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Full Version: On the Road Again: The Travel Thread
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The Great Wall was fabulous. Going to Tiananmen, Forbidden City, Gugong, Beihai Park and Wangfujing Snack Street tomorrow. Who wants postcards? PM me with your address, I promise no funny stuff!
yay you.
keep us updated! smile.gif
Thanks, jami! I'm just returning from a long day at the Summer Palace. It was nice, there weren't many people and the lake was frozen a foot or two thick so there were lots of people out skating and playing on the ice. I ended up meeting a couple of guys there and spending the day with them. The people here are so friendly, it always amazes me how easily everyone seems to interact here. Don't have a clue what's on tomorrow's itinerary, must do some research tonight.
whoops, double post.
Went to a Beijing Starbucks today just south of Qianmen, the gate that used to be the main entrance to old, walled Beijing. Starbucks coffee shops here far surpass any Starbucks I've seen in the west, and this one was especially nice. It was gorgeous inside, three storeys of comfortable cosy nooks and leather armchairs and Chinese-style stools and armoires and stuff, and the bathroom was not only clean, it was actually lovely. And trust me, I've discovered that a clean bathroom is luxury enough in this country. So call me a sellout. I absolutely loved it. In my defense, I've found that checking out the places where Chinese culture overlaps with western culture is just as educational a cultural experience as any other, certainly more so than visiting some tourist trap like the Temple of Heaven, which I went to after Starbucks. It's actually really interesting to see how your own culture translates and integrates into another culture - it's way more than just the appeal of an overpriced espresso.

Anyway, I also went to the Temple of Heaven today and found it overrated. Maybe I've just overdosed on tourist stuff since I got here. There's just so much history here, and it's so easy to plan your day around these well-known sites, especially when you're up against the Beijing public transit system. Which is excellent, just very big and crowded and intimidating. It's better to go to places you know will be easy to find.

I'm hoping to go to the Dashanzi art district tomorrow or the next day - it's pretty far, it'll take up the whole day. If not, I'll try to find the tea market in the next district over (apparently there are 8 different major merchants there and 600 tea shops!!) and maybe hop over to the night market after for some more weird snacks. I'll try to upload some pics to Facebook next time I bring my laptop out with me. And I finally got a new blog post up, after nearly a month when I couldn't find the time. Next post is half written. We'll see how long it takes before that one gets up....
I did the same thing with bathrooms Epi; when you find a good one, stake it out and drink the day's worth of coffee/tea there smile.gif Great to read about your travels and I'm so glad you've taken off on your own and that it's working out. The train journey alone sounds amazing... sometimes the best way to see a country, I think.
I'm absolutely loving solo travel. I love not having to worry about what someone else wants to do, what they want to eat, how cold/uncomfortable they are, what kind of mood they're in, etc. I can't even remember why I was so hesitant before. The way people talk, you get to thinking that travelling solo means you're constantly in mortal peril. From what I've seen, China is probably safer than Canada in terms of violent crime. The police presence here - especially in Beijing - is formidable. The only times I ever feel unsafe here are when I have to cross a street or walk along a narrow road alongside all the swerving, speeding cars, with all the motorcycles weaving in and out of them. That is scary. It's just complete anarchy on the roads here. Nobody enforces anything. People don't signal, brake or even slow down; they just honk. And they drive on the sidewalk and run red lights all the time.

Anyway, I went to the Dashanzi 798 Art District yesterday and it was awesome. Any Busties going to Beijing take note: that place is a must-see. The setting alone, a bunch of abandoned warehouses and factory buildings, was almost too good to be true. It was an entire village of small art galleries, lovely (albeit shockingly overpriced) cafes, and boutique shops selling specialty clothing, accessories, art prints and stuff (which is actually really hard to find here - everything in China is mass produced and all the stores sell the exact same things). There's a huge variety of art by contemporary Chinese artists, both famous and unknown. There were a few foreigners there, but it seemed to be mostly young Chinese students. I was also really pleased to find that there was a significant amount of graffiti art on the buildings - that's one of the things I'm really interested in in China. I hadn't anticipated how easy it would be to get lost there and didn't try very hard to keep track of my location or my starting point, so the end of the day did not go smoothly. I ended up wandering around looking for the entrance I came in for nearly an hour before giving up and leaving through a different one. Unable to find any of my pre-planned bus stops, I ended up busing home blind to my friends' place on the other side of Beijing, in the dark, in -10 C weather, during rush hour. So that was an adventure. But I made it home. Beijing's many traffic overpasses, with all their different lanes, roundabouts, entrances and exits, make for extremely confusing traffic. Not user-friendly at all. Transferring buses on one of these overpasses, you have no idea where to catch your next bus, and you can quickly become disoriented. I ended up just boarding a random bus and asking them how to get to the right one. Bus drivers are a lifesaver that way. They're knowledgeable, they can't cheat you like a cab driver can, and the worst thing they can do is drop you off at the wrong bus stop, where you'll at least know your location and have access to other buses that can take you where you need to go.

I've still got another 2 1/2 days in Beijing and there are a few historical sites I haven't seen. I think I've overdosed on historical sites for now; they all look the same to me, and the history is all starting to blur together. All I wanna do now is sit in cafes, drink tea and people watch. The older couple I'm staying with can't understand this. I think they think cafes are a frivolous indulgence for westerners who want to pretend they're still in the west, but in fact they're actually a lot cheaper than the traditional teahouses here, where you can pay 10 or 15 dollars for a pot of tea. And although there are always westerners in the cafes, Chinese people go to them too. Especially young people. And cafes have wireless and people are less likely to stare at you and talk about you like you can't understand them. It's not traditional, but that doesn't make it any less authentic. I'm back at that lovely Starbucks again and I'm not sorry! There are definitely way worse ways to spend your money here.
Epi, your trip sounds awesome. I've done a couple of short solo trips and I always loved it too. It's a totally different sense of freedom. Speaking of taxing yourself out on historical sights, I remember being in England and Paris and one of my tour guides referring to "Cathedral/Castle fatigue". They all looked the same by the end.
Happy year of the rabbit, Busties! It's Chinese new year and I'm at my friend B's place in Xuzhou, stuffed full of an awesome dinner and watching the annual new year performance on tv while firecrackers and fireworks explode continually all around us. There have been enough firecrackers lit here in the last 12 hours to take down a few large buildings. Quite an experience. I hope to blog about it soon!
Arrived in Suzhou today. Things immediately went sideways, of course, as I'd kind of chickened out of calling ahead to book a room in my hostel of choice on a gorgeous ancient canal street. They were full, and we ended up staying at a different place that's in a funky old courtyard house, but it's pretty shabby and not so great. Still a decent location, though. Suzhou is incredible. The scenery and architecture are to die for. Looks like it's small enough to tour on foot, too. I can't wait to explore tomorrow!
New photos!

Tongli, a gorgeous ancient canal town just outside of Suzhou.

Chinese New Year with my roommate and my friend B in Xuzhou.
Beautiful epi, thanks for sharing!
So I'm back in Chongqing now and already planning my next trip - I'll plan to skip some school this time and avoid holiday travel, it's just too troublesome. The most popular travel site here has a large section of discount plane tickets which can be purchased online, and I think next time I go travelling I'll just follow the cheap tickets around the country and stay in hostel dorms. There are lots of heavily discounted flights to top destinations like Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and even little-known gems like Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) and Huanglong (Yellow Dragon), which are supposed to be fantastically beautiful. I want to go to Suzhou again, and it's really close to both Hangzhou and Shanghai - I'll just get the cheapest flight to one of the three, I suppose, and do the rest by train. As beautiful as they are, those canal towns are just rotten with mosquitoes in the summer. I'd love to do Hong Kong properly, too - I found a hostel in Causeway Bay that sounds pretty good, so I won't need to be dashing back and forth across the border from Shenzhen all the time. Hong Kong is actually tiny, very easy to get around in. Tons of things are within walking distance.

Here's some pics of Hong Kong and Shenzhen! Shenzhen wasn't much to look at, but Hong Kong was gorgeous - especially at night. The view from Victoria Peak must be one of the most beautiful in the world.

I've also been blogging lots this month, and there's plenty more coming as I play catch-up with all the stuff I didn't have time to post while I was on vacation.
There was a fairly recent blog by Epi. Our Canadian is still meanderin'!

your posts and pics are wonderful. thanks for holding us all together
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