November 27th, 2010
During most of twenty ten i had the joy to go woofing on a wonderful home stay in the central natal midlands and to start my time i had a joyous three days of hitching up the east coast of south Africa with a great french min whom made the hours east of of Port Elizabeth wind on though the trans-sky and eventually into Durban where meeting my hosts it was off into the midlands a place of grandiose mountains on a miniature scale with panoramas stretching over every hill. It was in this wilderness where i had my first real experience of the home stay life style and i found it very enjoyable to see what people and there imaginations can create for them selfs.
The land was roughly divided into three valleys with one or two houses in each, every one with its own style and sprite. Living there for a few months it was delightful to see the different landscapes and people shaped and created what they had.
After seeing sunrises and sets, elands and monkeys helping with gardens, houses and firebreaks for what seemed like weeks i had to say good bye to this beautiful place and people.
February 15th, 2010
Well my time in china was finally coming to an end and at the time I was very keen for it to do this but my stingy agency had only given the minimal amount of visa so it was a rush to see the places I wanted to see. The first stop on the list was the terracotta warriors as they were only a few hours away and I had tried to see them unsuccessfully before. But first i had to deal with settling up with my agency something that wasn’t fun because after a few hours of debate on exactly what I should pay for my assistant whom I had worked with for a few months was only interested in what gift I’d give her so I gave her a hug, she was less than impressed… 30 minuets later I was on the first bus my life in my hands again ready for a new
adventure. The fist stop was Xi’an an ancient capital of China and the eastern end of the silk road and one of my preferred cities in China so after pizza and a few beers I was convinced to take a tour guide out to see the warriors something I don’t normally do but I didn’t have long in Xi’an for all i wanted to do, next morning i get picked up along with a few Frenchies from the hostel to start our tour with our charming Chinese trained tour guide, i.e. she has a script but is very nice. After the hostel we picked up one other person from a hotel whom was quite shocked that the tour would cost more if he booked it at a hotel instead of a hostel, well it wasn’t his only surprise for the day. First stop as always is one of the craft shops where they make models of the warriors and this turned out to very interesting seeing how they made the warriors as well has getting a close up look at them and all the other amazing pottery on display. There was a little pressure to buy something it wasn’t any where near what it was in Thailand, but none the less our hotel guest obliged. Before too long we were headed out to the site, what turned to be a fair distance from the Xi’an. Upon arrival we walked quite a few closed shops and joined the other tourists heading for the entrance, once in we jumped into golf cars and went to the halls. Upon entering the halls I was blown away by the scale of it a massive hall with raised walk ways around excavated pits. While we where not very close to them it was close enough to get a sense of the grandeur and history of the whole thing, with some warriors standing, some fallen, some shattered, it was truly a sight to behold and there where two more halls to go! None stood out more then the others but there was the “old farmer” who discovered the land singing books and looking rather grumpy which punctuated the history with humor.
Once we exited and went though lots more open shops where our hotel guest was shocked to see that a very similar little statue was on sale for half the price… After a quick lunch I hoped on a bus back to town, as there was more to the tour i wasn’t interested in and enjoyed a nice bus ride though the Chinese country side. Back in Xi’an I immediately found my way to the towns oldest mosque and the oldest mosque in china, dating from at least 1000 years ago i was eager to see it, though held back my excitement because of what i have seen of other Chinese monuments, i.e. not a single original brick left. But i shouldn’t of been the mosques was amazing ! the stones where only replaced when absolutely needed and you could almost feel the tread of 10′s of thousands of worshipers treading to mass, what was also amazing was the fusion of Chinese and Islamic art something i thought impossible with out one dominating, but here both seemed to live in harmony truly a sight to behold, so after hours of that i wonder slowly back to my hostel to pick up my bags and jump on the night train to Beijing.
Beijing once more, i am beginning to know this place quite well… there i go to what has become my regular hostel in Beijing Ploft a rather funky old workers factory. From Ploft I went to explore the summer palace on the way out i discovered a tragedy, i had lost my memory cards for my camera, on that was all the Xi’an photos !! o well a reason to go back, like I needed another. but not daunted it was the summer palace today and choosing the north most entrance i start and i was pleasantly surprised firstly by the fact most people didn’t seem to take this entrance and they by the frozen water way complete with royal boats frozen and waiting for the summer and royalty and i after a little while i was joyfully exploring this extensive complex full with massive read walls, integrate pagodas and all the opulence one would associate to China’s many centuries of empirical rule, upon getting to the top of the hill it was there i saw why they call this a palace, before me was a massive frozen lake surrounded by so many roofs that i had no idea if it was one complex or more buildings then i could count, well after descending the hill it was clear that the later was true the entire side of the was a complex of buildings interconnected with covered walk ways and littered with tourist, after walking though the complex i completely ignore the don’t walk on the ice sing and follow some groups of Chinese on there slippery trek to a small island complex that had some nice trees and a cool feeling being surrounded by ice, after that i found a different exit and walked in search of a subway, well may kms and Beijing suburbs later i find my a small electronics shop to get some more memory cards and finally find a subway station and it was back to the hostel for a night before catching a train to harbin.
Once in Harbin i get hopelessly lost trying to find a hostel, guess i should of keeped the flier, but eventually i figure it, thankfully before sunset as i already had five layers on. The hostel as many in china was quite cool with its own style, this one was a converted synagogue with stunning stained glass windows and tall ceilings, but the city awaited and after
doping my bags i was off explore the area round the hostel, that turned out to have a large pedestrian shopping area as well as an underground malls, but not too much of the street food i had gotten used to around Xi’an so it was back to the hostel for a snack before heading out to find the famous city of ice and snow that was just across the river so with out a map i yet again set off and as soon as i found the river i knew a map wasn’t needed, for not only could i see the reflected lights, there was a frozen river that lead right there ! Walking down the river bank i soon saw where the locals would enter the river and after a few careful steps the ice seemed to be not only solid but easy to walk on but i still followed the paths that where established and zig zaged my way towards the glow, just before sunset i found my way to the other side a little before the park but there was a way into some sort of un developed housing complex that was eery to walk through and reminded me of Seattle on the few times it snowed, though all too soon i was out the other side and the ice city was there, so in i go and wonder around and was amazed, the scale and the colours became so beautiful and enticing where I wondered around for hours on end keeping my camera under my arm pits to prolong the battery life i lost myself in the lights hours, though i did come across a very sad thing and that was a big cat circus right in the centre of the event, where large cats where keeped starving to perform for punters, but what was even worse was the Nestle branding, truly discussing and a sever damper to the night, after which i soon exited and was once again on that lovely river this time at night where i wondered alone lit by the reflection of the city i even found some ice fishing holes !
The next day it was back to Beijing for a few days short days of seeing friends and checking out the forbidden city and yet again i am amazed at the Chinese ability to fit a large thing behind a small wall after entering what on national day i thought to be the entrance i find out that its just the entrance to the front court yard that its self had two massive court yards off the side all of them large enough to have a full on parade with room for more, and then passing another gate i was finally into the forbidden city proper and right away and there yet again i was presented with a massive court yard so i went left right left and wondered all over it was fabulous! but i did get rather lost as in the maze of red walls and all to soon it was time to find my way out something that proved to be quiet a problem as the walkways both twist and turn so you can’t go in a direct line and i really didn’t want to leave but far to quickly i found the entrance i came in and before i knew it i was back at ploft for to pick up my stuff then back to Beijing central station for the overnight train to Guangzhou where i just had enough time to eat 6 plates of dumplings before catching an air asia flight to kl and thus left china, for the time being…
December 20th, 2009
Perhaps the most famous single Buddhists school in the world is the Shaolin temple of china, for not only its major historical role but its sizable inclusion in pop culture, from Television, to kung-fu movies, to chart topping DnB tracks its unique mix of marital arts school and Buddhists monastery have made it world famous not least among my friends. So when i found out that it was a simple 6 hour bus ride from where i was staying i just had to see it for my self!
Well the buses ended up taking longer than first thought, but i did plan on that, and daunted not i arrived upon a entrance that bare a closer resemblance to Disneyland than a 1000 year old temple, this coupled with the 100 RMB entrance fee and i only had 2 hours till having to catch a return buss put me off going into the main complex so wondering around the parking lot taking photos i find some stairs heading down so naturally i follow them and after passing a very nice shrine i come onto a little farm road going in the direction of the main complex… a little wile later after passing the main training grounds full of students i am in the temple, but they have additional checks at the door of each temple, so i am only able to see the grounds but they where amazing enough with centuries old statues and integrate panted walls its defiantly worth the trip ! After Shaolin it was to Nanchang to visit a friend and see university life in china, large and all the whites in one part as one would expect, then on to shanghai where it rained for 2 days and i ate pizza and watched movies then back to work in Shaanxi rested and infused with the Shaolin Buddhist spirit, something my students enjoyed and since then i have become more a fan of Chinese kOOng foo then Japanese.
October 7th, 2009
Well this old girl china is old, and i mean very old. But that has all been forgotten and the new china is just a spring chicken by nation standards being only 60 years old. I was fortunate enough to be in the country for this special birthday. In the build up to this day the country was alive with celebration with so many parties happening in local restaurants that it was impossible for a foreigner to make it home sober, but that was nothing compared to the continual bombardment of fireworks that where a tel-tale singe of a wedding happening near by. From dawn till well after dusk china celebrated 60 years of its latest dynasty. So i thought i would go and check it out in the capital on this monumental day and maybe see the parade. The day started out well enough that was until i got to the madness that was Chinese transport i had thought that with every one needing travel on that day they would of put on extra transport and more staff, well no the same amount of buses where completely full, so i had to go off into the town of yuncheng where i managed to find a nice hotel room for 50rmb a quite decent price and a nice enough room. So after a dinner of street food it was on to the next day, when i got a lot of attention being the only white person in the hotel and possibly the only one that stayed there that year, so i got dragged into view the parade on the TV, something i later learned would of been the closest i could of gotten the the parade any way due to the fact the the mighty Chinese army was so afraid of losing face that the enter parade was in-fact staged only in front of 8 old men and then replayed countless times on the CCTV to make the Chinese think they had been there, o wonderful china ! The rest of my time in Beijing passed uneventfully enough as it was far to crowded to do any of the major sites and i had a lot of winter shopping todo.
August 20th, 2009
After my relaxing time on gili air it was all rush, on the day of Indonesian indpencance i had to start my marathon that would take me across the world.
Day One: gili air catch the spesial ferry at 13:00, arive in Bangsal and catch a bemo to Mataram even though its the capital of the island we find that we aren’t even sure its a city. Grab a quick bite to eat and say good by to my friend then hop on another bemo too Lembar where i hop on the next ferry and slowly watch the sun set as Lombok drifts into memory. Later that night i arrive in Pedang Bai and try to find some reasonable accommodation and after an hour i find something not too outrageous. After i have some place to lay down i head out to find some food and fun to celebrate this day, that done i decide to check some email to update some people of my progress. Here is where i find one of the biggest shocks i have had in Indonesia, after going into a cafe i think i hear the price for half an hour of time to be 2,000 a very reasonable price as normally its around 3,000, so i use my 30 minuets and go to pay, only to be told that no the price is 12,000! When i make a friendly protest at the very high price i am rudely and forcefully told to leave if i can’t pay, when i say that the issue isn’t that i can’t pay the issue is the the price is outrageous i am even more forcefully told to leave in a very unfriendly and hostile manor and been told that its that price or nothing, deciding that he is obviously charging so much that he can afford to be rude and lose customers i decide to leave and share my woes with some other tourist, and i find a german with a few bali girls whom thinks i am in the wrong and here i find the main problem that the tourist here have no clue about indonesia or even bali outside there little world, dejected i leave him to his world and find some Swedes to enjoy the rest of the night with.
Day Two: waking up in the mid morning i pack and head for the prama bus and spend most of the morning hanging around my bus comes and its off to Denpasar airport directly, that is spuriously to some actually south of Kuta and some times called Kuta airport. After arriving and booking my ticket from kl to china i find a tourists that has just arrived and is waiting for friends, so i spend some time with her and then hop on my flight. Arriving late at night i decide not to bother my friend that night so i sleep in the airport that is surpassingly easy to sleep in.
Day Three: Waking early i make my way slowly to paya jaya, after arriving 4 hours later i stop for a bit of gaming in one of the fine cafe’s next to my friends flat, I go up and to repack my bag from my long term bag stored there and catch up with the internet and his flat-mate. after that its back down stairs for lots of indian food over a leisurely lunch while trying to arrange a drink with my friend, sadly we couldn’t arrange it so some hours later i waddled over to catch a taxi to KL Sentral, have my last tea tarick and hop on the airport bus, once in the airport i check in and head down to the air-con winter of the departure lounge where i find the free wireless out of order and dispute help from england i couldn’t get around it, so i put on some extra clothes and waited for the departure.
Day Four: Waking up i see the flat expanse of china gliding away beneath me, i hadn’t expected it to be this flat ! An hour or so later we land in Tianjin and having all of my language i can go quickly past all of the other passengers waiting for there’s to come out i get quickly detoured though customs after they see i am coming in on a south african passport, but it was quick enough. Once out of the formalities its more waiting but at least this time its not in an artificial winter and there is some cheap-ish food and a friendly face of an experienced person whom helped me find the bus into Beijing. A few hours later i arrive in Beijing and another smiling face of the agent whom I have been talking with arranging my teaching job with, she took me to a nice chinese meal then onto the bus terminal where I am put onto a over night bus, where i fast become a kind of celebrity after watching one of the rambo movies i drift off to sleep with the night drifting past the windows.
Day Five: I am woken up to a cold misty mooring by the usual chinese loudness, do they honestly think if they talk louder and look angry i’ll understand them ? But undaunted i gather my things and stumble out of the bus to be greeted by another person from the agency who promptly bundles me into a car and deposits me in a hotel giving me just longer than one second to drop my bags takes me to the provided breakfast that isn’t too bad though very bland, though free food what can i do but eat my fill. After that i go back to the hotel room and shower and rest before getting picked up and taken out to eat where they talk the whole time in Chinese saving me from having to make any comments . Later that day it was into the office where i gave a demo lesson and singed my contract (making sure to singe for just 6 months not the year they wanted me to). With that legality over it was back to the hotel room to pick up my bags and get driven out to my next and final destination in this marathon a little town called Wen’xi where i am shown to my surpassingly nice flat ( two bedrooms kitchen, pantry and 2 balconies) and then taken out to another meal before i can finally relax into my new surroundings and start to look forward to teaching, needless to say i spent the first few days sleeping and the next exploring the little town before starting my job 10 days later! it did make me wonder why all the rush, but that is china…
August 17th, 2009
August 9th, 2009
After getting off that ferry just after lunch time i find the bus that goes along the north cost of bali and take it all the way to singaraja, dispute many attempts from the locales to assure me that i should go to lovina or denpisar, some hours later I arrive in at the bemo terminal to find out that it was a Balinese holiday and all bemos to ubud had gone, so off to find a local hotel and what would turn out to be my last reasonably priced lodging at 60,000 in a local hotel that was surprisely nice and surprisely empty. The next morning it was off to the the bemo depo and a long stroll though the reasonably large and busy and non touristy town of singaraja, after a quick lunch it was on the bus to ubud that turned into a wonderful up too and over the one of the volcanoes narrow ridges offering sepcatular views though the open doors watching the sheer cliffs speed on bye, ginjiyar and a bit of bartering got me into ubud where i was flabbergasted as to what has happened to that little town, every where there are new fancy buildings and atms, though thankfully go cool vegetarian was still there and i had as much food as i could eat, i shall miss it ! I also got a chance to catch up with the owners and saw there son, woah he has grown ! Next it was off to IDEP to see how petra and neyoman where doing and to look in on my servers I was happy to find that for the most part every thing there was in good order though a bit trying for petra at the moemnt i wish her luck, next it was off the the Ubud library and the biggest shock i have had i a long time buying a few beers to sit with lauri to catch up i go into find her and i am told she has passed away, though i am not told this directly, the lady working at the counter has to get a balinese to english dictionary to translate it to me, possibly one of the worst ways to tell some one this info, though my hart goes out to her and her family, she was one of this planets great people and is missed.
The next day i left Ubud and headed to the cost choosing this time to take the perma bus instead of local bemos, this turned out to be much more expensive and in the end take more time due to the first bus braking down… getting into padangbai i go to find the beach i had slept on years before only to find it in the process of being turned into a chateau complex, bali is not what i remember. So with out much ceremony and the sun setting i decide to take my luck on the other side in lomboc…
August 5th, 2009
The backpacker route along south east asia is quite the bio warfare zone and i managed to pick up a bit of a the flu, but thankfully i knew it wasn’t swine flu, so about a week in Jakarta recovering and waiting for a friend wasn’t too bad as its quite a friendly place and the rooms are quite nice and affordable when compared to bali, some higlights where the free tour around the national mosque with its wonderful late 60′s architecture and capacity for 80,000 is very tranquil and seeing both the fortress that is the USA embasy and the subberban manssion that is the Iraqi.
Thankfully i both my illness leaving and my friend ariveing coensided nicely so it was off too Yogja and wonderfully quaint city where the main neo-Gypsy center is just behind the station and many quaint buildings and streets abound, after a few days in i get itchy feet and decide too head out on my own again so its off to Surabaya too see an old friend and do a bit of couch surfing, it was a welcome change from all the bullays and i got the chance to meet an old friend from bali days as well as see the sumpornan museum.
After that i headed for mount Bromo to find that the little village was so high up that i had to ware my sorong too keep warm, the next day i did my first arranged tour since diving in mosqmbec, going for the motorcycle option turned out to be a bit trying when barrling though fog across the sand sea before dawn and up the black void that was the mountain before dawn, though being greeted with the tourist Mecca that was the top was enough culture shock for the ride to be completely forgotten. for the rest of the day i was very glad to be on the motorbike at least i got some solace in the sand sea and could take my time, i became so relaxed that i walked two hours down the mountain of the village before I consented to be bundled in the bemo, that at times had 30 people inside plus many school children and goods on and off the roof as we passed the local villages and markets.
Arriving in Probolinggo after entertaing some “official tourist information” i find a bus driver going too Banyuwangi, in a few hours, so some coffee and chatting with the locals whom all seem very confusided that i am not married yet, its off on the now late bus too Banyuwangi and in the front seat as well and it is truly amazing what kind of power a 15 meter bus can have on those narrow java roads… Befriending the bus driver really paid off when he not only recommend me the nicest and cheapest place i had stated so far. It was up early to catch the ferry to bali, that turned out to be surpassingly cheap for only 5, 700 and modern.
July 26th, 2009
My attempts to get from Singapore to Jakarta without flying failed horribly, if any one wants to try that do make sure that the ferry leaves the same day and not a few days after !. that said there is a very nice airport on Batam with many airline ticket agents at the airport and no ATM’s at the ferry port, dispute what one might hear!