A Travellerspoint blog

Yangshuo!

sunny 37 °C

How nice to leave the city! How sad to leave a wonderful travel partner. I made the venture to Yangshuo by myself, but met another solo traveller looking somewhat discombobulated, and took the bus down together. I had a few hours overlap in Yangshuo, so I had some company, and got a good tour of the town and sent them on their way on the night bus.

Yangshuo is another 'small town' of 310 000. It is quite touristy. Lots of Chinese tourists and lots of international ones. The pull isn't the town it's self, but the surrounding area. I suggest you google Yangshuo now. Mmmmm hmmmm. Nice eh? Stunning in my mind. It was just a little hot there - 37 degrees to be exact.

Like everytime I get to a new city, I spent the first day wandering and getting my bearings. The second day, I got on a bike and just went. There is something incredibly liberating and exhilarating about getting on a bike and just going. I sort of knew where I wanted to go - two bridges about 2 hours out of town - but really just wanted to ride. After about an hour I met a couple from San Fran, and we rode together to the farmer's market. What an overwhelming place! Definitely nothing like the Vancouver farmer's market. There are plenty of delicious vegetables, but also baskets of dried who-knows-whats and animals of all sorts - freshly killed dog meat, checkens crammed in cages, frogs in bags (we even saw a frog tied on a leash), all sorts of squirmy things from the river, and fish freshly slit open, hearts taken out but still eating. I ate vegetarian that night. After, we made our way to the bridges where we swam and just hung out for a bit and had lunch. We the started to make our way back, and decided tofollow the river. This sent us along a path that became more and more narrow, until it was about the width of one and a half bike tires. There were multiple falls off bikes, tons of blood and bruises but lots of laughter. Finally, after lots of laughter from the lovely old locals working in their fields, we found our way back to the road. I am sure we ruined some plants as we squeezed by, but hopefully made up for it with entertainment for the farmers. After that we were headed in slightly different directions so we said our goodbyes and I made my way to somewhere where I could catch a bamboo raft part way back to town. It was a beautiful ride down, and actually quite a nice ride back, although my behind was particularly sore at that point. By the end of it all, my bike adventure lasted 8 hrs, and resulted in plenty of bruises and scrapes.

The next two days were actually quite low-key because I had a head cold and was actually getting worried I had a sinus infection the pressure was so bad. I spent time in bed, and wandering town, and reading by the river. The river was actually quite warm - almost like bath water - because it had been so hot! I also went For foot reflexology and absolutely amazed at how bang on she was with problems. The first she mentioned was stomach problems, and I was thinking she probably just says that to every traveller, but when she picked out insomnia I was amazed!

On my last day, I took a great cooking class, in a stunning location and learned a lot. I can't wait to make all the food when I go home! There was another girl travelling solo (who had also fallen off her bike) so we hung out together for the day. We went back to the same doctor for therapeutic massages. They were so so painful, but so so good (and cheap!). At one point, he was massaging my cheeks, and it was like something in my sinuses clicked, and there was a huge pressure release. So good! The rest of the day was spent wandering and eating and meeting otter travelers (I practiced a lot of French and Spanish), until I got on an overnight bus to shenzen, which is right by the border with hong kong. That but was one time I was happy I was short! I fit perfectly on the bed. There were lots of tall European men on the bus and the poor things' legs were falling out everywhere! From shenzen, I made it across the Chinese border (bye china!) and into hong kong (hey hk!). No eventful wandering searching for my hostel! I'm looking forward to seeing hong kong!!

Right now, I'm still not sure when I'm comin home. My flight is booked for the 20th but I want earlier. Apparently everything is booked (except for the 10th, but that was too early for me to leave!), so I'm calling every morning to see if there is a cancellation. I figure even if I'm Herr until the 20th, I could always just pull up the gr 4 IRPs on my phone and sit in a Starbucks to read them. It would be just like Vancouver!!

Posted by jchapelski 07:46 Archived in China Comments (0)

Xi'an

overcast 23 °C

Like I said... Xi'an started with a good story. At the time I kept repeating that in my head...some day this will make a good story...soon we will laugh about this.

Our flight arrived in Xi'an a bit late, so after finding the shuttle to city center, we got to the city at about 9 pm. We were confident we knew where we were going. According to lonely planet, our hostel was super close (within walking distance) so we headed off. We walked along a bit longer than we expected, until we found the right addresses, but our specific address wasn't there. So we walked back. No address. At this point we had passed a hotel that we decided to go back to since it was now close to 10 pm. Just as we got there, a cab stopped, some guy got out and said a very English sounding hello to us in passing. I chased after him in hopes that he could help us. It turn out he lives half his time in new York, half his time in xi'an so he was perfect to help us - he knew the area and spoke English. He had no idea where it was, so he called the operator and many friends until he figured out the address in the lonely planet was wrong. He told some rickshaw drivers where to take us and off we went. We drove in those rickshaws in circles for an hour until Chelsea and I got frustrated and told them to drop us off where we originally got off of the airport shuttle. We tried to use the wifi in that place to find the adress, but no luck. We decided to walk back to the hotel we saw. On the way back, we actually found the hostel, at the wrong address (I've emailed lonely planet about this but got no response). The doors were closed and we knocked loudly but no luck. We made our way back to that hotel, and after a rousing game of charades, figured out they had no vacancy. Plan c was to huddle in the corner of the 24 hour KFC we had passed by, but they gestured for us to wait a minute, and handed me a phone. There was an English speaking lady from some government agency on the other end who said that there was a driver that could take us to another hotel. At that point, I was ready to take anything. So, after 3 and a bit hours of wandering the city by foot, rickshaw, taxi, and private driver, we checked into our hotel, and wrote some nasty emails to the hostel (for shitty directions given only in English and pinyin) and lonely planet, settled in to sleep. That 3 hours of venturing around in the rain carrying backpacks was exhausting! The whole time we were searching for our hostel, I never once felt unsafe. China has felt very very safe for me wherever I have gone.

Needless to say, the next day was spent sleeping, having coffee in Starbucks (a bit of a taste of home) and sitting in a cafe having good food and tea. We decided to stay at the hotel one more night and then moved to another hostel. With that, our 2 night intended stay in Xi'an turned into a 4 night stay...then a 5 night stay! I enjoyed xi'an, despite the cold weather (22 degrees) and rain. The Xi'an city wall (or shitty wall as we called it - south park reference fully intended) is apparantley one of the only ones left intact in China. The city has obviously outgrown it, and most of the newer buildings are on the outside. We rented bikes and rode the 14 km around it one day. It was quite nice. Another day, we went to go see the terra cotta warriors. It was crowded there, but stunning to see! I'm really glad I went.

We had some nice days of just wandering and chilling out. One day, we wandered the Muslim quarter of the city, and picked up some fruit for lunch. We treated ourselves to a Starbucks again, and while we were in there it got really cold and poured. I sat there, drinking my coffee, eating my delicious mandarin oranges while listening to jazz music. If I closed my eyes, I could have sworn I was in Vancouver at Christmas time. What a bizarre sensation to have in china in the middle of the summer!!

Chelsea and I parted ways after xi'an. She is heading to Tibet. I made the decision not to go. I think it would have been too emotional for me. After hearing the stories, and getting to know the Tibetan people when I was in India, I think if I went I would have just cried. Now, after a few days thinking about it, I am sure I made the right decision. Upon my arrival I Yangshuo, Tibet came up in a 10 minute conversation I had with another traveller. She told me that she had spent time with Tibetan people in India and Nepal and that if she went to Lhasa it would just be too emotional. It's like she was telling me my own story and emotions. The universe somehow arranged for her to walk by while I was slightly lost and looking for directions.

Now I am off to Yangshuo in the south for some alone travel time! Don't worry, if I can't find my hostel, I won't wander the streets until midnight by myself!

Posted by jchapelski 07:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Beijing

sunny 37 °C

What a whirlwind! After Shanghai, 6 of us headed to Beijing. We found our hostel no problem and went straight to see Tianamen Square since it was a 10 minute walk from our hostel. We ended up going the wrong way at first, and while I'm usually pretty good with directions, getting disoriented the first night screwed me up for the whole of our time in Beijing. I could never tell where we were or what direction anything was, and there were plenty of good jokes made about it! That being said, by the end of our 6 days there, I got my sense of direction back.

Beijing was very much a check list city for me. There were lots of things you had to see, such as the great wall, Tianamen square, the forbiden city, but I didn't enjoy the city its self. It was very very very smoggy, and busy. Lots of pushing, more staring at the white girls than normal, and lots of pushy people trying to sell you stuff. I can handle a lot of that after being in India, but I found Beijing to be too much.

The first day, we went to a few parks close to our hostel, and while we were walking, we noticed we were sweating waywayway more than normal. I've never had my arms and legs sweat like that, as I'm not usually a sweaty person. This was like nothing I've ever experienced. Once we got back to have some cool off time, there was a complete downpour and thunder and lightning storm. Kristen and I went out to go shoe shopping (I badly needed some walking sandals after getting rid of my birkenstocks) and we were wading through ankle deep puddles the whole time. It rained until the next morning, and the smog was all gone! Our day visiting the forbidden city the next day was beautiful and we all actually burned by accident. The forbiden city was stunning to visit, but it was draining because of the crowds. I would have like to have been able to just wander, but because there are so many people that visit, and because it's China, everything is very guided and controlled. You couldn't just wander. That night we had peking duck - what everyone says you MUST eat in Beijing. We went to a very popular one, and they came around with a big trolley of cooked ducks that they cut up in front of you. It was actually quite delicious!!

The next daywas our great wall adventure! We booked it with our hostel and went on a tour bus with a bunch of other white people to a part of the wall called Jinshaling. We lucked out because the rain had washed away all the smog and it was bright blue sky and smoking hot! It was about a 3 hour drive outside of Beijing and isn't super touristy. There were actualy points where it felt like it was only me on the wall because I couldn't see anyone else! Parts of the wall where we hiked have been restored, but most of it is pretty old and crumbly. We definitely pretended to be soldiers patrolling the wall, keeping the Mongolians out. I was actually quite shocked by how steep parts of the wall were! i was definitely climbing of hands and feet at some points, and got quite the vertigo going down some places. I didn't resort to going down on my behind, but I was pretty close! I really never thought I would be on the great wall. It was definitely an unforgettable experience. I found myself not hiking that far, partly because it was so hot, partly because I kept stopping to look around and just be amazed at the fact that I was standing on the great wall. Crazy.

The next day, we said goodbye to 3 travel mates, and then went to go see more of Tianamen square. We also went to go see a Lama temple, that is 'advertised' as a Tibetan Temple, but it was like nothing Tibetan I've seen in my travels. I don't want to write a lot here, but after my experience in India (these posts from when I was in Dharamsala, India give a bit of a taste, but I've since done much more reflecting on the situation with that ethnic group http://jchapelski.travellerspoint.com/8/ http://jchapelski.travellerspoint.com/10/), I found it broke my heart more than anything.

Our last night in Beijing was spent at the night market, and on the main shopping street browsing - I of course spent a big chunk of time in the foreign languages book store, while I found Chinese folk tales in French that I bought for my class next year). Our last night with Kristen ended with me and her enjoying a nice cold pijo (beer) in a street cafe. I left Beijing with a much better taste in my mouth than when I arrived, but I can't say it is a city I would hurry back to.

Next, Chelsea and I are off to Xi'an (in fact we are already here)...and believe me, I have a good story from our first night!

Posted by jchapelski 04:41 Archived in China Comments (0)

Shanghai

I've fallen in love with Shanghai. I don't know why, or what it is I like about the city, I just really enjoyed it. The first day and a half I was there we were still with the group. We went to a few markets, and wandered the bund, the strip along the river. The skyline of Shanghai is stunning. One of the buildings that we affectionately named the bottle opener, is the third tallest building in the world. The rest of the architecture is stunningly modern. We went to the top of one of the second tallest building in Shanghai at night, then went back down a few floors to a bar for our last night together as a group. Really, we were paying a mighty high price for the view. I'll admit that I am missing some of the people from the group. I really enjoyed the people I was teaching with!

After being in a 'small town' of 600 000 it was quite the change being in an international city. Also, with all the traveling I've done, I've never been to a big international city. Never been to London, or Tokyo, or Toronto. I really liked being in such a big city. It's fascinating to be in a city of 23 million. What surprised me was how safe I felt. There were many times that I (mom, don't read this) walked alone at night back to the hostel and felt 100% safe. Same on the metro too. In fact, I like to consider myself a bit of a Shanghai metro expert, except for the fact that every time I go back to east Nanjing rd station where my hostel was, I came out a different exit. I was usually momentarily lost on my way back, but with a little wandering could fix the problem!

One of the things we saw was the Communist propaganda poster museum. To find it, we had to wander behind an apartment complex, and into the basement of an apartment but it was well worth it. Fascinating to see the progression.

While we were in Shanghai there was always diving and water polo on tv. It turns out the FINA world championship were there. I chose to take one of my days to go see some diving. I saw women's 3m springboard prelims and semi finals and men's 3 m springboard finals. The venue was absolutely stunning! If you google 'oriental aquatic center' you can see the venue. Absolutely stunning! It was so nice to have a day to myself and not to have to talk to anyone. Traveling with a group that got get along with can result in lots of talking.

Next stop...Beijing!

Posted by jchapelski 19:14 Comments (0)

One journey ends...another begins

sunny 35 °C

That's it! I'm officially on summer vacation. I'm done teaching until September. Friday was my last day teaching, and while the second week was tougher, a lot of the kids said thank you many times at the end, and said they really enjoyed English class that week. I'll admit that the last day wasn't a HUGE amount of English (we did an egg drop where I gave them certain materials and their goal was to drop an eg from the second, third, or fourth floor without it breaking. One egg actually survived a drop from the 6th floor!! I was impressed) but we were basically the entertainment at summer camp for these kids. At the end of it, I realize how much I learned in the teaching aspect (high school isn't exactly my specialty - infact I've only ever taught it internationally) and from the students. Their emotion and curiosity was raw and honest. Beautiful. I found it quite refreshing. Tonight (Saturday night) was their talent show. Tres cute!

On a side note, I didn't have to teach today so I went in to Hangzhou with 2 other girls who didn't have to teach and we rode bikes. I am still alive! That is something to be proud of!! They have great bike lanes separated from traffic for most of the way.

I spent the evening packing up my backpack as we are off to adventure. As a group we are heading to suzhou then shanghai. From there, I am adventuring with some friends around shanghai a bit more, then to Beijing, Xi'an, Yangshuo and the surrounding area, then hong kong and home! I thought I was going to need to be home for interviews, but after I checked my shook board email for the first time since I left, I found out I've web placed already. I'll be teaching grade 4 French immersion. I'll have my own class!!!!! No more table and filing cabinet, but I'll keep my picnic basket with me just because I've used it in my positions the last 2 years and would feel naked without it!

Posted by jchapelski 09:46 Archived in China Comments (0)

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