The Land of the Rising Sun

The dilemma about a ten hour flight is how to fill the time. Despite the trip from Amsterdam to Tokyo being a red eye, it did not make a difference due to my disregard of sleeping in seats. I scrolled through the latest blockbusters on the seat’s monitor to see what movies would grab my attention. The stories and sequences end up blending into one blur of nonsensical narrative as time goes on.

Something in the TV show section caught my eye. The Game of Thrones season five box set. As luck would have it I had recently completed season four so now was the perfect time to have a binge session. I managed half of the season before attempting to get some rest.

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Jackie Chan

My neck hurt as I gazed up the skyscrapers that dwarfed my stature. Hong Kong was another magical city but had a Western feel to it after spending sixteen days on the mainland.  We were wandering around the city to find the tram to Victoria Peak where Felipe, Andy and me shared an amazing cake at the Bubba Gump restaurant. Earlier in my only full day of Hong Kong, Rob, Gina and I visited the the walk of the stars, China’s answer to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  I happily posed with my hands in Jackie Chan’s prints.

Jackie Chan!

Jackie Chan!

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The Village of Yangshuo

Arriving into Yangshuo was such a breath of fresh air. Beijing, Shanghai and Xian were all giant cities, full of millions of citizens and blanketed in pollution. This small town of a few thousand inhabitants had blue skies and astonishing limestone surroundings. Our hotel was modest and right near the riverbed, just a short walk away from the famous West Street, full of market stalls, restaurants and bars. It was truly a Chinese paradise and it was a shame I would only be here for three days.

my new pet

my new pet

Jade asked us to pick which activities we would like to do. All of us did the bike/bamboo ride that I mentioned in the previous blog. The majority of us also attended the night fishing event. We walked down some stairs from the street into darkness where a soft purring motorboat awaited us. It left it’s place in the harbour at a slow pace with no light on, on a mission to find a fisherman’s boat. Continue reading

Wild China

The next part of the trip involved going on a cruise on the Yangtze river. It was a herculean effort to get from Xian to Yangshuo that included two sleeper trains, one boat and numerous buses but the amount of beautiful scenery on the way made up for it. On one of the first buses we were on took a little detour into a wayside in the mountains. From there we hiked through bamboo and vegetation to reach a waterfall in the wilderness. After the giant cities and grey skies, it was the first real greenery I had seen in weeks and it was a welcome sight. Countryside

In the evening I boarded the cruise ship. Naively I thought it would be a boat full of chickens running loose and farmers with their livestock but I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was quite luxurious. It was early the next morning when Jade knocked on the door of me and Andy’s room to let us know we were approaching the first gorge. With the low mist moving across the river it was a fantastic sight. The boat slowly drifted through the ravine with cliffs on each side. Just like the Shanghai night cruise…it was bitterly cold. Continue reading

The Warriors of Xian

Xian is home to one of the man made wonders of world, the Terracotta Warriors. Only in the last century did a farmer come across a head of a statue buried in the ground. He ran away scared of this demon head, which turned out to be one of the greatest archaeological finds of recent history. The Terracotta were quite memorizing as there were hundreds of them lined up but each were all unique in height, weight and even facial expression. There was a funny story about the farmer who discovered the head of a warrior, who has since become a celebrity. Bill Clinton was coming over for a visit to China and  when going to Xian he wanted to meet the farmer. The farmer knew no English so learnt a few phrases like “how are you?” and to reply with “me too”. On meeting the former president, the  farmer accidentally said “who are you?”. Bill being the laid back guy that he is replied with “I am Hilary’s husband”. The farmer added, “me too”.

The Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army

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Shanghai Nights

Shanghai took my breath away. The futuristic look and feel of the city made it a popular destination for films such as Skyfall, Looper and Mission Impossible 3 (next time you watch them, watch out for the famous skyline). The first stop was to visit the Bund that looked remarkably European and modern while keeping its Chinese identity. It was even better when we went on the night cruise of the river where all the buildings were lit up in spectacular fashion. The beginning of the cruise was like a Chinese tourist convention with plenty of Chinese people taking five snaps a second. After marvelling over the beauty of the city I had to go downstairs into the warm room as I was freezing my chopsticks off. The other parts of the city were just as worth for a mention, especially the French concessions which was almost like stumbling into a small town in France.

The Bund

The Bund

After five days of constant walking I was far too tired to join some of the guys who headed off to a club. I enjoyed some Premiership football in my comfy bed until I drifted off into a deep sleep. I awoke early in the morning with the lights still on. I glanced over to my room mate Felipe’s bed and it was still made, Felipe had never come home! I threw on some clothes and headed to the bakery across the street for some breakfast. As the doors for the elevator opened at the lobby level, Felipe stood there scruffy and  sleepy. I gave my brother a hug as he went off to take a shower. I went to buy the poor thing a pancake and told him in Britain we often refer to him as a ‘lad’. It came out that Felipe had met a cute Chinese girl and stayed the night at her place. When our tour guide Jade found out she replied in a conservative matter, “are you keeeeding?” Continue reading

Trainspotting

To travel around the whole of China in under three weeks, an efficient method of transport was needed. Instead of wasting nights sleeping in hotels we were to take five sleeper trains between our destined cities. After viewing the Beijing pandas we were making our way to the train station and discussing what the trains would be like. I had this vision of wooden carriages with hundreds of people squeezed into one carriage making it impossible to sleep. Felipe casually smiled and said “like everything, there are good points and there are bad points”. I looked at him confused, “what are the good points?” bunkbeds

Open rooms containing six bunks, three on each side of the wall, ran down the carriages. For all bar one I had the top bunk which I loved and by the end of the trip I got into the routine of quickly scaling up the beds to put the guys’ bags into the top railings while swinging down like a monkey. In comparison to the hotels the beds were actually quite comfy and came with a duvet and pillow. I slept like a baby for each of the nights to the gentle rolling of the carriage along the tracks. The toilets were another matter, merely a hole in the floor…literally. Also, I got into the habit of a ‘healthy’ diet of sweet French bread rolls and Oreos that we shared among the group. The birthday cake flavour is perhaps the best Oreo. Continue reading