Friday, March 31, 2006

Backpacker's mecca

We're now in Yangshuo. It's about 65km south of Guilin which is famous for it's limestone peaks. Yangshuo is known as a great place for backpackers to hang out and relax. The main street here is suitably called 'Foreigner's street'. It's packed with American style bars and restaurants, outdoor stores and many souvenir stores. Almost everyone speaks English here.

Despite all that, there is actually some very nice scenery in the area. It's a small enough town to walk through and the town itself is surrounded by many peaks. It's very beautiful. Unfortunately, it's raining today and looks like it might be for the days to come. We were hoping to rent a bike and take a ride out to the rice fields and the nearby peaks but we'll have to see if the weather takes a turn for the better.

Arriving in town at night yesterday was difficult though. We didn't expect to arrive after dark and had problems finding our accomodations. Luckily, we were warned about the touts who would be waiting for us at the bus station. We were with a Swedish guy we met in Guangzhou who came out with us to Yangshuo and being Swedish, he's easy to spot. The minute we got off, a guy approached us and would not leave. He tried to sell various hostels but also contradicted himself by saying one was terrible. I was trying to get rid of him and just started walking down this street. Unfortunately we walked for a bit down the wrong street but managed to loose him after a long while. We managed to find a girl who helped us find our way back to the main area with my almost non-existent mandarin. We found out later from our hostel that if you follow the touts, they take you to their area where they demand all your cash. Gotta keep your wits about here.

Our room here is pretty decent. We ended up getting a private room here as they are so cheap! Our window looks out onto a nice big peak too!

Can you possibly honk any more???

Our bus ride to Yangshuo started out to be quite nice. It was a fairly new comfy plush bus. Then the 2nd driver got behind the wheel AND we found out what we thought was a 7.5 hour journey was actually more like 10.5. If it was a direct route, it is 334kms from Guangzhou to Yangshuo.

We thought we were lucky enough to get seats close to the front since our last bus ride at the back was very bumpy. This time we realized you see and hear way more than you want to at the front. Holy smokes... this guy absolutely loved his horn (and trust us, this was no dinky little horn, it was a more like a GET OUT OF MY WAY kinda horn). Yep.. and we heard everyone one, loud and clear.

This is an example of how he would use his horn. As you know by now, the highways or streets are never empty. So let's say on our journey, you saw some moving object every 200 metres. This guy would start honking about 100 metres before we get to that object and then maybe 50 metres after that... almost continously. Sometimes, I don't even know what he's honking at.. I see maybe some guy on the OTHER side of the road minding his own business and he would honk. Seriously guy, what's your problem?

And then ... there's the passing scenarios. We're on single lane highways or roads for the most part and continously passing because these mack trucks don't go pass first gear here (or so it seems). Think they follow the passing lines here? No would be the right answer. They pass whenever they think it's safe (which is always). So here we are on a blind corner and this guy is passing this 18 wheeler. Great. And guess what we see on the other lane coming towards us? Yep! Another big truck! So this bus which has passed about half of the truck by now brakes tries to get behind the truck again. Just makes it as the oncoming truck passes us. Many many close calls like that. Amazing we made it here alive. It's not like they pass quickly either.. they get in the oncoming traffic lane and take their sweet old time passing. Dude, the gas pedal is on the right, accelerate!! Trust us, we would have taken the train here if we could have. Unfortunately, we'll have to take another bus out of here but it should only be an hour or two (we hope).

Despite all the frustrations, the scenery from the bus was nice. Some bus shots, not the greatest but does the job.

Shamian Island: Little Europe

A couple days behind in the blogging ... didn't touch a computer for 5 days! What a record. Oh, posted new photos in a couple of the older blogs as well.

Anyways, we took a train into Guangzhou from Shantou and that was not as much fun as hoped. We could only get hard seat tickets and ended up being crammed into a car with all the locals. Fun in a way since we got to experience it the local way but got tiring after a few hours. At least a whole bunch got off about half way through the trip and we could stretch out a little.

In Guangzhou, we stayed in the southern part of the city on Shamian Island for 4 days. Now this was an interesting little island. We swore we were not in China. There was European architecture, there were no crowds, the air was clean, and there were many westerners! How did we leave China so quickly! Also an odd site too because there were many western couples pushing strollers with chinese babies. Yep, you guessed it, this is where everyone who wanted to adopt chinese babies had to stay for a month. It was quite surreal.

We thought, because it was a break from the real China, it was a great place to relax and unwind. It was sunny everyday and it was quiet. Ahhhhh..... We found this awesome park in the morning by the water. We walked in and first saw a whole bunch of people playing chinese hackey sack! Then we walked further and saw a small group dancing to music; to the left, elders playing mahjong; further left, a taichi class; closer to the water, women practicing some sort of martial art with swords; and finally close to the water, a bunch of couples doing the waltz, fox trot, etc with music blaring! It was totally awesome! And this was a Tuesday morning! It felt like a big party at 10 am in the morning. This was my kinda place.

The rest of the island was also very nice. There is a huge garden in the middle called Friendship Garden where they had many interesting sculptures. The one posted is of the evolution of the Chinese woman.

Too bad our accomodations weren't up to par with the rest of the island. Of course we did stay at the cheapest place possible. Suprisingly, the dorm was pretty much full each night!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Can you tell where we are?

Just checking to see if our map has been updated. We think it is but can't check on this computer (missing flash). Let us know if it's working!!

Journey through the past ...

We had a whirlwind tour through my family tree on my mom's side Saturday morning. First started out with a visit to a memorial site of our ancestors. (photo on the right)

Then we went to visit the partially demolished house built by the money sent by my grandfather. (photo below). Next in line was a visit to my great grandparent's house and then we ended with the house where my grandmother was born (Yes .. we finally found it!).

It was a really quick tour but very very interesting to see where my ancestors are from. I'm really glad we took this journey and so grateful that my mom could show us this.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Rain, rain, go away ...

It's been raining fo 2 days straight now... lovely weather we're getting. I had to buy an extra pair of pants since living on two was quite trying. Since the weather has been so absolutely wonderful, we decided to skip a trip out of town today and went for a stroll around Ang Po (town my relatives live in, about 15 minutes away from Shantou) instead, especially since all the mountains are cloud covered anyways.

The stroll was nice though, we went looking for the house my grandmother was born in. It is located in a district within Ang Po called Waiwen. It was quite amusing as we didn't have an address and my uncles and mom were going by memory. Needless to say, we didn't find it. The excursion itself was interesting though as this district had a super small town mentality. We were the excitement of the day. Everyone wanted to know what we were looking for. We had many locals try and help us find the place to no avail unfortunately. I did get photos of a couple potentials houses.. they're all over a hundred years old.

Other than that, we've still been eating a LOT. My body can't handle all this eating. I know I shouldn't complain and I'm very grateful but it's just too much for me. Ended up not feeling so well today and had to rest for the rest of the afternoon. The food in this district is a little different. Much more fried stuff (not my personal favs) . Oh .. and we saw many live chickens which we dutifully stayed away from. We also saw a guy skinning live snakes in front of the restaurant we ate in. Mmmmm..mmmm.. good.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Onto Shantou

Just arrived in Shantou today. Long and bumpy bus ride from Dongguan. Managed to get through the bus station without losing anything! Apparently Dongguan is notorious for bag snatching. My second cousin warned us and made sure we didn't carry any bags out when we went walking around town. None of them do. Apparently it happens all the time there.

I forgot to mention in the previous post that Dongguan is an excellent example of China changing very quickly. Just 2 years ago, Dongguan was a little city with little to show. Now, it has the second largest government area in Asia (next to Tianamen). It's very impressive. It's too bad I didn't have my camera with me then. The buildings are grand, very grand and all very futuristic. On Saturday nights, they also have a synchronized fountain show with music. Quite impressive. Puts our little one spout fountain in the Eaton Centre to shame.

Everything here in China is grand. If you're rich, you show it.

Here in Shantou (my grandparent's 'village' from my mom's side), we're staying with another one of my mom's cousins. Yet another 4 storey house with marble floors. It's crazy! 6 bedroom house with 6 washrooms to match. How are we seriously supposed go live in dingy hostels after this kind of treatment! I'm looking forward seeing the house my grandfather sent money back to build... or what remains of it at least. They're tearing a lot of the older areas down to build highways.

Photo from a temple we visited near Shantou.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


We've been in Dongguan visiting my mom's cousin and his family for the last 3 days. It's been quite hectic. They've been kind enough to take us everywhere and have fed us very very well.

Since we've been here, we've been to Humen to visit the grounds of the Opium war (photo to the right) where they had an anti-drug exhibit within the Sea Battle museum. It was an interesting exhibit .. lots of propoganda. We also went to ZhaoQing (where Ian's dad is from). Very scenic area. Dinghu Mountain where it's praised as the "Natural Oxygen Bar", a nearby temple where my mom and her cousin prayed, and the Seven Star Crags Park surrounded by 7 limestone peaks.

The trip to ZhaoQing was quite the experience. My uncle (mom's cousin) has a personal driver who drove the 2 hours to ZhaoQing. Apparently, he didn't sleep much the night before because he was totally falling asleep at the wheel on the highway. Nice. I was freaking out! I can't believe Ian stayed calm through it all. Somehow, he managed to get us all there in one piece. My uncle then told him to sleep in the car while we visited the sites :)

Once we reached Dinghu Mountain, we were welcomed with baracades and women yelling at us from the sidewalks. Found out later that we had to eat at the nearby restaurant in order to gain access to the Mountain. And those women yelling, they were all tour guides wanting to take us around. So guess what, we ended up getting one and I didn't understand anything she was saying :).

The lunch at the restaurant was interesting though, ended up eating frog's legs and turtles.. they were actually quite tasty! We've also had Hakka and Mongolian food in the short while we've been in Dongguan. LOTS of good food! Interestingly as well, we've been put into private rooms at most restaurants with TVs! I think it's a way to show wealth and status around here... and you guys thought we wouldn't be eating well ;)

The first 24 hours ...

Woo hoo ... we're in China! We've been here for about 3 days now but here's my experience within the first 24 hours in China. Man oh man... were we in for a treat. Getting in wasn't too bad. It could have been worse. We were luckier than the guy who was left behind by the bus driver because he didn't feel like waiting! No questions asked at the crossing, it was smooth sailing. Then the fun started ...
  1. People, cars, buses, bikes, motorcycles, vans, trucks, EVERYTHING ... everywhere. We thought we've seen bad in Rome, Malaysia and Ian in Mexico, but this beats it all. It is total chaos!There are people walking across highways,standing/sitting/squatting on the medians,vehicles driving the wrong way,people getting onto motorcycles in the middle of the road ... holy crap.
  2. Then there are the scooters and bikes; whole families on them! Mothers hanging onto babies with no pant bottoms in the back of a scooter while dad is driving. No helmets of course. And these little vehicles are used to trasnport everything and anything from trees to mattresses. Very impressive. Oh yes, and then there are these motorcycle taxis you can hire. Interesting ...
  3. Tiled exteriors on buildlings for easy cleaning. Imagine the work it would take to lay all those tiles!
  4. Cigarette packets for sale in candy vending machines.
  5. Saluting security guards for condo buildings.
  6. And the best one of all ... chicken feet on the go. I like chicken feet and all but this is pushing it. Yummm...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Leaving HK...

Last day in HK... It's been a good week. Managed (for the most part) to adapt to the new time zone.

We ate a LOT this week. We have been spoiled silly by Ian's family here. How are we supposed to survive on dumplings when we've had 5 meals a day for the last week?

My impressions of HK this second time around are actually quite different. For some reason, it doesn't seem quite as congested. Mind you though, the skyscrapers are abundant, even more so than before. And yes, the pollution has not changed one bit. But it is a little more scenic than I remember as well.

We went to this little village by the beach called Shek-O for thai food. It was absolutely wonderful. Awesome little nook in HK, never would have known a place like that could exist here. I think the tallest 'building' in the area is 2 storeys. Quite the contrast to the 60 storey buildings everywhere in HK. The houses in the village are tightly situated together with winding little paths throughout. Appears to be quite safe as doors are left open for all. The houses are made up of a combination of old and new, very interesting. Interesting too though because many of the old are quite contemporary on the inside. It's also a little odd because the population doesn't appear to the small village type, looks like many of the rich are there as well. We see Bentleys, Merces, Beemers, etc. Of course, if you have a car in HK, it'll be a nice one. If we're back in the HK sometime, I would love to spend a few days there. Very relaxing.

Here's a photo from Kowloon facing HK island ... very muggy day.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

From the other side of the world ...

We've arrived in HK and have been getting adjusted to the time difference the last 2 days. It's cold here! Not a good thing when you only have 2 pairs of pants :P. Aren't I going to smell nice soon!

All has gone fairly well so far. There was a slight scare checking in when we were questioned about not having an onward or return ticket. We explained our situation and thankfully, they let us board. Thought we were going to have to purchase a return ticket on the spot there! phew.

We'll be heading into Dongguan in a couple days. Trying to figure out how to get there right now but it's looking like the bus is the best option. My mom is meeting us here in HK in a couple days and we'll be heading into China with her then to visit relatives. Looking forward to it.

I think I hit my 'Holy shit' moment on the airplane ride here. Got super nervous and super scared at the same time. Now that we're here, that's all passed. I can't wait to get started on this trip!!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The night before ...

Holy Crap ... it's the night before we leave. This is actually happening!! I can't believe it, it's still quite surreal.

We managed to stay up till about 4:30 last night with the help of some very good friends. And finally, I managed to sleep in for once! Tonight, we'll see if we can do the all nighter thing so we can sleep once we get on our flight to speed up the adjustment to the time difference.

Suprisingly, it was sad leaving our apartment today. Even though it was just a year, we've had so many good memories in it. Sigh... and it's been very difficult saying good bye to everyone. I'm just not very good at them. I'm going to miss everyone terribly. Do write and let us know what's going on here!!

The next blog will be from the other side of the world... take care all!!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

2 more days!!!

Man, I can't believe we're leaving in less than 2 days! Still so surreal. Once in a while I'll think about it and get a rush of emotions. Everything from excitement to fear hits me at once. It's a little insane.

We've been living on next to nothing for the last few days after moving everything we had left to storage. It's quite the sight. We have our camping mats, sleeping bags and yeah, that's about it. Worse than student living I tell ya.

Finally managed to do a pack test tonight. Thank goodness everything fit. :P The pack doesn't feel too heavy - maybe 25 pounds? Of course I haven't been carrying it around for long so I may be tossing things out as I go along.

Right now, I'm just tired and very glad most of the logistics are done with. Soon, we can just start exploring!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Little Spaz

Poor poor Spazzy. It's been trying finding this little guy a new home. Not sure what it is but we're thinking a combination of being a black cat with a name like Spaz didn't go over well with many. We should rename him something like Zen... maybe that'll help. He is a little crazy at times but such a sweet sweet cat with such an awesome personality. Poor little fella.

It's not a sad story in the end though. We were lucky enough to have friends who would take him in for the time we'll be gone. I'm at rest knowing he is in a good home. We know he'll be well loved there, we just hope he'll come out of his hiding spot soon enough.

This was taken this morning before we brought him over to their place. He loves jumping into boxes but this was the first time he found his way into a bag!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Death of the floppies

While packing up this week, I ran into over 50 of my old floppies from the U days. I went through each to see if there was anything worthwhile in them.

Some pretty amusing stuff I tell ya. Some old e-mails, disks and disks of anecdotes (why did I keep them?), old reports... Entropy (fun), but I did find very old games that fit on a floppy! Arkanoid, Blockout, Tetris (ok I know I'm dating myself).

Anyways, very glad to see them go. Never a pack rat and little did I know, I was a closet floppy pack rat. No more! On to 100GB PSDs now!

Monday, March 06, 2006

We've got the greatest friends in the world!

The most wonderful, touching, and unexpected thing happened to us tonight. Our friends surprised us with an awesome going away party. We were clueless.. we thought we were having jerk chicken tonight! Ah, this is much much better than jerk chicken :)

To all our friends, you guys are a fantastic bunch and we're really going to miss you. How are we going to train your stand ins in to be such great friends? They've got big shoes to fill! Really, you guys have really touched our hearts and we're so very grateful to be blessed with your friendship.

Thank you all! ... and don't forget... ZANZIBAR!!