beijing this afternoon. I trust that I will visit again someday. There is still so much to see, and with the way the city is changing, there will be that much more to see next time. I recommend that if you are ever thinking of a travel destination, don't rule out Beijing.

"Next?", you ask. Well, I board a 25 hour train bound for Chongqing. I've got a couple of good books and am ready for some relax time, albeit forced relaxation. Chongqing is the typical launching spot for a cruise boat trip down the Yangtze River. We'll see what I can find on a last minute basis.
Tuesday October 31 2006File under: China, travel

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Jilin Tidbits

My visit to Tumen ended appropriately: with another scheduled power outage, so I couldn't make a final post from the cozy, non-time constrained, free internet at Trista's. But here I am, waiting up late at the Beijing hostel for my turn at the internet to bring you, dear readers, this:
  • Careful - cobra: part 2
  • Our visit to Hunchun, where Russia, North Korea, and China meet, was eventful. Trista and I watched some serious diplomacy going down
  • "Look, I'm in Russia" ("please take our picture")

  • Saturday October 28 2006File under: travel, China

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    Another food post

    What is there to do in a small town with limited tourist activities? Why, eat, of course! In what seems to be the high class tradition here in Tumen, we went out to another cook your own food place. This time, it was hot pot, which instead of grilling the plates of raw meat, you boil them in a broth. Along with the meat, we got lots of non-pickled veggies, so I got my weekly dose of greens. (Mom, you'll be happy to know that bean sprouts are my new favorite vegetable). Hot pot is really quite an experience. Good times.

    Besides the local cuisine (I am told hot pot is the most expensive meal in Tumen at a whopping $10.00 to [over]feed 3 people), I'm also getting a taste of the local transportation.
    Thursday October 26 2006File under: China, travel

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