China - A travel report of the women in stilettos
Years ago, I and the Travelnerd had made some crazy trips. One of these trips took us to Dubai and China.
After a short break we were ready for a new adventure. But where to? I would have been happy with a trekking vacation in the European Alps, but not my Globetrotter. So we made an ordinary holiday in Dubai and into Mao's intestines, the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors and on a 20 Yuan note.
THE famous landmark of Dubai: Burj Al Arab
The journey began easily in Dubai after my Travelnerd had killed 30 mosquitoes with a single karate chop in our hotel room. I had some new experiences when visiting a mosque, in front of the Burj Al Arab gate and when looking down on small humans from the 50th floor of a skyscraper on Sheikh Zayed Road.
Just a few days later, I woke up on the flight to Shanghai. Fortunately for me, it was just before landing, and therefore had missed the exciting part of Chinese intolerance towards Western dairy products. The Travelnerd apparently was not that lucky…
China - In the Middle KingdomOur "plan” for the trip was as follows: Arrive in Shanghai and then move straight on to Beijing.
As I sat on a bus heading towards the Chinese capital, I became aware that I was about to enter a completely foreign culture, which might not bring as many positives as it had on other trips.
We started our tour at Tiananmen Square, the Gate of Heavenly Peace. I have to say that I felt anything but peace. The place was huge, it measured five hundred by eight hundred meter, bare and cold, paved in the 80’s style and with the Mao Mausoleum in the middle. A perfect place for demonstrations, but nowadays it only demonstrates the power of the communist party over the people. Not a nice place! For the Chinese however, it seems to be a magical attraction.
Also, this is history and it belongs to China as well as the Forbidden City, which was situated at the end of the square. Now guess, who is grinning down from the massive entrance portal?
The Forbidden City and the not so peacefull Tiananmen Square
So we stepped into China's past. Gigantic! That's the first thing that occurred to me. As we entered the Forbidden City, I finally understood why it is called city and not district, or neighbourhood. The main buildings were surrounded by numerous support buildings, staff accommodation, gardens and squares. Just the Plaza of Supreme Harmony, in front of the royal palace, alone has enough space to accommodate 100,000 people. I was impressed. Not by the interior decoration or furnishings though, as there was basically none.
After a marathon four hours of sightseeing, I was whacked. "Food. I need food". "Oh, great, we are very close to the famous night market, where we can get great stuff", replied the Travelnerd. I should have defended myself more intensely. But now it was just too late. I was able to smell the market before I actually could see it. My feet experienced a spontaneous healing and I was not hungry any more. "It stinks abominably!".
"It doesn’t stink. It just smells different. Look, there are frogs to eat.".
"Frogs? I need to vomit.”. Besides, the poor frogs, 10 of them, squeezed in a small bucket of 40cm diameter, there were water snakes, giant mushrooms, carps, chicken legs (to lick them off?) and other more indefinable stuff. I tried hard to find something that smelled nice and what I would like to try. The Travelnerd raved about the grilled grass, which he knew from his Western China to Pakistan bicycle tour. At each new stall, I was more convinced that a starvation diet was just about right for me. When the Travelnerd and I had almost given up, we found a "normal” stall with fried noodles and something brown sizzling in a wok. I took the fried noodles and he was going for the brown "fried potatoes". After a big bite of my pasta I grimaced. "Phew, tastes like sweaty feet!". He laughed and took one of his brown cubes in his mouth... just to spit it out back on the road two seconds later. He wiped his finger over the brown indefinable dice, which turned out to be a clear, jelly-like mass of something. Yummy!
After the two days in Beijing went by in a flash, we stopped by at the Great Wall before heading straight in the direction of Xian and the Terracotta warriors afterwards. China is just huge, so we spent a lot of time on buses or trains.
I still have not realised that I have been on the longest wall in the world. Incomprehensible! (Wo)man, you cannot imagine its massive size. You look to one side and see the wall winding all the way to the horizon, looking to the opposing side you also see it winding as far as the eye can see. My only problem was to climb up the damn thing. On photos it looked always quite flat, but it was not. First you have to climb up some stairs to get on top of the wall, and then you constantly had to climb up and down to get 500 meters along on it.
The next day we hopped onto a train and left in the direction of Xian, with a stopover in the ancient trading city of Pingyao. I was super excited to see how it would be to travel on Chinese trains. As the journey continued through the night, we had secured us two beds in a six-sleeper compartment. The compartments were not closed, but open and shielded only by a curtain. People sat everywhere and talked, played, drank or ate.
Stopover in Pingyao
The next morning we arrived absolutely whacked in Pingyao. I slept quite well, but the Travelnerd had grappled with snoring attacks from the lower beds. The usual procedure took place, putting up the backpack and looking for a hostel to stay. We quite quickly found a sweet little hostel in the ancient city. I was glad to have peace of mind. Meanwhile, the Travelnerd had checked out the overall situation and gathered all the information we needed to occupy the rest of the day, exactly six hours at a stretch, to walk around in Pingyao and have a look at the lovely houses.
Terracotta as far as the eye can reach
The next day we arrived in Xian. Right from the outset I had reservations about this trip to Xian. Aside from the archaeological site, there was not much to see there and I didn’t expect new insights that could come into my mind, gazing at clay puppets. "Splat, Splat and ready is the Terracotta Warriors ", I had imagined.
The Terracotta warriors became one of the highlights
The admission price was pretty damn steep when considering that the average Chinese income is about 90 euro per month (in the countryside even less).
I felt disappointed, but this was quickly wiped away when we entered the great hall with the excavated warriors. Wow! Gigantic! I had completely underestimated the Terracotta Army. Countless warriors lined up in a row that looked like they were alive. Each one was unique. Different faces, hair, clothing and equipment. In between the warriors were horses and carts. Everything is arranged as they were a real army lining up to go to war. But what we saw, was only a part of the infantry. There was the cavalry, officers and even more undiscovered parts of the army. The Travelnerd snapped almost 1,000 photos in just two hours.
And then it was time to buckle up our backpacks and go. A few days of hiking starting from Lijiang were ahead of us and even I was excited.
The good thing about these two days of walking was, firstly, that we had no tent, no sleeping bag, no other overnight material with us, which meant that we had to sleep in a hotel and, secondly, that we had about 25 degrees and therefore I could look forward to not freezing in cold mountains.
The trail was at an altitude of 1,500-2,300 meters along the canyon of the Tiger Leaping Gorge, which granted us great vistas.
Wonderful view at the Tiger Leaping Gorge
So we spent our first few days in China. From an old imperial city, the great wall, subterranean warriors and mountains, we arrived in Kunming. Kunming is the gateway to Tibet, the last major town before heading into the mountains in the country of the Himalayas. However, our path led us not into Tibet, but back to the interior. About Kunming itself, there is not much to tell. As much as it is an important city for the Chinese, it is ugly. The only attraction we squeezed in were the stone fields outside of Kunming, as we rode with a bus through them. Sightseeing the Asian way!
The Travelnerd and I then tried a different thing: Sleeper Coaches! To save precious vacation days, we wanted to shift as much travel time as possible into the night. Under a Sleeper Coach I could not imagine much, until I saw the inside of the bus. For a retreat it was already too late, so we had to close our eyes (and noise) and had to hope for the best. One could compare the coach with a large version of a youth hostel dorm: Fifty bunk beds on fifteen square meters! Yummy! The last vacation with the Travelnerd had toughened me up and barely anything could scare me anymore. I thought! Laying in a "bed" the size of a coffin was not that hard for me, because I have a wonderful height of 1,60m, but for the globetrotter beside me it looked comparatively bad. To squeeze 1,87m into a frame length of 1,65m and also have only 50cm in width available didn’t look very comfortable. So for me it was a home game. For the Travelnerd, an away game. The problem however, was that the referee unfortunately had bloating and the like. After two hours it stank so immensely in the bus that you had to be equipped with a gas mask, or unconscious ailing on the floor.
After another few hours bus ride we passed Guilin and finally arrived in Yangshuo, the Valley of the banknote hills.
Yangshuo, or Gulegule as we called it, lay on the picturesque Li Jiang river, surrounded by sharp hills. It always seems to have a kind of mist hanging over the river and the hills, so that the landscape had something fabulous. Gulegule gave me the chance to gain a kilo, after I had lost significant weight over the past five weeks. Despite all this, I was offered the opportunity to demonstrate to the Chinese that the tourists are not all that stupid and started an extremely hard haggle for ten postcards.
Mega rubble Shanghai
A few days later we went on a glorious boat ride to Shanghai that was truly not worthwhile. The city was both a blessing on one hand, but also a shock to me. After the long trips across the country, I was used to seeing only a few buildings but many people. Now many skyscrapers and cars came on top of the many people. The stress of the city came back with some memories of home.
Skyscrapers - instead of Mountains
As our last evening in China arrived, it was like all other holidays with my Globetrotter also: seeking food, looking for clothes and presents to hunt down and hanging out with other travellers before crawling into bed, looking for earplugs in the middle of the night, because of the snoring of a bedfellow in the dormitory. This type of disturbance was not too bad, because that way, I was glad to finally get home and to sleep peacefully and in a room just with the two of us. Alone with the Travelnerd, alone in one bed!
Citystress in Shanghai
I am very much looking forward to your questions and comments in the guestbook.
The matching photos of Dubai and China are here.