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January 07, 2005

Fine China

As a kid I used to joke with friends that if we tried really hard we could dig through the ground all the way to China. Little did I know that if we'd accomplished our task nobody in China would have given a crap that we were there! Luckily, we didn't have to learn the hard way. These days all you have to do is put the shovels down and just show up.

After getting hassled by street vendors in Thailand and getting poked for change by amputee stubs in Cambodia I was hoping China would be a relief from the stress. Little did I know that tourism in China is a foreign word. Kunming is probably one of the largest cities in southwest China and it only had 1 hostel. Budget accomodation in hotels was sparse if it could be found at all. Heather looked to me for a little expereinced travel know how and I realized how useless I was when people don't speak a lick of English. Heather's mandarin saved the day! After a day exploring the local markets of Kunming we made our way down to the train station and booked tickets to Dali. Easier typed than done. The Chinese must think that the ticket window at bus or train stations are the pearly gates themselves because pushing and shoving is considered appropriate line etiquette. I'd like to see them try that in New York City!! The next day we were off to see a how country folk acted.

Despite all the train horror stories I've heard our ride was excellent. I fit the sleeper bed, nobody smoked, and nobody spit!! I was gratefully shocked. And to top it off Dali seemed to be worth the effort of a long ride out there. So far the trend in China hasn't really been towards preservation but Dali is an exception. The walled and gated old Dali has become one of the rare pockets of domestic and foreign tourism in the region. People come from all over to buy the cheap, probably out the back door, North Face, Mountain Hardware, and other brand name clothes. I got a killer fleece that retails in the states for $150! I wasn't looking forward to carrying it but being cold sucks! And Dali was cold! For some reason the Chinese refuse to close their doors and windows to keep the heat in. 10 guys might be huddled around a small, cast iron fire pit in the middle of the floor but if you make to close the windows you'd have 10 guys ready for a fight. It doesn't make sense to me. Then again, I think the fork is easier when it comes to putting rice in my mouth and they eat with two little sticks.

I got up the next day - did you notice the I in "I got up"? Heather doesn't get up anymore. She has completely renounced any daily activities that occur before noon. I'm not much better these days either though. Snooze is my new favorite word. I figured I would let the animal sleep and I'd explore the countryside by bike until she could be roused. Agriculture seems to be the normal occupation for most people here and I felt like I was in some modern day caligraphy painting as I watched people work their fields. Later, I met Heather for some unbelieveably good pizza and chicken burritos at Stella's Pizzaria off the main western food alley. Heather is the food afficianado and I'll let her tell you of the goodness in our recurrent Stella's experiences. While she was in a good mood scarfing down the grub I convinced her to get up early the next day and go with me to a market a few towns over. (Heather Tip #234,331: If you want cooperation with it, feed it!)

I'm glad she came with me because it turned out to be another great experience. I've seen quiite a few markets in SE Asia but none have been so authentic. Locals came here to live, not to buy trinkets. Old ladies sold everything from veggies to spices to Chinese sweets bringing it all to market by tractor-car. We took advantage of the few tourist items up for grabs and walked away with some killer hand-made batik for 30 Yuan ($3.50 US) thanks to xiaojie Heather! She later tried to use her Chinese to bargain for some kind of rediculously over-priced shawl and ended up getting hounded out of the market by a lady determined to give her a good price!!

After a few days developing matching head colds we decided to move further north to Lijiang. Dali was cold but Lijiang was freezing! At least, we felt frozen. The open door policy seemed to apply here as well and no respite from the chill could be found anywhere but in our electric blanket warmed beds. Its a wonder we got out and saw anything. If Lijiang wasn't so amazingly beautiful I'm sure we'd have been bed ridden the entire time. Especially since I added a nice ear infection to the head cold problem. I later realized that it probably had alot to do with being at such a high altitude. In the meantime, we explored the "Venice of Asia" with as much excitement as we could shiver. Goldfish swam in all the streams bordering the city streets often lined with weeping willows. Locals use the city streams for washing in the mornings. We got lost in the labyrinth of alleys and had to ask for directions back to the tourist district. This little guy looked surprised to see us out there.

Lijiang definitely deserves its UNESCO title and again, it is another pocket or serious tourism. Lots of great souvenirs were to be had and gave us all the more reason to brave the cold. After much deliberation Heather and I passed on the dried Yak meat and bought some stone seals with our Chinese names engraved underneath. We would have spent more time shopping but my ear infection was getting worse. Heather did a great job of taking care of me. Let it be known I have given her "iCredit and recognition". The greatness that is Heather did an excellent job mediating the entire visit to a local hospital where I had my ear examined - except for the pulling on it to show the doctor she was talking about ears and not shears or some other unrelated item! Pulling on an infected ear kinda hurts but no matter!! She braved the wiles of mandarin Chinese for my benefit! Xiexie Heather, xiexie. Soon after, my ear started feeling much better.

Before we left Lijiang for our marathon trip across China by bus, train and airplane we jumped on bikes for a ride out to Baisha. What may you ask is out in the middle of nowhere next to nothing? A world famous Chinese herbalist of course!! We had lunch at the local cafe before visiting the good doctor and getting some special herbs for various people back home. If you want to find out more about Dr. Ho from Baisha just type it in Google! You might be impressed.

This is turning into a long entry huh? Well, it was a long day or two of travelling. Heather and I showed up in Guilin and decided on heading out to Yangshuo straight away. Guilin looked just like any big city in China. Heather says these cities are "for livin', not for playin'". Once we got to Yangshuo we found a cheap hotel room and went out to have a look around. The town is surrounded by karst mountains and mist (or smog - we're still not sure). We were pretty tired and decided to take advantage of the local bootleg DVD market, bought a few, rented a player and spent the rest of the night, and most of the next day watching movies. What a great way to waste time in China - well, not really but if you were as tired as we were then you wouldn't have done much either. Plus, our butts were still sore from the bike ride out to Baisha! We found that out later when we rented bikes again and explored the countryside. We painfully rode through the town and got lost before a local agreed to show us some cool spots in the area. He wanted us to go bamboo rafting but I just wanted to draw. And draw I did while Heather chatted away with all the sweet old ladies that would come up behind me to see what I was doing. Once I finished we headed back to the main tourist street in Yangshuo. We realized yet again that the tourism here was mainly for the Chinese. The Chang Gang made that clear enough! At some point we got talked into doing a boat trip up the river. We really got to see all those karst mountains up close and personal from the river. We even got our picture with the same background thats on the 20 yuan note!!

Yangshuo was great but our time in China was drawing to a close. And so is this entry so hang in there. From Yangshuo we were off by overnight bus to Hong Kong. Heather left for Taiwan the same day we arrived in Hong Kong. I got to spend a two days exploring the city and sleeping with rats at night. Since it was the holidays the rat less hostels were full. Lucky me. I didn't spend much time there at night. I went to Victoria Peak for views of the city after dark. Hong Kong is a place where you have to have alotof money to have alot of fun. I couldn't wait to get out of there. So as the sun set in Hong Kong the sunset on my journey through China with Heather. We had a great time and I now feel like I've got a new friend instead of a bratty sister. I guess sometimes it takes about 24 years to realize that sisters are people of their own. And I'm lucky to have such a beautiful, unique, amazingly intelligent, "connected" one! I only wish I could have realized it sooner!

I love you Heather!

Now, on to our journeys with Mom in Taiwan!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Josh on January 7, 2005 09:10 PM
Category: Where are we?

For those of you reading this blog, don't believe everything he says! JUST KIDDING! Funny blog, joshie. I can't wait for our next trip together! :)

Posted by: Heather on January 13, 2005 11:54 AM

What a great read. I loved it all, but especially the last paragraph about Heather. It makes me so happy to know that you have such a wonderful relationship. You will be best friends for life. I think that is the best present you can ever give to your parents.
I love you both. Enjoy and stay safe.

Posted by: Grandpa Mike on January 13, 2005 03:30 PM

My darling grandson,
You are the best. I have read everything you and Amanda and Heather have written.
What an experience!
I have always loved the Far East, having read "The Good Earth" numerous times, and you have brought it so close to me.
And it brought tears to my eyes, when you discussed your sister.
Love you all

Posted by: Gramma Bobbie on January 13, 2005 04:10 PM

Josh I have enjoyed reading your blogs. Just catching up with them in China. I haven't had a computer the whole time you've been on your trip. This has truely been a great experience for you guys. So great to have made this journey and you did such a fabulous job sharing it with your peeps. I'm so proud of you, Amanda and Heather!!Much Love

Posted by: Andrea on January 13, 2005 06:34 PM

Hey Josh. Awesome entry. You are so generous to continue to take the time to share your trip with us. I loved the pictures of Lijang with the streams running through it and the rock walls and willows. I am really glad you and Heather had so much fun. I am amazed at all the places you have been. By the time you read this, Amanda will have returned. I hope the re-union was joyous! We had a great time seeing her when she was home. Looking forward to the next Blog!

Love, Dad

Posted by: Steven Saul on January 14, 2005 03:54 AM

Josh!Long time no see. I got to see your worse half... i mean... better half? this break - it was great to see her. She sported her tailor made clothes - including an amazingly beautiful ao dai. Dude, I'm sitting here looking at your pictures and reading your stories and wishing I could join you. Its funny though, I have some of the exact same pictures you have from places i went in vietnam, HK, and china (guilin). So i know you're having an amazing adventure over there and I'm jealous! Can't wait to see you when you get back and here some tall tales of the far east. Take it easy over there!


Posted by: David Nguyen on January 14, 2005 06:47 AM
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