NOTE: The default map is the world map- if you would like a more detailed view of my route, simply click on the underlined map that you would like at the bottom of the screen ie China, and you will see that map with my route and locations of journal entries superimposed on it.
After a two week sojourn from the hard life that I have been suffering through abroad, I am back at it! China is the first order of business, and it will be the first country I have ever visited which does not use, at least in conjunction with another system, the Roman alphabet. A week into the trip someone will ask me what I expected from China before I came here, and I really didn't know what to expect. China is a huge country, a massive conglomeration of disparate cultures, history and geography. Until relatively recently China has also been a difficult destination for westerners. 15 years ago the Roman alphabet was almost entirely absent from the urban landscape, English was not widely spoken, visas were hard to come by and foreigners were officially only allowed to stay in the most expensive hotels. Although China does present some of the same difficulties today, they are nowhere near as extensive as in the past and China is fast becoming known in backpacking circles as one of the most incredible travel destinations in the world. I fly into Hong Kong and decide afer an hour immersed in the crowded city streets lined with overpriced shops, and after seeing my accomodation- a broom closet with four beds crammed into it for more than I would pay for a nice double room anywhere else in China- I decided that the first order of business in Hong Kong was to leave. The morning after I arrived I did just that, riding the subway to its terminus before hopping the border to Shenzhen China. My first destination was Yangshuo, a backpacker enclave snuggled amongst jagged tooth shaped Karst and granite hills rising out of a river valley. I take my first Chinese overnight train from Shenzhen to Guilin-the gateway to Yangshuo and enjoy it so much I am tempted just to skip Yangshuo and hop another train! There are four classes of accomodation on Chinese trains, but the only really pertinent class for most travellers is the hard sleeper. Consisting of six bunks in an alcove, the name is somewhat misleading. Altbough not plush, the bunks were more comfortable than those in the Hong Kong hostel and lulled to sleep by the soft roar of the T38 express train I slept like a baby, waking in the morning to the murmur of Chinese it may have been the best nights sleep I got in China. I make my first of many Chinese friends on the train, a young university student on his way home, and we share a halting conversation strewn with poor pronunciation in two languages and lots of wild laughter. Yangshuo, it turns out, was incredible. The bus takes an hour and a half from Guilin, and we are consumed by this glutonous, sludgy fog. Probably enhanced by the pollution from millions of coal burning stoves, it will be with me almost my entire visit in varying degrees. Still, the Karst formations do look otherworldly poking out of the haze. That night I meet a whole crew of Chinese and we spend the afternoon laughing, playing Chinese hacky sack and finish it off with an evening sing along at a local bar. The next day I go on a boat trip on the river to see the Karst wonderland. And it really was a wonderland. When I arrive I meet several Chinese tourists who are on the same trip and I have one of my first of many conversations that will ensue, the product of a pausity of english speakers in rural areas and my ability to say only three things in Chinese: Hello, My name is Tim, and snow. It seems that conversations are going something like this:
Me: My name is Tim
Other: My name is (some perfectly nice name that is totally unintelligable to me) How are you?
Other:Are you here on your own?
Me: My name is Tim
other: Is this your first time in China?
It generally goes one of three ways from there, either the person is so disgusted with me that I have only bothered to learn to say two things in Chinese that they ignore me for the rest of the day, they stop trying to speak to me in Chinese and rely on smiling and charades-the same as me, or they speak in very rapid Chinese to me apparently indifferent to the fact that I cannot understand a word they are saying, and furthermore, actually seeming to think that the faster they speak in Chinese the more likely I am to understand. Usually my embarrasing lack of a grasp on even basic Chinese leads to alot of laughter and many new friends, this is how it goes in Yangshuo. The Karst formations are very famous due in large part to the fact that they take up the bulk of the space on the 20 yuan note. It is magnificent and the combination of the incredible scenery and amiable company makes Yangshuo a winner. I spend the bulk of the next day eating and hiking to a couple of small temples on the tops of small hills in town before I go back to Guilin to catch a train to Nanchang where I will head up to the history and nature rich town of Lushan.