A Travellerspoint blog

China

Finally hiked Tai Shan

sunny 11 °C

I live on the bottom of this holy mountain and still haven't hiked it all the way up. Legend has it, anyone who does, will live 100 years... or you will become immortal... one of the two. So, watch out.

There's not much to say about it. I brought a ton of snacks and a ton of water, I hiked 5000 feet straight up into the sky. It was really cool to be able to ride a bike to the trailhead from my house. When I got back down, I just walked back home... very very slowly. large_IMG_20191229_094404.jpg
The long way up.
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The river was all dry.
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Everyone who goes through this gate is immortal.
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Steps steps steps
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All day steps
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"North pointing rock" naturally just sits there like that.

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The frost was really magical.

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You can see the ocean, 250km away.

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I took this photo in the beginning, not sure what I was getting myself into...

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Magical frost at the summit

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Archway made by rocks that fell down perfectly upon each other.

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I'm coming down now!

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Some of my favourite Chinese fruit snacks.

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OMG soooooo sweaty...I sweated through three shirts and two pants, but I needed all the layers FOR SURE.

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Everyone's exhausted at the top.

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Posted by baixing 05:35 Archived in China Tagged shandong tai_shan Comments (5)

Zhujiayu village

I took the city bus all the way across the city to Zhujiayu village. It is 4000 years old, but most of the buildings are probably 500 years old or less. The streets are from the Ming dynasty, whenever that is. There was a 2.5 km walk from the bus stop on the high way to the village. By the time I got there, the ticket office was closed, so I got in free!

But then there were no lights at all anywhere inside. I had to stumble around in the dark to find my homestay. Eventually I found some sort of restaurant that was open and they called the owner for me. He came to get me and made me dinner of fried fish, eggs and tomatoes.
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Wenchang Pavilion, a place where people worshipped Confucious before their first day of school every year.

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The famous elementary school. (Only for boys, obviously)

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Old street with two tracks. I wonder how long these old people have been selling their crap alongside it.

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There are lots of arched bridges such as this in the town. It's used as a movie set for many Chinese historical movies. They make a TON of them.

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Famous Kanxi overpass. Built in 1670 ish. It's apparently the first in the world to have a design like this. One road going over another road.

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Corn drying on the side of the road. I like to see that, it's neat.
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That dog followed me around for a while. Maybe I smelled like snacks...

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Under Wenchang Pavilion
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Giant portrait of Mao circa 1966
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More archways near my homestay
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In the morning I hiked up the little hill near the village. I took my tea and was sipping it at the temple at the top. Some ladies had the same idea and they invited me to follow them down with them. They showed me a nice place to have breakfast. I was glad to meet them. I had some "tofu jiang" (soy milk) and "baozi" (steam bun) with locally grown pumpkin inside. Best baozi I've ever had in my entire life. All for one Canadian dollar.

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Kangxi overpass
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The view from the top of the hill.

Posted by baixing 18:00 Archived in China Tagged shandong zhujiayu Comments (0)

A weekend in Jinan

Well, I was going to visit Leigh in his town Linyi, but I found out he lied to me about having "soooo much cleaning to do" on Friday night. He was actually on a date with some Chinese woman. Fine, but why lie? So he is dead to me now.

I went to Jinan instead and toured around "the city of springs". So, here we go!

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Five Dragon Pool Park. This is the natural colour of the water apparently. It comes from deep below the city.

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This is my annoying neighbour. He has gotten permission to set up a DJ booth outside of my bank???? It's very loud and very annoying. Everytime I want to make a withdrawal I have to walk through his stupid rave.

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I took a boat ride around Da Ming Lake, just like the princesses and princes did in all the previous dynasties.

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Boat tour
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I paid 70 yuan just to see these bubbles. Baotu Spring used to be a geyser but now it's just some bubbles which may or may not be mechanically produced. Not worth it.
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This is Wang Chi spring. It was the place the prince would bathe. Now, no one does.

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Wang Chi Spring
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Yet another spring. Black Tiger Spring comes out of three Tiger heads. It is possible to swim here, but I forgot my bathing suit that day.

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The boat I was on
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It was full.
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As it always is in China.
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Just an old mosque, not very interesting inside.
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Our boat went up and down two small locks.
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This is thousand buddha mountain. But I didn't see many buddhas. They are supposed to be carved into the rocks hundreds of years ago, but all I saw were newly installed sculptures.
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A bridge on the boat ride.
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The view from the top of the mountain.
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Crowded boat
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Willow trees everywhere
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Top of the mountain
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Breakfast of "tofu nar" before the big hike.

Posted by baixing 17:42 Archived in China Tagged jinan shandong Comments (0)

Relaxing Xuzhou Trip

I spent the weekend auditing the Hyatt Regency in Xuzhou and then on Sunday I had time to circumnavigate a large lake.
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There was a quite obviously artificial beach at one end and lots of old people swimming long distances from the swimming club nearby.
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My hotel was that big tall one to the right of the photo.
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I had to order takeout to do my audit, so I ate it at the beach for lunch.
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That is some sort of opera house.
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Posted by baixing 17:36 Archived in China Tagged jiangsu xuzhou Comments (0)

A chilly weekend at Jingpo Lake


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March 1, 2019


I took the train in the evening after class to Mudanjiang and arrived at 4 a.m. It was super early and I had no idea where to catch the bus to the lake, so I hailed a cab and he brought me to the bus station. I waited there for an hour in an ATM and then had some congee and vegetables for breakfast in the bus station cafeteria.

The bus left at 7:30 a.m. and then I had to switch buses in another city and then eventually arrived in the park at 9 or 10 a.m. It was nice because the bus driver dropped me off pretty much exactly at the water falls. But it was cold, so I put on another pair of jeans over top of the jeans I was already wearing in the bathroom. It was hard to move my legs or climb up any stairs then, but at least I was warm. The falls had frozen completely over and it was really cool to see. I heard that it's magnificent in the summer/fall season but it would also be way too busy at that time, so I think I actually preferred going to Jingpo Lake in the winter.

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From there I walked about 5km to the actual lake, which was completely frozen as well. The waves had frozen in the midst of crashing upon the beach. It was almost completely abandoned.
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I asked an idle bus driver if there were any hotels open. He brought me to the four star hotel, which was the only one open at the time, or so he claimed. It was nice anyway. They gave me a room for 400 yuan which normally went for 1000 or more. I had a nice foresty view and slept a lot. I tried to stay up for the sunset but it proved impossible. I had had a tough week, couch surfing and trying to figure out what to do with my apartment which was falling down into the ground due to an exploded sewage pipeline. It was nice to finally relax and catch up on sleep.

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March 2, 2019
The next day I went back to Mudanjiang where I got a cheap little room beside the RT Mart, snoozed, drank wine, ate fruit and snacks and finished typing up my Thailand and Laos blog.
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March 3, 2019
I took my time getting ready in the morning and went for an early lunch at a Korean restaurant recommended on TripAdvisor. I had some great kimchi tofu stew and strolled over to the train station. I had a fast train home and couch surfed again at my student Kelsey's house.

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Posted by baixing 23:33 Archived in China Tagged mudanjiang jingpo_hu Comments (3)

January 8, 2019, Jinghong, Yunnan


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Reiko and Masao knocked on my door at 6:30 a.m. ready to go. I had told them to leave early, but I didn't really now what time would be best. We didn't catch a bus out of there until 8:30 a.m. anyway. The rain was still pouring and my pants were still damp from the day before. It didn't matter because it all just got soaked again.
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When we arrived in Nansha, we had about four hours to kill, but it was still raining. My plan was to find a restaurant for lunch and dry off, then buy some snacks and go to the bank. Masao had other plans. He took off and left us behind.

I just kept going on my way to lunch, I wasn't going to wait in the rain for him. I lost the both of them and got me some rice noodles again. I sat there for a while but then got kicked out because they wanted to close the shop. I went around the market and bought a bunch of oranges and guava. It's been a long time since I had a fresh guava. When I got back, Reiko was still waiting at the same spot in the rain. What? We all had our tickets, why not walk around and meet me back at the station? I was annoyed.

I put my things on the x-ray conveyor belt, but she started asking me something nonsensical and then my fruit bag got caught and broke as she tugged on my sleeve, miming something I couldn't understand. The bag broke and the fruit went all over the gross bus station floor. Getting more annoyed, I read a book in silence until the bus was ready to go. It was pretty much impossible to explain my feelings via Google translate, so I just didn't.

The bus arrived in Jinghong very late, maybe midnight, but our hostel wasn't too far, so we walked there in the rain. Masao navigated us there with his ever present cell phone. The woman had overbooked it and we had to stay in two rooms for the night. She gave Reiko and Masao one private room but Reiko said the bed was too small. So I took that room and they went to the dorm. Suddenly Reiko realized that more people might come in the dorm the next, so she changed with me and I had to move all my stuff back to the dorm again. Oh my god... Just stop... I was slowly going insane. So there I was, moving my bags into the storage room/overflow dorm room to sleep in it with the rats by myself.

January 9, 2019

I tried to sleep in, but I was awoken by the repeated slamming of a door. Something was wrong with Reiko's door, but did they try and find someone to help them? No, just slam slam slam. Good lord. I stayed in bed until 8 a.m. anyway, when I went to buy our bus tickets to Laos, leaving the next day. I came back with breakfast of eggs, rice and pickles. Yum. Only 60 cents for that.

We went to the tropical plant garden after that. Another debacle ensued. At first we started out OK, strolling around together at random. At one point Masao was 50 metres ahead of us, when Reiko wanted to turn right into a fruit plantation instead of left, to see some water lilies. So, she pulled out her phone and refused to walk another step. Really?! Masao is just down the road! I sauntered over to him and told him about Reiko trying to call him. Oh lord what a mistake. Now we were on a frantic goose chase for Reiko. We never found her, so I left them both looking for each other.

What a waste of time in a beautiful garden. Anyway, I had a good time by myself and saw some Bougainvillea, Frangipani, which is the official flower of Laos, rubber plant trees and lots of palm trees. To this day I don't understand why a fruit plantation would be more important than strolling happily with your husband in an idyllic garden. But I'm not married for 10,000 years either.
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I met them back at the hostel and took a nap. I found a random Chinese guy who wanted to go to the night market for dinner. It was 3 km away, but Reiko and Masao didn't want to walk. They also didn't want to take a taxi without me. ugh. Sorry I'm walking, do what you want. So they walked, but then we had to walk slow. More ugh. We had a really nice Dai minority dinner with the help of the Chinese guy. Women were singing old folk songs while they played guitars, serenading the diners. Ha.
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The Chinese guy took us to the night market, which was huge and completely manufactured and fake for tourists. More women were dancing in I guess a Thai or Lao style and everything was sanitized and spotless. Maybe I would even venture to call it Disney-fied. Shudder. Unimpressed, we went home to sleep because our bus left early in the morning.
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The Chinese guy bought us little wooden elephant keychains. That was nice. Almost too nice? I suddenly remembered I had left my US money out on the bed. What an idiot. I also couldn't remember how much was supposed to be in there. I tried to get back quickly, but it was not easy. When we did get back my door was open... WHY?! I counted the money, it was $125. Did that seem correct? I didn't know. I called my mom to ask if she remembered how much she gave me for my birthday. She thought $200, so OK it was probably alright. Nothing I could do now. At least it wasn't all gone. Phew. I couldn't sleep after that, no longer worried about the money, but thinking maybe I'd be the 14th Canadian detained in China over this Huawei trade dispute crap that's going on. Bleh

Posted by baixing 20:50 Archived in China Tagged yunnan jinghong Comments (0)

January 6, 2019 Yuanyang Rice Terraces, Yunnan, China


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We woke up early again to catch a little bus to Nansha. We waited an hour in the cold for the city bus. Oh well. When we got to the main bus station, the bus driver was seemingly waiting just for us and he guided us right to his bus. We took off immediately. He whisked us along a bumpy road through a valley with endless rice fields as the sun rose over the hills. I froze again all the way there, wrapped in my thin silk sleeping bag liner.
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In Nansha, the next bus driver pushed us onto her bus. It was another speedy trip up and around a windy road. When we got to Xinjie, another woman pushed us into her van and I thought it would be the same, but she tried to charge us too much. We argued and got it to half price finally.

We arrived at our hotel and found there was nothing to eat anywhere nearby. I still had some fruit, so I was OK, but Reiko kept looking for a restaurant. Then when she found two, she complained about the price. So, we didn't eat lunch that day.

She also refused to walk around anywhere, so I just sat there at Bada rice terrace and finally they both went back to the hotel.

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I wanted to wait there and watch the sunset. They didn't want to walk back in the dark afterwards. I stayed at Bada to watch it with a huge crowd of people. It was very nice and well worth the trip out there. The colours the sun and clouds reflected in the flooded rice paddies were lovely. No photo or painting could really reproduce it.
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Once I got too cold, I trudged back with everyone else and went to bed. Somehow, Reiko had cooked an egg with vegetables. They saved me some and I went to bed quite early.

January 7, 2019

The day before, I had arranged a driver to pick us up and take us to the sunrise at another rice paddy. We agreed on the price, but he tried to charge us 100 yuan for a one way trip. Uh no, last night you told me it was both ways. So we had to call back and forth with the hotel manager until he agreed.

The sunrise was indeed as mesmerizing as Lonely Planet said it would be. The clouds moved in and out of the valley and as the sun rose, it illuminated more reflective rice paddies in the terraced field. It really was captivating to watch everything brighten and become clear. I just hoped the taxi driver scams would end at some point, but I knew better than that. I knew they never would.
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When we got back, the hotel owner tried to explain how to get to some more nearby rice terraces, but it was completely lost on me. So, we just started walking down the road as Baidu Maps said to do. Eventually someone picked us up and we got a ride there, even though I didn't want it.

Wouldn't you know, it started to rain very very heavily? My friends had no rain coats or umbrellas. We had been talking about this rain for days. They always carried a big bag with them, so I just assumed they were ready for it. But no, they were not. I couldn't believe it. What on earth were you carrying in there, if not an umbrella??? They stood under a tree for a while, and then they ran towards a village which had an expensive cafe. I had already eaten a huge plate of fried rice at the hotel after we came back from the sunrise. That was because I thought we were going to be hiking all day. So no, I didn't want to wait there for the rain to stop. Besides, the Weather Channel said it would only get worse for three days anyway. I had my raincoat, so I walked back by myself cursing that stupid taxi ride we took in the first place. In the end, the walk was very pleasant in the spring-ish weather, even though I was soaked.
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When I got back, I just planned our trip towards Laos. The hotel owner was not helpful once again, but he called to confirm the information I had already found out by myself. So that was fine I guess.

Masao and Reiko took a cab back to the hotel just as I was about to take a nap. I explained the next few days' plans and then went to bed really early listening to podcasts all night.

Posted by baixing 20:35 Archived in China Tagged rice terraces yunnan yuanyang Comments (0)

January 4, 2019, Jianshui, Yunnan, China


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We had breakfast in the hostel. Reiko really wanted to use the five yuan off coupon, so I had a big bowl of banana oatmeal and we took off to the south bus station to make our way to Jianshui. The line for the bus ticket was crazy long and we managed to get out of town by 11 a.m. Not at all what I had hope for. Oh well.

When we arrived, we went straight to the old town to see Chaoyang gate. It's just an old watch tower in the middle of town with some old photos on display on the second floor.
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We tried to find somewhere to eat, but settled on a random tofu barbecuing place in an alley. These places are everywhere and they sell aged tofu grilled and crispy. I tried one piece and almost barfed. Reiko kindly ordered me some fried rice after that.
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It was too late to catch a bus home, so we walked back and picked up some fruit for breakfast along the way.

January 5, 2019

I couldn't sleep because of intense menstrual cramps, and neither could Reiko. She started making breakfast. It took us two hours or more to get ready.
On the way, we saw a bunch of old men selling caged birds in the square. It made quite a racket.
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We went to the beautiful Zhu family garden where we wandered around old rooms and walked behind a little decorative waterfall. Reiko bought a bunch of garbage there. Her bag would end up being really heavy at the rate she went.
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It got a lot warmer, which made me so happy. I had been cold for days at that point. We went to the Confucian temple which was pretty much empty of people and very peaceful. I really loved the giant lake that is called the "sea of learning". Apparently it's designed to look like Confucius' hometown temple. It was first built in the 13th century.
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After that, we had more rice noodles for lunch and I went back to the hostel to take a nap. I was woken up by some guy speaking three languages and having a grand old time talking to Masao in Japanese. He immediately invited us out for barbecue which I couldn't eat too much of because of the knife-like stabbing pains in my pelvis. I stuck to fruits and vegetables for a while after that, ugh.

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Posted by baixing 20:26 Archived in China Tagged yunnan jianshui Comments (0)

New Year's Eve on the train


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Dec. 31, 2019

I wore all the clothes in my bag which were four pairs of socks, a pair of long johns, three pairs of shorts, one pair of pants, two long sleeve shirts, four tank tops, two polo shirts, my raincoat, a scarf, a hat and don't forget my sarong wrapped around my head. It was -15 degrees and I waddled my way to the train station where I hoped I would ditch my shoes and wear sandals for two months straight.

Instead I spent two days on the train beside a noisy baby the whole way. I brought a lot of popcorn, almonds, raisins and oranges. That was what I ate the whole way. I didn't sleep too much because of the stupid baby. The train ride was pretty boring until we got to about the halfway point in western Hunan, where we travelled through a lot of mountains. To my dismay, they were all covered with snow. By the time we got to Kunming, it was early in the morning of New Year's Day, 2019. Pretty much exactly how I spent my New Year's Eve last year and the year before, in transit. On the way to Cambodia in the Guangzhou airport and on a ferry to Athens.

This time I'd be more mobile and spend two weeks or more in Laos and then the rest of the time lolling about Thailand. New Year's Eve is a manufactured festivity and no one really has that much fun forcing themselves to have fun anyway.

Jan. 1, 2019

We arrived early in the morning at the Kunming train station and I found the hostel very easily. Exhausted, I took a shower and washed the clothes I'd been living in for three days. It was still not warm enough for shorts, so I couldn't throw any of my warm clothes out yet. My sandals were heavy as rocks on the bottom of my bag. I tried to take a nap, but it didn't work, so I headed out to the central park, where red-billed seagulls were wintering.

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Every year, people just lose their minds about them, and they spend too much money on stale bread trying to feed them. I kept on going to Yuantong Temple, where a lot of nuns had gathered and were doling out these strange cakes to everyone. I thought that maybe they were meant for the fish, but I saw other people eating them, so who knows.
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Then, I tried to find the Yunnan Provincial Museum, but it had moved to a southern suburb. The old museum was turned into an art gallery and had some modern style Chinese ink paintings on display. I went home ready to sleep forever. I went to bed at 5 p.m. and didn't get up until the next morning, even though a bunch of Thai women were chatting away all around me.

Jan. 2, 2019
When I woke up, I went to the suburbs to find the provincial museum. I took the right bus, but when I transferred to the second bus, I decided to have some noodles for breakfast. I guess I took too long, because when I got back, the bus wasn't running anymore. I waited for a long time, and someone finally told me which bus went the right way. After all that, the museum was closed. I turned right back around and went to the two old pagodas in town, the East and West pagodas. Both of them had been gaudily repainted, oh well.
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Next, I walked to a supposedly up and coming arts district, you know the typical kind they have in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing. Just a few more galleries and hand made trinket shops would be needed for it to be actually worth visiting. I sat and drank a tepid overpriced latte until the second art gallery was supposed to open at 2:30 p.m. It never did. The first gallery was full of a lot of what I thought was quite garbage, compared to what I really enjoyed the day before. There were a couple of dirty kittens play fighting at the cafe, so the whole day wasn't a waste.
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When I got back to the hostel, I met a woman from Mississippi studying Chinese because she wants to learn traditional Chinese medicine. We went to eat soup and more noodles, then I had to go to the airport to meet Reiko and Masao. Their idea was to join me on my tour for the whole two months. I got there too early, so I had time to figure out how they could get to the hostel at midnight. We had to take the airport shuttle, but also a short taxi, so it wasn't too bad of a problem. There would be no way they'd have figured it out alone.

Anyway, I went to look for some hot water because I was freezing. A nice woman at an expensive jade shop gave me some and she asked me a lot of questions about getting married to a Canadian man "for a friend". Apparently her friend was engaged to someone in Vancouver. Then, it was time to find Reiko and Masao. There were three exits and I was waiting at the wrong one, of course. In China they told me they weren't bringing any checked bags, so that's why. They showed up and there they were, with giant bags. It was the first of many disappointments in the coming days. I took them to the shuttle bus I had found before and we got home probably at 1 a.m.

January 3, 2019
We found the minority village and the minority museum were right beside each other in the south end of the city. So, we did everything they wanted to do in one day. Thank god though, because it was not that great. The whole thing was like a low budget Epcot Centre, except just for people in China. All the different minorities were walking around and doing their native dances. Even one guy climbed up a sword ladder in bare feet. You could explore lots of different houses from all different cultures, so I guess it might be fun for kids.
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I had some really spicy beef dish from who knows which culture for lunch and then we went to the museum next door, which I liked a lot better. The most interesting part was a huge scroll, depicting the layers of existence, including a graphically painful purgatory. There were also tons of ancient sculptures and carvings in different local languages as well as a huge bong made out of tin.

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We were tired when we got back, so we had some snacks and chatted with Donielle, the American woman I met the day before, then went to bed.

Posted by baixing 04:27 Archived in China Tagged kunming yunnan Comments (0)

Everything was closed in Dandong


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Friday
I had a pretty good sleep the night before on the bottom bunk of the sleeper car. Nobody did anything annoying the whole time, it was pretty amazing. Getting to the hostel from the train station was easy. It was on its own little island in the middle of the Yalu River (Moon Island) along with other more ritzy homes and hotels. I had the whole dorm to myself and a view of the Moon Island bridge. It was nice and quiet.

I thought it was a little late to go to the Great Wall, so I stayed in town for the day. My first stop was the "Museum to Commemorate US Aggression". It was a little difficult to find, tucked away in a residential area in the north end of town. I eventually found it, but it was a big mess. Massive renovations were evidently underway.
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OK... so now what...

I continued to the next destination, Jinjiang Pagoda, just two bus stops up the road. I climbed 200 steps to the top and what did I find there?
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More construction, or some sort of precaution for the winter months... It was meant to provide a clear view into North Korea but not for me.

So, I had some of the raisins I kept in my pocket and slowly made my way back down to the Broken Bridge.
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I got quite lost and walked back and forth, fixated on finding the bus there, not realizing I had covered almost the entire original distance and I would've been very close if only I had kept walking towards the river instead of trying to find the stupid bus!

Anyway, I made it to the bridge before it was closed, but I was too scared to take any photos. I had just finished listening to the As It Happens podcast in which they interviewed one of the Garretts who were detained in China for two years. They had been missionaries in Dandong and Chinese officials were suspicious of photos they had taken of this very bridge. They detained them on charges of spying. I'm not sure that was the only reason for their detention, but I wasn't going to make it one of my reasons for being detained.

The bridge only spans half the river from China to North Korea, because it was bombed during the Korean War. It had a unique mechanism on the inside which allowed it to detach and collapse into itself at a moment's notice. The newer bridge still stands and there is a little bit of traffic crossing into China. I didn't see anyone going the other way into North Korea though! What does it mean?
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I walked for a bit along the riverside park and then back through Korea town, where I had a bi him bap and called it a night, frozen to the bone.
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Saturday
I didn't manage to get out of bed until 9:30 a.m., so I headed downtown to catch the 10:50 bus out to the Great Wall. There is a rarely visited section that is very quiet, even on a Saturday. I was the only one who got off the bus and probably only one of maybe 15 or fewer people trudging up the steps that day.
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In my guide book, it said that there was a different path to take back to the entrance. It wound its way along the cliff and past a narrow part of the river they call "Just a Step Across". Naturally, I wanted to see that, so I took the little dirt track. However, I came to a part in the path where it appeared that a boulder had been rolled across the way, making it impassable or too dangerous to try and get around. I gave up the little trek. While contemplating my situation, I glanced over towards North Korea, which was about 50 metres from me. As I looked out onto the field I saw some cute ducks paddling in the little half frozen stream. But then I also saw some movement in the bushes. There was a dark shape moving quite quickly, creeping along the ground towards me. It looked like two humans trying to be stealthy. Were they refugees or border guards? I didn't want to stick around and find out. I didn't get a great look because I turned around and bolted back as fast as possible, the same way I had come. They seemed to make remarkable progress in the few seconds it took me to recognize their human shapes.
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NOPENOPENOPENOPENOPE, my brain screamed at me and my legs followed as quickly as possible back up the hill. My conscious intellect had nothing to do with it.

I got out of there safely and made the long walk all alone back to the bus stop, jumping and quickening my pace at every crinkle of hay and crack of twig various ducklings and chickens made in the farmers' fields beside the road. There was a bus ready to go , so I waved at it and thank god they waited for me. That was enough of North Korea for one day.

I went back to the hostel and out to dinner at a "steam table" restaurant. They threw a bunch of food in a steamer at my table, overcooked it and charged too much for the privilege. They brought me some "bacon" wrapped mushrooms, which they proceeded to steam. When I tasted it, I almost puked. Maybe it was bad meat, but it was most probably because it was the absolute most awful texture I'd ever put in my mouth. I never paid for that bacon and I'm never going to a steam table restaurant again.
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Sunday
I slept in a bit again, this time I went to a Korean restaurant where they recommended a big plate of huge clams for about $10.
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It was great and afterwards I went to a baker that sold a ton of stuff made with rice flour, where I probably spent $20 on a huge bag of various rice cakes and crackers.

Posted by baixing 02:00 Archived in China Tagged dandong liaoning Comments (1)

Nice hostel experience in Shenyang


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Friday
I took the same train at 11 p.m. on Thursday night to arrive in Shenyang in the morning. The night before, I had called the hostel I'd be staying at, Lazy Bee. I had gotten two different sets of directions, one from Baidu Maps and the other from YHA China. It was a good thing I called, because they had moved locations. I talked to the owner Bonnie on the phone and she told me that I should not follow YHA's directions. The Baidu directions were the right ones. OK, great.

I showed up at about 8:30 and it was easy to find from the main road, due to the bright yellow awnings on the outside of the building.
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I was given a really nice bed in the dorm, the biggest I've ever had in a dorm! With lots of shelf space and privacy. The whole place was brand new and designed very well. Everything was spotlessly clean and it was very quiet on such a chilly winter's weekend. There wasn't a lot of heat in the whole place, and no toilet paper or towel provided, but that didn't surprise me a whole lot. I always bring my own, so that's fine.
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I went out looking for breakfast, not really caring what it was. I saw a restaurant with all the windows steamed up inside, so I went in there. I asked the waitress what to order and she brought me some beef soup dumplings. They were extremely fresh and pretty good but a little bland, even with the chilli garlic vinegar sauce mixed to my own liking.
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The mission for Friday was wandering around the Imperial Palace. This particular one was in use in the 17th century for a few Manchu emperors. Eventually they took over most of China and they moved the capital to Beijing, but for a while they stayed in Shenyang. They were nomads and horse-riding people, similar to the Mongols, so the emperor lived in a tent for a while. Eventually some buildings were built that resembled the tents he was used to.

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There was a stele that described one of the emperor's devoted servants, who volunteered to die alongside his master at the time of the emperor's death.
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Then there were some really unique containers decorated with elephants
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And these wooden medallions that were used for transmitting official messages.
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There were lots of rooms to explore including the main throne room, where important rituals and other political deals took place.
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This was the tallest building in Shenyang at the time. The emperor often went up there with his harem and had parties until the sun came up.
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Then there was an opera house, which was the site of massive banquets.
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There were lots of gates and doors and walls to walk around, as in any palace/mansion in China.
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Saturday
My next mission was to go to the tomb of Huang Taiji, the second Qing dynasty ruler. I thought it was a nice park with a big frozen lake. I took the opportunity to go on a big hike all the way around the park, with actual dirt trails. Really rare in China.
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There is an old elm tree growing on the top of his massive grave. I think that's the best way to go, don't you? Not only is the tree keeping you company but there is also a large park for people to enjoy for a really long time as well.
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I was super hungry for dinner after that long jaunt around the park, so I went to a fancy vegetarian place mentioned in my Lonely Planet. This time it was real easy to find, I was not expecting to get there too quickly. They made some bean-based lamb kabobs and wasabi flavoured kung pao "chicken".
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Sunday
I had no more things on the list to do except go see a big statue of Mao. You can see that some of the people at the bottom of the statue used to be holding their "little red books" but they have since been removed.
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There were also a few heritage buildings, including the train station which is also beautiful on the inside.
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I had circumnavigated the whole downtown core and eventually found myself in front of this old Catholic church.
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I sipped my tea while waiting for the second vegetarian meal of the weekend at 4:30 p.m. I liked the first one so much that I looked for another one. While this one was not as luxe as the first one, it was still delicious and some really nice people and monks run it.

It was only about 6 p.m. when I got back to the hostel to pick up my bags and my train didn't leave until 11 p.m., so I chatted with a nice American lady who writes apocalyptic zombie fiction based in Shenyang... Bonnie the hostel owner and a couple of her friends.

Posted by baixing 17:09 Archived in China Tagged liaoning shenyang Comments (3)

Ancient Xingcheng


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Thursday
I forgot the city bus only ran until 8:30 p.m. when I booked my train ticket to Xingcheng, so I went downtown early, thinking I'd find a restaurant open late nearby. I did not. The directions I had were confusing and it was cold out, so I just bought some apple cider (!!!) at a little shop and went back into the station to wait two hours for my overnight train to Shenyang. When it came I was exhausted from wandering around in the cold, so I fell asleep almost immediately.

Friday
I woke up in Shenyang and made it just on time for my next train. It was packed, stuffy and uncomfortable. I had a window seat, so I just dozed in the warm sunlight streaming through the window and listened to countless podcasts until we got to Xingcheng. The scenery was quite boring and not worth mentioning.

I took the bus to my hotel only to find it was closed for the winter. Booking.com found me another place nearby but I still hadn't gotten my refund from last time, so I was a little reluctant to go there. But I had no other options at that moment. The woman who owned it was so excited to see me that she made me dinner for free. The fish was fresh and the salty sauce she poured over it was delicious. It was so great. I found the shower only had cold water, but decided I'd find out more about that the next day. It was already dark at that point, so I went to bed early.
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Saturday
It was 4 a.m. when I woke up, so I had a lot of time to make it to the beach for the sunrise at 6:45 a.m. The pink sky made a nice backdrop for the enormous ocean goddess statue lazing on the beach.
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I was already freezing but I decided to go straight back downtown to see the ancient walled city.
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It was definitely nothing new. I'd been to Pingyao twice and it was exactly the same, just smaller and emptier. The Lonely Planet said it was less polluted, but that was not true. I walked the perimeter of the walls and then stopped at every sight on my combo ticket.
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I found Anonymous!
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The Confucius Temple, built in 1430, the oldest in the Northeast
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Another general's house
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That took until lunch time but I wasn't very hungry, so I went on a wild goose chase to find some Sichuan noodles the idiot writer recommended. I walked up and down, back and forth, until tiring myself out and calling this poor noodle woman twice from either side of her little noodle shop. I think I walked by it three times. I realized finally what this guy did. He was staying at the chain hotel "7 Days Inn" and simply turned left. The restaurant had changed owners so the name was different from the book. That's not the writer's problem, but giving directions like "300 m east of 7 Days Inn" instead of "opposite from a dozen flashing KTV signs" would've been helpful. (There are a LOT of KTV signs in China) Also getting the address right would've been great too.

The noodle lady was really excited to see me and used my translation app to tell me the story of how the noodle shop's name changed. The noodles were pretty good, but nothing I would take the time to write about in Lonely Planet. The writer's other recommendation was going to the mall for dinner, but that seemed preposterous.

Throroughly exhausted, I grabbed a couple beers on my way home and went back to the hotel. When I asked about hot water for the shower, they brought me a thermos of hot water to wash my feet with. They said I could go to the bathhouse down the street. Not impressed, I decided to go in the morning after recovering, and also when I would have a better attitude about the whole thing.

Sunday
Turns out that yes, I did have a better attitude in the morning. I had never been to a Chinese bathhouse before, so it suddenly became an opportunity for cultural education. The hotel owner brought me there in his car and the showers weren't even running yet. The cheery bathhouse manager gave me the key to my little locker and I had a pretty OK shower with an old lady and a 10 year old girl. As people filed into the locker room for their morning shower they stared at the strange naked white woman and all I could hear was them saying "foreigner foreigner" mixed in with other words. I like to believe they were just astounded by my beauty.

The actual bath was way too hot, so I just wrapped my hair up to brave the cold again, packed my stuff up and headed back to the train station. Good ideas come in the shower, so I decided to exchange my ticket home for an earlier one. There was nothing else to accomplish in Xingcheng. The angry ticket lady gave me a bunch of money back because I'd be taking the train with no seat all the way home. Bonus.

Posted by baixing 20:12 Archived in China Tagged liaoning xingcheng Comments (2)

Big disappointment at Changbai Shan


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Friday
It was raining heavily when I woke up, so I grabbed my good umbrella and my raincoat before I went out for the weekend. I bought my bus ticket the day before, so it was easy to make it on time for the 6:35 a.m. bus. The only one of the day. Booking.com called me about my refund from last weekend at 2 a.m., so I had absolutely no problem waking up for the 5:30 a.m. alarm I set... sigh.

The bus ride was uneventful, aside from two disgusting bathroom stops, the first had a pile of used menstrual products in the corner in lieu of a garbage can, and the second had maggots on the floor, beside the hole I peed in. Yummy. But alas, no one comes to Jilin province for luxury.

When I got to Songjianghe, I bought my return ticket right away because I had no idea when I'd be able to get back home. I also found out how to get to the other side of the mountain for next time. That bus leaves at 2 p.m. from Songjianghe. So I'll probably take the bus there and train it back on Sunday afternoon, if it fits with my schedule.

Anywho, then it was a short stroll to my homestay, but I couldn't find it, as usual. So I called them from another hotel. It feels rude, but what can you do? They came to pick me up and brought me to an apartment around the corner. Just like couchsurfing, but I get my own TV and bathroom AND I don't have to socialize with people I probably don't like anyway. Ha.

I was bored and a little hungry, so I went to find dinner with my new Baidu map skills. Now, I permanently keep a photo on my iPod that just says "What's good to eat here?" and so I went to the top rated restaurant on Baidu, and showed them that picture. I ended up with a bunch of local black fungus that was presumably grown on the mountain. Or not, doesn't matter, it was still delicious, especially with some beer and rice.
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After walking 2 km back home, through the depressing town with its muddy creek, I found my hosts getting ready for bed. They told me they couldn't make me breakfast in the morning so they gave me 20 yuan back. So nice of them! I went to bed early to get started on the mountain early the next day.
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Saturday
I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and left at 6 a.m., thinking the bus would take an hour to get to the park. It seemed like nothing was open anywhere at that time, so I headed to the bus stop. However, I saw one man slurping something in a little shop. He was having tofu na'er, spicy tofu soup and a couple baozis (steamed stuffed buns). I ordered the same thing, I know it was definitely not gluten free but it was so great and homey tasting that I didn't regret it for a second. Also, I already wrecked my intestines with the beer the day before anyway.
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After breakfast I got on bus #1 to the park but in reality it didn't go that far at all. It spit me out at the tourist centre, but I found out that it didn't open until 8:30 anyway. At that point it was 7:15 ish, so I just wandered around looking at closed shops and hotels. Suddenly an old man jumped out of his little inn to invite me inside out of the cold. He gave me some tea with honey. I sat at a little table writing my blog on the back of my hotel booking confirmation while the friendly old man prattled along in Chinese that I couldn't understand whilst eating his breakfast of instant noodles.

At 8:30 I went over to buy my ticket but unfortunately there were none to be had. I was informed that it was "too icy" and I'd have to wait until the ice melted to go up the mountain. A lovely ticket selling lady informed me that there was a 10% chance I'd be getting to the peak today. Oh great. But she was excited to speak English to me and she showed me her English book. I figured I could read some with her while waiting for all that ice to melt. Good god.

So that's what we did. There were a few songs in her book and we listened to them together, Elvis Presley's Love me Tender and the Rhythm of the Rain by the Cascades recorded in 1962. On repeat. Countless times. She invited me out after I was done with the park and I agreed, because of course I had no other plans.
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Finally at about 10:30 we were allowed to buy tickets and make our way up the mountain, however, only the canyon part was accessible.
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To a Canadian this seemed excessive, there was no snow in the city at all, and when I got up to the canyon, only a few centimetres had fallen. I don't know how clumsy Chinese people are in the snow, but it must be atrocious. I was greatly disappointed by this turn of events. I had mentally prepared all week to do a big hike, but all I got was a little loop on the lip of a canyon. Don't get me wrong the canyon was very peaceful and quiet, the gentle snow that had fallen on the trees made a beautiful scene, but it was decidedly not what I was looking for. Oh well, nothing I could do about it. Again.
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I took too many selfies because they looked like they were too dark on my camera. But now, looking at them on my computer they seem fine. Oh well...

All the buildings in this park are in the "ski lodge" alpine style and they really go overboard when promoting their no-flush enviro-toilets. Guess what, I had the same toilets on the bus ride up here, they're not that much better...
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When I got back my friend was waiting for me at 2:30, after she got off from work. Someone on my bus latched onto us, she spoke better English than my first friend, and I have already forgotten both their names. The second friend suggested we go to KTV and so we did. I threw on some Green Day, No Doubt and Hole tunes and they loved it. They didn't even know what punk music was.

After many hours singing karaoke, Friend #2 went home and Friend #1 and I went out for Korean food. She is actually Korean, and her first language is Korean, so we had a great time talking about Korean things. Eventually I had to go back to bed and she promised to let me know when there was enough snow to go up the mountain in a snowmobile, which is usually in January. So, I think I will take her up on that offer. She paid for dinner AND karaoke and ALSO walked me back to my place and then took a taxi back to hers. That was crazy nice of her.

Sunday
I woke up to get to the 7 a.m. bus back home and I was assigned a seat near a huge college student. There was no room for me on the seat next to him so I had to keep moving around to empty seats as they came available. Honestly, people this huge should have to buy two tickets. I'm not being insensitive, it's ridiculous sitting beside someone of this size.

There weren't any maggots at the bathroom stops this time, but there were about five women staring at me while I tried to pee in the rudimentary washroom. If anyone knows anything about me, it's that I USUALLY can't pee or poop if someone is in the same room. Honest to god, there was a line of women just staring me down while I squatted over the concrete hole in the ground. There were no doors or any privacy at all, as you can imagine. I started shooing them away because I really needed to pee and my bladder was NOT cooperating. What did they do? They came closer and started offering me some toilet paper! NO I WANT YOU TO STOP STARING AT ME! I didn't want any of their toilet paper, my god. Finally I think they got the idea and they backed off by two or three steps. It didn't really help because they still watched me try to pee from outside the little hut we were in. It was the worst pee of my life. At the next stop (two hours later!!!) I had a real door so I peed to my heart's content.

Posted by baixing 03:44 Archived in China Tagged shan songjianghe changbai Comments (0)

Sorta Korean Weekend


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


Friday

I almost missed the train in the morning to Yanji because I took too long getting ready. Luckily, after jogging a little at the station, I made it, even after getting in line for the wrong train. Ha.

It was very cold once we got there, so I put on another pair of socks and walked to where I thought my hotel would be. The only thing open at that time of the morning was a shady looking massage parlour, but the ladies that worked there were very nice, and they took me to another nearby hotel, where I used the phone to try and find my hotel. It didn't seem to exist, so I called booking.com and they sent me down the street to another nicer place. They offered to pay the difference but I haven't seen any of that money yet. It was 84 yuan more, so it's not nothing.

By the time I found the new place, it was about noon, so I headed up Mao Er Mountain, which was the only recommended activity in that city. It's a free park, just outside of town, with an easy ascent and a boardwalk along the entire length. I ate all my peanuts and tangerines at the top and went back down to my hotel again.
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I hung out watching Chinese TV for a while and then I put on some more clothes and went out for Korean miso soup, doenjiang. It was very rich and filling. I had a jug of makeoli alongside it. I hadn't had that familiar comforting taste in forever. It brought back a lot of memories of Korea, wowie! I went back to the hotel to sleep and couldn't wait to eat more Korean food the next day.
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Saturday

Once again, the Lonely Planet disappointed me. I went out in the morning to find the "busy" pedestrian street the writer mentioned, but all the shops on that street were closed and on top of that, I walked around for an hour on a wild goose chase because he was too lazy to mention the street was on the southeast corner of Quanming Jie and Ren Min Lu. (He also called it Quanming Lu in the book which caused a least 30 minutes of confusion back at the hotel, because there is another Quanming Lu in the north of the city) So awful.
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Once I found it, I walked the length of the pedestrian zone and then back towards Ren Min Park, looking for lunch. Suddenly I saw a ton of little kids run into a place with a cartoon kim bap (rice seaweed roll) on the sign. The last time I followed kids into a restaurant was a huge success, I discovered bap burgers. So, I followed them again, and they were right again. I got some crappy curry but a really great kim bap (after fighting with some pre-teens who tried to steal my table while I was in the bathroom!) and went on my way.
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I walked along the river back home, but it was not relaxing, it was just a dusty construction area. I'm sure it'll be beautiful next year though, ha.
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I thought the street market I tried to find in the morning might only be active at night, so I headed out again, but only found one poor guy selling candied fruit on a stick. I bought one and dejectedly went back home with nothing for dinner, but some cheap wine and peanuts I picked up on the way back.
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Sunday

I was determined to make the day super Korean, so I threw out the useless guidebook. I finally figured out how to use Baidu Maps, so I found a popular place for barbecue bulgogi (which I burnt) and then went to a jim jil bang for the rest of the afternoon.
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I was quite relaxed after the 70 degree sauna and cool water plunge. I lounged around in the plaid pyjamas they gave me and soaked in the hot baths. It reminded me that I still needed to find a Korean wash cloth! There are nothing like them in the whole world.

On my way to the train station, I stopped in at some fancy import makeup stores, but they didn't have one and couldn't understand why I was not satisfied with the Chinese wash cloths they had for sale. Finally, as a last ditch attempt, I went down some shabby stairs to a kind of discount store, and yes, under a pile of more crappy Chinese wash cloths, I found the Korean ones! They weren't exactly what I remember from Korea, but I bought one, figuring I'd give it a go anyway.
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PS I got a new water bottle. It's way too big, but I couldn't resist the slogan on the side. Have a look, he was begging me to take him with me, don't you think? "Walkers fear nothing. Thank you for accompanying me all the way." Awww. I had to take him home with me.

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Posted by baixing 17:10 Archived in China Comments (4)

My water bottle committed suicide on the North Korean border


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

Thursday

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.

Friday

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.
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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.
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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

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Saturday

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.

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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.

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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.

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My water bottle fell down exactly here:

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

Sunday

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)

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