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Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles

a travel blog by zachel

Hello everyone. This blog is meant for our friends and concerned family members who would like to keep track of our adventures in the Orient. We'll be updating our journey with blog entries and pictures periodically to show an idea of how our trip is going.

Coincidentally and luckily, both of our last days at Avalon English Academy fell on February 27th. After an amazing year in Korea, we sent most of our possessions on a slow boat to America while we ourselves took a slow boat to China. Forgoing the conventional form of transportation, we decided to save a little money and take the overnight Weidong ferry from Incheon, Korea to Qingdao, China, our first stop.

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Goodbye, ROK.

Ich'on-mal, South Korea

permalink written by  zachel on February 28, 2009 from Ich'on-mal, South Korea
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
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Colonial German town

Qingdao, China

permalink written by  zachel on March 1, 2009 from Qingdao, China
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We made it!

Qingdao, China

We made it!

Our boat from Incheon was scheduled to depart at 2pm on Saturday, but didn't end up leaving until 5:30pm. The New Golden Bridge VI Panama had few frills. There was one Korean restaurant open only for one hour for meal times and NO convenience store. We got pretty thirsty and there was no place to buy water! Upon seeing the likes of the communal rooms, we promptly upgraded to a private room for 30,000 won (money well spent). We took a nap from around 8pm until midnight and then woke up for a few hours. It was really dark and windy outside and the waves had grown stronger. It was a cool sensation to go outside and look off the edge of the boat at night. We could see the lights of some other boats off in the distance and a bunch of stars in the sky. The water looked black. When we went back in, Zack started to feel seasick. The way the boat was shaking felt pretty similar to turbulence on an airplane combined with a slow up-down rocking sensation. After playing GoStop, a Korean card game, for a couple of hours we went to bed around 3am. At 7am a breakfast call was repeatedly announced over the loud speakers in the room about 5 times (very annoying). The boat pulled into Qingdao port around 1:30pm, but they wouldn't let us off until 3pm. We were on the boat for over 21 hours!

After getting off the boat we breezed through customs without them even checking our bags. While I was in the bathroom, Zack was immediately approached by a man asking if we wanted to change money. No thanks. Our money belts are already stocked with CYN.
As we walked out of the port, an eager "taxi" driver approached. I showed him the address of our hostel and asked him how much (doushou qian?). He said "three" and gestured with 3 fingers. We were in for our first of no doubt many wild cab rides. After almost mowing over some woman backing out with his van, our driver went off on a rampage, almost hitting men, women, and children, and honking wildly all the while. Finally, 5 long minutes later, we arrived at our hostel. The man demanded 30 CNY (equivalent to 6,000 won), which we refused. He had said 3! We only gave him 10 (2,000 won), which he was not at all happy about.

Our hostel, Kaiyue International Youth Hostel, in Qingdao is sweet. There's a very chill bar/restaurant/cafe on the first floor. The only drawback is that our room is not exactly heated. We were freezing last night! In addition, the hot water ran out after about 10 minutes and poor Zack had to take a cold shower.

Yesterday we did some walking around the city. The German architecture is pretty cool, but dilapidated. Today we got up early and went to the Tsingtao Brewery for a tour. The brewery was established by the Germans in 1903. There is a museum attached to the brewery that displays all the old equipment and shows old bottles of the beer. We also saw the conveyor belt rapidly shuffling cans of Tsingtao down the line. Next we managed to order some vegetarian food at a Chinese restaurant. We ate some delicious noodles with veggies in some brown sauce and some white rice with buttered ginger. Next we went and walked to the beach. We saw groups of men practicing volleyball in a circle wearing only speedos. Mind you, it's cold enough to be wearing winter coats here. I was wearing a heavy scarf and hat and wishing I had brought my gloves. We also saw two guys swimming. Crazy.

Well, that's about it for now. Our hostel helped us book a train ticket to Beijing for 7:45 tomorrow (Tuesday, March 3) morning.

permalink written by  zachel on March 2, 2009 from Qingdao, China
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged Qingdao, Incheon, NewGoldenBridge and TsingTaoBrewery

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China's capital.

Beijing, China

permalink written by  zachel on March 3, 2009 from Beijing, China
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Beijing, China

We've been in Beijing for close to a week now scouring the city and all of the big sites. From Qingdao we took a 6 hour bullet train to Beijing. Along the way it was easy to see why all of your clothes say "Made in China" on the tag. There was practically no residential housing on the trip. Almost the entire countryside was devoted to factories and farming. We saw greenhouses as far as the eyes could see. The poverty that could be gleaned from the train ride was surpassed by anything that I have ever seen.
We got to Beijing around 3 o'clock. Leaving the train station we followed arrows to the exit and ended up in a parking garage underneath the station where taxis were lined up waiting to take the throngs of tourists and buisnesspeople to their destinations. When we got in our cab,the driver knew right where to go and got us to our hostel in about 30 minutes. We quickly unloaded and took off to make the most of the remaining daylight. After breezing around the hutong (old part of the city) and coming across the Lama temple we headed for Tian'amen Square. We got to Tian'amen Square during sunset which was perfect so we could see the contrast between day and night.
It turned out we made a good decision by checking out the square that night. When we went back the next day it was blocked off due to a military spectacle. We gazed at the Qianamen Gate and then went to try to get inside the National Grand Theater or the Egg as it is commonly referred to. This structure is brand new (built in 2007) and looks like an alien spaceship. There were no tours available until 1pm and we didn't feel like hanging around so we went to the Lama Tibetan Temple.
The next day we had clear and sunny skies. Up until this point it was dry and gloomy and we were beginning to wonder if there were ever any sunny days in Beijing. We decided that it was the perfect day to visit the Forbidden City. We entered the palace and spent the next three hours exploring the historic remains. I have been to so many temples in the past year but this was distinct in its enormity. The engravings and golden tiled roof made it the most remarkable thing that I have witnessed in Asia so far. We walked what seem to be an eternity and eventually exited through the back entrance to meet the teeming hordes of "businessmen." These "businessmen" try to sell tours to the Hutong and the Great Wall. They do not take no for an answer. They will try to engage you in conversation by asking where you are from and where are you going. Rachel would answer, "none of your business." We stopped in to eat in the Hutong before going to a park right next to the Forbidden Palace. We climbed to the top of a hill in a park that overlooks the Forbidden Palace with a view that is stunning. After this we were exhausted and we made our way back to the hostel.
No visit to Beijing is complete without a hike along the Great Wall. Rachel recommended going back to the Simati section of the wall that she went to a couple of years ago. This part is for people in reasonably good shape since we had to hike 10 kilometers. The Great wall was one of the greatest things that I had ever seen in my life. Really spectacular views. It looks like something from the Lord of the Rings movie. By the time we finished the trek we were completely exhausted. I am still extremely tired from the night before. We are both having a great time and were impressed with the city. Beijing rocks! I'd keep writing but were trying to go to the Temple of Heaven. Life is rough.


permalink written by  zachel on March 9, 2009 from Beijing, China
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged GreatWallLamaTempleBeijing

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Zhengzhou, China

permalink written by  zachel on March 9, 2009 from Zhengzhou, China
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Some pictures from the Longmen Grottoes, Shaolin Si, and Gongyi

Gongyi, China

permalink written by  zachel on March 9, 2009 from Gongyi, China
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Journey from Beijing to Gongyi

Zhengzhou, China

This past Monday Rachel and I left Beijing and headed South for Gongyi, which is just west of the city of Zhengzhou. The 9 hour train ride turned out to be one for the ages. We were both being unreasonably cheap, trying to make our money stretch enough so we can eventually reach Indonesia. When the lady at the ticket counter told us that there was a ticket on the hard-seat for 94 rmb (not even $14) we jumped on it. How bad could it be, it was only a 9 hour train-ride? Rose did it. Big mistake...
We left from our hostel at 5:40 am and got to the train station just a few minutes past 7. When we arrived in the waiting room we received a typical reaction being the only two foreigners in a train station in China. Both of us groggily found a couple of empty seats to rest in the packed waiting room. In just a few minutes we saw this cute little boy with his father doting along behind him. All of a sudden the toddler squats down in his crotch-less pants and starts peeing in the middle of the waiting room. This is actually not uncommon to see in China. Crotch-less pants for toddlers are all the rage. During our week in Beijing we noticed a couple of parents encouraging their children to let loose, even in the Forbidden City.
Shortly after the child's public urination, a train station employee with nary a care, treks through the fresh puddle. About ten minutes later a "maintenance worker" with a mop comes over to clean up the mess.
A little later in our wait right after Rachel went to the bathroom, a beggar walked across the train station headed directly for me and then knelt down right in front of me in a full bow, forehead to the ground, hands spread before him. I am meanwhile taken aback by this act and don't really know what to do. After he is done he carried on by going down the line to each individual person and repeating the act. I will say that he probably made 30 rmb in a short amount of time.
Around this time there was a long line of people ready to get on the train. We really couldn’t understand why people were concerned with being the first to get on the train. Unless people had standing room only on their tickets they were presumably guaranteed a seat on the train. Finally, the gates opened and throngs of eager passengers rushed to get their tickets checked. Once we arrived to the platform, the train had not yet opened its doors for the passengers to get on the train. We waited at the end of the line and the people again tried to surge to get on the train as quickly as possible, pushing and shoving. The employee checking tickets was visibly not happy. By the time we got on the train there was a traffic jam in the middle of the aisle with no one moving. These people were not the sharpest tools in the shed since they just stood there looking helpless with faraway looks in their eyes. We still needed to make it all the way to the back of the car where our seats were. After about a minute of being patient, Rachel and I started to loudly make comments about this in English. This of course does no good since very few people spoke English on the train. At least they could hear a bit of annoyance in our voices. We gave them a chance to start moving. Once it was clear that nothing was going to happen, Rachel began to push past the statues with me right behind her.
When we made it to our seats they were separated by an aisle. The seats on one side of the aisle sat six with a small table separating the seats, while the other side of the aisle held four. The people in the cluster of six seats were nice enough to move to the other side so Rachel and I could sit next to each other. Fortunately, there were three nice teenaged college guys sitting across from us. Now the problem became apparent that there were four big guys sharing this little space on hard wooden benches covered with a bed sheet. There could have been worse seating arrangements. The toddler that had earlier urinated in the train station was just a few rows ahead of us. Later we witnessed that same child urinating in the hall outside the bathroom doors.
I was in one of the aisle seats so whenever someone passed with a cart they would hit my arm. This went on for the next nine hours. After getting up before dawn we thought that we would be able sleep on the train to pass the time. As soon as the train started to move peddlers’ began to come out of the woodwork and sell their wares. To our annoyance, these people were selling not only things that people might actually want to buy like snacks and drinks but also useless junk like stupid plastic toys and a brush to clean your socks. These vendors would parade loudly up and down the aisles in an attempt to sell their products. Not exactly an ideal environment for sleeping.
The icing on the cake came when the teenage girl next to Rachel who had been playing with her cell phone the entire ride answered a call. She began screaming into the phone in a hysteric rage. She was literally crying and screaming. Naturally, this drew attention from the passengers around us. What she was saying must have been hilariously immature because everyone in earshot began laughing uproariously. If only we could speak Chinese.
Around this time, the train ride began to turn around for the better. People began to show their interest in us, especially Rachel. The last hour people began to come around and try to strike up conversations with their limited English. You could tell that most people were good hearted and curious about what brought us to the area and why we were sitting on the cheapest seats on the budget train. By the time we arrived in Zhengzhou people were merrily informing us that this was our stop. A guy even helped Rachel put her pack on.
With the train ride behind us we made our way to the bus station across the street and purchased tickets on the next bus to Gongyi, departing in just 30 minutes. This bus felt like the lap of luxury after the benches on the train. A kind attendant on the bus asked where we were heading and told us that she would inform us when we reached Chenggong College where Rose, Rachel’s college roommate lives and teaches. Almost on cue we ran into Rose just after getting off the bus at the gates of the college.
The last couple of days have been fun and relaxing. We’ll fill you in about our experiences here in a couple of days!

permalink written by  zachel on March 16, 2009 from Zhengzhou, China
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged TrainZhengzhouGongyi

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Yangshuo, China

permalink written by  zachel on March 17, 2009 from Yangshuo, China
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From Gongyi to Yangshuo

Yangshuo, China

After our busy week in Beijing, we spent a relaxing week in a city called Gongyi visiting my old college roommate, Rose, at Chenggong College where she lives and teaches. Since Rose only teaches about 2 hours a day, she had lots of time to hang out. Our first day was spent exploring the small farming village that lies behind her college campus. We saw farmers at work in the fields of wheat. We also saw lots of caves built into the side of the clay hills. According to Lonely Planet, millions of Chinese people lives in these clay caves. One of Rose's co-workers explained that these caves are not actually that primitive and that many of them have comforts of modern life like televisions. Another day was spent exploring the ruins and ancient statues in a park in downtown Gongyi. On Friday we took a daytrip away from Gongyi to visit the Unesco World Heritage Site, the Longmen Grottoes. Here we saw more the 100,000 Buddhist statues carved into caves. The largest statues towered above us at more than 50 feet. It was truly amazing to see and totally worth the hassle of getting there and back and the pricey entrance fee (125 RMB, equivalent to more than 20 USD).
The highlight of the week was definitely the weekend trip Rose, Zack, and I took to Shaolin Si, a Buddhist Monastery in the mountains, about 2 hours away from Gongyi by bus. The monastery was founded in the 5th century and is famous for being the home of Kung Fu. We had a beautiful day—blue skies and sun! We saw hundreds of young Chinese men practicing Kung Fu outside. We attended a Kung Fu show and then strolled around the beautiful temples. As the sunset, we explored the pagoda forest where you can walk through hundreds ancient stone pagodas. Rose got her picture in front of a pagoda dating to sometime BC and was then told by a Chinese woman that it was bad luck to get a picture by an ancient pagoda. Hmmm… Planning to take a big hike the next morning, we stayed at a hotel at the base of the mountain, actually on the grounds of the monastery. It was very dark and quiet, almost spooky at night. We could see lots of stars. Once we made it back to the room, it was quite cold so we huddled around the tiny space heater. Rose went to bed wearing her hat and scarf! The next morning we embarked on what would be a 5 hour rigorous hike, beginning with hundreds of stairs. Our efforts were rewarded with breathtaking views. The path winded around, literally hugging the side of mountains. Looking up you could see the top of the mountain, looking down was a sheer cliff. I felt like Indiana Jones at one point, crossing a rope bridge connecting two cliffs.
We were all tired and extremely hungry by the time we made it back to Gongyi, so we decided to go out for a meal at a hotpot restaurant. Here we were stared at like we had just arrived on a spaceship from Mars. We were the only people in this restaurant. More than 15 waitresses plus the bus boys and cooks were ALL staring and laughing at us. It was as if they had never seen a white person before! To be fair, that might actually be the case. Still, it was quite unnerving. We just wanted to eat! Why were they laughing? A waitress would come and re-fill one of our glasses and her co-workers would erupt in laughter. I could feel the eyes upon me each time I lifted the chopsticks to my lips.
On Monday morning, Zack and I said our goodbyes to Rose and caught a bus from Gongyi to Zhengzhou. In Zhengzhou we caught at 12:30pm train bound for Guilin, a 22 hour journey. Having learned our lesson from the terrible hard-seat experience that Zack described in our last blog entry, we purchased the luxurious SOFT sleeper for 500 RMB (73 USD). The soft sleeper on the train consists of a private room with 2 bunk beds. We lucked out and got a whole room to ourselves, so we were able to lock the door at night and sleep soundly.
When we arrived in Guilin, we immediately hopped on a bus to reach our current location, Yangshuo, which is about 65km from Guilin. Yangshuo, which sits on the Li River and is surrounded by mountains, is a backpacker's paradise. The limestone mountain peaks surrounding town are so beautiful that they look fake. On our first full day, we rented bikes and went on an amazing ride through the mountains. Today we floated down the Li River for over 2 hours on a bamboo raft, soaking in the beauty. Words can't do this place justice. We'll post pictures as soon as possible.

permalink written by  zachel on March 19, 2009 from Yangshuo, China
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged GongyiYangshuoShaolinLongmen

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