is a travelogue of our tour of China, in May 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
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
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
The landscape is mostly
very flat to date, vast expanses of farm land with wheat the predominant
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?