Saturday, January 13, 2007

Harbin to Beijing ( 哈尔滨 - 北京 )

Well I traveled on the overnight train from Harbin. I had decided to travel soft sleeper. For those of you who are confused by this, in China is was politically unwise for class reasons, to have separate classes for the wealthy and powerful while everyone else had to travel in cattle class. So on Chinese trains, there is soft sleeper and hard sleeper. Soft sleeper is first class. There are 4 beds to a cabin. Hard sleeper is second class there are 6 sleepers to a section and no doors or walls (apart from between the beds). Normally in China I have traveled hard sleeper. However, I had decided as I had some expensive equipment with me to travel soft sleeper. So I ordered my bed at the station when booking my ticket. I took a lower bunk. In the future I think I will travel on the upper bunk.

Arriving at the station, I spent a while waiting for the train. In the end I got on the train. The train was full of first class carriages, and there were many of them (at least 10) and there were black Mercedes arriving on the platform, to allow their occupants off onto the train while only having to walk less than 5 meters. This is not a side of China I normally see. I shared my compartment with three very smartly dressed business women. There was a man who spoke English. We had a short conversation and then he left the train. So I was on my own from a language point of view. It is good to see that the Chinese do not have the same sexist hangups that many Australians have about mixed traveling. I would strike this bias in a few days from the Americans.

The train even had a power point (220 V Australian style) and each bed had it's own TV and we each had a pair of head sets. When browsing the dozen channels, I came across a movie with Americans singing. I though - great, a movie in English. However, it turned out that only the singing was not dubbed. Everything else was dubbed.

The next day after a very smooth trip, I arrived in Beijing in the morning.

Harbin Railway Station

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Harbin (哈尔滨)

With my illness I have not really been in the right frame of mind for posting. Harbin was the last place where I was traveling on my own. It was a place where my use of Singaporean English again clashed with Australian English on Flickr and elsewhere. I had to laugh. In a way, it was also where the little honeymoon with the Chinese came to an end.

To start with, the subject of spitting. When traveling in China in 1992/1993, I always felt that, while the Chinese spit in every day life, that some forms of spitting were meant to be hostile. I think in Harbin I confirmed this. Of all the cities I have visited so far, Harbin was by far the most old world Chinese city. I had at least two rounds of hostile spitting. (Hostile in that they disapprove.)

In Harbin I also felt like I was in Victorian England. Why? Because the three levels of the Chinese economy were in full force at the same time. I can imagine that in Victorian England, the upper class, middle class and lower class structure was like this.

When in the hotel, I received several phone calls. I could head the phone ringing in the other rooms. Clearly these people were calling around every room, soliciting their business. As I could not hold a conversation with them, I could only guess the nature of the business they were soliciting.

Finally, I was sick. It was cold in Harbin, and in sympathy, I caught a cold. Luckily my room had ADSL Internet access. I was unable to set it up with the instructions from the front desk and in the end a man came to help me set it up. Between us we got it to work, but it was like the blind leading the blind.

babushka dolls

Friday, January 05, 2007

Shenyang (沈阳)

dragonsI traveled by bus from Dalian to Shenyang. I stopped at Shenyang for two reasons. One it was half way to Harbin and being a major transportation hub, a good place to stop-over. The second reason was that it had a palace that the Manchurian empire built before conquering China and moving their palace to Beijing.

When I arrived I was a little worried. Normally I am surrounded by women wanting to sell me hotel accommodation. This did not happen. So I stopped to purchase a map. Then out of the blue, a woman arrived and all was OK. She took me to a very hard to find hotel across the road from the train station. It was hard to find because I had to go through a restaurant, through a dark, water covered corridor and up the only working lift to the 8th floor. The room numbering was strange. There only seemed to be rooms with the digits 0, 4 and 8.

That afternoon I went for a wander around the area I was staying. I had another of those, if only I spoke more Chinese incidents. This woman said to me - bu shr er, which as far as I can tell means not is 2. But then maybe I do not understand. I also had the man with the GPS incident later in the day. I also went and purchased my bus ticket to Harbin. I was having difficulties with the day and the woman at the counter just froze up when she realised I do not speak much Chinese. So I said, jintian, mingtian and then looked hopeful. Luckily the man behind said hwotian. Which means the day after tomorrow. That was when I wanted to travel by bus.

The next day I wandered off down to the Imperial Palace. I spent many hours there, and I think it is much better than the forbidden palace in Beijing.

The next day I travelled by bus to Harbin. The bus was much older. They filled the under-bus storage and back half of the bus with cartons, so I had to have my bag with me on my seat. I was there early and was able to sit directly behind the driver. Halfway to Harbin we made an unscheduled stop to unload the boxes and then later made another stop to pick someone up. With all of this we were over an hour late arriving in Harbin and the sun set as I arrived.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Dalian - (大连)

After the overnight trip on the Dain ferry, I arrived in Dalian. It was quite a surprise. A very modern Chinese city. But still incredibly Chinese. I had decided that I needed a few days to get my bearing in China, even though I had been there twice before. Firstly I wandered to see how much the banking system had evolved. I was having trouble believing that it had become so modern so quickly. In the end it took three attempts to find an ATM that believed it talked to a foreign network to work. I also took out so much money (about $400) that I easily had enough, with what I had brought from Korea for the next three weeks of travel. (Though for the tour all my accommodation and travel were paid for.)

Dalian was a great place. These gay guys helped me find an Internet cafe. (网芭 Ithink) Initially they said it was Y1 per hour but it turned out to be Y2 (about $0.25). I found a cinema that had advertising for an interesting looking movie, but it was never open.

While traveling through the labour park (劳动公园), to get up to the TV tower, this person said g'day. He turned out to be from Balkum Hills and was living there with his Chinese wife. She was from Dalian. They had two girls, born in Australia. They were much more concerned with the simple task of purchasing a bus ticket than I, and she went to the bus terminal to check it out. They called me on the phone to explain the arrangement.

The next day I wandered off to the Russian part of town. Like many places in Northern China, Dalain owes much of it's existence to when it was part of Russia. It also had a strong Japanese influence. The Russian town was interesting, but mostly consisted of Russian buildings full of Russian traders selling Russian goods. It had the first KTV I had seen. I would not find out what they were for another two weeks.

The people in Dalian were generally friendly. They call it the HK of the north. I think this is an apt description. The people are friendly and helpful, but also generally busy and do not have much time.

On the second full day, I went down to the Modern museum. I wanted to go to a Qing museum, but the people in the tourist information center did not know where it was. They had to make several calls and then explained that I had to catch two buses. I was not confident with the buses and decided that the one bus trip journey to the modern museum was more the go. The museum was excellent It had many great displays and I pretty much had it to myself. I then wandered down to the sea front. As you can see from the photos it has more of a European feeling than a Chinese feeling.

On my fourth morning, I caught the bus to Shenyang. The buses in china have improved by an almost infinite amount. When I first traveled on an intercity bus we traveled from Chungching to Leshan. We put our bags on the floor to cover over the holes to reduce the wind. It was a classic old rust heap complete with chickens on the roof. They would overcharge anytime they could, lie about where they were going and the was a fight between the conductor and the passengers when the Chinese passengers were told that they would not go to a town they said they were going to go to. Now the buses are modern, clean and efficient. The chairs were vinyl, made to look like leather. It left on time and they now have motorways to travel along. It is a completely different experience. In many ways it is better than the train.


Monday, January 01, 2007

Seoul (서울)

I returned at the end of my time in Korea to Seoul. I had one night there and then caught the ferry form Incheon to Dalian. I had organised to have dinner with the people from work. However, I was having trouble with the emails. The work email system sends emails from my main email account directly to the deleted mail box. So it took a while before we were able to contact each other. Then, when I tried to call on the phone, it turned out that my mobile could not make calls in Korea. I do not know why. The sms system sometimes worked. So I went hunting for a public phone. At first I could only find ones that needed cards. The shops I went into had run out of cards. In the end I found a coin machine in the tourist information center in Insadong. So I had dinner with two of our people in the Seoul office. It was a good night and as always when with locals, I tried things I did not even know existed, like a kind of rice wine that is milky white. (Maybe this explains the milk fizzy soft drink... I wonder.)

The next day was a quite day. I just went down to the ferry terminal and caught the ferry.

Man with a hammer.

Guinsa (구인사)

Well I managed to miss Guinsa in my previous posting. I traveled by bus through the mountains to this Buddhist retreat. It had been a secondary destination on my list of places I wanted to see. But with the low lake levels making ferry travel a bit more difficult and a high recommendation from some Australians I met in Gyeongju, I decided to take the bus trip out there. I started early as I wanted to get back to Danyang in time to see the cave. I suppose I was just another tourist. I wandered up the mountain, mostly keeping to myself. I wandered all the way to the top of the mountain behind the temples. There were many women walking up there and small outdoor temple with some priests at the top. I came back down for the lunch and to return. I waited half an hour for the restaurant to open at 11:30 AM. When I was waiting for the food trays, I was noticed and they arranged for a woman to come over and have lunch with me and talk to me. However we only had a short conversation and I was on my way.