A Travellerspoint blog

October 2018

My water bottle committed suicide on the North Korean border

View Jilin 2018-2019 & Greece trip, 2018 on baixing's travel map.


After class, I went to the train station for my overnight train to Tonghua. I was the only one in the whole car, I guess that's why they kept the lights on way too long. I brought my eye mask, so it ended up alright, but it was an annoying way to start the weekend.


I arrived at 5 a.m. and waited for the next train to Ji'An at the end of China. At 10 a.m. we arrived and I started looking for a place to stay. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but whoever wrote the section in the Lonely Planet about the northeast did a terrible job. He wrote that I could find "a dozen" guest houses just outside of the train station, but guess what, none of them accept foreigners. I know because I went in and asked half of them. Usually it's not a problem, they just take cash and don't say anything. But I guess Ji'An is strict because of the North Korean border nearby. I went into every guest house that I saw, while making my way to the guest house actually listed in the guidebook. Finally I arrived there and they accepted me happily. That guy obviously didn't bother checking out any guest houses besides his own. It's not the first time he wrote something stupid like that.

On the way to the hotel, I happened upon the city's museum and tried to get inside.
The only door open was the exit, so I went in there. No one was inside and a couple of the employees were very angry that I didn't have a ticket. One of them took me across the street about 50 metres away to buy it, where there was no visible ticket sign or arrow or anything. I bought my ticket and went back. They assigned one guard to me and he followed me around the whole time. He even waited for me outside the bathroom, boiled some water and ran around with the kettle to fill up my bottle when it was empty. So that was interesting... There was a lot of gold stuff they found in the tombs at Wandu Mountain City, where I'd be going the next day.

That night, I walked along the Yalu River, gazing across to North Korea. It seemed like no one lived in the small green and white cottages across the way, but there must've been someone there, because probably anyone who tries to cross into China gets shot.

I found a North Korean restaurant where the women dressed up in chintzy costumes. They gave me some fresh fish from the river and I stuffed myself while sitting on the low tables. That restaurant was just as empty as the museum. In fact, empty is a good way to describe a lot of tourist attractions in Ji'An



The Lonely Planet said I should hire a driver to take me around for the day, but I noticed the tombs weren't more than 4 km away from my hotel. The writer also said the rest of the sites were not much different from Wandu Mountain City, and one of them was closed. That one was the only other place I had a small interest in, a tomb with colourful murals on the inside that you could actually climb into and see for yourself. Oh well, so I decided I'd walk to Wandu Mountain and spend the whole day there.

It took me about an hour and then I climbed around the ruins of the ancient palace, surveying my kingdom, imagining my subjects scurrying around in the city below. Life must've been difficult 2000 years ago. It snowed in the middle of October and then the king kept a big chunk of whatever was produced, my god. How terrible.


After that, I climbed about 500 stairs to get to the top of the old city wall. I thought that would be the extent of the climbing for the day, but the path kept going along the ridge, so I kept going too, completely unsure of where I would end up. I figured the path would end up somewhere I could get a cab or bus back to town, if it wasn't a loop. Thanks again to the terrible writer in the Lonely Planet for not bothering to mention this lovely and well maintained hiking trail.


So, I was having a grand adventure, tiring myself out, not sure how long I'd have to trek. Suddenly the path got very steep and I heard PLOP THUD, something fell to the ground right next to me. At first, I thought someone had thrown something at me. I hadn't seen anyone since I bought my entrance ticket, so my mind was spinning, looking for some attacker. Then I heard something rustling in the leaves below me. That's when my terror turned to extreme sadness, as I watched my "Cash For Life" stainless steel promo water bottle slowly and excruciatingly slide down the slippery cliff. My heart dropped and I went through all seven stages of grief in about 10 seconds. I realized that I could never fetch it without falling to my death, and also that I would have to turn around and go straight back down the way I came up. It was a rollercoaster of emotions.


My water bottle fell down exactly here:


No sane person would ever go on a hike without any water or knowledge of the length and terrain that lay ahead. Defeated by the tragedy of gravity, I did a complete 180 and was back down at the entrance within the hour.

I spent the rest of the day wandering around the ancient tombs.

On my walk back to town, I bought a cherry soda for 40 cents and a brand new water bottle with a wide mouth and tea leaf sieve for $1.50.

I made it back to the hotel by 3 p.m., and concocted a plan to have some more Korean food, but I fell asleep too early.


It was snowing when I woke up, with huge beautiful flakes drifting down silently, then promptly melting into a muddy awful mess once they hit the ground. I went to the train station early, made tea in my new bottle and sipped the delicious brew as I watched all the snow fall down through the enormous train station windows.

On the train back to Tonghua, the woman sitting across from me took photos of me surreptitiously while I glared at her for three hours. In Tonghua, I had four hours to kill so I went shopping and got some new boots for $6 and a shower curtain for $2. Exciting. I stumbled upon a Korean restaurant and had a nice bibimbap.

On the way to the train, the handle on my brand new water bottle fell off, and it smashed on the ground. Tea went everywhere. What kind of water bottle manufacturer makes a plastic bottle that breaks immediately upon dropping it on the ground one time? It was just one more loop on the rollercoaster of emotions that weekend....

On the train the man sleeping across from me kept video calling his wife and making me talk to her but neither of them could speak English besides MY WIFE MY WIFE! Then he forced me to eat some gross cold duck wings and finally I had to yell at him that I needed to sleep in my best Chinese and he left me alone after that.

Posted by baixing 02:59 Archived in China Tagged jilin ji'an Comments (1)

Toshi came to Changchun

View Jilin 2018-2019 & Greece trip, 2018 on baixing's travel map.

I was too late going to the train ticket office on Thursday night, so I got to the station as early as possible on Friday morning. Toshi, my friend I met in Shanghai last year was meeting me for the weekend. I'm not sure why, but it was fun anyway. He is doing a little bit of importing cheap Vietnamese clothes and selling them online in Japan. He took a month off to go around China before heading back home again.

He's kind of an interesting person and way older than he looks, which is 51 years old. I didn't know that until this weekend, he looks so young and small. I wonder how long he'll keep up with his strange homeless lifestyle. Right now, he lives in Tokyo doing call centre customer service and training to be a foreign language teacher (of Japanese obviously, because I can barely understand his English most of the time). His end goal is to live in Vietnam permanently.
Anyway, I got a train at 7 a.m. and arrived at around 8. Toshi was there waiting at the exit when I arrived. We dropped off my stufff at the capsule hotel I had booked a few days ago. Then, we went to the palace of the last emperor of China. When he worked with the Japanese colonialists, they built him a fancy compound to live in. Chinese people call him the "puppet emperor". Eventually, he was imprisoned and reeducated to become a model citizen who worked as a gardener for the rest of his life.
There were lots of beautiful rooms on the property, two gardens and even a racetrack, which is now the site for children's riding lessons. We watched a few of the boarded horses get their exercise and went home exhausted and starving.

We wandered around until we found a Japanese restaurant. Toshi was very happy and he finally put the debate to rest about wasabi in the soy sauce. He eats it that way but you can eat sushi however you want. There is no correct way, so there snobby Californians. I will continue to merrily mix my soy sauce with the wasabi and no one can tell me different. Toshi said it's OK.

The next day we went to a ginormous "international" sculpture park in the south of the city. It was really great. The art was quite spread out and the whole place really had a European feel to it. We tried and failed to find a sculpture from Japan, though. Toshi thought it was a clear political snub, but we saw a Japanese flag outside, so there must be a Japanese sculpture somewhere in there.

Exhausted once again, we headed back home and took a nap. Toshi found another Japanese place for dinner and afterwards, I went and got an electric bed warmer. I don't know why I never thought of buying one before. In the morning, I followed Toshi back to the railway station where he'd catch the train to the airport and I'd catch mine home.

Posted by baixing 17:35 Archived in China Tagged changchun Comments (3)

I unexpectedly spent 10 days in Tianjin

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Sept. 26
It's National Week again and I decided at the last second to go to Tianjin. The only train tickets available were at really stupid times. I arrived at midnight, and then went back home at 4 a.m. Fine, I guess, what are you gonna do on the busiest travel days of the year?

So, I walked to Three Brothers Hostel from the train station and it took two hours. A lovely lady in a bar across the street helped me call the owner to let me in. I was staying in the "Five avenues" area, a place that looked and felt a lot like Shanghai. It was very leafy and quiet, really a nice difference from everywhere else in China.

Sept. 27
The next day I went to the huge museums about an hour walk south of the hostel. I just spent the entire day looking at endless cabinets of pottery, china and jade. There was also a nice art museum that had an exhibition of Michaelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael. For free! Pretty great.

Sept. 28
I went wandering to the north this time, to "Culture Street", and the buddhist and Confucius temples.
I climbed up the drum tower, where people used to keep time manually, with a huge drum.

There was also a beautiful old opera and puppet theatre with a couple old frescoes on the walls.

Sept. 29
It was architecture tour day. I walked to "China House", a tacky old building covered in junk.

Then I went down to the treaty port area, where stone bank, law and insurance buildings still stood, just as stoic and solid as the day they were built.

I ended up walking down the pedestrian shopping street until reaching St. Joseph's church, the oldest in the city.

Sept. 30
Way out in the suburbs there was an old mansion, built by a rich family in 1875. I took a little nap in the garden before catching the bus and snoozing again, all the way back to town.

The Great Canal was there beside the mansion, and it's interesting to know that you could theoretically take a boat all the way to Beijing from there.

When I got back, the hostel owners were anxious about my plans, understandably, they wanted to know if they could sell my bed to someone else. I wanted to go to the great wall at some point, at the spot where it meets the ocean, but I looked at the price of hotels and they had shot way up. I finally admitted to the owners that I would not be leaving Tianjin until Oct. 6. Bummer, but they were happy that I would stay.

Oct. 1
I decided to splash out on a buffet lunch at the Shangri La hotel. It was really amazing. There was a ton of seafood, some mind blowing roasted duck, cappuccinos with mousse and creme brûlée for dessert. Didn't have my camera but it looked like this:

I also wanted to buy a new watch that day, so afterwards, I rolled myself over to what I thought was an electronics market. I thought maybe I'd buy a smart watch, but I decided on just a cheap one that I found at a weird accessories only mall across the street. The electronics market didn't seem to have much besides computers anyway.

Oct. 2
Then I spent three days doing nothing with other people in the hostel. I went walking around all day the first day with a crazy couple. I thought we were just getting lunch together, but it turned into an all day affair. Eventually, they left me downtown and I walked back alone alongside the lit up colonial buildings on the canal. I didn't get any photos because I didn't bring my camera since I thought we were only having lunch. It was also absolutely packed with people, so it wouldn't really have been fun to do anyway. I found my way back home and drank a litre of aloe juice thoroughly exhausted and dehydrated.
Here's a photos of the views at night: tianjin_at_night_by_uncle_sam_hk-d5kvwnx.jpg

Oct. 3
I rented a bike with a nice lady and we went to visit some famous university campuses. One of them was Tianjin university, but I can't remember the others. We also went to "Italy Village" which is nice, but I didn't think it looked like Italy at all.

Oct. 4
I had signed up for a couchsurfing even but no one else did, so I just met up with the organizer, who showed me an old French Catholic church, destroyed twice in the Boxer Rebellions, and a huge Buddhist temple established in 1436, with a statue of Guanyin that has eyes which follow you around the room. We had sichuanese food for lunch and then I went out a few hours later for hot pot with more hostel people. Ugh too much food again.
Oct. 5
The last day in Tianjin, I stayed close to home, had a crepe for lunch and wandered around looking at buildings.

The main plaza in my neighbourhood was built by Eric Liddell, the famous runner in Chariots of Fire. It used to be a football stadium but only the running track remains.

Eric Liddell was born in Tianjin actually, but grew up in Scotland. He went back to China in 1925 to become a missionary. He eventually died in an internment camp in 1945. I found an unlocked share-bike, so I went around town on that for the rest of the day.

The hostel owner was worried about me walking back to the train station for my 4 a.m. train so she volunteered to drive me on her scooter. She was really kind to me all week and she wouldn't let me leave by myself. It was a really relaxing holiday with zero stress. Three Brothers Hostel is very plain, but it's in a nice location and you cannot beat the staff there.

Posted by baixing 22:00 Archived in China Tagged tianjin hebei Comments (1)

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