Tuesday, 3 April 2012

ONE MONTH IN CHINA

One of the world´s oldest civilizations! Very vivid and full of colour and smell…but.. Im not planning to go back there any time soon. Im happy I was there, happy I saw it but still would prefer to go back to other counties. One of the biggest put offs for me was the smog. Especially in big cities you cannot see the sun and the sky at all, its grey all day long. In the Lonely planet I read that 20 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world are in China. And I kind of trust the authors this time.
Another one, we all know about the notorious hygienic condition – one of most disgusting toilets ever (and Im not a delicate one :)), actually you are lucky if you find one. You will find dirty squat toilets, which are the worst aspect in the country. In remote, rural areas you might be forced to relieve yourself above a long trough – privacy, if any, made by low, fragile walls – maintained with regular flushes of water from a source at one end. Riding on buses for hours, they would just stop in the middle of nowhere; women would just go to the right, men to the left, and the rest of the details you probably would not want to know. 
And what´s with all the spitting?
Chinese men spit and hawk as loudly as they can, and sometimes even rub it in their trousers. Hearing the sound of somebody clearing their throat from way deep down and then horking out the product is a frequent daily occurrence. 
So maybe some may think spitting on the road isn’t so bad, even though it’s literally every 5 seconds that someone is hawking. But get this: many Chinese people even spit on the bus, and onto the floors of restaurants and public toilets. 
But food, yeah, the food is amazing. Cheap and real good (and spicy, really spicy). My tolerance for spicy food has gone up so much this month in China. 
And shopping is addictive in China. Mostly all the clothing you buy lasts no longer than a few days but that’s another story. Its cheap and available everywhere, involves a lot of bargaining though but I like that part.
XINJIAN
My truck


With the truck driver, getting into the city after leaving the truck

Xinjian is like a whole other country enclosed within Chin´s borders. The language (Uighur) is not just a different dialect but a completely different linguistic family (Turkish but using Arabic script). Today it belongs to China and no wander why Beijing wanted it so badly. It´s larger than Alaska, 1/6 of China´s territory; hyper rich wit Silk road history; geopolitically crucial, as it borders eight nations; populated by a mix of 50 minorities; It encompasses a geographical palette of shimmering desert aquarelles, taiga pastureland dotted with flocks of sheep and grand mountain ranges. Oh, and it sits atop 30% of China´s oil reserve. Beijing took a full advantage of the events following 9/11 to further crack down on Uighur nationalism by locking up or executing thousands of suspected Islamic terrorists with, ultimately, Washington´s tacit approval (and the rest of the world´s cacophonic silence).
Many Uighurs can’t or won’t speak Mandarin. But now the kids are taught in Chinese at school. 


Kashgar
Got there in the late afternoon, the truck driver dropped me off at his company depot and then he put me in a taxi to go to the YHI hostel where apparently everybody stays. It was such a nice atmosphere there. Most of the travelers were cyclists and came the same way I did or via Pakistan (Silk road again). The hostel had a big inner court and there was constantly someone fixing or cleaning the bikes or trying to wash the tents.
Massive bike surgery


I ended up staying almost a week at the hostel. God, I needed it! After all the rush to the Chinese border and nights without proper sleep I needed a break. We wandered the streets of Kashgar and the night market with some of the people from the hostel. One day we rented bikes from the hostel and went on an a couple hour ride to the nearest village. The Israeli girl who was “the leader” had a little note in Uighur saying “We would like to see your house and gardens, would please take us there” and showing it to the first family we saw, they invited us to their house. We had some bread and tea, and also picked and ate grenadines and figs from the garden (mmm, they were so big and delicious).
The family that invited us to their house and garden

Met the same Italian couple I met at the Kyrgyz-Chinese border (the one who thought I was Chinese). Actually the locals I talked to, always were telling me that I look Uighur. I always thought that when I get to China I wouldn’t be confused for a local. 

I made friends with Ogyzian – Turkish/Dutch guy and we went together to Caracul – a beautiful lake one hour away from the Pakistani border. 


Lake Caracul
The lake was lovely but it was so cold up there (3500m above the sea level – the highest lake of Pamir plateau). We slept in a yurt (finally I fulfilled my dream to do it after the bad luck in Kyrgyzstan), under 7 blankets (it was warm but I literally couldn’t move at all) and had some midnight visitors that scared the shit out of me jumping over my 7 layers of blankets and my face... God, I hate cats!


The effect of smile detecting option of my camera
Our Yurt
Goodbye photo with our Kyrgyz Chinese host family

Hotan
Ogyzan and I took a 14 hour bus to Hotan from Kashgar, which was my first experience on buses in China. Was horrible - stinky, stuffy and packed. We were the only foreigners of course. Most of the foreigners actually prefer to use trains which is way more comfortable but still depends on the class you buy the ticket for. On the buses (they are usually equipped with beds for long distances but in China all the distances are long J) you pay slightly more if u sleep on the bottom, don’t know why cos on the top u get more fresh air. Everyone takes their shoes off and sometimes the smell is horrible. Fortunately, at night it gets quite chilly so you don’t feel the smell anymore, they usually have comfy pillows and duvets, and if the air conditioning is not too powerful you can actually sleep well.
Typical overnight bus
Its hilarious how they make the baby trousers in China - so easy for them and the mothers :) 


Love dates
As I was traveling by buses most of the time (usually they make a break of 20-30 min for dinner), by the end of it I learnt how to have a Chinese boiling extremely spicy noodle soup with chopsticks in less than 20 minutes!! So proud of it! At the beginning the bus was leaving and I was still at the middle of my bowl. The funniest part was to order it – just wait until everyone gets something, walk around, choose the best one by looking at them and take the “server” there and mime “I want this”. 
I wanna mention that my private Chinese lessons I was taking back in Barcelona weren’t very useful..and all these textbooks I was carrying all the time in my backpack didn’t help much…Lazy, lazy.. And by the way, now, almost 5 months later, I keep carrying them with me, don’t ask me why. Who knows when im gonna have a desperate urge to study Chinese…and if that happens, I don’t wanna be caught unprepared without textbooks and miss the moment J.

Urumqi 
The capital of the province, quite modern and with more patent presence of Chinese people. We met the Polish/American – Scottish cycling couple we met in Kashgar at the hostel. Went to the night market together and later to the Pagoda which was closed so next day Ogyzan and I went back again…..
Bulgarian, Scottish, Turkish and Polish
I had to draw the Bulgarian flag in the hostel, first Bulgarian as always!


Night market in Urumqi

Night market in Urumqi

GANSU PROVINCE

Dunhuang
It´s a major stop on the anciant Silk Road. Situated in a rich oasis, Dunhuang is surprisingly clean for Chinese standards and not crowded with a really nice night market (munched everything that could be munched there), quite overpriced but so nice that you don’t mind paying a bit more for the nice little things (especially earings and necklaces) you can usually get at half price in Beijing. Hung out with the Chinese girl working at YHA hostel (really really nice hostel) and a German guy studying God knows where in China…

Cotton delivery


Night market in Dunhuang
YHI hostel in Dunhuang

Went to the famous dunes and rode a camel for the first time in my life, wasn’t impressed (fucking uncomfortable) Again too expensive, like all the tourist attractions in China actually (the access to the dunes was around 20 € and 10 more for a camel ride so that you can get a general idea how expensive the tourist attractions are in China).





Probably heavy


This one is cute, but wasnt mine



Being the only foreigner on the bus, I was invited to eat with the bus drivers 
Xiahe - A Tibetan nook corner out of Tibet.

I think my favourite place so far in China, so peaceful and relaxing. 
Xiahe is a tiny, bustling town nestles in a mountain valley at an elevation of 2,900m in Ganan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, southwest Gansu.
The town was divided into two sections, primarily Hui (Muslim) and Han Chinese at its eastern end, changing abruptly to a Tibetan town as you climb westward to the gorgeous gilded roofs of the vast Labrang Monastery. 
It is not just the amazing sights of the Labrang Monastery and the Sangke Grassland that will enamour you with Xiahe, but also the vibrant atmosphere. The locals and nomads in the village live a laid-back lifestyle. The population here is made up of 45% Tibetan, 45% Han Chinese and 10% Hui Muslim, making this a good place to behold monks in bright purple, yellow and red, nomads clad in sheepskins, and the Hui Muslims with skull caps and wispy beards. The town is also a thoroughfare for inbound pilgrims from Qinghai and Tibet.
Stayed at Tara guesthouse in a room by myself, first time ever. Very friendly staff, and as always I was told that I look local (Tibetan this time). It was quite cold and I couldn’t get to my room, for some reason couldn’t open the door so had to buy a jacket on the way.

Labrang monastery

Bent and walnut-visaged Tibetan pilgrims make you welcome on the 3km circuit around the monastery's perimeter.The Labrang Monastery boasts tens of thousands of statues of Buddha made of gold, silver, copper, and aluminum, as well as many Buddha hats and many Buddhist treasures adorned with pearls, jadeite, agate and diamonds.






Spent the day walking from a temple to temple, talking to the monks and taking photos. Got invited for a Tibetan lunch in one of the temples which was really nice. Later on found my monk-bodyguard who didn’t speak a word of English but followed me all the way back to town. We went on a hike to the hills around the temples, picking flowers and admiring the views.


My favourite






Time for praying. Shoes off


Was invited for Tibetan lunch
Tibetan food, all good apart from the tea (salty)
Doing the homework - the little ones in Tibetan, the older ones in Chinese


Tibetan school



My patron monk


Making the dumplings
I met an Israeli guy I knew from Kashgar at the bus station and took him along with his British friend to Tara guesthouse. Its amazing that in such a big country the backpackers still bump into each other.
There are a few direct buses to Xiahe daily from Lanzhou, departing 6:30~7:30 and 14:00. But if there are only a few passengers, the driver may "sell" you at Linxia to the Linxia-Xiahe buses when stopping for lunch. So the same way I went back to Lanzhou and took a train to Xi'an (hard sleeper of course). 

XI’AN


The capital of Shaanxi province, one of The four Great Ancient capitals of China, only 8,5 million people. One of the biggest attractions here is the Terracotta Army or the "Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses", is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The figures, dating from 3rd century BC, were discovered in 1974 and the estimates are that in the tree pits containing the Terracota army there are over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits.
Terracota warriors
I had my first CS experience in China here. My host Scott was really sweet and considerate. He took me to some amazing street restaurants, we wandered the streets and the night market, went to see the musical fountains. He basically helped me to make my plan further (he works in a travel agency). You can also rent a bike and spend the day on the wall surrounds the square inner city or go to see the nearest China Great wall which is not as magnificent as the Beijing one but if one wants to do it...

Weird fruit juice at the night market






I was using the internet in the nearby YHA hostel where I met other travelers, and couchsurfers. So together with German(Argentina) and X (French guy) we went to Hua Shan. Even to climb up the mountain you have to pay in China, this one was around 20 € (the woman at the ticket office refused to believe that my drivers license was my Student card, doesn’t matter how hard I tried, but she knew a bit of English..Well, sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t).

Mt. Huashan is known as 'The Number One Precipitous Mountain under Heaven' and one of the five sacred mountains in China. The most popular thing is climbing the mountain at night to see the sunrise. Climbing to the top of East Peak requires 4 to 6 hours so we started at 10 pm and with a few breaks we were there at 4 am. It is quite steep, mostly stairs, assisted by the iron chains along the way. I was wearing all my warm clothes but it was way too cold. At the top, there is a small platform that couldnt fit even 10% of the people so everyone was trying to get there as early as possible to get a good spot for the sunrise. The only problem was that it was really windy and no one was able to actually sleep. After the first half an hour everyone was jumping and rubbing their legs and arms in order to get some warmth. The sunrise was nice, nothing that amazing, after all the effort we made to get there and the cold I had to fight with (as you can see, I wasn’t happy)…You should have seen me on the way back – I was so tired, my legs were shivering from exhaustion but somehow we made it to the bottom, jumped on the bus to Xi’an, went home (Scott´s place) and slept forever.
Free cooking lesson at the hostel
The sun is about to come out, we are all ready
And there it is!


I remember I could barely stand on my feet here, so exhausted
Foreigners






Steep


Scott and his friends after a cooking night

In China, you cannot book a train ticket in advance from another city. You actually have to be in the city from which the train is departing. And also very often everything is sold out or only a hard seat is left which is pretty harsh if you have to sit on it for more than 5 hours (but it is never less than 12 hours on the train). What normally we were taking, was a hard sleeper which is actually pretty comfortable (6 beds in a no door cabin) at an affordable price. As a result, I was stranded in Xi’an for a bit longer than I expected, waiting to get a ticket from Beijing to Hong Kong.

Jiao Zuo 
Scott hooked me up with 2 brothers in Jiao Zuo where I stayed (and they weren’t even couchsurfers) but they helped me getting around, buying tickets and even made me a dinner. And the next day I went to Yuntai Mountain. 


Yuantai Mountain
Cornel Peak
Beautiful! Colourful and easy to access. It is situated in Henan province, about 30 km from Jiaozuo. Covered with verdant virgin forest, Yuntai Mountain is famous for its imposing mountain and water sceneries. The picturesque peaks and high mountains extend as far as the eyes can see. Springs, waterfalls, deep valleys and quiet gorges, unique stones and wild flowers form the beautiful landscape. I couldnt actually believe that was in China.
Again I didnts see other westerners, just Chinese but it was full of people. You pay the entrance (I used my Bulgarian ID, telling them that the students cards in Bulgaria are like that and it worked – 50% discount). You need the whole day to see the most important sites (the ticket is valid for 2 days) and maybe it won’t be enough, the place is huge. My legs were still stiff and in pain after Huashan, literally my whole body hurt (wanted to die every time I saw stairs) so I took it easy there. Still did a few hikes (there are buses that takes you everywhere, its quite well organized) but didn’t really push myself this time. 


Little one posing in front the waterfall at Yuntai Mountain
Yuntai Waterfall - the highest one in China (114m)




BEIJING

The sky in Beijing - always behind the smog
I was hosted by Andres – a Chilian who kept talking to me in Italian as he lived in Italy for 10 years. He was living in one of these compound building complexes – eight 30 floor buildings…And he had no cups in his condo so I had buy him one J (I was having my coffee or tea in a lunch box!!!). He was really cool and funny, we went out, met up with a few friends of him, went to some bars…Great sense of humor, I laughed a lot with him. It was a pity that the next day he had to fly to Chengdu on a work trip so I was left alone in the house. Actually I was playing the role of the host as 2 of his friends living in Shang hay also came over for one night. But we still managed to have a fun night out.
The couch is somewhere up there

The Forbidden city
No idea what was happening with the boots
They had it available even in Bulgarian!
Tiananmen square - the largest city square in the world
I went on one of this organized tours to the Great wall, Ming temple, Tea house, Jade factory, Silk factory and as a bonus we even got a massage for free which was the part I enjoyed the most (All of this cost 100 yuan – quite a deal considering the crazy amount of money I was paying until now for the attractions in China). Wasn’t that impressed by the Great wall but the foot massage was nice J.
Almost didn’t see the sky in Beijing and the sun couldn’t break through the smog at all. Other than that, there were some really nice neighborhoods, small park and lakes.


Fog or smog...I would say smog



Tea tasting


I met up twice with Yang – the ex boyfriend of my friend Vesi (from the time they studied together in Leipzig, Germany). Before I left Barcelona she gave me a present for him (a bracelet from Bcn) and when we went together to Lama temple, he bought another one for her. I hope I don’t lose it somewhere in the next 9 months of traveling I have left. I’m like a love messenger, and I quite like it actually. Keep meeting the ex boyfriends of my girlfriends all over the world.
After a few days in Beijing I jumped on the train for 28 hours to Shengen, where I took a train to Hong Kong.

Lama temple
Lama temple
With Yang at Lama temple


The famous hutong area



More hutongs

Bell tower





It was definitely an experience, I definitely enjoyed it but Im not planning to go back there any time soon for sure...Too many other places on earth that I prefer to see for the first time or go back to..but not China :)
Well, that was my route roughly

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