noideadog: (Default)
Today I applied for a letter of Business Russian Visa Support, which seems to be the least painful way to stay in Russia for more than 30 days. It doesn't mean that you need to do business, the site insists; "business" and "long term" are interchangeable terms, and at no point will I be expected to do any business. Later it reminds me that I'll need a letter from my business. What? It's all very non-deterministic and I feel a bit anxious when I think too hard about it. I'm dealing with this by not thinking too hard about it.

The letter of invitation should take 14 days to arrive, after which I can apply for the actual visa. In the meantime, I'm waiting for confirmation of my ferry journey into China (Osaka to Shanghai) and my train tickets out again (Beijing to Ulan Bator) so that I have any chance of convincing the Chinese to give me a visa. In both cases, the actual tickets can't be sent out until closer to the time, so I'm hoping a convincing email receipt will be enough.

Oh, I'm sure it'll be fine, and if it's not, I'll have a lovely trip around the US and Europe.

51 days.
noideadog: (nyc)
The internet says it's not that hot and not that humid, but it doesn't have to go out there, does it? Some of us don't have nice air-conditioned machine rooms, internet! Don't be so quick to judge!

It's been a good day. I was in Soho trying to not buy more jeans and black tank tops when Joel texted and said that we should have an adventure. An adventure means going to a part of the city that we don't know, and seeing what there is to eat there. If you ask me, it's the pinnacle of human recreational achievement. I abandoned the clothing diversity mission, and met Joel in Grand Central Station, where we took the 7 train to Flushing.

Flushing would be worth visiting just for its ridiculous name, but, even apart from that, it's worth a look. It's mostly Chinese and Korean [1], so we looked at interesting mushrooms and fishes, and ate good dumplings, and then regretted being full and not being able to eat allegedly better dumplings. I liked the idea of waiting there until we got hungry again, but the sun defeated me pretty quickly. It was so warm and there were so many people and so many street stalls and so much going on that every step was a complex negotiation. My brain ran out of stamina and I needed to sit quietly on the train back and not think about anything difficult. Flushing was interesting, though. I would go again.

Something I was wondering today: when restaurants are called, like, "New Good Joy Restaurant" or "Happy Luck Palace", or whatever, does this tend to be a literal translation from a name which would be unremarkable in China? And if we translated English language restaurant names to Chinese, would they sound amusing and unlikely to people there?

[1] except Wikipedia says that no, actually it's one of the most diverse places anywhere and only 43% of the residents are Asian and it's just the area around the train station that's a Chinatown. More exploration required.
noideadog: (natural dancer)
What's good morning radio these days? My radio alarm clock wakes up several hours before I do, but it's pleasant to drift in and out of consciousness to news and current affairs and interviews and things.

In Mountain View I woke up to a jazz station every day. Relaxed and groovy. Wake up. Relaxed and groovy. That was nice. We should have a dedicated jazz station. Other music is too difficult for the morning. The only worse thing to wake up to is that breakfast show format where three desperate and over-caffeinated presenters shriek double-entendres at each other. God. There must be people who enjoy the jingles and the stupid games and yelling, and I don't understand those people at all.

Mostly I listen to NewsTalk in the morning, or rather it's on in the background and I fade in and out and catch sentences here and there. Eamonn Dunphy comes on at 7. I'm never really awake enough to follow what he's talking about, but it's ok because I don't really think he is either. He keeps tuning out and snapping back in, I reckon, and being surprised by where his interview has gone. "And you.. oh.. ehhh.. you wrote a book?" I like him. He held a door open for me once in an airport when I had a heavy bag. Based entirely on that, I conclude that Eamonn Dunphy's a good guy.

Incidentally, I note that NewsTalk's front page right now includes .."full post mortem results which indicate that death was due to a shotgun blast to the chest". 'Cause originally, you see, they thought it might have been a nasty cold. That manifested as an enormous hole in the guy's front. Doesn't that seem like a strange thing to say? We examined him for hours and we reckon his lack of internal organs killed him. Probably. That's what the results indicate anyway.

After Eamonn Dunphy is Orla Barry. I've never really bonded with Orla Barry and I think we're doomed now. I'm sorry Orla, it was you. I can't forgive you for calling someone killing a panda "such a small crime" the other morning. I know it was in the context of the death penalty, but I'm not convinced that killing a member of a near extinct ancient species isn't worse than killing a human. Certainly not worse than killing a DJ. Apart from that, there are, what, maybe a hundred pandas in captivity in China. They're madly hard to breed. Pandas don't really like doing it, or at least can't figure out how. Did you know that they show pandas panda porn to get them into the mood? They totally do. That's how much they're trying to not let pandas go extinct in China. Killing a panda is destroying a national treasure. It's a pretty horrendous crime. Shut the hell up, Orla Barry.

I have cool panda pictures from Chengdu. I should post those sometime. Pandas are deadly. There's a picture of me holding a red panda as well, with a big "OMG PANDA!" expression. I've rarely been so stupidly happy. Red pandas are actually probably raccoons.

Jesus, stop talking about pandas. Shut the hell up also, Tanya. But shut the hell up more Orla Barry.

Actually, just now I was listening to a repeat show where Orla interviewed a woman from Equity, the AcTORs' guild about a new reality TV show that picks an actress to star in a West End show. (The Sound of Music, if you care). The Equity lady had a perfect union leader voice, whiny and petulant and all ready to be opressed by everything. Maybe that means she's a good actor, I guess. Her main arguments against this programme were 1. That's not reality; auditions are.. like.. really hard. This is less hard. Reality TV is therefore not real! It's inaccurate! 2. Many of our members would like that job of work and the only way they can get it is to go on the programme. (She said "job of work" maybe seventeen times. Powerman, is that an AcTOR expression? )

If only she'd been brave enough to say "Look, we work bloody hard, (except I don't because I'm the whiny-voice union lady and that's an easy role), and we don't like people swanning up here all 'I'm a real and valid actor' just because they're willing to get their tits out for OK magazine. We're losing work to reality tv celebrities, and that stinks, and even worse, the public are saying they're better than us, because the public doesn't know shit and would pay money to see a monkey dance." That'd be perfectly reasonable. Even a big ol' "But it's not faaaaaaaair. They'll probably make more money in a couple of celebrity appearances than I do in a year" would be more convincing than her foot stamping.

I'd pay money to see a monkey dance, if it was doing it voluntarily and was a happy monkey who was a good dancer.

Y..ess... so, heh.. in summary.. as I was saying, news radio is a good thing, but I wouldn't mind trying an alternative to NewsTalk in the morning. Is anything else any good? No or little music, no excitability, preferably hourly changes of presenter so I can judge how late for work I am. Any recommendations?
noideadog: (me)
Home. I flew in on Sunday evening. It was warm and bright, a real orangey beer garden evening. Dublin looked stunning from the air. The Germans had caught me for a forty euro fine on thirty euros worth of duty free, so I was a bit annoyed leaving Frankfurt, but the patchwork of fields and toll roads and little cows restored me to stupidly happy humour. A gang at the back of the air coach were heading to Keilys for some post holiday pints, and I listened to their silly conversation the whole way home and enjoyed Irishness and understanding what people were talking about.

I spent the weekend since then indulging in the four things I missed most, as well as feeding the ducks and watching dvds in bed. (My dvds escaped the Frankfurt highwaymen). Paul and I went to Sandymount beach to try out my new kite, a cheapass papery affair that wasn't designed for drizzly weather. It flew nicely for a while though. A stunt kite enthusiast came over to ask where I'd bought it and I felt a bit pretentious saying "Beijing".

No jet lag really. I was a bit too tired yesterday evening to be motivated about laundry or Internetting, but I've still been sleeping at the right time and functioning fairly normally. I don't think I keep regular enough hours for jetlag to get me.

Dropping six rolls of film in to the fuji centre at lunchtime. If you're likely to see me in the next while, brace for boring stories.
noideadog: (scary jellybaby)
I went to see that guy. We exchanged waves and thumbs up signals and I took some photographs. It's really very weird sitting on the ground looking up at a man in a cage, who's using a telescope to watch you watching him. People who work in the Soho Plaza are just wandering around as if there isn't a man in a nest ten metres above them, though they watched me watching him too. It's good art, I think, or at least very interesting to me. I wonder whether he's using that telescope to watch television through people's windows, and whether people around there are being extra vigilant about their bedroom curtains.

He's going to stay up there for a month. It's hard to tell from the ground, but it looks like he's brought reading material. How much would you need for a month's solitude? In three weeks here, I've read One For My Baby, Hey Nostradamus, Vanity Fair, the Rape of Nanking and the first quarter so far of a Tale of Two Cities, and I've been spending most of my time wandering around, meeting people, writing in my diary, etc. He's got a lot of hours to kill. I hope he's not too bored. From the tiny interaction I had with him, he seemed like a really nice guy and not an enormous freak at all.

Hutongs are little residential alleyway areas, of which there are 4000 in Beijing. I took a tour of one this morning, sitting in a rattly rickshaw while a guide told me what the doorways of the old courtyards tell about the families who used to live in them. From the door, you can tell the wealth, social status and occupation of the family. If your doorway wasn't an accurate reflection of who you were, you'd quite likely be executed. For example, if the stone outside your door had a carving of a purse, you were a banker or businessman. If it had a drum, it indicated you were military. Soldiers had wooden thresholds besides; officers had iron. The intricacy of the flowers carved beside your door showed how wwealthy you were and the number of wooden poles above the door showed your class. Social status wasn't related to wealth; it was about how close you were to the emperor.

Now, the guide said, many families lived in each courtyard, varying in wealth and class. "Aren't you all communists now?", I didn't ask. "Shut up", she didn't reply. I had to go and make smalltalk with an old lady who lived in one of the houses. The guide invited me to ask her questions about what it was like being an old person and a commoner living in a hutong. "Uhhh. So.. what do you do all day?", was the best I could come up with. (I hit a major bout of insomnia last night, and I'd had to be up to meet the guide at 8. She'd showed up at five to eleven. I wasn't operating at peak efficiency.) She said (through the translator-guide) that she didn't really do much. She sometimes goes to the supermarket. Mostly she waits for the guide to bring her foreigners to [be paid to] talk to. I admired the painted screens and the art hanging on the walls. It was all there before she moved in, fifty years ago, she said. They reckon that some day the previous tenant will come back to claim it. I think that was a joke, but nobody was laughing.

It wasn't my favourite tour of ever. She made me manky tea as well.

They don't do coffee here. Green tea is great, but sometimes it's coffee or death, and yesterday, yech, I went to starbucks. I've been drinking the sugary Nescafe they give to foreigners in withdrawal. It's filthy stuff, and yesterday I needed real coffee and nowhere else sold it. Though even in that place it wasn't easy. "Coffee". "What sort?" "Agh! Coffee!" "Cappucino?" "No. Like.. you know? Coffee. With no milk?" "Coffee of the day?" God.

My taxi is booked for 7am. I've given away my spare metro tickets, posted my last four postcards, and mostly squeezed all of the junk I bought into a bag. And I've already eaten. I've got nothing much else to do this evening except wander around the market, spod about online and maybe wait to see what movie the dvd room's showing. (It was Mean Girls last night.)

If anyone's around, gimme a shout at xymb on aim.
noideadog: (scary jellybaby)
No, seriously, that's a fucking great wall.

The hike from Jinshanling to Simatai yesterday is easily the best thing I've done here. Lonely Planet goes on about how difficult it is ("not for the faint hearted", "70 degree angle", "steepness and sheer drops", etc), so I was pretty sure that it wasn't something I'd enjoy. When I asked the lady at the information desk here how hard it'd be though, she was said, in a sneery kind of way, "You could go to Badaling instead". Badaling is where the fat tour groups go to buy their I Climbed The Great Wall Tshirts. (I'm such a snob.), so I said some rude words about her quite quietly and booked a ticket to Jinshanling.

(Chinese has five tones: high, rising, falling-rising, falling and snotty. )

Jinshanling is a gorgeously untouched part of the wall where relatively few people go. The scenery along the 32 towers to Simatai is jawdroppingly beautiful. I took a whole roll of film, and I don't think I've ever OhMyGod!ed as much in my life.

I found some of it very hard work - in places the steps up are nearly knee height, or sometimes have crumbled away to nothing, and the slopes down are pretty sleep and gravelly. There are some places with sheer drops, but they're not slippy and there's always something to hold on to. It was nothing like as insane as Lonely Planet said. I met other people who were almost deterred by the Book too. Stupid Book.

I met two girls from Bantry, my first encounter with Irish people over here, and their first since they arrived in Asia four months ago. It's important that I note that Linda and Emer are very attractive, intelligent and witty people, aren't sunburned at all, speak excellent Chinese, had no trouble with the Wall, and ... something else that I've forgotten I'd say.

Today's my second last day in China. People I met yesterday are heading on to Mongolia tomorrow. They asked whether I wanted to go with them, but sadly I can't wait to get back to work on Tuesday and had to refuse.
noideadog: (scary jellybaby)
It's madly hot here (by my weakass standards). There's a sandy breeze that blows in in the evenings, but this morning was just dead grumpy heat. It's quite nice to walk around in the sun when you don't really have anywhere to go, but this morning involved some administrative bank and post office finding, and I was pretty annoyed with the heat and the traffic by the time I was all sorted out. Just as I'd decided that if I didn't get a hat soon, I'd probably become the grumpiest person who ever lived, a hat shop materialised.

The hatted world is a far better place. I had enough brain coolage to manage an expedition to the Summer Palace where I admired the buildings, pedalled a little green boat around a gorgeous lake, and spent hours sitting on a rock reading and being stared at, all while wearing a ridiculous gentleman's hat at a rakish angle. It's the sort of hat you can tip at people. (Yes, several times.)

Nothing much else happened today, except that I was unable to resist a Haagen Dazs shop, and that I've been engaging in Beijing's most popular tourist activity: the buying of DVDs. I'm trying to make a balance between the number of DVDs I'm willing to pay a euro for (hundreds) and the number of DVDs that won't make me look like I'm taking the piss if someone does decide to check my bag (twenty?). Not that that's very likely, but it seems to sometimes happen, people say.

Oh, and I had dumplings for breakfast. Is "dumpling banquet" the funniest phrase ever?
noideadog: (Default)
The audio tour of the Forbidden City is read by Roger Moore. He's so great! I always expect audio tours to be very dry and dull, but this one was really interesting, nicely mixing historical facts with effective, atmospheric descriptions of the lifestyles of the emperors and their folk. What really got me was how positively it portrayed the emperors. I guess I expected disapproving tales of sloth and indulgence, of slaves and eunuchs and sedan chairs and kowtowing and of fat, luxurious old bastards taking their job of Intermediary Between Heaven And Earth to mean that they should have people killed for sneezing at the wrong time. (Good job title, actually. I'd totally apply for a job as an Emperor).

And all that seems to have happened, but it's not really brought up in the audio tour. Not once does Roger Moore, faux-communist for a day, say "Well, thank Mao we got rid of that lot, eh?". It's all stories about how hard the emperors worked: up early to meet their advisors; enduring days of fasting to better receive instructions from the gods; climbing this.. rock thing once a year to survey their land; hardly having anyone randomly killed at all. Nobody who mattered anyway. It's all oddly affectionate.

Speaking of Mao, (but not very loudly because.. man! People sure do like Mao!).. Tiananman Square is a concrete park. It's a good place to spend time, especially since spitting and bike riding are banned there. (You can't walk around the rest of the city without having to be on guard for crazy cyclists or old men hocking up on your toes.) It's sort of starkly lovely. It very nearly has that imposing powerful feeling that make old Soviet Memorials so incredible.

I bet it used to. Except Mao died. He wanted to be cremated, but no! They built him a big fuck-off mausoleum (maosoleum?) right in the middle of Tiananman Square. I mean, I'm an ignorant foreigner, but even I can tell when the feng shui's messed up :-> Bad job, Beijing. Terrible shame.

Mao's Crystal Coffin (sounds like an Amiga game, doesn't it? Dizzy in the Land of Mao's Crystal Coffin) is on display every morning, and Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons. You can't go in with a bag or camera, and there's nowhere to leave them, so I stood on top of the south gate instead watching the queues. Madness. This is just a random Tuesday in April (I think), and there were massive queues. Thousands of people, shuffling along into the maosoleum, and then (for the tour groups with flags and baseball caps) stopping by the stalls to buy Mao watches and pens.

It being a touristy day anyway, I went for Beijing duck. I watched the other tables while I waited, and I was a bit undecided about the gizzard-and-web aspect of duck-eating, but they only gave me the parts of the duck that I wouldn't be afraid of. Being a loser tourist pays off! (You know, I don't actually know what a gizzard is.)
noideadog: (scary jellybaby)
The radio in here is playing Everytime by Britney Spears, and it _sounds_ like Britney Spears but all the words are in Chinese (or one of the many other languages I don't speak.)

Xian's quite hard work so far. Everywhere is very far away from everywhere else, and there isn't a metro/tram/train system, so I've been taxiing all over the place today, trying to arrange how I'm going to leave. There aren't any train tickets left, unless I want to hard seat it the whole way to Beijing (I don't), so I've got a flight instead. I get to Beijing on Monday evening, and I leave early on Sunday. Apparently the whole country does mental on Sunday morning (Spring break! Seriously, that's what it is.) and stays that way for a week. Nobody I've asked seems sure about how this'll affect essential services like my shuttle bus to the airport. I'd _assume_ it won't at all, but people looked a bit concerned when I asked. I may end up camping out in the airport.

There's practically no English here, which is a bit of a shock after the chattiness of Chengdu and Yangshuo. The signs mostly aren't duplicated in pinyin either - it's sort of easier to navigate when you can say places out loud in your head. It's just a sea of Chinese characters here. That's overwhelming, but very cool, and more like what I expected China to be like. I'm having to use my little Mandarin phrase book for the first time. Nobody has a clue what I'm trying to say of course, but it's enough to get by.

And maybe it's just because I have to concentrate so much more on where I'm going, but I'd swear the traffic here is even more homicidal than it has been, and it's been insane enough so far. I took a Sichuan cooking lesson in Chengdu, and Isobel, a Chinese kid who was acting as my interpreter, grabbed my hand crossing the road to where the lesson was, because "Foreigners are always scared of crossing the road. Hahaha.". I might have tried to deny it if I wasn't whimpering.

I had chicken-on-a-stick and pineapple-on-a-stick for dinner. Food-on-a-stick is a good cuisine, and easy to order.
noideadog: (scary jellybaby)
Signs from around Dafo, the Biggest Buddha In The World, who sits serenely in the middle of a forest park:

Protect the flower. Do not pick.

Wildlife is not food.

It is responsibility of everyone to keep the forest away from fire.

and my personal favourite

Take care. Nice to live.

Yes it is.

Today I'd planned to go to Qingchengshan, a holy mountain that's not as holy as The Holy Mountain, Emei Shan, but holier than random old mountains that aren't holy at all. (I assume. I'm not good at judging holiness, especially from a distance.) I got up and had breakfast, and I was about to head down to the bus station, when suddenly two weeks of nonstop sightseeing caught up with me and I just couldn't work up the energy for the navigation involved in a two hour bus journey, followed by a ferry and a chair lift and then finding my way down a mountain.

So I spent today recharging instead. I walked around the city for an hour, and got stared at a lot, and then lazed about in the tea house in Wenshu Temple. Tea drinking here is a very big deal. I don't know whether that's the same all through China, but they didn't have tea houses in Hong Kong or Yangshuo, as far as I saw.

Tea houses are really nice places to laze about. You get a ceramic cup with a lid, and a guy with a kettle wanders around adding boiling water to all the cups that aren't full. What you do with the lid indicates whether you want to keep having refills. Upside down on the table means you do; leaning against the saucer means you're waiting for the water to cool; flat on the table means you're finished.

A knitting circle of ladies (which should be the collective term for any group of old ladies, knitting or not) beside me wanted a look at my postcards, and told me lots of information about the pictures, none of which I understood. That was enough to make us friends though, and they shared their snack food (seeds and peanuts) and I shared my biscuits, and we had a sort of a nice sign languagey conversation about how nice it was to drink tea in the shade. They may of course have been talking about something else entirely.

Later I latched on to a tour group whose guide was speaking slow careful english, so I got a sneaky tour, and also was able to be fairly certain that I wasn't going into places people don't like you to go. I'm always a bit nervous of temples and mosques. I'm never quite sure that I'm not accidentally being an asshole. They were all middle aged asians, so I didn't _quite_ blend in, but nobody told me to go away. We stood and watched the monks singing. I wonder what it feels like for your religion to be a tourist attraction.

This evening is "The Culture Show! Bring your camera!". I've no idea what it is, but it has to beat Chinese Opera, which was the alternative. I watched some of that on TV a few nights back and I can confidently state that it is never going to be my thing.

Heading to Xian tomorrow. Can't believe there's nearly two weeks gone by already.
noideadog: (scary jellybaby)
Chengdu's a lovely little city of eleven million people. It's green and skyscrapery, so I think it's already great, but there's a drive on right now to "expedite the modernization". For some reason this includes enormous signs in english telling us that they want Chengdu to be "a city which you'd never want to leave as you come". It's cool that they have a plan.

I've only been here a couple of hours, so apart from looking out bus windows, I've really only seen the street my hostel's on, and the hostel itself. The hostel though! I paid seven euro for just about the nicest hotel room I've ever seen, big and bright and airy with a little separate kitchen and a balcony. I'd be perfectly happy to live in that room.

Dinner this evening (also in the hostel. Best hostel ever.) was Sichuan chicken, except it was just on the menu as "chicken", because this is the Sichuan province, and that's just how they cook chicken here. Nyom. I'm going to have to learn how to do that.

Fun though it was, I'm not sorry to have left noisy Yangshuo. There were minibus and tractor horns going constantly throughout the day and night, and having people pester you all dau long to buy things is exhausting. I relaxed yesterday though with a quiet cycle in the countryside (the route to Fuli includes a few miles of main road, through a tunnel, with lorries whizzing by honking the horn to let you know they don't plan to slow down, and diesel fumes so strong you can't concentrate. I really thought I was going to die.) and a foot massage (which actually involves your legs and shoulders being pummelled until they bruise. But in an enjoyable way.).

And I met Joe, a mad little six-year-old who wanders around the town talking to people in the "two and a half" languages he knows. (Apparently his Japanese isn't up to much yet.) He drew a cartoon in my diary, of a shark being outwitted by a little fish, and then left me some Chinese characters to copy as homework. So now I know how to write "big", "small" and "sky". My attempts weren't great, but he wrote "100%" underneath anyway. Thanks Joe.

According to Joe, my name very roughly translates to "too much sun". I told that to Rob, an english teacher living in Yangshuo, and he said that his roughly means "little turnip". I think that wins.
noideadog: (scary jellybaby)
Whenever people meet in Yangshuo they exchange stories of how they were scammed. Everyone has at least one - a hotel room usually, but also tours o the wrong destination, or where they paid for a tour to somewhere and got an overpriced ticket for a public bus there. I got my second today. This one's not bad actually.

A big thing here is renting a mountain bike and heading off with a map to see th countryside. There's any amount of spectacular countryside here, all with beautiful names - Moon Hill, Black Buddha caves, the Big Banyan Tree, and a hundred or so more attractions are marked vaguely in on my tourist map. That's the map that they sell everywhere here incidentally, and it's very vague. You sort of head out in the direction of something and if you don't run into it, you'll probably find something at least as good.

So I set out today on my mountain bike to have a bit of a look around. Along the way I met Sam and Gary, an English couple on a world tour, and the three of us set off to the Dragon Bridge, a scenic spot (they're all scenic really) about 40 minutes from the town, where we'd heard you could hire a guy to take you and your bike back to Yangshuo on a bamboo raft.

The whole way along the road, we were bugged by a young guy on a bicycle, who followed us nearly the whole way there. We were chatting and taking it very easy, so he had time to goon ahead and have a look around, then come back when next we stopped to look at a map. Every time we looked unsure, he'd cheerfully point us in the right direction. We were pretty annoyed with him, and waiting for the bit where he'd ask us to buy something, or for money for being a guide, or something else annoying, but ignoring him didn't make him go away. We determined not to give him anything.

Eventually we make it to a bridge where there's a guy with rafts. Sam's a negotiator extraordinaire and actually got us a pretty decent price, and the three of us headed off down the river on two rafts, bikes well strapped down. One of the drivers (polers? rafters?) was of course our friend from the road.

And it was old-meaning-awesome. The river winds between misty mountain peaks of indescribable beauty (meaning that I have about 15 minutes here and not enough time to try). A couple of times an hour you see a bison in the distance, usually watched over by a figure in one of those little conical hats Chinese people wear in cartoons. Crickets are rattling away and there are birds you can hear but not see, but otherwise it's perfectly still apart from the rafts. It's something to see. We probably spent about three hours on the rafts, exchanging faulting conversation with the drivers, who amused themselves by pointing out things and laughing at our attempts to pronounce them, and trying to teach us to whistle (and laughing at our attempts to do that) and generally laughing at us in a good natured way.

And yet after three hours we'd had enough. We asked our drivers to let us out anhour early, so we could cycle back and maybe see the river from the road. The place they let us out was, true enough, a track, but of such surpassing muddiness that we had to walk the bikes along the ruts between paddy fields for half an hour or so. It was pretty hard work, but good fun, and probably character building. Paddy fields are mostly muddy water, so it's not surprising that the paths between them are mostly watery mud. The bikes got too mudded up to move after a while, but we were rescued by some locals who helped carry them to a good bike-washing ditch, and used their ..er.. farming implements (yes, ok, hoes) to scrape mud out from the brakes. They didn't want money or anything; they were just being nice. That was seriously cool.

We got our bikes powerhosed at a petrol station (Spending Y2 to save rental shop deposits of Y100), and they powerhosed our boots free of charge. It was an A1 excellent day.

The scam? The Dragon Bridge is a kilometre further down the river. The Dragon Bridge, we've found out since, is 50 meters wide and something something metres long and impressive and amazing and the biggest bridge in Guanxi and undoubtably has other accomplishments too. Where we were was Random River Crossing #7 or something, and our guides were just local kids with rafts.

Not bad, huh?
noideadog: (scary jellybaby)
After a while you start playing both sides of conversations. This is a conversation that actually happened:

"Look upon my works ye Mighty, and DESPAIR!"
"Yes, you found the train station all on your own. Well done there."
"AND DESPAIR!!!"
"You're embarrassing me"

I'm in China. Starting the day with lying to Customs people is a bit nerve-wracking, particularly having read of the Very Severe Penalties I'd face if they found out. I wasn't going to admit to having a cough though, on a form called SARS Quarantine Form. It's smoggy in Hong Kong and my lungs are defective at the best of times. Course I had a cough. They didn't ask any questions. It was ok.

The train station in Guangzhou is very intimidating. There's a trade fair on this week (I met a haberdashery nerd in Hong Kong who was in his way there to look at the buttons and things. Buttons with stones in are going to be big this year. Be ahead of the crowd.) so an already unreasonably populated city is overflowing. There were probably a thousand people sitting on bags outside the station, or queuing to get in. The pedestrian crossing was ..well, I said some bad words quite loudly before I was on the other side. If you look at all uncertain they just drive faster. Inside, the station was mental full of people, playing cards or just sitting around on the ground. I realised I hadn't eaten since the previous night, so I had some of what seems to be the staple diet of people on the move here - MSG flavoured pot noodles. Every shop has a thermos of boiling water under the counter so that you can cook your dinner.

Hungry works differently here. I don't know if it's the heat or what, but I've been eating when I realise I'm getting lethargic or when I want an excuse to use the Interweb. One meal a day is easily enough to be full. Having a second one is a chore.

The sleeper train to Guilin was just charming, though I slept for most of the 13 hours. Now I'm in Yangshuo. This is a little frantic tourist town, with rip off artists and hard sell traders and wannabe tour guides every time you slow down to look around. I'm ashamed to say that I got ripped off as soon as I arrived. It was a classic too. It was 8 in the morning and Iwas just off the bus from Guilin. I was standing there with my pack, in the bucketing rain, looking lost and confused and trying to figure out which end of the town was which, and a guy called Larry, in - I swear - a pinstripe suit, asked if wanted a hotel. I said no, but he said he could take me to the International Youth which was where I was planning to go anyway. He showed me testimonials in his notebook from other people. Honest Larry, I bet they call him. So I got a lift there on his scooter (scooter! Guy in a pinstripe suit on a scooter! Can you imagine?) and checked in and only after I'd handed over some money, I realised this was not the IYH but rather Random Hotel Crapula on the outskirts of town and that he'd talked too quickly to let me figure out that 400 yuan wasn't $15, as he'd claimed, but rather $50. Ah well, $50 is only about twice what I should have paid. I'm writing it off as stupidity tax. Pity about being in the sucky hostel, but so it goes.

A mad shouty Filipino lady called Cecelia in Hong Kong said (with much shouting) that I had to decide whether to be Capricorn or Aquarius (I'm born on January 20th, which can be either, apparently), because this would be a VERY BAD YEAR for me (and indeed for anyone born in the year of the horse. If you're born in 1978, this year many people will do bad things to you. IS NOT JOKE!) and being without a star sign would make it worse. She reckoned being a "strong Capricorn" would be better, since being a "happygolucky Aquarius" would just get me crushed. Man. I chose Aquarius anyway, which is probably why I don't mind so much about being ripped off. If I'd chosen Capricorn I probably wouldn't have been tricked at all though. Just goes to show.

God. I'm going on a bit, sorry. I'll be in Yangshuo until the 19th, when I fly to Chengdu. The guy who sold me the plane ticket offered to teach me to play Chinese Chess (for money, like. Nothing happens for free.) so that's what I did this morning. It's a good game, though brain-heavy. I'd guess it's where chess came from.

I gave his wife some european coins and she gave me a 1 jiao note, which is sort of like swapping gold for shiny beads, but we were both happy at the end so that's ok. A jiao is worth about a penny, I think. They don't have coins here at all, just paper money.

It's still raining, and I've stretched out my coffee as far as it'll go. Back out there. Touristing is hard work :-)
noideadog: (scary jellybaby)
I nearly had a crisis of "Oh no I have a bus to china early tomorrow morning and the banks don't open until 9am and I have no money oh dear", but then Guillaume pointed out that Western Union change travellers cheques so this story has no prupose.

Guillaume is a 26 year old French industrial chemist, skipping meals while backpacking to try to stretch out his money. He doesn't mind working, he says, but he hates the hassle of looking for a job, so as soon as he got back from travelling last time, he immediately went travelling again. i have to admit that i fiond that pretty classy.

I'm meeting him and julie in 2 minutes in an irish bar (I'm so ashamed). Julie is a 38 year old Chicagoan ex-teacher, here for a week to be nanny to her sister's kid. Her sister's something big in the business world, and her company flew Julie over here first class and is putting her up in a hotel where you can't touch all four lf the walls at the same time. she's living mostly out of the restaurant in her posh hotel, and the Hard Rock Cafe.

I'd say something profound about travelling being the great equaliser of something something, but I haven't been here long enough for it to not sound pretentious.

Here's a picture of me posing in front of Hong Kong. Warning - the picture is the size of the moon. I'll resize it later.
noideadog: (scary jellybaby)
I'm eating noodles and drinking green tea while internetting. It's just like being at home except it's someone else's keyboard that's being spooged on, and also this is a mac. Who the hell knows how a mac works?

It's been another lovely day. I went to an aviary and met a pelican, (but from a distance because of Avian Flu; no offence meant, Pelican.) and then I tried to go to the tai chi park, but there was repair work going on, so it was full of drilling. There was still a guy doing tai chi there though, which was sort of impressive of him. Hong Kong park is full of neat little features, like a lily pond full of terrapins and a corner devoted to keeping dragonflies happy, so I wandered around there for a while, being pleased with how unnecessarily nice it all was. A lot of this city seems like that - just nice and well organised where it could quite easily have been crappy and functional. There's a space escalator! It's about a mile's worth of regular escalators joined together going up the hill as part of the commuter infrastructure. I'm so impressed by it all. This afternoon I pootled round the science museum with three primary school groups. We all made bubble sheets and learned how cells grow and some of us played The Pig Game! where you have to guess what part of a pig various household items are made from. The Pig Game! is pretty rubbish actually. There were real dinosaur eggs though. Dinosaur eggs are very cool.

I had a nice little Introduction To Asia lesson yesterday evening, when I met Nelly, a Singaporean cabin crew lady, here on a stopover and cramming as much touristing and photograph taking into two days as she possibly could. I asked her to pronounce the names of the places I'm going, and after 15 minutes of practice, she conceded that I'd probably be able to make myself understood by someone who kind of already knew what I was trying to say, but said that I should show people the names written down anyway. She also critiqued my queuing technique (Laughable apparently. Us wacky europeans and our straight lines. "We don't do that here". ), showed me a great noodle restaurant, and introduced me to Century Egg, a .. foodstuff, I suppose you'd have to call it, though it tastes like evil. I've promised to try chicken feet before I go home too. I stocked up on diahorrea tablets on the way back to the hotel, which is probably a sign of an ungrateful dinner guest.

Train tickets to Guilin book out quickly, so I'm stuck here until Friday morning, it seems. The horror! I should probably go see Macau or Guangzhou with my extra day, but I'm really glad of an excuse to stay here and see a bit more of the place. I thought Hong Kong would just be an easy way to adjust to being in China, but there's been no culture shock at all. I guess that's going to wait until Friday.

'Scuse the verbosity. I guess I'm a bit over-enthused so far. It's bound to stop soon.
noideadog: (scary jellybaby)
Hong Kong is wonderful. The flight was shitty. The heat or the altitude or the corsetting effect of sleeping wearing a moneybelt got to me, and then there was an incident with me fainting in the aisle and causing rather a scene. Fainting! I ask you! It takes more than a lukewarm cheddar omelette to make a flight good after that sort of thing. More on the subject when I have less limited Interweb access.

Everything else though is as good as it could possibly be. Hong Kong is teh awesome. Up on the Peak watching the lights come on over the city and drinking green tea. There's piano jazz in the background. Can't really complain :-)
noideadog: (scary jellybaby)
Airport. Back on May 1st or avenge death, yada. You know the drill.
noideadog: (Public Service Announcement)
If you like postcards, gimme your postcard address please. Comments are screened.

[livejournal.com profile] bluedevi, whether you like postcards or not, can you give me an address for sending stuff to postwodehouse.com please? :-)
noideadog: (nyom)
I had a doctor's appointment today about not getting malaria, so I asked her about my recent bad stomach situation. After some questions, belly prodding and pee analysis, she reckons that there's not a lot wrong with me, but that the change of diet at skiing (large meals of coffee, bread and pickles, four times a day.) might have kicked off some stomach dodginess. She prescribed three days worth of Motillium before every meal and no spicy food for the rest of the weekend. The prospect of a weekend without chillis is a troubling one. I don't know how to cook things without chillis. (Apart from tea. Beware! Tea with chillis in is not nice at all. Don't try it. I make science so you don't have to.)

And no [livejournal.com profile] pinkymonster, I'm not pregnant. Thank you for asking :-)
noideadog: (buttercup)
I paid a lunchtime visit to Thomas Cook on Grafton Street, and now I have an impressive hoard of monopoly money. KongBucks are big and red, each one embossed with a magnificent bridge and a noble lion. They're issued by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, which I suppose isn't really any more cyberpunk than having banknotes from the Bank Of Ireland Plc, but it still feels properly exotic and seedy. ("HBSC" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.) As is usual in these cases it doesn't feel at all like real money so I'm half afraid of unconsciously throwing it away or putting it all on red or using it to mop up coffee. The huge wad of travellers cheques feels realer, maybe because they look so much like book tokens, or maybe just because signing my name eight hundred times has ground their reality into my brain and fingers. If you're interested in trying identity theft, by the way, the ones at the back have little or nothing in common with my regular signature.

So I have money, and I have a visa and I have travel insurance. I've got appropriate holiday trousers and a sleeping bag so small that it has minus weight and no insulating qualities whatsoever. I have a bag chain that needed two pages of operating instructions. I have vaccinations and prescription diahorrea tables, mozzie spray and a little first aid kit. I've made minidisks. I know where my travel towel is. I even have a fairly plausible itinerary. On paper. With train times and distances, names of a couple of recommended hostels and even some page numbers for the places I keep not being able to find in my guide book.

It's freaking me out. There are eleven whole days before I go and I've got nothing left to do. I've never been this organised in my life.

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