A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Then it begins

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“Could passengers White and Asprey please proceed to gate 4 for immediate boarding!” our names seemed to echo round the departure lounge. We’re always last on the plane, its our game plan to be on the plane as short a time as possible. Let the people fight, and then we’d walk on calm and in control. The problem was, this time we were not in control, or more to the point ‘I’ wasn’t in control, I was running, but I was running away from the departure gate. I couldn’t think of a worse time for my four day bought of constipation to come to a violent end. You’ll be please to know I made it. And the flight.

That was two weeks ago, since then we’d travelled through six countries, travelled on buses, boats, taxis and five flights. We we’re just boarding our sixth. The last fifteen days had been fantastic, we’d spent time showing Sarah’s Mum and Dad all our favourite parts of South East Asia and it had been one of the best holidays we’d had in a long time.

But now this sixth flight marked the end of our holiday and the start of our travelling. There is a difference. Expensive hotels would give way to flee pit hovels, clean sheets would be replaced by biohazard-mattresses and spar baths would be a distant memory and we stood on a carpet of hair in some mank shower cubical trying not to touch the walls with our flesh.

We flew to Kuala Lumpur and checked into the Tune hotel in the airport grounds

Posted by asprey 08:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

To Hong Kong!!


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We woke up buzzing; today we fly to Hong Kong!! Something we’d planned for years and were both massively excited about.

As well as the obvious crashing and hijacking, there are a number of things you really don’t want to happen on a plane, like the wing you’re sitting next to getting struck by lighting, sending a huge bang and flash through the plane. This happened within 3 minutes of take off. I spent the next 20 minutes staring out the engine, willing it not to fall off or burst into flames. It worked.

Another thing you want to avoid are typhoons. The Pilot explained that we would be flying though one and actually used the words “may get a little extreme up here!”
The last two hours of the flight were ‘pants-fillingly’ extreme, massive turbulence picked up the plane, threw it down again then shook it a bit more. The plane would drop causing the seatbelt to suspend us in mid air until our gravity caught up and dropped us back into out seats. It was like being in a washing machine.

The third mid-air nightmare that came true was Hong-Pong-Fooey, the smelliest man in Asia sitting next to us, well Sarah. Fortunately Sarah handled it in her usual discrete style by saying, “Jesus Christ! Old Noodle Breath here is going to make me puke!”
“Noodle Breath can probably speak English”, I replied.
He looked at me awkwardly to confirm, then pretended to be asleep for the next four hours.

The turbulence continued as we came in to land, as the plane rolled side to side the wing tips seamed to be inches from the sea. I still don’t know if it was reassuring or more alarming to see the emergency services lining the runway as we landed.

A 45-minute bus journey delivered us to our Kowloon hotel, a 6ft x 8ft room, fully tiled walls floor and ceiling. It looked like a swimming pool locker room and had a funny echo thing going on, but it was clean enough and Peter, the owner, was very helpful in showing us how to turn the lights on, turn the fan on, turn the TV on, how the fridge door opened and how the key fitted in the door. I don’t know what we would have done without him.

With our heads in an exhausted haze we walked down to the waterfront to look over to Hong Kong Island, we couldn’t believe we were finally here. We were tired but happy.

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We ate at a great little rice and noodle bar on the way back to the locker room then collapsed on our brown, orange and blue day-glow sheets and fell asleep.

Posted by asprey 08:04 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Hong Kong


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We still have no idea how we are getting out of Hong Kong. We’d planned to head North West to the Three Gorges Dam so we could spend a few lazy days on the Yangki river cruise. We’d had to skip this last time we were in China because of the massive earthquake in Chengdu. Now it looked like Mother Nature was going to deny us again. The BBC world news reported that the South China Sea Typhoon (That had shaken us the day before) had dropped a months worth of rain onto China in the last few days and that the Three Gorges Dam was near bursting point. “…..the dam has only 20 metres capacity left and the water has risen over 4 metres in the last few hours”
I pictured the scene of the dam bursting in one of the superman films and you wouldn’t want to be down stream of that. Especially when the only thing that’s there to save you is the Chinese army. We’d seen the way they handled the situation in Xi’an after the earthquake in 2008. Our plans had to change again.

We’d worry about that later. We’d been told that the ferry ride across Hong Kong Harbour was one of the best sight seeing cruises in the world, and we weren’t disappointed. It cost 20p and took 6 minutes, but we enjoyed every second.
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The ride up Victoria Peak in the old tram was amazing, but gave our pants another thrashing.
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Two carriages hanging off the side of a mountain at 45 degrees on a steel cable is not the best way to relax. The views were amazing and we spent nearly an hour taking pictures so we could bore the relatives with them later.
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The idea to walk down was confirmed to be stupid when the heavens opened, the wind and rain destroyed our £3 Primark brollies forcing us to invest in some £3 ‘Typhoon proof’ brollies from the Chinese markets on the way back.
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Posted by asprey 08:06 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Run Forrest Run!


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The Dragon Boat Festival we’d looked forward to today was cancelled because of the rain, so we headed back over to the Island and purchased an open top bus ticket. After the rain had stopped obviously. We visited the observation deck of the China Bank Building on the 43rd floor because I’d not spent enough time already standing on huge buildings in Hong Kong battling my immense fear of heights. The view was nice though.

We braved the cable hanging mountain ride again to the top of Victoria Peak to get the view we’d looked forward to, Hong Kong by night.
It was breath taking. It was very busy at the top but there are benefits to being 2 feet taller then everyone else in the country.
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To get the complete Hong Kong experience we ate at Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Shack at the top of the Peak. The place was decorated with banners saying ‘run Forrest run!’ and ‘life is like a box a chocolates’ – I still don’t see the relevance but the food was great. We sat eating looking over the whole of Hong Kong, a great end to a perfect day.

Posted by asprey 06:12 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Hong Kong to Guangzhou

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Another early wake-up marked the start of another travelling day. A short 3-hour bus ride took us over the boarding into China and to the province capital of Guangzhou. Our first impression was of quite an uninspiring industrial town but it was our only route out of Hong Kong. We’ve travelled through many towns in China and loved most of them but this place seamed different, it had a kind of Eastern Block Cold War feeling about it. What was supposed to be the richest city in China just seemed a bit… rough.

On the good side our hotel was great, we’d booked it through hostelworld.com who are famous for forgetting to tell the hotel about your booking, so after a short bilingual argument we checked into our room and collapsed into the granite-hard bed

Posted by asprey 06:25 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged bus Comments (0)

Park Life

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Some of the best days happen buy accident and today was one of those days. We’d only come to Guangzhou as a stepping-stone to Xia’men so the plan was to plan nothing. It was chill out time.
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We read that the Shaiman island was the place to chill out, so after a breakfast of Frosties in the room, we headed down to the metro and onto the island. The island was beautiful other than all the building work going on. On the waterfront we sat on a circle of chairs next to a guy playing the accordion. After 10 minutes a guy on a bike turned up with a guitar on his back, he soon joined in with the accordion player. “Looks like we have a river side concert going on,” I joked. Then another guy who we’d taken no notice of suddenly pulled out a harmonica and just started jammin’. Bikes turned up and guys pulled out instruments, within 30 minutes there were nine guys playing every type of instrument. Sax, trumpet, maracas and some that I’d never seen before.
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It turns out the clave player had failed to turn up, although strangely, his claves hadn’t. I can only put this down to coincidence that I was the clave player in the school percussion band when I was nine years old. I may have mentioned this to a dude with a mic, the claves were thrust into my hand and the mic was trusted into Sarah’s hand. “Where you from?” we were asked buy a guy in silver trousers and white socks.
“England”
“We have England-song!”
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It turns out the song was Danny Boy, but I suppose when you’re in China its pretty close to an England-song.
Sarah sang along side a Chinese woman and I claved away. I must admit it was bit odd to hear two people singing Danny Boy, one in Chinese and one in English. Sarah made up the words she didn’t know, but no one seemed to notice.
We spent nearly four hours jamming in the park with our new band of friends.

On the way home we saw an Ikea, “do you think they do Swedish meat balls?” asked Sarah with excitement in her eyes. They did, and they were great!

Posted by asprey 06:26 Archived in China Comments (0)

Guangzhou to Xiamen

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I saw a news report a few weeks back that said the United Nations had made it illegal under international law to use sleep deprivation as a form of interrogation. For some insane reason we’d just paid ¥140 (£14) for a whole session of it. Guangzhou to Xiamen, 14 hours through the night on a ‘hard seat’ train. They’d been no sleeper berths left, not even ‘top hard sleepers’ triple-decker bunks open to the carriage that no one ever wanted. I’m writing this now having just got on the train; a challenge in it’s self. Hundreds of people stood in the waiting hall behind an iron gate, as the gate opened it was like the start of the London marathon, other than everyone had five bags each, as well as carrying boxes on they’re shoulder and children strapped to them. I don’t know how many people are on the train, there are 120 people per carriage and 18 carriages, I’m too tired to do the maths, but we fought and wrestled every one of them down the 200 metre corridor down to the platform and onto the train. It seems harsh to use our ‘big western size’ against the locals but they come back with speed and the ability to squeeze through a 2-inch gap. We all had seat numbers booked but that doesn’t seem to mean much here no-one takes much notice and they sell more tickets than they have seats for. The carriage was worse than we expected the seats faced each other and backs were bolt upright, interlocking your knees with the guy opposite was the only option. We were both depressed.
“£14 for 14 hours of hell!” said Sarah.
Eventually all the seats were taken and the unlucky ones stood in the isle. Sarah got chatting to the guy stood next to her, he was travelling home from university, which he did regularly. He was one of the first people we’d met since leaving Hong Kong who could speak English. “I go to see my family, my town is ten hours away. Lots of people get off in six hours so hopefully I’ll get a seat then.”
His comment cut our moaning dead. 14 hours on a hard seat or 10 hours standing?

It wasn’t long before the dried fish came out and got handed around, then the strange looking fruit, seeds and nuts. I accepted some kind of nut, which I ate whole, it tasted like all ten of your toe nail clippings in your mouth at once. Everyone started laughing before I realised you were supposed to take the nut out of the shell first. I suppose it was a good icebreaker.

We dinned on curry bread (a kind of nan filled with curry paste) and what we thought was a French loaf, but turned out to be filled with custard. It tasted better than it sounds, and was a hell of a lot better that the chicken’s feet with rice we had for lunch.

We’d seen two westerners in Guangzhou and we were the only one’s on the train. So we were getting used to being treated like the local celebrities/freaks. People took our pictures, stared and pointed whist chatting behind their hands, and I mean everyone in the carriage. One couple even came over and sat between us, posing for their picture. The news soon spread and people came from other carriages for a look at the white giants.

Posted by asprey 06:27 Archived in China Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Hell on tracks


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I managed about 20 minutes sleep and Sarah got half an hour’s worth. Our English speaking friend got his seat after six hours and ten hours into the journey the train was half empty so we could stretch our legs for the final stint, a kind of luxury in hell.

The misery continued when we got to Xiamen, our guidebook said we needed bus No.19 to the harbour, but obviously the bus stops were numbered 17, 18, 20, and 21 it took us over an hour to find the bus stop, which was miles away. And an hour feels like a day when it’s 30 degrees at 9am and you’re carrying everything you own.

Eventually we reached the harbour and caught the ferry to Gulang Yu the small island we’d been heading for. As we came into dock there was a huge banner saying ‘5th Gulang Yu Piano festival 26th July - 4th August’
My heart sank because festivals usually mean no accommodation. We entered the first hotel, “any rooms?”
“No! Piano Festival. Full. All full.”
Emotionally we were rock bottom. Neither of us spoke.
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Outside a woman handed us a leaflet for a hotel, talking to us in Chinese. I nodded and she waved us to follow her, she raced down ally ways and up hills, down footpaths and we eventually reached the hotel.
“No,” said the receptionist as I pointed to the picture of the room on the leaflet.

We both collapsed into a chair. We’d not slept for over 24 hours; I couldn’t remember the last time we’d eaten a proper meal, we were both soaked in sweat and didn’t smell the best. My head was numb and Sarah had tears in her eyes, and it takes a lot for that to happen.

I walked outside with the leaflet lady, “just find us a room please,” I asked. She had no understanding of the words coming out of my mouth but I think she read the whole story in my face.

I followed her down more ally ways and arrived at another guesthouse. It was a dump. “Any rooms?” I asked reluctantly
The guy nodded. He showed me the room and it was pretty bad, pealing plaster, a wonky bed and 8ft by 8ft roller blind with two three-year-old kids in a full on kiss printed on it. I felt my face screw up.
“How much?” I asked, thinking I wouldn’t pay more than ¥75 for it.
He picked up the calculator and typed ‘190’
I closed my eyes, sighed… and nodded.
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I went back to the last hotel where I’d left Sarah, I found her a little happier, chatting to a teenage girl who could speak some English.
A 5-year-old kid belted out amazing tunes on a piano in the corner of the reception.
“Who would have thought pianos could be so popular?” said Sarah.
“I’ve found us a room. Don’t expect much.” I replied.

A shower and a couple of hours sleep made us feel no better at all. So we headed out.
“What do you want to eat?” asked Sarah.
“MacDonald’s, KFC or Burgerking!” I answered without a second’s hesitation. One of our unwritten rules when we’re travelling is that we eat the local food. So I felt like a bit of a fraud as the words came out, but I didn’t care. The only thing I’d eaten in the last week that I could recognise had toenails; I just wanted a good feed.

There was a KFC round the very next corner.

With our stomachs full we walked down to the waterfront and were taken back by how beautiful that place was. In fact it struck me that I’d not taken any of the island in until now. We walk between the floodlit pagodas and up paths carved into the giant rocks.
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I don’t know if it was the salt and hydrogenated fat coursing through our vanes or the beauty of this place but we both agreed we were suddenly overcome with happiness.
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We walked for hours through the narrow ally ways, between magnificent buildings lit by the full moon and went to bed happy.

Posted by asprey 06:29 Archived in China Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Gulang Yu

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We found out that the next train to Shanghai was 6 days away and although this was a cool little town we really couldn’t afford to stay here that long. A Chinese guy called Carlos could speak some English and told us Fuzhou was the answer, “Fuzhou to Shanghai, ten trains a day, bullet train very fast, fastest train in china.”

“Those snogging kids are freaking me out,” said Sarah, “we have to get out of Pedo-Plaza!” So we headed over to Xiamen to sort out train tickets and some alternative digs.

At the station we bought tickets to Fuzhou, 2 hours, then tickets to Shanghai, 6 hours. A hell of a lot better that the 27 hour slow train we’d been trying to get on.

Within half an hour we’d found a cool little hotel much better and cheaper than Pedo-Plaza, and more importantly, no weird kiddie pictures, so we booked for the following night.

“I’m starving but I don’t want anything to eat!” I knew exactly what Sarah meant. If you think you like Chinese food because you have a take away once a week, go to South China and see if you can find anything that doesn’t make your stomach churn.

We walked into the nearest restaurant and as usual not one-person spoke English, after all why would they? We’d not seen a westerner in a week. All the menus and writing was in Chinese so after ten minutes of pointing, making chicken noises and trying out the few Chinese words we thought we knew (and now realise we don’t) we were no further on.

Desperate times call for desperate measures so I stood up and beckoned the girl to follow me. I walked through the back of the restaurant and into the kitchen, giving to two cooks a shock as I burst in. As the confused waitress looked on I picked up a pan of rice and nodded, then I picked an egg off the shelf and nodded, then a bunch of spring onions and vegetables. Then for the grand finale to my little charade I flapped my arms making a chickens noise as the two cooks and the waitress stared at me open mouthed.

Ten minutes later we were tucking into chicken fried rice with mixed vegetables. Sorted. Sarah had wanted spicy shrimp glass noodle soup (but not too spicy) but I thought that was a bit advanced even for my communication skills.

In the evening, back on Gulang Yu Island we went for a walk, somehow wondering into a cave, which, after ten minutes walking bought us out on the other side of the Island. It was like a secret passageway to a lost world, everything was different over there. Tiny streets lined with Portuguese and Victorian buildings.
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The locals ate their food, bathed their kids and played Chinese checkers in the street as we wondered amongst them. We just walked for hours talking about life. I loved every minute of it.
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Posted by asprey 06:30 Archived in China Tagged food Comments (0)

Gulang Yu - Sunshine Rock

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Carlos, the guy who’d told us about the bullet train, invited us to go and see the sun rise with him and his girlfriend Cheng. The alarm went off at 4:30am. Ouch! By 5:30am we were stood on top of Sunshine Rock, the highest point on the Island. The sunrise was a bit of a non-event because of the cloud but the views were amazing over the whole Island, across the river and the city of Xiamen. We took the obligatory photos and headed back down through a stunning traditional Chinese Buddhist temple.
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We were back in bed by 8am.

After breakfast (at 12: noon) we decided to walk round the island before leaving it. It’s strange the way a place can change your moods and have an affect on you; this place has certainly done that. Its just tranquil, chilled out and relaxed, very different to the way we felt when we arrived a few days ago.
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We paid our ¥8 and jumped on the ferry to Xia’men for a chill out and Internet session in our new, slightly less weird hotel room.
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We’re still trying to get consistent reports as to whether the train line is open between Shanghai to Xi’an. BBC news has reported that the rain has moved further south so we are hoping to be able to continue as planned. We’ve just found out that the day we travelled from Hong Kong to Guangzhou a huge mud slide took out the train line we were going to travel on so it, was the right decision to take the bus. Yesterday 300,000 people were evacuated from the city of Wuzhou, just 200Km west of Guangzhou because of massive flooding so I think we’ll be relieved to get out of the south.
It looks like the Yangtze River is still a no-go, another serge of water hit the dam again yesterday, the region has now had the heaviest rainfall for 100 years and the dam is at dangerous levels again. The death toll from the flooding is now over 800 with more that 400 missing.

Posted by asprey 06:32 Archived in China Comments (0)

Yongding


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Yongding is a World Heritage Site 2½ hours outside Xiamen. We got on the bus at 7:30am, two hours later the rickety bus climbed the steep mountain roads with dense forest on either side. I imagined us to be in the 1984 film Romancing The Stone as we ventured deeper into the wilderness.
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We soon arrived at the ‘Tulous’, the reason for our little one-day adventure. They’re ancient buildings built in concentric circles, the mud walls reach four storeys high, containing 400 rooms. Each Tulou used to house over a 1000 people and we were surprised to see people still living in them today.
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They were amazing from the outside and intriguing from the inside. We walked the narrow alleys between the circular buildings, each decorated with Chinese lanterns and birds hanging in cages.
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The local guide ushered us into one of the down stairs rooms where two tables, were set for dinner, each with ten place settings and ten tiny plastic stools.
“This should be interesting,” said Sarah.
“Hm, I hope there’s chickens feet!” I quipped.
Right in queue a woman walked in the door with a huge bowl of rice and a plate of chicken feet, another woman followed with steamed bamboo, tofu, and beef fat.
“Hmm! What’s for pudding? Beak?”
We started to eat and eighteen pairs of eyes stared at the two white giants sitting on the tiny stools waiting to see what we did next. Sarah looked at me, “this is going to be embarrassing”.
Suddenly – BANG! The tiny stool I was sitting on exploded into a thousand plastic splinters, I dropped twelve inches and my ass hit the concrete floor.
“Now that was embarrassing!” I said, in my driest voice, from under the table.
Sarah burst out laughing spitting out some of the rice she was pretending to eat. I don’t know if it was some kind of etiquette but not one other person round the table even cracked a smile, they just stared on.
Sarah continued wetting her knickers laughing as a guy stacked two of the flimsy stools on top of each other and passed it to me, saying something in Chinese. I translated it in my head to be, “there you go, this will be stronger you big heavy freak!”
“Xiexie” I thanked him.
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We continued our tour round the Tulous and the guy who built me the reinforced stool became our friend. We couldn’t speak a word of each others language but through basic sign language he told me I was very tall, my skin was very white, and strangely, that my socks were too thick and I really should consider a thinner pair.
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Posted by asprey 06:33 Archived in China Comments (0)

Bullet Train to Shanghai


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7am Alarm. These early mornings seem to be getting easier, maybe its because we’ve not had a drink of alcohol in the last 10 days. We’ve been advised not to drink for 2 months before going to high altitude and soon we’ll be in Tibet at over 5000 metres above sea level. It’s something to do with dying from altitude sickness or something, but its sounds serious so we’re off the grog.

By 1am we’d already done the bus to Xiamen train station and the first bullet train of the day to Fuzhou. Now we were boarding the second bullet train to Shanghai.

After surviving the usual rugby scrum of flying bags, kids and pots of noodles fighting to get on the train, we found a much more civilised and comfortable cabin, set out like an aeroplane. There was plenty of legroom. I didn’t have anyone’s fungal feet touching me and we couldn’t even smell the toilets. On paper the bullet train’s top speed is 300km/h but the in-cabin speed indicator showed that we were whipping along at a steady 154Km/h.

As we sat back and relaxed, hand in hand, my mind started to analyse things, as it tends to do sometimes. The Business voice in my brain often tells me that travelling is damaging my career; the adventure voice tells me I hate my career and we should be more extreme on our travels, and the sensible voice talks about settling down and growing up. As the mental battle continued something hit me like a kipper in the face… we we’re living the dream, speeding through china on a bullet train on our way to Shanghai. The conclusion to my analysis - I love our life… what will be, will be.

We knew the train tickets to Chengdu were going to be a problem, so we decided to buy them as soon as we got off the train in Shanghai. An hour later we found ourselves at the ‘other’ train station in Shanghai 10Km north of the one we’d arrived at, and the only place you can buy tickets to Chengdu.

After fighting the queue for half an hour, bags on back, we finally won our position in front of the scary looking ticket lady. We handed her a list of six different train numbers and five alternative dates we could travel on.
“No!” she said, throwing the list back at us.
“When is the next train to Chengdu?”
“All full” she barked
“When is the next available?”
“Never!” she barked again.
“Very helpful,” in my most patronising voice, “there are six trains a day, can you get us on one?
She huffed and rolled her eyes, “August 4. Standing only.”
“Standing? It’s 35 hours!”
“Yes. You want?”
Decency prevents me from typing what Sarah said next, but we walked away without tickets. I looked over my shoulder just in time to see the ticket woman throwing a list back at the next guy in the queue.

We hauled our bags for another hour before we reached the apartment we’d rented. We collapsed in bed exhausted

Posted by asprey 06:35 Archived in China Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Chinese Justice

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Your needs are much more simple when you travel. Today we were both overjoyed for one simple reason. The apartment had a washing machine and we both started the day with clean pants on. Pure bliss.

We found out that we were in the middle of the university summer holidays so all the train tickets were sold out for weeks. We would have to go against our travelling code and book a flight. Chinese government bureaucracy prevents foreigners booking flight tickets on-line (the same as it prevents foreigners using WiFi in public places and Facebook anywhere in the country) so we headed out to find a travel agent.
We decided to go via People’s Park and do a bit of sightseeing on the way. In the park a young Chinese couple approached us and started conversation. This happens about 5 times a day in China, young English students love to try their second language out on westerners. We chatted for about 30 minutes, they introduced themselves as Amy and Tony and offered us help to buy our plane ticket, this was a great help because we couldn’t even buy rice, never mind plane tickets.

“We’re going to a tea ceremony, would you like to join us?” Tony asked. It was on our list of things to do in China, so we jumped at the chance.
Amy and Tony lead us through the maze-like back streets of Shanghai and eventually to a teahouse on the second floor of a building. We had a great time with our new friends, learning the history of tea in china, the traditions and how to drink tea properly.
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The fun came crashing down when the bill came. ¥900 (£90)
“Oh my God, I feel sick!” Said Sarah.
We only had ¥400 on us so Amy agreed to pay the rest.
Sarah and I agreed to avoid teahouses from now on.
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Tony and Amy said their good-byes and we headed to the Bund, the most famous area of Shanghai.
After half an hour of walking another young Chinese couple walked up to us, introduced themselves and asked if we wanted to go to and art exhibition with them.
It was like a double bitch-slap, both mine and Sarah’s jaw dropped at the same time as we made the same realisation.
“We’ve been scammed!”
“Oh my God, we have!”
Sarah flicked through the guidebook to the section on scams in Shanghai. They were numbered. No.1 was called ‘The Teahouse Scam.’
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Sarah has two types of angry, the ‘loud type’ and the much scarier spine chilling ‘quiet type’ – Sarah was now ‘quiet angry!’

I found it particularly upsetting because we pride ourselves on the ability to spot a scam. This one was so obvious and we walked straight into it. I’m still not sure if it was steam coming out of Sarah’s ears or just a bit of heat haze off the river, but she was angry.

“Sarah, we can’t let this spoil our three days in Shanghai. We have to either put this behind us and move on, or…”
“Or what?” Sarah asked hastily.
I hesitated to think, “or we go back and see if we can find them.”
“And beat the crap out of them!”
“I was thinking more along the lines of getting our money back,” I replied.
“And them beat the crap out of them. He’s half your size and I can definitely take her!”

As we walked back I calculated in my head the odds of getting our money back. The answer I came up with was ‘zero’. But that didn’t matter; we were like two bloodhounds on the scent of wanted crims.
We walked through the park but as expected they were nowhere to be seen. Plan B was to try and retrace our steps through the maze of back streets and try and find the teahouse.

I don’t know how we did it, probably driven by anger and frustration but twenty minutes later we were stood outside the teahouse. The girl who had performed our ceremony was at the entrance, and looked like she’d seen a ghost as we walked in.
“We want to see Tony and Amy.” Ordered Sarah.
“Me no understand” the girl replied, looking terrified
“We both know you do, where are they?!”
The girl crumbled instantly.
“Ok, tea too expensive. I give you discount. ¥100 back.” She said nervously.
Reinforcements arrived, another girl ran in, obviously the boss.
“I want ¥200 back!” I demanded.
The boss lady told me to wait and made a phone call. A second after she’d pressed the green call button I heard a phone ring in the back room, followed by the muffled but recognisable short-tongued voice of Tony.
“He’s in the back room!” I blurted out in disbelief, “right! I want ¥300 back.”

The tea ceremony girl pulled out two ¥100 notes and handed them to me.
“And another one.” I ordered.
She reluctantly handed me the third.

We had want we came for. Well, I had what I’d come for.
“Right, get them two out here now!” demanded Sarah, “we have unfinished business.”
There was a ten-minute standoff with Sarah trying to get down the corridor to the back room whilst being blocked by the two tea scammers.
Eventually I had to step in, “ok, enough is enough. Old school rules. We’ll wait for them outside!”
This sent the two girls into a frenzy, knowing we’d tip off the people in the back room when they came out and that we’d stop any new people going in.

We hung around outside for ten minutes just for the devilment of it. Eventually I got bored so we went across the street for a cup of tea. It cost ¥4.
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Posted by asprey 06:36 Archived in China Tagged food Comments (0)

Shanghai - Chillin'

sunny 42 °C
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As we strode out of the apartment in clean undies again I counted fifteen steps before the first bead of sweat ran down my back. It was baking again so we’d come up with a plan; just a lazy day in Shanghai. We hung out in parks with the locals and drank ice tea watching the world go by.

Exhausted from doing nothing we needed an afternoon nap. To be honest I think the heat had gotten to us. It had been well over 40 degrees since we’d been in Shanghai and at 9pm last night it was 42 degrees.
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In the evening we walked the length of the Bund, taking in the amazing scenery of the city lit up and the riverboats going by. It was beautiful.
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Posted by asprey 06:37 Archived in China Comments (0)

Flight to Chengdu


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The metro ride to the airport that we estimated to be about thirty minutes actually took one hour and forty minutes.
Suddenly I had a thought. “How many airports are there in Shanghai?” I asked.
“Two.” Sarah replied.
“Are we going to the right one? We’re heading for the International airport and this is a domestic flight.”
“Hm, good point. Well we have a 50/50 chance of being right I suppose.”
We ran through Shanghai’s massive airport, still not knowing if we were at the right place.
A huge sign said, ‘Terminal 1 – international flights. Terminal 2 – Hong Kong and Macu’
There were a few minutes of panic before someone told us the Chengdu flight went out of terminal 2. After another short sprint we checked in six minutes before that gate closed. Still not as close as the Phom Pehn to Singapore flight we did three weeks ago where we checked in four minutes before that gate closed. We really should get organised.

After landing in Chengdu we did another rugby scrum to get tickets for the shuttle bus. This was a really good one, with some serious effort needed to fight through the crowd, thrust money into the ticket girl’s hand and snatch two tickets at the same time.

The booking confirmation for the hostel said ‘stay on the shuttle bus to the end of the line then get a taxi.’ Sounded easy. After stopping our fifth taxi we realised it wasn’t that they didn’t know where our hostel was, it was that we’d written the address down in English, and they could only read Chinese letters.

I stopped a guy who bore a striking resemblance to Simon Pegg (minus the blonde hair obviously). He could speak very few words of English but was very eager to help us. After fifteen minutes Simon Pegg had recruited the help of four other people, all of which could speak five words of English. I could see his theory, if we got enough people together who knew five words, eventually we would have enough words to make a whole conversation.

It didn’t work. All that happened was the small crowd drew a bigger crowd, after half an hour there were twenty two people surrounding us on the street corner, all very eager to help and all of them without a clue of where our hostel was. The piece of paper showing the address in English was passed from person to person, each of which would scratch their head and point in a different direction to the last person who’d tried to read it.
The next thing, flashing lights and sirens, “Oh God, we’re making so much of a scene the police have arrived!”
“No, no,” said Simon Pegg, “I have called them, maybe they can help.”
Out of the twenty-four people on the corner, the only two who weren’t eager to help were the policemen, instead they took Simon Pegg to one side and started interrogating him. Then they pushed him to the back of the pavement and took a statement from him.
“Jesus!!! This is getting out of hand.”
Then a lady stepped forward and asked the police to take us to the hostel to save us the price of a taxi, the answer was a swift ‘No!’

A guy with a Canadian/Australian accent stepped forward, “is there something kicking off?”
“Not really,” I replied, “We’re lost and the whole town has come out to help us.”
“And now they have confused you even more?” he asked with a jiggle.
“Well, police are taking statements, so that’s not a good sign.
“Jump in my car, I’ll drive you.”
We thanked everyone, especially Simon Pegg who was still under police caution and getting a grilling at the side of the road, and jumped in the car.

The guy’s name was Richard; he was Canadian but had grown up in Sydney, he’d moved to China to marry his wife Binbin. Within three minutes we were outside the hostel.

As we settled down in our 6-bed-dorm I wondered if Simon Pegg had escaped the police or whether he was settling down in a 6-bed-cell somewhere.

Posted by asprey 06:38 Archived in China Comments (0)

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