Monkey Business

Before I let my new Hong Kong rants unravel, I must make an announcement. As for those who follow my blog, you may well remember that in my previous post on Hong Kong I promised to search for the monkey, which is rumored to be on campus. I must disappoint in saying that my wilderness skills are non-existent, and I have therefore not been able to gain up on the creature yet. However, my dear, dear friend from Finland clearly knows a thing or two on how to search for this climbing beast. On her way to class a cat-like noise caught her attention (ironically the same class I go to, had I not been in the Philippines). Only, the noise came from a big, fat monkey indulging in human trash. By courtesy of Karoliina, I hereby give you proof of her encounter, which also satisfy my need for settling the “rumor”.

Just as in my last post, my taste buds have once again been catered to. One experience worth reporting on – which I am admittedly late at trying out – was a visit at Mr. Wong’s. From the outside, this restaurant looks like your average Chinese restaurant found on any side street of this city. Yet, the personality of the owner differentiates this joint from all the other eateries. For 50hkd, Mr. Wong will provide you with enough food and drinks to last you a week, whilst telling you life stories and other fun anecdotes. I cannot guarantee that all of these stories will be understood; as I am yet to uncover what language he is truly speaking. However, the English that I do understand brings a huge smile to my face, and a night here guarantees you a lot of fun – well worth your money. Also, dim sum is slowly becoming the center of my universe. It is without a doubt the best Sunday pastime I can think of, and luckily I have an obliging roomie who willingly takes me to the local hotspot near campus so I can get my dim sum fix. It is no joke that Hong Kong is famous for its food. If you know where to go, you will not be disappointed. Even if you don’t know where to go (like me), behind my veil of ignorance, I have still not been disappointed.

I also started attending regular dance classes at a dance studio near Tsim Sha Tsui (Infinity Dance Studio). I have danced for some time now, without ever claiming to be good at it, but having always loved it. However, for some time back in little Denmark, I’ve felt like I lost the joy in dance, lost the fun in it all. Luckily, the classes in Hong Kong have proven amazing. The level is better than at home, with teachers and students who all move with such breathtaking accuracy that my eyes hurt a little. My lack of skills becomes even more apparent – BUT: I have rediscovered the fun – and it feels great. One Sunday the studio even had a workshop with one of my favorite female choreographers from the US, which was an amazing opportunity. I always leave that place with a smile.

More sights have also been uncovered. Along with a good friend, I managed to explore more of Central, in particular the trendy area of SoHo (South of Hollywood Road). Here you can find the Central-Mid-Levels escalator, which according to the ‘oh so’ reliable source of Wikipedia is the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. In this area you will find bars upon bars, offering happy hours and tapas deals and the offerings keep on meeting you as you move up the escalator. Nearby I also stumbled upon Man Mo Temple, a small delight of Chinese worship. The mix of darkness and incent and the noise from the city outside is a strange but amusing mixture. It really exemplifies the contrasts, which you will find in Hong Kong, the modernity with a touch of longing for the ancient. Hong Kong Park also proved a highlight for me. It is somewhat of a strange mixture of your usual park-like elements such as trees and flowers, but also contains a museum of tea ware and experimental playgrounds. Nonetheless, the fact that skyscrapers are surrounding this spot truly makes it seem like a little oasis where one can escape. I will definitely come back here before immigration kicks me out.

Classes at the university are still interesting and “entertaining”, in particular my literature class. It is greatly amusing to have a Chinese professor teaching you 20th Century, English literature. Not that that is not perfectly doable, but it does add a whole other dimension to the learning and the way a text is approached. Clear culture differences become apparent in this class. Generally it has proven hard to sufficiently balance exchange amusing’s and serious learning. I never quite seem to find the right balance, some days amusement is winning, and on others the inner nerd.

My exchange semester is fleeing me and I desperately try to make the fleeting and momentary experiences last. I wish I could hit pause on the remote so as to prolong some wonderful moments here in Hong Kong. The city never ceases to amaze me, and I wish I could put my finger on why. Partly, I think, my fascination manifests itself in the eternal vibrancy and vitality. There is always something to do, somewhere to be, something to see.  This constant opportunity of uncovering new adventures is so stimulating and makes you feel like you are in the center of the happenings.

I will hopefully be able to post once more from this center, before departing for ……… Thailand.

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Painted Veil

Going from Shanghai to Guilin(22 hours) was pure luxury: we finally managed to acquire some hard-sleeper tickets. Being able to lie down whilst sleeping, thus allowing yourself to actually stretch your legs, cannot be praised enough! Time always seems to pass by quickly on the train. I belie it is because you always leave a lot of “stuff” for the train ride, so as to avoid boredom, but then one never ends up being able to do all of it (reading, writing travel-diary, etc.) It can also be difficult to have a continuous sleep as the train rattle and bustle, and such difficulties are increased when you get bunk beds right next to the sink area where Chinese men unfortunately like to practice their spitting skills.

The Painted Veil (2006). A British medical doctor fights a cholera outbreak in a small Chinese village, while also being trapped at home in a loveless marriage to an unfaithful wife. [IMDB]. The 20 Yuan note looks like this:

The final destination of our Chinese backpacking adventure was Yangshuo, best known from the movie ‘The Painted Veil’ (though I am yet to watch it) or the 20 Yuan bill. And what a way to end the journey!!! Situated right by the Li River, and surrounded by stunning peaks this was without a doubt the most beautiful stretch of our travels. It is really difficult to do the nature justice –I promise you, even if you visit it, you will be speechless. We stayed at the best hostel ever –No Kidd Inn– I must really promote and recommend this hostel. Not only was it a cosy interior, but the staff was so friendly and interacted with their guests as if everyone were best friends. Also, their rooftop overlooking the river was not too shabby. Drifting down Li River in a bamboo raft was probably the most serene activity on this trip. It was hard to take it all in. There you are, drifting at the slowest pace possible, having all the time in the world to take in the moment. The peaks are everywhere you turn, and looks like something straight out of a postcard. It is the perfect place to get away from fast-paced modernity. Whilst such a cliché statement is often used in connection with the country-side, these limestone mountains bring about a magical aurora that embraces you and make you forget about the nuisances of everyday life. The different shapes and forms make this an idyllic journey, which you don’t want to miss. We rented bikes from our hostel and had them with us the whole day, and also as we had to cross the river (where Mette had a hard time haggling; the woman clearly had monopoly on that stretch of the river, and there was no other choice but to cross). As most Danes know, biking becomes an everyday activity, especially if you live in Copenhagen: a way of transport, a taken-for-granted endeavor. However, being surrounded by the Yangshuo peaks while biking is absolutely magical. My neck was in severe pain that evening. I had simply been so busy taking in everything during the bike trip. We also stopped at Moon Hill, in order to climb the top and get some amazing views. There is probably no need to say, but we were drenched from sweat that day. A journey was also made to the rice terraces of this Chinese province, an almost 4-hour bus ride away. Unfortunately, we somehow got pressured into first going to a smaller village at the foot of the terraces, where the women are known for having excessively long hair. It was very Disneyland-inspired, but not worth the extra money. But I suppose I now have some very commercial pictures of women combing their hair on a stage. The views of the rice terraces were nonetheless stunning, and made up for the tourist trap. It was definitely disappointing that the trip had already come to an end. Nothing compares to travelling for longer periods at a time. You feel alive and humble as your senses are working in overdrive to take everything in. But as we were heading towards Hong Kong, excitement caught up with me. I will continue elaborating on my adventures whilst I am on exchange at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and I hope continue following my journey. :)

//Krissy

Concrete Jungle

Shanghai is real China, but perhaps just not the real China you had in mind.

Such begins the chapter in the ever faithful ‘Lonely Planet’, the backpackers Bible.

When I reminisce and think back to the very beginning of my journey, the contrasts are undeniable. There are no similarities between the Mongolian steppes and this concrete jungle I finally reached: Shanghai. Walking the famous Shanghai pedestrian street of Nanjing Road and strolling along the pier at The Bund, I almost feel like I entered a different country. Modernity screams at you wherever you wander, and you quickly come to realise that this is the future of this region – not the dusty imperial palaces I left behind in Beijing.

Architectural wonders
Architectural wonders

Also, the obsessive picture-requests and the obligatory peace-signs whilst taking such are no longer part of my everyday life. The city is veiled in annoying Western civility. That said, Shanghai has an addictive charm. The city is vibrant and vivacious. The skyscrapers are architectural wonders, and your neck is bent to its limits as you try to take snap-shots of the reflections of the clouds in these wondrous buildings. And lets face it, the glamorous life will always draw humanity in. A year or two in this city would not conjure up much protest from me; nor will my closet object, as it will be replenished by the many shopping opportunities.

An example of the beautifully intricate Chinese Calligraphy. via China the Beautiful.

Shanghai has a really cool art scene, with a few, free delights. We managed to find Shanghai Art Gallery down by The Bund, which had a really fascinating display of modern photography (and other funky installations). The space had a rustic downtown NYC-apartment-feel to it, with a world-class view over Shanghai skyline. However, a thin brown linen was rightfully covering the windows so as not to detract from the art. Shanghai Museum (a museum of ancient Chinese art) was also visited, but because we have seen more potteries, snuff-bottles and bronze figures than my heart can possibly contain (apologies to my archeology roomie back in Denmark!), we skipped most of it and just enjoyed the calligraphy exhibition.

Have a click or 8 on the Google map. Each placemark includes a little info of the site it represents. :)

The Chinese charm can also be found in Old Town, built in the 11th century, where we sloped around in the humid weather. Generally, Shanghai is full of lovely neighborhoods and small quarters, if the skyscrapers and modernity get too much for you.

Shanghai Old Town

Due to the French Concession until 1946, a lot of typical European architectural styles can be easily detected. In fact, many of the streets in this city bring forth many childhood memories, as I spent five or six summers straight in France. Most Shanghai side streets have a row of trees on each side, and this leafy effect, along with the little light that seeps through the canopy makes me feel like I am back in Aix en Provence.

France or China

The Urban Planning Exhibition is also highly recommendable. If you are just the slightest interested in architecture, this is the place for you; one can easily use an entire day here. It will also appeal to the kid inside of you, with a panorama-3D visual video, which takes you through the city. Also, the many after-and-before pictures of Shanghai will evidently shock you. The city sure did not look the same in the 1980s.

The highlight of my stay in Shanghai was definitely the very lovely dinner Mette and I got to enjoy at couch-surfer-Nicole’s beautiful apartment, along with her boyfriend Daniel. I must once again praise this concept. As I entered the apartment, I met two strangers, and after 5 lovely hours, I left the building socially enriched (and also with a stomach full of mouth-watering food). We got around important life-topics, everything from schooling systems, politics and Chinese history and hope I can one day show them around Copenhagen.

And here’s delightful footage of the Bund, taken from The Guardian:


//Krissy

Warriors and Love

Calligraphy - Xi'an
Calligraphy – Xi’an

Mette and I decided to add some extra adventures to our already tight schedule. We therefore embarked on a 12+ hour train-ride with the locals heading for Xi’an. For some unexplainable reason we thought it would be fairly simple to get tickets, if only we used the hostels to help us write down the right cities and stations in Chinese characters. But of course, in a city considered one of the most populous in the world, others are bound to have the same idea of taking the train. On such trains, you will find an array of ticket choices: soft sleeper, hard sleeper, soft seat, hard seat, no seat. Luckily, there were hard seats left (read: do-able seats, but expect some back/neck pain and very little sleep). Once again, we were the main attraction on the entire ride. Walking to and from the less than rosy toilet becomes a journey you would rather avoid. And expect the floor to be flooded by cup-noodle and nutshells. Despite a night with very little sleeping, everyone proved friendly and just showed their curiosity – and we managed to reach Xi’an on a budget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 9, 2012

Archaeologists have unveiled 110 new terracotta army statues excavated near the 2,000-year tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuang. [via Globalpost]

Tourists visit Xi’an to go see the Terracotta Army, which is an hours bus-ride away from the city walls. What is most astonishing about this site is how it was found randomly by some Chinese farmers as they were digging for a well. It’s hard to imagine their faces when they found more than 6000 stone warriors, each different in size and with varying facial expressions. A lot of archeological activity is still going on, so you almost feel included in this astonishing find as you walk around the various pits, which make up the museum.

However, the city of Xi’an is underrated.

Mette and I thoroughly enjoyed walking around the Muslim Quarter where it is exceptionally atmospheric at night with all the food stalls and the steam clouding your face as you stroll around the lanes. So much food we have never seen before. Women were bearing colourful scarfs and the most delightful smells will hit you – make sure to spend some time here.

Venice of the east – Suzhou

From Xi’an we took the train to Suzhou, an even longer train ride -> still on hard seats.  Suzhou is known for its classical gardens and its water canals, like a little mini Venice of the East. These areas were so peaceful and serene, and had we been luckier with the weather, two days would easily have been too short a stay. It was also my first time to try couch-surfing here. Carly was the best first-hostess one could have hoped for, and when I get back to Denmark I have to persuade my roomies so that we sign up as couch-surfers as well. Such an amazing opportunity to get an authentic experience and meet new amazing people. Carly and her roomie not only treated us to a home-cooked meal, but also took us out for hot pot and Tsingtao, and I hope both will come visit us in Copenhagen one day.

Suzhou was also filled with love and romance. We happened to hit up the city on the Chinese Valentines Day, where glittery roses can be purchased on most street corners for the lucky lady. The story behind this day was told to us by several locals, and it is a rather cute one. In short, cowherd meets fairy-like girl, love and marriage, heavenly Goddess finds out, forbids girl to love a mere mortal, boy and girl can only meet one night a year.

And with such a tragic yet heartwarming ending, this post on our extra adventures shall be considered complete.

The photos are taken by me, using my trusty Sony point-and-shoot camera, and edited in Lightroom 4 by my boyfriend back at home. ♥

/Krissy

Nihao China

Crossing the border from Mongolia to China was neither fun nor a speedy experience. First you stop for hours on the Mongolian side whilst passports are collected and forms are filled out. After hours of just standing still, not being allowed out, you roll over the border only to repeat the procedure with the Chinese officials. Only in China, the wheels of the train also had to be switched so as to fit the Chinese railway system — so you can add a few hours of lifting and sinking the entire train.

Coming from one of the least populated countries (yes, Mongolia) to a city like Beijing was simply just absurd. The contradictions were undeniable. No holes in the roads, gargantuan billboard signs, modernity and masses of human flesh everywhere. And it was GREAT! We stayed at Peking Youth Hostel, somewhat pricier than others, but definitely worth the extra dimes you throw in. It is not only impeccably clean, but you live in the middle of a gorgeous hutong (Chinese old-school alleys), and you only need to step out to one of the first side-roads to find your 5 yuan-dumplings for a hearty breakfast.

The Great Mao, cute like a Teletubby. :D

The Forbidden City is a vast tourist trap – but nonetheless a trap you want to be caught in. The impressive Mao painting greets you as you enter the No. 1 sight in Beijing, where emperors have done their living (with their many concubines), 500 years ago. I expected to see a lot of tourists at this historic site. Only, 99% of them are Chinese tourists, and it just feels like you are enmeshed in China. The highlight of our Forbidden City visit was, however, the lining up of Chinese kids and young fellas who all wanted their pictures taken with us (in particular the beautiful, blonde Mette was an instant hit). Here we are, standing in front of a UNESCO World Heritage site and people are throwing peace signs around, yelling if they can just have one more picture, plastering babies up on our laps and giggling fervently as they move on.

Forbidden City

Of course we also did the mandatory trip to The Great Wall. It might be somewhat of a cliché, but this site easily makes one of my highlights of this trip so far. The oldest sections of the wall were built 2000 years ago, and it is difficult to grasp how humans constructed this protective installment, high up in the Chinese mountains.

The way the wall almost meanders and rolls from mountain peak to mountain peak was breathtaking. We went to the Jinshanling section of the wall, which I can recommend. Stories from other backpackers have been horrendous, especially at the Badaling section, where it seems like you cannot HIKE the wall, you can only STAND STILL – simply due to masses and masses of the species we tend to call tourists. Our hike was in total around 8 km and though I wish it could have gone on longer, I enjoyed every minute and every mountain peak of it.

Great Wall of China (Jinshanling)
The Great Wall expedition was particularly memorable because of the ending to the day: Peking duck for dinner. Mette and I managed to randomly pick a restaurant, which happened to be the very same one recommended by the Peking Youth Hostel. Whilst duck is always good, you simply cannot go to Beijing without trying out this specialty.

The Summer Palace was also given a visit, and once again the size of the site took me aback. Bring good shoes and spend most of your day here. You can enjoy beautiful views from the Buddhist Fragrance Pavilion, overlooking Kunming Lake, which makes up most of the palace grounds. We ended the day by going past the Bird’s Nest-or the 2008 Olympics stadium-which despite much architectural protest, Mette and I still find quite mesmerizing.

Peking opera is the most absurd entertainment form, I’ve ever witnessed. Part singing, part dancing, part martial arts and part acting – you certainly get value for money. The costumes and make-up are fascinating, but the music and the “opera” takes some getting used to. However, I really love, that we have taken our time to watch a cultural performance at each location, which we have been fortunate enough to visit. Watching, and trying to understand the beauty of each art form, has given me an almost intimate insight into the country’s culture and heritage.

Peking opera

You will find the true Beijing spirit in their many parks. You can always find elderly doing some workout, dance sequences with swords, and best of all: couples dancing in the evening. It seems like the parks serve as a platform for social interaction and some outdoors exercising, and it has been really moving to observe. I hope when I grow old that I will go dancing in the park on a summer evening with my boo.

Usually, when you relay your memories from your Asian travels, you often dedicate at least one paragraph to describe the insane driving done in such parts of the world. And whilst I’ll go ahead and make the same kind of dedication, I must disappoint and praise the infrastructure in Beijing instead. Sure we had a little traffic jam in the morning and in the evening going to and back from The Great Wall, but nothing that came close to Mongolia (or Vietnam or Malaysia or any other place I’ve travelled through). And the metro system simply works, especially if you push and shove just like the Chinese to ensure a spot on the new-tuned vehicles.

I will admit that all my praise may not have been as rightfully fitting prior to 2008. The Olympics certainly ensured a sprucing up of the city. Nonetheless, Beijing proved wonderful, and I leave it with a full stomach and happy memories.

Food stall in Beijing
Uhm….I’ll have the third from the left, please!
The photos are taken by me using my trusty point-and-shoot camera, and edited in Lightroom 4 by my boyfriend back at home. :)

/Krissy