June 14, 2006
Picture Titles and Descriptions
I've added titles and descriptions to some of the pictures found here:
And this is it for my posting on my trip!
June 10, 2006
Not In The Pictures
Notes from the trip and afterwards of things not in the pictures or underrepresented there:
Most of India and China. Because I didn't go there. Yes, that's self-evident, but it's a good thing to remember when looking over the pictures or reading my thoughts on my trip. I have a hard time not thinking of having certain ideas on India and China when I've only seen a glimpse of the countries. This journey was like visiting one city in the US- you may think you know the US from visiting New York, but that's a whole different America to my parents from Wisconsin.
People everywhere. In all places but pockets of Beijing, Xian, and Manali, I was surrounded by people. Overcrowding wasn't something abstract.
The food- the spices, prawn, leg of mutton, oxtail, sushi, live shrimp, chai, Tsing Tao, naan, mangoes, and all the rest of things I tasted and miss now.
The insanity of driving in India. Lanes are an ignored suggestion. Vehicles squeeze into any spot available. Drivers honk every time they pass a car, want to pass a car, or because they haven't honked for awhile. Cars share the road with people, cows, bicycles, and all types of rickshaws. In Jaipur, camels and elephants are added to the mix while in Manali, sheep and goats surround your car. Highways have cars going in the wrong direction, and all rules of the road were negotiable with a well-positioned car or a honk.
Always having your money being checked as a counterfeit in China.
The variety on the street. I didn't take as many pictures of this as I would have liked to, because I often felt awkward as the White Guy Taking Pictures. But I saw the many stands selling the same candy bars and water bottles everywhere, dogs roaming around, people always standing in the shade, the occasional tourist, the trash, the white collar working bustling around like in every city, the beggars, the bewildering street signs, and a thousands other things unique to each location.
The hand of government in China. Not nearly as overtly prevalent as I expected, but still noticeable in the police and soldiers everywhere in Beijing, even given that it's a capital with many important sites. And seen in the lack of Internet cafes and the troubles with visiting certain websites. When gmail is your lifeline to your home, you quickly learn the tricks of keeping it working. Like turning off gmail chat, which consistently blocks gmail for five minutes.
The infrastructure problem in India. Roads in disrepair next to high-tech buildings. Lights flickering in Delhi. Airports where flights are always late. Building projects that never seem to be worked on.
Having a personal server in many restaurants. Often I'd be the only person a restaurant, and the staff would come by if I merely looked in their direction.
The other world travelers I met and the amazing stories I heard. Like the guy who went into someone's room in Manali, was asked to take a "shipment" back to Delhi, and ended up jumping out the window.
The cows in India. I don't have nearly enough pictures of them and how they are a normal part of the scenery.
The construction going on. Everywhere but Hong Kong, which already absurdly built up, there was a massive amount of construction in unexpected places.
The music of India, which I enjoyed more than I knew.
The selling. One of the sourest parts of the trip for me. Often things went well, but the bad experiences overshadowed them. In India, everyone was your best friend but tried to charge you 50x too much or gave you incorrect change. In China, sellers would grab at you, trying to pull you back. I understand the reasons for this, that many people make 10x to 30x less than I do, but that didn't make it less unpleasant. I wasn't someone to argue over small amounts and a few of the sellers did treat me fairly. My favorite buy was a 8 yuan Terracotta Warrior set in Xian. My guide told me that those not bought from the museum would definitely break, but I bought two, which got home without problems.
The unmentioned tour stops. All day tours would take its trapped passengers to a guided factory or other place where you can buy things, at inflated prices. My favorite stop was on the Chinese tour group I took to Mount Hua Shan. It was fun to see a non-English version of these stops. We were first taken to a complex where everyone was in white coats. A man led us into a room, where he talked for ten minutes in Mandarin and showed various plants. Then we were taken into the showroom where countless women stood behind the counters selling herbs of all shapes and colors.
The excitement in Beijing over the Olympics. Signs were everywhere that referenced the Olympics. Perhaps the city always feels like this, but the city felt very new to me, like everything had just been constructed or shined.
The Western feeling of Hong Kong. I knew it'd be different than the rest of China, but I didn't know how different. Most of this post doesn't relate to Hong Kong, which often felt like a European city with much more crowding and skyscrapers.
The heat in Jaipur. I enjoyed the city a lot, but the heat was extraordinary. A half day outside in 110+ F left me drinking five pints of water and two liters of soda.
In India, always being asked about my family or a marriage first. I was never asked where I work or what I do for a living.
All the English, everywhere. A lot more than I expected in China. In Beijing, a lot of younger people walked with me and practiced their English.
The poverty that I didn't feel right taking pictures of. People living next to pigs in the trash in Delhi. The beggars swarming and pleading everywhere in Xian.
The tricks that those on the street who wanted my money played on me. I almost always ignored those who talked to me, so I only heard a few of these.
The breathtaking sights of the Taj Mahal and Mount Hua Shan. Pictures aren't good enough to show this completely.
The traveling part of traveling. 50+ hours in the air and more than that in cars and buses. I didn't mind the traveling as much as I expected, as long as I was feeling well and the driver didn't make me feel like I was going to die on the road.
June 07, 2006
I have uploaded the rest of my trip pictures here:
New pictures can be found in the Xian, Hong Kong, and Manali sets. I have comments to be added to some of the pictures, but this will be done later.
Back and Well (Mostly)
I got back safely last night, but I am still fighting off a nasty cold that I managed to pick up on the last day of the trip. Well, either a cold or Typhoid. No, we'll go with a cold.
June 05, 2006
Tomorrow morning I get on a flight and head back to Boston. The bag is tightly packed, the beard is too long, and I'm ready to head back home.
I wish my last day wouldn't have left a bad taste in my mouth- more than anywhere else, in Delhi the sellers and people on the street kept trying to work me over. One of the people was apologetic about it, one person succeeded, and all the rest were ignored. But the night has been better, as I am staying at one of the best hotels in the city to get some good sleep before the long flight home.
I haven't written at all about my time in Manali, which was very... interesting. I was expecting a relaxing time at the end of my trip, but sometimes traveling has its own plans for you. While not what I expected, I did enjoy seeing mountains at 13000 feet at Rhotang pass, buying shawls from a cooperative, and being surrounded by sheep on the street when herds went by.
I do have more pictures to share as well as a "What's Not in the Pictures" post. I'll get to this once I'm back in Boston.
May 30, 2006
Hong Kong (and Beijing)
As soon as I got into the Hong Kong airport, I felt like I had left the East and was traveling in Europe. It was a welcome change at this point, a brief but expensive switch in traveling. While Hong Kong doesn't have much history to see- when the British came here 150 years ago, there was a few thousand people in the area- it has some great food, an absurd amount of shopping, and more skyline than I expected.
I'm going for dim sum (or yum cha) today at Luk Yu Tea House, some antiques shopping on Hollywood Road, and I'm not sure what else.
The friend I met in Beijing, Laura Emerick, emails people her thoughts on her trip, and she's a lot more thorough than I am. She's happy to let me repost what she's written, and I really enjoyed this section about Beijing, which you can see in part in my pictures:
After dinner we saw the famous nightmarket. Basically anything that crawls, walks, flies or swims was on a stick for sale. Beef, Chicken, Liver, Shrimp, Oyster, Clam, Crawfish, Squid, snake, Scorpion, Grasshopper, Beetle, Sparrow, Starfish, Snake Skin, Sea urchin, and a lot more. In case anyone is questioning this I have AMPLE hotographic proof. There was also noodles, pastries, fruit and vegetables. Brian and I wandered around but began to wonder if anyone actually ate the stuff. We only saw normal items being purchased. A sign said that the Night Market was government sponsored - perhaps the delicacies were just for the tourists. We had just eaten so I was very full and declined any food. After dropped Brian off, I got to thinking and realized I'd never be able to maintain my pride if I didn't try something at the Night Market. So I returned. Then I saw one Chinese man munching on some kind of insect and thought "Well maybe people do eat this stuff." I ordered Sparrow - very scary looking - small and skinned and kind of human-like. It actually tasted just fine - like chicken skin and the seasoning was quite nice. I nibbled on a bit and got my photographic proof. Emboldened, I decided to try something more daring. Tossing out my remaining sparrows (which were snatched up by that Chinese man who was munching on the bugs) I screwed up my courage (Think fear factor Laura) and ordered the caterpillar cocoons. Yep, cocoons with the larva still inside. With the help of a nice South African woman I video-taped the experience. Cocoon definitely does NOT taste like chicken! It was crispy on the outside but gooey with a fiberous pasty taste on the inside. I took a little nibble and decided I'd proved my point. Trampsing over to the garbage can, I handed to it the beggar man who REFUSED it! The beggar REFUSED the caterpillars - that proves just how nasty they are. I guess these foods really are just for the tourists.
May 26, 2006
Mount Hua Shan
Mount Hua Shan was amazing, much better than I expected. It was a strange trip, in a no-English bus where everyone tried to talk to me in Mandarin, and the climb to the top was more treacherous than one would think. But it was worth it. The mountain was my second favorite site so far- and competing with the Taj Mahal, Great Wall, and Terracotta Warriors, that's saying a lot.
I've been writing a lot about China, but I didn't have time at the beginning of the trip to write about India. I do have notes on this that I'll post later, a series of thoughts I had on what's not in the pictures.
May 25, 2006
All my trip pictures can now be found here:
The pictures were saved to CD and then uploaded to flickr. They are in a low-resolution format temporarily.
Traveling In Xian
Xian has been great, one of my favorite times of traveling. There's been more to do and see than I expected in my seven days here.
I also had my best meal of the trip here, a leg of mutton at a restaurant far away from the city center, a huge meal that I have a picture of. This was also the first time I've had someone hand me back my tip as I was leaving. Tipping is officially discouraged here, and some people think you just left the money on the table.
I'm rushing tonight, and I don't have the time I'd like tonight to write about the rest of my experiences, as I'm heading out of the city to Mount Hua Shan early tomorrow morning. The picture treat in my other post should be enough for everyone, though.
May 21, 2006
People Along the Way
I'm in Xian now, a city of 7 million in the middle of China that's most famous for the Terracotta Army. I hope that link works, as I have yet to be able to access wikipedia in China. Xian is an impressive city, more busy and modern than I expected. The downtown is situated around the Bell Tower and a great number of underground walkways, shops, and people.
Traveling solo has been interesting. I'm certainly in the minority- almost all foreigners I have seen are traveling with someone else. In some ways, it's been easier than I expected, as I've met many people on the way.
Abdul (and his friend whose name I've forgotten) were kind enough to travel hours to Bombay and see the sights with me, including a trip out into the harbor. I have no idea if they would have come to Bombay anyways, but in any case, it was much appreciated.
Bombay was made a lot more memorable because of Abdul and Manish (and his friends... whose names I've forgotten), who I saw one night in Juhu. I had a great time going out with them, capped off with drunk seafood eating in the back room of a restaurant. Manish also taught me more about Bombay and the Indian way to use rice and Naan.
Rattan-lal (whose name I'm sure I'm spelling wrong) was my driver for the Golden Triangle (Delhi/Agra/Jaipur). He tried to sell everything to me, and even asked if I'd loan him $1000. We talked a bit on the long driving trips, although I think he only understood me half of the time. I learned about his family, especially about his engaged daughter, and about the towns we passed through. On the way back to Delhi, I met his wife and son briefly, and I have a picture of him and his wife.
Sam and the unknown Chinese couple in Beijing led me to one of the biggest rides I was taken on. I met Sam on the flight, and he was in Beijing to take a train to St. Petersburg. He was on a year-long round-the-world trip, something I'm jealous of (but don't worry Dan or Betsy, not something I'm going to do). The Chinese couple (whose names, yes, I don't know) was the first people I met in China who wanted to speak English to me, one of many in Beijing. They wanted to go to dinner with Sam and I, but we had problems getting there and missed the Peking duck. So we decided to head to a tea shop. The tea was very good, and the information on it was translated well by the couple. Sam and I assumed the Chinese couple knew what they were doing, but apparently not, as the bill was much higher than anybody expected. And either they were very good actors or they got taken for a ride away from home as well. One of a few times that I've argued, paid the bill, and then shrugged or laughed off the successful attempt to dupe the foreigner.
And in the middle of this, Betsy has been here, writing me notes to tell me where to find the best hotels (which she has been very right on) and reminding me that I will survive stomach problems, eventually. Without her, this trip would have been much more difficult.
Strangely absent from my trip has been work. I hope the release is still going well.
I saw Laura, Jill, and Doug in Beijing, but this was a planned meeting. Laura is a high school friend of mine, and she was on a China tour with some of her friends. They had two days off in Beijing, which Jill planned well, as I saw things I certainly wouldn't of seen otherwise. It was surreal, meeting a friend you haven't seen in a long time on the other side of the world.
May 18, 2006
As Many Pictures As Possible
I got a call last night, telling me that my Great Wall tour was too "dangerous". I only understood half of what was being said, but I did understand that the tour for Thursday was cancelled, and that I could go on a similar one on Friday. So I had another day of rest today, which I needed more than I thought, as my body still isn't happy with me.
Trying to get pictures up has been... interesting. I say interesting instead of the curse words that I don't know how to say in Mandarin. I've found one computer where my camera will be recoginzed, but I can't get the computer out of Chinese as the default language. And everything is very, very slow. It's just another adventure on this adventure, although one that bothers me more than not being able to find cold medicine or mouthwash. Here's a very few pictures for now:
May 17, 2006
Bombay and Hong Kong Movies
I haven't been feeling very well the past few days, and so I've had a little time in my room, rubbing my belly and watching TV. More than the sanitized HBO, I've really enjoyed watching the Hong Kong movie channel. The melodramatic story lines and action (including Jackie Chan) have been enjoyable. Unrelatedly, I also liked seeing a few glimpses of Bollywood in Mumbai/Bombay. The singing and dancing weren't for me, but it was facinating, with many beautiful women (sorry Betsy) to watch.
I'm once again trying to upload the pictures, and while I've progressed farther on the current computer than in the past, it's currently stuck installing a driver, and the text is in Chinese. I'm getting a little nervous, as I'd really like to make sure the pictures are safe. I'll be trying yet again in two days.
I just rested and ran errands (picked up a plane ticket, mailed things home, etc) today. Yesterday was spent with my high school friend Laura, after we veered off from her tour friends. The highlight of that day was the insects and other creatures we saw on sticks being sold on the street.
Tomorrow, off to see the Great Wall. I'm skipping the Ming Tombs and traveling farther out of the city to see the Great Wall.
May 14, 2006
I tried to get the pictures up today but had four computers where either the USB port didn't work or I couldn't access it. I have a few more free days coming up where I'll try this. I'm spending some extra days in my current hotel, as my traveling has tired me out, and I need a break. A vacation from my vacation while in Beijing.
I took it easy today, but I still bought a bunch of strange candy to ship home, talked for awhile with another Chinese person wanting to learn more English, got followed around in stores (where I'm asked if I want to buy random things from the shelves), saw the hundreds of food sellers near the Forbidden City, and tried to help a French couple figure out what email is.
May 12, 2006
Not in Jail or a Monastary
Hello all. Yes I am alive and well. I am writing this from my hotel in Beijing, a twenty minute walk to the Forbidden City. To answer an email, I am not in jail someplace or studying in a monastery! I simply haven't had a chance to get on the Internet in the last five days.
It's been a strange and varied trip so far. I've had a wonderful day with Abdul and Manish in Mumbai, seen the Taj Mahal, rode an elephant, dealt with lots of pressure selling, seen lots of poverty, closed my eyes in the car to deal with the insanity of driving, been laughed at for my foreign ways in Beijing, talked to lots of interesting people.
I have a lot of pictures to share, but I don't think I'll have time to upload them today. They should be here within the next two days. I'm going to have a Peking duck dinner tonight with two people from China who are visiting Beijing on a vacation from school. They are studying English and were very happy to be able to practice their English on me.
I have more notes and things I'd like to share about my trip in time, but it's time to answer the backlog of email.
May 02, 2006
Welcome to my travel blog, To 北京 And Back. If I have my characters correct, 北京 stands for Beijing, which is approximately the halfway point of my trip. Here's the full schedule:
It hasn't sunk in that I'll be starting this adventure tomorrow night. I'm still printing details and getting supplies, and I'll only start wondering what in the world I'm doing once I settle in for the first seven hour flight.
I mostly plan to use this blog to post pictures for friends and family. If you'd like to say hello (or know someone who wants to say hello abroad), you can comment here or email me at brian at deitte dot com.