Outta the city!

So far, China has been big city after big city for me. (Okay, well just 2 big cities, but they were really big.) Now I am in Tumen, which is about 25 hours by train Northeast of Beijing, right on the border with North Korea and about 3 hours from Russia.

While it was quite a haul getting here, I love seeing this other side of China. Not only is the town much smaller than Beijing, it is somewhat of a border town, with much Korean influence. Anyway, getting to hike on real mountain and go more than an hour with out hearing a taxi honk has been awesome. (Things are so po dunk here that the electricity was out all day today.)

Anyway, another bonus about being here is free internet (courtesy of Trista) and lots of down time. So, as saxtor so observantly pointed out, I've added a few features to the blog (ability to see old posts, and real-time comment tracking). I also threw together a little slide show. Now it isn't a BrothesrRoot worthy slideshow with autoplay, music, etc., but it will have to do. Mine does have captions though. Zing! Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.
Tuesday October 24 2006File under: travel, China

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The Pretty Good Wall

Okay, just kidding. The Great Wall is exactly that: great. Even better than great, in fact. Visiting the wall is something I have been wanting to do for a long long time. Often times, that means the experience doesn't live up to any expectations. I'm so glad to report that this wasn't the case at all. Even though the day was a little overcast, and the tour that took me there dragged us through a million different government run shops and factories, my time on the great wall was spectacular.

There are a couple different places you can go on the wall, each with its own assets. I chose to visit Mutianya, because it was supposed to be less touristy. "Less touristy" is a relative term, I guess. There was still a cable car to take visitors to the top and a tobogon slide to take them down. I did neither although the tobogon was pretty tempting. But because of the weather and time of the year, there weren't too many people.

I got it in my mind to hike and hike and hike, so that is exactly what I did. Beyond about 3 towers from the ski lift, there were very few people, so that I could get some decent pictures. I made the 3 or so kilometers to the end of the reconstructed part, enjoying some of the best views and best hiking of my life. (Walking on such a huge part of history just seems to have that effect, I guess.) By the time I got to the end, I realized that I had to get back to the bus ASAP. So it was an almost-jog the rest of the way back, which, considering the terrain, was quite a feat.

All in all, I must have hiked 5 miles and my body is feeling it, esp. on top of all the walking I've been doing here in Beijing (Forbidden City, Tienamen Square, etc. etc.) I think today shall be a rest day.


Saturday October 21 2006File under: China, travel

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Beijing - Day 1

6:30 - Arrive train station.
6:31-8:00 - Get horribly lost. Feel lonely and depressed.
8:01 - Meet local. Exchange English practice for directions to hotel.
8:30-10:30 - Roam around downtown Beijing with new friend, again with the English practice. Marvel at Forbidden City from afar.
10:31-11:30 - Get situated in hostel.
11:30 - Eat 16 potstickers. Rethink badmouthing of chinese chinese food.
12:30-2:30 - Meet new locals, again for the English practice. Roam old town with new friends.
2:30-3:00 - Spend 2 weeks' budget on tea.
3:00-4:00 - Write postcards in beautiful Beijing park. Rethink tea purchase.
4:00-dusk - Smile about the happy first day in Beijing.
Wednesday October 18 2006File under: travel, China

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Unfamilar Territory

It has taken me a few days to get my mindset shifted to be able to enjoy China, but I think I am coming around. Not only is it the change from Thailand to China, but the change from small town to big city, warm weather to chillier, and traveling with folks to traveling solo all happening at once. Those things considered, I'm doing pretty well.

The big thing to see here in Xi'an is Emperor Qin's Terra Cotta Army. If you've never heard of it, any explanation I give will sound dumb, so I suggest you go learn about it. Sufficive to say, it was pretty cool. They've built a great museum around the whole thing and showed the whole process of excavating them.

Yesterday, I went to see the Small Wild Goose Pagoda. It was built in 709 or something, way way back. Around the pagoda, there are beautiful grounds an other buildings in the traditional style. It was a great place to sit and soak up the traditional China-ness of everything.

All my other efforts here are in regards to the small things. While they don't sound like much, the few small victories I've managed have raised my spirits much. Riding public transportation, ordering food by pointing and smiling, and purchasing a train ticket to Beijing using only gestures. But with my small victories have also come small defeats. Last night, somewhat down about the whole Chinese-Chinese-food-is-not-at-all-like-American-Chinese-food thing, I opted to indulge myself in the cultural experience that is pizza hut. Same same, but different.

The whole time that I have been in Xi'an, it has been foggy(/smoggy?) and it rained pretty good yesterday, so I haven't been too inclined to go adventuring. But that has allowed me to catch up on a few movies here in the hostel and also catch up on my reading. Tonite, I leave on a sleeper train to Beijing, which I am greatly looking forward to. I hope to see some of the country side that is the China in my mind. Just as long as we get out of this fog(/smog?), I think I'll be fine.
Tuesday October 17 2006File under: travel, China

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Month 1 round up

Who would have thought a month could go by so quickly? Looking back, there were so many good times. I was fortunate in so many respects; everything aligning with my job, visas, and tickets to allow me to come here, meeting up with so many good friends and having a great time with them, and avoiding all the stuff travel horror stories are made of like sickness, robbery, and that crazy stuff that you never even want to hear about.

It works out nicely that my month 1 round up can exactly coincide with my Thailand round up. (I left the country on the last day possible on my 30 day visa.) There is so much to say about Thailand. Firstly, the Thai are some of the nicest people I have met. There was always someone around to help you suggest restaurants (sometimes a little forcefully, mind you), help you make travel arrangements, and always to offer a smile. Shane commented that there wasn't one person who didn't return his smile. Besides the people, Thailand has much natural beauty on its side. The islands of the south have beautiful beaches with picturesque views everywhere you look. The caves and waterfalls seem straight out of some idealic deserted island movie. In the north, you can barely walk 3 block in any given city without running into some gilded temple, almost all of which were open and welcoming to passing tourists.

All in all, I really enjoyed my time in Thailand. As a country, it is so tourist friendly that it served as a great jumping off point for me to kind of ease into unfamiliar territory. Speaking of unfamilar territory, I'm now in China. But we'll have to save that until next post.
Sunday October 15 2006File under: travel, Thailand

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Goodbye Thailand. Hello China

Okay, so this will be a quick one because I am at a funky computer kiosk at the Bangkok airport (and it is 4:30 in the morning). Just a quick note to say that after a wonderful month in Thailand, I am headed to China.

I had to get out of the country to renew my Thai visa anyway, and I've got this Chinese visa that I paid out the nose for, so I figured why not, right? So I bought a one way ticket to Xi'an China. Where's that?, you ask. I don't really know. In fact, I've never known less about a place I am traveling to. All I've got a is a Berlitz pocket guide to China and an adventurous spirit. We'll see how that goes, I suppose.

I've been meaning to make a couple of posts recently with pictures and the works but the tropical island internet gods have been conspiring against me. I hope to find a good internet connection in China and do a big ole picture dump soon. I've got a couple of good ones of Shane getting harrassed by a monkey, more caves (no cobra this time), a live puffer fish, and more monuments. I'll try to get those up soon.

So sawadee kahp Thailand, nee hao China!
Friday October 13 2006File under: travel, Thailand

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Everybody was Kung Fu fighting


Wednesday October 11 2006File under: Thailand, travel

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Careful - cobra

In an effort to see what Ko Lanta has to offer while we are here, Trista and I made our way to some much touted caves. Well, as with much of traveling, we didn't really have any idea what we were getting ourselves into.

The cave entrance was a 30 minute trek up slippery ladders, through streams, while dodging some pretty gnarly looking spikey trees. Our soft-spoken guide, who had obviously done this about 800 times before, was quick to offer his advice on wear to step, what was slippery, and what not to hit your head on all with one or two words. "Careful", "Careful: slippery", "Careful: head", all in his soft-spoken calm tone. While cruising down one of the trails, he slows down and points to the bushes, "Careful: cobra," he says. Sure enough, a 3-foot cobra is just chillin in the grass. Ah, Thailand.

The whole cave experience was something else. We shimmied through narrow openings, crossed slippery 2 log bridges, and just about ate it numerous times. I enjoyed myself quite a bit. I'm sorry to say we can't all say the same. Still, it was just another one of the experiences that make travelling so great and adventurous.
Tuesday October 10 2006File under: travel, Thailand

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It

Sometimes there are moments that are so perfect, so right, that you can't help saying to yourself, "This is it. This is what it is all about." These moments often only last for, well, a moment, and they require letting go of the future and the past. It is about the way things are now.

I had myself an it moment the other day. On a beautiful beach on Ko Lanta, watching the sun go down, with my arms around a pretty girl. I was lucky enough at the time to realize that it-ness of the moment, because it was quickly gone. But for that moment, things were right.
Saturday October 7 2006File under: Thailand, travel

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Week 3 wrap up

Three weeks gone already?!?! I guess when chillin' on the beach reading a book is the only thing you do, time just flies by. Well, yesterday we made the 1.5 hour boat trip from Ko Phi Phi to Ko Lanta. We've only been here for 24 hours, but I'm pretty sure I love it. It is low tourist season, so there aren't the throngs of tourists that there were in Phi Phi. Also, there is much more to explore. There are waterfalls, caves, and national parks that are all begging for my attention, but that will come in due time.

I think I am going to take this opportunity to really really chill. The place we stayed last night had a pool, chairs on the beach, T.V. (with HBO) in the bungalows - it was just gorgeous. And all that for only $2.50 per night. Tonite we are going to try out a new place. If it is anything like the last one, I will be a happy camper.

Okay, so sorry for the pictureless post. I will get to another picture dump here soon. I got a couple of great ones of the sunset last night. But in the meantime, turn your attention to Una Estrella for Andrew's pictorial wrap of his trip.
Saturday October 7 2006File under: Thailand, travel

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