Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Halong Bay

Our hotel provided tours to Halong Bay (a UNESCO world heritage site). A bay. That meant water. That meant a swum. Huzzah!
The journey out to the bay was by a mostly air-conditioned mini-bus, going along at a most moderate pace. It's quite something to be in a vehice with a large engine, on the motorway, and be passed by scooters let me tell you. Making the obligatory stop for "toilet needs" aka "buy these souvenirs", we clambered out of the mini-bus and realised how stinking hot it really was. C'mon the Bay!

Arriving at the marina, we were greeted by the sight of many an old junket both unloading passengers and preparing for the new. Ah, what cramped chaos! However with very little ado we were pointed in the direction of a particularly glorious ship and left to our own devices.
Shortly after departure, a delightful luncheon was served. Rice abounded with the odd veg and a sumptuous steamed fish. What better way to start the expedition, bellies full, faces beaming, witty conversation, eager expection.
First stop on the exploration of the Bay was a cave. A big cave. Apparently quite famous and well visited and well loved. I'm a cave snob. I expect caves to be dark and gloomy and well... a bit scary. This one was lit up with pretty colours. Visitors were thoughtfully catered for with a cobbled path to follow, complete with stairs and safety railing. To my oh-so-cynical eye the rocks beside said path looked suspiciously like concrete. And as it was beer o'clock we informed our wee guide that we were heading back to our wooden ship and would wait for him and the rest of our group there. Leave it to the Maori and the Irish to mutiny for drink!
We got back to the mini-marina near the cave only to discover that our junket had made way for others and was now too far to sensibly leap onboard. Enterprising as we Maori and Irish are (or is it that we just enjoy shinnanigans?), we spotted that our ship was accesible via two others. Not observing any kind of nautical ettiquette, we baorded the first ship, informed the staff we were just passing through, and clambered over his and the next boat to get to ours. The staff on our boat were most surprised to see us and panicked. They thought that they had buggered up and our group was back early. We tried to explain, but it was lost in translation, so we settled down to cold beers and awaited the arrival of the intrepid cave explorers.
The rest of the day was passed with more cold beers and whining about the lack of a swim (a la kids in cars- "are we there yet?").
Finally we arrived at the designated swimming area. And in true maori style we were the first in and the last out. The young fulla managing to educate everyone on the value of knowing where he is before he decides to bomb off the top level of the boat. The Vietnamese loved it though and tried abismally to get him back more than once. The Aussie was full of admiration for technique and the landlocked Europeans had never seen anything like it and took many a photo. With dinner and sunset approaching we were asked to get out and have a shower. Yeah we couldn't believe it either and chose to ignore the advice. That was until a dastardly jellyfish decided to join the party. With little fanfare he/she/it wrapped my wrist with its tentacles and left wonderfully round welts to remind me of its passing. Bugger!
So we boarded, had a lovely dinner and watched a colourful sunset. A most glorious ending to the day!

The Old Quarter

Hello Hanoi!
It was an eleven hour journey in a train with quaint wooden seats circa 1930. The "air conditioning" was from the same era- antiquated metal fans that kept breaking down and provided little or no respite from the heat. But the seats were so cool! I felt all I needed was some long beads and a wee hat, a constricting brazier and a fluttering fan to totally fit the 30's feel about the place. Wonderful!
We made the acquaintance of an Irish couple and passed the time playing cards and bargaining with the hawkers. One wee thing (hawker) was named Nga. She looked all of 14 or 15 years old and did her best to rid us of our money. We did end up with a whole lot of water and a whole lot of laughs. It was a great introduction to Vietnamese people. Lots of laughing and haggling. We ended up selling them (Nga and company) boxes of Pringles and fake Pringles. They thought it was great! They were buying things off us and the Irish. And the buggers had the cheek to try and haggle us! By gum!
We bade farewell to Nga and company halfway to Hanoi. Unfortunately with them left the laughing hawkers aswell. The next lot were by comparison quite a surly bunch.
So arriving in Hanoi at 2130 (ish) with no where to stay and no idea where to go was quite an adventure. Me being a stingy bugger, made our company take a moto (motobike taxi) to the hotel the Irish were staying in. We were overcharged (big surprise) but the Irish were extorted. What should have cost them 20,000 dong (USD1.50 approx) and taken 5 minutes, cost them 70,000 dong and took 15 minutes. Beware, beware, beware!
You will always find a bed in Hanoi though. There are hotels EVERYWHERE. So we stayed in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Pretty cool place. Loads of shops, loads of traffic, loads of people. Good cheap food and beer.
Starting to need a swum though...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Good Morning Vietnam!

Yes probably a well overused phrase by now but by pure chance it was morning when we crossed into Vietnam.
Getting from Kunming to the border town was a quick jaunt down bumpy country roads in a mini bus. Having been mislead due to the whole "lost in translation" thingy, we arrived a full 10 hours before we had expected to. And it was stinking hot. Having absolutely no idea where anything was, we were very grateful to an enterprising fellow who offered to give us a hand. Finding a hotel, sorting out train tickets and changing our RMB (Chinese money) to Dong (Vietnamese currency). Of course we knew he was making money off every transaction but it wasn't til we got to the train station the following morning that we realised exactly how much. He had charged us more than ten times the worth of the train tickets! But at the end of the day, we had tickets and no headaches so it was a small price to pay.
Leaving China proved to be just as difficult as entering. After an extended look at our passports the official asked us to "wait a moment". And he disappeared. When he came back he asked us to "please take a seat and wait a moment". So we waited. And joked about being taken into separate rooms and questioned. Alas it was no big deal. We were asked back to the desk and processed pretty quickly. Sigh...
Getting from the border to the train station in Lao Cai means a taxi ride. Or a motocycle ride. Motocycles are cheaper so we took two of them. Bloody good fun! Our packs on our backs, these poor buggers navigating through the chaotic traffic, it was quite a sight to see. And believe me loads of locals were laughing their heads off at the spectacle.
A wonderful introduction to Vietnam!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

China: Dangers & Annoyances

Aha! I hear some exclaim so China is not that safe. But this is not that kind of post.

The biggest annoyance here is the hawker phenomenon. In the big cities or at any major tourist site there they are. In abundance. With many different hooks to try to catch you. In Tianamen Sqaure, the most notorious are the "art students". They just want to "practice" their English whilst explaining their artwork. They are very convincing, but their ultimate goal is to get you to buy something.
On the wall its the "guides". You don't ask for them but they accompany you regardless. Appearing sporadically are "water bearers" selling many things besides. When the guides part company they explain their situation- farmers with little or no income and its a long walk back etc, etc. If possible enjoy their company and make them work for their money. At the end of the day its only a couple of USD so its no big sacrifice.

Now the biggest danger here comes to those of you who decide to cycle. Caution: beware of the traffic. Its incredible! Seamless chaos or insanity can best describe it. Constant beeping, disobeying road signs, all in a days travel on the road here. Occasionally you may want to pass a bus or other vehicle bigger than you. The danger is not because of the size. Its because of what may hit you as you pass by said vehicle. Yes, chances are as you pass by a bus (or similarly larger vehicle) you may be hit by errant spittle. People evacuate excessive mucus via open vehicular windows on a most regular basis. Eeewwwww!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Market Galore!

Arrival in Kunming was by an oh-so-quick and most relaxing plane trip. Yep a splurge was in order if we were to leave Chengdu before the end of this week. So a 5am wake up call and four hours later saw us wandering around Kunming airport looking for a bus to get us to our hostel.
Luggage stowed and fare paid we were on our way. Happily discovering even at this hour that Kunming at a balmy 19 degrees was simply heavenly compared to its northern neighbours. Vehicle generated breeze wafting through our hair, car and bus horns performing the "Kunming Opus", and vocal locals supplying lyrics for our introduction to a southern city Sunday morning, what fun! There was already a lot of hustle and bustle happening on the streets although the hour was still young.
Wandering the streets here, you notice that the people are more friendly than their northern counterparts. Better looking too. Well now, you gotta admire the scenery every now and then! My mate is quite happy too, the women are more "blessed" here than previously visited parts of Asia... bean salad
Along with the friendliness and the good looks, there is an absolute plethera of markets! Its fantastic! There are food markets, flower markets, meat markets (fair dinkum ones, not the ones you find in dodgy bars or clubs), clothes markets and of course this being China, tea is everywhere. Your senses are assaulted from all angles and your good sense aswell. One wander through the markets or a look at food preparation here immediately brings the dubious hygiene habits of some Chinese restaurants back home into perspective. Stall operators don't hassle you as you wander past either. For once they are actually more concerned with bonafide Chinese customers buying their wares and you are just an amusing diversion. Marvellous!

Friday, July 14, 2006


Now I've never really ever been First to do anything, so this I shall savour...
Currently we are staying at a great little Chengdu hostel- Sims Cozy Guesthouse- really friendly and an awesome little place. Maki (the Japanese wife of the couple who run it) has been to NZ. She asked the young fulla if he was Maori. After receiving confirmation in the affirmative, she said she knew. And we (he) are (is) the first maori to come here!!!! Wo-hoo! Glory-be! Hallelujah!
I know its only a small thing, but you know simple minds and all that...

Musical first: They had traditional Chinese music here tonight which was pretty cool. Its actually quite soothing when its played well. The girls looked really cool in their get-up aswell. There was a typical Sichuan (the province we are in) BBQ, but it looked pretty ho-hum. Lots of stuff on sticks tho'- they have lots of food on sticks here- its fantastic!!

And along the lines of "Phirsts", this is the first time in my life (that I can remember) where there has been an absolute excess of mucus. Disgusting I know but its a fact. I am beginning to understand why the populous spends a great deal of time hocking up there lungs. Personally I reckon its the damn pollution and the body is trying its best to not let all that "ickiness" into itself. Sim (the Singaporean half of the couple that run the hostel) says its 'cos of the heat. Perhaps. His recommendation was green tea. Break down the offending green gobules and fix you right up he reckons. I believe him but couldn't be arsed giving it a go. Our next stop is Kunming which is at slighter higher altitude and promises more of a temperate climate.
Fingers crossed...

Its a Panda affair!

Pandas, Pandas, Pandas!
The other day (yes time is blending and I currently have no idea what day of the week it is) saw us up bright and early to go and see some pandas!! Wo-hoo! And when I say early, I mean EARLY. Up by six and out the door by 0715- criminal offence when you're on holiday I reckon!- we were on our way. Already very humid by this time, we were sweating buckets by the time we got to the research centre. Yes its a very big place called Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Centre where you get to see pandas in their "natural" habitat. Its pretty cool, but due to the heat (at least that's what we reckon) the rolly-polly bears were not very active. It was their feeding time which according to all "sources" is their most active time. That day however, I think they just preferred to keep as still as possible so as not to overheat. Can't say I blamed them either. It were stinking hot!
We saw a few having a bit of a play round, one fulla was having a bit of an itch, a couple of them were giving us a wee snore, but for the most part they were just hanging out.
The little red pandas though gave us a bit more movement. One fulla had a bit of a stretch, a bit of a scratch and a bit of a yawn. However the most active one (must have been a female) was getting in there and having a good ol' feed. Hurrah! Movement!
Triumph was to be short lived. The heavens decided to dump their entire contents upon us. While at first it was refreshing, realising you don't know how long it'll take to get back home in soaking wet clothes, we made for cover along with everyone else it seemed. Sheltering from the rain we took in the film about the average pandas life in the centre. Birth, dating, mating, food etc. Up close and personal on the big screen is a bit too graphic really for a rainy afternoon.
With a break in the weather we made a dash for it. Caught our little rickety bus and headed back to the hostel for a hot shower and a beer.
Feeling refreshed, we settled down to our beer in the bar and a night of relaxation.

Holidays rule!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Come along 'n ride...

... this fantastic voyage...

Yep, there are two other ways to train travel in China- possibly where you get to see the "real" China. The "soft seat" and the "hard seat". From Xian to Chengdu we chose the former as you get an actual seat, the latter is a matter of ambushing the seats of departing passengers. Quite a sight to see grown men fighting over a space the size of a cinema seat! (This option is obviously way cheaper than the sleepers). However, sixteen hours is too long to spend sitting on your butt while people are spitting on the floor, throwing litter out the window, being crowded in by differing levels of stink and seeing the different manner in which parents/guardians feed or water their children. Some of which is disturbing to my much sheltered and naive eye. There are "No Spitting" and "No Smoking" signs but these appear not to be "rules" but more of a "general guideline". So like the "hard sleeper" it kind of has a marae feel (in terms of socializing) but is a lot more paru (dirty).
There is little or no AC in these carriages (in part perhaps due to the sheer amount of people on the train) so fans have been life-savers! A friend gifted us some Japanese fans for which we have been very grateful, but which the hawkers have been most disappointed to see.
Arriving in Chengdu at 0530 we had been told there would be a rep there to pick us up but due to the hour we were holding out little hope. So pessimistic! We quickly spotted the sign, were just as quickly accosted by another hostel's rep, and quickly lost our rep. Both the sign and the rep had disappeared!! A movement in the peripheral, and we had found him again! Hurrah! We caught up to him in time to hear a couple say "We didn't order a free pickup". Hello? Are you mad? It's FREE!! Well he couldn't understand it either, and assuming we were Chinese (as happens more often than not, especially for my mate) preceeded to berate their foolishness (in Chinese), we couldn't agree more! So he helped us with our gear and we sped to our hostel. In the breaking daylight the area looked quite old and majestic, there's a monestary close by, and even at that hour vendors were peddling their wares. Upon arriving at the hostel, we met the foolish couple who had paid for a taxi to get there. Yes we could hardly believe it either.
As the hostel was full and our room still occupied we had to crash in a recently vacated one. And crash we did.
Lights out. Night night. Sweet dreams.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A different Xian

The Muslim Quarter. A fantastic place! Lots of markets, lots of food, gorgeous old buildings and lots of hawkers. Simply Super! The highlight of our stay in Xian. The smells, both good and bad, the exploitation of children, quite an experience for a night. The exploitation falls into two categories: "cute and clean" vs "dirty and desperate". They sell flowers. The "cute 'n clean" lot have what look like fresh flowers. The others have withered remains and hang around for longer after you say "no". Although my heart goes out to these kids, I refuse to support their continued exploitation. After all they are only 4-6yrs old and only doing what they're told.
So we wandered through the markets full of little trinkets and many a dried fruit. Quite a colourful wee market it was. We passed an experienced foreign haggler who was doing an excellent job, much to the dismay of the stall operator. And a couple of not-so-experienced hagglers, much to the joy of the stall operator.
Feeling a bit peckish we headed into a "hotpot" restaurant. Bit of a boo-boo that one. We were told that these restaurants are usually real cheap. What people forgot to mention was "if you don't buy the extras". So of course I purchased the extras. What should have been a cheap meal ended up costing us a small fortune (relatively speaking) and we had spent half an hour melting beside the "hotpot".
Quite a busy night. But after the dinner, very happy to get back to air con.
Even the nights here are humid beyond everything previoulsy experienced!
By gum! Bring on the beach!!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


After heeding the warnings about the various tours to see the Terracotta Warriors we headed out there on our own. Its way out in the countryside. On the bus journey there you pass numerous shops that are selling full size replicas of the statues. Pretty much you see the museum on the way there due to these road-side shops. When you arrive at the museum drop off point, you are immediately pounced upon by "guides". Some are official, some are not. The non-official ones confidently explain there are no English translations and they speak excellent English etc, etc, etc. Of course at your dismissal of their services they then try to sell you stuff. Enterprising to the end.
At the bus drop off point there's a shuttle that can take you to the actual entrance to the museum. This way you avoid the hawkers along the footpath. And you avoid melting in the heat. Hindsight is always a wonderful thing. Yep we chose the melting human way.
After avoiding the guides, we entered the museum and relative relief in the "pits". Nice and cool in there. It was pretty impressive to see all of these statues standing to attention. Pity the poor buggers who had to haul all of these things here though. And what does it say about the Emperor? Slightly obsessive perhaps?
There are signs everywhere that say excavation is still in progress, yet the official photos from the past look suspiciously similar to what we saw. Progress must be very slow indeed. But in the smaller pits its really cool to see the reliefs of the wooden stuff that was there; chariot wheels, roof beams etc. The details on the statues are amazing as are the weapons. And considering this whole thing is a couple of thousand years old, the shear man power and technology involved is mind-boggling. Especially when I consider what my ancestors were doing two thousand years ago...
Impressive as it was, I wasn't as gob-smacked as I thought I would be. Perhaps in part 'cos I was hot 'n hoha, or perhaps 'cos the warriors on display are replicas. Age, fire and nature having reduced the original clay warriors to pieces over the years. Taking away that "X" factor for me. Appreciation of the artisans work and the slaves sheer fortitude can never be taken away. Even the Enperor's image of grandeur can be admired.

Impressive, yes. Would I go back? Hmmm...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Xian ho!

Making the move from Beijing to Xian can be easily done one of two ways; 1) the soft sleeper: a rather comfy non-smoking 4 person compartment, and 2) the hard sleeper: a not so comfy 6 person area with no privacy. Very similar to sleeping on a marae. Kids crying and screaming at all hours, people snoring, oldies (or in this country, everyone) hacking up their lungs, music blaring, people walking round bumping into things...
You get the picture. Only its happeining with 3 tiered bunks as opposed to mattresses side by side.
The soft sleeper is the better option for a better nights sleep on longer journeys. The hard sleeper is the poorer man's option (me) but offers a much more disturbed slumber. So thirteen hours after leaving Beijing we arrived in Xian. A drizzly day greeted us and at seven o'clock in the morning, it already seemed awfully warm.
Finding our hostel's rep was a bit of a mish, should've just followed all the other people with backpacks and we would've found him earlier! Arriving at our hostel we discovered the construction site out front- lovely early morning wake up call I imagine- and joy of all joys; a squat bloody toilet!! Not a big fan of these let me tell you.
However never mind the bladder, first order of the day- shower! The drizzle that was going on outside was probably a lot more than what was happening with the water in that shower. But I was clean and smelling much better than before so I was happy.
Next order of the day- haircut. Ever got a haircut in a foreign country where they usually spend all day in the salon? No? Well neither had I. Until now. All I wanted was a damn cut. Just a cut. Nothing else. Just cut it off!
Well! After I showed them the cut I wanted, and they spent ten minutes washing my hair and massaging my scalp, (and trying to get me to coulour my hair) they called the actual hairdresser over. At which point he promptly told me he couldn't give me the cut I wanted 'cos my hair wasn't straight enough. He needed to give it some "medicine" to make it smoother. This of course was going to triple the price of the hair cut. (All of this came via the very good English of the daughter of another customer) I told her to tell him to just cut it. She did and that was the last I saw of her. I don't think he (the hairdresser) was impressed with her sales pitch.
Anyway he chopped away at my hair in a very flamboyant fashion with his long fingernails and very silver scissors. I thought he was doing quite well, there was a good shape and the stlye seemed somewhat conservative but I was happy. He however, was not. I have a "cowlick". He was frustrated by this. He tried cutting away at it. He tried snipping away at it. He tried blowdrying it in a gentle manner. In the end he held my hair practically in the drier with a brush and got the desired effect- straight hair!! Meantime of course it was all I could do to not wet myself with laughter at the look on his face! Priceless! Next time they see a foreigner outside their shop I don't think they'll be quite so keen to open the door. All in all my haircut experience was a success- I got a good "do", I had a bit of a laugh, and got to experience a cut that took about as long as an average "cut 'n colour" would take. Marvelous! And for only roughly JPY300 (approx USD3)!
Ya just gotta love it!!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Peddling we will go...

Well never did get round to biking Beijing, but managed to do a peddling of sorts. On a lake.
Yep our last day in Beijing saw us take a peddle boat out onto the lake of "BeiHai Park". Very tranquil and picturesque. If you take away the smog that was shrouding everything and the crazy guys in their speedboats. It was a very family affair. Lots of children out with parents and grandparents, piloting their peddle boats or their battery powered ones. Almost a Victorian atmosphere to the whole thing. All that was missing were the parasols and bonnets. The mandatory row boats were out in force aswell. Super!!
It is very easy to meander around the park. A gentle stroll around the lake is all that is needed to take you back in time. And for the ones looking for a bit more exercise and a bit of a view, a wee hike up the hill to the "White Pagoda" is all that is needed. On a beautiful clear day I'm sure the view is astounding. However today, the horizon was smog-filled and you could not see much past the end of an outstretched arm.
All in all though, it was a perfectly peaceful end to a wonderful few days in Beijing.

Ahhh... Bless!

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Greatest 10km of my life... (so far)

Oh dear God!
I did it! I bloody walked along the Great Wall of China! And today I have the shot archilles to prove it.
"It'll take 4hrs" they said. We had been warned that it was tough and in parts dangerous. But being typical kiwis we of course underestimated it. Thinking it would be a leisurely stroll along a crumbling ruin, I set out in high spirits. Of course when you have to rest on the stairs leading up to the wall, you begin to rethink exactly how leisurely this is all going to be. Now as most of the people who know me are aware, I don't exercise. At all. In fact you could almost say I am allergic to it. So huffing and puffing my way up the trail to get to the wall, I was lamenting my lack of affinity with anything requiring physical exersion.
We had 4 hours to complete 10km of tough up and down hiking. Relatively speaking tough I mean. No doubt for the fit buggers out there it was a leisurely stroll in the sunshine.
So we set a quick pace for ourselves, followed along by hawkers of course. At first they were just annoying as all hell but eventually they grew on us and we enjoyed their company. They didn't speak that much English, but made us laugh and gave us encouragement when needed.
It took 1hr 30mins to get half way. Hurrah!
We thought it would only get easier it all being downhill from now on. Alas, we were mistaken. Going down was harder than coming up. The going down bit was hardly restored at all so it was a case of constantly watching where you put your feet. After getting rid of the first two hawkers, we acquired two more. These two were not as much fun and much more agressive in their sales pitch. Eventually we did manage to get rid of them aswell and enjoyed a realtively more peaceful descent to the end.
Don't you just hate it when the end is in sight and you get that little extra burst of energy, only for it to be taken away when you see exactly how high that end is? Yes we had made it to the bit before the end. The end required an almost herculean effort and perserverance. When you are completely cream crackered after three and a half hours of the most exercise you have done in at least 3years, a 70 degree ascent seemed very cruel. But it was done. With little fanfare. And surprisingly willing legs. I almost wished for a catastrophe- a fantastic photo it would have made and a great story!

The Forboden Zone

Wednesday saw us head into the Forbidden City.
I was expecting (perhaps unrealistically in this day and age) everything to be "as it was". The smell of fresh paint in the air and bright red walls quickly put paid to that little fantasy. Fair dues, they are getting it ready for the Olympics but when everything looks so new it takes away from the character and charm of the place.
However, after my initial disappointment, faith was restored as we headed further into the heart of the City. You can smell the dust, the wood, the peeling paint is gorgeous, the faded upholestry wonderful. You can let your imagination fill in the blanks.
It is H U G E. And a bit like the Louvre- overwhelming. After seeing so many artifacts, and so many buildings (apparently all of which at one stage housed an emporer) it all starts to blend into one another. But there were plenty of places to rest and catch your breath or just to get out of the sun. When the Olympics come round, that place is gonna be inundated.
The hawkers abound here aswell. Selling maps, books and postcards of the Forbidden City. My favourite however was the Mao watch. I just couldn't pass that up! I'm pretty sure I got ripped off, but hey! It's a MAO watch! And he's waving at you quite happily from his little glass prison.
One thing you notice about Beijing is the shear size of the place. Tianemen Square is simply ginormous, and the roads are incredibly spacious. All of this gives you the impression that Beijing is no more populated than Auckland or Hiroshima. Quite obviously impossible! The only spaces here that "bustle" are the Hutongs. These are the more "traditional" parts of Beijing. Little inter-connecting alleyways with great little shops and stalls selling all kinds of wares. Children running about (or arguing about "fair share"), old codgers playing mahjong, handymen peddling their trade, community gatherings in the local communal outdoor gym. It all happens here. If you ever come to Beijing, get lost for a day in the Hutong, you won't regret it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

China the introduction

Our first introduction to Chinese-English was had on the plane with the chief cabin attendant. All we heard was "chinese, chinese, chinese, Pay Attention!" Well of course we sat up and paid attention but it appeared that that was the end of the English.
Upon arriving in Shanghai, it quickly dawned on us that in order to get any information or help at the airport we had to be in need of something from them. Asking for directions resulted in "down there" accompanied by a vague hand gesture and then followed up smartly with a "you go". After the bending-over-backwards customer service of Japan, this was an incredible "welcome to the rest of the world's customer service, you spoiled so-and-so's" rude awakening.
Chinese-English is not as polished as the Japanese I would say. I liken the Chinese-English to kids who want something NOW, and the Japanese-English to the chastened elder who is calmly waiting for the spoiled child to grow up.
Chinese itself sounds aggressive to the untrained ear. You can hear people having a discussion but from the tone and general vehenemence of the language you would swear someone had just been wronged by someone else.
All this gained from just one day in Shanghai and most of that in the train station. Yes we spent 5hrs escaping the sun, the smog, the beggars and the hawkers in the waiting lounge. Lazy perhaps, but when you are stink and tired the last thing you want to do is go exploring.
The train journey itself was uneventful. Managed to have a conversation in Japanese with a Chinese woman though, learnt some Chinese which was promptly forgotten.
And arrived in Beijing to discover the whole "Information" counter thing doesn't really exist here either. Walking out into the heat and smog saw us surrounded in no time by hawkers selling hotels. Too rich for our blood. We had bought a map of Beijing through some most bizzare hand signals which we later discovered were representative of a numerical amount, and were attempting to navigate our way to a hostel, which was in an unknown area. Some woman managed to sell us on a hostel so we plodded after her thinking that the price was a bit too much. She then palmed us off to a male companion (husband perhaps?) and we flatly refused to get into a taxi. Hoping the long walk would make him bugger off, we went into another, much cheaper hostel at which point he demanded payment for services rendered. Too tired and hot to care by this stage we paid him and went and had a wonderful shower.

Welcome to China...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Last minute mayhem

It seems the only thing that went right when departing Japan was being at the bus station on time on Sunday night! Man! From there it went pretty much downhill pretty quickly. Bloody fantastic!!
Upon arrival at the airport, there seemed to occur a number of brain exploisions. The first one being the lack of ability to read any signs- although they were in plain English. This resulted in us waiting at the wrong check in counter, and being shuffled along. When we eventually found the correct one (just next door- yes you read it right!) we were the first in line. Wo-hoo!! Once we were all checked in so began our mad dash to get some brekkie, change some money and cancel our cellfones. Begin as you mean to go on the say, and so began our "Keystone Cops" mini-adventure!

After changing the money (which took some time as the powers that be made sure 1) that we had the amount of yen on us that we were changing (hello? dah!!) and 2) that we were sure that we were changing the yen into the correct currency (again... hello? dah!)), we then proceeded to cancel the cellfones. Which we had been informed earlier couldn't be done until 10am although the shop opened at 9am- a note here: Vodafone is the only shop that opens at 9am, the others are all open by 830am- obviously we thought this was complete bollocks and so it turned out to be. The lovely lady cancelled our phones in 10mins and bid us adieu.

Did I forget to mention that we had to board our flight by 930am? And we still had not gone through immigration?

First I had to make it through the x-ray machine. Usually no big deal. Wrong. My bag was put through the machine twice. Someone was called over to scrutinise the images. They let it go. Wrong. A woman came hurtling towards me in a very Japanese panic (really very mild, almost like an agitated state for others) and asked if I had nail clippers in my bag. Well! Yep I did and had plum forgot about them. She asked politely to see them and explained under regulations blah, blah, blah. Yeah take them I said. Just let me get on my plane!!

So making our way down to the immigration counter we (not me) proceeded through with little fanfare. Not me. Upon my gaijin card being demanded back (ID card for all foreigners in Japan) I politely told her I had checked it. Stupid. She promptly picked up the phone and I was escorted to a room with other "undesirables". Of course I hadn't checked it I just wanted it as a souvenir. Stupid. It was in my wallet. Which I had misplaced. And couldn't find. Anywhere. Paying little attention to the officer, jumping to all the worst case scenarios possible, all of my belongings were being unceremoniously dumped on their table in a very cartoon-esque fashion. My main thought being making the flight, nothing else mattered. With absolute relief the offending item was retrieved and surrended to the very polite official, who then made me sign something (I don't know what) then pointed out that such-in-such was cancelled and blah, blah, blah... She then lead me through a door and let me go on my merry way. My mate was standing outside cracking up laughing. Yes it was a helluva joke apparently.

And still we are not finished...

Having JPY4000 to spend we decided to get some food and bits n bobs to spend all of our last yen. It was now 920am and we were nowhere near our departure gate. In a sort of a hurried amble we bought our goodies and boarded the shuttle tram thingy to the gate. There was a big line at what we assumed was our gate. Brain exploision. That whole reading signs thing again. It seemed our entire flight was on the plane. Except us. The ground staff appeared unconcerned at our tardiness, there was one more passenger behind us. As soon as we three were on board take off procedures began. But were just as quickly stopped. Rain I think. Something. I don't know. I woke up when we took off. About an hour later than scheduled.

It was over. Finished. Kaput. We had officially left Japan.


Saturday, July 01, 2006

Fare thee well

Last night was the farewell party. It was fantastic to see all the mates that had been made turning out for one last "Hurrah!".
I had some photos of mine on display which apparnetly met with approval from the masses. We had good food and a good time. Thanks to everyone who came. Thanks to Daishochu for all their help and patience with the biggest bunch of gaijin I think they've had patron their establishment.
Thanks to everyone who donated to the "Nikki is Poor" cause (airport tax etc.).
It was a great night with a bit of shinannigins and a whole bunch of alcohol. Resulting in a 7am taxi ride home. And a very hungover Saturday of doin nothing. Not even packing.
And now the holiday can begin in earnest!!

Are you jealous...?