Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
We’ve been here for a couple of days now and the first thing I noticed was the absence of the humid heat that I’ve been in almost constantly since I was in northern Australia in late April. It’s warm here but it’s a dry warmth, so I don’t get tired as quickly.
We’ve explored some of the city which has a large square in the centre with a huge statue of Genghis Khan at one end.
Tomorrow we set off on a four day tour into the Bulgan province where we will travel by jeep, camel, and horse, staying with nomadic families in their gers. We’ll visit the ruins of monastry and a swan lake, and learn how to milk goats. This tour is organised through an eco-friendly organisation called Ger-to-Ger.
Monday, August 16, 2010
We’re on the K23 which left Beijing at 7.47am (on the dot) yesterday and will arrive in Ulan Bator at 1pm this afternoon. There are plenty of Westerners aboard, though they are outnumbered by Chinese and Mongolians. Some spectacular scenery of rocky mountains and valleys.
The train arrived at the border at about 10.30pm where the wheels had to be changed because the rails in Mongolia have a narrower gauge. This gave us a couple of hours in the border-town of Erlyan (on the China side) where we managed to find a restaurant that was still open -- the train food was average. After we set off again, we crossed over to the Mongolian side of the border to be checked by immigration officials. Kristen and I didn’t have our visas for Mongolia because we had read that it was possible and pretty easy to get them at the border. It turned out that we were the only passengers not to have them, so there were some stern-looking faces among the train staff as we got off the train at about 1am and walked to the office to get our visas. At first, we were told it was not possible, then possible only for five-day visas. After a few panicky moments - our Russian visas are only valid beginning August 27 so we weren’t sure what we were going to do between end of the five days and that date - the official said she would give us 15-day visas. With sighs of relief we got back on board.
I slept pretty well last night, though Kristen didn’t. The Mongolian landscape (I think it's the Gobi desert) reminds me of Canterbury - lots of dry grassy plains, but the plains are bigger. Actually, they seem almost endless.
PS: now that I've left China, I have full access to my blog again and can post the photos of China that I couldn't before. Scroll down to the 'Beijing' entry to see some photos from Shanghai.
This seems an appropriate point to make the progress of my trip so far. It’s been six months since I set off from Lyttelton. Highlights so far are the Java volcano, the Malaysian jungle-trek, and Angkor Wat. Hopefully just as many and spectacular adventures are still to come.
Friday, August 13, 2010
"The ever-popular sections of the Great Wall at Huanghuā, 60km from Beijing, have breathtaking panoramas of partially unrestored brickwork and watchtowers snaking off in two directions. There is also a refreshing absence of amusement park rides, exasperating tourist trappings and the full-on commercial mania of Bādalǐng and other tourist bottlenecks. Clinging to the hillside on either side of a reservoir, Huanghuā is a classic and well- preserved example of Ming defences with high and wide ramparts, intact parapets and sturdy beacon towers. Periodic but incomplete restoration work on the wall has left its crumbling nobility and striking authenticity largely intact, with the ramparts occasionally dissolving into rubble.
It is said that Lord Cai masterminded this section, employing meticulous quality control. Each cùn (inch) of the masonry represented one labourer's whole day's work. When the Ministry of War got wind of the extravagance, Cai was beheaded for his efforts. In spite of the trauma, his de- capitated body stood erect for three days before toppling. Years later a general judged Lord Cai's Wall to be exemplary and he was posthumously rehabilitated. The wall was much more impressive before parts of it were knocked down to provide stones for the construction of the dam.
Despite its lucrative tourist potential, the authorities have failed to wrest Huanghuā from local villagers, who have so far resisted incentives to relinquish their prized chunks of heritage.
Official on-site signs declare that it's illegal to climb here, but locals pooh-pooh the warnings and encourage travellers to visit and clamber on the wall. Fines are rarely enforced, although a theoretical risk exists."
It may be 'ever-popular' but when we went, there were not many other people there which was great. As you can see in one of the photos, we found a cat paw-print in one of the wall's stone slabs. We wondered if it is 2000 years old but much of the wall is more recently restored so it might not be.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
I'm incredibly grateful to my friend's friend in Hong Kong who did the legwork for me. He runs a bookshop so if you're ever in Hong Kong, please drop into HK Readers at 7/F, 68 Sai Yeung Choi Street South, Mongkok and consider buying something. Its website is http://www.hkreaders.com/?page_id=47
My girlfriend has arrived from NZ and we will spend a week or so exploring Beijing before starting on the Trans-Mongolian Express. Mongolian visas are relatively easy to get apparently and we will aim to cross over into Russia on 27 August.
The only difficulty that occurred was when I tried to check in to a hotel in Beijing without a passport. One hotel didn't have a problem but the next one, where we had pre-booked, would not accept me despite me having a photocopy of my passport and Chinese visa and despite several phone calls to the authorities. In the end, my girlfriend checked into the hotel alone and I 'visited' over the next couple of days until my passport came back. The first night a very officious reception staff member knocked on the door to check that I was not staying there. I hid in the bathroom. The next day my girlfriend went to reception to check-out, saying that we'd find somewhere else that would let me stay. Suddenly there was much conversation at the reception as the hotel stood to lose quite a bit of money as we had booked in for a week, the end result of which was that we stayed and the staff were a lot less adamant about making sure my 'visits' were only brief.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Much of my time in Shanghai was taken up with these visa issues and I also got sick for a couple of days. But I did see some of the sights: the Bund, West Nanjing St, Shanghai Museum, and Yuyuan Gardens. Didn't make it to the World Expo though. Even though I've bypassed the Chinese government's block on blogspot websites to post this message, the loophole doesn't seem to let me post pictures, so my photos of Shanghai will just have to be posted later, perhaps from Mongolia. They include a dog dyed pink and orange and a Ming dynasty sculpture that looks just like Kojak.