November 7 – Train to Hong Kong

I’m travelling from Yangshuo to Hong Kong right now. There will be a delay in the middle while we do a bunch of border stuff. I think all that’s planned when we arrive in Hong Kong is to have our last dunner together as a tour group. The tour ends tomorrow and people will start flying home. I leave on Saturday.

I am keen to get home. I am not so keep for an 11 hour plane ride.

Side note: I got some more dried peas to try. These are garlic flavoured. They’re fine but are not as fun as the crab flavoured ones I had before.

Backtrack to a couple days ago

I forgot to write about Tuesday, or Out in Nature in Yangshuo Day. The day started with a bike ride around the countryside. I haven’t ridden a bike in close to 20 years, so I was a bit shaky at first, but I remembered how pretty quick.

We made many stops to look at fruit trees and farms and nice views. The ride ended at a place for lunch with lots of vegetables.

After lunch we had a boat ride along the Li River, which was good for taking photos, bit also a nice cool rest.

After dinner that evening we watched the Impressions River Light musical show, and I was very impressed. It was an amazing spectacle. There are 600 in the cast. The stage is the river and is 1.6 square kilometres. The backdrop is mountains, which are lit up suddenly and everyone said “ooooh” when they realized what they were. I said Oh my god! And basically started gurgling. One of my favourite parts was that everyone went “ooooooooooh” whenever a new scene was presented. I spent most of the time pointing at bits I found fantastic and making various ooh and ahh sounds. I didn’t see a gift shop, but that’s for the best since I probably would have bought one of whatever they were selling. I love a theatrical spectacle.

Yesterday I attended a cooking class to learn how to make some regional dishes of Yangshuo. Most importantly, I made some dumplings, which I ate and enjoyed.

November 4 – Yangshuo

Today started at 5am when the train conductor knocked on the door of our compartment to collect our tickets. We then had to start getting ready to get off the train. Half an hour later (or sooner) we were all standing on the platform, almost awake, with our suitcases.

I slept not too bad, considering. We had a pretty early night last night, too, because there was nothing else to do.

Once off the train, it was 2.5 hours to Yangshuo, which is a small city close to lots of rural activities. We were lucky enough to check in early to our hotel, and took a couple hours to shower and nap and sort out wifi. Then lunch. Then we climbed 482 steps up a mountain to take photos of the area.

Then a visit to a tea farm.

More things tomorrow. We’re in Yangshuo for two more days. Lots to explore.

November 3, 2019 – Sleeper Train

I’ve just boarded the train with my group, travelling from one place in China to another. I can’t remember and I’ll look it up later. My mum knew last night when I chatted with her so perhaps I’ll reference that transcript.

Boarding the train was a titch stressful. It is a busy train so it looked like us solo travellers (myself and my roommate) might have had to share a compartment with strangers instead of other members of our group. It’s just the way the tickets were bought – wherever space is available. But there was luck, as when we boarded the train, there was a whole compartment that was empty so four of us from the group occupied it very thoroughly with our massive suitcases and ourselves. Two other solo travellers from the group would have shared it otherwise with out group leader. A nice gentleman (stranger) also would have shared with them, but our group leader helped to explain the switch, and he didn’t mind.

Now we are four cozy ladies in a “soft sleeper” compartment on the way to Yangshuo (I looked it up). There is a western toilet at one end of the carriage, and the carriage next to us is the dining car. I might go look at the dining car, but I brought a stash of McDonalds and some other snacks that should suffice. We are on the train for 15 hours: 1pm Sunday to 6am Monday. I don’t mind a sleepover train, once the rush to attain and then organize compartments is complete. The rocking and swaying is soothing. And I remember sleeping well on those I rode in Vietnam (as well as might be expected when having to get off at 5 or 6 in the morning).

Backtrack to earlier today

Our cruise along the Yangzi River ended this morning at Yichang. From there we got on a bust that took us to the Three Gorges Dam security centre, and then on to take a look at the Three Gorges Dam. It’s very big and they have sightseeing platforms set up to take photos, but not a very comprehensive lesson in dam construction or operation, which is good because I’m not interested in that. We watched a documentary the other day on the cruise that touched on the million or so people who were displaced when the dam opened and created a reservoir that submerged whole communities upstream. These people were relocated to “immigrant towns” above the new water line, some of which I saw during the cruise. That’s interesting.

(Brief pause in writing to let phone charge, do some colouring, and have a snooze)

Backtrack to Yesterday, November 2

Yesterday we took an excursion from the cruise ship to visit the Lesser Three Gorges and then the Mini Three Gorges. These are all separate and distinct from the Three Gorges, although I could have listened better to the excursion guide to determine how and why. I’m sure it’s easily Google-able. The trip consisted of getting on to a tour boat full of Chinese tourists and travelling along the Lesser Three gorges. Everyone spent the way up the gorges in a big crowd at the front of the boat, taking photos. I chose to stay seated in the vast seating area because the crowd seemed daunting and pushy, and there were only cliffs and trees to see at about the same distance I’d been looking at the scenery from the cruise ship. (And actually, we’d had the chance to observe the first of the Three Gorges that morning from the front deck of the cruise ship, with narration by our cruise director – and it looked a lot the same.)

At about the half-way point of the Lesser Gorges tour, we got on a smaller boat to explore the Mini Gorges. This was much fewer people and closer to the water and scenery, as it was a much smaller gorge (a mini gorge is you will). I liked this part of the tour because it could see the trees and nature in more detail. Also, there were some women singing folk songs in another boat along the way, as well as a couple doing a fishing demonstration. Monkeys were briefly seen on the shore as well.

We then turned around and met up with the bigger boat again, where a fee of us tried to sit and nap while a lady yelled over a loud speaker in Chinese. Probably details about our surroundings on the tour but I didn’t find out. I managed to nap but I have a special skill.

After that, and having arrived back on the cruise ship, the tour director gave us another narration as we sailed through the Second Gorge. There are many significant peaks she told us about, and as she progressed it got dark out and the moon was there and it was nice.

Dinner was served late, at seven, so I got a bit whiney about that. It was the captain’s farewell dinner, and the vice-captain came and clinked glasses with everyone. Dinner was followed by the Crew Talent Show. I wasn’t going to to but I’m glad I did since it was mostly demonstrations of local ethnic dancing.

Flash Forward to Present.

Everyone in my compartment has settled into quiet time: journal writing, reading, games on phones, naps. I have a good compartment. It’s warm in here but there is air conditioning coming in from the ceiling trying to cool us down. I used my cashmere scarf as a blankie while I napped and was a bit too warm, but very cozy.

Edit: 6 hours into 15 hour train ride.

I have spent many hours sitting up on my bunk colouring and chatting and occasionally snacking. At one point I taught one of my tour mates some ballet and flamenco out in the very narrow corridor.

Fun fact: we’re only allowed to drink beer in our compartments as the tables in the dining car are for people eating meals. I think some of my compartment-roomies are off doing that in another compartment.

November 1 – River Cruise

It’s a rest day today.

Yesterday was a 5ish hour bus journey from Emei Shan to Chongqing. Chongqing is a huge, beautiful city and we got to spend a couple of hours there before boarding the river cruise. There are many many many skyscrapers. We had dinner in an area that was recreated to look like the historical residences of where people used to live, but is now markets and restaurants. It was build in memory of the way people used to live in the city; everyone now lives in apartment towers.

The river cruise is much like other cruises, or at least like the one I’ve been on. There are several dining room, a bar, a gym, a cruise director, etc. My group has elected to pay for upgraded meals so we can have an assigned table in a quieter dining room. There are also several extra dishes per meal compared to the un-upgraded option, and drinks are included at mealtime.

We have docked at the moment for an on-shore excursion. Most of the boat is participating but not me. I know that everyone is gone because I went for a wander and all the lights are off around the boat, and all services have shut down. Also, I only saw staff. Very quiet right now. I’m resting in my room with my roomie. We ate some vegetable crackers for a snack to hold us over until lunch at noon.

Fun thing: we are all woken up at 6:30am by misic playing over the announcement speaker that we can’t turn off, followed by daily announcements in Chinese. The Chinese announcements went on for five minutes, while we only got the date and weather in English. We have a printed sheet with the announcements we can read on our own.

I’m at the point of the trip where I’m tired and am ready to go home, (just shy of the two week mark, which is the usual time for this) but I still have a week of interesting things to see so I’ll make due. I’ve sent some laundry to be done, so that should help me feel better, especially if it comes back neatly folded. I always have a secret fear that I’ll never see my laundry again… but I filled in the sheet with my name and room number, so that should help.

October 30 – Free Day at Emei Shan

Our free day started at the guesthouse about 1/2 hour bus ride up the mountain. It was cold and wet. There was some mildew up in corners of our room and so my nose was running the whole time we were there. It was only an overnight stay from late afternoon yesterday until early this morning, so I didn’t suffer too much.

We were all up early because some of the group wanted to attempt the summit again. I wasn’t one of these, and joined the group going for a shortish walk near the guesthouse to look at scenery.

After we got all the photos we needed, we walked to the bis station to return to our monastery at the bottom of the mountain. (It’s Our Monastery now since we have stayed here twice.)

The rest of the day was, in this order: nap, lunch, shopping, massage, hot shower, writing this. Next up is dinner.

Also, this morning’s bacon and eggs breakfast at the guesthouse included fried bread. So good! And also a big bowl of noodles and broth from which we could help ourselves. I described it as “mild” which everyone decided was just a nice way of saying “tasteless” bit I don’t want too much flavour in the morning anyway. I’m liking the asian-style breakfasts I’ve been able to try so far. I still haven’t attempted the rice porridge, though. Maybe soon.

October 29, 2019 part 2 – recounting Panda Day,

Flashback to Sunday, October 27.

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is located about a 1/2 hour drive from Chengdu. We were meant to leave at 7:30 but then the bus was delayed so we all our rooms to use the washroom but then the bus came! So we were on the road by 7:40, arriving at the Panda Base about 1/2 an hour after that. I don’t remember.

You can read about the Panda Base here.

We walked around and looked at Pandas.

There were long queues to observe baby Pandas. They were all behind glass, and by the time we were at the front of the queue and passing by, we got about 20 seconds to see them. Less if the guards started yelling at us to move along.

There were wee 2-week-old newborns, but I didn’t get a picture because the line was too fast. I got a look at them on the screen of someone else who was taking a photo on their camera, and they looked like pink rats.

After the pandas we went to a Chinese Opera in Chengdu. It was mostly delightful. I didn’t get any photos of the performance because the phone on my camera didn’t like the light (everyone in the audience was taking photos, or just video-ing the whole thing, so that wasn’t an issue here.) But we were allowed to see a bit of the dressing room with the actors putting on their make-up.

October 29, 2019. Emei Mountain.

It had been a bit of a strange day. Original plan, and that which is on the itinerary was as follows:

1) Up and ready to go at 6:50am so we could walk down to Emei Shan town for breakfast

2) 2 hour bus ride up Emei Mountain to cable car station

3) Ride up cable car to peak of mountain, enjoy Golden Summit temple and views down the mountain.

4) Cable car ride back to station; bus down portion of mountain

5) Light lunch

6) 3 hour hike to monastery for the night. (A different monastery than last night.)

It was going to be a glorious and rugged day.

Items numbers 1 and 2 went fine, and we were lined up at the front of the queue, waiting for our turn. And then we waited, and waited and waited. Eventually, our guide came to let us know that the car was broken, and was being fixed. We waited a long while to see if it would get fixed so we could ride up the mountain. After about a 1.5-2 hour wait (i can’t remember exactly) we decided to go get lunch and see if we could try to get on later. But as we were down in the parking lot/outdoor food area, it was announced that there was no certainty that the cable car would be fixed today, so our guide called it off.

Itinerary has been amended as follows:

3) Wait in queue for cable car for 1.5-2 hours.

4) Street food lunch of questionable sausage and a cob of corn

5) Stand around waiting while the fog gets thicker and colder – the cable car station is probably 3/4 up a mountain.

6) Decision to go with back-up plan: no cable car and hike to monestary is postponed; immediately sun comes out – but it’s still cold because we’re 3/4 the way up a mountain

7) Bus for 1 hour or so; dropped off a portion of the way down the mountain

8) Walk 20 minutes to guesthouse, ending with like 100 killer steps

9) currently stationed at guesthouse on Emei Mountain, where it’s cold but there are electric mattress pads on the beds

10) Supper at the guesthouse will be at 6:15pm.

The plan for tomorrow has changed, since we were meant to be descending from the monastery. Instead we have the option to hike there and back if we want.

I was cold up the top of the mountain. I’m wearing six layers including my raincoat, all of which I am still wearing because I am still cold in the guesthouse.

[Brief pause in writing to discuss Hong Kong with roomie].

I knew it would be cold, but I didn’t want to pack a big jacket just to use for a couple of days. In the days leading up to this part of the trip I suggested that I was going to just wear all of my clothes as a solution to staying warm, and it may have sounded like a joke, but I was serious. I’m wearing all my warm things, cardie/hoodie/ rain jacket over a tank top/t-shirt/long-sleeve shirt combo. It would have been fine if we’d done all the walking we were supposed to do, but a lot of the time was spent waiting, first in a cold queue and waiting room while waiting for the cable car, and then later outside while figuring out what to do next.

My fine new cashmere scarf helped a great deal.

I wasn’t too bored waiting in line for the cable car for the first little while because I had a good chat with a teacher from Inner Mongolia. He is traveling around China with his 4-year-old son. He noticed my wee Canada flag on my backpack and asked if I am from Canada, and we started discussing our travel itineraries; and good food; and Buddhism: and good places to visit in Canada. He explained to me the TV show that was playing in the waiting room (a bunch of young women describe themselves without being seen, and then a young man chooses from among them; also, there are experts to help.) He said he prays at temple to help him deal with stress and anxieties and life, and that Buddhist temples will help clean your heart. I agreed with this last part because that is often how I feel when walking through them, even without praying.

[Longish pause in writing to hbe dinner in the dining room of the guesthouse – very delicious. Also, while out, our room and electric blankets had a chance to warm up. Cozy warm!]

At dinner our guide provided some changes for tomorrow’s itinerary, which produced much talking over one another in the group. There is now the option to try to get up to the summit again. Otherwise, we can go for a walk down here towards the monastery but not all the way and see a nice view, and then descend the mountain with enough time for massages in the town. I’ve decided that I don’t need to see the summit. As fancy as it looks.

On the way up to the cable car station, there were monkeys.

I didn’t want to get too close, but they’d run up to the path and steal snacks. (Not my snacks.)

Side note: no western toilet in our room at the guesthouse. My roomie and I are dismayed and whining about this.

Administrative note: I forgot to write about the pandas. I’ll backtrack and write about that soon. Maybe now if I don’t get distracted.

October 28 – Monastery at Emei Shan, China

I’m at a monestary right now where there aren’t any western toilets and we can only take a hot shower between 5:30 and 9:30 PM. But there is the music of a Buddist prayer surrounding our dorms right now, and we are away from city noises and bustle.

Also the hot shower was really hot and everyone feels better for taking one in a place with no heating.

Also, very good wi-fi.

Today on the way here we visited the Giant Buddha at Leshan. It was another scary trip down and then up steep stairs to get a view of the whole Buddha. A beautiful sunny day, and not too crowded, relatively speaking.

Tonight we exit the monastery for an evening walk around Emei Shan town and to get some dinner. It’s cool at night and I have four layers of clothing so far. I didn’t bring a big jacket, but I have bought a fine cashmere scarf so this should help. We’ll go higher up the mountain tomorrow so I hope this is enough, though the daytime looks to be warm.

October 26 – Train from Xi’an to Chengdu and reflections on yesterday’s Terra Cotta Warriors experience.

The train isn’t too long today, just 4 hours to go to Chengdu. The train ride the other day was 5.5 hours, so a bit of a haul. There’s an overnight train coming up later in the trip, for which we get beds.

I’m snacking on crab-flavoured peas as I write, and am quite enjoying them. I thought is was a curious flavour combo when I saw them on the shelf in the store, but I like both peas and crab so nothing can go wrong. Also, the words “peas,” “crab,” and “flavor” are all in English so that is helpful.

The terra cotta warriors were amazing. There are several levels of history, with the original creation on behalf of the first emperor of China 2000 years ago, their subsequent destruction by an invading army not long after, and then the discovery of the remains in the 70’s. The recreation continues to the present day. It’s all presented in a huge and crowded museum complex with massive structures built up around the open archeological pits. Our tour concluded with a meal prepared by local farmers.

This afternoon is a walking tour of Chengdu. Tomorrow is pandas.

Right now I’m going to listen to a day-old CBC News at 6 I’ve downloaded. So excited.

**Side note: Xi’an – pronounced “shi-an” and the “n” at the end it so soft you don’t even close your mouth to pronounce it.

October 24 – On the bullet train to Xi’an – in which I will reflect upon yesterday’s trip to The Great Wall

Part 1 -The Great Wall – October 23, 2019

Great Wall day started with my lying awake between 3 and 6am or so as I had not yet adjusted to the 15 hour time change yet. I think I fell asleep for a bit because I woke with a start when the alarm went off at 6:30.

There was a bus journey to the wall that took 2.5 hours. During the ride our guide gave is our first Chinese lesson: we learned how to count from 1 to 5. He then gave us a lesson on the geography of China and a history of the of the Great Wall (I’m going to refer to it as “the wall” from now on.)

He also strongly suggested to us that instead of hiking up the mountain that we pay to take the cable car to the start of the wall. Some people were curious about the hike, but I had spent the day before complaining about going up too many stairs, so I was getting my money counted-out to pay for the cable car.

After getting off the bus at the site of the wall, we appreciated the size of the hill going up to the wall, and why they cable car was a good idea. To my eyes it looked like the height and steepness of the blue chair at Mt Washington- though it’s probably not as tall. I have no sense of these things and it’s been a few years since I’ve been skiing. Either way, it had a gondola type cable car that looked like it went straight up. Everyone got tickets.

**Side note: I’m really digging a packet of Prawn Crackers as I write this. I’ve had them before, but these are special because I have purchased them in Beijing. I’m not having any troubles eating in China so far. The only problem is when buying snacks in convenience stores I can’t read any ingredients. I’m being pretty cautious but I do ok: some dried fruit, fruit cocktail, fresh bananas, instant noodles. I tried some “purple sweet potato bean paste lunch buns” that turned out to be safe but they were really sweet. I’ve left a mostly uneaten package back in Beijing because I didn’t think I’d be able to finish them.**

The cable car slowed down but didn’t stop so we had to load into a moving car, and then whoosh started going really fast up the hill. Some of my tour mates in the car with me were scared but I wasn’t.

The Great Wall is long and winds up the mountain like a dragon. There are gates along the way that act as markers, 1 through 20. The cable car deposited us at gate 14 (to be fact checked – I can’t remember), which, according to our guide is the best section as it has been nicely restored.

It was a beautiful day for a walk on the wall. It was sunny and the sky was (mostly) clear. Entering through the gate, I was overwhelmed with the sight of the wall winding up a mountain of trees and vegetation just starting to turn colour for the fall. Also: many many people having their photo taken against this view.

The wall is a crazy walk. There are nice smooth bits but these come between steep steps, low steps, gates, and groups of people holding photo shoots. I had some trouble going down some of the high steps because the were steep and high and had nothing to hold onto! I would ‘bum down’ at the very top and then I’d be fine after that.

Our guide told us to walk at our own pace, and we didn’t have to walk the whole wall if we didn’t want to: we could do whatever our bodies could handle. He also explained how the last (maintained) section of the wall was the steepest.

It took about 1/2 hour to walk to the last gate before the steep part. I was walking with a woman from my tour group, and we decided to have a break and a snack before attempting the steep part. We were both secretly thinking to ourselves that we might not go up, but after a fee minutes we started up.

The steep part of the wall is a big staircase made up of stairs of varying widths, heights and depths. It is covered in people of varying levels of fitness going up and coming back down.

My tour mate and I went up pretty slowly, stopping to rest quite often. Sometimes I’d sit down to look back – it gets very very high and I didn’t want to go into shock when I got to the top.

I did have a mild panic attach around 1/2 way up as I thought about how high I was and how tired my legs were getting, and worrying I wouldn’t make it back down. I stopped thinking about that and kept going.

OMG the last part of the stairs to get up to the last tower was nearly straight up and you get up by climbing up high, and super narrow steps. Some people can climb these like normal steps. Other people climb them with hands and feet like a salamander up a wall. I used the latter method.

At the top of the “last” tower there are a lot of people celebrating, catching their breath and taking photos of the view. It is not really the last tower, bit is the end of the section that has been restored and it maintained.

I was out of breath and shaky from being tired, but also from being terrified of the height. I was OK though.

** Pause in writing to watch scenery from the train, have a snack, listen to a podcast, have a wee snooze, and to take a walk along the train to find a western-style toilet **

We spent a little while at this tower to rest, and to greet other members of our group who had already made it, and who arrived while we waited. The mountain view was beautiful and it was nice to take the time to admire it while catching my breath.

Another thing I did here was to look down at the stairs I had just climbed, and felt a bit nauseous about having a go down them again. Very steep and very high. I didn’t cry. Another of my tour mates assured me it was perfectly fine to ‘bum down’ if needed and go very slow.

For the very steep first part down, which I had just come up using my hands as well as my legs, I took many many very deep breaths (Dad suggested “take a deep breath and go” as his advice before I left for my trip and I applied it here) and bummed down very slowly for the first bit, and then a little quicker for the last few steps.

My legs were very shaky on the rest of the way down from over-use. I’m sure everyone could see how much they were vibrating. I had to sit down a lot to rest, and I clung to the edge a lot of the way down. At some point, however, as it got lower and the stairs were a bit more even I figured out that just focusing down at the stairs immediately in front of me helped- not looking up at the view that might be distracting and maybe make me miss a stair. I made it down safely.

The walk back along the wall was easy after doing the steep part, but a bit annoying with shaky-tired legs. Just walking fast seemed to be the solution.

After we finished walking down the wall and met up with some other members of our group we found a magical cave that was all lot up like a fairyland inside. It was a tranquil place to recover. It was also nice and cool – it was a warm day.

Then lunch at the wall, the bus back to the hotel, and the rest of the evening was spent exploring Beijing with my group – our last night in the city.

Part 2 – On the Bullet Train to Xi’an – Present day.

I’m on the bullet train between Beijing and Xi’an. It’s a 5.5 hour ride, giving me ample time to write. I was worried for a whole because I needed to pee, and I had only seen a squat toilet at the front of our carriage. But it’s ok! I walked back a few carriages and found a western toilet. There was even toilet paper! (I had taken a supply of my own just in case.) I was good to get up and stretch my legs.

In Xi’an the plan is to get organized at our hotel and the have a walking tour of the Muslim Quarter. Then dinner, I hope. I’ve heard dumplings are the thing here.