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> On the Road Again: The Travel Thread
jade
post Apr 8 2011, 07:32 AM
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Epi

your posts and pics are wonderful. thanks for holding us all together


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auralpoison
post Apr 8 2011, 06:09 AM
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There was a fairly recent blog by Epi. Our Canadian is still meanderin'!


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epinephrine
post Feb 20 2011, 01:50 AM
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So I'm back in Chongqing now and already planning my next trip - I'll plan to skip some school this time and avoid holiday travel, it's just too troublesome. The most popular travel site here has a large section of discount plane tickets which can be purchased online, and I think next time I go travelling I'll just follow the cheap tickets around the country and stay in hostel dorms. There are lots of heavily discounted flights to top destinations like Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and even little-known gems like Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) and Huanglong (Yellow Dragon), which are supposed to be fantastically beautiful. I want to go to Suzhou again, and it's really close to both Hangzhou and Shanghai - I'll just get the cheapest flight to one of the three, I suppose, and do the rest by train. As beautiful as they are, those canal towns are just rotten with mosquitoes in the summer. I'd love to do Hong Kong properly, too - I found a hostel in Causeway Bay that sounds pretty good, so I won't need to be dashing back and forth across the border from Shenzhen all the time. Hong Kong is actually tiny, very easy to get around in. Tons of things are within walking distance.

Here's some pics of Hong Kong and Shenzhen! Shenzhen wasn't much to look at, but Hong Kong was gorgeous - especially at night. The view from Victoria Peak must be one of the most beautiful in the world.

I've also been blogging lots this month, and there's plenty more coming as I play catch-up with all the stuff I didn't have time to post while I was on vacation.


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epinephrine
post Feb 13 2011, 09:38 AM
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From: Chongqing, China


Suzhou


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ketto
post Feb 10 2011, 12:37 PM
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Beautiful epi, thanks for sharing!


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epinephrine
post Feb 10 2011, 02:51 AM
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New photos!

Tongli, a gorgeous ancient canal town just outside of Suzhou.

Chinese New Year with my roommate and my friend B in Xuzhou.


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epinephrine
post Feb 5 2011, 10:26 AM
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Arrived in Suzhou today. Things immediately went sideways, of course, as I'd kind of chickened out of calling ahead to book a room in my hostel of choice on a gorgeous ancient canal street. They were full, and we ended up staying at a different place that's in a funky old courtyard house, but it's pretty shabby and not so great. Still a decent location, though. Suzhou is incredible. The scenery and architecture are to die for. Looks like it's small enough to tour on foot, too. I can't wait to explore tomorrow!


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epinephrine
post Feb 2 2011, 07:05 AM
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Happy year of the rabbit, Busties! It's Chinese new year and I'm at my friend B's place in Xuzhou, stuffed full of an awesome dinner and watching the annual new year performance on tv while firecrackers and fireworks explode continually all around us. There have been enough firecrackers lit here in the last 12 hours to take down a few large buildings. Quite an experience. I hope to blog about it soon!


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ketto
post Jan 28 2011, 11:17 AM
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Epi, your trip sounds awesome. I've done a couple of short solo trips and I always loved it too. It's a totally different sense of freedom. Speaking of taxing yourself out on historical sights, I remember being in England and Paris and one of my tour guides referring to "Cathedral/Castle fatigue". They all looked the same by the end.


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epinephrine
post Jan 27 2011, 10:49 PM
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I'm absolutely loving solo travel. I love not having to worry about what someone else wants to do, what they want to eat, how cold/uncomfortable they are, what kind of mood they're in, etc. I can't even remember why I was so hesitant before. The way people talk, you get to thinking that travelling solo means you're constantly in mortal peril. From what I've seen, China is probably safer than Canada in terms of violent crime. The police presence here - especially in Beijing - is formidable. The only times I ever feel unsafe here are when I have to cross a street or walk along a narrow road alongside all the swerving, speeding cars, with all the motorcycles weaving in and out of them. That is scary. It's just complete anarchy on the roads here. Nobody enforces anything. People don't signal, brake or even slow down; they just honk. And they drive on the sidewalk and run red lights all the time.

Anyway, I went to the Dashanzi 798 Art District yesterday and it was awesome. Any Busties going to Beijing take note: that place is a must-see. The setting alone, a bunch of abandoned warehouses and factory buildings, was almost too good to be true. It was an entire village of small art galleries, lovely (albeit shockingly overpriced) cafes, and boutique shops selling specialty clothing, accessories, art prints and stuff (which is actually really hard to find here - everything in China is mass produced and all the stores sell the exact same things). There's a huge variety of art by contemporary Chinese artists, both famous and unknown. There were a few foreigners there, but it seemed to be mostly young Chinese students. I was also really pleased to find that there was a significant amount of graffiti art on the buildings - that's one of the things I'm really interested in in China. I hadn't anticipated how easy it would be to get lost there and didn't try very hard to keep track of my location or my starting point, so the end of the day did not go smoothly. I ended up wandering around looking for the entrance I came in for nearly an hour before giving up and leaving through a different one. Unable to find any of my pre-planned bus stops, I ended up busing home blind to my friends' place on the other side of Beijing, in the dark, in -10 C weather, during rush hour. So that was an adventure. But I made it home. Beijing's many traffic overpasses, with all their different lanes, roundabouts, entrances and exits, make for extremely confusing traffic. Not user-friendly at all. Transferring buses on one of these overpasses, you have no idea where to catch your next bus, and you can quickly become disoriented. I ended up just boarding a random bus and asking them how to get to the right one. Bus drivers are a lifesaver that way. They're knowledgeable, they can't cheat you like a cab driver can, and the worst thing they can do is drop you off at the wrong bus stop, where you'll at least know your location and have access to other buses that can take you where you need to go.

I've still got another 2 1/2 days in Beijing and there are a few historical sites I haven't seen. I think I've overdosed on historical sites for now; they all look the same to me, and the history is all starting to blur together. All I wanna do now is sit in cafes, drink tea and people watch. The older couple I'm staying with can't understand this. I think they think cafes are a frivolous indulgence for westerners who want to pretend they're still in the west, but in fact they're actually a lot cheaper than the traditional teahouses here, where you can pay 10 or 15 dollars for a pot of tea. And although there are always westerners in the cafes, Chinese people go to them too. Especially young people. And cafes have wireless and people are less likely to stare at you and talk about you like you can't understand them. It's not traditional, but that doesn't make it any less authentic. I'm back at that lovely Starbucks again and I'm not sorry! There are definitely way worse ways to spend your money here.


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sybarite
post Jan 27 2011, 05:54 AM
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I did the same thing with bathrooms Epi; when you find a good one, stake it out and drink the day's worth of coffee/tea there smile.gif Great to read about your travels and I'm so glad you've taken off on your own and that it's working out. The train journey alone sounds amazing... sometimes the best way to see a country, I think.
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epinephrine
post Jan 25 2011, 08:04 AM
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Went to a Beijing Starbucks today just south of Qianmen, the gate that used to be the main entrance to old, walled Beijing. Starbucks coffee shops here far surpass any Starbucks I've seen in the west, and this one was especially nice. It was gorgeous inside, three storeys of comfortable cosy nooks and leather armchairs and Chinese-style stools and armoires and stuff, and the bathroom was not only clean, it was actually lovely. And trust me, I've discovered that a clean bathroom is luxury enough in this country. So call me a sellout. I absolutely loved it. In my defense, I've found that checking out the places where Chinese culture overlaps with western culture is just as educational a cultural experience as any other, certainly more so than visiting some tourist trap like the Temple of Heaven, which I went to after Starbucks. It's actually really interesting to see how your own culture translates and integrates into another culture - it's way more than just the appeal of an overpriced espresso.

Anyway, I also went to the Temple of Heaven today and found it overrated. Maybe I've just overdosed on tourist stuff since I got here. There's just so much history here, and it's so easy to plan your day around these well-known sites, especially when you're up against the Beijing public transit system. Which is excellent, just very big and crowded and intimidating. It's better to go to places you know will be easy to find.

I'm hoping to go to the Dashanzi art district tomorrow or the next day - it's pretty far, it'll take up the whole day. If not, I'll try to find the tea market in the next district over (apparently there are 8 different major merchants there and 600 tea shops!!) and maybe hop over to the night market after for some more weird snacks. I'll try to upload some pics to Facebook next time I bring my laptop out with me. And I finally got a new blog post up, after nearly a month when I couldn't find the time. Next post is half written. We'll see how long it takes before that one gets up....


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epinephrine
post Jan 24 2011, 04:05 AM
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whoops, double post.


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epinephrine
post Jan 24 2011, 04:04 AM
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Thanks, jami! I'm just returning from a long day at the Summer Palace. It was nice, there weren't many people and the lake was frozen a foot or two thick so there were lots of people out skating and playing on the ice. I ended up meeting a couple of guys there and spending the day with them. The people here are so friendly, it always amazes me how easily everyone seems to interact here. Don't have a clue what's on tomorrow's itinerary, must do some research tonight.


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jami
post Jan 23 2011, 09:55 PM
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~woot~
yay you.
keep us updated! smile.gif


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epinephrine
post Jan 20 2011, 05:07 AM
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From: Chongqing, China


The Great Wall was fabulous. Going to Tiananmen, Forbidden City, Gugong, Beihai Park and Wangfujing Snack Street tomorrow. Who wants postcards? PM me with your address, I promise no funny stuff!


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epinephrine
post Jan 19 2011, 09:24 AM
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I made it to beijing! the train ride was intense, but a worthy cultural experience. it was interesting racing through miles and miles of poor farming communities with their traditional brick courtyard homes all the way here. not much in the way of scenery - it was all prairie. although i don't know if that's what they call it. my friends parents have gleefully fussed over my every need since i stepped in the door, and for once communication isn't an issue because i'm basically studying beijing chinese, so there's no unfamiliar accent making my life difficult like there was in Sichuan and Chongqing. i'm going to see the great wall tomorrow!


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Persiflager
post Jan 18 2011, 01:29 AM
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Wooo, go epi! I can't wait to hear about your adventures in Beijing.


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epinephrine
post Jan 17 2011, 07:53 PM
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I'm leaving for Beijing in a couple of hours. By the time I went back to the site to buy the plane tickets the price had nearly doubled, and was continuing to climb even as I watched the screen. So I broke down and bought a train ticket - a slow one, as all the high-speed trains were booked up. I was lucky to get a ticket at all, really. So I'll be on the train for 31 hours. I've got snacks and homework, and I've only slept about 10 hours in the past 3 days, so I hope to sleep through as much of it as possible. Gonna go buy some oranges for the trip so I don't get scurvy and die. I'll be Busting from Beijing in a few days!


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epinephrine
post Jan 13 2011, 10:06 PM
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Any Busties have experience booking hotels and hostels online? My Chinese is still not so good and I find it really difficult on the phone. Normally I'd just walk in, but Spring Festival is crazy and a lot of the hotels fill up, and I don't want to gamble on a place to sleep, so I need to be able to reserve a room ahead of time. Sites like hostelbookers.com, hostelsclub.com and hostelworld.com, where you can just select the days you want to stay and book them online, look too good to be true - are they? Do hotels and hostels register with these sites somehow so they can keep up with the online bookings, or will I just end up paying money and showing up there to find that they never received my booking?

I ended up cancelling my trip to Xi'an because I couldn't book a hotel. I couldn't get through to the hostel I wanted to stay at on the phone and all the trains to Xi'an arrived at night - there was no way I was going if it meant wandering around at 10 o'clock at night trying to find a place to stay. No biggie - I was mostly going there for convenience anyway, because it's right in between Chongqing and Beijing and I'd rather break the trip in half and see some sights on the way than spend a full 25-30 hours on the train. Turns out plane tickets from Chongqing to Beijing are quite affordable - a two-hour flight to Beijing is just 100 RMB (15 CAD) more than the cost of a grueling all-day train ride, so there's no need to put myself through that!

So I'll probably be in Beijing for ten days. I want to check out some of the must-see tourist stuff (the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Mao's enbalmed corpse, the Hutongs), but I'm really going to try to keep it cheap and low-key and stay away from the tourist traps as much as possible. I really want to see some art and hear some live music. I wonder what their cafe scene's like. Even unhip, uncultured, blue-collar Chongqing has several decent cafes, so Beijing must have tons. I hear there's an artist village in one of the outer districts where you can spend an afternoon just wandering from gallery to gallery, and that sounds awesome. I'm also going to check out the markets - a city like Beijing must have some incredible markets. Nothing makes me happier than walking through an enormous, crowded market full of bizarre and wonderful foods!

So that family friend whose brother I'm staying with in Beijing? It turns out their parents are from Xuzhou! What a small world. My friend B nearly choked when I told him. They live in Beijing, too, in a military retirees compound near my friend's brother's place, so I'll be seeing them for sure. I've actually met them once before, but at the time I didn't speak any Mandarin, and they have no English at all, so we could only communicate with smiles and hand gestures. They seemed very sweet. They're really interesting people, too - they were professional entertainers for the communist troops during the Cultural Revolution. I can't wait to hear some of their stories.

So on the 30th I'll take a train from Beijing to Xuzhou and join my roommate at B's place. Chinese New Year is on Feb 3rd, so we'll probably be spending about a week in Xuzhou. Hopefully we'll be able to convince B to come to Hangzhou or Suzhou with us. If not...I suppose we'll go anyway. My roommate is going to Taiwan on the 10th, and I think I'll head south to Shenzhen. It sounds like an awesome city, and it's close enough to Hong Kong that I can make day trips there. Flights from Shenzhen to Chongqing are super cheap, so I'll just fly back around the 18th or 19th and relax for a few days before starting class again. As long I can figure out places to sleep in Hangzhou/Suzhou and Shenzhen it should all be a go!


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