Saturday, June 28, 2008

Decision making

I've had the chance now of sitting down and discussing my recent revelations with the computer in the lobby. The reason why I'm in the lobby is because I'm locked out of my own room. The reason why I'm locked out of my room is because Raquel has the key, and she is IN the room, sleeping. The reason why I'm not banging on the door to wake her up, is because I had already tried that, but if she can sleep through my snoring, she will surely sleep even with Metallica banging on her door.

But anyway, I'm digressing.

We were on our last day in Yangshuo, though we weren't aware that it was our last day, yet. We casually drifted along the steaming streets, which held desperate peddlers and shopkeepers eager to sell us their junk. We know its junk. They know we know its junk and they know themselves its junk, but still, someone will buy it sooner or later.

We were sitting on the stone wall close to the river bank, when we were approached by a friendly Chinese fellow, who spoke a stunningly intelligent English. He wished to know if we were native English speakers, and though we embarrassly shook our heads, he decided that our English is good enough to review what seemed to be his written advertisement on his future business goals. I've read it all, five or six pages, so full of grammatical obscurities and misuse of phrases and words that it was painstakingly funny and sad at the same time. Though indeed I believe he had the best English I have yet to hear from a Chinese, it was obvious that he was still thinking in Chinese grammatical terms. But we took it rather well, and I was patient with him, and after probably more than an hour, I concluded my review, and he wished us good luck and good-bye.

Later on, it began raining, which came as a blessing upon the scorching land. After a full roundabout, we ended up dissolving our time at an internet place, trying to figure out what to do next. The Idea we had in mind, thanks to the idea brought to us by the Chinese guy, was to go to a place called Zhangjiejia, or something like that, which held a similar heart-stopping scenery and beautiful nature blah blah blah. However, we sadly had to accept the probable fact that Raquel would not be able to change her flight booking, thus making her unable to stay in china for an additional month with me. So if we desired to see together the big cities of the eastern coast, we had to wrap things up a bit more quickly than the leisurely tour we've been on up till now.

The next morning, it took us minutes to have a change of hearts, and we found ourselves looking for places to stay in Shanghai, 24 hours of a train ride away from Guilin.

17:30 pm the same day, we were already on the train, in a Hard-sleeper car (middle berth), looking out the window at the boring view shifting slowly.

They make plenty of rice in this country... plenty of rice indeed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Swimming with Bikes

Ah, the city of Yangshuo! The short bus ride from Guilin to Yangshuo was speedy, though it was a bit scary with all the beeping of the bus driver. By the way, it appears the Chinese way of driving is by the help of their horns. They use it. A LOT. they can be alone with not a single vehicle near them, and they'll beep the yellow out of your ears.

Anyway, Yangshuo! yes. We came off the bus with the heat and humidity slamming right in our faces. After fending off all the peddlers and hostel workers who really wanted you to "hello" something to them, we labored on finding our hostel. After enough sweat, we found the place, which gratefully had air conditioning. We took a shower and settled in, and after a few minutes we were on our way to tour the famously touristic city. We both concluded, after walking around the "west street" that was dedicated for the foreigners, that this city gets an "Eh" score.

West street. *YAWN*

There were a lot of nice places which we could have sat in and eat or drink, but they were too damn expensive. Why would any backpacker pay 30 yuan for a cup of coffee, unless you get a massage and a happy ending with it? and even the massages were expensive.

All in all, we turned back to our routine of finding a cheap Chinese place with at least 2 English words vocabulary and dumplings, and we made it our usual restaurant.

The next morning, after a 12 hour siesta (we were tired, and the air-con was awesome), we rented two bikes in order to tour around the scenic area that surrounds Yangshuo. It didn't take us long to be covered in sweat. It was hot like hell, but we shook it off anyway.

Me and my Compass. It didn't help.

The map of Yangshuo is a bit hard to decode, but we were soon offered assistance by a lady on a motorbike, who took us all the way to the wrong place, just so that we could be harassed by her friends and family and buy their weird goods or travel by their funky bamboo boats. We continued on our own, which soon turned into getting lost on our own, but it was nice, and the scenery was lovely, and the heat was unbearable, and from time to time there were Israelis riding their bikes, and Raquel was laughing every time there were Israelis because I complain all the time that we Israelis are everywhere.

But never mind that.

Can you guess where Raquel is?

We continued riding through the huge lime stones, and soon we found our way into a certain "Moon hill" park, which costs about 15 yuan per person. We got off our bikes, locked them well and safe, and started climbing up the stairs, with 2 old "hello" women following us, just waiting for us to be thirsty. After blowing them off, we paid attention to the task of climbing all those stairs. more than 1000 to be precise, give or take a few hundred... I couldn't count since I was too busy breathing hard. And it even began to rain, so the humidity went up to 150%.

But still, on the verge of a heart attack, we made it through the top. And it was damn worth it. the view of the entire valley was stunning, with all the lime stones jutting out of nowhere up into the sky, all visioned under a semi circular stone hole on a top of a mountain. simply gorgeous.

We rested there for a while, till a group of noisy Chinese came and disturbed our peaceful siesta.

With wobbly legs coming off the mountain, we drove back to Yangshuo after 8 hours or so doing the bike tour. Our asses were so sore I'm still finding it uncomfortable to sit.

But anyway, we concluded the evening in a relatively expensive meal and a movie at the cozy hostel.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Guilin city

Reaching Guilin after oh so many hours of train ride was a blessing in itself. The man waiting with my name written on a cardboard was even more delightful. He was the one to guide us to our hostel. It was a 15 minutes of brisk walking as we were chasing after the guide with all our baggage. Still, we could see a bit of what the city has to offer, and we were relieved to find a big shiny city that awaits our visit.

We arrived at our hostel, and we rejoiced at our decision, since it was a newly built one, with clean rooms, big beds, TV and a shower, all in a 3 bed dorm room. Moreover, the staff actually understood English. We quickly regrouped and went out to view the city's night life.
The broad main street was teeming with Chinese going their own way or selling their goods. All along the road there were big shiny buildings of shopping malls, fashion shops, relaxation resorts and so on, beckoning the coming and going with its huge flashing neon lights. At the center of the massive road, there was standing a big red colored market with whatever you can try to sell to foreigners, with exaggerated prices of course. But still, we felt relieved to find a place with opportunities. After a while, we stumbled upon the two dazzling Pagodas, which are stationed in the midst of a small lake that is connected to the river flowing across town. It was beautiful. Simply beautiful.
After a hearty spicy meal and a decent walk, we returned to the hostel to rest for the next day.

The next day we just toured the whole of the city, in the bloody heat. Although a big town, it seemed that not a lot of vehicles are used, and if used, many of them are electric, so the noise of a relatively small town in china (1.3 million) is quite dim. As we were walking around, enjoying the limestone rocks view in the distance, we heard a peculiar noise, that sounded like a whole group of squirrels being stumped upon under the bridge we were walking on. We walked down to the bank of the river to see a Chinese quire practicing its deadly traditional melodies, while a nearby a moonstruck looking fellow was drawing water calligraphy on the pavement. it couldn't get more prosaic than that.
After traveling along the local markets, with some interesting dead animals offered as medicine. All in all, the day wore on peacefully, and we returned for a siesta in the afternoon. Evening came, and we took a walk along the river and the two pagodas.

The next day, after a morning breakfast at a nice cheap noodle place we had found the day before, we took a tour to what is called the something something terraces. I'm not a fan of tours, but since its not that easy of getting from point A to point B in China by yourself, we didn't mind trying it for a day. It turned out to be pretty nice. We were introduced to a scenic village on top of a mountainous area with a clear river passing through the valley.
walking upwards to the top of the mountains, while trying to ignore the numerous peddlers who can't have enough of saying "hello!" to you in the assumption that this special word speaks volumes about their situation and the quality of their goods. But we weren't there to buy anything in any case. The goal was to see the terraces, and we were not disappointed.
When its written "Eggs and Vegetables", it really means "Eggs and grass".
After a sweaty climb, a fantastic view was awaiting us (and the other million tourists). I don't think I need to explain what my pictures depict.

The next day, we packed our bags and headed towards the next attraction, Yangshuo, the limestone town.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The way to Guilin

Our way from Hainan island to Guilin was relatively uneventful. When I'm saying uneventful, i mean that not a lot can happen while inside a train for 24 hours. It was... an interesting experience, no doubt about it.

When we got to the train station in Sanya on the island, we both decided we would prefer to save our money and try the cheapest seats available on the train. On a Chinese night train there are usually 4 different kind of seats - hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper, soft sleeper. I already tried the hard sleeper on my way into the island, and I actually liked it, but this time we chose, unfortunately, the hard seats. It was horrible. The seats have no resemblance or compatibility to a human back, and it was relatively packed with people, all trying to compete who looks more like a tetris brick as they were all flexing their muscles in awkward sleeping positions. We both were trying our best to sleep, and Raquel ended up down on the floor.
At 5 am, after a long 9 hours ride, we stepped off the nightmare train at Maoming station. It was still early in the morning, so nothing was alive, except of course the vulture like cab drivers who really wanted to know where we were going. The thing was that we weren't going anywhere, since we had to wait till 9:30 in the morning for the next train towards Guilin. So we settled ourselves at the entrance of the train station, and talked our way into the dawning of a new morning.

Obviously hungry, we tried our rumbling stomachs luck by sitting next to a lone vendor who was selling tiny suspicious dumplings, who turned out to be a delight. Then we entered the Train station. We were a bit down hearted since they didn't have hard sleepers on that train, only seats, but soon it was all forgotten since apparently I've become the new local attraction.
The Security officer smoking something suspicious at the entrance

Me and Raquel are already used to being stared at... China has many places without almost any sort of foreign tourism, so every new bright haired blue eyed critter crossing the town is a thing to be gawked, no doubt. My kind of attractiveness however, were not my eyes, or my hair... or at least the hair on my head. It was probably my chest hair. Every now and than I would get the approving smirk of a passing Chinese while pointing at my chest. There was also a little cute girl who really got her kicks by pulling out my arm pit hairs, and touching my chest hair. But beyond that, every English-abled person saw Raquel and I as an opportunity to practice their English, and, as we found out, to get our picture with them on their cell-phones. I think I took photos with 4 people, with two people taking my e-mail.

It wasn't so different on the train (the seats were better by the way). People were obviously staring at us, with even some of them trying to talk to us. For me I felt a bit of shame not having any means of communications with those nice people who were clearly thrilled about us (and my freaky chest hair!). The fun part started when I saw people being served with catered food, such as rice and some unidentifiable meat stuffs. I wanted to check how can Raquel and I can get some of the action, and that's when all those Chinese eyes turned on me, trying to hand signal something like "who do I have to give a blow-job to get some rice here!?" to one of the train officers. Obviously they didn't understand... Even pointing directly to someone eating the rice was futile, apparently. But then the young fellas in front of us in the seats made it their mission to help us out. They went to another train car, and came back with this plump geeky Chinese girl, who looked like something you would beat up at school, but I could have kissed her at the moment, all because she actually knew English. She explained us that the food comes only at certain stations, and that we can have noodles (I'm summarizing a half an hour explanation). She even offered us some of her food, which consisted some sort of feet with nails, so we graciously declined. Soon another girl joined the English fencing duel, and the four of them with the two of us were enjoying a lovely conversation about whatever they could actually understand. In the end there was some E-mail exchanging and photo-taking, and we gratefully paid one of the guys for the pretzels he just bought and munched them down.

The helping family. Don't ask me their names, and not how old they are

The ride was much easier on our backs, and on our eyes. The scenery was nothing short of gorgeous. Really. I was impressed... Mountains upon rolling hills upon Jagged limestone rocks all covered in lush green were littering the horizon, while soggy old looking villages and town, surrounded by bountiful rice crops were all there was to see for hundreds of miles. No doubt I was looking at only a fraction of what china has to offer, but I was finally starting to like it. as we were getting closer to Guilin, we could see in the distance a hint of what was awaiting us, a sort of a lime stone rock forest, something Thailand could only dream to have.

We arrived at Guilin at 19:30 pm. At the station, there was one of the hostel workers,waiting for us with my name on a piece of paper. He lead us to the hostel, which was a pleasant surprise since it was new and clean. After a quick shower and settling down, we went out to see what this town has to offer.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I was sitting alone inside the 3rd Terminal of Ben-Gurions airport, with a lot of time on my hands. It was Friday night, with Half of the stores closed. Luckily for me, the Wii console was operating, so the waiting itself wasn't that awful.

As I was boarding the plane, I met 2 more Israelis, a young guy and a girl, who were flying to hong kong as well, so at least I had someone to talk to on the long flight. and It was long indeed. The first stop was Amman, with a 2 hour waiting time. The next stop was Bangkok, with a one hour waiting inside the plane, while the cleaning crew was vacuuming our legs. Only then we headed towards Hong kong, with a total flight time of 13 hours.

Windows 2000 in Amman airport

At the airport I parted from the two Israelis, who were making their way to Hong kong itself, and at 8:45 I hurried to catch the last ferry to the Chinese border of Shenzhen. The ferry ride was short, with hardly any people other than me, and the border processing was relatively quick. Soon I was out in the open, ready to face the unknown. Unfortunately, the unknown was practically on my face, even before I could blink. a throng of cab drivers was all over me like a pack of vultures as soon as I was out, shouting Chinese scripts that didn't sound anything like poetry, and the meaning of "no thank you" did not have any effect on their relentless badgering. After I chose my designated cab driver, he took me to his "cab", an unmarked ordinary car, and I was quickly on my way towards the Shenzhen train station. I didn't expect to catch any train, but I wanted to be close to it in order to catch the first one in the morning.

The ride was, well, a long one. First impression of a what characterise china is is that its huge. Everything is so spacious and distant from one another. Different town centres were passing by, with huge buildings towering above me. Especially I was stunned by the sheer ferocity of the compartment buildings, with huge blocks going on for miles and miles, hinting the massive amount of human beings nestling in china.

The driver didn't know any form of English, so I didn't even ask him why are we stopping to take a woman in the middle of the road. With a bit of hand signaling, he told me that its his wife, who also didn't know English, so for the rest of the ride I was sitting quietly, with both of them fighting about something that only Chinese could fight about.

He dropped me off at the train station. I felt wonderful. I was not tensed in any way from the new unfamiliar environment, and I was actually grinning from the fact that I was probably the only foreigner in a 50 blocks radius.

I went for a walk around the area. Most of the stores were closed at that time, and only a relatively few (in china-thousands) people were walking up and down the streets to an unknown destination. Even before I could turn at the first corner, I was approached by 3 people simultaneously who offered me a cheap place to stay for the night. I smiled and declined politely. Then they offered me a wonderful massage for my aching body. Again I happily refused. Then they pulled out their ace card, and I quote: "good girl, fuck you suck you OK?!".

I quickly moved on to my wanderings. Every now and then a taxi would pull out next to me and follow me while asking every 5 seconds where I go till they would figure out I'm not interested.

After some walking, I discovered a McDonald's place. I gladly went inside, to avoid all the harassment, and the air conditioning was a blessing. The time was 22:45 or so. I got out of there at 4:45.

Reading in McDonald's

Now I don't know how long others have been waiting in a McDonald's place, but I definitely broke a personal record. My plan was to wait for the first train early in the morning that would take me to Guang-zhou, and from there to catch the first train to Hainan island in the south. I didn't want to pay for a hostel since I would only have from what I thought only 3 hours of decent sleep. So, I spent those hours, and some more, at the McDonald's place. There I met a Chinese guy who could actually speak English. He lived in Canada for a while so we were able to have a relatively decent conversation. He asked me where I was from, but he didn't know whats "Israel". He asked me if I'm christian, but he didn't know whats "Jew". But all in all, he helped me a lot, since I discovered with his help that there are no trains at the designated hour I was planning on.

While I was in McDonald's, they were sleeping next to the train station in Shenzhen

He helped me get a good price on a cab ride to Guang-zhou (also an unmarked one), and at 5:00 I was on my way with 2 more people on the enormous and empty highways of China. From time to time the driver would stop, change his license plates like its a common practice among Chinese, and move on to the next highway toll booth.

The Best picture I have of Kim

finally, after a two hours drive, I got to the train station at 7:00 am. The train I wanted to catch was at 6:55 am. So I booked a ticket for the next train, at 15:15 pm. Now I had to keep myself busy for the next 8 hours, so I got out of the station into the crowded central square somewhere deep inside Guang-zhou proper. All over people were going from point A to point B, or sitting on the floor, waiting for a train or whatever there is to wait for at this time of hour. The broad streets were sparsely dotted with unfamiliar vehicle and a multitude of electric motorbikes. For a central place, it was actually relatively quiet.

I wound up the intricate bridge towards the big familiar yellow M sign. I knew that I would, again, have to pass the time inside those depressingly clowny painted walls. But I did went out to walk around the area for a bit. I went down nearby into a massive underground wholesale market, which was interesting, but irrelevant to me. Unfortunately, the Chinese style of city engineering apparently prevents any form of variety of businesses in a designated area, so all around me, for minutes upon minutes of walking under the boiling sun, I faced wholesale markets wherever I went. So I went back to McDonald's.

Ronald the skateboard dude and I

At about 13:30 I transferred myself into the train station waiting rooms, which were packed with Chinese... needless to say that I was the only foreigner in sight. I saw a few foreigners back at McDonald's, but the quantity was scarce, and it only added the whole people-are-staring-at-me-all-the-time factor.

Guang-Zhou station

Finally, 15:30, I was on the train, at the "hard-sleeper" section, in a small yet cozy bed, with relatively few people all around. Since there was no one to talk to, I either read my book or slept like a Chinese baby. In no time (11 hours), I was in the city of Haikou at 2:00 am, being harassed by a throng of the usual Taxi drivers. I prepared beforehand the Chinese address to the hostel where my Raquel was waiting for me, so communication with the driver was easy. After 30 minutes I was there, ringing the door-bell and waking up the cute dogs who were among the residents. As the door opened, I was viciously charged by Raquel, who jumped on me yelping. As soon as I was holding her, it was as if the past 3 days of my trip never happened... The beginning was now, with her. That night we didn't sleep at all from the excitement and the relief. We had a lot to catch up, and a lot to think about concerning the trip. At 6 o'clock, we went down for breakfast, watched movies and just relaxed the whole day, since both of us were victims of long harsh road to Hainan island. In the evening, there was a little surprise waiting for me. We were at our room, when we heard a knock on the door. In front of us there was Vladimir, a Russian Israeli guy who started working in Haikou only a month ago at a traveling agency. He took us for a meal and a foot massage, and told us what he knows about the Island. The meal was from the street, and what is worthy of remembering was that at some point, the entire food market all around us suddenly got up to its feet and fled. It appears that someone saw the police coming to the area, and they all disappeared behind the corner before you could say Mao-ze-dong. Even our own cook tried to hide, but we didn't pay him yet, so he was forced to stay (although he hid his grill). The massage was cheap and luxurious, so no complaints there.
Vladimir parted from us after giving me his business card, and Raquel and I went to sleep.

Morning came, and we had our weird breakfast at a Chinese restaurant in which I could only guess what was in our noodles. After quick packing, we took a cab towards the central bus station, where we got on a 3 and a half hour bus to the southern city on the island, Sanya. From what we were told by Vladimir, Sanya was, believe it or not, a Russian tourist based city. We just didn't know to what extent... till we got there.
In case you are wondering, our hostel was the crappy looking one

Although it was definitely low season, we could see the few Russian people walking the humid rainy streets, surrounded by expensive restaurants with Russian signs all over the place. while the English ones were only fine printed. We unfortunately got the hang out of the city pretty quick... expensive, rainy, with lousy diving spots, or so we've heard. So we basically enjoyed our time together without the help of the city itself. One thing that we found amuzing was to "play" with the shop-keepers who were constantly sticking to us like glue - we would separate and try to block them all the time, or criss-cross just for the fun of it.

Now we are at the hostel, waiting to go out in the evening towards the train station, for a whole day of riding towards our next destination, at a place called Guilin.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Leaving on a jet li plane

It's been a full month already. Acutally, it felt like a whole lot more. The problem was that it wasn't the "whole lot more" I've been expecting, or expected, to do. Ever since the first few days, when I did my little surprising of the family at the circumcision party, it all went downhill. I can actually summarize my entire monthly endavour in one word - Slouching. It was horrible... the days were slipping by so slowly and yet so unnoticed, with me not helping whatsoever to change that... I guess I was depressed. I felt too weak, mentally-wise, to get up on my feet and do something. I was afraid. Afraid to think about the one and only thing that was badgering my delicate unused brain. Maybe I was also afraid I would be happy of the outcome - being happy with someone... with Raquel, that is (for those who aren't well informed).

It all came down to this - the question whether I should go after Raquel and find out if she can be more than just a one time memorable event in my dreary life, or just stay put, forget about her, and regret that decision for the rest of my existance.

Well, I decided to go, of course. It took sometime, I'll confess, mostly due to overclocking my brain with gaming hours and doing whatever I can not to think about it. From time to time, I would ask a friend or a relative for their opinion, but I didn't need their advise, since I already knew what I want... I just didn't have the guts to do it. I much prefered to drown in the lovely world of pixelated figures and plastic guitars.
Luckily, my brother and his wife, who were graciously hosting my bum-like ass, devised a wondrous, efficient way of slapping me into my senses - they enslaved me into work.

Every day I was forced to endure unimaginable hardships, such as, well, washing the dishes! or cleaning the floor for christ sake!
fortunately, it actually empowered me with renewed spirits of some sort, and through that I was able to process my next flight schedule, which eventually led me to China. I knew Raquel would travel there, so I contacted her and informed her I would be joining her there, to see if we can strive to be what we envisioned ourself to be.
So, I guess this is it... I'm off to China. the next post would be from there.