China Part II: The Bit Where I Stopped Whinging and Got on With It...
I was so keen to get out of Shenyang that I was ready for anything. I caught the night train to Dalian with Zoe. Dalian is Chinas most northern port which doesn't get iced up in winter; as a result, it has had a few 'owners' - the Russians have had a particularly strong impact on the architecture.
But this is still a chinese city and was changing at a rate of knots. My Rough Guide book was only 2 years old and already badly out of date in such a rapidly changing country. As a result, most of the hostels have been pulled down. Zoe and I enjoyed our morning drive about town trying to find somewhere to stay. Not sure the taxi driver did though.
Our time in Dalian was short but sweet. Our one evening there was spent with 2 cousins from pakistan - they could speak chinese and had helped Zoe get her train ticket to Beijing. They took us to an area near the sea with a huge park. There was a couple of bunjee bouncy things - bunjee cords coming down from a frame and attached to a harness that you sit in. You know what I mean! A guy helped us bounce by clinging on to our harnesses (all very inappropriate!) and then letting go, launching us into the air. Zoe showed off doing flips and similar feats of gymnastics. I just clung on, caught somewhere between exhilaration and terror.
From Dalian, Zoe went back to Beijing, ready to fly home. I ventured on by ferry to Yantai. It was a 4 hr trip which I mentioned in my blog from Qingdao. Getting from Yantai to Qingdao was tricky. It was just beginning to dawn on me that China has a lot of people living in it (now that's insight!) and they all wanted to catch the bus / train when I did. On discovering there was no bus seat available from Yantai to Qingdao, I left the bus station to consider my options. A woman asked me where I wanted to go. I toled her and she announced to every taxi driver and car owner in a 5 mile radius, "This rich fuzzy haired western girl wants to go to Qingdao. Any takers?". Quite a crowd gathered and lengthy negotiations followed. I ended up in a taxi with three other passengers who were probably paying a tenth of what I had 'negotiated'.
Qingdao is on the map because it where China's #1 beer is made - the Germans taught them back in the day. The Germans also built some Bavarian style buildings here and they're still standing for now. The bbrewery tour was good - not just because of the freebies! Qingdao is also the venue for the sailing in the 2008 Olympics.
I had a not very exciting bus trip (caught it in the wrong direction. Wanted to go to a park) but did manage to buy myself a train ticket to Beijing (though this was mainly due to the ticket lady's fab English rather than my Chinese!).
Another enjoyable time in Beijing. I hired a bike and joined the traffic. A bit scarey at times (and followed by a nice sore throat after inhaling all of the fumes....pity the Olympians!). I went to the Heavenly Temple which was round and white and heavenly. Met some lovely people in the hostel with whom i played beach volleyball in a night club.
Most importantly though, I finally made it to the Great Wall-- hurray!!
I joined a group of five british girls (all travelling together and still friends!). We were doing a 10km stretch (that's around 0.2% of the total!) and I think it's fair to say we took it at an easy pace... it was flippin hot and I'm sure there was more 'up bits' than 'down bits'. I experienced a world shrinking moment when I walked past a girl who was on the same Geogrpahy course at Uni - very small world!!
I had heard lots about The Wall - that it has been reconstructed lots, that it is really touristy, not to mention the conditions under which it was built; but it is such an incredible thing to see - it just winds off, up and down into the distance. It was great. Needless to sat we all lubricated our aching joints with a few bottles of beer in the evening.
My legs had plenty of time to recover because the next day I took my longest train trip ever (so far) - 27 hours to Guilin, back in the South of China, North of the border with Laos.
Now well practiced in 'hard sleeper' train travel I enjoyed the trip; sleeping off my hangover, lunch and dinner of 'pot noodle' style delights, slurping the last remains of the 'soup' like the locals, reading and chatting to a lovely girl who helped me sort out onward travel tickets in Guilin to...
Yangshuo: A small town which is surrounded by limestone peaks and riverine scenery. It's also well and truly on the backpacker trail with all the negatives and positives that brings. I met a friendly bunch... including some girls from Poole who had gone to Parkstone Grammar School. See what I mean about it being a small world?!
Yangshuo definitely feels like SE Asia rather than China: The landscape and people all felt familiar. I turned into a tour operator's dream: I stayed there for 2 nights and managed to pack in a cookery lesson, bike ride, boat cruise and light show. Phew.
The cookery lesson involved a trip to the local market where there was many sights to be seen- all kinds of creatures (dogs, frogs, fish, chickens, pigs etc) in various stages of culinary preparation. One ofthe most vivid images was a woman preparing eels: pushing one end onto a nail, syripping the skin off and removing the other bits and pieces. Blood everywhere. Made all the more surreal by the fact that she was wearing red, open toed, high heeled shoes.
The night show was fab: set on and around a lake / part of the rive (?). Hundreds of people taking part. men balancing on boats doing choreographed rowing without falling off. Lots of singing. Gives me goosebumps thinking about it.
It was from Yangshuo that I returned to Hong Kong. Yet another night train. Good stuff. My return to HK involved a solo return visit to Pizza Express (I day dreamed about it in the school office in Shenyang!). Shopping too.. because that's what everyone does in HK!
I enjoyed part II of my China experience: I met more lovely helpful people and probably came to accept / ignore / join in with some of my least favourite aspects of Chinese culture. During the many hours spent sat on the trains, I had moments of pure enjoyment and appreciation of where I was and what I was doing. Would I go back??? Hmmm. maybe. But not on my own and only if I had made a concerted effort on the language front beforehand.
However, after six months I was looking forward to getting back to western culture and I was quite excited to be flying out of Hong Kong. I even asked for a window seat!!!