The dragon awakening

Trip Start Feb 18, 2004
Trip End Dec 05, 2005

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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

There's a saying that if you dig a hole straight through the earth from the U.S. you'll come out in China. Haven't tried it, but it does feel like I'm on the other side of the world here. China is a pretty big place...roughly the size of the U.S. Traveling from the southern end (Hong Kong) to the north (Beijing) is quite a trip. I mainly went straight north with just a little diversion east and west.

Arrived in Hong Kong from Singapore and used their excellent metro system to get from the airport to the main island. I had to wait around at the hostel for a bit then got a stinky room and switched, so by the time I got out n' about it was almost 5pm. I tried to make it to Qantas to check on my flights but the address I had wasn't quite right (there's quite a difference between Road and Place). Took the metro across to Kowloon to see Temple St night market. Not much interesting there. Went down to the "Avenue of Stars", Hong Kong's Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was a good place to get night pictures of the main island. I looked all over the place for an Internet cafe...took me forever to find one. I would've thought they'd be all over.
In the morning I went to Qantas to get my flights straightened out. They called over to Cathay Pacific and assured me my flights were now confirmed. The metro got me way out to the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery. The Big Buddha is 26m tall. Big. The metro line for the new Disneyland is along that route so I took a detour out there to check it out. The metro train is all fancy with plush seats, the mouse head for windows, and statues of the characters. I was hoping I'd get special privileges to look around inside but that was not to be.

So I just looked around the entrance area with everybody else. I couldn't see the castle sticking up though. I later checked online at what Hong Kong Disneyland has to offer and it looks rather lame. Back on Hong Kong island, I visited Golden Bauhinia Sq, Hong Kong Park and went up to The Peak at night. I didn't give myself much Hong Kong dollars for my couple days there so didn't eat well and couldn't afford to go out. I did wander through the hip bar area of Hong Kong but none of the expats invited me in for a drink. Losers. ;)

Had a morning breakfast of hotcakes at McD's. It's been a while since I had "real" pancakes. I took an express train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. Yap, mainland China. During the ride I started reading more about Guangzhou and saw there isn't much to do there. Also was checking out all the places I want to go and realized I don't have time to see everything. This plus that my cousin who lives there was busy with work the next couple days got me thinking just to pass right on through. In the immigration line, I met Fiona from England and she was headed to a travel agent to book an overnight train to Guilin. I went along with her and got myself a ticket too. We had lunch and I saw her off (I chose to take a later train). The main train station is nuts...absolute chaos. Reminds me a bit of the train stations in India. I went off and explored the Shamian Dao area and around the Memorial Garden to the Martyrs. My train was at 9pm. I was in a compartment with a Chinese family whose son was hyper and loud and would keep talking to me in Chinese...he didn't seem to get the idea that I don't speak Chinese. Chinese are loud - they seem to think they have to yell for anybody to hear them. It's quite annoying on a bus or train when people are yelling over the top of each other trying to be the loudest. The train compartment was quite nice with soft bed, a/c and big blanket.

The overnight train arrived in Guilin and I immediately got on a bus for Yangshuo. It's about an hour south. The bus goes slow leaving town and was picking up additional passengers, some of whom didn't seem to want to go but the money collector guy would grab them and pull them on the bus - ???. The scenery in the Yangshuo area is stunning (limestone karsts sticking up along the river).

The town itself is quite cute too with tons of shopping. I think a lot of Chinese come here on their holidays too. That afternoon I went on a boat trip on the river to check out the scenery. The guy at the hostel organizing the tour thought I was from Spain (am I really that dark?). My stomach wasn't doing so well post lunch which made the trip a bit not as fun. Lots of lovely pictures to take though the sun was often in front (I'll have to try and make it out that way in the morning). After getting rid of lunch (no details), my stomach was feeling better. Had a late dinner and checked out the shopping. There were several stores selling t-shirts with Chinese characters saying things like "single and rich", "i have no money" and "no beer, no happy". At one store I asked the price of a shirt and the lady went on about how the shirt was good quality cotton and all then wrote down what at first I thought was Y24,5 (about $3). I was going to try talking her down to Y20 then realized she was actually asking Y245. That's over $30!!! I just laughed and left as she was yelling after me for my best price. At another store I got myself a Nike dri-fit shirt for cheaper than I could at the Employee Store. Sure it was an authorized dealer of Nike products.
Senor estomago started hurting overnight. Felt quite bad in the morning. Most the morning was spent in bed. (It's about 2pm now and it's feeling bad again.) I'll have to wait 'til tomorrow for a bike ride around the countryside. Laid in bed some more during the afternoon then went out for dinner with a Chinese girl, Lily, who was in the dorm with me. She's actually a tour guide in the area so knows where to go, and it's always nice to have someone along who speaks the language. We took a stroll around town in the evening then back to the dorm to meet all the new roommates (a Taiwan couple, an Israeli girl and English guy).
I felt quite a bit better the next morning (still not 100%) and rented a bike. I rode out past the village of Fuli checking out the scenery on the way. Some nice rice patties with mountains in the background for pics. Headed back towards town then south to Moon Hill (it's an arch in the rock) where I ran into Lily and her tour group. Had lunch with them at a local's house. The Italians made the mistake of telling the Israeli girl their point of view on Israel. I stayed out of that. After lunch, I went back to Moon Hill and hiked up it. Biked around some back roads by villages and more rice patties. Very pretty all over. Was getting a bit tired so headed back to town for shower and rest. Met up with Lily for dinner and we had the local specialty of "beer fish". It was good and a bit spicy. Was a big fish so too much for us to finish. We went back to the shopping street and Lily helped me get good deals on a t-shirt and painted scroll. She'd go in first and bargain with the guys then tell me the best price I could get. Kind of like cheating when you have a local to help you out. :)

I'm missing my iPod and all the new music I had on there - Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, Scissor Sisters, The Killers, new Feeder, Snow Patrol, Delgados, etc... At least some of it's still in my head.

I was up bright and early (Aug 15) to get the tour bus up to the Longshen area. Arrived at the travel agent's store at 7am...waited...another guy showed up...the bus made it about 7:40am but we didn't leave 'til 8am. We drove through Guilin to the rice patty areas around Longshen - also known as The Dragon's Backbone. It was 12:30pm by the time we arrived. Hiked up many stairs through a village to a restaurant where we had to have a one hour lunch break (they like to force you to have these lunch breaks on tours). After lunch a local woman took us on a walk through the hills and rice patties. It was only about an hour of walking so not much time to check out the scenery (the travel agent had said 5 hours to explore the area).

We left at 3:30pm for the drive back. The travel agent had assured me we'd be in Guilin before 6pm and had arranged for a guy named Jack to meet me and get me on my onward bus. The bus didn't get me to Guilin 'til past 6:30pm. I called Jack and the *&#@! said it was my fault I was late and he was busy at the bus station so to meet him in the a/c waiting room there. It wasn't too far a walk to the bus station and I went to the a/c waiting room - no Jack. Walked around by the buses and checked if I could exchange my travel agent ticket for a real bus ticket - no luck. My bus was supposed to leave at 7pm so as I sat in the waiting room a bit after 7pm I thought I was outta luck. Jack found me about 7:10pm and tells me I'm late (despite my being there 20 min looking for him). He gets me on the bus where I get to sit about 40min before it leaves. Buses here kinda suck in that as they leave town they go really slow trying to pick up more passengers. It can take an hour just to get out of the city. I didn't have time to eat dinner so just munched on some Pringles* and Ritz cheesey crackers (* Pringles seem to be one of the most widely distributed foods next to Coke and Pepsi. I see them everywhere.) We got a short break around 11pm then continued on. It was a sleeper bus so at least I got to lay down but it was hard as the guy drives crazy (so you slide back and forth).

I digress...driving in China is as crazy as the rest of Asia. Lots of honking, passing around blind corners, trying to run over pedestrians, etc... What's odd is that they'll honk like mad just going down the road, but when people run red lights or block the intersection they don't honk at all (it's like that they expect but normal traffic they don't).

I was up around 6:30am and the bus was mostly empty by this point. We arrived somewhere around 8am. The bus was supposed to take me all the way to Changde but I had to switch to another bus (and pay more) to get to Changde. Once there at the bus station I was put on a local bus to take me to another bus station. Got what I thought was the bus to Zhangjiajie. All this time there isn't a person around that speaks English and it's just me pointing at the names in my book to try and get where I want to go plus the help of the people on the bus switching me to the next bus. An hour later we arrive in what I think is Zhangjiajie [city] and a girl from the bus gets me on another bus to Zhangjiajie (what I think is the nearby village of the same name). About three hours later we arrive in Zhangjiajie City so I have no idea where I was previously. At that bus station a woman helps me out to get the bus to Zhangjiajie Village. She actually rides on the bus with me...which concerns me as to why. 21 hours later I arrive at my destination (even longer if you count the bus ride from Longshen to Guilin) it's like 4pm. The lady follows me to the hotel and helps me get a good deal, though I'm wondering if she got a commission of any sort. It's bad that I'm so suspicious of people who are helping me out but you kinda have to be so you don't get ripped off.

I came to Zhangjiajie because LP describes the area as "mountains have gradually eroded to form a spectacular landscape of craggy peaks and huge rock columns rising out of the luxuriant subtropical forest". There's a park right next to the village and you can see the towering peaks from there.

So after countless hours on several buses what did I go and do? I hiked up 3878 freakin' steps to a viewpoint (Huangshizhai). I started just walking along some steps and kept seeing good views and continued on. It wasn't 'til quite a ways into it that I realized I was going to the top. The views were really good and I was going to ride the cableway down but the ticket office had just closed. Yap, got to walk the 3878 steps back down too. Oy, I was tired. Back to the hotel for a shower then to try and find someplace to eat. At 8pm a lot of the town was already shut down. I found a few stalls selling food and went there. It's nice being able to point at what you want when you can't speak the language. I just had some stir-fried noodles. A Chinese guy came up to me just as I finished eating and asked if I'd join him and his friends at his table. So I went over and chatted with them, though only one spoke English. Again, I was a bit paranoid and untrusting when he'd ask questions like "where are you staying". They were just a bunch of college students wanting to talk to a foreigner though. At one point I mentioned something about the Li Jiang river to them and they didn't understand what I was saying. They huddled together for a bit then realized what I meant - apparently I said the "lee" part of Li Jiang without quite the right tone. Geesh!
The entrance fee for the park was $30 for two days so I figured I better get my money's worth. Went back and hiked all around. I went on the path(s) less travelled. Hiked up and up for some good panorama views and was the only one around. There were mosquitoes nearly the entire way so that I had to constantly swipe my hand in front of my face (the insect repellant obviously wasn't working). Headed down and realized how poor the traction is on my shoes. Made it back to the main trail that was flooded with Chinese tourists (they come in tour groups). Though I spotted a westerner! I felt like pointing and shouting (like the Chinese sometimes do). There were other places in the park I would've liked to go to (cave, waterfalls) but that would've required transport. Not speaking or reading Chinese kinda prevented that from happening. Had a long walk back to town and rested for a while before going out to the food stalls again. I got to draw a picture of a pig to get some pork to go with my fried noodles. There's not much to do in this small town so back to the i-net cafe.

Being in areas with hiking and warm weather, I've noticed the Chinese men like to lift their shirts up to show their bellies. The bigger the belly the more they like to show it off. I guess it's a way of airing it out. Many guys just take their shirts off entirely. I think any attempt by me to get the women to do the same would land me in a Chinese prison.

Had another fun day of transport. Caught the bus from Ziangjiajie Village to the city then a local bus to the train station. Got my ticket for the train and waited a while as it was an hour late. It's nice in the waiting room as there are people smoking right below the "no smoking" sign. A few arguments and near fights seemed to break out too (and it was always women). The people all queue up at gates for the train but once the gates are open it's like a stampede. People push and shove each other and squish their way through the gates. I just let them go mad and waited 'til it wasn't quite so bad. But the cost of waiting was that I didn't get a seat and had to stand for the first couple hours of the train ride. Not so comfortable as people were constantly going past and ladies with carts selling stuff would try to run me over. Again, I was the only westerner around so got plenty of stares. The hard seat area of the train I was in wasn't the nicest - people would throw their rubbish on the floor, spit, smoke, etc. Until now I thought the Chinese weren't so bad about littering, then I saw them throwing rubbish out the windows of the train (lots of rubbish). The trip was a bit better once I got a seat but still seemed long and arduous. My travel spirit is growing weary of these unpleasant trips. Made it to Yichang about 6:30pm and walked a ways near to the river and got a good deal on a hotel room. I'm hoping to do a boat tour of the Three Gorges area but will have to be up bright n' early to check on those.

I guess I should explain why I wanted to see the Three Gorges area. For one, it's supposed to be pretty. Also the Chinese government is building a huge dam a bit upstream from Yichang. It's very controversial as it will flood a huge area. A couple million people have to be relocated and there are numerous environmental concerns (one being that the water will be more stagnant and could turn septic). The dam will be used to generate hydroelectric power and the river will become more easily navigatable so that cargo ships can go much further inland. The government is hoping this will help the economies of more inland cities along the river.
Anyways, I got up bright and early to check on boat tours of the Yangtze River. Not much was open at 6:30am (I thought I saw signs for boats leaving at 7am). A bit later I talked with a travel agent about boat trips and he said I could take a 24 hour ferry ride to Chongqing or a 3 day tourist boat. Only when he said the "three day" tourist boat he said it would arrive on a date which was four days later. From the travelers I talked to in Yangshou, none seemed to think the trip was great and said they were on boats full of smoking Chinese so it didn't sound all that pleasant. I opted for the fast hydrofoil - I'd get to see the Three Gorges but would miss out on side-trips along the way. Oh well. Right away I was put onto a bus which took me to another bus. I waited on that past the scheduled departure time of the hydrofoil then the bus eventually left and took us by the Three Gorges Dam and to the hydrofoil dock (though all during the bus ride I was wondering where it was it was going since my ticket said I was on the 9:40am boat and we didn't arrive 'til 11am). The hydrofoil ride to Wanzhou lasted 6 hours and I spent a lot of that time by the open doorway to get pictures. It was nice and cool there. We stopped at a few cities along the way. Places I thought were just going to be little towns judging by the lack of info in LP about them and that the dot on the map was small - turns out they were all big. I'm beginning to realize all cities in China are big...and ugly. Most are just masses of concrete with little aesthetic appeal. The gorges themselves were scenic. Nothing spectacular but it was a good ride.

From Wanzhou I caught a bus to Chongqing. I was considering the idea of continuing on to Chengdu from where I could ride a bus north to what's supposed to be incredible alpine scenery, but the bus ride up there and back is 12 hours each way. I'm tired of long bus rides. So I just stayed in Chongqing. Probably never heard of it, eh? It's population is close to 6 million - that'd make it the second largest city in the U.S. by population. I got a taxi from where the bus dropped me off towards town, only the guy couldn't figure out what I was saying and couldn't read the LP map so just dropped me at the Hilton. Thanks. Got another cab that took me to the proper area (he understood me!). The hotel recommended by LP claimed not to have dorms and told me to check down the street. Went down the street in the drizzly rain and couldn't find any cheap hotel so just went back. Paid more than I wanted to ($20) but I was freakin' tired and didn't feel like wandering in the rain. By the time I got out for dinner, it was 10:30pm so most everything was closed. Luckily the noodle stands stay open late.

The Chinese seem to be embracing consumerism wholeheartedly. There are new shopping malls with fancy stores, lots of markets and plenty of teens with the latest mobile phone and MP3 gadgets. With over 1 billion people, it's no wonder the American corporations can't wait for the opportunity to sell their wares here. Luckily there still isn't a Starbucks or McDonald's on every block....yet.

Rainy, rainy, rainy the next day in Chongqing too. I asked at my hotel's travel center about booking a flight to Xi'an and they told me there were no flights to Xi'an that day. Incompetent fools, even I knew better. I tried out the brand new metro system to get me out to the airline's office. At the metro station, I had like 5 workers around me helping me figure out what station to get off at. Can't say the Chinese aren't helpful. I was able to book a flight to Xi'an for later that afternoon from the airline's office. Went back to the area around my hotel and looked all over for an i-net cafe...couldn't find one (might be not being able to read the Chinese signs is the problem). I found a supermarket to stock up on snackies though! Got the bus out to the shiny, new airport and rode in a prop-plane to Xi'an.

The Xi'an airport is about 40km outside the city and I rode the shuttle bus into town. Got dropped off what looked like not too far a walk on my LP map, but it turned out to be quite a ways. Seemed like just about everyone on the street leading to the hostel was staring at me. Having been the only westerner around for the last several days, I was wanting to meet other people I could actually have a conversation with. LP said the hostel is a good place to meet other travelers and that the nearby cafes were also good for chatting with travelers. The hostel was empty besides myself, as far as I could tell. Only the owners and their families at the cafes. Stuck with just me again. :(
Slept in a bit then caught the bus into the central part of the city. Visited some pagodas and a history museum of the province. They had all kinds of artifacts from the various dynasties. The Ming dynasty really isn't that old considering how many others there were previous to it. I'm going to be less impressed when someone tells me they have a Ming vase. The Dayan Ta pagoda has a water fountain out front that did a little show set to music. Lots of people were out to watch that. By the Bell Tower in the city center I discovered why my hostel is empty - there's a new one right here (my hostel is a bit out of town). D'oh! I should've done more checking online. There were lots of people out flying kites by the Bell Tower. I found a street with a bunch of restaurants and kind of a street market. Had a way-too-spicy chicken and noodles dinner (and it was a huge platter). There was even a chicken's foot in it. (Chinese food is often spicy, which surprised me based on what we have in the U.S.) Back to the hostel with no life for an early night to bed.
Got to sleep in a bit then went out to see the TerraCotta Warriors. They were discovered in 1974 and excavated since then. They date from the Qin Dynasty (about 700 B.C.). They were put nearby the burial place of one of the emperors to be his honor guard in the afterlife. They're quite impressive considering how old they are. And the sheer numbers of them is amazing. I wasn't allowed to go down and knock them about though. (Bill Clinton got his picture amongst 'em, why can't I?!?) Got to waste time around town before my overnight train to Pingyao.

The train was late, as usual. Sleeping in the hard sleeper area isn't nearly as nice as the soft sleeper. There are six bunks to a compartment in hard sleeper and it's open (no door) so you get to listen to everyone around you and have people walking by. And, of course, get to breathe in the second-hand smoke. I woke up in the morning with a stuffy nose (cold). No one working on the train would tell me when the train would arrive in Pingyao. It made it in around 9:30am. Got a ride into the old city and found a place to stay. The old city is classic Chinese and is very picturesque.

There's a wall around the city with some cool guard towers. I just wandered around [in the rain] getting pictures of whatever looked neat. There are several museums and temples here that charge about $4 each but I was too cheap to pay for any. As the day progressed, my cold got worse and worse and showed more symptoms of the flu (fever, aches, all cold symptoms). I was feeling rotten by dinner time. I had a fitful night of sleeping waking up about every hour.

Felt rather awful in the morning, but made it to the bus station and caught a bus to Wutai Shan. Same old, same old, the bus slowly made its way around town filling up with people before leaving. The SARS / bird flu was kicking in and my fever was high. I just laid against the glass and tried to rest. About three hours into the trip, they shuffled me onto another bus and I forgot my reading book (and Audrey Hepburn bookmark!!!) on the bus. :( This bus sat around about 20min then they put me on an almost full bus right next to it (gotta love not being able to understand what's going on). This one left fairly soon after I got on and we made our way to Wutai Shan. The trip should've taken about 6 hours had everything gone smooth, but it was more like 9 hours. Of course, it was raining when I arrived. Found a hotel recommended by was ok. I just put my stuff down and crashed for a couple hours. Did a brief wander around town then had a 50 cent dinner at the noodle stands (can't beat that!). Some old Chinese people sat next to me and were talking to me in Chinese. They don't seem to get that I don't speak their language. Went to bed early after flipping through strange Chinese tv programs. Understanding the language would probably help. There seem to be quite a few old dynasty-era kung fu soap operas. Once commercials start, they go on and on (and I thought American tv was bad).
Had almost 12 hours of sleep. Wutai Shan is a sacred Buddhist mountain area with lots and lots of temples. People come here on pilgrimages and there are lots of monks around.

It was clear and sunny in the morning so I took the chairlift up to Dailuo Peak (my energy level was too low to hike up). Good views from up there then hiked back down. Made my way to another temple I don't know the name of a bit up the road (it had a big, white pagoda). Stopped in at a small market for some snacky cakes. I found a brand that seemed marketed directly to me. Here's its info on the packaging - "We like the new taste. We need the quality. And we need the best food. Here you will find what you want. Cool fashion need cool taste. You are the new man. How delicious can not forget. Return the turn falvour." Damn, I am the new man! How'd they know!?! Anyway, I was already tired so went back to the hotel and took a 3 hour nap. Went around to several other temples around town. There's a saying that all temples look the same. It's not exactly true, but most Buddhist temples are very similar in design. So it's not too exciting seeing temple after temple. Rested a bit more before another dinner at the noodle stands. This time I had a little kid squat and pee right next to me. Nice. Not too many of the kids wear diapers - they just have slits in the front and back of their trousers so they can go whenever nature calls. I'd be reluctact to pick up my kid if I was a parent here. On my way back to the hotel, it started to downpour. I took shelter for about 10 minutes but it was showing no sign of letting up so I made a run for it. The roads were like rivers of feet were soaked. Got back to the hotel dripping wet and dried myself off before another [kinda] early night to bed. There was a wicked thunderstorm along with the downpour. The thunder was so loud car alarms were going off.

Up freakin' early to catch a 6:30am bus to Datong. Only it doesn't leave 'til around 7:30am (patrolling the streets for more passengers again). Still have a bit of a fever but am feeling slightly better. I've had all the cold symptoms at once the last few days which wipes me out. The cough was extra bad today. Get into Datong around noon and I go to the train station and book an overnight soft sleeper (yah!) for Beijing. It doesn't leave 'til midnight though so I have lots of time to waste. I stopped off here to visit the Cloud Ridge Caves so that's what I did next. Got a bus out there and got in with a student discount (that ID from Bangkok is paying off!). Some of the carvings are over 1500 years old. Some have been withered by erosion but others are in really good shape. Quite impressive.

Caught another bus back to town and wandered around the city a bit ('cuz I got dropped off far from the train station). There was a cute little girl who was waving to me as her mom peddled past on the bike. When her mom stopped, the kid got off the back of the bike and ran over and waved to me with a big smile. Kids can be cute when they're not screaming and throwing fits. Had another dinner of noodles. I'm tiring of noodles and rice...they don't do enough for the 'ol tummy. Need something more substantial. Unfortunately, I can't read the menus at most the restaurants. The overnight train trip wasn't too bad - was conked out soon after getting onboard.

The overnight train arrived in Beijing about 7am (an hour earlier than I thought). Got a taxi to my hostel and dropped my stuff off. It was too early to check-in (and rest), so I went off and about to explore a bit. Found that when you go to the Drum Tower and Bell Tower early enough, you can get in for free. :) Did a long, long walk to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Just looked around a bit then took the metro back near to my hostel - near being a 20min walk (on the map it looks close, but distances are far here). I was well tuckered out so got in an afternoon nap. Went out in the evening to the Oriental Plaza to find some food to satiate the 'ol belly (it gets to feeling sick when it's too hungry). Walked back by Tiananmen Sq and the Forbidden City for night pics and realized it's a really freakin' long walk from there to the hostel. Got my haircut that night for about 60cents. The lady pulled out her dictionary that had some barber phrases. She pointed at "a lot off the top" and "just a trimming"...I was worried a bit by a lot off the top so chose just a trimming.
Slept in which was much needed. Actually feeling like the flu is improving a bit today. Took the metro + bus out to the Summer Palace and walked around. The area it covers is HUGE. I didn't look inside the buildings too much as they weren't of much interest to me. Mainly just walked around the lake looking for good pictures. It was all hazy out (pollution?) so picture taking wasn't at its best. Back to the hostel to chillout, rest and early bedtime.
Eventually got myself moving and out to the Temple of Heaven. Unfortunately, it (and many other sights) is under renovation in preparation for the 2008 Olympics. So there's scaffolding all over it and the area around it is closed. Not good for pictures. Kind of a waste going there when it's in that state. Off to The Forbidden City next. The past emperors would be having fits if they saw all the tourists shuffling around their once sacred turf. And there's even a Starbucks inside! The FC is also HUGE, but honestly that's the only impressive thing about it. It's comprised of many, many different buildings none of which I found awe-inspriring. Most all of them have a similar design and style so that seeing building after building that look the same isn't too exciting. If Iwere emperor, I'd definately be adding some uniqueness to the place (and more concubines). Left there and checked out a couple places for books (since I lost mine) and cheesey souvenirs but either didn't find anything good or it was too expensive (like the Mao Zedong alarm clock with waving arm - $25).
Woke up bright and early to catch a shuttle bus to the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall (about 3 hours from Beijing). A group of us hiked the 9km up and down from there to the Simatai section being pursued by women trying to sell us stuff the entire way. It was freakin' hot out too so we were all gross and sweaty. I nearly forgot to get Spanky's picture 'til the very end so had to do a few different shots to ensure one came out ok.

The bus ride back to Beijing was long and stinky. Had dinner and wandered the trendy area around the nearby lake.

I was up before 5am to get ready and catch a taxi to the airport. Oy, that's early! That's all so I can wait around at the airport over an hour, fly to Hong Kong then get to wait there 5 hours for my next flight. Joy. All in all, it'll be over 24 hours at airports or in the air.

The language barrier, transport and the food made China one of the more difficult countries for me. Never before had I been somewhere where so few people speak English (and few signs in English too). That definately made everything so much more difficult. They were very friendly and helpful when I needed it though. The Chinese have quite a few bad habits. I certainly won't miss listening to people suck up phlegm in their throats and spit it out (at least 50 times a day). Makes me appreciate the relatively good social etiquette of the Americans. China has some amazing scenery to see throughout the country, not to mention a few thousand years of history and culture. If I make it back, I'd like to see the Jiuzhagou alpine area and of course Tibet.

This wraps up the Asia leg of my trip. Seems like forever ago that I was in India. I've got to see some very interesting countries, experience great cultures, had a root canal and eye surgery, caught up on some movies while in Bangkok, drank some amazing fresh fruit shakes, had more than enough of being harassed by the touts, laid in the sun on some exotic beaches and even hiked around in the world's oldest rainforest. Traveling through Cambodia and Vietnam with the Brits was certainly a highlight as was tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos. And helping out on Koh Phi Phi was rewarding. Quite a fulfilling 4 months, I suppose. Still beats working! ;)

I'm going to need to start practicing my Spanish for The Americas:
mi mono necesita mas tequila.
mi mono esta muy boracho.
a las senoritas les encanta Spanky.

Costa Rica and South America are coming up!!!

"It seems an age since I've seen you
Countdown as the weeks trickle into days
I hope that time hasn't changed you
All I really want is for you to stay"
- Powderfinger, my happiness


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