This is a travelogue of our tour of China, in May 2005

Tiananman Square


May 4, 2005

The time has come, once again, for the Wandering Segals to spread their wings and flap off to foreign lands.

This year finds us heading for China with a short sojourn in Malaysia in each direction.
We are scheduled to depart Brisbane on Wednesday 4 May at 11:30pm, spend 3 days in Kuala Lumpur and arrive in Beijing on 8 May. Then spend 29 days touring China (as per the attached itinerary below), finishing up in Hong Kong on 6 June then spend 5 days in Penang recuperating en-route home. We will be on the road for a whisker under 6 weeks.


Yes, can you believe it; the independent Wandering Segals are taking an organised tour. I guess we are now officially middle aged.

I have been taking lessons in Mandarin. I can say a few simply pleasantries and hopefully my accent will not be so atrocious that they are mistaken for insults. But I sincerely doubt my capacity to navigate through China on a "nee-hao ma" and "hun hao, syair syair". ("How are you" and "very good, thanks").

I’ve also learned to say "jay hway wor-lai ching" ("the drinks are on me"). I bet that surprised you, as most of you know, I wouldn’t shout if a shark bit me. So now the camera batteries are fully charged and I’ve packed everything bar the kitchen sink. (I always travel light….NOT!).

So, all going well, the next update you receive from me should be from a cheap internet café somewhere in Asia.

"Tzai Jyen" From the Wandering (again) Segals


May 7, 2005 - Kuala Lumpur

We arrived safe and sound in KL early Thursday morning. Our hotel is clean and comfortable and right in the heart of the shopping district. We have an enormous mall right in front of our hotel. It is 10 times the size of the largest one in Brisbane. You need a street map to navigate your way through the labyrinth of corridors. We entered through one door and came the other end of town.

The food here is fantastic and CHEAP. The two of us can get breakfast for $2.50 and dinner for $5.00. Petrol is a bit over 50c a litre but cars carry over 100% luxury tax.

Thursday was spent discovering KL. I had coffee in the morning with an old, OLD friend from 35 years ago. In the afternoon hubby and I took in the delights of the KLCC including the Petronas and the modern shopping mall attached. We took a trip up to the skybridge that links the two Petronas towers and were amazed at the structural marvel.

Yesterday we made some new friends, the lovely Lucy Loh Wong and her charming husband Y.K. Lucy took us up to Tanarimba, a sustainable ecologically sensitive development with 7,299 acres of land, only 1,400 acres (20%) will be developed, the remainder (80%) will be kept as forest reserve for conservation, recreation and educational purposes. (www.tanarimba.com.my) Lucy and her partner, Patrick, an architect, are developing this project 40 minutes out of KL. The climate is much milder up there and we enjoyed the rainforest, meeting some monkeys and a swim in the pool before heading back into KL for dinner in China town. They took us to the best kept secret in KL, a fantastic coffee shop, 'ikopi', hidden upstairs at 6 Jalan Panggong. Lucy is a very talented business woman and takes fantastic photos, she also lectures in sex education and rights a cookery column for the KL news paper. We hit it off straight away and found we had a great deal in common. Today we took a day trip to Malaka, an old Portugese, then Dutch, then British port town dating back to the 16th century. I managed to take a photo or two between wiping the sweat from my brow...it was very hot and humid, like a very bad summers day in Brisbane twice over. Tomorrow we rise at 5am for a morning flight to Beijing. Hopefully we be able to get the air-conditioner to work tonight, the thermostat seems to be stuck on "freezing", so much so that I had to wear P.J.'s to bed. All going well we will update this again in the next few days.


May 14, 2005 - Louyang

Well here we are one week into our China Experience. Days 1-3 were in Beijing: big bugger city. 13 million souls share this space.

Peeking

We had time to visit Uncle Mao or at least what looks more like a wax effigy of him. Walked for many kilometers due to the fact that our street map had no scale and what looked like two city blocks turned out to be 3-4 kilometers.

We have been very lucky with our tour group. the 14 others in our group are all really nice. Ages vary from mid twenties to 74, 6 Aussies (including us), two Kiwis, 4 Irish and 4 poms.

While strolling along the great wall, found that one of the aussies worked with two of my colleagues while living in Darwin, (Allan Russell and Adrian Fun try to guess who this bloke is).

Great Wall of China

From Beijing we took a sleeper train to Zhengzhou (jung joe). We were allocated 4 berth sleepers so we bunked in with a couple of kiwis, Ted 74 a retired geologist and Trevor a retired sheep farmer (no kiwi jokes allowed).

The traffic over here is hectic and loud , to say the least. The loudest vehicle has right of way & to ascertain the pecking order horns must be blasted as loud and long as possible. Also they sound their horn if they wish to change lane, change gear or change their minds.

Traffic

The loos are another thing, altogether an unpleasant experience. Mostly just squats and not as clean as we are used to. The biggest design fault I found was one where they made the whole floor from a highly polished black granite, worked just like a mirror....not a pretty sight. especially as the partitions between the cubicle did not reach the floor.

The food is great, eating way too much....for a change. Coffee on the other hand is hard to find and when we do it is expensive and made on long life (UTH) milk.

Most of the hotels are of a very high standard, though I fear they have been strongly influenced by the British; they serve their beer at room temperature, something that has not gone down well with the Aussies.

People

The landscape is mostly very flat to date, vast expanses of farm land with wheat the predominant crop.

My Chinese is improving daily as most people do not speak English. Our tour guide, Peter is an exception. His English is impeccable and his wide range of knowledge, unlimited.

Better call it a day, this is costing me a small fortune...at least 50 cents.

 


May 22, 2005 - Shanghai

Dear one and all,

After we wrote last we have travelled the highways and byways of China. In places such as Louyang we were a novelty, few "Big Noses" (da bee tzir - foreigners) to be seen. We attracted attention every where we went. I found a cheap optometrist and was trying on a few frames, when hubby nudged me and said "look out the window". There was a row of faces looking back in at the sight of a big nose trying on spectacles. Eventually found a nice pair and paid the unearthly price of 48 Yuan ($8.50) for them.

Tried a variety of dishes such as a spicy hot-pot that made our eyes water and took our breath away, and a rather under cooked squid heads on skewers, but have so far resisted the temptation to sample the "lamb tenticles???", bar-b-qued grass hoppers, centipede and scorpion, but we haven't been REALY hungry yet, we'll see how we feel about it then.

Foodstalls

We put our lives at risk every time we ride in a bus or taxi, not to mention each time we step off the foot path and try to cross the road. The drivers here are all trainee kamikazes. Even at a level crossing where we have at a green walk light, the traffic has the right to turn right, with caution, on a red light, (with caution is, however, not in the Chinese dictionary.)

Cleanliness is a funny thing here, there are people out on the highways, miles from nowhere, sweeping to their little heart's content, but try and find one person in town to clean the toilet... As you have probably guessed we are now in Shanghai.

Shanghai

Louyang to Xian, was our second overnight train trip and let me say, they are not getting any more comfortable. Our third was to here last night. Bunked in with the same two guys. Xian and the Terracotta Warriors were simply awesome.

Xian

Flew from Xian to Chongqing (a tale in its self for a later edition). From there we boarded a cruiser for three nights down the Yangtze river, through the three gorges to the dam. Through the locks (4 in all, there will be 5 when they are finished) We could tell it was incomplete...they had not yet tiled it. Every building here is worth (in their opinion) tiling in white tiles, 100mm x 300mm mounted vertically in sometimes parallel rows.

Up one of the gorges we took a sampan that was pulled along by 4 village guys, sinewy as hell. In the brochure it shows them doing it naked, brought my camera along for a unique photo opportunity only to be told on board that they stopped doing that 14 years ago when they ditched their linen jocks for something less scratchy.....talk about false advertising.

Fashion is unusual here, it is not unseemly to step out in ones tackiest pajamas and everyone walks around in their bedroom slipper at all hours of the day and night. Looks comfy, might give it a try and turn up like that to work when I get back....any objections fellas?

 


May 29, 2005 - Lijiang

Since last we spoke we have left Shanghai after an all too short stay there. The main street, Nanjing Lu (Nanking Street) at night resembles a mini Las Vegas with all the flashing neon lights. The Bund was beautiful in a colonial way.

The Bund

We parted from 5 of our group at Shanghai, they had only booked for the half trip. Flew to Kunming where we collected 2 new members.

The team dynamics have altered. From 5 women and 11 men average age of 44, we have gone to 6 women and 7 men with an average age of 46.46 years old (phew, I don't feel so old any more). The Aussie majority (6 previously) has diminished to a minority of 3. The Poms have taken over as a majority with 5 members and we have collected a sole Swiss girl, luckily her English is perfect as my German is a tad rusty.

The flight to Kunming was uneventful. We received lunch which included various sachets of unidentifiable , presumably edible, contents, one resembled lollies but tasted more like salty dead animal, another contained what looked like yellow Viagra pills and I was looking forward to the pandemonium of a 737 full of would be "Mile High" members. Alas they were just digestive tablets.

Kunming

Before departing Kunming by sleeper train to Dali, we headed for the night market. There Hubby apprehended, red handed, a chap trying to open my backpack. As he held him firm and called in vain for the police I decided to take matters into my own hands and landed him a left hook to the jaw. If the middle finger of my right hand had not been sore I may have punched his lights out....lucky fellow, he pulled himself free and disappeared into the crowd before I had a chance to inflict further damage.

Dali

Next day and night was spent in Dali a very quaint old villages. The scenery and people are far more interesting away from the more touristy regions in the North.

Our trek at Tiger Leaping Gorge was incredible. But before any of you decide to run out and book passage here are a few tips.
* Do not eat a large lunch before starting the trek.
* Do not attempt the trek in the midday sun.
* Bring only coffee coloured clothing. (No matter what colour they were before hand they will be coffee coloured at the end)
* Resist ye the temptation to bring white socks at all cost. One of the hardest things to find in China is a Chinese Laundry, surprisingly. To have your socks washed by the hotel laundry service costs 5 yuan a pair, yet to by them in the market place they cost 10 yuan for 5 pairs...you do the sums.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Luckily I have been reading Bill Bryson's "A walk in the woods" during this trip. His advice on hiking has been very helpful, especially about how heavy back packs can be after a few kilometres. Before departing I shed a few unnecessary articles, first to go (Sorry Bill) was the novel....no one feels like reading after a long and arduous hike....sleep was the only thing on our minds.

Some people travelled very light, choosing to hike with little more than a toothbrush and hair comb, after two days we chose to walk up wind of them. The first day two Brits suffered sun stroke after a strenuous 7 km hike up 400 metres, one (Ted, aged 74) took advantage of the mule driver's offer to lug him up the hill. (I think the restaurant they took us to before the hike work in cahoots with the mule drivers, we were plied with enough food to feed a small African village).

After arriving exhausted and very red faced we also arranged mule transportation for the following day's hike up almost 600 metres for a piddling 150 yuan each ($25 AUD), less than a joy ride at any horse ranch back home.

Our accommodation for the night

Hubby reckons it was the 2nd best decision I've ever made, the first being the decision to marry him. After a few minute in the saddle I was wondering at my sanity, the bruise on my left butt cheek started to ache, (I slipped down two metal stairs on board the Yangtze cruiser and it left me with a bruise the shape and size of the state of Victoria). The shear drop down the cliff face had us holding tight to our saddles and saying the odd silent prayer. Slippery hooves do not, a peaceful ride, make.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

After reaching the peak at 2670m, the view of the gorge was breath taking (for those who had any left). We walked the remaining 12.5 km sometimes up but mostly down, sometimes on slopes so steep it was hard to keep our footing. The best investment I made was to buy a hiking stock in Dali for 50 yuan. Unfortunately I have never used those muscles before and my upper arm muscles are still sore.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Our last day's hike involved a 6km walk along a road (we opted for the taxi ride) before a treacherous 300m decline to the Yangtze river. The view was spectacular, or so I'm told, I was too busy watching the goat track made up of loose soil at times and loose rocks at others. Hubby walked ahead and was my brakes should I slip.

At the bottom was a "ferry" of sorts (at least we didn't have to row) that carried us across the fast flowing river. At the other side and the 400m climb to the top. It was an easier hike up this time. There was occasional shade and steps, but once at the top the muscles needed to use a "squat" toilet were almost immobilised with pain. My kingdom for a clean western style loo and toilet paper. I have almost exhausted my supply of tissues with only a small proportion having wiped an orifice north of my belly button!!! A word from the wise; DO NOT drink the water from the mountain streams. They may look tempting but the toilets up stream run as open channels down hill.

Crossing the River

We lunched in the charming Naxi (Nashi) mud brick village of Daju before taking a chair lift up to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain where Tibetan people trade in Yak products, yak rides, yak milk, yak meat, yak bone combs, and for the men, yak penis including dangly bits (sold by the metre). The local women there were fascinated by Hubby and the amount of body hair he had. They were almost stripping him to see the hair on his chest and back. Many declared their love for him and he had several marriage proposals. Perhaps he reminded them of the yak and they thought he would share other similarities.

Two boys in Daju

Last night we arrived in Lijiang, a Naxi village devastated by an earthquake in 1996 and completely rebuilt in the old style. This is day 21 of our China Experience, 9 to go.

Yak near Lijiang


June 3, 2005 - Yangshuo

A minor mutiny has broken out on the good trip lollypop. Our national tour guide, Jeff, is proving to be inefficient. Half the information he gives us is wrong and the other half he doesn’t know. Three people can ask a “yes” or “no” question and get three different answers. Most the time if I don’t do a head count after re-boarding the bus, he won’t remember until we are halfway to the next town. So far we haven’t lost anyone. The latest kafuffle occurred when we landed in Guilin after spending 15.5 hours on an 11 hour bus trip the day before.

Shaolin

We had boarded a local inter-city bus in Lijiang bound for Kunming. It was a 2nd class bus from the start, the loo didn’t work which forced us to make frequent stops at public toilets; a fate worse than death. Our China loo experience hit an all time low. Barely a concrete trough, no doors, and if we were luck there might be a 600mm high partition between each user. To add insult to injury, they expected us to pay for the privilege. 11 hours into the trip and still 2.5 hours outside our destination the bus died. Another bus was 30 minutes away and yet another 1.5 hours away. We were told our tour group, the only foreigners on the bus, would board the first bus to arrive. Unfortunately, nobody told the hoard of locals who barged on in front of us. We were still sitting on the road side after dark and were almost carried off by the mosquitoes before the second bus arrived 2 hours later. It was after midnight before we made it to Kunming, only to have to rise again at 5:30 to make it to the airport for a morning flight to Guilin.

In Guilin, the next morning, our local guide, Simon, met us at the airport only to inform us that we would need to leave our suitcases behind as we had a hike ahead of us. Two of our team dropped out on the spot and booked airfares direct to Hong Kong that day. Nobody had thought to tell us about this new, impending hike. 250m rise straight up over less than secure ground. No one had packed a day pack for the occasion; not even a change of knickers and a toothbrush, and all our gear was in our suitcases. We had to spread our gear all over the arrival hall and pack for two days.

Upon arrival in Longsheng after climbing a path by the terraced rice paddies barely a footprint wide our guide refused to accept that the hike up the hill did not constitute a guided tour of the rice paddies, after much arm twisting and gesticulating we persuaded him to take us to the top of the hill to view the famous views. And lucky we did; the views were spectacular. And what did we find way up this hill? An ice cream vendor of course. Not to mention mobile phone reception. No matter how far you wander in China; up hill and down dale; you can always be guaranteed of finding someone already there, phoning home to tell them they’d arrived; in a very loud aggressive voice that would almost negate the need for the mobile phone anyway.

Half Moon Rice paddies

After a day we all had to make the equally perilous trip back down the mountain. Arriving in Longsheng to find one of the most comfortable hotels we’ve had this trip. Air-conditioning that actually works!!! But the toilet paper still only has the perforations printed on it and impossible to tear in anything but shreds.

It is hot and humid here, but with spectacular views. We have taken it upon ourselves to organize our own local tours and entertainment due to lack of effort (and greed) on our guide’s part. This morning we rose at 5:15am to catch a local bus to Xingping (Shingping) to take a boat trip up river to view the stunning limestone hills in the morning mist; a sight not to be missed, but which almost was if our guide had had his way.

Xingping, Yangshou 

Tomorrow we depart for our endless train trip to Hong Kong. First a sleeper train from Guilin to Guangzhou (12 hours), with only time for breakfast there before boarding a train to Hong Kong. Since Ted and Trevor abandoned trip in Guilin we are left without bunkmates and feeling like participants in “Survivor” making alliances to procure new ones for the sleeper train. From Hongkers it’s but a hop, skip and a jump to Penang for 5 days R&R before heading homeward to a soft bed….at last. The beds here are rock hard and my hip bones are bruised to prove it.

Till next time, stay happy, Love from the wandering big noses.


June 8, 2005 - Penang

This is the final episode of our China Experience and not without a final touch of drama.

We arrived in Guangzhou 20 minutes late after an all night train trip from Guilin. We managed to score a sleeper cabin all to ourselves which was much less squeezy. However, when we disembarked our local guide, who was to meet us there with our train tickets to Hong Kong and our transportation to the next train station was no where to be found. Our illustrious leader, Jeff, not having thought to acquire the local guide mobile phone number, left us standing in the middle of nowhere while he scouted around for a phone to call head office. Of course it was a Sunday and everything was closed.

One of our group discovered that he had left all his travel documents, passport and money securely hidden under his pillow on the sleeper train which had, by now, departed for the next town. He went off alone to alert the authorities. In the mean time, one hour had elapsed and still no sign of our local guide, or for that matter, Jeff. Two of our group had found the location of the central tour office in their copy of the "Lonely Planet" and took off to find information &/or the local guide. Eventually the local guide found us, Jeff returned and the girls came back. Jeff remained with our penny-less travel mate in the hopes of being reunited with his stash, while the rest of us made a safe escape just in time to catch our express train from Mainland China to Hong Kong.

We all met up again in time for dinner, including our friends, Ted and Trevor who had jumped ship in Guilin. It's been 29 years since we were there last there and it has changed little, perhaps more shops, perhaps a little tackier, but all in all, the same old Honkers. We only stayed the one night before flying to Penang.

We read in the news papers, flying out of Hong Kong, that many of the places we have visited in China have since been hit by serious flooding....guess it was all that beer we drank.

We have a beautiful room on the eighth floor of the Bayview Beach resort here in Penang, with spectacular views over the water treatment plant (and a glimpse of the ocean). Our room has a really seriously BIG bed. I need to take a cut lunch with me when I set out to find hubby on the other side and I leave a trail of breadcrumbs so I can find my way back later. When I arrive I phone hubby to let him know I've returned safely.

We are doing a lot of nothing...vegging out by the pool, weather permitting. Today we are in George Town, a hot and humid place, hence the idea to enter an air-conditioned internet cafe and write to you all. See! I'm not so selfless after all. Only a matter of days till we are home again in Oz.

 


June 13, 2005 - Brisbane

We have done an inverse click of our ruby slippers and find ourselves safe and sound back again in the land of Oz.

Our China experience was exhausting, breath-taking, wondrous and all the other superlatives I can think of. We are thankful that we have had this opportunity to witness the Middle Kingdom prior to the Beijing Olympics after which, I doubt, the place will ever be the same. Already the huge influx of tourists has, in many areas, spoilt the traditional nature of the place and its people. We are now used to being greeted with “Hello banana” and “Hello Rolex”, not so much as a salutation as a question. Children, under 2 years of age, still in bare bummed pantaloons all know “Hello” and “bye-bye” almost before they learn the equivalent in Mandarin.

Bare bums

Once you get over the different standards in public sanitation, China is a marvelous place to visit. After a month you barely notice the hoiking and spitting and nasal evacuations occurring in front of you as you walk along the street. The average human produces one litre of saliva a day, multiply that by 1.3 billion and you can picture the state of the footpaths in China. As long as you watch where you are walking all is well.

For Australians inhabiting one of the least populous places on earth, to visit the most populous takes some getting used to. In China, every inch of arable land is under cultivation. When the public toilets are not up to scratch, there is no bush to go bush in. It’s a case of hold your nose, your breath, close your eyes and think of England.

My Chinese has improved and I can now successfully haggle like a fishwife in the Chinese Markets. Though after having spent half an hour bartering someone down from 6 Yuan to 3 Yuan, or walking an extra 3 blocks to get a bottle of water for 1 Yuan less than the last place, you really have to wonder if the saving of 50 cents and 16 cents, respectfully, was worth the effort. Then we come home and, without even buying much at all, leave the equivalent to 600Yuan at the supermarket checkout counter without blinking an eyelid. It puts it all into perspective. Having said that, I got some really great bargains and helped the local economy, albeit on a small scale. Though in the back of my mind, I’m sure if I had tried harder I could have got that last guy down another yuan or two.

I love to try local cuisine when ever we venture abroad but to tell you the truth, after 6 weeks of rice and noodles I’m ready to hang up my chop sticks and tonight we tucked into a big, fat juicy steak and icy cold beer….boy did it taste good. Hubby caved in and bought pizza a week before the end of our tour after suffering re-occurring bouts of “the China Syndrome”. Having a cast iron constitution, I persevered until Penang where my resolve weakened and I bought a burger, albeit one from a Kampung Warung, (a village outdoor cafe') & not McDonalds at least. But above all the joy of having fresh milk in my Latte can not be overstated, and the simple act of turning on a tap to get a drink of water will never be taken for granted again.

It’s great to be home. Now dear friends, as I bid you all a fond “Wun un” (good night) and set my alarm clock to wake me at 6am, the cycle starts again; I return to work tomorrow to start paying for my next holiday; Eastern Europe or Turkey….hmmmm decisions, decisions?

Beijing

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