Not Really a Blog

January 21, 2012

Dog Food

So, you guys know that  the Chinese (at least on some parts of China) eat about everything, no? I’ve read that in Guangzhou, Cantonese cuisine, they eat ‘everything that has four legs but a table, everything that flies but an aeroplane and everything that swims but a submarine‘. So, yeah, anything really.

They eat dog food. I got to realise this on my first day in Guilin when I saw a guy on a motorbike carrying three dead dogs on the back of the motorbike. If you’ve ever been to China town in London, you might have seen ducks hanging from restaurants in a brownish/reddish colour, no? Same here. I think they burn the skin and hair so that’s the colour they acquire. Shame that I had my camera packed away and couldn’t take a picture.

So, on my visit to Yangshou, I could see a bit more of this,

Dog Food
Yep, that’s dog meat for sale

but apparently it gets worse (if you don’t like to look at this, don’t go to Chinese street markets). They have cages with dogs and cats (alive) at the market, just like they have small pools with fishes that you can buy in European markets.

Now, to me seeing this is pretty shocking, as I only see dogs and cats as pets. It kind of horrifies to see this, but, well, they are animals and this is their culture,who am I to judge?. Who are we to say what can be eaten or not? right?. We have bull fighting in Spain and that’s frown upon in many other countries, so…

Anyway, I tried to get some opinions from locals about dog food. Whether it was good, a delicacy and what people thought about it. I failed at getting answers/opinions. I don’t know if it’s because they are shy, they considered it taboo or they are tired/annoyed by westerners’ questions.

But, interestingly, I saw this woman protesting int the centre of Guilin against dog and cat being slaughtered…

Protest
eating cats and dogs a national shame?

People were looking curiously at this woman…

What do you guys think? I find it interesting, not particularly affected by it, not particularly against it.

January 20, 2012

The Longji Rice Terraces

Filed under: China, Guilin, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , — jesus @ 17:15

If you are in Guilin there are many tours that can take you to the Longji rice terraces, called like that because from the top they resemble a dragon’s back (longji = dragon’s backbone). It’s in the mountains and apparently it’s extraordinarily beautiful in spring. Not so much in winter, but anyway, I already know the drill.

Rice terraces

Some minorities live here like the Yao ladies. They are not the only ones, you can find some other minorities there as well.

Yao lady

I booked a tour through my hostel. Priced stated was 400 yuan for a whole day (2 hour trip to the mountains, day there and come back). Now, if you’ve never been to China (and I fear that the whole Asia is going to be like that) everybody is trying to rip you off, in a way. Well, actually more like trying to squeeze a few dollars out of you. They assume that you have more money than them and that you don’t mind giving your hard-earned dollars away. In the end, what you are paying is cheap in European terms, but you dont’ like it when you discover that you’ve been charged 3/4 times what a local gets charged.

Corn
Yummy

Boy waving

Signs
To slow down, go to the left!

As an example of this, we were picked up by a van where there were 3 other people. I paid 280 yuan after bargaining a bit with the hostel guys. That included the 2 hour trip to the mountains and back, lunch and the long hair show. The other people in the van had paid 400 yuan and they had to pay separately for lunch and the long hair show… And I still think that maybe you can get it cheaper than 280 yuan…

Yao lady singing

The longji terraces is an area in the mountains where these minorities live around pretty rice terraces. In spring time when rice has been planted and it’s rained everything seems to be very green and beautiful. Now in December, it looks quite deserted. You can go to the top of the mountain where you get amazing views and, of course, you get people selling you absolutely everything. Even some weird stuff there…

'literature' available
They sell everything!!!

Rice terraces III

Me at the rice terraces

The Yao ladies belong to a minority ethnic group where they cut their hair when they are around 16 years old, when they are ready to get married. They never cut it again.

Yao lady showing her hair
That’s long hair!

Mum and boy

They roll it on their heads on a big hairdo which looks quite impressive as some of them are almost like 2 metres long. On their village they have this show, targeted for tourists,  where they sing and show the wooing ritual. Quite weird but worth seeing it. So, apparently a woman signals her interest to a male by pinching his ass (yeah, right) and if he reciprocates he hits gently her feet with his. Weird, no?

The funny thing is that they usually ask some volunteers from the audience, guys, to go on stage and take part on this ritual, in front of everybody. In my opinion it was a bit embarrassing for the chosen guys as they had to sing, one by one, to one of these ladies. So, if you ever go, don’t go on stage unless you really want to do it ;-).

Rice terraces II

Anyway, a day worth it, even if the weather was not good. If I come back, I need to visit this area in spring or autumn and get better weather, and better photos. It’s quite a tiring trip, so a stay over might be appropriate. Tiring because the way up (and down) the mountain is very curvy and takes very long.

spices

Ah, also, if you do this by booking a tour, expect to be taken to a tea demonstration. Probably your seventh tea demonstration in China. Actually, expect this everywhere, there’s even people who trick you into some of these and then require you to pay (not in my case, but met a couple of girls who were asked to pay for this).

Cat

How this works is that they take you to show you how the tea in China is taken, so they prepare this ceremony where they explain to you how they prepare it, how they drink it and the different kinds of tea they have (and what they belive they are good for) and they show it to you while you try then. Interesting things to note here:

  • the first water you use, you throw away and use to clean the cups.
  •  You drink the tea in three sips, no more, no less.
  • you grab the cup differently depending on whether you are a man or a woman.
  • They have osmanthus tea, which is what Guilin is called (Forest of osmanthus trees)
  • They have compressed tea, which looks like a brick rather than loose leaves. It was the best tasking one I tried.
  • No matter where you have this, they are going to press you to buy tea or accessories afterwards. They’ll press hard, so stay firm if you don’t want it.

Dragon skin
Dragon’s backbone

January 13, 2012

Guilin

Filed under: China, Guilin, Travel — Tags: , — jesus @ 13:02

I came to Guilin because some people told me that it’s very nice and has beautiful scenery They also told me  it’s an interesting city. So why not?. I decided to stay here for a few days before going to Yangshou, a small town which has an amazing scenery. it’s also a climbers’ paradise, it seems.

Yangshou 57

The whole area is made of karst hills and caves that look like the set of a fantasy film. These limestone peaks are featured on the 20 Yuan notes so they are well known across China, and far away too. You can find more information about how these were formed on this article. I think they also appear on the Episode III of the star wars series.

Unfortunately the weather was not the best one and that did affect my stay overall. Every day except one has been cloudy and foggy, making it hard to appreciate the beauty of the scenery. Apparently the best time to come here is spring, summer and autumn, especially spring, when everything is green and the rain on the rice terraces creates nice reflections. Anyway, not that I did have much of a choice.

Guilin (桂林, Gui Lin) actually means forest of osmanthus trees, a tree that grows here everywhere and that is used to make a kind of tea popular here.

There are a few things you can do in Guilin that are worth it:

      • Go up Yao Mountain:it’s the highest mountain in the area and, apparently, you have amazing views from the top, looking at the weird shaped mountains and the city. Apparently because when I went it was cloudy and foggy and I couldn’t see a damn thing. You go up on a cable car and to go down you can either choose to use the cable car again or just use a slide, which is what I used ;-). I wasn’t really sure how fast I could go, so I kept braking, but it was very cool Must be very nice in summer. I have a video, but as I don’t have the necessary bandwidth to upload it to youtube, that’ll have to wait.

        Cable car

        Sunset close to Yao Mountain

      • The lake and Li river tour: So you jump on a boat and they take you around to see the river, and the lakes. Not really worth it what I did as they took me for like 20 minutes very quickly and paid 100 yuan. Total waste of time, but I guess it must be much better if you actually get these cheeky boat owners to take you to the lakes (or during the night)

        Boat driverGet easy money!

      • The reed flute cave: There are many caves in this area, as the geology for these mountains make it easy. You can visit the reed flute cave this weird fantasy lighting system and all the stalactites and stalagmites are coloured in bright neon colours. Impressive as some of them are a few metres high. Apparently there are some paintings from several hundreds of years ago, proof that it was explored many years ago. I took the chance to take some nice pics with my tripod :)

        Reed flute cave V

        Reed flute cave I

        Reed flute cave IV

      • Solitary Beauty peak. In the centre of Guilin there’s this park (Mansion of Prince Jingjiang) which has a few museums (only in Chinese) and this peak from which you can get a pretty view of the city. Again, not that good as it was foggy and cloudy.

        Guilin city from Solitary Beauty PeakIt looked a bit dirty from here

      • There are two pagodas nicely lighted during the night in the Guilin lakes. I took some really good pictures that I like thanks to having a nice tripod with me.

        PagodasBeautiful view at night

        Pagoda I
        pretty

Apart from this, there are many other things you can see in Guilin. There’s this underground market called ‘little Hong Kong’ where they sell clothing and other stuff, like gadgets and hardware thingies. Not that interesting from my point of view, but worth the visit underground. There are countless street markets where they sell all sorts of stuff, from tea to necklaces…

Street market

The first hostel where I stayed is called Lakeside Inn. It’s in a really nice spot and the people who run it is super friendly. I made friends with Vic (罗炜) who is a friendly chinese guy in his mid 20s who will take care of you. Plus the rooms are very very nice. He saved my ass a few times by coming with me to do an errand or buy some tickets.

As an anecdote I wanted to have my hair cut, so I used Vic to help me out (rather, he offered after my frustration). He took me to this place where you can get a hair cut for 5 yuan (£0.50). Now, this is a guy who cuts the hair in the middle of a poor looking neighbourhood street. Yep, in the middle of the street. So, can I please go somewhere that looks nicer? So he takes me to this other place where you can get a haircut for 8 yuan (£0.80) but it didn’t look that clean and hygienic at all. So, finally, I go to this hair dresser saloon where it’s full of ladies and where they cut my hair for 40 yuan. Well, not only cut my hair, it was quite an adventure, as I got I head massage, got my hair washed, then cut, and then washed again. All of that while 3 or 4 of the guys working there where standing right behind me looking at me and giggling. Later on Vic told me that they said that I was handsome and friendly. Yep, there’s Chinese gay men too. Anyway, it was quite an experience and I actually paid less than half what I pay in the UK at a barber shop, so it was worth it for me. I guess I paid the equivalent of a £30/£40 haircut in the UK! And peace of mind that I was not going to get anything…

Having a haircut in ChinaVic took this picture while he was cracking up

There’s one thing you have to try in Guilin, and that’s the Guilin’s rice noodles. Usually for breakfast. It is made of rice noodles, a bit of meat (normally pork) and peanuts. You add hot water and different sauces and there you go. The most popular dish in Guilin. Not my preferred option, but you have to try them anyway.

Guilin Rice Noodles
They are alright, but nothing that fancy, in my opinion

And then, there’s Yangshou…

January 9, 2012

Arriving to China, what Guangzhou looks like

Arriving to China.

I left Hong Kong and jumped on a train to get me to Guangzhou (广州), a big capital close to HK (12 million people). This was my first experience and it was not so nice as I arrived in the evening during the rush hour.

Grabbing the underground is madness. The trains are overcrowded and the only way to get in or out is to push people like there’s no tomorrow. I learned this when a woman in her sixties pushed me like I was a laowai (老外)…

Anyway, I arrived to the East Station and had to go to the other main station and then take a taxi. Quite an experience for me being here in China for the first time. I didn’t see any westerner that evening (actually, I didn’t see any during my stay in Guangzhou), and had my first experience with people looking, no, staring at you. The thing is that they look at you as if you just came from a spaceship. Interesting.

Anyway, when I got out of the station, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the amount of people and the mess there. People queuing to get into the station and to grab a taxi. So I jumped on a taxi, thanks to some random lady who had written the address of where I had to go in Chinese. She wanted me to take the bus, but no way, no, I was not going to jump on a bus without even knowing where I had to stop. 10 minutes later, the taxi driver left me on a road, but not the hostel despite having given him the number. Now picture this, you’ve just arrived to mainland China and are left in the middle of a street, which is not light flooded at all, at the number 450 and you have to get to number 140. And you don’t even know if that’s the street you are looking for. It’s a bit unsettling.

Thankfully it was and 15 minutes later I arrived to this really nice hostel where they didn’t speak any English. Well, they did, but very basic. To illustrate how basic, I was trying to explain in basic English that I was going to stay for two nights and that I was leaving on the 22nd. But they wouldn’t understand me, so what I had to do is draw and airplane under the 22nd. That did the trick.

leaving using an airplane

How I explained I was leaving on the 22nd

I didn’t see much of Guangzhou, as I only wandered around during the morning, walking in this huge park. I was gladly surprised by the people in the park. There are lots of old people doing activities. From what I saw:

  • Dancing. Many different kind of dances. I even saw people learning how to dance pasodoble!!!
  • Martial Arts.
  • Working out. On their own or using the playground for children.
  • Singing and playing instruments

Martial Arts

Cat

Keep the danger away

Anyway, the weather was good, in their 20s. I even tried boiled peanuts, which seems to be something typical here. But didn’t like them very much to be honest.

But probably the most interesting place was this eatery right in front of where I was staying where they had bowls of soup with noodles, vegetables and dumplings for 10 yuan. Yeah, I used their chopsticks and still thinking that they were not looking very nice, but they were nice people (they were all the time smiling at me), I guess they don’t get to see much people like me at their place anyway. That, or they were cracking up with me…

Wonton Soup with dumplings

That was my trip to Guangzhou. Next day, a flight to Guilin.

China Southern Airlines

Summary:

Will I come back? To Guangzhou? If I’m in China, probably not, unless I have to, but don’t know, I spent only a day and a half here, so not enough time to decide if it’s worth it or not.

Macau

Having been told that I should definitely visit Macau given its proximity to Hong Kong, I booked accommodation for a day in Macau and a ferry ticket. The ferry takes approximately one hour from Kowloon so you can get there in pretty much no time.

According to wikipedia, Macau was given back definitively to the Chinese as a S.A.R in 1999 after agreeing on it a few years before. Located around 60 km from Hong Kong, it lies on the western side of the Pearl River Delta, bordering with the Guangdong province in China. The economy depends mainly on gambling and tourism. Yes, gambling.

Arriving to Macau and getting a visa for Europeans is just a matter of going through immigration and getting your passport stamped. We are allowed to stay for 90 days in this tiny territory which happens to be one with the highest density in the world.

Apparently the main influx of tourists to Macau come from mainland China, people who come here to gamble on the different casinos in the area. For this reason,  outside the port there are many free buses that take you directly to your hotel, hotel/casino or even to the casino itself. You can even use these even if you are not using the hotels and don’t want to walk to where you are going.

Having taken one of these buses, I drop everything, and wash some of my clothes, as this was very much needed, and then, let’s go and see what’s on offer on this town.

Starting to wander around when the sun was getting low, I get to see the enormous casino area. A place full of huge buildings with shiny banners and lots of (chinese) people queueing to get in. Buildings that look spectacular during sunset (and later in the evening) you get to see what feels like Las Vegas (never been).

Macau 2

Macau 1

A few shots here and there and I get to see Macau Tower at sunset, which looks absolutely gorgeous (澳門旅遊塔會展娛樂中心). The tower measures 338 m and has an observation point where you can do high adrenalin activities (no, not having time to go up, and probably not having balls of steel to try bungee jumping off it)

Sunset in Macau

Reflections 1

Now, if you walk into the old town of Macau it simply looks surreal, as it looks you are in a southern portuguese city, or even a spanish one. I felt at some points I was in the Sierpes Street in Seville.

Macau 5

Except that everything is in Chinese and it’s full of Chinese people, although you see some people of Portuguese origin here and there. There are Chinese street markets and food vendors everywhere. One thing that I tried here again (tried it in Hong Kong) was the grilled octopus.

Octopus

What these guys do is grill a piece of octopus and then they put it through a machine which basically flattens and shreds it so you wan eat it. In my opinion it’s a bit too dry but quite tasty.

Octopus ready to eat

Another street vendor that caught my attention was this place where they have a multitude of different foods in front of you, so you grab a dish and put everything you want in it, then hand it to the vendor who would boil it all and serve you with either spicy or non-spicy food (So I found out thanks to a local who spoke English and was telling me about it).

Street market

To be honest, it was quite tasty, but it all felt a bit weird not knowing what the hell I was eating, really.

Final product

On my way back, I had to go again through the casino area so I used the opportunity to take some good night shots with my camera, of the different casinos and the Macau tower against the sea water (gotta love the reflection shots).

Casino

Reflections 2

Reflections 3

Things that I learned here:

  • Chinese spit everywhere, no mater their gender.
  • Chinese mixed with portuguese is weird.
  • You can use your hair dryer to dry your laundry, but gotta be careful ;-)

Summary:

Surreal. It looks way too artificial, although the portuguese touch is quite nice.

Visit again:

Probably not, unless you want to gamble like there’s no tomorrow.

January 7, 2012

Around Hong Kong

Filed under: Hong Kong, Travel — Tags: , , — jesus @ 17:05

There are a few spots around Hong Kong that are worth visiting. Or it seemed to me. One of them is Lantau Island, going up to see Tian Tan Buddha. You can go up there with buses or a fancy cable car. Some of these cars have a crystal clear ground so you can have a nice view during the trip. It’s actually not that impressive as once the novelty wears off you no longer look down, to be honest.

 
Cable Car

One of the nice views you get from using this method is Hong Kong International Airport, which is impressive. It was a shame that on the day I was going up, the weather was not so good (an indication of what was coming next) so the fog prevented me from even taking a single good picture.
After half an hour approximately you arrive to the top of the mountain where you can go and visit the giant Buddha. The whole place was a bit disappointed for me as it was way too touristy and the buddha itself was not that shiny. Probably if the day had been nicer and with blue skies, it would have been better.

Tian Tan Buddha

The other interesting (to a point) thing that I found was Ocean Park. It is like a Disney land but with aquariums and other animals from China. I passed on all the attractions as I was more interested in seeing the pandas and jellyfish than anything else. After a bus ride I arrived to Ocean Park and was able to see these animals :)

Red Panda

Cute, isn’t it? :)

There were two Giant Pandas and two other pandas, if I remember correctly. They were far away chewing happily away from curious eyes.

Panda Bear

But what really impressed me was the jellyfish section. You had to take a nice ride on a cable car up the mountain where there is another section that you can visit. There they have the jellyfish and other stuff like a rollercoaster, etc.

Cable Car

The jellyfish was dramatic, with fantastic colours thanks to the lighting they had there, mesmerizing. Beautiful.

Jelly fish II

and the star was a sea dragon:

Sea Dragon

Which was absolutely beautiful to watch, as its moves were very graceful :)

I don’t know whether I would go again to this park, maybe if it were a bit hotter and had time for it. I was definitely more interested in watching the animals than all the other stuff, as they were more children oriented.

Now, to finish, let me go a bit back to Hong Kong island and Kowloon. This is something I found late during my trip and I think it’s worth the advise. There is a train that takes you from Kowloon to Central Station (on Hong Kong Island) that costs like $6/8. Very convenient. But there’s a ferry that you can take that costs only $3 and takes 10 minutes. From it you can have an amazing view of both Kowloon and Hong Kong island. I forgot to talk about this on my last post.

 

Ferry

Totally worth it.

Things that I learned here.

  • I seem to need a suit.
  • I also seem to need a fake rolex watch.
  • Feet massage too.
  • Not a lot of people speak English, or well, not as much as I was expecting given that this was a British colony.
  • Dim Sum are amazing and cheap.
  • Not so sure the electronic shops are that worth it.
  • Hong Kong is expensive.
  • Did I say I need a suit and a watch?
  • Chungking Mansions is not as bad as it looks.
  • I’m definitely getting a new suit. I have a watch that I like. When I get back.

Summary:

It was good fun coming here and being exposed to a mix of western and chinese culture. I would probably come again in a few years, maybe, with hotter weather so that I can really see things that I didn’t see when I was there. And more relaxed. So, in summary, yeah, I would probably come back, but no rush to come back.

Exploring Hong Kong

Filed under: Hong Kong, Travel — Tags: , , — jesus @ 09:35

Having fought jet lag enough to keep myself up for just the right amount of time, I decided to stay in Hong Kong for a few days so that I could have a look at this city and also be able to fully recover from jet lag.

The areas that I have visited include Kowloon, Lantau Island, and Hong Kong island, including a visit to Ocean Park on the other side of the island to see what it was about.

The first thing you notice when you get to Hong Kong is invariably its skyline:

Some examples:
Reflections
Skyline 2
Massiveness II

Bank of China building

which is quite impressing on the first sight. Then you kind of get used to it. It looks as if there’s some kind of competition to see which building rises higher in this town, on both Kowloon and Hong Kong island. And this seems not to be limited to office buildings but also to apartment blocks. I wonder how many people live on one of these buildings.

Massiveness III

It would be certainly interesting to have a look inside of these buildings, really. But that was not possible. The only thing you could do is visit a couple of skyscrapers which had a sky deck from which you could watch Hong Kong. I was lucky to visit one of them on my last day as it was only possible to visit them during office hours. The good thing is that you don’t have to pay anything.
High up III
But the visit was really worth it.

The best view however can be seen from Kowloon and Peak Mountain. From Kowloon you can watch a light show every day at 20:00. This involves music and some fancy stuff with lasers and lights between the buildings on Hong Kong island and Kowloon. Pretty impressive:

Hong Kong skyline light show I

More Skyline

If you go up to The Peak, this is where you can have the best views. It’s a nice ride on a tram. The best moment to go is right before sunset, so you can see a really nice sunset and then see how the buildings in Hong Kong light up for the night until it’s completely dark. This is when you get, in my opinion, the best view.

Sunset 2

HK Skyline 7

HK Skyline 3

It feels so nice that one could happily stay for a good couple of hours just watching this :-)

But Hong Kong is not only this, its streets are full of people, street markets and other kind of markets where you can find absolutely everything, from electronics, to feet massage, from good eateries to crappy restaurants, and of course, all the people trying to sell you something when they spot you are not of asian descent. Funny.
Street Market

Lights

And then you have the Chungking Mansions, with its spacious rooms and no windows:

3 in 1

This is the kind of toilet you would get in many places in Asia, but here it’s at its maximum. In Chungking Mansions you get a tiny room with a small window leading to a hole and a small bath which is actually 3 in one. You have the shower head over the toilet and at hand you have the sink. It takes a bit to get used to this and once you use the shower the floor is flooded so you can’t really use the bathroom for much, so you have to do your stuff in order very carefully ;-) Mind you that that photo was taken with a wide angle lens, so it’s smaller than it looks like!

Anyway, this looks like a fun city, possibly to come again and visit with a bit more of time and when it’s warmer so you can plan a couple of trips to the beach and at the same time explore what this city, which looks like a city from Blade Runner, can offer at night.

Writing while travelling

Filed under: Travel — jesus @ 05:28

As I don’t have an internet connection all the time and also because I prefer to be doing stuff while I have free time, I’m writing most of my blog posts while I’m travelling on public transport as a way to kill time. So expect a few blog posts soon on the same day :-)

Will keep you posted!

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