A Travellerspoint blog

Everything was closed in Dandong


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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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)

Toshi came to Changchun


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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Sept. 28
I went wandering to the north this time, to "Culture Street", and the buddhist and Confucius temples.
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I climbed up the drum tower, where people used to keep time manually, with a huge drum.
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There was also a beautiful old opera and puppet theatre with a couple old frescoes on the walls.
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Sept. 29
It was architecture tour day. I walked to "China House", a tacky old building covered in junk.
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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.
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I ended up walking down the pedestrian shopping street until reaching St. Joseph's church, the oldest in the city.
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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.
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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.
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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:
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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
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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.
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Oct. 5
The last day in Tianjin, I stayed close to home, had a crepe for lunch and wandered around looking at buildings.
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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.
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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)

"I can (almost) see Russia from my hostel!"


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I took my regular 11 o'clock train to Harbin again. This time I was headed to the frozen north. The extreme top of China. The last stop before Russia. I had to switch trains from the west station to the central station and on the way there, I noticed a Carrefour. What luck! I got off the bus and went inside, where I couldn't pass on a giant bottle of fake wine. I never know what exactly is in these things, but it's always a riot to try them out anyway. I scanned the rest of the aisles looking for wheat-free snacks, but it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I ended up with a bunch of spicy hard boiled eggs and spicy tofu strips. Which are both awesome. I had stocked up on fruit, raisins, popcorn and peanuts already. I was now prepared for the long trip.
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I took the bus the rest of the way to the central train station, which was beautiful, by the way, and immediately commandeered a place at a picnic table. A sweet milk salesperson befriended me and we drank my wine and chatted with her translation app until it was time for both of us to go. She was on her way home for the weekend in another part of the province. I got on my train shortly after she did and passed out on the top bunk right away.

Bright and early in the morning, I found myself in Mohe. I easily spotted the green coach that would take me to Beijicun, another two hours north, and there I was at the end of China, facing the big bad enemy. Wow! Large swaths of larch trees had already turned rusty orange, as far as the eye could see. I checked into the hostel, which was a nightmare. The bus dropped us off exactly in front of it and they tried to sell me a private room. I plopped down my Hostelling International card and said no way! The price went down from 100 yuan to 22.5 almost instantly. I set my things down and got changed.

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Since I had no English map, I figured I'd just walk north until I got to the end of everything. That worked out just fine because I found the official end of China after about 30 minutes walking. Heilongjiang means Black Dragon River, how ominous! I took the obligatory photos, ate the rest of my snacks by the riverside and realized that was pretty much it for the rest of the trip.

In the evening, I had a crazy dinner with two nice ladies I met at the hostel, and who would carpool with me the day after. Deep fried river fish were the stars of the show as well as blistered green beans and blueberry baijiu.

Friday
We drove pretty much all day in our carpool, first stopping at an unfortunate reindeer petting zoo, where one of the males was clearly in heat or whatever it's called. I kept my distance from all of them, but the Chinese people did not. They were grabbing their antlers and stroking the animals' soaking wet coats, without any fear at all. Meanwhile later, when friendly puppies would follow us around, they'd run screaming.
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There was also a teepee made out of birch bark, those ingenious Manchurians.

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As we drove around it occurred to me that maybe all those orange hued conifers were actually dying! It started to really depress me and I wasn't as enthusiastic as the others about taking photos of the beautiful "fall" colours anymore.
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The next stop was Beihongcun, the actual northernmost town in China, a little further north than the tourist trap I was staying in. A part of me wished I had thought ahead and brought my stuff with me to stay right there for a night or two. It was peaceful and ramshackle. One of the women bought a big loaf of bread that must've been made by a descendant of Russians because it tasted exactly like my Grandma's braided Easter bread.
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We stopped at yet another most northern point,
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and then made our way to the absolute highlight of the trip for me, Hei Long Jiang Di Yi Wan. Three oxbow bends in the river, that I had to climb about 900 steps to see properly. Really amazing sight.

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We saw some horses running around loose on the road on the way there,
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and we were forced to eat a crappy lunch at the bottom of the stairs before making our way up.
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Later, there were a couple more stops at a bridge for no apparent reason,
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and also at a stand of birch trees, also for no apparent reason it seemed like.
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Then it was time to go all the way back to Beijicun. I was feeling a little nervous because I was the only one not getting dropped off in Mohe. I heard words like "foreigner" and "translate" go around between the passengers, so I thought I might be getting abandoned!

What actually happened was even more perplexing than that. We dropped everyone off at their hotels, and then the driver started calling a bunch of people. I started to think I was now getting kidnapped or robbed for sure. I quickly hooked up to some random wifi, and sent Jeremy my hostel name just in case.

It turned out the car had some broken part, so we had to get it checked out. It was good enough to get us back I guess, but next we drove down some small alley in a pitch black residential area.

"WHAT IS THIS?!" I said in Chinese, trying not to show pure anxiety and fear, but it clearly came out in my trembling and awkwardly loud voice. The driver explained with his translator that we were picking up his friend first and then going back home. OK??? OK... Who is this friend though? A Russian mafia member selling me into white slavery??? A Chinese gangster shaking me down for cash??? No, just a 20 something woman who smiled and gave me the most delicious banana in my life to eat on the long, silent, ride back. I went straight to bed not passing go, not taking a shower, and refused to get out in the morning, extremely exhausted. I haaaaaaaate Chinese tours.

Saturday
The other woman in my room was also lazy the next day. Except she got up to run 10 km at 6 a.m. and then idled away the morning with me and my podcasts. We had lunch together, more river fish, and then walked to the last border patrol station in China.

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She walked very quickly but I kept up even though my legs were aching from the day before. She didn't care. We had leftovers from lunch for dinner and more blueberry baijiu. It's a thing up there.

Sunday
I whiled away the morning in bed again, but managed to check out at noon and I ate some lukewarm purple congee for lunch with marinated eggs. I took the bus back to Mohe again and luckily managed to switch to an earlier train. The last bus out made me four hours too early for the one I had booked. I just watched the orangey forests slide by until sunset.

A note about the orange trees: I found out that they are not dying after all. They are larch trees, one of a few coniferous trees that shed their needles in the fall. Never heard of them before, but apparently they exist in Canada too.

Posted by baixing 00:03 Archived in China Tagged beijicun mohe beihongcun Comments (1)

Lots and lots of volcanic rocks


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On Thursday morning I took the exact same train as I did two weeks before to Harbin. Only this time, it was full, so I splashed out on a first class ticket. This meant I got a bigger seat and a little box of random snacks, together with a little box of coconut water. Not really worth it, but now I know what it's like living the high life in China.
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As soon as I arrived, I went to the bus station to try and get a ticket to Wudalianchi, but there was no hope until tomorrow. I tried the downtown station, also no hope. So, I gave up and mosied on over to my former residence in Harbin, North Hostel. They were not really surprised to see me. I told them last time I'd probably be stranded in Harbin again sometime, and here I was, stranded.

I checked in and went looking for a dumpling place people talked about on Trip Advisor, but it was only a chain. It started raining, so I had to stay once I found it. I went straight back home to the hostel after that and fell asleep.

I've been pretty lazy lately, maybe I'm still fighting off some illness. I even slept right through a rock band playing downstairs until 9 p..m. I woke up for the last song and by the time I got down, they were already bowing out and leaving the stage. Oh well. I had a little confusion about where my next hostel was exactly, but the lovely ladies at the front desk helped me figure that all out. There are two bus stations with very similar names. I needed to go to Wudalianchi FARM, not Wudalianchi proper. Needless to say, I did not have any trouble waking up early and catching the bus (#33) all the way back to Harbin West Station for my 8:30 a.m. departure time.

I was extra super rested, but then I slept most of the six hour trip all the way to Wudalianchi again. Who knew? It's like I had narcolepsy. I was regressing into my three year old self again. You know the one that fell asleep in a bucket of blocks in Germany and almost slammed straight into a pole sleepwalking in DC. Yeah, that one.

Liu Yu Fen, the hostel owner, had arranged a taxi to pick me up. I hesitate to call her place a hostel, because it's just a spare room in her apartment for rent for $12 a night. Anyway, she was very kind. I had some soju I bought in Harbin and a ton of ground cherries that I didn't eat on the bus, so, happy 37th birthday to me! I took yep, another nap, and then woke up to a simple dinner with Fen, then went right back to sleep again.
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In the morning, the same taxi driver picked me up to go to Lao Hei Shan. I had to pay $20 a day just for him to drive me around to different places because there was no bus. Another birthday luxury, or at least that's how I justified it.

He left me in the parking lot, gave me his card and told me to call him when I was done. It was an easy climb to the top, but once up there it was cold and extremely windy. You can't tell from the photos but it was. It was the 2nd dormant volcano I've ever climbed, but definitely the first huge volcanic crater I've ever seen.
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On the way down, there wa the "Sea of stones" which was formed when some chunks of basalt cooled faster than the rest of the laval and got pushed down the volcano in a crazy chaotic mess.
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Further afield, there was another mass of volcanic formations, but I had to get on a little buggy to get to it. I was lazy and didn't look at the signs. There were only two choices, but I got on the wrong one, the one that went back to the entrance. No problem, they laughed at me again and I made a round trip. I wandered around the boardwalks looking at more crazy formations the lava made when it bubbled up in various ways and cooled there forever.
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There were also a lot of beautiful cranes probably on their way south for winter. In addition to that, I saw a bunch of little dead fish, who knows what happened to them. I took the right buggy when I was done and Mr. Taxi came to pick me up quite promptly. Oh what a life of luxury I lead.

The luxurious feeling ended there, when he tried to tell me to go to something called "Crystal Caves". I had to argue with him until he took me to the "Stone Village" instead. I already knew about these crystal caves and they are ice carvings underground, refrigerated artificially. Lame.

Anyway, no one knows exactly how the "Stone Village" was created. The stones are more than 200,000 years old, so they didn't come from the last volcanic eruptions. Some people think they came from glaciers, but most people think they were broken apart and pushed around by earthquakes and volcanoes. Some crazy stuff happened here a long time ago, that's all I know. I tried to just imagine the sound of all these rocks breaking and smashing into each other as they got pushed down the hill. It must have been terrifying.
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Mr. Taxi was waiting for me at the exit, so he took me home and I immediately passed right out again.

Mr. Taxi picked me up in the morning at 8 a.m. again. We went out for breakfast and I had some sort of congee and a big bowl of scalded soy milk for 40 cents. I picked up some snacks and we headed out. Today would only be a half day of activities, I had exhausted the Lonely Planet list and I didn't really feel like trying anymore new things.

First we went to the "Third Lake". This whole area used to be one big lake, but the giant volcano filled in most of it and now there are five! Crazy. Again, it was really windy and cold. I was very happy I brought my raincoat with me. It kept me very comfortable both days. I walked up and down the edge of the lake and Mr. Taxi was there again waiting for me to go to the next place.
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We went to see three more little lakes, all with different personalities and more volcanic formations. There was a little boat ride back to the exit, but I'm not sure why. After this trip, I know a lot about volcanic rock. There are so many different kinds!
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Mr. Taxi brought me to a naturally carbonated spring, because I was out of ideas. I filled up my water bottle and strolled around on another board walk. It was obvious it was time to go home. I had exhausted Wudalianchi. I took another nap and then Fen had a late lunch for me and her friend. That was very kind. I was so full I couldn't go out again for dinner with Mr. Taxi like I planned.
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The night before, Fen had brought home a bucket of eels and plopped it down on the floor of her kitchen. It was so gross, I could hear them slurping and sliding around and burbling around in the bucket. I couldn't bear sitting in the kitchen. I tried to ignore it and often had to shut my door to keep the noise of them out of my head. It got worse though, I don't know why but she decided to put them in a plastic bag in the bucket! So now, they were still doing all that watery noise, but ALSO it crinkled the plastic bag they were wrapped in. It was dreadful.

In the morning I caught the bus at 5 a.m. back to Harbin, the eels were STILL wriggling around in the plastic bag. I was glad to see them go. I gave Fen a hug and Mr. Taxi picked me up right on time for the bus.
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In Harbin, the bus dropped me off at a seemingly random spot. It took me a long time to find the bus station. It was at least 1.5 km away from where he dropped us off. I was so angry, I was cursing out loud, not caring who heard. Eventually I found myself on my map and also found the bus station. I didn't make it home until 6 p.m. I am hopefully never taking that bus again, it goes on some weird farmer roads and it is insanely slow. Gah.

Posted by baixing 04:58 Archived in China Tagged heilongjiang wudalianchi Comments (2)

How to open a suitcase with a machete


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It was finally time for me to gather all of my worldly belongings. Will, my Cameroonian neighbour in Nanchang had just arrived back to town. I took the slow train there and had a good supply of NyQuil with me, so I survived in a drugged up daze. I had the top of three bunks and a rowdy drunk old man sitting underneath me, so it was not an ideal way to go.

The next day, I arrived on time and Leona was waiting for me at the exact same spot I met her at four years ago, when I lived in Changsha and couch surfed at her house the first time. We took the same old bus back to my old neighbourhood, but she had a new house. It was temporary because she was waiting for her new place to be built. She bought me some crayfish for a snack and I went to bed again, still exhausted.

In the morning, I went straight to Will's place, and all my stuff was still there in the exact same spot I had left it. One problem though, the zipper on my large pink American Tourister suitcase had become hopelessly stuck. Some sort of strange alien-like crystal had formed around the zipper pulls and they wouldn't budge.

I had brought the minimum amount of things with me because I figured I'd get along with all the rest of the things I left in Nanchang for the rest of the week. I wanted to carry as little as possible on the way back to Jilin, because I knew I'd have a heavy load. Leona felt bad for me in my stinky clothes, so she gave me one of her maternity dresses to wear, which resembled a tablecloth once I put it on.

So, there I was at Will's house, desperately yanking at the zipper on my bag, half naked in a black and white checked sheet, screaming for mercy from the heavens to let me at my clothes, just for the love of god, so I didn't have to go home in tattered rags.

We tried dousing the zipper in water, massaging it with oil and lubricating it with soap, nothing worked. Will even got out a huge cleaver and hacked at it for a while. Finally, we gave up and just went to the post office with it, resigned to send it along without even getting out any of the things I would need for the week. However, I knew they'd need to open it because of safety reasons. I was resigned to lugging it back unopened on the train and through the streets of Beijing, in order just to get it back home and open it there.

Just as I was feeling the most dejected, the woman at the post office produced an array of tools and started to work on it. She chiselled away at a bunch of black gunk, wedged under the zipper pull. She took some pliers and we yanked it open with brute force, the three of us together. Will and I instinctively hugged each other in pure jubilation. He had a suspicion that I had glued it shut myself, but now he knew the truth. Some other terrible affliction came over my suitcase, it was no racist suspicion on my part. I got a few things that I would need for the weekend out of it and sent the rest on its merry way, happy to be finished with the whole ordeal.

Will ordered lunch and I changed out of my tablecloth. The last part of my mission in Nanchang was to collect the last two weeks of unpaid wages from my former boss. She has owed them to me since December. I walked over and plopped myself down on her couch. She said she had forgotten all about it and she gave me the cash on the spot. Oh, I'm so glad you were protecting all this money for me for six long months and not thinking about it at all. I said goodbye and she said "See you!" to which I replied, "No, never," and left without another word.

I went back to say goodbye to Will, and shlepped a bag full of unmailable liquids and other things back on the bus to Leona's. I spent the rest of the weekend stress free with her two kids. We probably spent three hours playing with magnetic building shapes and a single rubber bouncy ball. We went to a park and had some Mongolian (Xinjian) food. Finally on Sunday morning, I went home to Jilin on the fast train.

Posted by baixing 01:54 Archived in China Tagged nanchang jiangxi Comments (2)

Harbin for a few days


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My schedule so far is only one day a week, so I headed to Harbin for a while. Thursday morning, I went to the railway station to pick up tickets to Harbin. There were no seats until 11 a.m. and I had forgotten my iPod charger, so I went back home to get it before I left.

The directions to the hostel were very clear and simple, so I got there on the bus with very minimal problems. I checked in and got a whole dorm to myself. Then I went and walked around in the "Russian" area. I went home a little underwhelmed because everything was tacky and brand new, aside from a few remaining heritage buildings saved by the government.
Heritage buildings
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The beginning of Zhong Yang Street
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A few preserved buildings
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This is Stalin Park
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In the morning, I went back and ambled around the park which is the site of the Ice Festival in winter, Zhaolin Park.
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The famous Russian church, St. Sophia's was also disappointing, but what can you do? It was closed for renovations.
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I went back to the hostel still a little underwhelmed by it all, so I decided to take it up a notch and venture out to the southern suburbs to see the former site of a germ warfare lab established by Japan in the 1930s. It took at least an hour to get there in sometimes atrocious traffic, but holy it was intense and worth the trip. There was a lot of information in English and it's always incredible to learn about underreported events in history.

The architecture of the entire place immediately plunged me into a state of deep depression, even before I took a step inside. What's left of the prison and labs are solemn and stark, with walkways to meander around the remains, similar to those at the Terracotta Warriors site in Xi'an.

I'm not a big fan of dark tourism, and it wasn't my intention to visit this place at all, but boredom and curiosity got the best of me, so I went anyway. Being entertained by other people's misery is immoral and distasteful, but I suppose a museum such as this one is essential for the preservation of history and the awareness of the public. I believe that a few of the exhibits pushed the shock factor a little too far, namely the statues and dioramas of various kinds of torture inflicted on the "maruta", human logs as the Japanese called them. But how else can you fill such a museum, besides displaying endless salvaged scientific implements and showing endless footage of witness testimony. What else is left but plastic reproductions of terrified people in gas chambers, or men tied up to trees with icicles dripping from frozen solid limbs, am I right? I dunno, I went back to the hostel thoroughly emotionally and physically exhausted and fell right asleep.
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A neighbourhood slightly to the east of me was also recommended in the Lonely Planet, but I disagreed. The Temple of Bliss was typical of every other gleaming new Buddhist site plunked down anywhere in China, and I took the wrong road to the Confucian temple, but I'm sure it was also more of the same.
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For some unexplained reason, the amusement park was also recommended, maybe because of its age? It was built sometime in the late 1950s and it's still going. I took a ride on the overpriced ferris wheel, because what else was I doing here for so many days? According to Wikipedia, it's the world's 20th tallest ferris wheel as of time of writing.
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I took a nap and then headed back to the old Russia area to pick up tickets for the chamber music concert that night. While waiting for the show to start, I happened upon a night market, where I chowed down on barbecued oysters, squid and beer for 35 yuan ($7).
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The concert was very cute and they sang a lot of classic Russian opera songs, including the one from Tetris. I couldn't control the giggles when they sang Edelweiss in English, their accents were adorable "blaaiiss my homerand folevuhh" but their vocal talent was amazing. I can't imagine spending a lifetime honing your singing voice, only to end up singing for tourists for pennies. It really is a little sad when talent is unnoticed and hidden like that. I guess there's not a whole lot of demand for European opera singers in China? I don't know.

The Synagogue where the concert took place
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On the last day, I took a little architectural tour of the other side of the railway station. There seemed to be more evidence of Russian architecture here than anywhere else. It really was amazing to think of the great influence Russia had here, when they occupied the area. There are huge buildings preserved in quite a wide radius of the town, huge department stores and old churches, hotels, offices and factories all have an "eclectic" Russian feel.
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After another nap, I headed to the pedestrian shopping street to snack on the famous Harbin ice cream, (that actually tastes like milk) as well as some sweet potato chips. On the way back, my bus got hit by a car, so we had to wait around for about half an hour while traffic was redirected and another bus came to pick us up. I went to sleep early again and woke up early to catch the train back to Jilin.

Posted by baixing 09:52 Archived in China Tagged harbin heilongjiang Comments (4)

Day 28... whenever


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I got really tired after this and didn't want to do any much of anything. But at least once a day I went out for a nice dinner and tasted all the traditional Greek food I could handle. Here are some photos...
Day 28: Jarilson and I both woke up really late. Eventually we got up and made it in time for dinner at the Gastronomy Museum. We had some great beer, fava bean dip, french fries and halloumi. He took off to the airport after that an proceeded to tell me that he wished he kissed me. Then, when I didn't reply he continued with an apology and a string of compliments on Facebook. I told him he sounded like an idiot and blocked him forever. Awkward.
Day 29: I went to the Islamic Art Museum and spent the day looking at ceramics from the Middle East. A lot of those ceramics had been influenced by Chinese artisans. It was cool because I could see the influence, and I could also see the difference in quality. The texture of the Middle Eastern ceramics was just worse than everything I've ever seen in Chinese museums. It's cool to be able to see differences in these kinds of things just by exposing yourself to them over and over again.
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For dinner, I went to this amazing deli for taramasalata (fish egg dip) and dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) with a couple of glasses of wine. Loved it.
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Day 30: Today I took my time and explored the Pireos Annexe of the Benaki Museum. It was way too expensive, but on the up side, I had the whole place to myself. There was an exhibit about a Greek engraver who made images of countless ships and other Greek scenes. Another one about a Greek writer who travelled a lot,
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and another about a guy who likes to make art sculptures with light.
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The last exhibit was about architecture but nothing was in English. I sat there for about an hour watching architecture students' documentary assignments scroll by on the flat screen TV.
I went home and there was a gong show of a night. Helene, a German wanted me to come up with an idea of what we should do for the night, but every time I suggested something she thought it was dumb. Eventually, we went to meet people for a pub crawl. Nobody showed up at the meeting point and she was mad. Then, I suggested some places to go instead, and none of them were good enough for her. Annoying. Eventually she went home and I took some Italian guys to the roof of Savvas on Ermou Street for terrible wine and a sampler plate of meat.

Day 31: After that gongshow of a night, I stayed in until Alexandra Amanatidou asked me to go out for coffee. I was so grateful to her, because otherwise I would've done nothing all day. She knew all the little coffee shops around and we lazed around one of them until dinner time with another one of her friends. Eventually they both had to go and I walked to the south of town for what I thought would finally be some amazing souvlaki. However, the waitress told me I HAD to have the roast chicken, because I could get souvlaki "ANYWHERE". OK, so I got the roast chicken.
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Still, I have not had a souvlaki in Greece. The roast chicken reminded me of my Yugoslavian grandma's chicken, except the gravy had lemon juice in it. It was good, but kind of not what I wanted. The waitress also didn't ask me if I wanted anything to drink! I took it upon myself to have a small bottle of retsina after the homey tasting dinner. IMG_0266.jpgI walked home in the rain that night. It was beautiful. I think Athens is only beautiful when it's wet.

Day 32...and on...
Not sure what I did on these last few days in Greece. I just wanted them to slide by so I stayed in the hostel just chatting with people. At one point I went to the science museum, but was unimpressed. There were ancient inventions by Chinese people that I have already seen before many times. There was a paper making show in Greek, which I have also done myself in Canada many times. IMG_0268.jpg90_IMG_0269.jpg
I went to a metal rock bar and wandered around with a huge Bulgarian man. I just didn't really have the energy to take any photos, but it was a nice enough time.

Eventually I had to go back to Chios to catch my flight. I arrived in the early morning in the pouring rain and Theodore was waiting for me at the hotel with my bag of stuff I left there. He only charged me for two nights even with the early checkin. That was nice of him.

I spent a night in Rome without taking one photo. I had dinner with some monks and enjoyed a gigantic gelato with peanut/chocolate encrusted waffle cone on the roof of the monastery near Spagna station. In the morning, I had to walk back to the train station 1.5 km with all my heavy bags because the subway line I needed was down for maintenance. It seemed like one more kick to the butt that Europe just had to give me on my way out. Good riddance. I won't be back to this so-called cradle of modern civilization anytime soon.

Posted by baixing 09:25 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Day 24: Athens


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Day 24: I was walking down the street in Psirri in Athens with a big package of dirty laundry, on my way to the laundromat early this morning. I am a tourist from Canada and I had a map sticking out of my left pocket of my jacket. A skinhead walked past me and made a kissy face at me. It was about 8 a.m. and I stared at him, very confused at this action. I looked behind me to make sure he kept going on his way. He didn't. He ran at full speed for about 10 metres, back at me and tried to grab my map out of my pocket. In the scuffle I fell down and started kicking him in the nuts as a knee-jerk reaction. I was so scared I peed my pants! My last pair of clean pants! I was so humiliated but I just kept kicking him. I was screaming and people started to come out of their houses. Finally he got my map and when he found it wasn't money, he threw it on the ground. Then, he grabbed my bag of laundry and threw it at my head, knocking my glasses off, because he was angry that he couldn't get any money from me. What a horrible experience! Fuck fascists.

I went home to the hostel and the owner was shocked. She made a police report for me and washed my clothes while I stayed in bed in my underwear and drank wine all day.

At night, I had a reservation for Cinque Wine Bar and so I went there and ate a lot of fish. Something was wrong with the fish however, and I instantly became sick. I didn't even have dessert or the last glass of wine paired with my dessert.
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Posted by baixing 08:56 Archived in Greece Comments (3)

Day 27: Athens

sunny 15 °C
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Day 27: I woke feeling really bad, but I walked to the Byzantine Museum, which is in a beautiful villa near the parliament buildings. I got really sick before I even went in and I had a fever the whole day. I wasn't expecting very much, but once I got inside I found really beautiful frescoes, mosaics and pieces of the walls of ancient churches that had been dismantled because of flooding etc.
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It was really interesting to see how the pagan aspects were melded into the Christian religion in Greece. For example, the statue that you often see of Jesus carrying a lamb is an exact replica of an earlier one from of Greek mythology.
There was also a protest about Macedonia I think on my walk home past the parliament.
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I went home still feeling bad. I took a nap for three hours at least, and Jarilson Lopes woke me up and encouraged me to go out to meet up with his friend, Alexandra. They met each other on the Transiberian Express in the past. She was cool and she brought us to a nice greek restaurant with a fantastic view of the Parthenon. I had a "souvlaki" but it was really just another gyro. Ha. I was in Greece for almost a month but still hadn't had a souvlaki. I don't know what's wrong with me. Then, we went to the anarchist area of Athens, which means it's free from fascists that attack poor tourists with maps. We had some really interesting hot liquor with honey and cinnamon. We went our separate ways and on the way home Jarilson and I saw a porno film theatre. It looked like it had old fashioned movies so I wanted to go. Actually the manager lied when he told us it was "old" movies. I thought it would be movies from at least the 70s. It was just the same horrible crap that you can find anywhere on the internet. I left very angry and threw my 4.50 euro ticket back at them.

Posted by baixing 05:13 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

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