Wednesday, January 23, 2008

CD152: A Short Rest

After a glorious 11 days on vacation and 17 days of no work, I came back to Pingxiang. It was a freezing cold, desolate, black-out of a homecoming. Apparently campus closed early in the week and they meant it literally. All the restaurants on the back alley are closed, campus buildings are locked, and no one is around. Our old gate keeper was thankfully around to let me in to our apartment building. There was no electricity anywhere on campus, but I was hopeful that wouldn't be the same in our apartments. Grandfather came back up with a candle as there was, unfortunately no power. I am not sure if I have Grandfather or the powers that be for the power coming on about 15 minutes later, but thanks are needed. The good news is that we are only spending one night back here.

Our first overnight train took us to Guangzhou (again, only seats and no beds). We spent the day there looking around before heading out again. The temperature was mild so that was a plus. We left our baggage at the train station and hiked around to a big public park (Yuexiu) known for its huge statue of 5 goats which are believed to be the travel companions of the 5 celestial beings who came to Guangzhou to provide the people with a sign that they would never suffer from famine. After that we headed to a temple with a stellar decorated pagoda, were denied at a mosque and couldn't find another 2 temples apart from all of the construction. Southwest of the city is a small island, Shamian Island, covered in trees and foreign consulate offices were we had the pleasure of Starbucks and a sighting of the American embassy.

The next overnight train (in a bed) took us to Hainan Island, the southern most province of China. The train actually divides in half and travels for an hour on a ferry to get onto the island. Tim's parents have a time share at a hotel there we got to take advantage of for a week. The weather was only nice for the first 2 days but thankfully we took full advantage of it. The place was right on the beach and had 2 natural hot spring pools - sweetness! Other than wandering around a little, none of us did much and that was great. The most exciting adventure was probably the 4 of us and our luggage piling onto a motorcycle with a side car for the trip from the train station to the hotel. The hotel across the street had 6 bowling lanes which provided most of our nightly entertainment.

After our week and with the weather getting worse, we took the overnight back into Guanzhou and went straight back to Shamian Island in hopes of some good Western style food and a happy hour. Neither happened, but the weather was decent and the island was pleasant. Here we parted ways and Tim headed back to Pingxiang while Andreana, Ben, and I headed to the southeast China coast and a place called Xiamen. The city itself didn't have much more than a lively night market street and park/temple we didn't venture to. Our hostel and the more interesting activities were a 5 minute ferry ride from Xiamen to Gulang Yu.

On the island we visited some beautiful parks, saw a giant statue, peeked into a temple, took an air car to an open air aviary, visited a piano and an organ museum, and tried to lose ourselves in the meandering crowded streets of colonial buildings. Andreana left after 1 night to catch her flight to Thailand but Ben and I stayed an extra night and day just to take in as much as we could. I would say it was hands down my favorite place in China so far.

Now, after the 23 hour train ride back to PX and the not-so-welcome home, I am glad that it will only be 1 night. Tomorrow night Ben and I are headed to Hangzhou, about 2 hours from Shanghi. It is supposed to be amazingly beautiful so hopefully it will great despite the cold weather!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

CD139: Winter Holiday

The holidays here in China - namely Christmas and New Years, were craptastic this year. There are varied reasons that I won't get into because there is no reason to. Ben's parents were in town for Christmas however and treated us all to a Western-style Christmas dinner at their hotel. I might make my new tradition steak instead of turkey for Christmas. It has been just about a month since I got back from Cairo. The days that followed my return to Pingxiang were dark and ugly, partly to my doing. I am hoping that 2008 will be off to a better start.

After 2 3-day work weeks in a row, we had finals last week and are now off on holiday until the end of February. The good news is that we get paid for all this glorious holiday time. The Americans are off to holiday together for some of the trip, Clyde is still making up his mind, and Chioko is just traveling around Jiangxi Province on her own. I have to be thankful that there are other Americans here I can talk to. I can't imagine how miserable she is here alone, away from her husband, and unable to communicate with people.

Tim's parents have a time-share on Hainan Island in the very southern tip of China so that is where we are about an hour. Its in a resort and the boys and girls get their own rooms for about 10 yuan a night (less than $2) so it should be doable. We do have to take 2 over-night trains to get there for a total travel time of over 19 hours, but I am sure it will be worth it. Too bad we don't have beds for tonight's journey and are again stuck in seats. After Hainan we are heading north and bit and to the coast to Xiamen where Andreana will be flying off to Thailand. Less than a week later Tim will be leaving for Singapore and a lengthy cruise around Chinese and island ports. Ben and I will be on our own for about 3 weeks traveling (most likely) to Shanghai and the surrounding area. The only thing that is planned for sure is Andreana meeting me in Shanghai by the 12th of February so we can fly to Tibet for a 11 day tour. Good times.

I am hoping the travel will clear my mind and lighten my spirit a bit. I am tired of my little grey rain cloud that's been following me around.

There will be much to tell when I get back but for now, there are new pictures up under December, January, Egypt, and Doha on my picasa. I hope that all of you had a good holiday and your 2008's are starting off spectacularly.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

CD 100ish:Not in China

You know me...I was thinking of something fun to do for day 100 in China, but I just lost track of time. Too bad for me it slipped my mind as I was actually in Cairo on China Day 100.

On the 22nd of November all of the foreign teachers headed out of Pingxiang to Hong Kong. Sadly, our 8 hour over-night train ride to Guangzhou was spent on seats and not in beds as we had hoped. In then took us an additional 6 hours to get into Hong Kong and to our hostel. The hostel was a nightmare with both of the reservations we had made being wrong and the hostel not willing to do anything really about it.

All the drama aside, we spent 3 nights in HK doing what there was to do. The weather was slightly miserable but we enjoyed being in a big city where we could blend into the crowd and not have people stare at us as we walked down the street. Victoria Peak was really the only touristy thing we did (other than shop) because of the weather and because everyone else had already been to HK before. I did get to eat some sushi, guacamole, and some German beer however. On the last night in town we meet a cool guy who lives in HK which worked out to my advantage. Everyone else had to leave Sunday morning to head back  home, and I would have been left alone in the city with my suitcases and a day to kill as my flight didn't leave until midnight on Sunday. Herman turned out to be a great host and was kind enough to spend the day with me so I wouldn't have to wander alone. He even took me to the airport!

I flew 8 hours from Hong Kong to Doha, Qatar and was put in a hotel free of charge for my 6 hour layover. There were some other people on my flight that ended up going to the same hotel. I randomly ended up rooming with a girl from Pingxiang who left there 10 years ago and now lives in Guangzhou. Such a small world! She really didn't believe that I lived here (Pingxiang) - yes, the joke is on me. Leaving the airport got me a stamp in my passport so that was cool, but I am not really sure its other purpose.  It was morning and we had some time to kill and the Chinese people were all excited to see some news tower in Doha so we spent some time trying to find it. We soon gave up and everyone else went back to the hotel. I wandered around by myself for almost 2 hours just to see what I could see - not much where I was at.No worries as were were soon  back on the plane for the 3 hour flight to Cairo.

Here is where the story changes a bit. I was in Egypt for 2 weeks. We all know I can be quite verbose so I won't bore you with details of all of the things that we did and saw.

The brief recap is the part that was supposed to be educational, the conference, was a huge let down. We didn't spend much time learning about Egyptian education in any aspect. We went to a lot of boring and worthless meetings as well.

The sightseeing and the cruise on the Nile however were amazing. I wish I could have spent the wasted week seeing more of what I missed while in boring meetings. Here is some of what I can tell you.

20 million people live in Cairo and Giza which are really just considered Cairo unless you live in Giza and really care. I think all 20 million people own cars and drive them at the same time. It was like Pingxiang before there were lanes, crosswalks, signals, and police to enforce the rules BUT they have all of those things and people just drive as they see fit. Police and armed security are everywhere. There were guys with hugemongous guns to greet me getting off the plane and I think I almost fainted. Tourists get special treatment - read: we couldn't go anywhere without some security of some sort and when in large groups we had to take a bus even if we were only going 2 blocks.

The merchants are too aggressive and annoying in most touristy places and it ruins some of the awe and wonder of seeing these amazing things. The people are friendly and the people in our tour serving as guides and helpers spoke great English. Some also spoke 4 other languages, but let's not embarrass ourselves.

In Cairo we saw the Great Pyramids (of course) in a totally UNnatural me event, I missed the bus to go with the group but ended up with a handsome Egyptian tour guide of my own, so that was okay. We didn't do the same viewing the others did as I had already paid the huge ticket fee and didn't want to pay it again...for 2 people. I saw the Sphinx too as it's right in front of the pyramids. We visited the Egyptian Museum which looks like a giant store room for Egyptian treasures. The Royal Mummies exhibit was open so that was the highlight.

The day before the cruise we headed 3 hours north to Alexandria. There we visited the Alexandria National Museum, the Catacombs of Kom El Shugafa, the Roman Ampitheathre, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Qait Bay Fortress, and the Mediterranean. While some parts were cleaner and less crowded than Cairo, the beach was filthy and the rush hour traffic was unbearable.

For the cruise, we took a short flight to Aswan and started from there the next day. During the day we toured around Aswan, visiting the Aswan High Damn, Philae Temple (which had to be moved to a different island after the Island of Philae was submerged due to the damn), and the Unfinished Obelisk in the granite quarries they used for building the pyramids. Last we took a Felucca ride down the Nile back to our boat. We then cruised to Kom Ombo and visited the temple of the god Sobek. Then more cruising to Edfu while we donned traditional Egyptian costumes and danced with the staff.

Day 3 we saw the Edfu Temple (largest and most completely preserved) before cruising to Esna. The Esna Temple which was dug out from about 9m of muck and is also very well preserved. Then we continued cruising to Luxor.

The 4th day started with a trip to the Valley of the Kings. You can only see 3 tombs for each entry so I saw Ramses I, IV, and IX. For an extra fee some of us went to see King Tut's tomb which was AMESOME as they now have his ACTUAL mummy out for viewing. Some people didn't think it was worth the $20...maybe they'll see Tut next time they're in Egypt. In the Valley of the Queens we saw a tomb that was for...I want to say Ramses children...some 50 of them. We then stopped by the Hatshepsut Temple and paid a little homage to Egypt's only female pharaoh. The colors preserved there were pretty amazing. A quick photo stop at the Colossi of Memnon and we were rushed back onto the boat for our lunch before heading back out to the east bank of Luxor. The Temple of Luxor was absolutely huge and amazing and the Karnak Temple had an amazing Hypostyle Hall of 134 pillars. I will apologize now for my lack of adjectives to describe these temples in more detail, but there really aren't one's good enough. Look at my pictures, then go there yourself.

The next day we all flew back to Cairo where I spent I more day with a new Egyptian friend before heading back to China and reality.