Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Guangzhou- Chengdu

It may sound utter madness but the train we were so excited about getting the tickets for was actually a 30 hour journey. We had decided to plump for soft sleeper though which meant we each had a bunk bed in a 4-person carriage. We got to the station bright and early as we rightly figured it would take some time to find the right train etc., it was completely frenetic and a delicious way of inserting ourselves into China... Finding the right train we settled into our cabin which we shared with a young man, nameless sadly! Not much more to report other than the train journey was actually quite fun! There was a dining carriage next door to us where we went and sat down for lunch and dinner, both of which were really tasty, British rail could learn a thing or two from the Chinese I reckon. We managed to pass the time with games of shit head (in a mammoth battle Adam came from behind to win 12 games to 11*), sleeping, reading, eating.... and before we knew it we were in Chengdu.

We managed to get a taxi straight to a very cool hostel called the Loft. Even though I had been there only a day or so it was already interesting to note the changes which had occurred in China since the five years I had been there last. Chengdu for starters seemed much more modern. Lots of incredibly smartly dressed attractive women wandering about and designer shops, and swanky tourist joints... We began our evening walking to the Peoples Park where we rented a little boat on a lake in a highly kamp fashion, and wandered about taking it all in. Old ladies were doing tai chi, groups of people were sitting together playing musical instruments and singing, and many people milled about all over the place. The Chinese clearly enjoy spending time outside just hanging out, no doubt aided by lovely warm weather which we had. We then spent a couple of hours wandering through the city centre and the main square before getting a bit lost and heading back to the Loft. After sorting out our travel arrangements for the following day we decided to go for dinner.... Initially we were looking for a restaurant we had seen earlier, but we couldn't find it and were pretty disorientated, which was a good thing as we ended up finding an outdoor Sichuan hot pot restaurant. Yum yum yum! You basically have a giant wok filled with spicy oil and you order various things to put into it. Much humour evolved with me attempting to order and fortunately I managed to stop the Mama in charge giving us offal and instead we had squid, pork and a selection of veggies.... it was delicious.

The Real Deal

The next day, with slightly sore heads, we headed by train to Guangzhou. Only slip up was me listening to Adam that we could walk to the station, the reality being an hour long walk with rucksack in blazing heat through parts of the docks where I can assume several triads burial sites lie! Not great on a hangover but we got there in the end! I felt excited about going to China “for real” but also really nervous. I have sporadically studied Chinese for an embarrassing amount of years but spent little time on it in the last couple, and yet here I was, about to be the main communicator in a country I remembered being difficult to navigate last time round. Could I man up to the task I wondered?

First task when we arrived in Guangzhou was to try and buy some overnight train tickets to Chengdu for the next day. Bizarrely both the guidebook and my friend Wendy (who is from Guangzhou) said to purchase tickets from the Guangzhou East station we were arriving in, even though we would be travelling from a different station, because this was apparently easier.

Getting off the train I think we were both excited, but I was also bricking it to be honest. Upon entering China officially we were temperature tested via a laser gun which was a bizarre experience, or as Adam said “this is when they start controlling your thoughts”... oh the communist humour you can come up with...!

Anyway, I digress. So... I managed to tackle the ticket booth which was exactly as imagined, fairly incomprehensible. However I did manage to pull the language out of the bag and get us two tickets. It wasn't until I got back to Adam that we realised it wasn't the train we wanted, it instead went from Guangzhou East and took a further 16 hours!! As tempted as I was to just assume this was our fate and leave then and there, Adam persuaded me to have faith in my abilities and go back. Sweating buckets and slightly shaking I did manage to get through and achieve my mission! So we ended up with two soft-sleeper tickets for the next morning on the train we wanted. I was very glad I had gone back as it bolstered my confidence which no doubt helped going forward.

We then headed into Guangzhou proper and found a hotel near the station we were leaving from. I mentioned my friend Wendy earlier, who is from Guangzhou... we had chatted and I had arranged to meet up with her Brother and his wife for dinner, Kevin and Nicole (I am afraid I am not able to write their Chinese names- rubbish I know!!). K and H very kindly came to collect us from our hotel and took us to one of their favourite Cantonese restaurants. It was extremely interesting to say the least! We started off with four different soups, one was snake! N explained that the focus of Cantonese cooking is on healing, and therefore medicinal ingredients are often included and they eat a lot of vegetables. N also explained that noodles are generally eaten in the north, and rice in the south of China. After the soups we had dishes of pigeons (heads still on and everything!) tofu, and lots of vegetables. It was fascinating because we would never have been able to walk into that restaurant on our own and order those foods... not in a million years! We were also in a private room (I think this is a popular way to eat in china) which was a definite novelty for Adam and I.

Sadly the battery on my camera had died so I did not manage to get any photos of K and H- a definite regret! After dinner they drove us around Guangzhou to various sites so that Adam could get an idea of what it is like, they were extremely welcoming and generous so thanks v much for putting us in touch Wendy!!

Hong Kong Part Deux

Right, now where was I?!

Ah... Hong Kong... Wondrous HK!

We spent a total of five days in HK, doing the usual tourist thing... We got a boat to Lantau (nearby island) and went on a hike, it was a bit rubbish if I confess and I take full responsibility for choosing one which seemed to set us off in an expat holiday resort, but it was ok... nice to see a different side.

We also went for drinks in one of HK's highest bars, mixing with the HK elite ha ha! This was a welcome enjoyment after rather annoyingly not been allowed into high tea at the peninsula for wearing flip flops! They obviously didn't recognise the newly bought Khmer designer dress but hey ho what could I do...

On our last night we went to Happy Valley racing which had been the whole reason we had stayed so long in HK... It was so much fun!!! Having been to Sha-tin previously and winning I had convinced myself that I would not win anything but this was fortunately not the case! The whole experience asides from winning was brilliant, the stadium itself is bang in the middle of Hong Kong so surrounded by skyscrapers, and it looks amazing. It is also unbelievably cheap, less than a pound to get in! And for once we were able to get cheap beers which we of course utilised to the full. Out of 8 races I won three and placed in two....Adam won one and placed in five so between the two of us we did well and definitely came out well up on what we had had... an extremely fun night all in all, finished with cocktails in a couple of Hong Kongs supposed hottest bars....Horse racing is my new favourite sport! Next stop Grand National....

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I wanna go Kowloon side...

What can I say...I LOVE THIS PLACE!!!! Hong Kong is my absolute favourite city in the world, and it was made doubly exciting by the fact that I was meeting Adam at the Airport, having flown in from London.

We are staying on the edge of Kowloon, next to the Peninsula tee hee, and the city is every bit as spectacular as I remember...

Highlights so far:

- Dim sum every day... especially good at a teahouse where everyone was Chinese and it was served by ladies with a trolley!

- Accidentally walking into the 8,000 people demonstration against the Chinese Communist Party! That's right folks, we've managed to come on the eve of the 20 year anniversary of Tiananmen Square disaster!

Bus ride to Stanley with views all over the Island

View from the Peak at night

Wandering through a park where people bring their birds out for the day

Swimming in Kowloon park

Going to a Peking restaurant and sharing a whole duck. yum yum fatty fatty - but it was the only option!

and just wandering about soaking it all up. It's like bitesize China, everything is manageable and there is always some helpful person around who speaks English...nice prep for the real thing in a few days!

Bangkok bound...

I feel I would be cheating to say I went to Bangkok or even Thailand...truth be told we left Phnom Penh and flew to Bangkok only to inhabit the Khao San Road for two days...

Most of the few people I know who will be reading this blog may also be glad to know that the do-gooding (slightly ott!) charitable chapter has come to a close... for now at any rate!

Leaving Cambodia I did feel a bit sad having spent quite a bit of time there... but this was immediately remedied at the prospect of meeting Faye! One of our best friends who has been living down under for the last few years... Needless to say the two days in Khao San was all about recharging the batteries, girly catch ups, cocktails, beauty treatments, and shopping for tat. Fun!

Khao San road is a weird place, it is like being at Glastonbury Festival except with slightly more Thai people. I can't decide whether I like it or hate it. Perhaps both. One day I will have to return to Bangkok and see something more of the city... for now though it was just nice to spend time with my two girlies before heading to Hong Kong. yay!