A Travellerspoint blog

China I

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Well, I finally made it to China. I stayed there for eight interesting and adventurous days. I say "interesting" and "adventurous" to try to be positive, because to be totally honest, I was a bit disappointed in Beijing.

Of course there are always good and bad points, so I'll get the bad ones out of the way first. Yes, Beijing is very dirty, but not as dirty as I expected as far as the streets and sightseeing places go. HOWEVER, the toilets are a NIGHTMARE! In most places, they have your typical asian style ones, which sometimes require some tricky squatting, but that wasn't the problem because it's the same as Japan, but, in many of the bathrooms they don't have doors! So, there's no much needed privacy (in the most needed time if you ask me), and if there is a door, many times, the women don't close the door!! Okay, so, I'll just have to stop there and you'll have to let your imagination do the rest...

In general, okay, no, keeping totally honest here, 9 out of 10 people were not nice, polite or kind whatsoever (in the Western and Japanese sense). Upon checking in to the hotel, there was no kind greeting, "welcome to China," nothing, just "What's your name" and "here's your key." I tried to change money at the hotel, which clearly they said they do 24 hours a day, but each time, they just said "no," and "we have no money." It's really quite shocking. Having worked in a hotel for four years, I'm going to be even more appauled at this type of "service." Anytime I bought something at the supermarket or any shop, they never say "thank you" and even I know thank you in Chinese. They just hand your change to you and move on to the next customer. At the hotel, once they don't want to talk to you anymore, they just put their head down and start doing something else. Really shocking.

On the first day, I decided to go to the Forbidden City, where all the old Chinese emperors lived. It is the most famous place in Beijing, and maybe, second to the Great Wall in being the most famous place in China. So, I took a taxi there, which was about a six or seven minute ride. Boy do I wish I had walked. I didn't notice that the taxi driver had not turned on the meter. When we arrived, he said, "YOU, GIVE ME MUCH MONEY!" He wanted about 15 US dollars. I was really shocked. I looked at the meter and it was off, but I knew that taxis in Beijing were supposed to be really cheap, so I said, "but it wasn't very far, very close..." He yelled at me again. It was my first day, so I was so scared and nervous, so I just gave him the money and got out.

In every shop and restaurant I was treated with this same kind of attitude. But, after I got my bearings and felt a little more confident about being there alone, I realized I'm just going to have to suck it up and be agressive myself and stop letting them push me around. After about three days, I'd had enough.

My first "Raging Southern American Woman Tourist Monster" incident was when I went to change money again. I went to the desk and asked kindly to change Japanese traveler's checks to Chinese Yuan cash. But again, the clerk said, "No." Just "no." I went off. I raised my voice a bit and said, "Look. YOU are the worker. I am the customer. I don't think you understand this. I need money and I need it now!" She said, "We have no money." Ya know, it's not as if she can't speak good English either because I heard her talking to other customers before and she is fully capable of handling this situation. The Chinese actually speak much better English than here in the Japanese countryside, but I would never be treated this way in Japan, English or no English. So, I was lit up, so I said, "I don't care. That is your fault you don't have any money. I am not going to be inconvenienced anymore. Either you exchange this now, or you go get someone to get it for me." She said, "you can got to a bank." And then I just said, "Get your manager out here RIGHT NOW." She went in the back and I heard her talking to someone and when she came back, she said, "Manager said, no money." I said, "I didn't tell you to ask him anything I told you to tell him to come out here RIGHT NOW." Again, she went in the back and when she came back this time, she said, "Okay, I change money."

AHHHHHHH!!! This situation drove me nuts, but it was a catalyst for my next, "Revenge of the Raging Southern American Woman Tourist Monster." I had to take another taxi that day, and this time, the ride was about 25 minutes. Again, the driver didn't turn on the meter, expecting to bully a stupid blonde western tourist out of more cash. But, no, I had popped. When we arrived he said, "You, give me 150." That's about $20 and that's about 300 times too much money. I had learned by talking to other tourists that they charge about 2 yuan per kilometer. So, I said, "NO. You didn't turn on the meter. That's too bad. I don't know the cost. We'll negotiate. Here." So I gave him about three dollars, which really is about the right amount. But he was so mad. He started yelling in Chinese and I'm sure I'm glad I couldn't understand. Then he said, "NO, very much more money." I said again, "you didn't turn on the meter," and he said, "No meter, no meter." But I then pointed right to in and said, "ON, you didn't turn ON! Bye bye." Then I got out and slammed the door. I thought he might come after me but he just sped off, probably because he did get paid the right amount, but was angry that he couldn't screw me over.

I was also lied to when I took a tour to see the Great Wall. There are several tourist spots to see the wall, but only one was opened to group tours and buses, at Badaling. So, I signed up for a tour that said we would spend two hours at the Ming Tombs and two hours at the Great Wall. I was excited about the Ming Tombs because 13 emperors have large tomb structures scattered throughout the countryside about an hour outside Beijing. The countryside is what I really wanted to see anyway and the history of these places is fascinating. Or so I imagined it would be. On the tour, we actually ended up spending 20 minutes at the tomb and an hour at the Great Wall. Other parts NOT included on the itenerary were an hour visit to a jade factory (which was okay because I love jade) and three hours at some type of market where our tour guide made commission on what we bought. I was so frustrated because I had come all this way to see the Great Wall for one hour. I had imagined myself climbing to the top of a mountain, looking all around at the most incredible scenery I've ever seen, not stuck in a swarm of tourists and not even able to get to the top because of old German ladies trying to climb with their canes and holding up the lines. Considering I only had a hour here, that was obviously impossible.

The next day, I asked the incompitent front desk if they knew of any way to get to another section of the wall, and again, just, "no." I also asked how much it would be by taxi and they said, "I don't know, go ask one outside." AHHHHH! And they are going to hold the Olympics here?!? These people are going to be hosting hundreds of thousands of western tourists. Holy moly. Don't stay at the Howard Johnson Paragon if you ever go to Beijing, okay?? Thank you.

So, I did go outside and ask a taxi, but of the two drivers I asked, one just laughed and the other said, "$200 US dollar." Well, forget that.

That night, I went to a restaurant near Tianmen Square, the center of Beijing, and tried the famous "Peking Duck." It was not what I expected. They brought out a plate of chopped greasy flesh and a questionable brown sauce. I tried the white meat and pealed off the skin. It was really good actuallly. So I ate a bit of it until I saw something stange under the mountain of chopped duck. It was the head, beak and all, and the neck hiding at the bottom staring right at me. I almost screamed. I just couldn't eat anymore after that. When I got up to leave, the waitress looked concerned and motioned for me to come back. I went back to the table and she brought out a huge bowl. The "chef" had made a soup from the duck's bones and probably whatever else they could find. Out of politeness, I tried it, but it was just too scary. The waitresses and cooks kept looking at me and kind of giggling at my shock, but I just couldn't eat it.

Although the duck was scary, all the other food I ate in Beijing was really good. The ramen is soooo good and sweet and sour pork is really really good. I tried duck one more time at another restaurant, but I didn't order Peking Duck this time and it was much better. Jasmine and Oolong tea, which is most famous in China is really good too.

Con't to next entry......

Posted by jbennett 00:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Snowboarding!!

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On Friday, our office was closed so all of us decided to go snowboarding at Mount Daisen. It was incredible!!!! It was my first time, so I was really scared and nervous. It actually took me about an hour to figure out how to even stand up on the board and keep my balance. We started at about 10 a.m. and by about 2 p.m. (with a lunch break thank you very much) I could actually do it. Now I'm really hooked and I want to go again in a couple of weeks!

After that we ate "Kimchi Nabe" at Calvin's house. Nabe is like a Japanese vegetable soup and Kimchi is a Korean cabbage salad. I know, it sounds really bazarre but it is sooooooo good!

To think about what I was doing at this exact same time last year, and then to think, sheesh, I just went snowboarding on a Japanese mountain... wow!

Posted by jbennett 00:00 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Koh Samui

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And finally, here are the last of my photos. Koh Samui is the larger of the two islands and much more touristy. This is the island that Bridget Jones's Diary was filmed on.

I tried parasailing and rode a jet ski and again, rented a motorbike and went all around the island. One day, I found a temple that had a "mummy monk" who had been dead for 20 years inside a glass case. I also went to a very exciting and REAL THAI BOXING MATCH!! It was so intense!

One of my favorite days of the whole trip was a tour of the islands on a large speed boat. We went snorkling and sea canoeing around several small, deserted islands, which were about an hour away from Koh Samui. On one of the islands was the Emerald Lake and I have just never imagined water could be that color. From these islands were the most spectacular views!!

Posted by jbennett 00:00 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Koh Phangan

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After another flight, a nightmareish train ride and more severe travel drama, we managed to get to Koh Phangan from Bangkok. Our train was pretty scary and dirty and random dodgy Thai people were jumping on and off it throughout the night. The only privacy we had for the 14-hour ride was a curtain we pulled across our "beds" and I kept tossing and turning, worrying if one of these "dodgy Thai people" were going to pull back the curtain and mug me. The inside of the train resembled a prison actually, because of the metal luggage bars and tiny compartments. Hmmm, wait, maybe more like the inside of those submarines your see in the war movies... Anyhoo, it was a nightmare.

After we got off the train, which was 2 hours late, we got on a bus to the ferry port. When we arrived there, they told us that there were no ferries to Koh Phangan that night. This was a huuuuge problem because we had non-refundable reservations there and we just had no clue where we were or what we should do. They said we could stay in that town overnight, pay for another bus to Krabi, on the other side of the southern strip of Thailand, or, we could buy another ferry ticket to Koh Samui because, "Government say no ferry, dangerous ocean today." You know, we had just gotten screwed over so many times that I automatically smelled a rat. I got a little tisky with one of the staff and he finally said that we could probably get to Koh Phangan if we first go to Koh Samui. Which all that of course means, buying another bus ticket to another port AND buying another ferry ticket. So, we went to Koh Samui and sure enough, we could in fact go to Koh Phangan from there. We normally would have been so angry because we missed a whole day on the island because of their scam, but, we were so glad to finally get to our resort that we just couldn't get too upset about it.

Our resort was great though. Our bungalow was pretty nice and the beach was great. Koh Phangan is much less developed than Koh Samui, so at times, we were the only ones out on the beach! I enjoyed getting up pretty early a couple of mornings and walking along the beach. I felt like I owned the whole thing! You just wouldn't believe how many coconut trees there are along the beach either. One late afternoon, I found a coconut that had just fallen from the tree and took it to the maintenance man at our resort and asked him to open it for me. He made a small hole for the straw and I drank the milk. When I finished that, he opened it up and I ate the coconut inside. A couple of days, we went to the local market and got fresh pineapples and ate them while we were sunbathing. The fruit was soooo delicious!

I also really enjoyed renting a motorbike and riding around the island. There were so many little jungle roads that were so secluded that all I could see at times were forests of coconut trees and rivers. I literally rode all the way around the island over the course of the week, stopping whenever I liked to catch an overlook for a fantastic view. It was absolutely gorgeous. One day, I was riding around and found an old Chinese temple on top of a small mountain. I was the only one there, besides a little old Chinese lady that was cleaning the steps. From the temple, I could see out to the ocean, so I just walked around and enjoyed the spectacular view for about half the day - I just didn't want to leave.

We had a couple of very rainy days when we got there so we were kinda bummed out for a while. But by Christmas Eve, the weather cleared up. That night, I had Christmas Eve dinner on a restaurant situated on a cliff overlooking the ocean and the next island over, Koh Samui. After I got back to the bungalow, a group of Thai people from a Christian church came by and sang carols. I was so excited because I was actually missing Christmas at home and they were so adorable singing with their heavy Thai accents. I have a video of them singing, so if you want me to email it to you just let me know... Anyway, they invited me to their Christmas program the next night, so, I went and it was again, just so adorable. I have pictures of that below. We had Christmas dinner with our "Adopted Travel Mom" and her family from Canada. It was very very good, but I have to admit it was a little strange having a barbeque and fighting off mosquitoes during Christmas dinner!

Posted by jbennett 00:00 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Cambodia

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Afer a couple of days in Bangkok we took a one hour flight to Siem Reap. It's the second largest city in Cambodia and it's the location of the famous Angkor Wat.

I wasn't expecting a beautiful relaxing time here, I just really wanted to see Angkor Wat and that's all I imagined about Cambodia before I actually got there. It's just an experience I'll never forget.

Our hotel in Siem Reap was ironically amazing. That's what's so strange about Siem Reap. On one side of the road, you've got a four-star hotel with a huge swimming pool and valet parking, on the other, a dirty, smelly, run-down shack with people begging you for a dollar as you walk by. It's just stange because they've tried to boost tourism so much and so soon after a major war that they just haven't recovered. It's just so surreal because you are literally in paradise and a war-torn place all at once. You can still see the burned buildings and so many of the people I saw had such blank and dark expressions on their faces. They are actually very kind people and I never really felt unsafe, it's just that they had zero joy about them at all - but they really have no reason to have any, especially compared to the lives that you and I have. I think that's why I took so many pictures of just people in Cambodia.

Cambodia made me think about so many things, especially how extremely lucky and blessed I am. You know, a bad day for us is getting a speeding ticket or having a cold. A typical day for them is trying to walk around with one leg and/or one arm, bathing in a dirty river (which is also the city's sewage) and begging for their next meal. Once, a boy about seven years old hobbling with one leg came up to me and asked me for a dollar. I know that most believe that giving money to someone who's begging only makes the problem worse, but I thought, "what else is this boy gonna do?" Plus, it's not his fault that landmine was there... But, after I gave him money, many other kids saw me and they all started asking for money too. It was a bad situation and I just had to stop after that because it caused a big scene, definitely not what we wanted.

If you're like me and you didn't know about what happened in Cambodia in the late 70's, you must read about the Khmer Rouge, a radical political party who took control of Cambodia and massacred over 2 million of their own people in an attempt at genocide. If you spoke French, you were murdered. If you wore glasses, you were murdered. If you owned a business or lived in the city, you were murdered. They believed that Cambodia should be cleaned of any trace of anyone who could possibly oppose their communist ideals, so only countryside peasants were spared. It is gut-wrenching to even read about what happened to people. They took groups of innocent people out into the jungle and mass-murdered them by beating them to death and they had the "work camps" similar to those of Hitler's. It is pretty much a Cambodian holocaust. I just didn't realize all of this while I was there, and, I guess at the time it was better that I didn't.

The first night in Siem Reap, we went to a dinner theatre where they had a huge buffet and a traditional Cambodian dance show. It was incredible. The food was so wonderful, it was like very very good and high quality Chinese food, and it's not as ridiculously spciy as some Thai food is.

So, the second day, I went to Angkor Wat. It is truly spectacular. The day I was there it was quite cloudy and there were hardly any tourists, so I really felt completely consumed by it. There are so many narrow, shadowy corridors to walk through. You really feel like you have been transported to and ancient place in an ancient time. There were many monks walking around, so at some points, I could see only ancient ruins and monks praying or appearing to be comtemplating something deep. I actually had a nice conversation with one who had actually been to California. I was really shocked when he came up to me and asked me where I was from because I didn't think they were allowed to talk to women, but he said we couldn't hands and he couldn't look me in the eye, but, he was allowed to practice his English with foreigners. We talked for quite some time about Cambodia and what's it's like for him to live there. He said he loves Cambodia, but his heart is always sad there. I really just can't describe the feeling of walking around Angkor Wat, so I really hope my pictures can say a lot.

The last day in Cambodia, we went to the markets and got Cambodian massages. They were relaxing, but also a little violent! Barbara actually ended up with bruises! They do a lot of stretching as well as deep massaging, but I felt great afterwards. The markets have just as much of an aggressive vibe as those in Cambodia. People are always yelling at you to come look in their shop. They are very quick to haggle though. The only time I coudn't haggle though was in a store that was run by the most charming and adorable little girl, maybe about 8 years old, and I actually gave her more than what she asked for. I got a picture with her too as well as you can see toward the bottom.

That night, we went on a boat ride to "The Floating City" which leads out to a huge lake named Tonle. So many people were living on the river, mainly for fishing. It was, well, it was life-changing. I knew people in the world lived like this, but, to see it up-close in person is remarkable. Again, we had groups of children coming up to us begging for money. Families lived in very small, one-room huts made of straw and sometimes light wood and were taking baths in the very dirty river, which I just didn't understand. The communities were divided up between Cambodian, Vietnamese and Muslum and everyone stays on their side of the lake.

We rode out to the lake and our tour guide was telling us that many people die each year living around Tonle Lake because of sudden flood during the rainy season. I didn't feel to good at that moment needless to say. He said when he was young, his brother drowned in the lake when he went fishing. I asked why then did people still live here when they know it's dangerous, and he said that this place is all they know and they don't care because they can catch the most and best fish here. We stayed to watch the sunset and headed back to our hotel as quickly as possible after that.

Visiting Cambodia just completely changed my life and how I view everything and everyone around me.

Posted by jbennett 00:00 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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