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Posts Tagged ‘China’

Crossing Over

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 13, 2009

May 13, 2008

All Pictures

The China-Vietnam Border

Want some Dong?

When I got to the Lang Dong Bus Station, a bus to Hanoi was just pulling out. I bought a ticket on the next bus and went downstairs to the KFC and had breakfast. I got some water and snacks from one of the “mini-mart” stands near the waiting area.

If you take this bus, make sure to use the bathroom before you get on. There is no bathroom on the bus and the first rest stop is a good 2 hours away.

I made sure that I was the first person on the bus. I might have even annoyed the gate attendant by constantly asking, “Can I get on the bus now?” I wanted a seat in the front row. If this bus were to crash, I wanted to see it coming.

Before we pulled out of the station they handed everyone a bottle of water and a barf bag. Then they played a Hong Kong action/comedy with English subtitles. I couldn’t watch it because reading on buses makes me nauseous, but at least it wasn’t one of those horrible loud music videos.

Before traveling to China I went to my bank in Korea and got some money changed into yuan, euros, and pounds. They didn’t have any dong or tögrög (Mongolian money). But at the border, right before going through the Chinese immigration check, there were money changers. They surrounded us and told us about the great rate they would give us. They spoke in Chinese, English, Vietnamese, and French.

I thought about changing some yuan into dong there, but there were so many of them and they were yelling at me all at once. It was a bit intimidating and I wasn’t sure about how legal changing money on the street was. (In many countries changing currency while not inside a bank is illegal.) So I entered Vietnam with no dong to my name.

I think one of the most enjoyable things about traveling in Vietnam is being able to constantly refer to their money as dong, which is pretty much what it’s worth.

A ride to the border

A Mad Rush

The Chinese border is on the eastern end of Pingxiang. There we got off the bus and into a glorified golf cart, provided by the bus company. It drove us up to the entrance of the Chinese immigration building. We went in, filled out a form, and stood in line. Everything was somewhat orderly.

When we came out the other end the “golf cart” was waiting for us. Some people chose to ride in the cart, others walked to the Vietnamese immigration check on the western end of Dong Dang. The cart cannot enter Vietnam, so those who rode in the cart had to walk part of the way anyhow.

In the Vietnamese immigration building it was a mad free for all. I had no idea what to do. I had to push and shove my way to the front of the crowd to ask questions. The man behind the glass window handed me a form to fill out. He didn’t say a word to me or even look up from his paper work. I had to hand in my passport along with the form.

The officer doesn’t just take your passport; you have to almost sneak it into the pile of passports on his desk. Anyone with a Vietnamese passport can jump the line by placing their passport on the top of the heap. There really isn’t an actual line, just a line-like form of chaos where people crowd around and yell until they get to go next.

I watched as he worked on his pile with my passport in the middle. Vietnamese people who had just arrived would toss their passports at him and quickly get it returned to them. Eventually my passport made its way to the top of the pile. When he was about to pick up my passport and check my visa to let me through, his co-worker plopped a mountain of passports on top of mine. That moved me to the back of the “line”.

I thought of some excuse, like, “I forgot to write the date” to get my passport back. I pretended to write something on the form and I put it back on top of the pile. This enabled me to skip all those people and move onto the next section of the immigration check.

This proves that I’m healthy.

Is the Doctor in?

Next was the health check. Vietnam wants to keep out contagious diseases so they do health checks to make sure that people don’t bring in any. They do this by charging you 2,000 Dong or 2 Yuan then giving you a piece of paper that says you’re healthy. There is no actual doctor nor is there any screening for any disease or virus; just a piece of paper.

Once I had my piece of paper an official pointed to a door and indicated that I was to go through it. I opened the door and walked in. Surprised to find myself outside I turned around to ask the official what to do next just in time to have the door slam in my face. It was locked. I checked to make sure I had my passport with the appropriate stamps. Everything seemed to be in order. I was in Vietnam, I guess…

After my unceremonious entrance into Vietnam I looked for my new bus. My old bus went back to Nanning taking the people who came in from Hanoi. I found the new bus. It was significantly smaller than the Chinese bus.

Because I was among the last to get on the bus, my new seat was in the last row next to a very fat man who kept trying to use me as a pillow when he wasn’t throwing up. How that man slept through all those pot holes and horrible, loud Vietnamese pop songs  I just don’t know. I do have a theory on why he threw up so much.

Just like the bus in China, the one in Vietnam also provided us with drinks. But instead of water, we were handed cans of… well, I’m still not sure what it was. It might not have even been a drink at all. It could have been soup or dessert. What ever it was, the picture on the can didn’t spark any feelings of thirst or hunger in me.

I handed mine to the fat man since he seemed to thoroughly enjoy his own wonky beverage. He showed his appreciation by chugging the drink in one go and smiling ecstatically afterwards. So, I guess his getting sick was, on some level, partly my fault. I made it up to him by unwillingly catching his head with my shoulder every time he dozed off.

All Pictures


 

 

Vietnam
(Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
  • Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Notes:

  • Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the airport either in your country or in Vietnam. Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though, who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
  • When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
  • Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
  • Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
    • Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
  • Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
  • For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
  • Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo. 
  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.

 

Hanoi
(Hà Nội)
About this sound

How to get there:

By Bus from Nanning –

The bus station is called Lang Dong Bus Station. You can get there from Nanning Train station by taking city bus #6. The city bus costs 2 Yuan. There might be more buses that go between the train station and the bus station, but the #6 is the one that I know.

Once at the bus station you can buy a ticket on the next available bus out. They seem to run every two hours or as they fill up. There will be empty seats on the Chinese bus because the bus in Vietnam is much smaller. You change buses at the border, so the drivers never leave the country. The ticket costs 150 Yuan.

The ride is about 7 hours, but it will seem longer than that once they start to play the horrible Vietnamese pop music and the guy next to you starts throwing up in the aisle. I heard the Hanoi-Nanning train is worse, though I can’t see how.

I recommend getting someone to write a note for you stating that you want bus tickets to Hanoi.

Website

Notes:

  • Make sure to bring your own pen. They do not have pens at any of the border controls and you will need to fill out a few forms.
  • Depending on what country you are from, you should get your visa before going to Vietnam.
    • As an American, I needed to have a visa before entering.

Map:

Click here for Google maps

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Posted in China, Dong Dang, Nanning, Pingxiang, Vietnam | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

No Occupying While Stable

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 11, 2009

May 6 – 9, 2008

All Pictures

The Tian Ren: Panama’s finest!

Goodbye 한국

My next attempt to leave Korea was more successful. I had given myself more than enough time to get lost a couple of times, though I didn’t need it this time. I arrived at the Incheon port with 2.5 hours to spare.

They began boarding about one and a half hours before the schedule departure time of  1:00 pm and the gate closed at 12:30 pm. It took a long time for the boat to get out of the locks at the port of Incheon. It wasn’t until 3:30 pm that Korea could no longer be seen from aboard the ship.

Off to Panama?

It was very sad seeing Korea disappear in the horizon. I felt a mixture of sadness for leaving Korea and excitement for seeing new countries like Vietnam, Mongolia, and Finland just to name a few. Plus I would be seeing my mother and brother. It was almost a year since I saw either of them last.

My Bunk with the curtains closed

Anchors Aweigh! 

According to the boat company’s website the ride lasts 25 hours, but it took about 2 hours longer than that for my ride. I heard from a fellow passenger that his trip over to Korea from China took 29 hours.

On board, the boat has many things to make your voyage across the sea more tolerable. There is a main cafeteria that is open only during meal times. The food is okay and not expensive. You can pay in either Won or Yuan.

There is also a bar/restaurant that stays open later than the cafeteria. The food there tastes less like cafeteria food and more like kimbap shop food.

There was also a DVD room, a norae bang, and a sauna area in the shower rooms. For the kids there was a video game area next to a very sad casino that lacked gamblers.

Aboard the ship I didn’t see much of the people in the bunks next to and around mine. As expected, most people only went to their bunks when it was time to sleep and then they closed their curtains. I did manage to see a turquoise bracelet on a wrist that stuck out of a bunk of a snoring neighbor.

On a boat to China

Back on Solid Ground

I met two guys on the ship, a Canadian, Tim, who had just finished his contracted year teaching in Korea and an American, Brian, who was going back to work in China after vacationing in Korea. We were the only non-Asian people on the boat.

Once we were off the boat our group of three appointed Brian the navigator, and his duty was to get us to the bus stop where we would get the bus to Tianjin. Once on the bus we sat next to a lady with a turquoise bracelet.  As I sat there trying to think why the bracelet looked so familiar, the lady introduced herself.

She just happened to have had the bunk next to mine on the boat from Incheon and recognized me. She chatted the whole bus ride and then helped us get to the train station. The lady was Chinese and married to a Korean. She was on holiday in China to visit her folks. She was a lovely woman.

At the train station in Tianjin our group became a trio again when we said, “goodbye” to Brian. Mrs. Turquoise helped us to buy tickets to Beijing. It was a good thing she was there too. The Canadian, Tim, and I just watched the crowd at the ticket counter in disbelief. It was a mad group of people pushing and shoving to get tickets. I think a couple of burly men were even fighting for real over the last ticket to somewhere. But Mrs. Turquoise took our money and just walked right into the crowd and disappeared.

Tim looked at me and half heartedly suggested that we do something to help her. “Like what?” I asked. As he fumbled for a reply Mrs. Turquoise returned with 3 tickets to Beijing in hand. “These were the last tickets for the next train,” she said. “Did you get hurt in there?” Tim asked. Mrs. Turquoise looked at him as if she had no idea what he was talking about.

We followed her and boarded the train together. It was a nice train with clean bathrooms. I know, because after the bus ride I really had to go. Mrs. Turquoise led me to the bathroom section of the train. There were two unoccupied toilets, so we each took one.

When we got back to our seats some big bald baddie-looking guy and his bigger baddie-looking friend were in our seats. Tim said that he tried to explain that the seats were already taken, but they would not listen. Mrs. Turquoise show them our tickets, but they would not move. The men indicated that we should find some seats somewhere else. “You snooze, you lose!”

Mrs. Turquoise started yelling at them. I have no idea what she said to them, probably something about having their mothers hostage back in her dungeon. Shortly into her rant they shot up from their, umm ours seats and apologized for their huge lapse in judgement. They didn’t even bother with looking for another seat in our train car. They just ran to the next one. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprise if they hurled themselves from the train in fear, shame, or whatever feeling Mrs. Turquoise’s speech stirred in them.

In Beijing Mrs. Turquoise went to her parents’ home and it was just Tim and me. We ate dinner at a Chinese fast-food place and opened our Lonely Planet: China books to look for a place to stay. After discussing our options we picked the Qianmen Hostel near the Qianmen subway station.

This hostel was really nice and the location was very near everything I wanted to see. When I went back to Beijing the following month with my mom and brother, I stayed at the Qianmen Hostel again.

I did not see much of Beijing in May. One of the purposes of going to Beijing at that time was to get tickets on the Trans-Mongolian Express for my mom, brother, and me. But the tickets would not be sold until five days before departure. This was in 2008 and the summer Olympics would be in Beijing in three months. This screwed up a lot of train ticket sales for international journeys.

The next day I had breakfast with Tim and then never saw him again. I was heading down south to Vietnam and then going to Mongolia and he was going up north to Inner Mongolia then going to Vietnam. Unfortunately I don’t remember his real name but he just seemed like a “Tim” so in this blog he will be known as Tim.

Chinese Train

Off to Chongqing

After not getting train tickets to Mongolia, I went to the Beijing West Train Station and took the T9 to Chongqing which took about 25 hours. In that time I ate, slept, read books, and talked with whoever was around that could speak English or was willing to do a little miming.

There is a dining car on the T9, though I didn’t see it. I  completely forgot about meals and only remembered to eat when the lady with the meal cart came by. The meals cost about 30 Yuan and were composed of mostly meat with rice and some sort of vegetable. I usually like the Chinese train meals, although I don’t always know what I’m eating.

No Occupying While Stable?

Is this where I am to have my nervous breakdown?

On the train, I came across the most wonderful sign on a bathroom door. At first I had no idea what  it meant. The train had just pulled into a station and was parked. I really wanted to use the bathroom but the door was locked. I thought that someone was having a really hard time in there, but I was willing to wait. One of the ladies working on the train saw me waiting and she pointed to the sign. “Train stop, no open. Train no stop, open.”

Ahh… I see! Do not use while the train is parked…

All Pictures


Boat From Incheon, Korea to Tianjin (Tanggu), China

How to make reservations:

  • Call: +82-32-777-8260
  • for better English call the Korean Tourist Information line: +82-2-1330. This is for assistance only. The Korean Tourist information line is not associated with the boat company.

When you call they might tell you that you need to come down to the dock in person so they can photo copy your passport, visa to China, and other documents. You can ask them to let you fax or e-mail the information instead, and pay by credit card or bank transfer.

Website for Boat Company (in Korean. Use Google translator)

How to get to the dock:

  • 37°27’53.3″N 126°37’30.4″E
  1. Go to the Dong-Incheon Subway station.
  2. Take bus 23, 24, 17-1, or 3. There is a McDonald’s near the bus stop to get on the bus.
  3. You should get off the bus near another McDonald’s across the street from the port.

Notes:

  • Schedule
  • Departing Procedure
  • The cost of the ticket depends on which boat you take and the class of your accommodations. I took the cheapest ticket on the boat to Tianjin and it cost a little over 100USD. My Chinese visa cost more than my fair to China.
  • You must have a valid visa before entering China. To get a visa to China while in Korea you must go through a travel agent, not the Chinese embassy.

China 
(中国)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
  • Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
  • Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.

Phone:

Website:

There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook and parts of Wikipedia are just two of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.

My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.

Videos:

Books:

*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

Notes:

  • If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.

Tianjin
(天津)
About this sound

How to get there:

  • 39°08’16.1″N 117°12’41.7″E (Tianjin Railway Station)

From Tanggu –

  • Take a bus or the train from Tanggu Railway Station or around that area.

I don’t remember exactly how to do it, since I was mostly following someone who lived in the area.

Just ask around.

Website

Notes:

Tanggu is a small port town on the out skirts of Tianjin. To get the Beijing you will need to get to the main city of Tianjin.


Beijing
(北京)

How to get there:

From Tianjin –

  • Take a train, regular or express, to Beijing Railway Station.

I don’t remember exactly how to do it, since I was mostly following someone who lived in the area.

Just ask around.

Website

Map:

Click for Google maps

Posted in Beijing, Incheon, Tanggu, Tianjin | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

I missed the boat

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 8, 2009

May 2, 2008

All Pictures

Incheon International Ferry Terminal 2

The First days of Joblessness

I had worked in Korea for a whole year and planned a big trip when my contract was completed. My last day of work was the last day of April 2008. The first stop of my trip was in China.

Traveling to China by plane is a bit expensive. I would be traveling for 2 months while jobless and at the end I would start looking for another job, so I had to think of a more economic route to China. From Incheon harbor there are boats that go to several ports in other countries. So I bought a ticket on the one that went to Tianjin.

It actually goes to Tanggu which is near Tianjin, but it is advertised as going to Tianjin. Well, I’m still not sure if Tanggu is near Tianjin the town, or in a county called Tianjin. I just know that there is a town called Tanggu and another town called Tianjin, both of which may or may not be in a county called Tianjin.

I was so geared up for my first day on my big trip, but not geared up enough to have planned my usual extra two hours for getting lost. I was so sure I knew exactly where to go since I had lived in Seoul for a whole year and that I would be okay getting there on time. I missed the boat because I took the wrong bus from the Dong-Incheon subway station to the ferry; a distance so close I could have walked.

If you ever plan on taking the boat to Tianjin, go to the Incheon International Ferry Terminal 2 at least one and a half hours before the schedule departure. Take bus number 3, 23, 24, or 17-1 from the Dong-Incheon subway station and show the bus driver the picture above or just get off near the McDonald’s. You could also take a taxi; it’s a $3 ride.

Directions and cost of a taxi

Korean Words of Sympathy

Once I figured out that I was on the wrong bus I got off and started to walk around aimlessly. I passed a port.  I really wanted it to be my port but it was a shipping yard for cargo.

I looked so distraught that a man gossiping with a security guard in the area decided to help me. I showed him my boat ticket and he instantly knew what to do. He told me to follow him. Although he had the odor of alcohol on his breath I didn’t have a better plan so I followed.

He hailed a cab and told me to get in. I sat in the back seat on the verge of crying. He sensed that I was troubled and spoke reassuring words to me. Or, at least I think he did. He did not speak any English. I only guessed this from the tone of his voice. He told the cabbie my plight and the driver also began to speak to me sympathetically.

Once we were at the dock the man paid the taxi. I offered to pay the whole or even part of the fare, but the man would not let me. He led me up to the boat company’s office and explained my situation to the people there. The boat, the Tian Ren, was schedule to leave in five minutes and I tried to convince the staff to hold the boat.

They could not do that. I started to feel a bit panicky. The lady just took my ticket, tore it up, and handed me a new ticket. The next boat to Tianjin would not leave Incheon for another four days.

Lady: “Just come back on Tuesday.”

Me: “What do I have to pay?”

Lady: “Pay? You already paid for your ticket. Just come back on Tuesday. Next time don’t be late.”

At first, I was just a little frustrated at how calm everyone else was, like me missing my boat was no big deal. Then I remembered that I didn’t actually have any appointments and that it really was no big deal. Then I moved on to being surprised that, even though it was completely my own foolish fault that I missed the boat, I could just take the next one without paying anything extra. And I was really lucky to meet a kind stranger who knew exactly where to go and what to do.

As a traveler I may not always be lucky in finding the best accommodations or transportation but I always manage to find the nicest people at just the right time.

Waiting for my friend to come home from work so I can have a place to stay.

So I calmed down and tried to think of something fun I could do with another weekend in Korea. I called up a friend for a place to stay and started to plan another mini-Korea-trip.

All Pictures


South Korea
(대한민국)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, or train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible for most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in your country.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pickpockets,muggers, or scam artists.
    • You should watch out when crossing the streets, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and the little old ladies that will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.
  • Use common sense and you will be okay.
  • Things are generally inexpensive and there are many wonderful things to buy.

Enjoy Korea! I live there for 2 years and had a fantastic time.


Boat From Incheon, Korea to Tianjin (Tanggu), China

How to make reservations:

Call:

  • +82-32-777-8260
  • For better English call the Korean Tourist Information line: +82-2-1330. This is for assistance only. The Korean Tourist information line is not associated with the boat company.

When you call they might tell you that you need to come down to the dock in person so they can photocopy your passport, visa to China, and other documents. You can ask them to let you fax or e-mail the information instead, and pay by credit card or bank transfer.

How to get to the dock:

  • 37°27’53.3″N 126°37’30.4″E
  1. Go to the Dong-Incheon Subway station.
  2. Take bus 23, 24, 17-1, or 3. There is a McDonald’s near the bus stop to get on the bus.
  3. You should get off the bus near another McDonald’s across the street from the port.

Notes:

  • Schedule
  • Departing Procedure
  • The cost of the ticket depends on which boat you take and the class of your accommodations. I took the cheapest ticket on the boat to Tianjin and it cost a little over 100USD. My Chinese visa cost more than my fair to China.
  • You must have a valid visa before entering China. To get a visa to China while in Korea you must go through a travel agent, not the Chinese embassy.

Map:

Click for Google maps

Boat From Incheon, Korea to Tianjin (Tanggu), China


 

Posted in Incheon, South Korea | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Not Made in China

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 6, 2009

February 17, 2008

All Pictures

Shanghai: People’s Park

My Heart and Seoul

I left Wuhan on the 9:41pm train to Shanghai. I was ready to go back to Seoul. In China I was illiterate. When most people looked at me, I could see little yuan signs in their eyes.

Back in Seoul I’m less illiterate and there aren’t many people trying to hustle tourists there. I just feel more at home in Seoul. In fact, for right now Seoul is my home.

Jam Packed

I almost missed my train to Shanghai. My hotel, in Wuhan, was right across the street from the train station, so I thought there would be no way I could possibly be late. But just to make sure I planned to leave the hotel 45 minutes before my train was scheduled to arrive in Wuhan.

It’s now time to explain some things about Chinese train stations. First off, whoever it was that designed and built these stations probably doesn’t actually live in China. My guess is that he or she has never even visited, seen, or heard of China. This person must live in Montana or Kansas and doesn’t quite understand the concept or dynamics of a large group of people.

At any given Chinese train station there are millions of people trying to get in through one or two front entrances. At the few entrances are “luggage scanners”. I use quotation marks because I doubt that any of them actually work.

Commuters place their suitcases on the conveyor belt and the machine shoots the luggage out the other end so quickly that nothing could possibly be scanned. If the scanner were to actually find anything, who would notice? The “guard” in charge hardly ever pays attention. Most of the time the scanner’s screen is turned off.

Once inside the station people go to the waiting area for their particular train. There are never enough seats. People start to sit on the floor, but then they quickly run out of floor space. Then people sit outside the waiting area in the hall. That fills up pretty quickly too.

It took me about 45 minutes to get to the entrance, get my stuff “scanned”, wade through the masses of people sitting on the floor, find my gate, and get on my train. I was still looking for my berth when the train was pulling out of the station.

People’s Park

Once in Shanghai, I went to the People’s Park. It was lovely. I sat in the park and relaxed until it was time to go to the airport to catch my flight back to Seoul. I took the 925 bus to the airport.

I would return to China in the summer of this same year. And, though every time I vow never to do it again, I would return to China many, many more times after that.


 

China 
(中国)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
  • Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
  • Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.

Phone:

Website:

There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook and parts of Wikipedia are just two of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.

My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.

Videos:

Books:

*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

Notes:

  • If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.

The People’s Square
Rénmín Guǎngchǎng
(人民广场)

How to get there:

Take the metro to the People’s Square station.

Notes:

  • The 925 bus goes between the park and the airport. (If it’s still running.)

There are many well-known landmarks near the park. Here is the list from Wikipedia:

Map:

Click for Google maps

Posted in China, Shanghai | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Wal-Mart and Mao

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 6, 2009

February 14-16, 2008

All Pictures

One of Wuhans train stations

Nu-way-va-jork? Never heard of it…

I got to Wuhan at 12:00 am. I found a decent hotel with the help of my Lonely Planet and some shady looking characters milling around a back ally. While not stopping their heated argument with each other, they helpfully pointed to the street I needed. It was one of those moments where, had I been more rested, I might have been a bit more picky when selecting people to ask for directions. But, there is a level of tiredness I sometimes reach when traveling, where I just don’t care. As long as they just look like hooligans and are not at the moment taking part in any hooliganisms.

I complain about the short comings of the Lonely Planet books because sometimes their directions are vague. Many times they leave out very helpful information, like the name of a place in Chinese. It’s hard to ask for directions for the Great Wall of China when you have no idea how to say the name in Chinese. Imagine someone stopping you for help finding the interstate that goes to, “Nueva York,” where the “Y” here is pronounced like a “J”.

No travel book will ever be 100% useful to any of its readers. Even with the flaws, it is far better to have a travel book than to not have one. Personally I like Lonely Planet. I’m used to its format, but it is far from perfect.

Traveling in China is not easy for a novice and I was worn out by my first day in Wuhan. For one day I took a vacation from my vacation and stayed in all day to watch TV. I don’t have a television at home, so this was a treat for me.

My hotel had two channels in English. One was a movie channel. The other was the Discovery Channel, which, I must say, I love. I did walk around a bit to get some Chinese take-out, but then I ate my food back in my warm hotel room in front of the TV.

The little of Wuhan I did see.

Ribbit Ribbit

The next day I went downtown. I found out that there was a Wal-Mart there and I had to see it for myself. In the country-side I saw grocery stores that looked like little mom-and-pop-shops. They didn’t have much to buy inside but a few boxes of milk, some noodles, a few bottles of water, and small amounts of other things. But at Wal-Mart there was a lot more stuff to buy.

It wasn’t as big or plentiful as a Wal-Mart in the states or Lotte Mart in Korea, but it was very big. There were at least two brands of each item to choose from.

I saw products that I hadn’t seen since I left Korea, like lotion. There were also some unexpected finds too. In the fresh meat section there was a box of live frogs just ribbitting away.

I know what you’re thinking. “You go all the way to China, ignore pagodas and temples, and you visite a Wal-Mart?” Yes. I did. But remember:

  • I live in Asia and after a while temples, pagodas, and shrines all start to look the same, but not all grocery stores are created equal.
  • I’m a weather wimp and this trip was in the country-side of China in the winter. There was no heat anywhere other than in my hotel room. Every time I went out, I froze.
  • It’s easier to ask for directions to a grocery store where people go everyday, than for directions to a pagoda that only tourists visit.

Besides, aren’t you even just a little curious about what’s on the shelves of a Chinese Wal-Mart? Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos of the Wal-mart. I was a novice back then and didn’t have this blog.

near where Mao went for a little R&R

Mao… Big communist guy who wrote red books?

In Wuhan there is a villa that Chairman Mao used to visit when he was in need of rest and relaxation. It was hard to get to, because I could not figure out what bus to take and nobody would help me. Every time I asked someone for directions they either didn’t know who Mao was, didn’t know what a villa was, or looked like they wanted to run away.

I would walk up to someone on the street and ask for directions. First I would try to explain who Mao was by pointing to his name written in Chinese characters. After this, the person would either flat out refuse to continue talking to me or he/she would smile, shrug, and walk away.

I finally got one lady to help me. She told me that I should take a taxi. She wrote a little note in Chinese for me to give to a taxi driver. I thought I was set.

I waited for a taxi on the side of the road for about half an hour. Hardly any cabs stopped for me. Whenever one did I would jump into the back seat. Then I would show the driver my note and he would tell me to get out of his cab.

I went back to my hotel and asked someone there to call me a cab. A maid who spoke no English eventually helped me. She called a taxi driver who seemed to be just sitting around in a nearby restaurant. He took me to the area where the villa was.

He dropped me off at what looked like the entrance, but it wasn’t. I walked around hoping to find something. Maybe where the cabbie dropped me off was the entrance, but it was closed. I wanted to ask someone for help, but then I noticed a very strange thing. There was no one around to ask. I was all alone with the trees.

All By Myself

It felt very odd to be all alone in China and outside at the same time. During my week so far in China I had been in one crowd or another. I ate in a crowd. I rode buses, trains, and planes in a crowd. I walk down the streets in a crowd. I went sightseeing in a crowd. Anytime I was outdoors there was some sort of crowd outdoors with me.

I didn’t get to see inside Mao’s villa, but I loved getting away from the noise and the busyness of China. Later I had an overnight train to Shanghai. The next day I would be back in Seoul, another crowed city. I really drank in every drop of the quiet peaceful solitude and forgot about the villa.

Who needs Mao when you can be ALONE?


 

China 
(中国)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
  • Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
  • Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.

Phone:

Website:

There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook and parts of Wikipedia are just two of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.

My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.

Videos:

*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

Notes:

  • If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.

Meiling/ Plum Ridge 
Mao Zedong Bieshu/Chairman Mao’s Villa

How to get there:

  • 30°33’17.9″N 114°22’07.2″E

By bus

  • Take bus number 14, 578, 701, or 709
  • Get off at the Provincial Museum.
  • “As you face the museum’s main entrance, turn left and walk along the main street. Immediately a street will branch off to your right – take it (the museum will be on your right). The street will lead to a roundabout, on which you should turn right, into a narrow shaded alleyway with some dilapidated houses and chicken coops. Eventually you will come to a gate (may look closed but will have an opening). Continue through the gate and straight along a causeway with water on both sides. You will get to an intersection – turn left. You will come to a parking lot in front of a large building complex – you want to get behind that complex, i.e. pass it so that it’s on your left (there’s a road with a blue forward-pointing arrow going there – take that road, then turn left). You will see an unremarkable-looking building with Mao’s old car in a glass enclosure – this is Mao’s villa.” – WikiTravel

Address:

Donghu Lu 56,
Wuhan, Hubei, China

Phone:

027/ 8679-6106

Cost:

50 Yuan

Hours:

8:00 – 17:00  I’m not sure what days they are closed, other than any day I show up.

Website:

Videos:
Books:

Wal-Mart's LogoWal-Mart

How to get there:

  • 30°34’37.7″N 114°17’28.1″E
  • 30°30’17.5″N 114°19’30.9″E

Address:

Wal-Mart Supercenter
Wuhan Zhongshan Road Branch
176 Minsheng Road, Jianghan District

Phone: 800-8809896

Website

Notes:

There are many Wal-marts in Wuhan now.

Map:

Click for Google maps

Posted in China, Wuhan | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

There is no train.

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 6, 2009

February 10, 2008

All Picture

The Xi’an City Wall

Buy From Me!

The train pulled into the Xian (西安) train station at 6:30 am.  I sleepily stumbled down the street looking for a nice hotel in which to stay. Most hotels had their room rates right in the lobby in big bright red-lit numbers that can be seen from outside. I was glad not to have to enter the hotels to compare rates.

I passed vendors barking at me to buy their goods and taxi drivers trying to get me into their cabs. I was in awe at how aggressive they were at such an early hour. Everyone seemed to have been awake for a while. No one was buying anything though. Everyone but me, who had come from the train had somewhere to go. I imagined that the most probable destination of these people involved a warm soft bed.

Within a matter of minutes the passengers had all dissipated and it was just me and the vendors. It felt a bit overwhelming. I stopped looking at people and just kept walking. I found a suitable looking hotel, checked in, turned the heater on to its max setting, and fell asleep.

The park in Xi’an

Well then, how did I get here?

When I woke up later that morning, I went to the front desk to ask about getting a train ticket. At first they had no idea what I was talking about.

Clerks:            “Trains don’t come here.”

Me:                  “What? I came here on a train. In fact, I can see the train station from your window. Look over there.”

Clerks:            “Oh that. What do you want?”

Me:                  “…to buy a train ticket to Chongqing.”

Clerks:            “Why?”

Me:                  “Because I want to go to Chongqing.”

Clerks:           “Have you seen the Terracotta Warriors?”

Me:                  “Not yet. Where can I buy a train ticket?

Clerks:             “There is no train. You have to take a bus.”

Me:                  “Chongqing is very far from here. How can I take a bus?”

Clerks:            “Chongqing? What about the Terracotta Warriors?”

Me:                   “Later. First I need a ticket to Chongqing. I want to leave the day after tomorrow.”

Clerks:            “But you just got here. Have you seen the Terracotta Warriors?”

Me:                   “I’ll see them after I buy my train ticket to Chongqing. Where can I buy a train ticket?”

Clerks:            “We don’t know. Have you tried the bank?”

A Park in Xi’an

As crazy a suggestion as it seemed, I did go to the bank and had a similar conversation with the tellers there. I felt like I was the only sane person in a village of lunatics. Every time I found someone who could speak English I would asked him or her about getting a train ticket. They all told me the same thing. The train doesn’t exist, doesn’t stop here, doesn’t go to Chongqing (重庆), or some other excuse. Then they would ask if I’d seen the Terracotta Warriors yet.

Does this tree know where I can buy train tickets?

I walked down to the train station in hopes of getting a ticket there. There were so many people. Everyone was pushing and shoving, spitting and throwing up, yelling and screaming, or doing some other combination of things to ensure that anyone standing in line next to them would be guaranteed not to have a good time.

It would have taken me days to get to the front of any of the lines and then, I imagined, I would find out that none of the ticket clerks spoke English. Or maybe, it would turn out that I was in the line for people with red shoes, but I had on green shoes. (Yes, I wear green shoes.) I was beginning to feel that everyone was right and there was no train to Chongqing just a very long line for no reason. And that thing I rode to town in the night before, just my imagination.

Don’t ask us about trains!

The Fancy Hotel Plan B

If all else fails when you are in a foreign country and no one seems to be able to help you, go to the fanciest hotel you can find. The people there are usually more than willing to help you if you smile and look friendly. I call this my “Fancy Hotel Plan B”.

I walked around looking for a very fancy hotel. I found one and it had a travel agency in the lobby. None of the travel agents spoke English very well, but I managed to find a hotel guests, who had a thick British accent. He happily and enthusiastically did all the translating I needed. First he called the train station and asked about a ticket to Chongqing. They were all sold out. The long lines I saw, were people waiting to buy tickets for next week, or the week after that, or the week after that…

I bought airfare to Chongqing. Lucky for me, flying domestically in China isn’t too expensive. With my ticket in hand I headed out to see those Terracotta Warriors everyone was so concerned I’d miss.

The Terracotta Army: See them our they won’t let you leave.

How to get to the Terracotta Warriors from Xian City:

  • Step 1. Walk to the train station parking lot/open area.
  • Step 2. Walk up to a vendor, smile, and pretend that you are about to say something in English.
  • Step 3. Say nothing but just point to a picture of the Terracotta Warriors from your travel book or brochure.
  • Step 4. Walk in the direction the vendor points.
  • Step 5. Repeat steps 2~4 until you’ve found the bus. Then board the bus and relax.

If you’ve ever lived in Japan, Korea, or China you will come to the realization that the people there are deathly afraid of speaking English, especially in front of foreigners. I’ve tried to put myself in their shoes, but I can’t. Back home, if someone were to ask me a question in Spanish I would answer them with the little Spanish I knew.

If they were to ask me a question in some other language, well they would just be out of luck because I don’t speak anything other than English and 3rd-grade-level Spanish. But I would never feel embarrassed, giggle, or run away like people do in Korea, Japan, and China.

Even people who speak English very well feel embarrassed or shy about what they think is their “low level” of English. I’m just happy that they stopped to help me at all. They really have nothing to feel embarrassed about. In fact they should feel proud that they know more languages than the poor ignorant tourist they are talking to and I should be the embarrassed one.

Terracotta Army

Wait to Leave

The next day was my flight from Xian to Chongqing. I set out early because I knew that the bus would just sit there until the seats were all filled up. I brought the book, Midnight Cab, and prepared to wait.

I walked towards the train station and found the bus just sitting there on the sidewalk in front of a hotel. It said, “Xian Airport” and it cost 26 Yuan. The driver didn’t wait for the entire bus to be filled, but we did sit there for about 45 minutes before leaving.


 

China 
(中国)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
  • Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
  • Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.

Phone:

Website:

There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook and parts of Wikipedia are just two of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.

My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.

Videos:

Books:

*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

Notes:

  • If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.

The Terracotta Army
(兵马俑)

How to get there:

  • Go to the East Square of Xian, next to the Railway Station.
  • Take bus #915 or bus #306.
  • 34°23’02.9″N 109°16’42.5″E

If I remember right, the #306 is a green bus.

Address:

Lintong County, Shaanxi Province
N34 22 60 E109 5 60

Website

Cost:

  • 65CNY Dec – Feb
  • 90CNY Mar – Nov

Hours:

8:00 – 18:00 everyday

Videos:

Notes:

  • The bus to the Terracotta Warriors first goes to the Huaqing Hot Springs(华清池) before heading to the ceramic soldiers.
    • It costs about 70CNY to get into the hot spring and it’s open from 9:10 to 17:00.

Map:

Click for Google maps

Posted in China, Xian | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

All we have are nice grottoes.

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 6, 2009

February 9, 2008

All Pictures

A Fine Angel

I’ll take a hotel if that’s all there is.

The town I spent the next night in was Luoyang (洛阳). It’s known for its grottoes. I stayed in a semi-fancy hotel. The room even had its own sauna. In China fancy hotels are very cheap at about 30~40 USD per night. Although I only stayed in hotels on this trip I recommend staying in hostels in China whenever possible. This was my first real solo trip, and I was still a novice.

“Why stay in a hostel rather than a hotel?” you might ask.

Because, hotels cater more to Chinese travelers who usually travel for business. They tend not the have any information about touristy things. Some don’t even have English-speaking employees. English is the international language of international traveling.

Longmen Grottoes

Hostels, on the other hand, all cater to sightseeing travelers. They usually have at least one half decent English, French, or German speaker employed. There are tons of pamphlets, in English and other languages, about all the great stuff there is to do in town and nearby. Most have information on sister hostels in other towns across China, making it easy to find your next hostel.

You can book tours at a hostel and meet other travelers. But most importantly, you can buy train tickets at any hostel in China. Whereas at a hotel, they will look at you as if you are spirit-catching mad when you ask to buy train tickets at their front desk.

You  might be thinking, “But I’m not interested in sharing a room with hippy-smelling backpackers or snoring German tourists!” That’s okay. Most hostels have single  rooms with an en suite bathroom. You don’t have to share a room.

The other side of the Grotto

The Handyman Can

That evening when I checked in, I wanted to have food brought up to my room, but there was some problem. I don’t remember what it was now, but one of the staff ladies walked me through the hotel to see the custodian. He was the only one at the hotel who could speak English.

The matter was quickly cleared up and I spent a long time talking to Mr. Handyman. He used to live in the states and he wanted to go back, but he also didn’t want to leave China. “When I’m here I miss America. When I’m there, I miss China,” he told me.

He helped me buy my first ticket on a Chinese train. It was for the 12:37 am train to Xi’an (西安) in a hard sleeper the following night. I was so excited. He also told me how to get to the Longmen Grottoes. “But,” he warned, “there is not much else to do in this town.”

From downtown Louyang I took public bus number 81 to the Longmen Grottoes. It took about one hour to get there. This was where I saw my first unashamed peeing on a city bus.

Lucky Fish!

Brrrrr

It was freezing that day. I remembered passing a steaming pond of fat koi fish. I wanted more than anything else in the world to jump in and warm up. I had never been so jealous of fish in all my life.

China in the winter is cold. No, not just cold… It’s a level of freezing that I have never felt before or since. No one has the heater turned on. It is cold outdoors, indoors, in fancy hotel lobbies, in internet cafes, in restaurants, in train stations, on buses, everywhere!

The sauna in my hotel room: The only place I could warm up.

I was ready to get on my 12:37 am train by 9:30 pm. I shivered in that train station for hours. I was so tired by the time the train came I didn’t even take any pictures of my epic first Chinese train ride.

I boarded the train and asked a lady in uniform to help me find my bed. She took my ticket to looked at it and showed me to my berth. There was a man fast asleep in it already and she slapped him to wake him up and told him to leave. I wondered for a few seconds how clean the sheets were since they were obviously used, but I was too tired to keep that thought for long. I put my backpack at the head of my bed and then I collapsed next to it. I was completely unconscious for the whole ride. I didn’t even get up to pee during the night.

The next morning someone woke me up in time for me to get off at Xi’an and handed me my ticket. That was when I realized that I had not even bothered to find out how to know when I’d reached my stop. I put on my shoes utterly amazed at my carelessness, and got off the train.

Later I learned that in China, in the sleeper cars at least, a train official comes by and takes the tickets of passengers who have just boarded. Passengers get their tickets back about ten to twenty minutes before the train gets to their stop. That’s when the person in charge of the car goes around and wakes up all those who are to get off at the next stop. This gives the riders plenty of time to get dressed and be ready to disembark.

I guess the lady who showed me to my bunk, kept my ticket so that she could wake me up later on. I didn’t even notice that she didn’t give the ticket back after showing me to my berth.


 

China 
(中国)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
  • Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
  • Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.

Phone:

Website:

There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook and parts of Wikipedia are just two of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.

My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.

Videos:

*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

Notes:

  • If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.

The Longmen Grottoes
(龙门石窟)

How to get there:

Use the map below to ask for bus stops.

  • Take either the #81, #60, or #53 bus.
  • 34°33’33.9″N 112°28’04.6″E

Website:

Cost:

120CNY

Videos:

  • Clip from a travel show

Notes:

The website for the grotto is a bit hard to understand. The English there may have been the result of using an electronic translator.

  • The website seems to be down. Maybe it will be working again in the future.

Map:

Click for Google maps

Posted in China, Luoyang | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Another one out the window

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 6, 2009

February 8, 2009

All Pictures

The Gate to the Shaolin Temple

The Birth Place of Kung-Fu

Before heading off to bed, my one and only night in Zhengzhou (郑州), I asked the helpful English teacher how to get to the bus station. I told her that I wanted to see the Shaolin Temple. She drew me a little map on a napkin and told me to get there as early as possible.

POW!

The next day I woke up bright and early… and got lost. I had to ask a cop for directions. He started talking to some family that happened to be walking by and asked them where they were headed. It turned out that they were on their way to the bus station too. He told me to follow them.

I just wanted to go to the Shaolin Temple. Generally I don’t like temples. In Korea they are usually up steep mountains. People hike all day to see them. In Japan they’re everywhere and all basically look alike.

But, the Shaolin Temple was different. This temple was famous. This temple had fighting monks. This temple was the birth place of Kung-fu, or so some people think. So I wasn’t interested in the surrounding temples, just the Shaolin Temple.

Statue of a Monk at the Shaolin Temple

This Bus?

I thought I had bought a ticket for a long distance bus to Dengfeng (登封), the town where the Shaolin monks live. But it turned out to be a Chinese tour bus. All the information was in Chinese, so it did me no good. But at least I found transportation.

On the bus I sat next to a really sick kid. He threw up during the whole ride. His dad just kept changing the little plastic baggy that the boy threw up in.

“Here’s a new one, son. I’ll just toss this old one out the window.”

  • Note: Never travel long distances in China by motorbike or convertible.

I was completely amazed when at a lunch stop the boy’s parents forced him to eat all his noodles even though the boy didn’t want anything to eat. He went through four more baggies before we got to the Shaolin Temple.

Monk phone

Not Shaolin Yet

I don’t remember how many temples we stopped to see before getting to the Shaolin Temple. They all looked alike and people kept trying to get me to buy prayers and luck for my ancestors. I don’t even remember most of my uncles’ names much less my ancestors. I did pray for them, the ones whose names I knew, and my Mom and aunt Audrey. I could afford one or two prayers on their behalf.

Fighting monks

Finally!

By the time we got to the Shaolin Temple I was T-I-R-E-D. I paid some vendor outside to watch my backpack while I went in to see some monks. I just walked into one of the little shops by the gate and got the vendor’s attention. I took off my backpack and mimed my handing the pack over to him. I did a two finger point to my eyes then moved my fingers to the backpack. Then I pointed to my change purse. The man nodded, took the pack, then pointed to the six on his clock. “Mister, I plan to be in bed by that time,” I said in my head. I smiled and he waved me off wishing me a good visit.

Walkway at the Shaolin Temple

I walked around, took pictures, and was amazed by the beauty of the landscape and the lack of cleanliness of the tourists. People who ate cup-noodles would just drop their garbage wherever they finished eating and moved on. It seemed like no one ever cleaned the street leading up to the temple. This was how most of China was in my eyes — beauty under garbage.

There were no monks performing at that time. I would have had to wait until evening to see the monks in action. I was tired, cold, hungry, and I just couldn’t look at the beautiful surrounds with piles of trash everywhere any longer.

I picked up my backpack way before the 6:00 pm deadline, skipped out on my tour group, and took a taxi to the next town of Louyang (洛阳).


 

China 
(中国)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
  • Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
  • Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.

Phone:

Website:

There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook and parts of Wikipedia are just two of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.

My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.

Videos:

Books:

*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

Notes:

  • If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.

The Shaolin Temple
(少林寺)

How to get there:

From Zhengzhou’s Long Distance Bus Station:

  • Take the bus to Dengfeng City which is approximately 15 kilometers away from the Shaolin Temple.
  • Get off at the Dengfeng East Long Distance Bus Station
  • Take Bus No. 1 which links the Dengfeng East Long Distance Bus Station to the Shaolin Temple

There are also tour buses that will go to the Shaolin Temple. The tours are usually in Chinese and stop at many, many temples.

Phone:

  • (+86) 0371-6274-9305
  • (+86) 0371-6558-2651

(Why do the phone numbers have so many digits? I don’t know. But, they do.)

Website

e-mail:

  • Editorial Office – shaolinchanlu@yahoo.com.cn

Videos:

Map:

Click for Google maps

Posted in China, Dengfeng | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

I guess she doesn’t speak English.

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 6, 2009

February 7, 2008

All Pictures

Erqi (7th of Feb) Memorial Tower

Get on the bus

I landed at the Zhengzhou airport around 5:00pm that evening. I went out the front entrance of the airport to look for the shuttle to town. When I found the spot to catch a bus, one was just pulling out. But there was another bus right behind it. I boarded the second bus and this was where I learned how buses run in China. Here are, in my opinion, the Chinese Bus Commandments:

    1. No bus shall begin its journey unless all seats are occupied. Scheduled time of departure matters not!
    2. Bus driver, if thou canst fit more passengers by making them stand in the aisle or sit upon their neighbors’ laps, then thou shalt  surely make the Bus-God merry.
    3. Buses shall at all times play horrible Chinese pop music videos or horrible Chinese pop music with some unrelated video. The louder the better. It must be played even whilst waiting for all the seats to fill up.
    4. Thou canst orally expel saliva, urinate, or regurgitate anywhere that pleases thee and thou needest not feel ashamed.

It’s funny now, but I was quite shocked the first time I saw someone peeing on a bus.

Somewhere in Zhengzhou.

That girl looks lost

I stayed at a unique Chinese hotel recommended by the Lonely Planet: China 2007. It was a little hard to find. No one I asked knew where it was or had even heard of it. Sometimes the Lonely Planet is not so great with directions. It also doesn’t help that all the Lonely Planet maps are completely in English but, all the actual street signs are in Chinese… written with Chinese characters.

The Lonely Planet said that the hotel was near the 7th February Memorial Pagoda (二七纪念塔). Once I stopped asking where the hotel was and started asking about the monument I found it in no time.

near the 7th of February Memorial Pagoda

To what from where how come you go?

Checking into the hotel wasn’t as easy as it was in Shanghai. Outside the major cities in China no one really speaks English. On the streets in Zhengzhou I was at the mercy of passersby willing to read what I pointed to in my Lonely Planet Phrase book. (My pronunciation of tonal languages is absolutely horrible.)

The lady at the counter in the hotel took one look at me and assumed that I spoke no Chinese. She was correct in her assumption. She handed me the “English” version of the check-in form. I started to read it in order to fill it out. Other than “name” and “country of citizenship” I had no idea what the paper was trying to ask. One question was something like, “To what from where how come you go?”

I stopped writing and looked up at the lady with the most confused look on my face. This made her think that I didn’t speak English. Unfortunately she only had Chinese and English forms. If I couldn’t understand either language enough to fill out the form, then I couldn’t stay in this hotel. At least I think that was what she was trying to tell me.

Luckily for me, another lady passing by asked if I needed help. She turned out to be a Chinese English teacher on vacation with her husband. She explained to the clerk that the English forms were translated very badly and that no English speaker could understand them. Then she asked for a Chinese form and helped me to fill it out. (I’m sure the clerk was devastated to learn that she could not count on the steady business  of the one English-speaking tourist a year that wandered into her lobby.)

The hotel was interesting. I was never given a key, but a ticket, like the kind you get at a raffle. I took this ticket to my floor and showed it to the floor manager who then let me into my room. She turned on my heater and electricity then showed me how to use the TV. When I needed to go out, I had to find the manager so she could lock the door for me and turn off the electricity. This hotel came with a midnight curfew.


China 
(中国)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
  • Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
  • Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.

Phone:

Website:

There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook and parts of Wikipedia are just two of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.

My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.

Videos:

Books:

*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

Notes:

  • If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.

Zhengzhou
(郑州)

How to get there:

  • 34°44’55.7″N 113°37’38.9″E

You can get in by train, plane, or bus.

Website

Notes:

  • There are many hotels in this city, but the cheaper ones might not have any information online.
  • Check with travel guides or other travelers about places to stay and eat while in Zhengzhou.
  • You should get a travel book before going to Zhengzhou.
  • I wouldn’t go to China without a travel guide-book unless I’d done lots of research first.

7th of February Memorial Pagoda
Erqi Memorial Tower
(Èrqī Jìniàntă)

(二七纪念塔)

How to get there:

  • 34°45’07.3″N 113°39’58.8″E

Follow the map below and ask as many people as you can stop for directions. I had a hard time finding it before I asked for help.

Cost:

It’s free to look at, but I don’t know if you can enter and climb up to the top.

Hours:

Always available. But if you can go in, then I’m sure there would be opening hours.

Notes:

  • Near this square there are, a decent hotel, an internet cafe, a few decent restaurants, and a McDonald’s. (No, McDonald’s is not a decent restaurant.)
    • The hotel has a midnight curfew.
  • Here is an online phrase book.

Maps:

Click for Google maps

Posted in China, Zhengzhou | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Backpacker Cred

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 5, 2009

February 6, 2008 Around The Chinese New Year’s Holidays

All Pictures

Shanghai

My First Communist Country

I was told that Shanghai (上海) is a very nice city. It is. In fact, you can easily forget that you are in a communist country when in Shanghai. There is a huge mall and many lovely, expensive restaurants inside in which you and your money can be separated. It feels more like New York or some other capitalist city. No matter how nice Shanghai was, I was not interested in it. I had deemed myself a true and adventurous backpacker; I wanted to see  rural China.

I have read many wonderful books by Amy Tan and Wild Swans by Jung Chang. These books left me wanting to see the China that the people in the stories saw. Well, not the same China in the political or time-period sense, but the same China in the poetic sense; A romantic China. I also wanted to try dishes with names like Imperial Concubine Chicken or Tiger Fights the Dragon and somehow I thought they could only be found away from the big cities.

The day I arrived, I didn’t see much of Shanghai. My flight left Korea late in the evening, so I got to China late that night. China’s time zone* being an hour behind Seoul’s didn’t make up for the time lost during the flight or the time it took to get through customs. From the airport I took a city bus and got lost two or three times before I found the hotel. By then my arms and legs were frozen and my eyes would not stay open.

*I read in a book somewhere that the whole of China was put into one time zone. I don’t know how well it works out for the Chinese, but for a traveler it’s great!

The Astor House

Like  Herbert Hoover and Will Rogers

I stayed at the Astor House which was formerly known as the Pujiang Hotel. It has a long list of historical people who have slept within its walls. Now they can add me, non-famous though I may be, to the list.

I would have walked around to see what Communism was like at night, but it was winter and very cold outside. Plus, I did spend about an hour wandering around the Bund trying to find the hotel so I wasn’t too keen on getting lost again that night. Instead, I took a long hot shower and climbed into bed. I don’t have cable TV at home in Seoul, so I was glad to watch some interesting TV shows. Most of the stations were in Chinese of course, except for HBO, CNN, Bloomberg, and The Cuban International Channel.

I had no idea that Cuba had a TV channel that was shown outside Cuba. It wasn’t close to being half as good as the quirky stuff on Telemundo but I watched it anyway. When would I have another opportunity to watch Cuban TV?*

* Americans are currently not allowed to go to Cuba without special permission from the State Department.

Along the Bund

Not Grounded

I wanted to fly into, and out of Shanghai and take only trains or buses while in China. This was my first time traveling alone and I thought that not flying would add to my credibility as a backpacker. But, as in life, things don’t always work out the way they are planned when traveling.

There was a travel agency right in the hotel. I went there to buy train tickets my first morning in China. This was where I learned that I had already made a big mistake on my first solo backpacking trip. I scheduled the trip through China during the Chinese New Year’s holidays. Because most Chinese people travel to their hometowns to be with their families during this time, all the trains were fully booked. So I had to fly into Zhengzhou.

Monument to the People’s Heroes

Train Ticketing in China

So, why didn’t I buy my train tickets ahead of time? That would have been the smart thing to do, right? Don’t forget that this is China; communist China. I know, sometimes it doesn’t seem like it, but they are still communist and there are a lot of restrictions on travel in the country.

Train tickets cannot be bought outside of China. In fact, you can only buy a ticket from your departing train station. In other words, it is impossible to buy round-trip tickets. That’s part of the reason why so many people were stuck out in the countryside away from their homes when the blizzard of 2008 hit. The trains stopped running during the holidays and no one was guaranteed passage home.

So what happens when someone buys Chinese train tickets online? Well, you may buy the tickets online, but someone at the online agency still has to physically go to the train station and buy your tickets in person. Hence the small fee.

One of the best malls I’ve ever seen

Getting to the Airport

After I bought my plane ticket to Zhengzhou I wanted to check out of the hotel. Whenever you check into a hotel in China you pay a deposit. To get the deposit back you need to have not destroyed  or damaged anything in your room and show the clerk the receipt when you leave. I couldn’t find mine.

The deposit for this hotel was about 100 USD. In my frantic search for the receipt the clerk saw my plane ticket when it spilled out onto the reception desk along with a pen, hand wipes, mints, and a tube of lip balm that rolled away from me as if it were destined for freedom.

“You’re going to the airport today?” she asked. I barely looked up at her. I shoved all my stuff back into my purse and started rifling through all those little pockets of my backpack that I thought were useful when I first bought it.

Me:                  “Yes.”

Clerk:              “What time is your flight?”

Me:                  “Two in the afternoon.”

Clerk:              “Then you will come back here by noon.”

Me:                  “Why would I do that?”

Clerk:              “To get a taxi, of course. Noon is a good time. Enough time to get to the airport in traffic. It should cost about 50 Yuan. I’ll call one now, so that he’ll be waiting for you when you get back. You can leave your things here with me. Just be back in time so you don’t miss your flight.”

I was about to tell her that I was going to take the bus to the airport. It only cost, 2 Yuan. I was a backpacker and should choose the cheaper and more independent method of travel. (Ignore the fact that I just spent the night in a fancy schmancy hotel.)

But… taking a taxi seemed so un-stressful. Plus I wouldn’t have time to see the sights because I would have to leave at that very moment if I took the bus. I would need to give myself enough time to get lost once or twice. Although I took the bus from the airport to get to the hotel, it was at night and I got lost trying to find my way from where the bus left me. It would take me some time to find the bus stop again during the day.

She would also take care of my stuff while I toured the city. Isn’t backpacking all about touring cities? Wouldn’t I be less of a backpacker if I didn’t see the city than if I took a taxi?

Me:                  “Okay.”

The clerk gave me back my deposit even though I never did show her the receipt. I eventually found it weeks later after I was back in Seoul. After nearly losing 100 bucks because of my own carelessness I started to tape hotel receipts in my Lonely Planet book. (Yes, I travel with Scotch tape. You should too!)

Bund Sightseeing Tunnel

???? oh… ????

This meant that I had about four hours to kill in Shanghai. So I walked around trying not to get lost until I came to the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. It was a weird 60’s, magic mushroom, glass subway with mood lights and a crazy nonsensical English recording that loudly whispered random words.

At the other end of the subway ride was a Chinese Sex and Health Exhibition. I’m not sure how long this particular exhibit was on display. It seemed to me that there was always some exhibit at the end of the ride, and I was just lucky enough to be in Shanghai at the time of this exhibit, but I could be wrong.

There were sex toys and pictures from different periods in Chinese History. There were also sex relics from other countries as well. What I enjoyed most about the sex museum wasn’t the historical contents or even the naughty toys and pictures. I really loved the giggles of grown men and women as they walked around pointing at displays. None of us ever really pass a 7th grade maturity level when it comes to sex museums.


China 
(中国)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
  • Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
  • Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.

Phone:

Website:

There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook, youtube, and parts of Wikipedia are just some of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.

My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.

Videos:

Books:

*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

Notes:

  • If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.

The Astor Hotel
(礼查饭店)
The Pujiang Hotel

(浦江饭店)

How to get there:

  • (map)
  • 31°14’39.9″N 121°29’26.1″E

The best way to get to this hotel from the airport is to take a taxi. At the time of my trip I took a city bus which dropped me off a few blocks away from the hotel, but I cannot find any information on that bus now. It might no longer be running.

When going back to the airport, just remember which airport you need. There are 2 airports in Shanghai, Hongqiao and Pudong. Both are international airports.

The nearest subway station is the East Nanjing Road Station.

There is an airport shuttle which has 8 lines that might be helpful, especially if you are flying in through Pudong International Airport. I think line 6 will take you to the hotel, but you should call 021-68346645 just to make sure.

Address:

15 Huangpu Road
Shanghai, China 200080

Phone:

  • (+86) 21-63246388

Website

e-mail: sales@pujianghotel.com

Cost:

When I stayed at this hotel in 2008, I paid less than 500RMB for a deluxe double room. At the time that was less than 70USD. I remember that I did not make reservations through the hotel’s website. It was cheaper to do a google search and book my stay through a hotel-finding website. I think this is still true today.

Hours:

  • check-in is at 12:00
  • check-out is at 14:00

Notes:

  • There is a long list of famous guests, from Albert Einstein to British royalty, who have stayed at this hotel.
  • There is a travel agency in the hotel where you can buy plane, bus, or train tickets.
  • I have heard that there are dorm rooms available at this hotel for about the rate of a nice hostel, but I have yet to find any actual proof of this. While I was there, although I did not search the hotel, I didn’t see anything that would indicate a backpacker section.

The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel
(外滩观光隧道)

( Wai Tan Ren Xing Guan Guang Sui Dao)

How to get there:

Address:

  • No.300 zhongshan east no.1 road (puxi) &
  • no.2789 bingjiang road (pudong)

Cost:

Hours: 

  • November 1 – March 31 Su – Sa 8:00 – 22:00
  • May 1 – October 31 Su – Sa 8:00 – 22:30
Videos:

Notes:

  • It has nothing to do with seeing any sites. It’s just a fun and bizarre way of crossing under the river.

Map: 

Click for Google maps

Posted in China, Shanghai | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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