Starting today at 6:30pm I became a single dad.
The Instakater headed off to Cancun (with a night in Detroit first) at that time.
Naturally, CJ is fighting a cough and a very slight ear infection, so she can be unexpectedly crabby and has not had a solid BM in at least a week.
Wish me luck.
China Part IV
Our flight to Yangshuo was uneventful and once we arrived Karl and I were quite unhappy to find that the temperature was 33C. The end of September is still quite hot in that part of the world. We are talking sweating while doing nothing hot. Thankfully, the van that we took from the airport to our hotel was very air-conditioned and very large (for China).
By this point my cold was getting to the point where I had to blow my nose every other minute. Once we settled into our rooms...sidetrack... we opted for the rooms without air-conditioning although Karl and I thought hard about it. We did have ceiling fans and mosquito nets over the beds so it was real safari life... end sidetrack... we went down to the hotel gazebo for drinks and dinner. As it turns out we never made it out of the gazebo. After many many beers and a very nice dinner we once again got into a political/economic discussion. Once again Lynn and I started off together, but quickly diverged. Then it turned into 3 on 1 for the next 3 hours. I felt bad for Lynn but there was nothing mean spirited about it.
Yangshuo has some of the most interesting "mountains" that I have ever seen. They are called Karst and are limestone projections that are nearly completely individual and separate from each other. Paul lead us out on a walk/hike thru the area. We got to see some very poor Chinese people and got a real feel for how the people in China outside of the big cities live. Our hike took us thru actual Chinese rice patties, we saw water buffaloes, and a super old Chinese man sitting in a pass between two Karst mountains smoking down on something.
One of the best parts of the trip came near the end of this hike. We came to this river that had a very small damn. While we were not very confident in the cleanliness of the river we still got in for some swimming and cooling down. I found that if you sat on the damn just right then the water would pour over you shoulders and down your back and act as a cool and refreshing message. I think we spent nearly an hour in the river, before hiking back to the hotel.
Upon on return Karl and I had a beer and a coke, and then Paul ordered a banana shake for all of us. After a shower we got a taxi to downtown Yangshuo. There we had dinner, bought gifts (and really tested Paul's haggling skills again), had many beers and generally finished out the Yangshou experience.
The next day we played it cool again before catching the van back to the airport. Once we were 40 minutes out of the hotel we realized that one of us had forgotten our passport. After a 20 minute return, during which someone from the hotel drove to meet us, we were back on our way to the airport. It seemed to take forever, at least to me. The flight to Beijing was a rare one-stop trip. So we flew for about 90 minutes and then landed again before continuing on to Beijing. We didn't do all that much once we got back to Beijing. After getting back to the hotel (the same one from the start of the trip) we went out for dinner (and beers, of course). After eating dinner in a small, hot, smokey restaurant where the food was great we found a "bar" that was staffed by the original Chinese beatnik.
Paul and Karl rode with me to the airport and it was sad to leave but I was glad to be getting back to Kate and Charlotte. Once I got to Japan I was able to catch most of the Japanese Grand Prix (the third different time I have been able to see an F1 race in the country that it was being run in) and chatted with a British guy who was living in Singapore.
On my flight back to Detroit I was able to sleep quite well and had a nice little conversation with a guy who has been working in Shanghai for years.
That is the short four-part version of my Chinese experience.
Just an update on the Politics Poll that Roland posted back on 4 November 2005.
Seems I still come up Democrat.
China Part III
After two days of early starts we got a bit of a break on the first morning in Xi'an. The plan was to take in the terracotta warriors. As with everything in China they are not really in Xi'an but about 70km away. Instead of taking a rented car we went with the more tourist bus. It was slower but less expensive (which really isn't an issue in China) but the really nice thing was that we all had leg room to relax.
The terracotta warriors were built about 2200 years ago and lost shortly thereafter. They were discovered by some peasents digging a well in 1974. Since then they have built some impressive building around the dig sites but have not really unearthed all that many of the over 6000 warriors. Sure the major part of the work is putting the pieces of the warriors back together (they were broken when an invading army trashed it shortly after they were sealed in.)
Karl and I took a break around lunch for some beers (a re-creation of the Forbidden City beer-amid) and Paul and Lynn joined us shortly after. Once we were done Karl had to return his audio tour so Paul went with him. Lynn and I did not see them again until we were back to the parking lot. At that point Paul and acquired us a car for the ride home and some beers.
On the ride home we negotiated they cabby to be our rented man for our ride out the Hua Shan (one of the 5 sacred Taoist mountains). We walked out to the Muslim district where we had a great dinner (very spicy) and then did a bit of haggling for goods. Paul is quite good at this by now and was able to get some great deals for us.
Since the mountain was to be another "active" day we had to get an early start. I think we met the cabby at 8am for our 2 hour drive. Paul insisted that we take the most demanding way up the mountain (which we all later appreciated) which was called the "soldier's way". This path was the shortest way up the mountain which also means that it is the steepest. There were two sections of the climb that involved us going up a "staircase" which was near vertical with a large loop chain to help pull yourself up.
It took us a mere two hours to get to the top and meet up with all of the tourists that had taken the gondola up (10 minute ride). Once up there we had a bit of lunch (a couple of bananas and some beer) and then walked around the peaks. Just as we started our descent (down the longer path) it began to sprinkle. The 1st part of the descent was nearly as steep and any part of the "soldier's way" but after the first 30minutes it became much easier and was a pleasant walk back to the parking lot. We had a nice dinner at the town at the bottom and then had our man drive us back into town.
We had little to do the next day before we got on our plane to Yangshou so we took it nice and easy.
China Part II
So we felt off on the first night.
Due in part to the disastrous bike adventure the others had on the day I arrived Karl had demanded that days begin earlier so that more could be done. So we woke up at 6:30am the next day (that's right 4 hours of sleep on top of many beers and a trans-pacific flight) to catch our rented man and car (that's something you can do in China) that was to take us out to the Great Wall.
I got put into the front seat for the drive out there. As my first real experience with Chinese driving this was interesting. The speed was not really the thing... it was more the complete lack of regard for lanes and traffic control. This applies to all driving in China. The horn lets people know you are muscling your way in, you intend to pass, you are passing, you would like to pass, or that you would like people to get a move on. You can pass in the right lane, the left lane, the right shoulder, the left shoulder, across the middle so you are heading into traffic. You stop and red lights, but you can make a right hand turn from the left lane, you never stop at an intersection that does not have a traffic light, and while you don't hit pedestrians, you do get as close as you can. As Paul said, "In China there are millions driving, but they all have been driving for only two years. It is a country of 17 year olds."
The Great Wall is called the Long Wall in China. Long Wall is probably a better name for it now. The portion that we walked/climbed was nice in places but quite run down in others. The most striking thing is that the wall is built on top of a mountain ridge and is at the end of a mountain range. So as a barbarian you would have to get all the way thru many mountains and then at the end scale a wall. We walked about 10km or 30 towers. We were on the wall for nearly 6 hours. The other amazing thing is that at every tower there we locals selling water, cola, and beer. Which usually sounded like watercolabeer.
When we finished the wall our man drove us back (2.5hour drive) to Beijing. We figured that it was our duty to have Peking Duck while in Beijing (nee Peking) so after a shower (each) we headed back out. We ended up at the swankiest place we would eat at the whole trip (our bill came to 481RMB) and had too much food to finish, but sadly not as much duck as we would have enjoyed. Naturally, we finished with some beer in a local bar.
The next day we were to catch our flight to Xi'an (say it like she ann) but we had enough time to take in the Forbidden City. Before you can enter the City you must pass thru the main gate with the large portrait of Mao (this is where he proclaimed the PRC in 1949). They are working very hard to get everything repainted and polished up before the Olympic games in '08. And it is a good thing too because a lot of the painted wood is quite faded and many things are quite discolored due to the pollution. (China has 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities.) The FC is very nice and to make it a bit nicer we pulled into a cafe and had a couple of beers and constructed a (what may be considered the FC's first) beer-amid (a beer pyramid).
After we left the Forbidden City we found a little hole in the wall restuarant (a place I would have never have gone into) and had meat filled dough balls and dumplings. After 5 plates of food and 4 beers we walked out of there with 30RMB less in our pocket. That makes $4 for 4 people for lunch.
We caught a cab back to the hotel and then off to the airport. When we got to Xi'an we caught a cab to the hostel. This must have been the worst cab in the city because I believe they were pumping the exhaust directly into the passenger compartment. Naturally we headed out after we got there for some beers.
More to come.
China, Part I
As Roland said, "Only Henry can go to China." So as a public service I will attempt to relate part of the history of our trip to China.
As the story starts I catch a flight out of GR for Detroit. Somehow they have a bunch of planes in GR that could not get into Detroit earlier due to weather. So they have me board an earlier flight to help me out. The funny part is that we don't board thru a jetway but thru the rear door of the plane.
Then while I am sitting in Detroit I look on my boarding pass for my flight from D-town to Tokyo. At the bottom it says "Visa Required." Now I kinda freaked out because, while I do have a Visa for China, I never even thought about needed a Visa for Japan. Would I get to Tokyo and then be denied access to my flight to China because I cannot walk thru the airport? Maybe foolishly I decided to go ahead and board the plane and take my chances.
The flight was a mere 13 hours, and our great circle path took us over Hudson Bay and northern Alaska before coming down the coast of Russia and then over Japan. Thankfully, on my arrival in Japan I was granted access to their airport and allowed to get onto my flight to China. Surprisingly, that flight is over 3 hours (not allowed to fly over North Korea).
My first impression on China is that labor is so cheap that they have people doing all kinds of jobs that would never happen in a developed country. They had four guys organizing the bags at the baggage carousel. I couldn't believe how easy it was to pass thru customs... much easier than the US.
In the Lonely Planet they say that the best thing to do to avoid jet lag is to get plenty of water (not alcohol) and to get to bed at the appropriate local time. So naturally, the four of us (Paul, Karl, Lynn and I) went directly out to the bars, had many beers, and didn't get to bed until 2am.
By the way, Tsingtao is pronounced ching-dow.
Stay posted for Part II.