Sunday, September 30, 2007
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Last night Sean and the guys from the trek decided that they wanted to go see a Thai boxing fight. None of the girls wanted to go...
we went shopping instead! We all shared a tuk tuk over to the area where the match was to take place and were greeted by several Thai girls in short skirts and low cut tops. The girls were all a little put off by this until we realized that they were actually all men! The famous 'lady boys' of Thailand. The guys all stood around looking scared of the lady boys for awhile before relaxing and heading into the fight.
OK we weren't actually scared...it's just strange because you are told that you are going to a boxing match and you are greeted by men dressed up like women...we kept asking them "Fighting, right" "we want to see thai boxing" but everything was cool. They were really nice and even sat us by a table in front of their bar/dressing area which was well...interesting. The picture here was taken after we gave a donation for one of the "girls" to have her "operation".
Sunday, September 23, 2007
We are loving Thailand! The people here are really friendly and the landscape and food are fantastic. Our first day in Chiang Mai we checked out a couple of wats, rode in tuk tuks and looked at a couple of tours. We ended up booking a trek in the mountains to visit a hill tribe.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Saturday, September 15, 2007
We found a Tex-Mex restaurant listed in our guide and just couldn't resist going there for lunch. The inside was actually really great- felt like home. The food on the other hand... Hopefully, we won't have to break out the Imodium after this.
Today, we went to go see the giant Buddha. It's crazy tall (230 feet) and carved into the face of a cliff. This monk, hundreds of years ago decided to carve out the Buddha to pacify the river because people kept drowning in it. Amazingly, it worked and the river has been much calmer ever since. Of course, this also could have been because they threw tons of rock into the river after carving out the Buddha, but who are we to question?
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Way back in 300 bc, China was divided into 7 warring states and this guy Qin (pronounced Chin) was put on the throne of his empire when he was 13. For 20 years he fought and conquered the other states and unified China for the first time. Right after being named Emporer Qin worked for the next 20 years on public works projects, like roads and aqueducts, but he also started building his Tomb. The area took another 30 years to complete, and he was put in 2 years after his death, and all the artisans, and workers who saw the final product were buried alive so that they could not betray its secrets. The actual tomb has never been excavated and is now just a giant (125 foot high) mound. His actual tomb is said to be encased with gold, jade and silver, but is surrounded by a river of mercury. Therefore if you opened it the mercury would poison and kill everything in the area.
Now the Terra-Cotta warriors. In 1976, a farmer was digging a well about 1 KM east of Qin's tomb and he uncovered a life sized warrior made out of Terra-cotta, or pottery. He gave it to the local museum and thousands of Archaeologists came to the area and started excavating. They have uncovered three rooms so far. An officers, or command area of about 1,200 warriors, a sacrificial area of about 70, and a vanguard force area of about 6,000. Two schools of thought here, one is that the warriors are to protect Qin in the afterlife from the people he had killed, the other is that he thought that this way he could lead his army in death as he did in life--the guy was a total megalomaniac. All the warriors are carved in meticoulious detail, every chink of armor, every shoe, even down to their faces--no two faces or soldiers heights are exactly the same. They say that they are representations of Qin's actal army.
Now as for the tour--our guides name was Lucky and she was a drill Sergeant. "You have 4-minutes rest, then I tell story!" "You wait 15 minutes more, then toilet break!" "Everyone go to toilet now!" Then she look at you with these huge eyes, very tensely. She even told us about a famous sculpture of one of China's emperors, in a chariot behind 6 "exquisitely" hand carved horses, but "two of the horses are not in China, they are in AMERICA!" then she glared at Sarah and I for like a full minute. Everyone else in the tour were Europeans, and they (just jokingly) started giving us a hard time. Finally I said that we didn't have them at our house.
On the way back from visiting the warriors, Lucky told us that we would be taking a tour of a silk factory. Well, we really didn't want to have a bunch of people try to sell us silk for 30 minutes so Sean started asking the other people on the tour with us if they wanted to go. Everyone said no. So, we nominated a spokesperson, the Canadian guy behind us, to broach the subject with Lucky. She totally didn't understand why we wouldn't want to go! After about 10 minutes of everyone saying that they didn't want to go, she finally told us that if they brought tourists to the factory, they would get a coupon for free gas. We could identify with the free gas and thus the coup was quashed!
On the way back Lucky told us that we had a forty minute drive back to the hostel and so in that time "EVERYONE" (full eye-glare) will sing a song. Nobody wanted to sing. She first told the Canadians that they had to sing and they argued for a really long time, then finally they sang their national anthem O'Canada. Everyone else did the same, the germans, the dutch and the swedes...again we refused...we really got a glare, but Lucky decided to let us go without singing. I believe this was so that she could sing two or three chinese opera songs...oh Lucky.
One last thing--I am not sure if any of you now this, but I am a Spaniard. According to the Chinese, all Americans have either light hair or light eyes--so, since I have dark hair and dark eyes I must be from Spain. I have had three vendors, in the street markets mind you, come up to me and speak Spanish. Very weird!
Sunday, September 9, 2007
Saturday, September 8, 2007
Well we did it...we climbed the Wall. We saw the monstrosity in Badaling, which is the more touristy section, but it was still really cool. Neither one of use wanted to try and climb over broken sections, and this part has had the most extensive remodeling. Sarah was even asked by a chinese guy if she could pose for a picture with him and his father...that was pretty funny.
The wall itself is really hard to describe unless you've been there. It is just that, a huge wall/fort. It was about 60 feet high and 30 to 40 feet thick with watch towers and defensive positions all over it. The area is a little mountainous, and it snakes off thru the hill just like any post card. It was so gorgeous, really breathtaking.
Next to the wall they have a erected a huge Beijing Olympics 2008 sign. They are really pumped about the upcoming games. I hope it goes ok for them, but I am not sure if they have the transportation down. Should be interesting anyway. I just envision taxis lined thru the streets, but they can't really go anywhere because there all these chinese merchants trying to sell t-shirts, hats, and bottles of water.
After the wall we stopped in this small cafe to sit outside in the shade. I ordered a beer and Sarah ordered a coke. Both were served warm and we were given some dirty glasses to pour them into. "I would like a warm beer served in a dirty glass.....perfect!" Ahhh, China.
Friday, September 7, 2007
So this is a city in the middle of Beijing where the Ming and Qing emporers held court. It is a 100,00 sq meters collassus. We thought that we would be done in about half a day...we spent 7 hours there and had to skip a few spots. We were able to see most of it, but had to skip the far eastern edge. The place is divided up into separate courts and mini halls and palaces and all is breathtakingly amazing.
All the buildings and walls are painted red, and the roofs are covered with ornate animals and painted gold--this combination of gold and red was reserved only for the Palace grounds.The front entrance is huge, with multiple enomouse courtyards, each at least a few football field long and deep. Hear the armies would gather before going off to war, at the center are two lavishly ornate building where the emporer would hang out and give directives--all decisions final, no appeal.
The whole area is divided up into separate courtyards, where there would be rooms, and stages. Most are where the Emporer had his concubines. Three times a year he would select multiple girls from the daughters of his court people. They say that most had between 2,000 and 3,000 concubines. Now some of those girls where just for decoration, like ladies in waiting, and the emporer just had a few with whom he shared "relations" I meant the guy wasn't Wilt Chamberlin. From there the girls could actually work their way up to emporess, or cheif concubine, both with tremendous power.
Another cool fact was that although the emporer's official residence was the biggest and grandest Palace in the center of the city, or called the Palace ofLongevity, some of them would choose to live in a small palace in one of the corners of the city, just because he liked it there, or one of them lived in one of the pavilions in the garden aftyer he retired to write poetry.
Oh yeah, the garden, it was mostly made up of these weird shaped rock formations and these strange hybrid trees that they developed and was surrounded by 400 year old chinese cypress trees.
After we left the Forbidden City, we ran into these really nice chinese girls who started talking to us. They asked us where we were going, and we said to get something to eat--they asked if they could join us, we said yes. They took us to this Tea House. We all drank tea and watched a tea ceremony, ate some dumplings and chicken wings...then the bill came and it was 2,000 yuan or about $260. The girls said that they would split it, so we paid $130 for some tea and snacks. I have this gift credit card from selling copiers that we were able to use, so it really didn't cost us anything, but it was a good leason learned.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
I kind of know what it feels like to be famous here... I don't really like it. I guess it's the blond hair and blue eyes but everyone here STARES at me. I'm talking slack jawed, head turned, flat out staring! This doesn't just happen every once in a while but everywhere we go (except in our gringo hotel). It's not too bad in the touristy places but when we take the subways or buses (anywhere where there aren't a lot of tourists) I have about 10 eyes on me. Today, a few people asked to have their picture taken with me! I've taken to wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses just about everywhere so that I can hide a bit!
The spitting here is pretty crazy. I'd heard about the spitting before but I didn't really expect this. The men here have perfected the lugie- it begins with a hacking sound that comes from deep within and ends in a flying ball of spit. Gross, I know. We get to hear this sound about 20 times a day and you really have to watch where you set your bag down. We've heard that Beijing has instated a spitting fine to encourage people to stop spitting before the Olympics happens but we haven't actually seen anyone get fined.
The Mosh Pits
There are no such thing as lines here. If you want to get on the bus or place an order for something, you body slam the counter along with everyone else. We really haven't gotten used to this yet, so we loose our place in line a lot. Sean did elbow some lady who was trying to shove him out of the way to get on the bus today though! I know that sounds mean, but you totally have to do it or you'll never get anywhere.
These are the people who try to sell you stuff. All kinds of stuff- postcards, underwear, silk, you name it. We definitely look like tourists here, so everyone hits us up. We hear hello, hello everywhere we go. Hey, sir! and Hey, laaaadddy! are another two that are really common. Sean has had several women grab his arm and try to pull him into their shops! Like that is going to make him want to buy something! I am having a lot of fun haggling though :)
Monday, September 3, 2007
We awoke the morning that our boat was leaving to HEAVY rain in Kyoto. We had to make it from our hostel to the train station which was only a 15 minute walk away but the rain was a pretty big deterrent. We also really had to leave on this boat since they only sail once a week and Friday was the day. We checked out the taxis and they were all booked because of the rain so the only option left was to walk. So, we hung around the hotel for as long as possible and just as we were about to give up and get soaked there was a break in the rain! We RAN to the train station with all of our luggage and caught a train about 20 minutes later.
This was incredibly lucky as we later found out because rather than taking 30 minutes as the guide book said it took about an hour. We also had to find an ATM and change trains before arriving at the port. By the time we actually made it to the port, they were frantically waving us in! We got on the boat and it shoved off a few minutes later, 30 minutes ahead of schedule!
The boat was a really odd mix between a cruise boat and a cargo ship. I'm not really sure how to describe it but lets just say that the charm wore off after the first hour or so. We spent that afternoon sitting on the deck in two of the 10 or so chairs available and watching the crew paint the deck below us. We were introduced to Chinese cuisine later that evening- goat head, bird eggs (not the kind from chickens) and some other odd looking dishes. We went with the rice and veggies for the entire trip.
The next day, we ran into a bit of rough weather. As we were eating breakfast and watching the waves, we heard a bunch of screaming. We looked outside to see what the commotion was all about and saw three men clinging to buoys in the water! Seriously. It took a lot of manoeuvring to get close enough to the men to pull them out of the water because the boat was making a pretty strong current. After about two hours, the crew managed to pull all three of them in. The two younger men were ok but the older man drowned as they were trying to pull him out of the water. They gave him CPR for about 20 minutes but it was too late. They had been in the water for about 15 hours at that point and I guess it was just too much. We don't really know how they ended up in the water but our guess is that they were washed off of Korean fishing boat since we were in Korean waters and they were holding on to fishing net buoys. The Korean cost guard later came to pick them up and take them back to Korea.
That afternoon we hit some serous waves and just about everyone took to their bunks. I'd gotten a patch for seasickness before we left so I stuck that on and felt fine the entire time. After about an hour or so of the waves, people began running for the bathrooms. All of the sinks and toilets were full ALL NIGHT. Some really great sound effects there.
The next day the sea had calmed down and we were scheduled to dock at 2pm so everyone was in a much better mood. We had lost quite a bit of time rescuing the Koreans so we got to the dock late and lost our place in line. We ended up sitting there until about 9:30pm. We did eventually make it off of the boat and easily breezed through customs. That was fantastic because we'd heard that the Chinese government was confiscation guidebooks that did not recognize Taiwan as a part of China and we were really worried that ours would be taken. We would be totally lost without that book!
We had docked so late that all of the trains and buses had stopped running from the port to Beijing so a group of us decided to go in on a taxi. We settled on a price with a super aggressive woman who touted her large car. She did have a big trunk that fit all of our stuff so we got in. She drove us around for about 15 minutes, talking on her three cell phones all of the way before telling us that we would have to transfer cars! We REALLY put up a fight about this but she'd taken us to an empty stretch of highway where two more cars were waiting and we really didn't have any other options. We ended up switching to a sports car with a tiny trunk and no seat belts! Before loading all of our stuff into the trunk, the guy took off his licence plate and threw it into the trunk with our bags. We're not sure if this was because he was an illegal cab or because of the way that he was planning on driving... That driver was INSANE and I was pretty sure that we were all going to die in China. We were passing trucks on the shoulder at 120km per hour (about 80mph), swerving in and out of traffic and cutting everyone off! Thankfully, we did make it to our hotel in one piece. I'm still not really sure how...
Once we got to our "hostel" we were totally blown away. It's this really nice hotel in the center of downtown with marble floors, down blankets, etc. for about $24 a night. Amazing! A very nice ending to a harrowing day.