Hieroglyphic Graffiti » 2007 » June

Thursday June, 28 2007

Two Days of Snorkeling

Filed under: General, China Trip 2007 — makani @ 4:29 pm

We spent the last two days under the sun, in the ocean checking out the local marine life.  Very cool.  This might be a short email, even with two days worth of information to relate.

I think I’ll take a moment here to relate what I’ve learned about volcanic rock.  The stuff that comes in large chunks and looks like rock with lots of little holes in it is called Aha and the smooth stuff that you see with ripples and folds in it is called Pahoihoi.  Aha is very sharp and not good to walk on barefoot.  Pahoihoi isn’t sharp at all and a lot of fun to look at because it looks like someone folded up some black cloth and just tossed it onto the ground.  The ground around here is covered with both kinds which is unsurprising considering this is a volcanic island and all but it’s so neat to me.  They also use Aha in fences and small buildings.

We drove out about two hours to the other side of the island to go Kaha Lui Beach Park to see tropical fish and Sea Turtles (Honu in Hawaiian).  I think there was supposed to be coral there but I didn’t see very much of it.

It was a coral beach in the sense that there wasn’t much sand just lots of dead and ground up coral.   As with all beaches it was very very hot to walk on and you danced your way to the water.  We went around a small stone wall of Aha and onto a tiny mini beach to get our flippers on and get into the water.  Right there, close to the shore and lots of other people was a Sea Turtle calmly having a snack.

I spent a good long time staring at it.  I was amazed to see one so close..  It didn’t seem at all bothered by any of the people and I imagine that it’s used to people gawking at it.  Still it was pretty cool.

We headed out into the water where I didn’t see a whole lot of coral but there were lots of brightly colored fish and more Sea Turtles.  The fish were a bit skittish as one expects fish to be.  They would zip around just as you were trying to get a good look at them.  The turtles on the other hand would swim right by you and then go much on something not three feet away from you.  I spent a lot of time following a sea turtle around.  It was really cool.

My camera isn’t waterproof and I didn’t bother to buy one since I have a hard enough time trying to see through goggles let alone take pictures.  I’ll give you some of the names of the fish I saw and you can google them.  You’ll get much better pictures than I ever could.

The beach had a lot of people so it was hard to see the fish without hitting another snorkeler.  The next day we went to the tidal pools which are only a short distance from D and MB’s house.  It was less crowded here but also less swimmer friendly.

The tidal pools are made but long shelves of sharp coral and Aha that keep the waves at bay.  It’s nice because you’re not rocked back and forth by the currents as much but you do get cut up by sharp rocks as you try to move from tide pool to tide pool.  David got several good scrapes on his arms and I have a nice cut on the palm of my hand.

It was worth it though, the coral here was amazing!  Brightly colored and growing across the rocks in every direction!  It was even growing over itself.  In several places one type of coral was slowly taking over another type of coral.  It mostly looked like brains to me but there were plenty of sea urchins and anemones clinging to the rocks.  I even saw a sea cucumber hiding among the rocks.  It looked like a tube shaped rock to me and I lowered my flippers as I tried to correct my direction and my “rock” went swimming away.  It gave me a good start!

Ready for the list of fish from both places?  Apart from Sea Turtles we saw Moorish idols which look a bit to me like angel fish.  There were Bluespine and Orangespine unicorn fish, Achilles tang, Bullethead parrotfish, Redlip parrotfish, Hawaiian cleaner wrasse, Yellowtail coris, Saddle wrasse, Bird wrasse (I saw mostly females) and one other fish that I can’t find on this handy fish watcher’s field guide.  It was small, pretty round and brown spotted.

There were fewer large and impressive fish at the tidal pool but there were more of them.  Lots of Convict Tangs and BlueSpine Unicorn fish.  This is also where I saw the most Bird Wrasses.  It was very very cool.

Today we have another day of rest.  We plan to walk down to the cliffs again and look at the ocean.  Tomorrow, our last full day, we get to go and see the a black sand beach!

Hopefully I’ll be able to post before we leave on Saturday morning.

Tuesday June, 26 2007

Seeing the Sights in Hawaii

Filed under: General, China Trip 2007 — makani @ 12:27 am

Hawaii has been a marvelous change over Beijing.  I think I’ve actually gotten a little bit of sunburn on my shoulder and nose.  That’s pretty amazing considering the fact that I don’t tend to burn easily.  I think it’s time to bust out the sunscreen and the broad hat.
The flash rains are fun.  It will start raining and then rain really really hard for about five seconds and them stop.  It’s very strange.  Sometimes it will rain steadily for awhile and then suddenly stop and all the clouds will just blow away.

So let me catch up on what we’ve done so far.  First day in we slept and took a short walk to the cliffs to look at the ocean.  Very cool.
Yesterday we went to see the Volcano.  Very, very cool.

We went to the state park and saw Kilauea.  It’s an active volcano but it’s a slow volcano.  It’s still erupting but it’s a very slow eruption.  It’s the kind where lava flows and you kind of just walk slightly faster to get away from it.  We couldn’t see the Chain of Craters because just this Sunday they had 200 something earthquakes in 10 hours which means that something big is happening under the surface.  J was disappointed because it interrupted the active lava flow so we couldn’t see it.  I’m not that disappointed really.  Dried lava is pretty cool in my book and far less dangerous.  We saw everything else though, including the crater where Pele (the Volcano Goddess) is supposed to live.  Pele has some pretty nice digs.

We got to walk over the 1975 and 1960 something lava flow which was equally cool and groovy.  The whole island is of course built on old lava flow.  There are lava rocks in the backyard.  It’s very much an interesting experience to me.

We also saw four waterfalls.  All were amazing and very beautiful to behold.  And even with stupid people swimming in one of them.  SWIMMING.  In a National Park.  Where you are NOT SUPPOSED TO SWIM because the current is fast and the water is DANGEROUS.  Swimming with SMALL CHILDREN!  It made me mad but that’s ok.  I’ll edit them out in photoshop.  I hope a Park Ranger happened along and fined their asses.  Stupid people.

Today we had a low key day with more sleeping and then shopping.  Shopping is always fun.  I picked up all my souvenirs and a few small gifts for people.  J always dreads unleashing me on tourist areas.  I think I managed to be well behaved.  She may have a different story.

Tomorrow  we’re going snorkling and feeding the fish.  I can’t wait to see Sea Turtles!

Saturday June, 23 2007

Aloha from Hawaii

Filed under: General, China Trip 2007 — makani @ 7:40 pm

Hello from Hawaii! It’s beautiful and somewhere in the low 80s with a nice breeze (thanks to the Trade Winds) and a CLEAR blue sky! What a treat after Beijing.

First, the flights. The first flight was from Beijing to Osaka. That went pretty well. Beijing airport is a little hard to navigate but we found our check in counter after some time and then headed for our gate. It was a short flight, I still got airsick but we landed and headed through the Osaka airport (which was much harder). See, in Beijing the only boarding pass that was available was for the first plane. Our luggage was checked all the way through, but we still needed our passes.

We were told to contact ANA (our airline) people in the airport. Well, first we had to find our way. We got off the plane and followed everyone only to come to the place where it said international travelers and they wouldn’t let us through. We needed boarding passes. Ok, so we look for a place to check in. No dice. An older man, an airport employee, continues to herd us through the little door for international travelers. After awhile the people at the security desk for international transfers asked for our luggage claim tags. I handed those over, and they believed us that at some point in the future they would let us on a plane and let us through.

Then we had to find an ANA desk. We found one, but no one was there. So I called a number using the phone on the desk. I finally got some one who told us to go to gate five. So we go to gate five and an hour before the flight we finally manage to get our boarding passes. AND even our connecting flight boarding pass. Yay!

Now the flight from Osaka to Honolulu was awful. It was only 7 hours long thanks to that handy international Date Line. So we only managed three hours of sleep because they didn’t turn the cabin lights off until 11:30 by our watch (we left at 9:45) and turned them back on again three hours later.

Also the plane shook like a rattle. This is a big 747 that’s shaking. The turbulence was awful. At one point the plane just fell for a few seconds. I was so scared I was shaking. Everyone on the plane went “Whooo!” like we were on a roller coaster or something. Needless to say the heavy turbulence did nothing for my airsickness. (I haven’t thrown up on a plane yet. I don’t know how or why, but I haven’t. Now that I’m in the States again I’m getting some motion sickness pills. Why don’t they sell those in airports? They’d make a mint.) The captain did get on an apologize for the turbulence and assure us but I was already shaking worse than the plane. It shook the whole flight. It shook the whole three hours the lights were out and kept waking me up. I know it’s just one of those things that happens with planes but I never want to repeat that flight.

We landed with no trouble and picked up our luggage for the customs check. Customs went fine. They didn’t even search our bags. We told them we’d brought some apples. The guy told us to come around the X-ray machine, with our bags. He took our apples gave us a minor scolding and sent us on our way. So that went well. No explaining my bronze dragon is a cheap fake. Yay. The airport is lovely. All green with palm trees and stuff. I wish I could’ve appreciated it more.

We took our luggage and checked it back in and headed for our next short hour long flight to Hilo. We wandered through the airport, went out of the building, across a short parking/pickup place into another building and to our gate. It was fun but the signage could’ve been a lot better. We found our gate and boarded our flight. That went very smoothly. Big 747s are the planes I get really sick on. The little planes, not so much, it seems. We got off the plane and headed to the baggage claim. We got there and stared at the little merry-go-round of bags. Our bags never appeared.

Yes, indeed. All four of our bags just never made it. I was airsick, tired, probably hungry (couldn’t tell with the airsickness) and shaken after the 747 rattle plane. I almost broke down into tears. The woman at the claim counter was very, very nice and told us that we’d probably have our bags by that evening. It was especially hopeful since we’d actually laid hands on them in Honolulu. Sure enough our bags were delivered by about 7pm. My guess is that they just never made it on the same plane with us. Still, very nerve wracking for me after all that flying.

Today. We sleep. We woke up at 8, went back to sleep until 10, got up and ate and then I went back to sleep again until 12. I just went out like a light. Hopefully after some lunch I’ll be more awake and we’ll go for a walk. It’s beautiful here. We start all our sightseeing tomorrow because D and MB both work today. They offered us use of a car if we’d just drive them to work but after all that flying I just didn’t feel like driving around in a brand new place.

The next email should be more exciting and filled with rapturous descriptions of the sights we’re going to see. Volcanoes, scuba diving, feeding fish, all that good stuff. Until then!

Wednesday June, 20 2007

Last Check before Hawaii

Filed under: General, China Trip 2007 — makani @ 8:40 pm

This is just a last post before Hawaii.  Thursday (today) is our last full day.  We’re spending it packing and getting ready to go since we’ve already had a full time here.  We certainly haven’t seen every possible thing but we’ve seen a lot and I’m pretty damn happy about that.  There are things that if I came back I’d want to see but I’m not going to let the fact that I missed them bother me.  I’ve seen so much I’m at a bit of a overload.  (I’m starting to have the “meh, you’ve seen one Temple you’ve seen them all…” thing.)

I have to say even though I’ve had a great time here I’m really ready to go home.  China is fabulous but I miss the states.  I’m getting tired of getting stared at and I’m getting tired of people pretending not to understand me.  (Look I know you can read, buddy, I’m pointing at the character don’t say you don’t know.)  I know my Chinese is terrible but sometimes you know they understand what you’re saying they just don’t want too. 

Yeah the food is great and for the most part the people are great but I’m happy to go home.  There’s no place like home after all.  And in this case “home” is Hawaii for a week.  Whoohoo!

Our flight actually takes us back in time.  On our way over we lost a day in the flying on the way back we leave at 2:15pm on Friday and arrive Friday at 12pm.  Weird.

Until Hawaii.

Tuesday June, 19 2007

Opera Face Paint

Filed under: General, China Trip 2007 — makani @ 8:50 am

Well the haze is back and worse than ever.  The temperatures are cooling down a bit though.  This is the first time in almost our whole stay that we actually have the windows open at night to let the cool air in.

This email will be rather short since we’re wrapping up our time here in China and getting ready to try and pack up our suitcases and head to Hawaii for a well earned rest.  (Or, more likely more site seeing, but it will be relaxing site seeing and I’m almost certain that there will be a beach involved at some point.)

Today we went and had our pictures taken dressed as Chinese opera singers.  First of all, even though I am a fan of Chinese opera I am far from being able to tell which people are who.  I know one pair of Chinese opera stars.  Bridal Du and Willow Scholar and that’s it.  They were actually available and the lady looked surprised as I struggled to name them.  We didn’t dress up like them because I didn’t feel like debating the fact that yes I am a woman and yes I want to dress up like a man.  Monkey King was right out so I settled on the options available to me.

They only had simple face paint ie the white with red/pink around the eyes available.  This is because it took a good hour and a half to get us both made up and into costume.  I shudder to think how long it would’ve taken them to apply elaborate color.  Still it was pretty amazing to watch the transformation.  We looked completely different.

So I have NO IDEA who J and I dressed up as.  I dressed up as a warrior woman in blue with two swords.  J had a very colorful and elaborate costume of red and yellow with plum branches, a tea cup and a fan.

Getting made up took longer than having our pictures taken but getting the makeup off will probably take even longer.  My arms and hands still have a pink tinge to them.

All of this is better illustrated with pictures which I will post as soon as we’re back home.

Tomorrow we’re off to the Pearl Market to try our honed bargaining skills.  Thursday we pack and Friday we’re on a plane.

I can’t promise anything exciting until we hit Hawaii.

Monday June, 18 2007

Almost out of China

Filed under: General, China Trip 2007 — makani @ 6:34 am

I’m actually almost done with my trip in China.  I’ll have a very long post made up of my travel log emails sometime in the future (I will post date them).

 Suffice to say I’m having a great time.  The sites and food are just amazing.  I’ll let my emails speak for me once I’ve gotten them into some kind or order.

Edit: Or I’ll just do it while J is watching Pirates 2: Dead Man’s Chest.  Enjoy.

Day 17 or some such number

Filed under: General, China Trip 2007 — makani @ 3:00 am

The heat is still terrible and the public bathrooms are still very interesting.  The smog is terrible and sometimes the people are ruder than in the states.  You know, they don’t form lines in Beijing, they form bunches.  Woe be unto you if you try to be a good person and line up, for even if you are RIGHT BEHIND the person at the ticket counter someone CAN AND WILL cut in front of you from the side.  I swear sometimes it’s a good thing I don’t speak the language or else several Chinese men would’ve gotten an earful of nasty language.  As it is I’ve been sorely tempted to let loose with the one or two insults I know but I just hold my tongue.
Anyway, sorry about that.  It’s been bothering me ever since I got to China.  No wonder the 11th of every month is National Line Up day.  I’m not kidding.  They’re trying to get these people in shape for the Olympics.  They have a lot of work to do.  People still spit all over the place (and pee, no I’m not kidding) and cut in line.  Ok, enough ranting, onto the good stuff.
Friday we ended up staying in.  K’s Aiyi (lit: auntie, but not really an auntie) is the dearest woman on the planet.  J was feeling a bit ill, we believe it was the milk and she’s offering to get us a cab to the hospital, or go out and buy medicine.  We’re all fine, we’re just not drinking the milk anymore.  (I think we should’ve known to be wary when the milk is on a shelf in the store, not in the refrigerated section.)  Nothing serious.  We’re both ok.  Our traveler’s stomach missed it’s flight and just caught up with us or something.
Saturday we went to see some Acrobats.  The music was really, really loud and for some reason the place was packed with Japanese tourists.  (That’s not a bad thing, just odd.)  The acts were amazing!
First there was a troupe of young men and younger boys flinging themselves through mid-air flips, handsprings and high hoops.  That was pretty impressive.  Towards the end of the act the boys and men built themselves into a human tower one person wide with a boy at the top (with a line attached to the back of his costume, because he was almost at the ceiling) who leaped from the shoulders of the boy under him, flipping while the other boy flipped out from under him and landed on the ground.  Then the next guy down flipped out from under him, and so on until they were all down.  I was whimpering the entire time for fear someone would fall.

There were dancing contortionist girls who were impressive although it was scary to watch which way their legs were bending.  There was another large troupe of girls that were spinning plates.  They were dancing and bending and jumping, walking across each other’s heads, turning somersaults…  That was impressive, at the end of the act they all dropped their plates as if to prove they weren’t glued to the sticks.   

There was also a pair of guys who bounced up and down these stairs while doing one-handed handstands - the first on his own, then with the second wrapped around him.  They were some kind of special act but we couldn’t figure out what since they were annouced only in Chinese and the only thing I could get was “Beijing” yes, very helpful.

The finale was a bicycle act with the final thing being them fitting about 15 or 20 women on a bicycle and riding it around the stage.  It was very impressive to watch.  I don’t know how that girl pedaling the thing was keeping it going.  I have a hard enough time peddling with two people in a bicycle.

Sunday we went back to the theatre to see an opera.  The tickets were cheaper and the second most expensive tickets put us right behind the musicians.  Note to everyone.  If you’re going to an opera buy cheap tickets.  The live musicians are LOUD.  The guy on the wooden instrument who’s name I don’t know really LOVED his job.  My ears were ringing.

The operas were good but not half as impressive as I had hoped.  It was three short scenes, so the show was only an hour long.  The first was mostly a pantomime about two guys fighting in a dark room so they keep missing each other and feeling around finally coming face to face with each other and both jumping away.  It was funny.

The second piece was a singing piece with a Heavenly Flower Goddess singing about how she’s been told by the Jade Emperor to send a rain of flowers (and therefore blessings) down to earth.  It was good but the music was so loud you couldn’t hear her singing.

The last one was Monkey King battles the Arhats.  It was good but Monkey King didn’t do half as many flips or acrobatics as I expected.  Overall it was a bit disappointing.

Today we saw the Llama Temple with the 18 meter high statue of Buddha.  It was carved out of ONE LOG of white sandalwood.  Very impressive.  We also so the Temple of Confucius which was mostly under construction so we didn’t get to see much.  I saw the stone on which the names of the 600 something persons who placed first in the Imperial Exams were carved.  Very neat.

Then we went on an impromptu tour of the Hutongs in search of a restaurant for lunch.  It turned out to be closed on Mondays (lots of things in Beijing are closed on Mondays, it’s very strange) so we walked back to the subway station and went to a Korean place near Karen’s place for lunch.  It was very tasty.  We’ll be going back.

We finished off the day with a tiny bit of shopping.  I went to a tea shop to get a supply of a cheap but tasty Oolong tea, some rose tea and I finally go the teapot I wanted.

I caught a tiny bit of Opera on TV while J was writing email.  I have no idea which one it was but for some reason there was a woman playing the part of a scholar.  I think the scholar died.  I have no idea.  Tomorrow we’re going to get our pictures taken all face painted and dressed up like Chinese Opera folks.  That will be fun.  We’ll have to go back on Thursday to pick up the pictures.

Thursday June, 14 2007

Back from Xian: Day something to Day 13

Filed under: General, China Trip 2007 — makani @ 7:49 am

13 is a lucky number in China and since this comes from China I shall use it without fear.

Man, oh man. I am so glad we paid up the $375 per person price to go to Xian. (That’s 3950 kuai. Isn’t that scary looking number.) It was amazing!

So first thing we did for our trip was we had to get to the Beijing West Railway Station. We took the subway part of the way to avoid traffic (traffic in Beijing is awful and that is an understatement) and then caught a cab. (It would be a 10 kuai ride, that’s the lowest fare. The rate is 2 kuai per kilometer (or something like that) but the taxi starts at 10 kuai.) The first cab decided he didn’t want to take us there. (Maybe he was hoping for a bigger fare.) The second cab said hao (good) and we hopped in.

It was the most hair raising ride I’ve had in Beijing. I’ve already related that the driving in Beijing is terrible. Our driver took off at top speed down an alley and proceeded to drive down alleys the rest of the way. Very small, cramped, narrow alleys with cars parked on the sides (both usually) and full of people and bikes. We were dodging people, bikes, and cars coming the other way (at times, I swear you could barely fit a piece of paper between us and the other car) at breakneck speed. Our driver was leaning on the horn and just charging through these narrow back streets. We were plowing through people as if they were bowling pins is how J described it. By some miracle of the gods above we did not hit anyone or anything. I’m still now sure how we missed some of them.

To our driver’s credit, he got us to the train station in about 5 minutes flat. I was impressed, even if my knuckles were white by the end of the ride.

We paid our driver and walked towards the station. The hard part was actually finding where in the station we were supposed to be. Thankfully we made it (finally) with one minute left to spare (literally) and checked in to receive our tickets. We then sat around waiting in the best of traveling traditions until it was time to board the train.

We boarded our soft-sleeper and found our cabin. A room with four bunks, two on each wall. J and I had the two top bunks. We shared our cabin (read very small room with just enough room for two narrow bunks and a tiny table against the window wall) with two older people. They were from Canada and didn’t really talk to us much but they were nice enough.

Soft-sleeper is really an oxymoron. The beds were hard, in the Chinese style. They were not terribly uncomfortable and with some Melatonin we managed to drift off to sleep eventually. I slept better than I thought I would. I slept very soundly once I was asleep and woke up about 7am. Our train left at 8:30pm and we arrived at 8:25am. Just about a 12 hour ride.

After I got freshened up a bit I stared out the window taking pictures of the countryside. It was amazing. We passed through these mountains that had valleys cut out of sheer cliffs. The mountains themselves I think were limestone because they were pocked with caves. We passed through fields as well and many of the fields had grave stones in them. The Chinese in the countryside don’t seem to have graveyards like we do. Every so often you’ll see a clump of tombs but usually it’s just a lone stone in the middle of a field.

Now this stone isn’t walled off from the field at all, the crops grow right up to the stone and all around it. Some of the stones were set back into the hills at the back of the field but usually they were smack dab in the center. It was very strange and interesting to see.

We arrived safely and piled off the train to meet our local tour guide. We then piled out of the train station and onto our tour bus. We couldn’t check into our hotel yet it was too early so we ate breakfast there. It was a very lovely Western and Chinese style breakfast. There were scrambled eggs side by side with rice congee. I was not brave enough to try the congee but the steamed red bean dumplings were very tasty.

After breakfast we toured Xian’s City Wall. It’s the only surviving City Wall in China. It’s 36km long and peppered liberally with guard towers. It was beautiful to see and walk along although we didn’t get very far. A friend of K’s, A let us borrow the two seater bike she and her father had rented. I don’t think I’ll ever do that again. Two seater bikes are very hard to control, especially with someone who’s not used to riding a bike on the back. J and I were grateful to get off and simply walk along the wall taking pictures.

For lunch they took us to a restaurant and served is something called: ” Chang An Eight Scenes”. I’m not sure what or who Chang An is but the Eight Scenes refers to the fact that each dish has a carved scene someplace in it. One was a willow tree, another had a replica of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda (a site we visited later), another was a bridge, and another was a mountain range all these were carved out of carrots or some other vegtable. There was a lot of food. I’m terrified to think of what the bill must’ve been like. 8 or 10 dishes must’ve showed up on the table.

After lunch we were back on the buss for a one hour ride out to see the Terracotta Warriors. I was very excited. They’re still being excavated, of course, but we got to see lots of them. It was amazing. All the faces are different and even some of the armor detail is different. The hairstyles vary in several different ways, some of the men are really skinny and others are while not fat, not so skinny. It was really amazing. There are three pits and the first one is the one you always see pictures of, and it was the most impressive. The other two were less impressive because hardly anything is visable and not well lit (no flash photography of course) and my pictures may not turn out well.

It was a huge dig site. The size of this army and the work that must’ve gone into it just boggles the mind. To think that one man (who’s empire pretty much fell after he died) ordered all this to be done. (I have to admit, getting a couple of thousand men to work on making life sized models was probably a better idea than to simply bury 10,000 men alive.)

After the soldiers we were back on the bus to head for dinner which as a Dumpling Banquet. We were served 16 different kinds of dumplings, each about a mouthful, all different. Some were steamed, some were fried, some were boiled. They were all different colors as well. There were chicken dumplings, pork dumplings, egg dumplings, pumpkin dumplings, pretty much everything. Very tasty and very filling.

After dinner we were supposed to be able to see a few different shows but J and I were pretty tired so we just got back on the bus and went back to the hotel. (It was a good decision. It started to rain with thunder and lightening just as we got to the hotel.)

Our hotel was five stars. I don’t think I’ve ever set foot in a five star hotel. It was just amazing! Our room was small but you hardly noticed that it was so posh. The room was beautiful! They provided everything! Complimentary bottled water, slippers, tea and coffee right in the room, the list goes on…it was just fantastic. It has a very interesting thing though. The hotel door key was a card as they often are nowadays. In order to have power in your room you had to insert the card into a slot on the wall just inside the door. If you took the card out the lights went off. It was a great way to make sure you turned off the lights before you left!

The room was just fabulous. And the bath towels were HUGE. I know that’s an odd detail to include but most bath towels in hotels or otherwise these days are just enough to make you decent. ( i.e. a strip of towel like material that may be soft a million years from now and and never actually absorbs water.) These towels were big enough to wrap up in and they were fluffy.

We slept like lumps and luckily awoke on time the next morning. (The light blocking shades were very, very good at their job.) We headed out for our delicious breakfast buffet and then checked out.

We next saw the Big Wild Goose Pagoda which was built by a famous Monk in the Tang Dynasty who went to India to study Buddhist scripture. Yep, that’s right, the monk that Journey to the West is based on. It was very happy to see the actual pagoda. We climbed all eight floors and stared out at the wonderful view and then climbed back down. It was hard going up but hair raising going down. The stairs are very steep.

After that we went to the Shaanxi Provincial Museum which was billed as the best museum in China. Maybe I’m a bit jaded in the museum department having been to the Smithsonian and all but I didn’t find it very exciting. We saw a LOT of bronze relics which was a bit exciting but after the 100th bronze tripod pot you get a bit bored. (I wish I were exaggerating.) Also the lighting was terrible, and you guessed it, no flash photography so most of pictures are very poor.

Also I must mention the museum shop. Actually both the Shaanxi and the Terracotta Warrior museum had insane prices. A package of postcards usually costs you about 10 kuai. The museums were charging anywhere from 40 to 60. And literally hundreds to thousands for anything else. A magnet cost about 80 kuai. Don’t do the math on that one, you don’t want to know. Luckily outside both museums there were vendors willing to sell you the same postcards for 10 kuai and the same objects for less then half price.

We then went to lunch which was supposed to be Muslim food but there was only one Muslim dish in the lot. (Once again about 10 different dishes ended up in the table.) It was still very tasty though.

After that we went to visit the Great Mosque which was very peaceful and beautiful. It was built in the Tang Dynasty and is very Chinese in style. It was a very interesting fusion. We then browsed around the bazaar outside the mosque which was very fun although we didn’t have a lot of time. We boarded the bus at 4:30pm and headed for the airport.

We did a group check in and then, passed through security (much easier than security in the states) and sat around for an hour waiting for our flight. There was an interesting event during the security check. A small group of people tried to dash through security without being checked. That was interesting. They were caught but I never did see if they actually managed to make it through. I don’t know what they were thinking. You had to first pass the guy at the desk and show them your ticket, passport and boarding pass (or just ticket and boarding pass if you were native) and then you had to pass two security guards and a metal detector with two more guards behind it. Umm, I think they would’ve been caught eventually, don’t you? The food in the airport was beyond expensive (80 kuai for a hot dog, what? 90kuai for coffee, what? (90 kuai is almost $10.) so we sat around and ate what food we had packed.

We boarded the flight and annoyed the fight attendants by switching around seats like a game of musical chairs. I still got airsick (not bad, just queasy) but the landing was the smoothest I’ve experienced so far. I went so far as to thank the pilot (or the co) who was standing at the door to the plane. They unloaded us on the tarmac which was a new experience for me and herded us into some sort of cattle bus with standing room only. The bus then rocketed off in true Beijing style to to doors to the airport. We hurried through and dodged the dodgy men who walk up to you and say: “Taxi? Taxi?” These men will take you to a taxi with either a tampered meter or no meter at all. I don’t like to haggle with drivers or get a shady taxi so we went and stood in the taxi line.

It was a very long taxi line but in about 15 minutes we were herded into a proper taxi and made it home about 10pm. (The flight was about 1 and a half hours.)

Now, the next morning we woke up late but it was a coolish day. (87F yay!) We headed off to the Forbidden City. Most of it was under construction but we still got to see a lot. J was annoyed that we didn’t get to walk through all 9,999 rooms but I was satisfied. They had all kinds of treasure on display including a gold and pearl wine cup, jade wine cups, jade seals (chops) books belonging to the emperor and so on. The place is HUGE! We were there from 10am until 2:30pm and we saw only a fraction of the place. It’s so daunting to think that even with an army of eunuchs the place was built for one man. (Ok eunuchs, concubines, servants…I know, lots of people, but it was still enormous and impressive when you think that more than half of those people never got inside the innermost gates.)

The highlight, I think was the Imperial garden. It’s not a garden in our sense of the word, but more like a park with paved walkways and interesting trees. There were gazebos, ancient trees, man made mountains of interesting stones and two koi ponds that were just teeming with koi. It was very beautiful.

One of the interesting, if slightly strange things, was the names of all the rooms. Inside the Imperial Garden for example there was a room with a plaque that told you it used to be a Taoist temple. Now it’s a snack shop. Talk about adding insult to injury! One of the Empress’ rooms was a souvenir shop.

We went out the back gate and then climbed Prospect Hill, the hill built to keep the bad feng sui out of the Forbidden City. It was a very long walk up but the view was amazing! I took lots of pictures and then we climbed down and went through Beihai park. We got our second wind and walked all the way back to the subway station. (Another very long walk.) We thought you could walk through a park, (there was a green space on the map) but it turns out the park was private property and you couldn’t get there. J was annoyed but walked down a very long street and hopped back on the subway with aching feet. We got home about 4pm.

So we’ve had a very full few days. It’s very late so I’ll sign off here. Tomorrow we have a very light itinerary which includes seeing an acrobat show and maybe an opera. Look for J’s complaints and my rapture on that last one.

Monday June, 11 2007

Last Check in before Xian

Filed under: General, China Trip 2007 — makani @ 12:57 am

Last posting before Xian.  We don’t think we’ll be able to get to an Internet connection or computer for our three day trip.  We leave this evening at 8:30pm.  First we take the subway and then a cab.  It’s sure to be a fun time! 
Yay!  We’re going to Xian!
Today we got on the train to see the Beijing Exhibition Center.  It turned out to be closed today but we managed to get J’s spinning magnets. (These are two magnets you spin in the air and they make a fun noise.) and I another keychain of the Five Friendlies, the Beijing Olympic Mascots.  Very excited. 
We also saw our first internet cafe.  We didn’t go in but I thought I saw prices in the 1000 kuai area.  That didn’t make sense to me because 1000kuai is about $120.  Maybe those were adds for computers or something.
The food continues to be both cheap and excellent and I’m still in love with Baozi (Dumplings).  So cheap and so tasty!
It’s hot as ever but Thursday looks to be a rosy 80 degrees (F) so we’ll be heading off for the Forbidden City and maybe the park behind the City.

Friday June, 8 2007

Days 6, 7 and 8: Still hot

Filed under: General, China Trip 2007 — makani @ 11:22 pm

Sorry for the long radio silence.  I’ve been bushed from all the walking.
We spent days 6 and 7 searching around the Forbidden City.  We went the wrong way under an arch the first time (Day 6) and ended up in a lovely garden.  Thanks to the lack of good maps we weren’t sure where on the Palace grounds we were located.  We did see some very old cypress trees, (one of which looked a bit like a deer) and enjoyed the rock gardens that were designed to look like mountains.
In the gardens we stumbled across a group of four old women chanting the name of Buddha (Amitora) and we sat and listened.  It was a beautiful and peaceful way to spend fifteen minutes in the heat.
Also in this park we found several stalls of goods set up including large tables full of women’s bras and men’s underwear.  It was very interesting.  It was also interesting to listen to the native Chinese people bargain with each other.  It makes me feel better to hear them paying about as much as we’re paying for most things.
On Day 7 we went back to the Forbidden City and went the correct way (under the portrait of Mao) and walked right up to the Wumen gate.  (The Wumen gate is where you have to pay so we’re doing that another day.)  It was MASSIVE.  Tian’anmen Square is pretty massive but just inside the forbidden city is just as big.  I took more pictures that hopefully will come out.  The Haze is back and worse than ever.
(On a note of probably no one’s interest: the public bathrooms just outside of the Forbidden City are very clean and are about half western, half Chinese.)
On the night of Day 7 we treated ourselves to foot massages at Bodai.  If you ever come to China, look this place up. 78 kuai before five pm and 98 kuai after will get you a fabulous foot, arm, leg and light back massage.  (And tea and snacks!)  I highly recommend this place.
On Day 8 we went back to the Dirt Market and searched out more scrolls.  We found a few that we liked and I finally managed to get a chop made with my correct name.  I have one in Ancient Seal Script with my name, (a gift from a friend who was in China a few years ago), Smiling Plum and Happy Plum. 
At the Dirt Market we saw a few young men running through the crowded and a short time later several police men went charging after them.  We stared for a moment and then continued looking at teapots.  A few seconds later 20 policemen were hauling about 5 men back followed by a large crowd.  Very interesting sight.  Arrests are handled very much differently here in China.
We also headed over to the clothing market which was crowded and interesting.  It was mostly modern clothing with only a little bit of old style Chinese clothes although there were a few  tailors there who looked as if they could make anything you wanted.  We didn’t stop there since the prices were sure to be very high.
On the food side of things we’ve now eaten at O Solo Mio a very good Italian/Chinese restaurant and the Purple Haze, a very good Thai restaurant.  The prices were higher than we were used to (our normal haunt is about 44 for two people, these places it was about 40-50 a dish.)  Prices aside the food was very good and I highly recommend O Solo Mio’s Tiramisu.
I’ve also fallen in love with Dumplings. These stuffed breadbuns are about the size of a fist and full of meat and veggies.  Cheap and Tasty.  One Kuai will get you a very tasty lunch.  I’m in love.  So yummy!
We’re hiding from the heat now and we leave for Xian on Monday.  No email, I  imagine until we get back on Wednesday but I’m sure we’ll have more stories to tell.

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