Sunday, 14 September 2008

Anybody out there?

Guys, this post is in the desperate hope of trying to re-trace the descendants or even any of the original escape party. If grandad were alive today, he'd be 88, so it's not beyond the realms of possibility that other members of the escape party may also be...

Here's hoping.

If you have any suggestions on retracing people, finding out if someone has deceased or how to find these escapees and/or their descendants, I'd be grateful if you could let me know!

Looking forward to hearing from you...

Russ

Reunion/'big trip'

I'm organising a reunion in late 2009, taking in some of the more interesting sites of grandad's escape.

If you're a descendant of one of the escapees, please register your interest on Richard Hides website at http://www.mwadui.com/HongKong/index_hk.htm or contact me to find out more!

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

I CAN see dead people!




So, first thing after breakfast, I went to see a dead guy. Chairman Mao Tse Zhong (pron. Mao Zedong) died in 1976 and was the founder of the communist and still current ruling (only?) party in China.

The powers that be decided that it would be a good idea to embalm the body in the same way that Lenin was and he's still laid there today, 30 odd years later.

The impression that I get is that most chinese still revere Mao and when you enter his Mausoleum, which is a disporportionately big building in the middle of tiananmen square, you're through the front door, down either side of the dead dude and out the back before you can say long live the revolution.

I have to say I wasn't that impressed, but the chinese (many offering flowers to him) obviously are. I don't know if this is through ignorance of the bad stuff he did and a cover up by the party, or a genuine belief that he did the country good. I am fortunate enough to be able to have seen both sides of the coin and it has certainly made me appreciate the great freedom we have in the West, so very much more!

After this, it was off to the Indoor Market where I thin I've successfully managed to take my backpack over the weight limit with gifts for you lot back there! Then I visited a cool taoist temple, where their law, similar to buddhism in many ways, is divided into 'departments'.

You'd better watch out kids, they've got a department of implementing 15 kinds of violent death, a dept for demons and monsters, a punishment department and also a department for controlling evil spirits.

All is good in the hood when these boys get to work I can tell you.

After that I trekked up to Factory 798. An awesome arts 'town' on the site of a huge (we're talking a few city blocks here) of an old electonics factory that fell into disrepair. Now the town literally is filled with artists and every corner you turn, there's a new cafe, gallery, or other unusual installation to ponder over - really fantastic stuff. Wes, you'd especially love it and boys, the rest of you should give these things a go every now and again - never hurts to open the mind a little...

So, that's it! I'm home tomorrow - fantastic!

Not sure this is my last ever post, but it certainly will be the last for a while...

I'll let you know how I get on and stay tuned. I'm sure this site will get busy again in 2009 for the 'big' trip!!!

See you tomorrow folks! xxx

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Rubber

So, Just got back from the story of Chun Yi, the warrior monk who's as hard as nails but falls off the wagon when his mum dies. He gets back on it soon enough, wins the battle against the bad guys and then becomes the abbot after his mentor hands over the ceremonial staff and lights his own funeral pyre. Hard, Weird or Stupid?

All exciting stuff, and so you're up to date on the plot and that's without even seeing them.

They're hard as nails.

All of them.

I was in the cheap seats (five rows from the front!) so had a great view.

Two sharp spears in the neck? No problem, I'll even bend the wooden poles I'm that hard.

Oh, you've found another one? Tell you what, stick those two in my thighs and one in my neck and lift me up off the ground. Look I'm flying and not bleeding.

What's that? Forward cartwheels using your hands? Why bother when you can do it no handed and use your head instead (this really had to be seen to be believed).

Their martial arts were fantastic too - synchronised everywhere and their hand and foot speed was simply astonishingly, blisteringly fast. They're all massively flexible beyond belief, not an ounce of fat on any of them, just pure muscle (bit like me really, but with a bit less hair), baggy trousers and some kung-fu slippers.

Then the guy pops out with a long thin chain with a small flag on the end. It's flinging round so fast, it's just a blur, but he's got it so it's making a noise as it rips through the air. His mate pops up with two and does the same thing. Then they get one spinning like a helicopter above their head, the other one lower down and basically do what I can only describe as skipping whilst seated on their bottom - one chain above, the other below and every time it passes under them, they simply 'pop' and lift off the ground unaided by their legs or arms and land back in time to pop again on the next high speed revolution. I think I'd manage one revolution before whacking myself in the twins and performing a self-castration.

I haven't even got to the breaking stuff! Wooden poles breaking across the kidneys, arm, leg, chest or head? Yes please!

How about some iron bars? They look like a heavy duty steel 'handheld file' that you'd buy at B&Q. All his mates do one over their head, he grabs three. 'TWANG!, Shatter, Crash' as they hit the floor after doing them all at once.

And to top it all off, I'm that hard I'll lay on three steel swords, slap a double sided bed of nails on top of me, get matey boy to lay on that, put a great big concrete slab on him, and sonny-Jim, yeah, that's right, you smash it with that sledge hammer over there. Lovely.

Needless to say I enjoyed it! I could still Krav Maga all their arses anyway. ;)

I hope none of them read this blog in the next 48 hours...

I can't see dead people

So, set off on my bike first thing for the natural history museum to see dinosaurs and preserved human cadavers (well, you don't get that in London do you?) but alas, it was closed :(

Then cycled up to Janshing park, for great views over Beijing and the Forbidden City. Then even further north to climb the Drum tower - fantastic. There was a miniature drum display (mum, I'd forgotten how much I loved that drum show we saw!) and only one original drum left. They're 1.4m in diameter and made from a single ox hide. I think they've also got the biggest drum in the world too at 2.6m diameter also one single ox hide - can you imagine the size of that cow!?

The drum tower was used to tell the time across Beijing before watches and they'd be struck every two hours (something to do with lunar cycles, but they only had 12 hours in our 24) and they also had a water contraption that they used too! Very interesting stuff.

Then I got lost and it took me ages to cycle back here so I'm a little saddle sore, but am off to see a kung fu show tonight, so that should be good!

Lots more 'alternative' Beijing planned tomorrow (I'm templed out to be honest).

Noodle time for me now!

PS had fantastic Peking Duck for lunch today - they carve it at your table - yum!

Monday, 16 June 2008

Scorpions


Saw a bloke eat a scorpion last night down the night market - nutter. I reckon they're just there as a tourist gimmick. Didn't see any locals eating them...

Climbed the great wall of china today, well a section of it at least from Jianshinlang to Simatai. Just amazing. It's huge, interspersed with towers and runs along the mountain tops. Quite how they built it is astonishing. It's very high, quite wide and just astonishing. Well made (restored in places) and really rough and hard steep going in others.

It can't actually been seen from space either, but it is still amazing nonetheless.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Ribbit

Last night I had Bullfrog for dinner. Yum! Tastes like chicken, but the bones are a bit smaller and to be honest, I wasn't too keen on the look of the skin.

Some of the gang also ordered (through a breakdown in communication) 'soft' chicken cartilage. A stir fry dish of chicken bits (no bones - bonus!) and long triangular bits of cartilage. I have to say, that the taste was ok, but the sound of it crunching inside your own head and the texture was more than a little off-putting.

Ended the evening after a wet day's exploring of a park and a big pagoda with a rose garden (smelt nice) and an echo wall, which unfortunately you're not allowed right up to anymore. The theory behind it is, that you can stand at one end of the chamber, your friend at the other and then you whisper something along the wall. They're supposed to be able to hear it. Too many shouting tourists for anything to work, but the ones stood in the middle clapping looked funny!

Ended the night with two Dutch couples that had just come over on the Siberian express with an English girl in my hostel and the frog (the dish that is, not some french traveller). Watched too much football again (and we're not even in it!) before rolling in silly o'clock again.

Today I went on a bike ride, the VERY best way to see Beijing. Slow enough to stay cool, fast enough to actually get around. Cycled around the Forbidden City which was allowed, an amazing place surrounded by a 10 metre high wall made of 12 million bricks. It's just amazing to look at. The surrounding wall was so long, I couldn't see the end.

Talking of which, I'm off to climb/trek the Great Wall tomorrow. I'll be going from Jianshieng, to Simatai - I hope the weather's good as there's also a cable car and a zip wire to play on too! Look out for me on Google earth!

Friday, 13 June 2008

Olympic fever


This kid's taking the games very seriously.

Uncle Russ, Chairman Mao, The Equalizer

Another one for the Colfe's boys...

Tiananmen Square

Firstly, apols for the spelling, I've seen it spelled so many different ways, but this is the way it's spelt over here...

The view over the square...


Think America's woken up cos it's taking ages to load photos...

Beijing

Well, I'm in. It's enormous. Seriously. Far eclipses london in every single way. It's just absolutely monumental.

Spent the morning looking for another hostel as the one I was in, whilst located in a cool 'hutong' (traditional backstreet area) just had no character) and finally checked into the Hostelling International place opposite Beijing Central Train station. I'm slap bang in the middle of town, I guess the equivalent back home is having a hotel opposite Kings Cross/St Pancras.

There is a constant haze everywhere, it's just not very nice. It doesn't feel dirty, but everyone's got an irritating cough and you can even see the pollution on the INSIDE of big spaces (like a shopping mall). No wonder they all really hock up their phlegm.

Caught the bus to Tiananmen Square (spelt Qianmen in Pinyin) and climbed the famous gate of Heavenly PEACE where Mao watched up to a million TROOPS march past. Ironic huh?

Anyway, it's amazing. The smaller square out the back is as big as Trafalgar Sq, the main one is just immense. You can hardly see the other side and down the edges are two buildings. Again, they're just so vast! Anyway, it started to thunder off in the distance, then the wind picked up and then the rain came, so I think they called off the regular raising/lowering of the china communist flag at dusk.

Beijing is SO big, it's just not an easy city to 'do' if that makes sense. A taxi is most convenient, but the traffic pace (10km/h) is not much faster than walking - at least they're air-conned and sealed from the pollution. Walking is out - stuff is just so far away from everything else, then there's the heat and pollution. The heat. Tested myself today. Sat down, did nothing outside (there's no shadows due to the haze) and tried to rest. Nope, its impossible and official. I'm sweating here doing nothing, I simply haven't acclimatised one bit or I just haven't shifted my English winter 'insulation' or as Donald would say 'plumpness'.

Hair Party

So, the hair's got a bit long over the last few months, the sides were starting to go curly, and it was just too hot for this weather. Plus I was told that Beijing was hotter (it is) and well, that's no place to be sporting a mop.

So I went on the search for a barber's shop... I went past one on the bus and it had the prices and names of haircut in english, so I thought I would be in with a fighting chance.

The name of the barbers was 'HairParty' and it had flashing lights outside.

Whilst some of the other hairdressers I've been past aren't actually hairdressers (they take you upstairs for a different type of wash and blow dry), this one was. I thought I'd keep it simple and go for the clippers option.
"I'll have a number two on the back and sides, and a number four on top" I requested all the while pointing at the various parts of my head.
"You can have a 3, 6 or 9"
"Three on the back and sides, then, six on top"
"Are you sure? Three is very short?"
"OK, let's start with a six then" I think, fully expecting him to have to go back over his hard work with the shorter number.
"Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz"
"Fuck! Stop! where's my hair gone!? That's a six?" I ask with my scalp clearly visible on one side of my head.
"Yes"
"Nine on the back and sides, and just scissors short on top please"

A quick flash of the mirror at the end and it all looks good (well, it always does, doesn't it?) and it's cost me less than a fiver.

After closer later inspection, there are a lot of hairs that missed the clippers and I can safely say this is the worst haircut i've ever had. Stray ones everywhere... Plus of course it's shorter on one side than the other.

I can' wait to get back and have the Turkish boys in New Eltham sort things out. They really know how to cut hair - they singe your earhair, trim your nose and eyebrows, head massage and lemon aftershave, the lot.

Made it

Yo, just a quickie and it looks like I'm finishing on a high note, managed to get a room at the beijing city centre youth hostel - slap bang in the middle of town, not much personality here granted, but the location makes up for that!!

Back on the China mob again for all those that want to text/call 0086 15814 797476

Also got internet connection in the room which is nice, so i should be able to do some decent posts at decent hours... ok, off out for lunch

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Stupider

Is Enjoying a lovely meal hosted by Agnes, an American Chinese who is possibly the most travelled person I've met and then hitting a bar with Steve and Sarah. Two bottles of nice red wine later, the random purchase of a load of copy DVDs from a deaf/mute guy (that was interesting negotiation!) and then watching the fantastic Chech republic vs Portugal in 'the british bulldog pub' with a kick off at midnight, followed by several pints of Kilkenny, and the first half of Turkey vs Sweden at 02.45 (don't worry Oz, I was there yelling TURKIYE!) before rolling in trolleyed with Steven at 4am, turning off the alarm I'd set for 8a.m. and then reawakening at 10.00 when I have a 12.45 flight - that's stupid!

Despite the hangover, lack of any sort of wash and the fact that I'm still drunk, you'll be pleased readers to hear that I'm at the airport (after telling the cabbie I was late and wanted to get there the quickest way - I stopped looking after we sailed past a 50km/h sign with his speedo resting on 120... ) writing this on my new mac laptop with a wireless net connection - turned out nice again!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Stupid

Got up just before 07.00 to climb The Peak today. What a stupid idea that was!? Boiling hot (already), 100% humidity (always) and then a ridiculously steep hill that just keeps on going! Sat here dripping with sweat (getting used to this feeling now) with the air con on, trying to get my core temperature back down from something resembling the surface of the Sun to something more human. The only thing that kept me going was seeing the old grannies on their way down, having already achieved it!

Bought a Mac laptop yesterday (Wes, Greg, Adam, if you're reading, get ready for loads of bone questions from me) so should hopefully be able to play around with all my photos and videos soon.

Spent the day computer shopping yesterday with Sarah, enjoyed an amazing lunch (bangers and (wasabi) mash!) on the harbourside. My stomach has definitely shrunk over the past few weeks as I was unable to finish, and then had a Nepalese curry last night with Steve and Sarah and their friend Chris (a keen hillwalker and documentary maker) which was very pleasant.

Considering getting a haircut this morning as it's getting a bit shaggy and too long for this hot weather and some book shopping/browsing.

OK, time for a cold shower, though I'm not sure that's going to help!

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

PS for all the callers, I'm back on the HK number for now...

+00 852 6939 8439

Civilisation! For Now...

Back in HK - was surprised at how fast they drive, but then again, there's some semblance of order on the roads here which is a breath of fresh air (as fresh as it gets in HK anyway).

So, I leave Ruili early doors yesterday and head to the airport in Mangshi (pron. Mang-SH) and used to be Luxi (another grandad stopping place). Before an hour's flight back to Guangzhou (near HK, but still in China) via Kunming.

Im sat next to a funny couple - him, a bit tubby but dressed all in Nike sports wear (and then he keeps getting his gut out and rubbing it) and her who actually looks quite glamorous until she decided to squeeze a spot on her fellas face! In a packed aircraft and then wipes the excretions on his arm - "Air Stewardess! Sick bag please!?"

Land at the airport late (16.30), get bags, go through arrivals, wait 30 minutes for a bus to the East Train Station, get a 1 hour bus across town, buy a ticket to Hong Kong (19.11 train), it's supposed to take 1 3/4 hours, it takes over two, queue up for customs, get through, get the MTR (the tube) to Central on HK Island to meet the delightful Sarah (a friend of Ruth's) who's fella's back at the flat having ordered me pizza as it's now past 10 at night...

It's really nice to meet them both (and the two cats, Bonnie and Chloe), they're fantastic hosts and it's lovely of them to invite me into their home! Sarah's an aussie, Steve and Irishman and it's nice to have a catch up in a full speed conversation! Stayed up chatting until the early years and they've organised a curry for me tomorrow night which I can't wait for! Ruth, if you're reading this, thanks for putting me in touch.

Not much doing in HK - bit of shopping, catch up with some old friends/acquaintances and I head off for China (Beijing) again on Thursday so it's an action packed couple of days!

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Some pics from TLG

This is our path, and believe it or not, there are people in this photo - look closely!



This is a classic Chinese photo 'pose' - what is it with the Vees and Chinese and photos? Looking SouthWest down Tiger Leaping Gorge. How nice is the weather?



What a view!?



I hope this doesn't collapse...

The End?

So, I made it!

After handing over more than 1500RMB to 'Mama' of Mama's guest house (no, that's not a knocking shop either!) I'm one overnight bus ticket to Ruili and one air ticket to Guangzhou better off.

This post reaches you from the town of Ruili - it's just started torrential raining here and the shop across teh street has blacked out, so not sure how far I'll get with this...

Ruili, a 'has been' border town with Burma. Has been the best place to mix with gangsters, trade in Green Gold (Jade), hard drugs, gambling and prostitution. Now about all that remains are the hookers (none of which I've seen yet, but arriving here at 07.00, they must've had a pretty bad night to still be 'open for business' if you'll pardon the pun). Tonight doesn't look any better for them given the weather!

So, I took an 18hour sleeper BUS from Lijiang to Ruili. It was actually better than I thought. The best way I can describe it is as a mobile prison (but a nice one) - silver bars everywhere to stop one rolling around, and the bus doesn't have seats, just individual berths. It's three berths across with two walkways and about six or seven deep (long). You can lie down fully or prop yourself up on the pillow and duvet provided atop the soft matress for a seat.

Views our of Lijian were amazing as we came through the hills (we must've taken a different route in, as that journey was unremarkable). Three hours saw us back to Dali where grandad had visited and a stop for dinner. I get pointed in the direction of a street and given the chinese sign for eating (it's not the knife and fork action you'd do at home, rather a hold the bowl in the left hand and chopsticks in the right type mime) so after a wander, I'm invited to join two of my fellow travellers for dinner. Very kind of them and they ordered so much food for two women! They wouldn't let me pay and didn't speak english, but it's that sort of hospitality that I think is really nice of the chinese - would that happen in England?

Dusk saw us driving into the rolling hills and I slept surprisingly well, waking up only at Baoshan (another stop for grandad) in the middle of the night and then again, 10 minutes before rolling into Ruili.

Today saw a pointless taxi ride out to a hostel and guidebook recommended hostel that's now just a pile of rubble, so I decided to chance it and hopped on the local minibus to the border town of Wanding. This IS where the official crossing is and where grandad would've crossed too. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about getting here (and was having a bit of an emotional downer on the bus last night too - what's the point? What have I achieved? etc) but on arrival it was great. The place isn't special particularly (it's just a bridge across a 20m wide river with a load of official buildings on the China side!) but it's special to me. I didn't cross (but I thought about it) and there's a place further downstream where I filmed the locals just wading across after rolling their trousers/local burmese sarong type garments up. I felt elated to have made it here and have enjoyed recreating a trip that my ancestors travelled in much harder, harsher times. I did it in five weeks, about the same amount of time as grandad, but I had four days at the TLG and was sightseeing, whereas he was with his buddies and travelling across a much worse infrastructure than I have been privvy to.

The two countries have changed almost beyond recognition since those days, but the scenery is the same and this has taken my breath away. It's funny he was in the navy as it's the seas and waters that have felt the most 'real' places for me. We can build so much on land, knock buildings down, lay freeways through mountain tunnels and erect skyscrapers, but it's those rivers he crossed and travelled, those same seas he sailed where I have felt closest to him.

I'm glad I've made this trip. I've had ups and downs, laughs and homesickness too - all emotions he would've experienced, but I guess his were in more extreme circumstances. I feel I've made some discoveries of the places he saw and also some blind wanderings in places that have changed beyond recognition. I feel closer to him yes, and I wish he was still alive as I have so many questions I'd love to ask him! It's taught me more about making the most of life when you have the chance, and to listen to people when they talk. Really listen.

I wish I'd video'd grandad on that day in the summer when he told me his life story, and had known more and been more interested than a normal 15yr old grandson that day back in 1993. I've opened a can of worms now and have so many more questions now that I've scratched the surface a little.

So, is it the end?

Are you kidding? Contacting any surviving members is now my number one priority as soon as I get back and then there's the trip back out here in 2009. Add to that the RAS journal, the book, the movie etc, and I think I'm going to be quite busy for a few years to come yet!

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Next day was a three hour bus journey to Lijiang, north of Dali. It's not on Grandad's route, but it's an amazing town and also the start off point for the trek down the Tiger Leaping Gorge (so named, because a bloke chasing a tiger made it leap across the gorge - yeah, right, as if!).

Lijian is more touristy than Dali, but it's bigger and more attractive. The architecture here is amazing and the old town is a maze of cobbled streets that all look the same. It's impossible not to get lost (despite the purchase of a map) and I take a wander the first night after checking into Mama's guesthouse. It's more like a mad-house, all run by this woman that barks her 'Chinglish' at you and you can't help but lover her.

The next morning I'm up early for another three hour minivan trip to the gorge. To be difficult I want to start at the far end (the gorge runs along a north east axis) and to walk in a south west direction. I'm in the car with two Londoners funnily enough - Neil, who's tattooed pretty much everywhere and Luke, who looks like Neil from the Young Ones. We're about to set off and Mama bundles a bemused looking Canadian (Kaitlin) into the car too - "but I want to go with my friend" she says to Mama - " No matter, you all go Gorge" she says.

The drive is unremarkable and we enter from the southern end of the Gorge. Kaitlin decides not to wait at this end on her own for the other bus to turn up also means I've got a trekking parther, which I'm much happier about. Neil and Luke are just exploring the lower path (which is basically a semi-metalled road) along the bottom. After a quick power lunch at Tina's Guest house, we're off up the hill and what a slog - sweating again - and I'm lucky as the sun has come out, the skys clear and the views amazing! It's a steep hard climb, but then levels out and the path winds in and out of the spurs of the gorge with some of the most amazing views I've ever seen. There's a buddhist temple along the way (quite how they built that there is another amazing feat of hard labour and design) and a refreshing waterfall before reaching Halfway House. It's more like a hotel and is really nice. I check into a great room (more like a hotel) with views overlooking the gorge. The owner - 'Freddie' looks younger than his 43 years and I can see why - he runs an amazing place and has lived in the gorge all his life. He reminds me of a Chinese Michael Palin, which is a little ironic as I think this guest house (or more specifically, one of the squat toilets with a fantastic view) was featured in Palin's latest travel documentary.

You can't hear the river and rapids roaring away below you (too high up now) and the mountains opposite are snowcapped when they reveal themselves from behind the clouds. After dinner on the rooftop terrace, the clouds cleared at night to reveal the stars, slowly moving satellites and more than a couple of shooting stars. Just fantastic, and the electric blanket to warm my bed topped off an excellent day.

Had to deal with a rather large spider in the shower in the morning and then it was off early (08.30) as day two was the longer trek. Overcast and cloudy today, but the views back down the gorge are still impressive and the cooler weather is nicer. There was one long climb, but nothing too strenuous to reach the high point and amazing viewing platform before descending the '28 bends' to the next village. I was glad to have done the route this way round and not have had to climb these bends on the first day. We passed a shop in the middle of nowhere, and the owner accosts you with "Have a rest (sounds so enticing!), drink tea? Eat banana, snickers, mars, walnut? Smoke Ganja?" It seems that the hippy travellers in this neck of the woods have created quite a reputation for themselves as pot-heads. Needless to say, I declined (I want to walk off the mountain, not fly off it!) and head down to a traditional Naxi family guest house at the next village for some lunch.

It's more descending after lunch and the track gets better, leading one down past farms into the village of Qiatou (pron. Chow-toe - ironic pun huh?). Here is the spot for a well deserved cold beer and a rest at Jane's guest house before catching the bus back and a celbratory meal out in Lijiang.

So, I'm writing this in Mama's guesthouse lounge, a little hungover after post-walk celbrations and waiting for the 18 hour (!) sleeper bus to Ruili. This border town is my last stop in China, and next to the crossing at Wanding where grandad crossed into Burma (needless to say, I'm not going there) before passing into India. I'm a day behing schedule, so not too bad and should be flying back to HK on Monday now instead of Sunday, where I'm looking forward to staying with Ruth's bridesmaid Sarah, doing some washing... and being back in some form of civilisation before my week in Beijing. It's strange to think that in two weeks I'll be back in the UK (I'm really looking forward to coming home to my loved ones) and that I have recreated a respectable trace of grandad's route in just over 5 weeks. I think the bus journey will give me time to reflect on all this before my next post.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

One for you Rick...

Classic Ricky pose (I'm nowhere near this stalagtite...)



And look at how small this lady's feet are!?

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Fishing done properly

So, I arrive in Dali - the OLD Dali, except I never really feel like I've left Xiaguan (Saikuan in the diary). Journey here was kinda cool - we descended out of Kunming for such a long time - the mountains are spectacular scenery and we must've been so high up as the road drops steadily for about an hour and a half. Then it's across a plain (grandad refers to as the Muti plain, which is rice allotments as far as they eye can see) and towards the distant mountains. A slow climb back up to these and you arrive in Xiaguan - a nice looking city, except I'm not staying here. It's a bit confusing as Xiaguan is the new name for Dali. Except everyone still calls it Dali. There's also a Dali up the road, which is where I'm headed for. That's Old Dali or Dali Gucheng.

It's a pretty old town, with a wall surrounding it and impressive reconstructed gates at the four compass points.

I have a quick wander the first afternoon and am sadly unimpressed - just tourist tat in all the shops and hordes of chinese tourists wandering the main strip and side roads. I seriously consider leaving the next day.

I'm having a great breakfast with Hash Browns (god I miss them!) when Chun Fei, or 'Alfie' sits himself down and asks be to buy him a coffee. Seems like a nice guy so I oblige and he's interesting to talk to.

Turns out his brother's a fisherman - "oh really? so's mine!" I say, and the next thing I know, we're negotiating prices for a day out with him. Y130 later, and we're on the bus to his bro's house. Then a boat, probably 4m long made out of old oil drums and 5 Cormorants perched on the side. After a few yards rowing, he kicks the birds off the side and they're off! In the water, so close up they're amazingly fast. They've all got a piece of straw tied round their neck, not too tight though, so that if they catch a small fish, they can eat it. The bigger ones get stuck in their throat and after enticing them back to the boat with a sprat and grabbing them out the water (by beak, neck or wing) you simply open their beaks and out plops our lunch!

10 fish and a few Bai (local people) fishing songs later, and we're back at his bros for lunch.I have to say, I was a bit unsure about the hygiene, but they way they dissect the small carp with their chopsticks (tail off, dorsal off, pinch the meat off the top the spine, pull the head back and the rest comes out in your rice and you're left with the classic fishbone with a head attached, which the dog under the table was grateful for!

Then it's off to a local house, where I partake in a traditional tea tasting ceremony and try moon, wind, flower and snow tea - all good stuff.

Then it's up the hill in the cable car to visit some more caves with a pretty disinterested guide who can't be bothered to speak english and just points out the signs for me... Not amazing, but interesting all the same.

Back to Dali and it's a cheeky beer with Alfie to say thanks for a top day where I write this.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Chinese french fries...

They're actually really tasty and the closest thing I've had to chips over here...

Kunming

So, whilst the readers at home are getting to meet Donald (and each other), I'm in the net cafe (next to Wal-Mart!) in Kunming.

I leave for Dali tomorrow so thought I'd better drop in a quick update! Got the bus from Guiyang to here - not loads to report to be honest. Leave Guiyang (and the smell) behind and the karst scenery that surrounds the city becomes more sparse as you break through. One or two peaks close to the roadside and then it's more rice paddies and china's favourite allotment sites.

Crossed a couple of gorges, but no real treacherous hillside stuff as the road now tunnels through most of the hills. Stopped early for lunch and saw my first Chinaman using a squat toilet without a door. He didn't seem that fussed puffing away on his ciggy, but I obviously didn't hang around and left before I wretched from the (existing) smell again. Outside was the biggest dog I've ever seen. The locals have obviously managed to mate a long, black-haired alsatian (German Shepherd) with a horse - I was just glad it was tied up!

A freeway is underconstruction for the short part of the route where we went on the old road (rest of it is new freeway) and we descended one side of a gorge before climbing up the other. This was something else, as across the top were two huge suspension wires spanning hundreds of metres across the top. There's no road there yet, just a few monumental pillars (easily 200 feet high) and these massive cables. I've no idea how they got the cables, or how they're going to get the actual road across...

Into kunming and I like it here already. Lots of english spoken (good for me) and they seem to have embraced the tourists too and are friendly like Guilin. The hostel's great too. Day 1 is being shown around by Keegan (but I think I've mentioned that already?) Very little of the old Kunming exists, literally just an intersection of two streets with buildings that are falling down and also in the process of being replaced, albeit with 'traditional' architecture. Had 'across the bridge noodles' which is basically a bowl of really hot chicken broth, you scrape your ingredients into it and the hot water cooks them... Chicken soup - ta da!

Day 2 and I hook up with Matty (female) and Philip (two American's I bump into at the bus station, trying to organise a trip like me) for the Stone forest. En-route, the driver manages to wangle another Y140 out of us and adds in a trip to Jiuxiang - gorge and cave network. This is our first stop.

OMFG! The gorge is awesome - looks like something straight out of Indiana Jones - the walls are straight up out of the water, which has a 15m marker scraped into the wall and it's a step back in history. Until you reach the ford that is which is like a mini version of the Thames flood barrier. Then it's into the caves and these are breathtaking. You've got your ususal 'guess the shape' and the chinese sure have a vivid imagination when it comes to naming some of their rocks, but Rick I've got a cracking photo for you mate (the old 'finger on the top of the object' shot) and some amazing video too. you descend a gorge, and the walls get higher and closer together at the top until they form the cave (named the Bat Cave - seriously) instead. Then it's off on a wander among dodgy neon lights (but they do make he formations stand out) and next to underground waterfalls and rivers. The circular holes are my favourite (ooh, er missus) - created by a whirlpool and a smaller stone, the look like they're made by man, not nature. A cable car back up to the top sees us back in the car park and on our way to our original destination - the stone forest.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, I was expecting it to be similar to the pinnacles in WA - not at all. They're sandstone and yellow and small, these are enormous, made from hard rock and are much closer together. Eroded by millions of years of water pouring over them, we leave the main path and descend into some claustrophobic places, tight squeezes and 'one at a time' cracks to make it up to the top (via a very precariously balanced piece - on all fours here) for a photo at lotus flower peak. The view from the top is even better. It really is magical and I'll post a photo or two when I get the chance. We're still on paths, but it's not for the faint hearted, or fat, or people who don't like heights, rock climbing or a feeling of danger (though they had carved steps and handholds into the rock for you...)

We reached the viewing pagoda, highest point in the centre of the park at sunset, and it was magical - no shouting chinese, crap music blaring through mobile phones or small women hocking up a huge grolly to spoil things, but it only left us with 20minutes of daylight, so we made our way back to the car, where happy f*cker tried to tap us out of anoher Y120 for the road toll (otherwise we'd get back at 11PM he threatened). 21.30 and we roll into Kunming via the old road for free, so he can shove his toll.

A cold beer on the veranda and I take Philip and Matty to the night market for dinner as we're all starving. "Erm, we've kinda been on a Western kick" says Maddie when I ask her what she wants - admittedly, I find this a little strange given her chinese roots and the fact she lives and studies here and they've also been on the road for three weeks, so I order a plate of maggots for them - nothing like jumping in at the deep end! The food here is great; fresh, cooked well, no bones and is all really tasty - including the maggots "Mmmm, they're just like french fries!" exclaims Phillip, scooping up another load in his chopsticks - I couldn't agree more.

Bit of a chill out day the next day, visit the Kunming museum of history and whilst all in all it's pretty unimpressive, the fact they've got a Yunnanosauras and Sheczuanosauras (which look remarkably like two dinosaurs I've seen in the museum of Natural history) the guide there is convinced they're unique to the two areas. I wonder if I could discover a Bexleyosauras or a NewElthamadactyl if I dug deep enough!? I take the discoveries with a pinch of salt, but they've got some excellent other objects, stones and wooden carvings on display.

The guide (Nina) is very helpful and also shows me round the local 1200year old temple as well. There's a platform covering a cave with two dragons in it and the central pagoda is surrounded by walkways and a huge pond. People put fish and terrapins as an offering to Buddah into this pond, and it's then that I notice it. A small terrapin stands out from the rest because of a funny marking on its back. I zoom in and some joker has only painted it up - it's got a picture of the disney character 'Tweety Pie' (you know the yellow bird) with the text I thought I saw a puddy cat!? across its back. Made me chuckle, but I'm not sure the locals will get it and my Grandmother will be distraght - imagine the shock, horror if that happened to Farthing Nan!?

Kunming is important as it's the start/end (depending on which way you're going) of the old Burma road. Not much to look at now I'm afraid (just another 8 lane slow road Dick) covered with buses and ready for much more traffic than is on it, but I catch some video of it and it's back to the hostel to make plans for the trip to Dali.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Dragon's Cave, Huangguoshu falls

Early doors for the tour and I'm picked up from the hotel lobby at 06.30 by my no-english tour guide. I decide to call him Kevin - he's a bit chubby and looks like a Kevin, so Kevin it is (no offence to any Kevins reading this BTW).

First stop is a random Buddhist temple. I'm sure it was very interesting for the natives, but it was all just chinese to me... Second stop was a sales pitch job at the 'middle of nowhere' health food shop. Everything contained peanuts, so that ruled things out for me and I decided against the 'dried goose gizzard' or 'finest cattle intestine'.

We start towards the Dragon's Cave, but get turned back by an oncoming coach - apparently it's flooded and closed due to the recent heavy rains - oh dear. Next stop is a random falls, very wide and the output of this thing is amazing - some of the viewing area is closed off because of the high water levels and I get spoken at by this guy from Singapore, but it's nice to speak some english as opposed to be mute all day. It's about this time, that I become the attraction and I'm grabbed by the locals to pose for pictures with them (I thought the falls were supposed to be the attraction?) but it's all done in good fun.

I get chatting to 'Tin Tin' and her sister and they're also befriended by a woman from Wenchuan (earthquake area) who is almost embarrasingly grateful when I show her my 'I donated to the earthquake' card that I got given at the donation stand. It's really humbling and sad to hear her stories.

Next it's on to Asia's biggest waterfall - Huangguoshu falls. You pass through a lovely bonsai garden and descend through a forest where it slowly begins to rain from the trees... You can hear the falls in the distance and then you emerge on to the viewing platform - amazing. They're in full effect, 80m high, 110 wide and absolutely storming from the recent rains. I can't stress how massive they are. The amount of water this thing is kicking out is amazing, and the spray created is like being in a shower - heavy drizzle approaches from everywhere and it's not long before you're soaked. There's a suspension bridge over the river (Dad, you would NOT have liked that at all) and sadly the closest viewing platform is closed of because of the flooding - which is understandable when I see the torrent of water coming down the stairs leading up to it.

The bus crew kick up a bit of a stink as we can't visit the village of Anshun as planned because of the flooding which is visible from the freeway past it. Kevin gets busy on the mobile trying to sort us out refunds (even with no chinese, I get the gist of all this) and we head back to the Dragon's cave. It's deserted, and we head in to the park. There's a bridge over the worryingly fast flowing river and at this falls, whilst it's much smaller, the output is no less impressive as we can get much closer to it - across the bridge and the spray from this one is just ridiculous - you're soaked in two seconds. The cave is flooded so we can't tour it by boat (which I'm kinda grateful for) and after the poor views at the backbone rice terraces and the restrictions today, I haven't had the most successful couple of days sightseeing!

I get some money back for the part of the tour which was unavailable (which was a bonus I guess) and we roll back into town at 20.00. TinTin helps me sort out a bus ticket to Kunming and hit the street stalls for some grub - the potato chips dusted in chilli are undercooked - the rice cake patties are flavourless too so it all goes to a homeless dude who's grateful. KFC it is, where I'm served by the most camp, slow and meticulous fast food worker I've ever seen. He should've been in a haute cuisine restaurant, not a fast food place.

Not much doing the next day - I spend the morning buying a bus ticket (trust me, it takes all morning finding things out and settling the deal) and the afternoon sightseeing in the local park - more hills for me to climb... but the views over Guiyang are impressive.

I've changed rooms to the 17th floor (I can't stand the smell any longer!) for my last night here and eat on the street stalls for dinner. It's cooked in about 30seconds in a wok over a flame that looks like it's straight out the back of Harrier jumpjet (seriously, NASA would be proud of this thing) and I've now definitely eaten tripe and intestine...

So, I'm now in Kunming and I like it already - been on the piss last night, beers for Y3 (that's 22pence - ha!) at the street BBQ where we had chilli crickets. Been on here for ages, so Kunming's gonna be another update.

Guiyang (Kwei-Ang in the old diaries)

So, got the sleeper train from Guilin to Guiyang - left at 16.00 so I got to see some of the sites, particularly as it passed through LiuChow [Liuzhou] (if my memory serves me correctly) and was also the same stint that Grandad did by train. Me + 1 in my berth - not a word of english, but we did manage to have an interesting conversation using his laptop & wireless connection and two pages from google translation services (english to chinese and vice-versa). Crashed out at 22.30 and woke with a start at 08.30 - a combination of eye mask, ear plugs and tunnels (so the carriage was dark) meant I'd completely slept through him leaving at an earlier stop which was a bit worrying, but all was well (nothing nicked) and the guards are pretty good at looking after each of their own carrriages, and she'd locked the door again after he'd left.
Scenery on leaving Guilin was pretty much as grandad described it to be honest. First we started through the karst hills that surroung Guilin. These really are impressive, rising vertically to great hights out of seemingly nowhere and surrounded by flat plains all the time. All this flat land is cultivated and the best way I can describe it is, as a massive collection of allotments. Except most of these ones are flooded/irrigated and are growing rice or other crops that need a lot of water. So, the hills begin to thin out, the land gets flatter and views longer until the haze gets in the way and dusk falls.
Arrival in to Guiyang was unremarkable to be honest, the city just seems to rear up in the distance and then you're surrounded by it. Grandad remarks later on in his diary that [Chinese City] is no different from any other Chinese City he's seen and to be honest I have to agree... Taxi to the youth hostel and I check in to my own twin room for Y128, but there's a dodgy smell (Geronimites, you'll recognise it as when the drains kick up at work)- the porter puts on the extractor fan, so I guess that will fix it right? WRONG!

Guilin stinks! I go out for a stroll and to get away from the stench I visit the river. After encountering several U.F.A's (Unidentified Foreign Smells) on the way there, the river's no better. It's a murky grey colour, there are several suspect looking floating black lumps and a worrying amount of bubbles rising to the surface from the riverbed. Stench city. Guiyang is a bit too big to stroll around easily, the roads too busy to hire a bicycle for and to be honest, I can't see the attraction.

Now, it was about this point that I begin to get a combination of travel fatigue/the blues/homesickness (call it what you will) and start asking questions of 'why am I doing this? what's the point if all the places have changed? etc. Travelling solo can be tryin at the best of times, let alone in a country where the language is SO different and so little english is spoken. So, if you're reading this, drop me an email/call on my mobile (see a previous post) as it would be nice to hear from you! PS I'm glad to report the blues have disappeared now and after a session on the beers last night (2am finish) with a couple of american guys and two dutch girls, I'm back on track!

Hit Pizza Hut for some comfort food and booked myself on to a tour to the Dragon's Cave and Huangguoshu falls (the biggest in asia)!

Ages

Sorry it's been so long! Not through choice though, as I simply haven't had access to the internet since Guilin, and lots of travelling in-between. I have found a cheeky little way to bypass those pesky chinese website banners and I've been able to view my blog - how interesting, even if I do say so myself! I'm in Kunming now, lots to update you on, so I'll do that in another couple of manageable (sp?) posts...

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Guilin (Kwei-Lin in the old days)

So, the beaty of Guilin. It's surrounded by two wide rivers and is bascially built on the old river flood plain - a wide flat area surrounded by mountains. The Geology out here is amazing - if any of you are into rocks, come and have a shufty. Guilin is really nice, lots of english speakingj (which is very handy for me!) and it just feels different from the other Chinese places I've visited. They've all felt a bit too communist still - dull grey buildings, high rise office blocks and all very industrious. Here is different, here has kicked back a gear and people actually enjoy life.

So, I'm breakfasted and hotelled up and I go exploring and found out what Guilin is famed for - its outstanding natural beauty. One of the sites (and there are varying reports where, in the old diaries) has been described as a 'rock forest'. Now, I've visited the 'Pinnacles' in Western Australia (google earth that, actually, should look pretty cool!) and I would describe that as a rock forest (limestone columns as wide as a man, but from 2-10 metres tall) but not the Guilin surrounding area. Sure, it's beautiful, but the scenenry here is more like something out of a James Bond movie - giant rock hills, with vertical sides, coming straight out of nowhere. The best way I can describe it is as Rock Sharks fins sticking up. Anyway, after a sweaty climb up the VERY steep 'solitary beauty peak' (does that need any more explaining? - it's on it's own in the middle of town) I get to see the whole panorama of Guilin - amazing.

I visit the CRAP Guilin museum in the hope to see their Guilin History exhibit which is shut. This made it even more crap. Then I head back into town and search for ages for an internet cafe and write an update you've already read. I'm on the way back and get accosted by this old scrubber on one of the benches nearby for "massagey?"
"No thanks love"
"Good massage, special massage!"
I play the ignore her card...
"You want sex?"
"What!?" I can't help but blurt out in astonishment
"Sex?" - Now she's the one looking at me confused.
"Erm, no thanks, don't think the Mrs would be too happy..." - I'm still shocked
"No, you come (that's the whole idea I thought?) - Lookey, lookey, young girl"
"No!"
"Just look!?"
"No!"
She was almost as bad as the 'copy watch' sellers in Hong Kong, except their goods are probably better quality and more expensive. I refrain from telling her to F-off (an international way to break down relations - funny how many people can't speak english, but DO understand this) and keep on strolling by.

Next day is a big one for me. I wake up (alone!) and head off to the 7 star park which houses the 7 star cave funnily enough - a place that grandad visted and also Duncan and Donald used as an air raid shelter during the war. The caves were said to house 300,000 which I thought was a bit far fetched until I was inside - they're huge! Much more vast than chislehurst caves and they're pretty big. So, the guide is cheesey, intermittently flicking on multicoloured lights to point out a peach, a cucumber, a dragon's head or an old man playing chess - you get the picture - I didn't. The park is fun to explore, right in the middle of all these peaks and I bicycled there BTW - what a new experience! Im taller on my bike than the locals and if they were unsure about what to do on the road at the best of times, just put a westerner on their infrastructure - they can't get out the way quick enough!

So, the park is good, the caves are a welcome relief to the temperature outside at a cool something-teen degrees celcius but I'm me and I have to climb up the two viewpoints. I thought solitary beauty peak was bad, but these were something else!

Oh, I forgot to mention here that this was after lunch. I headed for the busy place where the locals go. You choose your uncooked miniature shish kebab, I opted for all kinds of meat (I seriously wouldn't doubt if I'd eaten dog by now), some chinese leaf and other vegetables just to be healthy. Then they deep fry them (good job I chose the healthy veg...), drizzle them in chilli sauce (the real 'mouse-shit' deal with seeds and everything) and serve them up. It was actually a new experience to have my cheeks sweating. Not just my top lip, nose, forhead and lower eye sockets, as is standard - that's all happened before, but my actual fleshy cheeks were sweating. Seriously, I was so hot, my sweat was sweating!

Back to the park and the peaks, they're pretty cool (to experience, not climb!) and you're greeted by the tellytubbies as you walk through the entrace - no I don't know why either.. The first peak is called 'embracing moon peak' - I tell you now, nothing would've wanted to embrace me at that moment... Then it was off to the even higher 'star picking peak' which afforded the best views over Guilin. Halfway up, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of two monkeys grooming each other. Amazing stuff and I've got some really good footage - check out Richard Hide's website (see right) and my page on that site. Hopefully technology will allow me a miracle this end... I was about an arms length away from one of the monkeys at the closest point - really amazing stuff when you see them behaving naturally and even more amazing is the way they just leap around on the rocks. It's like they're almost weightless or attached to strings...

Then it's dusk, high speed pedal (and that's faster than most of the motorbikes here too) back to the youth hostel for a refreshing cold shower and out to watch the cheesey but - Wes, you would've loved it - entertaining 'Waterfall show' nightly at 20.30.
Now, I wasted the evening before perched on a rock on the edge of the lake out the front of the waterfall hotel expecting a 'waterfall show' - I'm thinking fountains, music, lights, you know the sort of stuff. But from 20.15-20.45 nothing happens, I curse myself for not getting a better spot and think I've missed it because the tour boats have parked up and are in the way... WRONG! I'm perched there again the next night, prime position this time, nobody there. This is wrong. I read the book properly it's on the north side of the hotel, not the lake, so I walk round the back of the waterfall hotel. If some of the signs here are misleading, the aptly named hotel is not. There's a pool, lights, fountain spouts and a stepped hotel facade adding to my excitement which I can hardly contain and then it starts. Water simply cascades off the roof of the 20 storey hotel and into this pool. That's it. There's a soundtrack of Chinese Pop music, the special effects are when a bloke on the roof runs from left to right and back again creating a wave effect down the side of the building a couple of times and bosh. Done. Cleanest hotel windows in the world. Crap show. It's so cheesey, but I love it. Wes, you've got to come here to see it - right up your street.

So, the night's disappeared again. I've been in here for god knows how long (it's dark inside, with no windows) and I've still got to tell you about today and 'The Dragon's back bone rice terraces, the long haired women (they only cut it once when they're 18) and the 'Long Wang Kee' (say it - can't wait to shop there!) shopping mall.

Actually, I can probably do that in a paragraph:
Dragon's backbone rice terraces - world famous, look like real life contours on a hill (3 peakers will know all about that) and farm rice. Weather was abysmal, views would've been amazing, but were only mediocre. Interesting to visit all the same.
Long Haired women - does what it says on the tin. Reaches the floor easily. The minors keep it wrapped up and if you see it down then you're supposed to 'stay there and marry them' said the guide. Blogging this is evidence I didn't see any 'under-age hair'... They wash it with rice water. It's in pretty good nick and is shiny and black. They only cut it once when they're 18 as a rite of passage and they wear bright pink outfits too.


Off to the shopping mall it is!

En-route!

So, as you'll gather, I'm in Guilin (google earth it) which is kind of a nice city. It reminds me a little of a northern city in Thailand called Chiang Mai (let me know if any of you have been there) as it's surrounded by water (except these are rivers, not moats).

But, as usual I'm going to have to back track a bit again.
Duncan and Yieyung decided to come to the station to see me off and let me fend for myself! That started out as a mare as I'd been given duff information about train departures (I was told they were regular to Shaoguan). It was midday and the next one didn't leave until 17.58! Not waiting that long, we checked out the bus route, but the weather was lousy, I don't really trust the roads and I'd have to go to Guangzhou (the county capital) and change there. Decided I'd rather travel there by train so I managed to get on the next 2hr express there. Said a hurried goodbye to my hosts for the last week which was too quick to be sad, but I missed them instantly.

Then in Guangzhou, I arrived at a station across town from where I needed to depart from... I managed the underground across town myself with no real difficulties, but owing to the duff info I'd received before, decided to call in at CTS. By the time I'd finished there, it was gone 6, so I decided to stay the night and explored a little of the capital. There's a really cool Island on the river to the south which was an old colonial (French had the east, we had the west) place. Grabbed a disappointing 'very hot' (said the menu) chilli con carne, which was not hot and rather too sweet for my liking. The weather was pissing down, so I grabbed a sherbert home. Not lots to report on Guangzhou.

Up early doors for the 07.40 (it's just like being at work!) train to Shaoguan, with the intention of arriving at 10.00 and getting the 16.00 to the next town, leaving th bag in left luggate. We arrived at 11.00...

The train journey was entertaining though, as the official 'touts' complete with tie and epaulettes try their hardest to sell their wares. I bought a gyroscope for Y10 (70p!). I nearly bought three pairs of 100% polyester socks off him too as his practical and hilarious demonstration would have even the most cynical punter thinking they were designed for NASA. He got one of the passengers to hold the toe end, he the other, and then violently attacked said outstretched sock with a wire brush before demonstrating in just how perfect condition they were afterwards too. I can now swear in chinese (well, swear at a sock) but thought I'd better stick with my own instead.

So, after a round of applause for having bought a "U.F.O." which was "Oh, Velly Good! Velly Good!", I became quite the attraction on the train and three people started talking to me to practice their english, including the guy oposite me 'John'.

Turns out John's a Shaoguan born and bred and he phones a mate to help me find the church where the escape party stayed. It's still there, and as luck would have it, we also met a lady letting herself into the church. She put me in touch with the english speaking Pastor Agnes, who tells me it's been on the same site since the 1920s, became an amalgamation of the American, Canadian and English (amongst others) Missions, stopped in the cultural revolution of 1960-80 (roughly) and was rebuilt in 1995. They've a congregation of 1000+ and do services in Cantonese and Mandarin. Fantastic stuff! I've succumbed to the fact that nothing is going to look as it did then. China has moved on and rebuilt so much after their wars and then internal revolution. I know the churches in the UK are very old and most of them probably pre-date 1940, but that's just not the case here sadly. Then I grabbed lunch with John - proper Shaoguan dishes. I had no idea what I was eating, but i didn't really take to the pork ribs (more bone, less meat) dusted in coconut... Bit of an explore around the city, and I didn't find the floating brothel they all stayed in (after it was cleared out of it's normal residents of course!) but did find a floating restaurant along the river - Rich, I bet it's the same site...

Then it was back to the staition for the 19.00 sleeper that I'd decided to book in stead of try and rush around Shaoguan in just 3 hours.

4 berth cabin with a bloke that spoke about as much English as I did Mandarin, but it turns out he's in steel. Not much else happening, the buffet car was shut from 21.00 to 22.00 when I was hungry, so it's crackers, pate, bovril (thanks for the tip jenny!) and a banana for dinner and was knackered, so just crashed instead.

Rolled in to Guilin at 07.00 and straight off the platform and into the CITS (China International Travel Service) which is funny, because most of them don't speak english... This one did however and 'David' sorted me out with a hotel before trying to sell me a trip. It was too early to buy a trip, and I only booked for one night, then we also grabbed breakfast - the Guilin speciality - rice noodles - quite tasty, completely non-nutricious (sp?) as they've been blanched in water so long, there's not much left!

I've got to update you Guilin, but I'll do that in a new post - this one's rambled on long enough already.

Observations

'Chicken Bits' is a perfectly acceptable dish to appear on a menu. Ask no questions, they'll tell you no lies, and 'bits' is exactly what you'll get! Bones, gristle, skin, marrow - the lot. It's kinda annoying as you have to really bite and nibble to get anything resembling meat off the bones and then just spit them out noisily on the table as the locals do. Then you're left with a mouthful of strands between your teeth and go on search for a toothpick.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Road Trip II

So, I've been incommunicado for a few days - not through choice, just too busy to grab 2 hours to check emails, update the blog.

I'm in Guilin and writing this from a windowless, underground internet cafe with literally hundreds of chongs in here 'gaming' - all of them. It's an amazing sight.

Back a bit though. Duncan woke up on Monday and suggested we hire the car again to go to Huizhou and then on to Longchuan. Genius idea! Saves me doing an almost pointless return trip to Huizhou to hand over the photos to the priest and I get their company for another day. So, we went back to the church, met the minister again and presented the past pastor So Kum Young with a high res glossy paper pic of the famous waichow photo (see mwadui.com) as well as a pic of me and grandad (on this site) and also one that we took when we went to see him originally. Tim, Alison, if you make it to Huizhou, see if he's still got them - we wrote inscriptions/explanations on the back.

Then it's through all these tiny little back town villages to get onto the 'coastal' road alongside the east river. We travel through tiny town after town before reaching the end of the road and having to cross by ferry. Woolwich ferry it ain't! 3 cars max and on the other side at Guan Yam Kok (how it sounds, not how it's spelt!) is a buddhist temple (well 3 small ones) that Chan Chak prayed in apparently. This was one of their stopping places for the night. Getting the ferry was great - a real crude affair (basically they just ram the bank and drop the gangplank!) and it was the closest I was going to get to a boat up this river. It's exactly how grandad describes it - very wide (up to 500m at parts) shallow (with sand banks everywhere) and slowly meandering - no wonder they were going so slow in a boat loaded to the hilt with men and stores and going up river on a coal engine...

One weird thing happened on the way - we're stuch in traffic in one of the towns and at 14.28, exactly a week after the earthquake there's a three minutes silence, except it's not silent, it's noisy - every one is blaring their horns - bells on bikes, scooters the lot. The people were silent, the atmosphere wasn't - kinda strange and didn't feel particularly respectful to me to be honest, but hey, that's their way.

Another thing that made me laugh was the local motorbike taxi drivers. So the weather's grotty - drizzly rain all day and they've got these giant purple ponchos that they don- complete with clear front so they can drape it over their lights and handlebars at the front and the lights shine through and then they attach a rainbow coloured golf umbrella to the front of the bike, but it's not a normal circular umbrella, it's got a tail to shield the passenger. Then put this dude in motion, with miners helmet (that's their crash helmet's here) to top it all off and I felt like penelope pitstop was going to whizz past at any minute. It properly looked like something out of the whacky racers.

Time is our enemy again and we only make it to the half way city of Hengyang before night falls. We grab quick noodles here and then start back on the freeway - one guy pulled out infront of us which was near suicide, no lights, no indicators, nonchalantly as you like and no apologies after our driver had to screech to a halt.

2 hours has flown by again, and lots more to update you on, but not enough time as usual. I'll try and get on again tomorrow.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Uncle Russ

Heh, the Colfe's boys are gonna love this...

Pictures and Videos

Are now available, (courtesy of the fantastic Richard Hide) on his website at http://www.mwadui.com/HongKong/RussPicks.htm

Thanks Rich!

PS Bear with us both as getting them there is a time consuming process!

Dinner Party

Sat night saw us having a dinner party at Duncan's. Really great atmosphere and it is clear he is loved by his extended family.

His niece Nancy turned up first, followed by Shirley, her husband King, her parents, her other friend Nancy and a workmate Eric. In addition to Duncan, I, Yiuyeng had her work cut out cooking for 10 people!

All good fun. Wes, you would've loved Shirley's old man - kept sneaking out for a crafty fag every 20 minutes, hair all over the place like a mad woman's, and he'd just get up and leave the table every now and again to catch some of the badminton in the middle of the meal. Didn't give a monkeys. Spoke the most english he'd ever spoken that night.

I was making them laugh with the '3 second rule' about dropping a piece of food on the table and it being ok, if you pick it up quickly (ie within 3 seconds). This turned hysterical when I told them about the 10 second rule ('see 3 second rule'), which applies if you're not quick enough for the 3 second rule.

I think they thought it was very strange! They also thought it weird that we just chucked away chicken and gooses feet (instead of eating them) and didn't spit out our waste food. I guess being able to chop off the fat, bones and gristle with a knife and fork before eating isn't an option with chopsticks.

All in all, it was a lovely evening. I belive the family unit here in China is stronger than it is in the UK, and it was nice to be welcomed into a Chinaman's home and be integrated with his family. They were genuinely nice people and made me feel welcome. Above all, I feel priviledged and honoured to be welcomed into Duncan's home, to have him as my kind, patient and generous host (not to mention room-mate!)for nearly a week and for him to involve me in his every-day life too.

The food was great (subtle flavours) and a real mixture of stuff (including Coca Cola chicken wings!). We also ordered a spicy chicken platter from the place we went to for breakfast and left overs are for lunch today (Sunday) when Duncan wakes up from his nap in his massage chair and Yieyung from her siesta! It's very hot and muggy today, so not much doing.

China Mobile

Yo, got mobiled up in China:

My no. from the UK is 00 86 15814 797476

But please DON'T call me between 17.00 and midnight UK time - I'll probaby be asleep!

Friday, 16 May 2008

Road Trip - Nan'ao to Huizhou

So, you've heard about the driving - that gives you some idea of what it was like INSIDE the car, but what about when we stopped?

Well, It took us about an hour to get from Shenzen to Nan ao - the beach where they landed in China.

You can clearly see the small island of Ping Chau (West island) about 500m off the coast which is actually still in Hong Kong waters and you can day trip there at weekends. I might try to do this when I get back to HK. It's a protected national park so should be pretty undisturbed.

Nan ao is now a major holiday destination for Chinese nationals. There are hundreds of hotel rooms available and it's now spread out over several bays and artificial beaches, which made it very difficult to guess which one they landed on... The harbour there has always been in the same place, but again, that was newly built and it was very difficult to find anything that resembled the 'old town'.

We stopped for brunch at one of the many fish restaurants there and enjoyed the fresh catch - all alive in bowls outside, so you just choose, point at and weigh want you want - delicious! Dad, you'd love it.

Then it was back up the coast to Wong Mei Chi/Wong Mei Hoi where they stayed for the night. No barns here now, but quite a few hotels - again another built up area.

We did manage to find the temple (we think) they slept in on the second night - it has been there 500 years and is the only one in the area... Then it was back on the back roads to the next town. Throughout the whole route, I was amazed to see just how built up everything was. At no point did I feel remote, or away from civilisation. The roads were always lined with industrial units, houses, offices or shops and it was non-stop like this all the way which is more than a little disappointing.

Probably the only thing that hasn't changed are the hills (give or take the tunnels bored through them for the roads), and the terrain was similar to that of HK. They're not massively high (2000' max), but very steep sided and covered in thick vegetation. The paths on the hills were probably marginally better in those days due to a higher traffic becasue of fewer roads, but I still wouldn't want to walk up them with my life on my back! Tim, Alison, you're definitely going to have your work cut out of you're going cross-country...

After the temple, it was back in the 4x4, with stops at (map names) Wong Mei Chi, Dapeng, Pingshan, Tam Sui, Huiyang, Qiuchang, Xinxu and Zhenlong before reaching our final destination of Huizhou.

Even Donald and Duncan were having trouble with the dialect and I would say that in less than 150km, the accent begins to change.

We managed to find a couple of schools, official buildings and temples on the way, that are mentioned in various diaries, but with the towns as large as they are and the development that has occured since, we really needed one of the original team (or a local old person with a good memory!) to pinpoint locations...

We crossed the two rivers that grandad talks about and can see why they would've had to have got soaking wet. They're both a good 10m across at least.

We stopped in Huizhou for a late lunch and sent the driver (a northern chinese, who was shorter than the twins, but properly stocky and complete with a flat-top, you wouldn't pick a fight with) on his way to find the 'American Mission', the hospital and the old pier.

He came back trumps. The old pier is now a modern viewpoint across the bay (as the only boats up river to Longchuan are now cargo boats) and the hospotal is a big modern affair around the corner from that.

As we approached the 'Church of Huizhou' on the pedestrianised strip, a lady was letting herself in. We got chatting and she invited us in. For those of you with a vested interest in visiting this place, the address is (bear with me here!) Huizhuo Shi, Huizhin District, 6 Chong San West Road.


We couldn't believe our luck. Upstairs was the retired priest, a 95 year old Chinaman, who remembers the escape party coming in! He was around 27 at the time and helped to provide, food, shelter and medical care to the men, to my grandad! Absolutely amazing, great to meet him and Duncan and I have printed off some photos as a memento and gift to him with a message.


L to R, Duncan Chan, Rev. So Kum Young, Donald Chan, Me, Rev. Wong Yuk Wa (current minister) and Shirley Chan (F).

After a quick look around Huizhou, it was back to Shenzen to say goodbye to Donald (who's off to the UK!) and then back to Duncan's for a late bowl of soup and a welcome bed!

A top day, and I wish I could've communicated with him more. Tim, Alison, let's hope he's got another 7 months left in him and I hope you get to meet him too (look out for the photos we presented him). As Colin was based there for a while, he may have a better recollection of him...

China Road Rules

Big road trip today - got back late so will write up tomorrow, but in a nutshell - did Nanao where they landed, the towns in between and managed to find the American Mission (read Church of Waichow) in Huizhou, a 95 year old priest who remembers it like yesterday - amazing! (Dick, Tim, I've got some great footage for you both!)

Today I've mostly learnt the chinese highway code:
1) Drive slowly - especially if you're in the fast overtaking lane. The slower the better. So slow that you get overtaken by the cars in the slow lane.
2) There are three lanes;
i) The over taking lane - drive slowly!
ii) The main driving lane - drive slower or undertake in this lane.
iii) The second driving lane- STOP. Reverse if you've missed your stop (we did). Set up a market stall. Driving towards the oncoming motorway traffic is completely acceptable, especially on two wheels, mechanised or not. Feel free to conduct 3 point turns.
3) No lights - Particularly if you're wearing black, on an unlit street, riding a pushbike in the 'fast' lane. Drive slowly in the fast lane.
4) Right of Way and Give Way are alien concepts - the only right of way is if you are in-front of someone. You all have right of way, all 6 billion of you. Feel free to stop, push in, move into a gap, 6" longer (preferably shorter) than your car in fast (slow) moving traffic. Turn, brake, stop where you like - especially if it is a surprise to surrounding traffic. If you are hit, it is the hitters fault and not yours. Especially if you have cut them up and they have run into the back/side/front of you.
5) Road markings are irrelevant - Pretty, but irrelevant. Ignore them or drive over them to try and erase them. They are not guidelines and under no circumstances should you try and stay within the lines, especially the 'no cross' line in the central reservation.
6) Don't change gear - Try to pull away in third and only downshift to second on near vertical hill starts. 1st gear is for parking. Once you have reached 5th gear, under no circumstances change gear until your car has completely stopped and been shut down. If you change down, your fuel consumption will go through the roof and your car is liable to burst into flames or drive very slowly.
7) Drive Slowly
8) Your hand-brake is actually a hand-rest.Don't break your hand trying to pull it.
9) Did we mention to drive slowly?
10) Pavements - (see 1). They're actually for driving, not walking.
*NB The two wheel rule - if you are on two wheels, none of the above count. Do your own thing and try to drive in a straight line to your destination from everywhere, particularly across busy intersections. This counts if they're motorised, pedal power or if you can manage to get your car on two wheels. You have right of way over everyone, including pedestrians at legal crossings on a green man. Under no circumstances use any lights and also drive your two wheeler in near silence.

PS Please drive slowly

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Planning Chinese style

So, I've crossed the border and am settling into Shenzen nicely. I can see HK across the river from D's apartment, but as the sign says, no u-turns! I've kicked Duncan into a planning frenzy and he's been highlighting part of his dad's perfectly handwritten diary (that Donald gave me) in chinese and has got his nurse acting as secretary (cause of much complaining too BTW). Effectively (Tim, Alison, Richard - you'll be especially interested in this!) we've been planning in detail the route from Nanao to Waichow and are now set to take a six seater 4x4 tomorrow on quite a detailed tour. I'll make sure we get it all transcribed and sent through (Tim, Alison - I think I've got some good maps for you too...) as soon as we return. So, stepping back a bit. Last night I went out with Shirley (Duncan's recently married great-grand niece) and her best friend Nancy. We never made it to the tall building as Duncan told them (I think they made this up) that I wanted to go shopping(!?). We hit their 'Oxford street' and headed straight for 'selfridges'. Same old shit, different city and all at London prices, so we swerved that one and went to the night market instead. Shopping is not the best sport for me as I've got to carry everything I own, so refrained and we headed off to the korean BBQ restaurant instead. Got the fright of my life on the way there when the girls burst into screams which made me jump and then a split second later a massive rat ran across my left foot, just as I jumped and catapulted it (mind racing thinking I've just flicked this thing further up my body/into the air to land in my mouth or on my head ) which made me jump even more - I think I screamed more than them!? Korean BBQ was great. We ate everything (Duck, lamb, beef, chicken, prawns, vegetable slices and pork) and then sides too. It was delicious and nice to get decent cuts of meat and know it's cooked properly (sent some mega snotty eggs back the other day). Shirley must have hollow legs. She's <5' and packed away more than me - amazing! We had lunch with a Mr Chow who's sorting out our transport (a 6 seater 4x4) for the Nanao - Huizhou part of the trip. I'm a bit frustrated as I didn't especially want to do this part in great detail, and spend so long here, but feel it's better to be safe than sorry (only a fool rushes in - see Chezza, I do listen!) and have decided to chill a little. I'm aiming to leave Shenzen on Sunday/Monday next week now. and have also planned a good itinerary. As luck would have it, Duncan's next door neighbour popped round this a.m (a divorcee who wanted some photos scanning in and putting on the net - attn all single chinese 40+ men out there) and it so happens that her son works for China Travel Services, so we accosted him this afternoon and he's set to work on the Huizhou to Burma part of the trip - no mean feat I can tell you! My spirits rose higher when Donald confirmed he's coming to join us on the trip and Shirley has managed to get a day off work on Friday too - a right little party! I'm hosting (read buying) dinner for 16(!) people at Donald's place (luckily, I'm not cooking) on Saturday night too - his place is about the same size as mine, so you (those of you that have been there) can imaging what that's going to be like! So, Donald's arrived and we're all off on our road trip tomorrow. It's great to see the brothers together - they remind me of Stevie and I, except they're twins, and I can imagine the banter between them... I bought dinner for them tonight (sushi restaurant again) - 12 quid for the three of us - ha! People were still in the pool on they way home at 9 and the line dance class was rocking again! We've got an early start tomorrow at 0800 for a 12hour day and quite a detailed route to follow. We can't follow it exactly (we'll be in a car confined to roads, and the original party was on foot in a straight line) but we've got a pretty good idea from the Barker, McEwan and Chak diaries! Expect some pictures in my next post. And on that note, here's a bit of a vid of Ap Lei Chau where it all started from. The built up apartments are now on reclaimed land and it was this spot that I believe the escape started from. Enjoy... (but now I'm not sure it's loaded...)

Comments

Thanks to those of you for adding comments to the various posts. I can't read them here, so I look forward to catching up on them when I get back!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

I know you can hear me

Thanks for letting me know (you know who you are) that you can still read my new posts on the blog, even though I can't. It's a weird feeling to think I can write, but can't read and I guess just another example of the freedoms that Chinese people don't enjoy unfortunately. I hope my blog hasn't been singled out and that it's a blanket ban...

So, A little more about China. Funny place - you check out of HK under the 'visitors' desk and then cross no mans land, which is a bridge over the river to the China border. At the end of the bridge, there are two signs; NO PHOTOS which was ironic because that's exactly what I wanted to do to the second sign; NO U-TURNS. There you are invited (pointed) to check-in under a banner entitled 'foreign'. There are green, yellow and red buttons to rate your experience. Happy fcuker on the desk would've been lucky to get a yellow, but I decided it best not to press anything...

I'm met by Duncan on arrival which I was grateful for, and (only) saw two other white girls with rather worried looks on their faces - exactly what I would've had if it hadn't been for D.

We get to his place - a collection of 30+ floor tower blocks - imagine the Barbican, but about two or three times as many towers and that's the residential type of structure, we're in! There's a line dancing class taking place in the open square in the middle of the structure - very funny just to turn up and watch 60 or so women doing their thing in time with the 'step, kick, heel - step, kick, toe' type music.

I'm also amazed at just how clean everything is considering how many people live here in such a small place (and this isn't even the centre or the main residential area) there must at least be a million people here. If this was the case in London, it would be trashed in a week, vandalism, litter and graffitti everywhere - we really need to sort the UK out in terms of our attitude to looking after our home, country, property and the way we behave. They might be different, but they're setting an example over here.

Food quality is crap though - knuckles, fish bones, gristle - the lot in most of the meals I've eaten and that's pretty standard in quite posh looking restaurants... I ate geeses feet today (OK - bit crunchy, but you spit those bits out) I'm sure there's more of that to come!

Right, off out sightseeing with some of Duncan's rellies... Just been told we're going to the tallest tower (Empire) in Shenzen...

Lunch

I ate geeses feet for lunch today.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Censored?

So, I've just tried to view the photos and edit a post on my blog, but it seems I am able to post, but not to read it...

Can some of you lovely readers with my email address let me know if you can see this and/or the post recent post entitled 'I'm in!' along with a pic of me and Dondald?

I can write but I can't read if that makes sense!?

I'm in!

Folks, I've crossed the border, over the bridge at the end of the underground line and past the (I've forgotten where my cheek muscles that make me smile) chinese border guard, breezing through customs with a bottle of whisky for my host, and into arrivals to meet Donald and his live-in nurse Yueyueng. I'm writing this post-dinner from Duncan's apartment of the 23rd floor of a block in Shenzen. He's been very kind and has offered to put me up for a night or two before we depart.

But let's take a step back. Today was fantastic - I met the other Chan brother, Donald, his wife Mason and their fantastic daughter Lindsey, and grandson Danny. They were fresh of the plane from Perth, Australia, yet were kind enough to invite me to their immaculate flat, also in the mid-levels (I've yet to meet anyone that lives anywhere else!). We dined at their daughter's house to a lovely meal of fish, noodles, rice and vegetables all prepared by their live-in (Fillipino I think?) helpers.

Then it was back to Donalds where he showed me some real gems - Richard, prepare to get jealous!
I've seen Andrew Chan Chak's KCB/KBE (Knight Commander of the British Empire) medal (this made him a 'Sir'), the bullet on the gold chain that remained in his arm for the first few days of the escape, his pocket watch and his original beautifully hand written diary/account of the escape. Of course the latter is all in Cantonese, but I'm in the process of hopefully transcribing some of it with Duncan...

So, to bring it to life:
1) Donald and I


2)The medals and bullet


3) And finally, a typical page from Sir Andrew Chan Chak's diary


Now all I've got to do is get the twin brothers Chan together in the same place at the same time with me - no mean feat I can tell you!

PS I've been told in no uncertain terms by my host and hostess that "your Mandarin is terrible" - guess I'll just have to point and act... I'll be a mime expert on my return.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Lunch?



Or too much?

Museums

I've done a lot of them; here's a quick praisee:
Museum of Coastal defence - Great! Really brings it to life. You can see the mainland, imagine the japs coming over, see damage from bullets and grenades and wander the bunkers and secret tunnels. The static displays are informative too and it doesn't just concentrate on WWII. They've been kicking off with Japan for many years before and since.

Maritime Museum - based in Stanley in Murray House, a building that was originally in Victoria City (now renamed Central) it was moved in its entirity to the coastal town. It's still got war damage (repaired) from the fighting and now houses the above. The models are fantastic (Jay, they're even better than your grandad's boat!) and I also learnt where the phrase 'pieces of eight' comes from - the mexican silver coins that were 8 'reales'.

Musuem of History - OK, but I'm a bit museumed out by now as you can imagine. Lots of good stuff on HK's history geologically (basically all hell broke loose) and some interesting 'taking you back' ot the 'good old days' of empire, the Jap invasion and appalling ensuing three years 8 months up to the handover of 1997. Thatcher negotiated that 'nothing would change in HK' for the next fifty years, but the Government here seem decidely cagey about what their plans are for the future. It's a shame as I can't help but feel we helped them to make HK the great city it is today... Oh well, at least they're not speaking Russian or Portugese (or Japanese for that matter!)

Back track a bit

So, I've missed out a day in, (and because of) my busy schedule - diary (blog) keeping isn't an easy thing, no wonder there's no entries in grandad's diary during the worst days of the fighting!

Is it wrong that I had a massive Macca's breakfast? Two hash browns, a sausage and egg mc muffin with what can only be described as a disappointing 'shot' of OJ. Exactly the same as back home, except the burger was a bit neater and actually looked like it did in the photograph!

Went to Cathay Pacific and actioned the full refund on the extortionate full fare return ticket that I had to buy to get here... No problems there so that put a smile on my face :)

Then it was over to HK University to meet up with Peter Cunich and Tim Ko. The former is a history professor there who Bruce Macnamara put me in touch with and the latter is a graduate and published author on the subject, writing an excellent book (with a fellow called Jason Wordie) on the battle and war sites of HK island. They did a big survey back in the 70s of all the sites, batteries etc and have loads of great photos in their book 'Ruins of War'.

Peter and Tim were two of the most interested, and interesting people I've spoken to so far. They're massively knowledgable on the subject and were also genuinely interested in what I was doing (that's not to say that all the other people I've met haven't been - they have!) which was nice seeing as I'd only just met them. Tim has since helped me out with some fantastic aerial photographs of areas I'm looking at. A really helpful couple of guys and I look forward to their help in the future.

Went back to Big Johns for dinner (because I felt guilty about breakfast) and then headed down to the promenade to watch the festival of lights. A nightly occurrence bang on 8pm where they blare out cheesey chinese style classical music and all the lights on the skyscrapers across the water light up in patterns in time (very roughly) with the music. It's the same festival I missed that I'd bought my ticket for and it was kinda fun. The energy consumption and light pollution must be atrocious though - I thought London was bad, but this is something else. The best bit was when the double decker ferry that had parked up in the harbour to watch the show had its view obscured by this absolutely enormous, 25 floor ocean cruiser that sailed past just at the crucial moment. It looked so comical and I can imagine the yelling of the people on the boat now, completely unheard of by the captain 23 levels or so above them.

Aerial photos of Ap Lei Chau


So, went to the Ap Lei Chau photographic exhibition today (also Buddha's birthday, so happy birthday Buddha) of aerial and other photographs taken of ap lei chau over the ages. It was only a small set up under a couple of gazebos outside a small temple, but for me - absolutely amazing.

Pretty sure I saw a photo which showed up Pill Box 12 just off of Brick Hill as well. This is the one that shot the Admiral through the arm and would've also fired at the MTBs too...

Hopefully gonna get a copy when I return to HK from the mapping dept.