Thursday, July 31, 2008

guangzhou/hong kong

Guangzhou at night
if northern china was all about history and the southwest was all about nature, then in guangzhou we really got to know modern china. with limited hostel options all grossly overpriced, we decided to try our luck couch surfing in what turned out to be a very successful experience. we stayed at a student's apartment whose friend kate and her boyfriend were occupying for the summer. in sharp contrast to our hosts in zhonglu, this was a modern apartment in a fairly new complex. i would say two things stuck out: first that the apartment was really relatively bare. as we had been told a couple of weeks earlier, a chinese apartment usually comes with just a frame, no plumbing or electric, etc. the other was that talking to kate we learned about chinese students' lives, aspirations and realities. especially was refreshing to hear pragmatic points of view that we hadn't been exposed to in our formal dealings with the chinese.
on Shamian Island
while in guangzhou we spent most of the time shopping and saw a few sights in this business-oriented city: shamian island, a british colonial outpost with some nice buildings, and  a river cruise to see the many highrises lit up at night. of note are amazing fish balls (pancake batter rolled around a piece of fish) that we grabbed on the corner of one of the main shopping streets and the excellent new air conditioned metro in this very hot and humid city. overall it was a good time in a big city.
on the metro
the morning to hong kong began with starbucks. our train to hk was just under 2 hours and very comfortable. hk is an amazing, clean, and modern city. you are not in china anymore really. it's like an asian nyc, but more interesting. it is ridiculously expensive and coming from china it is a shock. we found a nice hotel, small room, good location, clean, and 4 times more expensive than our previously highest priced room. in the evening we went to victoria peak to see a view of the city and took the peak tram. the tram has been functioning for 120 years(!) the line was lengthy and we probably could have walked or gone by bus but it's the touristy thing to do. the view from above is magnificent as most of the buildings on hk island and across the water are illuminated with different colored lights. we found a restaurant there and indulged. apple cider, salmon burger, and a shrimp pizza. this was our first pizza in 40 days, and for us this is a great accomplishment. (we did walk in to one pizza hut and one papa johns to check out the menus but we were very happy we waited.)

Hong Kong at night
the next morning we had some egg custard pastries, yummy, and went to the post office to mail some things. we wandered around a really nice mall at the base of the ifc building and had dim sum for lunch. daph finally got her fix! the bank of china building has a nice view on the 43rd floor which didn't disappoint. we enjoyed a rare latte at pacific coffee, and they had newspapers! something we haven't seen in a while. continuing to kowloon we explored nathan rd. and avenue of the stars where at 8 every night  there is a light show across the water where all the buildings light up synchronixed with music. "symphony of lights" i believe is the name. we continued on our busy night and went by metro and foot to the soho area where there are lots of nice cafes and bars. first we had a snack at a place called habibi. miniscule portions of humus and labne with mini pitas. our next stop was a sort of uk pub (australian-irish-and british all in one). we went there for one reason: fish and chips. tasty but pricey. we had enough so we headed home. feeling full and tired we slept well.
in chairlift, Lantau Island, Hong Kong
our final day in hong kong was a short one. we had enough time to see one more thing, so we headed off to lantau island to see the buddha at ngong ping. really for us it was just another buddha. the main attraction was the chairlift to get up the mountain where we got a taste of hong kong's green outlying islands. despite the haze the view was quite beautiful and definitely left us with a taste for more. we had just enough time to grab our things, pick up a french bread for the road and head back to the airport for our flight to nepal...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

kunming/chili bus/yangshuo/longsheng rice terraces

hi loyal readers, after a long while we are finally catching up...trivia #2 questions still up for grabs. :) d&m

we arrived in kunming from dali in the early evening and went to our first "downtown" hostel. the problem with being downtown was that there was lots of shopping but nowhere to eat. eventually we stumbled upon a decent restaurant where we had some delicious lotus root and a whole grilled spicy fish. by 3 am we had realized that the real problem with being downtown was 10 discos competing with each other just below our window. next morning we got up extra early to go on a daytrip and again faced with minimal food options resorted to mickey d's for breakfast. it was daphna's first mcdonald's breakfast in her life. and it was not too bad. our first attempt in going to the stone forest was marred by a crazy, possibly drunk bus driver, whose bus we opted to get off of. still at the station, we demanded our money back. destiny had determined that this would be city exploration day. a little shopping, nice lunch, and a wal-mart later we arrived at our new hostel, a chilled-out location like we have been used to. the next day, we finally made it to shilin, the stone forest. the park is essentially a conglomeration of karst rocks and we enjoyed exploring around and imagining what the rocks look like. that night for the first time in more than a month we went in search of western food. we ended up in the yunnan university area, a hip area that was bustling. salvadori's came through big time with a huge and tasty chili cheese dip with tortilla chips as well as a yummy panini. from the moment we arrived in kunming the lack of train tickets onward had been haunting us. we would have to wait one more day and change our destination in order to obtain the coveted tickets. at the recommendation of a family we met on the bus to kunming we spent the final day at the yunnan provincial museum.

at 5 pm we began our journey towards guilin as we boarded a night train to kaili, a small city in guizhou province. that morning we waited a while for the cits office to open and as soon as it did we discovered that it would not be financially or logistically possible to go through the minority villages on the way to guilin in the time we had. but apparently there was one bus a day to guilin via the "highway". it was 940 am when we heard this and the bus supposedly was at 10. we ran back to the bus station to buy tickets for the bus, actually scheduled for 11. by 1030 boarding had started and only then did we understand that this was not just any bus, but a sleeper bus. what is a sleeper bus? 3 columns of bunks down the length of the bus, totaling around 40 people. to save room the beds are not flat, they are at a 20 degree angle and then near 40 degrees. the total length reaches around 4 ft long and 15 inches wide. in other words, very tight fitting. so upon boarding you are required to remove your shoes and place them in a plastic bag. this was a shock to us, especially after our experiences on previous buses where smoking,spitting, food, etc. is widespread. we finally get going and a couple hours into the ride stop for a bathroom break. one of the passengers asked to get something out of the luggage compartment. when the compartment was opened everyone discovered that a 40 gallon jug of red chili sauce had spilled. the entire compartment and bags were covered in chili. luckily our bags, were in a smaller,locked compartment due to our initial insistence of not wanting to leave them below the bus. for the next hour the bus was washed down and cleaned and we departed with only half a jug of chili sauce. by the way, our bags still smelled like chili, they were just not red like the others. we continued on the highway, a one-lane road like all the others. bumping through construction every mile, our estimated 11 hour journey was now looking like it would be a tad longer. at 2 am, we were dropped off along with another passenger at a roadside stand to change buses. we waited and then boarded another sleeper bus for an additional 3 hours until finally arriving in guilin at 5 in the morning, 18 hours since getting on in kaili, and a full 36 hours after leaving kunming.

luckily we were able to find a hostel for a few hours of sleep. next morning we were off to yangshuo. the city is in the midst of karst mountains and through it a nice river. the main attraction is its proximity to the countryside and the opportunity for outdoor activities. we spent the first afternoon exploring the town. nothing remarkable and lots of touristy shops. the next day we headed out early on our rented mountain bikes to the yulong river. there we took a bamboo raft downstream enjoying the quiet water and occasional splashes on what was yangshuo's hottest day of the summer. we continued on our bikes first to see a banyan tree supposedly 1400 years old, and then to moon hill, a hill with a crescent shaped hole in the middle. the climb up was forgettable, other than a local lady who would not stop following us, all the while trying to sell us water for 20 rmb (normal price 1-3 rmb). from here we went to see the water cave, a huge cave of stalagmites and stalactites discovered only 10 years ago. walking in was our first real chinese tour with a guide telling us every 10 meters what the rocks looked like, no imagination necessary, and no information regarding the cave was imparted to us. we took a refreshing dip once deep inside and then made our way back to the bikes. we biked back to yangshuo through the countryside back roads where villagers kept posing for us to take pictures. one lady went so far as to run back to her house with her child,put the child in a basket, and hang the basket on her shoulder. very cute indeed but we passed on the picture. for dinner we indulged the local yangshuo beer fish. whole fish cooked in beer, ginger, and other spices. delicious!

the next morning we took a bus to the longsheng rice terraces. we climbed up to the village of ping'an in the rain, put down our bags, and settled into our inn's restaurant to wait out the rain. we were sitting in the clouds and so there was no visibility, so we played cards, prepared to hike at any break in the weather. the break didn't come until the next morning. we were up with the sunrise at 6am, had our oatmeal, and started the hike up to the first viewpoint. the rice crop glistened in the morning mist and the bright green was all that we could see. from there we were off on the local path towards zhonglu village. we encountered many locals on what was clearly the one path connecting the two villages. arriving at the village we had several local women offer us lunch. we eventually agreed to go with one and after negotiating on the price we followed her into her house.. while we had been in many poor areas in cities and several villages, this was the first time we were invited into a family's house and the poverty was striking. the majority of day was devoted to basic household duties and beer bottles were the only evidence of anything close to a luxury. the woman and her daughter began preparing our dishes and 20 minutes later we had sautéed spinach, some green beans, and delicious potatoes she even brought michael some local baijiu (local liquor). after the meal it was only about 10:30 and we began our return trip. we went back down the path to another viewpoint and then back to ping'an to gather our things and hop on the bus back to guilin. here we boarded our 7th and final sleeper train in china。

Monday, July 28, 2008

trivia #2

We are leaving China manana, so before we go, a few more souvenirs up for grabs....
1) What company has the largest market share of bicycles in China?
2) In most developing countries residents pay 1% of their income to access the internet. What % of their income do the Chinese pay to access the internet? (guessing allowed, question courtesy of China Daily)
3) Name the 2008 Olympic mascots and explain their significance.
4) What are the women of the Zhuang minority known for? (2 winners possible: one obvious answer, one advanced answer)
Answers should be posted to comments. Good Luck!

Monday, July 21, 2008

trivia quiz # 1

we will be introducing a new feature in the blog:
the first to answer correctly will be rewarded with a chinese souvenir...1 souvenir per question.
1. name the author who wrote about a fictional Shangri-La
2. what was the original tibetan name of Shangri-La? (2 answers possible here)
 **note: please forward your answers via the comments link below this post. to post a comment click on comments, once at the new page, in the blank area post your comment (answer) and sign in using your Gmail or AIM user name and password. if you do not have either of these, make sure to leave your name or email. we will also accept an email to:
**second note: we enjoy reading any comments posted. if you have any suggestions or opinions on what you would like to see on the blog we would love to know.
good luck


Hi folks, lots of internet troubles lately, please bear with us as we get caught up updating...d&m

Halfway through the ride, we realized that our bus was headed for Xiaping (new Dali) and so we were not too surprised when we were dropped off at east gate of Dali, 20 minutes walk from Dali's bus station and the main tourist area. Nevertheless, walking in, we realized that this was a great place to be, another small walled city with cobbled streets and a community atmosphere. Dali's main street was another almost shock, we found out where all the Chinese tourists had been hiding...We put our luggage down once again and the next morning got up to explore the town. Michael was on a mission to get a hat, so we used it as an excuse to explore town: we went from one shop to the next, past the main tourist road, to the market, past local shops and eventually success. Meanwhile it was great getting to know the little streets, seeing women in the traditional Bai dress, and especially finding one amazing bakery: No. 88. Our first time eating real bread in China! It was delicious and we would be back...

our 2nd day in dali was an adventurous one. as a warning, this posting contains some details you may find disturbing. it was essential to get an early start for we had a long day with a tight schedule ahead of us. we began the morning at cycle dali where we rented a couple bikes for the day, after a brief stop at THE bakery. as a side note, this bakery opened only a few weeks ago and the german couple who own it, have decked it out in ikea furniture and dinnerware. to say the least, we felt at home. they had real, dense, delicious french bread, homemade jams, cheeses, and many cakes, that by some miracle we never tried. our bike ride began along the yunnan-tibet highway, a 4 lane luxurious highway. this road ended as soon as we began enjoying it. our destination was a small village on the northwest side of erhai lake, outside of dali. we took the quieter of the two roads yet throughout the day we were overtaken by 50 buses, 40 farm vehicles, 30 motorcylces, and the occasional local on a bicycle. about 90 minutes into our ride, a small truck passed us going at a noticeably slow 10 mph. 20 minutes later we see this same truck slammed against a tree on the side of the road. one other tricyclist had just stopped moments before and i got off my bike to observe the situation. blood was everywhere. the man in the back seat was trying to wake up and moaning, no injuries visible. the driver had glass all over his face, but ended up getting out of the car by himself. but the man in the front was in bad shape. daph and the tricyclist were calling the police/ambulance. for a second, i thought, if i don't do anything here this man will die. all we had was a bunch of toilet paper that i got from daph and told the man to push against his face. i got in the street, waved my yellow bandana to the oncoming buses, begging them to stop. 2 of the drivers waved their heads no. finally a truck with 6 men inside stopped; they got out, stunned, and looked. 3 got out their phones. none approached closer than 3 feet from the vehicle. 10 minutes later the police showed up. again, stunned. 4 policeman, took out their phones. i asked them, when is the doctor coming. no answer. one of them then got a camera and began taking pictures of the car and the men. no help at all. the police shooed us away, so we left. i was angry. nobody really cared to do anything. nobody would even stop to see if they could do something. the police were worthlesss. we met a friend later in the market who said that he saw an ambulance headed the other way. we hope this was the passenger headed for a hospital??? our day continued as normal after this and the market was ok. nothing to really write about. the ride back to town was long, uphill, and hot. we explored some lakeside villages, stumbled on a temple or two and bought some fruit along the way. i think in total we biked between 60-70 km. we got back to dali just in time. we traded in our bikes for our bags and headed up congshan mountain on the west side of dali. for the first time we opted for the chairlift. we made it to a hostel called higherland inn. it sits up on the mountain, has only 7 rooms, and an amazing view of dali and the lake below, as well as the mountains on the eastern shore of the lake. it was an adventurous, exhausting, and rewarding day.

at the crack of dawn we got up to see the sunrise. we stepped out of our room for a beautiful ten minutes before returning for a few more zzz's. in the morning we porridged ourselves and then walked and walked and walked. the lateral trail to the north was beautifully paved for some of the way. some small waterfalls dotted the trail and the first leg our hike culminated at a remote temple that few make it to. we had to backtrack and had a delicious sandwich of local pita, egg, veggies, and dali cheese (yes, cheese in china, amazing). we washed it down with some tea and then continued on our trek, this time south. our goal was to reach a waterfall area called seven dragon pools, a good 6 km away. we got as close as we could and got some great video and still footage of the 7 storied waterfall. the trail down from the top was a little iffy but we made it. we returned to higher land for a well deserved meal and rest.

the next morning we headed down the mountain. the view coming down the chairlift was amazing: we were above the remnants of the night's rain clouds just as they were clearing from above the town. the air was crisp and the sun was slowly emerging, giving the view a purple tint. we did "errands" in dali: tea tasting and shopping, supermarket crackers and cookies, and THE bakery one last time. tea tastings are very ceremonious events. there is this whole bullfrog and washing and spilling, etc. something about heating the cups, washing the tea, brewing and re-brewing. it was quite an experience. as soon as we can get a detailed explanation we will share (or if someone knows, please comment and tell us :) ). we jumped on our kunming bound bus and 5 short hours later we were there...


Sunday, July 13, 2008

shangri-la (zhongdian)

Shangrila, located at 3200 meters, greeted us with a chilly breeze, overcast sky, and a slight headache. Taking the evening easy to acclimatize we got to know several travelers, all escaping the cold within the walls of the hostel. A dinner at a Tibetan restaurant was none too overwhelming, but the tea (jin cha) heated us from the inside out. Delicious! The next morning, feeling much better, we started exploring this small Tibetan-ish town. The old town was geared for many more tourists than there actually were. We quickly found a food stall with some great Iraqi-pita style bread, baked on the spot, and would return there many more times during our short stay in Zhongdian. We climbed up to the small temple at the edge of old town and admired the calm of the surrounding mountains encompassing this village. And then it started raining. And it rained, and rained, and rained. Despite this we saw some of the new town, and then ran into an Israeli couple that we had met in lijiang, Hagit and Shmulik, who had retired early and are currently living in Chengdu. We went together to the main Tibetan monastary outside of town. It was amazing: the monks smiled and greeted us in every doorway and passageway, the incense created a mystical atmosphere, and the bright colors livened the mood. I think that Hagit and I were more excited than the boys but nevertheless we were all enamored by the surrounding green fields. We continued on together for a dinner of jiao-zi (dumplings), then split off when we saw yet another traveler that we had met in Lijiang. After getting some more tips for the road we went back to the hostel, to be greeted by yet another plesant surprise: Kim and Will had made it to our hostel. Waking up to another rainy day, we had one more breakfast together the next day, before parting ways. The weather had decided for us, it was time to head back south. We spent most of the day on another eight hour bus to Dali.

lijiang/tiger leaping gorge

leaving emei began our close relationship with chinese buses. two
local buses got us to the emei train station several hours before our
scheduled night train. we decided to wait inside the more modern bus
station and played many hands of our new chinese card game (zheng
shang you). the train arrived almost 2 hours behind schedule. it had
originally left beijing more than a day ago. when we boarded we found
our bunks had just recently been vacated. we had no choice but to
sleep on the dirty,used, second-hand sheets. this train was
air-conditioned and it was freezing. 12 hours later we got to
panzhihua, a transport hub of sorts. from here we got an 8-hour bus to
lijiang. the ride was an experience, a summary follows: mountain roads
with more curves than you can count taking you up and down mountains
and into valleys, views of the hillsides planted with endless tobacco,
corn, and rice; every inch of land was being used for agriculture;
small villages with huge houses; 28 chinese people on our bus vomiting
in synchrony... proudly, daphna and i were the only ones who resisted.
daph said at one point, "the vomit is nauseating." well, we made it
safely to lijiang to our hostel "mama naxi". what a woman. we arrived
after dinner but she cooked us up a few dishes that were delicious:
broccoll, corn, and bok choy, all for 10 rmb.

the next morning in lijiang we started walking and mama, the owner of
the hostel, ran into us on the streets of the old city. she was headed
to the market for her daily shopping and we asked her if we could tag
along. the market was bustling. first she hit up the pork, then the
meat, tofu, veggies including tomatoes, rhubarb, peppers, and various
roots. then she got us a little tasting of kind of rice krispy cake
made with honey. we walked around the old city of lijiang amongst the
rest of the tourists. lijiang is the most visited city by tourists and
by the end of the day this was apparent as the chinese tour groups
swarmed around us. we strolled around the blak dragon pool park and
sat by the lake to plan our next few weeks. for some reason when we
entered the park the ticket office was vacant so we just walked in.
later that night we found out that the entrance fee was a whopping 80
rmb. lucky us. on our walk back we finally did some shopping. i bought
a t-shirt with naxi writing and daph bought a shall bargaining with
the shop owner. we made it back to the hostel in time for the 10 rmb
feast that mama cooks up every night. we met three brits, hamish,
will, and kim that were hiking tiger leaping gorge the next day. it
started pouring during dinner, but now, the team of five that we were,
decided to the gorge regardless, rain or shine.

we headed out the next morning and after a long 2 hour ride to the
gorge we started walking. our pace was nice and we stopped many times
along the trail for views, rest, pictures, and sheer awe at the peaks
oppositte us. the weater got better as the day went along and it was a
delightful hike and hands down the highlight of our trip. we stopped
for a nice lunch after a couple of hours and then continued on
following the ups and downs of the trail. the mountains across the
gorge kept getting closer and sharper and more impressive. after our
afternoon tea stop at the "tea horse" we picked up the pace a little
to arrive at the "halfway house" where we would stay the night.

arriving at the halfway house was remarkable. after a whole day of
walking along the gorge and getting closer and closer to snow
mountain, a peak that has never been climbed, we were in a place we
will always remember. there was about an hour left of sunlight and we
watched the shadows creep up along the mountain until only the red sky
of the reflection of the sun was visible above the mountains. the
pictures will not serve it justice but at least it will give some idea
of what i am trying to describe. we had a delicious dinner on the
balcony overlooking the gorge and for the first time had more than one
beer. we started playing a british inspired card game called
"shithead" and continued for several hours. the next morning we
continued our walk mostly downhill and caught a ride back to qiaotou.
here we split up with the englishmen and woman as we headed on to
shangri-la aka zhongdian. let's say we could of gotten on the wrong
bus, but we avoided disaster and arrived safely in shangri-la and
rested for the rest of the day.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

chengdu/ leshan /emei shan

early morning we made our way to the giant panda breeding research base. we were the first to arrive that morning and briskly set off to find some pandas. and we did! the pandas were amazing. the little ones that were not so little, at almost a year old, were playful and cute. when we got to see the big ones it was meal time and we were mesmerized by the way the pandas meticulously took off one leaf at a time from the bamboo and then stuffed the bunch of leaves into their mouth. from there we were off to try grandma chen's mapo dofu(tofu). we had had this before but this was the original spicy sichuan style and michael had a mouthful. making our way to our next destination we stumbled across chengdu's bike shop street. needless to say, michael had a heyday. we explored, tried, and finally test-rode dahon folding bikes. only at the last minute did we fore-go a purchase due to logistical reasons. after a long walk we made it to people's park, a large chinese park with everything from street performances to rides to ballroom dancing on the concrete. at the suggestion of the lonely planet we went into a "funhouse" that ended up being something like a 10 yr olds homemade haunted house. we finally sat down in our first tea house and got to play one of the chinese card games we learned
today is another milestone. we trekked for the first time with our big packs. after several buses from our hostel in chengdu to outside leshan we arrived at dafo, the grand buddha. the story goes that a monk started carving out a buddha out of the mountain overlooking a river hoping that the buddha would calm the currents. some 90 years later when the buddha was complete the river had calmed(apparently from the leftover chiseled rock falling into the river). the buddha is huge, 71 meters high. standing at the bottom we couldn't even reach the top of his toe. once again there were several gardens to explore around the buddha though it wasn't so easy to do with our packs on our backs. several buses later we arrived in baoguo village.
another early morning walking sticks in hand, we began the ascent of emei shan, a holy taoist and buddhist mountain. a guy named john,from our hostel wanted to tag along with us. we had no intention of making it to the top on the first day.but he did and the first half of our climb went by very quickly. along the way signs warned us of wild monkeys prepared to steal our stuff. at the elephant bathing pool monastery the monkeys were around and approached the shop we were sitting in. michael and the shop-owner beat their sticks against the ground and the big monkey scurried away. by 2:30, we had made it to the place we intended to stay the night, but it was so early and such a nice day that we decided to continue to just one more monastery. when we arrived we were at the peak. we are self-declared crazies. this was the hardest hike of both of our lives but the views did not dissapoint and the climb, several thousand slete steps, interjected with the occasional round of delirious singing, made it all worthwhile. with nowhere to stay for the night, due to high pilgrim occupancy and exorbitant prices, we inevitably descended back to baugou by bus. this time it was my turn to declare my favorite food in china. sichuan eggplant and garlic. delicious!
we are now writing from crouching tiger monastery near the bottom of emei shan. we decided to spend some time exlporing the bottom of the mountain and ended up seeing the best museum we have seen in china to date. now we are enjoying the blue sky, tall trees, and huge mountains surrounding us.





our 3rd day in xian started out by our trip to the "big wild goose pagoda" there was a nice park around the actual pagoda complex that was very pleasant to stroll around. inside, the pagoda itself was closed for renovation, not an uncommon occurrence around here. once again, for the 5th time, we, well daph was asked to take a picture with a local. i think they also ask me to be in it so not to hurt my feelings? anytime someone asks us for a picture i give them my camera also so we can document these incidences. we had an early train to catch that would take 18 hours to our next destination. most tourists doing this would fly 2 hours but we don't. colonel sanders from kentucky was calling our name and we had a little bite there before our train. the train was an old one, and the locals are ridiculous in their mad attempt to get on the train. the seats/beds are assigned yet they push, run, yell just to get on the train? our new friend, deng zhen lin, that we met on the train told us they do this because they don't want to miss the train!! ,deng zhen lin, a business student from tianjin university, was going to chengdu to visit a friend. we talked with him for some time but every 90  seconds or so our conversation would be interrupted due to the train entering a tunnel. tunnel after tunnel, unable to hear your own voice when inside made it a long conversation. he did manage to teach us our 2nd chinese card game. we played a few hands and then at 10pm the lights went out and we hit the bunk.
we arrived in chengdu after the night train and checked out our hostel, sim's cozy garden. we went to wenshu temple where we went to our first  vegetarian (non-vegetarian) restaurant. we explored the gardens which were nice. we walked around chengdu and arrived at trust mart, a local 6 floor supercenter. outside they were giving away free coke tastings, so we joined in and downed two of them. daphna's was nice and cold, mine was deliciously warm. we went back to the hostel and had a local (mexican) dish. scrmbled eggs and tomatoes and our first of many spicy eggplant with garlic.