Summer 2008: China, Mongolia, Russia, Europe, and the US
Thu 03/07/08 09:28
An unexpected negativeJust as things were going good I ended up getting sick. When we were leaving Beijing I kind of had a sore throat and a little bit of a cough, nothing too bad. As the train ride kept going the sore throat mostly went away and then my nose started running, and by the time we got to Mongolia I thought I had a fever and full out stuffed nose. I decided to go for a walk after taking a shower through the city. When I got back every joint ached and I had the cold shivers. So I headed to bed at about 3pm. It's now 10 and I'm feeling better but still am feeling bad enough to consider not going the the tour tomorrow.
Mongolia: What can I say? It's a dreary place. I don't really mean to be negative, but there is a sense the people have a poor sense of priorities. For example, they have a large screen that has advertisements and music videos playing in the town square, this is pretty cosmopolitan, but the in the same place, there aren't any sidewalks, just mud where a sidewalk will eventually be. The people here pretty much keep to themselves, so I haven't had any chance to talk to any of them... it could be also that I'm not feeling well too.
This is an area outside UB. This is not what I was discussing about it being dreary, but it kind of does look dreary though. Those tents are called gers, and if I go with the tour tomorrow I'll be staying in one for two days.
There is a monastery right next to our hotel room. If you look you can see some monks walking along. Later I was just sitting at the window, and watching the city when I saw some monks that looked really young carrying plates of what looked like food. The last monk had fallen behind and started to run to catch up to the others when he took a huge dive. I've never seen anything as funny. The food went flying and he stood there for at least three minutes wondering what to do. I wonder if he got in trouble.
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Thu 03/07/08 02:48
Beijing to Mongolia
We left Beijing early on the second and boarded the train for Mongolia. I know the name of the city that we are going to, but for the life of me I can't remember it. The locals call it UB because the name is so long.
This was the first time that I've been on a train every, (I think), and it was an experience to say the least. Fun for the first day, and difficult the second. The total trip lasted about 26 hours. I've included some of the more picturesque images of the countryside as we left Beijing. So of the scenery was unbelievable.
We entered into Mongolia early this morning, and in so many ways it is like stepping back in time, what era I'm not sure. The people seemed to be split between old world and new world.
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Tue 01/07/08 04:20
The great wall and pearl marketI just got back from my day trip and have a few hours before I leave to see the Chinese Acrobats. I don't know if I'll have internet access for awhile after today, so I thought it would be a good idea to post and do more if I get the chance.
Today was a blast.
We started this morning at 6am to make it to the Great Wall at 9. I can't speak for anyone else, but I slept for the majority of the ride. I never really got a sense of how large Beijing actually is until this morning. We drove for two hours and we were still in the city, it wasn't until the last hour that we started to see mountains and rural China.
In some ways the part of the wall that we went to was something like an amusement park, not a lot of people but different things to do. For example, most of us took the cable car up to the last quarter of the climb. I'm not sure of the full distance but my guess is that it's about 3 or 4 miles if you hike the full distance, the cable car shortened it to about a half mile or mile. The last part though was almost completely straight up.
After walking around and taking pics we started down. It's hard to explain how beautiful the scenery is from the top of the mountain, some straight out of postcards... but real. As you can see from the photos it was foggy when we first got there, but cleared a little later on. In total we were on the wall for about an hour.
There are three ways to get down, you can hike, take the cable car, or take a zip line down. Four of us decided to take the zip line. I filmed on my video camera on the way down, but I won't be able to post it until I get back to Dubai. Anyway it was fun, they put the harness on you, clip you on to the wire, and then a lady says "sit down." The next thing I knew I was zipping along at about thirty miles per hour about 2 hundred feet over a river. What I liked about it, is that there wasn't time to over-think the situation, it just happened in seconds.
After The Great Wall we went to the silk/pearl market. It's basically a large building where vendor buy small spaces to sell their stuff. There's a lot of junk, and lots of good things to look at. You really have to imagine it. First the keyword is "hello." This is how they get your attention, and it works. Then if you stop they grab your arm. I wrote about this in the post where I went to the Oriental Plaza, to give you an idea, one of the guys in our group has a bruise where one of the girls grabbed him-- They really latch on. Anyway, I really love the whole transaction process. They start at an incredibly high price, and if you play with them a little you can get it down by four-fifths... at least that's the furthest I could get them down.
There was two girls working in this one shop that really had my number, they were cute, and they knew it. It's almost embarassing how well they worked at getting me to buy something, if I didn't know what they were doing and having a blast during the whole process I probably would have hung my head in shame. Here's how it unfolded. One of the girls started with the "hello." She was cute so I kind of started talking to her. Then she started complimenting me, and asked if I could see what I was carrying, then she wouldn't give it back. When I held out my hand for her to hand it to me, she held my hand. So there I was bartering with one girl while holding the hand of the other one. Now you have to realize they were both cute, so I enjoyed it. When they thought that they had me (which they did) they started teasing me that they were talking so much to me that now they needed ice creams. :) Can you imagine, they asked for ice cream... so I did what any self respecting middle-aged guy would do when he's been holding the hand of a pretty girl, I went and got them both an ice cream.
Don't laugh... If I thought I could do it, I would have stayed there with them until the place closed. I even thought about trying to get email addresses, but I figured that they work all the older guys the same way, and then I would have really been embarrassed.
Later I got propositioned by an older woman. I couldn't believe it, she called me over and asked where I was going. I told her and then she pointed to me, and then to herself and waited for my response. First time that has ever happened.
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Mon 30/06/08 09:29
I switch hotels todayWell, it's my fourth day here in Beijing and today I needed some rest. I like to walk most of the time, but my guess I've probably walked somewhere in the area of about 30 to 40 miles the last three days and my legs were starting to feel it. So instead of going out in the morning, I checked into the hotel that the tour booked for me and then did some laundry. I admit it's not very exciting, but since I figured out that there is about a 4 square inch (no kidding) area in my hotel room that I can actually connect to a wireless network, it makes every thing a little better. So once the laundry was done I headed out. The new hotel is very close to Tianamen Square so I headed in that direction. I was just kind of walking around and a older Chinese man came up to me trying to say something, but I couldn't understand... then after about 30 seconds of mime, I figured out that he wanted to take a picture of me with the women he was with. :) In return I asked him to take another just so I had one. I guess it's lots of fun to show family and friends that you actually saw an American... or European.
Since yesterday they have added some flags to the square and I thought that they looked good so here are a few more pics, but with big red flags. :)
Below is one of the gates to the old city. You can see another one in the background. These things are really huge, and what you can't see is that there are swarms (100s) of birds fly around it.
After my walk to the square, I had some time before the tour was supposed to meet up so I went upstairs for a drink in the bar. This is one of the photos of the area that I'm currently in. I don't think that there's really anyway that a photo actually show someone what it's like on the street. At least this way you get an idea.
Well, the tour members finally met. Everyone seems pretty friendly. I'm going to reserve judgement on our guide though. He seems nice enough, but maybe he's trying too hard...
There are 14 of us, and as usual I'm the odd one out. There are about 8 that are in their 60s and 5 that are in their thirties, or younger... I'm the only American too. Everyone else is from Australia or New Zealand.
Tomorrow we go to the Great Wall, the silk and pearl markets and then go see the National Chinese Acrobats. Should be fun.
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Sun 29/06/08 23:22
June 30I had a little bit of a problem sleeping last night so as a result I didn’t get up until about 9. Getting up late kind of puts a rush on everything else that I had planned, but at least I didn’t wake up later. I started at the Oriental Plaza. It’s about a 30 minute walk to get there, and I was there yesterday so I didn’t get lost… which probably would have made it about an hour walk like it did yesterday. The best way to describe the Oriental Plaza is it is a mix between Piccadilly Circus and Times Square. Since I wrote that I realize that that may not be the best example… probably the best way to describe it, is that it’s a gathering place. There are shops everywhere and thousands of people just milling around. Large screens show news and advertisements, and off to one side there is what can best be described as an old style market selling food and souvenirs. When I was there yesterday I must have walked right past it because I didn’t have a clue it was there. Anyway, I walked in and just like yesterday, I hear “hello.” If you remember I got the feeling that it was something like a test word to see if you speak English. It must be the case. It was so much fun though, the vendors get really aggressive, they will grab your arm and not let you go. For the most part it wasn’t that difficult to break some of their holds, but there was this one girl that had my arm in a death grip… I was trying to break free and I looked up and there were about five people all watching. I guess since I was a non-Asian it allows them a little more leeway than they would have for others, at least the surprise on the people’s faces that were watching would suggest that. Like I said though it was a lot of fun.
After the Oriental Plaza I headed to Tiananmen Square.
The best way to explain what Tiananmen Square to anyone not familiar with it, it is probably best known as the place where the lone student defied military tanks back in the late eighties. I remember watching the events unfold and always wanted to see what it was like. First some history about why it was built, according to what I’ve read Chairman Mao wanted someplace where he could address up to 1 million people, so he had the square built.
When I got there it was packed with people, nowhere close to a million people, but lots nevertheless. At the head of the square is an old gate to the city. The gate is very large… I’ll add pics when I can. Then comes the square, flanked on both sides by political buildings, the Communist Party building and the cultural center. These buildings the best I can figure out are similar to our Congress, very large and regal. With the constant haze that is in Beijing, it makes everything look like it’s further into the distance (atmospheric perspective) making it look like they are larger than they are. It’s almost like looking at mountains in the distance even though the buildings are really no more than a few hundred yards away. Finally at the far end is the tomb of Mao Cedong, and if you go even further The Forbidden City is next.
Tomorrow I change hotels in preparation for joining the tour to Mongolia. Before we leave though we go to the Great Wall.
A little side note though. I was just walking around and ran into a guy from Norway who was lost. I kind of felt for him since just yesterday I was in the same boat… now that I’m a seasoned Beijing-ite I can take pity on people that were in the same place as I was. Anyway, he was telling me that a friend of his had basically the same thing as I did with the tea incident. I guess it’s a lure to get you into a tea house that charges over $100 per cup of tea. Don’t know if it’s true, but maybe I dodged a big one yesterday.
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