Posts Tagged With: china

China an overview

 

Well the time has finally come to leave China and move on to the next leg of our little adventure. I guess it is time to take stock of what we have done, where we have been and run through the highlights and lowlights of the time spent in China. We are actually not entirely finished as we will be back in Hong Kong in October and may pop into Macao for a day or two depending upon how the other plans go.

Overall our time in China has been fantastic and I would highly recommend this as a tourist destination for any of you. There are some myths about needing mandarin to travel in China which are quite frankly totally wrong. After a cumulative 7 months full time here we would be lucky to know 20-30 words and have been completely off the beaten path where no English is spoken. The Chinese people are really helpful and a couple of bits of technology gets you through most binds (see Jill’s travel tips section).

So in summary we spent –

205 – Days in China
50 – Cities slept in (more visited or day tripped)
25 – Provinces visited (of 32)
China Map

We have been discussing our best and worst bits and came up with very little on the negative side with the overall impression being ridiculously positive. The other thing we tried to do was to develop a must see itinerary for those seeking to travel here. China however is like Australia and the distances and travel times make seeing everything impossible unless you have unlimited time (there are still things that we missed out on and want to see).

The other thing that stumped us was that some of the must sees (Terracotta Warriors and 3 Gorges Cruise etc.) were some of the least impressive things that we have been to…but how can you really come here and not see them…so despite being so-so I guess they remain must sees. They were ok and it is nice to say that we have been but there is so much better to see in China and if time were limited (which it almost always will be) there are much better places to go.

The other thing was that Jill and I liked different things. She has turned into a mountain goat while here, relishing the stair climbs (that are everywhere)…while I have gone the other way cursing stairs at every opportunity. Obviously there are some things that were awesome for both of us. The Great Wall of China is an absolute must and the best spot is the Mutianyu section (about 60kms outside of Beijing). The other thing that must be done is getting into some of the provinces. Each minority of China is quite different and these differences should be experienced. So here it is…

Traditional Must Sees

The Great Wall of China
Forbidden City
Tiananmen Square
The summer palace
Gate of heavenly peace
Mao’s Tomb
Shanghai
Walled cities
Hanging Monastery
The terracotta Warriors
3 gorges dam
Tibet ?

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Most of these are easy to achieve from Beijing with limited travel times and this could be done in a two week stint if you push a little bit. The warriors is a quick pop across to Xian where the Muslim quarter is a must. Xian is a walled city but Jill’s suggestions are that Pingyao and Datong are better examples and from Datong you can also see the hanging monastery and Yúngāng Caves..head down and out through Shanghai and all of this within the two week journey.

Tibet is a whole other issue. There seems to be a global interest in Tibet given the Dalai Lama scenario but having been there we would never return. The Everest leg was nice and something we will no doubt brag about down the track but way too difficult to be worth the 2 hour photo shoot that we got. Especially given that a lot of the time it is clouded over and you don’t get a nice view (we were blessed with perfect weather). The food was terrible but the road between Lhasa and Shigatse was the highlight but it is a tough schlepp and should not be taken lightly.

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Lesser known gems

These are the things that do not immediately come to mind when you think of China but having been there and experienced them they are VERY high on both of our lists. We would do almost all of these before the last 3 on the earlier list…but they are less famous.

Guilin to Yangshou river rafting
Jiuzhaigou – Jiuzhai national park with blue lakes and waterfalls everywhere
Harbin – ice festival
Kunming – Stone forest
Kashgar – livestock market
Chengdu – panda breeding centre + giant Buddha at Leshan

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This list of places will probably not make an initial itinerary however were really nice spots to either kick back or enjoy a lesser paced time getting to know the real China or seeing sights in a less hectic manner. Nice if you have heaps of time but sadly will be missed by most.

Dali – walled city
Dandong – North Korean border
Shanhaiguan – wall meets ocean + first mountain pass
Mountains – Wutaishan, Mianshan, Taishan,
Xiahe – monastery (more Tibetan than Tibet)
Anshun – biggest waterfall in China
Hohhot – Inner Mongolia
Hangzhou – west lake
Shangri-la – mini Tibet

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After this there were a bunch of cities that we stayed in that we found to be totally charming and full of the local Chinese culture and lifestyle but not necessarily likely to get a tourist visit. We would go back to them as we had a really good time eating, drinking and mingling with the locals. Places like Xining where we relaxed after the Tibet ordeal, or Yinchuan where they had 20 quai massages and free street theatre, or Guangzhou where we lazed eating super cheap food in a street that turned into restaurantville after dark.

Myths

You need to speak Chinese – rubbish…almost every Chinese person you meet will try and help you as much as they can. If you have a smile and a nice attitude you will never go wrong. A translator app on your phone and a dictionary style app like Pleco will get you through every drama.
Don’t eat the street food – rubbish…this is the tastiest, cheapest and best food to eat in China. It is clean, and turned over so frequently that most of the time it will be made in front of you. There is tourist food with snakes, bugs and scorpions etc but these are mostly for show and photographs. The every day stuff is fine.
China is dangerous – rubbish…be aware of your surroundings, as you always should be in any country, and you will feel and be safer than you would on any Australian street.

The bad bits

The absolute epitome of all things that are wrong with China exist and are openly displayed by one group especially…The Dama. This is not to say that these traits are not widely available but the Chinese Aunties (or Dama) are the group that has embraced or inherited all that is wrong with China. They are by no means the cause of it…but when looking at the offensive behaviour that exists in China…7 out of 10 times you will see it displayed by one of these aunties.

By night they are happy middle aged women dancing in the parks and public spaces (pissing off the locals with the loud music but amusing the tourists). But during the day they are the phlegm spelunking, bodily fluid hacking, phone yelling, street blocking, child pissing, line ignoring, elbow throwing, crowd pushing group that is oblivious to and ignorant of all those around them.

In a newspaper rant the Chinese papers tried to explain the attitude claiming that … Growing up during the Chinese revolution these Dama worked hard and didn’t enjoy good life when they were young; they only tried their best to save money. Now their children have grown up. With retirement pensions, they have more free time and money to spend on their own life. This explains some of it but not all.

The older generation has some of the worst Chinese traits, the younger generation has reasonably few of them…but the Dama…the Chinese baby boomer equivalents are shockers. And they are mostly women…probably because the men had chain smoked themselves into an early grave. The middle group that is the Dama is atrocious and the worst China has to see and offer.

But the future is bright. The current generation is influenced by the poor examples set and is revolting against this. They are more polite, more aware that other people exist, and less likely to hock bodily fluids around the streets. There is still a long way to go…yelling still takes place and the ignorance of those around them remains high. Smoking will be the next hurdle to be fought as it is impossible to go anywhere without being swamped by cigarette smoke (despite no smoking signs everywhere). No meal can be eaten without half the restaurant firing up after their food.

A Snapshot

Once again we will finish on a selection of thumbnails of our favourite moments…needless to say after 7 months there are too many to try and put on our little post. If anybody is thinking of a trip here we would be happy to provide any advice or share any insights we may have that may help your planning.

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Last minute thoughts

China has recently introduced 72 hour Visa free cities…20 of them in total. This presents the perfect opportunity for stopover tasters as you head to other destinations. Guilin is one of these and was my favourite spot…72 hrs would be enough time to fly in, poke around, crash, take the raft to Yangshou, poke around, crash then return to Guilin for the flight out. This was debatably our best day and certainly one of our best days in China.

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And the adventure continues…

 

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Beijing – The last two weeks in China

We rode the train into Beijing for what was to be our last two weeks in China. The main reason for being here is to get visas to go to other countries that we are headed towards…while also giving Jill enough time to get a head start on some assignments that she needs to do for her Masters. As we were making our plans we learnt that my cousin Andrew would be in town for a one week work trip so plans were made to catch up. This was quite a funny experience as we have seen each other about twice in the last decade in Australia but ended up spending heaps of time together in Beijing.

He was being hosted by Frank…the dean of the university…who was happy to let us join in on the festivities…but would not allow us to contribute to any of the costs. Frank, Andy and the local crew worked all day and (when available) in the evenings we hooked up for about 19 dishes each night. Despite being incapable of eating all of the food…Frank would not let the guests starve…or contribute. Andy was almost dying as he was subjected to Frank’s over ordering for lunch as well.

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Don’t get me wrong the food was magnificent and Frank happily picked up the tab for all concerned (including us). But he would order about twice as much as anybody could reasonably ingest. After our last night eating with them…Jill did not ingest any food for the next 40 hours. On the Friday we headed off to the Great Wall to the Mutianyu section. While we had already been there it is by far the best of the sections and Andrew’s lot was taking us.

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We were in Beijing and made our first trip to the Vietnamese embassy to apply for our visa which was remarkably simple but required submitting our passport for the week. We had a blue sky day so tried to climb the mountain at the end of the forbidden city for the panorama Beijing shot (for those that remember right back to when we started this). Alas the clouds rolled in by the time sunset was due so we didn’t get the photo but we did the nighttime walk around Tiananmen Square.

The other thing of note was that my backpack had been beaten and bashed along the journey and required some maintenance as the plastic clips had snapped and there was a few scuff marks etc. Having spent the money on good packs (Osprey backpacks) this too was very simple. I sent an email advising them I needed a repair, they asked for photos, I sent them, they agreed to replace the bag. That simple.

What was not simple on the other hand was the logistics of getting the correct bag from Shanghai to Beijing in the time frame when we were there. The language barrier was a major issue to our communications but the intent behind all of this on behalf of osprey was good as they really tried hard to fix the issue. The first parcel was a smaller backpack and had to be returned. The other issue was getting a clear answer of what to do with the old pack. After much to and fro it eventually got sorted.

While in Beijing I made contact with a former colleague who was now working at the Australian embassy here in Beijing and arrangements were made to catch up. He invited us to Friday night drinks at the embassy and a Peking duck dinner with his wife and a few embassy staff directly afterwards. This was accompanied by an invitation to watch the Bledisloe Cup rugby with the New Zealand embassy staff the next night.

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Jill settled in to her studies while I killed time and prepared a summary of our time here in China for the blog. On our second last day we got to catch up with Cindy (the Canadian Chinese girl we were in Tibet with) for a great lunch. We got some trinkets for the guys we would meet in Sri Lanka (met them in a hostel in Guilin) and basically ate and drank our way through the last little bit in China. We will be returning to Hong Kong in October to catch up with mike and Patricia but our China adventure is coming to an end.

There will be one final summary China post with an overview of where we have been and the highlights and lowlights of our time here…doing the maths on things here got pretty big pretty quickly…and it is fair to say that we have experienced China more so than most would ever do…and we still want more.

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Shanhaiguan and back to Beijing

Our departure from Harbin and transit to Shanhaiguan was one of the best we have ever had. The train was clean, quiet, fast and without the usual dramas associated with Chinese transits. No spitting, no yelling into phones, no standing room sold between the seats, no kids peeing on the floor or women vomiting. The trip lasted 7 hours but was entirely uneventful and was peaceful and truly pleasant.

We got off in Shanhaiguan to find ourselves in the google maps limbo that sometimes happens…this means our hotel was somewhere between 200 metres and 6 kilometres from the train station. We were near the main drag and our hotel number was at number 118 of that drag…how far could it really be…especially when we get to the road and find we are at number 36. So we started to walk…for no known reason it ended up being another 5.4 kilometres before we reached the hotel. All of this with Jill carrying an 18 kg backpack plus 6 kilo day bag while recovering from her cooties…while I was hatching my own personal batch of cooties and carting a 23 kg backpack and 5-6 kilo day bag.

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The location where the wall meets the Bohai Sea is nicknamed Old Dragon’s Head. Since arriving in China this was one of the main things that I wanted to see as I had been told how stunning a sight it was. While the wall was spectacular the experience however was not. The old dragons head is a relatively small place but with a huge number of visitors all fighting for room on the peninsula of wall over the water. Add to this the ignorance and belligerence of most Chinese tourists and the experience was hellish that just needed to be got through so you could get the cool photos.

Having left the wall meeting the ocean we hopped a bus to the old walled city which was built as a tourist thing but really never got developed beyond the central streets running N/S and E/W. The rest was pretty much run down, vacant and dishevelled. Having walked through we got to the other side and started climbing the hill as the other thing here is the first mountain pass of the wall.

Unlike the ocean end the mountain pass on the other hand was fantastic. It was on the opposite side of the city and the Chinese tourists generally do not believe in hiking to see anything…If you cannot be delivered to the door in an electric cart, then they will not go… This meant that we had the place largely to ourselves as opposed to the hoards at the dragons head. There was the odd bus load of Russian tourists but they were easy and hassle free.

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Alas the next day my cooties had taken full effect and I was the one in need of a day laying up. A down day and then hopped the bus to the train station for our return to Beijing. We had almost reached the end of our China odyssey…Two weeks in Beijing and we would be leaving.

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Dandong

The reason for the trip to Dandong was twofold…firstly it is the site of the easternmost point of the Great Wall of China and secondly it is the border between China and North Korea. As we are unable to visit North Korea we figured we would turn up an peer across the Yalu River towards the North Korean town of Sinuiju. The Yalu Jiang Duan Qiao (bridge) goes halfway across the river…right beside the “friendship” bridge. The bridge was bombed and shot up during the Korean War and the remainder was disassembled by the Koreans.

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We arrived late in the afternoon after a 6 hr bus ride from Dalian. We had limited time in town and we knew we were off to see the Great Wall the next day so we headed out in the light rain to see the bridge. Within an hour the light rain turned into a torrential monsoon. We have been incredibly lucky this trip and have basically had perfect (ish) weather for almost 10 months now. We had one downpour as we hiked up the Taal volcano in the Philippines and we had the evening in Dandong.

We got back to the hotel and not one part of either of us was dry. Our waterproof gear was no match for the downpour…waterproof boots are useless against torrents of water running down your legs and filling them up. Umbrellas once turned inside out by wind do little to protect you…and the rain blowing sideways, by said wind, finds the bits that may normally escape falling rain. The real issue came the next morning when I tried to take a photograph only to find my phone was waterlogged and the images were more smoggy than a Qingdao day.

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The next morning the rain had stopped and we headed to the bus station to get ourselves to the Hushan Great Wall section (Tiger Mountain Great Wall) which is 25 km northeast of Dandong. This section travels parallel to river along the North Korean border and from the wall you look across to North Korea. The border here is a 3 foot high, 3 strand barbed wire fence across about a 3 metre wide creek. You could throw a rock and hit the other side. The North Korean guardhouses are visible in the distance. While it would have been possible to run over and hop the fence… there were warnings against this…and quite frankly the North Koreans are not renowned for their sense of humour…so we looked…and moved on.

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The wall, as the name suggests, was yet another damn mountain. Jill being a reborn mountain goat revelled in the stairs while I chanted my (now regular) mantra of “I f#€%en hate stairs. Within the last month we have climbed about 7 different mountains and quite frankly I am over it. We should both be a lot skinnier than we are with this many stairs. And these stairs were the steepest we have come across thus far.

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The wall was nice, with the mountain goat hike up one side and the (believe it or not) even steeper descent on the other side to a small museum. Then the hike around the bottom of the mountain back to the starting point. A bus back to Dandong and then we spent the afternoon checking out the bridges in the daylight, without the rain.

There is a North Korean restaurant in town where the waitresses are dressed like flight attendants, a rock music backed opera singer show and ordinary food. We thought about it purely for the experience but came to the decision that life is too short to knowingly and willing go to a restaurant where you will be served bad food. the picture below shows the right bank of the river being the developed China and the left bank being flat rural North Korea.

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