Saturday, November 08, 2008

Rules, schmules

DsChTrip 044
Originally uploaded by mgaston123.

Damn ragamuffins and psychopaths. I had to actually look up the word effluvium (a slight or invisible exhalation or vapor, esp. one that is disagreeable or noxious) and I'm still not sure what this sign means. No BO? No farting? Anyone care to venture a guess?

What does still amaze me, is that in a city like Shanghai, with a sizable foreign population and millions of tourists that come through a year, the government still cannot find one single native speaker to proofread public notices. Then again, I would be so less frequently entertained if they did so.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Catching up

I'm so far behind in posting photos and stories, its ridiculous. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't post any pictures from my recent trip to Africa before I posted the photos of my sister's trip to visit me here in China.... in July. After enough harassment from Mamma Mia (like your new nickname, dear?) in New Braunfels, I decided that I had better get off my behind and do something about the situation. And so we're off... (I'm only posting a few here, you can click on the title of this post and go see them all... all 300).

D was here for 2 weeks at the beginning of July and we really did make the most of it... touristed like crazy. First we took the overnight train to Beijing, were picked up straight from the train station and headed for a tour of the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven.

Temple of Heaven

The photo below is from our hike along an unrestored portion of the Great Wall between Jinshanling and Simatai - about 12 km or 4 miles. Fortunately/unfortunately it was hazy like this for the whole hike. Fortunately, because we would have died of heat stroke otherwise... unfortunately, all of my photos are grey like this.

Me & D on the Great Wall

From this photo it looks like we were walking alone the whole time, but that wasn't really the case. Along the way, you wind up with "guides", local farmers who supplement their living by selling souvenirs, water, even beer, to the tourists along the way. They also show you the shortcut paths around the more dangerous sections (thank you!) of the unrestored towers. Some of them spoke pretty good English and were really gracious about asking you to buy stuff at the end. Others, well, were your typical harassing street sellers that made you kinda want to push them off the Wall. We had the good favor of two very gracious farmers with us for the first half of the journey who warded off all the others.

We tooled around Beijing another day and a half with some friends of mine that live there then took off on another overnight train to Xi'an to see the Terra Cotta Warriors of fame.

Not THE Terra Cotta Warriers.... but SOME terra cotta figurines at the museum.
Mostly just me having fun with the depth of field on my camera.

You'll have to click through if you want to see the actual Warriors. I will however, share this other gem, just because I think my sister will probably kill me for it...

We were only in Xi'an about 48 hours, but while there we did the whole Terra Cotta warrior thing, went to the National History Museum, the Drum Tower, the Bell Tower, and the Great Mosque. I've been to many a mosque from Spain to Kosovo to Turkey, and some pretty spectacular ones at that, but this one was so strikingly different that it will always remain one of my favorites.

While the actual prayer pagoda was closed to the public, only practicing Muslim men were allowed inside, the peaceful courtyards and gardens were at our disposal. With a twist on a theme, it was a typical mosque with the outer courtyards and inner sanctum, but with a Chinese twist. Instead of minarets, you had towering pagodas, the water features were capped with lotus blossoms, and the carvings on the wall were of Chinese themes, but with Arabic writing. I loved it and could have stayed for hours.

From Xi'an we hopped a plane to Guilin where we literally saw absolutely nothing because we jumped on a boat the very next morning and took a lovely cruise down the River Li to Yangshuo. The scenery in this part of the world is pretty famous. There's actually a spot along the cruise where you can take a photo of the image that is on the back of the 20 RMB bill. I, of course, was in the toilet when we passed this historic spot. Typical.

Along the Li River cruise

Becuase not all hostels are created equal, now's the part where I do a little free advertising for a place I really enjoyed. On a recommendation from a friend, we stayed out in the middlle of farm country in a really phenomenal hostel called the Giggling Tree. It's a restored farmhouse run by a Dutch family about 3 km outside of Yangshuo proper.

The Giggling Tree

The food is good, the accommodations clean and spacious, the atmosphere is quiet and relaxing, and your hosts are friendly and super knowledgeable about the area.

Align Center
Farmland around Yangshuo

We rented bikes from our hostel and rode through the rice paddies and farming villages until we were utterly exhausted. Then we loaded our bikes up onto a little bamboo raft and floated back down river to whence we came. An amazing day. It was at this point that my sister said to me, "I hate you. This sucks. It's ugly here. I want to go home." We both burst into giggles.

From Yangshuo, we began the long journey back to Shanghai via train - twenty six hours. Here's a picture of our home away from home....

We got really lucky, as our upstairs neighbors got off the train somewhere in the middle of the night. We had the cabin to ourselves for most of the trip.

Once back in Shanghai, we did the usual touristy things here - Bund Tourist tunnel, a cheesy delight for those who appreciate the cheese (D had such fondness that she videoed the entire experience), the Oriental Pearl Tower, and of course the ever overcrowded Bund. But we did get a nice night shot...

D left the next day, exhausted, well-traveled, and wondering if she should have trained more for this vacation. I did kind of walk her to death... and hike her and bike her... yeah, ok... so I see where she's coming from. It was fun though, right D?

And so we have come to the end of a journey. I hope you enjoyed your tour. Next stop... Kilimanjaro.